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: Wings

Wings by Christopher Myers

Beautiful and lyrical, this poem by Christopher Myers follows the flying wings of Ikarus Jackson who is new in the neighborhood and new at school. When his wings, which he uses to soar and swoop and touch the sky, are met with sneers and laughter, Ikarus begins to lose his confidence and his love for his wings. Only through empathy and the courage of a classmate, someone who also feels the scorn of intolerance around her, does Ikarus remember who he is and lets himself spread his wings and fly high again.

A truly inspirational short verse on the power of intolerance and the even greater power of acceptance and love for the unique qualities we each possess. This book makes the heart soar.

ISBN13: 9780590033787

Published January 1st 2002 by Scholastic, Inc. (first published October 1st 2000)

Price: $2.50


Someone with wings should fly – should want to fly – but that isn’t always easy to do when your beauty is unique. Ikarus must learn to overcome his fear intolerance and let his wings spread; and, with the help of a classmate, those around him learn to accept and appreciate the beauty if his flight.


Resource of Interest:

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: Harriet the Spy

Harriet the Spy
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet is not very nice. In fact, she is kind of mean. She is sneaky, nosy and generally disregards privacy in the interest of her own desire to uncover the ugly truth (as she sees it). Harriet the Spy is also a classic tale with a character so shocking and hypocritical that young readers cannot get enough of her. She spies on her classmates, her neighbors, her teachers, and when she is found out and her frank observations are exposed by her friends and school mates, she is ostracized by her peers.

The appeal of Harriet is her unwillingness to relent. Even after she has apologized to her friends and classmates, she is unwilling to give up her notebooks and her frank observations. She is a flawed character but one that kids her age (or any age really) embrace because they see themselves in her. She represents a spirit of defiant freedom that middle school kids identify with and her curiosity about the people in her world is universal. Children learn early on that if they want to know what’s REALLY going on, most of the time the grown-ups around them will not tell them directly. Eavesdropping is the oldest method of gathering intelligence and kids learn early. Reading about Harriet’s adventures validates what kids already know about their place in the adult world and although Harriet’s mean streak gets her in trouble, she is unwavering in her right to express herself in her writing. For aspiring authors, she is a hero; for everyone who has ever felt like an outcast looking in on the world, she is a fellow-observer; a kindred spirit. Harriet is a tomboy, a rebel and a spy. Even fifty years later, she speaks to new generations of boys and girls who can be those things with her vicariously.

Publisher: Yearling (May 8, 2001)

ISBN-13: 978-0440416791

Age Range: 8 – 12 years
Grade Level: 3 – 7
Paperback: 320 pages
Price: $5.25

Awards: Sequoyah Book Award (1967)


Who wants a spy as a friend? Follow Harriet as she finds out that sneaking around and taking note of all her friends’ secrets isn’t exactly the best way to keep them as friends.


Sharing the Review of the Week


Hopkins, H. Joseph. The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-loving Woman Changed a City Forever. Jill McElmurry, Illus. Non-fiction. Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, 2013. [32]p. $16.99. 978-1-4424-1402-0.OUTSTANDING. GRADES K-4.

Review of the Week.


Review: Olive’s Ocean

Olive's Ocean

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes


Martha and Olive were not really friends – not the way real friends should be if you are in middle school. Olive hardly knew who Martha was. Until Martha is hit by a car while riding her bike home from school. Martha’s mother brings Olive something that makes her realize that perhaps in Martha’s mind, they were friends. Olive struggles with her own feelings about what this means in her relationships in the present – and what it meant to Martha who is part of the past. Olive’s usual life, full of normal and ordinary moments, is suddenly cast in a different light and although she is ready to spend her summer once again in the waves off Cape Cod, she cannot escape the invisible presence of the dead girl. Not even blossoming romance on the Cape can pull Olive from her emotional ocean.

This is a very interesting story in the way Henkes brings Olive’s struggle to deal with the death of a classmate and her own guilt that she may have wasted the chance to have a real friend. It is not a ghost story but young readers will feel Martha there in the pages.

Greenwillow Books (2001)

ISBN 9780060535452

Price: $7.00

Quantitative: Lexile Level: 680; ATOS 4.7

Qualitative: Middle Grades (4-8)

Common Core Standards: RL.5.3, RL.5.4, RL.5.6, RL.5.9

Literary A wards: Newbery Honor (2004)

Annotation: When someone’s memory haunts you, it feels like a ghost is walking with you, speaking to you, questioning you. Life is like an ocean and emotions can feel like waves. This story brings to life the impact of a school mate’s death for one young girl who struggles to understand the nature of her own life.

Personal Note: Kevin Henkes is one of my favorite authors and his works range from picture books for very young readers up to wonderful stories for middle grade readers, such as Olive’s Ocean. His series with Lilly (Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse) and Chrysanthemum are wonderful for read alouds with lower grades. Kevin Henkes’ latest is The Year of Billy Miller (Greenwill Books, 2013). Check it out!


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