Tag Archives: rebecca stead

[L] Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

14 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

By Newbery Award-winning author Rebecca Stead, Liar & Spy is an unconventional mystery that follows Georges on his adventures with his neighbor, Safer, as their spy club tries to uncover the mystery of Mr. X, who lives in their apartment building. After Georges’s father loses his job and they have to sell their house, Georges moves into the apartment building Safer lives in with his family. At school, Georges is a loner who is bullied by the other kids. At home, his mother, a nurse, is working long shifts at the hospital, and his dad, an architect, is busy trying to get new clients, so Georges is left to explore his new home on his own.

Georges’s life starts improving as he spends more time with Safer, learning to observe the world around him. He begins to see the things around him differently, which leads to seeing himself differently, as well. Even once the mystery of Mr. X is solved, there is still more for the boys—and the reader—to discover, and at the end of the book, readers will want to read it again from the beginning to find the clues Stead deftly weaves into the whole novel.

Things get a little uncomfortable near the end of the book as the reader joins in Georges’s confusion about the revelations that come seemingly one after another. Like in Stead’s other books, astute readers will be able to guess at the surprise ending, but even so, it is satisfying to follow along as Georges finally sorts out fact from fiction.

Teachers reading the book in class may want students to keep a graphic organizer or a chart of facts about Georges’s life to compare what is known to the reader at the beginning of the book to what is known by the end. Students should also be encouraged to explain the changes with clues and evidence from the text, in line with Common Core standards for reading comprehension.

More firmly rooted in reality than Stead’s Newbery Award-winner, When You Reach Me, Liar & Spy is an engrossing mystery that deals with real-life issues. Tweens will relate to the struggles Georges faces and can find courage in his triumphs in helping Safer overcome his fears and in facing his own reality.

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

[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.