FIC: When You Reach Me

whenyoureachme
TitleWhen You Reach Me (Yearling Newbery)
Author: Rebecca Stead
Publication Date: 2009
Publisher: Yearling
ISBN: 9780375850868
Format: Fiction (paperback)
Plot summary: Miranda’s world as a 6th grader in 1978 New York City turns upside down when she begins receiving mysterious notes about events that haven’t occurred yet — events that might mean danger for one of her friends. Her best friend Sal gets punched by another kid for no apparent reason and, from day that on, he no longer seems to want to be friends. As Miranda tries to figure out the identity of the letter writer and what part she plays in the effort to possibly save her friend’s life, she navigates new friendships and discovers not-so-pleasant truths about herself (e.g. that she is meaner than she’d like to believe) and society (e.g. racism, socioeconomic divides).
Audience:  5th grade and up

Strengths:
-Well-written narrative; short chapters lends well to the fast pace of the book. Stead does a good job keeping the readers guessing about the identity of the letter writer, the friend he or she is trying to save, how the notes are sent, etc.
-Chapter titles and the storyline about Miranda’s mom being on the $20,000 Pyramid show — Stead masterfully uses these elements to enhance the idea that Miranda has to piece together different events and observations in order to solve the puzzle.
-Interesting take on time-travel and how it might look like.
-References to A Wrinkle in Time may prompt the reader to read that next, if they hadn’t already. Might also encourage readers to explore other books on time travel.

Weaknesses:
-I thoroughly like this book, so I can’t say I have found any weaknesses. If I had to be picky (though this could be a strength — see above), it is the fact that the reader is expected to know a bit about A Wrinkle in Time. I wonder if readers who have never read the book would get as much out of When You Reach Me as the author had hoped/intended.
-Another possible weakness is the difficulty of the subject itself. The lexile measure might be lower, but readers might be frustrated by the idea of time travel.
-A character dies quite tragically in the book. Racist remarks were said about one of the characters. Younger readers may have a hard time understanding these issues.

Uses:
-When You Reach Me can be considered a hybrid of genres — mystery, science fiction, and historical fiction. As such, one could use this book to introduce different genres or appeal to different reading interests:

  • Mystery: Who is sending Miranda these letters?
  • Sci-Fi: Is time travel possible? How do the characters think it works?
  • Historical Fiction: what about the setting (New York City in the 1970s) makes something a historical novel?

-The book can also be used to discuss various narrative elements. For example, how does author advance themes such as time/time travel, friendship, etc.:

  • The time travel theme is supported by images of watches and clocks throughout the book
  • “Dick Clark” — timeless, does not age — vs. most people, who do age, i.e. Marcus.
  • The idea of “unlocking a mystery” is  supported by images of keys (e.g. they give access to something) and the tying and untying of knots (e.g. solving a complex problem)
  • References to $20,000 Pyramid – further supports the theme of “solving a problem” by finding a common thread to a set of clues

-This book could appeal to a multitude of readers, interests (mystery, sci-fi, big-city living), and reading levels. Though time travel might be a hard concept to grasp, the short chapters and direct writing style may be good for reluctant readers. It’s also a good book about relationships (friendships Miranda has, and the relationship between her and her mother, etc.).

Read-alikes:
-Without a doubt, readers who liked this book will want to read or re-read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle or the other books in the Time Quintet series, A Wind in the Door (1973), Many Waters (1986), A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978), and An Acceptable Time (1989).

-The book also references Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, which would be another good “next book” for readers who enjoy mysteries.

-Older readers (grades 4-7, SLJ) might enjoy H.G. Well’s The Time Machinea classic time-travel story set in Victorian times.

“Who Could That Be at This Hour?” (All the Wrong Questions) by Lemony Snicket for readers who liked the mystery aspect of When You Reach Me.

Awards/Best Books (from CLCD):

Other: 
AR Points 6; Interest Level: Middle Grade; Book Level 4.5; Lexile Measure 750 
Author website: http://www.rebeccasteadbooks.com/

GN: The Stone Keeper (Amulet, Book 1)

cover_amulet

Title: The Stonekeeper (Amulet, Book 1)
Author: Kazu Kibuishi
Publication Date: January 1, 2008
Publisher: GRAPHIX
ISBN: 0439846811
ISBN: 978-0439846813
Format: Graphic Novel (paperback)
Plot summary: In this 1st book of Kibuishi’s Amulet series, Emily and Navin lose their father to a car accident and move with their mother Karen to their great-grandfather Silas’ house. On their first night there, the family is drawn to the basement by a mysterious noise. Once there, Karen is kidnapped by a slobbering, tentacled creature, and the children follow it into a parallel universe filled with demons, strange creatures, and talking robots and animals. Guided by a necklace (the amulet) that Emily found earlier in the day, the children eventually meet Silas. Emily is entrusted with the amulet and its powers. With the help of Silas’ robots, especially a mechanical rabbit named Miskit, they set out to save Karen. The author also hints at the possibility of Emily using the amulet to reverse time to save her father.
Audience: Ages 8 and up
Strengths:
-The action starts right away in the prologue and doesn’t end until the final page. Kids will be immediately drawn in by the story.
-The art is colorful, engaging, and conveys a lot of emotions and plot details that the text doesn’t spell out. The blue and gray panels showing rain, fog, and depicting gloom/mystery are especially beautiful.
-The text is pretty minimal/simple to read and might appeal to the most reluctant of readers.
Weaknesses:
-The death of Emily and Navin’s father in the prologue might upset readers. It is disturbing to see blood coming out of Emily’s mother’s nose and to imagine the certain death of her father after the car plummets down the cliff.
-The storyline is rather conventional and cliche — kids moves into mysterious, possibly-haunted house, discover magical necklace, enter an alternate world and go on an adventure, wrestle with the promise of power, fight evil to save good, etc. This is an okay starting place, but couple the common plot with the lack of rich/complex text, the reader is left wanting more.
-The alternate universe parts of the book seem disorganized and rushed. Emily doesn’t go through the stereotypical learning curve heroes/heroines have with their new-found power, but just “knows” how to use the amulet, somehow. Though the reader isn’t sure the role of the amulet (whether it represents good or bad), we aren’t given much time to decide before Emily makes her choice. The entire decision sequence took 17 frames, with not much insight into Emily’s internal dialog.
Uses: 
-Introduce kids to and teach about the graphic novel genre — elements of GN? reading conventions?
-Good introduction to Kazu Kibuishi’s works.
-Might be a good starting place for kids who are new to the graphic novel genre. As mentioned before, the text isn’t heavy and the plot is easy to follow, so this might be good for very reluctant readers. That said, some of the scenes in this book might be too scary/disturbing for the younger, more sensitive readers.
-Good for kids who are looking to start a new series. Since the first installment is pretty short, kids can decide quickly whether they want to continue with the series or not.
-Teaching about themes such as death/loss of parent, hero/heroism, power, magic/fantasy, etc.
-Appealing to readers of both sexes.
Read-alikes:
-Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl (2011) – Zita and her best friend Joseph finds a mysterious device while exploring a meteor crater. After pushing the inviting red button, they are transported to a strange planet, where Joseph is abducted by a tentacled creatures. With help of robots, talking animals, and other new friends, Zita must rescue Joseph and find a way back to Earth.
Awards (from CLCD):
-Booklist Best Books for Young Adults, 2009 (ALA)
-Children’s Choice, 2009 (International Reading Association)
-YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2009 (ALA)
-Children’s Choice Book Award finalist, 2009
-Cybil Award graphic novel finalist, 2009
-Young Reader’s Choice Award Junior Winner, 2011
-Rhode Island Children’s Book Award nominee, 2010
Other: AR Points 1; Interest Level: Middle Grade; Book Level 2; Lexile Measure 310 (from CLCD)