The Children's Room Blog

Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

I love The Hunger Games.

I do!  These books are as wonderful to me as a giant cupcake full of dancing ponies and lattes and Saturday mornings.  I don’t care how many times I have read these three books (plenty), I will always sit down and re-read and re-imagine and re-fall in wonder with Katniss and Peeta and Finnick and, of course, the Arena itself.

Also, this was my Halloween costume:

Yes, that is me, dressed as Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen, complete with a handmade bow fashioned from a basket handle and twine, arrows made with multi-colored feathers, a squirrel puppet in my belt, head wound, and Mockingjay pin.  The only un-Katniss thing about me is my overjoyed expression, because, well, Katniss is not a very happy young lady.

So you can imagine that I am beyond excited about the Hunger Games movie that’s coming out in ONE MONTH AND ONE DAY.  (I am planning to re-wear my Halloween costume to the premiere, naturally.)  You may know some people– maybe your own children– who are excited about this movie, too.  And you may be looking for someone to let you in on what on earth these stories are about.  Look no further!  I am here to guide you in your learning.

So without further random exposition, here is a concise summary of everything you need to know about the Hunger Games, but were afraid to ask.  Please note that I have done my best NOT to include huge plot spoilers.

Question One: I know that The Hunger Games is a children’s book, but a lot of adults are talking about it, too.  Who is this book for, anyways?

Well, dear readers, let me first quickly clear up some confusion.  The Hunger Games is actually a trilogy of books written by Suzanne Collins, the first of which is also named The Hunger Games.  The second book is entitled Catching Fire, and the third is Mockingjay.  The first book was published in 2008, and the second and third books were released in 2009 and 2010. There will be no further books added to this series.

Collins wrote these books for a young adult audience.  Most of the book’s main characters are between the ages of 12-18, the same age as her intended readership.  However, this doesn’t mean that adults can’t read and thoroughly enjoy the books!  In fact, I URGE adults to read these books.  Like many children’s and young adult books, they are as complex, thought-provoking, and exciting as many highly-regarded adult books.

Some children younger than 12 have also read and enjoyed The Hunger Games.  If you do have a young child who is interested in reading these, I recommend that you read the books first, because they (as you’ll see in my quick plot summary) contain a lot of violence.  Even if you decide that your child can handle these books, you may also want to consider reading them aloud together or listening to the FANTASTIC audiobook version, in case they have questions or want to discuss concerns they have about the plot.

Question Two: So… are these books about really hungry people?  

Actually, no.  Well, kind of… but that’s not really the main focus.  However, waaaaaay back in 2008 when my amazing publishing pal recommended that I give the first book a try, that is exactly what I thought.  However, these books actually tell the story of sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a country called Panem, which is located in the former United States.  Panem is a totalitarian society made up of 12 districts and governed by the Capitol.  Each year, in an effort to exercise their power over the districts, the Capitol holds an event called The Hunger Games.  Each district must send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in these games, which are a televised battle in which all participants fight to the death until one survivor remains.

Yikes.  The plot always sounds so heavy when I describe it.

Anyhow, the story follows Katniss, a destitute member of District 12, who ends up (I won’t tell you how, in an attempt not to spoil too much) participating in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.  Her male District 12 counterpart is a young man named Peeta Mellark, whom she has vaguely known since childhood.

Okay, I’ll stop here– I think this sets the scene adequately.

Question Three: I haven’t heard this much buzz over books since Twilight came out.  Be honest– are these books like Twilight?

Lots of folks are asking this question.  Although (like Twilight) two boys compete for Katniss’ affections, this (unlike Twilight) is not the main focus of the plot.  Unlike Twilight’s Bella, Katniss does not seek to define herself through her relationships with either of the boys.  Instead, she is fiercely independent– independent to a fault, in many cases.  She is too focused on the survival of her family to spend much time thinking about love (and crushes), which she deems as trivial.  For those of you concerned about younger readers, the romance in these books is only hinted at, never overtly stated.

Question Four: How on earth did Suzanne Collins get the idea to write books like these?

Collins says that reality programming served as one of the main inspirations for The Hunger Games.  Although some people have claimed that the warlike brutality and repression that she describes serve as allegories for the adolescent experience, Collins claims that this was not her intention.  In a New York Times article* published in 2011, Collins claims, “I don’t write about adolescence.  I write about war. For adolescents.”

Question Five: Laura, why do you (and everyone else) like these books SO MUCH?  What’s all the fuss about?

The Hunger Games are the most popular example of a current trend in young adult and middle grade literature: dystopian fiction.  Basically, these kinds of books profile an anti-utopian future, in which characters are governed by some kind of repressive social systems.  As I previously mentioned, some children and teens may gravitate towards the Hunger Games because they see parallels with the repression that they experience in their own lives.  (This 2010 New Yorker article* does an excellent job of investigating this theory.)

However, on a more basic level, The Hunger Games books have all of the ingredients that make up a fantastic adventure story: non-stop action, multi-layered characters, struggles between good and evil– and the many shades of gray in between.  There are cliffhangers, plot twists galore, and even a gnarly old tomcat named Buttercup!  Through the progression of the three books in the series, readers also get to see an (in my opinion) original character arc in Katniss, as her ruthless and strong persona devolves in the face of all of the suffering that she undergoes at the hands of the Capitol.  Like the best children’s and young adult literature, these books do not underestimate or talk down to young readers, instead taking us on thrilling journey that’s very hard to forget.

Question Six: Okay.  You’ve convinced me!  I want to read these books.  Where can I find copies?

The Minuteman Library Network owns several copies of these books… but they are in high demand, especially with the movie coming out next month!  You can either place a hold on them using your online account, or ask the librarian to do so the next time that you’re in the library.  And, as I mentioned before, listening to the audio versions of these books is an amazing experience in its own right– it you haven’t done so, give it a try!

And let the games begin!

*If you do intend to read these articles, please be aware that they DO include some plot spoilers.


Happy New Year, everyone!

In order to ring in 2012 in an exciting way, we are trying something NEW (well, new to us, anyways) and are posting a VIDEO BLOG!  Just click on the link below to hear all about Russell Fund Coordinator Liza Halley’s favorite graphic novels!

And let us know your favorite graphic novels in the comments, too!

This review pays homage to the release of Martin Scorcese’s Hugo (based on Brian Selznick’s award-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret)… but not in the way that you might think!  No no no, I haven’t seen the movie yet, mainly because I never ever GO to the movies, although I recently did see Vision Quest, which I think may have come out in 1985.  So I am approximately 30 years behind the times on the movie scene.  But anyhow, this is not a Hugo movie review.  This is actually a review of Brian Selznick’s new book, Wonderstruck, which was released this fall.

Selznick, B. (2011). Wonderstruck. New York: Scholastic Press.

Although this book came out in September, I was JUST able to get my hands on a copy last week.  Yes, even librarians need to put holds on books, and yes, Brian Selznick’s work is that popular!  And for good reason.  Like Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck is a delight in both the visual and textual senses.

In Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick spins two tales: one (told completely in text) is the story of Ben, a young boy growing up in Minnesota in 1977, and one (told completely in pictures) is the story of Rose, a deaf girl who lives in Hoboken in 1927.  The stories unfurl in parallel fashion, as both Ben and Rose undergo eerily similar trials.  Because of these shared experiences, the breaks between Ben and Rose’s stories are never choppy.  Instead, Selznick creates a natural flow between the text of Ben’s tale and the drawings of Rose’s.

The main characters are rich and sympathetic.  It’s important to note that after Ben is struck by lightning during a violent storm, he becomes deaf like Rose.  This character element works well for Selznick’s unique format– it emphasizes Ben and Rose’s internal monologues and amplifies their isolation from their families.  It will also provide children with a good introduction to the realities and experiences that members of the deaf community undergo.

At the risk of being a giant SPOILER, I’ll refrain from discussing more of the plot elements of this book.  But I will say this: in Wonderstruck, Selznick quietly and poetically tells a story that will both break your heart and make it sing.  Highly recommended for children ages nine and older.

Visit the Robbins Library online!