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:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

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.

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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.

Harley by Star Livingstone

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Livingstone, Star. Harley. SeaStar Books, 2001. $4.95, 64 pages.

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Harley the llama is not cut out to be a pack llama, but has a calling to be a guard of sheep instead!

Summary:

Harley can’t cut it as a pack llama.  He doesn’t like the halter, the pack, or following other llamas.  So when a shepherd is looking for something to protect her sheep from the coyotes that prowl outside of the fence, Harley is the perfect fit.  The first time Harley meets the sheep, he charges them, they all scatter, the ram charges him, and none of the animals are very happy.  But by the next morning, Harley has taken his place as the guard.  He does his job through the seasons, befriending the ornery ram, being outnumbered by the pestering lambs, scaring the coyotes from their hunt, and being shorn for the spring fair.  His llama fleece even wins a prize.  Harley has found his calling and his place in the world.

Evaluation:

Based on a true story, the story of Harley the guard llama is a charming one.  The animals in the story are not anthropomorphized, they do not talk, but their personalities come out in Livingstone’s clever style.  The language is simple and the sentences short.  Harley’s thoughts and motivations are straightforward and clear.  The description of the animals’ actions also show their personality.  The ornery ram sneaks up behind the shepherd to butt her, the ewes and lambs stay away from the ram.  Livingstone includes details and facts about guard llamas that make the story seem more believable, if a little wonderous.  The particular habits of llamas and the way that Harley interacts with the other animals make him seem more realistic.  That he enjoys being sprayed with the hose, playing with the ornery ram, and leading the sheep in a single file line make him endearing. Paired with Molly Bang’s illustrations, this short story is an enjoyable read.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality:3

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: animals, humor, easy reader

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Llama Drama by Rose Impey
  • Carolina’s Gift: A Story of Peru by Katacha Diaz
  • The Littlest Llama by Jane Buxton

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Boston Globe – Horn Book Award honor
  • Notable Children’s book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Harley getting a shower
  • Harley and the ram playing
  • The lambs jumping on Harley

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why is a llama a good guard animal?
  • What other unusual guard animals are there?
  • How does Livingstone convey the thoughts and feelings of Harley without making him seem fictionalized?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this book because it was about a llama.  I’d never heard of guard llamas, and the idea sounded intriguing.  Harley was also portrayed as a rebellious llama, which also sounded quite funny.

 

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

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Yang, Gene Luen.  American Born Chinese. First Second Books, 2006.  $16.95, 234 p.

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

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

Enjoy the antics of an all powerful Monkey God, a boy trying to fit in, and a caricature wreaking havoc.

Summary:

The Monkey God happily rules over his subjects until one day when he is denied entrance to a dinner party with the gods because he is a monkey.  He then tries to master every discipline he can to demonstrate his godliness rather than his monkey-ness.  Still shunned, he is eventually trapped under a mountain of rocks by Tze-Yo-Tzuh for 500 years.  Jin Wang has faced various challenges since moving away from Chinatown.  People massacre his name, make fun of the food he eats, and his only “friend” is a bully.  He eventually befriends Wei-Chen Sun, a new student from Taiwan.  Danny is just trying to live a normal life.  He almost succeeds, until his cousin Chin-Kee comes to visit.  Danny finds himself so completely embarrassed by the stereotypes Chin-Kee embodies that he has to move schools after each visit.  The Monkey God, Jin, and Danny’s very different stories are woven together in this entertaining graphic novel about identity.

Evaluation:

Gene Luen Yang conveys a theme about identity in his graphic novel American Born Chinese.  The protagonists in the three storylines each learn something about who they are.  In the Monkey God’s storyline, the Monkey God is trapped because he has changed so completely from who he was.  He is freed, literally and figuratively, when he accepts who he is (a monkey).  As his true form he can accomplish many more things.  In Jin’s story, he is so uncomfortable being Chinese, that he is willing to sell his soul to look like his white peers.  When he does so, he becomes Danny, but is haunted by Chin-Kee a gross stereotype of Asians.  Danny is only freed of Chin-Kee when he accepts his Chinese heritage.  Jin is freed from being Danny, and can enjoy being himself.  The graphics are clean and brightly colored.  The writing style is appealing and the story line engaging.  The struggle with identity is clearly and cleverly portrayed in this graphic novel.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre:  fiction, graphic novel

Appeal Factors: graphic novel,Chinese identity, high school life, fitting in, humor

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
  • One Hundred Demonsby Lynda Barry
  • The Brief Wonderful Life of Oscar Who by Junot Diaz

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Printz Award
  • National Book Award Nominee
  • Eisner Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Cousin Chin-Kee
  • Struggles with identity
  • Monkey King being laughed at by other gods

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How does each of the three stories deal with fitting in?
  • Why does Luen use the Monkey King’s story?
  • There are many humorous parts to this graphic novel.  Is the humor an appropriate way to deal with these serious issue of race and identity?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it was a graphic novel.  I was also interested because I am Chinese American and was curious to see who and how the American Born Chinese of the title would be characterized and portrayed.

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.