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/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

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.

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe

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Steptoe, John. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. Lothrop, 1987. $13, 29 pages.

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

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

Two beautiful daughters, a king in a great city looking for a wife, which sister will be chosen?

Summary:

Mufaro is blessed with two beautiful daughters.  Manyara is mean and spiteful, telling her sister that she would one day be her servant.  Nyasha, on the other hand, is classically good.  Hard-working and friendly to all, she is good natured and well-liked.  When the king announces that he is looking for a wife, and he will choose from the women who come before him in the great city, Mufaro decides both his daughters will go.  Along the way, Manyara leaves the party to go to the king on her own.  She then meets with a lost boy and an old woman, both of which she disregards on her way to the great city.  When faced with the same two, Nyasha stops to help and shows kindness to both.  Is it any surprise that the king, who magically posed as the boy, old woman, and little green snake, chooses Nyasha?

Evaluation:

A beautifully illustrated Cinderella-like African tale.  The two sisters fit the usual stereotypes of the good and bad daughter.  Even their names indicate their positive and negative qualities, with the good daughter’s name meaning “mercy” and the bad daughter’s name meaning “ashamed.”  Besides the illustrations, other elements of the story that demonstrate African culture are  the farming, the little green snake, the landscape, and the people.  The plot is predictable for those familiar with the Cinderella story, but with enough unique tweaks that the story remains its own.  The language is contemporary and easy to access for readers.  No outside or prior knowledge is needed to understand the story.  Its classic themes of good vs. evil and what true beauty is are easily identifiable.  It was an enjoyable cultural read.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:  3
  • Quality:  5

Genre and Subgenre:  fantasy, fairy tale

Appeal Factors: picture book, folk tale, fantasy, African culture, Cinderella story

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Swan Luka by Janet Berliner
  • The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin
  • Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Caldecott Award
  • Coretta Scott King Award
  • Boston Globe – Horn Book Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Nyoka the talking snake
  • Similarities to Cinderella
  • Manyara rushing out of the palace because there is a “monster”

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • What elements of the story showcase the African culture?
  • What characteristics make Nyasha beautiful?
  • “Nyasha” means “mercy” and “Manyara” means “ashamed.”  How do these names apply to the sisters?

Why I Chose This:

I initially chose this title because of the beautiful illustrations.  I also was interested in reading an African folktale.  I love reading fairy tales, so when I discovered this was similar to Cinderella, I enjoyed it even more.

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.

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.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

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Hartman, Rachel.  Seraphina.  Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012.  $17.99, 512 pages.

Links to Author’s Website:
http://rachelhartmanbooks.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:  Caught between a world of humans and dragons on the brink of war, Seraphina’s secret may be the key to saving the kingdom.

Summary:

Sixteen year old Seraphina finds herself as the newest assistant to the royal court’s music composer and thrust into the confusing and foreign ways of city life and court drama.  Student of the dragon Orma, Seraphina is gifted with musical talent.  However, she can never reveal her talents because of the chance of being noticed.  Seraphina has a dangerous secret that she must keep in order to protect herself and those that she loves.  A death in the royal family sets off a series of events that unexpectedly puts Seraphina in the spotlight and in the middle of a political intrigue with dragons, humans, and assassination attempts.  All the while, Seraphina must come to terms with what her secret means about who she is, and how it might help her save life as she knows it.

Evaluation:

For lovers of fantasy and the coming of age themes, Seraphina is a wonderful blend of both genres.  Seraphina’s character is mysterious and believable as a teen with a secret.  The struggles she goes through, while fantastical, can be related to many a teen who has also struggled to come to terms with who they are and how their differences may set them apart from others.  The added component of a love interest, and the suspense of the political intrigue would also appeal to teen readers.  An interesting element is the construction of family.  Between Seraphina’s mentor dragon uncle, aloof human father, missing/dead mother, and evil dragon grandfather, it is unconventional those who constitute her family and their influence on who she is and who she becomes.  The writing style is complex and detailed, lower level readers may struggle with some of the language and syntax.  There are some higher level vocabulary words and world building details that also add to the complexity.

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: 4

Genre and Subgenre: fantasy, bestiary – dragon; adventure,

Appeal Factors: dragons, mystery, political intrigue

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
  • Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
  • Fire by Kristin Cashore

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2013 William C. Morris Award
  • 2012 Cybils Award
  • 2013 Horn Book Award Honor Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Seraphina’s “dreams”/visions
  • Dragons and human relationship/conflict
  • Description of other half-dragons and half-humans

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • What would you do if you were Seraphina faced with her “grandfather”?
  • What human qualities does Seraphina have? / What dragon qualities does Seraphina have?
  • How would you handle the conflict with the dragons if you were Princess Glisselda?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because it was about dragons.  The idea of a half-dragon/half-human was intriguing.  I was interested in seeing what qualities Seraphina would have and how her half-dragon side would affect who she was as a person.