The Princess Diaries

cover image for The Princess DiariesCabot, Meg. (2000) The Princess Diaries. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers

Plot Summary:

Mia is an ordinary girl who spends her days doing ordinary things – like stressing out over math tests and getting caught up in her friend Lilly’s latest scheme.  Until her dad comes to visit and confesses that he is actually royalty – and she, Mia Thermopolis, is the crown princess of Genovia.  Being a modern princess is not all it’s cracked up to be though, and Mia is not at all sure she’s ready for the attention and responsibility.  With help from her friends and family – and the best stylists money can buy – Mia finally find a way to be herself and save Genovia too.

Critical Evaluation:

Anyone who has simply seen the movie is really missing out.  Cabot’s style is unique and hilarious, making this lighthearted story not only a breezy read but an absolute delight.  Who cares how improbable it all is? As long as Cabot is snarking and cracking jokes, I’m there.

Reader’s Annotation:

Mia is an ordinary girl who spends her days doing ordinary things – until her dad comes to visit and confesses that she, Mia Thermopolis, is actually the crown princess of Genovia.

Author Information:

http://www.megcabot.com/

http://www.facebook.com/megcabot

@MegCabot

Genre:

Girl’s Series

Booktalking Ideas:

The hard part with this book is getting people to forget the style of the movie, while there are similarities, that’s not going top convince people that haven’t already to read the book.  Pulling out some of the funny lines and jokes and letting them get a taste of that would be best.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/13-16

Potential Controversy:

This book is so full of fluff it practically floats.  I would seriously wonder about anyone who challenged it.

Reason for Choosing This Book:

I, like many, dismissed this series as merely being as good as the movie so why bother? – until a cousin of mine began raving about them to me.

Soulless, Vol. 1

cover image for Soulless graphic novelCarriger, Gail. (2012) Soulless, Vol. 1. New York, NY: Yen Press.

Plot Summary:

The manga version of Soulless follows the same plot as the prose novel, only much abridged.  Miss Alexia Tarabotti is attempting to catch a moment of peace and some decent food at an otherwise trying and under-catered ball, when a vampire comes across her all alone and attempts to have a snack himself.  Alexia, however, is a preternatural – a person who was born with a deficit of soul and whose touch renders mortal those whose excess of soul has allowed them to become a supernatural being.  More confused than alarmed at the loss of his fangs, the vampire continues to attack Alexia in vain – until Alexia is forced to end his life in defense.  This sparks of a series of events that grows ever more dangerous, fantastic, and hilarious.

excerpt from Soulless graphic novelCritical Evaluation:

The lack of insights into Alexia’s thoughts are much missed and the pixie-fied version of our forthright heroine is a bit more fanservice-y than such a character deserves; the story loses a lot in switching from it’s focus on seeing the world through Alexia’s eyes to seeing her through the conventions of the male gaze.  Despite that, it was a fun read and the character’s expressions and body language were quite often priceless and hilarious.  Though I would strongly suggest that the prose novel be read first, the graphic novel could act as a gateway to those who may be reluctant to pick up a relatively dense title.

Reader’s Annotation:

Miss Alexia Tarabotti may look like an ordinary miss in Victorian London (if a bit too Italian to be fashionable) but how many other proper young ladies can claim the ability to defang vampires and werewolves with a single touch?

Genre:

Graphic Novel Series

Booktalking Ideas:

It’s manga – you gotta have lots of props in the form of images form the text. Otherwise it would be like trying to booktalk a prose novel using only pictures. (hmmm…that’s an intriguing idea, actually)

Reading Level/Target Age:

8th grade/16-24

(yeah, I know, it’s a graphic novel, you would think it would have a lower reading level than that.  They keep a lot of the big words though.  “Consumate” is not vocab for fourth graders.)

Possible Controversy:

It’s a graphic novel with nudity.  Even keeping it shelved in the adult section, there will be people who object.  It is, however, technically an adult title, and I think placing it in the adult section is justified – especially if you have a large enough adult graphic novels section that the teens are able to find it easily anyway.

Reason for Choosing This Title:

Mere curiosity.  I haven’t given you the impression that I’m a fan, have I?

Son of the Mob

cover image for Son of the MobGordon, Korman, (2002) Son of the Mob.  New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children

Plot Summary:

It’s not unusual to have siblings that sabotage your dates, that’s what siblings do.  Vince Luca is pretty sure most of them don’t do it by stashing dead bodies in the trunk of your car, however.  But, as the son of a local mob boss, that’s just the kind of unexpected gift he’s always had to deal with.  Things get even more complicated than normal, though, when Vince falls for a new girl.., whose father just happens to be an FBI agent.  And not just any agent, but the one that’s been trying to bring his dad down for years.  The one that’s bugged his house and listens to all his families’ conversations.

Critical Evaluation:

Son of the Mob is not a serious or realistic book, far from it.  What it is is irreverent and downright hilarious. Despite being so ridiculous you can’t help but laugh, there’s also some interesting hearts to hearts between Vince and his dad about the ways that Vince has benefited from his dad’s business sense, so to speak, and whether that makes him a hypocrite for wanting no part in the family practice.  While most teens don’t have mob bosses for parents, many have ideals that their parents realities do not live up to and in between the laughter, Korman does provide some food for thought.

Reader’s Annotation:

It’s not unusual to have siblings that sabotage your dates, that’s what siblings do.  Vince Luca is pretty sure most of them don’t do it by stashing dead bodies in the trunk of your car, however.

Genre:

Humor

Booktalking Ideas:

I think it would be funny to comapre Vince and Kendra to other famous star crossed lovers.  The trip would be to try to be funny, like the book, which is often the most difficult thing to do.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/13-16

Potential Controversy:

While there is violence, is all of screen and very tongue in cheek.

Reasons for Choosing this Title:

Recommended in on of the class textbooks.

The Boyfriend List

cover image for The Boyfriend ListLockhart, Emily. (2005) The Boyfriend List. New York, NY: Delacorte Press

Plot Summary:

Ruby Oliver’s life is such a disaster, her parents have sent her to see a shrink.  Well, to be fair, they sent her because she has been having panics attacks.  But the panic attacks are happening because her boyfriend dumped her, her friends won’t speak to her, she’s an outcast at school, and her parents never listen.  So it’s pretty much the same thing.

Critical Evaluation:

A story about a girl losing her friends and her boyfriend and her place in the social hierarchy at school would normally be full of angst and weeping.  The Boyfriend List has those things, but it’s also full of humor, hope, and insight.  The unique voice Lockhart has made for Ruby Oliver is unforgettable, hysterical, utterly suited to the task.  I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Reader’s Annotation:

Ruby Oliver didn’t mean for the list to be made public.

Author Information:

http://www.theboyfriendlist.com/

@elcokhart

Genre:

Humor

Booktalking Ideas:

Reciting the list (and adding some plot) is really the only way to go, yes?

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/14-18

Possible Controversy:

There’s some typical teenage stuff: kissing, talk of sex, drinking, etc.  It’s not likely to cause a problem because it’s mild and Ruby gets in trouble for the drinking.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

A cousin of mine told me years ago that I had to read this – and now I finally did.

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You

cover image for I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You

Carter, Ally. (2006) I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children

Plot Summary:

Most everyone in town thinks that the girls that attend the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women are nothing but a bunch of spoiled snobs.  That’s the way they like it though, because when the truth is that your school is training you to become a spy, it’s always good to know your cover story is holding up.  But when an ordinary boy starts to notice Cameron Morgan (nickname, the Chameleon) she’s suddenly not so sure that she wants to keep hiding in plain sight.

Critical Evaluation:

There’s no denying that Ally Carter’s excessively popular Gallagher Girls series is stuffed to bursting with silliness and absurdly improbable scenarios – like schedules printed on evapopaper and field trips that involve “borrowing” delivery trucks.  It also has a lot more depth than it often gets credit for.  Snuck between the slapstick comedy and preciousness are some interesting questions about identity, sacrifice, and who heroism is really for.  When Cammie’s new teacher questions if her father should have gone on the mission that ended up being his last, he isn’t just talking about skills, but rather asking if it was worth it.

The text does not provide neat answers to these questions, but neither does it dwell on them; rather than challenging anything head on or at length, it tends to come at things sideways and then quickly move onto more diverting topics.  Complexity is often dismissed in favor of humor and happy endings.  I think it is this, as much as the trappings of the book, that causes some to dismiss the series.

That’s alright though, because, like the Gallagher Academy itself, that’s how it’s supposed to work.  While others may roll their eyes at the silliness of it all and dismiss their fannishness as rooted in finding shiny! happy! preppiness appealing, the fans themselves know what their plaid skirts really represent.

This isn’t a series specifically for older teens, although many may like it and it’s a respectable inclusion in any young adult collection.  The audience it will most appeal to are younger teen girls, who are just beginning to be pressured to hide their passions and intelligence; the girls who are in the process of losing the fearlessness of girlhood for the insecurities and self-consciousness of adolescence.  [Unfortunately, I also need to add the qualifiers of “white, straight, middle class” younger teen girls, for while it could be worse in terms of inclusiveness, it could also do much better.]

For the girls that come to signings decked out in Gallagher Girls plaid, the series clearly offers them a way to hide in plain sight, just like Cammie does.  Readers are not necessarily challenged by the series, but it does offer much more than comfort or amusement– it offers a path for subversion that may perhaps be too safe to be effective in changing things now, but yet still gives girls the strength to stay true to themselves until they feel more confident in speaking their minds publicly.  The high expectations that Cammie and her classmates have for themselves, and the knowledge that failure means more than just some red marks on a page, also give voice to the pressures of perfection that many girls feel without requiring that they directly question the institutions they take part in. In short, it gives them a way to make a show of embracing compulsory femininity while not feeling ashamed of their complicated and less than perfect inner selves.   It is this, I think, that is the secret to the series success – and the reason why it is only occasionally brilliant and yet also cleverer than it often gets credit for.

Reader’s Annotation:

Cameron “Chameleon” Morgan gets top marks in her covert ops classes, so why is it that an ordinary boy with no spy training at all notices her?  And what will happen if Cammie decides that she no longer wants to stay hidden?

Author Information:

http://allycarter.com/blog/

@officiallyally

Genre:

Girl’s Series

Booktalking Ideas:

Most everyone in town thinks that the girls that attend the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women are nothing but a bunch of spoiled snobs.  That’s the way they like it though, because when the truth is that your school is training you to become a spy, it’s always good to know your cover story is holding up.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade / 10-16

Potential Controversy:

I honestly cannot think of any.  Not so much because there is nothing for anyone to object to – because there is always something someone will find objectionable – but because the series does such a good job of hiding from the people who would object to it.

Reasons for choosing this title:

I was curious by the age levels suggested in Teen Genreflecting 3 because the girls I saw lining up at a signing two years ago were all very young.  I also wanted to see for myself what makes the series so appealing.

Dragonbreath

cover image for DragonbreathVernon, U. (2009) Dragonbreath. New York, NY: Dial Books.

 

Review:

 

Danny Dragonbreath may be a dragon, but he can’t breathe fire.  Yet.  At the moment, though, he has bigger problems, like the F his teacher gave him on his report on the ocean.  Apparently it’s not acceptable to turn in an essay on the fictional Snorklebats and pretend it’s a scientific research paper.  Now Danny has just one day to make up his missed assignment or his mom’s going to kill him.  So he drags his best friend Wendell to the pier to visit his Uncle Edward, a sea serpent.  Perhaps Danny should be more worried about something other than his mom wanting him dead?

 

With Vernon as the author, a big part of Dragonbreath’s appeal is, of course, the illustrations, which are sprinkled throughout the book.  Some appearing where they would in more classic children’s novels, others going on for pages and including comic style speech bubbles.  That’s not all this book has to recommend it though, the story was entertaining, the humor spot on, and the characters likable.  Personally, I also loved the science information Vernon seamlessly added into her story.  You wouldn’t think that a humorous tale about a dragon, an iguana, and a sea serpent would try to include educational, scientific information, but Vernon has a keen understanding of what younger tweens know to be fantasy and a respect for their ability to separate likely fact from clear fiction.

Best for ages 6-10

 

Author website: http://ursulavernon.com/

The Phantom Tollbooth

cover image for The Phantom TollboothJuster, N.  (1961)  The Phantom Tollbooth.  New York, NY: Random House Children’s Books.

Review:

Nothing interests Milo.  Everyday is just another repetition of the same old humdrum that filled the day before.  Until a mysterious package arrives that sends Milo off to a strange world where watchdogs keep time, sounds are kept locked in vaults, and colors are created by an orchestra.  In no time at all, Milo is off on a quest to rescue not one princess, but two – Rhyme and Reason.  Will Milo manage to complete his quest?  Will he be able to find his way home afterwards?  And if he gets back, will Milo still think the world holds nothing but boredom.

 

Norton Juster’s classic has delighted tweens for decades, long before the term was even coined, and will continue to do so for decades to come.   The Phantom Tollbooth will especially delight younger tweens who are ready to graduate from Kat Kong and Dogzilla to more sophisticated word play, and yet still enjoy a day spend imagining themselves in places of their own creation.

 

 

Best for ages 8-12

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