Review: Wings

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

Annotation:

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.

 

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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: http://novelinks.org/pmwiki.php?n=Novels.TheTaleOfDespereaux

Awards: Newbery Medal (2004)

Annotation:

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: 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 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)

Annotation:

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.

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)

Annotation:

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.

 

Review: The Book Thief

The Book Thief
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the greatest things about this children’s/YA story is that it is not really a children’s story at all. It is about children who must think and act like adults in many situations, and it is about adults who often think and act like children, but this story is a human story. And as the narrator puts it, humans are haunting.

Set in the cold of 1939 Germany, WWII is well underway and Hitler has a firm grip on everyone and everything surrounding the main character, 10-year old Liesel and her life as a foster child in a struggling home outside of Munich. Liesel begins her illicit collection of books by taking the copy of The Grave Digger’s Handbook that falls in the snow at her little brother’s funeral and although she cannot read, Liesel sees this book as a treasured reminder of her brother and of that moment in her life and her last days with her mother. Liesel experiences her life surviving the war, learns to read and write with her “Papa’s” help, tries to understand the suffering and injustices she sees everywhere around her. When Liesel is 14, she is given a blank book by the mayor’s wife who has over the years provided Liesel with many books from her personal home library. Liesel decides to write her own life story, titled The Book Thief. When her village is bombed, everyone around her dies and in the chaos, she drops her book. Death picks it up and keeps it until the day comes to collect her soul at the end of her life and then returns the book.

The reader is guided through the story of Liesel’s life, and the lives of others around her, by Death. This unique perspective on human life, shared by one who collects the souls at the end but does not “live” gives this story an objective and almost detached emotion. It is this point of view that makes the literary value of this novel so incredible. Named a Printz Honor Book in 2007, The Book Thief incorporates many interesting literary devices that make it a worthy recipient. The choice of narrator is an obviously intriguing one. The use of bold text to clarify meaning or emphasize certain events or points by the narrator is also an unusual technique. The books gathered by Liesel throughout her young life, some gifts (The Standover Man and The Word Shaker, which are both written by Liesel’s step-father Max on painted-over pages of Adolph Hitler’s Book, Mein Kampf), some stolen (The Grave Digger’s Handbook and The Shoulder Shrug) and Liesel’s own book are all symbols of defiance and survival, of fascination and optimism for the human spirit. Death carries around Liesel’s book and reads it repeatedly before the time comes to collect her soul and return her book, some ways becoming a book thief as well.

The Michael L. Printz Award recognizes teen and YA novels on their literary excellence and this book displays it in many ways. The themes (coming of age, war, tolerance, bravery, family, survival, meaning of life and death) are explored with the kind of writing that makes a reader want to start over on page 1 as soon as you finish the end of page 576.

Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Level: 7 and up
Lexile Measure: 730L (What’s this?)
Paperback: 576 pages
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; Reprint edition (September 11, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0375842209
ISBN-13: 978-0375842207

Price: $6.00

Literary awards:  National Jewish Book Award, Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Children’s Literature (2007), Buxtehuder Bulle (2008), Prijs van de Kinder- en Jeugdjury Vlaanderen (2009), Printz Honor (2007), Exclusive Books Boeke Prize (2007), The Quill Award Nominee for Young Adult/Teen (2006), Zilveren Zoen (2008), Teen Read Award Nominee for Best All-Time-Fave (2010), Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis for Preis der Jugendjury (2009), ASSOCIATION OF JEWISH LIBRARIES NEW AND NOTABLE BOOK for Teen Book Award (2006), Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2010), Kathleen Mitchell Award, Margaret A. Edwards Award (2014)

Annotation:

The life of a young girl living in Hitler’s Germany during WWII is retold by Death as he watches her steal books and eventually write on of her own telling her own life story. A Haunting look at humanity and hope through the eyes of the one being that must be present for all of it, good or bad.

Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia TateThe Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

In this story, we meet Calpurnia Tate, or “Callie” as she is known in her family. At 11 years old, Callie finds herself more interested in the world outside the house than the one inside and after one of her many adventurous explorations of the outside world, happens to discover that her strange and aloof grandfather, who lives out back behind the house, shares her fascination with the natural world and the unusual creatures who live in it. When Callie’s investigations bring her to a conclusion as to why the yellow grasshoppers are more numerous and much larger than the green ones in the surrounding fields, she must overcome the social restrictions of 1899 Texas to bring her scientific findings to the attention of the one society that might actually value them. Natural selection and Darwin’s theories are discussed and examined to help readers understand how Callie comes to her own conclusions in the story.

Henry Holt & Co. (BYR) (2009)

ISBN 9780805088410

Price: $12.00

Quantitative: Lexile Level: 830; ATOS 5.3

Qualitative: A story for Low/Middle Grades (4-8). historical context and themes involve family dynamics and the historic role of women and girls in the U.S. The science described and incorporation of historical figures woven into the story make it fun and authentic.

Content Area: English; Science – Method; Evolution

Common Core Standards: RL.5.1, RL.5.3, RL.6.3, RL.6.6

Additional/Digital Content:  Neo K-12 resources and media: http://www.neok12.com/Natural-Selection.htm

Literary Awards: Newbery Honor (2010), Bank Street College of Education Josette Frank Award (2010), Audie Award for Children’s for Ages 8-12 (2011), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2011), IRA Children’s and Young Adult’s Book Award for Intermediate–Fiction (2010)

Annotation: Can one girl’s curiosity about the wonders of the natural world around her, fueled by the eccentric and sometimes obsessive musings of her oddball grandfather, really mean anything to the scientists of her time? Can one little girl really make any difference? Calpurnia Tate learns that evolution takes on many forms, whether through natural selection or personal growth and experience, the world around us is always changing and it is better to be part of it than turn a blind eye.

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