Monthly Archives: December 2011

Objection. My Thoughts on Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer

I was excited to see Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer as it was recently added to my library’s shelves. When I first saw the book I thought, “This is just the sort of thing I would have love to read as a child.” I’ve always been a fan of mysteries and crime/law-oriented fiction. Yet I realize now that I didn’t start reading this genre until I was a teen–and I think there’s a reason. After reading a decent amount of this genre for both children and adults I think it is difficult to craft an ultra-realistic crime mystery for children. When I read crime novels written for adults, it’s easy to suspend belief and imagine an ordinary citizen taking on a case to achieve a sort of vigilante justice–it’s what makes the genre exciting. Writing a child into crime novel situations is difficult. The writer must make the situations believable enough to maintain trust with the reader while making the content exciting enough to be entertaining. It’s a delicate balance.  I thought if anyone could make a realistic crime novel work for kids it would be John Grisham as he is wildly successful in writing this genre for adults. Unfortunately his skills don’t translate to children’s literature–at least not in this book.

First, I felt that the story had some structural issues. It seemed that the first 2/3rds of the book were in-depth exposition. The most crucial plot points don’t take off until much later in the book. To this end, characters who are essential to crucial plot points aren’t introduced until later in the book.  While Grisham attempts to organically weave these characters into the story–it all seems a bit stilted. A super important character would pop up and I’d think, “Oh, so I guess you’re in this book now. Ok. ” It felt like these characters were thrown in only to serve the plot and their standing in Theo’s life was patched in for effect.

Next, Theo reads a bit too old. I was discussing the book with a colleague and she said, “The kid is kind of like an old man.” I couldn’t agree more. As one would expect, Theo knows a lot about the law to the point that he (and Grisham) expound on certain topics in a way that was boring for me as an adult–I can’t imagine a child being truly engaged during some of the tedious law-centric explanations that Theo doles out. Also, the majority of Theo’s interaction in the book is with adult characters (it makes sense, there aren’t tons of kids hanging out in courthouses and law offices). While he goes to school and has kid friends–all of these interactions seem superficial compared to his adult relationships and interactions. I know that there are kids out there who can identify with such an existence–I was one of them–I don’t know that Grisham acknowledges Theo’s preference for or abundance of adult company in a way that is meaningful to the reader. My main point, if you’re going to write a book about a kid lawyer–for kids to read–make the character more like a real kid. I know that there is no one way to write a child character–and I don’t want authors to write kids with traits and preferences they imagine children to have in a way that is insulting to child readers. I just feel like Grisham misses the mark with Theo. He’s and old soul, wise beyond his years in a way that I feel serves the plot–not Theo and not the reader.

As with all books, there’s a reader out there who will enjoy this story. Additionally, I think that this book is a great cross-curricular read for government and social studies classes. Middle graders learning about the legal process and the legislative branch of government would do well to read this book for its realistic depiction of courtroom scenes and the legal process.

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Lots of Love for ‘A Tale Dark and Grimm’

I’ve been on an audiobook roll lately, this week was no exception. While I’d like to give myself credit for selecting an awesome book to listen to–the real credit lies with author Adam Gidwitz and his amazing book ‘A Tale Dark and Grimm.’

Gidwitz artfully curates Grimm within the framework of a royal Hansel and Gretel who runaway from their kingdom to save their own skin. As Gidwitz explains on his website, Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and take on the roles of children in a host of Grimm Fairy Tales. An accessible narrator weaves the tale together for the reader. Gidwitz does not back down from the doom, darkness and gore that accompany Grimm. Rather, he uses the narrator to alert the reader to parts of the story that are particularly dark or scary.

What I love most about this book is that Gidwitz uses his story to make fairy tales appealing to a middle grade audience in a way that is faithful to the form and not insulting to the reader (i.e., setting these stories in a middle school). I also love how wise and revered Hansel and Gretel become by the end of the story–it’ lets the reader know that kids CAN be right when adults are wrong.

I recommend this book for any middle grade reader who loves adventure. Adults with an appreciation for fairy tales (or epic adventures) will enjoy this book as well. As stated above, this book can be dark and gory at times–let the narrator (and your judgement) guide you. A colleague of mine just recommended this book to a middle school teacher introducing his students to Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I second the recommendation–this is a great way to warm classes to fairy tale content from middle school through college.

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Great Audio: The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester

Some stories are ripe for the audiobook treatment. Case and point: The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester.  In this southern summer tale Owen Jester makes many a discovery–including a submarine and the best bullfrog in the county. As Owen and his buddies set out to take care of the frog, and get the sub in working order they must contend with Owen’s know it all neighbor Viola. The pressure is on as Owen, Travis, Stumpy and Viola set out to set sail in their submarine–without getting caught by the grown-ups.

Barbara O’Connor gives us a fantastic tale that happens to utterly ordinary people. Owen, Viola, Stumpy and Travis seem like children you or I could have grown up with. This is part of the magic of the book. These very real children have the amazing luck of discovering a submarine–mind you they have no clue how to operate it and it’s founds a decent jaunt from a body of water. To take advantage of the opportunity–they have to problem solve and learn to work together.

Beyond recommending this book, I also recommend the audio edition. Noah Galvin’s narration truly brings each of these rich characters to life.   While the print edition is recommended for readers ages 9-12 I think the audio may appeal to slightly younger audiences as well. Happy listening.

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Recommended Reading: The Girl Behind the Glass by Jane Kelley

The Zimmerman family flees New York City in search of a better school for their daughters: Selena (the oldest), Hannah and Anna (the twins). As Selena and Anna make friends at their new school, Hannah finds herself an outcast–and clings to the family’s home. The house on Hemlock Road is old, spooky and tainted by a storied past. The book’s mysterious narrator leads Hannah, and the reader, to that past by carefully weaving the story one thread at a time. It is only at the very end that we learn who our narrator is–and what happened in the house on Hemlock Road.

I enjoyed this book because Kelley respects the reader throughout. She explains just enough of the story for us to understand while avoiding over simplification. Characters explore complex emotions, and must take responsibility for their actions.  This book is perfect for middle grade readers, teens and adults who love a slightly spooky story. Readers will find themselves asking questions and drafting possible answers throughout the book making it a great book club read.

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Welcome

Welcome “To The Library.” For the past year I’ve worked to create and maintain Proseandlexicons.blogspot.com. I’m migrating to this blog for several reasons. Primarily, I have come to prefer the aesthetics and capabilities of WordPress. All of my Prose and Lexicons posts have been imported to this new blog and website–so feel free to read them here. I will continue to blog about my take on children’s literature and library science issues. Happy reading.

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