One-Minute Book Reviews

April 30, 2010

Girl Meets Gun in Lois Lowry’s First Picture Book, ‘Crow Call’

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:21 pm
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A girl spends a day with her father who has returned from World War II

Crow Call. By Lois Lowry. Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Scholastic, 32 pp., $16.99. Ages: School Library Journal recommends for grades K-4.

By Janice Harayda

Two-time Newbery Medal winner Lois Lowry can write what she pleases at this stage of her career, and this fact may help explain her tepid first picture book. Crow Call tells the story of a pigtailed girl whose father, just back from World War II, takes her along when he sets out to kill crows that are eating the crops on nearby Pennsylvania farmlands.

Liz feels happy, if shy, about spending time with someone who “has been gone for so long.” But she worries about the crows, and her father, sensing this, takes her home without shooting any – a change of heart that causes the plot to sputter out in the last pages. Liz also tells her story through slightly affected first-person, present-tense narration. You don’t fully believe she would have all of her thoughts, which include self-conscious lines like “our words seem etched and breakable on the brittle stillness.”

Lowry says in an afterword that the events of Crow Call happened to her and her father in 1945, and her publisher casts the story as an allegory that “shows how, like the birds gathering above, the relationship between the girl and her father is graced with the chance to fly.” Maybe so. But the text has much less loft than the art by Bagram Ibatoulline in the color palette and social-realist style of Christina’s World, which his fellow Pennsylvanian Andrew Wyeth painted three years after the events that inspired Crow Call took place. His lovely pictures are the saving grace of a book that, you sense, Lowry needed to write more than children need to read.

Best line/picture: A picture of Liz’s father stretching his neck out, imitating a giraffe, as she tries to stifle a laugh.

Worst line/picture: The last line: “Then I put it into the pocket of my shirt and reach over, out of my enormous cuff, and take my father’s hand.” This line isn’t strong or credible enough for its position in the book. Lizzie and her father have spent quite a bit of time alone together by the time she takes his hand, and you don’t believe she wouldn’t have done so before then.

Published: October 2009

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© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

April 29, 2010

Coming Saturday – A Review of Lois Lowry’s ‘Crow Call’

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:02 pm
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Two-time Newbery Medal winner Lois Lowry is one of America’s most honored authors of middle-grade fiction. On Saturday One-Minute Book Reviews will have a review of her first picture book, Crow Call, with art by Bagram Ibatoulline, who illustrated Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

February 21, 2009

Books Middle-School Students Like to Read

I’m tied up this weekend with the candidates for the Third Annual Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books, the shortlist for which will be posted Thursday, and nonliterary activities that I’m describing on www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

So instead of a review, I’m giving you an interesting quote from the January/February issue of The Horn Book Magazine about the literary tastes of middle-school students. Dean Schneider, who teaches seventh and eighth grade at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee, writes:

“Middle-school readers hate open-ended endings. They are sure that The Giver ends the way it does because Lois Lowry got tired or ran out of ideas. They often reject historical fiction as ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘too sad.’ Students are capable of dismissing a whole Holocaust unit in two words: ‘Too sad.’ An eighth-grade girl I’m currently tutoring panned Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever as ‘so sad; everyone died.’

“But the flip side of the middle-school personality is their unalloyed enthusiasm when they latch onto something they like. They loved Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief when I decided to try it as a class novel two years ago. It became so popular with both boys and girls that I lost control of the book. Everyone raced through the reading and finished way ahead of schedule. They clamored for the sequel, The Sea of Monsters, which was then still in hardcover; I could afford only a few copies, so students kept a list on the board of who got it next. When I scored a couple of advance galleys of the third entry, The Titan’s Curse, they were beside themselves with excitement.”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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