Sunday, June 22, 2008

The absolutely true blog of a wimpy librarian.

Today's post is going to be a short set of reviews for two illustrated novels and one audiobook. After I review the books I'm going to give you a little comparing/contrasting action. Ohhhh, sassay!

Alexie, Sherman, and Ellen Forney. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown, 2007.
Genre:Realistic YA Fiction, Journal, Illustrated
Plot Summary: Arnold Spirit Junior is a poor reservation Indian. He was born with water on the brain and had seizures for most of his life. Both parents are alcoholics as are most the people on the rez. But, he's got a best friend named Rowdy and a dog named Oscar. Then one day he realizes he can't go to the poor rez high school anymore and switches to the white high school far past the reservation lands. And then Junior has to deal with all the usual problems of reservation life, plus not fitting in at a white high school, and not fitting in on the reservation, and the fact that merely getting to school every day is an epic adventure. Who knows if there is money for gas, or if he'll get a ride from a drunk relative, or if he'll be walking or just staying home that day? But despite all of the odds being stacked against him, Junior still manages to be (perhaps foolishly) optimistic and he FIGHTS. Interminable Arnold Spirit Junior.
Geographical Setting: Rural Washington State
Time Period: contemporary
Appeal Characteristics: The odds are so stacked against Arnold Spirit Junior that it would be easy for this book to come off as whining self-pity. The straightforward way the story is told combined with the humor and the general buoyant nature of Junior's outlook keep that possibility a distant one. The story is absolutely a page-turner. It has elements of first love, high school, basketball heroism, family, and friendship. Forney's drawings are simply funny and perfectly suited Junior's narrative voice. It is easy to forget this is a diary and just become enraptured by the story and the art.
Red Flags: Lots of people die, violence,alcoholism and the general unpretty picture of reservation life. Also 14 year old boy talks frankly about masturbation.

Kinney, Jeff, and Ramon de Ocampo. Diary of a Wimpy Kid Greg Heffley's Journal. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2008.
Genre: Realistic YA/Children's Fiction, Journal, Audio Recording
Plot Summary:Greg Heffley is the middle kid in a typical middle class family. He's in junior high and struggling to shed his little kid image. The book chronicles some of the trials and tribulations of the school year, but it is NOT a Diary. It's a journal.
Time Period: Contemporary
Series:Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Appeal Characteristics: Ramon de Ocampo's reading doesn't detract from the story. Greg is a funny kid and shares his experience of being a somewhat trouble making middle child tween with awkward humor and defiance of authority. Nothing to big or serious ever happens in this book.
Red Flags: The full effect of the book is lost without the illustrations. There really isn't much done to make up for that loss in the audio book and it is way too bad. What seems harmless in the paper book version makes Greg seem insufferable and his parents seem reluctant at best.

Kinney, Jeff. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. New York: Amulet Books, 2008.
Genre: Realistic YA/Children's Fiction, Journal, Illustrated
Plot Summary:The further adventures of Greg Heffley. More hijinks and shenanigans ensue. The overall plot is still not as important as the relationships and each individual story.
Time Period: Contemporary
Series:Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Appeal Characteristics:The artwork is the main draw of the book. The comic-like style is light and funny. Greg's exploits and family or school stories are a guilty pleasure told by a middle child who just doesn't quite get the real difference between right and wrong.
Red Flags: Don't let kids think that this story gives them permission for bad behavior. This series is mostly squeaky clean as far as parents are concerned.

Here's a video I found of some kids who really like "Diary of A Wimpy Kid"

And now for the part that is going to make me completely unpopular with the masses, as opinions sometimes do.

The comparison: if you have the gift of vision, please read Diary of a Wimpy Kid instead of listening to it. I know I'm particularly persnickety about audiobooks, but sometimes I have a good reasoning. At first glance Diary of A Wimpy Kid and Absolutely True Diary of A Part Time Indian have a lot in common. But, on closer examination that similarity ends at genre and format. Wimpy Kid is definitely for a slightly younger (read:immature) audience, doesn't deal with any serious social issues or even notices that other people might exist (therefore precluding social issues entirely), and is generally meant to be a short light hearted read not to be taken seriously. Except, it is the number one graphic novel on Amazon and that is something to take seriously. I understand the appeal of this book, but I'm not really fully on the bandwagon. It isn't that I'm opposed to purely escapist fiction where the most troubling incidents result in a light grounding from caring parents, but I do object to the fact that Greg doesn't ever seem to learn any life lessons, ever. And I think that is an important part of most YA and kids lit. They don't have to beat you over the head with the lessons, obviously kids are way to smart for that.I do think having Greg show remorse for some of the semi-terrible things he does instead of just remorse for being caught would occasionally be a good idea. On the other hand Alexie's book is so chock full of life changing events and Serious Lessons that at times the message would be overwhelming if it weren't for the saving grace of Arnold's outlook and narration.I shouldn't have read these books the same night;Alexie's right after Kinney's. Alexie's story is a cohesive story all geared to a more mature audience while Kinney's is geared towards the tricky age of middle school and each diary entry is its own short story. It probably wasn't fair to the Wimpy Kid series that I would hold it to such high scrutiny afterwards. Especially since the audiobook of the first one left such a bad taste in my mouth and I really like Forney's art better than Kinney's too. But, Absolutely True Diary of A Part-time Indian made me really feel for the characters and stayed with me after I read it. Diary of a Wimpy Kid just made me feel sorry for Greg's friends and family and I haven't really thought about it much since. But don't get me wrong! Any book that makes kids want to read is still marked as an amazing piece of literature in this blog.

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