Book Review: Stop Pretending

Stop Pretending1. Bibliography

Sones, Sonya. 1999. Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780060283865.

2. Plot Summary

Stop Pretending follows a young teen’s journey as her older sister is hospitalized with mental problems and the family must now cope. The short free verse poems capture the emotions of the trauma the family disaster, the despair of prolonged treatment, the relief of learning to live again, and the hope of treatments beginning to work.

3. Critical Analysis

Sonya Sones crafts her own life story into a heart-wrenching work of beauty in Stop Pretending. Though written in free verse, the short poems that make up the larger story retain a natural rhythm created by carefully chosen language that sounds good read aloud.

The story relies heavily on figurative language and imagery to express the complex emotions raging through Cookie as she faces a completely new life after Sister’s breakdown. The reader understands how all-consuming Sister’s absence is when Cookie tries to take a math exam but says that all she can understand is that “4 – 1 = 0” (82). Allusions to other works of literature (A Wrinkle in Time) reinforce Cookie’s deep sense of love for and desire to rescue Sister. The vivid imagery used in “Saint Patrick’s Day” allows the reader to see Cookie and the therapist as Cookie finally opens up and allows her emotions to show.

Stop Pretending is an excellent picture into the family life of loved ones with mental disabilities. I recommend this book not just to teens/young adults, but to educators and any other adults in frequent contact with children and teens.

4. Review Excerpts

2000 – Christoper Book Awards

2001 – Bluegrass Award (nominee)

2001 – Maine Student Book Award (nominee)

2002 – Evergreen Young Adult Book Award (nominee)

2002 – Beehive Young Adults’ Book Award (nominee)

2002 – Garden State Teen Book Award (nominee)

2004 – Volunteer State Book Award (nominee)

From Booklist: “Based on Sones’ own family experience, this debut novel shows the capacity of poetry to record the personal and translate it into the universal.”

From Horn Book Guide: “The simple verses are occasionally glib, but more often sensitively written, gathering cumulative power as they trace Cookie’s feelings of loss, despair, and loneliness as Sister is institutionalized, undergoes shock therapy, and ultimately makes small steps toward recovery.”

From School Library Journal: “All of the emotions and feelings are here.”

5. Connections

-Recommend to library users who also enjoy Speak by Laurie Anderson or Sarah Dessen novels

-Use as a bridge between a unit on poetry and on non-fiction (autobiographies or memoirs)

(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)

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Book Review: Jazz

Jazz1. Bibliography

Myers, Walter Dean. 2006. Jazz. Ill. by Christopher Myers. New York: Holiday House. ISBN 9780823415458.

Review of both the print book and the 2007 Live Oak Media audiobook.

2. Plot Summary

This beautifully illustrated and fun collection of poems explores and celebrates jazz music and history, especially in New Orleans. From a introduction to jazz itself to a picture of New Orleans funerals to a description of all the parts of jazz, this book begs to be read aloud with a live jazz band accompaniment.

3. Critical Analysis

Walter Dean Myers’ poetry book Jazz can be appreciated in its print version, but the absolute best way to enjoy Myers’ poetry is listening to the audiobook. The cd audiobook is read by James “D-Train” Williams and Vaneese Thomas; some of the poems they read in unison, some they trade off parts. Additionally, the poems are read over jazz music composed especially for this audiobook; some of the poems are sung along with the music rather than merely read. I could hardly sit still while listening to these wonderful poems!

As is appropriate for poetry discussing the topic of jazz, Myers’ poems have a musical quality with a nice, flowing rhythm. The rhythm really is the star of these poems – the rhythm perfectly captures jazz and, thus, ensnares the reader/listener. Care is given to diction to ensure that the printed words mimic the jazz technique or scenario being discussed.

4. Review Excerpts

2006 – Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year

2006 – Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Books

2007 – ALA Notable Books for Children

2007 – Golden Kite Awards

2007 – Coretta Scott King Awards Honor

From Publishers Weekly: ” cogent introduction, selective glossary and chronology round out this mesmerizing verbal and visual riff on a uniquely American art form.”

From Booklist: “Middle-graders will feel the sound of the words and pictures working together, and younger kids will hear and see that connection when adults share the book with them.”

5. Connections

-For secondary students: Listen to/read at the beginning of a poetry unit to help make the connection between poetry and music

(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)

Book Review: Winter Eyes

Winter Eyes1. Bibliography

Florian, Douglas. 1999. Winter Eyes. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780688164584.

2. Plot Summary

In this collection of 28 poems and illustrations, readers explore both the wonders and woes of winter. From the joys of days spent sledding to the agony of days spent cooped up inside, Winter Eyes explores it all.

3. Critical Analysis

Douglas Florian’s poems have a natural rhythm and rhyme that roll off the tongue. Only occasionally do the rhyming lines feel forced, but rather add to flow of the poem. The poems can generally stand alone without their illustrations, with one notable exception: The shape poem “Sled” would not have the same effect without being shaped to the illustration of the children trudging up and sliding down the hill.

The personification in “The Winter Sun” perfectly captures the mood of a winter with long spells between seeing the sun at all. Just as people long to feel the sun’s warm rays during winter, the reader longs for the sun in the poem to escape the prison of his bed.

The most surprising part of reading Winter Eyes was the emotional response it stirred in me about winter. I personally do not like winter – I gratefully put up with scorching Texas summers in order to not have to deal with harsh winters. While I do not have personal experience with many of the activities and situations presented in Winter Eyes, the language and imagery of the poems created in me a sense of wonder and a desire to explore the winter described in them.

4. Review Excerpts

2002 – Garden State Children’s Book Awards (nominee)

From Booklist: “The short rhyming lines are clear and will be easy to read aloud, and the softly toned watercolor-and-colored-pencil pictures show snowy winter scenes, some realistic, some playful.”

From School Library Journal: “Winter Eyes does not address seasonal holidays and religious celebrations. The season itself is the celebration; it is alive and ever changing…. Quiet and reflective as the whispers of falling snowflakes and as jubilant as the whizzing of sleds, this book will be as welcome as a warm cup of cocoa after a long day of making snowmen and turning figure eights.”

5. Connections

-Read selected poems during a unit about the seasons

-For secondary writing students, have each student choose a poem and write a story inspired by the poem

(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)

Just Stay

You don’t have to be perfect
You don’t have to have your life all together
You don’t have to be rich
You don’t have to have the best job

You don’t have to be [insert everything you think you have to be here]

Just stay
Just show me your love
Just be kind
Just accept the inner me
Just be content with who you are
Just hold me when I cry
Just be forgiving
Just fight to uphold good
Just be honorable
Just trust me with your inner self
Just protect

You don’t have to be perfect
Just be the man I know you already are
And just stay

Guerrillas of Grace

I don’t usually post the writings of others (because I’m self-centered like that), but this poem/prayer has been on my mind a lot lately.  Can prayer be more than  words?

“How shall I pray?
Are tears prayers, Lord?
Are screams prayers,
or groans
or sighs
or curses?
Can trembling hands be lifted to you,
or clenched fists
or the cold sweat that trickles down my back
or the cramps that knot my stomach?

Will you accept my prayers, Lord,
my real prayers,
rooted in the muck and mud and rock of my life,
and not just my pretty, cut-flower, gracefully arranged
bouquet of words?

Will you accept me, Lord,
as I really am,
messed up mixture of glory and grime?”

(exert from “How Shall I Pray” by Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace, 1981)