Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Book Thief

The Book Thief was written by Markus Zusak.  It was published by Alfed A. Knopf in 2005.

The Book Thief, which won several honors in 2005 and 2006, including the School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2006), Publishers Weekly Children's Best Book of the Year (2006) and Michael L. Printz Honor Book (2007), is a historical fiction book set in the time of Nazi Germany. 

The Book Thief is a story of a young girl, Liesel, her family and friends, and their turbulent lives during the years prior to and during WWII.  Liesel joined her new family when her mother needed to give her and her brother up for adoption. We can speculate that her mother was a communist and killed shortly after giving her daughter away, as Liesel often heard others call her father a communist, and when she asks her new papa if her mother was a communist and now dead, he said that he believes that she was.  On the way to Himmel Street, where her foster parents would be found, her brother died.  When they stopped at the nearest city to bury him, Liesel starter her illustrious career as the book thief. She took The Grave Digger's Handbook from the men who dug the grave for her brother.  She felt as though this would keep he close to her brother's memory.  Her new mama, Rosa Hubermann, was a tough broad, leading her household with an iron fist and a horrendous mouth (which was common with many of the characters throughout the book).  Her papa, Hans Hubermann, is a soft spoken, loving man.  He is the one to take care of Liesel when she has nightmares about her brothers' death, the one to teach her how to read and write, starting with The Grave Digger's Handbook, and to keep her secrets that would get her a beating from Rosa. 

The other three notable characters in the book are Rudy, Max and Ilsa.  Rudy is Liesel's best friend.  She spent almost every day from the time she joined the Hubermann family with Rudy, playing soccer, stealing food from farms and books from the mayor's wife, Ilsa. Rudy was a fun, spirited young boy who only wanted one thing from Liesel -- a kiss. 

Max has quite the history through this book.  His father served in WWI with Hans Hubermann, and saved Hans life by suggesting he stay back to write letters on the day the rest of his platoon was killed. When Hans visited Max's mother after his father died, he made a promise to help the family in any way he could.  Max came to cash in on that promise over 20 years later, when he needed hide from the Nazis.  You see, Max is Jewish, and was no longer safe in his own country.  "With a clean-shaven face and lopsided yet neatly combed hair, he had walked out of that building a new man. In fact, he walked out a German.  Hang on a second.  He was German. Or more to the point, he had been." This quote was so incredibly sad to me. Max, as well as millions as others had been turned on by their own people, and had to stay in hiding for years to try to stay safe throughout the war. Max became a good friend of Liesel's, encouraging her to read and write, even writing his own book as a gift to her.  They connected through the power of words.

Ilsa is the mayor's wife.  She is very sad throughout the book, as she had a son who died and she was not able to move on with her life.  She saw Liesel steal her second book and knew she needed to invite her into her life.  Ilsa has a huge library in her home and allowed Liesel to read at her house every week while Liesel picked up the laundry for her mama to wash and iron. That is, until her mother was fired, which is when Liesel started stealing books from Isla. 

There were many questions that ran through my head as I was reading, starting with page four. "I could introduce myself properly, but it's not really necessary.  You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables.  It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible.  Your soul will be in my arms.  A color will be perched on my shoulder.  I will carry you gently away."  This made me question who the narrator was.  At this point, I couldn't determine whether it was death or a murderer.  It only took another page or two to determine that death was, in fact, the narrator of the book, which made for an interesting perspective.  Reading the thoughts of the 'person' who is there in our final moments is pretty powerful.  There were several times within the book that I forgot Death was the narrator.  Since our main character was the book thief, or Liesel, I would forget that it is not written from her perspective.

I also had questions about why she was called the book thief and who came up with the name.  At the beginning of the book, Death tells us, "It's just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.  I saw the book thief three times." Because of this quote, I assumed Death named her the book thief, but in truth, it was her best friend, Rudy, when he realized that she was stealing books. 

For those who may come across this blog and haven't read the book, I do not want to give away what happens to all of our memorable characters, but do want to say that this book puts life today in perspective. With all of the problems we think we have today, Liesel and her friends and family had so many more.  They worried about having enough work to earn a living and food to eat.  They worried about the every day choices they made, such as keeping the curtains open, so that they would avoid suspicion of wrong-doing.  They worried about their lives ending daily, either from their secret of hiding Max being uncovered, or later, from the bombings throughout their country. My daily stress seems completely incomparable to the stress they must have felt every second of their day. 
The children tried to continue in their normal lives.  They played soccer, got into fights, went to school, read books and committed childish acts of thievery, but were also Hitler Youth.  The boys had to go to training, getting ready for their future in support of  Hitler and his beliefs. 

The Book Thief was sad, but I also found it inspiring.  It had multi-dimensional characters who you couldn't help but love. We start the book thinking that Rosa is an awful person, but as we read, we realize that she is actually a very caring, giving person. She is hard on the people in her family, but steps up when Max needs help. She cares for him and helps to ensure he is fed, warm and safe.  Hans may have brought him in, but Rosa is the one who allows him to stay.  When overhearing this conversation, Liesel wonders, "Who are these people?"  She only knew Rosa as an overbearing mama, so it was good for her to see this side of her.  I believe Isla also grows a lot throughout the book.  As I stated before, she was unable to move on after her son's death, walking around in a bathrobe and slippers, with wild hair, daily.  Toward the end of the book, she is beginning to heal.  She goes to Liesel's home, fully dressed, giving her another book.  Isla is able to heal even more when she becomes a hero of sorts to Liesel. (That's all I can say without giving it away!)  The characters in this book are good people.  They don't believe in the war and do their part to help those who are greatly affected.

I would like to write to the style of Zusak's writing.  I loved that he gave so much away before the end of the book.  We knew that this was set in a horrific time in our history, and could expect some of what happened, so I liked that Zusak didn't leave much mystery in that.  We were able to concentrate on the story and not continuously wonder what was going to happen.

The Book Thief was turned into a movie in 2013.  Watch the trailer shown below. If you'd like to read The Book Thief, you can find a copy at your local library.  To find out the best place to get it, click here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Giver

The Giver was written by Lois Lowry. It was published by Laurel-Leaf in 1993.

The Giver, which won the 1994 Newberry Medal and the 1994 Regina Medal, is a highly acclaimed book for young adults. It describes the perfect world of Jonas, his family, and friends. In the world they live in, referred to as "Sameness", there is no pain or worry. There is no torture, war, loss or loneliness. There is also no love, joy, color or music. None of the community members know of any of these things, as it has been wiped out by the genetic scientists. When they chose to move to the idea of Sameness, they gave up all of the memories that would allow them to remember anything good or bad, including sunshine, snow and hills.

Every December, the children (who are all born by birth mothers and given to 'family units' after the family applies for one) have their aging ceremony. At each age level, all of the children get the same thing. For example, at age seven, the children receive a front buttoned jacket, signifying their move to independence. In the past, they had back buttoned jackets so that they could learn to help others. At age eight, they start volunteer hours and at age nine, they all received their own bicycles. The most important aging ceremony is when they turn twelve. At twelve years old, they are considered adults and get their job assignments. This year, Jonas turned twelve and he has been selected to be the Receiver of Memories. He is now one of the only two people who will know about all of the good and bad in the world.

When The Giver begins to work with Jonas, he shows him all of the wonderful happenings in the world, including sunshine, sled riding, flowers, rainbows, and love. As the training continues, he has to show Jonas all of the negative aspects of the old world. War, loneliness, hunger, torture and hatred. This was incredibly hard for The Giver and for Jonas, as they could feel the pain of the people in the memories. Without giving away what happens with the rest of the book, I just want to say that I applaud Jonas for the person he is and the decisions he made throughout the book.

As I read The Giver, I couldn't help wonder what a world like theirs would be like. No war. No pain. No hunger or racism or solitude. What if? I asked myself. What if all of our communities were set up the way this one was. What if we had no choice in the children we get (not that we get much of a choice now), the spouse we receive, the places that we live or the jobs we have? What if everyone was nice, respectful, worked for a living and helped to support the community? What if we had no memories of the past and couldn't comprehend ideas such as war or peace? Love or hate? Gratitude or thanklessness? On the surface, it seems good. You know what to expect. You know you will be taken care of. You know that you will have two children -- a boy and a girl, and you are respected and believed in throughout your life. But, knowing what I do in real life, I know, as Jonas learned, that life should be so much more.

As I was reading, two thoughts went through my head over and over. The first was that I felt as though The Giver and Jonas' relationship reminded me of Dumbledore and Harry Potter. Obviously, since The Giver was written first, Lowry did not intend on that comparison, but they are who I pictured as I read about The Giver's meetings with Jonas. When The Giver transferred his first memory to Jonas, it was similar to the scene when Dumbledore gave his first memory to Harry. The second thought that continued to strike me was the comparison I made to Heaven and Hell. Religion teaches that for there to be a Heaven, there must also be a Hell. After Jonas was given the memories, he wanted to community to change. He wanted to give all of the people the memories, but he couldn't because they would not have been able to handle the bad memories. This made me think of Heaven and Hell because they couldn't be separated. With one comes the other, so he just couldn't give them either.

            Many of the aspects of this community wouldn’t be tolerated today.  The idea that kids would bathe adults would be considered perverse today.  In our society, children becoming adults at age twelve is unacceptable. “Thank you for your childhood” was such a powerful statement for me.  Before I had children, it may not have affected me, but knowing what a joyous time childhood is and how innocent they should be, I felt bad for the children needing to move on to their adult lives.  Responsibility within the family and community? Yes.  Responsible for a career? No.

            I had many questions as I read through The Giver.  Why aren’t they allowed to have real feelings?  I felt that it was quite ironic that they would “share feelings” every night when they did not have the memories to truly understand those feelings.  They didn’t know what real anger, sadness, excitement or happiness was, so why did the Elders make them do it? I also questioned what a release was for most of the book.  When The Giver began his training with Jonas and he says, “It’s like going downhill through deep snow on a sled.  At first it’s exhilarating: the speed; the sharp, clear air; but then the snow accumulates, builds up on the runner, and you slow, you have to push hard to keep going and –“ and Jonas didn’t know what he was talking about, I was shocked.  My draw dropped and I had to reread what was happening.  How could he not know what these things are?  How has the elimination of snow, sleds, hills (and later I realized, sun, wind, rainbows) helpful? How does it make them live a better life? I don’t think that it does. I feel as though the Elders wanted to have so much control over them that they had to take away anything that could be considered joyful.

I also questioned the ‘release.’   At the beginning, I assumed that it was death, but when Jonas was talking about Roberto’s release and he asks, “What happens when they make the actual release?  Where do they go?” I started to think that something other than death happened in this alternate world. Sadly, my initial thought was correct, and when Jonas realized the same thing, it was the major turning point within the book. 

I feel as though The Giver makes us question what we could live with.  If we had the choice, what would it be? If we could get rid of all of the negative in our lives, would we, if it meant we get rid of much of the positive as well? I wouldn’t.  I would keep the ups and downs; the wonder and emotions.  I would want to feel my life, good or bad. 

If you would like to read The Giver, you can find it at your local library.  Look here to see where the closest location is.  I also found a Webquest for The Giver, which would allow students to explore the book and answer questions.  It was created by Emily Ferris, Sarah Hertzog, and Christina Kline and you can find it here.

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan was written by Katherine Applegate and illustrated by Patricia Castelao. It was published in 2012 by HarperCollins.

I think I need to preface this post with the fact that I did not like this book.  A lot of what I write will make it seem as though I liked it, but it was not the book for me. Although it has a great message that kids would appreciate, I don't feel as though it is something that a child would choose to read on their own.  Also, I just couldn’t get into reading from a gorilla’s perspective.  That being said…

The One and Only Ivan is the newest book on the Newberry Award Winner List (2013). It is based on the true story of a gorilla that endured the life that Ivan’s tells us about.  Ivan, a silverback gorilla, is one of the attractions at Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.  Ivan is the narrator throughout the book and tells the tale of his life at the mall (he has been there for 27 years) as well as the lives of his friends, Bob (a stray dog not wanting a permanent home)  Stella (an adult elephant who was sold to the owner, Mack, after her leg was hurt in the circus), and Rachel (the human artist who shares her supplies with Ivan when he wants to draw).

From the beginning of the book, I pictured Ray Ramono as Ivan.  I thought, if Ivan was a human, I feel as though he would be similar to Ray Ramono’s character in the show Parenthood.  I read him with a very dry humor voice and I loved the short, funny, sarcastic phrases he uses, starting from the very first page: “I am Ivan. I am a gorilla.  It’s not as easy as it looks.” Throughout the book, I think he was continuously sarcastic in his comments. 

            “Chimps, there’s no excuse for them.” (page 5)

            “Once however, I was able to enjoy a book left in my domain by humans.” (page 8)

            “I draw another banana.  And then I draw eight more.” (page 39)

These are just some of the many quotes that made me laugh as I read. I don’t know if they were supposed to be thought of as sarcastic, but like I said, in Ray Ramono’s voice, they were.

Although he is a gorilla, Ivan had quite a way with words.  He was able to describe things in such a simple yet moving way.  He had you wanting to help him and his friends through this experience and made you feel the pain they were going through.

            “I have a gorilla’s gaze, a gorilla’s shy smile. I wear a snowy saddle of fur, the uniform of a silverback. When the sun warms my back, I cast a gorilla’s majestic shadow.” (page 4)
            “ Not long ago, a little boy stood before my glass, tears streaming down his smooth red cheeks. ‘He must be the loneliest gorilla in the world,’ he said” (page 21)

            “Stella is a mountain.  Next to her I am a rock, and Bob is a grain of sand.” (page 27)

            “ With enough time, you can get use to anything.” (page 22)

These are four examples that made me stop and think about how powerful his words were, and that was only through page 27.  I could give a hundred more examples! I feel as though the last example was the most powerful statement in the book.  I believe this is the reason people give up.  They get use to the situation they are in and believe that their new normal has to be their forever normal.  They forget what a good life could be, as Ivan did in this book.  

At its heart, The One and Only Ivan is a story about love and resiliency.   Ivan loved his friends, Bob and Stella, and only wanted the best for them.  He had no real problems with being at the mall until a new animal joined him.  Ruby, a baby elephant, was acquired by Mack to help bring in profits.  Up until this point, Ivan couldn’t remember any of his past.  He didn’t know how he ended up at the mall, going on display for Mack.  When Ruby joined them, Stella started acting as her protective mother.  Stella didn’t agree with the animals being there and made Ivan promise to take care of Ruby and get her out of there.  She knew she was going to die soon and needed someone else to help Ruby.  It was because of this that Ivan started to remember his past.  Ruby wanted stories, so Ivan had to think back about his life. He came to realize that he started his life with Mack as a baby.  He was raised as a human child; eating, playing and dressing like a young boy.  It was all fun and games until he got too big and the ‘parents’ realized he could not be kept in the house. When he began to remember, he realized that he needed to help Ruby because the ‘domain’ that they lived in was not where the animals should live. 

Over time, Ivan was able to create a picture puzzle, showing the life that Ruby should have.  He wanted humans to rally for her and get her to a zoo.  Rachel found the pictures and was able to identify them as a call for help from Ivan.  She convinced her father to make the pictures public, so that others could help free Ruby. Ultimately, this worked, and all of the animals were relocated to a huge zoo with animals of their kind.

It was his kindness toward another that allowed him to free himself as well, which is a lesson that many need to learn. Putting forth effort in something or someone you believe in helps you as well, which is what Ivan learned.  He had the unintended effect of helping himself when this all played out as well. 

If you are someone who enjoyed this book, you can find a ton of information at the official One and Only Ivan website.  There are other reviews, information about the real Ivan, as well as the book and the author. Find the site interesting?  Read the book after finding it here. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Pal, Victor

My Pal, Victor was written by Diane Gonzales Bertrand and illustrated by Robert L. Sweetland. Eida de la Vega translated to text. It was published in 2004 by Raven Tree Press.

                My Pal, Victor, is a picture book about two friends, Victor and Dominic, who enjoy doing many different type of activities together.  It is a Schneider Book Award winner. The Schneider award “honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” ( Knowing this, I was looking throughout the book, trying to determine what disability one of the children had.  You see the two of them sitting on the ground eating lunch and swimming together.  They are also at a baseball game together, where Victor cheers for Dominic while runs around the bases.  They have sleepovers and tell ghost stories, and they ride roller coasters together.  It isn’t until the very last page where the illustrator shows a full picture of Victor, and we realize that he is in a wheelchair.  The author writes, “But, the most important thing about my pal, Victor, is that he likes me just the way I am.” 

                According to The Reading Tub website, My Pal, Victor is intended for kids between 4 – 8 years old. I agree, since this book introduces the idea of friendship beyond the norm.  I think that it is important for kids to see that you can be friends with someone who is a little different.  Whether that person has a physical disability, like Victor, or has some other type of disability, it is okay to get to know the person and see if you want to be friends based on what you have in common and how you are treated. 

                My Pal, Victor is a multicultural book.  The English text is on top of each page, with a line and a star separating it from the Spanish text on the bottom of the page.  It has very simple language and very little text on each page. “My pal, Victor throws a toy for his dog to catch. (Mi amigo Victor le lanza un juguete a su perro para que este lo atrape.) My pal, Victor, loves to ride the hightest rollercoasters and the dizziest, zoomiest, fastest rides he can find. (A mi amigo Victor le encanta subir a la montana rusa mas alta y a los apartos mas rapidos, mareantes y vertiginosos que pueda encontar.”)

                  I used Google Translator to determine whether the text was literally translated, and it is pretty close.  One page has the English text, “Sometimes he puts us into his stories. It’s like a movie playing in our heads.” The translated version says, “Sometimes we are the protagonists of their stories. It's like a movie that was projected in our heads.

                The illustrations change throughout the book.  Some of them are full bleed, showing the kids sitting or playing together, and some of them are a small framed circle, with the focus being on part of Victor.  The framed illustrations never show Victor’s full body, as to keep the secret of his disability until the end of the book.  The illustrations make it look as though this took place a long time ago, with soft, muted colors, so they didn’t pull me into the book like some illustrations can.  There was some use of lines to create movement.  When Dominic is playing baseball, he is hunched forward, ready to run, with his eyes looking at home, which makes the reader follow that diagonal.  On another page, they are imagining they are cowboys, lassoing the clouds.  The head of the dragon cloud is on the left hand page, looking down at them on the right hand page, which shows another example of movement within the illustrations.

                Although it has a great message within it, I wasn’t overly impressed with My Pal, Victor.  I felt as though it was very simple and didn’t have much depth to it.  I think, what I have realized the most after reading so many picture books over the last several weeks, is I enjoy a book with a little more complexity.  Those are the books that interest me.  If this book sounds interesting to you, please go here to check it out.  If this book interests you, you can find a list of good before, during and after reading questions, as well as a craft idea to go along with the book here

Enemy Pie

Enemy Pie was written by Derek Munson and illustrated by Tara Calahan King.  It was published by Chronicle Books in 2000. 

                Enemy Pie is one of my all-time favorite books.  As an interventionist, I don’t have the opportunity to read aloud to my students very often, and it is something I miss the most about being a classroom teacher.  It made me very happy to be able to read this book aloud to my Saturday Academy students. It brought back so many memories of all of my previous classes.

                Enemy Pie is a book about a young boy who doesn’t like the new kid in the neighborhood, Jeremy Ross. When Jeremy moved in, he had a trampoline party, and everyone in the neighborhood was invited except one.  Because of that, he deemed Jeremy his best enemy.  He didn’t want anything to do with him.  When his father suggested they make an Enemy Pie for Jeremy, he was intrigued.  His dad tells him, “Enemy Pie is the fastest known way to get rid of enemies.” So his son wonders what will be included in it.  He tries to bring his father worms and weeds to include in the pie, but his father tells him that the worms and weeds are not needed.  He tells him what he needs to do to make this plan work is spend the day with his enemy.  He must pretend to like him and play with him all day long.

                The worried look on the young boy’s face is comical.  He has no idea how he is going to put up with Jeremy for a whole day when Jeremy is the only one listed on his enemy list.  He doesn’t understand how spending a day with his enemy will help, but he goes to his house anyway.  Jeremy is surprised when he shows up, but agrees to play.  They rode bikes, jumped on the trampoline, ate lunch and then went back to the young boy’s house.  They played in the tree house until dinner time.

                After dinner, dad was ready to serve the pie.  The narrator was worried because he had realized that Jeremy wasn’t so bad after all and he wanted to be friends with him. He tried to tell his father not to serve the pie – “’Dad. I said. ‘it sure is nice having a new friend in the neighborhood.’ I was trying to get his attention and trying to tell him that Jeremy Ross was no longer my enemy.  But dad only smiled and nodded. I think he thought I was just pretending.” But dad did serve the pie, and of course, nothing was wrong with it.

                As you can probably tell from the other posts I have written, friendship and treating others well is an important theme in my life.  When I read a good book about it, I want to share it with everyone.  Although Enemy Pie is a popular book, if I am sharing a new book with just one person, it is worth it.  The message is incredibly important, and the pictures are engaging, which will help to keep the students’ attention as it is read.  The characters are over exaggerated and have very large heads in proportion to their bodies, but it allows for the emotions of the characters to be caught beautifully. The pages are all in warm, inviting colors and depict a normal neighborhood, typical to where you would find young kids playing in a suburb.  The illustrator showed emotion through the illustrations, having many tense moments on the left hand side: when Jeremy wants to go up to the tree house and the narrator is afraid that Jeremy will see his “enemy list”, when dad is calling up to the tree house to get them and they are ignoring him, and when the young friend is worried that Jeremy will eat poisonous pie. 
                Like I said, I have always enjoyed this book.  I think that the author and illustrator worked well together to depict the relationship that so many students have – an enemy without really knowing why.  Many kids don’t like someone “just because.” They never get to know them to find out if they would have fun together.  This book would be a great conversation starter with those kids.  It is a reminder to give people a chance before you determine that you don’t want them in your life.
                Enemy Pie has an official website, which includes lesson plans that can be done with the book, news and announcements and an opportunity to ask for a school visit.  You can find the official Enemy Pie website by clicking here  Caught your interest? To find out where you can get this book, click here.

Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan was retold by Bill Balcziak and illustrated by Patrick Girouard.  It was published in 2003 by Compass Point Books.

While searching for a tall tale to read, Paul Bunyan caught my eye.  I believe it was because, although I have heard snippets of this tall tale, I had never heard the entire story before, and was interested in learning the tale of Paul Bunyan and how it began.

                This book is a picture book, but it is separated into chapters since tall tales are considered to be nonfiction. It begins with an overview of who Paul Bunyan is in the chapter “Giant of a Man.” It introduces him as the largest man ever to have walked the earth; someone who shook the ground he walked on and stood as wide as a house and taller than the tallest trees.  After the introduction, it backtracks to his childhood. It is told that six of the strongest storks had to bring him to his family and that by the time he was a month old, he was as tall as the house.  For breakfast, he ate enough food to feed a village for a month, and had to have his clothing made of blankets and tents.

                As he grew, problems arose.  He had rolled into a river, which made the water rise so much it had flooded the town around it.  At this point, the townspeople asked the Bunyan family to leave.  They moved to a more secluded area, where Paul grew up with the love and support of his family, and where he met his beloved ox, Blue. When he turned 18, he was ready to move out and start to support himself.  He and Blue heard of gold in the mid west, so they went and dug up five huge holes.  Although they didn’t find gold, they did end up creating the Great Lakes.  They moved further west and began a logging company.  To provide enough fire and food for the men who worked for him, they had to chop down every tree in sight.  This is how the Great Plains were developed. 

                One of the things that surprised me while reading this book is how everything was exaggerated.  I hadn’t realized that with this tall tale that Paul Bunyan and Blue’s size weren’t the only things exaggerated.  “Birds froze in midair and stayed there until spring thaw.  People’s breath hung in solid, frozen clouds that bumped their heads if they weren’t careful.  One night it got so cold the falling snow turned from white to blue.”  These lines made me smile, as I could imagine birds just hanging in the air all winter long!

                I enjoyed reading the entire tale, but especially liked the “Did You Know” in the back of the book.  It gives true facts of Paul Bunyan and his tale, such as “The first printed Paul Bunyan story appeared in the Detroit News-Tribune on July 24, 1910” and “ Paul Bunyan appeared on a 32-cent United Stated postage stamp in 1996.” 

                Although the story was interesting and funny, I don’t feel as though the illustrations matched in this book.  The pictures were bright and bold, very colorful and modern.  Since this is an old tale, I think that the colors should have been more muted and less bold. 

                Paul Bunyan was a good read. It was fun to get to know the story a little better and I enjoyed learning more about the legend.  If you would like to continue learning, please visit FactHound to find more information about the book.  Once you are there, type on 0756504597 and then click on the Fetch It button.

                 If you are on the road, you can find the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp in Eau Clair, WI, where you can visit an interpretive center with interactive tall tales authentic to the 1900s logging era.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Pink, written by Lili Wilkenson, was a Stonewall Award winner in 2012.  "The Stonewall Book Award is the first and most enduring award for GLBT books is the Stonewall Book Awards, sponsored by the American Library Association's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table. Since Isabel Miller's Patience and Sarah received the first award in 1971, many other books have been honored for exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience." ( It was published by Harper Teen in 2011.

Pink's main character, Ava, is raised by progressive parents, who she is allowed to call by their first names, Pam and David. She goes to public school, wears dark clothes all of the time, preaches about feminism and hangs out with her girlfriend, Chloe, at uber-chick coffee shops. The problem is, Ava doesn't know if she wants to be that person anymore.  She convinces her parents to allow her to go to a private school, where she changes her clothes (wears a lot more pink!), changes her hair (black dye is gone!) and changes her personality. She is no longer sure if she is a lesbian and decides that she wants to try to date boys. On her first day, Ava meets Alexis, who is part of the popular crowd.  They become friends and Alexis convinces Ava to try out for the school musical.  Unfortunately, Ava was not a good enough singer, so she joins the stage crew, who are referred to as "the freaks", instead. She is not stuck between three worlds -- her world with Chloe, her world with the popular crowd, and her world with "the freaks", who she is becoming friends with. 

Ava is an incredibly insecure teenage girl.  She is not happy with the person that she is and constantly second guesses whether the people around her will want to stay friends with her.

 "I didn't want to tell him the truth. It had been my first ever wolf whistle, and I'd kind of enjoyed it. Someone saw me as pretty, girly, pink.  Maybe even sexy. If a workman thought I was hot, maybe Ethan would, too. I felt myself blushing.  What kind of feminist was I? Chloe would be so ashamed of me."   (page 75)

"'How does Chloe feel about look?' asked David. 'She's fine with it.' I replied. 
In the sense that Chloe had no idea.  I always changed out of my Billy Hughes clothes by the time she came over.  not that she'd come over much in the past two weeks. I'd been pleading homework, but really I was terrified she'd go through my wardrobe and discover my secret." (page 115)

These are just two examples of the many instances throughout the book that she talks about not being able to be herself because someone else would not approve.  She hasn't told the stage crew friends or the popular crowd that she is a lesbian, and she hasn't told Chloe or her parents about her new clothing style, her desire to go the University or the fact that she might be untested in boys.  She is doing everything that she can to keep her three worlds apart.

Ava is successful until opening night of the musical.  Chloe decides to come unannounced, and ends up telling everyone at Billy Hughes that she is dating Ava.  Chloe also becomes privy to the Billy Hughes side of Ava when she hears that Ava has been dating and kissing a boy at the school.  At the end of the night, all three of her worlds have crashed down and everyone is mad at her.

Throughout the rest of the book, Ava is trying to reconcile with those she hurt.  She realizes, through a lot of self-reflection, that she cannot be with Chloe if Chloe can't accept her for who she is -- pink wardrobe and all.   She realizes that many of her other friends also have secrets about who they are, and as she helps them reveal their secrets, she is able to come to terms with her own.  At the end of the book, Ava still doesn't know for sure who she is, but she is ready to start figuring it out instead of trying to be who everyone else wants her to be. 

This book was described as "Fun, razor sharp and moving" by John Green and "Laugh out loud funny, endearing and heartbreaking" by VOYA.  I don't really agree with their review.  I found it very straight forward, and a little sad.  It saddened me that Ava felt as though she couldn't be who she was, and I found very few parts of the book to be funny.  When I think of something being heartbreaking, I think of some type of tragedy happening, and that definitely did not happen within Pink.

Although this won a Stonewall Book Award because it touched on gay and lesbian issues, I feel as though this is a book any teen could relate to.  Many teens (and adults) have trouble figuring out who they are and where they are going to fit in, so I don't really feel as though this is a gay and lesbian issue. I would hope that anyone who read it would be able to get the message of the book, which is to be yourself.

If Pink sounds interesting to you, you can find a copy of it here.

Monday, March 3, 2014

looking for alaska

looking for alaska was written by John Green.  It was published by Speak in 2005.

Green hooked me immediately with the headings for each chapter.  one hundred thirty six days before. one hundred twenty seven days before. ninety eight days before. forty seven days before. two days before.  I couldn't wait to get to 'one day before' or the day of. It took everything I had in me to not go to the first 'after' section to find out what had happened.  I knew something bad was going to happen.  Authors don't generally count down to good things within the book. I had a feeling she was going to die, although I hoped that she wouldn't.  I thought that it was the obvious event that were to happen, and was slightly disappointed that she had died.  Although I was disappointed with that decision, I was still anticipating every section, wondering what would happen with each 'before.' I couldn't help but feel ecstatic when more that one or two days passed, since I was closer to finding out what had happened to Alaska.

looking for alaska BEFORE is a book about a teenage boy, Miles, who is going through his first year at a new boarding school.  He wanted to leave his old school and people around him behind because he was not able to really be the person he wanted to be.  He didn't have many friends and was not particularly close to his parents.  The most fascinating thing about him was the fact that he memorized the last words of famous people.

When he left for boarding school, his father told him to be good.  To stay away from the kids that drink, smoke, and get into trouble.  These were the kids he gravitated towards.  By the end of his first day, he had met his roommate, the Colonel, and the girl who would change his existence - Alaska Young.  He defied his father on his first day as he sat by the lake and smoked with his two new friends.

Throughout the book, we learn that Miles is falling in love (infatuation?) with Alaska.  She is a new type of personality to him. Funny, quick, smart, and does what she wants when she wants to do it.  She appears to be bipolar. She is often full of life, but will then have a meltdown due to her depression.  The three of them, along with their other friends, Lara and Tukami, worked their way through the year, studying together and pulling pranks on some of the other kids.

Alaska would constantly flirt with Miles, but then pull back, telling him she was in love with her boyfriend, Jake.  We learned that she came to the boarding school because she needed to get away from her father and the guilt she has about her mother's death.  When she was 6 years old, her mother died. She was home alone with her mother, and instead of calling 911, sat next to her mother, wishing for her to be okay. Although calling 911 would not have helped, she held on the the grief throughout her life.  On her last night, the grief overcame her.

Alaska got drunk with Miles and the Colonel.  They were all having fun and she was enjoying her time with Miles, when she suddenly remembered something.  She ran out of the room, drove off campus and got into a fatal car accident.

looking for alaska AFTER is about a group of friends trying to figure out the truth behind their friend's death, and deal with the guilt that they feel over it. They shouldn't have let her drive away.  They should have checked on her.  They should have been better friends.  These are the things that they felt and reflected on after Alaska dies.  They spend their time trying to determine why she had left.  She had been on the phone, and suddenly came back into the room, screaming, "I have to get out of here! I forgot! God, how many times can I f*ck up? I JUST HAVE TO GO. HELP ME GET OUT OF HERE!"

She never explained to her friends who she was on the phone with or what she was upset about.  They spent the rest of the semester trying to figure it out.  They were finally able to determine that she had been on the phone with Jake, but he didn't know what had happened.  Towards the end they figured out that she had forgotten the date of her mother's death.  She felt such guilt again because she hadn't helped her mom when she died and now she didn't remember to go to her grave and visit.

A question throughout the book was whether or not Alaska meant to die that night. Since she had these bipolar tendencies, I could see both sides of it.  I do not believe that she killed herself.  I believe that she was a distraught girl who was going too fast and had too much to drink.  I believe that she was overcome by grief and could not think fast enough to move out of the way before she hit the police cruiser.

There were so many emotions that I had throughout this book. I felt the closeness that one has with friends that you meet in high school.  You feel such loyalty to them and can't imagine that you could ever mess the friendship up.  I felt the pull that Alaska had on all of the boys in their circle of friends. She was one of those personalities that you couldn't turn down.  Everyone was out to please her in any way that they could. I felt the confusion that Miles had when he hooked up with Lara.  He knew that he didn't feel for her what he felt for Alaska, yet allowed the curiosity and pleasure to take over. I felt the sadness and anger of losing Alaska. The guilt and confusion about their responsibility in what had happened.  The insistence of learning what the truth was about her death.  The insistence that their friend would not have killed herself.

Green portrayed the characters with brilliance, and although the book was slightly predictable, it was obvious that these teenagers cared a great deal about each other and that the loss of Alaska was going to affect them for the rest of their lives.  The ironic twist that Miles couldn't get past is the fact that he will never know Alaska's last words.  He will never know for sure whether or not she meant to run her car into the police car.

I think that this is a book that teenagers can relate to.  Although there are parts of the book that some may find inappropriate, the reality is that most teenagers take part in the activities portrayed in the book, or at least have felt the pressure to take part in them, and Green writes about them with the emotions that would be similar to real life teenagers.

Although looking for alaska won many awards, including the Michael L. Printz Award in 2006, 2006 Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults, 2006 Teens’ Top 10 Award and was a finalist for the 2005 Los Angelas Times Book Prize (, it had mixed reviews.  Some believe that it is inappropriate for teenagers, while others feel as though it would hit home with many of our youth.  You can find postitive and negative reviews of this book.

If you would like to find what libraries carry the book, you can do that here.

The Dreamer

The Dreamer was written by Pam Munaz Ryan and illustrated by Peter Sis.  It was published in 2010 by Scholastic Press.

.The Dreamer won the Pure Belpre award in 2011. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. (  If you would like to learn more about the Pre Belpre, please click here.

The Dreamer is a story about a young boy, Neftali, who was a thin and frail, and enjoyed reading, writing and daydreaming more than being outside and becoming a strong man, as his father wanted him to. I hadn't realized until the end, that this is a fictional tale based on the childhood of a real poet, Pablo Neruda. It doesn't specifically state when this book takes place, but I believe it began in Chile in the 1910s, as that was when Pablo Nerudo was a young boy. 

I chose this book because, as I looked up Pure Belpre winners, I thought that this one looked interesting.  Originally, I had thought it was a picture book.  You could imagine my surprise when I went to the library to get it and it was 372 pages long. After reading the front jacket -- "From the time he is a young boy, Neftali hears the call of a mysterious voice.  Even when the neighborhood children taunt him, and when his harsh, authoritarian father ridicules him, and when he doubts himself, Neftali knows he cannot ignore the call. Under the canopy of the lush rain forest, into the vast and fearsome sea, and through the persistent Chilean rain, he listens and he follows...." -- I thought that The Dreamer was going to be about constant daydreams of Nefalti.  I thought that he was going to be in a constant state of imagination and that the book was going to be more of a fantasy of his.  Although there are spots within the book that he is definitely daydreaming (I got better at identifying his daydreams as the book goes on) I feel as though, in the end, this book was about a young boy who dreams to be himself.  In a world that his father and the other school children are against him, he blossoms into the person he has always dreamt to be. 

The Dreamer begins with Neftali in his room, with his sister describing the outside world to him, as he is not supposed to get up until he is well. On page 4, we are introduced to his father for the first time.  "He had been away, working on the railroad for a week, and was due home today.  Neftali's heart pounded and his round brown eyes grew large with panic.  The footsteps came closer. Clump. Clump. Clump. Clump.  Neftali reached up and smoothed his thick, black hair. Was it out of place? He held up his hands and looked at his thin fingers. Were they clean enough?"  This introduction sets the stage for how his father treats him throughout the book and Neftali's worries about never being good enough for his father. As we go through the book, we learn that there are many things about Neftali that his father doesn't care for -- his size, his stuttering, his good heart and his love for reading and writing.  Neftali dreams about someday receiving the approval of his father, although sadly, he never does.

Although the father never approves of him, Neftali continues to love words.  One day, when father is gone, his Mamadre opens up a trunk that Neftali finds old letters in. Although he is not allowed to read them, he wonders what is in them. "He peered over the edge.  At the bottom, he saw a bundle of letters and postcards, tied with a satin ribbon.  How many words had been saved inside?" I love that quote. "How many words had been saved inside?" This quote shows his deep affection for words and made me want to believe that someday, he will be able to be the writer he wants to be.

As the book progresses, Neftali is growing up.  As he gets older, he starts to wonder about his father.  They had gone to the beach, which Neftali thought would be a fun vacation.  As it turns out, father wanted him to swim in the ocean to build up his strength, so every day, he and his sister would wade out alone and swim for as long as they could.  It angered Neftali that his father would make him do this.  "With each step, his thoughts screamed louder.  Wasn't he fine just the way he was? How would the daily terror in the ocean make him stronger? What made father so cruel? And why did Mamadre do nothing to stop him?"  I believe this was the first time that Neftali truly saw father for who he was and stopped trying to be the perfect boy. 

As he grows older, he gets closer to his Uncle Orlando, who believes in Neftali's talents and encourages him to speak out.  He ends up being able to work for Uncle Orlando at his newspaper, until it was burned down by the government, who didn't like the articles that spoke out against them. 
A couple of years later, he went to the university and became a poet. His love for his father didn't completely dissolve, as when he went to the university, he knew that he would be writing against the government, so he changed his name to Pablo Nerudo so that the articles didn't embarrass his father. 

In the end, he does reach his dreams. He becomes a poet whose writings are beloved by many.  The book was very encouraging and would be a great story for children who may not be supported in their dreams.  It shows that hard work, a good heart and determination will take you a long way. 

If this book sounds interesting to you, I recommend that you look here to see if it is in a library near you. 

Not sure yet?  Check out other reviews here

If you choose to read it, I would love to hear your thoughts!


Wonder was written by R.J. Palacio and published by Afred A. Knopf in 2012. 

"I won't describe what I look like.  Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse." This quote is on the back of the book, as well as one of the first few pages of the book.  This quote is the quote I kept coming back to and thinking of throughout the book. No matter who's point of view Palacio was writing from, it all goes back to this.  I believe it goes back to this because this quote made me feel curious.  What did he look like? Was it worse than I could imagine? Was he exaggerating? What would I do if I saw someone like him on the street?  I also continued to go back to this quote because I feel like curiosity is what stems most of the actions throughout the book.  After they got through their curiosity, their true character shown through.

Wonder, which was a #1 New York Times Bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, was a tear inducing story of a young boy named August who had to overcome the first year of middle school with an extra complication -- he had a deformation of the face.  Before middle school, he was home-schooled, due to the many surgeries he had needed throughout  his young life.  The family decided to send him to school, which was a choice August had not originally agreed with.  He had never shied away from being seen in public, but school was not something he was ready for at the beginning of the novel.

Wonder was written from many perspectives, which I changed my opinion on about half way through the book. I thought that this was August's story and who could tell it better than August? But as I read through the book, I realize that it wasn't just August's story.  It was the story and reality that everyone close to him had to live.  Although August was the unfortunate one to have been born with the deformation, it effected all of those around him, and Palacio caught the feelings of each person within their section of the book.

Palacio started writing from August's point of view. I think she nailed the voice of a ten year old.  As I read, I could picture a child being the one speaking and describing his world.  It starts the summer before August is supposed to go to fifth grade.  He overhears his mother telling their friend that he will be starting normal school and he gets very upset about it.  Once the family talks and he decides to go through with it, he goes to meet the principal, Mr. Tushman.  Mr. Tushman sets it up so that there are a few "really good, nice kids" there to show August around.  I believe the kids that we chosen -- Julian, Charlotte, and Jack -- were representational of the type of kids we find in school.  Charlotte was the typical nice girl.  She was neutral to August. She didn't make fun of him, but didn't befriend him either.  Julian was the two-faced boy.  He pretends to be a nice boy in front of adults, but was very mean to August the day he met him and throughout the book.  Jack was the good guy. He defended August to Julian, not only on the first day, but on several instances through the book as well.  Palacio followed these characters through August's point of view, showing how some can be true friends, no matter the circumstance, and some can be mean, no matter the circumstance.

Through the first August part, we are introduced to the kids at the school and how they made him feel.  Most were mean or indifferent, but there was one girl -- Summer -- who accepted him from the very first day.  August was ecstatic about the friendships he had made with Summer and Jack, until her heard Jack talking about him behind his back.

Through August's first part of the book, I thought about how this particular disability is not all that common, but how August's feelings could be representative of any child who does not feel "normal" on a daily basis.  On page 77 -- 78, when August hears Jack talking behind his back, Palacio shows the sadness and anger of August in such a real way.  "I don't know what Jack answered because I walked out of the class without anyone knowing I had been there. my face felt like it was on fire while I walked back down the stairs.  I was sweating under my costume. And I started crying.  I couldn't keep it from happening. The tears were so thick in my eyes I could barely see, but I couldn't wipe them through the mas as I walked.  I was looking for a little tiny spot to disappear into.  I wanted a hole I could fall inside of: a little black hole that would eat me up."  I feel as though this paragraph could be understood by any child reading this book. We have all, at one point in time, been hurt badly enough that we want to disappear for a little while.

As the book moves forward, Palacio wrote about the experience of Olivia (August's sister), Summer, Jack and Miranda (Olivia's long time friend). She makes you think about how you might react if you were in the position of these characters.  She makes us realize that, no matter how good you are, or how much you love someone, you make mistakes, but those mistakes can be overcome.  When Jack realize that August had heard him talking behind his back, it brought me to tears.  "Oh man. I'd been talking to Julian about August.  Oh man. Now I understood! I was so mean.  I don't even know why.  I'm not even sure what I said, but it was bad.  It was only a minute or two. It's just that I Julian and everybody thought I was so weird for hanging out with August all the time, and I felt stupid.  And I don't know why I said that stuff.  I was just going along. I was stupid. I am stupid. Oh God. He was supposed to come as Boba Fett! I would never have said that stuff in front of Boba Fett. But that was him, that Bleeding Scream sitting at the desk looking over at us.  The long white mask with the fake squirting blood. The mouth open wide.  Like the ghoul was crying.  That was him.  I felt like I was going to puke." I feel as though this monologue describes how awful anyone can feel when they realize that they have hurt someone.  This was a turning point for Jack, as he now knew why August wasn't speaking to him, and could do something about it.  I was proud of him for defending August to Julian and being his friend throughout the rest of the book. 

Ultimately, Wonder was about change.  In each person's part of the book, they described how they changed.  Amos, Henry and Miles changed when they defended August to the bullies from the other school.  It started at the beginning of the book, where they wouldn't go near August, to the end, where he was like a little brother to them. 

Jack changed when he realized that friendship was the most important thing, and it didn't matter what others thought.

Olivia changed when she realized that no matter where she goes, family is the most important, and you cannot deny who is in yours.

Summer changed when she moved to August's lunch table and befriended him. She knew it would not be a popular choice, but showed her true character when she stayed friends with August.

Miranda changed on the outside, but I don't feel as though she ever changed on the inside.  She was afraid to be who she was.  When her parents divorced, she was not able to face her friendship with Olivia because Olivia was going to be real with her.  She couldn't handle real, but she never wanted to lose her friendship. 

The only person who didn't change was Julian.  I believe his lack of change represents the people in our world that refuse to open their minds.  Most people are good. Some are not.  Julian was not.

I hope, that as kids read this, that they realize that being good should always be the right choice.  The characters in this book definitely modeled that choice well.

If you are still wondering whether you would like to read this book, you can find other reviews here. If you are ready to buy the book, you can also get it at that link.

If you would rather borrow the book, you can find it near you here.