Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Nonfiction and Biography Book Reviews





Kerley, Barbara. 2008. What to do about Alice? Ill. By Edwin Fotheringham. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN 978-0-439-92231-9

Summary:
Author of several award-winning books, Barbara Kerley tackles the life of one of our nation’s most irrepressible “first children” in this picture book biography of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Theodore Roosevelt.  The subtitle of the book is “How Alice Roosevelt broke the rules, charmed the world and drove her father Teddy crazy!”

Critical Analysis:
Eminently readable, this extra-large picture book biography gives the reader a glimpse of life in the White House in the early 1900’s through the eyes of the energetic and mischievous Alice Roosevelt.  Kerley’s writing is engaging in telling the story of the challenge President Roosevelt had in raising such a rambunctious daughter in an era where children, and females, were better “seen and not heard.”  Beginning with a humorous understatement about Alice (“Theodore Roosevelt had a small problem”), the book goes on to highlight a few of Teddy’s adventures, such as herding cattle in the Dakota Badlands, leading the Rough Riders, bagging grizzly bears, capturing outlaws and his highly publicized political career. (And he wondered where Alice got her sense of adventure)?

 The rest of the book is taken up with enthusiastically written snapshots of Alice’s life, from her unconventional education, which consisted of “being let loose” in her father’s library, her struggle with wearing braces on her legs (which didn’t slow her down one bit), to roaming the streets of Washington and joining an all-boys’ club.  As she grew older, she assumed the role of goodwill ambassador for her father, greeting visitors to the White House with a pet snake named Emily Spinach, and getting up to many hijinks on trips outside the United States.  Teddy is quoted saying to a friend, “I can be president of the United States, or I can control Alice.  I cannot possibly do both!” 

 Though she was the bane of the president’s existence, the American public adored Alice; she had a song written about her, “Alice” became a popular baby name and she even had a color named after her – “Alice Blue.”  The book examines her life from her childhood through her marriage to congressman Nicholas Longworth, but even as an adult, Alice “ate up the world” by dancing until all hours, playing poker, betting on horses and racing her car.  Although she was not even close to being politically correct, most historians agree that Alice’s celebrity helped her father’s career.  

The digital illustrations by Edwin Fotheringham, in his picture book debut, provide an excellent backdrop for the text, evoking the historical era with appropriate clothing styles and other fine details. With muted colors, yet patriotic red, white and blue touches throughout, the illustrator creates visually captivating caricature drawings of Teddy, Alice and others in the book.  The images of Alice usually reflect movement of her running, jumping and skipping, symbolizing her energetic life.  One small detail delights: the opening and closing pictures show Alice carrying a spoon, reflecting Alice’s hunger for life and her love of “eating up the world.”

Kerley’s sources for the quotes in the book and the history presented are not easily found, being rather hidden inside the back cover of the book in small print, but they do show she used several respected biographies for her information.  The author also provides additional historical information in an author’s note in the back of the book that assists the reader in understanding the historical context.

Awards:

Reviews:
“It’s hard to imagine a picture book biography that could better suit its subject than this high-energy volume serves young Alice Roosevelt.” – Publisher’s Weekly

“Peeking behind the White House door at its child residents is always a kid-pleasing enterprise, and stories of spirited Alice may set listeners to scanning the current political horizon for equally fascinating presidential offspring.” - The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Personal Response:
I loved the story of Alice Roosevelt, and the way the illustrator made the story come alive.  It led me to do some more research on Alice, finding the apparently well-known quote she made: “If you haven’t got anything good to say about anyone, come sit by me!”

Connections:
Kerley’s picture book could be used in conjunction with a similar book titled Mind your Manners, Alice Roosevelt, by Leslie Kimmelman, which contains a fictionalized account of the life of the Roosevelts, highlighting some of Alice’s antics.  It could also be used as part of a history unit on U.S. Presidents, life in the early 1900s, or the Women’s Rights Movement. 

References
Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. N.d. What to do About Alice? http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=2&isbn=9780439922319 (accessed October 22, 2013).


 

Jenkins, Steve and Robin Page. 2010. How to Clean a Hippopotamus: a Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships. New York: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. ISBN 978-0-547-24515-7

Summary:
Husband and wife award-winning team, Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, took their interest in animal symbiosis, specifically mutualism – a relationship between animals that is mutually beneficial – and turned it into an inventive picture book full of fun and fascinating scientific facts about the “curious biology” of different animals and organisms helping each other in the wild. 

Critical Analysis:
Who knew that Nile crocodiles have their own live toothpicks in the Egyptian plover bird? Or that the cleaner wrasse fish acts as a dentist office/way station for all sorts of sea creatures? These and other interesting facts are explored in this intriguing picture book about animal symbiosis.  Written in a factual, yet never dry, style, the authors present a number of different animal pairs that help each other in a mutually beneficial manner (called “mutualism”). 

Some animals graze together in Africa, using their separate specific skills of sight, hearing and smell to warn of predators.  Many other animals have a symbiotic relationship wherein one will clean the other, the former getting a food source, and the latter getting relief from skin discomfort.  The coyote and badger, usually lone hunters, have discovered that together they can be more successful catching the wily prairie dog.  One of the most fascinating pairs is the Black Tree ant and its enemy the Rufous woodpecker.  They normally are at war; but in the spring, the ants allow the woodpecker to make a nest out of the ants’ home for its eggs and yet don’t attack the chicks, who act as a deterrent to predators until they are ready to leave the nest.  After that, they “become enemies once again.”

The book’s layout is similar to a graphic novel, with horizontal panels of drawings and captions of text, presenting a clear, but not overwhelming, sequence of information.  The illustrations are similar to the collage style of Eric Carle, and provide interesting visual texture to the book.  Of note are the eyes of the various animals which seem to jump off the page with life-like appeal.
The authors end the book on a sweet note by discussing the symbiosis between dogs and humans.  Though in the past, dogs have helped humans as workers, hunters, herders and guides in return for food and care, the most important role of dogs today is companion.  “Dogs keep us company and cheer us up when we are sad.  They are loyal and affectionate.”  

The last pages of the book offer a section on “more about symbiosis,” specific information on size, habitat and diet of the animals highlighted in the book and a reference to other books “to learn more about animal symbiosis.”  The authors do not indicate specifically where they obtained all their facts, which detracts from determining the accuracy of an informational book.  There are also no page numbers, which is unusual.  Otherwise, these author/illustrators have done an excellent job of presenting a scientific topic in a way that creates curiosity and awe.

 Awards:
(Best Books):
Booklist Top 10 Sci-Tech Books for Youth, 2010 ; American Library Association
Choices, 2011 ; Cooperative Children's Book Center
John Burroughs List of Nature Books for Young Readers ; John Burroughs Association
Notable Children's Books, 2011 ; ALSC American Library Association
Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, 2011 ; National Science Teachers Association
Reviews:
 “Close ups, aerial views, and vignettes of animals realistically rendered in Jenkins's trademark collage have a cinematic quality.” – Publisher’s Weekly

“The format is entertaining, but as always, the authors’ attention to scientific facts is serious, and their lucid explanations avoid any suggestion that these arrangements are cozy pairings between interspecies BFFs: “Animals . . . remain in these relationships only because the partnership somehow helps them survive.” – Booklist

Personal Response:
I found this book fascinating and rather miraculous that certain animals have developed such relationships.  The topic of symbiosis was new to me, and the book made me want to explore it further.

Connections: 
The obvious use of this book is in a scientific unit on symbiosis in animals.  Other books available on this topic are: Weird Friends: Unlikely Allies in the Animal Kingdom by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey and a series of books about animals working together by Martha Rustad (Zebras and Oxpeckers Work Together, for example).  Children could take one pair of animals and do further research on their mutualism to present to the class or in a report.  It would also be a great book to read in a story time with a theme of how people and animals help each other.

References

Amazon.com. n.d. “Animal Symbiosis.” http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=animal%20symbiosis (accessed October 23, 2013). 

Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. n.d  How to Clean a Hippotamus. http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=0&isbn=9780547245157 (accessed October 23, 2013).

 

 

Montgomery, Sy. 2010. Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot. New York: Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-618-49417-0

Summary:
 Sy Montgomery, an acclaimed writer of informational books, adds to her collection with this Siebert Award winner about an endangered flightless parrot found only on a small island in New Zealand.  The author and photographer, Nic Bishop, spent 10 days on Codfish Island with a group of volunteers who are passionately involved in caring for, and hopefully increasing the numbers of, the Kakapo parrot.  Sy Montgomery’s book tells a poignant tale of the attempt to save a species on the brink of extinction, and shares her experiences about the triumphs, and sometimes tragedies, found in this endeavor.

Critical Analysis:
The most important criteria in an informational book is  accuracy, and it is hard to get more accurate than experiencing the facts of one’s topic firsthand the way Sy Montgomery does in this award-winning Science in the Field book.  Montgomery has been chased by angry gorillas, bitten by bats, swum with piranhas and hunted by tigers in search of information for some of her other books.  In this one, she travels with photographer Nic Bishop to a tiny island in New Zealand to better understand the plight of the Kakapo parrot.  With less than 90 of these birds left in the world, all  located on Codfish Island, the author spends a great deal of time explaining the Kakapo’s history, how it has come so close to extinction, and the efforts involved to preserve the species. 

 Nic Bishop’s beautiful photographs accompany each page to capture their journey: close-ups of the Kakapo, other wildlife and the various volunteers; colorful sunsets and sunrises; stunning views of the vast ocean surrounding the island and the deep, dense forests hidden inside. Using sensory imagery the author provides vivid descriptions of the flora and fauna of the area, the work of the volunteers and the emotions experienced by all who come into contact with this funny, colorful and curious parrot.

The book tells of the Kakapo species in general, but also of a specific parrot, Lisa, and her just-hatched chick in such a way that the reader cannot help to become avidly involved in the story.  There is excitement, mystery, comedy and yes, even, tragedy as this story pulls in the reader, giving credence to why Sy Montgomery has won so many awards for her outstanding writing.  Figurative language is prominent in her writing style:  similes and metaphors, such as “each Kakapo is like…a Hope Diamond…a treasure of unsurpassed rarity and value;" onomatopoeia in the “booms and chings” of the mating male Kakapo, which sound “like the chime of a cash register;” and alliteration such as the “brilliant blue and breezy day.” 
The reference aids in the book include captions to each picture, a glossary of terms, a Kakapo Recovery website and a selected bibliography of additional sources that provided background for the book, though most research was done in the field.

Awards:
 SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science, 2011 Finalist Middle Grades Science Books

Reviews:
“Montgomery's delight in her subject is contagious, and throughout her enthusiastic text, she nimbly blends scientific and historical facts with immediate, sensory descriptions of fieldwork.” – Booklist

“Bishop's lushly beautiful photographs help readers explore the island's trees, ferns, and mosses as well as other birds and wildlife.” Children’s Literature

Personal Response:
I fell in love with the Kakapo parrot in Sy Montgomery’s book, especially with the interactions that the volunteers had with a few of the bolder birds.  It is sad that so few of them exist, but it is a great testament to conservationism that some people are so passionate about saving a species that man, himself, caused to come so close to extinction.

Connections:
Sy Montgomery’s website, www.symontgomery.com, has some wonderful resources that can be used by teachers as curriculum aids for this book.  Subjects of math, history, science, English language arts and social studies can all be explored with Kakapo Rescue.  Units on other endangered animals could also be explored.  This book would not be useful in a story time at a library due to its length, but could be recommended through reader’s advisory for those interested in animals and conservation.


References
Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. N.d. Kakapo Rescue. http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=0&isbn=9780618494170 (accessed October 24, 2013).



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Poetry Book Reviews





 

Franco, Betsy. 2009. Messing Around on the Monkey Bars and Other School Poems for Two Voices. Ill. by Jessie Hartland.  Massachusetts: Candlewick Press. ISBN 978-0-7636-3174-1

Plot Summary:
Messing Around on the Monkey Bars is a picture-book poetry collection by one author, Betsy Franco, who has published more than 80 books. The theme of the book revolves around the routine of an elementary school day, from riding the bus in the morning, classroom activities, recess, lunch and finally, to the final bell as the school day ends.  Though the rhyming poems can be read silently by one person, or aloud to an audience, the author has written the book in such a way to be enjoyed by two voices reading aloud and alternating parts of the poems.

Critical Analysis:
Franco’s book is a delightful journey through a typical school day for children, with the poems arranged to take you from the morning bus ride to the final bell, and all the school activities in between.  All of the poems rhyme, some every other line, others every fourth, creating meter and a rhythmic reading experience, with spare arrangement of words on the page.  None of the poems cause you to pause and question the word choice, or appear to be forced. The poems describe events, conversations, places and actions, using words that make us feel like we are in school ourselves, getting through our day.

What stands out in this volume in many of the poems is the author’s playful tone and the use of descriptive sounds to describe objects, actions and events.  The bus anthropomorphically snorts and squeals, screeches and coughs as it picks up the children.  Students in the library “snicker, snicker, ouch, eek, burp, snort, and tee-hee,” instead of reading quietly.  A girl’s pencil tap, tap, taps on her desk until all the children are “bopping, hopping, snapping, clapping, drumming, thumping and tappity-tapping,” representing a strong use of consonance.  And a classroom comes alive using with the author’s use of onomatopoeia in the whir of a fan, the zap of a rubber band, the thud/bonk of a book, and the “grrr” of a pencil sharpener.

Hartland’s illustrations are colorful and childlike, appearing as if drawn and painted by children, which compliments the school-age feel of the book. Most of the drawings express movement of the characters symbolizing the fidgety mannerisms of school children, and the passing of time throughout the school day. A line-up after recess shows children racing as they “bunch up and bump, wiggle, giggle, trip, tease, push, pull, jab, grab, poke, pinch, squish and squeeze” to get to the front of the line. Added details across the page delight the eye, such as various school accessories like pencils, calculators, paper with writing, open picture books and children’s artwork. In one poem, “Anatomy Class,” the author uses anthropomorphic references to classroom objects, such as chair arms, kite tails, book spines, shoe tongues, clock faces and tack heads.  Hartland illustrates these objects with human-like faces and appendages, causing the reader to look at typical classroom accoutrements in a new and fresh way. The illustrator has successfully matched the drawings on each page to the author’s words, giving the poems unique visual imagery along with the sensory imagery from Franco’s word choices.  

Reference aids compliment the arrangement of the book and include a table of contents, an author’s note about using two voices to read the poems aloud, and an addition at the end of the book describing adventurous ways to read the poems.

Reviews and Awards:

Best Book of the Year, 2010. Bank Street College of Education; KC3 Book Award Nominee, 2011-2012. 

“Though readers could tackle the poems alone, differences in typeface cue the possibility for two readers to share the poems aloud in Joyful Noise fashion, alternating lines and sharing others in a clever script that reflects children's school-day experiences.  Hartland's energetic gouache illustrations adopt a naive style that matches the playful spirit of the text while serving as a splendid complement to its evocation of children's voices. This book gets high marks.”– Kirkus Reviews

“There's plenty of univocal poetry for young people, but it's still rare to find a volume geared to shared readings, and established author Franco provides a useful addition to the genre.” – The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Connections:
 School-themed books abound, and this poetry collection could be used in conjunction with other picture books for a story-time about school activities.  It could also be used with a unit on figurative language as an example of the use of anthropomorphism and onomatopoeia, and children could be encouraged to write their own versions of school sounds and personification of classroom objects.  Finally, the choral reading aspect of the book would make it a fun activity to break up the pressure of more intense school work. 

Personal Response:
This is the first poem picture book I have read in many years, and I enjoyed experiencing the arrangement of the poetry to reflect the chronological activities of a school day.  The descriptive language of the author abounds, as she uses copious adjectives and a plethora of sounds that bring back memories of school days gone by.

References

Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. N.d. Messing Around on the Monkey Bars by Betsy Franco. http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=0&isbn=9780763631741  (accessed October 1, 2013).




Sidman, Joyce. 2007. This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness. Ill. By Pamela Zagarenski. Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 978-0-618-61680-0

Plot Summary:
Joyce Sidman has created from her imagination a picture book collection of poems of apology and forgiveness, as if written by a students in a sixth grade class for an assignment.  The recipients of the poems then write the students back in heartwarming poetic reply in the second half of the book.  The poems of apology are inspired by “This is Just to Say,” by William Carlos Williams written in 1934, apparently in response to a note written by his wife about his lunch that day.  The poems cover light hearted incidents such as stolen donuts from the teacher’s lounge and school-age crushes, to much more serious situations such as the leaving of a parent and the euthanasia of a beloved pet.  Sidman handles both with a light touch, and creates the feel of tween-age writing and emotions in this collection.

Critical Analysis:
After reading all of the poems of apology and forgiveness in this short poetry collection, I can see why it won so much acclaim.  They are not typical poems of rhyme and rhythm, though there is a pantoum, a haiku, and a choral read poem in the mix. Most of the poems are in free verse form.  The power from the poems comes from reading the apology and response together.  The boy who stole the donuts from the teacher’s lounge finds out he is stealing their hearts, too, and they still care for him.  The girl who rubs the nose of the statue of Florence P. Scribner before each spelling test for luck finds out the statue enjoys the warmth of the girl’s hand on her cold nose.  The boy who writes of having to euthanize his beloved dog is comforted by the response from the school janitor about his own such experience when he says that the dying dog “was smelling you, feeling your touch. You were loving him, and he was loving you back.  That’s how he went and that’s how a dog should go.” 

School crushes, hurt feelings, insults regretted, unbeknownst offences, disappointments and guilt are all explored in these poems, mostly written like regular narrative broken up in free verse. The words of the poems are typically aligned at the left margin of the page, though there are some that have more creative indentions to reflect movement.  Figurative language is used in phrases such as the simile in “the silence seemed like a hundred crushing elephants” and personification as the brownie pan “gaped like an accusing eye.”  We see symbolic imagery such as one student “wading into the river of forgiveness,” and visual and sensory imagery is used to describe an accidentally broken window:  “…the weight of the gritty rocks/the shiver of tinkling glass, the wild joy blooming in my chest/ the fear, the running away.” 

Reference aids include a table of contents for Part 1 (apologies) and Part 2 (responses), and an “imagined” introduction by a sixth grade boy explaining that the apology poems were created for a sixth grade class.  

Zagarenski’s artistic use of mixed media in the illustrations cleverly compliments Franco’s collection of poems.  She uses a combination of painterly techniques, such as charcoal and color filled pen and ink, along with graphic techniques, such as photos of notebook paper and a printed collage taken from a dictionary definition of the word “apology,” which is seen in the some of the characters’ clothing.  The illustrated faces of the characters in the book reflect the various emotions felt by the students in their apologies: sorrow, slyness, anger, surprise, satisfaction and guilt, to name a few.  Many of the drawings reflect movement on the page, symbolizing that an apology should be an active, not passive, experience.

Reviews and Awards:

Best Book:
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2008 ; Bank Street College of Education ; Outstanding Merit
Choices, 2008 ; Cooperative Children's Book Center
School Library Journal Best Books, 2007  
School Library Journal Book Review Stars, May 2007  
Teachers' Choices, 2008 ; International Reading Association

Awards, Honors and Prizes:
Claudia Lewis Award, 2008 Winner United States
Cybil Award, 2007 Winner Poetry United States
Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, 2008 Honor Book United States

Reviews:

“Joyce Sidman's wonderfully imagined collection is full of humor and tenderness, expressed in poems that offer brief yet exacting portraits of the diverse children she's created, as well as glimpses into their lives”. – CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices 

“Packed with the intensity of everyday pain and sorrow, kids and adults exchange the words that convey grief, delight, love and acceptance of themselves and others.” –Kirkus Reviews

Connections:
 This book could be read with the more light-hearted Forgive me, I Meant to Do It by Gail Carson Levine during a unit on poetry.  Children could try their hand, as the characters in Sidman’s book do, at writing a poem of apology to someone in their life, and requesting a reply. A story-time unit could be created for younger children which includes a group discussion about what it means to apologize, and then be forgiven.

Personal Response:
One negative aspect of this book of poetry is the arrangement of the apology poems and the forgiveness poems in two separate sections, which causes the reader to have to shuffle back and forth to gain the full experience of the conflict and resolution.  It would have been more impactful to have them on facing pages, though I am sure that some thought did go into the arrangement of the poems by the author or publisher.  In addition, the introduction causes some confusion (to this novice poetry reader) because the reader has no way of knowing these are not really the writings of a student class, unless one reads the author information on the back flap of the book! I suppose this indicates that the author did a great job of writing her poems in a style that reflects the adolescent dialect.

References
Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. N.d. This is Just to Say by Joyce Sidman. http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=1&isbn=9780618616800 (accessed October 3, 2013).

Wikipedia. N.d. This is Just to Say. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_Is_Just_To_Say (accessed October 3, 2013).



Hemphill, Stephanie. 2007. Your Own, Sylvia: a verse portrait of Sylvia Plath. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-375-83799-9

 Plot Summary:
Stephanie Hemphill has written a mesmerizing fictional verse novel interpreting the life of Sylvia Plath, but it is grounded in a great deal of research.  The author used actual published biographies, letters, journals and Plath’s poetry itself to construct the poems in her book which tell the story of Plath’s life from her birth through her death by suicide at the age of 31.  The poems are written in the voices of family members, neighbors, friends, colleagues and doctors, and through those voices the reader witnesses the life of a talented, driven and at times, emotional unstable, poet whose work influenced a generation.

Critical Analysis:
“She could not help burning herself/from the inside out,/Consuming herself/Like the sun…She could not know how long/Her luminary would map the sky,/ Or where her dying would lead the lost.” 

 In an ambitious undertaking, author Stephanie Hemphill has written a book of history and character, imagining the life of Sylvia Plath through verse poems written from the perspective and voices of the people who orbited the poet throughout her short life.  From her mother’s love, her father’s indifference, her neighbors’ and friends’ affection, her teachers’ acclamations, her lovers’ attractions to her husband’s love, obsession and ultimate betrayal, we come to know Plath’s struggle with abandonment, perfectionism, identity, her art and her heart through Hemphill’s thoroughly researched and vividly portrayed writings. 

The author places a poem on each page, with a title, the name of person “writing” the poem, the date, and a footnote with historical information that helps the reader better understand the content of the poem.  The author also re-imagines some of Plath’s own poems throughout the book, and has managed to capture the poet’s confessional style and unique voice. In “The Arrival of Poetry,” Hemphill writes a poem describing Plath’s most prolific month of writing in 1962: “….she cannot /Stop her pen writing./ Her words arrive, a box to be opened./…She feels like a medium./She catches lines like a sieve./She slices a vein and poetry flows,/Blood dark, blood dirty,/A river into Hades.”
Though most poems are in non-rhyming verse form, there are examples of a villanelle in “Why she Writes,” something similar to a pantoum, where words, instead of phrases are repeated in subsequent lines, in “August, 1953,” and the very creative “Abcedarian” in which each line of the poem begins with a letter from the alphabet, from A-Z.

The most profound aspect of this book is the author’s use of descriptive language and sensory imagery in her writings and the emotional impact they leave on the reader. The writing seems at times almost "cinematic in style, as a succession of scenes are presented to the visual imagination with the voice-over heard simultaneously in the mind" (Alexander 2005).  In “Crocketteer,” a poem from the perspective of Plath’s high school English teacher, Hemphill writes metaphorically that Sylvia “radiates, uranium strong…[her] wings are luminous and large, her name will be known…[she] sculpts poems out of air.”  In “August, 1953,” the author writes a poem, again using metaphors, about Sylvia’s depression, electroshock treatment and first suicide attempt: “Her summer is a winter -/…Her wintering is a glass bell -/frozen crystal tongue without tingle/without chime./Her glass bell suffocates fireflies, honeybees,/Jars them in heat, turns off their little minds./Her fireflies must be shocked, relit./Depression oozes from her fingers, softens her brain.”  Sylvia is described, using similes, in one poem by an acquaintance like “a woman possessed by demons and angels, a muse to herself…Her voice like the pied piper, raw and wicked, draws me in.”  
Hemphill ends her last poem with the descriptive and figurative lines, “But for those who gaze heavenly/Or into the reflected pool of night,/She is fuel. She is dust. She is a guiding star.”  The author has taken us on a deeply emotional journey through Plath’s life, with vivid and evocative words, and leaves us both satisfied and disturbed.

Reference aids include footnotes to each poem, which help explain its context, some black and white photographs of the poet with family and friends, a “dear reader” section where the author includes background information on how and why she wrote the book, and source notes of all the research done in constructing the book.  

From the first poem, “Owning Sylvia Plath” by a “reader,” all the way through to Hemphill’s final statement -“Sylvia was given the night sky’s brilliance so her writing can be a light for all of us,” - the author has created a book that has a huge emotional impact and leaves the reader stunned at the beauty and tragedy of the life of Sylvia Plath.

Reviews and Awards:

Cybil Award, 2007 Finalist Poetry
Michael L. Printz Award, 2008 Honor Book
Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Poetry, 2008 Winner
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2008; American Library Association ; Top Ten

“…an intimate, comprehensive, imaginative view of a life that also probes the relationships between poetry and creativity, mental fragility, love, marriage, and betrayal”. – Booklist

"Hemphill's verse, like Plath's, is completely compelling: every word, every line, worth reading." – The Horn Book Magazine

Connections:  
Hemphill’s book could be used in conjunction with a unit on Sylvia Plath’s poetry, Ariel or Colossus for example, or her novel, The Bell Jar.  Students could be given an opportunity of writing their own attempt at confessional poetry.
Personal Response:  
The book is classified as juvenile, but probably belongs with the young adult collection due to containing content about depression, suicide, and a couple of graphic sexual references.  As an adult reading this novel, I was put through an emotional wringer, and it will resonate with me for a long time.  A brilliant and tormented poet, Plath’s life was tragically cut short, and we feel that loss in this book. 
References
Alexander, Joy. 2005.  "The verse-novel: A new genre." Children’s Literature in Education. Vol. 36, no. 3. 

Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. N.d. Your Own, Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill. http://ezproxy.twu.ed/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=1&isbn=9780375837999 (accessed October 7, 2013).

Kelly