Friday, March 17, 2017

Aboard a Paper Plane... and other poems

Aboard a Paper Plane... and other poems 
by Joe & Allison Kelly
illustrations by Supakit Chiangthong



When this poetry collection, Aboard a Paper Plane, by Allison & Joe Kelly came my way, I was absolutely delighted to read it! Not just to myself. I read it aloud to my kids, and, randomly tossed out some of the lovely lines to the other adult in residence as well.

Shel Silverstein meets Kenn Nesbitt meets Kurt Cyrus.

That's what popped into my head immediately. The random everyday quirks with a deeper thought-provoking perspective à la Shel Silverstein, the laugh-out-loud aspect of Kenn Nesbitt's works, as well as the amazing wordplay that Kurt Cyrus brings to his creations, these are what struck me when I read the forty eight poems in this collection.



Some are long and showcase their wordsmithing perfectly while others are crisp and short and make you double up with laughter.

The younger child's favorite was, of course, Bath for the "Ewww..." factor, and Painter, as he had tried that once and found that it was not appreciated.


The older child loved the Secret Club and Pop Quiz, while chuckling at Clover and nodding along with If Only I had a Dollar.

Vegetables - a cautionary tale is at once brilliant and funny, one of my favorites. The wordplay in Broke is superb.


 Before I start listing the joys of each poem here, let me stop and share an informal interview with this talented couple.


1. Tell us about your writing journey - when did you start, what was your motivation for writing? 

J: I started writing children's poetry when I was fifteen - right around the time I met Allison, actually.  I love the variation inherent in a poetry collection, and I love it as both a reader and a writer.  The imagination's zigzag from character to character, situation to situation; not knowing to which world the next page is going to take you, only that it will be a place you're sure to enjoy.  I guess that's why we were drawn to the paper plane.

A: Like most writers, I'm sure, I'm thrilled by the idea of creating something new that wasn't there before: a character, a plot line, a turn of phrase. I've been enthralled with the writing experience since the age of six or so; it's truly been one of the constant joys in my life.

J: And me, right?

A: Yes, Joe.  And you.

2. Do you focus on writing only for children? What are some of your other works?

A: I will write for anyone! I recently started a small business in which I write and publish personal memoirs for people -- usually older folks whose children want to gather their stories and memories in one place before it's too late. I also write material for standardized tests for students ranging in age from kindergarten to high school, and for both native English speakers and English language learners.

J: I'm not quite as versatile as my wife.  It's been largely children's material to date - poetry, rhyming books, middle grade; even tried my hand at YA.  I'm drawn to the imagination bursting from the genre seemingly everywhere you look.  My "day job" is in finance, so I find balance in using the creative side of my brain after a long day or week of analytical thinking.

Aboard a Paper Plane is our first title.  While writing, however, we stumbled upon a few ideas that were too long to be part of the collection.  The game plan now is to turn those into stand-alone rhyming stories.  We've also started planning a second poetry collection.  We don't have any timelines or anything as of yet, but we're certainly having fun putting it all together.


3. What was the inspiration for this particular book? Why a poetry book? How did you settle on the 48 poems included, it's a tall order? Which of these are your top 3 favorites? 

A: A poetry book allowed us to experiment with a lot of tones, themes, characters, and settings.  We were writing the book in our free time (evenings, weekends), so we wanted to make sure the experience was always fresh and exciting.  And as for the inspiration, Joe's the idea generator, so I'll let him take it from here.

J: Thanks, Al!  The inspiration for the book was an odd collection of dozens of little things I've noticed throughout my day-to-day.  Normal things - things you see every day ,but maybe don't put much thought into.  Like a graveyard or a boomerang or a lobster - stuff like that.  If an object or situation catches my eye, I jot it down in the Notes app on my iPhone. It's also energizing to take lofty "life lessons" -- try not to compare with others, be grateful for what you're given, and so on -- and repurpose them in a fun and accessible way through poetry.  In terms of the forty-eight, we were trying to assemble a nice variety of lengths and subjects and styles. There were a handful that didn't fit with Aboard a Paper Plane.  We hope to find a home for them in the next collection!

A: My favorites are probably The Runner, Guardian Angel, and The Tiniest Ant & the Giantest Bear. They're all very different, and I think they give a good idea of our versatility. I think they best showcase our humor, wordsmithing, and wit.

J: I wouldn't say I necessarily have a favorite poem, but I do have a few favorite lines.  Like in the "Octopus Barber", the line about the monkfish.  Or in "Fortune Teller" when the narrator daydreams about body surfing.  Or in "Aboard a Paper Plane" - the part that goes, "You'll cartwheel to the moon and then you'll swim from here to Spain / Or close your eyes and scrunch your face to sprout a lion's mane."  That makes me smile every time.


4. Tell us about your favorite children's author(s)? Favorite children's book(s)?

J: When I was very young, my favorite book was Richard Scarry's "Best Ride Ever". In retrospect, it was a pretty odd story.  Essentially, the plot line revolved around this dog named Dingo.  Dingo Dog had a really, really cool red car.  What Dingo Dog did not have was much respect for traffic laws.  Dingo would drive his car down the sidewalk, through the supermarket - I think at one point he even drove through someone's living room?  At end of the day, the whole book was a pretty airtight case study on why we don't let animals operate machinery.  According to my dad, I would laugh nonstop through the whole story.  Guess I was kind of a weird kid...

A: You were a weird kid?  According to my mom, my favorite book as a little kid was "The Book of Virtues".  It was 1,000 pages and had no pictures.  I would ask my dad to read it to me every night...

J: Okay - you got me there. But since my Dingo Dog-days of childhood, I've accumulated a whole host of both authors and stories I admire.  Just to name a few: Norton Juster's "The Phantom Tollbooth" & Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" for their wordplay and structure.  Shel Silverstein for his characters and situations.  R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps" for their zany twists.  But my absolute favorite?  I love "Oh, the Places You'll Go".  My grandparents gave me a copy when I graduated high school.  It's been on my desk ever since.

A: I loved the Berenstain Bears series -- the cute stories, the colorful full-page pictures! But most of the formative works I read as a child were when I was a little older, eight or nine or so. I loved "Little Women" most of all, followed closely by "A Wrinkle in Time" and the Babysitter's Club series.


5. How does the collaboration work? Each writes, and also edits the other's?

A: Writing children's poems has always been Joe's passion.  He comes up with the idea, any clever turns of phrase or characters, and writes a first draft.  Then, we both sit down in front of it to comb through line by line and word by word.  I'll suggest changes, shore up the scheme, and do my best to make sure every word counts.  We find that this process makes the best use of both of our skills.

J: That said, there were a few poems in the collection that we wrote pretty much top-to-bottom together.  These were, most notably: The Tiniest Ant & the Giantest Bear, If I Only Had a Dollar, Patient Pat, and The Gadget.  My favorite part about writing is being able to work with Allison.  I love having this as a shared experience.


6. Why eBook? And how was the self-publishing experience? Were you interested in submitting to the traditional publishers?

A: At this point, self-publishing Aboard a Paper Plane as an eBook was our most practical and expedient option.  We've also submitted to some literary agents and traditional publishers.  We're hopeful that our run as an eBook isn't the destination, but rather a step on the journey.


7. How did you "meet and collaborate" with the illustrator? On behalf of the illustrator, will you be able to share how they created the art, and whether they are open for working with other authors interested in self-publishing?

J: We met Supakit on Fiverr (which - by the way - is a great platform for children's book authors to partner with illustrators).  Our experience with him was fantastic - he was professional, easy to work with, and very talented. For each poem, we'd put together a detailed description of what we were looking for in the picture, shoot it over to Supakit, and then let him work his magic.  Unfortunately, we don't know too much about his process.  As of today, Supakit has taken his profile down on Fiverr.  He was a student during most of our collaboration, and we got the sense that he was taking on other time-intensive responsibilities as he got closer to graduating.


8. What do you do when you are not writing? What are your other interests/passions?

J: When I'm not writing or working, I enjoy running on the treadmill while watching a movie or show (currently, season 1 of True Detective), practicing the piano, drinking Guinness, all things personal finance, and spending time with my friends, family, and beautiful wife.

A: I love trying new recipes, learning languages (I'm currently taking a Spanish class!), reading, entertaining, and slowwwly decorating our house. And of course, spending time with my family, friends, and Joe!


Our sincerest gratitude to the Saffron Tree team for featuring us and our debut poetry collection, Aboard a Paper Plane! We truly appreciate all you do to promote children's literature. We hope you enjoy Aboard a Paper Plane; please reach out at jkelly821@gmail.com if you have any questions or comments! Happy reading!


[Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book but the opinions shared here are entirely my own. Review policy for this blog is available.]

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Saffron-Picking, Khadi-Weaving

Book Title: Saffron-Picking, Khadi-Weaving
Authors: Sheela Preuitt, Praba Ram
Illustrator: Lavanya Karthik
Publisher: Mango Books

A couple of months back, we were reading about various pastoral tribes of India as part of social sciences curriculum of ninth standard. While locating them on the map, somehow the heterogeneity, diversity and vibrancy of our homeland had me enraptured yet again. The text in the book could not appease my curiosity so we read and researched some more, in fact a lot more and checked their unique nomadic lifestyles, their labour intensive art forms and much more. The common thread that became very apparent after having read about different tribes is how closely blended they are with nature, how respectful they are to the invaluable gift that is being laundered mindlessly by the 'developed societies', how so caringly they co-exist with their ecosystem and how they manage their annual routines in rhythm with changing guards in nature.

It is interesting to read about Meghwals of Mewar, Rajasthan who migrated to Sindh in Pakistan in the 17th century, and then on to Kutch in 1971 after the Indo -Pak war. They forged a partnership with nomadic pastoralists Maldharis of Kachch.  When a Maldhari cattle dies, adept hands of Meghwals convert the raw hide into a piece of utility or of art in leather. Meghwals also brought with them their exquisite embroidery styles and stitches, which still bear some resemblance to the embroidery done in Afghanistan. So what we see as a Meghwali (a form of Kachchi) embroidery is actually a beautiful amalgamation of northern and eastern styles of magic with needle.
Monpas, the only nomadic tribe in Northeast of India are known for their wood carving, carpet making and weaving. They are completely dependent on animals like sheep, cow, yak, goats and horses and usually do not have any permanent settlement or attachment to a particular place. The 6th Dalai Lama was a Monpa by ethnicity.
Banjaras, Kurubas, Kurumas, Gaddis and Gollas are some other pastoral tribes with riveting past and present.

Even divinity helps a seeker in many strange ways, and I actually experienced it once again when I was sent the book 'Saffron Picking, Khadi-Weaving' to review on ST. Oh, what a treat it was for me, especially at the time when my mind was almost invariably wandering with the nomads of different regions. This little book is a befitting tribute to eight communities across India. The journey begins from a household of saffron-growers in Pampore region of Kashmir. All members of the family pitch in at every stage of the lifecycle of these bright-hued strands to roll out the world famous condiment. The next stop is Rann of Kutch where Agariyas, the migrant salt makers work untiringly for two quarters of a year under extremely trying circumstances. From the white expanse of salt desert, the readers are led again to colourful world of Moosahar tribe, engaged in Sikki basket making. From cutting of the sikki grass, drying it, dyeing it into myriad colours to weaving and coiling the grass - every step demands loving hands, committed heart and patient mind.  Leaving a grandma passing on her sikki handling skills to her grandson, the narrative takes us towards the Eastern Ghats, somewhere in Odisha, where we meet a group of women setting off to collect Sal leaves for plate making. They dedicate the following day to drying them, stitching them and pressing them to make them ready for the market.
By this time, I had my laptop open along with the book and as I read about each community, I sifted the net for more images and more details.

Furthr, the following pages open a small window into the worlds of Kumars and Hiras (traditional potters) of Assam, Changpa (pashmina wool traders) of Ladakh, indigo growers of Bagru-Rajasthan and khadi-weavers of Ponduru, Andhra Pradesh.


Lavanya's illustrations perfectly accentuate the earthiness of the narrative. Her strokes and choice of colours add depths to the stories picked up from different regions of the country. Lavanya, wrinkles on the face of that pot-making grandma just had me captivated for quite some time. Her lines of age speak volumes about her experience, her commitment and her contentment. 
Praba and Sheela, reading and reviewing your book was a delight and I must compliment you on your beautiful tribute to these everyday-heroes who work silently in tandem with nature, fighting all odds to keep their skills and crafts alive. I so wish that books like these become a part of school curriculum so that children learn to appreciate eco-friendly coexistence and if possible visits to these places should also be organised by the schools. Will look forward to more coming from your pen!!!

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Case of the Candy Bandit


The resident nine-year-old won Archit Taneja's The Case of the Candy Bandit in a giveaway on the Duckbill Gangstas page a few years ago. I had first reading rights (of course!) and for a couple of nights, had dreams as bizarre as Rachita's. I could see the kid would love the nerdy-meets-madcap fun-ness of the book. This is his review.

The Case of the Candy Bandit (Superlative Supersleuths)
By Archit Taneja
Image courtesy duckbill.in
Duckbill Books
Ages 9-12

The Case of the Candy Bandit is the perfect title for a detective-mystery. The cover, with pictures of sweets, grabs your attention. The drawings within the book are even more interesting and funny. If the idea of a gulab jamun pancake is simply outrageous, so is the drawing of a gulab jamun pancake maker.

This book is about Aarti and Rachita, two budding detectives in sixth grade. They are the Superlative Supersleuths. The PTA has decided that treat packets be given to the students on the condition they eat their lunch. The treat packets start going missing. It’s upto the Superlative Sleuths to sniff out the thief. Do they succeed or get completely spooked out?

Aarti, a rather creative and cheerful person, suggests a Pirate Case Book. Rachita on the other hand, is a serious and straightforward person. She is enthusiastic about detective work. The Detective Decree they make is brilliant and way too funny. I’d use the 3 Ws to describe it - Wow, Wacky and Wonderful. Rachita’s birthday presents are rare and totally unbelievable. Wonder where they were bought really!!! Vipul’s theory on the Observer Effect is perfect. If an experiment is conducted on someone, they should be unaware of it, otherwise they will behave differently. I like Vipul because he is a smartypants just like me.

This story is like Aarti - hyperactive without the hyper. There’s a lot of action, things keep happening like a relay of events. One thing’s a bit disappointing. In every detective story, this happens - There’s one suspect. Then the suspect changes and the thief is caught. That could have changed.

As a nine-year-old, I can certify that 8-11 year-olds love their candy. The level of maths used in the book is quite high, there’s even some calculus. Rachita is so scientific in her approach to the case that there’s science even in her dreams. Rachita’s dreams about Archimedes teaching the pirates to balance and finding the centre of gravity are witty and certainly well thought out. If Rachita’s dreams are burgers or fries, then there’s science as the sauce to go with them. Yumm, I love burgers. Talking of food, that purple-tongued seventh-grader is rather lucky to have a packet of jamuns. Oops, my appetite is gone because of those tongues. You’ll have to read the book to understand what I mean!

This is a wonderfully spicy book. Super entertaining for little spies like me and just a FANTASTIC BOOK!!!

Psst ... The next in the Superlative Supersleuths series, The Case of the Careless Aliens is just out.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

An Alphabet in Bloom

An Alphabet in Bloom
by Nathalie Trovato



Today, the typical ABC book is universally accepted as an introductory book for preschoolers to learn the letters of the alphabet. However, they can be much more than just a tool for letter recognition and sequencing.

Centered around refreshing themes, offering visual enrichment, even rhyming or alliterative text (Dr.Seuss!) of ABC books offer a range of stimulating experience for the preschoolers.

Illustrations play a big role in ABC books, they cannot overwhelm or confuse the young reader, and must be easily recognizable and clearly laid out.

Ms. Trovato's Alphabet in Bloom is rather unique in that, it is a Wordless ABC book of sorts, that has no text showcasing the letters. Absolutely no letter on any page to indicate the abecedary. Instead, there are large cut-paper collages on every page with easily recognizable things around the garden, that start with the letter of the alphabet in question.

Back of the book has a list of things to find/identify in the wordless pages of the book: "What can you see from a to z?"

[Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book, but the opinions shared here are my own.]

[image source: Home Grown Books]





Thursday, December 08, 2016

El Deafo

This review is a guest post from Anupama Chandrasekaran. Anupama Chandrasekaran loves teaching, learning and working fewer hours. She has previously written for Indian and international news organisations from Mumbai, New York, Hong Kong and Chennai. This is her first review for Saffron Tree. A pleasure to add El Deafo to the disability-themed books of CROCUS 2016.


Book Title: El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell
Published: 2014
Publisher: Abrams Books
Genres: Children's literature, Graphic novel, Autobiography
Awards: John Newbery Medal

Image Source: Google Books

“You won’t feel like putting it down, amma” said my precocious 9-year-old as I picked up El Deafo – a self-deprecating and poignant, autobiographical, children’s graphic-novel by hearing-impaired American author and illustrator Cece Bell (short for Cecelia Carolina Bell.)

As predicted by my in-house reviewer, I was riveted to 233-pager, guffawing, gasping and sighing as Bell’s tribulations unraveled. The 36-year-old Bell’s Newbery award winning story takes readers through the rough and tumble of middle-school friendships and the unforeseen superpowers of Bell’s hearing aid, making her conjure the name El Deafo – a phonic-eared superhuman -- for herself.

El Deafo’s azure book jacket with a rabbit-eared, humanoid caricature snagged my attention this autumn as I zig-zagged through the narrow aisles of Singapore’s Kinokuniya book store -- stocked floor-to-ceiling with fantasy, nature, anime, and you-name-it literature. I was looking for a funny yet soul-searching, non potty-humoured, children’s graphic novel that could zap the sight of my second-born being curled under yet another Captain Underpants comic book.

Bell, who long maintained a blog on her hearing-impaired experiences, was hugely inspired by fellow-American Raina Telgemeier’s autobiographical comic book about a sixth grader titled, Smile.

The Virginia-based children’s book author and illustrator, who works out of a studio she calls ‘The Hermitage’, found speech balloons a precise fit to explain the aches and pains of her disability. In the 2014-published El Deafo she goes on to using it to its hilt.

There’s the instance where words from the speech balloons start fading as the battery of hearing aid goes low and then another point when her dialogue box is empty as she decides to switch off her hearing aid during a sleepover with an overly-chatty friend.

My 10-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son thoroughly appreciated this clever usage of word-balloons to illustrate the author’s hearing problem – an issue that had never crossed their mind. The plot of lost friendships, forging of new ones and the restringing of broken relationships, also struck a chord with them.

A few weeks ago, I bumped into a parent of a child who suffered from hearing loss. The mother agonised about a certain cacophonous classroom situation and how unsettling it was for her child. While I couldn’t completely comprehend what she meant then, I think I understand it slightly better now, after reading El Deafo. It’s a book that could be an eye opener for teachers and other caregivers.

Of course, as Bell herself admits, her book may merely be scratching the surface.

El Deafo may be about deafness, but it is “in no way a representation of what all deaf people might experience....I am an expert on no one’s deafness but my own.”

This book could certainly be your first step to understanding these real-life superhumans.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Farewell CROCUS 2016

And we reach the end of our most thought-provoking CROCUS (Celebrating Reading Culturally Unique Stories) by far. 

Earlier this year, the ST team began with ‘disability’ as the theme but expanded it into various dimensions to be more inclusive. We decided to celebrate books on difference - physical/cognitive challenges, sexual orientation, adoption, divorce, abuse, suicide and more. 

Over the last four days, we brought you many books and an author interview. We tried to capture books across the age spectrum as always. Some of the book choices may seem controversial, disturbing, dark, too ‘adult’ even… but we need to encourage dialogue and discussion with our children.

Lavanya did a splendid job with the flyer and Sheela, our most consistent contributor, was instrumental in ensuring CROCUS goes live. Sandhya and Arundhati ably backed the endeavor and got us some gems. You may have missed some of our reviewers at CROCUS this year, but they have been ardent champions of the theme in the past and their reviews are captured in the round up post. We have stepped up our presence on Facebook and thank you fellow book lovers, for the shares.
  
Each one of us deserves a good life. Acceptance. Happiness. Opportunity. Hope. Health.

Let us read all kinds of books, with all sorts of characters, to and with our children.  We will keep sharing our finds so that we grow as a community. Keep visiting, keep reading, and keep sharing.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

A Round Up of Past Reviews with Inclusive Narratives

While we deep dive into the chosen theme each CROCUS, Saffron Tree reviewers have covered a number of books on the subject, over the years. We would like to summarise some of them, for you, here:




  
Giraffes can't dance, Chuskit goes to school and Little Vinayak are gentle ways to help young minds celebrate differences.

Margrit learns to cope with stares and questions in her own way in My feet are my wheel chair.

Helping Hand  Why are you afraid to hold my hand sensitively bring out how we can be compassionate and get over the discomfort / awkwardness that we may feel around those who are differently able.

In James Patterson's  I funny series  Jamie is just a regular kid with a great sense of humor. And he happens to be in a wheelchair and is an orphan. Peter Nimble is refreshing YA fiction about the adventures of Pete the blind thief.

Duckbill's Hole Books  have 'different' heros- a Vampire boy who dislikes blood and Timmi, who does not fit into the 'good  girl' mold and comes from an atypical family.

Rules is about growing up, acceptance and having a sibling with autism. The Reinvention of Edison Thomas is about a bright autistic boy who has to deal with a best friend turned bully and a rather low social life.

Emmanuel's Dream is an inspiring biographical tale of a boy who cycles cross country, a great achievement in itself and more so since he is lame.

Save me a seat speaks of APD in the context of a regular school story.

A blessing from above  and Elephants never forget subtly make a case for adoption for both the adopter and the adopted.

Jobless, Clueless, Reckless and Daddy come lately , in the YA genre, are more than a nod to the changing family structures we see now in India.

One Green Apple is among many other books on immigrants gingerly trying to fit in while holding on to some of their roots and Wanting Mor is about the conflicted world of an orphan who lives in post war Afghanistan.

Aging is intriguing to children Mr. Putter and his ilk  help the young ones understand seniors- grandparents and other grand ones.

We are all born free is a non fictional book which with the help of pictures helps children understand the need for acceptance and co-existence.

None of the Above

None of the Above
by I.W. Gregorio



[Note: Recommended for 18+ due to physically intimate situations; also included are biological and physiological information regarding reproductive anatomy and disorders of sexual development.]


A practicing surgeon by day and a YA writer by night, Ms. Gregorio is also a founding member of We Need Diverse Books ™ dedicated to advocating changes to the publishing industry in order to help create and promote inclusive literature that honors the lives of all young people.

The book is about Kristin Lattimer, a high school senior voted homecoming queen, who finds out that she is Intersex in a rather painful and unexpected way: Krissy is a female, grows up to be a female, thinks and feels like a female, identifies as a female, is heterosexual, has external female characteristics, and yet, she has internal male reproductive organs, not the female uterus.

And, without her permission, this information is leaked to the school, which spins out of control. Her struggles in school, in life, to come to terms with this and to do what is surgically possible for "normalizing" makes up a good chunk of the book, with the associated drama and complications in relationships and friendships and heartbreaks.

Author Gregorio has done a brilliant job of explaining the medical and biological facts, while very gently yet firmly showing the emotional turmoil that people with AIS (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome) go through, and the adjustments they have to make in their lives to accommodate this constraint. At times, the kids sounds pedagogical with the medial information conveyed to the reader, but, their interactions and relationships are very much in tune with what is expected from teenagers overall.

It is impossible not to root for Kristin and jump in to defend her against the insensitive bullies. What was heartbreaking for me was when she is removed from the track team because there was an issue of her gender - she cannot compete in the girls' track events as she is not 100% a girl - after training hard and being the best, it was all I could do from crying out loud. And when she was teased about which bathroom she could use, I was just about ready to burst.

Through it all, she has a steadfast friend, and there is a sweet budding romance that comes from shared experience and a deeper understanding of herself.

Why are humans obsessed with highlighting the differences and excluding fellow humans on that count? Is there any hope for a gender-neutral society in our future? Why do humans feel the need to identify one gender as "superior" and thereby put down the others as inferior? Can embracing our differences be independent of establishing any sort of hierarchy based on it?

[image source: www.amazon.com]

George

George
by Alex Gino



Some people are born into a body they don't identify with. George is a girl who is born in a boy's body. Throughout the book she refers to herself as "she", identifies as a girl, but is looked upon as a boy since she was born with the boy body parts.

When people look at George, they see a boy. But George knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. 

Cliched single mom and macho older brother fade into the background, but, George's best friend Kelly stays tight through and through. Kelly is fine with George identifying as a girl. When auditions for class presentation of Charlott'e Web is announced, George immediately wants to play Charlotte, the female spider, and not Wilbur, the male pig.

The books is a quick read, but the message will linger long after the last page is read and the book is put away.

Theater as a backdrop for this story is fitting as where else can George pretend to be who she really is.

When George's brother and mother finally realize and accept it, there is not much brouhaha over George's gender identity. George is who she is. Except, she wants to go by Melissa, that is her name, that is what she wants to be called.

The ending is perfect, where Kelly lets George/Melissa try on her girly clothes and they both go out into the world (to the Zoo with Kelly's uncle, to be precise) and for the first time George is comfortable with being true to herself.

[image source: http://www.alexgino.com/george/]

What's Up With Jody Barton?




What's Up With Jody Barton?
Written by: Hayley Long
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Ages: YA

It is difficult to review this book without giving away the surprising plot twist waiting about midway through the book. So let me begin by saying that this book is about sexual identity and friendship. It also addresses the issue of high school bullying.

Jody and Jolene are sixteen year old twins, but unlike each other in every way. Jody is the quiet one, unashamed of liking math , hanging out with geeks and adoring The Doors and River Phoenix. Jolene is loud and self-centred, and  has raised flirting with boys to a fine art. They live above their parents’ diner and help out with cooking and service after school. When both of them fall for dashing Liam, Jody steps back – after all, who stands a chance against Jolene’s charms, right?  But then Liam starts hanging out with Jody, and Jody instinctively responds .. with disastrous consequences. Liam, in the time honored tradition of golden-haired boys in  teen lit, turns out to be a mean and small-minded bully , and soon Jody is victimized by pretty much everyone at school.


As narrator, and occasional illustrator, of this story, Jody had my attention at once.  Jody is smart, funny and knowing , as well as genially tolerant of what could well be the world’s ‘uncoolest’ parentsand a truly obnoxious sister. Hayley Long’s writing is fresh and funny, and her characters realistic. I enjoyed the way she slyly plays with reader perception, drawing us along what we immediately assume is a story about two sisters warring over a boy,  before dropping that plot twist on us. I found myself immediately drawn into Jody’s world and angst, and the dilemma of ‘coming out’ in a world unwilling to accept any behavior outside of set social norms.  Like much British fiction these days, this book has its share of mean, self centred girls, roving the town in loud, under-dressed packs, and obsessing over little besides boys and make up. In fact, that pretty much sums up every significant female character in the book, though Jolene does redeem herself a tad towards the end, when she finally stands up for Jody against Liam.  But it also gives us lovely characters like quiet math-head Chatty Chong, who sticks by Jody when no one else will, and Jody’s football-crazy Dad.  I also liked the believable, and decidedly unromantic path the plot took at the end – it emphasized the importance of friendship , acceptance and a child’s right to freely be him/herself without fear of social prejudice.

Image Courtesy: Macmillan
Related Posts with Thumbnails