Posts tagged ‘disabilities/handicaps’

El Deafo

El DeafoTitle: El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell
Color: David Lasky
ISBN: 9781419710209
Pages: 242 pages
Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, c2014.
Awards: Newbery Honor (2015)

I wake up every morning happy and relieved to be home. I stay close to Mama, no matter where she is. But suddenly, I lose her. Where is she? I call out but she doesn’t answer me! When I finally find her, I know that everything is different. I think she knows it, too. I can’t hear. (11-12)

As a result of meningitis when she was four, Cece spent some time in the hospital. When she got back home, her parents and her realized that there was something wrong. She had become deaf. After being fit with hearing aids, Cece attends a special school to adapt to her lost hearing, but a family move means she leaves behind the welcoming environment. A new school means she needs to adapt to kids not understanding what the hearing aids do and how to react and interact with her.

The idea of portraying the people as bunnies was an inspired choice on the author’s part. Deafness seems more pronounced when exhibited by an animal with such pronounced ears, and that makes real the anxiety that the author feels when trying to hide her defining characteristic. I had a classmate with a similar hearing device that Cece wears and uses in school, and it’s interesting to see the world from that perspective. Cece’s reluctance to learn sign language was surprising to me, but her reasoning makes sense. She is trying so hard to not appear different that she is isolating herself because she can’t change her differences. It’s when she finally embraces her differences and uses them to the class’s advantage (like a super power) that she makes friends. But honestly, I’m glad she made friends like Martha, who didn’t care about her hearing aids, either as a positive super power or a negative disability.

Most of the feelings of acceptance are universal, they are simply amplified by Cece’s difference. Fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and R. J. Palacio’s Wonder will probably enjoy this graphic novel with a similar story line. These books are important to have to teach acceptance to children and share unique perspectives, but some may be turned off by the continued emphasis of the differences and the primary role they play in the plot.

My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay

My Three Best Friends and Me ZulayTitle: My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay
Author: Cari Best
Illustrator: Vanessa Brantley-Newton
ISBN: 9780374388195
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, c2015.
Publication Date: January 13, 2015

A multicultural cast of characters support Zulay, an African-American student learning to use her cane for the first time. Zulay resents how conspicuous the cane makes her among her classmates. When the field day events are announced, Zulay is intent on competing in the foot race in her new pink shoes.

I love how adaptive the classroom is portrayed, with three-dimensional math diagrams and counting blocks, name tags written in Braille and written letters, and Zulay using a Brailler. Readers don’t realize in the beginning that Zulay is blind, with the first pictures showing her skipping and singing down the hallway with her friends. While probably an intentional decision by the author and illustrator showing similarities before differences, I wish it had been carried through to the front cover. Receiving assistance from her aid, Zulay doesn’t lose her independence, and her feelings are succinctly portrayed in just a few brief sentences. “I don’t like when I hear my name sticking out there by itself. […] But I don’t say the way I feel. I might stick out even more, like a car alarm in the night waking everybody up.” On my copy, the back cover contains a raised Braille alphabet for readers to experience, which is a unique and welcome addition. Use this book for discussions on disabilities or what makes people unique, especially asking what’s the same and different about the girls on the first page before and after the reading.

The Impossible Knife of Memory

Impossible Knife of MemoryTitle: The Impossible Knife of Memory
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Narrators: Julia Whelan and Luke Daniels
ISBN: 9781480553569 (audiobook)
Pages: 391 Pages
Discs/CDs: 8 CDs, 9 hours 13 minutes
Publisher/Date: Brilliance Audio, c2014.
Publication Date: January 7, 2014

Hayley Kincain is starting school for the first time in years in her father’s home town, after spending time on the road with him. Both Hayley and her father suffer memory issues, her father from PTSD after serving time in Afghanistan, and Hayley from the traumatic events following his return. Hayley knows that her unpredictable father is just one small step away from the breaking point, but she’s never quite sure what will set him off. One day he’s shooting hoops, the next day he’s shooting his gun at the television. She hides her situation from everyone, trying to avoid the pitying looks and their inevitable separation. But when a classmate begins showing an interest in her and her circumstances, Hayley wonders if there is a future, or if it’s just one more complication in a world causing her and her father so much hurt.

As always, Laurie Halse Anderson weaves readers into a spell of a story. On more than one occasion I found my heart in my throat as we see Hayley struggle to stitch her life together. You can see that Hayley and her father aren’t bad people, but don’t know how to handle their situation. The title is applicable, as Hayley continuously refers to memories as slicing through her system, and her father would probably describe them in the same way as they spring upon both of them unbidden, altering how they look at the world. You get the sense that they are balancing on a knife point, just waiting for their family to get sliced in half.

A slight spoiler, but Hayley’s classmate Finn has entered my top five list of perfect boyfriends. He pushes for more information, and comforts and aids Hayley as he can, but he recognizes that they are both in over their head at the climatic ending. Their sarcastic, witty back-and-forth banter is the comedy relief that such a serious topic needs, and you anticipate their relationship long before it is formalized. There’s an ongoing gag about their involvement with different covert operations and Finn’s slow driving and derelict car. Hayley’s jaded voice is offset by Finn’s down to earth disposition. His persistence pays off, and their first date is swoon worthy. With all the complications that their families bring to the table, they struggle, and the real question is if they will stay together or not. Can I bring him to life?

Julia Whelan does an excellent job bringing Hayley’s anguish and uncertainty to the narration. She does an admirable job distinguishing voices, and listeners will get caught up in the story. Luke Daniels adds some intermittent insights into Hayley’s father’s head. While I wish there were more, I can understand what the author is doing. We never get a full picture of what is going on in a wounded veteran’s head, so it’s unfair that we would get more information than Hayley has on her own father. The slow drawl and anguished distance that Daniels conveys through those short interludes is terse, tense, and timely to the plot. I’m glad they choose to have two narrators.

Counting By 7s

Counting by 7sTitle: Counting By 7s
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Narrator: Robin Miles
ISBN: 978162406902 (audiobook)
Pages: 380 pages
Publisher/Date: Penguin Audio, c2013. (audiobook)
Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., c2013. (print book)

I’ve got some toddler memories, but my first sequence recall is kindergarten; no matter how hard I’ve tried to forget the experience. […]
I can still hear Mrs. King, spin straight and shrill voice booming:
“How does this book make you feel?”
She then made a few exaggerated yawns.
I recall looking around at my fellow inmates, thinking: Would someone, anyone, just shout out the word tired? […]
So when the teacher specifically said:
“Willow, how does this book make you feel?”
I had to tell the truth:
“It makes me feel really bad. The moon can’t hear someone say good night; it is two hundred thirty-five thousand miles away. And bunnies don’t life in houses. Also, I don’t think that the artwork is very interesting.” […]
That afternoon, I learned the word weirdo because that’s what I was called by the other kids.
When my mom came to pick me up, she found me crying behind the Dumpster. (16-18)

Willow Chance, adopted into a loving family, has an obsession with the number seven, medical conditions (particularly skin disorders), and plants. She is analytic, reserved, and highly gifted and lacks social skills, which makes it difficult to make friends but easy to memorize complex languages and scientific concepts. She finds an ally in older student Mai, who visits with her brother Quang Ha the same slacker school counselor that Willow is forced to see after being falsely accused of cheating on a test. These three unlikely companions, along with Mai’s mother and brother, are thrust together upon the sudden death of Willow’s parents. Forming a bond from secrets, everyone’s lives begin to change as they struggle to help Willow. What will come of quiet girl who has now lost her family for a second time?

Full disclosure: I have not yet read Wonder R.J. Palacio, which everyone I’ve talked to keeps comparing this book too. I will soon, I promise. I found myself comparing it to Rules by Cynthia Lord or Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. In any case, Willow is an instantly intriguing character. Narrated by Robin Miles, Willow’s voice is given the subtle nuances that it deserves. She is self-assured when dealing with numbers, details and scientific facts, but quiet and reserved when faced with making decisions affecting her own life and social interactions. Miles distinguishes between the characters well, even realistically portraying the counselor Dell Duke’s stutter, but it’s Willow who readers are understandably drawn to, as she tries to make sense of things.

Mai’s brother Quang Ha is understandably upset by the new living situation, as the family has few resources to begin with and they are essentially taking care of a stranger. There’s little explanation behind Mai and her mother’s immediate acceptance of Willow’s circumstances and instant claim to her, and I find Dell Duke’s passiveness and eventual involvement in the lies hard to reconcile, but the whole situation changes everyone for the better. This is a story of a whole community coming together to aid in a girl’s recovery, and becoming a very nontraditional family in the process. I don’t think this would be the outcome in real life, but if readers are willing to suspend belief they will be richly rewarded with this engrossing tale.

What We Saw at Night

What We Saw At NightTitle: What We Saw at Night
Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard
ISBN: 9781616951412
Pages: 243 pages
Publisher/Date: Soho Teen (an imprint of Soho Press), c2013.

All I could see was white. One massive room: white walls, white carpeting, white woodwork. Except . . . right in the middle of the floor, next to the sliding doors, a young woman with dark hair–probably not much older than we were–was on her back. She wore only a bra. A man with his back turned to us was leaning over her. He seemed to be kissing her, then slapping her, then trying to pull her up. […]
I said, “That girl looked dead.”
“Dead drunk maybe,” Juliet dismissed, drying her camera with her shirt.
“He was doing, like CPR, right?” I asked, mostly to myself.
“Good date gone bad,” Juliet replied. Her voice was flat. “It scared the hell out of me, though, when that light went on.”
The lightning crashed again. We heard a hollow boom–a tree or a light pole down. It happened all the time.
Then Rob said, “Who has a date in a room with no furniture?” (38-39)

Allie and her friends Rob and Juliet all suffer from a fatal allergy to sunlight called Xeroderma Pigmentosum, which relegates them to sleeping during the day and living in the night. Juliet, the more mysterious and adventurous of the three, discovers the sport Parkour and convinces the other two to begin practicing the free-wheeling jumps and leaps, utilizing their nightly sojourns as private practice in their urban playground. During their first attempt at something big, the three witness what appears to be a murder. While Rob and Juliet convince themselves otherwise, Allie pursues the deadly alternative that a murderer is loose in the city. Her investigation isolates her from her friends and also puts her in real danger as she plays detective at a time when most people are safely asleep in their beds. Sometimes the buddy system really is best, and as Juliet pulls further away the closer Allie gets to the truth, and Allie is forced to question who she can trust.

The best word I can use to describe this book is enigmatic. By the end of the book, you’ve followed Allie’s convoluted detective work and Juliet’s inability to answer a question to a suspect, but really no solution. I did not expect the ending, at all, which usually I’m praising because it surprises me. But then there’s a second curve ball after the first, and eventually the book and it’s questions only leaves my head spinning. The three friends seem to be really only friends because they are the only ones who can be friends with each other, due to their unique allergy to the sun. While I can understand that friendship lasting for a little while, I really question why Allie and Rob didn’t cut Juliet loose a long time ago due to frustration of her behavior. It exasperated me that we never got a straight answer of what happened, and by the end I didn’t really care about the characters all that much. They were underdeveloped and I had a hard time relating to their situation, even with all the information provided about their disease and situation.

The one thing that really did intrigue me was the portrayal of Parkour, which I’d heard of previously but never fully seen developed in a story until now. Unfortunately, it seemed like Allie and Rob only picked it up in order to keep their eye on unpredictable Juliet, and we never really find out what prompted Juliet to take up the sport. Besides referencing some Youtube videos, Mitchard does talk about what structures are used and portrays the characters building some core strength and exercising properly before attempting anything elaborate. It’s not a skill that can be gained overnight, and the dangers, illegality, and injuries of the sport are also portrayed realistically without getting preachy or didactic. Stories about mainstream sports abound, so this one peaks my interest and will probably stay with me because of its inclusion of Parkour. Otherwise, the too many questions and not enough answers story line leaves little for me to hold onto until the sequel arrives in December.

Elvis and the Underdogs

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Elvis and the UnderdogsTitle: Elvis and the Underdogs
Author: Jenny Lee
ISBN: 9780062235541
Pages: 300 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, c2013.
Publication Date: May 14, 2013

“Hi, doggy. My name is Benji. What’s your name, huh?”
The dog opened his mouth again. I thought he was going to lick the other half of my face, but instead he said, “Very nice to meet you, Benji. My name is Parker Elvis Pembroke IV. You may call me Parker Elvis Pembroke. Or Mr. Pembroke, if you prefer. So . . . this place is much smaller than I imagined.”
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, did I just read that correctly? Did he say the dog talked? Well, I’m here to tell you that you did read correctly, and yes, the dog did talk, and that’s exactly what he said, word for word. But if you’re surprised, you should be, because when it happened, I was just as surprised as you are. So much so that I didn’t even know what to say. My first thought was that the twins were playing a joke on me, and my second thought was that perhaps I was having some weird allergic reaction to the dog, and my third thought was that I’d imagined the whole thing, because I’m a pretty smart kid and I know that dogs do not talk! […]
And then I fainted. (72-74)

Ten-year-old Benji was born premature and as a result is small for his age, has lots of allergies, faints frequently, and finds himself at the hospital more often than school. The doctor offers Benji an ultimatum; wear an ugly padded helmet everywhere or get a therapy dog. When the dog arrives, it’s not a cute, furry creature but a 200 pound, two feet tall, TALKING Newfoundland named Parker Elvis Pembroke IV, who Benji promptly nicknames Elvis. Only Benji can understand him, which might not be as great as it sounds since bossy Elvis was destined for the White House and is unimpressed with his current situation. Both Benji and Elvis struggle to make sense of this mix-up and determine who’s really top dog. But will Elvis come through for Benji when it matters the most?

Wonderstruck

Title: Wonderstruck: A Novel in Pictures and Words
Author/Illustrator: Brian Selznick
ISBN: 9780545027892
Pages: 639 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, c2011.
Publication Date: September 13, 2011

He inched closer until he was right outside her door. He turned off the flashlight and put it in his back pocket.
The door was open a crack, and he could see the framed Van Gogh print– a big black tree and a swirling night sky with golden stars. A shadow moved across the room.
Ben thought about the shooting star and the impossible wish he’d made. With a trembling hand, he slowly pushed open the door. (69)

By 1977, Ben had lived on the edge of Gunflint Lake, in Minnesota, with his mom for all 12 years of his life until a car accident forced him to move in with his aunt, uncle, and cousins. After a lightning storm strikes the house, Ben discovers a part of his mother’s past and runs away to New York to follow the clues and find his father. Little does he know that he’s tracing the path that another child took 50 years ago, when Rose braved the streets of 1927 New York to follow a mysterious actress. Told in alternating text and pictures, Brian Selznick immitates and expands the concept that he first brought to life with the Caldecott winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret to bring these two stories together.

Anyone who loved Hugo Cabret is bound to fall in love with Wonderstruck because his pictures are just as detailed and intricate. Readers can see the care that Selznick took with each distinguishable pencil stroke, from the scrollwork on the set design pieces to the twinkling eyes. I get the impression that Selznick has a special affinity for eyes, as he “zooms in” through the use of several consecutive pictures that get closer and closer to the iris. I’m just drawn to the characters’ eyes in every one of the portraits, and the engaging expressions you find are very appealing and emotional.

The story itself, while elements are unique and I like the homage to the museums, is not as original as Hugo Cabret. Pardon the pun, but I was not “wonderstruck” by the plot. Maybe my expectations were too high, but it just seemed like the story dragged in spots and there wasn’t a whole lot of urgency. The ending I saw coming and wasn’t really surprised by the outcome.

The setting and illustrations are what lend the magic to the story, as Selznick weaves museum history and the awe that museums inspire with his characters’ enquisitive and curious natures. The other unique aspect was including the Deaf culture and perspective, since one of the characters is deaf. Selznick addresses some aspects of Deaf culture in his acknowledgements, and I really hope his next endeveaor is a sign language book, because the illustrations are so detailed.

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