REVIEWS: Helen Keller and Gennifer Choldenko's new one

Why, oh why, can’t I seem to gather the patience to write a review lately ?! I’ve read some fine books that I’d love to promote and talk about here but I just can’t seem to find the motivation. But it’s like a band-aid: I’ll pull it off really quick and then it’ll be over:

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period by Gennifer Choldenko (Harcourt, 2007)

I really loved this one, and I won’t be surprised if it gets some Newbery love. However, I also had quite a few problems with it. Choldenko successfully crafts a character-driven story that still manages to move quickly and entertain. The teenage experience is captured well, particularly when Kirsten’s lifelong best friend suddenly ditches her for the popular Mean Girl. Nearly every middle school student can relate to that. I also enjoyed the relationship between Walk and his mom – I found it was a realistic depiction of the relationship between a single mother and her child. Lastly, the book does leave some plot points unresolved, and I appreciated that. So often authors feel that they need to tie every last thing up, and I've never been a fan of that. I prefer some open-endedness, giving one the impression that these characters' stories are going on long after you close the book.

There are some problems with the book too. First, the chapters are told in alternating perspectives between Kirsten and Walk. Kirsten’s chapters are told in first person, but Walk’s are told in third person. It seems to be a very odd choice, and it was very distracting and often jarring. There’s also a sort of plot twist in the middle, which doesn’t come as any surprise. It almost made Choldenko seem insecure and unsure of herself because the story didn’t need it – it would have been successful without it. I think the twist was supposed to be some sort of climax to brewing tensions, but it wasn’t enough of a shocker to actually have that effect. My last problem with this book is its child-friendliness. I don’t know about anyone else, but I had a real hard time talking Al Capone Does My Shirts off the shelf. It hardly circulated at the library I worked in previously. That’s my concern with this one. And the cover doesn’t help it either. I like the tree falling picture…but it doesn’t let you know anything about the book. Nor does the title. I do love the different colored lettering, though –it gives it some pop.

Helen Keller: Her Life in Pictures by George Sullivan (Scholastic, 2007)

First off, let me say that I loved this book. Second, let me say that I loathed this cover. The book is largely made up of stunning photos that most kids will not have seen before, yet there’s still enough text to provide lots of report information. I can’t say enough of the beautiful pictures…I already used “stunning” and “beautiful”…breathtaking…eye candy…gorgeous…riveting. Get the idea? So that’s why I’m so puzzled over the photo on the front of the book. Why this close-up, blurry, indistinctive photo? It just seems like a confusing, odd choice. Add to that the little half-page book jacket, and you wonder if they’re out to get librarians. But when it comes down to it, who cares? Buy this book for the content. Open up the book for a child – doesn’t matter which page, any page – and they’ll snatch it out of your hands and check it out.

No comments: