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: 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: 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.

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)


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:

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.

Review: Farewell to Manzanar

Farewell to Manzanar
Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel is based on the real-life experiences of author Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, who spent three years as a young teen in the Manzanar Relocation Camp in southeastern California. The story starts in 1941 when Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and by 1942, the US War Department had adopted the Japanese-American relocation act and Wakatsuki’s family was forced to move. The horrible conditions, humiliation dehumanizing experiences of those held in the Japanese internment camps is captured in vivid description in this book. Jeanne’s perspective and memories of the toll on families and entire generation of Japanese Americans has great impact for all readers, not just teens.

Farewell to Manzanar follows Jeanne and her family to their life after they are released from Manzanar and this glimpse into the return to “normal” life is an important and impactful one. The prejudice and injustice of the internment camps is easy to comprehend; the subtleties of racism and oppression suffered in quieter ways by Jeanne and her family after their release are more difficult to see right away but once recognized, they are impossible to ignore. The difference in high school experiences for Jeanne and her best friend Radine bring into focus the stark differences for the two girls who share everything but their ethnicity. The prejudices Japanese Americans face, as immigrants to this country before and after the war, are part of the fabric of our country. Stories like this remind us that these prejudices have not all disappeared. Racism and justice, through action and inaction, define who we are as a nation and a species and novels like this help teens shine a light on who they are and who they might want to become.

Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Level: 7 and up
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Ember; 1 edition (February 14, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307976076
ISBN-13: 978-0307976079


Review: One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One Crazy Summer is an amazing journey for three young girls who travel from their Brooklyn home to live with their mother, who abandoned them seven years earlier, in Oakland. The narrator of the story, Delphine, is only eleven and she and her two sisters find themselves thrust into the pounding heart of change in 1968 and for 4 crazy weeks they learn more about the world than they ever imagined there could be. The mother they don’t know keeps them at a distance, spending much of her time working on her poetry in the kitchen where the girls are not allowed to go. Delphine and her sisters are sent to the Black Panther’s summer camp and learn that not only are they black, but that “black” means more than they ever knew: responsibility, duty, and strength. And the summer gets crazier when the girls meet not only others of their race, but Chinese and Mexican also.

This story is an eye-opening one for young readers who may not have any idea what it means to live in poverty, abandoned by a parent, kept in the dark about the history of your family life, and left to essentially raise yourself and your siblings. It is also a bright light into a period of American history, and certainly California history, when the Black Panther movement was very strong and being black had more than one definition. Author Rita Williams-Garcia is an eloquent and quiet author who gives the main character, Delphine, a voice that is as authentic as if she were real. The point of view and vocabulary in this book make it seem so plausible, even when the scenarios are impossible.

The value of this book in terms of its multicultural contribution for young readers is the perspective of the times: 1968. The historical details in this novel make it informative and valuable as a source of important information to young readers. Facts about the Black Panther’s charitable contributions to communities (summer camps and soup kitchens) add another layer of understanding for tweens and teens learning about this period in American history. Stories like this one provide a multi-cultural contribution to the overall comprehension of society in a given time and place, and this book does a beautiful job of adding a young girl’s perspective of the California civil rights movement and the rise and fall of the Black Panther’s “black power” surge in the daily life of kids her age at that time.

Age Range: 8 – 12 years
Grade Level: 4 – 7
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Amistad; Reprint edition (December 27, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0060760907
ISBN-13: 978-0060760908

Amazon: Hardback: $12.00


Literary awards:
National Book Award Nominee for Young People’s Literature (2010), Newbery Honor (2011), Scott O’Dell Award (2011), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2012), Coretta Scott King Award for Author (2011),

Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of the Year for Fiction (2010), The Judy Lopez Memorial Award for Children’s Literature Honor (2011), Goodreads Choice Nominee (2010)

Reader’s Annotation:

One Crazy Summer is an amazing journey for three young girls who travel from their Brooklyn home to live with their mother, who abandoned them seven years earlier, in Oakland. Covers the late 1960’s period of  California history, when the Black Panther movement was very strong and being black had more than one definition, as does the definition of family and mother.


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lauren hohls photography

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