Tag Archives: honors:ALA Notable Book

One Crazy Summer Review

one_crazy_summerOne Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Amistad, 2010. 978-0060760885

Winner of the 2011 Coretta Scott King Book Award; 2011 John Newbery Honor Book

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Delphine is like a mother to her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. She’s had to be, ever since their mother, Cecile, left them seven years ago for a radical new life in California. When they arrive from Brooklyn to spend the summer with her, Cecile is nothing like they imagined. While the girls hope to go to Disneyland and meet Tinker Bell, their mother sends them to a day camp run by the Black Panthers. Unexpectedly, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern learn much about their family, their country, and themselves during one truly crazy summer. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I picked up a copy of P.S. Be Eleven, realized it was a sequel to this book, and thought it would be prudent to read Summer before Eleven.

Why I finished it: This is a really wonderful piece of historical fiction that explores the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s through the eyes of children. So many accounts have been written from an adult point of view that it’s hard to remember that there were children that were also part of the movement and bore witness to an important part of American history. Delphine is a very mature eleven-year-old, taking care of her sisters and looking out for them, wary about the necessity of visiting her mother. The girls quickly find themselves out of their element and begin to realize just how sheltered their life is in Brooklyn. But even if their mother keeps them at arm’s length, the girls find friendship among the other attendees of the Black Panther day camp. Delphine is a likable narrator and the reader is instantly drawn into her world. We identify with her struggle to keep track of her sisters, her desire to be close to her mother, her confusion at how she fits in with the Black Panthers. In many ways, she is much older than her eleven years, something that comes out more and more as the story progresses. Garcia-Williams has written a moving story about how we relate to our family and how we relate ourselves to current events. It encourages us to take our own actions and consider what we can contribute to the world, whether it be through words or through actions.

Other related materials: P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia; Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis; Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis; Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor; President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston; Keena Ford books by Melissa Thomson; Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie


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Al Capone Does My Shirts Review

al_capone_does_my_shirtsAl Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Putnam Juvenile, 2004. 978-0399238611

Synopsis: It’s hard to move to a new home, especially when your neighbors are some of the most notorious murderers, con men, burglars, kidnappers, embezzlers, rapists, and hit men. Sure, there are other kids there whose dads work as guards, cooks, electricians, and doctors, like your dad. But there’s not really much good that comes from moving the Alcatraz; I mean, you’re only supposed to go to Alcatraz when no other prison wants you, right? So how did I end up here even though I’m not a criminal? My mother told me I had to.

Why I picked it up: It was a Battle of the Books selection for this year and the idea of living on Alcatraz is rather intriguing to me.

Why I finished it: While the title in and of itself is intriguing, it was the historical element of the story that kept me turning the pages. Though Moose Flanagan and his sister Natalie are fictional characters, there were families like theirs that lived on Alcatraz during the years that the penitentiary was operational from 1934-1963. And yes, there was a laundry service that was run by cons, so there is a distinct possibility that Al Capone did wash the shirts of the Alcatraz residents. Moose is a likable young man and Choldenko seems to have an eye into his mind as he struggles with the move, school, and his autistic sister. As much as Moose tries to be normal, he has to come to terms with the fact that very little about his life is normal. The other children – Theresa, Annie, Jimmy, and Piper – almost make the ‘glamour’ of living with convicts while the country is in the midst of a depression seem ordinary. It’s a sweet and passionate picture of a boy and his family struggling both in their personal lives and their public lives that speaks to the power of love and the little everyday miracles that make even the most disastrous situations seem okay.

Other related materials: Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko; Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko; Notes from a Liar and her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko; Autism, The Invisible Cord: A Sibling’s Diary by Barbara S. Cain; Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes by Jennifer Elder, illustrated by Marc Thomas; Everybody is Different: A Book for Young People Who Have Brothers and Sisters with Autism by Fiona Bleach; Rules by Cynthia Lord; Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper; Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos; Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos; Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo; Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse; Hoot by Carl Hiaasen; Call Me Hope by Gretchen Olson

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In The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson Review

intheyearoftheboarandjackierobinsonIn The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord, illustrations by Marc Simont

HarperCollins, 2003. 978-0064401753

Synopsis: Shirley Temple Wong is excited to be moving to America from China, but things are harder than they seem. She doesn’t speak English, the kids at school ignore her, and she misses her family in China. But then Shirley discovers baseball, Jackie Robinson, and the Brooklyn Dodgers and it gives her hope. If the son of a slave can become a baseball hero, then surely a Chinese immigrant can also live the American Dream.

Why I picked it up: The title caught my eye when I was shopping for books at a going out of business sale at my local bookstore.

Why I finished it: This book is a classic for a reason: it’s a timeless story of the immigrant experience and how the game of baseball can bring people together. Shirley wants desperately to fit in, but American customs and language completely mystify her. Plus, if she becomes American, does it mean she will be less Chinese? But when she is introduced to the games of stickball in the schoolyard and Red Barber’s voice announcing Dodgers games on the radio, she finds herself more and more becoming one of the group. Over the course of the year, Shirley begins to understand why America is called the land of opportunity. And though we’re not all immigrants, we can relate to Shirley’s need to fit in with her peers. Simont’s illustrations bring life to Lord’s story and helps the reader visualize the struggles of the immigrant class in the years following World War II. The simple drawings without definitive outlines give the drawings a sort of whimsical look, as if they were out of a legend or a myth. This is a little book with a story that shows us that we all have a place and that we can all belong no matter where we come from.

Other related materials: Honus and Me: A Baseball Card Adventure by Dan Gutman; Jackie and Me: A Baseball Card Adventure by Dan Gutman; Who Was Jackie Robinson? by Gail Herman and Nancy Harrison, illustrated by John O’Brien; Dragonwings by Laurence Yep; Golden Mountain Chronicles books by Laurence Yep; The Lost Garden by Laurence Yep; The Dragon’s Child by Laurence Yep with Dr. Kathleen S. Yep; A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park; The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang; Born to Fly by Michael Ferrari; A Lion to Guard Us by Clyde Robert Bulla, illustrated by Michele Chessare; Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

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The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Review

the_best_xmas_pageant_everThe Best Christmas Pageant Everby Barbara Robinson

HarperCollins, 1997. 978-0064402750

Synopsis: The Herdmans have a reputation as being no good: they smoke, they swear, they steal, they light things on fire, and they’re violent to boot. But when they show up at church looking for refreshments and find Jesus stories instead, they want to find out what the big deal is. Now the whole town is up in arms because the Herdmans have claimed the starring roles in the Christmas Pageant, and yet, no one wants to miss out on what could be one of the most disastrous moments ever in all the years of putting on the Christmas Story.

Why I picked it up: I remember reading it once upon a time, and I found my old copy on the bookshelf so I wanted to re-read it. It’s a Christmas classic, after all.

Why I finished it: It’s not a long book, but you are getting a lot out of it. Robinson sets the stage in the first chapter with the narrator recounting what could be seen as a ‘best of’ list of the things the Herdmans have done to establish themselves as bad, disruptive kids. Then Robinson gives the reader a picture of what the Christmas pageant has looked like and what is potentially at stake for the narrator’s mother when takes over for the injured coordinator and she is forced to give the main parts to the meanest kids in town. The humor comes largely from the witty observations of the Herdmans as they have the Christmas story explained to them and of the natural reactions of frustration on behalf of the school kids who don’t necessarily want to be with the Herdmans but don’t want to miss the impending disaster. By the end of the book, we see a definite change in both the Herdmans and the rest of the pageant participants that for me, really hits on what Christmas is all about, similar to that moment in A Charlie Brown Christmas where Linus recites the Biblical passage about the angel appearing to the shepherds. The way we understand the story of Christ’s birth may be different, but the message of hope is universal.

Other related materials: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (movie); The Best School Year Ever by Barbara Robinson; The Best Halloween Ever by Barbara Robinson; My Brother Louis Measures Worms: And Other Louis Short Stories by Barbara Robinson; The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg; The Christmas Chronicles compiled by Jeff Guinn; A Christmas Story  by Jean Shepherd; 101 Ways to Keep the Spirit of Santa Alive: For “Kids” from 1 to 92 by John Hagerman, Monica Frischkorn, and R.M. Hanson; The Last Holiday Concert by Andrew Clements; If You’re Missing Baby Jesus: A True Story that Embraces the Spirit of Christmas by Jean Gietzen

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The Last Book in the Universe review

The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick

Scholastic, 2000. 978-0-7569-1004-4

Synopsis: After the Big Shake that has destroyed most of modern life as we know it, living spaces are divided into latches ruled by various gangs that often go to war with each other. Genetically modified humans, called proovs, are kept separate from the general population, called normals; those with deformities are shunned as outcasts and often canceled. Spaz is one of those deefs – an epileptic who has been taken in by The Bangers, the gang that controls the latch where he lives. When he goes to steal from an old man (gummy) named Ryter, he learns about something called a book, something no one knows about anymore because of probing. Probing lets someone experience movies, pictures, books, etc. inside their head, like they are actually there. Ryter teaches Spaz about the value of the human language and how he himself is a book waiting to be written, but first he must survive to be able to record it.

Why I picked it up: The title reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode.

Why I finished it: The plot was a sort of combination of The Giver and A Clockwork Orange with its vision of perfection, strange slang, and sense of imminent doom characteristic of science fiction novels. Spaz is an engaging narrator and emanates the traditional teenage and pre-teen feelings of trying to figure out his sense of self, where he belongs in the world, and what he believes in, against a backdrop of the world falling apart around him. Philbrick creates an interesting contrast between perfection and imperfection with the proovs and the normals, but doesn’t do very much with this even though it feels like it should be the crux of the story. The worlds created within the text of the novel are believable and strange, but a distinctly plausible vision of the future and where we are headed. Ryter’s ability to remember the old times and ask the tough questions not wanting to be asked by the characters helps to weave a backstory into the narrative that allows the reader to form a sort of history of this world and to think ahead to their own futures.

Other related materials: Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick; Max the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick; The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick; Monster by Walter Dean Meyers; The Book Thief  by Marcus Zusak; Shadow Children books by Margaret Peterson Haddix;  The Crispin: Cross of Lead by Avi; Code Orange by Caroline B. Cooney

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The Giver review

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Houghton Mifflin, 1993. 978-0-395-64566-6

Synopsis: Jonas lives in a perfect world in which everything is enveloped by Sameness. There is no pain, no suffering, no disease, no colors, no weather, and everything about one’s life is decided for them by a community of elders. At the Ceremony of Twelve, where children are given their job assignments and make the transition into adulthood, Jonas is chosen to be the next Receiver of Memory. He is trained by a man known only as the Giver, who exposes Jonas to memories of life outside of Sameness, leading Jonas to question the society in which he lives.

Why I picked it up: I remember reading this in 5th grade and disliking it, but decided to give it a second chance.

Why I finished it: As much as I love science fiction and tween/teen literature, this book does not make me love the combination of the two. The plot and the storyline are very well crafted and bear many of the hallmarks of science fiction literature: people living in a futuristic society in which certain restraints are put upon them and a situation arises which leads them (or a select citizen) to question the practices in place. Jonas is a likable character – though he is part of a cookie-cutter world, he still has his own thoughts, opinions, and abilities which lead the community leaders to choose him to be the Receiver of Memory. As the novel progresses, he is able to slowly move toward the understanding that there is indeed a grey area of the world and becomes understandably emotionally shattered when he realizes that the societal hierarchy exists merely to lie to its citizens. However, I would not call this a children’s book – the themes and much of the content is not generally suited toward an upper elementary audience – and believe it to be better suited for YA, though the protagonist is 11/12. The book is also full of vocabulary terms that younger readers may have a harder time grasping, which is perhaps why it is an ideal choice to be used in a literature unit. Its premise is memorable for a reader, but at the same time has the feeling of being a largely forgettable classic when read in a classroom setting.

Other related materials: Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry; Messenger by Lois Lowry; Gossamer by Lois Lowry; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle; Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card; The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak; The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton; Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli; The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

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Ella Enchanted review

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Harper Trophy, 1997. 978-0-06-027510-5

Synopsis: At birth, Ella is given the gift of obedience by the fairy Lucinda, meaning that if commanded or asked to do something, she must do it. She lives a comfortable life with her mother, her father (who is a merchant who travels frequently), and cook Mandy, who is Ella’s fairy godmother. Ella meets Prince Char at her mother’s funeral and the two make an instant connection because she can make him laugh. After her mother’s death, Ella is sent to finishing school with the daughters of one of her father’s acquaintances, Dame Olga. The daughters, Hattie and Olive, inadvertently discover that Ella must do whatever she is asked without question. Determined to lift the curse, Ella runs away from finishing school to try and find the fairy Lucinda.

Why I picked it up: Cursed princesses appeal to me.

Why I finished it: Being familiar with the original fairy tale, it is interesting to note the differences between the two. Possibly the most notable difference between Ella Enchanted and Cinderella is that one Cinderella is cursed and the other is not. The Cinderella in the original is far kinder to her stepfamily than Ella, who shows an open dislike for them while being a slave to their demands. Ella is open and honest about her stepfamily’s abuse, though her father chooses not to deal with the problem. Both Ella and Cinderella’s carriages are made from pumpkins, the horses transformed mice, the driver a transformed rat, and the footmen transformed lizards, the difference is who was doing the creating. Ella’s fairy godmother does not do anything over-the-top to help her, instead offering her advice about how to best handle her curse. Cinderella’s fairy godmother instantly appears when Cinderella needs her and does not function as a mentor but as a provider for the solution of not being able to go to the balls. Both stories have noxious stepfamilies, though one is described in more detail than the other. The advantage of Levine’s spin on a classic is that it is slightly more approachable than the original fairy tale, which, though it was written before the feature cartoon film, has the same flavor as the Disney movie we so fondly remember from our childhoods. What I liked about Ella is that she is her own hero – she’s not going to wait around for someone to rescue her, by golly, she’s going to rescue herself! It’s about accepting who you are and being willing to wave your own flag, regardless of what others might think or say.

Other related materials: Ella Enchanted (movie); Fairest by Gail Carson Levine; Ever by Gail Carson Levine; The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine; The Fairy’s Return and Other Princess Tales by Gail Carson Levine; The Princess Tales books by Gail Carson Levine; The Wish by Gail Carson Levine; Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan; Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles; The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop; The White Mountains by John Christopher; Princess Academy by Shannon Hale; The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo; Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George; The Enchanted Forest Chronicles books by Patricia C. Wrede

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