WW2 backdrop for defining family

Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff; Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2013; 147 pages.


Jayna’s only living relative, that she knows of, is her brother Rob.  When Rob ships out for Okinawa during World War II, she is left in the care of their landlady.  Before he left, Rob mentioned a box with a mystery diary, what seems to be a collection of recipes written in French.  Distraught by the news that Rob is missing in action, Jayna searches for the book.  Clues begin to add up: a bakery named “Gingersnap” (Jayna’s nickname) in Brooklyn (where Rob always said they belonged).  With bags packed, Jayna searches for any family connection and discovers that family means so much more than blood-ties.

This heart-touching story of a girl in search of family transcends the setting of the book.  World War II lessons of hardship, like rationing, are heavily featured, and present teachable moments about that period in our history.  But the real story is of hope, patience, and what ties bind us together through all of life’s hardship and happiness.

I loved Giff’s addition of Jayna’s recipes for soup in the book.  Her skill in making soup from next to nothing was a key to Jayna’s character.  By adding the simple recipes, children can be encouraged to experiment with ingredients themselves–whether those ingredients are art materials, pencil and paper, or veggies from the refrigerator.

So many connections can be made by librarians and teachers.  A basic soup cookbook for kids could be paired with it for a “better together” book display.  I think this book compared & contrasted with other tales of American children during World War II would be an interesting display or recommended to read together.  Imagine Navigating Early (Clare Vanderpool), The Green Glass Sea (Ellen Klages), and maybe My Chocolate Year: A Novel with 12 Recipes (Charlotte Herman) bundled together?

I am not surprised that Gingersnap got a starred review in Kirkus.  It’s a wonderful story for readers aged 8-12.

July 18, 2013 at 4:09 pm 1 comment

Fascinating spy story for younger readers

Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington by Lynda Durrant, illustrated by Joe Rossi; Vanita Books, Akron, OH; 2013.

Note: This review is based on an uncorrected color proof provided for free by the publisher.  The book is due on shelves September 1, 2013.

ImageAriel Bradley was a spy for General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War.  He was also a boy, a child.  General Washington asked the boy to act like “Johnny Raw,” or a simple country kid, and spy on the British & Hessian armies.  By pretending he was seeking a mill to grind a sack of corn, Bradley was able to determine how many soldiers had amassed against General Washington.

This true story is told in simple terms that will make the Revolutionary War a little more real for beginning chapter book readers. It’s easy to read, full of vocabulary that will be useful in history class, and inspirational (what kid wouldn’t want to be the spy and hero?).  The illustrations are warm, inviting and help tell the story within the story by highlighting facial expressions and old-fashioned clothing.

Combining a well-told true story with inviting illustrations make this a perfect story for the Fourth of July.  Because of the resources in the back of the book (a glossary as well as information about the real Ariel Bradley and his life after the American Revolution), I will be recommending it to teachers as a read-aloud in social study classes in elementary school.

July 15, 2013 at 12:37 pm Leave a comment

Eep! Quirky allegory

Eep! by Jake van Leeuwen, translated by Bill Nagelkerke; published by Gecko Press USA, an imprint of Gecko Press Ltd., New Zealand; 2012.

Warren is a bird watcher.  One day, while doing what he loves, he spotted a small bird under a bush.  Only it wasn’t a bird: It was a girl with a face and legs and feet but wings where her arms should be.  Warren carried the precious gift home to his wife, Tina, who longed for a child.  Named Beedy, the girl learned what she could under their care.  But Beedy also longed for freedom and left one morning without saying goodbye.  On their quest to find Beedy to say goodbye, Warren and Tina, and Beedy, all encounter others longing for various things in their own lives.  In the end, they all have the chance to say goodbye to Beedy and she disappears on her own adventure.

Part Roald Dahl, part Shel Silverstein, this quirky little allegory will have different meanings for different readers.  I won’t share what I took away from the allegory since every reader has to glean his or her own meaning from the book.  This book will appeal to fans of Dahl (especially his shorter quirkier tales).  I’d also recommend it as a read aloud in elementary schools, especially for 3rd or 4th grade classes, as it begs for discussion and interpretation; good skills to work on with students in this age group.


June 19, 2012 at 9:42 am 1 comment

Wonder should be required reading for children AND adults

Wonder by R.J. Palacio; published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York; 2012.

August was born with a birth defect.  His face looks more like a Halloween mask.  Frequent surgeries have made this homeschooled boy stronger but his family decide maybe he needs to attend school to further develop his inner strength.  This book documents Auggie’s fifth grade year at a new school, as told through his eyes, his sister’s, his new friends, and his sister’s boyfriend.  With Auggie’s triumph we also celebrate the strengths of those around him.

Palacio’s debut novel for middle grade readers should be required reading for children and adults alike.  The effects of bullying on the greater school community as well as on the whole family are well-described.  I would like to see all third or fourth grade teachers and/or school librarians reading this aloud to their classes.  I’d like every administrator in every school to read it and study the administrators’ choices in Wonder.  I wish that every adult would read it and accept that ALL people should be treated with respect and a sincere (not “shiny” as Auggie described) smile.  Perhaps I have a soft spot in my heart for the victims of bullying, but this is a triumph of a novel.

Librarians, put this on your recommended reads list for teachers, parents, and upper elementary and middle school students.  This has to be included in any reading list about bullying.  I’d also like to see someone put together an MP3 mix of all the songs mentioned in the book.

I cannot recommend this book enough!!!

June 9, 2012 at 1:53 pm 2 comments

Dead End in Norvelt may be acquired taste

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos; published by Farrar Straus Giroux, New York; 2011.

Summer vacation for Jack Gantos (the protagonist kid, not the author) is not going as planned.  Caught in the middle of his feuding parents, he has been grounded for life.  Chores and reading, that’s it.  Digging a bomb shelter for his dad by day and creating an igloo of books that he’s finished reading by night comprise his entertainment.  That is, until his mom asks him to help his feisty old neighbor write obituaries for the quickly dying founders of Eleanor Roosevelt’s post-war promised land, Norvelt.  Between humorous observations, history lessons, and stress-induced bloody noses, this summer isn’t going to turn out so bad after all.

I will profess right now that I am a Jack Gantos fan.  His Joey Pigza books not only appealed to the reluctant readers at the elementary school where I got my library start, those books also gave parents a glimpse at life for their ADHD children.  I get his humor; apparently, not everyone is in on the jokes.  I like that history is mainstreamed into a story line (I wish we all did that; you know, learn a little something about our neighbors, neighborhood, and world community every day).  I also like that the plot, as it were, is the progression not only of summer days but of character development.  Apparently, not every reader got this (one coworker wondered “what happened” in the story).  My discussions with readers since finishing has been a dichotomy: lovers and haters; but they’ve all been adults.  No child has read this, at least in my little circle of readers.

Will this book appeal to kids?  Hmm, maybe not.  I am glad that it will be required reading for students working their way through the Newbery winners.  I can think of a few former elementary students that would’ve eaten this book up and asked for a sequel.  Maybe there are more kids out there who like a little history with their humor.

I think this book would be well-paired with Deborah Wiles’ Countdown (read my review here).  I’d put it on a list of books for boys as well–the physical humor is sure to strike a chord.

June 3, 2012 at 1:47 pm Leave a comment

Relax and enjoy The View from Saturday

The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg; published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York; 1998 (paperback edition).

In a book that feels like a collection of short stories woven together to create a single story, the Academic Team is introduced.  These four shy sixth graders call themselves The Souls.  They drink high tea every Saturday afternoon.  And they use their complementary skills to build their paraplegic teacher’s confidence.  Sound like an unlikely favorite read?  Give it a try and you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to make lemonade when life gives you lemons!

I was skeptical when I started reading this book.  I loved From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and I couldn’t believe that an author could write a second Newbery Medal winning book 30 years after her first.  Oh, but Ms. Konigsburg did it and did it well.  This coming of age tale weaves together seemingly disparate back stories into a climactic finale that includes high tea, of all things.  I will be recommending this book.  A colleague is using it in an upper elementary book discussion group; I’m anxious to hear what they have to say about it.  There are so many possibilities for a book club, including introducing high tea (when else might they have that opportunity?). 

March 5, 2012 at 4:58 pm Leave a comment

Chicago! Cleveland! DC! Never Say Genius

The Genius Files: Never Say Genius (Book 2, The Genius Files) by Dan Gutman; published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, New York; 2012.

On the second leg of their coast-to-coast trip to Washington, D.C. for a wedding, Coke and Pep McDonald run afoul of new villains.  They are also at the mercy of their parents who make frequent stops at historical sites and off-beat museums.  Will their trip be worry-free?  Get real!  Didn’t you read the first book in the series?!?

While light on plot, the action is nonstop in Gutman’s sequel.  Kids will like that.  I liked that.  However, I was much more impressed by the information presented in the book, thinly veiled as pertinent to Coke and Pep’s travels.  Readers are urged to visit online mapping websites (a la Mapquest or Google Maps) to map each leg of their route from San Francisco to Washington, D.C.  Real pictures (often provided by Gutman’s fans!) depict the museums, historic sites, and state signs that the twins encounter.  The incorporation of other map features, like highway route signs for page numbers, and the frequent posting of miles left to travel impart a lesson that this GPS-reliant generation may not otherwise get.  Add the coded messages that Pep deciphers, and this is one edutaining book!

Who wouldn’t want to read about Wrigley Field, Cedar Point, the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, and the Smithsonian Museum of American History?!?

February 22, 2012 at 3:41 pm 1 comment

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a librarian's view of books and other kid-friendly resources
Disclaimers: Per the FTC regulations, please note that sometimes books are received for review for free by publishers or authors. All books (ARCs, galleys, library or purchased) will be reviewed fairly; no special consideration is given to anything reviewed on this blog. In addition, I make every attempt to avoid spoilers. Sometimes they happen inadvertently or because they are important to defend a review; not all spoilers have been removed or fixed. This disclaimer is a general statement included as a warning to readers.

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According to the Library of Congress's Read.gov site: "Ever heard of an Exquisite Corpse? It's not what you might think. An Exquisite Corpse is an old game in which people write a phrase on a sheet of paper, fold it over to conceal part of it and pass it on to the next player to do the same. The game ends when someone finishes the story, which is then read aloud. Our "Exquisite Corpse Adventure" works this way: Jon Scieszka, the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, has written the first episode, which is "pieced together out of so many parts that it is not possible to describe them all here, so go ahead and just start reading!" He has passed it on to a cast of celebrated writers and illustrators, who must eventually bring the story to an end." You can read all 26 chapters here (http://www.read.gov/exquisite-corpse/). You can also listen to it being read, play games, collect clues and test your knowledge!

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