Movie Review: The Hunger Games

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Directed by: Gary Ross

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Interest Range: 10-adult

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian

Plot: Katniss has volunteered for the yearly government-enforced fight to the death, called the Hunger Games, to save her younger sister from certain death. She is now headed for a brief life of luxury in the Capital while training and world-building for the game are happening, before she is let loose with 23 other Tributes who will fight until only one remains. The Hunger Games are an establishment that the government has put in place to remind their people of the uprising the Districts once attempted. They are a way for the establishment to assert itself over its people every year, and make sure they acknowledge the power that is held over the people of the 12 Districts. But Katniss is special, she has a very clear reason to survive and is willing to do almost anything to get home- and the president has noticed her rebellious streak. Her life will never be the same.

Review: Since these books now appeal to such a wide audience, I was curious to see how they handled the movie. With such a violent and dark topic as a fight to the death among teenages treated as a garrish reality television show, this very easily could have been a R-rated movie. But they did a really good job of making it the least violent possible. Rarely do you see blood- and the most that is seen is from wounds like Katniss’s burn and Peeta’s cut. The most violent scenes are distorted, or sound is removed, so the viewer has an extra degree of separation from the action. Katniss and Peeta’s love story is not graphic, and at times isn’t even obvious (I watched this film with someone who had never read the books and often had to fill him in on the motives of each of the characters). I really do believe that children younger than 13 could watch this film and be ok. I think like with much dystopian writing, much of the more disturbing deeper message will go over kids’ heads due to lack of world experience. And if questions are asked, hopefully a parent will not shy away from having that conversation.

Themes: Dystopia, Inner Strength, Overcoming Challenges, Building New Relationships

Additional Info:

First in a film trilogy based on the books by Suzanne Collins. She was also involved in the writing for this film’s screenplay.

Main Characters:

Katniss Everdeen: A 16-year-old girl who is determined to survive the Hunger Games and get back to her family. She has very mixed up feelings regarding her hunting partner, Gale, and now Peeta, who has become her partner in the Hunger Games. Publicly, Peeta and Katniss are pretending to have feelings for each other, but by the end it’s unclear if everyone is still pretending- or if Peeta ever was.

Peeta Melark: The baker’s son, also from District 12. He is Katniss’s male counterpart in the Hunger Games, but obviously not as skilled at survival. He has been in love with Katniss since they were small children, and decides to make that public and play it up for popularity and the help and support of sponsors during the games.

Haymitch: District 12’s only past winner, he is given the task of mentoring all of their Tributes. Since they’ve never had another winner, one could see how this might be a very depressing task. But this year, he sees promise in Katniss and the possibility of a star-crossed lovers storyline. He manages to come out of his drunken haze to help win sponsors for the two Tributes and keep them alive.

Gale: Katniss’s hunting partner back home. Although they’ve never spoken of feelings for each other, it becomes clear that Katniss’s heart seems to lie with him. He’s promised to take care of her sister and mother while she is away.

Bibliographic Info:

Ross, G. (Director), Jacobson, N. (Producer), & Kilik, J. (Producer). (2012). The Hunger Games [Motion picture]. United States: Lionsgate, Color Force.

Tagline:

“The World Will Be Watching”

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The Fairy Ring or Elsie and Frances Fool the World

Author: Mary Losure

Age Range: 10-14 (Kirkus)

Interest Range: 10-14

Genre: Non-fiction, History/Biography

Plot: Frances and Elsie lived in England during World War I. The two young girls would often play in the beck behind Elsie’s house, a wooded area with a stream and waterfall, where they would both often see “little green men” wandering about while they were playing. In an outburst, Frances told her mother about the fairies and from then on was teased by her family. One day Elsie had the idea to prove them wrong, and take a picture of the fairies. But her fairies were actually painted drawings, and the girls pulled off a photo convincing enough to eventually make them the center of much attention. Even the famous writer of Sherlock Holmes detective stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, wanted to believe that the girls’ photos were real. This is the story of two young girls who managed to fool a lot of people, and held on to their secret until they were grandmothers themselves.

Review: I had heard about the photos before reading this book, and was glad to finally hear the entire story. Elsie and Frances were two pretty remarkable young girls in their ability to keep a secret, but pretty normal in every other way. It was definitely an interesting look at how far people will push an idea when they really want it to be  reality. The girls’ creativity and ability to manipulate a relatively new technology really captured the hearts and minds of many people, some very prominent and known for their powers of deduction. I think that when viewed from this angle, their story is very relevant in today’s world of constantly changing technological advancements. In the age of photoshop and the Internet, people are constantly manipulating images to try and prove a point or idea. This story might be a fun way to show how that can sometimes actually work, emphasizing the importance of further research and checking sources before believing in fantastic stories.

Themes: Changes at Home, Lies, Tough Issues (war-time life, dropping out of school)

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Elsie: A school dropout with artistic abilities. It was Elsie who drew and painted the fairies, devised the plan, and took the photos, all at the age of 15. Those who believed her photos the most were harsh critics of her other artwork and said that there was no way she could have fabricated the fairies because she had no artistic talent. This criticism hurt her deeply, and she could not refute it unless she told the truth and destroyed the story.

Frances: A young girl of 9 when the story begins, Frances has come with her mother and father to England from South Africa to stay with her Aunt and Uncle and cousin while her father goes off to fight in the war. Frances is the first to see the little green men, and poses for Elsie’s photos to go along with the story and provide proof to stop the teasing from family members.

Aunt Polly and Uncle Arthur: Elsie’s parents and the owner of the house and land where the family was living at the time (Cottingly, Yorkshire, England). It was Uncle Arthur’s camera that Elsie used to take the first photos.

Bibliographic Info:

Losure, M. (2012). The Fairy Ring or Elsie and Frances Fool the World. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

Tagline:

How do you tell when to stop telling a lie?

Drama

Author: Raina Telgemeier

Age Range: 10-14 (Kirkus Review)

Interest Range: 10-14

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Format: Graphic Novel

Plot: Callie is obsessed with theater. She’s been involved in drama for all of middle school so far, and this year she is convinced will be better than anything she’s ever done before. But putting on a production doesn’t come easy- they don’t call it Drama for nothing. Once the actors have been picked, no one seems to be able to work together! Plus, the boy that Callie’s been pining over doesn’t even know she exists. But then come the twins, Justin and Jesse, smart and talented and ready to be Callie’s new best friends. As the show’s final night begins, will the show go on even when one of the stars has a complete melt-down? Will Callie get up the courage to ask her crush to the 8th grade dance? And just who will be promoted to Stage Crew Manager for next year’s performance?

Review: This book is brave. It is the most honest story about coming out and being comfortable in your own skin that I’ve read for the tween age group yet, and it was wonderful. And that wasn’t even the main storyline! With surprises at every turn, Callie’s story is definitely the focal point as she continues to fall for the wrong boy again and again, but in the end she learns to feel comfortable in her own skin and not depend on being liked by others to feel good about herself. And the story of the twins was a great counterpart, showing an example of a boy who knows himself and was able to tell his parents who he really is alongside a boy who is still struggling to let his true self be known- by himself or anyone else. We all come to know ourselves eventually, but sometimes it takes us a little while to get there. Drama really is the perfect title for this story, and not just because they’re all in drama club.

Themes: Coming of Age, Coming Out, Building New Relationships, Crushes, Middle School

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Callie: A seventh-grader who cannot get enough of theater. She found herself in the drama club and is the stage crew’s number one ambassador. This season she is in charge of set design and convinced that she will build a working cannon.

Justin: The outgoing twin of the family, Justin wants to try out for the musical. He manages to snag a part, not the lead like he wanted but the comedic relief instead. It suits him perfectly. As a side note, Justin is gay and has come out to his brother and Callie, but not his parents.

Jessie: The more quiet of the twins, Jessie joins Callie on stage crew. He is just as talented as his brother, but less ready to show it to the world. As he and Callie grow closer, she cannot help but think he likes her, but things start to change on the night of the final performance and soon Callie learns the truth.

Greg: An eighth grader that Callie has had a crush on for some time. When she learns that his girlfriend has broken up with him, Callie goes for it and kisses him- but Greg had no idea she liked him and is still hung up on Bonnie.

Bonnie: A very popular girl in school, Bonnie seems to be taking all of the good boys. But Callie soon learns her secret- Jessie’s been tutoring her. And when Bonnie tries to get Jessie to agree to help her cheat, all heck breaks loose.

Matt: Brother of Greg, fellow stage crew member of Callie, Matt is inexplicably broody and mean this year. Callie can’t figure out why they don’t get along all of a sudden.

Bibliographic Info:

Telgemeier, R. (2012). Drama. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Tagline:

Callie was made for the theater- stage crew, that is. But even behind the scenes, there’s more than enough drama to go around.

Zebra Forest

 

Author: Adina Rishe Gewirtz

Age Range: 9-12 (publisher’s info)

Interest Range: 9-12

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Plot: On the last day of sixth grade, Annie has to write an essay about her three wishes for the summer. She writes the essay, but doesn’t tell the truth about her wishes, which are all for things that she thinks are impossible: 1. Get tall, 2. Have an adventure, and 3. Meet her father. Annie doubts she’ll ever be tall since her Gran is so incredibly short, and Sunshine isn’t exactly a town with lots of adventures to be had. Her third wish is definitely impossible, since the only thing she knows about her father is that he died when she was young. But her summer is surprising, and adventure certainly comes to Sunshine with a prison break from the town next door and the arrival of a visitor who is here to stay. Annie, much to her surprise, is about to be a part of something intense that threatens to rip her family apart at the seams.

Review: I wasn’t a huge fan of this book. The story is well written, but the subject matter isn’t anything that I find particularly interesting. Annie’s father ends up not being dead, but instead a convicted felon who happens to run into the family by mistake. It just seems too staged. But Annie is a kid dealing with some very serious problems. Her Gran has good days and bad, and probably isn’t fit to raise two young children, but the social worker assigned to her family has promised to look the other way as long as Annie promises to tell her if anything very serious happens. Her younger brother, Rew, has anger management issues of a pretty serious variety. Although Annie has figured out how to handle him over the years, the reappearance of their father stretches his limits and eventually causes some serious division between brother and sister. And then there’s Annie, a very smart girl whose world is suddenly flipped upside down and who has to suddenly deal with being a hostage in her own house and figuring out if she can trust this man who was once her father but is now a convicted murderer. A very serious book that would only appeal to certain readers, but is definitely worth a read.

Themes: Coming of Age, Building New Relationships, Tough Issues, Illness

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Annie: A 6th grader who has been groomed to lie like a pro. She has been raised by her Gran, who homeschooled her until the social worker figured out what was really going on in the house. Annie is smart, but lacks much motivation for anything. What she wants more than anything is to know her family’s history, most importantly more about her dad.

Rew: Annie’s little brother who loves the book Treasure Island. The copy they have read repeatedly starts at Chapter 8, and Rew refuses any attempt to read the beginning of the story because he loves making up his own ideas for all of the characters’ beginnings. Rew is incredibly smart and always beats his sister at chess, unless she teases him enough to make him angry. Rew cannot think when he’s angry.

Gran: Annie and Rew’s grandmother. She moved them to the town of Sunshine after her husband died. She has been caring for and raising the children alone for the past 8 years, and is slowly slipping into depression. Gran is not always fit to be the caretaker for two young children, but she will never admit that to anyone. She is a world-class liar.

Andrew Snow: An escaped convict from the local prison who breaks into Gran’s house and takes the family hostage.

Bibliographic Info:

Gewirtz, A. R. (2013) Zebra Forest. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

Tagline:

When Annie wished for an adventure, she had no idea what she was getting herself into.

The Year of the Book

 

Author: Andrea Cheng

Age Range: 7-10 (Kirkus Reviews)

Interest Range: 7-10

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Plot: Anna is having a rough time in 4th grade. Laura used to be her best friend, but is now hanging out with Allison- even though Allison is not the nicest of girls. Plus, Anna now has to attend Chinese school on Saturdays. Her mother, who is from China, feels it is important that she learn more about her heritage. On top of that, what would the other girls say if they knew that her mother cleans other people’s houses for a living? Or is currently going to school, and doesn’t even know how to drive? Being Chinese in Ohio is strange, so Anna finds comfort in her books. An avid reader, Anna almost doesn’t even notice the year going by around her as she makes friends with another girl from Chinese school, helps Laura through her parents’ separation, and manages to begin to learn Chinese and embrace what makes her so different and so special.

Review: Anna is struggling with being a minority in a not-very-diverse place. She is different from everyone not just because of her looks, but her mother is actually from another country. Chinese school, along with many other pressures and expectations from her parents that are not necessarily the same as her classmates’ experiences make her feel especially excluded. Also, her closest friend is searching to find meaning and support in a structure that is falling down around her- trying to become friends with girls that she perceives as important while her parents are experiencing a very messy split. Even though Laura’s actions hurt her feelings, Anna eventually comes around to appreciate the painful place her friend is living in and the two are able to somewhat repair their relationship. Even more inspiring, throughout her year Anna learns to embrace what it is that makes her different. She makes new friends and ends her school year really looking forward to the 5th grade.

Themes: Coming of Age, Building New Relationships, Trying to Fit In, Divorce, Race

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Anna: A 4th grader who loves to read. Anna always has her nose in a book, even though the teacher told her that read-walking can be quite dangerous. Anna is struggling to figure out friendships and how to feel about what makes her different, her heritage.

Laura: Another 4th grader who used to be close friends with Anna, Laura is also trying to figure out what it means to be friends with someone. In her struggle to fit in with the more popular girl in their grade, Laura begins to shun Anna- often leaving her alone at school and calling her as a last resort when the other girls decide they don’t want her around. Laura’s parents are going through a very rough time and eventually end up separating. Anna’s family ends up being a refuge for Laura when things get too rough at home.

Allison: The popular girl in the 4th grade, who is not very nice. She often completely shuns Anna, shoots her down in front of others at school, and steals her ideas.

Bibliographic Info:

Cheng, A. (2012). The Year of the Book. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Tagline:

Being different can be hard, especially in the 4th grade. But lots of other hard things can happen in the 4th grade too, like making friends.

The Hunger Games

 

Author: Suzanne Collins

Age Range: 11-18 (Kirkus Reviews)

Interest Range: 10-Adult (based on popularity)

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy, Dystopian Fiction

Plot: Once, the Districts rebelled against the Capitol. As punishment, all 12 now have to compete in the yearly Hunger Games. Each District must send two Tributes, one boy and one girl, to compete to the death in the Capitol. The winner will be rich beyond their wildest dreams, but at what cost? To make things worse, the rest of the citizens are required to watch the televised coverage (think Reality TV-style) as their loved ones battle it out and eventually die. This year, Katniss Everdeen has done something unique: against better judgment, she has volunteered to participate in the games to save another citizen from being slaughtered. But will her hunting and survival skills be enough to keep her alive against 22 bloodthirsty strangers and one boy to whom she owes her own life?

Review: A face-paced dystopian novel, this book is simply addictive. I can completely understand why so many people have wanted to read it. Katniss is a strong character, with plenty of flaws, placed in a very precarious situation and the reader will sympathize with her immediately. The story itself is violent (young people being forced to fight to the death is going to be violent no matter how you describe it), and the feelings and emotions that Katniss experiences and describes are things that tweens may only have an inkling of, but I do not think that it is 100% inappropriate for tween readers. Tweens want to read up when the books are popular, and I genuinely think that this book would raise questions for an inquisitive 10-year-old, while flying over the heads of those who are not yet ready to “get it”. Those individuals probably will not enjoy the book as much as their peers anyway and wonder to themselves what all the fuss was about while on the outside they gush about how amazing it was. Would I choose this book for a middle grade reader? No. But would I try to prevent them from having access to it and reading it if they were interested? Also, no.

Themes: Dystopian society, Death, Socioeconomic Issues, Freedom, Relationships

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Katniss Everdeen: 16-years-old, a hunter who provides for her mother and sister on a daily basis. It is her (illegal) hunting skills that have kept the family alive and well since the death of her father. Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games when her younger sister is picked at the Reaping.

Gabe: Katniss’s hunting partner, an 18-year-old boy. It is his last year for eligibility for the Reaping. Just before the ceremony, he suggests that he and Katniss could run away together into the wild and survive together with their combined skills.

Peeta Mellark: The Baker’s son, and the other tribute from District 12 for this year’s Hunger Games. He has secretly been in love with Katniss since they were small children. He and Katniss align as “Star-crossed lovers” to gain favor with sponsors and earn help in the competition- but for him it’s more than a ruse.

Bibliographic Info:

Collins, S. (2008). The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Tagline:

Katniss is a survivor. She has to be.

The Giver

 

Author: Lois Lowry

Age Range: 12-17 (various retail websites)

Interest Range: 10-Adult

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Plot: Jonas lives in a perfect society. Everyone is equal. Everyone is at peace. And since no one has known life any other way, they are all happy. Every December, children advance in age with their peer group, and this year Jonas’s peer group will be attending the Ceremony of the Twelves. He will be receiving his life-long work assignment and entering a year of training before becoming an officially trained adult the following December. By now, most kids know or at least have some idea of what they will be assigned- for the last three years the Elevens have been required to complete volunteer hours at whatever careers interest them, and this usually gives the Selection Committee the information they need to assign a fitting career. But Jonas has been all over the map, and although there are a few jobs he would be disappointed to receive he has no idea what title will ultimately be chosen for him. Eventually, his new assignment will help him to learn things about his “peaceful” community that make his skin crawl. Will he be able to handle the job of Receiver, or will he fail like the girl before him?

Review: The level of depth in this book is amazing. Another “tween book” that was obviously not written for the 8-12 age range but it often placed there because of the age of the protagonist. I can report with certainty that when I had to read this book in the 5th grade there is no way  I absorbed all of the levels and implications in this novel. Jonas’s society shuns anything that might give you a sense of individualism- they’ve even managed to remove all of the colors.  Anyone that breaks their mold is Released. The citizens of the town are lied to on a regular basis and they often lie to themselves- how else could they live with themselves after “Releasing” small children and old people? They don’t know any better, but does that make it ok? And the amazing burden placed on the Receiver of Memory: to be the retainer for all of the world’s memories of the time before the community existed. To be the only person who knows color, happiness, and love alongside destruction, pain, and war is a burden that no child can completely comprehend or appreciate. As an adult I can only acknowledge that it would be an insurmountable level of pain to have to know those things and have no one to share them with; I cannot even begin to fathom the actual pain itself. A wonderful book that I would never try to dissuade someone from reading, but I would definitely urge older audiences to revisit it to gain a deeper level of understanding from the story.

Themes: Individualism, The Right to Choice, Freedom, Tough Issues, Dystopia

Additional Info:

Awards: Newbery Award Winner for 1994

Main Characters:

Jonas: An Eleven who is about to turn Twelve and receive his official work assignment. Jonas is interested in everything and even possesses a special ability to “see-beyond”. But his uniqueness makes him feel like an outsider in the community, and this is reflected in his assignment to Receiver of Memory. Jonas will be responsible for holding the memories of all mankind prior to life in their community was established.

The Giver: The previous holder of all those memories, The Giver must now translate those memories to Jonas. When his job is done, he will be Released from the community.

Gabriel: The newchild that Jonas’s father brings home for extra care. Gabe is having trouble advancing as the newchildren (newborns) should and is threatened with being Released. Jonas’s father believes that with some extra attention this can be avoided. It is eventually Jonas who is able to help the baby sleep through the night and begin to make progress with his growth and development.

Asher: Jonas’s close childhood friend. When the two of them receive their assignments, their friendship becomes strained and they become distanced.

Fiona: Jonas’s favorite female friend. She is kind and loving and is assigned to the House of the Old, where she will help to Release the oldest members of society from the community and into Elsewhere.

Bibliographic Info:

Lowry, L. (1993). The Giver. New York: Random House, Inc.

Tagline:

What would you be willing to give up to live in the perfect society?

Homesick

 

Author: Kate Klise

Age Range: 9-12 (Kirkus Reviews)

Interest Range: 9-12

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Plot: The year is 1983. Dennis Acres is a  tiny town in Missouri, and Benny Summer is a 12-year-old boy who spends most of his evenings listening to his parents fight. That is, until his mom walks out and moves back to New Orleans. Benny just can’t shake the deep, sad feeling that he can only name as “homesickness” as his father starts to make their home disappear. Benny’s dad owned an antique shop, until he started refusing to sell his antiques to anyone, claiming they were all “too valuable”. And now, all of the antiques reside in their house, with them, and with any junk that his father can find. A tower of pizza boxes continues to grow in the kitchen and when Benny tries to throw them away, his father freaks out and claims that they will someday be valuable too. Will Benny ever be able to get his dad to clean up? And will his mother ever come back so that Benny can find his home again?

Review: This book has a lot going on. In addition to being  a hoarder, Benny’s father also continually talks about how one day the entire world will be connected by a huge computer network. His predictions of what we know today as the Internet do sound strange in the mouth of someone from the early 1980s, and some of the things he believes will be possible really are quite crazy, but the reader gets to see how sometimes people with truly amazing ideas can be viewed as “crazy” by their closest friends and family. The reader also is seeing how mental illness was viewed in a time when many people still feared it and did not acknowledge it. In the end, Calvin is admitted to a hospital for other reasons and they determine what is really wrong with him. He is helped to realize his problem, given medication, and is put on track to live a normal life. While all of this is happening, Benny is also involved in the starting of the town radio station and experiences lots of regular 12-year-old boy feelings about school, and the girl who sits behind him in class, and the fact that his parents don’t get along.

Themes: Changes at Home, Economic Hardship, Mental Illness, Divorce

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Benny Summer: 12-year-old Benny is left alone to take care of his father for months while trying to navigate the sixth grade. He has a job at the local radio station, run by his father’s best friend, Myron, and avoids going to all of his piano lessons. He also has a crush on Stormy Walker.

Calvin Summer: Benny’s father, who suffers from a serotonin deficiency and hoards just about anything he can get his hands on. His “collecting” turns their home into an unlivable wreck, full of rats and mold, and his illness keeps him from seeing the danger and embarrassment that he is putting his son through.

Nola Rene Summer: Benny’s mother, who leaves when she becomes so frustrated at her husband’s inability to throw anything away that she just cannot take it anymore. She calls home infrequently to check on Benny and promises to come back for him at the end of the school year and bring him back to New Orleans with her. She either does not realize that her husband is sick, or does not care to.

Myron Kazie: Calvin’s best friend from when they were in high school and the owner of the local radio station. Myron acts as a kind of stand-in father for Benny, offering him a paying job at the radio station and constantly checking on him to make sure he’s ok. At a few points, Myron does attempt to intervene with Calvin, but Calvin’s intense level of self-defense keeps him at bay.

Mrs. Rosso: Benny’s sixth-grade teacher, who becomes another caretaker for Benny. She realizes what is going on at home and attempts to encourage Benny’s desire to clean up the house by allowing it to be his service project for school. When Calvin calls her at home in a fit of rage, she takes a more serious, yet hidden, role in helping Benny out- secretly teaching him to do laundry, and bringing him new clothes and personal items when he needs them.

Stormy Walker: The pretty girl who sits behind Benny in Mrs. Rosso’s class. Benny and Stormy eventually become friends when disaster strikes the entire town.

Bibliographic Info:

Klise, K. (2012). Homesick. New York: Macmillan.

Tagline:

His parents are splitting up, and even though he hasn’t left home Benny still can’t shake a feeling of homesickness when his mother leaves for good.

Esperanza Rising

 

Author: Pam Munoz Ryan

Age Range: 9-15

Interest Range: 9-15

Genre: Historical Fiction

Plot: Esperanza comes from a wealthy Mexican family. Her father owned a ranch that spanned thousands of acres, and her family surrounded Esperanza with love and comfort. But the day before her 13th birthday, her father is murdered and everything changes. Soon, Esperanza finds herself on a train, moving to America with a family of ranch hands that her father used to employ. Life in America is hard. It is the beginning of the Great Depression, and people are struggling to find work. Esperanza’s new family is living in California, working on one of the company farms doing backbreaking work for very low wages. Some of the Mexican immigrants want to organize and demand a better life. Will Esperanza ever be able to adjust to this new situation? And just what will happen to those who do decide to fight for their advancement?

Review: This book covers so many difficult topics. Esperanza deals with death, loss of an entire known life, a change of economic class, she is forced to grow up very early in life and take on the role of a provider before she even turns 14. Around her big things are happening: workers are trying to form Unions and stand up for their rights as citizens and human beings, plus the depression is happening and forcing more cheap labor to move out west and make their working situation even more precarious. And Esperanza struggles with it all. She is often upset, refusing to accept her new circumstances and often stubborn. Eventually she learns how to exist in this new life, and even comes around to understanding why people would strike and want to fight for something better.

Themes: Coming of age, Loss, Race, Homelessness, The Great Depression, Immigration

Additional Info:

Awards: Pura Belpre Award (for a Latino writer who best portrays the Latin cultural experience in a book for children/young adults), Jane Addams Peace Award (book advances the causes of peace and social equality), Willa Cather Literary Award (women’s stories set in the American West), Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

Main Characters:

Esperanza: A 13-year old girl who immigrates to America with her mother and a family of field workers who were once employed by her father. She is forced to learn the life of a field hand and deals first-hand with the immigration process and the hardships of life as a laborer in the Great Depression.

Ramona: Esperanza’s mother, who remains strong to get her daughter to America, but then falls ill and enters a deep depression. She is eventually hospitalized, and Esperanza is left to take care of herself.

Miguel: The young man of the family that Esperanza travels to America with. The two of them had been friends as children, but when Esperanza learned about classes in Mexico, she shunned Miguel’s friendship and declared that they were on “opposite sides of the river”. Moving to America has placed him on even ground with Esperanza, and their relationship changes again. He hopes to find work with the railroad, since he is gifted with machinery.

Bibliographic Info:

Ryan, P. M. (2000). Esperanza Rising. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Tagline:

Everything can change in an instant. When Esperanza’s family moves to the United States, she is forced to learn how true this really is.

Bud, Not Buddy

Author: Christopher Paul Curtis

Age Range: 10-13

Interest Range: 10-13

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction

Plot: Bud is living in an orphanage during the Great Depression. After fighting his way out of a foster home, he runs away and decides to find the man that he is sure is his real father. He knows, because his mother left him hints, that his real father is a bass player in a jazz band in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bud embarks on a mission that will take him through a cardboard city for homeless families, attempting to ride the rails, and eventually walking from Flint, Michigan, as far as he can stand. When he is picked up on the side of the road by Lefty Lewis, his luck begins to change. Lefty knows Bud’s father, and eventually takes him to him. But Herman E. Calloway is a cold, mean man, and much older than Bud expects. Is he really Bud’s father? Will Bud ever find a real home?

Review: Bud is a wonderful character. Street smart and funny, very relatable to young boys even today. He fights off bullies and vampires and his list of Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself are something that any child can relate to and appreciate. His drive and determination make him a force to be reckoned with, and it’s obvious from the beginning that he’ll do anything to find the man he believes to be his father, even walk that 120 miles in 24 hours. The book also paints a good introductory picture of the Great Depression and what it meant for a lot of families, as well as the race relations that existed during that time period. A good way to introduce readers to that time in history.

Themes: Coming of age, Loss, Bullying, Race, Homelessness

Additional Info:

Awards: Newbery award winner, 2000; winner of the Coretta Scott King Award for recognition of outstanding African-American authors

Main Characters:

Bud Caldwell: His name is Bud, not Buddy, because his mother warned him constantly in his youth not to ever let anyone call him anything other than Bud. Bud’s mother died when he was 6, and that was 4 years ago. He’s been living between an orphanage he calls The Home and various foster families that entire time, and after one-too-many beatings he escapes and is on the run to find the man he believes is his father. Along the way, Bud experiences a lot of luck as he encounters Hooverville, tries to jump a train, learns about unions, and tries to walk 120 miles to Grand Rapids. Bud’s determination is something to admire, and he takes everything that he is handed in stride ready for the next encounter.

Lefty Lewis: A kindly stranger who intercepts Bud on his long walk just outside of Owosso and eventually deposits him with Calloway and his band.

Herman E. Calloway: The man that Bud believes is his father, and who we eventually learn is actually his grandfather. Calloway is cold and difficult to deal with, but agrees to keep Bud around when pressured by his bandmates. He eventually learns the truth about his relationship with Bud, at the same time learning that his long-lost daughter is deceased.

Bibliographic Info:

Curtis, C. P. (1999). Bud, Not buddy. New York: Random House, Inc.

Tagline:

When one door closes, another opens. Join Bud as he sets out to find his father.