The Lions of Little Rock. By Krisitin Levine. Putnum Juvenile, January 2012. 304 pages. $16.99.
The Lions of Little Rock is about an event in history I was not aware of before reading this book. In 1957, nine African-American high school students were integrated into the Little Rock schools and they were known as “The Little Rock Nine.” But this book tells the story about what happened after that. The city was so torn about integration that the next school year, all of the high schools in the city were closed for the entire year rather than integrate. But this story is also about Marlee, a 12-year-old girl who befriends a new girl at school named Liz, only to find out when Liz disappears from school that she was passing as white. Most of all, however, this is a story about Marlee finding her voice.
When the book starts out Marlee is very shy. The only people she talks to are her parents, her brother David, and her sister Judy. Other kids in her school even think she is mute. It is easy to sympathize with this character, especially if you have ever experienced shyness yourself. It is very rewarding to watch Marlee’s growth over the course of the year as she learns to speak up when she sees injustices around her.
The one thing Marlee does love is math. I though this aspect of Marlee’s personality was done very well. I liked that she counted prime numbers to herself when she was nervous, and her interest in magic boxes had me wanting to learn more. Another interesting thing that Marlee does is compare the people in her life to different beverages. “My brother, David, is a glass of sweet iced tea on a hot summer day,” or “Turns out Betty Jean wasn’t just plain water after all. She had a twist of lime that was all her own.” I really enjoyed this unique way of looking at the world, and it’s a good introduction to metaphors for readers. One thing I did notice that was slightly odd was how many times there are spilled drinks in the story, especially in the beginning of the book. I’m still trying to decide if there is any meaning behind this, but it was noticeable.
The historical and civil rights aspects of the story are done very well. We learn a lot about race relations during this period and the ugliness of the racism at this time is not lightly glossed over. This will foster a lot of discussion and if handled well can make this a powerful book. However, because of the racism and the violence and the scary situations that are portrayed, I would be careful about recommending this to younger children. I think for ages 12 and up would be a good guide for this one. There are many lessons to be learned from this book: friendship, finding a voice, courage, and civil rights are just a few. I am sure this book will be discussed in the months leading up to Newbery 2013. I would say it is a definite contender and a very enjoyable story.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Young Adult Paranormal Fantasy. I loved this book way more than I thought I would. When I heard the book was about angels and demons (chimera) I didn’t think it was really my thing. But so many people were raving about it so I decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did! Karou is a young woman with bright blue hair studying at an art school in Prague. She also has a secret life – she was raised by chimera and these demon-like creatures are the only family she has ever known. She doesn’t know who or what she is, but when an angel named Akiva shows up and tries to kill her, she is on her way to finding out. The thing that really sold me on this book is how vivid and imaginative Karou’s world is. It was like nothing I had ever read, but it also felt so real and so alive. I recommend this book to anyone with an imagination who likes to think there might be a little bit more to life.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Adult Literary Fantasy. (I listened to this on audiobook read by Mark Bramhall). I am almost done listening to the second book in the series now (The Magician King) and I have to say I may like it even better than the first. But we’ll have to wait and see how it ends. So, The Magicians is about Quentin Coldwater, a highly intelligent young man who feels restless and unsatisfied with his life. Then he discovers that magic is real and is admitted into Brakebills, a college for magicians. And then he also discovers that Fillory is real, the land he loved and read about as a child (think Narnia) and gets to go there, but it isn’t quite as fun and rosy as it was in the books. This book is so perfect for anyone who loves Harry Potter and Narnia and Middle Earth and all things fantasy/nerdy. A beautiful, if sometimes dark and gritty, homage to the great fantasy stories I love.
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. Ages 9 and up Illustrated Historical Fiction. This is a new book by the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. You’ve probably heard of the movie Hugo, out just this year. I haven’t actually read the book yet (I know, it’s on my list!) but I can tell you that Wonderstruck was amazing. The book interweaves the stories of two characters, Rose and Ben. Rose’s story is told only through full-page illustrations. You have to see these to believe them. They are so realistic and Selznick’s ability to tell a story without any words is amazing. Rose and Ben live in two different eras and their stories tell of two different quests but the ways they are connected will just leave you in awe.
Hereville: How Mirka Got her Sword by Barry Deutsch. Ages 9 and up Fantasy Graphic Novel. The subtitle of this book is seriously: “Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl.” I love it! Mirka doesn’t want to knit, she doesn’t want to spend all her time learning to become a good Orthodox Jewish wife. She just wants to be a dragon slayer! This lovely humorous graphic novel tells Mirka’s story. This book is cool for so many reasons. The illustrations and layout of the book were just really cool. I loved the strong-willed female protagonist. And it was a really cool glimpse into Orthodox Jewish life, which I really don’t know a lot about. Even though the story is clearly fiction with a lot of fantastical elements, I think it is great to see this culture represented in children’s literature. This book is great for anyone who craves a little more adventure.
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. Ages 4-8 Picture Book. I gave a review of this book previously on this blog, Lost in the Pages. Check it out. On here, let me just say, I’m so glad this book is getting a lot of love this year because it totally deserves it! If you like your picture books with a little bit of cheeky humor that appeals to both young children and adults, this is the perfect book. Even if you don’t have any children in your life you should read this book. It’s that good. Honestly. My favorite picture book of the year.