Working with my high school mentor, she has given me a few ideas today that I have used with my younger students thanks to her advice. It is a Pen-pal book club where the students partner up with one other student and they read together. After reading the book together they then write a letter to each other describing the book. It is an interesting way for students to do a book summary. I modified it later to use Tumblebooks as a way for students to access the e-books that are available to them.
Book Review 10 – The Adventures of Captain Underpants
Two fourth graders, Harold and George, are troublemakers at school that do a lot of pranks. The principal, Mr. Krupp, hated the boys and looked forward to getting them for their pranks. After putting pepper in the cheerleaders pom poms, bubble bath in the band’s instruments, and helium in the football, Mr. Krupp caught the boys by video taping them and blackmailing them to follow the rules and wash his car. The boys got a hypno-ring and hypnotized Mr. Krupp, who handed them back the video of them doing the pranks and forcing him to act like a chicken and a monkey. At that point, they transformed Mr. Krupp into Captain Underpants, who ran around in his underwear with a cape. After coming across robots stealing gemstones, the boys and Captain Underpants get caught up in the schemes of Dr. Diaper, who will use the giant gemstone to blow up the moon. After the boys defeat the robots, Dr. Diaper returns to find them pulling the self-destruct lever. They capture the evil doctor and blow up his machine, taking him to the police and reverting Captain Underpants back to Mr. Krupp.
Pikey, Dav (1997). The adventures of Captain Underpants. Singapore: Scholastic, Inc.
This book is essentially base humor that will appeal to kids, with toilet and diaper humor geared for elementary school kids. I thought George and Harold were not bad kids, but not the typical misunderstood kids either. They clearly loved pranks and had little remorse for their actions. Once they tried to turn Mr. Krupp back into his old self from Captain Underpants, they did seem to try to put it all to an end by getting him out of the hypnotic state, not realizing that whenever someone snapped he would transform back. They also did not feel it was fair to be blackmailed by the principal to do all of his work like clipping his nails or washing his car, so some justification was warranted.
Mr. Krupp was a typical mean principal who did not like the boys, wanted to get them, and once he did used his power to bend them to his will. As Captain Underpants, he was a great guy who was funny and fought crime – a sort of toilet humor Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Overall I was surprised on the one hand that it has been challenged so many times and on the other I was not. I was surprised because Pikey simply went to some of the most base toilet humor that kids would find funny. He also animated the story getting many interested in reading who may not normally pick up a book. The beauty of this book is the appeal to kids that I have worked with as a special education teacher that normally don’t like to read or struggle to read. On the other hand, I could see where parents or teachers would not want their kids reading about the principal turning into an underwear super hero that fights crime with potty jokes (the evil Dr. Diaper has a perceived poop accident and has to change his diaper) and two boys who are pranksters with little remorse for their actions. Overall it is not worth trying to ban a book that is simply humor that they already engage in with their young peers. It gets a book into a struggling or reluctant reader’s hands who may not normally read.
Pilkey plays with words and pictures, providing great entertainment. The story is immediately engaging – two fourth grade boys who write comic books and who love to pull pranks find themselves in big trouble. Mean Mr. Krupp, their principal, videotapes George and Harold setting up their stunts and threatens to expose them. The boys luck changes when they send for a 3-D hypno-ring and hypnotize Krupp, turning him into Captain Underpants, their own super-hero creation. Later, Pilkey includes several pages of flip-o-ramas that animate the action. The simple black-and-white illustrations on every page furnish comic strip appeal. The cover features Captain Underpants, resplendent in white briefs, on top of a tall building. This book will fly off the shelves.
Hopf, M. M. (1997). The adventures of Captain Underpants. School Library Journal 43(12), p. 99.
This book is a controversial book but it has a lot of appeal to struggling or reluctant readers, in my experience. Complete with pictures and a long series of books, it might develop someone who otherwise wouldn’t read into someone who will become a life-long reader because it inspired a younger person to pick up a book. The controversy surrounding the book could be discussed with what may or may not be appropriate in school or social settings. However, the appeal of a book like this can be used in the library to really get a book into a kids hands who otherwise may not read.
Book Review 9 – All the Broken Pieces
Matt is a Vietnamese refugee that comes to America and is taken in by a foster family. He suffers from prejudice from kids at school, on the baseball team. He befriends Jeff, a doctor that served in Vietnam and is a family friend who teaches him how to play the piano and takes him to discussions with vets from Vietnam. He initially receives a cool reception from the vets but later they all open up to each other. Matt also makes the baseball team and is championed by Coach Robeson. Matt suffers from the guilt of his brother’s injuries, his mother giving him to the American troops, fear of being given up by his foster family, and a lot of anger directed towards him from his classmates. Matt starts out as a confused and scared kid who by the end is successful and confident due to the adults in his life who provide him with a level of stability and encouragement from Coach Robeson, his mom and dad, and Jeff.
Burg, A. E. (2009). All the broken pieces. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.
I loved this book. I didn’t know much about this genre and this book was a great introduction. It really makes me love the genre and want to engage more books written in this style. That is one of the reasons that I recommend for library uses using this book as an intro to this genre because I loved this book so much.
Matt is truly a great character. He has had a lot of hardship and horrible things happen to him in his short life. He was given up by his mom to American soldiers to flee to America and live a new life. He has to deal with issues of racism from fellow students. And he gets a cool shoulder from Vietnam vets who wonder why he shows up at their meetings. A really good friend of mine for the last 24 years is someone who grew up in my hometown as a bi-racial kid of Asian and white descent who suffered a lot of racist comments due to the Vietnam war. I could only see him as Matt throughout the book and many of the stories that he told me that happened to him as a kid. Matt gets through it all, but in a very realistic way that the author at times portrays him as wanting to secretly fail to not have to face the trouble. However, the adults in his life stand behind him and he stands firm. I loved how he connected to the vets at the meeting that Jeff took him to. The ending with Rob and both telling their stories of what happened to them was not as good to me but I liked that in the end they connected.
Jeff, Matt’s dad, and Coach Robeson were great characters. They were strong male role-models for Matt. I really liked how Coach Robeson beat cancer. I was concerned that this would cause him to die and be another horrible incident in Matt’s life. Jeff was a family friend who gave Matt piano lessons and could connect with him over Vietnam because he served there. Matt’s dad was always encouraging him and playing ball with him into the late evening.
The setting was not as well defined but I thought that Burg used the setting as a typical American town in American is the 1970’s well. The setting of the Vietnam vets at the meeting was important as well. I could just see the room with the vets and how over time they warmed up to Matt.
Overall a powerful book that really is the first book in this genre that makes me want to read more books like this.
Airlifted from Vietnam at the end of the war and adopted by a loving American family, Matt Pin, 12, is haunted by what he left behind, even as he bonds with his new little brother and becomes a star pitcher on the school baseball team. In rapid, simple free verse, the first-person narrative gradually reveals his secrets: his memories of mines, flames, screams, helicopters, bombs, and guns, as well as what the war did to his little brother (“He followed me / everywhere, / he follows me still”). But this stirring debut novel is about much more than therapy and survivor guilt. When his parents take Matt to a veterans’ meeting, he hears the soldiers’ stories of injury and rejection and begins to understand why the school bully calls him “frogface” (“My brother died / Because of you”). There is occasional contrivance as Matt eavesdrops on adults. But the haunting metaphors are never forced, and the intensity of the simple words, on the baseball field and in the war zone, will make readers want to rush to the end and then return to the beginning again to make connections between past and present, friends and enemies.
Rochman, H. (2009). All the broken pieces. Booklist 105(12), p. 80.
This book is an excellent way to introduce the verse novel genre. The concerns of the character can easily be transferred to kids who are in upper elementary school or middle school with relations with other kids and adults in their life. It is well written and engaging. Verse novels are becoming more popular and this book can be a great introduction to the genre for kids.
Book Review 8 – Horton Halfpott
Horton Halfpott works as a kitchen dishwasher in an English manor home in the cruel employment of the Luggertuck’s, a noble English family with an evil mother and son. Horton is tasked with delivering an invite for a ball the Luggertuck’s are hosting to the Shortley’s who just happen to have Celia Sylvan-Smythe staying at their home, daughter of one of the richest families in England. They immediately fall in love with each other, but Horton knowing his place in English society, runs away from her and is ashamed he has spoken to her. All this takes place while various items go missing from the home and the famous detective Portnoy St. Pomfrey comes to investigate. The evil son Luther Luggertuck has devised a devious plan to give the family’s heirloom, The Lump (a supposed diamond worth a tremendous amount brought back from a distant ancestor from the Crusades), to shipless pirates who are to abduct Celia at the ball and promise to marry Luther in order to be set free. His whole plan falls apart when Horton switches Celia for the wretched cook Miss Neversly, the pirates force Luther to walk to plank into a smelly bog, Portnoy and his stable hands catch Luther for stealing the Lump, which turns out to be a worthless rock, and Horton and Celia end up together.
Angleberger, T. (2011). Horton Halfpott or the fiendish mystery of Smugwick Manor or the loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s corset. New York, NY: Amulet Books.
Horton Halfpott starts out well with the mood of the book set by the narrator. The narrator was really the star character of the book. Angleberger channels a proper British gentleman with wit through the narration, pointing out obvious things that once said appear hilarious. He is also opinionated and clearly dislikes the Luggertuck’s and sides with Horton. Throughout the book, the narrator has a clear dislike for any romantic attention, and quickly assures the reader that he will not go into details. “Fear not, Reader, we will not dwell on these romantic inklings.” (Angelberger, 2011, p. 37)
Many of the characters are simple and one-dimensional. Horton and Celia are the only characters that slightly are not. Horton is a rule follower from the beginning, not even taking scraps of food from the garbage as it is against the rules. As the book progresses he begins to loosen up slightly. He visits a library where he is found by the elderly Lord Emberly, who allows him to stay. Horton ends up visiting this room nearly every night and enjoys his time with Emberly. He later skips out on his duties in the kitchen to find a friend, something others find shocking that Horton would break the rules. In the end, he and Celia are in love and she invites him to flee with her back to her house for good whereupon he leaves his place of employment at the Luggertuck’s. Celia is a young girl from a wealthy family, but she treats everyone well that she likes and stands up to cruel people, especially her suitors. She sees the good in people and will talk to even the lowest in society, Horton the kitchen dishwasher.
Luther and M’Lady Luggertuck are the evil villains, cruel to everyone and selfish. They do not grow as people and get what is coming to them. Portney St. Pomfrey is a detective but a bit of a lazy fool who doesn’t appear to deserve his high reputation. The stable boys in the book that work at the manor and are friends with Horton seem like good people and really get into the mystery of the missing Lump, but they also are so minor that they don’t grow as characters either. All the other characters are minor parts that stay the same throughout the story of Horton and Celia.
The manor house is really interesting as it is an old and large house with many rooms, hidden passages and locked rooms. Angleberger uses a classic setting of an old house to tell his mystery. There is a map at the beginning of the book but it truly is not needed. Much of the grounds detailed on the map are barely mentioned and I never felt like I needed to refer to the map to get a sense of where things were taking place as much of it resides within the mansion.
The mystery itself is really a side-story. The mystery is not really detailed and at one point the narrator asks if the reader knows where the lump is hidden. I thought at this point that I had no idea as nothing had been revealed. It was a funny book and I liked the story, but to place it in the mystery category was simply because there was a mystery that drove the drama and tension between Horton and Celia.
When M’Lady Luggertuck loosens her corset, all of
Smugwick Manor feels the effect. Rules that are normally
followed are broken. When the Luggertuck Lump, the
beloved family heirloom, goes missing, the Luggertucks hire
an investigator, Portney St. Pomfrey, to solve the unthinkable
crime. St. Pomfrey is not a good investigator, so he enlists
the help of the stable boys, Bump, Blight, and Blemish.
M’Lady’s son, Luther Luggertuck, is the thief, and he has
framed Horton Halfpott, the hardworking kitchen boy, as
the villain. Horton is taken to jail where he overhears plans
to kidnap Celia. Luckily, Horton manages to escape and
hatches a scheme to ensure Celia’s safety. Luther is exposed
as the thief, Celia and Horton fall in love, and the stable boys
are hired by the investigator. Readers will laugh out loud
while trying to discover who stole the lump in this fun and
Parker, A. E. (2001). Horton Halfpott. Library Media Connection 30(1), p. 63.
This book has a strong and opinionated narrator. It can be used to good effect to show how a narrator of a story can be used in various ways. In the case of Horton Halfpott, the narrator is used as comic relief, similar to a British gentlemen stating obvious things that come across as funny. A librarian wanting to show different styles of narration in books could use this as an example.
Book Review 7 – Charles and Emma
The book begins with Charles Darwin deciding whether to get married or not, creating a list to make his decision. Upon deciding to get married, Charles proposes to his cousin Emma. Before getting married, Charles and Emma discuss faith and while Emma is devout after the death of her beloved sister Fanny, Charles is having doubts. Despite their religious differences, the two get married and Charles and Emma grow a strong bond where they have a large family, discuss religion, and he puts forward many books in the field of science that are often edited by her. Emma fears for his eternal safety and wants to spend eternity with him in heaven while Charles, despite beginning as a devoutly religious man as a youth, has completely faded from the faith by the end of his life. Despite this Charles and Emma form a large family of love and strength despite the many hardships that befall them throughout their marriage.
Heiligman, D. (2009). Charles and Emma. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.
I loved this biography. Heiligman does a wonderful job of bringing the Darwin’s to life in this biography that is styled more like a story than an academic research paper on the life of Darwin. She wisely begins the book with Charles deciding to get married and skips the entire adventure that Charles has on The Beagle. This kept the focus on Charles and Emma rather than Charles first, then the married couple. If she had begun with his adventures on The Beagle, I fear the book would have felt like a series of Charles Darwin adventures rather than a story about Charles and Emma.
Charles Darwin really was a lovable character. He was devoted to his wife and loved her very much. He also wanted to provide what she wanted, moving his family out of London and into the country despite it forcing him to be away from the scientific hub of the country. He worked from home and constantly seemed to be involved with his children, letting them into his work space and going on walks with them, especially Annie who would constantly play with him while he was working and wait for him to go for a walk. As a reader, you really got to know the family well by the end. I also love how Heiligman used so many primary sources such as letters and diary entries and journals to show how much love Charles felt towards Emma. The two formed a strong marriage that lasted their lives despite all the hardships that fell their way.
This book also made me cry a few times. When their beloved Annie was sick, Emma and Charles were nearly beside themselves. Her sickness got better, then worse, and then suddenly she was gone. Charles was so grief stricken by the loss of his wonderful daughter that he never talked about it for the rest of his life. Heiligman did well writing it in a way that did not sensationalize the story, but gave the details that made you really feel what the Darwin’s must have felt. Her use of the Darwin’s own words really made them come alive.
The setting took place mostly at Down, their cottage in the country where they raised their children and where Charles worked. If this book has a weakness the physical setting was not well defined and I never felt as though I had a good feel for how the land and their home felt. However, the time setting was much better done. Heiligman shows how the culture of 19th century England was so different from today: marriage, social status, class structure, science and religion. She used many primary documents to use the language of the day that showed how people thought and acted in this world that is so different from today.
Heiligman wove the discussion of religion throughout the book frequently, but not so much that it overpowered the story. There was plenty of room to get to know Charles, Emma and their friends and family.
In 1838 Charles Darwin, then almost thirty, drew a line down the middle
of a paper and listed the reasons for marrying on one side and the
reasons for not marrying on the other. After much consideration, he
opted for the former, and from his prospects he wisely chose his cousin,
Emma, who was open-minded but devoutly religious. She supported
her husband, even editing his work, but she feared for his eternal welfare
should he follow his revolutionary theories to their logical end.
Charles, in turn, was equally tortured, wanting to please his wife, wanting
to believe in religion, but not at the expense of science. With great
empathy and humor, Heiligman’s lively narrative examines the life and
legacy of Darwin through the unique lens of his domestic life, an
inspired choice that helps us understand that for all the impact his theory
would have on the world, nowhere did its consequences resonate so
loudly as within the walls of his own home. Here is a timely, relevant
book that works on several levels: as a history of science, as a biography,
and, last but not least, as a romance. A bibliography, an index, and notes
Hunt, J. (2009). Charles and Emma: the Darwin’s leap of faith. Horn Book Magazine 85(1), p. 115.
This is an excellent introductory book to the biography genre. It is a nice bridge between elementary biographies that are short and full of pictures and biographies that are heavily researched and used for academic purposes. This story, while using a lot of primary sources and much research, is told much as an author would tell a story that is compelling and get the attention of a middle school student. The librarian could read a chapter or a passage from the book to get the students hooked into the book as it is a compelling story.
Book Review 6 – Pink and Say
A white Union soldier, named Say, who is just a boy is injured and left on a battle field until an African American soldier, named Pink, found him and brought him back to his mother’s house to nurse him back to health. Pink’s mother, Moe Moe Bay, helps Say back to health and slowly but surely Say is able to walk again and move about. Pink is desperate to get back to the fight as he sees it as his fight against slavery in the country. He asks Say if it isn’t his fight too? Say, despite claiming himself to be a coward, is assured by Moe Moe Bay that he is no coward and afterwards he decides to go back to the fight with Pink. As they are about to leave, marauders attack Moe Moe Bay’s house and the boys hide in the cellar while Moe Moe Bay is killed. Pink and Say bury her and then head back to join the Union army. On their way, they are captured by the Confederates and are put into a prisoner camp. Pink is hanged within hours of being taken to the camp while Say is held until the end of the war. Say moves to Michigan and starts a family, and the story is passed down generation to generation about Pink and Say.
Polacco, P. (1994). Pink and Say. New York, NY: Philomel Books.
This is a very powerful book. Patricia Polacco tells a story of her great great grandfather on the battlefield of Georgia as a kid who is left to die until he is found by a former slave fighting in the Union army named Pinkus Aylee, or Pink. Sheldon Curtis, or Say, is recovered, painstakingly brought back to Pink’s home, and nursed back to health by Pink’s mom Moe Moe Bay. Say is saved from certain death and back in good health while Pink and Moe Moe Bay both die. Polacco does an excellent job immortalizing their sacrifice so her ancestor could live on and found a big family in Michigan.
Pink is a strong character that has convictions for good. He is opposed to the sickness of slavery and is willing to sacrifice his life to defeat those that would keep it instituted. As a soldier, Pink tells Say stories about how he and his unit were ill-equipped for warfare, using clubs instead of guns. When they finally received guns, they were old and untrustworthy guns from the Mexican-American War. Despite being poorly equipped, Pink desperately wants to return to the fight – a great character trait and one worth memorializing with a book.
Say on the other hand confesses that he was afraid during battle and ran away from his unit, a deserter. While running away, he was injured and left for dead. He is also unwilling at first to go back to the fight, but is finally convinced by Pink to do so. Moe Moe Bay consoles Say that he is no coward, but that he is a child. Polacco does well here with her artwork as Pink and Say look like teenage boys throughout the story. She also describes Say in such a way that makes it believable, a young boy in combat is terrified and runs away from the battle who then befriends African-Americans and is willing to return to the fight despite his fears.
Moe Moe Bay is a tragic figure that heals a stranger and then dies protecting her son and Say. She clearly feared for her son and did not want him to return to the fight but helped all the same. Moe Moe Bay dies so abruptly near the end yet the image her lifeless in her son’s arms and his speaking to her is a sad and powerful moment.
The story is a historical fiction book and Polacco does well making the world seem realistic and accurate for the time. Very little could be done for the sick and injured and many died on the battlefield when today they could be saved. Say had never seen an African-American up close, something in rural Ohio and much of the North in the 1860’s was probably true. Marauders raided from their army camps to gather supplies, a fear that people had to live with, and being shot and killed by a group of soldiers was not uncommon. Pink and Say did not go to prison camp together as they would have separated whites and blacks, and Pink was hung upon getting to the camp while Say was allowed to live, albeit in horrible conditions. While the story was sad, overall it seemed to have an uplifting mood in the end as Say survived to start a family and honored Pink with telling his story to his family who then passed it down from generation to generation.
This book, the story of Polacco’s great-great-grandfather, has been passed down from generation to generation in the author-artist’s family. Fifteen-year-old soldier Sheldon Russell Curtis – Say to his family – has been left for dead on a Civil War battlefield somewhere in Georgia. A fellow Union soldier, Pinkus Aylee, who is African American – “I had never seen a man like him so close before. His skin was the color of polished mahogany” – discovers him and, with much effort, drags the feverish Say home, where his mother, a slave named Moe Moe Bay, nurses Say back to health. As the boys regain their strength, they become as close as real family and discuss things close to their hearts. Pink shares his special talent: Master Aylee, his owner, had taught him how to read. “‘To be born a slave is a heap o’ trouble, Say. But after Aylee taught me to read, even though he owned my person, I knew that nobody, ever, could really own me.'” Say receives special comfort from Moe Moe when he admits that he deserted his troop and is afraid to return to the war. On the morning the two boys plan to leave and search for their respective troops, marauding Confederate soldiers arrive and kill Moe Moe. Pink and Say are later captured and become prisoners of the Confederate Army, in Andersonville. Although Say lived to tell this story of friendship and brotherhood, Pink was hanged within hours of arriving at the dreaded prison. Told in Say’s colorful, country-fresh voice, the text incorporates authentic-sounding dialect and expressions – such as darky – that would have been used at the time. Polacco’s characteristic acrylic, ink, and pencil illustrations are suitably dramatic and focus on the intense physical and emotional joy and pain of the story’s three main characters. The remarkable story, made even more extraordinary in its basis in actual events, raises questions about courage, war, family, and slavery. A not-to-be-missed tour de force.
Fader, E. and Silvey, A. (1994). Pink and Say. Horn Book Magazine 70(6), p. 724-725.
Pink and Say is a historical fiction picture book that can be used to introduce students to books that use a historical period of time as a setting. The book has many elements that can be shown how the author uses some fictionalized content, such as dialog, but overall has many elements that are factual about the time period. Students can analyze the writing to determine what is fictional and what is accurate in this book and for teh historical fiction genre as a whole.
Book Review 5 – Gregor the Overlander
Gregor and his little sister Boots live in New York City in modern day. They live with their mother after the strange disappearance of their father. One day Gregor and Boots fall down a vent in the laundry room (much like Alice in Wonderland) to come upon a strange underworld full of cockroaches (crawlers), bats, rats and humans from England 500 years ago. The people and creatures of the underworld are consumed by prophecies, and once the underworld discovers that Gregor and his sister have come from the overland, a war breaks out to stop Gregor from ending the rat king’s reign and saving the human kingdom and his father. Gregor learns along the way to think about others before himself, to not judge based on appearances and to sacrifice himself for the good of his friends and family.
Collins, S. (2003). Gregor the overlander. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.
I really enjoyed this book. Suzanne Collins did a good job despite this being her first novel, and showed why her later novels such as the Hunger Games were so successful. The characters were easy to connect with. Gregor was the star of the story. Kids unaccustomed to the fantasy genre will really connect with him as he is a modern day kid living in New York with his family. However, he falls down a vent in his laundry room much like Alice in Wonderland, and finds himself in a fantasy world of talking animals, a human kingdom in peril, and large creatures such as human-sized cockroaches, spiders and rats. Gregor’s fish out of water status will make it easy for kids reading the book to connect with him. Other students who read a lot of science fiction or fantasy will have little trouble with the world Collins has conjured for the reader. There are melee battles, an attack on a kingdom and a quest.
Other characters that really stuck out to me were Boots, Vikus and Ripred. Boots was a minor character and at times I didn’t believe her dialogue. She talked too much like a baby for a two-year old, and I feel pretty strong in that accusation as I have four kids, and one is aged three. Boots impulsiveness was realistic though as was her willingness to accept the crawlers for who they were and not judge them based on the humans opinions of them. The lesson that she teaches in the book is a valuable one and therefore I feel she is worth mentioning. Vikus is the crown princesses grandfather and one who organizes the quest. He is both intelligent and wise, someone who has long-term plans and tries to execute them through an organized and thoughtful way. I really liked how Vikus dealt with all the young characters in the book, from his granddaughter Luxa to Gregor and his snotty attitude (at least at first). He sees the potential in others and never gives up. His portrayal of wisdom however is valuable as that is not something that I see often in children’s books. The last character that really struck me was Ripred, the turncoat rat who helps Gregor save his father from the rats and helps Vikus in defeating the rat king Gorger. Ripred the rat to me was the star of the book; really he was a fantastic character. He was highly intelligent and immensely strong. Ripred unnerved Gregor throughout the quest and at times Gregor was clearly awed by his abilities. But despite being a rat that was vicious and deadly, Ripred had some sense of honor. That was admirable. How Vikus and Ripred came to know each other is not explained but that Ripred saw value in peace between humans and rats despite the environment where he lived was impressive.
The setting of the story is really unique: an underground fantasy world right below our modern world. Collins explains briefly how the humans got there, how they live and where they get their food. She even discusses the benefits of trade between the species. However, some things, as it is in the fantasy genre, are left to the imagination such as the size of the animals or the spiders involvement in the story. The mood of the book is a dark book with intrigue, betrayal, and impending doom and genocide. However, things turn out well in the end for Gregor and his family and the human kingdom is saved despite Henry of the royal family betraying the humans to the rats for a crown. Collins does a good job of building tension throughout the book, at times the reader is left wondering how the questors will get out of the many predicaments that they find themselves in. Despite the dark fantastic world and long odds, Collins ends with a believable story with a lot of suspense and action that makes the reader feel good in the end.
It’s the beginning of summer and everyone is going off to camp except Gregor, an 11 year-old boy from New York City. Since his father’s disappearance from their New York City home, he has been helping out with taking care of his little sisters, especially two-year-old Boots. Gregor sacrifices his chance to go to camp, letting his other sister go instead. While doing laundry in the basement of his apartment building. Boots disappears down an air chute and Gregor goes after her. At the bottom of this inner city “rabbit hole,” the two find themselves in the “Underland” surrounded immediately by giant cockroaches, or crawlers. The story moves quickly as the two “Overlanders” are taken to the Queen of the Underlander humans, where Gregor learns of a prophecy which focuses on him and a quest to find his missing father. He travels with bats, crawlers, spinners (giant spiders), a rat, and two of the royal Underlanders. Gregor spends his time between protecting Boots, who doesn’t know she needs to be protected, and becoming the leader of the questors who must not only save his father, but also save the Underlanders’ kingdom.
Williams, L. D. (2005). Gregor the overlander. School Library Journal 51(8), p. 64.
At the school that I work at this book is used for read aloud. Nearly every third grade teacher uses the book as a read aloud as it has strong appeal to both girls and boys and has great life lessons such as don’t judge based on appearances, look at both sides of an issue, or think of others and don’t always put yourself before others in need. The librarian at my school uses this book to read chapter one to classes which usually gets some boys and a few girls hooked into the book and the series and encourages more reading. It is a great way to expose younger kids to the fantasy genre but allowing the reader to connect with Gregor, a fish out of water story similar to them if fantasy is not a common genre they read.
Book Review 4 – Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little
Moxy Maxwell is a character that has a lot of ideas, is willing to express them, and truly is a director at her young age. She loves to come up with ideas for everyone to improve their lives, yet doesn’t really act upon her own. One example in this book is her assignment to read Stuart Little for the next school year, which begins the very next day. Moxy has had all summer to read this book, an assignment from her next year teacher, to be done before school starts. However, Moxy doesn’t like to be told what to read, or really told what do to in any fashion. The story tells, and illustrates through photographs, all the excuses that Moxy has for not having read the story. After many awful mishaps including the dogs, her mom, stepdad and neighbors, Moxy finally has to lose out on privileges on the final night of summer and has to read the book. Moxy gives the book a try and stays up all night reading the book, sending a message to kids that it is worth giving something new a try, you might just like it.
Gifford, P. (2007). Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little. New York, NY: Schwartz & Wade Books.
The first time I read the book I thought, what is this book? I was not impressed with the layout and thought the author was trying to be too cute. The character Moxy Maxwell was difficult to connect with as I am a doer and a go-getter, while Moxy is a character full of excuses who lies to authority and, while generates a lot of ideas, doesn’t seem to do anything on her own.
The second time through though, I started to connect with the story and some of the characters. First off, the layout of the book is creative. It has chapters that are merely a picture, or simply the word, “No.” Next chapter. The layout could easily connect with kids with a silly side or like their books a little funky.
Concerning the characters, I really loved the neighbor character Sam. He followed Moxy around and simply wanted to please. His character, although I’m not sure this was intended, was really comic relief in a story full of erratic behavior from a house full of eccentrics. He simply would walk in and by being a friendly rule-follower that said, “Yes,” to Moxy and followed her crazy schemes like planting a peach tree orchard or stealing golf balls from the golf course and selling back to the golfers, was hilarious. A part in the story where Moxy is listing her career paths made me laugh out loud. “When Moxy read aloud from the list of 211 Career Paths she was considering, Sam added suggestions of his own. Moxy had never, for example, considered being a shepherd or writing an advice column for senior citizens. Without Sam, she never would have thought of either one.” Imagining a six-year-old telling Moxy that she should consider being a shepherd or grow up to be a senior citizen advice column writer was too much. For me he stole the show and without his character the book would have been mediocre.
Moxy Maxwell as a character was tough to connect with the first time I read the book. However, as I went through it again, I started to see my oldest daughter in her, very strongly. My oldest daughter is very similar. While my second daughter is very strong-willed, she ultimately loves school and wants to do everything assigned to her immediately while my third daughter is a care-taker. The connection that I could draw from Gifford’s character of Moxy to my own life was very important. My oldest refuses to try anything new, and when she finally does after kicking and screaming, she usually loves it after trying it and excels. Moxy Maxwell finally, after a whole summer of excuses that range from lazy to the ridiculous, reads the story on the last night of summer vacation. She stays up all night to read the book, which is a great message to kids: don’t knock it until you try it. I disagree with the professional reviewer who says that this message is a letdown. I would ask, how would you finish the story? Not have her read the book? What message does that send to a kid? This book excels because of Sam’s comic relief, Moxy’s stubbornness and crazy schemes, and the positive message at the end.
Tomorrow is the first day of school, and nine-year-old Moxy still hasn’t read Stuart Little, her summer-reading assignment. She’s running out of excuses: she must clean her room, recover from cleaning her room, train the dog, think about training the dog, and so on. Meanwhile, her mother threatens consequences: Moxy won’t be allowed to perform in her water-ballet show— she is to be one of eight petals in a human daisy—if she doesn’t finish her assignment on time. Gifford spins a fairly universal trial of childhood into a wildly original tale featuring a self-referential narrator who identifies as the book’s author; faux-amateur black-and-white photos of the goings-on, ostensibly snapped by Moxy’s twin brother; and decidedly unchapter-like chapters (one chapter is one word long—“No”; two chapters comprise nothing but Moxy’s brother’s captioned photos). Best of all, the book stars a protagonist whose name, as it reflects her character, is a vast understatement. It’s only a mild letdown that, in what seems to be Gifford’s gratuitous concession to the try-it-you’ll-like-it creed, Moxy ends up enjoying Stuart Little so much that she happily stays up till midnight to finish it.
Beram, M. (2007). Moxy Maxwell does not love Stuart Little. Horn Book Magazine 83(5), p. 576-577.
This book has a very interesting lay-out, and while not a unique look as the illustrator has done this with other books, this book could be used to show kids that there are numerous ways to illustrate books. Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little is illustrated by Valorie Fisher using photographs. Some chapters are solely a photograph taken by a character in the book. In fact, all the photographs in the book are taken by the main characters twin brother, Mark. This book may be used with other books to show that there are many different ways to illustrate a book instead of the standard full-color pictures.
Book Review 3 – Crispin: The Cross of Lead
A pauper named Crispin has to run for his life after his mother dies in his little town of Stomford Village, during the Great Plague in England, year 1363. Pursued by a relentless steward named Aycliffe and his men, Crispin encounters a man named Bear in an abandoned plague town and his captured and made Bear’s sworn man. Bear gets Crispin out of trouble and thinking for himself, something that at the age of 13 he has never truly done. Bear takes Crispin to Great Wexly, where he is meeting with people who wish to overthrow the monarchy, and while there, the funeral of Lord Furnival is taking place. It is Lord Furnival who is revealed to be Crispin’s real father, and the reason that Crispin is being pursued. Furnival has no heir, and his widow wants all of his bastard children to be killed. In a dramatic ending, Crispin saves Bear’s life and the two of them escape Great Wexley alive and their pursuer, Aycliffe, an oathbreaker, dead.
Avi (2002). Crispin: The Cross of Lead. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children.
Of all the Newbery Books and other award winners that I read for this module, this was the best book of the bunch. The two main characters, Crispin and Bear, were complex and detailed and very likable. Crispin is the coming of age child who doesn’t even know how to think for himself at the beginning but has a good sense for danger, and by the end he is willing to take risks and shows devotion to a friend. Bear is an complex character that the author does a good job sowing doubt in a young reader’s mind as to whether he is normal or full of madness. However, he is shown by the end as someone who loves Crispin as a son and wants him to be strong and to think for himself. An adult reading this can see this early on, but Avi does well here with tailoring the clues towards kids who may start to suspect that deep down Bear is a good man.
The setting of the story is just beautifully done. The small village of Stromford is so small that everyone knows one another and the remoteness of Crispin’s life is apparent. As he has to flee to the countryside the desolation of England during the plague years seems to have no end. People have fled or died and entire villages stand empty. Crispin is full of mud and muck and the life of a medieval peasant is not a pleasant one. Contrasted with the countryside is the crammed and bustling town of Great Wexly, full of human waste running down the streets and sour smells of ale and wine. Its narrow and twisting alleyways cause Crispin to lose himself while wandering the town, and Avi does an excellent job of describing what life must have been like the city dweller in England during this time.
Avi built the tension of the book steadily with little reprieve. Very few times did Crispin get a break during his flight from his home, and the tension made this book a definite page turner. I finished the book in just a few hours despite the 262 page length. The plot, while run through with nearly non-stop action, wove a story about Crispin and who he was throughout, without revealing the truth until the end. As an adult reading this book, it was easy to make predictions, and kids that are good readers and critical thinkers could mark the signs throughout as well.
Overall a fantastic book and an excellent Newbery Award winner. I am going to read the rest of the trilogy and recommend this book to any kid looking for historical fiction – a sign of a good book.
Falsely accused of theft and declared a “wolf’s head” (whom any man may kill) after his mother’s death, humble, pious Crispin flees the feudal village where he was raised and the steward who wants him dead. Taken in as an apprentice by a massive, red-haired, itinerant juggler who calls himself Bear, Crispin learns about music and mummery, about freedom and questioning fate, and about his own mysterious parentage that seems to be the reason behind the steward’s continuing pursuit of him. Avi writes a fast-paced, action-packed adventure comfortably submerged in the 14th century setting giving Crispin a realistic medieval worldview even while suberting it with Bear’s revolutionary arguments. Once master and apprentice arrive in Great Wexly for the Midsummer’s Day festivities and some seditious intrigue on Bear’s part, Avi slows down and offers both the reader and Crispin a chance to look around, but things speed up again with the reappearance of the steards and pursuit through the streets of the medieval city The cause for the steward’s enmity is finally revealed-Crispin is the illegitimate son of the local lord, who recently died without an heir-but the expected ending gets a surprise twist when Crispin trades this birthright for Bear’s safety.
Burkam, A. L. (2002). Crispin. Horn Book Magazine 78(5), p. 566.
One of the things that I love talking to young writers and readers about is getting a good hook at the beginning of the book. It was something highlighted by Lucy Calkins when I met her in Milwaukee. This book has a very strong hook in the beginning. Crispin is a poor boy who is burying his mother in the very beginning of the book and running from the authorities nearly immediately after that. As a librarian, using this book as an example, it would be easy to read just the beginning of the book to show young students what a strong beginning looks and sounds and feels like, engrossing the reader and getting their attention so they want more of the story. This could be done with a regular education teacher for a writing class, during an introduction to historical fiction to expose kids to different genres, or when discussing award winning books and what are some of the good qualities of those books that people look for when selecting books to win awards.
Book Review 2 – A Ball for Daisy
This New York Times Bestseller and New York Times Best Illustrated Book relates a story about love and loss as only Chris Rashcka can tell it. Any child who has ever had a beloved toy break will relate to Daisy’s anguish when her favorite ball is destroyed by a bigger dog. In the tradition of his nearly wordless picture book Yo! Yes?, Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka explores in pictures the joy and sadness that having a special toy can bring. Raschka’s signature swirling, impressionistic illustrations and his affectionate story will particularly appeal to young dog lovers and teachers and parents who have children dealing with the loss of something special.
Raschka, C. (2011). A ball for Daisy. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books.
I loved this book and it will be a purchased item for my home library. The book has a very clear beginning, problem, solution, and ending. It is also a very happy ending, something that I love to see in a book like this. I felt that Chris Raschka does a fantastic job showing how the dog feels through simple pictures. The emotion is such that when Daisy feels happy, I felt happy, and when Daisy felt sad I felt sad. I read it to my kids and they were without words, eyes wide, during the reading of the book. Especially the part where the ball is popped. There were no smiles. However, in the end when Daisy goes to the park and is sad, but the other dog brings a new ball, suddenly I felt so happy for the dog. It is strange that not only during the story but even writing this review I get those little happy tears that well up in the corner of my eyes just thinking about how happy Daisy felt when she got the new ball. It has such a fantastic ending with Daisy falling asleep with the new ball next to her, an image of happiness that Raschka does powerfully. Not only did Daisy get a new ball, but a friend as well. No wonder this book won the 2012 Caldecott award.
Horning, K. T. (2011). A ball for Daisy. Horn Book Magazine 87(5). p. 77.
The wordless story begins on the title page, where we see a scruffy little blackand-white dog about to be given a big red ball. It’s clear from the start that Daisy loves her new toy. After playing with it inside, she cuddles up with the ball on the sofa and contentedly falls asleep. The real drama begins with a trip to the park, where Daisy and her little-girl owner play catch and have a moment of panic when the ball goes over a fence and has to be rescued. All goes well until another dog shows up, joins in the play, and pops the ball. It’s a long walk home with gloomy Daisy, and the subsequent nap on the couch is lonely. In fact, the two contrasting double-page spreads of Daisy napping, with the ball and without it, show the ingenious artistry of Raschka, who communicates so much emotion through her posture. Throughout, Raschka uses broad strokes of gray and black paint to outline the dog, and varies the line to echo her emotions: bold, sure lines when Daisy is happy; shaky, squiggly lines when she is upset. Background watercolor washes also reflect Daisy’s mood, going from bright yellows and greens to somber purples and browns. Raschka employs a series of horizontal frames to show sequential action, interspersed with occasional single paintings to show pivotal moments, such as the moment near the end of the book when Daisy gets a brand-new ball, this time a blue one, from the owner of the dog who destroyed her first one. It’s a satisfying conclusion to a story that is noteworthy for both its artistry and its child appeal.
This book has can be used to show how powerful a book can be and tell a great story without even having any words on the page. Kids are able to feel the emotions of Daisy simply by looking at the pictures. It can also be used to show how things can be lost and that even while Daisy is happy, in the end good things can happen. Despite losing her ball, she received a new one and was just as happy as in the beginning. It also can be flipped to think about how the other dog must have felt and how as a person you can make things right after doing something that may have hurt another.