Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"Rapunzel's Revenge" by Shannon and Dean Hale, Illustrated by Nathan Hale (no relation)

Hale, Shannon, and Dean Hale. Rapunzel's revenge. Illus. Nathan Hale. New York, N.Y.: Bloomsbury, 2008. Print. 144 pp. ISBN 10: 1599902885


Rapunzel grows up surrounded by luxury – her mother, the powerful growth witch Mother Gothel – provides for her every need. There’s just one problem; Mother Gothel won’t tell Rapunzel what’s on the other side of the very very high wall surrounding Mother Gothel’s compound. One day, Rapunzel decides to climb as high as she can to try to see over the wall. When she does, she receives quite a shock. The land all around the compound is horribly dry, and is being mined by slave labor. But worst of all, Rapunzel comes face to face with her real mother! Mother Gothel stole Rapunzel as a baby as punishment for her real mother’s theft of rapunzel (lettuce) while she was pregnant!

Disgusted by Rapunzel’s willfulness, Mother Gothel orders Rapunzel to be locked up in a tall (tree) tower deep in the forest. Mother Gothel comes to her once a year to see if Rapunzel has repented; each year, she leaves disappointed.

The tree provides for all of Rapunzel’s needs and seems to grow extraordinarily fast. The magic is so strong that Rapunzel’s hair also grows quickly – and very long! After several years, Rapunzel’s hair is so long that she learns how to use it as a lasso, and then proceeds to use it to make her escape.

Not long after escaping, Rapunzel meets Jack, an admitted thief and bandit. Circumstances throw them together, and they decide to partner up – Rapunzel to go back and rescue her real mother, Jack to make his fortune so he can buy his mother a house. In the process, Mother Gothel puts a bounty on Rapunzel’s head, and Jack is always getting into scrapes from which Rapunzel must rescue him.

Will they succeed? Will Mother Gothel capture Rapunzel? Will they get out of each new predicament in which they find themselves? Just how many different characters from other fairy tales will they encounter?


 I was going to say this is a very good book for young girls to read, but then I decided it doesn't hurt for boys to read about a strong female lead, either. Rapunzel does not wait for Prince Charming to come rescue her. Instead, she rescues herself – over and over and over again! Jack is confident and sure as Rapunzel’s sidekick, and with the exception of a few frames here and there, seems content for her to take the lead. The situations are hilarious, and the illustrations by Nathan Hale are colorful and alive. I especially like the fact that the characters in the book are so multicultural. Unlike many other books for children, there is a wide range of ethnicities represented and all are treated with dignity. There are no “cheap jokes” using a character’s ethnicity for comic relief. Furthermore, women and men are presented as being equally capable.

The only issue I have with the book is the fact that the silly situations seemed to drag on. I felt as though the book could have ended and been wrapped up much sooner than it was without any detriment to the plotline. At one point, I wondered if they had been given a particular number of pages to fill and were stretching things out to meet their quota. However, young adults will probably not feel this way and remain entranced to the end with its wonderful resolution.


ALA Notable Children's Book (ALA)

Amelia Bloomer Project Selection (ALA)

An Al Roker Today Show Book Club Pick

An IndieBound Next Pick

Cybils Award (Graphic Novels)

Great Graphic Novels for Teens (YALSA)

Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults (YALSA)

Texas Maverick Graphic Novel List

Utah Book Award

Young Hoosier Book Award Nominee

Teaching Extensions:

Have students read Rapunzel’s Revenge and the original version of the Grimm’s fairy tale (if the school will allow it), then a “watered down” more modern version of the story, such as the award-winning Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky. Have students compare the different elements that make the stories so different. How do the different settings contribute to the plot? What elements are similar? How do the different styles of illustrations in the two modern versions make the stories different? Which illustrations do they like better? Why? Which one do they like best and why? The main point of this exercise is to get students thinking about and discussing the ways different story elements and plot twists contribute to make a story with the same root so completely different. To further extend the exercise, allow students to pick other fairy tales and put their own twists on the. Allow students to work in groups and brainstorm different plot elements. The stories may be in traditional or graphic novel format, but they must have illustrations. For those students who are not artistically inclined, arrange for them to be able to use the computer lab and introduce them to the computer program ToonDoo (www.toondoo.com). It allows students to create comics or classic illustrations using stock elements. They can then print out their comics/illustrations.


Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. The Annotated Brothers Grimm. 1. ed. New York: Norton, 2004. Print. 416 pp.

Hale, Shannon, and Dean Hale. Rapunzel's Revenge. Illus. Nathan Hale. New York, N.Y.: Bloomsbury, 2008. Print. 144 pp.

Zelinsky, Paul O., Jacob Grimm, and Wilhelm Grimm. Rapunzel. Weston, Conn.: Weston Woods Studios, 2002. Print. 48 pp.

Monday, July 30, 2012

"Guys Write for Guys Read: Boys’ Favorite Authors Write About Being Boys" by Jon Scieszka

Scieszka, Jon. Guys Write for Guys Read: Boys’ Favorite Authors Write About Being Boys. New York: Viking, 2005. 272 pp. Print. ISBN 10: 0670011444


More than 80 male writers and illustrators (many from the Young Adult literature world) contributed stories of their boyhoods to this collection of stories of what it means (in their eyes) to be male. Stories range from the emotionally moving to the humorous. Contributors include, among others, Walter Dean Myers, Dan Gutman, Chris Crutcher, Avi, Brian Jacques, Dav Pilkey, Stephen King, Daniel Pinkwater, Jerry Spinelli, Will Hobbs, Chris Van Allsburg, Laurence Yep, Jack Gantos, Eoin Colfer and Neil Gaiman. Each entry is very short, many are only one or two pages long, and each ends with a selected bibliography to help readers find more of the particular authors’ works (or favorites by other authors).


Although there are so many authors, illustrators and editors contributing to this collection, each vignette is short enough that this was a very quick read. The stories were enjoyable and seem to be just what most late middle school and high school boys would like to read – stories of nasty high school sports initiations, getting the best of a school bully or teacher by using one’s intelligence, how farting and burping is just a guy’s way of communicating, or how one finally made a connection with a parent he thought disapproved of him, among others. The brevity of the entries will encourage even the most reluctant of readers to persevere, while the sheer number and variety of stories will keep the most advanced readers entertained.

Despite its title, many girls will also enjoy the stories contained in the book. As the mother of a boy (and a female who isn’t always so feminine), I was able to relate to many of the situations the authors experienced and relate to their statements of what it means to be a guy. I’m sure many other females will, too.


Junior Library Guild selection

Teaching Extensions:

Have students in lower level literature circles use this book for their group book, stopping after each short vignette to discuss.

Have students in class read this collection of stories as well as “Chicken Soup for the Girl's Soul: Real Stories by Real Girls About Real Stuff (Chicken Soup for the Soul)” edited by Jack Canfield. Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Hansen and Irene Dunlap. Have students compare and contrast what the stories seem to be saying about “maleness” and “femaleness”.  Are there similarities? Are there differences? Lead students in a discussion about societal norms ascribed to gender and how these two books (if at all) contribute to those norms.


Canfield, Jack, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Hansen, and Irene Dunlap. Chicken Soup for the Girl's Soul: Real Stories by Real Girls About Real Stuff. Deerfield Beach, Fla.: Health Communications, 2005. 350 pp. Print.

Scieszka, Jon. Guys Write for Guys Read: Boys’ Favorite Authors Write About Being Boys. New York: Viking, 2005. 272 pp. Print.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"Between Shades of Gray" by Ruta Sepetys

Sepetys, Ruta. Between shades of gray. New York: Philomel Books, 2011. Print. 344 pp. ISBN-10: 0399254129


It’s 1941. Fifteen year-old Lina lives in Lithuania. Stalin’s Soviet Army has recently invaded her country and several other Baltic states – claiming them as part of Russia virtually overnight. In an effort to keep civil unrest to a minimum, Stalin deported to Siberia anyone critical of Russia. In the night, Lina, her mother and her brother are forced from their homes with only 20 minutes to pack – 20 minutes to decide what to keep out of several lifetimes’ worth of memories and possessions.

Lina’s father is deported separately to a prison camp. How can Lina stay strong for her family? How can she document and let the world know what is happening to her people and family if everything she writes is examined and censored by the Soviet Police?

Lina uses her budding talent as an artist to document in detailed drawings the indignities and horrors suffered by her countrymen – actions the Soviets will do anything to keep quiet so as not to offend their WWII allies. Lina uses her drawings to spread hope among the people as she passes her drawn messages along, hoping her father will receive them and know his family is still alive. Will her drawings reach him? Is he even still alive? Can her family survive its forced deportation? Will the world ever know what happened when the Soviets invaded the Baltic states?


This novel is very powerful and moving. There were several occasions during reading this book when I wept. In her debut novel, Ruta Sepetys has created a memorial for all those who lived in the Baltic states who were forced to their deaths in Siberian work camps. Prior to reading her novel, I had never heard about Stalin’s occupation of the Baltic countries. Many history books have no mention of it. As Sepetys states in her afterword, those who survived the ordeal to return to their homes were forced to live like criminals in restricted areas – their homes, possessions and jobs gone forever; if they dared speak of what had been done to them, they were either sent back to Siberia or killed, so they stayed silent (339-341). History has forgotten what was done here. Sepetys does an excellent job of painting pictures with her words to help those of us who have no understanding of such events to see Stalin’s actions and the resulting tragedies in vivid Technicolor in our minds.

The book is riveting. It is definitely one I will keep in my classroom library and will try to incorporate into my lesson plans. However, I do have a few small criticisms. The end of the book is rather abrupt, almost as though there was a rush to “wrap it up” and get to the epilogue. Also, while many of the passages are moving and extraordinary, there are a few where Lina’s voice seems to be preaching at the reader, rather than drawing the reader in to make his or her own conclusions. There are a few other small problems, but I suspect they are a matter of one’s individual taste, instead of a weakness in the book itself.

That being said, in a world where much of the people who even bother to read anything more challenging than a magazine are devouring poorly written fluff about vampires, werewolves and the girls who obsess over them (and the even more poorly written popular adult spin-offs inspired by such stories), this novel should be considered downright extraordinary. It made me not only want to know more about the fictional characters inside its pages, but also more about the forgotten (perhaps hidden) history that inspired it.


William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist - 2012

YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults - 2012

YALSA Readers' Choice Nomination - 2012

Realistic Fiction; ALA Notable Children's Book - 2012

Booklist Top 10 First Novels for Youth - 2011

Booklist Editors' Choice - 2011

Top 10 Books for Youth, Historical Fiction - 2011

Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Books of 2011

Publishers Weekly Best Children's Books (Fiction) of 2011

School Library Journal Best Books (Fiction) of 2011

Amazon.com Best Books (Young Adult) of 2011

The New York Times Notable Children's Books (Young Adult) of 2011

Teaching Extensions:

Assign different groups of students to read Between Shades of Gray and Sarah’s Key, both novels that deal with almost forgotten aspects of WWII. Have the students do research on these two time periods to see what historical facts they can find to support the history presented in the books. Have the different groups create digital displays (using Prezi or some other Web 2.0 tool) to present to the class, then upload to a class website. As a further extension, use a website “hit” tracking tool to monitor the nationalities of the people who examine the page. Research to see if the countries that produce the most “hits” were countries where the events depicted in the presentations occurred. Relate this to how history may be “misplaced” for a time, but it is never completely forgotten. Hold a class discussion regarding what they want to be remembered for 70 years later. (Related content areas – English/Language Arts/Reading, Social Studies, History, Civics)


de Rosnay, Tatiana. Sarah's key. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2007. Print. 320 pp. ISBN-10: 0312370849

Sepetys, Ruta. Between shades of gray. New York: Philomel Books, 2011. Print. 344 pp. ISBN-10: 0399254129.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Blake, Kendare. Anna Dressed in Blood. New York: Tor, 2011. Print. 320 pp. ISBN 10: 0765328674.


      Like his father before him, Theseus Cassio Lowood (call him Cas) is a ghost hunter. Nevermind the fact that he’s only 17, Cas has used the athame, or ceremonial knife, he inherited from his father to send violent ghosts off into eternal peace – a veritable “ghost whisperer” with a more violent means of setting the ghosts to rest. Cas and his mother travel all over in search of spirits, acting on hints and clues from newspaper articles, witnesses, and contacts Cas and his deceased father made over the years.
      The most interesting clue Cas has received in quite a while is about a ghost in Thunder Bay, Toronto. The ghost is known as “Anna Dressed in Blood” because she is seen wearing a dress that has been so drenched in her own blood that it literally drips with gore. Anyone who enters her home is murdered, torn to shreds then sucked down into the basement, never to be seen again.
      Cas agrees to take on the case of putting her to rest and moves to Thunder Bay determined to do so. Then something strange happens one night; Cas is forced into the house by a local bully – and lives to tell about it. For some reason, Anna does not kill him. What is so special about him that she is able to resist killing Cas? What forces of which Cas is not yet aware are playing behind the scenes? Why is Anna forced to kill over and over again? What is the connection to the unknown creature that murdered Cas’ father ten years ago?


      In a word, this book is fantastic! Creepy, snarky, spine-tingling, tender – there are not enough adjectives to describe this book properly. Kendare Blake masterfully weaves a thrilling mystery with elements of horror and the supernatural. The story is highly original; I am usually the kind of person who can correctly predict major plot shifts, yet this one caught me by surprise. Additionally, the dialogue feels very true to real life teenagers.  I already have the sequel to this book on pre-order.
      Some of the reviews I read of this book complained about the gore and profanity in the book. I was going to comment on it, but then remembered that the gore and language are no worse than that found in books by the Master of Horror, Stephen King, and his books have been a staple in public and school libraries for decades. Furthermore, the book itself is tame compared to what any teenager playing Call of Duty or Modern Warfare on his or her game console would see. Indeed, the only complaint I have is that more attention should have been paid to the cat, Tybalt, and his role in one of the major plot shifts. Other than that, I have nothing negative to say about his book.


     Neither this book nor this author has yet won any awards; I do not expect this to be the case for long.

Teaching Extensions:

     Have students read this book and Stephen King’s “Carrie.” Have students write in their journals about how important imagery (in the case of both girls in bloody dresses, scenes where people are killed, etc.) is in the horror genre. Then have students go back in the passages and look at how the adjectives are used to fully describe those scenes. What do they notice about the language? How many different adjectives are used? How would the books be different had the authors used less descriptive terms? Have students rewrite key scenes using less adjectives and sensory language to see how important word choice can be.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"White Cat" by Holly Black

Black, Holly. White Cat. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2011. Print (Reprint edition). 336 pp. ISBN 10: 1416963979


Imagine you live in a world where certain people have the genetic ability to do magic. It’s called “curse work” for several reasons. First, because a person with the ability can come up to you and, with a single touch, change what you remember about your life, manipulate your emotions, or even kill you. The second reason it’s called curse work is because the person casting the spell gets a metaphysical “blow back” from working the curse; depending on the type of curse being performed, it can be temporary or permanent. Lastly, it got its name because it’s highly illegal to practice it – anyone caught doing so is “cursed” to spend some time in prison.

This ability runs in families. Now imagine that you are a teenage boy in a family consisting of generations of powerful curse workers, and you are the only one who doesn’t have any magic at all. This is Cassel’s story, the only non-curse worker in a family so powerful that it ranks highly among the country’s curse worker mafia. Cassel is an outcast, but not only because he can’t do magic. Several years ago, he killed his best friend, Lila, but he doesn’t remember how. His family banishes him to a series of boarding schools where he can be tucked away out of sight with “normal” students. Except now Cassel is sleepwalking and plagued by nightmares about a white cat stalking him. When he wakes up, he finds himself teetering on the edge of a precipice.

Cassel’s family starts acting strangely, keeping secrets and only telling him half-truths. He begins to suspect his brothers of something sinister, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. He knows they are members of the curse workers mafia, and suspects that they are using him somehow to pull off an elaborate con. But what good would a non-magical brother do them in this game? How does he fit in? And why is he being plagued by visions of a white cat?


I have long been a fan of Holly Black’s work, having read The Spiderwick Chronicles, Tithe, Ironside, and Valiant. When I saw her name on the list for this group of books, I immediately knew that was the one I wanted to read. In the past I have found her books engaging, clever and often with unexpected twists and turns. This book did not disappoint!

White Cat is, at its heart, a mystery. However, it is a mystery that incorporates fantasy and spy thriller elements. As I was reading, the movie in my head played out much like the best of film noir. The mythology and history of this alternate world is fully realized and fleshed out without taking away from the immediacy of the main story line. Black also incorporates a coming of age story as Cassel grows up and realizes he can no longer cling to his childhood as a blind defense against becoming a responsible adult.

From start to finish, I could not put this book down. I read it in less than three hours, then immediately got on Amazon.com to order the next two books in the Curse Workers series. The book is witty, intelligent and leaves the reader wondering at times who is on who’s side. The only complaint I have about the book is that one of the key mysteries in the book was fairly obvious to me fairly early on in the book; however, other mysteries related to it were well concealed and left me guessing up to nearly the last page. It could be that Black wanted readers to figure out that first mystery early so that they could wonder just “how” that mystery came to be. Overall, this book will be a pleasure for anyone who enjoys the fantasy genre.


 While this particular book has not (yet) won any awards, Holly Black has been the recipient of several awards and honors for her writing. Awards won for each book are listed below:

Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale
ALA Top Ten Book for Teens

ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Locus Magazine Recommended Read
Andre Norton Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

Ironside (sequel to Tithe)
New York Times bestseller

Teaching Extensions:

Before having students read the book, show them the book trailer at http://videos.simonandschuster.com/The-Curse-Workers/1431765717001. Have the students predict what they think the book will have in store for them. Explore the rest of the Holly Black page on Simon and Schuster’s website to get an idea of her body of work. http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Holly-Black/17038352.

After students have finished the book, have them reflect on their earlier predictions. What surprised them most? Was the book at all what they expected?

The world Holly Black has created for this series is very rich and diverse. As part of their follow up and reflection on this book, schedule time in the school’s computer lab to explore one of several websites devoted to this world.

The official Curse Workers website is http://thecurseworkers.com/author.php. Here, one can read more about Holly Black, read excerpts from the sequels to White Cat, even copy and paste promotional banners for the books for one to use on his/her own blogs or websites.

Holly Black’s official website is http://blackholly.com/. Here students can read more about her other works, upcoming events, author appearances and read her livejournal (blog). Black has included an extensive list of online resources for writers. This would be a good list for any teacher to bookmark for future use!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"The First Part Last" by Angela Johnson

Johnson, Angela. The First Part Last. New York: Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, 2003. Print (Paperback edition). 131 pp. ISBN 13: 978-1-4424-0343-7


     Bobby is a typical teenager growing up in New York City. His family isn’t rich – he and his mom live in the city in a walk-up apartment. His dad owns a restaurant and lives in Brooklyn. Bobby doesn’t know what he wants out of life – his time is spent shooting hoops, hanging with his friends and spending time with his girlfriend, Nia. On the day of his 16th birthday, Nia tells him something that could change his life forever – she’s pregnant and he’s the father.

     Both their parents want them to give the baby up for adoption. Their parents say they’re too young to raise a child because they are only children themselves. Together, they decide to do what they think is the right thing and give the baby up for adoption. A couple has already been chosen to adopt her. Then tragedy strikes, and suddenly Bobby isn’t sure if the “right thing” is so right anymore. Can he handle being a father, or would it be better for adults to raise the baby? What does one do when the lines between wrong and right get so blurred?


     While short, as far as novels go, at only 131 pages, this book is very powerful and sucks the reader into Bobby’s world from the very beginning. The novel is written in first person from Bobby’s point of view. The chapters tell his story by alternating between “then” and “now” sequences that serve to illustrate the drastic changes that have happened in his life in a short time. This format works very well in this novel because it serves to give the reader short glimpses without telling the whole story all at once. Where usually I can predict within a few dozen pages the entire plot line of a story and exact details of what is going to happen, this book kept me guessing right up to the end without making me lose interest in the story.

     The dialogue and perspectives of the main character and his friends are very true to most of the teens I have had in class, as are their thought processes. Johnson does an excellent job of climbing inside the heads of teenaged boys. I imagine she must spend a lot of time around teenagers either in a professional or a personal capacity. Peripheral characters that could so easily have been “flat” or undeveloped are fully fleshed without having a lot of time words being spent doing so. Johnson is very good at using vivid words to quickly bring a full picture to the readers’ minds.

     The story itself is gripping, heartbreaking and yet hopeful all at once. I am not ashamed to say I teared up while I was reading several different passages. The reader is clearly able to identify with the protagonist.

     There is only one weakness I perceive in this novel, and not everyone will see it as such. When I was reading the novel, it was easy for me to keep straight what happened and when it happened as I bounced back and forth from “now” to “then” chapters. However, I imagine readers who are struggling readers or who have little patience may find themselves confused from time to time trying to keep the storyline straight. This format may lead some readers to put the book down before finishing it. This is the only weakness I see, and it would not be a weakness for all readers.


(All awarded in 2004)

ALA Michael L. Printz Award

Abraham Lincoln Book Award Master List (IL)

ALA Best Books For Young Adults

ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

Alabama Author's Award

Booklist Editors' Choice

CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book

Charlotte Award Suggested Reading List (NY)

Coretta Scott King Award (ALA) - 2004

Florida Teens Read Master List

Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee (NJ)

Gateway Readers Award Nominee (MO)

Georgia Peach Book Award Master List

Green Mountain Book Award Master List (VT)

Gryphon Award for Children's Literature

Iowa Teen Award Master List

IRA Young Adults' Choices

Rosie Award Nominee (IN)

Sequoyah Young Adult Master List (OK)

South Carolina Book Award Nominee

Volunteer State Book Award Master List (TN)

YARP Award Master List (SD)

Teaching Extensions:

     This extension could be adapted to Family Consumer Sciences, Health or even English classes. Students would read this book, discussing Bobby’s struggles as a parent as they read. After students have finished the book, the teacher could assign the students an exercise whereby they get a more true sense of what he is facing. For schools with higher budgets and existing Family Consumer Sciences or parenting classes, students would be assigned the mechanical dolls often used in such classes. These dolls are programmed to cry, wet and demand food at irregular hours of the day and night, much like real babies. Students would be required to take the “babies” with them everywhere they went and keep them at home with them all night for a period of no less than one full school week. Additionally, students must also keep a journal during the time when they are parents to convey what challenges they faced and how they coped with their new responsibilities. The students’ parents are forbidden to assist in the care of the “babies” in any way. For schools with lower budgets, bags of flour and raw eggs in shell have been substituted with some success to illustrate the fragility of new life. After students have completed their turns as “parents,” they will reexamine key passages in the book and discuss them in light of their newfound experiences with their “babies.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"Going Bovine" by Libba Bray

Bray, Libba. Going Bovine. New York: Ember, 2009. Print. ISBN 10: 0385733984.


16 year-old Cameron Smith is trying his best to skate through high school unnoticed. In fact, Cameron seems to have made an art form out of staying invisible – he works hard to fade into the background in the classrooms and halls of his high school, so much so that he doesn’t have any real friends, just a few students he sometimes meets up with in the men’s restroom to smoke a joint or occasionally occupy the same table in the cafeteria. Going unnoticed is made extremely difficult by two things: 1) His twin sister, Jenna, runs with the pack of popular kids at his school; and 2) He starts hallucinating images so terrifying that he physically reacts to them in public.

Cameron is not on good terms with his parents. His teenaged slacker routine has been so successful that his parents assume his hallucinations are the result of heavy drug use. As Cameron points out in the book, he has never taken hallucinogens because he is afraid of the kinds of things he might see (Bray, 10). However, his parents remain convinced that his hallucinations are the result of heavy drug use or an attempt to draw attention to himself.

It is only after Cameron is diagnosed with the human strain of “Mad Cow” disease (hence the title) that he and his parents realize why he is having hallucinations – and just how serious this is. Basically, there is no cure. His diagnosis is tantamount to a death sentence.

Hope arrives in the form of Dulcie. She’s an angel – but definitely not the kind of angel found in most literature and lore. Dulcie has a bad sugar habit, a penchant for decorating her wings with graffiti, and an affinity for punk-rock attire. Dulcie reveals that Cameron must find a lost scientist known only as “Dr. X” if he wants to be cured. As traveling companions, Cameron takes along Gonzo, a hypochondriac dwarf from his school, and Balder, a Viking god in disguise as a yard gnome. But it isn’t just Cameron’s life on the line – the future of the whole world is at stake!


I noticed this was not the typical teen novel almost right away because it is a lot more intelligent than much of the fluff published in the YA category. One element that makes it much smarter is the science. Ten pages in, the stoners are huddled in a circle smoking pot while discussing Schrödinger’s Cat – a quantum physics thought experiment. Some of the reviews I read scoffed at “slackers” such as these discussing quantum mechanics while doing drugs. However, I feel their scorn is unwarranted. The particulars of the experiment are grisly enough to fascinate any teen mind, especially those who habitually slaughter and maim on their video game consoles for hours on end. This is not the only case of advanced science creeping into the discourse. From beginning to end, the premise of the book relies heavily on the scientific theory behind parallel universes, time travel, and the endless possibilities posited by the Schrödinger’s Cat experiment.

Secondly, the novel closely parallels the classic novel “Don Quixote.” Cameron and his English class are reading the novel as part of their course work. At several points, Cameron wonders to himself if he is “tilting at windmills” a la Cervantes’ title character. Then there are the elements of the story itself – his fantastic quest across the country side, battling giants, seeing the fantastic instead of the mundane most mortals see. Even the fact that the girl/angel he falls for is named “Dulcie” – which could be short for Dulcinea, Don Quixote’s love interest. Cameron originally goes on his quest not only to seek a cure for himself, but also because he is interested in Dulcie. Over the course of his journey, he falls in love with her.

Lastly, the book incorporates elements of Norse mythology and Latin to go along with the problems and complexities that make up most teens’ maturation process. The big ideas of the novel are nestled comfortably alongside Cameron’s struggle between what his conscience tells him to do and what self-preservation states would be best for him personally. Furthermore, the novel is laugh-out-loud funny in parts, yet moves one to tears in others. This is a complexly layered novel that one does not just read; one mentally has to chew it in some parts. However, the digestion of the more intelligent aspects is just as enjoyable as the coming-of-age story.

I only see a few weaknesses in this novel. This novel is so intelligent, some teens will not be able to see it through to the end – or if they do, they will not have understood the entire scope of the novel. Furthermore, some of the reviews I read stated they felt the language and content was too mature for teens under the age of 16, while the science discussed would be lost on most students under the age of 18. Finally, because of the language, most teachers and librarians would not be able to create a lesson plan around this book. However, if one had an advanced student and knew the parents of that student were lenient in their book restrictions, this book could be recommended to the student for pleasure reading.


Booklist Editors’ Choice: Books for Youth - 2009

Children’s Book Sense Pick – 2009

Publisher’s Weekly Best Children’s Book of the Year – 2009

Booklist Books for Youth Editor’s Choice – 2009

Printz Award Winner - 2010

Nominee: Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book - 2010

Best Books for Young Adults - 2010

Teaching Extensions:

Because of its content, this book will need to be carefully incorporated into the curriculum as one of many options or as part of an archetype study – and only with a signed parental permission slip for the student to read it. According to Nilsen and Donalson, this book would fall under the “Innocent Embarking on a Journey” archetype (325). While Cameron is not innocent in the traditional sense – he does have a naïveté about how the world works and one’s responsibilities in it. “Going Bovine” could be presented as one of many options for students to read after the entire class has read “Don Quixote.” Students would then do an interactive book report on iPad or computer (whichever is more readily available at the school) comparing elements of the two novels.

In high school science classes, this book could be read (again, with signed permission slips!) after students have had a lesson in the Schrödinger’s Cat experiment. Students would then discuss in class how the novel accurately interprets the theory into a literary scenario. This activity is recommended for Junior- and Senior-level classes, or Pre-Advanced Placement/Advanced Placement classes for younger levels. However, if used in Pre-AP/AP classes at younger levels, there are some elements that may not be suitable for less mature readers.

An option for this book in a school or public library is creating an interactive Web 2.0 display that links readers back to “Don Quixote” and books explaining in teen-speak the scientific theories involved with the book, as well as listing books students might like to read along a similar vein (Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” for instance).


Nilsen, Alleen P, and Kenneth L. Donelson. Literature for Today's Young Adults. Boston: Pearson, 2009. Print.

Rouse, Margaret. "Schrodinger's Cat Definition." What Is? TechTarget.com, Dec. 2011. Web. 24 June 2012. <http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/Schrodingers-cat>.

"Schrodinger's Cat." YouTube. Minute Physics, 26 Sept. 2011. Web. 24 June 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOYyCHGWJq4>.