Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Musical Interludes, etc.

Zalben, Jane Breskin. Four Seasons.
Nominated for the Cybils by Jessalyn Pinsonault

Ally's parents are both musicians, so they have pressured her to succeed at the piano, especially since she is doing a Saturday program at The Julliard School. Her teacher is also very demanding and rarely pleased with Ally's playing. Ally feel especially stressed because she also has to keep up with her homework and tries to maintain her friendship with Opal and is nurturing a budding romance with Brad. Over the summer, she goes to a prestigious camp, where she has a good time playing piano with her roommate, a violinist, until the two fight. Back home, the stress continues to build until Ally has a break down. In the final section of the book, Ally tries to come to terms with how to balance her life- can she still play the piano, but without the level of stress she subjected herself to previously?
Strengths: Like Notes From an Accidental Band Geek, this had a lot of first hand information about what it is like to be a top flight musician. Not an easy life. I especially liked the summer music camp. Oh! Beatrice Levin's 1963 The Singer and the Summer Song! That's what that section reminded me of.
Weaknesses: I didn't quite see that Ally was stressed enough that she had a breakdown and had to be hospitalized. It's also a little hard for me to believe that musicians want their children to go into such a difficult field of work. I have certainly dissuaded my children from going into education!

Parry, Rosanne. Second Fiddle.
Nominated for the Cybils by Annamaria Anderson

Jody, Vivi and Giselle are stationed in Germany in 1990 with their families , who all have ties to the Army or diplomatic core. They are all set to travel to Paris with their music teacher for a competition, but he has to go into the hospital and can no longer take them. Jody especially wants to go because her family is soon moving back to the States and she will miss her friends. They spend the afternoon in East Berlin, getting ice cream and trying to figure out how to get to Paris. As luck would have it, they see a soldier beaten and thrown into the river, and rescue him. Arvo is Estonian and has run afoul of everyone, so he doesn't want to be turned in to the police. The girls bring him food and clothing and plan for HIM to be the adult to accompany them to Paris. Once there, Arvo steals their money, and they have an interesting day trying to earn money by busking, hanging out with some other musicians, and generally enjoying being on their own in Paris. Of course, this can't last forever, and the military police soon bring them in, and they find out surprising things about the soldier they rescued.
Strengths: It is obvious that Parry spent some time in Berlin and Paris, and the sense of place is strong. I also enjoyed the traveling. This was more exciting than the cover would indicate.
Weaknesses: I found it hard to believe that Arvo would have been able to get on a train in Berlin for Paris without any kind of I.D. at all. Perhaps this was possible at the time, and students won't notice, but it bothered me!

Paquette, A.J. Nowhere Girl.
Nominated for the Cybils by Kip Wilson

Luchi has lived her whole life in a women's prison in Thailand.When her mother dies, she stays under the care of the chief warden until the woman must send her away. The warden has a nephew drive Luchi the house of other relatives to acclimate to the outside world, and then on to Bangkok, where he leaves her in the care of a friend. The friend takes care of Luchi for a while,but then steals her money. Not knowing how else she can get to the US to find her grandmother (she has papers her mother left her), Luchi stows away in a ship headed to California. Luckily, when she is found, captain of the ship is sympathetic, since Luchi reminds him of his own daughter, who passed away. At last, Luchi arrives in the US only to run into problems with immigration officials. She finally meets her grandmother, but when her paternal grandfather also shows up, she finds out the ugly truth about the circumstances that led her mother to be glad to be imprisoned.
Strengths: Another very good travel story about a young girl on her own in an exotic part of the world. The writing made it believable that she could have gotten as far as she did.
Weaknesses: After being given clues for the entire book about why her mother chose to remain in jail, I found the ending somehow anticlimactic.

Woelfle, Gretchen. All the World's a Stage.
Nominated for the Cybils by David Rosenberg

Kit is an orphan who has come to London from the country and fallen in with a gang of thieves. After a failed attempt at taking a purse during a performance of a Shakespeare play , Kit is taken into the company by Richard Burbage and made to work at various tasks. When the company loses their lease, they plot to steal the building materials from Giles Allen, transport them across the river, and use them to build their own theater. The plan works when the group works together during a three day period when Allen is out of London. Kit, who has been performing with the company in bit parts, decides that his real calling is carpentry, since his grandfather was a shipwright. The Globe is built, Kit finds a career, and all's well that ends well.
Strengths: This might be good to use with grade school classes that have units on Shakespeare; I'm not a fan of the plays, so I always have trouble imaging that anyone does these units, but they seem to. The fairly fast paced action makes this a good choice for students who want a story set during that time.
Weaknesses: The type face and drawings are purposefully primitive but did not add to the story for me. Again, I see a trend in returning to the bad covers of the 80s.

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