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.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Awesome Alert: Bent Objects

Here's something you shouldn't miss-- I found it through (a website that randomly selects great sites you might like based on your selected preferences). I find so many great things this way, but this has got to be one of the best.

First, this man, Terry Border, is hilarious and innovative, and I love him.  
This website is a great way to see all the kinds of stuff he can do.

Some of my favorites? (they are better with the captions from the original page, but this short preview will hopefully convince to visit it)

Second, he has a blog (thanks for finding this, Brandon!):

 Third, he made this hilarious video:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Review: The Graveyard Book

A Book Review of: 

Image from
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Review of the book and audiobook (which is narrated by Neil Gaiman himself)


The story begins with a sinister man called Jack creeping into a house and murdering a family, while a baby silently slips out and makes his way up a hill toward a still graveyard. The man Jack follows the baby, intent on finishing the family off, but the inhabitants of the graveyard protect him. The baby, now called Bod (short for "Nobody"), grows up in the graveyard, raised and educated by ghosts and by Silas, a grim reaper-like character who serves as Bod's greatest mentor, and who is the only one who leaves the graveyard. The story is told in short stories and follows him as he grows up, growing more and more restless to have human companions and eventually befriending a girl named Scarlett briefly before she moves away. Throughout the story, Jack, who is part of a secret villainous society of Jacks, is still looking for Bod-- the one who escaped him. The story culminates with Bod facing off in the graveyard with the top members of the society of Jacks. 

Gaiman, N. (2008). The graveyard book. New York NY: HarperCollins.
Gaiman, N. (2008). The graveyard book [Audio recording]. New York, NY: Harper Children's Audio.


From the very first chapter, this book grips you and doesn't let go until you're done. As my first Neil Gaiman book, I'm incredibly impressed at his ability to take a dark and creepy story, but make it accessible and plausible, while still within a world of complete fantasy. It's beautifully written-- and the audiobook, narrated by the author himself, adds a new dimension to the story much as the illustrations do to the printed version.  Saint-Saëns' "Danse Macabre" plays in between chapters and during one chapter where the ghosts leave their graveyard and dance with the local villagers for one day out of the year.  Incorporating other mythology leaves the reader (or listener) with a sense of familiarity with the story that makes it easy to follow, but his perspective on the story is new and refreshing. It wasn't until after reading professional reviews for the book that I learned that The Graveyard Book is a variation on Kipling's The Jungle Book-- no wonder it feels so familiar. For this spectacularly imaginative book, Neil Gaiman won the 2009 Newbery Award.

Professional Reviews: 

From Kirkus' Reviews: 
"Wistful, witty, wise—and creepy. Gaiman’s riff on Kipling’s Mowgli stories never falters, from the truly spine-tingling opening, in which a toddler accidentally escapes his family’s murderer, to the melancholy, life-affirming ending. Bod (short for Nobody) finds solace and safety with the inhabitants of the local graveyard, who grant him some of the privileges and powers of the dead—he can Fade and Dreamwalk, for instance, but still needs to eat and breathe. Episodic chapters tell miniature gems of stories (one has been nominated for a Locus Award) tracing Bod’s growth from a spoiled boy who runs away with the ghouls to a young man for whom the metaphor of setting out into the world becomes achingly real. Childhood fears take solid shape in the nursery-rhyme–inspired villains, while heroism is its own, often bitter, reward. Closer in tone to American Gods than to Coraline, but permeated with Bod’s innocence, this needs to be read by anyone who is or has ever been a child."
[Review of the book The graveyard book, by N. Gaiman]. (2008, August 15). Kirkus' Reviews. Retrieved from
From School Library Journal:
" "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." So begins the tale of Nobody Owens, a child raised in a graveyard by ghosts. The man Jack, a member of an elite and despicable organization, is sent to slit the throats of an entire family. As he prepares to finish off the last and most important family member, he is enraged to discover that the baby boy has eluded him by climbing from his crib and going out the door. The youngster toddles to a nearby graveyard, where the ghostly inhabitants take him in. Little Nobody (Bod) flourishes in the graveyard, a place alive with adventure and mystery. But he longs to enter the world of the living, a place where danger, and the man Jack, await. What a wicked delight to hear this inventive, sinister story (HarperCollins, 2008) read by multi-talented author Neil Gaiman. His voice ranges from silky to gravelly and gruff to sharp-edged. Those who enjoyed Gaiman's Coraline (HarperCollins, 2002) will be eager to hear his inspired reading of this novel. Winner of the 2009 Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Produciton, This captivating production makes the story accessible to younger students as well as reluctant readers."
Hubler, L. (2009, March 1). [Review of the audiobook The graveyard book, by N. Gaiman]. School Library Journal. Retrieved from

Uses: I would showcase this book to tween and teens in a booktalk about books that are new takes on fairy tales and other traditional stories. I think this helps breathe life into the original stories, in this case The Jungle Book, and helps kids recognize the importance of past literary traditions and accomplishments, while introducing them to newer books that rely on these other stories.  Other books that might fit into this theme are books like Cameron Dokey's Golden (a take on Rapunzel), Michael Buckley's The Fairy Tale Detectives (Book 1 of the Sisters Grimm, incorporates lots of different fairy tales), and Alex Flinn's Beastly (a take on Beauty and the Beast).

A Review: The Lion and the Mouse

A Book Review of:

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney 

This book is the 2010 winner of the Caldecott Award. It's a prestigious award given by the American Library Association, and this book is fully deserving of it.

Image from

This wordless picture illustrates the tale of Aesop's fable "The Lion and the Mouse." In this classic moral story, a mouse is mercifully spared by a lion who catches her in his paw. Later, the mouse has a chance to repay his kind deed by saving the great beast from a hunter's ropes by chewing through them with her sharp teeth.

Pinkney, J. (2009). The lion and the mouse. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company. 

"...the attention to details like texture and expression is exquisite."
This book gives Aesop's classic fable the silent treatment, but in a great way. The wordless book lets you focus your whole attention on the intricate and colorful watercolors that Jerry Pinkney presents. Various forms of onomatopoeia are the only words in the book, which act more as sensory aides than actual text. The way he sets each scene is precise and meticulous, and the attention to details like texture and expression is exquisite. As it is a wordless book, he also does a great job of moving the viewer from one scene to the next, drawing the viewer's eyes further into his pages.  A variety in presentation also helps the reader not to become bored with the images, presenting them in a variety of different frames-- sometimes with a full two-page spread devoted to the narrative, sometimes several smaller more intimate frames. Similarly, Pinkney uses various perspectives to tell his story, showing it from the eyes of the lion himself and the mouse at his feet, wordless emphasizing the moral of the story. Jerry Pinkney, with his first Caldecott win, proves that magnificent high-quality picture books can be just that-- pictures.

Professional Reviews:

From Publisher's Weekly:
"Other than some squeaks, hoots and one enormous roar, Pinkney's (Little Red Riding Hood) interpretation of Aesop's fable is wordless-as is its striking cover, which features only a head-on portrait of the lion's face. Mottled, tawny illustrations show a mouse unwittingly taking refuge on a lion's back as it scurries away from an owl. The large beast grabs and then releases the tiny creature, who later frees the lion who has become tangled in a hunter's snare. Pinkney enriches this classic tale of friendship with another universal theme-family-affectingly illustrated in several scenes as well as in the back endpapers, which show the lion walking with his mate and cubs as the mouse and her brood ride on his back. Pinkney's artist's note explains that he set the book in Africa's Serengeti, "with its wide horizon and abundant wildlife so awesome yet fragile-not unlike the two sides of each of the heroes." Additional African species grace splendid panoramas that balance the many finely detailed, closeup images of the protagonists. Pinkney has no need for words; his art speaks eloquently for itself. Ages 3-6."
[Review of the book The lion and the mouse, by J. Pinkney]. (2009, July 27). Publisher's Weekly. Retrieved from
From Kirkus' Reviews:
"A nearly wordless exploration of Aesop’s fable of symbiotic mercy that is nothing short of masterful. A mouse, narrowly escaping an owl at dawn, skitters up what prove to be a male lion’s tail and back. Lion releases Mouse in a moment of bemused gentility and—when subsequently ensnared in a poacher’s rope trap—reaps the benefit thereof. Pinkney successfully blends anthropomorphism and realism, depicting Lion’s massive paws and Mouse’s pink inner ears along with expressions encompassing the quizzical, hapless and nearly smiling. He plays, too, with perspective, alternating foreground views of Mouse amid tall grasses with layered panoramas of the Serengeti plain and its multitudinous wildlife. Mouse, befitting her courage, is often depicted heroically large relative to Lion. Spreads in watercolor and pencil employ a palette of glowing amber, mouse-brown and blue-green. Artist-rendered display type ranges from a protracted “RRROAARRRRRRRRR” to nine petite squeaks from as many mouselings. If the five cubs in the back endpapers are a surprise, the mouse family of ten, perched on the ridge of father lion’s back, is sheer delight. Unimpeachable."

[Review of the book The lion and the mouse, by J. Pinkney]. (2009, August 1). Kirkus' Reviews. Retrieved from