Sunday, May 29, 2016

Maus, by Art Spiegelman

I’ll start this review by saying that “Maus” is definitely not a book for boys, but it may be a hit with young men who’re ready for something different.   This is a graphic novel created by cartoonist Art Speigelman, which tells the story of his father Vladek’s experiences as a survivor of the Holocaust.  Although the story jumps back and forth from the present to the buildup of World War II, the interview format makes it very easy for the reader to identify with Vladek.  It’s hard for us to comprehend how over six million Jews died during the holocaust, because so many individual lives quickly become nothing more than a statistic.  By writing “Maus” as a graphic novel, however, Spiegelman allows the reader more insight into the lives which were lost, and also a look at the many survivors who were tragically scarred.

One unique method that Spiegelman used was to depict his characters as animals.  The Jewish victims are seen as mice, the Nazis as cats, and the American GIs are shown as dogs.  By using cartoonish animals as the actors in this human tragedy, Spiegelman lightens the weight of mass murder enough to keep the reader from feeling overwhelmed.  Even though this book is technically considered a graphic novel, it’s actually a powerful memoir that will leave the reader changed by the end of Volume 2.

I absolutely loved Maus, and it’s one of those classics that I keep at the front of my own bookshelf at home.  Again, it’s probably not the best choice for younger boys due to the mature themes, but it’s an absolute must-read for anyone old enough to study the Holocaust.  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Bagels from Benny, by Aubrey Davis

Benny loves to help out at his Grandpa’s bakery, and the customers love the crusty bagels with their soft insides.  When Grandpa explains to Benny that God, not him, should be thanked for the wonderful bagels, Benny decides to do just that.  After some thought, he leaves God a bagful of bagels in the synagogue each week.  Miraculously, it appears that God is actually eating the bagels…or is He?

This picture book is an awesome story of gratitude and sharing.  It’s hard to review a book so short without giving away the ending, but I’ll do my best since it’s such a powerful story.  I loved the way that both Benny and his Grandpa discovered a way to help others through their work, and I think it’s important to remember just how much a simple thing like food can mean to someone in need.    

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Monster, by Walter Dean Myers

Sixteen year-old Steve Harmon is a young man who loves making films, and he’s actually starring in his latest production.  It’s the story of how he became involved in a robbery plot that went bad, and resulted in the death of an innocent shopkeeper.  Steve is now sitting in the courtroom, on trial and facing a possible life sentence.  The scariest part of Steve’s movie?  The story is all happening in real life.

One of the best things about this book is the creative format.  By presenting the story as a screenplay rather than as a traditional novel, we get a much better insight into how Steve views the world.  It’s almost as if the stress of being on trial for his life has caused Steve to step out of his body, and now he analyzes the proceedings with all the excitement of a dispassionate bystander. 

SPOILER:  Another thing that I appreciated was the fact that Mr. Myers never really told us whether or not Steve was truly innocent.  That was a very interesting plot device, since I found myself feeling sympathy for a young man who may very well have played a crucial role in this murder.  “Monster” is a highly-charged but thoughtful read, and I’d be very happy to recommend it.