Saturday, January 26, 2013

Guns in Middle Grade Novels

In my last two blogs, guns were agents of survival. In many homes, especially in the American rural south, guns are enmeshed in tradition and culture.

GONE FROM THESE WOODS by Donny Bailey Seagraves. Delacorte Press, 2009
Daniel Sartain isn’t expecting his life to change. At least, not much. Daniel is 11. It’s 1992, a crisp November day in North Georgia in the Sartain Woods, owned by Daniel’s family for generations. His Uncle Clay is going to teach him to hunt.

Daniel doesn’t really want to shoot rabbits, or anything else for that matter, but he doesn’t want to let his uncle down. How could he?  Clay had presented Daniel his father’s gun—Daniel’s grandfather’s gun--for his 11th birthday.  This hunting trip would be a rite of passage.

So be it. In spite of his reluctance to shoot anything that lives, Daniel decides that if Clay thinks he should learn to hunt, then hunting is what he will do.

Daniel depends upon Clay as a friend and mentor. Add father figure. Clay’s older brother, Daniel’s father, has demons which no amount of alcohol will drown. Daniel’s feelings for Clay border on hero worship.

Clay’s special name for Daniel is D-Man, a super hero identity which swells Daniel’s chest and builds the confidence his father's words and actions erode on a daily basis. It’s easy to imagine D-Man and Clay growing old as hunting buddies, spinning tales by a fire built in the woods, listening to the sounds of the night.
And then…an accident. Daniel shoots Clay with Granddaddy’s gun. Nothing will ever be the same again.

How will Daniel cope? Overcome guilt? Survive the grief? How can he find meaning in his life after taking the life that meant the most to him?
This debut novel by a seasoned writer and veteran newspaper columnist covers lots of tough issues: gun safety, fault finding, living with alcoholism, depression, suicide, getting into therapy, counseling in school.

The author lists web sites and hot lines for people under stress.  It’s unfortunate that the counselor crafted by author Seagraves for this novel isn’t available to every young person suffering from an emotional trauma. Mrs. Hardy offers Daniel the right amount of comfort and understanding to help him reach out for healing.
To read an excerpt of this thought provoking book, see the author’s web page.
Read the entire book and be ready for questions from your tween or teen. Good stuff here.

Let the discussion begin.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Guns in Young Adult Novels

Alone with a corpse in an isolated cabin in an Artic wilderness. The corpse is your father. You are 14.
REVOLVER by Marcus Sedgwick, Roaring Brook Press, 2009
Starting on the first page, this Young Adult novel chills the bones. A sinister character arrives and the situation worsens. He wants his share of stolen gold that dates back ten years to the Alaskan Gold Rush in 1898. He has no patience and he threatens violence. Sig, the son of the dead man, knows nothing about the gold. He does know a loaded Colt revolver is hidden in the cabin storeroom.

The author of numerous acclaimed novels, Marcus Sedgwick lives in Sussex, England. A Horn Book review suggests that fans of Gary Paulsen and Jack London will be drawn to this high anxiety tale. 
Sedgwick paints with bold brush strokes on a wide outdoor canvas but creates a landscape of human emotions. The characters of Sig and his father are fleshed out with the details of a painter given to tiny, layered strokes. Those who analyze such things say that English writers tend to inflict more emotional pain and physical suffering on their characters than American authors do. It seems true here.

A Horn Book reviewer pointed to a “wealth of moral concerns--good versus evil: faith, love, and hope; the presence of God: survival in a bleak landscape; and trusting the lessons parents teach…”. I liked all the contrasts because they provide endless grounds for discussion.
This is definitely a YA for the reader able to handle mature concepts, however. There is murder, rape, death, greed, threats, bullying, and intense fear on all counts. As the plot evolved I felt as if I were watching a snake think. Is that beady-eyed slithery reptile more afraid of me than I am of it? Sig’s courage develops as he assesses the stranger. Is the snake (bad guy) poisonous or not?

Meanwhile, the Colt revolver awaits, loaded and ready. Sig’s father said it would protect him.  His feeling of security grows. Or is it false security?
The author shares an anonymous but telling quote from a newspaper of the early 1900’s: “It wasn’t God or the Declaration of Independence that made all men equal. It was Samuel Colt.”

Does Sig use the Colt to save his family, even a score, intimidate, or kill? What would the reader do?
I repeat: the themes in Revolver offer endless grounds for discussion.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Guns in Children’s Books

To have a gun in the house–or not. For parents who would like a path into a family discussion about the role and responsibility of guns, children’s books can help.

SWIFT by Robert J. Blake, Philomel Books, 2007.
Swift is a hero dog. He’s also the main character in this adventure that grew carefully and thoughtfully, emerging from the notes and sketches of an author/illustrator who has spent many hours outdoors.

Lucky us! We stay warm and safe in our favorite reading places while Swift and his creator lead our imaginations on a wild and dangerous chase. You might want to have a sweater handy.
Readers will relate to Johnnie who has yearned since his earliest days on this earth to go hunting with his dad and their dog Swift. “This year I passed the gun course,” an excited Johnnie tells us. This is only the second sentence in what will become a survival story. Parents will hear the message: training first. 

Gorgeous Alaskan scenery beckons. Swift looks out at the mountains, at attention, as though danger is on the other side of the page turn.  Braving danger is a necessity. Johnnie’s homesteading family depends upon a successful bear hunt to feed them all winter.
Turn the page and the bear appears. We're off and running. Readers forget to breathe. The story barely stops to take a breath. Text and art work together in frantic syncopation.

Pa is hurt and must be left behind with only his gun for protection. Johnnie and Swift take off to find help. Johnnie carries his own gun (which he has been carefully trained to use, remember?)
Do they make it? Far be it from me to spoil the ending. I’m still shaking from the first sighting of that bear.

The author’s web page chronicles the development of Swift from first idea to final version. Anyone interested in the process of bringing a story to life on the page will be fascinated. Other writers and illustrators will appreciate Blake's candid remarks.
Parents and young readers—ten year old boys would be a great audience--will be glad this book exists.

Who knew reading could be this exciting?

Who knew the topic of gun safety could be introduced so smoothly?  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Poetry in Unexpected Places

Tons of fun packed into one little book?
How can that be?
You’ll see.

THE ARROW FINDS ITS MARK: A Book of Found Poems, edited by Georgia Heard, illustrated by Antoine Guillope, Roaring Brook Press, 2012.

 A number of highly regarded poets were challenged to take text from a form other than poetry and turn it into a poem. Editor Heard gathered their creations into forty pages that will delight any age reader or maybe turn any reader into a poet or maybe turn everyone into a reader. Well, let’s just say this small volume could be transformative.

Janet Wong  found her contribution on a box of OxyClean. Lee Bennett Hopkins  developed his poem from selected words in a SPRINT newspaper ad. Robin Hood Black was in that wonderfully inspirational place many writers know well, her laundry room, when she found her poetic lines folded up in a LASERTAG results report. 

At some point in her household adventures, Robyn found time to interview Joyce Sidman who also participated in this challenge. Joyce found her poem in the 2010 Greenpeace calendar.
You’ll recognize the names of poets Jane Yolen, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, and David L. HarrisonOthers may become your first writerly discovery of the new year.
Georgia Heard, who edited The Arrow Finds its Mark, is a writer and educational consultant.  She’s also a crusader, taking her message about writing  and using poetry with children around the world.

Sylvia Vardell is surely a sister crusader. Her blog, Poetry for Childrenis a poetry resource that keeps on giving.   

Now, where have you spotted a poem in hiding?  Cereal boxes on the breakfast table?  Vanity license plates in a traffic jam?

Possibilities are endless!

Hillview School Library