Thursday, August 5, 2010

"No!", by David McPhail

Another wonderful picture book by David McPhail, "No" (2009) is short on words and long on visual story. McPhail's illustrations show us a city in western Europe during WWII, and just how strong one boy's stance against hatred and agression can be. Young picture book readers will understand one message: that standing up for yourself and saying no to bullies brings positive change. Older readers will understand its global message as well.

"The Report Card", by Andrew Clements

Clements harks back to his recent success, "No Talking", by having school students whip up another rebellion against the teaching establishment. This one challenges the significance of grades and how they make students feel about themselves, i.e., dumb or smart, depending on the outcome. It also poses questions about the validity of rote memorization and standardized testing. The protagonist, Nora, is an extremely academically gifted child who has managed to hide her gifts until now, and she did so because she wanted to seem normal and on par with everyone else, not elevated to a position of "better and smarter" than everyone else. She finds a confidant in the school's librarian, who helps Nora see that her public challenges and her gifts are important in their philosophy, but are not the right way to address these issues. The librarian suggests that Nora focus on discovering how she can use her talents to make things better when and as she grows up. Nora also finds out that the teachers often feel frustrated with the system as she does, but she realizes that there have to be standards that work as best they can for the whole, diverse population. Once again, Clements on his education soap box - a great little book with thoughts to ponder.

"The Green Glass Sea", by Ellen Klages

Ellen Klages' "The Green Glass Sea" captured the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and won numerous other recommendations and honors. The meaning of the title is not revealed until the last - the fireball of the Los Alamos atomic bomb test, three weeks before Hiroshima, turned seventy-five acres of the desert into glass (a new mineral scientists called Trinitite). Klages stumbled upon the existence of the glass as mere bylines during her Los Alamos book research, and the glass "sea" serves as a final focal point for one of her two main characters, Dewey, to heal her personal emotional turmoil. That turmoil encompasses both her personal tragedy and the mixed blessings of the creation of the bomb, the atomic age - both its destruction and its awe-inspiring wonder - borne of creative, scientific minds and a furvent desire for the better good.

Alternately told in first person by two young girls, this is a novel which skillfully explains historical, philosophical dilemmas in the context of family and growing friendship. It actively encourages girls to pursue their dreams and talents in the field of science, and to open their minds to creativity. Further, it discourages negative, female teen social cliques and promotes kindness in the face of social pressures. All this, and yet not at all too heady for young readers! A good novel for all teens, especially girls, aged 11-15.