Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Braid

Image credit:
Frost, Helen. The Braid. New York: Frances Foster Books, 2006.

Annotation: During the Highland Clearances in Scotland, two sisters weave braids and tales of their experiences with alternating narrative poems.

Two sisters – Sarah and Jeannie – braid their hair together and cut it in the middle so that each sister has one half. Then they both go on separate journeys during the Highland Clearances in Scotland. Sarah moves with her grandma to another place in Scotland while Jeanie travels with the rest of the family to Canada. With their braids, the sisters remember each other and share their experiences with loss, love and perseverance.

What makes The Braid so unique is that Helen Frost uses a formal structure based on Celtic knots, which includes narrative poems in the alternating voices of the two sisters and praise poems about something in the narrative poem. The poems are “braided” together by including similar lines. Although the reader can tell it is a poem, the story still is easy to read. The narrative comes off so naturally the reader doesn’t realize how formal the structure is until the notes at the end of the book.

The structure makes The Braid a great book for teens to get rid of any preconceived notions about poetry and realize how accessible it can be. The sisters also are young adults who go through difficult experiences the teen could relate to, including the loss of family members and teen pregnancy, in addition to the historic elements, such as boat crossings. The story does a beautiful job weaving the sisters’ experiences together and would bring in the average teen reader.

  • YALSA "Best Books for Young Adults, 2007"
  • 2007 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book
  • 2007 honor book: "Lion and the Unicorn" Award for Excellence in North American Poetry
  • School Library Journal "Best Books of the Year, 2006"
  • Kirkus Reviews "Editor's Choice, 2006"
  • NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies
  • Notable Book in Historical Fiction, 2007, for the Children's Literature Assembly (CLA) an affiliate of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
  • Bank Street College of Education Children's Book Committee "Best Children's Books of the Year, 2007"
  • Cooperative Children's Book Center "CCBC Choices 2007"
  • Special Recognition: 2007 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People
  • Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Master List
  • Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List


Image credit:
Blume, J. (1975). Forever. New York: Pocket Books.

Annotation: Two high school seniors experience the highs and lows of love they are convinced will last forever.

Katherine and Michael are convinced their love will last forever. They meet on New Year’s Eve and fall into a journey full of the joy and curiosity of a first love. Who wants to think about the end for the relationship? They are prepared to be together for the rest of their lives, but then they are separated for a summer.

The story captures what falling in love for the first time is like, with all the ups and downs of saying “I love you” and fights. Although Forever has explicit scenes of teen sex, they are honest, realistic accounts that show the first time isn’t always a sweeping epic but can be awkward. Those scenes sometimes have influenced people to want to ban Forever from teens, but because of the book’s honesty, it can be a good starting point for discussion of teen pregnancy, using protection and love lasting forever. Judy Blume also includes a note about safe sex at the beginning of the book. Teens going through similar experiences could find the book relatable. Although the book was written in the 1970s, few of the references are dated (mostly that Robert Redford was the teen heartthrob and the kids can drink at age 18).

Forever also includes references to other stressful topics teens deal with, such as suicide and a grandparent’s death. However, these topics could have been given more description to capture the depth of emotions felt because it seemed they were backdrops to the main emotional struggle: first love. Some of the relationship situations also could have used more emotional depth. For example, when Katherine is dealing with a new attraction, there could have been more emotional descriptions to prepare the reader for the way she reacted. In general, the story is a quick read, but the main focus of first love still is relatable for teens, capturing how one can react to the first time.

Award: 1996 Margaret A. Edwards Award Winner
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