Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath

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Horvath, Polly. Everything on a Waffle.  Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2001.  $16.00, 150 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.pollyhorvath.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

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Reader’s Annotation: Can Primrose survive being passed around like a hot potato between a motley crew of caretakers?

Summary:

Primrose Squarp’s parents disappeared during a typhoon, but she refuses to believe that they are dead.  She remains eternally optimistic about that fact while staying with her moth ball scented elderly neighbor, who is probably going senile.  When her Uncle Jack is located, he does not particularly want custody of a little girl, as she would get in the way of his real estate development.  Primrose finds a friend in Miss Bowzer, the owner and cook of The Girl on the Red Swing cafe where everything is served on a waffle.  Miss Bowzer teaches Primrose to cook while listening to her and not judging her, unlike the other residents of the town.  Primrose is eventually placed with foster parents after a series of accidents where she loses her pinky toe, the tip of her finger, and the class guinea pig being set on fire.  Will Primrose continue to stay optimistic in the face of all these challenges?

Evaluation:

The characters of this novel made for it to a strange read.  For a children’s book to feature so few children, also made it unusual to me.  The plot was not very believable, and the quirkiness of the characters added to it further.  The characters, were, however well-characterized.  From the physical details to their odd personalities, each character was clearly drawn and vivid to the reader’s imagination.  These characters allow Primrose and Horvath to show various sides of human nature.  The structure of the novel was interspersed with recipes.  These recipes also added to the story, as they reflected some aspect of the chapter that preceded the recipe.  The recipes further characterized Primrose, strengthened her voice, and served as a tie to her parents (her mother had initially started saving recipes).  Primrose’s growth as a person, finding her place when her place is momentarily out of order while her parents are gone, and better understanding of people who surround her, make Primrose an admirable character in a quirky tale.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 2
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: humor, quirky characters, recipes

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism by Georgia Byng
  • The Thief Lord by Cornelia Caroline Funke

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Newbery Honor
  • National Book Award Finalist

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The day Primrose’s parents disappeared
  • Learning to cook with Miss Bowzer
  • Primrose almost drowning

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How does Primrose stay positive when all the adults around her do not believe her parents are alive?
  • What is Horvath saying about believing things with absolute conviction like Primrose does?
  • Are the recipes at the end of each chapter intended to be actually made?  Why are they there?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because the title intrigued me.  I do enjoy waffles, and was wondering what was everything that would be served on a waffle.

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

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MacLachlan, Patricia. Sarah, Plain and Tall.  Charlotte Zolotow Books, 1985.  $14.99, 58 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Patricia-MacLachlan/38022587

Links to Interviews with Author:

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Reader’s Annotation: Sarah’s visit out West will determine if she will stay on as wife for Papa and mother for Anna and Caleb.

Summary:

Papa had put in an advertisement for a wife in the newspaper.  Sarah has answered the ad and has since exchanged letters with the family.  Now Sarah is coming to visit.  Coming from Maine, things are very different in the West.  Sarah learns about farm life and shares about dunes and the sea on the East Coast.  She sings with the children, shares her sea shell collection, and cuts their hair.  Always overhanging is the question if life in the West is enough for Sarah and if she will stay.  After a particularly bad squall, Sarah asks to learn to ride a horse and go into town by herself.  Will she return?  Or is she buying a ticket to go back to Maine?

Evaluation:

Sarah, Plain and Tall is written in a style that mimics the title: plain.  The language is simple, and the plot straightforward.  But as simple as the writing style, the story is believable for the time period and the characters are endearing.  Caleb is a believable, precocious little boy, full of questions and always speaking his mind.  Pa is hard working and reserved, but his thoughts and feelings are conveyed in his actions.  Sarah is different; she is foreign, headstrong (choosing to wear overalls when Caleb tells her that women do not wear overalls), capable (helping Pa with the roof), and compassionate (crying for a dead lamb and saving her chickens in the squall).  Anna’s constant hope that Sarah will stay echos in each scene she narrates, causing the reader to cling to the hope too that Sarah will stay.  Life in the West is clearly contrasted with life on the East Coast.  Details of the historic time period are accurate and help to create the overall atmosphere.  Though simple like its namesake, the book is a charming read.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 2
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: historical fiction

Appeal Factors: history, romance, family relationships, life in the West

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Skylark by Patricia Maclachlan
  • The Bread Winner by Arvella Whitmore
  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Newberry Medal

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Sarah’s letters to Pa
  • Creating dunes in the barn
  • Sarah in the squall

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Would a mail-order bride work today?
  • How is the sea used in this novel?
  • Does Sarah give any hints whether she wants to go or stay?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it is one that is used in elementary schools.  I was curious about what historical time period it portrayed and how it was portrayed.

The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

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Barton, Chris.  The Day-Glo Brothers.  Charlesbridge, 2009.  $18.95, 44 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.chrisbarton.info/

Links to Interviews with Author:

  • cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2009/07/author-interview-chris-barton-on-day.html

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: What started out as an experiment to enhance a magic trick soon became America’s brightest new thing!

Summary:

Bob and Joe Switzer never set out to create new colors.  Joe enjoyed magic.  Bob wanted to be a doctor.  But after an accident that left him with seizures and unable to be a doctor, Bob found himself recovering in the basement of his parents’ home.  Joe soon recruited him to help with a magic trick that used ultraviolet lamps and fluorescence.  Soon the brothers were experimenting using chemicals from local universities and their mother’s kitchen mixer.  Their glow in the dark paints were a hit with theater costumers, on posters, in toy displays, and even with psychics to fake out gullible customers.  The brothers continued to experiment and soon developed a paint that glowed in daylight and in ultraviolet light.  Day-Glo was born and quickly put to use during World War II.  After the war, Day-Glo also made its way into commercial products like toys, magazine covers, detergent boxes and even into cultural pieces like Andy Warhol’s paintings.  The Switzer brother had brightened up almost every aspect of American life.

Evaluation:

This nonfiction text was an original story that showcases two creative brothers who invent something without even setting out to do so.  The narrative style of this book is easily followed and enjoyable to read.  Based on first hand interviews with people who knew the Switzer brothers, it includes charming and entertaining details about their experiments (and a glowing angel food cake), their initial successes (with a decapitated Balinese dancer), and their triumphs (with the multitude of ways Day-Glo was used in World War II that helped America win the war).  The language of the text is not weighed down by many technical terms, but rather remains conversational in the telling of a story. The illustrations are retro, calling back to the 1950’s and 60’s and early educational cartoons.  They start out initially in gray scale, but more colors and brighter colors are utilized with each success of the brothers.  The author’s conclusion was also quite touching, acknowledging that one brother wanted to save lives, and one brother wanted to wow audiences, and through their Day-Glo, both were able to achieve these things.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: nonfiction, science, history

Appeal Factors: illustrations, use of color, science, experiments, history

Readalike Titles or Authors:

    • The Boy who Invented TV by Kathleen Krull
    • Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Siebert Award honor book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Balinese dancer illusion
  • Experimenting with every day items
  • Billboard on fire

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why does the author imply that Day-Glo has saved lives?
  • How are colors used in this book?
  • What does the author say about problem solving and invention?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this because of the unique subject matter of Day-Glo paint.  The brothers’ story was unfamiliar to me and to many others.  I was also drawn in by the retro illustrations and the clever use of color.

Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle

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Engle, Margarita.  Hurricane Dancers. Henry Holt and Company, 2011.  $17.99, 160 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.margaritaengle.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

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Reader’s Annotation: A slave, a hostage, and a pirate find a way to survive after being shipwrecked in Cuba by a hurricane.

Summary:

Quebrado is a slave aboard Berndardino de Talavera’s pirate ship.  He translates and serves as a deckhand on the ship.  Also aboard the ship is Alonso de Ojeda, the Venezuelan governor that Talavera has taken as a hostage.  Off the coast of Cuba, Talavera’s ship is wrecked by a hurricane with only Quebrado, Talavera, and de Ojeda survive.  Quebrado befriends native Ciboney Indian fisherman Narido, who is in love with the chieftain’s daughter Caucubú, who has been promised in an arranged marriage.  He warns the Ciboney of the ill intentions of de Ojeda and Talavera, and the two are exiled from the village.  There, the two must work together to survive the crocodiles and other dangers of the land.  Meanwhile, Caucubú and Narido have run away together, and Quebrado’s part in it has caused him to be exiled as well.  When he comes upon de Ojeda and Talavera, he must decide what to do to eliminate the threat and to earn his freedom once and for all.

Evaluation:

This historical story was an engaging read.  Written in verse from the point of view of Quebrado, de Ojeda, and Talavera, as well as Narido and Caucubú, the story moves quickly and captures the readers attention.  The poems make the subject matter easier to access, as it is a simpler read.  The poems also infuse the story with rich imagery and rhythm.  Understanding the historical relevance of all of the characters (except for the fictional Quebrado) would help readers understand better the context of the story.  However, readers can get into the story even without the historical background.  Engle offers an insight into the dregs of piracy as well as a glimpse into the lives and culture of the Ciboney Indian natives.  Being told from multiple points of view, a wealth of emotion is conveyed by the characters.  Intense pain, joy, hope, anger, hatred, disappointment, and determination is felt by the characters and empathized by the reader.  The reader whole-heartedly roots for Quebrado as he discovers his identity and freedom through his adventures abroad the pirate ship and then stranded on the island.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: historical fiction, adventure

Appeal Factors: pirates, adventure, history, poems

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Rdley Pearon
  • Blackbeard and the Pirates of the Caribbean by Jon Malam

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Pura Belpre honor
  • Children’s Notable Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Quebrado on surviving the hurricane
  • de Ojeda’s arrogant portrayal of himself
  • Talavera on being a pirate

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Has Talavera changed by the end of the novel?
  • How has Quebrado set himself free?  Literally and figuratively?
  • Why does Quebrado chose the name “Yacuyo” or “Far Light” as his name?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this book because it was about pirates!  I also really love reading books in verse.  The figurative language and imagery of these types of books are so rich and so lovely to read.

Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel by Xavier Garza

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Garza, Xavier. Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel. Cinco Puntos Press, 2011. $12.95, 207 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.angelfire.com/folk/artes/artists/artist/xavier.html

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Max meets his all-time favorite luchador the Guardian Angel and soon learns that they are connected by much more than a love of lucha libre.

Summary:

Max, his father, and his Uncle Lalo all have a love of lucha libre.  The masks, the characters, the history.  Max’s favorite luchador is the Guardian Angel.  He is thrilled when his father takes him to a match where he gets to see the Guardian Angel in person!  Imagine his surprise when, after falling on his head in the ring with the Guardian Angel, the Guardian Angel turns out to be his mother’s Uncle Rodolfo, who had disappeared years ago and that everyone thought was dead.  Uncle Rodolfo returns with Max to reconnect with the family, and the summer starts becoming like one of Max’s lucha libre movies!  Uncle Lalo’s ex-girlfriend Sonia (who happens to be a luchador herself) starts bothering Uncle Lalo and his new wife.  With Uncle Rodolfo’s help, a fundraising tag-team lunchador match is set up at the church to help settle the matter with Sonia.  Max’s summer turns out a whole lot more interesting than he ever imagined.

Evaluation:

A truly enjoyable read, Xavier Garza fills the story with humor and his obvious love of lucha libre.  The characters and plot are as over the top and unbelievable as the luchadors themselves.  However, like lucha libre, they are so fun that the reader cannot but help suspend disbelief and wholeheartedly root for the technicos.  The novel is a bilingual novel with English on one side and Spanish on the other.  Poster-like illustrations are sprinkled throughout the novel as well, calling to mind character cards or posters of wrestlers.  The culture of lucha libre is fully embraced in the novel, but even those who do not know what it is, are able to access the story.  Underlying the fun lucha libre storyline is the universal theme of the importance of family.  Uncle Rodolfo’s reconnection with his family, Lalo fighting for his new family, Max’s obvious pride in his family, and the way that they all stick together to solve a problem shines through.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: lucha libre, Mexican culture, family relationships, humor, comics

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Maximilian and the Bingo Rematch by Xavier Garza
  • Body Slammed by Ray Villareal
  • Nino Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Pura Belpre Honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Meeting the Guardian Angel
  • Uncle Rodolfo and Max talking about why Uncle Rodolfo left in the first place
  • The tag team match

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How are the characters exaggerated like the luchadors?
  • How is the theme of family conveyed through the story?
  • How is lucha libre like a family?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because it was about lucha libre at the middle grade level. I am always on the look out for books that middle school students would enjoy.  I think that it would definitely appeal to middle school students who are reluctant readers.

The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales

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Canales, Viola. The Tequila Worm. Wendy Lamb Books, 2005.  $7.99, 199 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:  http://violacanales.blogspot.com/

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Coming from a world of cascarones, tequila worms, and tacos for lunch, how will Sofia fit in to the elite ritzy boarding school?

Summary:

Sofia loves living in McAllen.  From her Aunt Clara’s grab bag of stories which they tell to remember their history, to street soccer after school, to Papa’s fajitas, to preparing for her best friend’s quinciñera, her world is filled with good food, great friends, and warmth and love from her family.  Despite being teased as a “taco head,” Sofia excels in school and in soccer and is offered a scholarship to a boarding school in another town.  Her family and friends work together to get her prepared for this completely different world.  At Saint Luke’s, Sofia learns how to make peace with her Mexican identity amidst prejudices and preconceived notions.  Her roommate Brooke and fellow scholarship student Marco help her along the way.  Soon Sofia is able to travel between home and school at peace with who she is.

Evaluation:

This heartwarming novel tells the familiar story of a struggle with race and identity.  The characters are vividly portrayed and are engaging and endearing.  Sofia’s soccer coach who shares her lunch and wisdom with Sofia is a minor character but a prime example of an truly likeable character.  When kids make fun of Sofia’s lunch of tacos, her coach offers to trade half her lunch, and makes a big deal over how good the tacos are.  She also encourages Sofia to “kick” the other girl “with her head.” Sofia’s conflicting emotions and thoughts are realistically portrayed as she tries to fit in both in McAllen and at St. Luke’s.  The love between the family members and friends flows off the page and bathes the readers in warmth.  The structure of the novel is comprised of many vignettes that show glimpses of Sofia’s family and culture. From each vignette Sofia learns something or changes in some way.  There are some major shifts in time, but mostly of a linear fashion. This story is one of a beautiful coming of age and embracing of one’s heritage.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:  3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction, coming of age

Appeal Factors: Mexican culture, identity

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson
  • House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Pura Belpre Award
  • Children’s Notable Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Taco Head and lunch with Coach
  • Eating the tequila worm with Berta and Lucy
  • First day at St. Lukes

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How does the author use the tequila worm throughout the novel?
  • How has Sofia become a comadre?
  • What does Papa mean by saying that they have their own wealth in McAllen?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because of its title.  I had never heard of curing homesickness with a tequila worm.  I was also curious to see how Sofia’s experience would pan out in the boarding school.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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Woodson, JacquelineEach Kindness.  Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012.  $16.99, 32 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.jacquelinewoodson.com

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Chloe misses out on an opportunity to show kindness to a classmate.

Summary:

Maya is a new girl to Chloe’s class.  Each day she smiles at Chloe, Chloe turns away.  Each day she shows Chloe a toy or something from home and invites her to play, and each day Chloe rebuffs her.  Maya is different from the other students.  Her clothing looks funny, her lunch is weird, and she doesn’t have proper shoes for the winter snow.  The other children, including Chloe and her friends, whisper about Maya and call her Never New.  Eventually Maya stops approaching them, smiling at them, and asking them to play.  Ms. Albert, Chloe’s teacher, has a lesson about kindness.  Dropping a pebble into a bowl, she explains that each kind thing that someone does ripples out in the world like the pebble.  When Chloe cannot think of a kind thing she has done, she decides that she will smile back at Maya.  Except Maya never returns to school, and Ms. Albert tells the class that Maya’s family had to move away.

Evaluation:

Each Kindness is a simple story, but holds a powerful message.  Maya’s situation is never fully explained because Chloe never gets to know her, but there are clues that Maya and her family may be poor.  The story portrayed is unfortunately one that probably occurs in schools throughout the country throughout time.  The characters were realistically drawn, children reluctant to befriend the different, making up hurtful nicknames, ostracizing and excluding those that do not fit.  My heart went out to Maya, who reached out day after day, only to be rejected again and again.  In true to life fashion, Chloe misses out on the opportunity to show kindness to Maya when her family moves away.  Chloe is then left with regret and Maya was never shown any kindness.  Woodson leaves Chloe contemplating kindness shown and not shown and leaves the reader determined to avoid Chloe’s experience.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: illustrations, real life situations, friendship, kindness

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
  • Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams
  • Hope by Adam Einsenson

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Coretta Scott King Honor
  • Charlotte Zolotow Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Description of Maya
  • Maya’s nickname as Never New
  • The Kindness lesson

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Will Maya experience kindness at her new school?
  • How can Chloe show kindness to others now that she missed her chance to show Maya kindness?
  • What does the author want you to do about kindness in the world?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because of its lesson in kindness.  It also won the Jane Addam’s Award for peace.  It would be a great book to use with students to teach and talk about kindness and compassion.