Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing)

Biblio Bits Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing) by Alison McGhee, pictures by Drazen Kozjan, Scholastic Press, 2008 (ISBN 9780545033480)

Reading Level/Interest Age Ages 9-11

Genre Realistic fiction

Plot Summary
Julia Gillian is the only child of two academic parents and, this summer, they are busy with their studies. They are attentive and loving, just a bit unavailable at the moment. Julia Gillian's Saint Bernard dog, Bigfoot, and her older, downstairs neighbors, Enzo and Zap, form members of her close network of friends. Julia Gillian is artistic and creative: she makes papier mache animal masks that she sometimes wears when she needs to feel brave. She's afraid of how the book she's reading is going to end; it's about a dog who is old, and she worries that the dog may die. Julia Gillian must navigate the small hardships of her life (and growing up), but has a good group of supporters to carry her through. The humorous and evocative illustrations by Kozjan, as well as the layout of the book, make this an appealing choice for younger or reluctant readers.

Critical Evaluation
This may be one of the best younger tween books that I have yet to come across. McGhee conveys the delicate moment when a child begins to know more about the world, sees flaws in him/herself and the people around him/her, and begins to grow into a new understanding. Julia Gillian is a likeable character whose emotions and feelings are familiar to us. It is notable that Julia Gillian is an only child who is cherished not just by her parents, but by her 20-something downstairs neighbors; it is clear that this is a child who is connected to her community in a refreshing way. It is a gentle book that is character-focused, mainly on Julia Gillian, and her small triumphs and challenges. Though not a lot "happens" the story is compelling and readers will want to know if Julia Gillian ever masters the claw machine or finishes "the green book."

Reader's Annotation
Julia Gillian has a mission: to master the Claw Machine at her local hardware store. She wants that meerkat! But can she do it? Will she become the Claw Machine Master?

Author Information
Alison McGhee was born in 1960 and writes for all ages. She has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She teaches on the creative writing faculty at Metropolitan State University (MN). (Information for this author biography was found here.)

Challenge issues
I suppose the downstairs neighbors, Enzo and Zap (a brother/sister team), could be perceived as unconventional, since they don't live with their parents.

Booktalking Ideas
I would definitely play up the things Julia Gillian is focused on: the claw machine, her dog, the uncertain book ending, and bubble tea. She is such an engaging and central part of this story that I might even read a small portion of the narration so listeners could get a "feel" for the narrative voice. This title could fit in a booktalk about kids and their pets or about the books with real main characters that readers can relate to.

Curriculum Ties
This could be a good book to discuss as part of a life skills class, particularly focusing on the support network that Julia Gillian has in place. The character of Enzo is interesting because she doesn't always take Julia Gillian at face value or even agree with her. How does she still manage to show Julia Gillian that she is there for her? Can students identify adults in their lives who support them in a similar way?

Why this book?
I came across this title last year and loved it and have since read the sequel. It was too perfect for this project not to include.

A trilogy is planned for this series. This one is followed by Julia Gillian (and the Quest for Joy) (2009).


Rockport Public Library owns?

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