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.

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:

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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.

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.

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/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

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/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

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.