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The Three Pigs

David Wiesner picture from

Clarion Books, New York (2001)

Caldecott Medal Winner 2002

Wiesner’s illustrations are never a disappointment to me. The imaginative aspect of his art is perfect for my fourth grade students and they do not see it as an ordinary “picture book” (they would consider that for babies)! And this was no ordinary picture book. Wiesner takes a familiar tale of the three pigs and after some overly aggressive huffing and puffing; the big bad wolf actually sends the pigs out of the story!

I read this book for the first time to my two year old son and found it difficult to use as a read aloud. The adventurous plot, like many of Wiesner’s stories, has few words, thus one needs to use creativity to create their own words and dialogue. This would be a great introduction to imaginative narratives. Showing students how to take a familiar story and tweak and deconstruct it is something I try to do each year in preparation for the state writing assessment. We practice with rewriting fairy tales and reading fractured fairy tales, and I think this book would be a perfect fit into my curriculum.

I love the idea that the pigs are flying on paper airplanes made for the story they came from no less! After running into multiple famous characters, the pigs bring a dragon and the cat and the fiddle back home.

The illustrations are especially intriguing. While in the original fairy tale, the pigs look animated and picturesque, but after escaping the story they take on a realistic piggy look. The text is gone and replaced with dialogue bubbles and smaller frames. There are references to other familiar and not so familiar stories throughout. New characters join in to escape their own fairy tales and rhymes. It is obvious why this modern picture book won the Caldecott, and I feel Wiesner’s illustrations and themes are reminiscent of Van Allsburg, one of my favorite authors/illustrators.

Joey Pigza Loses Control

Jack Gantos

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York (2000)

Newbury Honor Book

In this sequel to Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Gantos continues a humorous storyline, while creating touching and sometimes heartbreaking situations for Joey. I read this book in one sitting, which is not unusual for me, but it was a page turner. As a teacher and a mother of two boys it was heartbreaking to see Joey finally gain control over his disability to only have his estranged father flush his medication down the toilet. Each trip to StoryBook Land or a ballgame had me on edge waiting for his father to become violent. Even though Joey is still young, the book was almost a coming of age tale, with a young man realizing that sometimes you do need help to overcome your obstacles. Joey with his severe ADHD is so similar to a student I had last year, down to the patch for meds. I am sure many teachers feel that if they had something these children could connect to; it may be easier for them in school. I only wish I had known about Joey Pigza. Perhaps he could have seen that he was not alone. Biblio-therapy can be powerful for these seemingly isolated students.

I think the grandmother was one of the best characters in the story. She was so spunky. Often speaking degradingly to Joey and her own son, Carter, she never lets him get her down. Carter leaves her home alone and neglects her. She is quite sick herself from smoking and I could just picture her in that buggy going down to the store to get more cigarettes with the oxygen tank in tow. The book is made better by the first person point of view. It creates a world with which I am so unfamiliar with, the chaos of Joey’s mind and the heart of gold.

Joey is a true hero. He has overcome a difficult stint in school and found the self control his life needs. Not only does he conjure up the courage to face his father, he bonds with his zany grandmother in a strange way. They have some sort of deep understanding that is evident as Joey escapes behind his father’s back and looks back to see grandma on the front porch waving.

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins

Author: Barbara Kerley; Illustrator: Brian Selznick

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, New York (2001)

Award: Caldecott Honor 2002

Summary: This is the heartbreaking story of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, a model maker who created life-size dinosaur models in hope of bringing to life these ancient creatures for all to love. His artwork was brought to New York City’s Central Park only to be destroyed shortly thereafter.

Personal Response: This genre is my favorite, the narrative story bio I call it! I chose this book in particular. I read two of Selznick’s collaborations from my basal each year and the illustrations are captivating and stand apart from others. His style is noticeable and memorable. The story of Waterhouse Hawkins is new to me and the fact that it’s about dinosaurs will draw in many readers.

Evaluative Comments: Selznick is quickly becoming one of my favorite illustrators! I love the beauty of his characters, especially the eyes. I just finished his newest book and was completely captivated again with his illustrations. They are life like, but with a dream like quality. The blurbs and author’s notes are some of my favorite aspects of this book. I love the biographical feel of his work in narrative story form. I think this style of picture book is quickly becoming the favorite among boys, as well as my own preference. Each picture was based on research (minus the outlining of the building in Central Park that was never to be) and that makes it an even more powerful tool for teachers.

Hush: A Thai Lullaby

Author: Migfong Ho illustrator: Holly Meade

Publishing Info: Scholastic, New York (1996)

Award: Caldecott Honor 1997

Summary: A mother has just gotten her baby to sleep. She hears something and this sets off a panicked spree of hushing each and every animal that moves so her baby is not woken up.

Personal Response: As a mother I definitely identified with this book! You finally get your rowdy toddler to sleep and suddenly every slight movement sends you into panic mode! You will do anything to keep the baby peaceful in hopes you can get some rest too. This is exactly how the plot moves along quickly. I loved the ending, she has finally quieted all the animals, from the mosquito to the elephant, and at last the mother is so tired she falls asleep. Then we see baby is resting in his hammock; fully awake! I chose this book after someone brought it up in class. I have a number of Hmong and Asian students are I try constantly to fins books from their culture. This Thai lullaby will also be a great read aloud for traditional literature units as well as a wonderful bedtime story.

Evaluative Comments: The artist used cut paper and ink. This combination creates a wonderfully fun, bold book captures the eye immediately. She chose to outline in red rather than black, and it certainly works. The colors demonstrate the desperation of the young mother and the expressions on her face and her body language add to the comical light feeling of the text. Hands on her hips, finger to her lips. The onomatopoeia is unusual and new. No longer is the duck saying “quack, quack” or the cow mooing. Now we hear “uut-uut” from the smelly pig and “hoom-praa” from the elephant. The Thai barnyard is very different from the usual one we teach our children. There is much action for paper cut illustrations. I did not even notice the child is hiding and exploring in every picture until the third time I read the book!

Gone Wild: An Endangered Animal Alphabet

Author/Illustrator: David McLimans

Publishing Info: Walker Publishing Co., New York (2006)

Award: Caldecott Honor 2007

Summary: Twenty six endangered species features are transformed into the letters of the alphabet. Not only do we have a wonderful eye catching illustration about each animal, McLimans gives us more with websites, animal classification, status in the wild, habitats, and interesting facts that will set each animal apart from the next.

Personal Response: I personally love alphabet books, especially animal ones. I chose this book based on my curriculum. Each year I combine poetry with animals and one type of poem in particular, a-b-c alliteration, will become even more inspired using this book as a model. I love reading nonfiction, but I also love more information after the fact. You do not have to go far to get it with this book. This will be a wonderful tool to jumpstart endangered animals and the text is more advanced than most animal alphabet books, lending itself well to my fourth grade.

Evaluative Comments: The illustrations are bold to say the least. They almost have a crude, tribal feel to them. I found that they were created with ink, Bristol board, and computer. I can imagine the amount of research required to find that perfect animal, one that fit the issues of the book and the letter of the alphabet in name and shape! I have come to appreciate well researched books more as I use them to introduce issues and topics in my classroom. The black and white is striking and he also includes a red on white information box and the entire animal is illustrated. There are just so many textual details. I was surprised to read this was the author/illustrators first children’s book. McLimans’ research and talent pays off in this work.

Tale of Depseraux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread

Author: Kate DiCamillo, Illustrator: Timothy Basil Ering

Publishing Info: Scholastic by arrangement with Candlewick Press (2003)

Award: Newbery Winner 2004

Summary: Desperaux is a hero, an unlikely hero; marked for certain death with a red thread tied to his tail because he sees a world not visible to his mouse family. He soon meets Princess Pea, whom he falls in love with, a rat named Roscuro who killed the princess’s mom, and a servant girl named Miggery Sow who wants nothing more than to be a princess. Four tales intertwine to become one story about love and hope.

Personal Response: I could not put it down! I read the entire thing on the way to the beach and was spellbound the entire way. DiCamillo’s narrative style is captivating and the characters are completely real. She says it was written for her nephew who requested a story of an unlikely hero and that this is what inspired the style of narration. I have read several critiques of the book and was shocked to see the number of bad reviews. This is no “happily ever after” fairy tale for the lighthearted! The adventure, true love, and agony the characters face makes it all the more real.

Evaluative Comments: I think the intertwining plot and “dear reader” narration kept this a page turner for me. The plot was adventurous and not hard to follow even though it is written in four sections. As far as style, DiCamillo takes time out to explain difficult words to her reader making this book appropriate for a read aloud for younger readers, not to mention older ones. Her theme is one that makes your heart break and race all at once. The characters are struggling for things that are seemingly impossible and remain untouchable. But we still have a happy ending, and I for one still like happy endings! I have since read all her young adult novels and all her characters and strong, with both strengths and weaknesses, even though many are animals.

Illustrations: The pencil drawn illustrations actually enhance this novel. We see the desperation is all the characters through Ering’s artwork. Lightness and darkness are very important to DiCamillo’s tale and Ering incorporated both perfectly.


Author: Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers

Publishing Info: Harper Collins, New York (1999)

Award: Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book 2000

Summary: Steve is a young teen sitting in jail for something he did not do, or did he? The reader does not know for sure, but no one around him believes he’s innocent. “Monster”, this is what the prosecutor calls him. But was he simply in the wrong place at the wrong time? We see the story unfold as he begins to keep a journal which turns into a screenplay of his trial proceedings and prison life.

Personal Response: Myers is a mover and a shaker. His work is so inspired and deeply powerful; rooted in showing another side of African American life Myers again gets his point across. This book was another I read in one sitting. I had to find out what would happen to Steve. I knew he was innocent and the fact that I felt this stirs up other justice issues. What a wonderful book for high school discussions! It leaves so many questions unanswered.

Evaluative Comments: While I would not share this book aloud with my fourth graders, I may have it out on the shelf. The peer pressure and personal struggle themes are worth while for younger readers and for older readers the theme of stereotypes is another. At first I thought the style would be hard to follow, but once the plot moves along, you do not even notice the director’s instructions, or cameraman’s angles. It is worth a second read just for that tough. They would almost take on an illustrator’s job. The book is also enriched with photographs and a young black man, a blurred face, mug shots, and expressionistic text and fonts.

Goin’ Someplace Special

Author: Patricia C. McKissack; Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Publishing Info: Anne Schwartz Book/Antheneum, New York (2001)

Award: Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book 2002

Summary: ‘Tricia Ann is going Someplace Special, somewhere she will be welcome and no one will treat her like less than human: the library. Set in the 1950s south, we follow this young lady on her path to a seemingly simple place only to discover it is going to be a long journey.

Personal Response: The plot seems simple enough, a young black girl wants to go somewhere by herself and grandma lets her go. But we soon see the trip there is not as easy as she thought. She faces discrimination and “For Whites Only” signs staring her in the face every step of the way. She even considers turning back, but she gets there…the public library where all are welcome. I appreciated that the story had a happy ending, but nothing felt sugar coated. The message of books as freedom also fit into what I hoped to use as a social justice project, and this book became my catalyst. Since I felt welcome there, I checked books out more often. And the more I read, the better I understood why my grandmother believed the library was someplace more exciting, more interesting, and more informative than hotels, movies, restaurants, and amusement parks.” This quote form the author’s note sums up all I wanted my kids to learn and what I brought from this book.

Evaluative Comments: I love the dialect of the book. I love to read aloud with my southern accent to my class! McKissack’s style is real and honest. And coupled with Pinkney’s watercolors, the blurred lines, and the realistic features we get a bittersweet story about segregation that is harsh enough to get the point across to younger readers. You can see the pain and shock in ‘Tricia Ann’s eyes and face as she is kicked out of places and when she looks up to see the library. Her dress stands out among the others who are draped in drab colors. The strong characters are also apparent in a short book. ‘Tricia Ann is strong, determined to be somebody, to hold her head up. We also meet Blooming Mary, who convinces ‘Tricia Ann to carry along on her journey, to hear her grandmother’s voice in her heart. This book is worthy of being used as an introduction to the concept of segregation and racism for children.

Esperanza Rising

Author: Pam Munoz Ryan

Publishing info: Scholastic, New York, (2000)

Award: Pura Belpre (2002), Jane Addams (2001)

Summary: Esperanza is the daughter of a wealthy landowner in Mexico. Tragic circumstances force her and her mother to come to live and work on a migrant labor camp in the United States. Set during the 1920s-30s, the story follows Esperanza on her personal journey to find who she really is. More than a spoiled rich girl, Esperanza finds it difficult to adapt to her new living conditions, but when Mama gets sick, she must take care of the family.

Personal Response: In no way could I never identify with the tragedy that faces Esperanza and her mother, but as a mother I felt the frustration she must have felt to make the decision to move her daughter and lifestyle in Mexico for a life of her own in the US. There were so many parts of the story were I think I would have given up if I were Esperanza, and Munoz Ryan does a wonderful job showing the young girls strength despite her upbringing. I was pleased to learn that the novel was based upon the author’s grandmother. I think a piece of validity is important to historical/realistic works. This is a wonderful book to share in today’s educational setting. A touching story of “assimilation and immigration” is just what students need to hear to appreciate many of the hardships their classmates are living.

Evaluative Comments: Munoz Ryan is one of the best descriptive writers I have read in a while. The characterization and description puts you into the story instantly. We see opposing views of the harsh living conditions the migrant workers lived in. Marta, a strong-willed girl who teases Esperanza for being formerly rich, leads the strikers who fight for more. Miguel who is happy with what he has, and Esperanza herself is somewhere in the middle. The theme, so quoted by Ryan, is a Mexican proverb, "The rich person is richer when he becomes poor, than the poor person when he becomes rich". There is no better way to sum up the plot of this novel.

Becoming Naomi Leon

Author: Pam Munuz Ryan

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, New York (2004)

Award: Pura Belpre Honor Book (2006)

Summary: Naomi Soledad Leon Outlaw lives with her misfit brother and grandmother is a small trailer park in Lemon Tree. She is surprised by a visit from her mother, whom she has not seen for seven years, and who decides to come back into their lives. Unstable, her mother causes more harm than good, but Naomi desperately hopes for the best. Then her mother “Skyla” decides that her daughter needs to come to Las Vegas and live with her, and her new boyfriend Clive. Gram, outraged and a force to be reckoned with, hooks the trailer up to a friend’s truck and they all escape to Mexico in search of Naomi’s estranged father. Here Naomi learns about her true family and herself.

Personal Response: After much disappointment and worry, Naomi begins to discover who she really is. What a journey to get here. I was so scared for her as she ran through the trailer park from her mother and Clive. And I was heartbroken when her father evades her at the Oaxacan Night of the Radishes festival. But I think I responded most to the librarian at her school. He takes the time to invite other misfits, like himself I assume, and eats with them each day in the library. It’s their own special club. He knows each of them individually and showcases their talents. Naomi’s name itself plays a large part in her discovery after Blanca, a new girl at school, tells Naomi what it all means Leon the lion and Soledad, a big saint in Mexico. This intrigues Naomi, makes her feel special. I loved Esperanza Rising, but this book “outreads” it any day.

Evaluation Comments: Again, Munoz Ryan puts you right into the story with her description and characterization. I can just see the Baby Beluga hip hopping down the roads of Mexico and Owen covering himself with tape for comfort. Her novels do so much for the Hispanic community. She makes their culture so accessible to today’s readers. Reminiscent of the Higher Power of Lucky, all the characters quirks and uniqueness make this a must read for upper elementary classrooms.

The Thief Lord

Author: Cornelia Funke

Publishing Info: The Chicken House, United Kingdom (2002)

Award: Mildred L. Batchelder award for outstanding translated book (2003)

Genre: Fantasy
Summary: After their mother’s death, 12 year old Prosper and 5 year old Bo are staying with their aunt and uncle, the Hartliebs. They discover Aunt Ester only wants to keep Bo so they decide to head off for Venice, a place their mother always told them stories about. Here they are met by a group of young thieves and the Thief Lord, a boy named Scipio who is a master thief. Then the gang is asked to steal something that has been an historical mystery for years, a wooden wing that pieces together a magical carousel. As they grow up and live together, many secrets are uncovered in this realistic fiction turned fantasy.

Personal Response: I had previously read Inkheart and Inkspell, so I decided to read this book by Funke with hopes it would live up to the others. And while it is a touching story, it seems to be missing something that I cannot put my finger on. It almost feels like a puzzle of other young adult books I have read. A little cliché. This is not a bad thing, but her other books were so strong that I was a little disappointed. I know my students would enjoy the novel. And I too did enjoy reading it. But at times it read a little slow, especially in the beginning. By the end I was hooked, as always. The mystery of the carousel was a little predictable but the idea was not. And the fact that Scipio was a rich kid and had been stealing from his own father to help the other children! Wow, I did not see that coming!

Evaluative Comments: The plot is exciting and the descriptions and details are very strong and well written. I would not have thought that her novels have been translated if I did not know. Prosper is a likeable hero, and while the reader may be a little turned off by Scipio when his real identity is discovered, you must admire his reasons. The elements of magic were a surprise. No magic was expected by the reader until it actual moment we see the ride. This may seem a little out of place, but it brings the story full circle and to a satisfying end. The scattered humor adds a lighter feel to the overall work and is nicely fit into the plot.

An Extraordinary Life: The Story of the Monarch Butterfly

Author: Laurence Pringle, Illustrator: Bob Marstall

Publishing Info: Orchard Books, New York (1997)

Award: NCTE Orbis Pictus (1998)

Summary: This is the story of one monarch butterfly and her life cycle. It begins with her mother’s death after she lays hundreds of eggs in a Massachusetts farm field. We follow this butterfly, Danaus, from caterpillar to adult butterfly and over thousands of miles of migration in a few short months.

Personal Response: Honestly, upon first glance, I thought this would be a dull book. I was pleasantly surprised. Rather than a purely informational text, Pringle delights and saddens us with a narrative nonfiction piece following a single female monarch butterfly and what becomes an extraordinary journey across half a continent. At times you actually felt short of breath following this insect that weighs 1/25 of an ounce and flies for thousands of miles. I learned so much and I felt like I was sitting back in my own schoolroom. I remember learning about these butterflies when I was young, but the importance and magnitude of their journey was never told. The book is also user friendly with colorful sidebars and an index for quick reference. My 8 year old looked through the book after he had to read a small nonfiction leveled reader on the monarch. He was much more impressed by this one to say the least!

Evaluative Comments: The narrative of Danaus was most unexpected, but what a great way to get an increased number of younger readers interested, especially girls, in nonfiction. I was instantly drawn to the storyline and the fact that Danuas escaped close calls after close calls. The details are relevant to the story; while not drawing attention away from the plot. There is so much information contained here I could have reread this book several times and found new bits and pieces each time.

The artwork, watercolors I am guessing, are phenomenal. The large one and two page spreads do nothing than to add to the wonderment of the life of this tiny creature.

When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson: The Voice of a Century

Author: Pam Munoz Ryan, Illustrator: Brian Selznick

Publishing Info: Scholastic, New York (2002)

Award: NCTE Orbis Pictus Winner (2003), Siebert Honor Book

Summary: Marian Anderson was a black contralto during the early 1900s. One of America’s greatest singers, she was turned away by venue after venue because of her race. Her frustration led her to eventually leave for Europe where she could sing of any audience and what became known as “Marian Fever” swept the continent. Upon returning to the US, President Roosevelt (with the urging of his wife Eleanor) granted her a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And in 1955 her dreams of singings at the Metropolitan Opera come true. It is a story of a quiet activist with the voice that in “one breath sounded like rain…and the next she was the thunder…” (Introduction from the book.)

Personal Response: I could not pass up another Pam Munoz Ryan and Brian Selznick collaboration. They are my favorite author and illustrator of the moment. This book was even better than Amelia and Eleanor! While his illustrations instantly grab my eyes, her words grab my heart. Ryan has a way of describing her characters that I just do not get from many authors. I love the author’s/illustrator’s notes at the end and both of these writers include such wonderful details in their notes. Selznick got the idea for this book from his grandfather who actually showed Anderson and Roosevelt around town during the Lincoln Memorial concert! Honestly I knew nothing about Marian Anderson and now I feel like an expert just by reading one narrative nonfiction bio. That is one powerful book!

Evaluative Comments: Ryan’s style of writing instantly grabs readers’ attention once again. She writes as if she was right there with Anderson throughout her life. The research done must be extremely thorough. The first pages are set up like an opera program with “written” and “illustrated” replaced with “Libretto” and “Staged” by… This would intrigue students to keep reading. The artwork is definitely the focus of this picture book. The words are carefully placed around the two page spreads and both are profound and wondrous. The climax of the story is told with the illustration of Anderson spotlight at the Met and just a phrase, “and Marian sang.”. You can literally see the soul of Anderson in the artwork.

The Green Glass Sea

Author: Ellen Klages

Publishing Info: Viking Juvenile, Penguin Books, New York (2006)

Award: Scott O’Dell Award (2006)

Brief Summary: After her grandmother has a stroke, Dewey finds herself whisked away to live with her father on a top-secret base in the middle of the desert. She soon learns that everything in the remote military town of Los Alamos is secret. This is the site of the Manhattan Project where, during the 1940s, scientists moved their families here while they worked on the atomic bomb. “Screwy Dewey” as the other girls call her, loves being here with her father after not seeing him for so long, but he soon has to leave to visit Washington and she is to stay with one of the meanest girls in the town, Suze. These two misfits quickly learn that in order to make it here, they will have to band together.

Personal Response: I was completely engrossed in this novel. I was surprised to learn this was Klages first published children’s work, but I am sure it’s not the last. Historical Fiction is one of my favorite genres and this one is timeless. I identified with Dewey; with her nerdy side. Any of my friends and family will tell you I am a closet nerd. I love to put things together without the instructions, I love technology, and I read in all my spare time. Dewey is proud and confident, unlike Suze who tries to fit in with the other girls. While it may appear to be for girls, I think my boys would enjoy the adventure and quirkiness of Dewey and Suze. I love to read the research part following historical fiction novels. It is apparent that Klages did her homework and this is a wonderful addition to my bookshelf.

Evaluative Comments: Klages gets you right into the head of her opposing heroes. We see things from each girl’s points of view and the thoughts and feelings are so powerful. The novel is part coming of age with a finding where you fit into a new world theme. Both girls are unique and budding artists, Dewey with gadgets and Suze with collages. I really felt these were true stories of actual women until I read the Afterward. Los Alamos is not a place that people know much about and this community is revealed with accuracy and respect to the times. The relationship between these two girls is real and intelligent.

When Sophie Gets Angry-Really, Really Angry…

Author: Molly Bang

Publishing Info: The Blue Sky Press, Scholastic, New York (1999)

Award: The Jane Addams Peace Award (1999)

Brief Summary: Sophie’s sister takes her toy and Mom fusses at her! And when Sophie gets angry, she runs. She runs and runs until she is alone. Her family understands and lets her be. She returns home to find that her sister has abandoned her gorilla for another toy and all is okay again.

Personal Response: I bought this book to use as a catalyst for teaching how to write feelings. I teach fourth grade and the looming state writing assessment. Students often have a hard time describing their feelings and this is the perfect example of how to write about being angry. The onomatopoeia is also something I teach and this is a wonderful resource. After reading the book, I decided to share it with my oldest son Jackson who is 8. This book reminds me of what is must be like in our home everyday! His little brother always wants what he has and I often tell Jackson just to let him play with it since he is younger and does not understand sharing. Hopefully Jackson will see he is not alone in the world and is among other older siblings! People deal with anger in different ways and being alone is a safer way I would gladly share with children.

Evaluative Comments: Who knew anger could be so beautiful? This was also a Caldecott Honor book and deservingly so. Through sparse text Bang shows what it is like to feel so angry you have to just leave. I think the book has an accurate portrayal of how many deal with anger including children. The artwork carefully personifies how Sophie feels, when she is crying and hunched over, so are the trees, when she is again happy and ready to return home, the trees are upright and tall. The colors exemplify every characters feelings. Sophie starts out in a calmer orange and rages into red. When she finally gets her thoughts in order she is surrounded buy blues and purples. And when everything is back where it should be (Sophie with her family) there is a puzzle being completed. The artwork is eye-catching was thoughtfully laid out.
The Higher Power of Lucky

Author: Susan Patron, Illustrator: Matt Phelen

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, New York (2006)

Award: Newbery Winner 2006

Personal Response: I loved this book! A 10 year old girl searching desperately for her Higher Power; what an inspirational tale for all ages. The idea of a little girl who becomes inspired while cleaning up and eavesdropping on various 12 Step meetings is a wonderful lead into the struggle Lucky faces when she perceives that her Guardian is going to return to France. I thought the book read easily and was true to life in many ways. Lucky has been through a lot, like many children, but takes it all in stride until she sees Brigitte’s bags packed. She deals with life in her on ways and many children could look up to someone like Lucky. Sometimes we all need to get away, to run off to get noticed, especially when we are feeling alone and scared. I found it an interesting plot twist that Lucky is in search of a mother and in the end, winds up mothering Miles during the runaway. As far as the controversy over the word scrotum, I am shocked adults care so much that children learn to use correct words for body parts! I would love to hear that word over some of the others heard in the school’s hallways. Kids in the reading range of this book are full of curiosity and it answers some of these life questions in an honest, thoughtful way. I think it would be great in upper elementary.

Evaluative Comments: The characters in this book are nearly unbeatable as far as depth. Each quirky character brings their own bit of hurt, love, and small town charm to the story. Even the names are wonderful: Lucky (who seems to be anything but lucky), Short Sammy, Lincoln (named to be prepped for future president and can see the heart of a knot), HMS Beagle, and Hard Pan (the city where everyone seems to have it hard). The characters are not full of self-pity as one would expect, but they help each other always giving and never taking. Many lessons can be learned from this theme. Patron’s language is strong and descriptions even stronger: In one example Lucky compares the jail to her specimen boxes, like rows of beds. The use of capitals in words like Higher Power and Guardian show hidden meaning and insights into Lucky’s heart. The red slip even dress takes on symbolism. Everything seems to come to life and take form in some way.

Out of the Dust

Author: Karen Hesse

Publishing Info: Scholastic, New York (1997)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Awards: Scott O’Dell (1998), Newbery Medal (1998)
Summary: Billie Jo is a fourteen year old girl living in 1930s Oklahoma during the dustbowl times of the Depression. She is the only child of parents who wanted a boy and Mama is finally pregnant again. But an unfortunate accident leaves Mama dead and Billie Jo scarred physically and emotionally for life. Her father becomes so grief stricken he is fading away before her. Billie Jo is left to deal with her own demons, as well as Daddy’s.

Personal Response: I really truly felt dirty, and gritty, and angry while reading this book. I have a little knowledge of this time from my own father who was born in 1933, but he of course lived in North Carolina’s mountains and was a small child during the Depression. This novel puts you right in the mind and world of Billie Jo and she is honest and selfless. Her attitude towards others who argue and take pity on themselves is so honest. I loved her thoughts about the neighbors fighting over killing rabbits, she makes them seem so childish and petty to argue over who killed the most rabbits, but then we have to understand how everyone was so on edge during these times. I think the story connects you with the hurt and frustration of the times. On the first page you think this may be another coming of age tale, and it that, but so much more. Billie Jo remembers always being in Mama’s way, always living in this little Panhandle. But this is also symbolic. Billie Jo sees that piano as her way out of the dust, then she burns her hands. She slowly begins playing again and her hope is restored.

Evaluative Comments: I was so mesmerized by the character to Billie Jo and the setting that I did not even notice the free verse. I am not usually a fan of books written this way, but what a moving tale. Hesse managed to convey a difficult time to comprehend to people who would have little knowledge of the Depression or the Dust Bowl. The setting is so strongly felt that it becomes a character and Billie Jo is fighting against it every step of the way.

The Breadwinner

Author: Debra Ellis

Publishing Info: Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, Toronto, Ontario (2001)

Award: Special Commendation from Jane Addams Peace Award for trilogy (2004)

Genre: Realistic/Historical Fiction

Personal Response: As a woman and a mother, this book was a difficult read. I cannot imagine the heartache her mother felt as Parvana puts on her dead brother’s clothes so she can go out into the marketplace to earn money. On the other hand, I cannot fathom the idea of women being hidden and kept indoors. I think the fact that Parvana is westernized makes this book accessible to American readers. We are sympathetic to her cause and pity the people of this war torn region. Parvana seems to suffer loss after loss and still remains strong. After her father is kidnapped by the Taliban, Parvana has to go to the marketplace to read and compose letters for illiterate people to make money. For me, her mother was the more realistic character. Her pain and suffering are increasingly shown and she finally breaks down and falls into a silent depression. Yet the 11-year old heroine stays strong and continues to work, even taking on a second job as a grave robber to make money. The novel is not too harsh and in fact we see a lighter side of one Talib who has lost his own wife. I think this is a wonderful way to share knowledge about a little written about part of the world with young adults.

Evaluative Comments: Ellis visited many Afghan refugee camps prior to writing this novel, a first in a series. The research is important and evident in the details of Parvana’s thoughts and actions. The feel of the novel is much more personal and character based. We do not get a lot of details on the setting, but enough is given to get a mental picture. For example, “there are more land mines in Kabul than flowers” and the description of the tea boys selling off trays bumping into everyone in the market. Several themes appear in the novel including an unexpected friendship, loyalty, and survival. Suspense was included appropriately to keep the plot moving. I was worried she would be caught several times, especially when escorting the lost girl and when she was digging up bones. There are also a few mysteries including the ending that added a little more suspense. I never figured out the person tossing things down from the window to Parvana as she worked or even what happened in the end. I am anxious to read the sequel.


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