Literacy Daily

Book Reviews
    • Job Functions
    • Literacy Coach
    • Literacy Education Student
    • Professional Development
    • ~9 years old (Grade 4)
    • Teacher Preparation
    • Curriculum Development
    • Classroom Instruction
    • ~15 years old (Grade 10)
    • Literacies
    • Topics
    • Librarian
    • ~8 years old (Grade 3)
    • ~7 years old (Grade 2)
    • ~6 years old (Grade 1)
    • ~5 years old (Grade K)
    • ~4 years old (Grade Pre-K)
    • ~14 years old (Grade 9)
    • Book Reviews
    • ~13 years old (Grade 8)
    • ~12 years old (Grade 7)
    • ~11 years old (Grade 6)
    • ~10 years old (Grade 5)
    • Student Level
    • Volunteer
    • Tutor
    • Teacher Educator
    • Special Education Teacher
    • Reading Specialist
    • Other/Literacy Champion
    • Classroom Teacher
    • Children's & YA Literature

    B Is for Biographies

    Jennifer W. Shettel
     | Oct 16, 2017

    B is for biographies! Readers will learn about the lives and works of both well-known historical figures, such as Marie Curie and Jackie Robinson, and lesser known people, such as John Deere and Sophie Blanchard, in the recently published books reviewed this week. Fascinating stories of accomplishments, at times of hardships and discrimination, abound in this bunch of biographies.

    Ages 4–8

    Alexander Graham Bell Answers the Call. Mary Ann Fraser. 2017. Charlesbridge.

    Alexander Graham Bells Answer the Call Fraser’s picture book biography of Alexander (“Aleck”) Graham Bell (1847–1922) begins with his childhood in Scotland and how he became interested in the science of sound. Bell’s mother was partially deaf, and his father was a speech therapist. Throughout his life, Bell experimented with sound, eventually partnering with Thomas Watson on his famous invention, the telephone.  Lively cartoon-style multimedia illustrations complement the accessible text. Text boxes inserted throughout the book give readers short bursts of related information. Back matter includes information about Bell’s many inventions, a timeline, and a note from the author on her inspiration for writing a biography of Bell and using a photographic collage technique in the illustrations. Fascinating photographs on the endpapers provide a visual timeline of the evolution of the telephone from 1876–1989.

    John Deere, That’s Who! Tracey Nelson Maurer. Ill. Tim Zeltner. 2017. Henry Holt.

    John Deer, That's WhoDid you know that John Deere did not invent the big green tractors that many people associate with his name? It’s true. This biography introduces young readers to John Deere (1804–1886), the young blacksmith who invented a new type of steel plow that could handle the thick, sticky soil of Illinois fields. Illustrations, rendered with acrylic paint on plywood, evoke an old-fashioned feel to this biographical account of the inventor and manufacturer. Back matter includes a glossary, a list of facts about John Deere and the manufacturing company that bears his name, a detailed bibliography, and acknowledgments from the author.

    Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot. Matthew Clark Smith. Ill. Matt Tavares. 2017. Candlewick.

    Lighter Than AirIn this picture book biography, readers learn about the life and dreams of Sophie Blanchard (1778–1819), a French woman who was married to famous balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard. She yearned to go up into the air by herself and did so, becoming the first female to pilot a hot-air balloon in 1805. Later she was named chief air minister of ballooning by Emperor Napoleon. Ink-and-watercolor illustrations depict each scene in fine-line, colorful detail. Back matter includes brief notes from the author and the illustrator and a list of selected sources.

    Long-Armed Ludy and the First Women’s Olympics. Jean L. S. Patrick. Ill. Adam Gustavson. 2017. Charlesbridge.

    Long Armed LudyLucille “Ludy” Godbold (1900–1981) was born in South Carolina, at a time when women were not permitted to do many of the things that men could do, including participate in the Olympics. However, Ludy was selected as one of fifteen American women to participate in the 1922 Women’s World Games, the “First Women’s Olympics,” a world-class event organized by Alice Milliat of France.  Ludy went on to become a world-champion athlete who excelled in many events including the shot put, which is the featured event in this picture book biography.  Bright and whimsical oil paintings capture the time period and depict Ludy as the tall and lanky athlete she was. Back matter includes an author’s note and two photographs of Ludy Godbold.

    Marie Curie (Little People, Big Dreams). Isabel Sánchez Vegara. Trans. Emma Martinez. Ill. Frau Isa. 2017. Frances Lincoln.

    Marie CurieThis picture book biography gives young readers a sense of the accomplishments of Marie Curie (1867–1934), the scientist who discovered radium and polonium and is the only female to win two Nobel Prizes, one for physics and one for chemistry. Spare text and colorful stylized illustrations offer a child-friendly inspiring account of how Curie, who as a young child declared her determination “to be a scientist, not a princess,” overcame much discrimination, as many people believed that women should not be educated—especially in the field of science—in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Back matter includes a timeline of Marie’s life, photographs, and an author’s note with more details of Curie’s life and work.

    Ages 9–11

    Newton’s Rainbow: The Revolutionary Discoveries of a Young Scientist. Kathryn Lasky. Ill. Kevin Hawkes. 2017. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

    Newton's RainbowThis illustrated biography of Isaac Newton (1642–-1727) gives a detailed account of his early life as a curious but not-so-good student and, later, as a college scholar. Lasky addresses the legendary apple-falling story related to Newton’s explanation of the forces of motion and gravity as well as his other contributions to science, including the “secret” of the rainbow— the discovery that white light is actually made of colors. Ink-and-watercolor paintings add interesting details for younger readers. A bibliography is included.

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality. Jonah Winter. Ill. Stacy Innerst. 2017. Abrams.

    Ruth Bader GinsburgThis picture book biography of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (R.B.G.), who was born in Brooklyn in 1933, begins with her childhood as a determined young girl who refused to be daunted by discrimination for either her religion or gender. The text opens with readers being asked to serve as the jury in “the Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality.” Presentation of the facts of the case include “exhibits” of how R.B.G. pursued her dream of going to law school and overcame obstacles to have a successful legal career, eventually becoming the second woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court. The muted tones of the illustrations, rendered in gouache, ink, and Photoshop, complement the text. Back matter includes a glossary and an author’s note.

    Ages 12–14

    42 Is Not Just a Number: The Odyssey of Jackie Robinson, American Hero. Doreen Rappaport. 2017. Candlewick.

    42 is Not Just a NumberJackie Robinson (1919–1972), one of the best baseball players in history, is most remembered as the man who broke the color barrier in major league baseball when he took the field as first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. This biography covers Robinson’s early years, beginning when Jackie was eight years old and one of five siblings being raised by his mother in California. Jackie’s baseball career began in the Negro Leagues in 1945. He was recruited the next year by Brooklyn Dodgers Manager Branch Rickey, who envisioned Jackie and another player becoming the first African Americans to play on a major league team. The road to this eventual victory was not easy, as Jackie faced seemingly insurmountable challenges along the way. Today he is viewed as an American hero for his brave stance against discrimination. Back matter includes an author’s note, a timeline, extensive source notes providing details to support the quotes and statements in each chapter, a selected bibliography, additional resources, and an index.  

    Jack London and the Klondike Gold Rush. Peter Lourie. Ill. Wendell Minor. 2017. Henry Holt.

    Jack LondonMost people know Jack London (1876–1916) as the author of Call of the Wild, one of the most well-known animal adventure stories of all time. But people might not know that London got the inspiration for that story—and many others that he wrote—from his time as an adventure-seeker during the Alaskan Gold Rush of 1897. London helped his financially struggling family by joining thousands of others hoping to “strike it rich” in the Klondike. Jack and the men in his group had to carry their own gear and traverse over 600 miles, most of it by walking. The journey was long and arduous, and many men died along the way. London spent two years in Alaska mining for gold, but was largely unsuccessful and had to leave the wilderness to be treated for scurvy.  Instead of gold nuggets, London found the nuggets for stories, and would eventually go on to publish several books, many short stories, and articles based on his days in the Klondike. Back matter includes an afterword, notes from the author, notable places, London’s writings, an illustrated timeline, a glossary, a bibliography and sources, and an index. Minor’s expressive black-and-white illustrations and captioned archival photographs provide additional historical context.

    Ages 15+

    Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern Photojournalism. Marc Aronson & Marina Budhos. 2017. Henry Holt.

    Eyes of the WorldIn this well-researched and meticulously documented biography, readers learn about husband-and-wife photography team Robert Capa (1913–1954) and Gerda Taro (1910–1937). Capa and Taro are recognized as pioneers in photojournalism for their outstanding photographing of modern warfare during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Later, Capa would capture some of the most iconic scenes from the World War II D-Day invasion in 1944. This biography is told with photos, primary source documents, and text that fully immerses the reader in the time period in which Capa and Taro lived. Back matter includes a “cast of characters” providing further information on key people, a timeline, chapter-by-chapter notes, a list of web resources, and an index. Additionally, Aronson and Budhos discuss their collaboration on this project which was an important endeavor for them.

    Jennifer W. Shettel is an associate professor at Millersville University of PA where she teaches undergraduate and graduate course in literacy for preservice and practicing teachers.  Prior to joining the faculty at Millersville, she spent 16 years as an elementary classroom teacher and reading specialist in the public schools.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

    Read More
    • ~11 years old (Grade 6)
    • ~12 years old (Grade 7)
    • ~10 years old (Grade 5)
    • Student Level
    • ~9 years old (Grade 4)
    • ~8 years old (Grade 3)
    • ~7 years old (Grade 2)
    • ~6 years old (Grade 1)
    • ~5 years old (Grade K)
    • ~4 years old (Grade Pre-K)
    • ~15 years old (Grade 10)
    • ~14 years old (Grade 9)
    • ~13 years old (Grade 8)
    • Job Functions
    • Literacy Coach
    • Librarian
    • Classroom Teacher
    • Book Reviews
    • Teacher Preparation
    • Teacher Empowerment
    • Classroom Instruction
    • Professional Development
    • English Language Arts
    • Content Areas
    • Topics
    • Tutor
    • Teacher Educator
    • Reading Specialist
    • Other/Literacy Champion
    • Literacy Education Student
    • Children's & YA Literature

    War and Conflicts

    Barbara A. Ward
     | Oct 02, 2017

    Violent conflicts occur around the globe every day. History shows how small disagreements often erupt into larger conflicts that can morph into wars. Wars have long-lasting effects on the environment as well as civilians and the troops who fight in them. This week’s column features books that explore some of those wars and conflicts.

    Ages 48

    Flowers for Sarajevo. John McCutcheon. Ill. Kristy Caldwell. 2017. Peachtree.

    Flowers for SarajevoAlthough Drasko is amazed by his father’s ability to identify the best roses by smell, he is unsure about his generosity, even including giving flowers to a grumpy street vendor. When his father joins the country’s military force, leaving Drasko in charge of their flower stand, the other merchants force him into a less favorable spot in the marketplace. After an explosion kills 22 citizens standing in line waiting to buy bread, the town square becomes deserted. Drasko vows to do his part to restore the city and extends an act of kindness toward Goran, that grumpy merchant. Created in ink, charcoal, graphite pencil, and Adobe Photoshop, the illustrations focus on the city's beauty and resilience. Back matter includes maps of the Balkan region and notes on events in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, which inspired this story set in 1992. The accompanying CD includes a narration by McCutcheon of his story and Albinoni’s “Adagio,” played by Vedran Smailovic, the cellist in the story.

    Where Will I Live? Rosemary McCarney. 2017. Second Story.

    Where Will I LiveOften, conflict and war within a country or across its borders force its inhabitants to leave their familiar world. Finding a new home isn’t easy. This photo essay contains 24 large portraits of children who are uncertain where they will spend each day and night.  After describing the various reasons why and how these children and their families fled their homelands, the author poses a series of questions that these children might ask. Still, humans are surprisingly self-sufficient, as shown by their temporary dwelling places that function as homes—tents, the space beneath a staircase, or even a shelter created by using carpeting for walls and a ceiling. Because the children are from various countries, young readers will recognize that homelessness is a worldwide issue. The photos also portray the resilience of children as they show them indulging in moments of play while facing an uncertain future.

    Ages 911

    Army Brats. Daphne Bendis-Grab. 2017. Scholastic.

    Army BratsAfter moving to Fort Patrick with their rescue dog, Cupcake, the Bailey family finds that living on the base is a very different experience from life as civilians. Although Tom, Charlotte, and Rosie are free to move around as they please in the base’s protected environment, the disappearance of several dogs seems to point to possible danger and to a mystery that needs to be solved. In addition, the siblings are dealing with personal problems—Tom is miserable after the class bully calls him Sergeant Wimpy; Charlotte fails to realize that her new friends are interested only in gossiping and denigrating others; and the youngest sibling, Rosie, is challenged by a headstrong need to have her own way all the time. Although the adults in their lives are nearby, they allow the youngsters to solve their problems on their own. The author capably captures life on a military base in the United States for the Bailey family.

    Ages 1214

    Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport. Emma Carlson Berne. 2017. Capstone.

    Escaping the NazisStories about the Kindertransport, the trains that took children to freedom and out of reach of the Nazis during the Holocaust, are especially compelling. In separate narratives, told in distinct voices, seven very different children, one as young as five years old, relate their experiences of leaving behind everyone and everything that was familiar. The author includes photographs, poems, brief memoirs, and snippets of what the storytellers recollect about those frightening times and their aftermath. She also details the events that led up to each survivor’s departure, pointing out that while some of the children came from wealthy families, others were not. Many of the children never saw their families again. Although it might seem like a small number against the more than one million children who died during the Holocaust, thanks to the kindness of strangers, 10,000 Jewish children survived because of this relocation plan. Readers will ponder the enormous losses associated with this period of history after reading this accessible introduction to the Kindertransport rescues just prior to World War II.

    Genevieve’s War. Patricia Reilly Giff. 2017. Holiday House.

    Genevieve's WarAs time for her vacation in Alsace draws to a close, 13-year-old American Genevieve Michel decides to stay in the area and help her elderly grandmother, Mémé. Her impulsive decision is one she will live to regret; it is 1939 and the Germans have begun crossing over the border into France, commandeering food, supplies, and even houses. At first, there is friction between Genevieve and Mémé, but mutual respect slowly develops as they deal with Nazi occupation, hunger, and cold weather and hide a member of the Resistance from the Germans. Giff painstakingly demonstrates the difficulty of knowing who could be trusted during those troubling times. Genevieve grows enormously from her experiences during the four years she spends in Alsace during World War II.

    Two Times a Traitor. Karen Bass. 2017. Pajama Press.

    Two Times a TraitorTwelve-year-old Laz Berenger is less than thrilled about visiting Halifax with his family. He’s still angry over the family's recent move to Boston and chafing under his father's rules. While exploring on his own, Laz slips into a tunnel which sends him back in time to 1745. He quickly realizes the importance of the St. Christopher's medal he always wears, but it is no longer in his possession.  Laz is forced by English Colonists to spy on the French, with whom they are at war. However, the kindness of Commander Morapain and others in the town of Louisbourg make it hard for Laz to spy on those he considers to be his friends when he knows he will be aiding their enemies. But if he doesn’t betray them, how will he ever get back the medal he needs in order to time travel back home? While it might help readers to have some background on the time period, the author provides enough details to allow them to draw their own conclusions about the battles between the French and the English and Laz’s own personal dilemma.

    Ages 15+

    Grendel’s Guide to Love and War. A. E. Kaplan. 2017. Knopf/Random House.

    Grendel's Guide to Love and WArSeventeen-year-old Tom Grendel lives a quiet life with his father in a Southern neighborhood. His own mother died when he was nine, and his father suffers from PTSD as the result of his time spent in the military service. Tom spends his free time mowing yards, weeding gardens, and interviewing his elderly neighbors about their lives. The arrival of a rowdy and rude family that moves into the neighborhood leaves Tom feeling assaulted, mostly because the son, Rex Rothgar, throws parties and blasts loud music into the wee hours. Tom has no choice but to intervene. The battle for a quiet night's sleep is on, and Tom enlists help from some surprising allies. While this is an account of a neighborhood conflict and one boy's determination to fix things, it is also a celebration of love, loyalty, and memory and a story about how hard it is to know someone, much less yourself. Savvy readers will recognize the references to the classic Beowulf that have been woven throughout the narrative.

    To Look a Nazi in the Eye: A Teen’s Account of a War Criminal Trial. Kathy Kacer (with Jordana Lebowitz). 2017. Second Story.

    To Look a Nazi in the EyeJordana Lebowitz, a 19-year-old college student, travels from her Canadian home to the town of Luneburg, Germany, to hear testimony from Oskar Groening, a Nazi accused of being complicit in the deaths of more than 300,000 Jews at Auschwitz. Jordana feels conflicted about and sometimes even sympathetic toward Groening as she weighs his words for sincerity and regret. Jordana also listens to the testimony of Holocaust survivors and relatives of those who died in the camps, and she spends time with some of them in between days at the trial. Convinced that it is important for her to bear witness to the trial and for those responsible for all those deaths to be held accountable, Jordana blogs about her experiences. Kacer skillfully juxtaposes Jordana's blog entries, a BBC interview, and other media accounts of the trial. Readers may come away with an understanding that evil wears many faces and that it is unfair to generalize about a particular nation and its citizens. Ultimately, Jordana meets kind-hearted Germans and realizes that simply standing by and doing nothing in the face of evil is the worst crime of all, a lesson readers today might take to heart.

    Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school, as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor's in Communications and a master's in English Education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

    Read More
    • Classroom Teacher
    • Children's & YA Literature
    • Librarian
    • Job Functions
    • Administrator
    • Teacher Preparation
    • Curriculum Development
    • Classroom Instruction
    • Professional Development
    • Topics
    • ~9 years old (Grade 4)
    • ~8 years old (Grade 3)
    • ~7 years old (Grade 2)
    • ~6 years old (Grade 1)
    • ~5 years old (Grade K)
    • ~4 years old (Grade Pre-K)
    • ~18 years old (Grade 12)
    • ~17 years old (Grade 12)
    • ~16 years old (Grade 11)
    • ~15 years old (Grade 10)
    • ~14 years old (Grade 9)
    • ~13 years old (Grade 8)
    • ~12 years old (Grade 7)
    • ~11 years old (Grade 6)
    • ~10 years old (Grade 5)
    • Student Level
    • Tutor
    • Teacher Educator
    • Reading Specialist
    • Partner Organization
    • Other/Literacy Champion
    • Literacy Coach
    • Book Reviews

    Adventure and Survival Stories

    By Barbara A. Ward
     | Sep 25, 2017

    Stories of adventure and survival get readers’ hearts pounding as they worry about whether the protagonist is going to make it out of a bad situation—or not. These books are hard to resist because they allow readers to live vicariously through unimaginable experiences, providing a chance to laugh in amusement or gasp in awe at the trouble in which the characters find themselves.

    Ages 4–8

    Claude on the Big Screen (Claude #7). Alex T. Smith. 2017. Peachtree.

    Claude on the Big ScreenFans of curious canine explorer Claude will happily follow him and his sidekick, Sir Bobblysock, as they set off on another adventure. This time the two check out the movie being made on Waggy Avenue. Claude’s curiosity results in the film’s stars being wrapped up in the clothesline he has been dragging around. Claude and Sir Bobblysock prevent the shutdown of the movie set by channeling their inner thespians, of course, and even rescuing one character from a rooftop. Claude's human companions are in for a big surprise when they see what he drags home. It is entertaining to watch Claude in action and to wonder what his sidekick is thinking. Absurd situations, wrapped up with a wry sense of humor, make it all silly fun.

    Out! Arree Chung. 2017. Henry Holt.

    Out!What young child doesn’t resist winding down after being put to bed? In this case, Jo Jo, the family dog, tries to entertain the little one, but the child is determined to get out of his crib. Jo Jo sticks with him as they have the time of their lives, flying down the stairs, knocking a cake from the table, devouring it, and leaving tell-tale tracks all over the house. The parents follow the tracks upstairs and find the two culprits asleep in the crib. Although Jo Jo ends up in his kennel, he might not stay there for long since the boy knows how to climb out of his crib and can open the door to the kennel. With a spare text of only a few words in dialogue balloons and full-page and paneled illustrations, created with acrylics, found paper, and Adobe Photoshop, Out! could serve as an introduction to the graphic novel format for young children, who will also enjoy predicting what mischief the pair might get into next.

    Rapunzel. Bethan Woollvin. 2017. Peachtree.

    RapunzelAs she did in Little Red (2016), Woollvin chooses one color—bright marigold yellow—as the focal point in her fractured version of this classic fairy tale with a sly message of self-empowerment. Rapunzel is no damsel in distress, and no prince is needed in this imaginative retelling. Although she has been warned by the witch not to leave the tower with the threat of a terrible curse, Rapunzel is curious about what lies beyond the tower in which she’s been imprisoned. She cunningly fashions her long locks into a ladder and explores the natural world around her, and eventually comes up with a clever plan for escaping from the witch. Readers will enjoy finding Rapunzel’s animal friends, including a bunny and a chicken, and the scissors in the illustrations, as well as the witches peeking out from behind trees on the back endpaper, which highlights the delightful happily-ever-after ending Rapunzel makes for herself.

    This Is a Book Full of Monsters. Guido van Genechten. 2017. Clavis.

    MonstersAfter warning readers about how scary the monsters in this picture book will be, van Genechten takes readers on an increasingly frightening and somewhat gross journey filled with monsters. Readers are given every chance to stop reading at any time, and there’s even a diploma to be given out to anyone who survives the book unscathed. The book is both scary and funny, primarily because of the images of the ugly monsters, some oozing with slime and others uttering horrible sounds. The story is a good way for readers to overcome some of their fears of the dark and the unknown. After all, they have survived a book full of monsters. What could possibly be worse?

    Ages 9–11

    Danger at the Dinosaur Stomping Grounds (The Wild World of Buck Bray #2). Judy Young. 2017. Sleeping Bear.

    Wild World of Buck BrayEleven-year-olds Buck Bray and Toni Shoop continue to travel with their fathers as part of a nature-themed TV reality show, The Wild World of Buck Bray. Having met at Denali National Park in Alaska, they now are exploring Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Buck is fascinated by the unique terrain of the canyons, but even more so by the dinosaur fossils nearby. To the youngsters’ dismay, the park’s pictographs have been vandalized by a most unlikely culprit. Although Buck’s impulsivity causes him to take foolish risks and make mistakes, usually his heart is in the right place. Curious-minded readers will appreciate the science snippets that introduce each chapter and are threaded through the dialogue in Buck's scripts.

    How Could We Harness a Hurricane? Vicki Cobb. Ill. Theo Cobb. 2017. Seagrass.

    HurricaneWith the arrival of hurricane season, this informational book that ponders whether humans might ever be able to stop, slow down, or even harness the hurricanes’ energy in a positive way. Complemented by colorful photographs provided by NASA and NOAA, the book imagines some possible solutions, but Cobb is careful to point out the disadvantages as well as the advantages. Readers will realize just how unlikely some of the ideas are. For instance, how much ice would a tug have to tow in order to cool an oncoming hurricane's path? The author also explains what a hurricane is and how it forms, and takes readers inside the eye of a storm. Several hands-on experiments for readers are included. The concluding section explores the role of humans in destroying the coastlines that act as barriers to hurricanes and slow them down as they approach land as well as our having built structures in vulnerable spaces. Back matter includes a glossary, a bibliography, an author’s note, and an index.

    Ages 1214

    Knife’s Edge (Four Points #2). Hope Larson. Ill. Rebecca Mock. 2017. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

    Knife's EdgePicking up right where Compass Point (2017) concluded, this graphic novel follows twelve-year-old twins Alexander and Cleopatra Dodge as they search for the treasure they are sure has been left for them. They hire Captain Tarboro to sail to the location and are grateful to have their adoptive father along as well. But the siblings argue over everything, and Cleo resents that only Alex gets to learn how to sail the ship. Even while things are unpleasant between the youngsters, the Dodges and their allies must keep an eye out for Felix Worley, the fierce pirate who is relentlessly seeking the same treasure. The book introduces some new characters and keeps readers on the edge of their seats as risks are taken, mistakes are made, and unwise alliances formed. There is a surprise reunion at the end, setting up more adventures. Middle school readers will be captivated by the story’s setting, its imperfect characters, and the realization that even heartless villains aren’t always without compassion.

    The Last Panther. Todd Mitchell. 2017. Delacorte/Random House.

    The Last PantherIn this grim, futuristic foretelling, eleven-year-old Kiri has strong connections with animals and is sad to realize that many species now exist only in captivity. Kiri spends her days helping her conservationist father as he tests ocean waters and watches over the native species in an unnamed jungle, but she also spends time with her best friend, Paulo, and her pet rat, Snowflake. Outsiders such as Kiri's father are considered to be wallers, and their interests clash with those of fugees, the jungle’s original inhabitants. Because Kiri's deceased mother was a fugee, Kiri is given some leeway in her actions, but there have always been conflicts between both sides. Differences are exacerbated after the villagers kill a large leatherback turtle for its meat. When Kiri happens upon a rare panther with three cubs, she is determined to save them. The hopeful ending points to a way to broker a compromise when it comes to environmental issues.

    Ages 15+

    Bang. Barry Lyga. 2017. Little, Brown.

    BangFourteen-year-old Sebastian Cody has never recovered from accidentally killing his baby sister when he was four. His story is told through two different sections, one labeled "History" with details of the accident and another labeled "The Present.” Sebastian has long known that he will kill himself when he can bear the guilt no longer. His friendship with one classmate, Evan, helps stave off the demons as does his budding relationship with Aneesa, a Muslim girl whose family has recently moved into the neighborhood. While Evan is away, Sebastian and Aneesa spend the summer posting videos of Sebastian's delicious and original pizzas online, attracting followers. Sebastian vacillates between guilt and thinking he might actually have found a reason to live. Clearly, Sebastian must learn to forgive himself for something that he considers unforgiveable. Teen readers will race through the pages to see whether Sebastian decides to choose life. This is gritty territory for a young adult novel. The book may provoke conversations about trauma, healing, and forgiveness.

    Odd & True. Cat Winters. 2017. Amulet/Abrams

    Odd & TrueThis unusual tale of adventure follows Trudchen Grey and her older sister Odette. Trudchen (Tru) is living in Oregon in 1909 when her sister returns after two years' absence. During their formative years, Odette (called Od by her family) often entertained her little sister with wild tales of monsters and stories about their mother's job as a monster hunter. The girls are given to using various supernatural rituals to keep scary things at bay, but as it turns out, the monsters are nothing like what one might expect. After Od persuades Tru to leave home to hunt monsters with her, Tru learns the truth about their mother, their family, and where Od has been during the time she's been away. There is just enough mysticism and fantasy to entice readers, making them eager to spend more time with the sisters. Perhaps magic is in the eye of the beholder, talismans work if someone believes they work, and truth may be found by reading tea leaves. Then again, perhaps not.

    Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor’s in Communications and a master’s in English Education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

    Read More
    • Book Reviews
    • Children's & YA Literature
    • Classroom Teacher
    • Librarian
    • Job Functions
    • Leadership
    • Curriculum Development
    • Classroom Instruction
    • Professional Development
    • Education Legislation
    • Policy & Advocacy
    • Critical Literacy
    • Literacies
    • School Policies
    • School Leadership
    • Administration
    • Topics
    • ~9 years old (Grade 4)
    • ~8 years old (Grade 3)
    • ~7 years old (Grade 2)
    • ~6 years old (Grade 1)
    • ~5 years old (Grade K)
    • ~4 years old (Grade Pre-K)
    • ~16 years old (Grade 11)
    • ~15 years old (Grade 10)
    • ~14 years old (Grade 9)
    • ~13 years old (Grade 8)
    • ~12 years old (Grade 7)
    • ~11 years old (Grade 6)
    • ~10 years old (Grade 5)
    • Student Level
    • Tutor
    • Teacher Educator
    • Reading Specialist
    • Other/Literacy Champion
    • Literacy Education Student
    • Literacy Coach
    • Administrator

    Celebrating the Freedom to Read

    By Barbara A. Ward
     | Sep 18, 2017

    For more than 30 years, book lovers, librarians, teachers, publishers, book lovers, and supporters of intellectual freedom have celebrated the freedom to read through Banned Books Week. Librarians and teachers are all too aware of the threats to a free exchange of ideas that arise when a member of the community demands that a book be removed from the shelves.

    The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF) maintains records of books that have been challenged, restricted, removed, or banned during the year. Typically, challenges are filed because someone considers the book or material to be "sexually explicit," to contain "offensive language," or to be "unsuited to any age group." The ALA OIF reported 323 challenges in 2016.

    This year, Banned Book Week is celebrated from September 2430. The reviews in this week’s column take a look at the eight children’s and young adult books that appear on the ALA's Top Ten Most Challenged Books list for 2016. In support of intellectual freedom, consider reading all of these books and discussing them with friends and colleagues.

    Ages 4–8

    I Am Jazz. Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings. Ill. Shelagh McNicholas. 2014. Dial/Penguin.

    I Am JazzEven at age two, Jazz Jennings knew that she had the brain of a girl but the body of a boy. This picture book provides insight into her feelings and the journey she and her parents took toward acceptance, understanding, and advocacy for those who experience gender dysphoria. Issues such as Jazz’s struggles for acceptance on sports teams and in school bathrooms are highlighted here. The simple text, complemented with cheerful watercolor illustrations, offers reassurance and hope and a place to begin conversations about gender roles and identity. The picture book memoir has been challenged because it portrays a transgender child and because of “language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints.”

    Little Bill Series. Bill Cosby. Various years since 1997. Cartwheel/Scholastic.

    Little BillIntended for young readers, each of the thirteen titles in this series explores an emotion and traces the protagonist’s development. As Little Bill faces changes and choices related to loss, death, wealth, bullying, and honesty, readers have the chance to explore the same issues in their own lives. The series was challenged because of sexual assault allegations surrounding Bill Cosby, the author.

    Ages 9–11

    George. Alex Gino. 2015. Scholastic.

    GeorgeFourth grader George has felt that something wasn’t quite
    right for a long time. As she grows up, she becomes convinced that she’s a girl born into a boy’s body. When she auditions for the role of Charlotte in the class’s production of Charlotte’s Web, her teacher reacts negatively. But with the help of her best friend, Kelly, who understands George’s feelings, George ends up right where she wanted to be. Readers gain insight into the struggles faced by George when even her mother and teacher fail to understand or to act as her allies. Eventually, George’s mother realizes her mistakes, and George finds support in a surprising form—the school principal. This book was deemed inappropriate for young readers because it features a transgender child and sexuality “not appropriate at elementary levels.”

    Ages 12–14

    Drama. Raina Telgemeier. 2012. Graphix/Scholastic.

    DramaSeventh grader Callie is a theater geek with no musical talent. Instead, she channels her passion into set design for the drama department. Not only must she contend with an almost nonexistent budget, but there is as much drama off the stage as there is on it. As Callie gains confidence in her abilities to create a great set, she also deals with an unrequited crush on a classmate’s older sibling and another crush on one of the actors. Although she doesn’t find love, she does develop confidence and a sense of accomplishment. This graphic novel was challenged because it “includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint.”

    This One Summer.  Mariko Tamaki. Ill. Jillian Tamaki. 2014. First Second/Roaring Brook.

    The One SummerRose and her family always look forward to spending their summers at Awago Beach. Rose loves to hang out with Windy, a younger friend who is there as well. But this particular summer seems different from previous ones. Rose’s parents are constantly at each other’s throats, and her mother seems mired in some unnamed depression. With too much free time on her hands, Rose spends much of it watching horror films while Windy consumes unhealthy foods. On the cusp of her own physical maturity, Rose is fascinated by the relationship dramas unfolding among the local teens. This graphic novel was challenged because it “includes LGBT characters, drug use and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes.”

    Ages 15+

    Eleanor & Park. Rainbow Rowell. 2013. St. Martin.

    Eleanor and ParkAt first glance, Eleanor and Park couldn’t have less in common, but as they get to know each other, it is clear that they are both misfits, just in different ways. Eleanor tries to stay beneath the radar because her size and fashion choices make her the object of ridicule, while Park rebels through his choices of music and the makeup he wears. The story is set in 1986 in Nebraska and contains just enough cultural references to make its setting believable. When the two teens happen to sit together on the school bus, they find commonalities while Park shares his music and comic books with Eleanor. This unlikely friendship blossoms into an even more unlikely love with little chance of lasting. Since the story is told from the dual perspectives of Eleanor and Park, readers gain insight into the thoughts and feelings of both characters, which only adds to the book’s heart-wrenching impact. The book was challenged for “offensive language.”

    Looking for Alaska. John Green. 2005. Dutton/Penguin.

    Looking for AlaskaLooking for something beyond the safe and predictable life he has been living, Miles (Pudge) Halter heads to Culver Creek Boarding School, where he meets classmates and makes friends who share a very different perspective on life than his own. If risk-taking is what Miles is looking for, he certainly finds it in his new surroundings while romancing one girl and falling in love with another one. Not only does Chip, Miles’ roommate, help him spread his wings, but Alaska, the mysterious girl who is clearly haunted by the past, awakens him to life’s possibilities while also crushing his spirit. Life can never be the same after meeting Alaska. This book was challenged for a “sexually explicit scene.”

    Two Boys Kissing. David Levithan. 2013. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.

    Two Boys KissingSeventeen-year-old Harry and Craig are out to set a world record for kissing, but while they’re locked in an embrace, the former couple must sort out their feelings for one another as their parents and the world look on. As the competition continues, it garners media attention, and the boys become exhausted, thirsty, hungry, yet determined to press on. The fact that one teen’s family already knows about his sexual identity while the other boy’s does not adds to the drama, as does the use of commentary of individuals from an older generation in which many died of AIDS. This book was challenged for its cover featuring two boys kissing and for “ sexually explicit LGBT content.”

    Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor's in Communications, a master's in English Education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.

    Read More
    • Literacy Coach
    • Book Reviews
    • Librarian
    • Children's & YA Literature
    • Classroom Teacher
    • Student Engagement & Motivation
    • Teaching Strategies
    • Teacher Preparation
    • Curriculum Development
    • Classroom Instruction
    • Professional Development
    • Writing
    • Vocabulary
    • Reading
    • Comprehension
    • Foundational Skills
    • English Language Arts
    • Content Areas
    • Topics
    • ~9 years old (Grade 4)
    • ~8 years old (Grade 3)
    • ~7 years old (Grade 2)
    • ~6 years old (Grade 1)
    • ~5 years old (Grade K)
    • ~4 years old (Grade Pre-K)
    • ~16 years old (Grade 11)
    • ~15 years old (Grade 10)
    • ~14 years old (Grade 9)
    • ~13 years old (Grade 8)
    • ~12 years old (Grade 7)
    • ~11 years old (Grade 6)
    • ~10 years old (Grade 5)
    • Student Level
    • Volunteer
    • Tutor
    • Teacher Educator
    • Reading Specialist
    • Other/Literacy Champion
    • Literacy Education Student
    • Job Functions

    Books About Books

    By Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
     | Sep 11, 2017

    The books in this week’s column take readers on imaginative adventures that tell the tales of people whose lives have been changed by books. Set in libraries, bookshops, and classrooms, these intriguing stories whet the appetite for more reading, and inspire readers to share the wondrous world of books with others.

    Ages 4–8

    Baabwaa & Wooliam. David Elliott. Ill. Melissa Sweet. 2017. Candlewick.

    Baabwaa and WooliamBaabwaa is a sheep who loves knitting. Wooliam is a sheep who loves reading. Inspired by the story Wooliam’s reading, they set off seeking adventure. Nothing exciting happens until they are approached by another sheep—one with a long tail, a toothy snout, and an unkempt fleece. Wooliam recognizes the stranger as the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing he’s read about, and the chase is on. Their adventure takes an unexpected turn with Baabwaa and Woolliam returning to knitting and reading and the wolf discovering the joy of reading (although there are still frequent interruptions for chasing). Sweet’s colorful and expressive illustrations, done in watercolor, gouache, and mixed media, add to the fun of this entertaining tale of an unlikely friendship.

    —CA

    A Place to Read. Leigh Hodgkinson. 2017. Bloomsbury.

    A Place to ReadA young boy is searching for the perfect place to sit for a bit to read. The playful rhyming text and mixed media-and-digital collage illustrate the boy’s search for the perfect chair. Observant readers will notice creatures that appear as the boy keeps rejecting chairs until he finally realizes that it doesn’t matter where you read a book. A final double-page depicts him lying on the floor, reading to all the creatures, as he declares, “. . . a book is best anywhere . . . /a book is best when you SHARE.”  

    —CA

    Robinson. Peter Sís. 2017. Scholastic.

    RobinsonWhen Peter, the narrator, and his adventure-loving friends make plans to go to the school costume party as pirates, his mother has another idea. She creates a furry outfit that transforms Peter into the hero of his favorite adventure story, Robinson Crusoe. At the party, all his pirate-costumed friends make fun of his costume. Back home and tucked in bed, he begins to dream. A series of exquisite double-page spreads and sequential panels show Peter cast upon a lush, colorful island where he survives as a strong and brave Robinson Crusoe. Just as pirates arrive on the island, Peter awakes in his bedroom to find his friends eager to play and hear more about Robinson Crusoe. In an author’s note, Sís tells how this book was inspired by remembrance of a childhood experience in which his mother dressed him up as one of his favorite storybook characters for a costume contest. The accompanying photograph shows the young Sís in his Robinson Crusoe costume.

    —CA

    This Book Will Not Be Fun. Cirocco Dunlap. Ill. Olivier Tallec. 2017. Random House.

    This book will not be funAs the Word-Eating Flying Whale makes an appearance to snack on a few words, a mouse who likes “boring things” addresses the reader, stating, “This book will not be fun.” Then, a worm materializes on the whale’s fin, transforming into a Glow-in-the-Dark Kung Fu Worm, and the lights go out. Following the worm’s lit-up footprints through convoluted zigs and zags in the dark, the mouse arrives at a GIANT ZERO-GRAVITY DANCE PARTY where, after frolicking, he finally admits, “Well, it [this book] was not fun for YOU. I had a great time.” Tallec’s bold and colorful illustrations effectively showcase this mouse with his long-suffering demeanor and quirky sense of humor. This is just the right book to knock lethargic readers out of their socks and into a book dance party!

    —NB

    Ages 9–11

    Dragon’s Green (Worldquake #1). Scarlett Thomas. 2017. Simon & Schuster.

    Dragon's GreenEuphemia (Effie) Truelove’s mother disappeared five years earlier during the Worldquake, which pitched the world back to pre-1992 technology. Now Effie faces a new loss when her grandfather, Griffin, is attacked in an alley. On his deathbed, he adds a codicil to his will, leaving his possessions to Effie, and whispers that she must find Dragon’s Green and protect his library of last editions. By that evening, her father, who hates magic and destroyed the codicil, has sold the library to an antiquarian bookseller. Although she doesn’t understand Griffin’s requests, she enlists the help of classmates from the Tusitala School for the Gifted, Troubled, and Strange, and assisted by some of her grandfather’s mystical artifacts, they embark on a dangerous quest to retrieve the books. Readers will be primed to read what happens next in this new fantasy series.

    —NB

    Our Story Begins: Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring, and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew as Kids. Elissa Brent Weissman (Ed.) 2017. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

    Our Story BeginsWith contributors ranging in age, gender, and ethnicity, this book is an inspiring collection of vignettes in which 26 authors and illustrators give firsthand accounts of their early talent and accomplishments. They also impart advice and provide photos of their early artwork, prose, and poetry. Readers will find themselves drawn to the stories of certain authors and illustrators. For me, some highlights included Linda Sue Park’s poem “Fog by the Ocean,” written at age nine; Brian Selznick’s description of drawing characters from Star Wars at age eleven; and Rita Williams-Garcia’s accomplishment of completing 39 journals/sketchbooks with story ideas and conversations by age thirteen. Perfect for aspiring writers and illustrators of all ages, this anthology concludes with a list of suggestions such as “Read, read, read,” “Daydream, doodle, and let your imagination run wild,” and “Believe.”

    —NB

    The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library. Linda Bailey. Ill. Victoria Jamieson. 2017. Greenwillow/HarperCollins.

    The Tiny HeroEddie, a tiny green bug, lives with his family (including 53 siblings) behind the chalkboard in a fourth-grade classroom. When Aunt Min leaves and doesn’t return, Eddie sneaks out and locates her in the library. Overhearing the substitute librarian on the phone as she plans to turn the library into a technology lab, Eddie writes “please,” “save,” and “the library” on sticky notes that he presses onto various books. The students decide that these notes are from the ghost of the founding librarian, Miss Cavendish, who wants them to save the library. After Eddie’s aunt is accidentally locked in a desk drawer, Eddie writes one last note, “Open,” and leaves it on the desktop. Can Eddie’s bright ideas save both the Fern Creek library and Aunt Min? It will be a tough job for a little bug. Jamieson’s black-and-white illustrations complement Bailey’s clever adventure story. Eddie & Min’s Bugliography (a list of children’s books referenced in the story) is a nice addition.

    —NB

    Ages 12–14

    Books! Books! Books!: Explore the Amazing Collection of the British Library. Mick Manning & Brita Granström. 2017. Candlewick.

    Books! Books! Books!Manning and Grandström take readers on a tour of the British Library, the national library of the United Kingdom and “the greatest library in the world!” Spreads of watercolor-and-digital collage art incorporate photographs of work from the library’s archives and a docent-like narrative (with humorous touches) provide an engaging, accessible peek at the British Library’s treasure of books, documents, manuscripts, and more. Back matter includes notes on the twenty-one featured treasures, including the handmade St. Cuthbert Gospel, the oldest surviving book produced in Europe; the Magna Carta; the First Folio of William Shakespeare; the original manuscript of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; and the handwritten sheet music of Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks.”

    —CA

    The Unbreakable Code (Book Scavenger #2). Jennifer Chambliss Bertram. Ill. Sarah Watts. 2017. Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt.

    The Unbreakable CodeTwelve-year-old Book Scavenger celebrities Emily and James go sleuthing again when they suspect their social studies teacher, Mr. Quisling, is involved with a string of arson fires, triggered by encrypted messages in hidden, Mark Twain-penned books. The only way for them to be sure—and to stop Mr. Quisling—is to solve the Unbreakable Code, a Mark Twain cipher (with its alleged fire curse), and locate the treasure from the Niantic, a ship that burnt in the San Francisco harbor during the 1851 Gold Rush. They must find the hidden Twain books (and decipher their encrypted messages) and discover (and figure out) the treasure map in the History Center before Mr. Quisling does. Readers will want to solve the ingenious black-and-white codes and ciphers along with the characters in the book. An author’s note describes the historical events that inspired this book. If they haven’t already done so, readers will want to check out Book Scavenger (2015) while waiting for the next book in the series.

    —NB

    Ages 15+

    Words in Deep Blue. Cath Crowley. 2017. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.

    Words in Deep BlueAfter failing Year 12, Australian eighteen-year-old Rachel, whose younger brother, Cal, recently drowned, is sent to live with her Aunt Rose in Gracetown. No one in Gracetown knows of the tragedy, and Rachel remains silent. She reluctantly goes to work at Howling Bookstore, a local bookshop owned by the family of Henry Jones—her unrequited childhood crush. While working on a Letter Library project cataloguing comments written in certain books, she learns new things about her brother Cal from a surprising source. When the bookstore goes up for sale and she realizes she doesn’t have time to finish the transcriptions, Rachel turns her new understanding of Cal into a surprising solution—and finally finds her voice. Ready to heal, she reaches out to a community ready to embrace her. Readers will champion Rachel in her journey of loss, friendship, and love in this beautifully written book about reclaiming life.

    —NB

    Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

    Read More
Back to Top

Categories

Recent Posts

Archives