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A Review of Jack Gantos’s Dead End in Norvelt

By Amber Hancock

“Then she reached toward me with her deformed stumps and touched my face and at that moment I yelped out loud and dropped over dead…” (Gantos 26)

dead end

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The unexpected is Jack Gantos’s specialty.  Whether it is the mischievous Ralph the cat from the Rotten Ralph book series or the “wired” Joey Pigza from the Joey Pigza quartet, his characters never behave the way one might think they will.  And the events … well, like my opening excerpt, they are startling, laugh-out-loud funny and thought-provoking at the same time.  Dead End in Norvelt takes Jack Gantos’s usual elements – almost fantastical events, unforgettable characters, and a unique sense of humour- to the next level; this is autobiographical fiction with a murder mystery chaser.

Layered with historical references, both personal and otherwise, this is a story about how twelve-year-old Jack Gantos survived being grounded for the summer.  To escape becoming a complete hermit, he agrees to be the hands of his elderly and arthritic neighbor, Miss Volker.  She is a woman with a mission – to chronicle the ends of all the Original Norvelters- before she too can rest.  In return, she shows him through her obituaries the hidden story of his hometown – a tale of community spirit, a house wallpapered in letters and even ultimately, murder.  For Jack, this summer might just be the most exciting- and integral- of his life.

This novel is intended for older middle school to high school aged readers, and is almost written episodically.  The chapters focus on particular moments of Jack’s summer, yet they remain interconnected through similar themes and a sense of progression.  Each event is an accumulation of the encounters that came before and a contribution to the incidents that will follow.  Because of this, there is a strong sense of timeline which facilitates Jack’s prevailing epiphanies – the power and influence of learning, the cyclical nature of history, and the unavoidability of death – within the text.

According to his website, Jack Gantos The Official Website, the real Jack Gantos is no stranger to his Imaginary Jack’s epiphanies (http://www.jackgantos.com).  Born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, he spent his early years in Norvelt before moving to Barbados at age seven ad finally ending up in Southern Florida.  His family life was not what most would consider normal, and it shows in his rather morbid sense of humour.  In describing his parents, Mr. Gantos says, “My mother was community-minded and socialistic and would have stayed in Norvelt, and my father was more ambitiously capitalistic and eager to make a fortune beyond Norvelt” (Jules).  According to TeachingBooks.net, one of the most fantastic of his life stories, which can be found in his book entitled Jack’s New Power, begins with his one-year old brother being gassed to sleep by their babysitter and ends with his mother turning herself in for murder.  With tales like that, it is not surprising that the undercurrent of his work runs dark.

Like the anecdotes in Jack’s New Power and Dead End in Norvelt, there is a stream of the autobiographical flowing throughout his work, and this can be attributed to the author’s love of journaling.  According to the autobiography attached to his website, “The seeds for Jack’s writing career were planted in sixth grade, when he read his sister’s diary and decided he could write better than she could” (http://www.jackgantos.com/bio-photos/ ).  To date, Jack Gantos claims to have filled more than 200 journals (TeachingBooks.net), and they remain great fodder for his work.  Of his writing process, Mr. Gantos says, “I don’t go back to them [his journals] unless I’m really searching for something specific…Then I will go back and pull out [for example] my third grade and fourth journals, re-read them, pull out the good stuff, the little nuggets” (TeachingBooks.net).  It is this feel of the real – of the experienced- which gives his books their memorable and relatable quality.

One of the most admirable qualities of Jack Gantos’s writing career is the diversity of his texts.   As his website claims, his readers can read him “cradle to grave” (http://www.jackgantos.com/bio-photos/ ).  From his Rotten Ralph picture book series to middle school aged Joey Pigza quartet to the adult The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, Jack prides himself on never being “pidgeonholed” into one type of fiction.  Indeed, when asked about his range, he states emphatically:

I have that range, and I really am very protective of the right to have a range. I don’t like being pigeonholed as just a picture book author, or just a chapter book author. I’m a writer. And as such I can write anything … that’s really what my job is. Not just to do the same thing over and over. There would be no challenge in it for me. Being a writer, being an artist, means you have to challenge yourself with each project. And so I give myself plenty of range to do this challenge (TeachingBooks.net).

This range also leads to his works having a layered quality.  Dead End in Norvelt, for me, is not just about what the young Jack Gantos learned one summer, but about the history – the history of his family, the town and even the world – that leads to his realizations.  For others, the novel might be about something completely different.  The layered nature of the narrative was intentional, and for the author Jack Gantos, it is the most important part.  Gantos states that he structures his books so that the “… surfaces are rich and sort of seamless. But [he'll] also make sure that there are little holes, little peepholes in that surface that when you get real close, he’ll] take you right on in, and then you’ll see the inner workings of everything” (Teachingbooks.net).  In Dead End in Norvelt, these “peepholes” are mostly found within the interactions between Miss Volker and Jack.

“…people may die but we’ve got some important ideas to keep alive” (32).

At his roots, Jack is simply the typical boy.  Excepting his nose bleeds and regrettable, accidental shooting incidents, he just wants to play baseball and hang out with friends.  When he dresses for Halloween, he does not choose an obscure reference as his costume; instead, he wears one of the holiday’s staples: the Grim Reaper.  He’s an every-boy with quirks.  That being said, Jack is presented to us as a deep thinker with a strong interest in history, and it is this quality that connects him to the other characters, especially Miss Volker.  After he transcribes the first obituary they work on together, he is not disappointed when he is paid in “brain food” (37) or books of history because he likes the material.  Before even meeting Miss Volker, the readers are told that Jack loves to read about ancient history in the “Landmark history series,” and he wonders what it would be like to be a part of that story (15).  Would the destruction of the Incas have been different if Jack had told them what guns were?  The answer, of course, is yes, but it is this action of thinking about the past and hindsight’s reflections which embodies his later connection to Miss Volker.

She literally is a piece of history; this is not only because she actually existed as a part of the author’s past in Norvelt (http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2165), but also as a piece of story’s past.  She is an essential part of the Norvelt timeline as its chronicler; she has been instructed in duty by Eleanor Roosevelt; she watched as the town changed as it grew; and she recorded its history.  She has lived through events about which Jack can only read.  Yes, her behavior can sometimes be viewed as erratic and even a little mad.  Kitchen table nose cauterizations can give that impression; however, like the past, her actions can be explained in context.  Many historical events, if isolated, can be viewed as insane or unreasonable; however, through an understanding of related events, perceptions, and social norms, the logic can become apparent.  It is the same with Miss Volker.  As Norvelt’s medical examiner and as a trained medical professional, she has the experience to perform the cauterization; as a writer of people’s history and a product of its journey, she can teach Jack to look beyond the surface.  These facts flavor her madcap actions with the flair of rational explanation.

Moreover, as readers explore the obituaries that she and Jack have written, they can catch a glimpse of a global history of which the Norvelt timeline is only a representative.  As Jack studies under Miss Volker, he learns to view history in broader and more unexpected ways.  It is not simply a class in school or the subject of books; it is the tale of people and what influences them. Jack’s favorite article in the newspaper is also written by Miss Volker and is called “This Day in History.”  It highlights the most important moments on an individual day in history.  June 18, for example is the day that America declared war on Britain and when “Susan B. Anthony was fined $100 for attempting to vote” (42).  Though the article is interesting on its own, it is also illustrative of a larger principle.  History is not made up of moments that are simply experienced once then forgotten forever.  Instead, it is a dynamic museum in which the exhibits are in a state of constant change and growth.  Houses that he has seen all his life have become showcases for stories.  This is best exemplified by the house owned by Mrs. Hamsby, which is wallpapered with lost or forgotten letters.  These “scraps of history” are only bits of stories, and their gaps can only be filled in by imagination (230).  Thus, the same letter can be a part of infinite tales, and are as changeable as their historians.

In his position as her hands, Jack not only becomes an observer of historical moments (ie the deaths of the Original Norvelters) but also becomes a part of Norvelt’s history.  Indeed, the relationship between Jack and Miss Volker functions much like the past and the future do in life.  In the present, the past inspires the future and is the starting point of its progression.  Here, in his novel, Jack Gantos the author employs the use of the classic trope of “passing the torch” to highlight the growth of Imaginary Jack Gantos’s character.  In much the same way as Eleanor Roosevelt passed the duty of chronicler to Miss Volker, Miss Volker is preparing Jack to take her place.  His job as her hands is the starting point of his individual progression as a writer, and with Miss Volker as his inspiration, he will be the guardian of “future history” (115). As a child, he will be part of the next group to influence the direction of the world.  By remembering the lessons of the past, Jack will be ready to take on the challenges of the future; furthermore, like his mentor and the author himself, he will chronicle his experiences and prepare his readers for the history yet to come.

Jack Gantos is a master of the unexpected, and here in Dead End, he surprises us with his handling of history.  As he broadens its definition and adds his personal touch, readers are left to wonder exactly where the autobiography ends and where the fiction begins.  Is his relationship with the real Miss Volker the same as in the book or is this only the history that lives in his imagination?  Only further study can tell; perhaps we may even uncover more clues in its sequel, From Norvelt to Nowhere.

Works Cited

“Jack Gantos Interview.”  TeachingBooks.com. Website. November 2013.

Gantos, Jack.  Dead End in Norvelt.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), New York.  2011. Print.

Gantos, Jack.  Jack Gantos the Official Websitehttp://www.jackgantos.com. Website.  November 2013

Jules.  Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast Blogspot. “2011 Interview with Jack Gantos.”  Entry 2165.  http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2165.  2011. Website.  November 2013.

 

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A Review of Malinda Lo’s Huntress

A Review of Malinda Lo’s Huntress

by A. Seltzer, D. Rosenau, M. Atwood, R. Kalicki, T. Gilstrap

Making a decision isn’t about knowing every potential consequence. It’s about knowing what you want and choosing a path that takes you in that direction (Lo 28).

malindalo.com

malindalo.com

This quote comes from the beginning of Malinda Lo’s adventurous, high-fantasy novel, Huntress, and sets the stage to the story. Basically, the two main characters come face to face with having to choose their path in life and with how the choices they make will affect their future beyond the Academy they attend together. For this reason, “deciding one’s path in life” becomes the main theme in this novel.  The novel’s two main characters, Taisin and Kaede, set out on a journey by the invitation of their world’s Fairy Queen in order to search for their future lives’ paths.

Needless to say, the journey is treacherous. Along the way, the two girls encounter challenges such as weariness from a long journey, the death of two guards who go on the journey with them, an attack by wolves, and an interaction with the Fairy Queen’s people, the Xi. As readers, we find out that the girls come from different backgrounds and struggle with separate inner trials. Kaede belongs to the upper class. She grew up wealthy, the daughter of Lord Raiden. However, she hasn’t quite made up her mind as to what she wants to be in the near future. On the other hand, Taisin comes from a working class family. Unlike Kaede, Taisin is aware of what she wishes to pursue in her future. Because they start off seeking different paths for their futures, their journey to the land of the Fairy Queen becomes a difficult, major conflict in the novel.  However, they are forced to team up in order to overcome the challenges mentioned above, which causes the girls to unite to access the burial crossing to the Fairy Queen’s land. Although Kaede and Taisin struggle along the way, the two girls are able to come together, connecting intimately and spiritually on their quest to the land of the Fairy Queen. Because their shared journey leads to them into falling in love with one another, Huntress also gives readers an introduction to LGBT literature, which deals with the subject matter of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender relationships.

In the end, Huntress is the perfect book for teens at the high school level to relate to since the novel teaches the lesson that finding one’s individual identity can cause personal growth and help illuminate true callings. Essentially, the journey that Taisin and Kaede undertake in the novel is similar to the journey that adolescents take during their high school years. Typically, teenagers have to face simultaneous challenges, such as figuring out what fulfilling, lifelong career they want to pursue; trying to answer the question, “Who am I?”’ and dealing with confusing matters of the heart such as love. In other words, this novel allows readers to deal with the complexity of issues that adolescents must face in their daily lives.  And, like Taisin and Kaede, teenagers must learn to live with the choices they make. In some aspects, the book may not be relatable, but the action and adventure has emotionally rich moments that will lead teens and even parents into reading the novel. Huntress is truly a page turner!

 

Work Cited:

Lo, Malinda.Huntress. New York: LIttle, Brown, and Company, Inc. 2011. Print.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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A Biography of Malinda Lo

by A. Seltzer, D. Rosenau, M. Atwood, R. Kalicki, T. Gilstrap Biography of Malinda Lo

According to her website, Malinda Lo was born in China and moved to the United States when she was three years old. She now lives in Northern California with her partner and their dog. When she was a child, she was greatly influenced by her grandmother to write. At the age of twelve, her grandmother told her to send in a poem about her cat to a magazine. This was her first published work. When she was teenager, she actually wrote three fantasy novels but has said, “None of these shall see the light of day, and those are not famous last words.” (Lo)

After college, Malinda Lo eventually worked for Ballantine Books as a publishing editor and helped Judy Fitzwater publish her book, Dying to Get Published, which was her first edited work.  She attended Harvard for her graduate research, where she eventually graduated with a Masters  in the Regional Studies—East Asia department. She also attended Stanford and graduated with a Masters in Social Anthropology, for which she also got to study The X-Files. (Lo)

Lo also wrote for AfterEllen.com, where she wrote her first article on Ellen DeGeneres (this website isn’t affiliated with The Ellen Show) (O’Neill).  This gave her more of a chance to improve her writing.  While working for After Ellen, she would go and interview celebrities who had been on Ellen’s show. After she had finished that job, she began to write other stories. Her first was Ash, a take on the classic Cinderella Story, but with a twist. In her version of Cinderella, Cinderella is a lesbian.

Lo has written both fiction and non-fiction books. Her first novel is Ash, and her second is Huntress. She has also written Adaptation. These books share themes, mainly focusing on adventure and finding who you really are and where you belong in the world and among your peers. In Huntress, Malinda has infused much of her own childhood culture into the story by using a lot of Chinese influences and details. She has also written a section in the book “Q,” where she writes to her sixteen-year-old coming-of-age, gay self  that things will be all right.

Malinda Lo mostly writes for young adults–mainly kids in eighth grade and beyond. She does write about love between same-sex couples, and I believe that those stories are more for high school students who are finding themselves and trying to fit in with their peers. Lo is the recipient of the Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for Excellence in LGBT journalism given by the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association (O’Neill).

Works Cited

Lo, Malinda. Malinda Lo. N.p., 2000. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://www.malindalo.com/bio/&gt;.

O’Neill, Heather A. After Ellen. N.p.,2002. Web. 12 May 2013. <http://www.afterellen.com/people/2009/10/malinda-lo?page=1%2C0>.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 17,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Suggested Teaching Resources for Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice

By Maritza Arteaga, Wendy Hernandez, Brittany Markham, Krista Pohl, Iolani Sciacca, and Gabby Wilson

“A&C Black – Maurice.” A&C Black – Musicals. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.

For those readers who enjoyed the book so much that they wish they could sing and dance about it, this is surely the perfect resource.  If that sort of enthusiasm was not felt by other readers, this website is still a good one to look at for its creative power.  This website contains song lyrics for a play based on the novel.  The songs paint a different picture for the reader than the text did; this picture may be a little more vivid and a lot more fun for the creative mind.  For readers that really enjoyed the book, the exposure to these lyrics may spark an entirely new way to explore the novel and its characters using theatrical performances.

Breebaart, Leo, and Mike Kew. “The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents.” The Annotated Pratchett File V9.0 -. The L-Space Web, n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2013.

In The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, Terry Pratchett discreetly borrows, twists, and turns many other works of literature and incorporates them into his book.  Often Pratchett uses a play on words to create satirical references from other works of literature like Peter Rabbit’s contextual similarity with Mr. Bunsy has an Adventure, which Pratchett made up for the novel.  This short and simple website directs readers by page number to many of the references Pratchett makes to other texts within this novel.  Understanding the different references in the novel may be useful in helping reader’s better grasp the novels dry humor.

Donn. “The Middle Ages for Kids:  The Plague.”  Mr. Donn’s Social Studies Site. N.p., N.d.  Web.  26  Mar. 2013.

This page was created for young students; everything is written clear and is very easy to follow.  It covers history from the Middle Ages, particularly the Bubonic Plague.  As part of the history section, it covers how much things have changed from the 14th Century to the 20th Century.  At the bottom of that page, there are a variety of links that can be very helpful to both children and teachers.  The teachers’ section offers a number of lesson plans based on this topic.  There is also a map which shows how much the plague spread and where, a list of the symptoms of the plague, the story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin, which the novel closely reflects, and a short video depicting the life of a rat.

“Folktales.” World of Tales. N.p., 2008-2013. Web. 26 Mar. 2013.

It is quite possible that Terry Pratchett’s novel sounds familiar to some readers.  This is because Pratchett’s story was borrowed from a folktale.  This website contains a long list of folktales from around the world.  The website is organized fabulously and allows readers and researchers to search for folktales based on different areas of the world using a map.  This is an awesome way to incorporate geography into a literature lesson for teachers.  Readers and researchers can discover many of the well-known folktales, like Rapunzel, using this website and will surely come across the European folktale that Pratchett’s novel is based on, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.”

Hanson, Anne.  Rat Behavior and Biology.  29 Nov. 2012.  Web.  26  Mar. 2013.

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents revolves mainly around the rodents.  To better understand the life of a rodent, this webpage provides a large quantity of information regarding the biology of rats and typical rat behavior. One particularly helpful section is “The Rat’s Sensory World.”  This section reviews in detail what and how a rat sees, how they touch with their whiskers, how their nose works, how they hear, and how they taste their food.  Another section is “Rat Behavior,” covering topics such as aggression, rat play, and how rats choose the food they will eat.  This website also provides many fun and interesting resources, making it a great jumping off point.  These included things such as quizzes, where one must differentiate between rats and mice, and stories with rats as the main characters.

Pratchett, Terry. Terry Pratchett Booksn.p., n.d. Web.  26  Mar. 2013.

This is the official website for the author of The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, Terry Pratchett.  It has a biography of the author, information about his novels, videos, games, and other media.  There is a forum available for fans or anyone to comment about the novels, the author, and anything relating to Terry Pratchett.  Other interesting material that can be found on this website include appearances, interviews, events, and current news.  On the right side of the page there are sections to view recent Facebook and Twitter activity, making it easier to follow the author and keep up with any new material he may be working on.

Vrba, Christina S. “Classroom Animals and Pets- Mammals – Rats.” The Teacher’s Webshelf. N.p. July 2002. Web. 26 Mar. 2013

After reading a novel about talking rats, why not incorporate real rats into a classroom or at home?  This website can be used as a guide to do just that.  Pet rats are easily attainable and inexpensive for teachers or parents so they can be an ideal way of teaching children about animals.  The website explains how to introduce a rat into the classroom, what to feed the rat, and how to care for the rat.  After reading The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, students may really enjoy experiencing actual rats and teachers can use rats for a number of lesson plans that this website also conveniently outlines.

“Zoology with: The Rat King Phenomenon.”  The Valiens. n.p.,29  Nov. 2012.  Web.  26  Mar. 2013.

Maurice and the rodents encounter an evil rat, the Rat King.  This powerful rat has the ability to control the minds of other rats.  This webpage provides information about the real-world phenomenon this is based on, how it came into existence, and the superstitions related to rat kings.  It covers the origin of the name and legends about the rat king, one being the rat king is one animal with many bodies, rather than many bodies intertwined into one. It also provides a brief description of its history, including information about its earliest report. Furthermore, it mentions how it was viewed as a bad omen due to the fact that they carried diseases such as in the Bubonic Plague.  Lastly, it also includes images of some rat kings with evidence that the rats indeed lived for a period of time with their tails intertwined.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in The Amazing Maurice

 

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Suggested Teaching Resources for Stefan Bachmann’s The Peculiar

Teaching Resources for The Peculiar

By Fionna Kuhn

Barrow, Mandy. “Project Britain: The Victorians.”  Woodlands Junior School, 26 Feb. 2011. Web. 1 May 2013.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Project Britain: The Victorians” is an educational website managed by Mandy Barrow for the Woodland’s Junior School in Kent that encompasses a number of areas regarding the Victorian era. The website is easy to navigate for children and information is broken up into question and answers. Sections included on the website are factories, daily life, the Industrial Revolution, technology, and pollution, all of which are mentioned in The Peculiar. This website gives students vital knowledge about the time period and lifestyle that The Peculiar draws inspiration from. In the novel, there is constant mention of the horrid air quality and diseases that are widespread. Students can learn that these issues derive from historical truth.

Exploring Diversity – Children’s And Young Adult Books with Interracial Themes.” Cynthia L. Smith. n.p, 2012. Web. 1 May 2013.

Author Cynthia Leitich Smith’s website is dedicated not only to her own literary work but other noteworthy children and young adult books. In this section of her website, she focuses on the topic of multiracial families and children. Smith makes a point of mentioning that multiracial children may identify with one group or identify with numerous groups. This section not only discusses this topic but also provides lists of picture books, novels and nonfiction that contain multiracial characters. In The Peculiar, one of the main characters is half human and half fairy. Because of this, he and others like him suffer from racism and are disjointed from both of their heritages.

Bragg, Melvin. In Our Time: Culture: Faeries.” In Our Time. BBC. 11 May 2006. iTunes Podcast.

In Our Time is a long running BBC radio program hosted by Melvyn Braggs. The program focuses on the history of an idea or topic by inviting a few scholars to have a conversation about it. In this particular episode, the focus is on the origins and mythology of fairies between different cultures. Juliette Wood (Secretary of Folklore Society), Diane Purkiss (Keble College, Oxford) and Nicola Bown (Birkbeck, University of London) clarify topics including changelings, representation of fairies throughout history and how society’s view of fairies have changed over time. One main focus in the program is defining what kind of entity fairies are. They conclude that fairies are neither gods nor humans but something supernatural. This program can give readers of The Peculiar insight on Bachmann’s choice to represent fairies the way he does in his novel and not the typical representation they have in modern culture.

Hussey, Marissa. Stefan Bachmann. HarperCollins/Greenwillow, n.d. Web. 1 May 2013.

Stefan Bachmann’s website is well rounded in terms of content. It gives insight to his book, The Peculiar, and contains a brief biography about himself. The most interesting section of the website is located in the Extras section.  It contains a composition by Bachmann and a downloadable discussion guide that was created specifically to be incorporated into the class curriculum. Also in this section is a faery encyclopedia that is very handy while reading the book since it provides clear descriptions of what the magical beings in the novel look like. Lastly is the Blog section of the site which is a link to Bachmann’s personal blog where he posts updates about his work and personal life.

Miller, Cynthia, and A. Bowdoin Van Riper. “Blending Genres, Bending Time: Steampunk on the Western Frontier.” Journal of Popular Film & Television, 39.2 (2011): 84-92.

In Miller and Van Riper’s journal article, they explore the Steampunk sub-genre in depth by using various films throughout history as examples. The following quotation used in the article best defines Steampunk: “A growing awareness of technology’s dual nature—both wonder and terror, blessing and curse—also created ‘steampunk,’ a sub-genre of science fiction depicting the intrusion of the fantastic into a nineteenth-century setting.” By examining numerous films, Miller and Van Riper find several themes that occur in the story-lines such as “Man vs Technology” and people who try to retain traditional life vs the people who embrace technology. This article is relevant to The Peculiar, which also belongs the steampunk sub-genre, as many of these themes are present in the novel. The world in The Peculiar shows a constant conflict between those who want to preserve magic and those who embrace technology.

NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program. Office of Letters and Light, 2012. Web. 1 May 2013.

National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), in which people all around the world participate in writing a 50,000 word novel in the month of November, offers a program designed for youth between K-12. In the educators section are lesson plans for different grade levels, tips on how students can get their work published and an educator community for teachers to interact with each other across the globe. This program is a great opportunity for students in terms of improving their writing skills and creativity. Stefan Bachmann started writing The Peculiar when he was sixteen years old but was writing much earlier than that. The Young Writers Program can help students realize that it’s never too soon to write a story.

The Peculiar Website. HarperCollins Publishers, n.d. Web. 1 May 2013.

This site gives a brief look into the novel, the author and fun extras such as music and readings that could be used in the classroom in conjunction of teaching the novel. The extras page lists music that the author himself composed to go along with dark and dramatic scenes from the novel. There is also an author tracker that teachers or students could sign up for in order to receive emails and news about the upcoming novels and music from the author.

Steampunk.com. n.p, 2010. Web. 1 May 2013.

This is a blog-style news site that discusses all things related to the Steampunk genre. On the “What is Steampunk?” page is a small essay attempting to describe the components that define the Steampunk genre and how varied it is. It opens saying that Steampunk has always been primarily a literary genre but also makes the argument that it is not only a design aesthetic but also a type of philosophy. The website has a wide variety of posts ranging from interviews, new book releases, interviews, fashion and so forth all related to Steampunk. This website is beneficial for readers of The Peculiar who are curious about the genre and want to learn about more media that falls under it.

 
 

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A Review of Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice

By Maritza Arteaga, Wendy Hernandez, Brittany Markham, Krista Pohl, Iolani Sciacca, and Gabby Wilson

goodreads.com

goodreads.com

What would happen if animals suddenly developed the ability to think? In Terry Pratchett’s novel, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, a group of rats and one sly cat consume some strange, magical garbage and experience “the change.” Suddenly, the animals have the ability to think and plan, and they develop consciences and comprehend that they are independent beings.

Maurice, a self-centered street cat, realizes that this newly founded ability could lead to wealth and prosperity. He recruits the group of intelligent rats and a lonely orphan boy, and together they create a get rich quick scheme. Maurice and his educated rodents, along with the young boy, travel from town to town tricking the villagers by invading houses so that the townspeople think that they have a rat plague. The townspeople then hire a magical pied piper, who is in fact the young boy in Maurice’s gang, and the piper “leads” the rats out-of-town. The gang has a pretty good gig going, until they reach the town of Bad Blintz. Bad Blintz is different. Bad Blintz is scary. This town holds something sinister, and for once, the rats aren’t able to run their scam. Bad Blintz has something evil underneath their city streets, and even the ever-tough Maurice and the intelligent rats are afraid. The eccentric group of animals must work together to overcome a pair of troublesome rat catchers, an intimidating force of evil, and a fear of rats that has been building for centuries. In order to defeat this force, the gang must be brave and work together using their new-found intelligence, and Maurice must decide whether to help his rat friends or flee and save himself.

Maurice, the main character, begins the story as an egotistical, selfish street cat who only worries about himself. His second plan, unknown to his cohorts, is to scam the rats out of the gold they collect from the rat plague scheme by telling them that the silver coins are worth the most. Maurice has retirement plans, and they don’t involve any of his rat friends. Maurice thinks very little of the thoughts or feelings of others. Throughout the novel Maurice begins to hear a voice in his head while he is facing dilemmas. He soon discovers that his conscience is emerging, and it is developing quickly. Maurice’s conscience eventually guilts him into examining his way of life. While he continues the scheming, Maurice has a new-found respect for the rats. He constantly reminds the rodents that he is good due to the fact that he will never eat anything that talks. Creatures that talk are intelligent beings, and Maurice considers this murder, a sin that even he would not commit. Self-awareness allows Maurice to think about the meaning of existence, and what should be done with the time he has been given. The development of self-awareness, brought on by “the change,” affects Maurice and molds him into a thoughtful character who is willing to die for what is right in order to protect people from wrong.

The Grim Squeaker by Oni Yon haniemohd.deviantart.com

The Grim Squeaker by Oni Yon
haniemohd.deviantart.com

Terry Pratchett uses allusions, religious references, and characterization to teach the reader about the possibility of the afterlife. The rats believe in the Grim Squeaker, an animal version of the infamous life taker, the Grim Reaper. Two of the rats constantly question their new-found ability to think and develop a curiosity about what happens to them in their dream-like states. The rats also question the existence of life after death, and discuss the bright light that they believe they will see during death, and the rat god that will take them on. There are many references to God throughout the book, but Pratchett portrays the elements of an afterlife in a rat-like way. During a near death experience, the rat leader, Darktan, thinks, “it is just like a dream, after all. Nothing to worry about. Quite nice, really. Perhaps there really is a Big Rat Deep Under the Ground. That’d be nice” (208). One rat questions, what happens “to the bit inside you that’s you? Where does that go?” (102). The rats believe that they have souls, even though they do not have a proper name for them. Pratchett uses these thoughts to suggest that death is peaceful and simple, and it is not scary and dark like so many believe. The rats like to think that death is similar to falling asleep after a hard day’s work.

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is a fantasy novel. It involves magic, other worlds, and talking animals. As the scenes are a bit dark and a tad gruesome at times, we think it is geared towards children ages twelve and up. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is aimed at young adults, but even older readers will appreciate the struggle for courage and the battle for acceptance that the animals must face in order to find their niche.

Works Cited

Pratchett, Sir Terry.  The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents.  New York:  Harper Collins Children’s Books, 2008.

 
 

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A Biography of Sir Terry Pratchett

By Maritza Arteaga, Wendy Hernandez, Brittany Markham, Krista Pohl, Iolani Sciacca, and Gabby Wilson

Sir Terry Pratchett was born on April 28th, 1948 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire (FamousAuthors). He is a well-known British author most famous for his work of fantasy and science fiction, particularly for his Discworld series, which consists of a series of books about a “disc-shaped world carried by elephants, on top of a sea turtle’s back, all the while swimming through space.”  He has sold 40 million copies of his Discworld series worldwide, not including the enormous success his other books have received (FamousAuthors).

Terry Pratchett published his first story, “The Hades Business,” at age thirteen. Pratchett continued to embark on his writing journey with Bucks Free Press and in 1971 he published his first book The Carpet People (FamousAuthors). Some of the writers that have influenced his work are Kenneth Grahame, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Mark Twain. Pratchett is also influenced by ancient, classic, and modern literature. Pratchett draws inspiration from his childhood as well. For instance, he was born without siblings, so many of his characters are portrayed as adventurous only children. His beliefs also influence his work, as his characters often question the existence of God. Such philosophical questions are subtle within The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, as its intended audience can be quite young.

When asked in an interview how he began to write The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, Terry Pratchett states that the idea to rewrite the Pied Piper story began as a “one-line gag” for one of his Discworld books (Froehlich). One line then turned into extensive research on all the stories of rats he could find (Froehlich). Pratchett continues to comment that his purpose for writing the story was to comment on the genre of fantasy and to reach to young and adult readers alike. He says that he wants his story to make readers have “the ability to envisage this world in many different ways” (Froehlich).  Pratchett continues to captivate his audience with books that are far from conventional and remains the Picasso of children’s literature.

Currently Terry Pratchett has completed fifty bestselling books, many of which have decorated him with many prestigious awards. Among the awards he has won are the British Science Fiction Award, a Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, the Prometheus Award, and the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book. For The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, Pratchett received the Carnegie Medal in Literature in 2001 for the best children’s novel.

Works Cited

Froehlich, Sara. “Interview with Terry Pratchett.” Hickory Tech. Northlite Designs, 2003. Web. 24 March 2013.

“Terry Pratchett.” Famous Authors. Famous Authors, 2012. Web. 24 March 2013.

 

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A Biography of Stefen Bachmann

By Andrea Huaman and Allison Stewart

Stefan Bachmann is a 19-year-old writer and musician. He was born in Colorado and currently lives in Zurich, Switzerland (Bachmann). He was homeschooled by his mother who encouraged him to read a variety of books. Bachmann has four siblings and plays five instruments. Outside of writing and music, he enjoys movies, books, traveling, and chocolate. His favorite books are Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia (Novels on the Run).

Bachmann started playing music when he was 5-years-old, and plays the piano, organ, violin, harmonica, and recorder (HarperKids). He now attends the Zurich Music Conservatory (Novels on the Run) and he hopes to someday be a film composer and write “wildly exciting music.” However, he is not sure if he will have the same luck twice with music, as he has already succeeded as an author (HarperKids).

Bachmann started writing books at the age of 6. He says that book was “really horrible,” and was so crushed about it that he stopped writing for five years. He wrote another book when he was 11-years-old and says that one was a little bit better, and he did not stop writing after that. He wrote three books before The Peculiar and says those three books were “lame.” (Novels on the Run).

He began writing The Peculiar in 2010, when he was 16-years-old. It took him six months to write the book and two years before it was released on September 18, 2012. It took a while to publish because he sent it to one agent at a time. After each rejection, he would “polish” his book more. Bachmann says that getting rejections was good because it made him work harder. After about a year of trying to find an agent, he got one and everything was speedy after that. In an auction a week later, it was sold to the publishing company of Greenwillow/HarperCollins (Novels on the Run). His book was a #1 best-seller in Switzerland and has been sold in seven languages (Levy).

The inspiration for The Peculiar came from his love of steampunk, folklore, and horror. Bachmann could have made up an imaginary place as a setting, but wanted his book to be set during his favorite time period, Victorian England. Most of the book takes place in Bath and London (HarperKids). His reasoning for choosing this setting was “because it sounds a bit strange and fairy tale-ish” (Larson). He states that he likes when an author can make him feel like he is in a whole different world, which is what he did in his book by taking Bath and London and changing all of the things that were going on during that time period (Von). He also decided that his book would be in the steampunk sub-genre of science fiction. The steampunk sub-genre features steam-powered machinery, which is inspired by industrialized Western Civilization (Larson).

Bachmann is releasing his sequel to The Peculiar in September 2013, titled The Whatnot. This book will be different from The Peculiar because it is less of a fairy-tale and more of a big adventure. He has also confirmed another novel, Dead Man’s Palace, to be released in 2015 (Larson).

Works Cited

Novels on the Run. “Stefan Bachmann – Novels on the Run.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 31 Jan 2013. Web. 9 Apr 2013.

HarperKids. “Meet Stefan Bachmann.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 01 May 2012. Web. 9 Apr 2013.

“The Official Biography of Stefan Bachmann and the Less Official Bio.” Stefan Bachmann.  Harper Collins/Greenwillow. May 2013. Web. 9 Apr 2013.

Larson, Nina. “Teen author Stefan Bachmann reaps full-grown success.” Lifestyle Inquirer. 22 Jan 2013. Web. 9 Apr 2013.

Levy, Michael. “Fall 2012 Flying Starts: Stefan Bachmann.” Publishers Weekly. 24 Dec 2012. Web. 3 Apr 2013.

Von, D. “Blog Tour – Author Interview and Giveaway: The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann.” Mr. Book Wonder. N.p., 24 Jan 2013. Web. 9 Apr. 2013. 

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2013 in The Peculiars

 

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A Review of Stefan Bachmann’s The Peculiar

By Melissa Hankins, Andrea Huaman, Fionna Kuhn, Holly Martini, Vanessa Santos, and Allison Stewart

goodreads.com

goodreads.com

At the age of sixteen, instead of focusing on his driver’s license or contemplating who he wanted to take to prom, author Stefan Bachmann finished writing and published The Peculiar. This high fantasy novel, which is the first in a projected series of many, gives an in-depth look into two worlds colliding and leaving victims in their wake. This book has already hit the children’s fantasy world by storm and is leaving readers wanting more.

“Don’t get yourself noticed and you won’t get yourself hanged” is a memorable line from this dark novel (12). This eerie mantra allows the readers to understand the mentality that Bartholomew Kettle, his sister Hettie, and many other changelings have to live by. This line is repeated several times throughout the novel, allowing it to always loom through the characters’ and readers’ minds.  Bartholomew and Hettie are doomed from page one for the mere fact that they are “changelings.” Changelings are children born to a human and a faery; they are this world’s “mixed race” children.  Changelings are also known as peculiars, and they are viewed as disgusting “Little Beasts” (38).  Those with strong faery-human blood grow branches for hair, as is the case with Hettie. The novel’s cautious and overly violent picture of childhood gives the reader a glimpse into life for children considered “different.”  Bachmann creates heroes within these children that rise against social prejudice and violence.

This enchanted story begins with the appearance of a luxurious woman wearing purple (known as the lady in plum in the book) searching Bartholomew and Hettie’s street. Only visible by their sets of eyes and Hettie’s head of sprouting small branches, the pair watches from their worm-eaten windowsill, trying to remain hidden while satisfying their curiosity.

Bartholomew, and the readers, learn that the Lady in Plum is up to no good when her possessed double face throws back its hair and targets the peeping Bartholomew from his window sill. Stricken with fear, Bartholomew rips himself from the windowsill, but not before seeing the Lady in Plum disappear into a dark whirlwind, taking a small changeling along with her.  Because of Bartholomew’s rumbustious and adventurous personality, he forgets the most vital rule and gets himself noticed. This opens him to a world of nightmares that he never imagined existed.

The reader is then taken deep into the world of Parliament from the perspective of Mr. Jelliby.  There, the dark topic of changeling murders is being discussed. Changelings are usually a topic of disgust among high councils such as these, but because only the remaining sacks of skin left behind with no bones or organs to identify the victims, the council is forced into the investigation.  The heinous nature of these crimes seems to connect all the victims to one murderer, but the question remains who and why?

New York Times author Susan Carpenter, wrote in her article “Not Just For Kids” that “No one in the book is more lovably idiotic than Arthur Jelliby, an unambitious, conflict-avoidant politician who’d rather buy chocolates for his wife than do any real service to the people of London. But when he inadvertently discovers the identity of the kid-snatcher, he is motivated to take action and save the changeling children.”   This aligns Bartholomew and Mr. Jelliby’s destinies even if they don’t realize it yet.  Many readers, including myself, agree with Carpenter that Jelliby’s character aids Bartholomew in challenges he could have never accomplished on his own.

The chapters switch off between the perspectives of Bartholomew and the Lord Chancellor, Mr. Jelliby. The contrasting perspectives give the reader not only a difference of geography between London and Bath, but also the difference of perspectives between a man who is supposedly normal and a young child who is perceived as different and undesireable.  By bringing them together, Bachmann creates a parallel between their two lives and makes it known that the “peculiar” isn’t so different, after all.

The isolation felt by the changelings in the novel resembles that of minorities throughout history, as the murders resemble hate crimes. Bachmann parallels the world of discrimination we live in with a fantasy world where a child must fear for his or her life because he or she is different. By taking us into his characters’ lives and giving us the opportunity to see life from their perspectives, Bachmann shows the reader that everyone is slightly “peculiar” and that discrimination against those that are different could turn against anyone.

 Work Cited

Bachmann, Stefan.  The Peculiar. New York:  Greenwillow Books, 2012.

Carpenter, Susan. “Not Just For Kids: The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann is a fantastical tale.”  New York Times. September 23 2012.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2013 in The Peculiar

 

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