Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Braid by Helen Frost

This book reminded me very much of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas...not the plot of course...but in the seemingly simple way it is told. Yet, like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, this story also had much more depth to it...the story and literary techniques were much more than the reader first surmises.

This book also received "starred" reviews in the various journals. I was introduced to it at a YA reading workshop. And, I have to confess, at first I didn't think I would like it, but boy was I wrong! I read it through the first time because the story line compelled me. I loved the language and the narrative poems and the voices of the two sisters. The metaphor of the braid was powerful, and yet I was also intrigued by the historical component of the story and was anxious to learn more about this time period. Then I read the author's notes about the form of the poems and how they were "braided" together, how the line lengths are based on syllabic count etc... and this made me go back and read them more carefully. Wow! Amazing! I also loved the "praise" poems. I'm not an English teacher but I would think this book would have a wealth of fodder for the classroom. Is this a historical period we explore in global? Maybe Cathy could let us know.

And again, although the story seems simplistic I can really see this book working well for high school students...from honors to 15:1. I think the adventure and romance (teen pregnancy) would definitely draw in reluctant readers. What do those of you who work with special ed think? Reviewers had various suggested reading levels most suggested "grade 8 and up" and I would agree with this.

The only thing that bothered me was the almost too easy success of Jeannie and her mother in Canada. Did anyone else think the author glossed over their struggles? And I thought for sure that Sarah and Murdo were going to cross paths looking for each other....again their meeting up seemed too pat...but these little issues would not prevent me from recommending the book.

Looking forward to your thoughts.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

I really loved this book, it was not at all what I expected, I was expecting a more traditional holocaust story but boy was I surprised. I loved the perspective from which it is told. I don’t even know where to begin the discussion…there is so much about this fable that I would love to talk about!

First, I’m curious to see what you all thought of Bruno and Gretel? Did anyone else think that Bruno seem younger than nine? Maybe he had to be for this book to work? And at age 12 shouldn’t Gretel have known something of what was going on around her? Been involved in Hitler’s Youth? They both seemed terribly na├»ve to me. Bruno I could understand- Gretel??? Going even deeper…perhaps the author intended to use this to drive home the point that many people were ignorant of the killings during this time…whether they chose to close their eyes to the atrocities or just didn’t see it?

Second, the use of “out-with” and “Fury”. At first this just frustrated me…I wanted someone to please tell Bruno the correct pronunciations! But then the more I thought about it I realized the author used them as a literary device…a word play? And then the light bulb went off regarding the double meaning to these words. Think the kids would pick up on this? Too subtle? Also, I wonder if the author wanted to avoid naming the camp? Maybe he wanted it to be a generic name for any camp?

Third, again the parents! Didn’t they pay any attention to their children? Again, that background role! The mother had potential…but I wanted her to do more and to be “better.” I felt let down by her actions, or lack thereof. Was she typical of German females of her time?

The ending! Once again I had those rose colored glasses on! I did not see this coming at all. When Bruno put on the striped pajamas it dawned on me what was going to happen. WOW. My only regret is that the father never found his son’s body and never really discovered his sad fate…I wanted him to KNOW what happened to his boy and to feel terrible remorse…and to atone for his actions.

I was amazed at the feelings this book invoked in me. While only hinting at violence, hatred, and horrible conditions the author managed to certainly send a tremendous message. What a great read. I could easily see this paired with Diary of Anne Frank or Night. And it definitely has a place in the Global classroom!

I also loved the Author’s Note. I read an interview with the author is which he is asked about the fences he mentions in his note. His response was this: “As an Irishman growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I was only too aware of the divides --- the fences --- that existed in my own country, and that caused violence and killing for families throughout Northern Ireland for too many years. And while those problems have for the most part been solved, it is easy to identify situations around the world throughout my own lifetime, in places such as South Africa, Kosovo, Srebenica, Rwanda, where the metaphorical fences that I talk about have existed/still exist. The genocide of the 1940s was perhaps the worst case of inhumanity that the world has ever seen, but we do not live in a peaceful world even now, 60 years later. I suppose I hoped that younger readers who might be moved by the story of Bruno & Shmuel would grow up with the intention of pulling those fences down wherever they existed, whenever they could.”

Powerful stuff. Anxious to hear what you all thought.

Harry Potter...don't read me if you haven't finished yet!

Kathy (and anyone else who has finished Harry Potter...)
I thought this would be an appropriate place to talk about Harry Potter. :) I'll publish my comments so that you have to actually click on the blog to read about it...I don't want to ruin it for anyone still reading...