Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Title:  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Publisher: Quirk Books
Pages:  352
Genre:  Fantasy
Themes:  Family, Friendship, Hero's Journey, Good vs. Evil
Age Ranges:  8th Grade and Up

Summary: (from Goodreads)
A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.


One of the things that has been happening in children's publishing is a variety of new formats and narrative structures.  The rise of the graphic novel for more than telling stories about superheroes has allowed authors to create genre-bending texts that appeal to children through a wide range of narrative structure, illustration, and technology connections.

Compared to some of the current children's and young adult literature, Miss Peregrine's is almost old-fashioned by comparison.  But the way this story came about is what makes it so interesting.  The author collects interesting period photos.  These photos gave her the framework for an amazing story of a young man who discovers that his world is much more magical and horrifying than he even knew.  

The photos have a very eerie quality that gives the while story a very dark feel.  Jake, the narrator, is a rather cynical young man, prone to swearing, which makes this a book more suited to older children and youth.  The story takes a bit to get going, but it is engaging enough for me to want to keep going and find out what the mystery behind Jacob's grandfather's history.  This is obviously the first in the series, and I'm looking forward to reading what happens to Miss Peregrine and all of her peculiar charges.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Savvy, Ingrid Law

Title:  Savvy
Author:  Ingrid Law
Publisher: Puffin
Year:  2008
Pages:  368
Genre:  Magical Realism/Fantasy
Themes:  Family, Identity, Coming of Age
Age Range:  4th Grade and Up

Summary:  (from Goodreads)

For generations, the Beaumont family has harbored a magical secret. They each possess a "savvy" -a special supernatural power that strikes when they turn thirteen. Grandpa Bomba moves mountains, her older brothers create hurricanes and spark electricity . . . and now it's the eve of Mibs's big day.
As if waiting weren't hard enough, the family gets scary news two days before Mibs's birthday: Poppa has been in a terrible accident. Mibs develops the singular mission to get to the hospital and prove that her new power can save her dad. So she sneaks onto a salesman's bus . . . only to find the bus heading in the opposite direction. Suddenly Mibs finds herself on an unforgettable odyssey that will force her to make sense of growing up -and of other people, who might also have a few secrets hidden just beneath the skin.

I started reading this book at the beginning of the school year so I could model a reading journal for my students.  Once my students were independent on our independent reading routine, I put the book aside for days and weeks at a time.  It wasn't that I didn't enjoy the story, because I did.  But one busy day as the teacher bled into the next, and the book got buried under papers to grade, projects to finish, an drawings that my students made me.
Yesterday I was cleaning out a bin and discovered it again, and I am so glad that I did.  This story is frankly charming.  Mibs' voice is uniquely her own-the musings of a girl from a unique family with a unique perspective on the world.  Despite the impossibility of the circumstances, Mibs' voice rings true as she begins the awkward, often painful, usually embarrassing  transition from little girl to young woman.  I think that there are many children who would relate to the changes that Mibs is going through-we may not all have special powers, but who doesn't feel as though the world has suddenly tilted on its axis when we have our first crush, or our first grown up party, or when we realize that our own parents may not live for ever.  
This novel is also a good teaching tool for fantasy that is different than fairy tales or fables.  The magical realism in the book makes the most mundane activities take on an air of wonder, and yet still be totally relateable in a way that high fantasy is not.  There is also a chance to talk about character motivation and feelings with this novel.  Between Mibs' feelings about her father's accident and her crush, her brothers' reactions to their savvies, and the conflicted feelings of the bus driver and the waitress they pick up, and Mibs' ability to hear what other people are thinking, this book as s rich emotional landscape that will pull the reader in and make talking about issues of identity, self-worth, and responsibility easy.

Teacher Resources: