April and Esme, Tooth Fairies by Bob Graham

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Graham, Bob. April and Esme, Tooth Fairies. Candlewick Press, 2010.  $16.99, 40 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.walker.co.uk/contributors/Bob-Graham-3108.aspx

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Reader’s Annotation: April and Esme show their parents that they are grown up enough for tooth retrieval.

Summary:

Tooth fairy April Underhill receives a special request on her cell phone from Daniel’s grandmother for her and Esme to pick up a tooth.  The problem is that Daddy and Mommy do not think the young fairies are old enough to go by themselves.  April meticulously records the details of the pick up, and reassures both Daddy and Mommy with logic why she and Esme will be perfectly safe and are capable of the job.  Flying to Cornflower Terrace, the girls identify Daniel’s room by following a trail of toys.  April has to take a swim for the tooth that Daniel had put into a cup of water.  Just as April gets the tooth, Daniel wakes up!  April and Esme have to pull his eye lids shut and whisper that they were just a dream.  Before they head back to their waiting parents, the girls fly to Grandma’s room, where April shares their success and Esme wants to get Grandma’s dentures.  Upon their successful arrival at home, the girls are greeted with much love and pride in their accomplishments.

Evaluation:

Bob Graham’s April and Esme, Tooth Fairies is a lovely tale of growing up.  April articulates logically to her parents why she and Esme should be able to go get the tooth.  She is able to figure out where the tooth is, and to trouble shoot when the tooth is in a glass of water.  Graham creates an imaginary world that closely parallels the real world, so that readers can relate to the fairy girls’ dilemma of seemingly overprotective parents.  Fay (Mommy) recalls a time when “foxes still chased hares on the hill,” using the same argument that parents use about times changing and the past being safer for children.  The details included in the illustrations, as well as snuck into the plot, also create a world very similar to ours.  April has a cell phone, Mommy dries her hair with a hair dryer, the girls wear coats, Mommy tells the girls to text if there is trouble.  At the same time, there is the fanciful element, where Mommy bathes in a tea cup, Daddy has a desk chair made from a bottle cap, a giant daffodil (compared to the fairies) grows in the girls’ bedroom.  Overall, this story is a delightful and triumphant tale of parents letting children accomplish things on their own.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: fantasy

Appeal Factors: illustrations, fantastical elements, fairies, detailed world building, realistic elements, sisters, adventure

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • The Moonlight Tooth Fairy by Lulu Frost
  • The Tooth Mouse by Susan Hood
  • Mabel the Tooth Fairy and How She Got Her Job by Katie Davis

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Charlotte Zolotow Award honor
  • Notable Children’s Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Convincing Mommy and Daddy that they can go
  • Last minute advice before they leave
  • Having to dive for the tooth

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How is the tooth fairies’ world the same as ours?
  • What convinces Mommy that April and Esme are old enough to go?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it was about tooth fairies.  The fanciful and magical elements of this story were enchanting.  I loved the way the illustrations created a world so like ours, but also with fantastical elements.

Let’s Go for a Drive by Mo Willems

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Willems, Mo. Let’s Go for a Drive.  Hyperion Books for Children, 2012.  $8.99, 57 pages.

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

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Reader’s Annotation: Piggie and Elephant make plans to go for a drive.

Summary:

Piggie and Gerald the elephant decide to go for a drive.  Gerald emphasizes the need for a plan.  Included in his plan are all of the things that the two friends will  need for a drive.  This includes a map, umbrella, sunglasses, and bags to keep all of the stuff they need for their drive.  Once they are packed, Gerald realizes that they still need one more thing for their drive…a car!  Since neither has a car, and before Gerald can panic too much more, Piggie suggests they play pirates instead.  And play pirates they do.

Evaluation:

Characteristic of Mo Willems’ work, Let’s Go for a Drive features two familiar friends, Gerald the elephant and Piggie, a problem to solve, and lots of silliness.   The catchy rhythm and silly repetition of words and sounds makes this a good book for early readers. The liberal use of exclamation points amps up the energy of this book.  Willems’ signature illustrations add to the silliness of Gerald and Piggie.  Their emotions are clearly expressed in their facial expressions and body language.  Gerald’s close to hysterics is apparent in the illustrations toward the end.  Their antics are entertaining, as is their final solution to the problem of no car, making this quite an enjoyable read.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: fiction, easy reader

Appeal Factors: humor, illustrations, friends, animals, use of imagination

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • New Socks by Bob Shea
  • Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas
  • My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Theodor Seuss Geisel Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The need for a plan
  • All of the things they need to drive

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why do they need so many things for their drive?
  • What would you need for a drive?
  • How have they incorporated the items they needed for a drive into playing pirates?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because I wanted to read one of Mo Willems’ books.  My son and I had listened to a different Elephant and Piggie story at a library story time, and I liked the two friends’ energy.

Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola

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de Paola, TomieStrega Nona.  Aladdin, 1979.  $7.99, 32 pages.

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

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Reader’s Annotation:  What happens when Big Anthony is told not to touch Strega Nona’s magic pasta pot?  Of course, he touches it.

Summary:

Strega Nona is the friendly town “Grandma Witch” who is getting on in her years.  She hires on Big Anthony to help her with her daily chores.  One day Big Anthony sees Strega Nona making pasta in a magic pasta pot.  When he tells the other villages about this magical cooking instrument, they laugh at him.  When Strega Nona goes out of town, Big Anthony decides to redeem himself by showing off the magic pot.  Unfortunately, Big Anthony did not hear the complete spell, and the town is soon overrun with errant pasta that will not stop flowing from the magic pasta pot.  Luckily for Big Anthony, Strega Nona returns in time to save him and the town from the pasta.  And to set things right, Big Anthony must eat all the pasta so Strega Nona can sleep in her bed and the townspeople be appeased for his mistakes.

Evaluation:

Tomie de Paola takes an Italian folktale and transforms it into something magical in Strega Nona.  Accompanied by beautiful watercolor and ink drawings that give the story even more of a folksy feeling, Strega Nona is a classic story written in simple language.  Although magic is involved, the character must learn the age old lesson that curiosity killed the cat, or in this case, covered the town in pasta!  The plot is obviously fanciful with magic pasta pots and a “grandmother witch.”  Big Anthony is the archetypal brawns but no brains.  Strega Nona’s character is wise and just, meting out a punishment fitting the crime.  De Paola’s writing style weaves humor, magic, and folklore into a truly enjoyable read.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: fantasy, folklore

Appeal Factors: illustrations, magic

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Two of Everything by Lily Toy Hong
  • Big Anthony: His Story by Tomie de Paola
  • Strega Nona Does It Again! by Tomie de Paola

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Caldecott Honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Big Anthony’s characterization
  • Strega Nona’s magic pasta pot
  • The deluge of noodles

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why does Strega Nona choose Anthony to be her helper?
  • Will Strega Nona continue to let Anthony help her?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because of the magical elements in the story.  Tomie de Paola’s illustrations are also so lovely.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

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Yolen, Jane. Owl Moon. Philomel Books, 1987.  $16.99, 32 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://janeyolen.com/

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Reader’s Annotation: Father and daughter spend precious time together searching for a great horned owl.

Summary:

One bright moonlit night, a girl and her father set out in the snow to go owling.  Her father shows her how to call for Great Horned Owls.  The little girls is very philosophical about the whole experience.  Accepting that there may or may not be owls when they go.  Headed for the woods and a clearing in the woods, they call again for the owls.  Finally, their call is answered, and an owl flies to the clearing and perches on a branch. Satisfied, the girl and her father walk silently home.

Evaluation:

Owl Moon is a lovely story of a father and daughter spending time bonding in nature.  The narrative style is simple and straightforward.  There is some use of figurative language and imagery.  However, there is not much text and not much dialogue.  This adds to the overall quiet of the book, mimicking the quiet needed to see the great horned owls.  The beauty of the winter and the beauty of nature are conveyed in the beautiful illustrations that accompany the text.  Both the daughter and the father are believable characters.  The daughter’s obvious joy to be included in this outing which maybe she had been too young to accompany her father before.  The plot is quite viable, and would probably make readers want to experience the amazing owling outing themselves.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: nature, family, father daughter relationship, owls, illustrations

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle
  • Peek! A Thai Hide and Seek by Mingfong Ho
  • Dad and Me in the Morning by Patricia Lakin

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Caldecott Medal

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The daughter’s excitement to go out
  • The description of the quiet woods
  • Calling for the owls

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • What makes this trip with her father so special to the little girl?
  • What are some activities that fathers do with their children to indicate different stages in their lives?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it was the story of a father and a daughter.  I loved the quiet atmosphere of the book and how nature is valued by father, daughter, and author.

 

The Schwa Was Here by Neal Schusterman

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Shusterman, Neal.  The Schwa Was Here.  Dutton, 2004.  $15.99, 276 pages.

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

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Reader’s Annotation: Taking advantage of being invisible, Calvin Schwa and Antsy’s antics include profiting off of dares, a blind love interest, and finding Schwa’s mother who disappeared into thin air.

Summary:

Until Anthony “Antsy” Bonano met Calvin Schwa after attempting to destroy indestructible dummy Manny Bullpucky, no one noticed the Schwa.  Abandoned by his mother in the grocery store as a young child, forgotten by his brain damaged painter father, Schwa drifts through life invisible.  Antsy soon realizes that they could capitalize on this fact, and starts charging for the Schwa’s invisible services.  Until a dare at Mr. Crawley’s house goes horribly wrong and both boys are caught.  Faced with either the police or to be indentured dog walkers, the boys choose the dogs.  But soon Antsy is hired by Crawley to take around his granddaughter, and Antsy steels himself to be punished with the company of said granddaughter.  Except Lexie turns out to be fun and attractive, and both Antsy and the Schwa, who Lexie can “see” even though she is blind, start to fall for her.  This love triangle strains their friendship, and then the Schwa decides to find out the truth about what happened with his mother.  The Schwa is no longer invisible, but then he disappears all together.

Evaluation:

The story started off a little slow, but the characters were quirky and endearing from the Schwa to Mr. Crawley to Antsy to Lexie.  It was wonderful to see a blind character who did not struggle with being blind.  The structure of the novel was easy to follow.  The chapter titles were as quirky as the characters. The Schwa’s predicament seemed rather unrealistic, but the concept was intriguing.  In true teenage boy fashion, the two are able to get into some mischief using the Schwa’s abilities.  The plot also has some strange situations (walking 14 Afghans?, a mother running off with the Night Butcher?, buying a billboard on an abandoned freeway?).  However, the underlying story of friendship and self-discovery is one that everyone can relate to.  Feeling invisible is another point of entry for readers.  A fun read for those who enjoy a little of the strange and wonderous.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: friendship, romance, feeling invisible, teenage boys, humor

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Best Foot Forward by Joan Bauer
  • Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements
  • Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Boston Globe – Horn Book Award for Fiction
  • ALSC Notable Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Testing the Schwa Effect
  • Getting caught at Crawley’s
  • The Night Butcher

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Is Calvin really invisible to all these people?
  • What does Antsy learn about “truth”?
  • Has the Schwa ceased to be invisible?  Or has he learned how to live invisibly happily?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this book initially for the title.  I was curious to see what the story had to do with the schwa sound.  The idea of an invisible boy was also a draw to the story.

How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz

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Shulevitz, Uri. How I Learned Geography. Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2008.  $16.95, 32 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://us.macmillan.com/author/urishulevitz

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Hard times as an immigrant are escaped through reading and learning geography.

Summary:

After fleeing his wartorn homeland of Poland, a young boy finds himself and his family in a foreign land, poor and hungry.  When his father triumphantly returns from the bazaar with a map instead of bread for dinner, the boy and his mother are angry.  But soon the boy finds himself fascinated with the map.  Not only does it bring color to their dingy living space, but it transports the boy to wonderful places.  He learns names of exotic place, traces and redraws the map on any paper he can find.  He imagines what it is like on these foreign beaches, in deserts, snowy mountains, steamy jungles, elaborate temples, and cosmopolitan cities.  Taken away from his hunger and unhappiness, the boy realizes his father made a wise decision after all.

Evaluation:

This semi-biographical picture book portrays one small aspect of the immigrant experience.  The hardships of poverty and lack of food take a backdrop to the glories of reading the map and learning geography.  The book actually speaks more about the power of reading as an escape than the immigrant experience.  The language is simple and easy to understand.  The watercolors that accompany the text tell the story almost as well as the text.  The colors add to the tone of the story.  The picture that accompanies the text about war is washed with reds and blacks, with the people washed out and devoid of color.  The busy bazaar pops with color and details.  The worried and hungry narrator and his mother wait for his father in muted blues and browns as night falls.  The imagined travels are highlighted with bright colors.  More so than the physical trials of immigration, this story tells of the inner conflict and the relationship the boy has with his father.  This is reconciled when the boy understands why his father has chosen the map, thus the boy can end the story that he forgives his father.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 2
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: historical fiction

Appeal Factors: illustration, immigrant experience, joy of reading, family relationship

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco
  • Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home by Youme Landowne
  • The Little Refugee by Ahn Do

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Notable Children’s Book
  • Charlotte Zolotow Award
  • Calecott Honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The narrator’s home
  • His worry about his father coming home late
  • Places he visited through the map

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Do you think the narrator’s father made a good choice in buying the map?
  • What would you have said if it were your father?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this book because of the title.  I was curious to see how the immigrant experience played into learning geography.  Initially I thought it was because the author had to travel to a lot places.

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis

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Portis, Antoinette. Not a Box.  Harper Collins Children’s Books, 2006.  $14.99, 32 pages.

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

Links to Interviews with Author:

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Reader’s Annotation: For a bunny with an imagination, a box is so much more than a box.

Summary:

A bunny sitting in a box is plagued with questions from a pesky narrator.  First the narrator wants to know why it is sitting in a box.  Then the narrator wants to know why it is standing on the top of the box.  The narrator doesn’t understand why the bunny is squirting the box with a hose.  Or why he wears the box.  Finally, the bunny explains that it is not a box, but a Not-a-Box.

Evaluation:

Not a Box is a very simple picture book that beginner readers can enjoy.  The stark text against a single colored background and illustrated with simple drawings makes readers use their own imaginations.  The box has the potential to be many other things, a tall building, hot air balloon, race car, and much, much more.  Although simple in text and illustration, the message about the power of imagination is clear.  The anonymous narrator asking questions is disdainfully reproached by the imaginative bunny with a look of disbelief when he/she keeps asking about a box.  This delightful read has a powerful message wrapped in simple trappings.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: fiction

Appeal Factors: illustrations, use of imagination

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Brave Spaceboy by Dana Kessimakis Smith
  • Big Brown Box by Marisabina Russo

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Theodor Seuss Geisel Award honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Series of box as not a box picture

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why does the narrator keep asking the bunny about the box?
  • What other things can you imagine the box could be?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because of its simplicity.  From the drawings to the text, everything was very simple.  I liked how Portis was still able to tell an entertaining story with so little.