Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Yolanda's Genius

Yolanda's Genius

by Carol Fenner (1995)

Newbery Honor Book

Very nice story, a lot going on -- moving from city to suburbs, plus-size females, musical talent, making friends, missing father, drug dealers, etc. etc... -- the book could've been twice as long, but it focused the last 3rd and ended interestingly. The same book could be written from Yolanda's brother Andrew's POV.

I really like the cover art also; sometimes I don't look twice at a cover, but I kept glancing back at this one...

connections: Chicago blues music, The Sound and the Fury

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Among the Hidden

Among the Hidden
by Margaret Peterson Haddix (2000)
The beginning of a series (7? 8 books?) dealing with a government limiting families to 2 children and controlling the food supply... what happens when the extra/illegal children revolt? Adventure plus discussions of personal freedom...
connections: The Giver, Anne Frank

Monday, November 24, 2008



by Paul Fleischman (1999)

I wasn't sure about this one during the first chapter -- teen alcohol, hormone and suicide issues -- but then it got much better. Alternating chapters between a boy seeking redemption for mistakes and the people whose lives are touched by his actions and art, it's interesting and thought-provoking.

Whoa! Just checked the published date: 1920?!?!?!? Need to double-check that, or re-read the book, 'cause that doesn't make sense... UPDATE: no, of course it wasn't written in 1920 -- that's what I get for trusting anything on the Internet for viable information!

Horns & Wrinkles

Horns & Wrinkles

by Joseph Helgerson (2006)

Loved it! Trolls and magic, bullies and crickets...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanks, Wrighty (as in Wrighty's Reads), but you don't really want page 56 from any of the piles of books surrounding me -- they're either phonics lessons, subtraction problems, or delights such as:

"Qualitative and quantitative purpose statements address similar content, but to express the assumptions of a qualitative paradigm..."

let's just stop there, before things get out of control...

Monday, November 10, 2008

on the nightstand: Judy Moody saves the world & Whiligig (sp?)

update: that Judy Moody is a hoot! felt like I should know some of the characters better, so I either accidentally skipped a chapter or need to pick up earlier books in the series...

Whirligig starts with a drunk teenager killing someone, but seems to be getting better 1/2 way through...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Whipping Boy

by Sid Fleischman

Newbery Medal 1987

The poor servant teaches the rich royalty how to escape kidnappers and appreciate life... got off to a slow start for me, not very likeable characters, but once they got out and on the run it picked up.

Good for study w/ history or social studies...

p.s. post #100 -- whoo hoo!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Jack and the Giant

Jack and the Giant A Story Full of Beans

by Jim Harris (1997)

Jack and his beanstalk, cowboy style... not my usual type of book to list here, but it gets special consideration since it was the star of my first official lesson plan assignment.

Brian's Winter

Brian's Winter

by Gary Paulsen (1996)

The hero of Hatchet gets a re-imagined adventure of not being rescued before winter... mostly deals with hunting, the cold, and survival techniques, but doesn't go very deep and personal as in the previous book. The ending seems quickly added once a certain number of were hit.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

My Father's Dragon

Only read 1 chapter of this one, but it was to actual real live students, and I was paid to do it!

Seems like a cool book too, have to pick up a copy and find out how it ends...

My Father's Dragon
by Ruth Stiles Gannet (1948?)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs

by Betty G.* Birney (2005)

A boy who wants to travel and see the world, or at least get off the farm and ride a train, looks around his small town for "wonders" and finds how special his family and neighbors really are. Well done characters, humor, strength of family and community, but also following your dreams, looking out into the wide world.

*are there a lot of other Betty Birneys out there she might get confused with?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008



Scott Westerfeld (2006)

The conclusion (?) to Uglies, and very similar... not as much new and different, same characters, issues, conflicts for the heroine, just with new technology/power... some drama, a death, even a 9/11 reference and Pres. Bush/Iraq allusion, but a happy ending...
connections: Gathering Blue, ecology vs technology, government control vs right to choose

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Thimble Summer

Thimble Summer

by Elizabeth Enright

Newbery Medal 1938

Whoa, didn't realize this one was from so long ago... I've been trying to avoid some of the older books, (unnecessarily?) worrying about relevance and dated references, etc.... tales of a farm girl's constant mishaps -- she seems quite disrespectful, running off quite often with no apparent disciplinary consequences, but in the end she learns a little lesson...

connections: Little House...; Sarah, Plain and Tall; farm life

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Red Ridin' in the Hood

Red Ridin' in the Hood

by Patricia Santos Marcantonio (2005)

classic fairy tales and Greek myths retold with Latino flavoring... only got to a couple before Son #2 book-jacked it, but the stories more than just changing Jack to Jose and setting the tale in Mexico... some are funny, some more traditional...

Missing May

Missing May

by Cynthia Rylant

Newbery Medal 1993

coupled with Sarah, Plain and Tall -- what a great hour of reading! Funny, sensitive, respectful of life and death, strength and importance of family, quirky characters... I'd recommend this to any adult as well...

Sarah, Plain and Tall

Sarah, Plain and Tall

by Patricia MacLachlan

Newbery Medal 1986

a quick read, short and simple, very sweet... ayuh, I liked this one a lot, not just as a children's story...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Single Shard

A Single Shard

by Linda Sue Park

Newbery Medal 2002

actually just started it... I'll get back to ya...



by Eoin Colfer (2008)

kings and revolutions, swords and the dawn of flight, honor and loyalty and a good old fashion swashbuckling tale... I know there can, and prob will be, further adventures of the young hero, but I was glad this book ended, as in ended without "look for book 2 in this continuing series, coming soon!"

Yellow Star

Yellow Star

by Jennifer Roy (2006)

Historical fiction account of one of the few children to survive in a ghetto during WWII... similar tone w/ Number the Stars, written in almost a free verse from the young girl's pov...

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Middle of Somewhere

The Middle of Somewhere

by J.B. Cheaney

a girl and her adhd little brother travel through Kansas with a grandfather who has not been around very much and doesn't seem to like children: misadventures soon abound... very nice book, young teen protag shows insight and responsibility, all learn appreciation for others as they are... funny, fast-paced, and entertaining...

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Absolutely True Diary...

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie (2007)

A venture into YA lit from one of my favorite authors... a gifted student from the Indian reservation attempts to change his life by going to an outside/white school, and deals with betraying his friends/making new ones, poverty, alcohol, girls, and basketball...

lots of humor to deal with lots of pain, not the deepest story despite some heavy subjects, very Hollywood-like endings... strength of family, following your heart and being true and brave for yourself...



by Gary Paulsen (1987) -- Newbery Honor

A tale of survival, a boy becoming a man by battling wildlife, the elements, and his own fears... fast-paced, exciting, interesting details... strange little extra on the divorced parents plotline involving catching mom having an affair...

connections: The Cay, Call It Courage

Thursday, June 26, 2008



by Monica Shannon

Newbery Medal 1935

I usually stay away from the older books, but I must not have caught the year on this one until it was too late... not only that, but the writing style is a bit different, almost as if translated by a non-english speaker in some places -- but despite it all, I enjoyed the story!

Set in Bulgaria and with a lot of winter, it's totally different from our part of the world, but the joy and appreciation for nature and life, even of hard work and simple surroundings, make this a quality, recommended read.

connections: Little House in the Big Woods?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pictures of Hollis Woods

Pictures of Hollis Woods

by Patricia Reilly Giff (2002)

A foster child finally finds a home, then almost loses it by not trusting others... family dynamics, trusting and caring for others, the magic of Christmas...

George's Secret Key to the Universe

George's Secret Key to the Universe

Lucy & Stephen Hawking (2007)

How to get kids interested in black holes and the depths of space... pages from a science text subliminally placed inside a story about a secret super computer that can get you a ride on a comet, with reminders to care for the earth and solve our wasteful ways before it's too late...

Quick, light story but not predictable... great to accompany space/science lessons

The Nobodies

The Nobodies

by N.E. Bode (2007)

I liked the first one better (The Anybodies) but still an excellent book; very Potter-ish, with a dash of Jumanji as well...

Monday, June 2, 2008

Jackie and Me

Jackie & Me

by Dan Gutman (1999)

let's teach racial tolerance by being poor sports!

Ok, too harsh. Especially for a book about one of my personal heroes, and a mighty fine ballplayer too. Our time-traveling protagonist goes back to 1947, changes skin color, and learns first-hand about racial inequality and bigotry. Quick, exciting plot, lots to discuss. But as a father and coach I cringe over the blatant unsportsman-like taunting, mocking, and fighting at a Little League baseball game... it's one thing to have Robinson the professional athlete being aggressive in a World Series game, but not a kid who supposedly learned something from Robinson's self-respect and dignity. But still, good book.

connections: Time Warp Trio, Year of the Boar..., Negro League baseball, Jackie Robinson biographies...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Anybodies

The Anybodies

by N. E. Bode/Julianna Baggott (2004)

The entire story was worth the house made of books (which I'm sure is cheaper than the prices here in SoCal)... lots of references to classic children's lit, clever and humorous comments from the "author", nice family connections, a sweet and strong lead character... I really liked this one!

update: I saw on the author's website there are 39 books and their characters, from Charlotte & Fern to the Bible, referenced in this book... can you find them all?

Monday, May 19, 2008

So Far From Home

So Far From Home

A Dear America Book

by Barry Denenberg (1997)

Irish girl escapes the potatoes, sails the ocean blue, works in the mills, dies of a cough... I've been very impressed with the "Dear America" series, so I'm glad I didn't pick this one up first. It didn't start out too bad, maybe a little rushed, yet melodramatic, but the 2nd half must have been written right after reading Lyddie ... really does not measure up to the quality of the other books.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

101 Ways to Bug Your Teacher

101 Ways to Bug Your Teacher

by Lee Wardlaw (2004)

Y'know how you go to make an omelet and start tossing in whatever is there in the fridge, but realize you went too far and added too much when the spaghetti and orange chicken clash unappetizingly, so you have a bowl of Cap'n Crunch instead?

I don't think I can remember all the issues blended in to this scramble -- surprise pregnancy of mom, laid off dad, overly mean teacher, freshly deceased mother/dad dating again (and dating the mean teach, but that's just syrup on the eggs), rebellion of good student, crush on girl, too smart for grade level, never giving up on your dreams, mysterious illness/best friend in hospital, Egyptian burial traditions -- the list goes on...


having been shown my critique and the comment from this book's author (see "comments") , Guest Reviewer/Son #2 decided to air his opinion as well, and come to the defense of the author and her work --

Dear Ms. Wardlaw,

I really like this book, 101 Ways to Bug Your Teacher, the
funny thing is that it wasn't given to my classroom as a gift but the teacher bought it from the book fair! It's a pretty good book but I think that in 101 Ways to Bug Your Teacher you should have put more info on the other teachers instead of only on Fierce (my teacher is not nearly as bad as Fierce) also I was wondering if the book is based on a real thing or if its a made up story. I can't wait until when 101 Ways to Bug Your Friends and Enemies comes out in 2009.

Sincerely, Kasey

p.s. I think that Sneeze should invent an automatic fish feeder.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Journal of Joshua Loper

The Journal of Joshua Loper

a Dear America Book

by Walter Dean Myers (1999)

Driving cattle along the Chisolm Trail, keeping a diary of battles against the elements, stubborn steer and horses, racism, and the difficulty of being a cowboy.

The Slave Dancer

The Slave Dancer

by Paula Fox

Newbery Medal 1974

A young boy from New Orleans is impressed into the crew of a slave trader and witnesses first hand the horrors of human capture and bondage... not light reading for a fun book group, but not overly heavy either; there is always a spark of awareness and independence in the boy to let us study the other characters and the slave situation without being overwhelmed.

I seem to be on a sea theme lately, maybe there's a cruise in my future (but I guess that would mean there would be pirates, shipwrecks, rats and scurvy too, so let's hope not...)

Thursday, May 15, 2008


by Neil Gaiman (2002)
Ooooo, spooooky... a little ghost story, clever and imaginative and humorous in the expected excellence of Gaiman's style. A girl in a big house with quirky neighbors and a mysterious door to nowhere...

Seuss was an annoying child...

Monday, May 12, 2008



by Jerry Spinelli (2007)

Misfit, emotionally stressed, parentless kids argue and bond and help each other... they argued a bit much for me, but maybe that's because I have my own that I usually refuse to let bicker/fight/insult (unless it's clever) with each other. A deceased mom, a wacky mom, missing and rarely there dads, a clueless Grandmother that lets her 9 yr old roam the streets all night (?), and a teen girl with issues (the book on her would be a J Frey/C. Love memoir) all connect for a too easy ending, but lots of issues to discuss with kids -- grief, growing up/personal responsibilty, connecting with others...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Sky Horizon

(sorry, the cover is much spookier when larger than a freckle...)

Sky Horizon

by David Brin (2007)

I like a book that does the unexpected; as an adult reading juv or YA fiction, things can get a bit predictable (although I really thought ol' Wilbur would be Christmas dinner) and when a book keeps me turning and guessing, that's a good thing.

Sky Horizon isn't the best written book, it has some strange scenes that don't seem to fit -- but when the end is not really the end (what/where is the next book?) even that seems to fit in, and is another unexpected aspect... standing alone, the book has some drama, some intrigue, a good lead character, and aliens. It also brings up many points for discussion regarding our history and future as a planet, our role as a species or member of the universe, or simply as individuals relating to one another. Lots of opportunity for "well, what would you do?" or "what do you think?"

connections: exploration, Columbus/aborigine, ET, Only You...Mankind

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Love, Stargirl

Love, Stargirl
by Jerry Spinelli (2007)
A little more sappy and melodramatic (in a spacey way) than the first Stargirl, but still enjoyable, sweet, and funny. I think I have a fondness for Stargirl because she reminds me a lot of a former girlfriend from back in the day who I imagine still pines for me and leaves me anonymous notes... she wasn't as weird as Stargirl, but was unique and caring and did her own thing -- attractive yet scary to a teenage boy and his raging hormones. Ah, I digress... Much more likable supporting cast here, lots to discuss with peer pressure and family issues and unrequited emotions...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Cay

The Cay

by Theodore Taylor (1969)

set during WWII among the Caribbean Islands, a white boy and an elderly black man are shipwrecked together on a tiny island where the boy learns to respect and love the man... good adventure, survival, coming of age, very well done...

Golden Line: "He said softly 'Young bahss, you 'ave always been my friend.'"

connections: blindness, shipwrecks, Swiss Family Robinson, Call it Courage

Friday, May 2, 2008

Babe and Me

Babe and Me

by Dan Gutman (2000)

"A Baseball Card Adventure" -- if my review gets confused, it may be because we just watched the movie Everybody's Hero about a kid and Babe Ruth... pretty cool, mixes in real world events with a boy that can travel back in time, unbelievable but fun...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Sisters Grimm

The Sisters Grimm
Book Two - The Unusual Suspects

Michael Buckley (2005)

Fairy tale characters in the real world, where kids have problems like giant spiders and Rumpelstiltskin (sp?)... adventure/mystery with lots of humor, but also some serious angst over missing parents... reminded me of the HP emotional anger and magical loss of the folks, tone of the story reminded me of that movie with LRRHood and the X-games Grandma (and a singing Goat?) from a few years ago (I liked it, no one else did, but can't remember the name)...

gets the "race" tag for some racial profiling involving fictional vs real characters... could be an interesting discussion...

Dear America

I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly
The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl

by Joyce Hansen (1997)

Coretta Scott King Award Honor

So far these books have all impressed me, they don't seem too hokey or preachy; they must get good writers who know the historical period, although in this one the language was sometimes a bit much* for a slave girl who secretly learned to read and write from children's books... but I liked it, cared about the character, complex/believable storyline, great message of determination, self-awareness, personal strength...

*I started reading Flowers for Algernon this morning and thought of this book, in that it must be hard for a writer to present the story as if coming from a 6 or 10 or 15 year old, or a retarded man, and have the voice adhere strictly to how that person would be able to communicate... unless you're Faulkner, you have to bend the rules (suspend disbelief) to communicate to your readers through your characters, but not exclusively by/from your characters...

hmmm, not sure that makes sense...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tuck Everlasting

Tuck Everlasting

by Natalie Babbitt (1975)

Someone has found the fountain of youth... the spring of eternal life, actually, which leads to a kidnapping, blackmail and real estate deals, and a jailbreak... I liked the beginning of the book better than the end, it seems some of the potential from the first half was lost -- the issue of living forever, as well as the mystery surrounding the man in the yellow suit, was washed over in the safe conclusion...

Monday, April 14, 2008

back from vacation, but forgot to take any of the books I'd started...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Here, There Be Dragons

Here, There Be Dragons

by James A. Owen (2006)

came highly recommended, I just started it... fantasy adventure starring the young Oxford lads Tolkien, Lewis, and Dodgson (were they alive at the same time? -- suspend disbelief?) saving our world and Arthur's... fully expected the allusions and references to the classic works, but so far way too much borrowing: Capt Nemo (League of Extraordinary Gents)? viciously evil dog-men (Book of Lost Things)? c'mon...

>apparently, this is a popular title for all kids of stuff...

>and this one too is a movie, or will be soon...

The Journal of James Edmund Pease

The Journal of James Edmund Pease

from the Dear America series

by Jim Murphy (1998)

A Civil War Union soldier keeps a journal chronicling his troops' personalities and activities, and his fears regarding fighting and leadership... very well done, historically accurate and reads authentic, great sense of the confusion and senselessness of battle ...reads like a much longer/deeper book...

connections: Civil War, Red Badge of Courage, Harriet Tubman, The Valley of the Shadow (civil war letters)

Only You Can Save Mankind

Only You Can Save Mankind

(If Not You, Who Else?) The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy

by Terry Pratchett (1992)

The first book in Pratchett's trio, although having already read the 2nd book they aren't connected story wise... Johnny enters a video game to help the aliens reach safety, all while dealing with his tough home life and the Gulf War on tv... many pop culture and "Stormin' Norman" references, but they're not as awkward as in the next book... a little confused in parts, but so is Johnny -- dreaming, dieing, going crazy? -- but ends with strong anti-war/violence message, and good for discussion of who and when is it right to fight? And just who will save mankind?

the thrid book is Johnny and the Bomb (1996)

connections: video games, un-popular kids, divorce, perception of reality, pacifism vs war

Here Lies the Librarian

Here Lies the Librarian

by Richard Peck (2006)

Peck's editor must have gone on vacation: the title and the book's beginning have nothing to do with the story... maybe he started writing when spooky stories were all the rage, hoping to capitalize with a graveyard scene, but unless I missed something, the tombstones (in the book or the title or the cover) have nothing at all to do with this tale of an orphaned girl who likes working on them new-fangled automobiles and some of her issues/adventures growing up... cute story, spunky female characters, but...

connections: female roles, cars, libraries, WWI

A Friend Called Anne

A Friend Called Anne

by Jacqueline van Maarsen (2004)

Recollections from a childhood friend of Anne Frank... good story for the closeness of friends, the decisions families must make, with an insight into of the passive helplessness surrounding the Nazi Occupation...

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Wall

The Wall

by Peter Sis (2007)

nothing to do with Pink Floyd... an artist's story of growing up in Communist Czechoslovakia, the suppression of individual rights and the government's efforts at mind control... I found it strange that it's out now, 10-15 years after it would be more timely/relevant, and that it's designed like a children's story ("oh look Timmy, here's a pretty book about a baby suffering from ideological crimes")... but the art and the info inside is very cool, and it would be a nice quick companion to a history or art lesson... also talks about 60's rock and roll...

connections: Adolf, Anne Frank, The Giver, the Berlin Wall, contemporary government/race issues (E. Europe, Africa), artistic freedom of expression

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Adolf: A Tale of the Twentieth Century

Adolf: A Tale of the Twentieth Century

by Osamu Tezuka (1995)*

A real graphic novel, not just a thick comic book... just started reading, son #1 found the whole series at the library and snagged 'em for me... serious war/race thriller/drama set in Japan and Germany, mostly 1936-45 (the chapter tacked on to the end showing the characters still fighting each other in the Middle East 10 years later was a little contrived...)

It's fictional, the search for and hiding of secret documents showing Hitler was Jewish, and a circle of Japanese and German characters that continuously stretch the limits of "Hey, it's you again, whatta small world!" but very realistic in the historical events surrounding WWII and the treatment of the Jews... the characters are very passionate and sometimes quite torn by twisted loyalties, such as the half German-Japanese boy who falls for a Jewish girl...

Interesting to talk about divided loyalties in a classroom, explore the different messages the students get from parents vs teachers vs coaches vs pop culture vs the playground... who do you listen to? who do you follow? how could you possibly know what is right?

from the introduction to book 5, by Gerard Jones:

(discussing the lies/reasons we have wars): "...Nation -- the deadly sentiment that an arbitrary and invisible political definition has some bearing on human relationships and is worth killing and dying for..."


connections: Anne Frank, Number the Stars, All Quiet on the Western Front, the Middle East, Viet Nam war

*originally serialized/published in Japan 1983-85

Red Badge of Courage

Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage

adapted by Wayne Vansant (1895/2005)

The text is sometimes too late 1800's for basic readers, but the images keep the story flowly smoothly and clearly... appendix in the back shows some "behind the scenes" how it's done details, good for those kids interested in the art angle...

connections: Civil War, war, Brother Sam is Dead

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson

Bette Bao Lord (1984)

A girl goes straight from China to Brooklyn in 1947, with no stops in between to learn how to speak english or play baseball... autobiographical, told sweetly but not too cute, I had a real sense of the lonliness and lost-ness of the girl thrust into a strange new culture...

connections: ESL, Bat 6

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow

The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow
from the Dear America series

Ann Turner (1999)

A story of the Navajo people forced from their homes, as told from a young girl's view; tragic, but not harsh, some danger but with the book beginning as the girl a grandmother telling her story, we know it has a "happy" ending... strong on family values and respect for elders, also with encouraging journal writing...

the folks at Oyate ( http://www.oyate.org/books-to-avoid/theChased.html ) don't like the book, because it doesn't adhere to Navajo storytelling tradition, but it seems like nitpicking -- it's more important to get the story told and sometimes changes need to be made to appeal/communicate to the intended audience; although this could be brought into a discussion with students, as well as reviewing historical accuracy...

connections: Native Americans, southwest US, origin myths, Sing Down the Moon, diary/journal writing, oral storytelling

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Horton Hatches the Egg

Horton Hatches the Egg
by Dr. Seuss

We have invited a special guest reviewer for this book: Son #3, age 6...

In Horton's life, he asked a bird if he could sit on the egg ("he cohd siht an thi eeg") and the bird said yes. Horton did go on the egg but he got caught by the hunters. My favorite part is when the egg cracks and out came a bird mixed with an elephant. Regular people would love this book because it's a little funny and the elephant hatches the egg not the bird.

and yes, he is that ugly. must get it from an uncle or somethin'...