The Hunger Games

poster for The Hunger Games movieJacobson, Nina (producer) and Ross, Gary (director). (2012) The Hunger Games [motion picture]. USA: Lionsgate.

Plot Summary:

Film adaptation of the popular book series.

Critical Evaluation:

Creating a blockbuster film out of a novel that takes on reality tv, the commodification of violence, and consumerism, while staying true to these themes, is no small feat.  For the most part, Ross and Jacobson have managed to accomplish this seemingly impossible task.

As in the book, the actual games takes up only a fraction of the of the film; the first two acts of the movie follow Katniss’ journey from Reaping Day in the Seam to training and appearances at the Capitol – and only then finally do we arrive at the games themselves.  While it makes the film longer, those small moments, not just in Flickerman’s chair but backstage as well, are essential in turning the film into commentary like the book, rather than becoming the thing it is discussing.  The lead up to the games makes it clear that this is a show that Katniss is participating in and that we are watching the creation of the show, not the show itself.

still from The Hunger GamesThere are a few missteps (the shaky cam needs to die a horrible death and the mutts just don’t look real compared to the other dangers the teens have faced) but overall, the casting is brilliant (Lawrence, of course, but Harrelson, Stenberg, Tucci, and Kravitz as well all completely capture their character’s presence and purpose), the score is perfect (understated and haunting), and the ending is disturbing and thoughtful, not triumphant.

It’s going to be tempting for many reviewers and pundits to dismiss this film and those forthcoming as merely another Twilight, albeit perhaps a more “boy friendly” one.  I’d like to encourage anyone thinking this to go to a midnight showing when Catching Fire comes out.  If the experience is anything like when I saw The Hunger Games at midnight, what they will learn is that this series is connecting to teens in extremely profound ways and that they are not treating it as yet another movie.  The theater I was in was almost deathly quiet from the moment the Lionsgate logo appeared.  Call phones disappeared and the slightest sound was immediately shushed (aside from a few moments of laughter, surprise, and elation).  There was a tremendous amount of reverence in the air; it was clear that the silence was not just to make sure that everyone could hear, but more importantly in order to show respect to the character’s experiences and deaths – even the careers – and steadfast a refusal to allow the film to be transformed into that which it critiqued by their own applause.

Reader’s Annotation:

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Author Information:

http://www.thehungergamesmovie.com/

Genre:

movie

Booktalking Ideas:

NA

Possible Reasons for Controversy:

Many parents find it too violent and the dark subject matter will be even more inescapable and devastating on screen.
While it may, in fact, be more violent than some younger teens should see, I would like to note that, among some of my teen patrons, it seems as though their parents’ opposition to them seeing the film is part of an organized effort rather than simply an individual decision.  I don’t mean to say that this is not a grassroots movement or even that it is anything as established as that, more that the similar language I am hearing suggests not individual decisions based on private research; but that the parents are getting their information about the movie from the same or similar sources.  I think this is important to be aware of because, since the movie has increased public knowledge of the book series, challenges to the books have increased.  Not only is this likely to spill over into inclusion of the movie when it comes out on dvd, but also that challenges to one will possibly prompt challenges to each other – so the arrival of the movie in libraries may prompt challenges to the book.
Rather than simply taking each challenge on as it comes, it may be useful to identify if there are any organized groups opposing the series and create a more comprehensive rebuttal.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I loved the books; I had to see the movie.

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Mastiff

cover image for MastiffPierce, Tamora. (2011) Mastiff. New York, NY: Random House

Plot Summary:

It’s been two years since the events of Bloodhound and while Beka Cooper can not yet be considered a veteran, she’s no longer a rookie, either.   When an assignment comes up that will require all her concentration, Cooper is eager to get started and put off working through the conflicted feelings she has about her recently deceased fiance.  She and Tunstall arrive at the Summer Palace as summoned, only to find it is near ruins, the only survivors being the king and queen, and quite possibly their young son, who they believe has been kidnapped.  Cooper and Tunstall set off in search of the young prince in a journey that will not only change them both, but the entire kingdom as well.

Critical Evaluation:

Like the previous two novels, Pierce’s conclusion to her Beka Cooper series is fast paced and suspenseful.  Never one to shy away from heartbreak, the conclusion is especially devastating and triumphant.  While it’s best to have read the rest of the series first, the events of the book still make sense without having done so, they just won’t have the same emotional resonance.

Reader’s Annotation:

Summoned to the Summer Palace in the wake of a devastating attack, Cooper and Tunstall set off in search of a kidnapped young prince in a journey that will not only change them both, but the entire kingdom as well.

Author Information:

http://www.tamora-pierce.com/

http://tammypierce.livejournal.com/

Genre:

Fantasy

Booktalking Ideas:

This would be a difficult book to booktalk, as it’s the third in a series.  Instead, I would choose to either talk about the first book, or the series as a whole.  Pulling out a fight scene from the first book would be a great way of giving listeners an idea of both the plot and tone.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/12-17

Possible Controversy:

Pierce doesn’t shy away from having heroine’s that take charge of not just their public life, but their private life as well.  The book also spends a decent amount of time showing Beka struggling with a more restrictive religious culture that is growing in popularity.  Many conservative religious groups will (rightly) see the parallels between themselves and the religious leaders in the book, and may take offense.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

Pierce has never been a disappointment.

How to Build Your Own Country

cover image for How to Build Your Own CountryWyatt, V. (2009) How to Build Your Own Country.  Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press

Review:

Have you ever wanted to have your own country?  Thinking of creating your own nation but aren’t sure how to get started?  Then read How to Build Your Own Country!  Step by step instructions show you how to not only choose you flag, currency, and motto – but also how to decide what kind of government you will have and how you will pay for everything.  It’s the must have guide for anyone looking to carve their own niche in the world.

This was one of the funniest and clever non-fiction books I’ve read all semester.  It starts with a common game among tweens – creating one’s own country or world – and uses that to explain basic concepts about diplomacy and government.  The first few bits of instruction touch on the kinds of things tweens usually focus on when world-building: name, language, flags, money, etc.  The rest of the book however, explains concepts like oligarchies or reviews some of the basics of holding elections, and it’s all done in an easy to understand and tongue-in-cheek manner that is sure to keep tweens as entertained as they learn.

Best for ages 6-11

Series website: http://www.kidscanpress.com/Canada/CitizenKid-C5065.aspx?section=5&series=2

Warriors: Into the Wild

cover image for Warriors: Into the WildHunter, E. (2003) Warriors: Into the Wild.  New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

 

Review:

 

Rusty lives the pampered life of a kittypet, fed and cared for by two-legs.  He has been warned by the other kittypets to stay out of the woods and away from the cats who live there. Rusty, longing to hunt, ignores the warnings and ends up having a dangerous encounter with on the fierce warriors who live in the woods, without the help or hindrance of any twolegs.  However, the meeting ends with an intriguing offer to join the ThunderClan and live his days not as a kittpet, but as a warrior.  Will Rusty choose to leave the safety of being a kittypet in order to enjoy the adventure of being part of a clan?  How will a kittypet survive amongst the danger and intrigue of clan life?

 

This is one of those books that was an occasional chore to get through, but that I can totally understand why so many tweens love it.  It’s all the make-believe adventure games you used to play when you were kids brought to life through cute litte kitty-cats.  What I did admire about the series – and I think is the reason for a lot of its appeal – was how practical the story was at times.  It’s pure fantasy, clearly, but Hunter doesn’t shy away from mentioning (albeit sometimes in code) topics like birth, death, and even neutering pets.  Altogether this gives the series a level of sophistication that tweens are usually unable to create for themselves but very much appreciate.  It also provides a softer introduction to issues that many tweens would find more difficult to deal with in realistic fiction.

Best for ages 8-13

 

Series website: http://www.warriorcats.com/warriorshell.html

109 Forgotten American Heroes

cover image for 109 Forgetten American HeroesYing, C. & McMullen, B. (2009) 109 Forgotten American Heroes. New York, NY: DK Publishing

 

Review:

 

So, you know who invented the light bulb, you can name the first president of the United States, and of course you’ve heard of Rosa Parks.  But do you know who invented masking tape?  Have you ever heard of the Philadelphia Tea Party?  Or Claudette Colvin?

In this highly imaginative and entertaining book, Ying and McMullen list 109 “heroes” (and 9 villains) who helped make the world we live in what it is today.  It gets off to a slow start, but that doesn’t matter much as it’s an easy book to read out of order, and by the time the pages reach the 1900’s, our authors have hit their groove and each page is filled with wacky and interesting information – and has a colorful and dynamic layout to match.

This is one of those books to keep around to encourage interest in history and technology rather than to necessarily use as a reference book (although, it does have the requisite index).  Tweens especially will love both the engaging graphics and the weird but true facts they present.

 

Best for ages 9-15

Geography Club

cover image for Geography ClubHartinger, B. (2003) Geography Club.  New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers

 

Review:

 

Russel Middlebrook may have a respectable number of friends, but that doesn’t stop him from being lonely.  Aside from just not being like all the other boys, Russ spends much of his day worried that someone will figure out his secret.  It turns out that Russ isn’t the only one with a secret though, and once the silence is broken Russ and his friends realize they need a place where they can talk amongst themselves.  So they form the Geography Club as a cover, because who would want to join a geography club?

Although some may disagree with the arguments in the book, I found this to be a very sympathetic and realistic story.  There is talk of sex and drinking in it, which definitely makes it for older tweens rather than younger tweens, but there is nothing in it that would be too dark for tweens that are old enough to be grappling with issues of sexual identity and peer pressure, two main themes of the book.  It’s actually a fairly gentle book considering it’s heavy subject matter, which is part of what makes it a good choice for older tweens.  Hartinger doesn’t shy away from moral dilemmas or the question of personal rights and responsibilities, but neither is the story depressing or dark.

Best for ages 12-16

 

Author website: http://www.brenthartinger.com/

The Liberation of Gabriel King

cover image for The Liberation of Gabriel KingGoing, K. L.  (2005)  The Liberation of Gabriel King.  New York: NY, Puffin Books.

Review:

Gabriel King and Frita Wilson are best friends, and best friends help each out.  It’s just Gabriel’s luck that Frita has decided that this means it’s her job to help Gabriel learn to stop being so scared of everything.  Throughout the summer of 1976 she’s going to make him face his fears, starting with spiders and going all the way down the rest of his list.  That way, by the end of the summer, Gabriel will be ready to face the fifth grade.

Part of what makes this such a great tween novel is that in the process of facing his fears Gabe learns to consider other people’s perspectives as well, most specifically Frita’s and her brother Terrance’s, and how that might affect how they, in turn, act.   For once, the non-white characters also being the non-pov characters didn’t annoy me because it’s very much a story of understanding privilege, about a child learning to face growing up – not just in terms of responsibility for himself, but also in terms of responsibility to and empathy for others.

 

Best for ages 8-12

 

Author website: http://www.klgoing.com/

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