Tag Archives: dystopian literature

[G] The Giver by Lois Lowry

7 Apr

The Giver by Lois Lowry is yet another Newbery Award winner on my list. I’m usually surprised by how many books I own and remember from my childhood were Newbery Award and honor books, but I guess teachers and librarians have been finding and recommending books through that list for a long time.

This book was the first book I did for book club for my current job, and it was an accident. I thought my boss wanted me to do a book from the students’ summer reading list, and one of my students had already gone and borrowed a bunch of books from the list. The only one I had heard of at the time was The Giver, so I told my boss we could do that book. I did borrow The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd (a great book dealing with autism) from the student to read after she was done with it, but I thought I was supposed to do the “classic” book for the book club.

Turns out I didn’t really need to do The Giver (which was nearly impossible to get through for my ESL student who was supposed to be in the class), but the kids seemed to enjoy it more than I did. I remember not liking the book much when I had to read it for school (see the part about how I like fluffy books in previous posts), but it wasn’t too bad reading it as an adult. I got it a lot more, for one thing, and it was an interesting challenge discussing it with my students.

The funny thing is that this book kind of turned into the “legendary book club book” because I never did it again, even though the high-achieving kids all wanted to read it because it looked hard. I had done it with rising middle schoolers, but  all of my classes after that were younger (and I’d found other books I wanted to do with them). So even though they kept asking me about the book, I kept doing different books, which only makes them want to read it more. Now that we have students who weren’t around during the Summer of The Giver, the kids who were around talk about the book in almost hushed tones. It’s pretty cute to watch, actually.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter G. 

[F] First Light by Rebecca Stead

6 Apr

First Light by Rebecca Stead is one of my favorite recent finds. It reminds me of The Giver (by Lois Lowry) intertwined with a modern-day story that ends with more hope. (I liked it better than The Giver, if you couldn’t tell from that short summary.)

I’m not usually a fan of dystopian literature, although I read it because my students do (or have to). I like to read fluffy, fun books with lots of action and humor, and dystopian fiction usually doesn’t fit that description, even if it’s for kids.

But what I liked about this book was that it had a satisfying ending (a mystery with a proper solution that had good hints but didn’t give too much away), mainly thanks to the intricate interweaving of the two main story lines. I also liked the details about the glaciers and the dogs a lot. The beginning was a little confusing, but there’s enough realistic fiction in it for readers to relate to and anchor themselves with.

I don’t usually quote from other people in my reviews, but as I was refreshing my memory for this one (I don’t have a copy of the book yet, although one is in my Amazon cart to buy later), I found this great quote about how Stead started this book from her website for the book:

Rebecca plunged into First Light, stopping now and then to research. She decided that her story took place in Greenland, where dog sledding is part of everyday life, and suddenly she had a cast of dogs. She discovered that a glacier can conceal a freshwater lake, and that firefly light is triggered by oxygen. A glaciologist told her how to scare a polar bear with a flare gun, and why he loves his bread maker.

First Light also hints at other things she’s learned, such as the fact that children don’t need to be shielded from truth. They are often much braver than the rest of us.

This book is a great introduction to dystopian literature for upper elementary to middle school students, but it’s engaging enough for adults to enjoy as well. I liked this book better than When You Reach Me, the book Stead won the Newbery Award for. When You Reach Me was more confusing even though it only had one story line (which is about time travel and has references to A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle).

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter F. 

[REVIEW] The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

10 Feb

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is about 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to take the place of her sister, Primrose, in the Hunger Games run by the Capitol to remind people living outside of the Capitol not to go against their “keepers.” At least, this is what I gathered from reading my advanced fifth grader’s very well-written summary, and from reading the two books after it. I accidentally started reading from the second book, and I could not make myself go back and read the first one. (I had given myself only about six hours to read the three books, and it took me about eight to finish the last two, so…)

This is a violent and emotionally disturbing series, but one with enough action to keep the attention younger readers who may not understand all of the political maneuvering that goes on, which may leave them unsatisfied with the ending. My fifth grade student hasn’t finished the last book yet (they had a project due at school today), but he keeps asking for time to read it.

I have never quite read dystopian literature willingly (although I read a lot either for class or with my students), and even this series was sitting on my bookshelf for months before I finally sat down and plowed through it. I never would have read it if my students hadn’t been reading it and my sister hadn’t recommended it and then borrowed the books from her old roommate (again, because I didn’t read them the first time she borrowed them) for me. Part of me will always prefer the fluffier, less-depressing books that now seem to be middle grade, because YA is leaning towards edgier stuff like this.

That said, I have a lot of respect for Suzanne Collins for putting in so much politics without once making me feel like I wanted to skip ahead to the action. The politics was part of the action, and Collins gave us enough emotional reason to be invested in the politics as well as the fighting. I think it would be a great read for any high schoolers studying Plato’s Republic. I don’t remember it at all from my own experience in high school, but I read parts of it with one of my high schoolers last year. (Having a Plutarch in the book keeps making me want to call Plato “Pluto,” even though I know all three names refer to different things…) I also enjoyed the reference to panem et circenses (bread and circuses), which I vaguely remember from my history classes in high school.

I did a quick search online to see if people recommended this for middle school, and I found that reviews by the kids themselves seemed to agree that this was a book for ages 12+, even if they (or someone they knew) read it at a younger age.

Recommended for middle school and up, although older elementary students may be interested. It contains a lot of graphic violence with a side of romance and kissing (nothing too explicit, and most of it is overwhelmed by the twisted nature of the games, anyway…). Parents of younger readers interested in the book may want to read or skim the book first. 

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