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Review of Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages My Rating 3.5 of 5 Stars

Klages, Ellen. 2006. GREEN GLASS SEA. New York: Viking Juvenile. ISBN 0670061344

In the Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages, we are introduced to Dewey, a lonely 10 year old inventor.  As Dewey’s mother has been missing since Dewey was a baby, and her Nana has recently had a heart attack, she is accustomed to moving, but she is excited when she finds out she is going to live with her father on “The Hill.” The Hill is a top secret army base in New Mexico that isn’t supposed to exist. The year is 1945 and the Americans are working on a confidential project that they believe will end World War II.

The storyline alternates between Dewey and Suze, another young misfit on the base. The two girls are extremely different, but are drawn together by unforeseen circumstances. Dewey’s eccentric gadgetry and love of “The Boy Mechanic” is a fresh breath in this Twilight ridden YA world. I’ve read a few reviews were people were concerned about the amount of cigarettes and alcohol the adults consume in this novel, but to me it felt like an authentic sign of the times.

The most interesting thing about the setting in this book is the historical time period and the super secret location. My own parents lived on a reservation in New Mexico so I could connect with the isolation of this atmosphere. While reading, I was hoping to get an idea of how the makers of the atomic bomb felt after it was dropped.  However, the story mostly revolved around the young characters and did not relay much of the scientist’s feelings and the book ends on the day of the bombing. I was rather upset about this, but then I read that there is a sequel (which I’m about to start reading!) The adolescent perspective also cushions the harsh reality behind this historical fiction.  I could see student’s as young as 4th grade enjoying this novel and not really grasping the horror behind the “gadget.”

Reviews

  • Children’s Literature Review by Leslie Wolfson: “Readers won't understand what the title refers to until the last chapter of the book, but will enjoy the journey while getting there.”
  • Library Media Connection Review by Ann Cazin: “The description of this part of World War II is interesting and provocative. This well-paced story gives us an insight to a different part of the war and how it affected the people that were involved in the Manhattan Project.”

Teaching Ideas/Connections

Interestingly enough I think my last few blog posts would make for interesting reads before and after this historical fiction novel. Hitler Youth would be a good starting point to get a child’s view on the Nazi side of World War II. Then this book could be read aloud to the class or shared in small groups and the groups could finish up with Hiroshima by Laurence Yep. Through the eyes of innocents: Children Witness World War II is another book I would add to this thematic set.  In Through the Eyes of the Innocents, Emmy Werner uses diaries, journals, and letters from children to tell the story of World War II through the children’s eyes.

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Review of Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt My rating  4.5 of 5 stars

a. Schmidt, Gary. 2007. WEDNESDAY WARS. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN 0618724834

b. In Wednesday Wars, Holling Hoodhood is a somewhat believable character that gets stuck with his 7th grade teacher every Wednesday- ALONE.  He fears that she is out to get him, and his fears are confirmed when she makes him read and study Shakespeare.  Strangely enough, Holling connects with Shakespeare and his nefarious teacher, Mrs. Baker.

c. As a high school English teacher, I have a hard time believing a 7th grade student could read and comprehend as much Shakespeare as this extremely observant character.  Although the plot of this story is somewhat episodic, I enjoyed learning about the atomic age: the ridiculous “duck and cover procedures,” the hippy sister who runs away with her boyfriend, and how Vietnam reaches America through the news. Holling learns that a lot of the people at his school have family in Vietnam and that people are always on edge to find out if they are alive or dead.  As this was the first major televised war, Hoodhood discusses watching the news with his family every night after dinner and his father’s obsession with watching Walter Kronkite.

The story is set in a small town in New Jersey, close to New York City, but the book does a good job of showcasing it as a small town with small town problems and worldly issues.  This story reads almost like an autobiography of the author, and I believe it might be a little bit of his life dappled with a whole lot of exaggeration.  Mrs. Baker does some amazing things for Holling, and most of them are pretty unbelievable (I don’t want to spoil it for you!)

Schimidt’s style is mostly spot-on as the voice of teenage boy in the 1960s.  His fear of what others think drives most of his actions -there is no way he wants anyone to see him wearing tights with a feather on his bum! However, Holling also has great epiphanies that resonate with older readers. Things like: finding yourself, realizing your parents aren’t happy, realizing you actually love your sister, understanding the ridiculous drill won’t really save you from an atomic bomb, learning that the world is “not always smiles,” “wishing you could fix something that you can’t fix,” and learning what Shakespeare is saying about “what it means to be human.”

I really enjoyed reading this historical fiction because I’ve never read one about the atomic age (although I’m reading The Green Glass Sea right now- a little before the atomic age!)  I feel like I’ve learned a little bit about what it meant to be a teenager in 1967, and a lot about sports and the war during that time.

d. Awards (Selected)

Reviews

  • Booklist Review by Gillian Engberg: “Holling’s unwavering, distinctive voice offers a gentle, hopeful, moving story of a boy who, with the right help, learns to stretch beyond the limitations of his family, his violent times, and his fear, as he leaps into his future with his eyes and his heart wide open.”
  • Starred Review from Kirkus: “Schmidt has a way of getting to the emotional heart of every scene without overstatement, allowing the reader and Holling to understand the great truths swirling around them on their own terms.”

e.Teaching Ideas/Connections

Here is a great site called Voices Education Project that lists more great young adult fiction books about Vietnam.  (The Wall is a GREAT Picture book for this topic if you want to explore this with younger students!)

I also found a great list from ALA available as a PDF here.

[Edit: 7/28- I finished reading this last night and just had to say more about this book!] For older teens, you might want to try Purple Daze by Sherry Shahan, a novel in verse that utilizes six different teenage voices in the year 1965. Interspersed with historical documents, this is one book that will really help a younger generation understand the controversial nature of the 1960s. Three male voices and three very different female voices cover topics like drugs, abortion, Martin Luther King, and more. One male ends up fighting in Vietnam and writes letters back to his friend's girlfriend, Cheryl. The letters are gory and shocking so this book is designed for more mature audiences. (Students that like Ellen Hopkins or Go Ask Alice, will really enjoy this one!)

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Review of Hiroshima: A Novella by Laurence Yep (Author). My rating 5 of 5

a. Yep, Laurence. 1995. HIROSHIMA: A NOVELLA. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN 0590208322

b. Hiroshima details the happenings of two sisters on the morning of August 6, 1945, the day that the Enola Gay drops the atomic bomb. The narration alternates between focusing on the sisters, to the bombers inside the plane. It continues past the bombing and it relates the American guilt that attempts to help the “Hiroshima Maidens.”

After Sachi loses her sister in the bombing, Yep goes onto to show how the radiation continues to kill others year after year. Sachi and others travel to America trusting surgeons to correct the damage the bomb caused on each woman’s skin.

c. The honest, poetic prose presents the reality of atomic war and its aftereffects. Yep’s descriptions are conscientious and direct. He describes the flash as: “There is a blinding light like a sun. There is a boom like a giant drum. There is a terrible wind. Houses collapse like boxes (20).” Yep engrosses us with sensory details that engulf the reader in the terror as “Flames shoot out of the nearby houses. People continue to scream. Everywhere, there is a sea of fire.”

Sachi is a fictional character based on multiple real children. This book works to stress the importance of destroying atomic weaponry and never re-creating this horrible history. It reads smoothly and quickly as the language is accessible yet fierce.

d. Awards and Recognitions:

· ALA Booklist Editor’s Choice

· A Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies

Reviews

· The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Review by Roger Sutton: “Yep's clipped, present-tense writing resists editorializing, letting the terrible facts speak for themselves.”

· Booklist Review by Hazel Rochman: “Fifty years later, the event is still the focus of furious controversy (even the numbers are in dispute), and this novella will start classroom discussion across the curriculum.”

e. Teaching ideas:

I’d like to create reading groups of four and have students start out by reading picture books together about Hiroshima: Hiroshima No Pika by Toshi Maruki, Sadako by Eleanor Coerr, and Shin’s Tricycle by Tatsuharu Kodama. After reading these picture books, students will have the option of creating a skit, a poster, or comic strip to explain what happens in their group book. Students will present each book to one another, and then the teacher or librarian will read to sections of Hiroshima by Laurence Yep.

This could also lead into our research unit and students would choose from various historical topics and then create their own nonfiction book or a video about the topic like this student example.  (Coming soon)

If students show an interest in the author’s work, here is an interesting video of Laurence Yep speaking about Books, being an author, growing up, etc.