The Plot: Two children in ancient Greece strive against the fate into which they were born. Melisto is an aristocratic girl who struggles against the conventional path of womanhood that her mother wants for her. Rhaskos is a slave boy who works against punishing circumstances to free himself. Both children question their role in the roiling society of Greece and Athens and seek more than just the limited roles prescribed to them.
My Take: This is a powerful book that kept me interested from the first page. The suffering endured by Rhaskos captures the reader early on and we find ourselves yearning for this boy to attain some sense of healing and freedom. I was also interested in Melisto’s anger towards her mother and even her recalcitrance when a member of the cult of Artemis. The supporting cast of characters is also interesting, notably Rhasko’s mother who bears an extraordinary amount of suffering.
Laura Amy Schlitz clearly did a great deal of historical research in writing this novel and it shines through without slowing down the story. I felt that I learned so much about ancient Greece and Athens and what it was like living in those times.
My library shelves this book in the Juvenile Fiction section, but this is clearly a book for Teens/Young Adult. There is animal sacrifice, a great deal of ‘body awareness,’ as well as indirect mention of rape. 13 and up is probably the right age to read and appreciate this wonderful book.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her agent’s info page, Laura Amy Schlitz continues to work as a lower school librarian. I am astounded (and jealous!! J ) that she has the ability to work as a librarian and craft a masterpiece like ‘Amber and Clay!”
The Plot: Olympia is a twelve year old growing up in early 1980’s in SoHo. Her father, an art restorer, has run off to France with another woman. In response, Olympia’s mother, a sculptor, has not been out of bed in days. Olympia fills up her summer days hanging out with friends and her dad’s friendly art assistant Apollo. Over time she finds the courage to reach out for help and to begin to piece her family back together.
My Take: This book lacked enough narrative momentum for my taste. I thought that a good deal of it could be trimmed to focus on the disappearance of her father and Olympia’s efforts to help her mother. Her relationships with her friends, their parents, and Apollo takes up most of the book and was a bit of a slog for me. A side trip to an island near the culmination of the story seemed exceptionally unnecessary.
One Interesting Note About The Author: “All the Greys On Greene Street” is Laura Tucker’s first novel.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Jake Semple is a problem child who has been kicked out of more public schools than he can count. In desperation, his grandfather enrolls him in the Creative Academy run by the Applewhite family, a group of artistic eccentrics that run a school unlike any other. In the beginning, Jake finds much to dislike about the place, especially E. D. Applewhite, a girl about his age who, unlike her family, enjoys order and structure. When Randolph, the father of the clan, casts Jake in a role in a local version of “The Sound of Music, the young misfit finds that he takes quite well to acting and singing. While Jake blossoms, E.D. finds herself increasingly unappreciated by her own family.
My Take: I appreciated this book because it turned out much differently than I had imagined. Of course, I knew that Jake would eventually settle in with the Applewhite family, but I imagined that the plot would contain a great deal of bad, perhaps borderline violent, behavior on Jake’s part that would induce a crisis in the family. I was expecting something closer to the Great Gilly Hopkins. I much enjoyed that, as the novel progressed, Tolan subtly shifted the focus from Jake to other characters. This made for a much more enjoyable read about the role and power of artistic ventures to bring people together.
One Interesting Note About the Author: According to her website, Stephanie Tolan is “also well known as an advocate for extremely bright children. She co-authored the award-winning nonfiction book, Guiding the Gifted Child, and has written many articles about the challenges gifted ‘asynchronous’ children and adults face as they find a way to fit into their world.”
I finally got around to taking a look at some of the Caldecott finalists for this year. I truly enjoyed the lively Interrupting Chicken, but Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave has really captured me. Laban Carrick Hill’s spare prose captures the mysterious character of Dave, his art, and his circumstances. A slave in South Carolina in the 19th century, Dave spends his time making clay containers and inscribing small poems on the side of some of them. Bryan Collier’s award winning art combines painting and collage to give life to Dave’s world. As we read along, we discover that pottery is his balm and escape from his cruel circumstances. Perhaps Dave best expresses his pain and hope in this simple poem he etches into the side of a jar in 1857: “I wonder where is all my relation/ friendship to all—and, every nation.” This book gave me goosebumps.