Genre: Girls & Women

Middle Grade Monday: Little Author in the Big Woods (2014) by Yona Zeldis McDonough

Middle Grade Monday: Little Author in the Big Woods (2014) by Yona Zeldis McDonoughLittle Author in the Big Woods by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Published by Macmillan on September 16th 2014
Genres: 19th Century, Biography & Autobiography, Girls & Women, Historical, History, Literary, Middle Grade, Nonfiction, United States
Pages: 176
Goodreads

Suggested age range: 7 and up

The Book: Divided into eight chapters and illustrated with charming and comfy black and white pencil drawings, McDonough’s biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder is a good choice for elementary readers interested in the life of the beloved Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie. Here we learn more about the lives of Laura’s parents, Charles and Caroline, and about Laura’s early life growing up in the “Big Woods.” The book follows Laura all the way until her death, providing details about her life with Almanzo, her daughter, Rose, and her life as a writer. Readers will recognize events shared in the biography if they’re familiar with the Little House books. This is something the author mentions—the fact that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about the life she knew—and which made her historical fiction that much more powerful. The book also includes quotes of Laura’s, “Games Laura Played,” a craft, and even recipes of foods mentioned by Laura.

Highlights: Love the map in the front of the book—“Places Laura Lived”—including the states of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. At several points in the book, the author connects different events in Laura’s life to reinforce how those events contributed to her becoming a writer. These reminders made me think about how so many factors influence the roles we end up filling in our lives—but if we have a strong passion for something, it’s hopeful that we’ll end up nurturing that anyway.

Who Should Read This Book: Readers of the beloved Little House books will appreciate this short and sweet biography, peppered with charming black and white drawings of various scenes from Laura’s life. It’s an easy read, filled with loads of information and interesting details about the various moves Laura’s family took throughout her life.

To Read or Not to Read?: Yes! I’ve been a fan of the Little House books since I was a young reader, and I have always been fascinated by the fact that the books were inspired by the real life of a girl growing up on the Prairie. This biography reminded me of how much I loved reading about the Ingalls family and the daily routines of their life back in the middle of the 19th century. Historical fiction is a genre I ADORED as a young reader, and I still LOVE a good historical read today. You’ll notice I don’t post reviews of as many nonfiction books on the blog, but reading Little Author in the Big Woods has made me rethink that. Nonfiction literature for children and young adults is a valuable genre, and it may be that my jaunt over the vast space Laura Ingalls Wilder journeyed during her lifetime via this short read just may inspire me to pursue more nonfiction journeys for young readers in the near future!

Do you have a favorite Nonfiction read from 2014? Or from any year that you think I absolutely must read??

What Katie Read

Review: Belzhar (2014) by Meg Wolitzer

Review: Belzhar (2014) by Meg WolitzerBelzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Published by Penguin on September 30th 2014
Genres: Death & Dying, Depression & Mental Illness, Fantasy, Girls & Women, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 272
Goodreads
four-stars

Suggested age range: 14 and up

The Book: Jam has been sent away from home. She now temporarily lives at a boarding school known as The Wooden Barn, with other “troubled” teens. She is having trouble getting over the death of her boyfriend, Reeve, and her parents are desperate for her to get back to normal. So off she goes to rural Vermont, and though she doesn’t want to be there, at first, she is signed up for an invite only class known as Special Topics in English. The class turns out to be focused on Sylvia Plath, and each student receives a special journal in which they share their thoughts. What Jam quickly finds out is that the journal possesses a magical ability to transport her to a past where Reeve is still alive. What other secrets does this strange world of Belzhar hold and will it help her come to terms with Reeve’s absence?

Spirituality in Belzhar: Working through your issues. We all know what that’s like—in one way or another. This notion of being broken after losing a person is an aspect of the story that some readers could relate to, and there’s a spiritual element to the story here. Grief is natural, and people work through grief in different ways. Journaling as a therapeutic technique for Jam and her peers is explored in the story, and this made me think about how we can reveal more of ourselves through our creative output—whether that is through writing, artwork, dance, or music. Belzhar definitely made me think, and I’m fascinated by the wide range of responses this book attracted!

Who Should Read This Book: I haven’t read anything else of Wolitzer’s but after I heard her speak at the Boston Book Festival, I requested this book from the library. Now I’m planning to read some of her other fiction, and I know she is well-known for her adult literary fiction. If you’re looking for something a bit different, this may be a book for you—the premise was unique to me, and I really had no idea how things were going to turn out with Jam and Reeve and Belzhar. You’ll see from GoodReads that some readers really didn’t like this book for its lack of character development and neatly tied up ending. It may not be for everyone, but the premise and the situation Jam was going through were really interesting to me. I enjoyed it. It was a story I couldn’t put down, and though there were some eye rolling moments with Jam’s character, there were some issues that came up that I think would be relevant for teen readers.

The Final Word: Belzhar is a mysterious place, which intrigued me, and I loved the discussion of Plath and her works. Though the twist in the story may or may not work for you, I think this book is worth picking up.

 

 

four-stars
What Katie Read

The Vanishing Season (2014) by Jodi Lynn Anderson

The Vanishing Season (2014) by Jodi Lynn AndersonThe Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Published by Harper Collins on July 1st 2014
Genres: Death & Dying, Fantasy, Friendship, Girls & Women, Mysteries & Detective Stories, Paranormal, Young Adult
Pages: 272
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Suggested age range: 13 and up

The Book: At first glance, this might seem like a ghost story. In some ways it is. In some ways, it isn’t. It’s about Maggie, who moves to Door County, Wisconsin where a bitterly cold winter ushers in a dangerous season for girls. They start disappearing. Having moved from Chicago, Maggie and her parents slowly start to make a home for themselves in this bleak and yet beautiful landscape, and Maggie develops connections with neighbors Pauline, and Pauline’s good friend, Liam. The friendship between these three teens is the central focus of the book, but woven within that narrative is a mystery—including a mystery about the narrator of the story—who is telling us what happened and what role did he/she have to play in the events that transpired that tragic winter?

Spirituality in The Vanishing Season: Anderson touches on some interesting topics that illuminate issues of spirituality—what happens when we die, if we are tied in some profound way to another person, and the power of relationships to bring healing and forgiveness.

Though I don’t necessarily agree with the author’s depiction of what happens when someone dies, the story definitely would provide an opportunity for some fascinating discussion. The question of uncertainty about the narrator brings up the idea that different people see the same events in various ways—it seems that when we come to that awareness, it may be  easier to understand others.

Who Should Read This Book: If you loved We Were Liars, you should read Anderson’s new book. Those of you that love Tiger Lily, yes, I would recommend you read The Vanishing Season, but I wouldn’t say this is at the same level as Tiger Lily. It’s a different kind of book, and, as you might have read on GoodReads, opinions were widely varied. I didn’t have the problems with this story that some other reviewers did, but I can see their frustration with the idea that not much happened in the story. However, I found myself gripped and turning the pages, wanting to know what was going on with these vanishing girls, but also wondering how the connections between Maggie, Pauline, and Liam were going to work out.

The Final Word: This book gave me a hangover when I finished it. I will eventually re-read it though. I want to comb through the story, look for clues, and appreciate again Anderson’s rich and atmospheric language. I enjoyed the book (as much as you can when you get to the end of a book and just want to sit and stare into space) but I struggled with the ending a bit. I wanted something different for the central characters, but I could understand where Anderson was going with the narrative. Point of discussion—compare the ending of this story with Tiger Lily. Could be an interesting talk!

 

three-half-stars
What Katie Read
%d bloggers like this: