Friday, September 19, 2014

Guy Friday- Guys Read: True Stories

20482994Sciezcka, Jon. Guys Read: True Stories
September 16th 2014 by Walden Pond Press  
E ARC from Edelweiss

Well, someone is paying a little bit of attention to all of the new Language Arts standards, although I always have to remember that the personal narrative of which teachers are so fond is frowned upon. This collection showcases amusing NONFICTION pieces on a variety of topics, from Jim Murphy’s painful treatise on the history of dentistry, to Candace Fleming’s account of the elephant Jumbo in Barnum and Bailey’s circus, to Steve Sheinkin’s alarming account of a ship’s crew stranded in the Sahara desert and sold into slavery. There are two cartoon accounts that I couldn’t read well because the E ARC was only available with pictures in a 4 point font, but students will definitely like those. The stand out for me was Douglas Florian’s science poems! I’m super picky and rhyme and meter, but these were really, really good. Definitely investigating his work for purchase in my library.  Other authors contributing are Nathan Hale , James Sturm, Douglas Florian, Sy Montgomery , T. Edward Nickens and Thanhha Lai, who has a marvelous piece on what it was like to grow up in Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. (Since we were born the same year, I found it fascinating. )

Remember, just like not telling children that the pasta is whole wheat, we don’t HAVE to tell anyone that this supports the Common Core. It’s just fun to read! 

20821303Levine, Kristin. The Paper Cowboy.
September 4th 2014 by Putnam Juvenile  

Downer Grove, Illinois was an interesting place in 1953. Tommy Wilson lives in a neighborhood where the neighbors raise chickens and vegetables, and are from a variety of places in the world, having been displaced by World War II. When his sister Mary Lou is badly burned while burning the trash in the back yard, Tommy has to take over her paper route. This event also pushes his already stressed mother over the edge. A new baby, the death of her mother, Mary Lou's extensive hospital stay and attendant bills and incipient mental illness drives the mother to regularly flog Tommy with a belt for the most minor infractions. Tommy, in turn, takes his anger out on others, especially, Sam, the son of local grocery store owner Mr. McKenzie. Sam was burnt in the war, his father was in a concentration camp, and Mrs. McKenzie is in the hospital dying of tuberculosis, but this doesn't stop Tommy from giving Sam a hard time. Tommy rather likes Sam, but his friend Eddie (whose father has lost his job for drinking) is merciless. Tommy plants a communist newspaper in Mr. McKenzie's store, and the neighbors stop shopping there. Tommy feels bad about this and decides that an older neighbor lady, Mrs. Kopecky, must be the communist. He makes an arrangement with her where he will teach her to read English if she teaches him to play the accordion, and he hopes to be able to discover something that will prove that she is a communist. Everything in Tommy's life continues to devolve into chaos, but when his mother reaches a critical state, the neighbors do pull together to try to make life better for the family, and for others in the neighborhood as well. 
Strengths: This is certainly a little covered historical time period, and a fairly interesting story. The coverage of paper carriers is particularly interesting, since it's something with which today's youth have no experience. Levine did her research, and her prose is readable. The inclusion of a neighbor who studied psychology and attended lectures by Sigmund Freud was interesting.
Weaknesses: I wanted to like this more than I did. It went on a bit long, there were too many different problems. Tommy wasn't a convincing bully, and his mother's mental illness didn't quite ring true. Even the concern about communism seemed off-- from talking to older relatives, it always seemed like everyone thought McCarthy was an idiot, and regular middle class people didn't concern themselves with neighbors who might be communist, but that could just be the people I know. I also wonder how many girls were paper carriers in the 1950s. Entirely possible, but possibly a rare occurrence.

The thing that bothered me most is not Ms. Levine's fault-- the bike shown on the cover didn't look right, and in fact Norco Performance Bikes weren't manufactured until the 1960s. Why not include an iconic Schwinn on the cover?

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