Monday, March 12, 2012


Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Published 2012.

Now this fairy tale twist I genuinely liked. I think I appreciated it because it put the tale of Cinderella in a whole new world, with a different telling and it kept close enough to the idea of the original story, but not so steadfastly that it stretched the plot to fit to the tale. What made it more fun than other twisted tellings is that its set in the distant future in a dystopian society where cyborgs and robots exist and the moon has been colonized and a whole new evolution of "humans" live on the moon. Mix this together with regular humans, a disease that is highly contagious and kills off anyone who gets it within a matter of weeks, and a cyborg who is being courted by the royal emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth and you have a tale that could stand alone without the fairy tale comparisons. Like Lionboy, this book doesn't have a clear cut ending as it's part of, what I believe is, a five part series, but unlike the other book, I was satisfied with the end and look forward to reading the rest of the series.
Here's the plot premise, some spoilers:
Cinder is a teen cyborg, half human/half robot, who works at a robot repair shop to earn money for her evil stepmother and her two stepsisters. When the step sis she actually likes catches the fatal letmosis (spelling???), Cinder is hauled in for testing by her stepmother. Thinking this is the end of her life, she battles against the testing only to find out that she is immune to the disease and could be the answer for its cure, or at least, that's what the doctor leads her to believe. She is determined to escape New Bejing even if that means missing attending the ball with the Prince.

Side note: While its still technically a photo of a female on the cover, I love the take on the glass slipper and seeing the cyborg part through her leg...fantastic cover. Plus super fun font.

Interest level: YA Reading level: YA
Genre: sci-fi, fairy tale, dystopian
First in series.

Comparable titles: Sisters Red, The Storyteller, Beastly

Book Connections: Contagious disease, futuristic societies, evolution, moon colonization, Cinderella


Lionboy by Zizou Corder. Published 2004.

I have so many mixed feelings about this book. Sometimes the writing was amazing and the plot moved along and I really wanted to know what was going to happen next. Problem was, those moments only happened for me when the boy was on the Circus boat. The author's description of the circus was so mesmerizing and fantastic and I wish she (or they because a mother wrote it with her daughter and they created an alias as their author name) had only written a book about a boy on a circus boat. But unfortunately they didn't.
What bothered me was that it was really hard for me to suspend my disbelief. It was suppose to be set in the near future where only the extremely rich have cars, all the kids have asthma, supposedly from pollution, and one boy can talk to cats because his DNA was crossed with a leopard. Um...okay. Also, I get that asthma is a serious illness, but it didn't have that same sense of dread as a made up illness like letmosis in Cinder. I found myself saying, "So what?" every time they talked about asthma. Why couldn't it have just been a story about a boy trying to help some lions escape back to Africa? It wouldn't have even needed to be set in the future or anything. Paint me a better picture of the world. Make it seem more dire then our current one if that matters to the plot. Argh, I'm going to stop after this last rant. It is suppose to be a trilogy, so the book doesn't have a satisfactory ending either. I loved some of the description, but the plot bored me so much that I don't even think I'll read the rest just to find out what happens.
I was not happy with it, but some students really enjoy this and the setting details for the circus can be really beautiful. The action also has high tension at moments, so it might not have been my cup of tea but give it a shot if the plot sounds intriguing to you.

Interest level: Grades 5-8 Reading level: Grade 6
Genre: sci-fi
First in series of three.

Comparable titles: Wonder Circus, Warriors series

Book Connections: circus, lions, asthma health, waterways of France, geography

I did mark the following passages because I thought they were great writing examples:

Character description- "He must have been six and a half feet tall, broad-shouldered in white breeches and a green velvet tailcoat, and his fine blond hair, almost as pale as ice, hung down his back in a thick ponytail. His eyes were piercing blue, his skin pale and dry, and he looked as if he stayed up far too late and had done so all his life. In one pale hand he had a glass of what looked like brandy, and before him on the desk was a pile of papers and a large metal box absolutely full of money: masses of it." pg. 53

Setting- "It was round, as high as three stories; with seats in circles around the edges and galleries of seating rising up around the sides. The roof was like a tent, crimson and white and gold, swooping up to a high point in the middle, from which hung a glorious chandelier, rippling and tinkling with dangling glass prisms and crystals. The seats in the first galleries were crimson velvet, with gold curved legs; others were long benches of wood. In one or two special boxes among the galleries, Charlie could see what looked like thrones, surrounded by crimson velvet curtains held back by golden cherubs. And in the middle was the circus ring, clean and open and promising, forty-two feet wide, sprinkled all over with clean fresh sawdust. There was a faint and particular circus smell: of animal, sawdust, greasepaint, and the faint leftover aroma of audience--beer and perfume and fish and chips." Pg. 85

The Neddiad

The Neddiad: How Neddie took the train, went to Hollywood, and saved civilization by Daniel Pinkwater. Published 2007.

I loved, loved, loved this book. I was drawn in by the strange name and long title and I was intrigued by all the fantastic blurbs on the back and the strange plot description, but from the first page I was hooked. I love whimsical books with fun narrators and a plot doesn't always have to make sense for me. I've been reading this to my fourth graders and they seem to really enjoy it. One student had read it previously and gets so excited about what's coming up next that he often has to stop himself from blurting out. While it's a fun book, it is a long read aloud and has some slow moments that are much quicker when read alone. Its suppose to be a take on the Iliad, but if anything its just a fun romp with a fun boy and his strange family. And really I can't describe the book any better than the back of the book describes it so I won't even try:

Neddie Wentworthstein is the guy with the turtle. Sandor Eucalyptus is the guy with the jellybean. Sholmos Bunyip wants the turtle...and he'll stop at nothing to get it. This is the story of how Neddie, three good friends, a shaman, a ghost, and a little maneuver known as the French substitution determine the fate of the world.

 I look forward to reading the Yggysey next.

Interest level: Grades 5-8 Reading level: Grade 5
Genre: Humor

Comparable titles: The humor and writing sytle somewhat reminds me of Lenore Look's work, Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School and other Scary Things

Book Connections: Old Hollywood, La Brea Tarpits, Grand Canyon, Route 66, turtles

Sisters Red

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce. Published 2010.

Now this is the most action packed of the new fairy tales that I've read as well as the most suggestive. I would definitely reserve this for my older teens and keep it in the Twilight and Shiver categories. The writing is very cinematic and I could see the action scenes as if they were playing out in front of me. This was more powerful in the opening and seemed to wear thin by the end, but the action kept pace the whole time.
Basically, werewolves exist but they are known as Fenris. When the sisters, Rose and Scarlett are young, a wolf attacks them and kills their only guardian, their grandmother. After losing her eye in battle with her first Fenris and making her first kill, Scarlett makes it her life mission to protect all other vulnerable girls and hunt down each and every last werewolf. With the help of her sister and her best friend, Silas, she is determined to wipe them out. Only Rose and Silas aren't sure they want to spend their lives hunting down the wolves.
As I said, the book was action packed and it had a great twist on Little Red Riding Hood, but there were only so many smart ways to have them go to battle again and the plot became tedious. It was told in alternating voices of the sisters and that was meant to create a study on identity and life purpose, but it got a little old and sappy toward the middle.

Interest level: YA Reading level: YA
Genre: fairy tale, fantasy, romance

Comparable titles: Beastly, Twilight, Shiver

Book Connections: Little Red Riding Hood, werewolves

Briar Rose

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen. Published 1992.

Jane Yolen just came out with a new fairy tale twist on the Snow White series, which led me to this book she wrote about 20 years ago. I love the Sleeping Beauty story and the idea of twisting it to be a Holocaust tale really intrigued me. I'm not sure if what was selling in '92 was different than what is written for today's young adults, but I was not as happy with it as I had hoped I would be.
I really liked the aspect of mystery with the lead character tracing down her recently passed Grandmother's life story and I liked the tie in of the Sleeping Beauty tale and how it was a metaphor for the grandmother's life, but I kept expecting us to jump back in the past and see the comparisons and have a Holocaust story from start to finish and as that kept not happening and kept focusing on the granddaughter and her hunt for the truth, I became more and more disappointed.
When we do finally get the tale at the end, I was completely absorbed and I just wished there was a way to have extended that and only told that story as if it were the Sleeping Beauty tale.
Also the protagonist was in her late twenties and it felt like a very grown up adult story that doesn't seem like it would connect with teen readers.

Interest Level: YA Reading level: Grade 5
Genre: Historical Fiction

Comparable Titles: Milkweed, Number the Stars

Book Connections: Holocaust, Sleeping Beauty, Poland


Beastly by Alex Flinn. Published 2007. 2011 California Young Reader Medal nominee.

I am doing a Dark Side of Fairy Tales class for my middle schoolers so I've been scooping up all the hot re-dos and twists on the classic fairy tales. I will say that what I'm finding so far is that people like to remake the Disney version of the fairy tales rather than the original source material. I think since that's the more innocent version in our heads, its easier to play with and make darker even though the original was dark itself.
Now for this one, it wasn't the darkest of the ones I've read. Its actually very mellow as far as grimness goes and not too much sexual tension or bad language used. It incorporates 21st century writing style with chat room transcripts that separate the different sections and it places it squarely in a Manhattan modern day setting. As you can guess from the title, it's a rift on Beauty and the Beast. I think the funnest part of this twist is the fact that its told entirely from the male, or Beast's, perspective which is actually what makes it fresh.
As for characterization, we do see his transformation and we're given enough teen angst to understand that he is a person just like the rest of us. For the plot, I understand that certain things needed to be stretched to allow this fairy tale premise to happen, but I wonder why his dad was a tv anchor and not just a movie star cause I really didn't believe that a tv anchor would have as much money as we are to believe he has (meaning, it seemed endless). I also thought Lindy's drug addict dad was a little over the top, but I get why it was thrown in there because the rest of the stuff wasn't going to happen if there wasn't that extreme.

Interest level: YA Reading level: YA
Genre: fairy tale, fantasy, teen romance

Comparable Titles: Twilight, Sisters Red

Book Connections: Beauty and the Beast, Roses, Mirrors, witches, a discussion on beauty and the privileges and disadvantages, what real beauty means?