Posts tagged ‘150-199 pages’

City of Light, City of Dark

City of Light, City of DarkTitle: City of Light, City of Dark
Author: Avi
Illustrator: Brian Floca
ISBN: 97805311068007
Pages: 192 pages
Publisher/Date: Orchard Books, c1993.

People! The land you wish to build on belongs to us, the Kurbs. Still, we are willing to lend you this island as well as our power so you may have the light and warmth you humans require. But there is a price. Each year you must enact a ritual to show you acknowledge that this island remains ours and is governed by our rules. If you fail to perform this ritual-be warned!-the consequences for you will be dire! (8)

Before people had arrived in New York, the Kurbs controlled the lightness and darkness. When people landed on the island, the Kurbs agreed to hide the power somewhere on the island and give the people six months to find it as the land progressively got colder and darker. If it wasn’t returned noon on December 21st, it would be plunged into darkness, but if it was returned it would gradually get lighter and warmer until it was hidden again on June 21st. One woman needs to find the power and return it to the Kurbs, but a greedy blind man, his reluctant assistant, and a young girl and her friend are all searching for it too for very different reasons. Who will find it first?

This is Avi’s version of the Persephone myth, adapted for modern-day New York. I liked the concept, but with my love of Avi’s stories, I was surprised at the narration, which seemed rush and disjointed. The book starts as a mixture of text and graphic novel panels, and then eventually transitions to only graphic novel format. There is too much plot time between the background setting flashback in the beginning and then the bulk of the story. It took him that long to track down the token… Really? Maybe other reviewers are right and it would have been better as a textual novel, as large amounts of the plot are layer out in stilted, expository dialogue.

With Floca’s recent Caldecott Award win, and repeated recognition by the Sibert committee, I was surprised by this first effort at illustrating a novel. Maybe he should stick with the picture book format and continue to color his drawings. I expected more of the sweeping skyline that we see on the cover of the original publication, but the black and white renderings found in the interior seemed rushed, vague, and not detailed. On page 35, he actually draws arrows to guide readers from panel to panel, which seemed unnecessary and awkward. All told, it would be a nice thing to provide readers who are interested in stories influenced by mythology, but it is not the best work of either the author or illustrator.

Wonderland

WonderlandTitle: Wonderland
Author: Tommy Kovac
Illustrator: Sonny Liew
ISBN: 9781423104513
Pages: 160 pages
Publisher/Date: Disney Press, an imprint of Disney Book Group, c2008.

“Seems you’ve been incriminated, bunny-rabbit. For suspicious dealings with the Alice monster…”
“But, I–”
“Monster? What’s this about?”
“While you were gone, there was an impostor here! She wrecked some of the rooms, and shot the groundskeeper out of the chimney like a pea out of a peashooter.”
“I thought she was you at first!”
“Thought she was me?”
“Well, she was a girl like you, and was wearing some sort of dress, and she had some sort of hair on her head–I don’t know! I suppose I was distracted at the time.”
“Am I that nondescript? I know I’m just a maid but…”
“Bong! Bong! Bong! Time’s up, Rabbit! Your days of favor with the Queen are over!” (21-22)

Mary Ann has just returned to Rabbit’s house when they are told by the Chesire Cat that the Queen is on her way. She’s been wrongly informed by the Tweedles that Mary Ann is “the Alice monster” who wrecked so much havoc in Wonderland. When the cat tricks Rabbit into calling the Jabberwock, Mary Ann finds herself plummeting down another hole and meeting another Queen. But will this queen be anymore helpful than the first, or has Mary Ann gotten herself into deeper trouble?

When I think of fractured tales, I think of Grimm or Andersen fairy tales and not necessarily Alice in Wonderland. But first we had this graphic novel, then Wondla, then the movie, and now there is the television series Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and suddenly it’s become a classic. The inside jacket informs readers that this book “collects six Eisner Award-nominated chapters originally published as single-issue comics”.

Tommy Kovax and Sonny Liew prove to be a successful team. Just paging through it you realize the variety of layouts, which I think contributes to the unsteadiness of the reader. It is Wonderland after all, and you never know what you will find in this tops turvy world. We also see the political rift that Alice’s visit caused, as a back story is added involving a group that the Mad-Hatter describes as “followers [...] who call themselves “The Curious” (96). It’s lines like that and many more, along with the somewhat disjointed narrative, that harken back to the original and the Disney movie (especially the artwork) but the team makes it their own story. Readers never quite get the definitive answer they are looking for in comparing Mary Ann and Alice, who have multiple differences but even The Curious recognize that they might have an advocate in the mild-mannered maid after their original departed.

There is no author’s note that reveals how the illustrations are done or what was used, but here again there is variety. The Queen of Hearts garden scenes and the Mad Hatter’s tea party are bright and full of light. Then with literally a flip of the page in some cases, Mary Ann and her companions find themselves underground or in the Tulgey Wood, with a shadowed background and more muted browns and blues. Overall, I wonder how satisfied Mary Ann will be when she finally has a chance to return to her duties of cleaning Rabbit’s house after her adventures. Readers however should be satisfied with the tale.

Monster on the Hill

Will Eisner Week 2014Did you know it’s Will Eisner Week this week, from March 1st through March 7th? Neither did I until I stumbled upon the announcement of the celebration in January. Will Eisner Week “is an annual celebration honoring the legacy of Will Eisner and promoting sequential art, graphic novel literacy, and free speech.” Looking for more information? Visit the website. In honor of Will Eisner Week, I’m going to take this opportunity to review graphic novels, which I’ll readily admit I don’t read enough of. My third featured book will be last year’s Monster on the Hill, by Rob Harrell.

Monster on the Hill

 

 

Title: Monster on the Hill
Author/Illustrator: Rob Harrell
ISBN: 9781603090759
Pages: 185 pages
Publisher/Date: Top Shelf Productions, c2013.

“That reminds me. Who do you ‘ave watchin’ over your town while you’re here? One of the retired guys? Jimmy the Gomper?”
“Umm…”
“YOU LEFT YOUR TOWN UNMONSTERED?? ARE YOU CRAZY? The Murk senses these things, Rayburn!! He could be on his way there now! What, did you sleep through town guarding 101?”
“Actually, yes. It was dreadfully dull.”
“He Guys. Check out this rock I found! It looks just like Town Father Stevenso… What’s the matter?”
“We may have a problem.” (70-71)

Rayburn is a horrible monster, who really doesn’t venture into the neighboring 1860s English town and certainly doesn’t ravage it like he is supposed to in order to promote tourism. So a disgraced doctor and a loudmouth newsboy embarks on a journey to give him the confidence he needs. Their journey takes them away from town to visit an old friend. But while Rayburn’s gone, the town might have a real monster to worry about. It’s a race to see who gets back to town first, Rayburn who can protect the townspeople or the Murk who wants to terrorize them.

Rob Harrell’s oversized drawings really pack a punch with this story that plays on just about every genre’s stereotypes. I envision Timothy the town crier/urchin/newsboy as a distant ancestor to Loud Kiddington from the 1990s TV show Histeria!, repeatedly shouting in a cockney English that just begs the word “governor” to pass his lips (and it actually does). The distracted and disgraced doctor Charles Wilkie speaks in a prim and proper manner that brings to mind Giles from Buffy, with his stoic face accentuated by his glasses and white hair covering his head, chin, and eyebrows. When Rayburn fights a venus fly trap like plant, your guess is fulfilled when he promptly gets his head stuck in its jaws and is shaken like a rag doll, being flung up and down, at one point doing the splits across its gaping mouth before emerging triumphant and doing a victory dance mimicking an end zone dance at the Superbowl.

The energetic text is filled with exclamation points, which seem to appear on almost every page. Sound effects are thrust into the pictures comic book style, and I’m sure words like “Ka-THOOMP!” and “YEEAAUGH!” would just improve a read-aloud experience in some story-tellers capable hands. My one quibble with the story is the whole premise of cities reaching out to a monster to continually rampage a village doesn’t strike me as a smart PR move. The monsters are treated like athletes, with trading cards and toys made in their likeness. Maybe it is similar to disaster tours of volcanoes and mob scenes, or maybe it’s like the Godzilla movies where as long as it’s another city, it’s fun to cheer on the monster? All I know is that readers who enjoy those types of things will welcome this over the top addition to graphic novel collections. One idea for a curriculum connection would be to have children design a monster for their own town.

Odessa Again

Odessa AgainTitle: Odessa Again
Author: Dana Reinhardt
Narrator: Lisa Breitman
CDs/Hours: 3 CDs, 3 hours 42 minutes
ISBN: 9780449015308 (audiobook),
Pages: 196 pages
Publisher/Date: Listening Library (audiobook), Wendy Lamb Books, c2013.

Odessa flipped back a page in her journal and found the entry. She flipped to a fresh page and began to scribble furiously.
The first fall through the attic floorboards had taken her back exactly one day.
Twenty-four hours. [...]
The second fall took place on the same day as the first. [...]
And this time, her math told her, she’d landed twenty-three hours earlier. (21-22)

Odessa has just determined that the attic in the house her mither is renting has the ability to take her back in time. As a fourth grader with divorced parents and a toad for a younger brother, Odessa is excited about the opportunities this presents, such as getting out to trouble, studying for a test, and avoiding a bad haircut. But there are limits, as each time she jumps it takes her back fewer and fewer hours. What happens when Odessa runs out of time to fix the one thing she wishes she could do over?

Originally, I wasn’t a huge fan of the book, and I can’t really put my finger on why. Then I realized that I am used to active tales as opposed to more introspective novels. It encourages readers to think about what they could or would change about their day. Because of the limited and ever-shortening capability to go back, there is a lot for Odessa to consider. And because of her age, there is no possibility of changing the entire world, but rather how can we improve our own circumstances. This book would probably work better being read as opposed to listened to as an audiobook because of that self-reflection it encourages.

While the characters are vaguely developed, I enjoyed the feelings that the story evoked. Odessa’s parents respond in a realistic manner to Odessa’s antics as she tries to correct history. Odessa’s growth in the story is also admirable, as she begins to evaluate how and when she should use this temporary new-found power. For kids who like to question what-if, this would be a sci-fi light introduction to the concept of time-travel.

We’ve Got a Job

We've Got a JobTitle: We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March
Author: Cynthia Levinson
ISBN: 9781561456277
Pages: 176 pages
Publisher/Date: Peachtree Publishers, c2012
Awards: Finalist for The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction (2013)

Though nonviolent, all of these confrontations were illegal. King reasoned that if enough protesters were arrested, they would fill the jails and overwhelm Connor’s ability to enforce segregation laws. […] Only a few hundred adults heard Bevel’s frenzied sermon that night, and just seventeen volunteered to go to jail. But kids got the message, especially when the preacher who followed Bevel proclaimed, “Some of these students say they have got to go to school, but they will get more education in five days in the City Jail than they will get in five months in a segregated school.” (48, 59)

Segregation in the 1960s was a violent time of upheaval. Most of us have heard the most familiar stories of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. But very few people may realize the effect that children and teens had in moving segregation efforts forward. During the entire month of April, 1963, the first in an effort to fill the jails and bring attention to the cause, only 123 people were arrested. But then a rallying cry and concentrated effort was made to enlist teenagers to a cause that would directly affect them. “Between Thursday, May 2, and Monday, May 6, almost 2,500 young people had been arrested.” (114) The treatment of these individuals, some as young as nine-years old, who flooded the streets brought national attention to events in the south. Ultimately, four children died in a church bombing that was the culmination of tensions between the black and white populations.

Cynthia Levinson spent four years tracking down and interviewing these participants and researching how history played out almost 50 years ago. Including a map, a timeline, an index, pictures of those interviewed and an assortment of notes, this book is an amazing glimpse into a time that changed America. Levinson does a thorough job of bringing to life the actions of the teenagers but also those of the adults involved. Readers finish the book with a solid understanding of how divided not only the community was on the issue of segregation, but also how disorganized the leadership was in achieving their goals. The government endorsed and encouraged the police’s prejudices against these protesters and it is hard to come to terms with their behavior based on today’s laws prohibiting such actions. At one point, government officials notified the Ku Klux Klan that they would be given 15 minutes to confront Freedom Riders, and the perpetrators who were caught after those violent fifteen minutes were given a minimal sentence.

Pair this book with The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine, which is set a few years earlier or The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon and One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, which are both set a few years later. Especially in this unsteady time when unrest is reigning and emotions are high with so many political issues, including gay rights, immigration, and gun control, teens might take notes about nonviolent actions that they can use to affect change in today’s society.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Anastasia Suen’s blog.

This book in particular was read as I participate in YALSA’s 2013 Hub Reading Challenge which challenges readers to finish 25 books by June 22nd from a list of 83 titles that were recognized and published over the last year.

Junonia

Title: Junonia
Author: Kevin Henkes
ISBN: 9780061964183
Pages: 176 pages
Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2011.

“Kate has a new boyfriend with a daughter. They’re all coming. Kate called the office, and she reserved Helen Blair’s cottage.”
“That Kate,” said Alice’s father. “She’s always good for a surprise.”
“The girl is named Mallory,” Alice’s mother told them. “She’s six.” She paused. “Kate sounds happy. Oh, and his name is Ted.”
Alice blinked back tears.
Colin, Chad, and Heather. Gone.
Helen Blair. Gone.
Kate. Aunt Kate. Not gone, but nearly as awful. Coming with a boyfriend and his daughter.
Kate was the closest thing Alice had to a relative. It would be different this year. Every other year, Kate had stayed with Alice’s family in their pink cottage, sleeping on the sofa in the living room. Every other year, Alice had had Kate to herself; she hadn’t had to share her with anyone except her parents.
The doughnut turned to dirt in Alice’s mouth. (29-30)

Alice is spending her tenth birthday in Florida with her parents, just like they have for the last couple years. Looking forward to some time in the cottage they always stay at and playing with their vacation friends, Alice is frustrated by the changes that have come with their arrival. The family of three kids didn’t make it, the old couple next door seem even older than she remembered, and her “Aunt” Kate has brought her boyfriend and his six-year-old daughter Mallory. Trying to make the best of it, Alice spends her time searching the beach for a perfect example of her favorite shell, a rare junonia. Buying it from the shell shop is out of the question, because that would be cheating. But is her search just setting her up for more disappointment as she struggles to deal with all the changes?

I remember previously reading Kevin Henkes’ Protecting Marie when I was younger, but I haven’t really read a lot of his works. This kind of reminded me why, as most of the action is the internalized angst that Alice feels. She is excited about turning ten, but receives a rude awakening that she’s not the only one who is growing older or the only thing that changes with time. She faces the hard lesson that things change and most of the time you can’t stop things from changing. I don’t know how many children would enjoy the introspective nature of the novel, but it’s good to have these mixed in amongst all the action-packed fantasy and adventure novels that are so prevalent lately. I can picture this being a beach read for some young girl, slowly being savored as the tides roll in and out, creating an impetus to examine the changes approaching the reader’s own life.

Shadow

Title: Shadow
Author: Michael Morpurgo
ISBN: 9780312606596
Pages: 180 pages
Publisher/Date: Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillian, c2010.
Publication Date: Sept. 4, 2012 (US) (first published Jan. 1, 2010)

I saw then what they had seen, foreign soldiers, several of them, coming slowly toward us. The one in front had a detector–I’d seen them before in Bamiyan–and I knew what they were for. He was sweeping the road ahead of him for bombs. I think it was only then that I put two and two together, and realized what Shadow was doing. She had discovered a bomb. She was pointing to it. She was showing us. and I knew somehow that she was showing the soldiers too.
But they still couldn’t see her. She was hidden from them by a boulder at the side of the road. So I just ran. I never even thought about it. I just ran, toward the soldiers, toward Shadow, toward the bomb.(72-73)

When Aman was just a child living in Afghanistan, his father and grandmother were killed by the Taliban. Forced to flee the country with his mother in the hopes of meeting up with an uncle in England, Aman faced some insurmountable odds. Finally making it across the border with the aid of a unique dog he named Shadow, Aman leads a relatively comfortable life in England. After spending six years in England, Aman and his mother receive the shocking news that their asylum request has been denied and they need to return to Afghanistan. They are locked away, awaiting deportation. That’s when Aman’s friend Matt and Matt’s grandfather make a last-ditch effort to save this family from a separation that could kill them.

Allowing Aman to tell the story in a flashback format prevents the urgency and apprehension from building. We already know that he and his mother make it to England successfully because he is locked there awaiting deportation. By the time readers catch up to present day, there are few pages left to resolve the conflict, and it’s fairly obvious what’s going to happen and you’re really not surprised by the ending. While the ending is fairly serendipitous, it’s also realistic, as you generally hear about “Hail Mary passes” being caught by someone and being taken all the way by a network of people.

The characters are likeable enough, but even Aman comes across as somewhat one-dimensional, as the focus is on the journey and not the people. Readers can sympathize with his situation, but you don’t get emotionally involved like some other stories encourage. Matt and his grandfather are supplemental, even though they are the only ones relating “present” events. I think it would have increased urgency if we had seen Aman’s state first hand, like when he was detained in the deportation “camp”.

However, I can see teachers using this in lesson plans about ongoing wars overseas, immigration, refugees, and comparing detention centers of today to other times we’ve had something similar occur, such as during World War II with Hitler’s concentration camps and the Japanese internment camps here in the United States. With short chapters, many of which have a dangling if not a true cliff-hanger ending, it would make an interesting read-aloud during transition times or for several minutes each day. Being written by Michael Morpurgo helps too, especially with the recent release of the War Horse movie generating interest in his war based realistic fiction. He provides some background information about asylum-seeking families and military dogs in his acknowledgements and postscripts. I’m very interested in getting the two movies he sites, Phil Grabsky’s The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan and In this World, directed by Michael Winterbottom, although I’m not finding either at any library locally at this time.

The Fairy Ring

Title: The Fairy Ring:  or Elsie and Frances Fool the World
Author: Mary Losure
ISBN: 9780763656706
Pages: 184 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2012.

Sometimes Elsie drew gardens in faraway countries.
Once, she drew Titania, the queen of the fairies from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The fairy queen lay sleeping on a bank, her lovely dark hair spread all around her.
Elsie had copied her out of a book illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Arthur Rackham was a real artist, famous for his illustrations of fairies.
But Elsie’s own fairies–the dancing ones that everyone said were so beautiful–were torn up and buried in the beck. The painted paper gnome was long gone. Their photographs lay forgotten in a drawer. For all Elsie knew, no one would ever look at them again.
And maybe that’s what would have happened if, one winter day, Elsie’s mother hadn’t decided to go on an outing. . . . (55-57)

Nine-year-old Frances was tired of being made fun of when she claimed to see fairies in her cousin’s backyard where she was staying during the war. Her older cousin Elsie had an idea to prove that the fairies existed by painting paper fairies and taking Frances’ picture with them. Once the photos were developed, that sure put a stop to the teasing. It was only meant for their parents, but things got out of hand and eventually people were requesting more photos and using these photos as proof that fairies actually existed. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote those great mysteries about the detective Sherlock Holmes, thought the pictures were real! What are Frances and Elsie going to do, and how far should they go to save their secret?

This book is somewhat unique in that it is a work of nonfiction but it reads like a novel. Readers are in on the joke from the very beginning as we see Frances and Elsie scheme to trick the adults. But Frances maintained until her death that she had seen real fairies in that glen and that while they had staged most of the photographs, one of them wasn’t staged and was real. Nonfiction typically doesn’t leave questions, but this book does. There’s still a mysterious quality about fairies and their existence that I think the author intentionally attempts to leave open-ended.

I think the other interesting aspect of this story is that they never meant for it to draw international attention to themselves. In fact, they were very hesitant and reluctant to talk to the press, and I get the impression they wanted to bury the story but just didn’t know how. But they also continued to tell people close to them, such as their ultimate husbands and children, so in a way they were continuing the story even as they told their children to never mention it again. Their attitude about it seemed so fluid that’s hard to really know what they were thinking, especially since the trick seemed to last about 60 years until it was conclusively determined to be a hoax. But as I mentioned before, Frances and in turn the author maintains that pestering feeling that something is missing and not quite determined. I think I’ll end with the fact that these uncertainties create a slightly unsettling story out of a very well researched and documented occurrence.

Forever

In celebration of Banned Book Week’s 30th Anniversary, I’m spending the entire week reviewing books that have been challenged for one reason or another. While yesterday’s Robopocalypse was a new release, today’s book of choice has been around for a long time but one I’d never read until now.

Title: Forever
Author: Judy Blume
ISBN: 9781416934004
Pages: 192 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c1975 (renewed c2003)

It occurred to me in the middle of the night that Michael asked if I was a virgin to find out what I expected of him. If I hadn’t been one then he probably would have made love to me. What scares me is I’m not sure how I feel about that. (20)

Katherine and Michael’s first meeting is innocent enough, the exchange of a few words at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party. But they’re both intrigued by each other, and have their first date the very next day. It’s a great way to start off the New Year as their relationship blooms and advances from hand holding to declaring their love for each other. Their parents caution them about first loves, but Katherine and Michael are adamant that this is going to work out. With everyone saying “take it slow” and “this won’t last”, Katherine and Michael have big decisions to make as they finish their senior year, decisions that will affect their lives and relationship.

A refreshingly honest portrayal of first romance and love that still rings true after all these years (and I really didn’t realize how many years it has been). Unlike today’s books where we see instant sparks and love at first sight, Katherine and Michael’s love for each other starts off slow and builds. They attend different schools, so they only see each other mostly on the weekends and some nights. I think this adds to their evolution together, as they aren’t available for hand-holding, walking each other to classes, eating lunch together or stealing kisses in the hallway.

The story is almost timeless, with just one mention of records at the very beginning and a lack of cell phones being the only glaring difference between now and when the book was written more than 35 YEARS(!) ago. It’s older than Banned Book Week, which is celebrating its 30th Anniversary this year. I actually don’t recall reading a whole lot of Judy Blume when I was younger except the Fudge series, although I acutely remember writing a paper on her because years later I found the same book I used to write the report in my library (I recognized the cover photo) so she must have made some impact.

I’m presenting this book during Banned Book Week and I can understand why parents might still object to it all these years later (it was number #16 of top 100 books banned from 2000-2009). While not explicit or overly graphic, it does portray the characters having sex. Katherine is intent on waiting, and although it’s not a very long time (about three months) before they’re seriously considering sex, it’s nice to see a guy who’s respectful of that choice and doesn’t pressure her (much). While everything is told from Katherine’s perspective, we do witness a little bit of what the guy goes through, as Michael complains about pain, there’s premature ejaculation, and also a time when things just aren’t happening. (I’m afraid including these details is going to give me a lot more traffic from people not looking for book reviews, but there’s no other way to describe it. *laughing*) The othering refreshing aspect of the book is it portrays different points of view, with the novel bringing up topics of pregnancy and sex out of wedlock, sexually transmitted diseases, abortions, and questioning sexuality.

Katherine’s family is just as upfront about it as Blume is in her descriptions. Her mother and grandmother (who if you think about it would have been born sometime in the 40s at the latest!) are surprisingly frank but also hands off about their advice, giving Katherine articles about sex and referring her to Planned Parenthood. They do answer her questions when she approaches them, but they let Katherine make her own decisions about when it’s the right time to talk. Katherine’s father is understandably more straight-forward about the discussion. He sits down with her and flatly tells her that he doesn’t “want to see her tied down” and that she’s “too young to make lifetime decisions.” (74) The Planned Parenthood scene is portrayed as very clinical, sterile, and professional, presenting her options and describing the process with again very minimal details.

My physical consisted of weight and blood pressure, a routine breast exam, with the doctor explaining how I should check my breasts each month, then my first pelvic examination. I tried to act as if I was used to it, but I didn’t fool the doctor, who said “Try to relax, Katherine. This isn’t going to hurt.” And it didn’t either, but it was uncomfortable for a minute, like when he pushed with one hand from inside and with the other from the outside.
Then he slipped this cold thing into my vagina and explained, “This is a vaginal speculum. It holds the walls of the vagina open so that the inside is easily seen.” […]
“I’m almost done now, Katherine . . . just a Pap smear . . . there,” he said, passing a long Q-tip kind of thing to his assistant. “And the gonorrhea culture . . . okay . . . that does it.” He took off his rubber glove. (119-120)

Quite obviously meant for teens, I would recommend it to any girl who considered herself in a serious relationship or was thinking about having sex. Katherine and her friends show times of insight that every reader could benefit from. While the challenges are correct that it does portray sex between teenagers, masturbation, and birth control, these are all things that teens should be informed about before reaching college. Katherine shows responsibility, restraint and forward planning, all things that readers are encouraged to emulate, and something that parents should be relieved is being portrayed to their children in a positive and nonjudgmental manner.

Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition

Title: Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition
Author: Karen Blumenthal
ISBN: 9781596434493
Pages: 154 pages
Publisher/Date: Roaring Book Press, c2011.

Sometime after 10 a.m. on this shivery-cold and windy Chicago morning, seven men gathered in a nondescript garage warehouse on Clark Street.
Most of them were wearing hats and coats against the chill of the nearly empty warehouse as they waited, maybe for a big shipment of smuggled whiskey, maybe for a special meeting. These were no Boy Scouts. All had ties to a criminal gang run by George “Bugs” Moran […]. Most of them had done some jail time. […]
On the snow-dusted street outside, a black Cadillac with a police gong, siren, and gun rack—the type usually driven by police detectives—pulled up to the curb. Four or five men emerged, two dressed like police officers, and went into the warehouse. Seeing the “officers” and apparently thinking local cops were conducting a routine alcohol raid, the seven men inside lined up against the back wall and put their hands in the air.
They were still in that vulnerable position when two machine guns started firing. (1-2)

So begins Karen Blumenthal’s book about the Prohibition movement. Tracing back forty-five years to the very beginnings of the push against alcohol, Blumenthal creates a thorough account of how the 18th Amendment was added to the Constitution. After its enactment in 1919, the nation spent over a decade fighting against people who continued to traffic and sell what had become an illegal substance. With no clear way or agency willing to enforce the new law, a growing industry evolved in distributing alcohol. As public and political opinion shifted sides, the push began to repeal the law that was meant to save the nation from lawlessness.

I’d heard rave reviews of this book from multiple journals, and the sub-title gives the impression of a story of corruption that would rival the Sopranos or the Godfather. While Blumenthal does an admirable job presenting the history of the amendment and stays relatively neutral (there are some slips), it’s not the gang bang, violence filled account that you expect by the title. Besides the opening account of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (which is mentioned again later on) and some actions by Al Capone that are added almost as asides, less than 25% of the book covers the era the amendment was in affect, much less the deadly aspects of that decade.

Mostly detailing the campaigns to first invoke and then revoke the amendment, it also brings to light the audacity of the public to flaunt the system, as Blumenthal writes:

In grocery and department stores, packages of dehydrated grapes were sold with labels that read something like this: “WARNING! If the contents of this package are added to 5 gallons of water, 5 lbs. of sugar, and 1 cake of yeast, the result will be an intoxicating beverage which is illegal in the United States.” A brick of grape concentrate, customers were told, shouldn’t be put in a jug, corked, and set in a dark place for three weeks or shaken once a day because—hint, hint—it would turn into wine. (82)

It’s those little “winks” that make me question or objectivity towards the subject, but as I said she presented quite a bit more background information than most books on the subject contain.

Abundant black and white pictures give readers a window into life during the late 1800s and early 1900s. An extremely thorough bibliography and source notes also follow the text, however most of the books appear quite old based on their copyright dates, and I wonder how easily accessible they are to readers looking for more information. Since the book is being recommended for teenage audiences, I also would have appreciated some sort of indication as to which sources were appropriate for that age group. The inclusion of a timeline in the accompanying material would have also been nice.

Overall it appears to be a well researched book about Prohibition, good for projects but probably not so appealing to the merely curious.

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