Review: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The Miraculous Journey of Edward TulaneThe Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 200 pages
Published February 14th 2006 by Candlewick Press
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
ISBN13: 9780763625894

This book is an amazing journey that takes readers full circle along with Edward, a beautiful China rabbit, as he learns that love is imperfect and that loss of love can only be overcome with more love, not less. Although he begins his journey as a perfect China rabbit, a toy that is  magnificent in every way, Edward learns that love is not guaranteed and that to have love is to have faith in love – and the return of love in one’s life. He starts out a vain and selfish – beautiful only on the outside – an object of admiration. After a most fantastic and unlikely journey of love and loss, he ends up looking weathered and ruined on the outside but a changed heart on the inside.

The author Kate DiCamillo is one of the most amazing treasures in children’s literature today. I envy anyone who has not discovered her work, as it is an overwhelming experience of surprise and awe. Her ability to take the reader to places using words the way a navigator uses stars. Carefully and sparingly, she takes us on a journey of exploration inside our own hearts. The themes in this story of love, death and deep painful loss, and then love again are done skillfully and even young readers will appreciate the tears and joy in this journey. The illustrations are perfect – understated and subtle yet powerful.

This book has been recognized and awarded many accolades of different types: local and regional awards, readers’ choice awards, and most significantly the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in 2006. Kate DiCamillo is currently appointed as the U.S. National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

Awards: Zilveren Griffel (2007), Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award Nominee (2008), Grand Canyon Reader Award for Intermediate Book (2008), Sunshine State Young Readers Award for Grades 3-5 (2007), Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Reader’s Choice Award for Junior (2009), Charlie May Simon Children’s Book Award (2008), Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction and Poetry (2006).


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Review: India Unveiled

India Unveiled
India Unveiled by Robert Arnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Considered a pictorial essay, this book is like a walk through all of the amazing and varied regions of India. Seeing the world through the eyes of Robert Arnett gives readers the feeling that they are seeing daily life unfold before them and the cultural diversity within the country is organized and displayed in a way that lets readers really gain knowledge of the people in that country.

As coffee table or travel books go, this is top-shelf. The images are unique and vivid, not tourist-oriented but revealing and true works of art. The information, going from region to region, and details regarding the people of India in their homes, in their school and in their individual lives illustrate beautifully the many facets of the people who call themselves “Indian.”

Hardcover, 216 pages
Published July 1st 2006 by Atman Press (first published January 1st 1999)
ISBN 0965290042
ISBN13: 9780965290043
Price: $71.00 (through Baker & Taylor)
Literary Awards:
Independent Publisher Award for Best Travel Book of the Year; Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Travel Essay of the Year
Annotation: Take a walk through India with one of the best guides around. See what life is like for the people of this beautiful country, steeped in cultural diversity, spirituality, and wonder. An amazing visual feast for the eyes, India Unveiled will show you things you will never forget – and you will never want to forget!

Review: The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of DespereauxThe Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Adventure, passion, love, devotion, bravery, tragedy and excitement are the stuff of this story. It does not matter that our knight in shining armor is a romantic mouse named Despereaux Tilling and his love is for a lovely princess named Pea. We cheer for him and cry with him and, along with his comrades, go on a quest that takes us to dark dungeons, castle walls, and love – pure and blind. Destiny has a lot in store for this hero and readers will not be able to put it down once they set off. Will he get the girl? Will the other characters find what they seek? Will they survive the dangers and perils of their quest together? Only one way to find out – and author Kate DiCamillo does an excellent job of motivating readers to turn the page.

Candlewick Press (2008)

ISBN 9780763625290

Quantitative: Lexile Level: 670; ATOS 4.7

Qualitative: Middle Grades (4-8)

Common Core Standards: RL.6.2, RL.6.3

Additional/Digital Content:

Awards: Newbery Medal (2004)


A brave mouse, a princess who needs saving, an evil rat and other characters weave a tale that is treacherous and heartwarming at the same time. Our hero Despereaux learns that “stories are light” and readers will find this story very bright!

Review: American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese  American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Mac Millan Publishers – First Second (2006)

ISBN 9781596431522

Price: $12.00

This graphic novel is an intriguing thing to consume. It is actually three seemingly unrelated stories woven together into a tale of the struggle for identity, acceptance, honor, and heritage from very different Chinese experiences and perspectives. It is one part modern fable, one part coming of age story and one part identity crisis. Gene Luen Yang has set the bar high for what a graphic novel can be: smart and visually provoking in the same way words on a page can be if they are arranged well. You may think you know what to expect but you don’t; if you think you got the whole story, you’re wrong. Read it again!

Quantitative: Lexile Level: 530 (Graphic Novel); ATOS 3.3

Qualitative: Middle/Upper Grades (7-10). Mature themes and some graphic depictions may not be appropriate for younger readers.

Content Area: Social Science – Chinese-American

Common Core Standards: RL.9-10.2, RL.9-10.3, RL.9-10.5, 

Additional/Digital Content:

Author resource from Kennedy Center:

Awards: National Book Award Nominee for Young People’s Literature (2006), Printz Award (2007), ALA’s Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (2007), James Cook Book Award Nominee (2007), Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for Best Graphic Album – New (2007) .


Three stories, one Chinese, one American, the third a struggle between the two cultures to find meaning in identity. A graphic novel that clashes cultures together and in the end, fuses them into one life story.

Personal Note: This is a graphic novel that can be used in a variety of settings with upper-middle grade classes. It is suitable not only for grade-level readers, but also has great appeal for struggling readers as well as advanced readers. A complex graphic novel can be a valuable  differentiation tool and this book is a great example.

Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: #1-4

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: #1-4
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: #1-4 by Jeff Kinney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series is a terrific romp inside the mind of a tween. The “Wimpy Kid” is Gregory, who reluctantly takes up a pen and journal (not a DIARY) on his mom’s suggestion in exchange for getting out of a Saturday chore. Gregory approaches the journal writing with a perfect middle school attitude: my mom is not going to read it, so I can write whatever I want to. As any 7th grader might, he is frank in his observations and by incorporating stick-figure cartoon drawings throughout the books, Gregory’s perspective of his world is pretty funny.

Author Jeff Kinney really touches a nerve for kids in the characters he has created in the Wimpy Kid stories. There are bullies, dorks, geeks, jocks, and of course cute girls. Through Gregory’s point of view, readers see the ineptitude of teachers, lack of empathy from parents, sibling rivalries, and awkward situations with friends in his every day life. Basically, every page is a sketch of the social minefield that is the treacherous existence of middle school life.

Gregory is in the middle of everything: the middle of middle school, the middle between little kid and teenager, the middle child, and the middle of trying to be a nice kid but not being too nice. Gregory’s biggest fear is to be a perceived as a wimp by his peers, a fear shared by readers his age. His struggles and small victories (at home and on the school yard)give hope and inspiration to readers who wonder how they will survive middle school, even if they never get struck with the ‘Cheese Touch.’ Gregory usually ends up doing the right thing in the end, but reading his own version of how things usually went very wrong is half the fun of these books. The other half has to be the cartoon drawings. Jeff Kinney has captured the spirit of tweens in these line scribbles and speech bubbles, making them part of the diary.

The Wimpy Kid series, now consisting of eight books, brings readers a character that speaks their language. Gregory must deal with parents who don’t really see him as an individual the way he would like to be seen and appreciated. He follows the legacy of an older brother, who has left a wake of unhappy teachers and wise-to-your-kind school administrators. Gregory seems to know all the secrets of survival for tweens as he suffers the same trial-by-fire and for all of his embarrassments and humiliations, he is a hero to most middle school kids (my 12-year-old son included!).

Because it is a series, readers become very attached and invested in the characters. They empathize with Gregory but they also learn all his secrets and develop an understanding of the motivation for his choices. Gregory becomes part of the family and he grows up (a little) with readers following along. Jeff Kinney’s character documents his success and failure in the middle school jungle very honestly, and tween readers appreciate that. They can laugh about Greg’s mishaps even when they cannot laugh about their own.

Age Range: 7 – 13 years
Grade Level: 2 – 8
Lexile Measure: 950-1010

Series: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Book 1)
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Amulet Books; US Ed edition (April 1, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0810993139
ISBN-13: 978-0810993136

Series: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Book 2)
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Amulet Books (February 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0810994739
ISBN-13: 978-0810994737

Series: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Book 3)
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams; First Edition edition (January 13, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0810970686
ISBN-13: 978-0810970687

Series: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Book 4)
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams; 1 edition (October 12, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0810983915
ISBN-13: 978-0810983915

Awards: Borders Original Voices Award for YA or Independent Reader (2007), West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award (WAYRBA) for Younger Readers (2009), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award (2009), ALA Teens’ Top Ten (2008)

Review: The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The title of the book is important: The One and Only Ivan. Ivan, a lowland gorilla who has spent nearly his entire life in a small cage, is the only one. Gorillas live in family groups and males such as Ivan would protect their families in the wild. But in his small cage, Ivan is alone except for the humans who come by to take a look at him in the shopping mall. Although he has grown accustomed to his solitary life in the mall, with only a few friends and little to do except paint. We see Ivan’s heart through his art and feel his memories and longings through his imagination and paintings.

But the arrival of a new baby elephant awakens Ivan’s instincts to live and be alive again. His new little friend Ruby brings changes for Ivan and he begins to see his world in a new way, and his art through her fresh eyes. Ruby reminds him of what their home in the jungle is like and how wonderful it truly is.

The story of Ivan was inspired by a news article the author read about a captive gorilla known the “Shopping Mall Gorilla” who had lived a tiny cage at a shopping mall for 27 years before being moved to a zoo in Atlanta. Ivan became a beloved celebrity at the zoo, which houses the largest collection of western lowland gorillas in the country, and was well known for his paintings, which he “signed” with a thumb-print.

The appeal of this book and its narrative voice through Ivan makes an immediate impact and it is almost impossible to put down. There is sadness and disappointment but also hope as Ivan is moved to create a better “enclosure” for Ruby than the one he has accepted for so long. By changing her world, he changes his as well. It is an inspiring story of the possibility and potential we all have inside to be more and give more and make more of the world around us. The underlying theme of caring for all creatures big and small will appeal to animal lovers of all ages.

Age Range: 8 – 12 years

Grade Level: 3 – 7

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins; 1 edition (January 17, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061992259
ISBN-13: 978-0061992254

Price: $12.00

Literary awards: Newbery Medal (2013), SCBWI Crystal Kite Member Choice Awards for California/Hawaii (2013), School Library Journal Best of Children’s Books (2012), Kirkus Reviews Best of Children’s Books (2012)


Ivan is a a gorilla who has lived nearly his entire life in a small cage behind glass in a shopping mall. Ivan is alone except for the humans who come by to take a look at him in the shopping mall, but the arrival of a new baby elephant awakens his protective instincts and motivates him to live again.

Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is part novel and part cinema. At first glance, it is overwhelming with more than 500 pages but once you open the book you realize this is not like any book you have ever seen before. Woven expertly together by author and illustrator, Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a story told in both words and picture, as the illustrations move the story along just as much as the words do.

Inspired by the earliest science-fiction films of Georges Méliès, Selznick put together a story about a boy who lives and hides in a Paris train station in the 1930’s and who longs to unlock the secrets of the broken mechanical human figure left behind by his absent father. During his search for the key to his father’s automaton, Hugo uncovers secrets, finds true friendship and unfolds more than one mystery in this story and it is through the that readers follow him through his adventure.

This book was recognized for its incredible graphic illustrations with a Caldecott Medal in 2008. Reading pictures can be a challenge for an adult who is not a digital native but the drawings in Hugo Cabret are pencil sketches and extremely detailed, making them visually rich and complex. The story progresses as much through the drawings as through the written text, so readers have to pay attention to both. This book is amazing in its physical form, whether in print or digital, and will change the way any reader sees (and reads) a story.

Age Range: 8 – 12 years

Grade Level: 3 – 7

Lexile Measure: 820L (What’s this?)
Hardcover: 533 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Press; First Edition edition (January 30, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0439813786
ISBN-13: 978-0439813785

Literary awards:

Caldecott Medal (2008), Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Children’s Literature (2008), Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award Nominee (2009), Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award (2009), Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis Nominee for Kinderbuch (2009)
Iowa Children’s Choice Award (2010), Boston Author’s Club Young Reader Award (2008), NAIBA Book of the Year for Children’s Literature (2007)


During his search for the key to his father’s automaton, Hugo uncovers secrets, finds true friendship and unfolds more than one mystery in this story and it is through the combined drawings and words that readers follow him through his adventure.

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