Tag Archives: honors: Junior Library Guid Selection

Kira-Kira Review

kira_kiraKira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004. 978-0689856402

Winner of the 2005 John Newbery Medal

Synopsis: Katie Takeshima has always looked up to her sister, Lynn, and the way she makes the world seem kira-kira: glittering, shining. Katie relies on Lynn to help her make sense of the world: their move to Georgia, the reason people stare at them, why it’s important for her to go to school. But when Lynn gets sick, Katie is forced to begin to make sense of things on her own and to make the world seem kira-kira again.

Why I picked it up: I snagged it at a used book store in Newport, Oregon while I was on vacation.

Why I finished it: The two very strong themes that run through this book are the strength of family bonds and the power of positive thinking. Katie and Lynn have a friendship that is unique to sisters, and the ways in which they support one another have a lasting impact on the characters and the reader. Katie might not be as smart as her sister, but Lynn knows that if she works hard and applies herself that Katie can succeed, an idea that becomes more apparent to Katie as she watches her sister decline. Speaking from experience, it can be hard to see the world as kira-kira when everything around you seems so dark and desolate; it can be hard to move on even when it feels like the world is stopping or speeding ahead without you. But what Katie and the reader slowly begin to realize is that Lynn desires for Katie to make her own magic. Katie has the potential to make the world kira-kira for her younger brother and her family in the same way Lynn made the world kira-kira for Katie. Yet, Kadohata’s story runs deeper, mixing grief and helplessness with humor and the special brand of drama that is specific only to families. The first-person narrative gives us a window into one family’s struggle to keep themselves together even though their lives as they know them are changing in ways they could have never imagined. It’s a sweet and heartbreaking story that will leave a lasting impression on the reader.

Other related materials: The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata; Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata; Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata; Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata; Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff; Penny From Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm; Criss-Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins; Under the Mesquite by Guadaulpe Garcia McCall; The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin; Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech; Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell

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Flora and Ulysses Review

flora_and_ulyssesFlora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell

Winner of the 2014 John Newbery Medal; A 2014 Junior Library Guild Selection

Candlewick Press, 2013. 978-0763660406

Synopsis: When Flora Belle Buckman observes a squirrel meet an unfortunate fate at the hands of her neighbor’s out of control vacuum, she steps in to save the day. But when this cynic realizes that she has witnessed the birth of a superhero, both girl and squirrel find themselves with a new bond that will change them in unanticipated ways. Seal blubber!

Why I picked it up: My grandmother passed recently, and I remember DiCamillo talking in her acceptance speech about her mother being worried about what would happen to her vacuum when she died.

Why I finished it: This book had been sitting on my shelf for a while, and in light of what has been going on in my life recently, it’s provided a sort of comfort for me. Flora has been told that she is a cynic by her romance novel-writing mother, and she does view the world with some cynicism, but I don’t think Flora is as cynical as she believes herself to be. She proves to be a hero in her own right when she revives Ulysses after his encounter with Mrs. Tickham’s birthday present. She continues to nurture and encourage him, reminding him when he s unsure what to do: “You are Ulysses”. And when she must leave the house in the middle of the night to find her squirrel who has been kidnapped by her mother, she understands the power of friendship and family. Campbell’s illustrations bring this story to life in a format that blends comics with the traditional novel format. The hybrid format is engaging for the reader, bringing the characters and the story to life, and it ties in with Flora’s favorite comic that plays a key role throughout the plot: The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incadesto! Yes, it is about a superhero and a cynic, but it is also about love and relationships and poetry and food. It’s about the unknown connections we make with each other and the people around us. It’s a beautifully written story that will connect to readers of all ages.

Other related materials: The Tale of Desperaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering; Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate Dicamillo; The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo; The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline; The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao; The Crossover by Kwame Alexander; Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor; One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia; Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson, illustrated by Donna Diamond; El Deafo by Cece Bell; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

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Al Capone Shines My Shoes Review

Al_Capone_Shines_My_ShoesAl Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2009. 978-0803734609

Synopsis: When I first moved to Alcatraz, I thought all of the prisoners were on one side of the bars and everyone else was on the other. But lately, I’m not so sure. I mean, Darby Trixle’s been more on my case than usual because of Natalie and I got another note from Capone in my laundry. Turns out, since he helped Natalie get into that Esther P. Marinoff School, now I have to do a favor for him….

Why I picked it up: I wanted to know more about what happens with Moose, Natalie, Piper, and the rest of the residents of Alcatraz.

Why I finished it: Choldenko has masterfully created a story that is just as grounded in reality as it is in fiction. The sequel is just as engaging as its predecessor, and it continues to grow and develop the characters in such a way that it’s hard to believe they weren’t really residents on the island. In this tale, Moose is learning hard lessons about friendships when he tries to juggle a friendship with Jimmy and Scout, Piper and Annie, and Theresa and Natalie. He becomes so focused on trying to keep everyone happy that he is gradually destroying his own sanity in the process. Plus, he has to deal with the pressure of trying to return a favor for The Rock’s most notorious resident without completely feeling like he’s betrayed his family. Choldenko’s afterword sheds some light on the events of the book, debunking what was real and what wasn’t: the residents weren’t waiters when J. Edgar Hoover came to visit, but there was in fact an escape attempt called the Battle of Alcatraz in 1946. This book is just as packed with adventure and drama as the first and keeps the reader engaged from beginning to end. It’s a small slice of the real world served up with just the right amount of sugary narrative to satisfy the imagination.

Other related materials: Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Chloldenko; Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko; Notes from a Liar and Her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko; No Passengers Beyond This Point by Gennifer Choldenko; If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period by Gennifer Choldenko; Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead; Paperboy by Vince Vawter; Rules by Cynthia Lord; Alcatraz from Inside: The Hard Years 1942-1952 by Jim Quillen; Inside the Walls of Alcatraz by Frank Heaney and Gay Machado; Eyewitness on Alcatraz: Life on The Rock as Told by the Guards, Families, & Prisoners by Jolene Babyak

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The Tale of Despereaux Review

the_tale_of_desperauxThe Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo, Illustrations by Timothy Basil Ering

Candlewick Press, 2003. 978-0763617226.

Winner of the 2004 John Newbery Medal

Synopsis: Despereaux Tilling is not an ordinary mouse. Not only is he smaller than a normal mouse and has larger ears than a normal mouse, but he taught himself how to read, he doesn’t like to scurry around the castle, and he is in love with a princess named Pea. Roscuro is no ordinary rat. True, he does live in a dungeon as most rats in the kingdom do, but he has long held a fascination with the light and the world above the dungeons. Miggery Sow is a girl who has a secret wish, a wish to be a princess and live in a castle with servants and ladies in waiting, without people that will hit her on the ear. How do all of these characters fit into each others lives? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Why I picked it up: I’ve heard conflicting reviews from friends and classmates – some loved it, others not so much – so I thought I would read it for myself.

Why I finished it: DiCamillo’s book has a number of things going for it: she is a talented author that has crafted a tale of an unlikely hero, but something about the story lacks substance and while I did finish the book, I didn’t feel particularly attached to the characters or engaged in the plot. Not much is done to develop the characters beyond what makes them stand out. We know that Despereaux has large ears, loves music, behaves in a most un-mousely like manner, has a plethora of brothers and sisters, but even his oddities weren’t enough for me to root for him – but that might also have been because I knew how it ended the whole time. Roscuro is portrayed as slippery and conniving, obsessed with his plot for revenge, but it merely came off as a sort of cookie-cutter villain that is struggling with his own morals. And while Miggery Sow has a role to play in the story, I found her, well, boring. Pea is arguably the least fleshed out: she’s a princess with a love for music and whose mother died when a rat fell in her soup…and that’s about it.  I wanted this to be so much more than a book about the sort of casual acquaintances one could make in an office and it could have been. DiCamillo infuses the plot with a lot of heart and humor, creating a delightful soup of forgiveness, love, and redemption, but it was missing the flavor I have come to expect from her storytelling.

Other related materials: The Tale of Desperaux (movie), Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo; Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo; Lousie, the Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo;  The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo;  The Borrowers by Mary Norton;  The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate; Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz; Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien; The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary; Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary; Stuart Little by E.B. White; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

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Moon Over Manifest Review

PDF Creation in Quark 7Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2010. 978-0385738835

Winner of the 2011 John Newbery Award

Synopsis: Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has sent her to live with an old friend for the summer while he works on a railroad job. But when Abilene arrives in Manifest and finds a mysterious box of mementos, she begins to discover that there is more to the worn-out town than meets the eye. Through the stories of diviner Miss Sadie, and immigrant from Hungary, Abilene learns more about the townspeople all while looking for the mark her father left on Manifest.

Why I picked it up: The title caught my eye and I love a good historical fiction novel.

Why I finished it: Vanderpool’s debut is a story filled with mystery and heart  that tells the reader about looking into the past to understand the present. Abilene wants to be able to understand her father, but she’s unable to do so from just the stories he has told her. She regards her father as a sort of mysterious person that for reasons unknown to Abilene, seems to want to keep her at arm’s length. A chance meeting provides her with an opportunity to learn more about her father and provides her with a way to not only finish a summer assignment, but become more involved with the townspeople. In many ways, we are like Abilene, searching for answers about why and how we have ended up where we are. We want to know where we came from, we want to know how the past has shaped the future, we want to be able to better understand ourselves and where we fit into the larger picture. Weaving between 1918 and 1936, Vanderpool takes us on a journey and tells us story about survival and the power of love to overcome our hurts.

Other related materials: Island of Hope: The Story of Ellis Island and the Journey to America  by Martin W. Sandler; Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool; Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse; A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck; A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck; Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm; The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron; A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff; Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt; The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech; Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech; Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos; From Norvelt to Nowhere by Jack Gantos; Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage; Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

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When You Reach Me Review

when you reach meWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Wendy Lamb Books, 2009. 978-0385737425

Winner of the 2010 John Newbery Award

Synopsis: Sixth grade is turning out to be a confusing time for Miranda: her best friend Sal suddenly won’t talk to her after he gets punched, someone stole the hidden key to the apartment she shares with her mother, and she’s been receiving mysterious notes from a person that seems to know about things before they happen. Will she ever talk to Sal again? Will she figure out who is sending the notes? More importantly, should she write the letter requested by the mysterious sender or will she be too late to save her friend’s life?

Why I picked it up: It’s another one of those books that has been sitting on my reading list for a while and it’s heavily circulated at my local library.

Why I finished it: Stead’s writing is a delightful mix of science fiction, mystery, and adventure that bears a strong resemblance to Miranda’s favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, which was also one of my favorites when I was in elementary school. She takes us into Miranda’s life and into her head as she navigates the minefield that is her life without Sal. Miranda struggles with the notion of time travel (even though it is repeatedly explained to her by two different people over the course of the novel), but she slowly begins to realize that it is the only explanation for the mysterious notes and how the sender knows about things that have yet to happen and even knows some things that no one should know. She’s also struggling with losing her friend Sal and trying to make friends with the girls in her class, some of whom she thinks are rather petty. Plus, she’s been helping her mom practice for The $20,000 Pyramid, which is a challenge in and of itself. But through all of these experiences, Miranda is learning that sometimes the things we don’t seem to understand are the most plausible explanations, if only we are willing to let go of our pre-conceived notions about the world.

Other related materials: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle; First Light by Rebecca Stead; Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead; Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin; Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata; Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm; Penny From Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm; Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo; Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo; Rules by Cynthia Lord; The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech; Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt

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The Higher Power of Lucky Review

higher_power_of_luckyThe Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, illustrations by Matt Phelan

Atheneum Books for Young Readers,  2008. 978-1416975571

Winner of the 1997 John Newbery Medal

Synopsis: Ten-year-old Lucky wishes she could find her Higher Power, like the people in the twelve-step program meetings on which she eavesdrops. But when you live in the small desert town of Hard Pan, CA, Pop. 43, there’s not much of a chance of finding your Higher Power…unless you hit rock-bottom. As Lucky reaches rock-bottom and begins plans to run away from Hard Pan, she starts to understand that rock-bottom might just be another way to start over fresh.

Why I picked it up: It popped up in the Amazon Recommendations and I was intrigued by Lucky’s desire to hit rock-bottom.

Why I finished it: Lucky is a remarkable character because of her belief that she has to go down to go up. While this might not be true for most everyone, Lucky shows us that there is hope to be found even when your situation seems to be getting more and more dire…well, dire by ten-year-old standards. Haunted by the threatened departure of her Guardian and the fear of losing her dog HMS Beagle, Lucky’s carefully constructed life slowly begins to crumble and not even her friends Miles and Lincoln can convince her to stay in Hard Pan. But if it means that she can find her Higher Power, it will all be worth it…won’t it? It’s hard not to admire Lucky’s pluck, love, and determination to reach a place in which she feels like she has some control over her destiny and has a feeling of what it is she is meant to do. Phelan’s black-and-white sketches add another layer of realism to the story and aid the reader in visualizing the setting and the characters. There’s something to be said for their simplicity as well; it beautifully compliments Lucky’s struggles to get back on top and back in control of her life and get answers to the questions tucked deep in the crevices of her brain glands. A sweet and touching beginning to a deeply moving trilogy that makes us remember the hardships of growing up.

Other related materials: Lucky Breaks by Susan Patron, illustrations by Matt Phelan; Lucky for Good by Susan Patron, illustrations by Erin McGuire; Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse; The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg; Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech; The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly; Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpoool; A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck; A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck; Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos; Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath; Missing May by  Cynthia Rylant; Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai; One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia; Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins; All Alone in the Universe by Lynne Rae Perkins; Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson; Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge

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Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village Review

untitledGood Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrations by Robert Byrd

Candlewick Press, 2011. 978-0763650940

Winner of the 2008 John Newbery Medal

Synopsis: Ever wondered about life in a Medieval village? Ever wanted to meet varlets, vermin, simpletons, and saints? You will meet many of these characters and more in these twenty-two monologues that tell the reader about what it takes to survive in the Middle Ages and give insight about the people and places of Medieval England.

Why I picked it up: I loved Splendors and Glooms and was eager to read some of Schlitz’s other works.

Why I finished it: This is a beautifully written and illustrated book that is designed to be performed, read aloud, or read alone. It gives each of the persons who would have lived in a Medieval village a unique voice and a unique story that doesn’t come across in a lot of the nonfiction books written on the same subject. Schlitz creates parts for everyone: the shepherdess, the beggar, the tanner, the lords, the millers, the moneylenders, and everyone in between.  It gives insight into each of the relationships between the different professions and class statuses during the Middle Ages and the difficulties each of them encounters in their day-to-day life. There are even some little asides that give greater insight into life in the Middle Ages, the Crusades, the professions, and the popular sports of the day. Byrd’s illustrations harken back to the woodcuttings so prevalent in illuminated manuscripts of the day, and each of the pictures come alive with vibrant colors to highlight the actions of the persons frozen in time. It is a charming collection that’s a fast but intriguing read for all ages.

Other related materials: The Horrible, Miserable Middle Ages: The Disgusting Details About Life During Medieval Times by Kathy Allen; The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman; Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobias Burgess by Richard Platt, illustrated by Chris Riddell; Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction by David Macaulay; Castle by David Macaulay; Mill by David Macaulay; You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Medieval Night!: Armor You’d Rather Not Wear by Fiona Macdonald, illustrated by David Antram; You’d Wouldn’t Want to Be a Crusader!: A War You’d Rather Not Fight by Fiona Macdonald; illustrated by Mark Bergin; You Wouldn’t Want to Be Joan of Arc!: A Mission You Might Want to Miss by Fiona Macdonald, illustrated by David Antram; The Making of a Knight by Patrick O’Brien; Re-Discovering Medieval Realms: Britain 1066-1500 by Barbera Brown, edited by Colin Shephard; The Knight’s Tales series by Gerald Morris, illustrated by Aaron Renier; The Apprentice by Pilar Molina Llorente, illustrated by Juan Ramon Alonso

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Splendors and Glooms Review

splendors-and-gloomsSplendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

Candlewick Press, 2012. 978-0-7636-5380-4

Synopsis: Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, would love nothing more than to have puppet master Gaspare Grisini come to perform at her birthday party. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, two orphans apprenticed to Grisini, live in fear of the puppeteer and aspire to do something more with their lives. When Clara mysteriously disappears after her party and Grisini is blamed, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall become involved in a much larger mystery that will uncover a dark secret and ultimately lead them to the key that will help them in finding Clara.

Why I picked it up: It popped up on Amazon while I was researching books to read and the title caught my attention.

Why I finished it: The book draws on the Victorian Gothic tradition to create a tale that is both dark and comic. Schlitz’s plot unfolds slowly, first establishing Clara and then moving gradually from Lizzie Rose to Parsefall to the puppet master Grisini. The mystery portion of the plot is equally tantalizing, keeping the reader guessing and putting together all of the pieces of the puzzle along with the characters. Lizzie Rose, Parsefall, and Clara are engaging as individuals, but some of the best portions of the story deal with the three of them as a whole. Their personalities complement each other and balance out the ‘good’ equation, with Grisini being decidedly evil and underhanded. I was also drawn in by the historical elements of the story; as overused as I feel the Victorian Era might be in literature, it makes for a perfect setting for Schlitz’s tale of magic, mystery, and finding hope in the face of adversity.

Other related materials: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz; A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz; Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage; The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate; Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz; When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin; The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech; Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai; Jinx by Sage Blackwood; Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool; The Apothecary by Maile Meloy; Abel’s Island by William Steig

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