Sunday, August 13, 2017

Poetry Sunday (8/13/2017): "I Will Sing You One-O" by Robert Frost

I've been reading a lot of Robert Frost poems lately, so, for today's Poetry Sunday post, I am recommending his poem, "I Will Sing You One-O." I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

MMGM (8/14/2017): El Deafo by Cece Bell

For MMGM, I am recommending El Deafo by Cece Bell.




Here's the publisher's description:

Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful—and very awkward—hearing aid.
The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear—sometimes things she shouldn’t—but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she’s longed for.

Several years ago, I read El Deafo, a graphic novel and winner of a Newbery Honor, in one sitting. Years later, it had stuck with me, which is why I am recommending it today. I have so many positive things to say about it. Firstly, I love the story, which is based on the author's childhood as she navigated her life with little hearing and conspicuous hearing aids. The writing and illustrations combined paint a very vivid picture of both struggling in everyday life and of having trouble being accepted by others. Also, I love the art style of the book, which seems to depict the characters as rabbits (which one can tell by looking at the ironically large ears) and adds a touch of whimsy to the book. In fact, El Deafo is never overly sad, which makes it even more realistic, enjoyable, and powerful. Young children will enjoy the depictions of childhood and will understand the message, while older children and adults will appreciate the narration of the book, seeming to come straight from the author, and will still feel touched by the book's theme of accepting one's differences and making the best of them.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

MMGM (8/7/2017) Classic Critique: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

If you were reading this blog several months ago, you might remember that I did a post in a new style I called Classic Critique, where I list the pros and cons of a famous book. Today, I am critiquing To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (which I wholeheartedly recommend). First, however, I would like to tell you that today is the one-year anniversary of Completely Full Bookshelf! I first posted on this blog on August 7, 2016, when I recommended When You Reach Me. I would like to thank all of the authors of the books that I loved so much, and I would also like to thank all of my readers, old and new, for giving me a supportive audience to recommend books to. Now, to the review!




Pros:
  • The characters. One of the best parts of To Kill a Mockingbird is the characters. Scout is a great main character who learns as the story goes on and whose adult self looks back on her child self without either looking down on her or seeming like she hasn't changed at all. Scout's older brother, Jem, annoys Scout at times but is still a good person, and Scout's father, Atticus, is both very wise and is a unique parent. Readers will also like some of the townsfolk, such as Maudie Atkinson.
  • A plot that moves. Many classic books that I have read drag on without any thing happening. To Kill a Mockingbird is a welcome exception to that statement. No events are rushed, but none are focused on for longer than they need to be. Also, none of the plot events are boring or particularly depressing (some are sad, but they don't emphasize it).
  • The ending. The main plot point of To Kill a Mockingbird doesn't have the happiest ending. However, rather than ending with a clich├ęd message of hope (which would have been fine, but not great), one final event happens that shapes the entire end of the story and makes the reader forget all about the preceding hardships (at least in the moment).
  • The writing. To Kill a Mockingbird is simply a well-written book. No sentences are awkward, and the book has a great mix of beauty and humor. There are great metaphors (such as the one in the title) and great descriptions both of scenery and, often, of the behavior of society.
  • The messages about race and gender roles. To seal the deal, To Kill a Mockingbird has great messages as well. Some of these are about race (Atticus, a lawyer, is defending an African-American man in court, and the book discusses both how racism is wrong and how not as many people are racist as we think), and some of these are about gender roles (when Scout's aunt comes to live with her family, she is constantly appalled by Scout's behavior, which involves playing outside and wearing overalls instead of dresses). These messages add to an already great book to create one that is worthy of all of the praise it has gained over the years.

Cons:
  • Sometimes, even people Scout's own age seem wiser than her. I doubt that everyone will agree with my cons, but I'm still writing them down anyway. During the book, Scout is not nearly as wise as those older than her when it comes to racism. However, over the course of the book, Jem, who is just a few years older than Scout, and Scout and Jem's friend Dill, who is of a similar age, are both upset over racism, while Scout isn't, really. This casts a somewhat negative light over Scout, which is jarring.
  • One particular sexist moment. One other moment in To Kill a Mockingbird bothered me as well. At one point, Atticus is explaining to Scout that women aren't allowed to serve as jurors. However, rather than condemning this practice, he condoned it, with his reason being the usual "women are fragile" lie. In addition, he also jokes that, if women served as jurors, they would constantly be interrupting. Both of these got to me. Although everyone is flawed, I have always found prejudice to be worse than many other flaws, and, with Atticus being one of the few people who isn't racist throughout the course of the book, these comments were very strange and somewhat upsetting.

Verdict:
To Kill a Mockingbird isn't perfect, but no book is. It is still an incredible story that any reader will remember for the course of their life and come out of feeling changed for the better. Although some classics are only famous for being good in their time, To Kill a Mockingbird is still better than many books published today, and it probably will be forever.

Poetry Sunday (8/6/2017): "Good Hours" by Robert Frost

Since my blog is turning one year old tomorrow, I decided to be a more responsible blogger and resume my Poetry Sunday posts. Today, I am recommending "Good Hours" by Robert Frost. I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

MMGM (7/31/2017): Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins

For MMGM, I am recommending Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins.




Here's the publisher's description:

In a world of elite magic academies, weird and wonderful things happen when you're sent off to public school...and put in the Upside-Down Magic class. 

It's never easy when your magic goes wonky.

For Nory, this means that instead of being able to turn into a dragon or a kitten, she turns into both of them at the same time-a dritten.

For Elliott, the simple act of conjuring fire from his fingertips turns into a fully frozen failure.

For Andres, wonky magic means he's always floating in the air, bouncing off the walls, or sitting on the ceiling.

For Bax, a bad moment of magic will turn him into a . . . actually, he'd rather not talk about that.

Nory, Elliott, Andres, and Bax are just four of the students in Dunwiddle Magic School's Upside-Down Magic class. In their classroom, lessons are unconventional, students are unpredictable, and magic has a tendency to turn wonky at the worst possible moments. Because it's always amazing, the trouble a little wonky magic can cause . . .

I really enjoyed this book, seeing as how I read it in 2 days (although it is short) and have already started the first sequel (book 4 will come out this January)! The main character of the book is Nory, a girl who lives in a world where everyone has some sort of magic powers. Nory's powers, like those of many others in the book, allow her to turn into different animals, but, unlike the powers of others, these animals are usually not one animal, but a blend (such as the dragon-kitten combination, or "dritten," shown on the cover). In addition, Nory often loses control over her animal forms to pure instinct. For these reasons, Nory does not get into the private magic school run by her father, who sends her away from her family to live with her aunt and go to a public school. During the course of the book, Nory struggles with being away from her family and having trouble in her class, but she also starts to like her aunt, teacher, and classmates and learns that her powers, despite being judged and ridiculed by many, can actually be useful. All of the characters in Upside-Down Magic are fully fleshed-out (even the bullies), and the plot never drags on, instead moving quickly thanks to the book's short size. Although this book is aimed at 5th or 6th graders, who will definitely enjoy it, older readers will still love the messages and characters and want to try the sequels A.S.A.P.!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

MMGM (7/24/2017): The Wells & Wong Mystery series (Murder Is Bad Manners, etc.) by Robin Stevens

For MMGM, I am recommending the Wells & Wong Mystery series (Murder Is Bad Manners, Poison Is Not Polite, and First Class Murder) by Robin Stevens.




(Note: The cover shown is for Murder Is Bad Manners.)

Here's the publisher's description for the first book in the series, Murder Is Bad Manners:

Two friends form a detective agency—and must solve their first murder case—in this “sharp-witted debut” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) that is the first adventure in a brand-new middle grade mystery series set at a 1930s boarding school.

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are best friends at Deepdean School for Girls, and they both have a penchant for solving mysteries. In fact, outspoken Daisy is a self-described Sherlock Holmes, and she appoints wallflower Hazel as her own personal Watson when they form their own (secret!) detective agency. The only problem? They have nothing to investigate.

But that changes once Hazel discovers the body of their science teacher, Miss Bell—and the body subsequently disappears. She and Daisy are certain a murder must have taken place, and they can think of more than one person with a motive.

Determined to get to the bottom of the crime—and to prove that it happened—before the killer strikes again, Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects, and use all the cunning, scheming, and intuition they can muster. But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?


Some books are meant to be digested slowly and carefully, while others are designed to pull the reader through at lightning-speed and get them interested. Murder Is Bad Manners and its sequels fall into the latter category. This series (which I heard about from fellow MMGMers Michael Gettel-Gilmartin and Sue Kooky) combines a well-thought-out, intriguing murder mystery with the story of two very-different best friends in 1930s Great Britain. One of the best parts of this series is the characters. The two main characters are Daisy Wells, a popular girl at her boarding school who secretly decides to become a detective, and Hazel Wong (the narrator), a girl from Hong Kong who is befriended by Daisy and dragged into being her assistant. Daisy and Hazel have very different personalities (Daisy is impulsive, while Hazel is thoughtful) and sometimes fight, but this only adds to making their friendship seem very realistic. Both characters have their own struggles, such as family relationships and, in Hazel's case, standing out because of race, and these are well-illustrated in the series, especially the later books. Another part of the series that I love is each mystery. Filled with clues, twists, and both relevant and irrelevant secrets, the mysteries will grab the attention of any reader and leave them both shocked and pleased at the end. The series uses just the right amount of foreshadowing, making it challenging, but possible, to guess the ending. Finally, the victims and suspects are very realistic and compelling as well. The books in the Wells & Wong Mystery series will be enjoyed by both child and adult alike, with just the right balance of real-world elements and dramatic mystery.
 
Note: The books in the Wells & Wong Mystery series were originally published by Penguin Random House in the United Kingdom, where it is known as the Murder Most Unladylike series. The books were then republished in the United States by Simon & Schuster. Book 4 (Jolly Foul Play) has been released in the U.K., and it will be released in the U.S. in April. Book 5 (Mistletoe and Murder) has been released in the U.K., but U.S. publication has not been announced. The same has occurred for the short story compilation Cream Buns and Crime (which contains the Deepdean Mini-Mysteries shown on Robin Stevens's website), and will most likely occur again for the untitled, but announced, book 6. A list of books is available on Robin Stevens's website, robin-stevens.co.uk.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

MMGM (7/17/2017): From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

For MMGM, I am recommending a classic: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg.




Here's the book's description:

Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away . . . so she decided to run not from somewhere but to somewhere—somewhere large, warm, comfortable, and beautiful. And that was how Claudia and her brother, Jamie, ended up living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art—and right in the middle of a mystery that made headlines.
     Forty years ago, two motion pictures, and millions of devoted fans later, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler remains a modern classic, a favorite of children and adults alike. 

(Note: This description is from my 10-year-old copy of the book. Actually, the book is turning 50 this year!)

I read this book several years ago, and, just like people did 50 years ago (it was published in 1967 and later won a Newbery Medal), loved it! There are so many things I could say about it, but I'll try to limit myself. Firstly, the format of the story is very interesting. The narrator is actually Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, as she recounts the story of Claudia and Jamie for her lawyer. Her frequent interruptions to tell him something are amusing, and her narration is enjoyable. Claudia and Jamie are spectacular characters as well, seeming like both children (which they are) and intelligent adults (which they try to act like). The setting of the story, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (as it was during the 1960s), is very vivid, and its description shows why Claudia wanted to run away there. Claudia's internal conflict is set up very well, and Claudia is shown to change, as a person, throughout the course of the book. This book (which actually allowed Konigsburg to become the only person to win a Newbery Medal and Newbery Honor in the same year) is a classic for good reason, and even children and adults who wouldn't normally enjoy such a book will find themselves sucked in and happy from beginning to end.