Saturday, July 11, 2009
I picked up the book Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French two months ago at the library. It was on the new book shelf at our public library. I was excited when I saw the cover, because it took me back to my childhood when we would visit my grandparents and then drive up to see the amazing redwood forests. But, for one reason or another, this book was not the book I would choose to read as I was working my way through my TBR pile. In fact, I have had to renew this book at the library twice. It turns out waiting has been my loss. I finally started this book last weekend, and was almost done when I got my Horn Book electronic newsletter. Turns out that the Horn Book staff really liked this book, and I'm pleased to say that so did I -- what's the saying about "better late than never"?
One of the main reasons I like Operation Redwood is because the 4 main characters all come from different cultures, and bring a certain uniqueness to the story. French subtly weaves these cultural elements into the fabric of the story, but kids will still take away a lot from this diversity. There's Julian Carter-Li, a mixture of his parents -- Caucasian and Chinese. Then, we have Julian's best friend, Danny Lopez, a son of Hispanic parents, who can speak fluent Spanish. There's also Robin Elder. The uniqueness that Robin brings to the story is that she lives in Northern California with her mom, dad, and two siblings, and her family believes in home schooling. Robin's life gives the reader an interesting look into one form of home schooling. Then, there is the "villain" of the story -- Sibley Carter. He is Julian's uncle who has grudgingly allowed Julian to live with his family while Julian's own mom is in China on a special project. Silbey's character allows the reader to grasp the concept of corporate greed at any cost.
A second reason to like this book is the volumes of emails that fly between Julian, Danny, and Robin. In the beginning of the story, Julian is sent home from school because he is ill with a high fever. But, because his aunt cannot be located, he is sent to his Uncle Sibley's office. While there, he discovers two very important emails. One is an unfavorable email about Julian, written by his uncle. The second email had the subject title: "SIBLEY CARTER IS A MORON AND A WORLD-CLASS JERK!!!" Julian opens this email, is fascinated by what the writer (Robin) has to say. However, he is also worried that Sibley will come to work the next day and discover that Julian has opened two of his emails. So, Julian deletes the one about himself, and forwards the "moron/jerk" email to his best friend, Danny. From there, Julian and Danny begin an email correspondence with Robin. This correspondence is fun for several reasons: it moves the story along through the emails, and the emails from all three of the characters are FABULOUS examples of "voice" in writing. The reader learns so much about Julian, Danny, and Robin's personalities through these emails.
A third reason to like this story is the environmental one. It turns out Sibley's company will soon be cutting down the redwood forest for profit on the property next to Robin's family. This is why Robin thinks he is a "moron" and a "jerk". When Julian, Robin, and Danny band together to stop him, the reader learns a lot about the loss of forests, what clean cutting is, and how to replant properly when trees are cut down. In fact, Julian convinces his cousin, Preston (an adorable boy!), to do a report on the redwoods, and the reader learns even more through Preston's report. It's impossible to not root for the environment (in this case, redwood forests) over greed!
A fourth reason I enjoyed Operation Redwood is the adventure aspect. Julian, Danny, and Robin coming up with a plan that allows Julian to "run away" to northern California to visit Robin and see the redwood forest Robin is so worried about. Julian, Danny, Robin, and Ariel (Robin's friend) staging a protest in the coolest treehouse ever, high up in the redwood trees. I love the idea of kids standing up to grown-ups for a just cause.
One of the final reasons I liked this book was that hating the "bad guys" -- Uncle Sibley and Aunt Daphne -- makes the story move along as well. The reader can't help rooting for Julian when no one can even pick him up at school when he is deathly ill, or when his aunt and uncle keep threatening him with the point system they have set up for his behavior -- they deduct points at every step, or when Aunt Daphne shows up at Robin's house with a sherriff, accusing Robin's family of kidnapping Julian, or all the unkind things they say to Julian, or ... You get my point. These are not very nice people.
Operation Redwood will definitely be an addition to my library and used for many reasons -- great examples of "voice", a great adventure story, an opportunity to look at cultures that are different from my own students, and an opportunity to talk about some very important environmental issues. I feel like I hit the jackpot with this one!!