Friday, December 23, 2005


Wright, Randall. 2004. HUNCHBACK. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0805072322 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-8]

There was a time when Castle Marlby served as a “seasonal retreat” for the royal family. It was a glorious time then when the royal guard heralded the arrival of kings and princes, a time when the cooks prepared lavish feasts and jugglers and acrobats entertained workers and guests. But those times are long gone. Hodge, a young hunchbacked orphan who lives and works at Castle Marlby, has heard about those days of old and wishes for their return. And, Hodge has another wish. He dreams of someday serving a prince. The fact that he performs the most menial tasks at the castle, including cleaning out the pit beneath the latrines, does not tarnish this hope. When rumors begin to surface that the castle will host a royal visit, no one is more excited than Hodge. The rumors are true and Prince Leo arrives quietly without fanfare. Everyone is suspicious of the prince and people wonder if he is a visitor or a prisoner. Hodge, however, has complete faith in Prince Leo, especially after Prince Leo befriends him. Hodge becomes his faithful servant, but is he just an innocent pawn? When Prince Leo mysteriously disappears, adventure and political intrigue ensue. Hodge tumbles into a world outside the castle walls where he proves to be a hero amid battles and danger.

Wright has done a marvelous job of keeping the story authentic to its setting. Descriptions of medieval life are exceptional. Even the dialect used by Tom, the chandler’s boy, as he insults Hodge is amusing: “‘Where’s my breakfast, ye dolt-headed serving wench?’” With memorable characters and an engaging plot, this evenly paced adventure novel raises questions about loyalty and inner convictions. Readers will root for Hodge as this simple, poor underling battles to do right.

Readers can research medieval times and discover how people lived and worked in a castle. Readers can choose a type of worker (e.g. knight, chandler, kitchen maid, scurry, porter, etc.) and illustrate his/her attire and describe his/her duties.

Books about orphans in the middle ages:
Morris, Gerald. THE SQUIRE’S TALE. ISBN 0395869595

By S. Zulema Silva Bewley

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Behind You

Woodson, Jacqueline. 2004. BEHIND YOU. New York: Putnam. ISBN 039923988X [Suggested Grade Levels 8-12]

In this follow-up to the novel IF YOU COME SOFTLY, friends and family members grieve the loss of Jeremiah, a teen mistakenly shot by New York City police officers. Jeremiah’s death has impacted everyone close to him: his mother has become a hermit, his girlfriend becomes aloof, his best friend struggles with his own sexual identity, and his basketball team can’t win again. Even Jeremiah’s spirit struggles to move onward in the after-life because of his unfinished business on earth. When happenstance connects these individuals, they begin to help each other emerge from death’s darkness. Jeremiah’s dead grandmother urges him to “leave the living alone,” but he wants to connect, to “look behind” on the ones he has left.

Woodson expertly combines the viewpoints of the living and the deceased in order to thoroughly examine the grief process. Powerful thoughts are related through the teens and adults in the story, and these are sure to promote profound thoughts about relationships. Young adult readers will appreciate the frankness with which Woodson intertwines interracial dating, homosexuality, divorce, and prejudice into the story. This is an extremely perceptive novel that could have a lasting impact on its readers.

Ask readers to assume they have passed away by some violent circumstance. Where would their spirits linger? To whom would they send spiritual signals? Instruct them to include their thoughts in a poem or essay.

Ask readers to write a persuasive essay about their opinion on interracial dating and marriage.

Assign one character from the book to each student. Ask the student to draw a portrait of that character, based upon what they have read.

Other books about death and grief:
DiCamillo, Kate. TIGER RISING. ISBN 0763618985
Draper, Sharon Mills. TEARS OF A TIGER. ISBN 0689806981
Hoffman, Alice. GREEN ANGEL. ISBN 0439443857
McDaniel, Lurlene. TELLING CHRISTINA GOODBYE. ISBN 0553570870

By Rebecca S. McKee

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

September Roses

Winter, Jeanette. 2004. SEPTEMBER ROSES. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0374367361 [Suggested Grade Levels 1-5]


This beautiful, terrible memory of Sept. 11, 2001, is simple enough for young children, but powerful enough for adults to appreciate even more. Winter tracked down the story of the two South African sisters who created a tribute to the fallen World Trade Towers in the roses they had brought across the Atlantic to display at a cancelled flower show. Illustrated with simple, cartoon-like drawings, the middle third, which plunges into black and white chaos, is especially evocative of that time in our history.

Winter’s text is spare, and completely integrated with the illustrations: “High in the air/ the two sisters sat dreaming/ of their roses” (the illustration surrounding the text shows a plane full of people flying among clouds and roses, while a very small sketch of the Manhattan skyline in the bottom right corner includes the two planes aimed at the Twin Towers); the page turns to “Then the sky turned black” (as huge clouds of gray and black smoke engulf obscure the buildings over the full two-page spread); and, after another page turn, “Their airplane landed” (a frantic and expressionistic view in black and white of people, including the two sisters, at the airport with three TV monitors carrying the events and banks of information monitors reading “cancelled” over and over). (n.p.) The SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL review of 9/01/04 states in part: “The spare and poetic text, small-sized format, and simple drawings give these painful days a direct and personal resonance. . . Winter’s offering captures the intensity of emotion that was felt that day and the healing human connections that soon followed.”

For older readers, the most important connection will be to their own memories of September 11, 2001. Sharing, writing, and drawing about their experiences will be most meaningful to them.

Other books about the World Trade Towers:
Gerstein, Mordecai. THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS. ISBN 0761317910

Other books about the September 11, 2001 attacks, and its aftermath:
Stern, Peggy. 2003. STANDING TALL. ISBN 1572953934 (Video)

By Julie Brinker

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Knuffle Bunny

Willems, Mo. 2004. KNUFFLE BUNNY. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 0786818700 [Suggested Grade Levels Pre-K – 3]

Mo Willems is one of the real geniuses working in children’s literature today. After an Emmy-winning career writing for SESAME STREET, Willems is forging what should be a Caldecott-winning career in kids’ books (he already has one honor for DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS). The simple, engaging tale of little Trixie’s trip to the Laundromat with her Daddy and the harrowing rescue of her lost Knuffle Bunny, who was accidentally left behind, is spunky and adorable at every turn. Blending photographs of a real city with his own masterfully simple and expressively drawn characters, Willems creates a unique look for a small story that is an enormous event in the life of a girl who hasn’t yet said her first words. Trixie’s exasperated attempts at verbal communication are hilariously cute as she desperately cries, “Aggle flabble klabble!” and heartbreakingly adorable as she sniffs, “snurp.” In the end, this is a story of the enormous joy and sorrow experienced by children in the seemingly small things in life and the swashbuckling, heroic courage of a Daddy who won’t let his little girl down. KNUFFLE BUNNY is what the very best children’s books are; an unabashed slice of simple childhood joy that’s fun to read with something special on every page and the under-girding theme of love and a strong family bond. This is the kind of book awards are made for.

Children can discuss the animals or blankets they were or are attached to and the times when those animals or blankets were lost.

Children can draw a picture of their favorite stuffed animal, or draw a picture of the time that animal was lost.

With quilt pieces and a pattern, an adult can lead a child in creating their own special animal, their own special “knuffle bunny.”

Other books about lost toys or blankets:
Bourgeois, Paulette. FRANKLIN’S BLANKET. ISBN 1550741543
Falconer, Ian. OLIVIA …AND THE MISSING TOY. ISBN 0689852916

Other books by Mo Willems that could be compared to this one:

By Melissa Neece

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Double Helix

Werlin, Nancy. 2004. DOUBLE HELIX. New York: Dial Books. ISBN 0803726066 [Suggested Grade Levels 9-12]

When Eli, a recent high school graduate, decides to forego his first year of college in order to take a high-paying job at Wyatt Transgenics, his father is more than displeased. He’s worried about Eli’s involvement with the company’s owner, legendary molecular biologist Quincy Wyatt. Eli knows that his father, his terminally-ill mother, and Quincy have a connected past, but he doesn’t know the details. His father’s refusal to explain his contempt for Quincy is only one of the mysteries Eli must confront and conquer in this new-age novel about genetic engineering.

Werlin has expertly woven sophisticated science, debilitating disease, teenage romance, and strained parent-child relationships into an intriguing modern mystery. Readers will certainly connect with the conflicts between Eli and his father, as well as those between Eli and his girlfriend. The esoteric conflict concerning gene manipulation in humans as a means of preventing disease and deformities is an ever-present underlying theme of the story. “I don’t trust us,” Eli analyzes. “Even with the best of intentions – we might think we’re eradicating suffering, but are we?” The social implications of the science presented in this story give the reader critical thoughts to ponder, while providing the background for a conventional tale of a young man’s struggle for identity and love.

Provide additional information about genetic engineering (see RELATED BOOKS). Then, hold a debate about the ethics of this new science.

Research Huntington’s Disease or other genetic diseases, identifying symptoms, debilitations, life expectancy, etc.

Other novels involving genetic science:
Card, Orson Scott. ENDER’S GAME. ISBN 0765342294
Patterson, James. WHEN THE WIND BLOWS. ISBN 0316693324

Nonfiction books about genetic engineering:
Chesterton, G.K. EUGENICS AND OTHER EVILS. ISBN 1587420023
Judson, Karen. GENETIC ENGINEERING. ISBN 0766015874

By Rebecca S. McKee

Monday, December 12, 2005

So B. It

Weeks, Sarah. 2004. SO B. IT. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0066236223 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-8]

Love speaks in many languages or in some cases almost none at all. So is the case in Sarah Weeks’ touching and heartfelt novel, SO B. IT. Heidi, the twelve-year-old protagonist and daughter of a So B. It, a severely mentally disabled woman, makes her way through life with a strong case of good fortune and the daily help of her agoraphobic neighbor, Bernadette. Heidi and her mother have lived next door and under her care since they appeared on her doorstep when Heidi was an infant, and no other information about their identity exists. When Heidi finds a roll of film pushed back in a kitchen drawer, she commits herself to learning the answers to the mystery contained in the photographs. Since her mother’s vocabulary is limited to an utterance of only twenty-three words, she can offer no insight to the family’s past, and Heidi sets out on a cross country journey to try to learn who she really is.

Weeks paints the pages of SO B. IT with characters that are unusual, remarkable, and memorable. Each character is fully-developed and carefully rendered, leaving readers to be drawn fully into their world. Heidi’s narration and voice is authentic; while life may be difficult, she remains true to herself and her family. Though her frustration with life as she has always known it is evident as she shares, “A person isn’t supposed to have to guess who they are, they are supposed to know.” she remains committed to her family. Her innocence and naiveté are portrayed appropriately, and Weeks’ story never becomes too heavy-handed with sentiment—rather is remains a beautiful testament to the power of love.

After reading SO B. IT, teens could use U.S. travel guides to create an original map charting Heidi’s journey across the country in search of her past.

Readers could research ways in which mentally challenged parents care for their children and programs offering assistance for those families.

If you liked SO B. IT, try: Holt, Kimberly Willis. MY LOUISIANA SKY. ISBN 0805052518

By Rose Brock

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Escape from Saigon: How a Vietnam War Orphan Became an American Boy

Warren, Andrea. 2004. ESCAPE FROM SAIGON. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 037432244 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-8]

ESCAPE FROM SAIGON: HOW A VIETNAM WAR ORPHAN BECAME AN AMERICAN BOY tells the story of how a Vietnamese boy, Long, became Matt Steiner. Born in a war-torn country, Long had a difficult childhood. He was a biracial child of a Vietnamese mother and an American father. His father abandoned him and his mother; his mother committed suicide leaving him in the care of his grandmother. Because of the poverty and increasing danger of the war, his grandmother had little choice but to leave Long with one of the orphanages in Saigon. Luckily, Long was chosen for adoption by an American family. Soon he was told that he would soon have a new home and a new name. ESCAPE FROM SAIGON shares his experiences in Southern Vietnam, his time at the orphanage, his recollections of being one of the orphans rescued by Operation Babylift in 1975, and his memories of his American childhood.

Warren tells a heartwarming story of one boy’s experiences which in many ways represent the thousands of war orphans rescued from Southern Vietnam in the mid-seventies. Her text is based on her many interviews with Matt Steiner as well as her interview with others. She also provides a thorough bibliography and index. The black and white photographs complement the text and help the reader understand the context of Matt’s story.

Have readers choose a photograph from ESCAPE FROM SAIGON. Have them write creatively about the photograph. (Poem, diary/journal entry, etc) What emotions does the photograph capture?

Follow up with a reading of THE STORY OF THE SAIGON AIRLIFT by Zachary Kent.

Other books about Vietnam:
Huynh, Quang Nhuong. THE LAND I LOST. ISBN 0812449274
Seah, Audrey. VIETNAM. ISBN 1854355848
Uschan, Michael V. THE FALL OF SAIGON. ISBN 1588105555

By Becky Laney

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Revenge and Forgiveness: An Anthology of Poems

Vecchione, Patrice. 2004. REVENGE AND FORGIVENESS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0805073760 [Suggested Grade Levels 7 and up]

Vecchione has compiled a powerful selection of poems to explore the themes of revenge and forgiveness. People respond to being wronged by either revenge or forgiveness, she explains, and by reading these poems as an examination of the emotions involved, we will be able to understand our own responses – how it feels to get revenge or to be forgiven. The introduction is a thoughtful analysis of some of the poets’ responses as well as those of representative students of hers.

The poets chosen for this anthology range from the ancient Romans, Edmund Spencer, and Shakespeare to more modern poets like Naomi Shihab Nye, Louise Gluck, and Sandra Cisneros – altogether a very wide representation of poets for the 60 poems. The poems are about war, hate, slavery, rape, random violence, terrorism, and love. Some of the poems are more accessible than others, like Kate Mead’s prose poem, “Dogs,” and Toni Mirosevich’s “Hygiene.” “Why People Murder” by Ellen Bass is a strong poem about a woman who has been chopping onions in the kitchen after a fight with her partner, and then the next thing she knows she is in the living room with her knife: “When he sees me, he’s startled, doesn’t / know if he should be scared. / I’m emanating like a rod of uranium” (Vecchione, 2004, p. 65).

After the poems, Vecchione has included a section of biographical notes about the poets with comments about their thoughts, where possible, on revenge and forgiveness. Next come indexes by author, by title, and by first line. The book is well researched, planned, and presented. Both young adults and adults will find many poems to provoke thoughts, emotions, and conflicts about the topics of revenge and forgiveness.

Use the book as a forum to discuss the nature of evil as displayed by the September 11 attacks and the two ways of responding presented in these poems. Which feels better – revenge or forgiveness?

Other books by Patrice Vecchione to compare to this one:
The body Electic: an anthology of poems. Isbn 0805069356
Truth and lies: an anthology of poems. Isbn 0805064796

By Cay Geisler

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?

Updale, Eleanor. 2004. MONTMORENCY: THIEF, LIAR, GENTLEMAN? New York: Orchard. ISBN 0439580358 [Suggested Grade Levels 6-8]

During his arrest, petty thief Montmorency is critically injured in a fall. A dedicated doctor makes his career by saving Montmorency’s life, then displaying him at medical conferences. At once such conference, Montmorency learns of the new sewer system that has just been completed in London and he soon develops a plan. Once he is released from prison, he begins to use the tunnels to enter posh London neighborhoods, rob the houses, then mysteriously vanish. The police are baffled. Montmorency then decides to create for himself two personas – the rich, sophisticated Montmorency and the crude but cunning burglar, Scarper. As time goes on, Montmorency finds living two separate lives increasingly difficult. Who is he really? When an acquaintance asks Montmorency to break into the Mauramanian embassy to find out if they are about to declare war, Montmorency must make a decision. Is he a thief and a liar? Or is he now a gentleman?

Although not about teens, this is an intriguing story of a man willing to go to great lengths to get what he wants. Montmorency is an interesting and complex character. Even he does not always know who he is. When he thinks he might be discovered, both Scarper and Montmorency have ideas: “Scarper had briefly toyed with the notion of putting a permanent end to the risk by killing Mr. Rigby, but back in the Marimion, Montmorency knew that such behavior was out of the question and he despised Scarper for even entertaining the idea.” Updale does an excellent job of portraying each of Montmorency’s different lives and the length to which he goes to maintain them. The plot moves quickly with many near-misses which maintain the tension. A fascinating story of intrigue, adventure, and survival in Victorian England.

Readers might be interested in researching maps of the London sewer system. They may also want to investigate a gentleman’s rules of etiquette in Victorian England. How was a gentleman expected to behave?

Other books about unlikely thieves:
Funke, Cornelia . THE THIEF LORD. ISBN 043942089X
Turner, Megan Whalen. THE THIEF. ISBN 0140388346

By Ellen Reed

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog

Turner, Pamela. 2004. HACHIKO: THE TRUE STORY OF A LOYAL DOG. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0618140948 [Suggested Grade Levels 1-4]

This story is simply told from a boy’s point of view, one whose life is changed forever by his friendship with a very special dog. In 1932, a real dog who lived in Tokyo, faithfully waited for his owner every afternoon. Hachiko would wait daily at the train station for Dr. Ueno. After the man died suddenly in 1925, the animal returned to the station every day to wait for him until he too suddenly died at the train station in 1935. This amazing dog became famous for his loyalty and was adored by the people of Tokyo. A bronze statue was placed at Shibuya Station to honor this incredible dog and an annual April festival celebrating this amazing creature was begun. Illustrated with Yan Nascimbene"s rich watercolors, the legend of Hachiko will touch your heart and inspire you as it has inspired thousands all over the world.

Invite children to talk about amazing animals and the joys they bring to people’s lives.

Bring other heroic dog stories to the book discussion. Discuss with young children how some dogs are trained especially for aiding the handicapped.

Encourage children to draw a picture of their dog (or other animal) hero.

Newman, Leslea. HACHIKO WAITS. ISBN 0805073361
Stoecklein, David. COW DOGS: THE COWBOY’S BEST FRIEND. ISBN1931153205

By Kim Southwell