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:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

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.

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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

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

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.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

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Lowry, Lois.  The Giver.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 1993.  $13.95, 208 pages.

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

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:  Jonas is given a gift that changes the way he sees his world.

Summary:

Turning twelve is a big deal in the community where Jonas lives.  It is at the Ceremony of Twelves that children find out the track that they will follow for the rest of their lives.  In a strange twist, Jonas receives a special assignment, to be the new Giver.  It is through training with the Giver that slowly he is given the memories of the community.  These memories are withheld from the populace of the very controlled community.  As Jonas receives more memories, he realizes horrible things about the way that his community is run.  Although all the needs are provided for, people’s choices are taken away from them.  To exacerbate the situation, the newborn that Jonas’ father is charged with taking care of will be “released” because he is not developing well.  Jonas cannot let this happen to Gabe, and so plans an escape.  This story ends with Jonas and Gabe’s future uncertain.

Evaluation:

This is a classic and timeless award winner.  It fits well with the dystopian trend of late.  Jonas’ coming of age story takes the loss of innocence of childhood to a whole new level, with the knowledge that Jonas learns turning everything he knows about himself, his family, and his community on its head.  It is masterfully written with the realization coming slowly for the reader as it does for Jonas.  The world that Lowry builds is amazingly detailed, from the nuclear family unit and the way they are assigned children, to the yearly ceremonies and the uniform milestones, to the adult assignments, pills citizens are required to take, and the releasing of nonconformists. Even the fact that the people in the community cannot see color creates this spookily controlled dystopia.  Jonas’ plight is sympathetic, and the reader roots for Jonas as he makes his decision to leave his community.  The complexity of the plot does make this a challenging read, but the language and the writing style are more easily accessible.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 5

Genre and Subgenre: science fiction, dystopia, future world, coming of age

Appeal Factors:  dystopian novel, coming of age, adventure,

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • The Diary of Pelly D
  • Armageddon’s Children
  • Gossamer

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 1994 Newbery Medal
  • Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book
  • Notable Children’s Books
  • Best Books for Young Adults

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Ceremonies and milestones
  • Jonas’ assignment
  • Receiving a memory

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • What clues show that Jonas society might be one found in the future?
  • Is it better to live in a community like Jonas’s or to have freedom to choose and feel, even if it includes painful feelings?
  • What other options does Jonas have at the end of the novel?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because it is a classic read in many classrooms.  I was also surprised to learn that it is one of the most challenged books!  I also enjoy dystopian novels, and wondered how it would compare to similar titles written today.  The world that Lowry created really amazed me and pulled me in.

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

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Vanderpool, Clare.  Navigating Early.  Delacorte Press, 2013.  $16.99, 320 pages.

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

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:
What do pi, two boys, and a search for the Great Appalachian black bear have in common?  The adventure of a lifetime.

Summary:

At 13, Jack has just lost his mother and his father has just returned from World War II.  Unable to cope with his wife’s death and his son, his father sends Jack to a military boarding in school.  There Jack is an outcast until he befriends Early Auden, the weird kid obsessed with pi, who listens to Billie Holiday in the rain, and who lives in an old custodial closet.  When both boys find themselves left at the school over the holidays, Jack agrees to go on a quest with Early to find the legendary great black bear.  After hijacking a boat from the school, they encounter pirates, volcanoes, a hundred year old woman, secret caves, and more amidst the forests of Maine.  Along the way, both boys deal with their individual losses that they may not have realized they were feeling.

Evaluation:

Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early is a wonderful story of two boys searching for a way to deal with their losses.  Although Jack seems  more mature than other 13 year old boys, he is a likeable character who is struggling to deal with the loss of his mother.  Early’s character is also different from other characters being on the autism spectrum.  His earnestness and faithfulness to the belief that his brother is alive is endearing.  The additional story of Pi was a little confusing initially.  But it was understandable how Vanderpool was using it to mirror the boys’ adventure or to bring attention to certain aspects of their experience.  The other characters and how they are related to each other and the boys also make the story more complex.  The language and the writing style of the story are also more complex.  The ending of the story is tied up very nicely, with all the characters accounted for and each boy finding the closure that he has been searching for.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction, coming of age adventure, quest, magical realism, historical fiction

Appeal Factors:  adventure, friendship, buddy quest, story within a story, mystery

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Three Times Lucky
  • Tangerne
  • The Sea of Trolls

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2014 Printz Honor Book
  • 2014  Best Fiction for Young Adults
  • 2014 Notable Children’s Books

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Early’s story about Pi
  • The boys’ run in with the pirates
  • Early’s confrontation with his dad

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Gunnar talks about how people searching for something are sometimes running away from something.  What are Early and Jack running away from?
  • The author has described Early as being on the autism spectrum.  How does this affect his character and the story?
  • Why does Pi’s story seem to match so well with Early and Jack’s adventures?

Why I Chose This:

The title and the cover of this book caught my eye.  With the picture of the two boys in their boat look like they are about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.  I was curious to see who or what Early was.  To be navigated, I thought it was a place.  But knowing that Early is a person, it is an interesting title because to navigate Early is to make sense of his thoughts and emotions, which is made especially difficult being on the autism spectrum.

Bink and Gollie by Kate Dicamillo

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DiCamillo, Kate & Alison McGhee.  Bink & Gollie.  Candlewick Press, 2010.  $15.99, 96 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:  Bink is short and spunky.  Gollie is tall and sophisticated.  Despite their obvious differences, the two are the very best of friends.

Summary:

Bink and Gollie is split into three short stories.  The first story features Bink and Gollie dealing with compromise over a pair of outrageously bright stripped socks that Bink purchases.  In the end, Gollie compromises by bringing Bink half a stack of pancakes, while Bink compromises by taking off one of her brightly colored socks to be flown as a flag.  The second story shows Gollie’s need for personal time to herself, with a sign on her door not to be bothered. As Gollie climbs to the top of the Andes mountains, Bink cannot believe that she does not want her come in.  Finally, Gollie has had enough time to herself, and invites Bink in to share in her adventures.  The third features Gollie’s jealousy of Bink’s pet fish Fred, who she fears is Bink’s new marvelous companion.  When Fred’s life is in peril because of a roller skating accident, Gollie saves Fred by throwing him in the pond.  Gollie and Bink’s friendship is reiterated, and six months later, Fred is seen following the two best friends under the ice they are skating on.

Evaluation:

A charming portrayal of two odd-ball friends Bink and Gollie.  From the illustrations that show them to be completely different, with Bink’s short and wild blonde frizz to Gollie’s straight tresses tamed with a red bow to the vocabulary words that Gollie uses that confuse Bink, these two girls are completely different.  What brings them and their stories together, however, are their love of roller skating, pancakes, adventure, and each other.  Although the three stories are not related, there are elements that bring a cohesiveness to the book as a whole.  The striped socks from the first story are brought back as a flag in the second, and what appears to be Bink’s scarf in the third.  Pancakes make a reappearance in the last story, and Bink and Gollie share a sandwich in the second.  The use of color also highlights different parts of the stories.  The setting and scenery appear mostly in black and white and gray.  The color comes with the girls and key objects like the pancakes, Fred the Fish, and the obscenely bright socks.  This underscores the idea of the two friends standing out and apart from the world around them.  They make the energy and life sparkle around them.  If not for each other, their lives would also be dark and gray.  Overall, Bink and Gollie tells the tales of two girls who, although very different, are the best of friends.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre:  Easy reader

Appeal Factors:  simple vocabulary, spunky characters, use of imagination, friendship, illustrations

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Pinky and Rex and the Perfect Pumpkin
  • Henry and Mudge and the Big Sleepover
  • Starring Jules (as Herself)

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2011 Notable Children’s Books
  • Newbery Honor Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Bink’s atrocious socks
  • The sign left out on Gollie’s door when she wants to be left alone
  • Gollie grabbing Fred and stuffing him in her jacket pocket

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • What do you do when you want alone time?  How do you explain that to your friends?
  • Who do you relate more with: Bink or Gollie?
  • How do we know that Bink and Gollie are the very best of friends?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because of how differently the two girls are portrayed and yet they are still very good friends.  I also liked the world that they inhabit.  They are able to play and imagine and function without an adult hovering in the background.  Bink’s character is also adorable with her crazy hair and spunky attitude.

Savvy by Ingrid Law

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Law, Ingrid.  Savvy.  Dial Books for Young Readers, 2008.  $16.99, 352 pages

Link to Author’s Website:  http://www.ingridlaw.com/Site/HOME.html

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:  Can Mibs’ use her savvy in time to save her father from a coma?

Summary:

When a member of the Beaumont family turns 13, he or she discovers their “savvy” or magical talent.  Mississippi “Mibs” Beaumont is about to turn 13.  Her older brothers are able to control electricity and summon powerful storms.  Her mother does everything perfectly.  Her father, disappointingly, is “normal.”  Eager to find out her savvy, the celebrations of her special day are dampened when her father ends up in a coma after an accident and her mother leaves to go to her father’s side.  Because Mibs thinks her savvy is restoring life, she is eager to join her mother and father and to return her father to his full capacity.  She convinces her siblings, and a ragtag group of friends, to accompany her on a journey that promises to be full of adventure.  Stowing away on a Bible mobile, this quirky group journey from the town of Emerald to her father’s hospital bedside, discovering their own voices, strengths, and special talents that have nothing to do with savvies.

Evaluation:

Ingrid Law’s Savvy is a coming of age story about a 13 year old girl and her friends.  Through this whimsically written tale of magic and family, and questing and self-discovery, Mibs learns about her strengths and qualities that have nothing to do with the magical talents that her family gains at 13.  It is the story of family love, where Mibs wants to help her father with her new talent (which turns out to be something else entirely).  Finding the good in things that appear to be bad is another theme that runs through this novel.  It is also the story of finding her own voice and heeding it.  The characters are quirky and endearing, believable in their bonds with each other.  Using both humor and fantasy, Law creates another world, but a realistic one where the reader watches as Mibs and her friends mature and overcome obstacles set in their way.  There are some made up vocabulary words used for world building that make the language more complex, as is Law’s writing style itself.  Other references to The Wizard of Oz can also be found in the story, which may make it more accessible for other readers who are familiar with this other story.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre:  fantasy, magic, coming of age

Appeal Factors:  magical abilities, family relationships, friendships, quest, quirky characters, coming of age

Readalike Titles or Authors:

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Newbery Honor Book
  • Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Beaumont family’s savvies
  • First appearance of Mibs’ savvy
  • Starting the quest to get to her father

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • What savvy would you want?
  • How was Mibs able to find peace with her actual savvy?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because of the magical aspect.  I thought it was an interesting concept that all the members of the Beaumont family would receive special “savvies” when they turned 13.  The mystery of what Mibs’ actual savvy is was intriguing.  I also enjoyed the colorful cast of characters, and Law’s writing style.

Blackout by John Rocco

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Rocco, John.  Blackout. Hyperion Books, 2011.  $16.99, 40 pages.

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

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:  What happens when the lights go out in the city on a hot summer night?

Summary:

Mom, Dad, and sister are too busy to play with the narrator one hot, summer night.  As he settles into a lonely video game, the power goes out in the city.  Mom can’t work on the computer, sister can’t talk on the phone, Dad can’t finish making dinner.  Instead, the family, armed with a flash light and by the glow of a candle, gather together around the kitchen table and make shadow puppets.  They venture to the roof to enjoy the rooftop block party.  They investigate the street below where neighbors are playing in the street to live music and eating ice cream.  When the lights come back on, the family drifts back to their apartment and to their individual tasks until the narrator flips off the light and the family comes back together to play a board game.

Evaluation:

This beautifully illustrated picture book is a lovely story that has readers re-examining how they spend their time.  It is a  plausible story with relateable characters.  In this digital world, where everyone is plugged in and lost in their own tasks, Rocco offers the idea that the fact that the younger generation is also plugged in is because the older generation is too busy to engage with the younger generation.  Set in an urban city, the idea of a block or street party may be less accessible for readers who are unfamiliar with such settings.  There may also be the question of how realistic it is that neighbors still come together as a community, versus citizens running rampant and looting or rioting amidst a blackout.  However, the words are simple and easily accessible in this picture book.  The pictures reflect the story, with the use of muted colors before the family comes together, the use of darker colors and shadows in the scenes of the black out, and the use of brighter colors in the scenes where the family engages with each other and their neighborhood.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: urban setting, adventure, family relationships, illustrations

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
  • In the Tree House by Andrew Laursen
  • Goodnight iPad: A Parody for the Next Generation by Ann Droyd

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2012 Caldecott Honor Book
  • 2012 Notable Children’s Books

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Family too busy to play
  • Block party in the sky
  • Using a flashlight during the blackout

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Have you ever been in a blackout?  How did you feel?  What did you do?
  • Have you ever felt like the narrator in the story (that your family was too busy to play)?  What did you do?
  • What would you and your family do if there was no electricity?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this picture book because of its illustrations.  They reminded me of a comic or graphic novel.  I also liked that it was set in the city (somewhere near the Brooklyn Bridge!).  I especially enjoyed the message about coming together as a family after putting down their electronics.