Saturday, July 14, 2012

Dead End in Norvelt

Title: Dead End in Norvelt
Author: Jack Gantos
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Publication Date: September, 2011
Genre/Format: Historical Fiction/Novel
Goodreads Summary: Dead End in Norvelt is the winner of the 2012 Newbery Medal for the year's best contribution to children's literature and the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction!
Melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional, 
Dead End in Norvelt is a novel about an incredible two months for a kid named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation excitement are shot down when he is "grounded for life" by his feuding parents, and whose nose spews bad blood at every little shock he gets. But plenty of excitement (and shocks) are coming Jack's way once his mom loans him out to help a fiesty old neighbor with a most unusual chore—typewriting obituaries filled with stories about the people who founded his utopian town. As one obituary leads to another, Jack is launced on a strange adventure involving molten wax, Eleanor Roosevelt, twisted promises, a homemade airplane, Girl Scout cookies, a man on a trike, a dancing plague, voices from the past, Hells Angels . . . and possibly murder. Endlessly surprising, this sly, sharp-edged narrative is the author at his very best, making readers laugh out loud at the most unexpected things in a dead-funny depiction of growing up in a slightly off-kilter place where the past is present, the present is confusing, and the future is completely up in the air.
What I Think: Jack Gantos knows how to weave humor into a great story, even the weirdest situations, and Dead End is no exception. Meet Jack. He is 11 years old, has chronic nose bleeds and just got grounded for the summer. Thank goodness Miss Volker, his neighbor and native Norveltener, needs his help writing obituaries for the newspaper since her hands are too arthritic to write. This new pairing of odd friends causes for Jack to have a very unpredictable summer indeed! 
     One of the things I loved the most about this book were the characters. I don't know how based in fact they were, but they were what made this book great. Jack is a unique boy (though to me, he seems like a pretty typical gifted boy) who is aiming to please and is curious about everything. Mr. Spizz is a crazy old man who is the town gossip. Miss Volker is a feisty lady who just calls it like she sees it. And his parents are always feuding and putting Jack in the middle (causing many of the conflicts of the story). They were what moved the story along- you had to know how the lives of these characters would resolve.
     I also love how the book is a mixture of humor, history and obituaries. It takes place in the 60s and the feel of the book brings you to this era. Also through Jack's constant reading of history, Gantos gives "mini-lessons" in Cleopatra & Antony, the Incas, the Aztecs, the atomic bomb and many other times in history. Lastly, I loved the obituaries that were included. They were written so well and would be a great activity to do in class.
     Overall, this book was well-written, funny and had great characterization. A great read.
Read Together: Grades 4 to 8
Read Alone: Grades 5 to 8
Read With: Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt, Hound Dog True by Linda Urban, Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm
Snatch of Text: "The writer of the book called Cortes a great man. As Miss Volker had once said, 'Be suspicious of history that is written by conquerors.' I bet the writer didn't ask any Aztecs what they thought of Cortes." (p. 89-90)

      "Hey, Dad," I called behind him as he walked toward the tractor. "Which do you think is more deadly? Past history or future history?"

     He didn't even slow down to think about it. "Future history," he yelled back without hesitation. "Each war gets worse because we get better at killing each other."
     That sounded so true. At first cavemen bashed each other's heads in with rocks and sticks. By the time of the Crusaders it was long swords and arrows, and at Gettysburg they were blasting each other to bits from cannons filled with lead balls, iron chains, railroad spikes, and door knobs. And atomic bombs made future wars look even more hopeless. No humans will survive. All the animals will die. Fish will rot in acidic water. All vegetation will wilt in polluted air. There will be nothing left but enormous insects the size of dinosaurs." (p. 115-116)
Mentor Text for: Character Development, Metaphors, Humor, Tone
Writing Prompts: Miss Volker's obituaries always start with information about the life of the person that passed away followed by history that happened on the day they passed away. Pick a person who has passed away and complete an obituary like Miss Volker's. 
Topics Covered: Cold War, Vietnam War, Hells Angels, Death, Obituaries, Parents
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