Category Archives: book review

Something Else by Kathryn Cave, illustrated by Chris Riddell

Something Else by Kathryn Cave, illustrated by Chris Riddell

Sometimes a book is based on such a simple yet brilliant idea, that you think ‘why didn’t I think of that?!’.
Something Else is like that.
Have you ever told a kid that he is ‘something else’? Well, Something Else is like that. He tries hard to be just like everyone else. But everything he does shows how different he is. Just when he is feeling very different, and alone, Something shows up.
Has Something Else finally met someone just like himself?

This story is perfect for every child who feels different. Also great to discuss differences and acceptance in school.

Paperback, 32 pages Mondo Publishing
ISBN 1572555637 (ISBN13: 9781572555631)
Winner of the first UNESCO Prize for Children’s Literature in the Service of Tolerance (under 8s).

Lesson Plan: talking-for-success.open.ac.uk/docs/Activity_Lesson_5.doc

Special picture books: GIFT DAYS and ONE HEN and MIMI’S VILLAGE


 One Hen, the story of micro lending and Mimi’s Village, And How Basic Health Care Transformed It, both by Katie Smith Milway. These large, hardcover picture books for middle school share important global issues such as health care, micro loans and environmental awareness. One Hen, in particular, shows how one egg can lead to one chicken, to more eggs and eventually to food and income for an entire village. Each book is based on a real person or event. The books give information on how you can help to make a difference in the world.

These titles are part of an inspiring series called Citizen Kid. Each title, such as If The World Were A Village, explains an important aspect of global awareness, be it health care, wildlife preservation or clean water. In addition to a good story, each book gives information on organizations you can join to help others. The website tied to these books allows children to take action beyond the books: http://www.citizenkidcentral.com/ has online interviews, videos and activities that complement the books.
ISBN: 978-155453-028-1

Teaching guides: http://www.onehen.org/


Gift Days by Kari-Lynn Winters, is a new picture book for ages 8 up. This is the touching story of Nassali who longs to learn to read and write like her brother, Baaba. But since her mother’s death, Nassali is responsible for looking after her younger siblings and running the household. There is no time for books and learning. But one day she wakes up to discover that her chores have already been done. It is her first gift day. From that day on, once a week, Baaba gives Nassali the gift of time so that she can pursue her dream of an education, just as her mother would have wanted. The book itself is also raising money for the charity. Through the organization I am a Girl, which focuses on education and women’s rights, money has been raised to send girls to school in Uganda for a full year.
Check out: http://kariwinters.com/gift-days

ISBN-10 1554551927; ISBN-13 9781554551927

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

Sometimes I am not sure what motivated a Newbery jury in selecting a particular book. Daunting as their task must be, Newbery novels have been all over the map for me – from books I adore to books in which I just don’t see the merits. But The One and Only Ivan is a delicious, unique, lovely written story. Published by HarperCollins in 2012, this is the 2013 Newbery Award winning novel. 

If gorillas had a human voice, this one rings true as a large primate living in captivity. Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all since he has successfully blocked out the dark events of his past. He has accepted his fate, even if he’d rather be anywhere else.

Ivan’ friends are Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. Bob is a wonderful character, stray by choice. Stella, however, has an elephant’s memory and she has not forgotten how life in the wild was. She has not forgotten nor accepted humans’ brutalities. In between the circus acts in which both Ivan and Stella have to earn their keep, Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then Ruby arrived, a baby elephant taken from her family. She makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.
Beautifully and gently told, this story can lead to much contemplation of how humans hunt, and keep animals in captivity. I’ll never again look a zoo gorilla in the eyes without wondering what’s going on behind that high forehead.

http://theoneandonlyivan.com/

Window by Jeannie Baker

Window by Jeannie Baker 



It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In that case, the picture book Window equals a thick novel! A wordless picture book with story telling possibilities for all ages, this is a book of environmental awareness.

One window frames an ever evolving view. First of a green back yard. But as the baby inside the home grows up, the yard has its own story. Diapers on the clothes line give way to toys and bikes, then a VW beetle. The walls show their age, trees disappear to make way for a new subdivision, stores and roads.

Eventually the boy is a grown up and moves into his own home, with his own family – to enjoy the view from a new window: of green and the promise of a more natural environment for his new baby.

Endless possibilities to discuss urban expansion, growing populations, preservation and threats to the environment! Combine this with Jeannie Baker’s wonderful collage art, and this book is a must for all classrooms.

“The effect human beings have on the landscape around them is the theme of Baker’s most recent tour de force….The artist’s multimedia collage constructions are, as ever, fascinating in their realistic detail and powerfully convey the dramatic message..”– Horn Book.

Hardcover, 32 pages, Greenwillow Books
ISBN 0688089186 (ISBN13: 9780688089184)

Lesson Plans: http://www.geography.org.uk/projects/primaryhandbook/mapsandstories/6-9/

Where River Turns to Sky

Where River Turns to Sky, a novel by Gregg Kleiner, HarperCollins

Weaving a tale of immense power in his magical voice, Kleiner tells the story of a man determined to realize an improbable dream after the death of his best friend. Eighty-year-old George Castor promised he would never let his best friend Ralph die alone at the Silver Gardens Nursing Home — but Ralph passed on while George was away fishing. Distraught, guilt-stricken and seeking redemption, George buys a broken-down mansion in  Oregon, paints it fire-engine red, and begins searching for other old folks to share it with him. Because George has made a new promise that will alter the course of the rest of his life. And, with the help of a miraculous old woman named Grace, he assembles a ragtag bunch of aging strangers, determined to make their last days on earth–and his own–an adventure.

I discovered this book while living in Oregon and enjoyed the humor. A great read if you need a relaxing summer book. Would make a fun movie, too!

Author’s website: http://greggkleiner.drupalgardens.com/content/welcome

Sticks by Joan Bauer

Sticks, Joan Bauer

While I have enjoyed most of Joan Bauer’s books (Hope Was Here, Looking for Alaska, Almost Famous and more) I wasn’t sure when someone recently gave me a copy of Sticks.
Cover? Not that great…
Short content? Said it was about pool and math.
I am not into pool.
And I don’t like math.
But Newbery Award winning author Joan Bauer spins a great tale. Her words, her language drew me right in. I came to care for Mickey. And his motley crew of friends.
They became real. I wanted to know more. What would happen.
I couldn’t put the book down.
One of those wonderful books where you “see the movie in your head” as you read. Where you do want to know how it ends, but you don’t want the ending to come. Which it always does.
OK, maybe it was just a tiny bit predictable. I kept wondering if all would really end well. But the ride was wonderful.
This is a book that especially boys will like. A story about tough kids in a small town. 5th Graders. But there’s just enough girl to make it a story for them, too. A good book for anyone, really. If she’d made it a 7th grader it would have worked too, and more kids would possibly read it.
What intrigued me most is how Joan Bauer weaves playing pool and math together effortlessly. Who knew that pool can be based on math? It sure sounds plausible. Throw in a science project, a bully, a truck, and you have great ingredients.  Let Joan Bauer tell the story and you have… a plain good book you should read.

Then follow up, if you are a teacher, with her teaching guide:
http://joanbauer.com/ToolkitTeachers.html

  • ISBN 13: 9780142404287ISBN 10: 0142404284

Go and Come Back

Go and Come Back by Joan Abelove

One of the reasons I love being part of a YA book group, is that it sometimes makes me read a book I would not necessarily choose myself. Go and Come Back is the perfect example. The cover is dark and unattractive. I don’t think I would have picked it up. But when my wonderful YA book group in Eugene, Oregon decided to read it, I bought a copy. I have treasured it ever since.

In this multi-award-winning novel, two female American anthropologists come to stay in a jungle village near the Amazon. The villagers are initially skeptical, especially teenaged Alicia. But as the months go on, Alicia finds herself drawn in, even becoming friends with one of the women.

Oddly, this is not a YA novel I would easily recommend to any child. But as a writer I am fascinated with how well it is written. The voice of a child in Peru is totally authentic. The book gives a glimpse into a foreign culture, which includes daily and social habits with which I was not at all familiar. I found it an intriguing story, well written and captivating.

Goodreads.com has this information about the author:

Joan Abelove is an American writer of young adult novels. She attended Barnard College and has a Ph.D in cultural anthropology from the City University of New York. She spent two years in the jungles of Peru as part of her doctoral research and used the experience as background for her first novel, Go and Come Back (1998). Go and Come Back earned numerous awards and citations, including a “Best Books for Young Adults” selection of the American Library Association and “Book Prize Finalist” selection of the Los Angeles Times. she also wrote Saying it Out Loud. She is also in a critique group with Gail Carson Levine, writer of “Ella Enchanted” and “Writing Magic”, a guide for child authors who wish to make their stories better. Joan Abelove now lives in New York city with her husband and son.

ISBN: 0141306947 (ISBN13: 9780141306940)

Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman

Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman

Here’s rare review of an adult book. I generally prefer kids’ books but this is one of my all time favourite travel reads.

“I move throughout the world without a plan, guided by instinct, connecting through trust, and constantly watching for serendipitous opportunities.” —From the Preface

Tales of a Female Nomad is the story of Rita Golden Gelman, an ordinary woman who is living an extraordinary existence. At the age of forty-eight, on the verge of a divorce, Rita left an elegant life in L.A. to follow her dream of connecting with people in cultures all over the world.
She sold her possessions and became a nomad, first living in a Zapotec village in Mexico. Then sharing life with sea lions on the Galapagos Islands, and residing everywhere from thatched huts to regal palaces. She has observed orangutans in the rain forest of Borneo, visited trance healers and dens of black magic, and cooked with women on fires all over the world. Rita’s example encourages us all to dust off our dreams and rediscover the joy, the exuberance, and the hidden spirit that so many of us bury when we become adults.

I especially like how she ‘simply’ followed her heart and lived by chance encounters.

The second book is ‘Female Nomad and Friends’ – an anthology of stories and recipes from around the world. Royalties benefit  women’s education in India.

Now if only I can find my copy of the book back! If you borrowed it, please return it!
Check out these related websites:

http://www.letsgetglobal.org/

http://ritagoldengelman.com/home.html (the author even offers to mail you an autographed book for 15.- no postage!)

Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester

Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester, Lynn Munsinger (Illustrator)

This is my favorite picture book about bullying. Great to use with students of all ages.
Poor Rodney Rat can’t pronounce his R’s and the other rodents tease him mercilessly. Wodney is shy and mostly hides inside his jacket.
But when Camilla Capybara joins Rodney’s class and announces that she is bigger, meaner, and smarter than any of the other rodents, everyone is afraid. It seems she really is bigger, meaner, and smarter than all of the rest of them.
Until Wodney Wat, catches Camilla out in a game of Simon Says. Read along with Wodney as he surprises himself and his classmates by single-handedly saving the whole class from the big bad bully. Children will delight as shy Rodney Rat triumphs over all and his tiny voice decides the day.
Paperback, 32 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ISBN
061821612X (ISBN13: 9780618216123)

Lesson Plan: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lesson-plan/hooway-wodney-wat-lesson-plan

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

I am in awe of the fact that a writer, Gail Carson Levine, can take a well known, ancient fairy tale, and give it a life of its own. Who knew that Cinderella, the shallow character from a short story, could have and would have such depth, such an amazing tale to tell!

At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the “gift” of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been burdened by this affliction, but not feisty Ella: “Instead of making me docile, Lucinda’s curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally.”
When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella’s life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and spunky nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you’ll ever read.

“Gail Carson Levine’s examination of traditional female roles in fairy tales takes some satisfying twists and deviations from the original. Ella is bound by obedience against her will, and takes matters in her own hands with ambition and verve. Her relationship with the prince is balanced and based on humor and mutual respect; in fact, it is she who ultimately rescues him. Ella Enchanted has won many well-deserved awards, including a Newbery Honor.”

Paperback, 240 pages, Scholastic Books
ISBN 0590920685 (ISBN13: 9780590920681)

Discussion Guide for Gr 3-5 and Gr 6-8: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lesson-plan/ella-enchanted-discussion-guide