Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Review: Forever...

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A Book Review of:

Forever..., by Judy Blume


Katherine is a senior in high school and when she meets Michael, he makes her feel really special. Together, they explore their sexuality together, moving as slowly as Katherine needs to feel comfortable. It's the first time Katherine or Michael has ever said "I love you," to anyone, and when they finally have sex for the first time, they just know that they will be together forever. But when summer comes and they both take summer jobs in different states, their forever will be tested.

Blume, J. (1975). Forever. New York, NY: Bradbury.


This book is frequently banned or challenged due to its unabashed look at a romantic young couple's first sexual experiences. The book doesn't hold anything back, and I can see why

A Review: Once I Ate a Pie

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A Book Review of:

Once I Ate Pie, by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest
Illustrated by Katy Schneider

ALA's Notable Books for Children Award Winner
Beehive Children's Poetry Book Award
Virginia's Readers' Choice Award (WOOT!)
Young Hoosier Book Award


This book of poetry tells the story of 13 dogs from their own perspectives-- of their misbehavior, their loyalties, and what they really like to do all day. From the puppy on the first page who admits he's afraid of the big world for now, to Mr. Beefy, a giant pub who admits, "Once I ate a pie," and to the end, where the now grown up puppy (from the first poem), to Wupsi who loves how cute he is, to Abby, who chews everything in sight, and others in between, we finally end with Luke, who is actually the now-grown puppy from the first pages. This book of short poems is for dog lovers everywhere who can see a little bit of their pets in each of these lovable characters.
Machlachlan, P., & Charest, E.M. (2006). Once I ate a pie. New York, NY: Joanna Cotler Books.

This book is a hilarious way to get inside a dog's head. Using wonderful imagery and a great use of diction and word arrangement, MacLachlan and her daughter bring to life 13 dogs, some mischievous, some good. The words on the page, especially the shape and size of the words, reflect the words themselves. For example, for Pocket's poem (a small dog who thinks he's BIG), the word "tiny" is shown in small text, and the last line, "I am HUGE" is written in large font. Abby, a dog who runs off with things--slippers, socks, meat off a plate, and anything in a bowl, has words displayed all over, in arcs across the page, with big and small text intermixed. This gives you the feeling of the mess Abby makes in her house. Aside from the beautiful words, Katy Schneider's beautiful illustrations are funny, expressive, and capture the dogs perfectly. They are a perfect match to the text, and the combination of all of these things make this book a real treat.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Review: Rapunzel's Revenge

A Book Review of:
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Rapunzel's Revenge, Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Illustrated by Nathan Hale

It's a GRAPHIC NOVEL! Woo-hoo!
Awards: American Library Association Notable Books for Children AND Young Readers' Choice Award


Rapunzel was taken from her parents by Mother Gothel when she was a baby, and Rapunzel has grown up thinking that Gothel is her real mom.  She lives inside a palace with giant walls surrounding it, and she’s not allowed to see the other side. She finally sneaks to the other side and sees that everything beyond the palace walls is dead—the land is completely barren.  And she sees thousands of workers from the mine lined up to get a drink of water. It turns out that one of them is her real mother.

When she confronts Gothel about this, she is put into a prison cell at the top of a tall magical tree. She’s there for several years and her hair grows long enough that she can finally use it as a rope to escape. She meets an outlaw named Jack who agrees to help her get back to Mother Gothel’s palace.  Along the way, Rapunzel (or Punzie as Jack likes to call her) figures out that she can do a lot more than she can be a pretty good wrangler using her hair as a lasso, and she wants to get vengeance on the woman who stole her from her mother, imprisoned her, and made everyone’s lives in the kingdom miserable.

Hale, S. & Hale, D. (2008). Rapunzel's revenge. New York, NY: Bloomsbury. 

I love the Hales' take on this classic fairy tale. It's adventurous, fun, and transforms the Rapunzel from a quiet obedient woman waiting to be rescued in her high tower to a proactive girl with high hopes for rescuing her real mother and the rest of the kingdom from Mother Gothel's evil nature. It also makes Mother Gothel an even more villainous villain because she is a dictator witch ruling over the land which she controls because of her ability to make things grow or not grow. The budding feelings between Rapunzel and Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk tales) also show how awkward they both can be about confronting their feelings, but this also stops their feelings from taking over the plot. The artistry of the novel is very eye-catching and compliments the text well, conveying emotions and certain actions without words. It's a great way to get reluctant readers reading. Because graphic novels are considered "cooler" than regular books by many children and teens, this lends a certain appeal. It is also appealing because it's a familiar story, but it clearly has Rapunzel as a heroine, which girls will enjoy reading about. But just because it's got a female lead doesn't mean this graphic novel won't appeal to boys either! After book talking this at our library, it was clear that it was a popular choice among all teens, and having won the Young Readers' Choice Award, I'd say this backs that up. Boys will like the amount of adventure and action in the book, and the funny parts as well as the girls will. It's a great read for everyone.

Professional Reviews:

"The popular author of Princess Academy teams with her husband and illustrator Hale (no relation) for a muscular retelling of the famously long-haired heroine's story, set in a fairy-tale version of the Wild West. The Hales' Rapunzel, the narrator, lives like royalty with witchy Mother Gothel, but defies orders, scaling villa walls to see what's outside--a shocking wasteland of earth-scarring mines and smoke-billowing towers. She recognizes a mine worker from a recurrent dream: it's her birth mother, from whom she was taken as punishment for her father's theft from Mother G.'s garden. Their brief reunion sets the plot in motion. Mother G. banishes Rapunzel to a forest treehouse, checking annually for repentance, which never comes. Rapunzel uses her brick-red braids first to escape, then like Indiana Jones with his whip, to knock out the villains whom she and her new sidekick, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), encounter as they navigate hostile territory to free Rapunzel's mom from peril. Illustrator Hale's detailed, candy-colored artwork demands close viewing, as it carries the action--Rapunzel's many scrapes are nearly wordless. With its can-do heroine, witty dialogue and romantic ending, this graphic novel has something for nearly everybody."
[Review of the book Rapunzel's revenge, by S. Hale & D. Hale]. (2008, August 4). Publisher's Weekly. Retrieved from 

"This version of the classic fairy tale Rapunzel is set in the old Southwest, complete with cowboys, coal mines, and coyotes. Rapunzel is a young girl living in a fortress with Mother Gothel, an enchantress who can make plants grow at her whim. Although their home is overflowing with fruits and flowers, it is surrounded by a wall that masks the desert and coal mines outside-Gothel owns everything, and the native people depend on her good will to keep their crops growing. When Rapunzel sneaks over the wall on her twelfth birthday, she sees the desolate world over which Mother Gothel rules, and she meets her real mother who was forced to give Rapunzel to Gothel at birth. To punish her curiosity, Gothel imprisons Rapunzel inside an enchanted tree that has only one window, far above the ground. Just as in the original version, Rapunzel's hair grows prodigiously. But this girl does not need a prince to climb up and rescue her. She uses her braid as a lasso to escape the tree and goes on many adventures that lead her ultimately to reunite with her mother and find true love in a boy named Jack, whose companion is an uncooperative goose. The Hale team creates an engaging heroine. Rapunzel gallivants across the unexpected setting, meets a cast of characters both humorous and threatening, and in the end comes to inherit the land that Gothel had stripped of life and returns it to the native people. This novel presents entertaining girl power at its quirkiest."
Lehner, L. (2008, October 1). [Review of the book Rapunzel's revenge, by S. Hale & D. Hale]. Voice of Youth Advocates. Retrieved from

Other Uses:

Writing workshops are a great way for kids and teens to show off their talents and become interested in different types of  literature. Why not doing a graphic novel writing workshop? Show off some interesting graphic novels that have become popular lately, such as Rapunzel's Revenge, and then have them brainstorm and create the hero or heroine of their own story.

Then show them how they can create their own drawings, or they can pair up in the workshop with someone to  create a graphic novel. The workshop can be only one session, or it can be multiple sessions (this would be more effective). At the end of the workshop, provide instructions for them to complete the project, or see them through to the end, and have them present their handmade graphic novels for the group to see.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Review: Phineas Gage: A Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science

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Book Review of:

Phineas Gage: A Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science, by John Fleischman


This non-fiction book for children and young adults gives an interesting look at how one man's accident in1848 that sent an iron rod through his brain left him alive, but completely altered in personality. This is Phineas Gage, a man who worked as a foreman in railroad construction until the accident made him lash out in angry bursts, unable to concentrate on tasks, and basically turned him into a different person.  Part description of this incredible accident and part look at how this came to be a huge breakthrough in what doctors and neuroscientists understand about the working of the human brain, readers will enjoy the shock and awe of Phineas' incredible story, as well as learning about medical conditions and practices in the mid-19th century and how the brain works.
Fleischman, J. (2002). Phineas Gage. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

After learning about Phineas Gage in introductory psychology classes at William and Mary, when I saw this on my class reading list, I jumped at the chance to learn more. The book tells Phineas' story in the present active voice from the first sentence, "The most unlucky/lucky moment in the life of Phineas Gage is only a minute or two away," (Fleischman, 2002, p. 1). It gives readers the feel of how the accident went down, and it's truly one of those stories that, although somewhat horrific, is interesting in only the way that terrible accidents can be-- like watching a car accident. But it's not painted in an overly graphic way. Instead, the tone is scientific, and gives great background of the medical practices at the time, as well as information on different kinds of brain injuries, and a history of how doctors learned about the presence of cells and bacteria. After Phineas Gage's obvious wounds were patched, he began acting in a way completely unlike his old self. He was rude, indecisive, crass, foul-mouthed, and angry.  He lost his ability to interact socially. He ended up dying 11 years later from seizures that were probably another consequence of his brain injury from long ago. This remarkable story is not one to miss for any one-- children to adult-- who want to hear an incredible story of a man's accident and understand how the brain works. Alternating text with photographs and diagrams of the brain, this book makes non-fiction engaging and interesting. Complete with a glossary of terms, a list of resources for further reading, and a detailed index, this would be a great book for casual reading or for research.

Professional Reviews:

"Gr. 7-10. Railroad foreman and blasting expert Phineas Gage was hard at work in 1848 when an improperly prepared charge of gunpowder rocketed a three-foot-long iron rod through his brain. Bloodied and blackened, Gage remained coherent and surprisingly relaxed as he rode an oxcart back to town to get help. He survived the accident for nearly a dozen years, though his personality changed drastically: the once amiable man became crude and argumentative. The author combines this believe-it-or-not story with a history of brain research, including everything from phrenology to high-tech tools. The text is vivid, though curiosity seekers drawn in by the promise of a gruesome story will get bogged down in heavier sections on brain physiology and chemistry. The illustrations are well captioned but don't have enough visual interest to attract browsers for more than a moment. Report writers and science buffs will be the book's best audience. A glossary and an annotated bibliography help make this a terrific resource."
Meyer, R. (2002, March 1). [Review of the book Phineas Gage, by J. Fleischman]. Booklist. Retrieved from
"The fascinating story of the construction foreman who survived for 10 years after a 13-pound iron rod shot through his brain. Fleischman relates Gage's "horrible accident" and the subsequent events in the present tense, giving immediacy to the text. He avoids sensationalizing by letting the events themselves carry the impact. The straightforward description of Gage calmly chatting on a porch 30 minutes after the accident, for example, comes across as horrifying and amazing. The author presents scientific background in a conversational style and jumps enthusiastically into such related topics as phrenology, 19th-century medical practices, and the history of microbiology. He shows how Gage's misfortune actually played an intriguing and important role in the development of our knowledge of the brain. The present-tense narrative may cause occasional confusion, since it spans several time periods and dates are not always immediately apparent from the text. Illustrations include historical photographs; one showing the iron bar posed dramatically next to Gage's skull is particularly impressive. Other photos and diagrams help explain the workings of the brain. The work of Gage expert Malcolm Macmillan, cited in the list of resources, seems the likely main source for the quotes and details of Gage's life, but this is not clearly spelled out in the text or appendixes. Like Penny Colman's Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts (Holt, 1997) and James M. Deem's Bodies from the Bog (Houghton, 1998), Phineas Gage brings a scientific viewpoint to a topic that will be delightfully gruesome to many readers."
 Englefried, Steven. (2002, March 1). [Review of the book Phineas Gage, by J. Fleischman]. School Library Journal. Retrieved from

Other Uses:

 Use this book in a book talk to introduce older children and teens to nonfiction books that might interest them. In this book talk, I would center my books around books that revolve around science, but also the horrific, because these tend to hook reluctant readers. Here are several options of other books to include in such a book talk. Book with pictures and diagrams are often good choices here because reluctant readers can sometimes be overwhelmed by text.

  • Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science, by John Fleischman
  • Bury the Dead: Tombs, Corpses, Mummies, Skeletons, & Rituals, by Christopher Sloan
    • Read my review of this book here-- This book discusses burial practices as uncovered by archaeologists in this book published by the National Geographic Society.
  • Bodies from the Ash, by James Deem
    •  About the bodies in Pompeii and Herculaneum that were recovered from the ashes of Mt. Vesuvius' AD 79 eruption. 
  • Bodies from the Bog, by James Deem
    • About bodies that have been recovered from bogs in Northern Europe.
  • Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch, and What It Takes to Win, by Judy Dutton
    • An international science fair that shows that science fair projects can go WAY beyond growing plants in different kinds of water.

A Review: Bury the Dead

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Book Review of 

Bury the Dead: Tombs, Corpses, Mummies, Skeletons, & Rituals, by Christopher Sloan
Foreward by Dr. Bruno Frohlich


This non-fiction book for children and young adults describes different burial practices from past cultures up to today's practices for burying the dead. The burial practices covered include prehistoric burials, mummification in Egypt, golden tombs of the Amazons, the thousands of clay soldiers found in a Chinese emperor's tomb, tombs of the Moche lords of Peru, and a modern look at how we bury the dead in our own societies and how they might affect how people view us in the future. This book will satisfy morbid curiosities about ancient burials as well as teach a little anthropology and archaeology to show what scientists make of these remains and how anthropologists interpret them.
Sloan, C. (2002). Bury the dead. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.

Taking a topic and a book cover that will draw in lots of inquisitive minds, this National Geographic book by Christopher Sloan does a great job of introducing different burial practices throughout history to children and young adults. The language is not dumbed or watered down for children. It defines concepts throughout and provides a glossary at the back for easy reference, but also challenges kids to use their minds. With brilliant photographs of real burial practices, as well as imagined drawings of ancient burial rituals, it gives kids a view of the past, and translating that to how anthropologists study the past through scientific techniques in the present.

For kids who are naturally curious about morbid things like all of the things listed on the cover of this book-- tombs, corpses, mummies, skeletons and rituals, it is an enticing book. It is also easy to use and understand.  Each chapter features a case study of burial practices in a different part of the world. Organized from oldest to the present, day, it analyzes different practices in an unbiased way. In addition, the text isn't overwhelming, as it is broken up by great diagrams and photographs and some side bars.  With the type of research you'd expect from a National Geographic book, readers and parents of readers can see that this book is supplied with expert knowledge from very specific fields. Included are a table of contents, an index, and a bibliography that can aid interested readers with further resources.

Professional Reviews:

"Gr. 5-9. Kids will find it hard to resist picking up a book with words like corpses and skeletons in the title. And this one doesn't disappoint. Sloan, an editor at National Geographic magazine and the author of two previous books for children, does a terrific job of providing an intriguing, reader-friendly text that is not overshadowed by the fabulous color photographs from the National Geographic Society's archives. These pictures do not shirk from their subject: a full-page photo of a Peruvian mummy staring out from his burial cloth, his knees raised to his chest; a close-up of a "bog person" clearly showing, as the caption says, skin turned to leather by acidic conditions in the swamp. There are also many pictures of excavations, artifacts, and burial sites. Along with discussions of how and why people bury their dead are chapters on particular peoples and their traditions. There's material on the Egyptians, of course, but also on the Chinese, the terra-cotta soldiers of the Qin dynasty, and the Russian tombs of the Amazon women who lived between 800 and 100 B.C.E. Sloan had access to experts to vet his book, and it shows. This has the ring of authority and the look of quality."
Cooper, I. (2002, December 1). [Review of the book Bury the dead, by C. Sloan]. Booklist. Retrieved from

"Gr 5-9-An exceptionally handsome book on a macabre topic. The lucid text discusses the why of funeral rites and internment and then presents a vista of burials, beginning with the shadowy reaches of far prehistory through the colorful tombs of ancient Egypt, the golden graves of the Scytho-Siberians, the horde of clay warriors surrounding the tomb of the first Qin emperor, and the caparisoned grave of the Moche Lord of Sip ne Peru. The author closes with an investigation into more modern burial practices and speculates on what they may reflect about our relatively recent cultures, with a note on offending ethnic groups when ancient burial sites are disturbed for research. Formal in tone, the book includes location maps; a time line; colorful diagrams; realistic artwork; and an array of clear, color photos (some may find that the close-ups of mummies, fleshless skulls, and other mortal remains make them queasy). For those who have been fascinated with such dynamic titles as James M. Deem's Bodies from the Bog (Houghton, 1998), Donna M. Jackson's The Bone Detectives (Little, Brown, 1996), and Johan Reinhard's Discovering the Inca Ice Maiden (National Geographic, 1998), this title will prove irresistible."
Manning, P. (2002, October 1). [Review of the book Bury the dead, by C. Sloan]. School Library Journal. Retrieved from  

Other Uses:

Around Halloween, have an educational program at the library for tweens and teens that discusses holidays that celebrate the dead such as All Saints Day, the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), and Halloween. Discuss what these holidays used to mean. Use this book to introduce different ways that people have buried their dead.

After a short talk about how people bury and celebrate their dead, do a craft project by making Day of the Dead masks. For a food component, introduce them to "Pan de Muertos" (bread in the shape of a skull and crossbones can be lots of fun!), offerings to the dead of "wine" (AKA grape juice) and bread. You could also take them through a "House of Horror" where they would have a blindfold on and be forced to feel brains! (spaghetti), eyeballs! (peeled grapes), ears! (dried apricots), and skin! (fruit roll ups).


Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Review: Al Capone Does My Shirts

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Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko

2005 Newbery Honor Book
New York Times Best Seller

In 1935, twelve year old Moose and his family move to Alcatraz Island where his father has taken a job as an electrician. They have moved there to be closer to a special school for Moose's sister, Natalie, who has special needs. Moose is forced to get along with the children on the tiny prison island, including the warden's snotty daughter Piper, who is troublesome and used to getting her way. In addition, Moose is forced to take on the responsibility of caring for his sister every day after school and his mom and dad try to make ends meet working multiple jobs so that they can afford to send Natalie to a school they think may help her fit into society.
Choldenko, G. (2004). Al Capone does my shirts. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Although this book's setting is historic in time and place, it is not slow or bogged down with historic details which can turn some readers (especially young readers) off of historic literature. In addition, the setting-- on Alcatraz in the 1930s, with one of the most legendary criminals in recent American history-- is one that may draw in those reluctant to read historical fiction. Moose is a relate-able character who is forced to grow up too fast because of his sister's mental condition-- she is autistic, and in 1935 there are limited options for his sister Natalie. Although Natalie is actually older than he is (she's 15 but their mother tells everyone she is 10 because of the way she acts), Moose is forced to take care of her, which keeps him from playing baseball after school with friends, and prevents him from feeling like he fits in. He is constantly torn between wanting to be free of his responsibilities and wanting the best thing for Natalie, which ultimately wins out every time. Although this book has serious undertones, it remains humorous throughout, and is a fast and interesting read. Moose is a well-developed character, and the problems he faces-- balancing responsibility with a need for freedom and the ability to act as a kid, make him interesting and his situations realistic.

Professional Reviews:  

"In 1935, notorious gangster Al Capone is one of three hundred convicts housed in the maximum-security penitentiary on Alcatraz Island. Twelve-year-old Moose Flanagan also lives on the island. His father has taken a position as an electrician and guard at the prison in hopes that Moose's sister, Natalie, will be accepted at a special school in nearby San Francisco. Not only has Moose been forced to leave friends behind and move with his family to a fortress island, but he also cannot play baseball or make new friends now because he is stuck taking care of his sister whenever he is not in school. Natalie is afflicted with the condition now known as autism, and even at age sixteen, she cannot be left unsupervised. Everyone in the family has been under a strain because of Natalie's special needs. Meanwhile Piper, the warden's pretty, spoiled daughter, makes life complicated for Moose. The island's residents have their laundry done by the convicts, and thrill-seeking Piper drags Moose into her wild stunt of marketing Al Capone's laundry services to their middle school classmates in San Francisco. But when his family desperately needs a break in their efforts to get help for Natalie, Moose knows that only Piper has the connections and the audacity to help him pull off a reckless scheme involving the island's most famous inmate. Choldenko, author of Notes from a Liar and Her Dog (Putnam's, 2001/VOYA August 2001), weaves three As-Alcatraz, Al Capone, and autism-into an excellent historical novel for middle-grade readers. A large, annotated 1935 photograph of Alcatraz Island and an informative author's note give substance to the novel's factual sources."
Hogan, W. (2004, April 1). [Review of the book Al Capone does my shirts, by G. Choldenko]. Voices of Youth Advocacy Reviews. Retrieved from
"Moose’s world is turned upside down when his family moves to Alcatraz Island where his Dad has taken a job as a prison guard. Super-responsible Moose, big for 12, finds himself caught in the social interactions of this odd cut-off world. He cares for his sister who is older, yet acts much younger due to her autism and he finds his life alternating between frustration and growth. His mother focuses all of her attention on ways to cure the sister; his dad works two jobs and meekly accepts the mother’s choices; his fellow island-dwellers are a funny mix of oddball characters and good friends. Basing her story on the actual experience of those who supported the prison in the ’30s—when Al Capone was an inmate—Choldenko’s pacing is exquisite, balancing the tense family dynamics alongside the often-humorous and riveting school story of peer pressure and friendship. Fascinating setting as a metaphor for Moose’s own imprisonment and enabling some hysterically funny scenes, but a great read no matter where it takes place. (lengthy author’s note with footnotes to sources) (Fiction. 11-14)."
 [Review of the book Al Capone does my shirts, by G. Choldenko]. (2004, March 1). Kirkus' Reviews. Retrieved from

Other Uses:

In this book, Moose writes a letter to Al Capone asking him to help his sister get into the special school. Have young adults write a letter to an historical figure and have them relate it to something about that person. If you want to get really spiffy, have a letter exchange where one teen writes a letter to an historical figure, and another person must answer it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Review: The Case of the Left-handed Lady: An Enola Holmes Mystery

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Book Review of 

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady, by Nancy Springer


 Enola Holmes has avoided being sent to boarding school by her brothers Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. At fourteen years old in Victorian London she should still be in the care of men, and should be practicing feminine arts of crafts and become a lady worthy of marriage. But Enola has other ideas. Having been left by her mother (because her mother believes she is capable of running her own life), she uses money left to her to open up her own shop to find missing persons and things under a fake name: Dr. Ragostin: Scientific Perditorian. She pretends to be Ivy Meschle, Dr. Ragostin's young secretary, while she in fact solves the cases. She takes on the case of a missing young woman called Miss Cecily who has been in communication with a young merchant's son and expresses to him her leanings toward equality of the classes. Meanwhile, Enola must balance her own feelings of loneliness with her feelings for independence, and try not to be caught by her intelligent brother Sherlock, whom she's sure would send her away to boarding school to make a respectable young lady out of her.
Springer, N. (2007). The case of the left-handed lady. New York, NY: Philomel Books.


 I like this series because you don't need to read the books in order, which is useful when suggesting this books to children because you don't have to rely on having the right one available at all times. Enola is a great character. She's smart and courageous, and wickedly independent. But she isn't stoic, and the reader often commiserates with her loneliness.  I think this book may really connect with kids in middle school-- a time when children often struggle with the need for independence and the need for acceptance and friendship.  Enola's situation-- having a mother who is independent and expects Enola to be the same-- is unique because it allows this young protagonist in a very male-dominant world to be the main character and running her own show, which is very empowering.  Boys and girls alike will appreciate her wittiness and her courage, but young girls will also appreciate the feminist angle of this story set in Victorian England, a notably oppressive time for women seeking independence.  Although it has some of these serious issues, the book remains a light easy mystery, but is historical in setting as well.  Those who appreciate historical settings and commentary would appreciate this book.

Professional Reviews:

"In The Missing Marquess (2006), Springer introduced 14-year-old Enola Holmes, Sherlock's younger sister. In this book, Enola starts her own detective agency in London, complete with costumes and circumventions to hide her age. When a young lady of privilege goes missing, Enola uses several of her personas to find the girl. The mystery, laced with buzzwords of the time, won't have much resonance for contemporary kids, but Enola is beautifully drawn, as are the sights and sounds of late-nineteenth-century London. A surprise reunion for Enola will touch readers."
Cooper, I. (2007, March 15).  [Review of the book The case of the left-handed lady, by N. Springer]. Booklist. Retrieved from

"Young Sherlock Holmes fans will delight in Nancy Springer's sophisticated and absorbing mystery (Philomel, 2007), the second title in a series featuring Enola Holmes, the famed detective's younger sister. Enola, age 14, goes into hiding so as not to be sent to a finishing school by her older brothers. Using disguises, she makes up a detective agency and sets herself up as the secretary, intending to solve the cases herself. A visit from Sherlock Holmes's friend Dr. Watson inadvertently brings her a missing persons mystery to solve. Enola need to keep herself hidden from her brothers and society while braving the dangers of the London streets makes for a fast-paced and suspenseful tale. Narrator Katherine Kellgren is a master at the haughty British accents necessary for the high society of the Victorian era, always keeping a measured and engaging tone."
Bilton, K.T. (2007, December 1). [Review of the book The case of the left-handed lady, by N. Springer]. School Library Journal. Retrieved from

Other Uses: 

Have a contest at your library where kids must create their own special code to communicate with, which includes a key to the code. Post the five best codes up on a wall to reward those with the most creative or difficult to unlock code, giving them an "Enola Holmes Code" award.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Book Trailers-- Now showing in select blogs.

When I told people I was working on book trailers, no one seemed to get the concept. It's easy though, I swear. A book trailer is a short video that gives you information about a book the way a movie trailer does for a full length film. It hooks your interest and then makes you want to read it... well, if it's good anyway.

They are great because they get people interested in reading a book that might not have picked up otherwise. It gives you a little more information than the back of the book might, but not enough that it gives the entire plot away.

I've seen some great book trailers out there, and now I've finally done some of my own. It started out being for one of my classes, but it turned out to be a lot of fun (well, minus the citations-- does anyone think citations are fun?). So, I'm hoping to do some more once I get a little more time. Woot!

The book trailers are for Jeanne DuPrau's The City of Ember, Scott Westerfeld's Uglies, and M.T. Anderson's Feed. Check out a previous post to get a full book review for The City of Ember.

All of them are young adult novels that feature kids in future dystopian societies who realize that their worlds aren't as they seem. These kinds of books make readers really think about the society we live in.

They are short, around 1 1/2 minutes, so it doesn't take too much time. Check them out and leave me a comments!

The making of a book trailer:

If you're interested in making your own, or were just curious about what making a book trailer entailed, I'll tell you how I did it.

To do this, I had to use all images and music that were able to be shared-- like, I wouldn't get sued if I used them. I used Creative Commons, a great search engine for finding all images and music that you are able to use for free, so long as you credit your sources. I credited mine on YouTube in the description section.

Once I had all the pictures and music saved on my computer, I used Windows Live Movie Maker to put it all together. It lets you upload pictures, music, video, etc., and you can stitch them together, put captions on them. I wrote "scripts" for each book trailer, and worked from those to decide what types of images I should use for each slide.

You can just have words on the screen, or you can upload audio to add to it for a narrated book trailer. I would have done this, but my voice is high and squeaky and doesn't really fit the tone of the books. It would be like having Alvin and Chipmunks do Darth Vader-- it just wouldn't make sense. After I was done, I just uploaded them to YouTube, which you can also do through Window Live Movie Maker- it can turn them into a movie file (it makes them .wmv files), and then it can connect with your YouTube account to upload them directly into your account. Pretty sweet right?  If you want to share a book trailer, I'd love to see it!

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Review: Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief

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Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, byWendelin Van Draanen
Winner of the 1998 Edgar Award for Best Children's Mystery


 This book is the first in a series of books about Sammy (Samantha) Keyes, a 7th grader who lives with her Gram in a senior living apartment, as inconspicuously as she can, while her mother's abandoned her for a career in movies. Sammy is bored one day and while watching the street scenes below with her binoculars, which Gram has told her will get her into trouble one day, she witnesses a thief across the street at the Heavenly Hotel. Although she knows she shouldn't, she ends up asking questions here and there and gathering clues. Meanwhile, at school, she has to put up with a fire-headed bully, and gets suspended from school in the process, allowing her more time to investigate the thief situation. Sammy ends up figuring out the case, getting the bully back fair and square, and entertaining the readers as she goes.
 Van Draanen, W. (1998). Sammy Keyes and the hotel thief. New York, NY: Knopf. 


Sammy Keyes is a girl that everyone can love. She's flawed and she's got real issues that kids can relate to (like the sense of abandonment she feels from her mom, her encounter with the bully at school, and her inability to keep her mouth shut even if she knows better). But she isn't a complainer. She's strong and is multi-dimensional-- the kind of person that you know would have your back as your friend. She's also a good sleuth, and figures out clues mostly because she lets curiosity get the best of her and finds herself in places where she can ask questions.  This is a great mystery for children and young adults alike because Sammy's voice is very realistic, it's appropriate for all age levels, and Sammy is a strong character who's fun to read about-- boys and girls alike. She's a tomboy who is street wise, and she's an observer. This book would be great for those from 4th grade on up to teens.

Professional Reviews:

"Mystery fans will welcome Samantha Keyes, a feisty 13 year old who lives with her grandmother in an apartment designated for retirees only. At home one day, Samantha trains her binoculars on the world outside. That's when she witnesses a robbery in the hotel across the street. She can't call 911 because that would give away the fact that she's spying and the authorities might discover that she is living with Gram. Instead, she waves at the thief. So begins her adventure. Later, when Sammy tries to tell police what she knows, she is hampered by their unwillingness to listen and by her need to keep her living situation a secret. Readers will love the clever way she catches the crook and they are sure to identify with this likable teenager who inadvertently gets herself into trouble. The book is full of strong characters, including Samantha's friend and fellow sleuth Marissa; Madame "Gina" Narisha, astrologist and robbery victim; Officer Borsch and Tall `n' Skinny, the investigators assigned to the crime; and Rockin' Rick, the town's favorite DJ. There are plenty of suspects and even Sammy is not immune to being accused. Pair this book with Bruce Coville's The Ghost in the Big Brass Bed (Bantam, 1991) or other titles in which the female protagonist must prove to the adults that she saw what she saw."

Plevak, L. L. (1998, July 1). [Review of the book Sammy Keyes and the hotel thief, by W. Van Draanen]. School Library Journal. Retrieved from
"Van Draanen (How I Survived Being a Girl, 1997) debuts a live-wire young sleuth in this nonstop whodunit. The day before starting seventh grade, Samantha peers through her grandmother's binoculars and spots the latest in a rash of burglaries. The burglar spots her right back, setting in motion a headlong chain of events that, over the next few days, takes Sammy and her rich but loyal friend Marissa from back alleys to the roof of the local mall in an effort to finger the crook while escaping his clutches. Meanwhile, Sammy also has to cope with a hostile police officer, a new school, malicious classmate Heather, andŽin the seniors-only highrise where she lives with Grams while her own mother pursues a Hollywood careerŽa suspicious neighbor. Heather's villainy and subsequent public humiliation may be overdone, but Van Draanen expertly keeps all the subplots at a rolling boil while strewing the tale with red herrings, suspects, and clever clues. Children will admire Sammy's inadvertent genius for ruffling feathers as much as they'll like her sharp powers of observation and deduction; she is a tough new gumshoe with another caper scheduled for fall. (Fiction. 10-13)"
[Review of the book Sammy Keyes and the hotel thief, by W. Van Draanen]. (1998, April 1). Kirkus' Reviews. Retrieved from
Other Uses:

For this, and mostly any other mystery, a mystery theater would be a great program for children and young adults, where you set up clues from the book, and have attendees solve them the way that Sammy does.  At the end of the program, book talk these along with several other mysteries and then allow them to check them out at the end. In addition, you could give away prizes for the winner who solves the mystery first. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Review: The City of Ember

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The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau


Lina Mayfield and Doon Harrow have turned 12 and are finally ready to take on jobs as adults in the City of Ember.  Ember constantly fights darkness, its only source of light coming from the street and building lamps that come on during the day, and which are powered by a huge generator deep underground. But the lights in Ember flicker menacingly, the supplies seem to be running low, and the threat of permanent darkness looms over the citizens.  One day Lina comes across somethign that could provide some clue that could save them all, but she needs help figuring out how to crack the code and save her the people or her city.
DuPrau, J. (2004). The city of Ember. New York, NY: Yearling.

A powerful book that will make the reader step back and appreciate what we often take for granted in this world: the sun. In a world lit only by a river-powered generator that is starting to fail, and limited resources and supplies, the citizens of Ember live in perfect ignorance and perfect fear-- ignorance of how to survive with the generator, or even how it really operates-- and fear that when it does their entire world will go dark. This dystopian (think utopian-gone-wrong) society makes the reader stop and think about how powerful both knowledge and ignorance can truly be. Lina and Doon prove to be incredibly strong, and very believable characters-- full of tenacity and courage that gives them the gumption to look into solving the city's problems on their own, as the mayor seems to be as clueless as everyone else.  Full of adventure (and great role models), as well as a cryptic message that is fun to try to solve on your own, this book is a fast and delightful read. The paperback edition also has a chapter from the next book in the series, The People of Sparks, if you want a quick glance into the next story.

Professional Reviews:

"This promising debut is set in a dying underground city. Ember, which was founded and stocked with supplies centuries ago by “The Builders,” is now desperately short of food, clothes, and electricity to keep the town illuminated. Lina and Doon find long-hidden, undecipherable instructions that send them on a perilous mission to find what they believe must exist: an exit door from their disintegrating town. In the process, they uncover secret governmental corruption and a route to the world above. Well-paced, this contains a satisfying mystery, a breathtaking escape over rooftops in darkness, a harrowing journey into the unknown and cryptic messages for readers to decipher. The setting is well-realized with the constraints of life in the city intriguingly detailed. The likable protagonists are not only courageous but also believably flawed by human pride, their weaknesses often complementing each other in interesting ways. The cliffhanger ending will leave readers clamoring for the next installment. (Fiction. 9-13)"
[Review of the book The city of Ember, by J. DuPrau]. (2003, May 15). Kirkus' Reviews. Retrieved from
"In her electric debut, DuPrau imagines a post-apocalyptic underground world where resources are running out. The city of Ember, "the only light in the dark world," began as a survival experiment created by the "Builders" who wanted their children to "grow up with no knowledge of a world outside, so that they feel no sorrow for what they have lost." An opening prologue describes the Builders' intentions—that Ember's citizens leave the city after 220 years. They tuck "The Instructions" to a way out within a locked box programmed to open at the right time. But the box has gone astray. The story opens on Assignment Day in the year 241, when 12-year-olds Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow draw lots for their jobs from the mayor's bag. Lina gets "pipeworks laborer," a job that Doon wants, while Doon draws "messenger," the job that Lina covets, and they trade. Through their perspectives, DuPrau reveals the fascinating details of this subterranean community: as Doon repairs leaks deep down among the Pipeworks, he also learns just how dire the situation is with their malfunctioning generator. Meanwhile, the messages Lina carries point to other sorts of subterfuge. Together, the pair become detectives in search of the truth—part of which may be buried in some strange words that were hidden in Lina's grandmother's closet. Thanks to full-blooded characters every bit as compelling as the plot, Lina and Doon's search parallels the universal adolescent quest for answers. Readers will sit on the edge of their seats as each new truth comes to light. Ages 10-13.

[Review of the book The city of Ember, by J. DuPrau]. (2003, March 10). Publisher's Weekly. Retrieved from


Create a display of books for teens of dystopian societies and create a booklist.  It's a very popular trend in young adult literature and there are lots of books to choose from, including (but not limited to!):

The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Maze Runner by
Feed by M.T. Anderson
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

A Review: Savvy

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Savvy by Ingrid Law

2009 Newbery Honor Award Book (The winner that year was Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book-- obviously a good year!)


Children in the Beaumont family know that it's hard enough turning 13, the age when their savvy shows itself for the first time. Savvy can be dangerous and unpredictable at the best of times, like her brother Fish's tendency to summon storms when he's in a foul mood, or her brother Rocket's electricity. But Mibs (short for Mississippi, but please don't call her that) knows it's even harder to turn 13 when your father lies in a coma 90 miles from where you are. She hopes her savvy can help him, and so she sneaks onto a pink Bible salesman's bus she thinks will take her to him, not realizing the adventure she is about to get her and her tag-alongs into. With the preacher's kids and her siblings along for the ride, Mibs learns new things about herself and her savvy that she never realized were in her before.
Law, I. (2008). Savvy. New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers.

This book is a wonderfully and creatively written coming-of-age story that makes the reader feel like we've got a little savvy in all of us. Ingrid Law writes believable and relate-able characters, and gives the reader the feeling of being right there alongside Mibs in that rickety old bus with her extraordinary sensory descriptions.  I like Mibs because she's such a refreshing and realistic character, despite the fact that hse has extraordinary powers. She is friendless because everyone thinks she is weird, but she is strong, and sticks up for herself. Her family is clearly close-knit, which is welcome and inspiring to read about. In addition, the way that Mibs reacts to the situation makes readers feel like they are really a part of the story, and we feel what Mibs is feeling. Parents will love the story for its creativity and sense of family togetherness, but children and young adults will appreciate the sense of adventure and will be able to relate to the feelings of each renegade on that bus.

Professional Reviews:

"In Mississippi Beaumont's family, turning 13 means your savvy kicks in. When her grandfather turned 13, he created Idaho. And when her brother turned 13, he caused a hurricane. At the start of Law's winning debut novel, Mississippi's 13th birthday is only two days away.  With her dad in a coma after a horrible car accident, Mississippi is convinced that her savvy will have something to do with waking people up. Along with her brothers, the cute preacher's son and his obnoxious gum-chomping sister, she sneaks aboard a delivery bus she believes is heading toward her dad, hoping to save him.
The thing about Mississippi? She's not always right. Turns out, her savvy has her hearing a whole bunch of voices in her head. When people around her have any type of ink say, a tattoo or a pen mark on their skin, she can't help but read their minds. What makes this book so engaging is that aside from the whole mind-reading thing, Mississippi isn't extraordinary. She's not excessively brilliant, incredibly attractive or overly girly. She's afraid of growing up. She prefers to be called Mibs, but the mean girls call her Missy-Pissy. She wishes she could mess up less and be more like her perfect mom. (Literally, perfect--that's her mother's savvy.) Readers, boys and girls alike, will see a bit of themselves in Mibs.
Also, the Beaumonts aren't the only ones with savvys. Normal people (the bus driver, the hitchhiker, the obnoxious gum-chomper) have them, too they just don't recognize them. As Mibs's mom says, one person might make strawberry jam so good that no one can get enough of it.... There are even those folks who never get splashed by mud after a rainstorm or bit by a single mosquito in the summertime.  The 10-year-old boy or the 40-year-old mom reading the book they might just have one, too.
Besides saving her dad, Mibs's quest in the novel is to learn to "scumble," in other words, control her savvy. She has to learn to quiet the voices she hears, and to find her own voice.  Law has definitely found hers. Short chapters and cliffhangers keep the pace quick, while the mix of traditional language and vernacular helps the story feel both fresh and timeless. And while road-trip novels tend to be more about the journey than the destination, the ending, like Momma's savvy, is pretty perfect. I wasn't sure how Law was going to manage it without going all fairy-tale, but she does the story justice, making the conclusion happy and heart-rending simultaneously, resisting the urge to tie it all up with a fancy ribbon and a happily ever after.
Law's savvy? She's a natural storyteller who's created a vibrant and cinematic novel that readers are going to love. Ages 9-11."
Mlynowski, S. (2008, April 7). [Review of the book Savvy, by I. Law].Publisher's Weekly. Retrieved from

"Mibs can’t wait for her 13th birthday, when her special gift, or “savvy,” will awaken. Everyone in her family—except beloved Papa, who married in—has one, from Grandpa Bomba’s ability to move mountains (literally) to Great Aunt Jules’s time-traveling sneezes. What will hers be? Not what she wants, it turns out, but definitely what she needs when the news that a highway accident has sent her father to the ICU impels her to head for the hospital aboard a Bible salesman’s old bus. Sending her young cast on a zigzag odyssey through the “Kansaska-Nebransas” heartland, Law displays both a fertile imagination (Mibs’s savvy is telepathy, but it comes with a truly oddball caveat) and a dab hand for likable, colorful characters. There are no serious villains here, only challenges to be met, friendships to be made and some growing up to do on the road to a two-hanky climax. A film is already in development, and if it lives up to this marvel-laden debut, it’ll be well worth seeing. (Fantasy. 10-13)"
[Review of the book Savvy, by I. Law]. (2008, April 1). Kirkus' Reviews. Retrieved from


Hold a program in the library celebrating Mibs' 13th birthday, and assign everyone a savvy as they walk through the door.


Create a book display with books about kids with powers that make them special or different. So many books feature kids who learn to embrace what makes them out of the ordinary-- Matilda, Harry Potter, the Lightning Thief series, and the Charlie Bones series are examples.

A Review: Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little

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Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford


Moxy Maxwell is a spunky 9-year-old who is really going places. She's got lists of all the great things she's going to do, and plans of what she wants to be when she grows up. She's spent all summer long playing by the pool and practicing her Daisy routine for the end-of-the-year summer extravaganza at the pool, but on the last day of summer, she has to come to grips with her requirement to read Stuart Little before the first day of school, which happens to be tomorrow. Her mom has told her she has to read it, but Moxy has so many other things to do, how will she find the time for a little mouse?

Gifford, P. (2007). Moxy Maxwell does not love Stuart Little. New York, NY: Schwartz & Wade Books.


This book is a fun, quick read which kids will find they can relate to easily. Moxy admits that she loves reading but that she doesn't like reading what other people tell her to read-- something that I think is a hurdle that a lot of kids face to reading in general, and often what keeps them from liking reading when they are young. She's prone to exaggerating, and is incredibly great at getting sidetracked, which is also where a lot of kids will relate to her -- boys and girls alike. She is also a schemer, and her biggest scheme in this book involves growing a peach orchard (out of the peaches on the kitchen counter) in the back yard. She's sure that this will earn her enough money to pay for college, and that this will convince her mom that she doesn't need to read Stuart Little after all. This scheme has disastrous consequences, but all's well that ends well because she discovers on the last page that maybe little Stuart isn't so bad to read about after all. Moxy is fun to read about and quirky, but she's also relate-able. This humorous look at Moxy's afternoon allows kids to laugh about Moxy's extravagances, but will see overall that procrastinating didn't really do her much good, so it also teaches a subtle message about getting things done. Funny photographs that show Moxy's activities on her afternoon (taken by her twin brother Mark who claims to be a photographer) increase the humor factor.With short chapters (one consists of just one word: "No"), this is a great book for emerging or hesitant readers, and for kids who have issues with procrastination.

Professional Reviews:

"Tomorrow is the first day of school, and nine-year-old Moxy still hasn't read Stuart Little, her summer-reading assignment. She's running out of excuses: she must clean her room, recover from cleaning her room, train the dog, think about training the dog, and so on. Meanwhile, her mother threatens consequences: Moxy won't be allowed to perform in her water-ballet show -- she is to be one of eight petals in a human daisy -- if she doesn't finish her assignment on time. Gifford spins a fairly universal trial of childhood into a wildly original tale featuring a self-referential narrator who identifies as the book's author; faux-amateur black-and-white photos of the goings-on, ostensibly snapped by Moxy's twin brother; and decidedly unchapter-like chapters (one chapter is one word long -- "No"; two chapters comprise nothing but Moxy's brother's captioned photos). Best of all, the book stars a protagonist whose name, as it reflects her character, is a vast understatement. It's only a mild letdown that, in what seems to be Gifford's gratuitous concession to the try-it-you'll-like-it creed, Moxy ends up enjoying Stuart Little so much that she happily stays up till midnight to finish it." Copyright 2007 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
 [Review of the book  Moxy Maxwell does not love Stuart Little, by P. Gifford]. (2007). Horn Book Magazine Reviews. Retrieved from

A chapter-book picaresque hilariously chronicles one day in the life of almost-fourth-grader Moxy Maxwell. From the heretical title to the short chapters, headed in fine 18th-century style (“In Which Moxy Realizes Her Mother Is Home”), and Fisher’s snort-inducing “documentary” photographs, everything about this offering reaches out to draw the reader in. A slyly intrusive narrator relates the events of August 23 (the day before school begins), occasionally commenting on the action or offering an alternative interpretation as Moxy struggles with Stuart Little, the assigned summer reading she has avoided for months. Moxy is an exuberantly unforgettable character, her reluctance to settle down to read partially explained by her list of 211 Possible Career Paths. Newcomer Gifford surrounds Moxy with equally memorable family and friends, from twin brother Mark, who finished Stuart Little on the first day of summer, to Mom, whose “consequences” loom ever larger as the disastrous day progresses. With its brilliantly accessible application of a usually complex narrative technique, this work represents a significant raising of the bar for writers of chapter books. Technique or no technique, kids will recognize Moxy—and they will love her. (Fiction. 7-11)
[Review of the book Moxy Maxwell does not love Stuart Little, by P. Gifford]. (2007, April 1). Kirkus' Reviews. Retrieved from


Celebrate a week in your library for Celebrating Your Differences to promote tolerance and understanding of others. Highlight and display books about characters who are notably flawed, or a little off. Moxy Maxwell is a procrastinator and an eccentric.

Try some other titles like these with flawed characters, but emphasize how our differences make us special:

Joey Pigza in Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key (ADD and hyperactivity)
      by Jack Gantos
Alvin Ho in Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things (he's scared of everything)
     by Lenore Look
Ramona Quimby in Ramona the Pest (she's a pest, and has an overactive imagination)
     by Beverly Cleary
Junie B. Jones in the Junie B. Jones series (she's rude and is a troublemaker)
     by Barbara Park
Greg Heffley in Diary of a Wimpy Kid (he's easily jealous and generally has a hard time with things)
     by Jeff Kinney

A Review: Not a Box

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Not a Box by Antoinette Portis

A 2007 Theodor Geisel Seuss Honor Book

Summary: A rabbit is questioned why he is standing in, sitting on, and wearing a cardboard box, but the rabbit insists that it is NOT a box. To rabbit, it is a race car he is driving, a mountain to climb, a burning building he must save, or his robot outfit, whatever his imagination allows the box to be, that's what it is. But definitely don't call it a box.

Portis, A. (2006). Not a box. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Impressions:  I love this story for so many reasons. The drawings are simplistic, but easy to read, and spark the imagination the way that this book is intended. They also underscore the idea that permeates this book-- just because it's simple doesn't make it boring. This book is imaginative, pushing the mind to figure out other things you could make a box into. Is it a house where trolls live? A submarine? A deep dark cave where a big black bear sleeps? Is it a turtle's shell? Is it a time machine? Or as Calvin (& Hobbes) might suggest, a transmogrifier? The possibilities are endless. Portis brilliantly shows how creative you can be with simple objects, and her artistic style reflects that with simple lines, bold colors, and a single character. This is a great book to read to young children just starting to play pretend, and for older children who will celebrate rabbit's creativity. This book reinforces that the imagination is something that can take you really take you places, and this book really did that for me.

Professional Reviews:

"In bold, unornamented line drawings of a rabbit and a box, the author-illustrator offers a paean to the time-honored imaginative play of young children who can turn a cardboard box into whatever their creativity can conjure. Through a series of paired questions and answers, the rabbit is queried about why he is sitting in, standing on, spraying, or wearing a box. Each time, he insists, "It's not a box!" and the opposite page reveals the many things a small child's pretending can make of one: a race car, a mountain, a burning building, a robot. One important caveat: the younger end of the intended audience is both literal and concrete in their approach to this material. The box itself, drawn as a one-dimensional rectangle, will be perceived by preschoolers to be flat and not readily understood as three-dimensional. Furthermore, those children are likely to interpret the "box's" transformation to be "magic," while five- and six-year-olds are able to make the cognitive conversion from flat rectangle to three-dimensional box and to understand that the transformation has been made by the rabbit's own imagination. Both audiences will enjoy the participatory aspect of identifying each of the rabbit's new inventions. Knowledgeable adults will bring along a large box to aid in understanding and to encourage even more ideas and play."
McClelland, K. (2007).  [Review of the book Not a box, by A. Portis]. School Library Journal.  Retrieved from
"Dedicated “to children everywhere sitting in cardboard boxes,” this elemental debut depicts a bunny with big, looping ears demonstrating to a rather thick, unseen questioner (“Are you still standing around in that box?”) that what might look like an ordinary carton is actually a race car, a mountain, a burning building, a spaceship or anything else the imagination might dream up. Portis pairs each question and increasingly emphatic response with a playscape of Crockett Johnson–style simplicity, digitally drawn with single red and black lines against generally pale color fields. Appropriately bound in brown paper, this makes its profound point more directly than such like-themed tales as Marisabina Russo’s Big Brown Box (2000) or Dana Kessimakis Smith’s Brave Spaceboy (2005). (Picture book. 5-7)"
[Review of the book Not a box, by A. Portis]. (2006, December 1). Kirkus' Reviews. Retrieved from


Read this book in story time. Act out all the imaginings from the story with a real box. Then, have the children make up one new thing that they could pretend the box to be, and have them act it out with the box.

Also try the companion, Not a Stick, also by Antoinette Portis

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Review: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

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Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault
Illustrated by Lois Ehlert 


In this charming, rhyming alphabet book, lowercase letters race each other to the top of a coconut tree. When the tree becomes too heavy to hold the entire alphabet, the letters fall out of the tree, and the injured lowercases are led away by their uppercase, parent letters.
Martin, Jr., B. & Archambault, J. (1989). Chicka chicka boom boom. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.


This book is immensely fun to read aloud, and its colorful paper cut-out pictures by Lois Ehlert (a Caldecott Honor artist) are bold, eye-catching, and simple. This alphabet book is addictive to read-- it reads like a chant-- rhythmic and pleasing to the ears. The pictures compliment the text well, characterizing each letter distinctly and with personality. The bright geometric shapes of the illustrations are good for young kids because the colors keep their attention, helping them focus on the story a little more. This book makes the alphabet fun and entertaining, and kids will ask for it again and again.

Professional Reviews:

"In this bright and lively rhyme, the letters of the alphabet race each other to the top of the coconut tree. When X, Y and Z finally scramble up the trunk, however, the weight is too much, and down they all tumble in a colorful chaotic heap: ``Chicka Chicka . . . BOOM! BOOM!'' All the family members race to help, as one by one the letters recover in amusingly battered fashion. Poor stubbed toe E has a swollen appendage, while F sports a jaunty Band-Aid and P is indeed black-eyed. As the tropic sun goes down and a radiant full moon appears, indomitable A leaps out of bed, double-daring his colleagues to another treetop race. This nonsense verse delights with its deceptively simple narrative and with the repetition of such catchy phrases as ``skit skat skoodle doot.'' Ehlert's bold color scheme, complete with hot pink and orange borders, matches the crazy mood perfectly. Children will revel in seeing the familiar alphabet transported into this madcap adventure." 
[Review of the book Chicka chicka boom boom, by B. Martin, Jr. & J. Archambault]. (1989, October 13). Publisher's Weekly. Retrieved from
"Rhythm and rhyme are at the heart of this beguiling alphabet book. The title sets the tone and the first stanza grabs your ear: "A told B / and B told C, / `I'll meet you at the top / of the coconut tree.' / `Whee!' said D to E F G, / `I'll beat you to the top / of the coconut tree.'" A semblance of a story involves all the little (lower case) letters, who scramble up the tree trunk, which tips over, spilling all onto the ground. Then, "Mamas and papas / and uncles and aunts20/ hug their little dears, / then dust their pants." The bright colors and crisp, stylized shapes, that are rapidly becoming Ehlert's trademark put plenty of visual zing in the pages. This begs to be read aloud, an experience that should make learning one's ABCs a highly palatable exercise."
Wilms, D. (1989, October 15). [Review of the book Chicka chicka boom boom, by B. Martin, Jr. & J. Archambault]. Booklist. Retrieved from
Other Uses:

This book would be a lot of fun to act out for young kids (aged 3-5) who are learning or have learned their ABCs and want to show off their skills. Make letters out of cardboard or paper, and assign each child a letter (or consecutive groups of letters, depending on the number in your program). Have a coconut tree on hand.

Read through the story first so that they are all familiar with it. Then act it out with them, saying the words very slowly.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Review: The Dreamer

A Book Review of: 

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The Dreamer by Pat Muñez Ryan
Ill. by Peter Sís

Winner of the 2011 ALA Pura Belpré Award, an award presented by the ALA to a Latino/a author/illustrator who best portray or show Latino cultural experiences.


This is the story of the boy Neftalí Reyes, the real name of the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Neftalí grows up in Chile with his overbearing and strict father, his loving stepmother, his brother
Neruda's imaginative mind takes him places that he can only dream about, and helps him escape his mundane reality. He longs to write, but his father frowns on this and his son's other quirks-- like his collections, and his daydreaming, and discourages him in every way possible. Eventually Neftalí learns that he has to be himself, do what he's passionate about and write what he's passionate about, in order to achieve real happiness. As Neftalí goes off to college, adapting the pseudonym Pablo Neruda to write about contentious issues, he comes into his own and is finally free of the fear that what he's doing is somehow wrong, or letting someone down.
Ryan, P.M. (2010). The dreamer. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.


I thought this book was beautifully written, with a style and language that definitely echoes the way with words that Neruda himself has. It shows the sensitive and caring side of this young poet as he grows up an outcast, feeling alone, and desperately hoping that he can please his father being who he is. The lyrical writing pairs well with the illustrations, but the narrator of the audiobook also brings a lyrical quality to the story. He accentuates the onomatopoeia that one might glance over (but not fully read), so the listener is allowed to dwell more on the sounds of rain plopping on the roof of Neftalí's house, or the sounds of the ocean waves. He goes through a lot and you feel bad for this boy who is rather alone for his childhood, with little to no friends, outside of his own siblings. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I think it may be a little on the slow side for some kids, as there is no real moving plot, or grand adventure. It's a simple story about a boy growing up, but it may appeal to kids who are interested in realistic fiction. After reading this book, I got the urge to read some more about Pablo Neruda, so it might be good to pair this with

Professional Reviews:

From Booklist:
"Respinning the childhood of the widely beloved poet Pablo Neruda, Ryan and Sís collaborate to create a stirring, fictionalized portrait of a timid boy's flowering artistry. Young Neftalí Reyes (Neruda's real name) spends most of his time either dreamily pondering the world or cowering from his domineering father, who will brook no such idleness from his son. In early scenes, when the boy wanders rapt in a forest or spends a formative summer by the seashore, Ryan loads the narrative with vivid sensory details. And although it isn't quite poetry, it eloquently evokes the sensation of experiencing the world as someone who savors the rhythms of words and gets lost in the intricate surprises of nature. The neat squares of Sís' meticulously stippled illustrations, richly symbolic in their own right, complement and deepen the lyrical quality of the book. As Neftalí grows into a teen, he becomes increasingly aware of the plight of the indigenous Mapuche in his Chilean homeland, and Ryan does a remarkable job of integrating these themes of social injustice, neither overwhelming nor becoming secondary to Neftalí's story. This book has all the feel of a classic, elegant and measured, but deeply rewarding and eminently readable. Ryan includes a small collection of Neruda's poetry and a thoughtful endnote that delves into how she found the seeds for the story and sketches Neruda's subsequent life and legacy."
Chipman, I. (2010, February 1). [Review of the book The Dreamer, by P. M. Ryan]. Booklist. Retrieved from 
From Kirkus' Reviews:
"Ryan’s fictional evocation of the boy who would become Pablo Neruda is rich, resonant and enchanting. Simple adventures reveal young Neftalí’s painful shyness and spirited determination, his stepmother’s love and his siblings’ affection and his longing for connection with his formidable, disapproving father. The narrative captures as well rain falling in Temuco, the Chilean town where he was raised, and his first encounters with the forest and the ocean. Childhood moments, gracefully re-created, offer a glimpse of a poet-to-be who treasures stories hidden in objects and who recognizes the delicate mutability of the visible world, while the roots of Neruda’s political beliefs are implied in the boy’s encounters with struggles for social justice around him. Lines from a poem by Ryan along with Sís’s art emphasize scenes and introduce chapters, perfectly conveying the young hero’s dreamy questioning. The illustrator’s trademark drawings deliver a feeling of boundless thought and imagination, suggesting, with whimsy and warmth, Neftalí’s continual transformation of the everyday world into something transcendent. A brief selection of Neruda’s poems (in translation), a bibliography and an author’s note enrich an inviting and already splendid, beautifully presented work."
[Review of the book The Dreamer, by P.M. Ryan]. (2010, March 15). Kirkus' Reviews. Retrieved from

Uses: This is a great way to introduce young patrons to the concept of magical realism, which is really prominent in Latin and South American literature. Use this in a children's book club at the library and discuss the various points in the story in which Neftalí engages his magical thinking-- or his tendency to exaggerate experiences to the point of magical realism. Discuss how the illustrations by Peter Sis compliment this style.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Review: Looking for Alaska

A Book Review of:

Image from
Looking for Alaska by John Green

This book is the 2006 winner of the Michael Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. It's a prestigious award given by the American Library Association, and this book is fully deserving of it.


Miles Halter hates his school in Florida. He has no friends, and he wants to find meaning in his life in the "Great Perhaps", a concept that has come to him through his quirky affection for last words. He transfers to a boarding school in Alabama where he meets his roommate, Chip, better known as the Colonel. The Colonel introduces him to many friends, including the charming and mysterious Alaska Young, and gives him his first nickname-- Pudge, ironic to the fact that he is in fact a twig.  He grows independent at the school, learning the ropes with his new friends as mentors, teaching him pranks and the art of not ratting, and picking up bad habits along the way. When tragedy happens, Pudge has to confront realities about his life and what he's learned along the way.
Green, J. (2005). Looking for Alaska. New York, NY: Speak.


This book is superbly written, and should stand in Young Adult Hall of Fame next to J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. Pudge is like Holden Caufield's more sociable and more likable double, but teens will instantly relate to him. Pudge wants to fit in badly, but tries hard to play it cool. The Colonel takes Pudge in the way no one does for Holden, and makes him part of a circle of friends where he starts to realize who is he. Green does a great job of showing the reader Pudge's desire to fit in, and to maintain the friends that he has, while showing how Pudge grows within these friendships-- how they change him. Green doesn't ignore the side characters though-- all the side characters, although they don't take center stage, are well-rounded and believable, and you're rooting for them just as much as you are for Pudge. It's an all around great novel that teens will relate to because it deals with the struggles of growing up without being preachy, and it shows how teens deal with a change to their world. The chapters are told by counting down the days before the tragedy, and then counting the days after. In an interview with John Green at the back of the book, Green says that he got the idea to do the book this way by how people relate to tragedies-- as they did with 9/11. It's like a landmark in your memory-- you judge time by the things that happened Before and the things that happened After.

Professional Reviews: 

From School Library Journal:
"Sixteen-year-old Miles Halter's adolescence has been one long nonevent-no challenge, no girls, no mischief, and no real friends. Seeking what Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps," he leaves Florida for a boarding school in Birmingham, AL. His roommate, Chip, is a dirt-poor genius scholarship student with a Napoleon complex who lives to one-up the school's rich preppies. Chip's best friend is Alaska Young, with whom Miles and every other male in her orbit falls instantly in love. She is literate, articulate, and beautiful, and she exhibits a reckless combination of adventurous and self-destructive behavior. She and Chip teach Miles to drink, smoke, and plot elaborate pranks. Alaska's story unfolds in all-night bull sessions, and the depth of her unhappiness becomes obvious. Green's dialogue is crisp, especially between Miles and Chip. His descriptions and Miles's inner monologues can be philosophically dense, but are well within the comprehension of sensitive teen readers. The chapters of the novel are headed by a number of days "before" and "after" what readers surmise is Alaska's suicide. These placeholders sustain the mood of possibility and foreboding, and the story moves methodically to its ambiguous climax. The language and sexual situations are aptly and realistically drawn, but sophisticated in nature. Miles's narration is alive with sweet, self-deprecating humor, and his obvious struggle to tell the story truthfully adds to his believability. Like Phineas in John Knowles's A Separate Peace (S & S, 1960), Green draws Alaska so lovingly, in self-loathing darkness as well as energetic light, that readers mourn her loss along with her friends."
Lewis, Johanna. (2005, February 1). [Review of the book Looking for Alaska, by J. Green]. School Library Journal. Retrieved from 
From Publisher's Weekly:

"A collector of famous last words, teenage Miles Halter uses Rabelais’s final quote (“I go to seek a Great Perhaps”) to explain why he’s chosen to leave public high school for Culver Creek Preparatory School in rural Alabama. In his case, the Great Perhaps includes challenging classes, a hard-drinking roommate, elaborate school-wide pranks, and Alaska Young, the enigmatic girl rooming five doors down. Moody, sexy, and even a bit mean, Alaska draws Miles into her schemes, defends him when there’s trouble, and never stops flirting with the clearly love-struck narrator. A drunken make-out session ends with Alaska’s whispered “To be continued?” but within hours she’s killed in a car accident. In the following weeks, Miles and his friends investigate Alaska’s crash, question the possibility that it could have been suicide, and acknowledge their own survivor guilt. The narrative concludes with an essay Miles writes about this event for his religion class—an unusually heavy-handed note in an otherwise mature novel, peopled with intelligent characters who talk smart, yet don’t always behave that way, and are thus notably complex and realistically portrayed teenagers."
Sieruta, P. D. (2005, March 1). [Review of the book Looking for Alaska by J. Green]. Horn Book Magazine. Retrieved from


Use this in a display of award winners in the teen section of the library. I would put other Printz Award winners in the display, and a question above the section asking teens "What makes a good book?" For a prize, I would create a box asking kids to answer what makes a good book for them, and ask them to nominate their own award-winner. If you nominate and write-up 3 books, you win a prize.

For the next display, make a "Local Award-Winners" display, and showcase the awards that your teens would select, and why. This gives other teens in the area an idea of what their peers are reading, and shows the reviewers that their opinions matter.