Monday, August 1, 2011

Book List

Chapter Books:
The Tequila Worm- Pura Belpre
One Crazy Summer- Coretta Scott King
Out of My Mind- Bluebonnet
Wild Times at the Bed & Biscuit- Bluebonnet
Turtle in Paradise- Newbery
26 Fairmount Avenue- Newbery
Shiloh- Newbery
The Cricket in Times Square- Newbery
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda-Notable
When You Reach Me- New York Times Bestseller
The Hunger Games
The Witches- Most Challenged
Anastasia Krupnik- Most Challenged
Bridge to Terabithia- Most Challenged

Picture Books
First Day in Grapes- Pura Belpre
Goin' Someplace Special- Coretta Scott King
A Sick Day for Amos McGee- Caldecott
Henry's Freedom Box- Caldecott
Knuffle Bunny- Caldecott
Ella Sarah Gets Dressed- Caldecott
Goal!- Bluebonnet
The Duchess of Whimsy- Bluebonnet
The Quiet Book- Notable
Selavi- Notable
It's a Book- New York Times Bestseller
Interrupting Chicken- New York Times Bestseller
And Tango Makes Three- Most Challenged
In the Night Kitchen- Most Challenged

Anastasia Krupnik

Lowry, L. (1979). Anastasia Krupnik. New York: Random House.
This book is on the 100 Most Challenged List.

Anastasia Krupnik is, obviously, the main character in this series.  This first book introduces us to a precocious ten year old who is dealing with issues such as school crushes and her parents having a new baby. Anastasia is struggling with the impending birth of her new baby brother, and having been an only child for ten years, really sees not sense in it!  This reminded me of my oldest daughter and her reaction, as a 7 year old, to the news that she would be a big sister.  It was very similar to Anastasia's!  Anastasia seems wise beyond her years, and I'm sure that has to do with her parents treating her almost as a little adult.  She often treats them like they are all equals, even asking why they wouldn't have talked with her before deciding to have another child. One of the parts that I really identified with was when she spent days writing the poem for school.  With her dad being a poet, she obviously felt a lot of pressure to succeed on this assignment.  Poor Anastasia was devastated when the teacher gave her an F.  This is something that frequently happens in schools, when creative students are punished for their creativity.  The teacher, Mrs. Westvessel, was upset that Anastasia hadn't followed the directions exactly.  Anastasia probably spent much more time on her poem than the students who made up a quick little rhyming poem. Young readers will be able to sympathize with Anastasia and the lack of understanding from her teacher about her poem.   

After reading the first book, I was a little surprised it made it to the 100 Most Challenged List.  There are several references to beer and her father does let her drink the foam off the top, but I really didn't notice anything offensive or inappropriate.  In searching online about the challenges on the series, I did note that there are references to suicide and an adult magazine in the series, so I would assume that is why the series has been challenged.

When You Reach Me

Stead, R. (2009). When you reach me. New York: Wendy Lamb Books.
This book has been on the New York Times Bestseller for Children List.

When You Reach Me was a very engaging read that kept me interested until the very end.  With two story lines, one with Miranda's mom practicing to be on The $20,000 Pyramid show and the other with Miranda's friendships with various people (Sal, Marcus, Annemarie) in the story and how that plays a part of "the story" she is suppose to write.  The reader is left wondering what is going on and the only way to find out is to keep reading!  Miranda's favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time and this is about the only book she reads.  She begins a conversation with another student about time travel, which gets her mind going as well as the reader's mind. The reader knows this is important, but the author weaves such a tight story, that you aren't sure exactly how everything will play out.  There are also secondary characters that play important parts in the story, and again, it takes a little while for the reader to figure out exactly what role they play.  You know the laughing man (the crazy man on the street) is an important character, but you aren't quite sure what role he will play.  As you continue to read, you feel the loss that Miranda feels from the unraveling of her friendship with Sal.  You also cheer a little when Colin gets up the nerve to give her a kiss and she kisses him back.  Stead does an excellent job of capturing the reader and putting you right in the middle of the story.  You can even understand Miranda's confusion about time traveling as Marcus attempts to explain it all to her.  And then you are intrigued by the notes she gets throughout the story, trying to figure out who is writing them.  With the secondary story of Annemarie's epilepsy, it makes the reader wonder which friend's life will be saved.  All of these questions are answered at the end, leaving the reader with a feeling of satisfaction.

This is a great book that I can't wait to recommend to readers.  I was disappointed when my daughter told me she tried to read it and didn't really care for it.  I thought the story kept the reader interested, and other than the confusion of trying to understand time travel (whether you see yourself going if you get back 5 minutes before you left) it was a book that you didn't want to put down!

And Tango Makes Three

Richardson, J., & Parnell, P. (2005). And Tango makes three. New York: Simon & Schuster Books.
This is one of the Most Challenged books.  The story is about a penguin who has two dads instead of a mom and a dad.  In the book, this message is made very clear, so even though it is a true story, there appears to be a message in it also.

This is a true story about two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who developed a close friendship that led to them mimicking other penguin couples at the zoo.  The two penguins, Roy and Silo, did everything like the other penguin couples, other than actually have a baby penguin.  They even went so far as sitting on a rock, hoping that a baby penguin would hatch.  The zoo keeper eventually found them an egg, which they cared for until it hatched, and out came Tango, their very own baby penguin.  They then raised Tango and cared for her, like all the other penguin families at the zoo. It definitely has a "happily ever after" ending. 

This story is illustrated beautifully by Henry Cole.  These illustrations support the story and help the reader see the love between this penguin family.  The authors do make it clear throughout the story that these are two boy penguins, and how they didn't pay attention to the girl penguins.  At one point, their keeper says, "They must be in love."  As with other books, I wonder about the purpose of this book.  Is it to tell a story about two penguins at the zoo or is there an deeper message in the text?  Young readers would not understand the deeper message, but the adults in their world would, which is how this book became a "most challenged" book.  It is a sweet story, but I have discovered that it is not in any school library in my district.


Meyer, S. (2005). Twilight. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

The story starts off kind of ominous, with the narrator saying that she had never really thought about how she would die.  This page sets the tone for the whole book.  Bella, the main character goes to live with her dad in Washington State after her mom remarries.  She is a little uncertain about this, since she she hasn't been there in a while, but the alternative is less attractive.  Bella's dad, Charlie, tries to make things as comfortable as possible for her, and Bella tries to adjust to being a high school student in a new school.  Bella is immediately entranced with a strange looking boy named Edward Cullen, who she discovers is a foster child of a local doctor.  She has an uneasy feeling about Edward, but is also immensely attracted to him and it is obvious that the feeling is mutual.  To keep the story interesting, a couple of other boys are also interested in Bella.  Jacob Black, whose family Bella has known since she was little, comes into the story and develops a romantic interest in Bella.  Eventually Bella discovers that Edward is a vampire and that her life is constantly in danger when she is around him.  Add to that the love triangle that develops between her, Edward, and Jacob and you have a hard to put down read.  As the story develops, Edward shares secrets about his life with Bella, and even introduces her to his family, who are also vampires.  Bella finds that adusting to being in love with a vampire is much harder than adusting to a new home or a new school.  She also finds herself in dangerous situations with not only Edward (who is constantly fighting off his hunger for blood) but also his family.

Although the writing is simplistic, the storyline makes this a "can't put down" kind of book.  You keep reading to find out how things will turn out between Bella and Edward, and what role Jacob will play in the story and their developing relationship.  You keep reading to find out if Bella survives being friendly with a family of vampires, especially since the story begins with her contemplating her death.  The writing might not be considered the highest quality of literature, but the story does keep you reading!  Meyer's use of language helps paint a picture of Edward that helps the reader visualize his sparkly skin in the sunlight, or the color of his eyes which gives Bella an indication of his need for blood.  The writing is clear and descriptive, so the reader is easily able to "see" everything that is going on.  It is definitely an easy, enjoyable read!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Interrupting Chicken

Stein, D. (2010). Interrupting chicken. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.
This book has been on the New York Times Bestseller for Children's List as well as being a Caldecott Honor Book.

What a great read-aloud for young children!  This is a thoroughly enjoyable book for both the reader and the listener.  Here a father is reading bedtime stories to his young chicken and the little one enjoys the stories so much that she jumps in and "saves" the main character in each story.  Obviously the little chicken has heard these stories many times and knows just exactly how each will end.  Knowing this, she can hardly sit still and let something bad happen to them. This, of course, brings each story to an abrupt end, leaving Papa to have to find another story. Stein does a marvelous job with the illustrations and even puts the little chicken into the bedtime stories Papa is reading.  The illustrations definitely add to the story!  I loved the page where you can see how exasperated Papa is with his little chicken who has now interrupted every story he has told and is no closer to sleep. Finally, Papa gives up and lets the little chicken take over. 

This book makes me wish I had a young one at home to read this to!

Goin' Someplace Special

McKissack, P. (2001). Goin' someplace special. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
This book is a 2002 Coretta Scott King Award winner.

This story is about 'Tricia Ann, a young girl who finally has her grandmother's blessing to go to her favorite place all by herself.  Like a couple of other books I have read recently, this is a little more problematic because it is the 1950's and she is African-American.  Because of this, her travels are a little more challenging and she has to be mindful of "rules" of the time.  'Tricia Ann becomes frustrated with the rules, but keeps her eyes on her goal of reaching her special place.  As you read the book, you aren't sure where she is headed, but you can tell it is a place that makes her very happy.  Each time she is faced with a challenge or obstacle, she reminds herself that she is "gon' think about Someplace Special."  The author, Patricia McKissack does a wonderful job of interjecting history into the story, even having Elvis show up at a hotel that 'Tricia Ann is walking by.  There is irony in parts, like when she gets to the park her grandfather helped build but can't sit on the park bench because it says "For Whites Only." As 'Tricia Ann travels, she is encouraged along the way by people who care about her and push her to continue on.  Eventually she gets to her "Someplace Special" and you discover that all along she was headed to the public library.  How inspiring to read the words on the entrance that say "All Are Welcome."  Here 'Tricia Ann finds a sense of peace and comfort!

I love reading this book to my students each year.  Not only does it give them a feel for what life must have been like during this time period, but it also shows them that regardless of skin color or any other differences, the library is one place where all are equal. The illustrations by Jerry Pinkney support the story and help set the mood for the book. 

The Witches

Dahl, R. (1983). The witches. New York: Scholastic.
This book is on the 100 Most Challenged Books list.

Right away I could see why this book would be on the 100 Most Challenged Books list.  At the very beginning of the story, Roald Dahl lets us know that there are witches everywhere, that they are hard to identify, AND they want to get rid of all of the children in the world.  On top of that, he tells the readers that the very teacher who may be reading this book to the them, might just be a witch also!  I have read several Roald Dahl books to my classes, but have never read this one.  And although the others had parts I had to skip over a bit (a bad word here and there) this one did seem to push the envelope a little more, based on the topic.  As the story unfolds, the narrator, a young boy, loses his parents in a car accident and must live with his grandmother, whom he loves dearly.  She tells him all about witches and how to recognize them. They decide to go on a vacation, and lo and behold, a witches' convention is at the same hotel!  The little boy gets caught in the same room with the witches, who are holding their annual meeting under the pretenses of being the "Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children."  The narrator recognizes that they are actually witches, but then he is discovered by all of the witches and turned into a mouse.  With the ability to speak still in place, he plots with his grandmother the witches' demise.  They are able to carry this out and then plot the end to all witches.  The story ends rather oddly, with the story really continuing as they move on with their plans to rid the world of all witches.

The story moves at a fast pace which keeps the reader interested.  Although the topic is frightening, anyone who has read Roald Dahl will recognize familiar themes such as the loss of family, gluttonous children, and the quirky behavior of characters, and will find comfort there.  In reading this book to younger students you would want to cover the difference between realistic fiction and fantasy and what characteristics each has. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

26 Fairmount Avenue

dePaola, T. (1999). 26 Fairmount avenue. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.
This book is a 2000 Newbery Honor Book.

Tomie dePaola writes his first chapter book using his childhood memories.  In this book, Tomie shares with the reader all about his family building a new house for them to move into.  Unfortunately, as with anyone building a home, there were problems that kept the family from completing their new home for quite awhile.  I laughed a little when reading about Tomie's dad saying "some bad words" while dealing with the builder.  Tomie's insight into happenings makes for a very entertaining read.  I loved it when he went to kindergarten, walking in all by himself, and asked the teacher when he was going to learn to read.  When she told him that would happen in first grade, he told her he would be back then!  What spunk!  dePaola's love for his extended family can be felt by the reader and makes the stories he tells even more enjoyable.  The illustrations, also done by dePaola, reinforce the story and help develop the characters by aiding the reader in visualizing parts of the story. 

Although I was familiar with this book, I didn't realize it was a series and the beginning of dePaola's writing chapter books.  I really enjoyed the book and would agree that young readers will too!   

One Crazy Summer

Williams-Garcia, R. (2010). One crazy summer. New York: Amistad.
This book is a 2011 Coretta Scott King Award winner.

Delphine and her two sisters, Vonetta and Fern, are sent to visit their mother who abandoned them years earlier.  It is the 1960's and the three girls travel alone from New York to Oakland, California.  What makes this even more difficult is that they are African-American. 
When they get to Oakland, they must accept the fact that their mother did not want them to come see her.  This was all their father's idea. She tells them several times that she didn't want them, and she won't even call Fern by her name. We find out later why this is.  Delphine, who is the oldest, takes on the responsibility of caring for her sisters while in Oakland.    This is a role she is used to since her mother left them. Their mom does nothing for them and demands they spend their days away from her.  At the center where their mom sends them each day, they discover the Black Panthers.  At first the girls are leery about this place and the people, but eventually grow to like the people there and even what the group stands for.  During the day, Cecile, the mom, spends her time writing poetry, which is something the girls are proud of; their mom is a poet.  Throughout the story, the girls never seem to make any progress in mending their relationship with their mother, but as I read the book, I grew to love the different personalities of the girls and wondered how their mother couldn't. The author does a great job of creating lovable characters, although Vonetta's selfishness does tend to irritate the reader as much as it does her sisters! At the end of the story, the girls touch their mother's heart and finally create a bond that has never been there. Great ending!! I also enjoyed the natural flow of the dialogue and how authentic the story felt. It is obvious why this is an award winner!

Friday, July 29, 2011

It's a Book

Smith, L. (2010). It's a book. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
This book has been on the  New York Times Bestseller for Children's list.

This is a charming book showing a discussion between two friends (a donkey and a monkey) who are having a difficult time understanding each other.  The donkey is unsure about the activity of the monkey, who is reading a book.  The donkey seems to not even know what this strange thing is.  The monkey is having a difficult time with the lack of knowledge about books that the donkey seems to have.  The donkey wants to know if you need a password to use the book, or if you could blog on it.  He asks all kinds of questions that are related to technology, as he sits there with his computer on his lap, dumbfounded by the object that the monkey is holding.  Each question by the donkey is met by an "It's a book" reply from the monkey.  You can feel how exasperated the two are getting with each other, as the story progresses.  Finally, the monkey shows the book to the donkey, who then summarizes the story on the page in text language!  The donkey begins reading the book, and hours go by with him captivated by the story.  Unfortunately, the monkey would like his book back but the donkey says no.  So off the monkey goes to the library, as the donkey assures him he will charge it for him when he is done.  The monkey, who has no patience by this time, says, "It's a book, Jackass."

The message in this book was great! I do, however, wonder who the target audience is?  I referred to the donkey as a donkey throughout my summary, but the author makes it clear on the first page of the book that the three characters in the story are  mouse (who makes a few appearances,) a jackass and a monkey.  So then I wonder, is the author wanting to be a little controversial with the book by not using donkey instead of jackass?  Again, I loved the message but would be hesitant to read it to my elementary students because it almost seems like an adult picture book.   

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ella Sarah Gets Dressed

Chodos-Irvine, M. (2003). Ella Sarah gets dressed. San Diego: Harcourt, Inc.
This book is a 2004 Caldecott Honor book.

Ella Sarah is a determined little girl, and in this book she is determined to dress herself, regardless of what her family thinks.  She knew exactly what outfit she wanted to wear and each member of her family gently tries to guide her in a different direction, suggesting alternate outfits.  You see, the problem is, Ella Sarah has selected a very creative, albeit mismatched outfit for the day.  As her family tries to talk her out of her special outfit, you can see, through the wonderful illustrations, that she is beginning to lose her patience with them.  Ella Sarah finally goes into her room and puts on her polka dotted pants, floral dress, striped socks, yellow shoes, and her red hat and is very pleased with how she looks.  Then you find out why she was so determined to wear this outfit...she is having a tea party with her similarly dressed friends!

Very cute story and so true of many strong-willed young children!  The illustrations were so bright and cheerful and really added to the story.  I think this would be a wonderful book to share with K-2 students and even more fun when you realize you have an "Ella Sarah" in your family or classroom!

The Quiet Book

Underwood, D. (2010). The quiet book. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.
This book is on the 2011 Notable Books for Children list.

Who would have thought that there were so many types of being quiet?  Underwood does a fabulous job of delivering the message of quiet and the illustrations by Renata Liwska complement the text beautifully!  As the animals experience different events and activities that would cause one to be quiet, you can see their feelings in their facial expressions. From sad, to scared, to nervous to observant, the animals go through many different emotions as they are "quiet" throughout the book.  To describe quiet as being "first look at your new hairstyle quiet" and "last one to get picked up from school quiet" leaves so much room for discussion with young readers.  I can't wait to read this book to my K-2 students!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Tequila Worm

Canalaes, V. (2005). The tequila worm. New York: Wendy Lamb Books.
This book is a 2006 winner of the Pura Belpre Award.

A wonderful book about Sofia, a young girl growing up in the barrio in McAllen, Texas and the love and support she gets from her family.  The author gives great insight into the Mexican-American culture. There were so many traditions and symbols in the book that helped the reader get a real feel for the culture.  I liked Sofia's strong, independent spirit and her ability to cherish traditions, yet search out for more than just the life in the barrio.  As she grows up she discovers how important family is, even as she begins to lose some of those closest to her.  Her relationship with Berta was fun to watch transform from childhood friends fighting over candy to comadres who would do anything to support the other and their goals.  It was very inspiring to see Sofia decide to branch out of her community to go to a private boarding school that would give her better opportunities in life.  It was even more inspiring for her to actually work to raise the money her family had to pay to get her there.  I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to be that young and work 12 hour days doing physically demanding work.  What perseverance!
The book was an enjoyable read, although there were times when I felt the dialogue  was stiff and not quite natural.  However the theme of the book, as well as the development of the characters, more than made up for this. It really hit on all emotions, with their being parts that made you laugh as well as parts that made you cry!

First Day in Grapes

Perez, L. (2002). First day in grapes. New York: Lee & Low Books Inc.
This book is a 2004 Pura Belpre Honor book.

First Day in Grapes gives you a glimpse into the life of a migrant child and the feelings he has as he tries to adapt to a new community.  Each new community is named for the crop that is being harvested, hence the title of the book. The whole focus of the book is on Chico and his first day at a new school.   I thought the book was a sweet story and showed  that meeting life head on is often times the best approach.  The illustrations helped to establish the mood of the story, showing the emotions in the characters faces.  I especially liked the way the author tied in Chico's mom making him stand up straight and him connecting that later in the story to having courage as he faced a bully.  As a reader, you couldn't help but hope, for Chico's sake, that the family would get to stay in Grapes long enough for him to feel like he belonged.  A simple yet thoughtful book.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

Levine, E. (2007). Henry's freedom box: a true story from the underground railroad. New York: Scholastic Press.

This book is a 2008 Caldecott Honor book as well as on the Notable Books for Children's list.

Exposition: Henry was a little boy living with his mother who was a slave.  The master was kind to his mother, but his mother did not trust that all would be well.  She knew that one day they could be separated.
Conflict: The master became ill, and sold Henry to his brother.  Henry was sent away from his mother.
Rising Action: Henry worked hard for his new master. Here  He met Nancy, another slave, and fell in love.  They married and had children, but always worried that they could be sold.
Climax:  One day, Henry is told that Nancy and his children had been sold to another master and were being sent away.  Henry was devestated and devised a plan.
Falling Action: With the help of a white man who did not agree with slavery, Henry mailed himself in a wooden box to Philadelphia, where he could be free.
Resolution: Henry made it to Philadelphia and became a free man.  He never did see his wife or children again, but became famous for mailing himself to freedom.

Kadir Nelson, who illustrated this book, created illustrations that set the mood for this story.  The faces of the different characters show intense emotion, whether it is the sadness in the face of Henry's mother, or the happiness on the face of Henry and Nancy sitting together with their children. This helps to develop the characters for the reader. The illustrations also work to reinforce the text in the book.  You can see Henry being turned over and around as the illustrator left off one side of the book to allow the reader to see the space in which Henry was packed into. 


Naylor, P. (1991). Shiloh. New York: Dell Publishing.

This book is a  1992 Newbery Medal Winner.

Exposition:  Marty is an 11 year old boy who lives with his parents and two sisters in West Virginia.  They are struggling financially but he has a stable home life.
Conflict:  Marty desperately wants a dog but his parents have said that they just don't have the money.
Rising Action:  A puppy shows up at Marty's house, but they realize it belongs to Judd Travers.  Judd Travers is not a nice man and Marty thinks is abuses his dogs. Marty's dad tells him he must give the dog back, which Marty has already named Shiloh.
Climax:  Shiloh comes back to Marty after Marty has already given him back to Judd.  Judd said he would beat the dog for running away, so Marty doesn't tell anyone he has the dog.  He makes a home for the dog away from the house and takes him leftover food.  Marty is so happy to have a dog even if no one knows he has it.
Falling Action: One night Shiloh is attacked by another dog and his family finds out he has been hiding the dog.  His dad is very upset with him and tells him he has to pay for the medical care as well as tell Judd Travers he has had his dog.  Marty is heartbroken about having to give Shiloh back and decides he will run away instead of giving him back.  Then he decides to buy Shiloh from Judd Travers.  He really doesn't have much money but offers to work for Judd to pay for Shiloh.
Resolution:  Judd Travers realizes that the hurt dog will probably be no good for hunting, so he takes Marty up on his offer.  He tries to back out of the deal, but Marty keeps doing what he knows is the right thing and Judd finally comes through and gives Marty Shiloh, free and clear.

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor does a wonderful job of using dialogue and regional dialect to create a story that is believable and enjoyable to read.  Her words paint a picture so that you are able to visualize what she is writing about.  There is a music to the language, with Marty narrating the story in a West Virginia accent, that also makes this a great read aloud.

The Duchess of Whimsy

de Seve, R. (2009). The duchess of whimsy, an absolutely delicious fairy tale. New York: Philomel Books.

This book is a 2011 Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee.

Exposition:  The Duchess of Whimsy has elaborate soirees and is made to invite the Earl of Norm.  The two couldn't be more different.
Conflict: The Earl of Norm loves the Duchess of Whimsy and always tries to impress her.  The King encourages the Duchess to be nice to him, saying that their kingdoms must be friends.
Rising Action:  The night of the dinner party, the cook becomes sick.  The Duchess does not know what she will feed her guests.
Climax:  The guests all attempt to cook different things, but none of them know exactly how to complete the task.
Falling Action: The Earl of Norm, who had given up, decides he will just make a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of milk. The Duchess of Whimsy, who was anything but plain, decides that this is the best meal!
Resolution: The Duchess of Whimsy decides the Earl of Norm is exactly what she wants.

The illustrations by Peter de Seve set the mood for the book.  They are both whimsical and elaborate and show the personalities of the different characters.  The illustrations do a wonderful job of developing the characters as well as establishing the setting of the story.  The facial expressions on the characters are fantastic!

In the Night Kitchen

Sendak, M. (1970). In the night kitchen. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

This book is on the 100 Most Challenged list.  It was also a 1971 Caldecott Honor book.
* In reading why the book is on the Most Challenged list, I found out it was because Mickey, the little boy, falls naked into the batter.  Hmmmm, my Mickey has underpants on.  On closer inspection, it appears that they have been drawn on, but maybe not. 

Exposition:  Mickey is asleep in bed when he is awakened by a noise.  He yells for the people to be quiet.
Conflict: Mickey falls through the night and right out of his clothes.
Rising Action:  Mickey ends up in the Night Kitchen, where he falls into the batter that the bakers are preparing.
Climax: The bakers appear not to notice Mickey, and make a cake.  Mickey pops out of the cake batter, creates an airplane, and clothed in cake batter, flies off.  The bakers are mad though because they need milk to make another cake.
Falling Action:  Mickey flies into a milk jug and gets the milk for the bakers. The bakers are now able to make their cake.
Resolution: Mickey slides down the side of the milk jug and falls right into bed, all clean and asleep.

The illustrations, although possibly altered, are warm and fluffy looking, just like cake.  Everyone is plump and the colors of the illustrations give off a feeling of comfort which helps to establish the mood of the story.  I am interested in knowing about the illustrations of Mickey.  If they have been altered, and he is indeed completely naked, I would wonder why Sendak thought his clothes should come off.  This is an interesting aside, and although mentioned in the story, would neither add to or take away from the story if he were to keep his pajamas on. 

Bridge to Terabithia

Paterson, K. (1977). Bridge to terabithia. New York: Scholastic.
This book is on the 100 Most Challenged list.

Exposition: Jesse is an artistic young boy who doesn't quite fit in at school or even at home.  He has four sisters and a dad who is always working.  He loves to draw, but is made fun of by classmates or discouraged from doing it by his father. His whole goal for his 5th grade year is to be the fastest runner.  Then he meets Leslie, a new girl who moves nearby.
Conflict: Jesse struggles with his feelings for Leslie.  He can tell she wants to be friends, but he doesn't have the courage to be friends with her because she is different.  He is trying to fit in.  They end up racing (while Jesse is trying to win the title of "Fastest Runner" and Leslie beats him.  The only saving grace was that she beat everyone!
Rising Action: During music class one day ( Jesse's favorite class) he decides he will be friends with Leslie.  They begin spending a lot of time together.  They create their own kingdom called Terabithia, which they are the rulers.  Here Jesse, with Leslie help, becomes stronger and more self-confident.  Leslie and her family introduce Jesse to literature and things that he has not experienced before.  He still lacks courage though, which bothers him.
Climax: One rainy day, Miss Edmunds, the music teacher, calls to invite Jesse to go with her to Washington to an art gallery and the Smithsonian.  Jesse has a huge crush on her and is thrilled to go.  He tells his half asleep mom where he is going and jumps in the car with Miss Edmunds.  Halfway there he thinks that he should have asked if Leslie could have come too.  It had been raining a lot, and he had dreaded telling Leslie that he didn't want to try to cross the creek to get to Terabithia.  Jesse had a wonderful day with Miss Edmunds, a day he will never forget.
Falling Action:  When Jesse gets home, he is shocked to learn that Leslie had attempted to cross the swollen creek to get to Terabithia.  The rope had snapped and she had drowned in the creek.  Jesse is stunned and struggles to come to terms with this.
Resolution:  Jesse realizes that he must use the gifts that Leslie had given him, her strength and vision, and begin standing up to his fears. 

Paterson does a wonderful job using figurative language to paint pictures for the reader.  On the very first page, the author writes, "he would be hot as popping grease" and "his feet were by now as tough as his worn-out sneakers" to help the reader create visuals of the story.  The dialogue between the two main characters also helps the reader better understand the story.  The dialogue is natural and adds to the enjoyment of the book.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Knuffle Bunny, A Cautionary Tale

Willems, M. (2004). Knuffle bunny, a cautionary tale. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

This book is a 2005 Caldecott Honor book.

Exposition: Trixie, a baby who is too little to speak, goes with her father to the laundromat.
Conflict: They walk through the park, all the while Trixie is carrying her beloved stuff animal, Knuffle Bunny.
Rising Action: While at the laundromat, Trixie helps her dad load the laundry into the machine.
Climax: Trixie and her dad head for home.  About a block away from the laundromat, Trixie realizes she does not have Knuffle Bunny!  She uses her baby words to try to tell her dad, who, of course, does not understand what she is trying to say.
Falling Action: Trixie tries everything to get her dad to understand that she has lost her Knuffle Bunny, but to no avail.  Her daddy is very frustrated and upset with her.
Resolution: They get home, Trixie's mom opens the door and immediately asks where Knuffle Bunny is.  The whole family runs back to the laundromat and they find Knuffle Bunny in the washer.  Trixie then shouts out her first words, "Knuffle Bunny!"

Mo Willems, the author and illustrator, is very creative with his illustrations, which are a combination of drawings of the characters placed onto actual photographs for the background. These illustrations do an excellent job of reinforcing the text.  Even though Trixie can't talk you can see her emotions through the illustrations.  The black and white photographs are a great backdrop to the colorful characters.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee

Stead, P. (2010). A sick day for amos mcgee. New York: Roaring Brook Press.

This book is a 2011 Caldecott Award winner for illustrations by Erin E. Stead.

Exposition: Amos McGee is a zookeeper who makes time for his animal friends each day he goes to work.  He is always on time and always stops by to visit each animal.
Conflict: One day Amos McGee wakes up and realizes he is sick.
Rising Action: Amos decides not to go to work that day.  The animals wait for him to show up.
Climax: The animals decide that they should go check on Amos. So the elephant, the turtle, the penguin, the rhinoceros and the owl all board a bus to see what is wrong with Amos.
Falling Action: When the animals get to Amos' house they see that he is sick, so they do everything for him that he has always done for them.
Resolution: Amos begins to feel better, so the owl reads him a bedtime story, and then they all turn in so that they will be ready to head back to the zoo early the next morning.

Erin Stead does a wonderful job with the illustrations, giving the book an old-fashioned feel. She creates her illustrations with pencil and woodblock printing. The illustrations do an excellent job of establishing the setting of the story, bouncing from the home to the zoo and then back to the home of Amos. As you read the book, you see there is a mouse and a little bird that appear, although they do not have a role in the book.  This would be something that young readers would enjoy looking for.

Selavi, That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope

Landowne, Y. (2004). Selavi, that is life: a Haitian story of hope. Hong Kong: Morris Printing.

This book is on the Notable Books for Children list and is also a 2005 Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee.

Exposition: Selavi, a little boy in Haiti whose family is taken at gunpoint, is left alone and homeless.  He sets out in search of a family and a home.  Selavi reaches Port-au-Prince and finds other children in a similar situation.
Conflict: The children live together under a tree, working during the day and scrounging for whatever food they can find.  In spite of their situation, they feel like they are a family and take care of each other. 
Rising Action: One day, the police chase the children away, telling them they will be arrested if they come back. 
Climax: Selavi wanders into a church, where the minister is talking about the congregation becoming a mighty river and helping others become strong.  Selavi tells them that he needs help.  The people in the church take Selavi in and help the other children.  They build a home for all of the homeless children. 
Falling Action: The children try to reach out to other homeless children by painting murals, letting them know that there is help for them.  Unfortunately, people painted over their murals and burned their home down.  They did not give up.
Resolution: A home was rebuilt for the homeless children in Haiti and a radio station was created to share their story and to help others.  The children there work together and help each other.  They also reach out to other homeless children.

The illustrations in the book do an excellent job of refinforcing the text.  For example, in the sunglasses of the policemen you see reflections of a boy with a broken heart and a home on fire, which reinforces what Selavi is experiencing.  The illustrations are sometimes drawn with details and other times look like abstract watercolors.  On each page, there are different aspects to the illustrations which cause the reader to pause and "read" the illustrations as well as the words on the page.

The Hunger Games

Collins, S. (2008). The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading this book, not necessarily for the sometimes violent content, but for the suspenseful way the book was written. 

Exposition: Katniss, the main character is the primary caregiver to her younger sister, Prim, and her mother who has never recovered from the death of Katniss' father.  They live in a mining community and are extremely poor.  In reading, it is uncovered that the community they live in is really a "district" belonging to the "Capitol."  Each year, a boy and a girl from each district is selected to participate in the Hunger Games.

Conflict: Katniss is worried that she might get selected.  A ticket goes in for each year beginning at age 12, plus Katniss has extra tickets due to trading tickets for food for her family.  She wants to run away, but won't leave her younger sister, Prim.  Her friend, Gale, is also in a similar predicament and they are both hopeful that they won't be selected.
Rising Action: At the reaping, Prim's name is called for the girl.  Katniss is shocked, since Prim is just 12 and so only has one ticket with her name on it.  She volunteers to go in Prim's place.  Peeta, a neighbor who once gave her bread when she was starving, is the boy selected.  The "winner" of the games is the last one alive. The strategy that her advisor comes up with is to portray Katniss and Peeta as star-struck lovers.  As nice as Peeta is, Katniss knows that for her to survive and return to her family, she will have to kill him or hope someone else does. 
Climax: Katniss is a great hunter and is able to hide in trees, so she is successful in staying alive for quite awhile.  Each night, the Capitol shows who has died that day.  Then the Capitol changes the rules.  Two tributes can win, but they must be from the same district.  Katniss finds Peeta so that they can work together. He is injured and Katniss must do whatever it takes to help him get better.  The Capitol has cameras everywhere, and the Hunger Games are broadcast throughout all of the districts. 
Falling Action:  Katniss, Peeta and one other tribute, Cato, are the only ones left.  Katniss manages to cause Cato to fall into a pack of wolves and her and Peeta win.  Unfortunately, the Capitol changes the rules again, and they are told only one can win.
Resolution: Katniss and Peeta trick the Capitol in to thinking they will die together instead of killing one of them.  The Capitol stops the games and both are declared the winners.

Collins uses personification in the book when Katniss is given the Mockingjay pin to wear in the games.  You find out the mockingjay is an experiment gone wrong by the Capitol, and it is very fitting that Katniss would wear this pin, as her actions are counter to everything the Capitol stands for.  Throughout the book, Collins creates little clues to give you unexpected insight into the characters and what will happen.  Katniss leaves us guessing as to what she will do next, and Haymitch is a confusing character until you figure out that he really does care for Katniss.  This is a book that keeps you hooked and makes it hard to put it down!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Angleberger, T. (2010). The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. New York: Amulet Books.
This book is a Notable Book for Children as well as a 2011 Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee.

Great book for reluctant readers!  It is very funny and the different perspectives keep it interesting!

Exposition: Dwight, a quirky sixth grader, creates an origami Yoda finger puppet who gives advice to anyone that asks.  Tommy is his friend, who thinks he is weird, but wonders if Origami Yoda might have some special powers. Harvey is another character who definitely feels like Origami Yoda is a fake.  The book is a collection of case files by different kids that asked Origami Yoda for advice and whether or not they think he has magical powers or not.
Conflict:  The main problem in the story is that the kids at school are trying to figure out whether Origami Yoda is real or not.  They recognize that it IS a real piece of paper, but want to know if it really does have secret powers as Dwight claims.  Tommy accumulates case files to prove that Origami Yoda is real.  Harvey disputes those claims.
Rising Action: Several different kids have stories that back up that Origami Yoda is indeed real, and the advice he gives really helps.  Tommy wants to ask it a question about a girl, but is unsure of whether it is real or if Dwight is just fooling everyone.
Climax:  Throughout the book, Harvey has explanations for every time Origami Yoda says something and it works out.  Harvey does not like Dwight and the rest of the group wrestles with how to be friends with Dwight.  Tommy looks at each time someone has asked Origami Yoda a question and the answer made sense and worked out.  He also evaluates all the times the answers appeared to be stupid answers.  He wants to know whether Origami Yoda has magical powers before he embarrasses himself and asks whether Sara likes him.  He finally gets up the courage to ask and Origami Yoda gives him a nonsense type of answer.
Falling Action: Tommy is mad that Dwight won't give him a clear answer, so he says to Origami Yoda that Dwight is a loser.  Dwight gets mad and wads up Origami Yoda and throws him in the trash. Harvey is the only one who is happy about this and he creates his own Origami Yoda.  His Origami Yoda tells Tommy that Sara doesn't like him, and then all of a sudden, Dwight has his Origami Yoda and says that Sara does like Tommy.  There will be a dual of Origami Yodas.  Whoever's answer is right will be the real Origami Yoda.
Resolution:  Tommy finds out at the dance that Sara does like him, not because of Origami Yoda, but because Sara had asked Dwight if Tommy liked her and Dwight tells him. Whether Origami Yoda has secret powers or not, everyone is happy at the way the dance turns out.

This will be a great read, especially for boys, in grades 4-6. The dialogue between the boys is similar to how boys that age would talk to each other.  In addition, the narration in the case file by different characters gives you insight into them.   You can see how nervous and insecure Tommy is feeling by his additions to the case files.  You also see that Dwight, although quirky, is a very likeable character, just wanting to have friends.  The author does a great job of delivering a book that kids can relate to as well as be entertained by.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Turtle in Paradise

Holm, J. (2010). Turtle in paradise. New York: Random House.
This book is a 2011 Newbery Honor book as well as a 2011 Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee.

Turtle in Paradise is a work of fiction, but there are characters and events based on real people and events that happened during this time period in Key West history.  They are cleverly hidden sometimes, but that is what makes this read so enjoyable.                                                                                       Exposition: Turtle is an 11 year old girl who is living in New Jersey in the 1930's with her mom, Sadiebelle.  Her mom is a housekeeper and her new job does not allow children.  She decides to send Turtle to live with her sister, who Turtle has never met, in Key West, Florida. When Turtle gets to Key West, she is surprised to learn that her aunt did not even know she was coming, and is now worried about how she will take care of her children and now her niece too.
Conflict: Although Turtle misses her mom, she attempts to make the best of things and tries to adjust to her new home and her cousins.  She is also dreaming and waiting for the day her mom and her can live in their own home, a Sear's mail-order home that they have picked out.  All she wants is to have a family, and she is glad her mom has found Archie, who promises one day everything will work out.  Turtle is waiting for that day.  Turtle does not know who her father is and her mom hasn't told her very much about him.
Rising Action:  As Turtle adapts to life in Key West, she starts hanging out with her cousin, Beans and his Diaper Gang.  This group of boys is known around town as the best babysitters!  One day, she is sent to take food to a grouchy elderly woman.  She discovers that this is her grandmother.  She knew that her mom used to live in Key West, but she thought her grandmother was dead.  She begins visiting her grandmother frequently, trying to get to know her.
Climax: While at her grandmother's house one day, she discovers a treasure map.  She is sure it isn't real, but shows it to the Diaper Gang, just in case.  They all decide to go in search of the treasure, taking a boat that doesn't belong to them.  At the island where they map says the treasure is they do actually discover a treasure chest of gold coins, but then also discover that the boat they have stolen has drifted off.  They are stuck on the island.  Then a hurricane hits!
Falling Action: Eventually, Slow Poke finds them and takes them back home.  Turtle is sure that her wonderful life is about to begin.  She has enough money to buy the house for her mom and her.  Her mom and Archie come to Key West, worried about her and find out that she has found a treasure.  They had gotten married on the way, so Turtle is sure that her life is about to be perfect.  Then Archie steals her treasure and leaves the island, leaving her and her mom.
Resolution: Turtle and her mom stay in Key West.  Her mom makes up with her grandmother, and although her life is different than what she thought it would be, she is happy to be with her mom and her newly found extended family.

The author, Holm, did an excellent job of using history to give us unexpected insights in this book.  When Turtle goes looking for work she discovers some interesting characters.  One of them is a writer, and she asks him if he writes for the funny pages.  All the men laugh, and Slow Poke, one of the men says, "Maybe you should start writing for the funny pages, Papa." Key West, 1930's, writer called Papa, could it be Ernest Hemingway??  The author also uses the power of understatement, where you are left wondering, could Slow Poke be Turtle's dad??  You know that her mom lived in Key West, and throughout the book, he shows a tenderness to Turtle.  He also makes the comment that he is too late again when he finds out Turtle's mom is in Key West, but is newly married.  It is left to your imagination whether, perhaps they all live happily ever after, just like Turtle wanted.  Great book!

Out of My Mind

Draper, Sharon M. (2010). Out of my mind. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
This book is a 2011 Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee.

This was a great book for making you think about how often we judge a person or situation before knowing everything.

Exposition: Right away you are introduced to the narrator and main character of this book, Melody.  She is almost 11 years old and has never spoken.  She has cerebral palsy and relies on other people to help her with most everything.
Conflict: Melody is struggling with fitting in at her school.  She is actually brilliant, but since she cannot speak, most people, including doctors, feel that she is severly brain damaged.  She hears and understands everything people say about her, and through her narration we see how hurtful it is. 
Rising Action: The school begins an inclusion program and so Melody is able to go into mainstream classes with her peers.  Here she is energized and desperately wants to be able to participate in class.  One day, one of her classmates brings a laptop to school and Melody is sure that something like that will help her communicate.
Climax:  Melody gets a Medi-talker, which is a programmable machine that allows her to "speak" to people.  She loads the device with words, phrases and sentences which then enables her to share her thoughts.  It is the first time in her life that she is able to communicate and she feels such freedom.  She even tries out for the Whiz Kids team for her school and makes it.  Unfortunately, even with her intelligence clearly showing, she still has to deal with insensitivity and discrimination by the other students and even adults in her world. 
Falling Action: When the Whiz Kids team wins the local competition, they prepare to go to Washington, DC for the national competition.  The kids have a hard time accepting Melody on the team, and end up leaving without her.  She was devestated that. although she helped the team win, they would leave for the competition without her.  Melody is still just trying to fit in with her peers.
Resolution: After another crisis (her mother runs over her little sister when Melody insists on being taken to school) Melody faces her teammates upon their return from the competition.  Melody has the last laugh as they try to explain their behavior and give her the 9th place trophy they won.  She told them that she did not want it; that they deserved it!  Although she doesn't ever truly fit in, she becomes a little more comfortable in her own skin.

To me, this entire book was one big unexpected insight.  To be able to know the thoughts of someone who can't communicate is eye-opening.  The author does an exceptional job of creating a character that, in spite of having disabilities, is a strong character that you can't help but cheer for.  Also, due to her brilliant mind, Melody, through the author, creates visual imagery through her detailed descriptions of people and events.  When the author describes one of Melody's teachers as "balding and pudgy" who "dresses like a TV preacher-in three-piece suits with vests" you can visualize this man.  This book is a wonderful experience, playing like a movie in your head as you read it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Cricket in Times Square

Selden, G. (1960). The Cricket in Times Square. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
This book is a Newbery Honor book.

Exposition: The story begins with Mario Bellini, a young boy in New York City whose parents own a newspaper stand, selling newspapers while Tucker Mouse looks on. The both hear an unusual noise which turns out to be Chester Cricket.
Conflict: Chester Cricket had mistakenly fallen asleep in a picnic basket in Connecticut and ended up in New York.  Mario attempts to talk his mother into allowing him to keep Chester Cricket as a pet.  She is disgusted by bugs but eventually gives in as long as Chester Cricket does not come in the house.  Chester Cricket has to stay at the newsstand.  Mario creates a bed for him out of a matchbox.
Rising Action: The newsstand does not make much money and so the family worries about money. With Chester Cricket living in the newsstand, he makes friends with Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat who visit him after Mario and his family leave each night.
Climax: One night, after Mario had bought Chester Cricket a fancy cage to sleep in, Tucker Mouse spends the night in the newsstand with Chester.  Chester decides to sleep in the matchbox and let Tucker sleep in the cage.  Tucker wants a bed of money, so they get dollar bills out of the cash register.  Unfortuantely, Chester sleep walks and while dreaming of eating a willow leaf, wakes up to find that he has eaten half of a two dollar bill.  As Chester and Tucker are trying to figure out what to do, Mama Bellini opens up the newsstand and is furious.
Falling Action: Mario is made to work to make for the money eaten by Chester.  Then Chester begins playing Italian opera and various other types of pleasing music, which brings many listeners to the newsstand who end up buying newspapers and magazines.
Resolution:  After saving the newsstand, Chester decides it is time to go back to Connecticut.

The dialogue in this book shows much about the characters.  With the animals having the ability to speak to each other, and their distinct personalities coming out through the conversations that take place, you get a deeper understanding of their character traits. 
Not only is there music in the story, but there is also music in the language of the book. The sentence flow so well and the book is a very enjoyable read aloud.  When Mario goes to Chinatown, first to find a cage and then to find out what crickets eat, the reader was exposed to conversations between Mario and Sai Fong, an older Chinese man.  These conversations make for interesting reading.