Paterson, K. (1972). Bridge to Terabithia. NY: Crown.
Bridge to Terabithia is the story of a boy’s journey as he grows and changes through the death of a friend. Jess and Leslie quickly become friends when Leslie’s family moves next door to Jess’s family. They escape from the real world to the woods behind their house which they call Terabithia. As the rulers of Terabithia, these two children form a bond that cannot be broken. After a terrible accident, Jess has to learn to cope with his feelings and lean on his family during his time of need.
Plot and Setting-
The plot of Bridge to Terabithia is essential to the theme of friendship that runs throughout the novel. The story tells of Jess and Leslie, two neighbors who become the best of friends and then are separated by death. These children start as enemies at recess and then become the king and queen of Terabithia. When Jess learns of Leslie’s death, he refuses to accept it at first. Finally at the end of the novel, he begins to process her death, and he is inspired to build a bridge to Terabithia in Leslie’s memory. The rural setting is also very important to the novel. The family lives in the country, many miles from the city in a very poor town. The lack of money in the town is evident at Jess’s school because Jess’s class has thirty-one students in a small basement room. Jess and Leslie cope with the small town world around them by creating their own imaginary kingdom, Terabithia, where they are king and queen. This becomes their place of solace together and later a place of memorial after Leslie’s death.
Alexander, K. (2014). Crossover. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Crossover is the story of a close-nit African American family, the Bell family, set in a contemporary time period. Josh and JB are almost 13 years old and are the sons of a famous, professional basketball player and the school’s assistant principal. When the reader first encounters the twins, they are deep into a school year and a serious basketball season. Josh “Filthy McNasty” Bell struggles at first with his brother getting a girlfriend then the more serious issue of his father’s death at the end of the story. His interesting and poetic style adds depth to the story through his use of many different types of literary elements.
Style and Culture-
The most obvious and important evaluative criteria in this story are style and culture. The story is written in poetic verse, and this style adds substance for the reader rather than confusion. JB, the narrator, mixes different types of figurative language, (similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, hyperboles, etc.) to enhance the story line. Culture is also important in this story as it centers around a modern day, African American family. The reader can pick up on the subtle hints at cultural issues such as when the father is pulled over on the way to the basketball game and Josh’s references to his hairstyle of choice.
Gino, A. (2015). George. New York: Scholastic.
George knows she is different from other children in the fourth grade, but she feels as though she has to hide this difference from her family and friends. George really wants to play Charlotte in the school play of Charlotte’s Web, but she is shot down when she tries out for the part because she is a “boy”. She finally reveals that is a girl to her best friend, Kelly, who reacts in an amazingly understanding way, and she allows George to play Charlotte at the second run of the play. Although George’s mom struggles with her news, her brother, Scott, is surprisingly understanding and helpful. The resolution of the story comes when Kelly invites George to come to the zoo with her and her uncle. Through Kelly, George is also able to experience a day at the zoo as Melissa, her chosen female name.
Gender, Plot, and Theme-
The most obvious evaluative criteria in George is gender and plot. George knows she is different from other children in the fourth grade, but she feels as though she has to hide this difference from her family and friends. She finally reveals that is a girl to her best friend, Kelly, who reacts in an amazingly understanding way. Through Kelly, George is able to experience a day at the zoo as Melissa, her chosen female name. The controversial hot topic of transgenderism is looked at from a realistic perspective of a vulnerable fourth grader. The theme of understanding diversity is experienced by the reader throughout the story. George’s story opens with a controversial topic and softens the reader to the idea because it is through the eyes of a child. Diversity is found all around and the earlier children are taught to understand and accept diversity, the better society will become.
Schmidt, G. (2015). Orbiting Jupiter. New York: Clarion Books.
Orbiting Jupiter centers around the story of Joseph, a father at thirteen, who has never seen his daughter, Jupiter. After spending time at Stone Mountain, a juvenile facility, he’s placed with a family on a working farm in rural Maine. Here Joseph meets twelve-year-old Jackson who narrates the account of the troubled, passionate teen who wants to find his baby at any cost. In this heartbreaking novel, two boys discover the true meaning of family.
Character, Setting, and Theme-
Orbiting Jupiter centers around the story of Joseph, a father at thirteen, who has never seen his daughter, Jupiter. He is a complicated character who struggles with understanding death and the life of his daughter. He is in constant abeyance between his abusive father and his new life on the farm. The setting of this story is very important in the sense of the realistic elements and in the sense of how weather affects the plot of the story. The serenity of the farm is in contrast with horror that Joseph experienced at Stone Mountain. The cold weather of the northern United States is also extremely relevant to the struggle and eventual death of Joseph and his father. Lastly, the underlying theme of family is essential to the plot of the story. Joseph struggles to understand his place as Jupiter’s father, as his father’s son, and his place as Jack’s brother. By the end, he sacrifices his own life for Jackson which shows his transformation as a member of the family.
Cleary, B. (1983). Dear Mr. Henshaw. NY: Morrow.
Leigh Botts has a fascination with Boyd Henshaw’s book, Ways to Amuse a Dog, and so he begins to write letters to Mr. Henshaw to ask for tips to help with his writing. After his parents separate, he moves to a new town with his mother and struggles to make new friends. He even has to figure out who is stealing his lunches. Amongst all of these issues, he is also dealing with anger toward his absent father. Leigh continues to write to Mr. Henshaw as well as write in his journal as he works through the problems of adolescence.
Character and Style-
The two most important evaluative criteria from Dear Mr. Henshaw are character and style. Leigh Botts is a character who should be very familiar to the readers. He is a young boy struggling with very common feats, divorcing parents and moving schools. He is a realistic, dynamic character that readers watch grow throughout the story. He begins to understand how to deal with his parent’s divorce and bullies at school. Another important factor is the style that Cleary uses to present the story. The story is written almost entirely in letter format. At first, Leigh is writing letters to his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw, but these letters later turn into a personal journal for Leigh. This style gives a very personal feel to the story of a young boy struggling through his adolescence.
Bartoletti, S. (2005). Hitler Youth. NY: Scholastic.
Bartoletti offers a unique viewpoint on WWII by focusing on the young people who followed Hitler. The story focuses on members of the Hitler Youth, but also profiles some of the group’s opposition and its Jewish targets. The author’s portrait of individuals within the Hitler Youth who failed to realize that they served a murderer is convincing, and while it does not excuse their actions, it certainly will allow readers to understand the circumstances that led to the formation of Hitler’s youngest followers.
Nelson, K. (2008). We are the ship. NY: Hyperion.
We are the Ship by Kadir Nelson is a breathtaking story of Negro League Baseball. This story takes the reader on a journey of talent and determination amidst discrimination, segregation, and low pay. Even still, the overall theme running throughout the story is the love of the game no matter the conditions. This tale of Negro League Baseball looks at players from the 1920s through the 1940s and makes the reader feel connected through the rich oil paintings of also by Nelson.
Bragg, G. (2011). How they croaked: The awful ends of the awfully famous.NY: Walker.
How they Croaked by Georgia Bragg is full of vivid and gory nonfiction tales about the multitude of ways that many famous people have died. Is is definitely not for the faint of heart; after I read about Elizabeth I’s sore in her throat that burst, I had to take a moment to gather myself. Interested in how George Washington or Cleopatra died? Then this accurate and intriguing book is for you!