From Red Balloon Bookstore, Saint Paul, Minnesota:
We usually have a slightly larger group, but this time we had only five people. It was the first time everyone had the opportunity to say all they wanted to say, and we finished five minutes early!
Natasha brought a variety of Doug Wood’s books and we noticed that almost every book had a different illustrator. She also distributed information on Doug.
We felt Where the Sunrise Begins was accessible to children, and may be trying to attract boys with the boy on the cover, but that it might appeal to adults more, especially if they were looking for a keepsake book.
Illustrations were the strength of this book with the soft color palette and rounded shapes providing a dreamy feeling. There was a little dismay at the oranges at the beginning as they contrasted so sharply with the blue/pink/purple hues, though it was admitted that orange can be a sunrise color. Often, one page would give a hint of the next, providing satisfying page turns. The contrasting text was effective, also.
The ending was disappointing, though in character with Doug Wood. With all the geographical references to where the sunrise did not begin, we felt a more scientific explanation was due. The spiritual/inspirational answer might have worked better if the “you” wasn’t illustrated as a specific individual. Perhaps a silhouette would have been better.
Natasha also brought supplemental information about Ellen Hopkins and Nikki Grimes that she distributed. The poetry in Crank was beautiful, almost too beautiful for the subject because it seemed to make addiction to meth somewhat attractive, not as dangerous as it truly is. Granted, Kristina/Bree was in the initial stages of addiction in this first book of the trilogy, but Heidi brought summaries of the following two books, and her life, and the lives of her family (and five children) was so depressing, none of us wanted to read them.
Information from the supplemental material about Ellen Hopkins made us think that she wrote the books to come to grips with her own life. In Crank, we felt the mother was in denial. We were really bothered that she wrote about her grandchildren. We know the books aren’t totally biographical, but their popularity might prove embarrassing for Kristina’s children.
We kept returning to Hopkins’ poetry. We examined how some poems could be read more than one way. Heidi listened to parts of the audio book and described Kristina’s voice as very matter of fact, and the poetry was read like prose, though still with rhythm.
Though we didn’t feel the poetry in A Girl Called Mister was as strong as Crank, we felt the book seemed very real and certainly more hopeful with support from the mother and the church. It seemed unclear whether Mister kept her baby or not. We liked that information was provided about hospitals accepting newborns.
We also questioned the use of standard English, but Grimes explained in an interview that she was setting a model. She was not allowed to use nonstandard language as a child.
From Old Firehouse Books, Fort Collins, Colorado:
Our first meeting as a Chapter & Verse Book Club was an intimate gathering with a range of ages and backgrounds. Discussion focused primarily on Crank. While we all liked the book, it was evident that each of us connected with different characters and placed responsibility in different corners. The group was unanimous in its feeling that Crank would be a difficult book for teenagers to read and discuss with their parents. The intriguing format of the writing is easy for teenagers to read and the theme is appealing to young people—especially girls. We were able to link the three chosen books together through the ideas of cyclical behaviors and new beginnings.
From Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin:
Our group was small as several of our members got on a bus at 3:00 a.m. to join the protests in Madision—a six+ hour bus ride as it picked up others along the way.
Crank and A Girl Named Mister are dark but an effective way to get information to the teenager. Wouldn’t reading these books be more effective than being handed a brochure?
Crank: Letting Kristine go for the summer, knowing the situation of a loser Dad was hard to reconcile and made the mother as much of a contributor to Kristina’s problems as the Dad. Then it took Mom a long time to come out of denial because she was too caught up in herself. Identity is a big topic, even with a character having two names in some cases. The layout of the book was beautiful and it slowed the pace of the reading.
The authors of both books are brave to take on the topic in this way.
Our reading when we were growing up was pretty naive. If there were books that dealt with sex and drugs it was from a pretty biased point of view with wholesomeness being the theme. Betty Cavanna and Maureen Daly were authors mentioned as well as the series of Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew.
Where the Sunrise Begins: This is a quiet story. The color palette contributes to the quiet, peaceful nature of the book. It gives off a sense of wonder as it tackles the big questions. The repetition contributes to the reader wanting to turn the pages. This is also the type of book that would-be authors are told won’t sell to publishers. Goes back to that advice of writing what you want to write.
From The Bookcase, Wayzata, Minnesota:
We had a large turnout of people to discuss Crank and A Girl Named Mister. Our book club members were very disturbed by Crank, which we decided was the point. The librarians in our group spoke to how popular Ellen Hopkins’ books are with teens, circulating widely. It was a prevalent feeling that the mother in this book is largely responsible for what happens to Kristina/Bree. We wondered why a mother would ever let her daughter go to stay with a drug-addicted father for an entire summer. And how primed Kristina was for sliding into an alternate life—the contrast was remarkable. Everyone agreed that the variety of the poetry, the many forms, and the way the narrative flowed was artful. It also lends to the popularity of the book. It is at once easier and more difficult to read. Several of our book club members commented that they want a book to be more hopeful than Crank was, but we understood the fascination this story has for teens who will, hopefully, never experience the challenges of Kristina’s life.
Contrasting this book to A Girl Named Mister was interesting because they are both written as novels in verse about young girls who make life-altering decisions. Everyone agreed that A Girl Named Mister had a story that was easier to read, but we were all saddened by the choice Mary Rudine had to make. Contrasting the changes in Mary Rudine’s life with the changes in Mary, the mother of Jesus, when she discovered she was pregnant made for a very different reading experience from Crank. Although there are no holds barred in describing Mary Rudine’s about-face from her vow of celibacy, the book was more understandable. The faith aspects of the story added another dimension that was appreciated by many in attendance.
Where the Sunrise Begins was thought to be a picture book for adults, a gift book for inspirational purposes, filled with the nature metaphors and images that Doug Wood admires. The artist’s palette was both soft and dreamy and bold and awakening, which fits the theme of the book.
Books We’ll Discuss in March:
Next month we’ll be talking about Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm and An Eye for Color by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Julia Breckenreid.