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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Hatchet

cover image for HatchetPaulsen, Gary. (1987) Hatchet.  New York, NY: Simon Pulse.

Plot Summary:

Brian is on his way to visit his father after his parent’s divorce when the pilot if the two seater plane he is taking to get there dies of a heart attack mid-flight.  Brian survives the crash, but the pilot does not, leaving Brian alone to survive in the wilderness, hundreds of miles from civilization.

Critical Evaluation:

Hatchet’s widespread appeal comes from the believability of Brian Robeson’s situation, and how he reacts to it.  Despite being unlikely, none of the events in the book is outside the realm of possibility.  When events first begin to unfold, Brian panics, as any thirteen year old would.  He continues to make mistakes throughout his ordeal, but he also learns from them and always gets back up – eventually, anyway – once he’s been knocked down.  Watching Brian constantly learning and problem solving keeps reader’s guessing “what if?” long past the initial hook of the story.  The credulity of his saga, as well as the betrayal that led to his being on the plane in the first place, bring a emotional immediacy to Hatchet that is missing from mamy other survival scenarios.

Reader’s Annotation:

The sole survivor of a plane crash, Brian must find a way to survive in the wilderness, hundreds of miles from civilization.

Author Information:

http://www.randomhouse.com/features/garypaulsen/

Genre:

Adventure

Booktalking Ideas:

What would you do if the pilot of your flight had a heart attack at seven thousand feet?  Could you fly the plane if there was no one else there?  Would you live through the inevitable plane crash?  How would you survive if you crashed hundreds of miles from civilization, with nothing but the clothes on your back….and your brand new hatchet?

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/ 10-15

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

This book has been a mainstay when I do reader’s advisory for years, based on reputation and reader reviews.  I figured it was time I actually read it myself.

An Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis in Global Warming

cover image for An Inconvenient TruthGore, Al. (2007) An Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis in Global Warming. New York, NY: Viking.

Plot Summary:

With statistics and full color photographs, Gore presents the basics of a global crisis. From explaining greenhouse gases to chronicling Antarctica’s dramatically shrinking size, an airtight case for humanity’s influence on the global climate is made.  While deliberately and understandably alarming, the book ends on a hopeful note – showing the ways in which the modern world has been able to change its ways  and halt the process when we have put the effort into doing so.

Critical Evaluation:

The teen version of Gore’s popular and controversial book is much abridged, but still densely packed with information.  The abundance of graphics help to break up the text and ground the data in something more tangible for readers.  It’s an important book for teens to read, especially as it spends a decent amount of time discussing what can be done to halt global warming.  Some older teens will prefer reading the original adult title, but having this copy available as well will make the information accessible to a larger number of teen readers.

Reader’s Annotation:

“I is our only home. And we must take care of it.”

Author Information:

http://www.algore.com/

http://www.climatecrisis.net/

Being such a public figure, Gore’s sites are more about his projects than a way to connect to readers, but interested teens will find them informative.

Genre:

Nonfiction

Booktalking Ideas:

Props would work really well for this talk, not just graphs and pictures from the book, but everyday things like packaging and light bulbs. The trick would be to give enough information to be understandable and credible, but not so much that potential readers think checking out the book would now be unnecessary.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/10-16

Possible Controversy:

The controversy surrounding the movie and adult title is likely to follow the teen version as well.  The best defense is a well rounded collection and various educational and scientific organization’s endorsement of the series.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I was curious as to how this title would be adapted for younger readers.

The Dark and Hollow Places

cover image for The Dark and Hollow PlacesRyan, Carrie. (2011) The Dark and Hollow Places. New York, NY: Random House Children’s Books

Plot Summary:

In this final book of The Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy, Gabry, Catcher, and Elias are joined by Annah, girl that Elias left behind in the ruins of New York City.  With the horde descending upon the city, death for all seems imminent, but the four friends find shelter in one of the last strongholds of the city, a fortified island defended by what is left of the government and armed forces.  The demands and cruelty of the corrupt and unsympathetic soldiers quickly become life threatening and the teens are forced to concoct a way to escape them as well.

Critical Evaluation:

None of the titles in this series are what you could call “joyful” or “full of light” but this final book takes bleakness to a whole new level.  The title for this book is especially apt, fitting Annah’s emotional turmoil, the state of society overall, and the literal conditions of the ruined city.  There is much food for thought to be found in Annah’s – and her companions’ – refusal to give up on humanity and the clever, creative, and desperate ways they manage to fight what was once upon a time a functioning government.

After my frustrations with the love triangle in the second book, I was especially gratified to discover that Annah’s longing for love and family clearly revolves around all that encompasses rather than simply romance in particular.  Annah not only learns to believe that she is worthy of love from a boy, she also creates a family with Catcher, Elias, and especially Gabry (in more ways than one).  The trust and affection between all of them plays a significant role in allowing them to escape from the totalitarian remnants of civilization.  It also, of course, is meant to act as counterpoint to the selfishness masquerading as pragmatism that is condoned and practiced by the men in control.

Zombie stories are really about society, and this final installment does a fantastic job of exploring morality of survival and sacrifice; by the end of the tale Annah not only lives through the reality that regimes perpetuate horrors as well as protect from them, she is also forced to acknowledge and accept her own mistakes – and the limits of her ability to prevent them.

Reader’s Annotation:

With the horde descending upon the city, death seems imminent for Annah and her friends, so they make one last desperate attempt to escape.

Author Information:

http://www.carrieryan.com/

http://carrie-me.blogspot.com/

http://www.facebook.com/AuthorCarrieRyan

@carrieryan

Genre:

Horror

Booktalking Ideas:

This one would work well with a descriptive plot summary, bringing them up to and early, dramatic part of the book (like when the friends meet again on the bridge) and then leaving the rest for them to read.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/13-19

Possible Controversy:

Death, destruction, attempted rape, murder as sport – and that’s just the beginning.  Every bit of it is shown in order to present moral dilemmas though, and none of it comes across as exploitative.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

While I did not enjoy The Dead-Tossed Waves as much( and was annoyed at the switch to a dead looking and scantily clad girl on the cover) I did like The Forest of Hands and Teeth and figured I would give this a try.

Monster

cover image for MonsterMyers, Walter Dean. (1999) Monster. New York, NY: HarperCollin’s Children’s Books

Plot Summary:

Sixteen year old Steve Harmon is in jail, waiting to be tried for murder, and not even his attorney is convinced he’s innocent. If he’s convicted, it will be decades before he can get out.  Overwhelmed and afraid, Steve retreats to his journal, telling his story in screenplay form, just like he learned to do in film club at school.

Critical Evaluation:

The cover of Monster is covered with so many prestigious awards it’s a wonder there is room for anything else – and it deserves every one of them.  The idea of a novel as a screenplay does not sound like a brilliant idea, aside from the novelty factor, but Myers work here is brilliant.  Not only is the screenplay itself well done but the detachment and insightful commentary found in it is in stark contrast to Steve’s more personal and panicked journal entries.  Together they offer thought-provoking and empathetic commentary on not only Steve’s plight but on the dangers, discrimination, and stereotypes that black boys like Steve must navigate.

Reader’s Annotation:

“The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is getting beaten up. That way they won’t hear you.”

Author Information:

http://www.walterdeanmyers.net/

Genre:

Award Winner

Booktalking Ideas:

One of the more clever parts of the book is the fact that it’s never quite clear if Steve is guilty or not; this allows Myers to both suggest innocence while also making the case that Steve deserves compassion regardless. I think it would be interesting try a booktalk that casts the listeners as the jury and the presenter as an attorney.  That way in can present it as a kind of whodunit (which is a driving plot point) but also keep the focus on letting the readers make up their own minds, as the book does.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/14-19

Possible Controversy:

There is frank talk of rape and other violence perpetrated by inmates and the view of the justice system is honest but not terribly flattering.  Like many things that make books controversial, this is also a big part of what makes it such an essential story.  The multiple awards as well as the importance of the topic should help when making a defense.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I’ve been remiss in not reading anything by Myers before and this is one of the titles I hear about most often.

The Great Wide Sea

cover image for The Great Wide SeaHerlong, M.H. (2008) The Great Wide Sea. New York, NY: Viking Juvenile

Plot Summary:

While Ben and his younger brothers are still recovering from their mother’s death, their father sells their home, buys a boat, and takes them sailing in the tropics.  The normal tension between a teenage boy and his father is intensified to the breaking point by grief, the father’s increasingly erratic behavior, and the lack of places to escape to for solitude or peer companionship.  Just when Ben is convinced nothing could get worse, his father disappears overnight, leaving Ben alone in the middle of the ocean, uncertain of where he is, and with his brother’s lives depending on him.

Critical Evaluation:

Herlong writes a compelling story of grief, conflict with parents, and caring for younger siblings – and it does so in a way that feels both honest to boys’ experiences (at least, as far as I can tell) and with a respectable about of depth.  The survival story and the main character’s growing conflict with his father were each enough to keep me turning the pages.  Together, they were simply excellent.  Unfortunately, the ending felt out of place with the rest of story, leaving a bit of a sour aftertaste

Reader’s Annotation:

Whe his mother died, Ben didn’t think it was possible for live to ever get any worse – until his grieving father disappears overnight while on a sailing trip, leaving Ben stranded in the middle of the ocean with his two young brothers.

Genre:

Adventure

Author Information:

http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/h/m-h-herlong/

Booktalking Ideas:

Survival stories are always good for asking “what if?” and “what would you do” and this is no exception.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/12-16

Potential Controversy:

Parents acting in a way that means their children can’t depend on them tends to bother many people, but since this is an adventure story for boys, likely less so than with other books.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I thought the premise sounded fascinating and wondered if the book would live up to it.  I also thought the cover would catch the eye of a lot of teens, especially boys.

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment

cover image for Maximum Ride: The Angel ExperimentPatterson, James. (2005) Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment.  New York, NY; Little, Brown Books.

Plot Summary:

Max isn’t quite human.  The results of a scientific experiment, she and the rest of her flock are are avian-human hybrids with wings.  Family by choice, they live together in as much harmony as you can expect from 6 people under the age of 17, and always keep an eye out for the scientists they escaped from.  When their home is invaded and the youngest, Angel, is abducted it’s up to Max to keep everyone together and get Angel back.

Critical Evaluation:

I suspect there was really a good story hiding in there somewhere, if only Patterson could be bothered to write a halfway decent book. As it was, I was intrigued enough to keep turning the pages, but constantly annoyed by, for example, chapters that were consistently two chapters long.  As if constantly creating a new chapter was a legitimate way to do transitions or build suspense.

Reader’s Annotation:

On the run and separated from her adopted family, most teens in Max position would give up. But Max has one thing going for her: she’s not quite human.

Author Information:

http://www.jamespatterson.com/

Genre:

Action Series

Booktalking Ideas:

Despite the popularity of this title, I expect many kids don’t know what it’s about.  A simple but dramatic plot synopsis should intrigue listeners.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/12-17

Possible Controversy:

Adults are now shown in the most positive light in this series, and there is violence and then some.  Oddly, Patterson’s reputation as an adult writer seems to keep in insulated from most criticism.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I’ve seen and heard about these books for years, and figured I ought to see for myself what they are about.

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