20 April 2012

Book Review: The Tale of Despereaux

Title: The Tale of Despereaux
Author: Kate DiCamillo

Synopsis: Despereaux Tilling is born a very small mouse with very big ears. As he grows, everyone begins to realize that he is not a normal mouse. He likes to read fairy tales, listen to music, and is eventually caught talking with the human princess! When he is sentenced to the rats, Despereaux's life is changed forever. When there is trouble with a princess, an evil rat, a poor peasant girl, and a grief-striken King, Despereaux seeks to save the day, in the meantime bringing healing and forgiveness to those around him.

Positives: Despereaux is an honorable character, seeking to save the princess when she is in danger and forgiving his father's wrongdoings. The princess also chooses to forgive her enemies and has mercy on a poor peasant girl who is lonely and hurting. A rat learns that revenge is not the way to find happiness, and a king learns that he is destroying his nation with his grief. A very thought-provoking piece as the author asks unique questions and brings up interesting points throughout the story.

Negatives: This story, like the movie, can have some dark spots in it, including mention of the skeletons of dead mice and people, the cruelty of the mouse government as they send Despereaux to his death, the cruelty of evil rats, and the cruelty of Despereaux's brother who informs on him. The peasant girl is abused by her uncle and goes deaf because of it. The rat Roscuro makes some evil plans of revenge. Nevertheless, the author doesn't ever go into too much detail.

-Mercy on those who are hurting
-Don't hurt others with your grief or anger
-You can make a difference even if you're small

Conclusion: The Tale of Despereaux was a very thought provoking and interesting book that is also an enjoyable tale. I would recommend it for ages 8+ for boys and girls alike.

Rating: 4 (Liked it!)

Book Review: The MockingJay

(Caution: Spoilers!)
Title: MockingJay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Synopsis: Mocking Jay is the third and final book in the Hunger Games trilogy. Hidden away in the “destroyed” District 13, rebels are gathering to overthrow Panem’s government. One by one, each of the districts are rebelling, and Katniss represents the spirit of the revolution as the MockingJay, but with Peeta in the hands of President Snow, and Katniss recovering from the emotional and physical impact of the previous two Hunger Games, will they succeed?
Positives: Katniss decides to give her life for her nation in hopes that the inspiration she offers will succeed in the implanting of a new and better government. She shows genuine concern and care for the wounded and dying. Many people sacrifice their lives to save Katniss’s and to save their nation. Katniss recognizes that it is wrong to retaliate, that no matter how much President Snow and the previous government of Panem has hurt people, they should by no means return it with cruelty and injustice. Peeta could be considered mentally insane, not processing correctly and has been brainwashed into thinking that Katniss is evil and that he should kill her. Nevertheless, Peeta discovers the error in what he has been told, and no matter how much his mind attacks him, he decides that he will not hurt Katniss and fights the urge, winning out in the end.
Negatives: With a full-blown rebellion taking place, there seems to be more violence than in the first two books. Fighting is fierce and the enemy has set up nasty traps along the route to the capital to kill the rebels. A group of children is deliberately bombed and other such violence occurs. Katniss has a desire to kill the evil President Snow but when the time comes, kills another evil person in his place but was it right of her to kill, no matter how evil the person was? Katniss also votes yes for a hunger games that includes only the capitol’s children, as their punishment at the end of the war (though this never ensues). Gale chooses to hurt innocent people in order to end the war sooner (though this is not condoned by the author or Katniss). 
-To die to save lives is an honorable thing
-We should not return evil with evil
-Man is naturally inclined to evil
-There is hope and healing for those who have been hurt
Conclusion: While this story can feel darker than the first two and seems to drag at some parts, the ending is worth the read. It was definitely inspiring to see Peeta’s fight to do right, and the ending was truly wonderful! I would recommend this book for 13+ girls, though some boys may enjoy it.
Rating: 4 (I think this was my favorite of all three.) 

15 April 2012

Movie Review: The Tale of Despereaux

Title: Tale of Despereaux
Genre: Drama, Animation, Kids
Rated: G

Synopsis: The kingdom of Dor is made lively by soup, with rats scurrying in little corners. . . until one day. When the queen dies of shock by a rat falling into her soup, the king outlaws soup and rats to the detriment of his kingdom. Meanwhile, in Mouse World, a baby mouse with large ears is born: his name is Despereaux. Despereaux is led on an adventure that involves him being cast out of his birthplace and learning to survive in harsh circumstances, but when Despereaux is called to save the day and a princess, he does not shirk his duty.

Positives: There are many positives in this story, including Despereaux's courage and bravery, and his desire to be a gentleman with honor. He fights to save lives, ever putting himself in danger for others. There are also many side messages including: All girls are princesses to their fathers, we should love others under any circumstance (who knows how another is feeling and how our words may hurt them), and we should stand up for what is right, even when it places us in danger.

Negatives: This film is a rather dark animated tale, including gladiator fights with a cat attacking rats and mice, and a princess getting locked in a dungeon and then also dragged to face the cat in the arena. There are other pieces in this that could be frightening to real little ones, including a knight fighting a dragon (this is seen in a storybook), and Despereaux being dropped down a sewer to face the rats. The rats are also rather evil and can be creepy at times.

-Every girl is a princess
-Courage and honor are good qualities
-Stand up for what is right
-Be gentle and kind to others, you never know what they are going through

Conclusion: This story at times felt like a piece of propaganda including three differing governments, a narrator's thoughts on a variety of subjects, and a small mouse who does big things, but it was a very funny, enjoyable, and unique story. I would suggest this for ages 6+, girls or boys, not for real little ones because it is a bit darker than some other animated stories.

Rating: 4 (Liked it!)

My Movie & Book Ratings

I thought I would just post my rating scale for movies and books:

1. Hated it
2. Didn't like it
3. Decent
4. Liked it!
5. Loved it!

Book Review: The Always War

Title: The Always War
Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Synopsis: Eastam has been at war with Westam for as long as Tessa Stilfin can remember. When her childhood friend and military pilot, Gideon Thrall, is awarded a medal and announced a hero, Tessa's life is changed. Everyone in her world has been caught up in a never-ending war, but Tessa accidentally ends up in an adventure that brings questions and answers.

Positives: The author reveals the preciousness of human life as Tessa seeks to protect Gideon who is upset because he has killed people in his bombings as a pilot. Gideon reveals a compassion and care for mankind and attempts to protect Tessa also. Haddix displays the problems with remote controlled piloting of bombers, presenting the idea that this makes killing too "easy," not allowing people to see their targets and counting humans as numbers, devaluing human life. In the end, Tessa is counted as brave because she had hope and was willing to search for answers.

Negatives: The characters do choose to lie to each other, and their enemies, when they deem it "necessary," though it seems to complicate things more.

-human life is valuable
-mankind is prone to fighting
-the search for truth is good

Conclusion: A slower read, The Always War was interesting, ending every chapter with a cliff-hanger encouraging the reader to keep going, but I found the end to be disappointing and rather to similar to the ends of the movies I Robot, and Eagle Eye. Ages: 11+ girls or boys.

Rating: 2 (Didn't like it.)

06 April 2012

Book Review: Catching Fire

Title: Catching Fire

Author: Suzanne Collins

Synopsis: A sequel to The Hunger Games, Catching Fire follows Katniss Everdeen’s life after returning to live in the Victor’s Village of her District. Her’s and Peeta’s last act of defiance in the Hunger Games has lit a spark in the districts of Panem, and rebellion is immanent. Katniss must be cautious how she treads, lest the government come after her and those she loves, but is it worth pleasing the government at the cost of freedom?

Positives: Catching Fire continues to portray the amazing sense of self-sacrifice evident in The Hunger Games. Indeed, multiple people give their lives for Peeta and Katniss, some who do not even know them, and Peeta and Katniss continue to give their lives away for the welfare of others. Collins also supports modesty and purity in this book, paralleling Katniss’s virtue with that of others who are not so virtuous. Collins continues to portray the value of human life, and when Katniss is faced with the choice of running away from Panem with her family and close friends or staying to help the citizens under the persecution of the government (even if it means her death), she chooses the latter. Katniss truly gives herself away in this book: to her friends, her family, and her country.

Negatives: The 75th Hunger Games occurs in this book, and so the violence does continue, though not worse than the first book. While she doesn’t describe these deaths in detail, there are a few slightly disturbing facts included. Also, Katniss has almost resigned herself to the idea of killing in this Hunger Games, though she does all for the sake of saving Peeta, but does that really justify her actions? There is some immodesty and nudity throughout this book. Katniss does kill with her bow and arrows. In the end of the book, Katniss attacks a man’s face, scratching it (though it is doubtful if she is completely sane at this point).


-Human life is precious

-To die for another is an honorable thing

-We should face our troubles, and attempt to bring change, not stand by or run away

-Man can kill the body, but they can’t claim the spirit or soul

Conclusion: An adventurous and entertaining story with some thought-provoking pieces; the novel ends with a cliff-hanger. I enjoyed many parts of this story more than the first one. I would recommend this book for 13+ girls, though some boys may enjoy it (the concern here would be some of the content given for girls, from a girl, probably more so in this book than the first one).

Rating: 4 (I thought parts of it were slightly more engaging and thought-provoking than the first one)

04 April 2012

Book Review: The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games

Author: Suzanne Collins

Synopsis: In a futuristic North America, a totalitarian government has control, and every year a people oppressed by their government must deliver up a boy and a girl (between the ages of twelve and eighteen) from each of twelve districts, to fight in The Hunger Games, an event broadcasted live nationally. The government has chosen this as a harsh reminder that resistance doesn’t pay, due to the rebellion by District 13 which the government subsequently destroyed. Each year, the people of Panem are painfully reminded that they can’t even hold onto their own children. When the 74th Hunger Games arrives, Katniss Everdeen’s little sister Prim, only twelve years old, is selected to enters. Katniss immediately steps up to take her place and finds herself faced with the prospect of almost certain death.

Positives: Collin’s portrayal of self-sacrifice in the acts of her characters, Peeta and Katniss, is impressive, as they choose to lay down their lives for each other and others. She also portrays bad as bad (including the Capitol’s cruel pleasure in the Hunger Games, the blood-thirst of some members of the games, and the government’s injustice) and self-sacrifice, love, modesty, and friendship as good. The book also supports the idea of active care, self-sacrifice, and love, rather than standing passively by and watching. Katniss and Peeta spend most of the Hunger Games evading people and are not looking to kill, only killing in self-defense.

Negatives: Often cited for its violence, the Hunger Games does include the deaths of twenty-two teens. While most of the deaths are not descriptive, a few are, with the last death of the Hunger Games being an unpleasant ordeal. There is also some mention of immodesty and nudity in the beginning of the book, during the prepping for the Hunger Games. There is the possibility that Peeta kills a girl, and Katniss kills, though always out of self-defense. Katniss and Peeta threaten to eat poison in defiance of the government. There are people excited to see the Hunger Games: Katniss is troubled by this as she states, “Everything is about them, not the dying boys and girls in the arena” (p. 354).


-Human life is precious

-We should be active protectors of human life, not passive

-To die for another is an honorable thing

-Power corrupts

Conclusion: A very engaging book (though it could have used a better editor)! The story ends in a cliff-hanger, leaving the reader with a desire for more. In fact, Collin’s made many good points throughout her book, and I was upset to see how she dropped them in the end, but I found out that she picks them back up in the next book. The story is written in first-person, present-tense from Katniss’s perspective. I would recommend this book for 13+ girls, though some boys may enjoy it (the concern here would be some of the content given for girls, from a girl).

Rating: 3.5 (because I liked the story, but I realize it is not for everybody)