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.

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/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

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.

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.

Mister Orange by Truus Matti

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Matti, Truus. Mister Orange. Enchanted Lion Books, 2012.  $16.95, 160 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.letterenfonds.nl/en/author/381/truus-matti

Links to Interviews with Translator:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: To deal with his brother’s departure for war, Linus makes friends with an imaginary superhero and a real life artist.

Summary:

When Linus’ older brother Albie goes to Europe to fight in World War II, Linus is left with Mr. Superspeed, the superhero Albie created, to reassure him that Albie will be safe.  Along with other changes, Linus now takes over the delivery of groceries for the family store.  One of his regular customers is a man he calls Mister Orange for the crates of oranges he delivers.  Mister Orange turns out to be an artist from Holland (based on Piet Mondrian), who left to escape the Nazi oppression of the arts and artists.  Linus soon befriends Mister Orange and they have interesting conversations about art and life.  It is Mister Orange that Linus turns to when he reads a letter from Albie that portrays the reality of war as opposed to the romanticized version that Linus imagined when Albie first left.  Convinced that imagination has no practical use in the world, Linus even stops his conversations with Mr. Superspeed.  Through his friendship with Mister Orange, Linus is able to move past his shattered innocence and find a place for his imagination and himself in the world again.

Evaluation:

The story was written with simple and straightforward language.   Told from the point of view of a child, there is an innocence and wonder about the world as experienced by Linus.  The conversations with the imaginary superhero add to the innocent atmosphere.  This is until his illusions are shattered by the harsh truth about war and about life.  Matti has a beautiful scene where Mister Orange talks to Linus about the value of imagination.  This really conveys his theme also about art and its value.  The characters are likeable and believable.  Linus and his family could be any family with a child off at war.  Their relationships and struggles are true to life and easy to sympathize with.  Mister Orange is based on a real artist, Piet Mondrian.  At the end of the book is additional information and resources about Mondrian.  Overall, this book, while set during World War II was more about art and life than about war.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: historical fiction

Appeal Factors: art, history, World War II, family relationships, comics, imagination

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Erika’s Story by Ruth Vander Zee
  • Copprenickel Goes Mondrian by Maria Popova

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Batchelder Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Conversations with Mr. Superspeed
  • Reading Albie’s letter about his friend dying
  • Mister Orange’s apartment decor
  • Conversation with Mister Orange about imagination

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Mister Orange says that you have to have imagination to be able to go to war.  Do you agree or disagree?
  • Can art fight wars?  How?
  • Why does the author use the conversations with Mr. Superspeed?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because I thought it was a novel about World War II.  It actually ended up being more about art and an artist.  However, the message about imagination was powerful and the characters were delightful.

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.