Sunday, August 11, 2013

After Iris by Natasha Farrant

Image from
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013

For her twelfth birthday Bluebell Gadsby receives a video camera. So she decides to document her life in a “combination of conventional diary entries and transcripts of short films.” She’d like to film everything, but sometimes her camera isn’t handy and sometimes her friends and family make her turn off the camera. Blue lives in an old house in London with her dramatic older sister Flora, her younger brother and sister (whom she lovingly calls the Babes), and their au pair Zoran. Her parents are supposed to live there, too, but they’re too busy working in other cities and countries to spend much time at home. This is a challenging year for Blue as she continues to grieve for her sister Iris who died three years ago, falls in love with the mysterious and charming boy next door, gets revenge on her school nemesis, and makes new crazy, but wonderful friends. Life maybe chaotic, unpredictable, and dramatic for Blue and the Gadsby family, but it is far from forgettable!

In her first middle grade book, Farrant captures the many facets of the Gadsby family in a touching, yet humorous way. Written chronologically in short chapters, Blue’s tongue-in-cheek humor, as well as her grief for her sister, comes to life. Filled with a cast of eccentric, yet lovable characters Blue’s story isn’t just about a family dealing with the loss of a loved one, it’s also about a young girl’s growth as she learns to deal with her emotions and stand up for herself. Blue is a sensitive middle child who feels overlooked because her parents think of her as the sensible one. As she writes, who wants to be known as the “sensible one?” With references to cell phones, Skype, pop culture, and Facebook this story is firmly set in the present.

Read the first chapter and feel yourself pulled in by the strange and wonderful Gadbsy (Note: on my computer the first few pages of the PDF are jibberish, but the text of the book is readable).

Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech
Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles
Saffy’s Angel (as well as the other Casson Family books) by Hilary McKay
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead       

*As a follow up writing activity have kids film a short scene with a camera and then transcribe it as Blue does in the book. If you don’t have access to a camera, have kids pick a scene from their favorite movie or YouTube video to transcribe. This is a great way to encourage descriptive writing.

*Blue’s au pair Zoran fled from Bosnia as a child. Bring in a map so kids can see the distance between Bosnia and England. This is a good time to introduce kids to Bosnian culture.

*Zoran is also an accomplished pianist and plays many pieces in the book. Play a few for readers. Here’s a partial list of pieces:
  • The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night, Hey Jude, All You Need is Love
  • Irving Berlin – Puttin’ on the Ritz
  • Chopin – Mazurka and Nocturne
  • Jack Johnson - Banana Pancakes
  • Mozart - Moonlight Sonata

Age 10+ / Grade 5+


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