Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson - Book Review

Is Chains a story of the American Revolution, a story of slavery's injustice, or a story of a young girl’s struggle to keep the remaining trace of her family together as she lingers at adulthood’s door?

As America seeks autonomy from monarchy’s rule, an orphaned slave girl, Isabel, is promised freedom upon her mistress’ death. But after the death, Isabel, and her younger sister are sold into a vile and conflicting situation. Who does she trust? Who will help her find the lawyer that can substantiate her claim? Isabel has no allegiance to either the British or the Revolutionaries and consorting with either poses dangerous consequences. She seeks only what all men seek: freedom.

With Chains, author-extraordinaire Anderson gives us full and diverse characters. Though some are mean, or even evil, she manages to introduce counter-characters to demonstrate the complete picture of human emotions. It is easy to fall in love with Isabel and by the story’s end, we are clamoring for more of her authentically proud and strong voice. The plot moves at a good pace for both holding student interest as well as allowing enough detail for cultural/historical investigation. My only worry is the depth of the political conflict’s motivations are glossed over (and I understand why this is necessary in a novel), so educators might want to provide historical background knowledge to support the story before, during and after each section (which is always a sound educational practice anyway). The historical references are amazingly abundant and perfectly researched, and Anderson includes a fantastic appendix, easing the quest for supplemental materials.

In the end, what Chains does best is juxtapose the irony of a nation struggling for freedom with that of one young lady waging her personal war for those same rights. So to answer my leading question: Chains is a novel about the American Revolution, it’s a story about slavery’s injustice and a story of one girl’s march into adulthood; but Chains is really the story of Everyman’s rise from tyranny.

Recommended in history classrooms as well as literature classrooms in grades 6-10. Would suit both units on slavery, the American Revolution as well as literature discussions on personal freedoms and inalienable rights.

Gettysburg, The Graphic Novel by C.M. Butzer - Book Review & Teaching Support

They used to be called Comics, geeky connotation firmly attached, but now, Graphic Novels are the big deal. Yes, the comics name has been reinvented to a less geeky, more in the know, form. And sure, graphic novels might hold more storyline than a comic, but lets face it: Someone finally got smart and realized that all those years of hot comic sales should be repackaged for a new generation.

Smart, well, drawn and sweeping in its subject, Gettysburg, The Graphic Novel is exactly the right thing for today’s young reader. Wrapped in well-drawn, subtle, black & white rendering is the dark tale of the Battle of Gettysburg. The author does an excellent job keeping to the facts and adding just enough drama. The novel ends with Lincoln’s most perfect of speeches and drawings that evoke the sweep of the tragedy.

Parents with a desire to see their child engaged in history might want to look for this title when it is released in December. Teachers would also do well to put away those textbooks and add graphic novels like Gettysburg, The Graphic Novel to their collections. Struggling readers are especially well-served with the graphic novel format of short text bursts and pictures for added support.

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Genre: Historical Nonfiction. Age: 9-12. Pages: 80.

Publisher: Harper Collins. Date: December 2008.
ISBN-10: 0061561754 / ISBN-13: 978-0061561757

Buy Gettysburg, The Graphic Novel Here

Activity ideas?

• The novel begins with a cast of characters page. Assign reports on each person.
• Have students write imagined conversations between characters.
• Have students conduct a mock interview with one of the cast of characters.
• Research Gettysburg, Pennsylvania then & now. How has it changed? What memorial stands on the site? Why is it important to remember battles like Gettysburg?
• Have students draw their own graphic novel (much shorter, of course) for another battle in the Civil War.
• Have students use the extensive notes & bibliography for research into additional aspects of the battle as well as the war.

I thought these up in five minutes. There are enumerable ideas that would easily flow from this book. I hope graphic novels continue to be a trend in nonfiction books and educational supplementals. With modern inundation of information, students need engaging forms to motivate their attention.

C.M Butzer is editor-in-chief of Rabid Rabbit, a magazine of comic artists. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. You can see more of his work on his website. Gettysburg, The Graphic Novel is his first children's book, but I'll be looking for more.
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for

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Nation by Terry Pratchett - Book Review

I’ve read a quite a few Terry Pratchett novels and Good Omens, co-written with Neil Gaiman, is a personal favorite so I was excited to read Pratchett’s new novel, Nation. The story is standard Pratchett fare with humor and lofty ideals as common cohorts; yet, this one seems a bit heavier handed and I couldn’t help thinking Pratchett’s recent Alzheimer’s diagnosis was guiding his hand.

Nation is an alternate universe story of Mau, a young man on the cusp of manhood, and Daphne, a young girl stranded on Mau’s island. They meet after a giant tidal wave kills the members of shipwrecked Daphne’s English vessel and Mau’s island tribal-like nation. As a side note, the world is in a state of upheaval with many having succumbed to a plague. Gradually Daphne and Mau march toward maturity and form a new nation, but not without having first grappled with themes of religion, faith, cultural identity, prejudice and most core belief systems. The story itself is told in standard adventure style, but it hides a much deeper lining.

Nation is a valuable addition to the dystopia/utopia & alternate universe genres. The story of rebuilding a nation after devastating loss is easily comparable to current world events. This will prove valuable for educators who wish to use Nation as a jumping off point for current history, cultural or political discussions. And though Nation has been categorized young adult, I suspect many adults will take pleasure in it also.

I found Pratchett’s resistance to steer the romantic nuances in a different direction especially refreshing, leaving the idea that men and woman can form true friendships and lasting bonds without all the lovey-dovey folly associated with many young adult novels. I continually pictured Pratchett imagining a tsunami or plague overtaking the Western World and wiping out all the bad. If the ending chapter were to stand alone as a thesis on the soul of mankind, it’d form a very good nation, indeed.

Sea Queens by Jane Yolen - Book Review

Sea Queens tells the stories of thirteen infamous female pirates in an enlightening manner with sidebar clarifications and added tidbits that are perfect for pirate collections, something the kids are clamoring for since pirates went Disney.

Jane Yolen gives us girl villains and treachery that can easily stand up to their male counterparts. She does a good job separating what we know and what must be left to speculation with regard to the sketchy details of pirating. The sidebar additions of geography, history, facts and rumor add depth and spark further interest. Illustrator Christine Joy Pratt’s woodcut-styled illustrations add much delight.

It’s especially helpful that the pirates are depicted in chronological order lending reference to the historical context of piracy. The end features a bibliography, as well as websites for further research. The large text is fairly simple and, though I’ve not completed a readability count, I suspect it would work well with the early independent reader while meeting the interest level for an older student with a curiosity about pirate lore.

Jane Yolan has written two additional pirate themed books which might work well in a compare and contrast context: The Ballad of the Pirate Queens & Pirates In Petticoats.

A stunning addition to Yolen’s fantastic body of work and a must for pirate book collector’s Sea Queens is a book you’ll want to check out.

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Genre: Historical Nonfiction. Age: Pages: 9-12. 112.

Themes:Piracy, History, Daring
Thank You to The Picnic Basket.
Publisher: Charlesbridge. Date: June 2008.
ISBN-10: 1580891314 / ISBN-13: 978-1580891318

Buy Sea Queens HERE

Fuse #8 School Library Journal review

More on the publisher, Charlesbridge, site.

Jane Yolen thinks she has written more than 280 books. She has been awarded many honors. She seems to have acquired the storytelling gene as she has been called both "America's Hans Christian Andersen" and "a modern equivalent of Aesop." You can read more about her on Penguin Publishing's website or on her own.

© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for:

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We Have A Winner!

Using, I have found the winner for my Farworld: Water Keep Giveaway!
Book Zombie (aka: Joanne) is the winner :-)
I've sent Book Zombie an email.
Thanks to everyone who entered.
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for

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