Sunday, March 18, 2018

MMGM (3/19/2018): A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (with bonus movie review!)

Just after its new movie adaptation has been released, I am recommending A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle for MMGM (and including a bonus movie review below!).

A Wrinkle in Time revolves around a young girl named Meg Murry, whose father, a scientist, vanished several years before the book's events. When her younger brother, Charles Wallace, befriends three strange women (who turn out to be magic), both of the kids, along with a kind classmate from Meg's school named Calvin, end up going on a quest across the universe to find their father. I loved this book when I read it as a young kid (I was only about 5 or 6), and I still love it now! One of the best parts of the novel is how it is not like other fantasy or sci-fi books. Instead of filling the book with tons of background information about the universe and its workings, L'Engle instead gives just enough information to understand how the characters are traveling across the universe (or "tessering") and what exactly they are fighting against (although a main point of the book is that the human brain is simply incapable of fully understanding the universe). Despite keeping the book simple enough for readers to understand, L'Engle still creates imaginative settings of unique, beautiful planets (and one dystopian one where everyone has to act exactly the same, fill out forms for nearly every event in their lives, and face vague yet disturbing punishments). Another great part of the book is Meg's development throughout the story. Toward the beginning of the story (and during most of the middle), she often gets irritated and impatient, annoying those around her, but she does desperately want to locate her father. As the book goes on, however, Meg becomes more brave and is able to use her intelligence to fight against the book's main villain, IT, in an ingenious way. A Wrinkle in Time is simple enough for young children to understand, yet complex enough to hold the attention of older kids or adults and become a favorite book of theirs!

Bonus movie review: As soon as I saw the preview for the new movie adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, I was thrilled! In sixth grade, I had to read the novel yet again and see the awful 2003 movie version, which was made for TV and featured horrendous acting, cheesy effects, and scenes that detracted from the original point of the book (and had sets so ugly that I couldn't even focus on the action!). I worried a little after seeing the very mixed reviews of the new movie (it has a very low score on Rotten Tomatoes), but, after seeing it, I think anyone who has read the book will love the new movie! The new movie is not completely the same as the book: the formerly all-white characters have been changed to include a mixture of races (which I'm all for!), irrelevant characters such as Meg's siblings Sandy and Dennys have been erased, and several new scenes have been added. However, as I watched the movie, I wished that the new scenes had been in the book, as they helped to highlight some of the book's main themes (such as Meg's growing maturity) even better! The movie has fantastic actors: Storm Reid, who plays Meg, does a great job of showing her emotions, struggles, and personality during the movie. The three magic women who guide Meg and her companions, Mrs. Which, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Whatsit (played by famous actresses Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, and Reese Witherspoon, respectively) are depicted fabulously, with their unique outfits and great lines (sometimes wise, sometimes funny) helping to show their magic and magnificence even more than in the book! Finally, the new movie has great special effects that take exactly what readers imagine the book to be like and make it even better! As I saw the new film, I was practically glued to my seat, as any viewer will be if they take my advice: ignore the bad reviews, and go see this movie NOW!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

MMGM (3/12/2018): The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech

For MMGM, I am recommending The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech.

Here's the publisher's description:

Fans of Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech's Ruby Holler will love her latest tween novel about finding family when you least expect it.

When a young couple finds a boy asleep on their porch, their lives take a surprising turn. Unable to speak, the boy Jacob can't explain his history. All John and Marta know is that they have been chosen to care for him.

And, as their connection and friendship with Jacob grow, they embrace his exuberant spirit and talents. The three of them blossom into an unlikely family and begin to see the world in brand-new ways.

The Boy on the Porch is a singular story about opening your heart and discovering home in unexpected places.

I am a fan of several other books by Sharon Creech, and this novel did not disappoint! The "parents" in the story, John and Marta, do not have kids, so they are caught completely off guard when they find Jacob on their porch and take him in. The novel is told from Marta and John's points of view as they find themselves opening up and feeling worry about Jacob, pride in him, and a need to provide for him and give him a good home, even if that means trying to find his parents. The couple's kindheartedness and depth make them great characters for the story to be told through. The boy, Jacob, quickly adapts to his new home and, despite refusing to speak at all during the story, displays his feelings through his activities (such as playing with animals, drawing, or making music), allowing us to see, albeit blurrily, into his past and current lives. Creech describes each scene so perfectly that it feels like you are actually looking down into a new world. Toward the end of the book, seeing all of the new kids that John and Marta begin fostering acts as a perfect closing to the story. All in all, The Boy on the Porch is a lovely novel that provides a peek into the lives of both parents and children!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

MMGM (3/5/2018): Tell Me by Joan Bauer

For MMGM, I am recommending Tell Me by Joan Bauer.

Here's the publisher's description:

Award-winning author Joan Bauer's latest novel is full of warmth, humor, hope, and a healthy dose of suspense

The unofficial town motto is “Nothing bad ever happens in Rosemont” where twelve-year-old Anna has come to stay with her grandmother, Mim, hoping to forget her worries about her parents’ troubled marriage.  She’ll be busy with the town’s annual Flower Festival, a celebration with floats and bands that requires weeks of preparations.

But before long, Anna finds herself involved in a very big problem. When she observes a girl her own age who seems to be being held against her will, Anna can’t forget the girl’s frightened eyes and she is determined to investigate. “When you see something, say something” she’s been told—but what good does it do to speak if no one will listen? Luckily, a take-charge girl like Anna is not going to give up.

Told with Joan Bauer’s trademark mixture of humor and heart, Tell Me will enthrall her many fans and win her new ones.

This is an absolutely fantastic book! I haven't meant to, but my last several recommendations have all intended to broaden one's understanding of people's situations, and this book is no different. The main conflict of the novel is Anna's finding of a girl who seems to have been imprisoned, in a way, by several people. As Anna shares the information she has found with the police and government, she helps to uncover a conspiracy of human trafficking and save those who were being trafficked. This book showed me, as it will other readers, how common human trafficking can be and how paying attention can save many people. This main plot point does not make the book overly upsetting, however, as the novel is filled with all sorts of fun characters (Anna meets several students who are in their school's band and befriends a teenage girl named Taylor and her horse, Zoe) and is set in a wonderful small town filled with personality and unique traditions. Finally, the struggles of Anna's parents as her father tries to deal with his anger issues are depicted very well. Anna's father is shown to care about Anna and his wife and to simply have flaws, however major, that he is working to control. All in all, Tell Me is a great novel that packages great writing and many unique situations into one book that anyone will enjoy!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

MMGM (2/26/2018): Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

For MMGM, I am recommending Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin.

Here's the publisher's description:

From Newbery Honor author Ann M. Martin, who wrote the Baby-sitters Club series, comes a New York Times-bestselling middle grade novel about a girl, her dog, and the trials of growing up in a complicated and often scary world.

Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She's thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose's rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose's obsessions, her rules, and the other things that make her different—not her teachers, not other kids, and not her single father.

When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, the roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose's father shouldn't have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search.

Like last week's review here, this novel is one that absolutely everyone needs to read to be a knowledgeable person. Rain Reign's main character and narrator, Rose, has Asperger's disorder, a relatively mild form of autism. Rose's obsessions with homonyms and prime numbers express themselves when she randomly blurts facts out while stressed or cannot stop talking about her obsessions in conversations, usually those that Mrs. Leibler, an adult who accompanies Rose during the school day, encourages her to participate in. Rose's actions, which she cannot really explain, and her struggles at school (she is bullied by several of her classmates and also is distracted by most noises, such as the fan of her teacher's laptop) will help readers, as they helped me, to understand more about how the minds of people with Asperger's disorder or more severe forms of autism operate and how these people certainly still have thoughts and feelings like those of anyone else. This story is also one of poor parenting, as Rose lives alone with her father, whose experiences first with an abusive father and later as a foster child with his brother and Rose's uncle, Weldon, make him both determined to provide for Rose without help and unstable, unable to understand Rose's issues, and, on rare occasions, even violent. The author, Ann M. Martin (author of another book I recommended here), does a good job of balancing the idea that Rose's father just makes occasional mistakes with the idea that he is not able to remain stable and act as a father for Rose. Rose's Uncle Weldon acts as a counterbalance to his brother, always being kind to Rose and trying to participate in her hunt for new homonyms. Finally, a review of Rain Reign would not be complete without mentioning Rain, Rose's dog in the story (whose name she chose because of its two homonyms, reign and rein). Rose looks to Rain for comfort and friendship, but her father accidentally lets her run during a major storm, leaving Rose to try and find her. Rain ends up not being dead, but what Rose does find out about her forces her to make a hard choice. Rain, Uncle Weldon, and the occasional kindness of Rose's classmates (usually from a girl named Parvani) prevents the story from being too depressing to actually be read. Rain Reign is a touching, painful, wonderful story that will change the way people think about mental disorders and will be remembered by every single one of its readers.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

MMGM (2/19/2018) Classic Critique: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

I have had to read yet another classic novel for school, so I've decided to review it this week. For MMGM, I am reviewing The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

Here's the publisher's description:

The best-selling coming-of-age classic, acclaimed by critics, beloved by readers of all ages, taught in schools and universities alike, and translated around the world.

The House on Mango Street is the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Told in a series of vignettes—sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous—Sandra Cisneros’ masterpiece is a classic story of childhood and self-discovery. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers.

  • The characters. One of the best parts of The House on Mango Street is the characters. The main character and narrator, Esperanza, is a true-to-life combination of a girl who tries to have fun and enjoy her childhood and a young adult who has come/is coming to terms with the world she lives in and how its harshness is further amplified for those who are impoverished. She describes (consciously, as she often writes poems and later her own story) the story's many other characters. These include her family members, such as her young, oblivious sister, Nenny, and her now-deceased aunt, who she loved and regrets her behavior towards; her friends, such as harmless, happy sisters Rachel and Lucy and Sally, an abused girl who Esperanza befriends but later blames for an awful event; and other members of the neighborhood, who often have regrets, people they miss, and unique personalities.
  • The setting. There certainly are not an excess of books set in poor neighborhoods, which makes this novel very unique. Cisneros as Esperanza describes the setting vividly, making every location in the novel seem real. Every home's objects and flaws, every building's shape and color, every field or garden's appearance are all depicted, drawing the reader in and making them feel as if they are actually living Esperanza's life.
  • The writing. By now, you might have guessed (if you didn't already know) that Cisneros is a fabulous author. Her writing is filled with personality, with sentences that sound like the dialects of those who say them and a unique story setup consisting of many 2-to-4-page short stories, keeping each page fresh. Cisneros is also able to depict the characters' thoughts and troubles extremely well, in a way that makes it easy to understand them. The novel is filled with fun phrases and sentences that will make readers think, "That's genius!," cementing the novel's place as a great classic.
Cons (although not really):
  • The content is important, but it may not suit younger ages. In the introduction to The House on Mango Street, Cisneros discusses her experience at a school helping students who often had bad home situations. These experiences made their way into the novel, through characters whose spouses imprison them at home, whose parents beat them, or who are even sexually harassed or assaulted. This content is all dealt with realistically and intelligently, but I do want to warn everyone that younger middle-grade readers may struggle with the novel's content. For older readers, however, the novel provides a realistic introduction to the awful circumstances that many people face every day.
  • The novel is often sad, albeit necessarily. With all of the characters' hardships, whether they are simply being too poor to live in a nicer neighborhood or something else, the novel is obviously sad. For someone looking for an upbeat, happy read, you should probably look elsewhere until you want to read something else. However, for those who are willing to read some unhappy content (which, luckily, does not drag on for too long or overwhelm the book at all), The House on Mango Street will broaden your horizons and leave you a better, more knowledgeable person.

There is certainly a reason why The House on Mango Street has become a widely-read classic. It features an incredible combination of real-life topics, genius writing, and rich characters, making it one of the rare novels that everyone will enjoy and be impacted by for the rest of their lives.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

MMGM (2/12/2018): Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

For MMGM, I am recommending Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend.

Here's the publisher's description:

An instant New York Times bestseller!

“A Harry Potter-esque adventure.” — Time Magazine

A breathtaking, enchanting new series by debut author Jessica Townsend, about a cursed girl who escapes death and finds herself in a magical world–but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination.

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks–and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It’s then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart–an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests–or she’ll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.

Perfect for fans of the Harry Potter series and Neil Gaiman, this fast-paced plot and imaginative world has a fresh new take on magic that will appeal to a new generation of readers.

This novel is one of my new favorites! There's so much to love that I don't know where to begin, but I'll try! The plot of the novel is well-balanced, including slow, sad portions that set the stage for the book, action-packed scenes (often chases) that are actually early in the book, calmer moments as Morrigan gets used to her new home, and a part-ominous, part-thrilling climax that ends off the novel (the first in a series). The world of the book is incredibly vivid—I read an article about how the author had been thinking about the series for about a decade (I liked the book so much that I looked it up), and it shows! There are many clever new creatures, inventions, and myths that are described in the perfect amount of detail. The novel also has many great characters. Morrigan is an excellent protagonist who has a personality clearly influenced by the events of the story. Other characters include adults who are children at heart, kids who can be serious and grouchy or fun and caring, a number of antagonists ranging from essentially harmless to incredibly destructive and terrifying, and a giant, grouchy, talking cat (see the cover)! To round the novel off, Townsend also adds in a bit of conflict that overtly parallels the real world: the government tries to get Morrigan expelled from Nevermoor for having entered the city illegally. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow is an excellent start to a series that has immense potential, and I know that every reader will wait for every new novel (and the upcoming movie!) with unconfined anticipation and excitement!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

MMGM (2/5/2018): The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

For MMGM, I am recommending The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt.

Here's the publisher's description:

“Librarians often say that every book is not for every child, but The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is” (The New York Times). Meet Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers on a mission to save Sugar Man Swamp in this rollicking tale and National Book Award Finalist from Newbery Honoree Kathi Appelt.

Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah are the newest recruits of the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. The opportunity to serve the Sugar Man—the massive creature who delights in delicious sugar cane and magnanimously rules over the swamp—is an honor, and also a big responsibility, since the rest of the swamp critters rely heavily on the intel of these hardworking Scouts.

Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn is not a member of any such organization. But he loves the swamp something fierce, and he’ll do anything to help protect it.

And help is surely needed, because world-class alligator wrestler Jaeger Stitch wants to turn Sugar Man swamp into an Alligator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park, and the troubles don’t end there. There is also a gang of wild feral hogs on the march, headed straight toward them all.

The Scouts are ready. All they have to do is wake up the Sugar Man. Problem is, no one’s been able to wake that fellow up in a decade or four…

Newbery Honoree Kathi Appelt’s story of care and conservation has received five starred reviews, was selected as a National Book Award finalist, and is funny as all get out and ripe for reading aloud.

When I first discovered this book at Half Price Books, I was unsure of whether or not I would actually enjoy it. Luckily, I did, enough so that, several years later, I remembered it and decided to review it today! Despite some sad topics, this novel ends up being absolute fun from beginning to end (providing a break from the many relentlessly-sad MG books currently being published). Even during points of the plot holding sadness or fear, the humorous, just-colloquial-enough narration will hold any reader's attention. The book switches between events involving adventurous Bingo and nervous J'miah, which add in bits of action and suspense as they find out new information and try to fight against the swamp's issues, and those involving Chap, his anxiety about Jaeger Stitch's plans, and just enough grief about the recent loss of his grandfather, who dearly enjoyed the swamp. The plot of the book will suck readers in, while the writing will make them want to savor each word. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, its characters, and its ideas will make it a favorite of any reader!