Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Most Loved Monster

Downey, Lynn. 2004. MOST LOVED MONSTER. Ill. by Jack E. Davis. New York: Dial Books. ISBN 0803727283 [Suggested Grade Levels K-3]

Monster Mama just finished reading a bedtime story and it is time for her “little fiends” Max, Mattie, Mervin, and Mella to go to bed. But, as Mama tucks in each little monster, each one wants to know who she loves the most. Mama’s diplomatic reply to each one is “I love all my little monsters. But you—you are very special.” She then tells each little one what make him or her special. For example, Mattie is very well-mannered because she “[shares] her spit” and “[screams] out in school.” Each little monster goes to bed snug and happy. Early the next morning, the little monsters decide to surprise Mama by showing her how much they love her.

This classic story of the strong bonds that exist between mother and children is rather unique because of the unusual characters and their equally unusual traits. At times the story borders on being disgusting, but it never quite crosses that line. For example, Mervin bakes a “roachberry upside-down cake with mud-covered slugs on top.” Outrageous descriptions such as this one together with richly detailed and vivid illustrations make this book appealing to young readers. The warm colors Davis uses are a perfect match for the theme of this story. Rather than being scary, these monsters are irresistible (e. g. After Mama describes the different ways that Mattie displays her manners, Mattie’s reply is “I am polite, aren’t I?”). This witty, cleverly written story is bound to leave a smile on the reader’s face long after the last page is turned.

Invite children to discuss those traits that make their mothers special. They can then create a Mother’s Day card describing (through illustrations or words) those unique qualities.

Children can identify the various insects found in the illustrations throughout the book. They can create a variant form of the game “Concentration” by pairing the name of each insect with its picture or drawing.

Other stories about lovable monsters:
Hindley, Judy. THE PERFECT LITTLE MONSTER. ISBN 0763609021
Leuck, Laura. MY MONSTER MAMA LOVES ME SO. ISBN 0060088605

By S. Zulema Silva Bewley

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Truth About Forever

Dessen, Sarah. 2004. THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER. New York: Viking. ISBN 0670036390 [Suggested Grade Levels 9-12]

Grieving the death of her father, Macy Queen buries her emotions behind a mask of perfection not even allowing her friends and family to see her real self. However, what Macy learns in THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER is that “even the smallest fragments can’t help but make a whole” (129). When Macy lets go of her need to be perfect and to always be in control, she learns what it means to be free. She learns to just be. “When I was with him I didn’t have to be perfect, or even try for perfect. He already knew my secrets, the things I’d kept hidden from everyone else, so I could just be myself. Which shouldn’t have been such a big deal. But it was” (187).

THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER is an honest examination of one girl’s reaction to the death of her father. Through the character of Macy, Dessen shows that there are many aspects to the grieving process. The novel shows the key role open communication plays in the healing process.

Have readers imagine having a conversation with Macy. What advice would they give her?
THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER is beautifully written and most of the action is in the dialogue. Have readers share favorite passages from the book. Perhaps some would even be willing to pair up and give dramatic readings of their favorite scenes.

Other books by Sarah Dessen:
Dessen, Sarah. DREAMLAND. ISBN 0142300675
Dessen, Sarah. KEEPING THE MOON. ISBN 0142401765
Dessen, Sarah. SOMEONE LIKE YOU. ISBN 0142401773
Dessen, Sarah. THAT SUMMER. ISBN 0142401722

Other books about grief:
Swanson, Julie. GOING FOR THE RECORD. ISBN 0802852734
Zeises, Lara M. BRINGING UP THE BONES. ISBN 0385730012

Other books about perfectionism, self-perception or self-esteem:
Mackler, Carolyn. VEGAN VIRGIN VALENTINE. ISBN 0763621552
Marchetta, Melina. SAVING FRANCESCA. ISBN 0375829822

By Becky Laney

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


Delaney, Mark. 2004. PEPPERLAND. Atlanta: Peachtree. ISBN 156145317X. [Suggested Grade Levels 7-12]

Pamela Jean Cochran (a.k.a. Star) is sixteen when her mother dies from breast cancer. Struggling to find a way to cope, she turns to her music hoping that if she can write a song to honor her mother then she can finally let go of her anger and pain. While going through her mother’s belongings, Star discovers a fan letter to John Lennon and a vintage Gibson guitar—now in need of repair. These two items are the catalyst to Star’s healing process. Set in the fall of 1980, Delaney’s novel is a wonderful exploration of grief, anger, loss, and confusion. Star and Dooley, her best friend, are remarkably well-developed characters. And Delaney’s use of language is impressive. One striking passage occurs when Dooley shows Star his drawing:

“Before me is a portrait of a young woman. She is strikingly beautiful, her face nearly white and her cheekbones shaded in an ice pale blue. Her eyes are large and pretty, but dark and a little wounded-looking. She's not really smiling…. over the girl's face, are crossing lines, like the squares on a sheet of graph paper. It's as if little parts of her have been painted on hundreds of tiles, and the tiles have assembled themselves to make this image. Except in the upper left-hand corner, the pattern breaks down. The tiles are scattered, the lines no longer forming perfect angles. The pieces seem to be falling, cascading into place. The girl is in the process of becoming a complete picture… And then I understand. I see it. The girl with the wounded eyes, the girl who doesn't quite smile, the girl made of a thousand pieces that are falling, at last, into their proper places...She's me” (105-106).

In PEPPERLAND, Star identifies with former Beatle John Lennon who also lost his mother when he was sixteen. Lennon wrote two songs for his mother “Julia” and “Mother.” Play both songs and discuss their significance to Star. How did Delaney use Lennon’s music to convey Star’s conflicting feelings?

Other books about musicians:
Dessen, Sarah. THIS LULLABY. ISBN 0670035300

By Becky Laney

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Bucking the Sarge

Curtis, Christopher Paul. 2004. BUCKING THE SARGE. New York: Random House. ISBN 0385901593 [Suggested Grade Levels 7 and up]

Departing from the juvenile historical fiction genre, Curtis’s young adult work is set in present-day Flint, Michigan and tells the story of Luther, a teen whose life is controlled completely by his ruthless mother, known by all as the Sarge. Operating as a loan shark, scam artist, and slum lord, the Sarge controls all in her path, especially Luther. While Luther yearns to become a philosopher, his life is consumed by fulfilling the duties required by his mother. Whether it is cleaning out the found remains in homes of those recently evicted by his mother or caring for the elderly men at the group home where he resides, Luther’s disdain for his mother’s lack of values and ethics become more and more unsettling for the teen. After suffering at the hands of mother and her cronies for years, Luther finally has enough and acts on an opportunity to get his life back in order.

Curtis’s choice in narration is a perfect fit; whether sharing about his dreams of a more noble life or the age of the condom in his wallet, Luther’s first-person point-of-view offers readers a story filled with humor and wit. Especially amusing are scenes between Luther and Sparky, his “womb to tomb” best friend who plays a convincing role as sidekick. Curtis’s treatment of the other secondary characters is also notable; their interactions with Luther and the Sarge provide additional depth and amusing complications to the story. While the theme of good versus evil is often overused, Curtis’s created battle never feels tired. In fact, readers will find themselves cheering Luther on as he finds the courage to seek appropriate revenge on his mother, and they will be sufficiently satisfied and left with a smile by the story’s end.

Readers preparing for a science fair competition could chart the steps Luther took to research and prepare his data as a means of offering some critical thought for their own research.

Other novels by Christopher Paul Curtis: BUD, NOT BUDDY. ISBN 0385323069

By Rose Brock

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Duck for President

Cronin, Doreen. 2004. DUCK FOR PRESIDENT. Ill. by Betsy Lewin. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689863772 [Suggested Grade Levels K-3]

In this third book starring Farmer Brown and the subversive animals, Duck decides that he has had enough of farm chores. His solution is to have an election to see who will be in charge, he or Farmer Brown. After the animals vote and the votes are counted, Duck is clearly the winner. However Duck soon realizes that running a farm “is no fun at all,” so he campaigns and runs for governor. Again he wins, and before long he is running for president. He claims victory, but being president is not as easy as Duck thought. When a help-wanted ad, obviously written by Farmer Brown, appears in the newspaper, Duck heads back to the farm.

This delightful picture book is full of wit and charm. Cronin overlooked few, if any, events in the political process. For example, the farm animals must first register to vote. Throughout the story ballots are cast, votes are tallied and recounted, and Duck hits the campaign trail where he attends town meetings, gives speeches, kisses babies and rides in parades. He even plays the saxophone on television. This reference to Bill Clinton may be lost on young readers, but the humor will not. Lewin’s watercolor illustrations are priceless. After a hard day’s work, Farmer Brown is so filthy and smelly that the chickens pass out around him. The final page shows Duck writing his autobiography using a computer while an old typewriter is sitting in a trash can-- a clever allusion to CLICK, CLACK, MOO: COWS THAT TYPE.

Young readers will enjoy the repetitive text and expressive art. It is probably not a coincidence that this picture book was published during a U. S. presidential election year. Despite its perfect timing, its appeal among readers is likely to remain timeless.

Children can discuss the responsibilities of running a farm, being governor or being president. Children can participate in the political process by electing a class/classroom president (e.g. choose candidates, make posters, campaign, vote).

Another humorous book about running for office:
Parish, Herman. AMELIA BEDELIA 4 MAYOR. ISBN 0688167217
Another book by Cronin that could be paired with this one:

By S. Zulema Silva Bewley

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Neighborhood Mother Goose

Crews, Nina. 2004. Neighborhood Mother goose. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0060515732 [Suggested Grade Levels PreK – 2]


Nina Crew’s new adaptation of Mother Goose rhymes is stunningly original. Instead of pastels or even primary colored illustrations, she uses digitally enhanced photographs in vivid color that extend to the very edges of the pages. The book is peopled with a group of multiethnic children that move from verse to verse through the pages. Children will recognize the children as they continue reading through the rhymes. The result is a Mother Goose collection that focuses on real children in the real world.

Because the photographs ground the rhymes in reality, the verses take on new relevance. Most Mother Goose rhymes are featured in whimsical pastels that pay homage to their English roots. Nina Crew’s photographs are taken in and around her Brooklyn neighborhood featuring happy children playing in the modern world. She digitally enhances most of the pictures to add whimsy to the lushly realistic photos. In “Hey Diddle Diddle!” there is a cat holding a violin, a giant plate and spoon towering over a fence, and an actual cow jumping over the moon. In “To Market, to Market” she features a child walking down the street in front of stores holding a brown paper bag with a real pig in it. Often she shrinks the size of the children and places them with actual-sized objects, as in “Peter Piper” and in “There was an Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe.”

The Neighborhood Mother Goose includes many old favorite nursery rhymes, but also many less familiar. Older children may be surprised by the inclusion of verses that are unfamiliar to them, but younger children will be open to learning these new ones, as the rhymes seem especially relevant as presented here with children just like them.

Invite children to recite the rhymes that they know while showing them this book. Present a well-known version of Mother Goose rhymes such as Iona Opie’s illustrated by Rosemary Wells. Invite the children to talk about the similarities and differences.

Another version of Mother Goose:
Opie, Iona. My very first Mother Goose. ISBN 1564026205
Another book by Nina Crews to compare to this one:
I’ll Catch the moon. ISBN 0688141358

By Cay Geisler