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.

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.

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.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Halse Anderson, Laurie. Speak. Square Fish, 2011.  $9.99, 224 pages.

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

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Outcast because she called the cops to a party over the summer, Melinda doesn’t even have anyone to tell what happened even if she could.

Summary:

Melinda Sordino enters Merryweather High School friendless and alone.  She has been outcast because she called the cops at a party over the summer which resulted in many of her friends being busted for underaged drinking.  Since then, she’s been spiraling downward into depression.  She says very little and bites at her lips until they are scarred and scabbed.  Her parents are always busy with work, communicating in short bursts via post-it notes mostly about dinner.  She has a half-hearted friendship with an annoyingly driven new girl named Heather.  Her teachers are after her to bring up her grades.  And she’s tasked with creating a tree in her art class.  Not to mention IT is still at her school, an everyday reminder of that horrible night at the party.  Can Melinda find her voice in time to save herself?

Evaluation:

Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Speak is a powerful story.  The characters are realistic, as is the plot itself.  The complex themes about friendship, interpersonal relationships, and finding one’s voice after trauma are implied through the characters’  actions and the events that occur in the novel.  The structure of the novel is mostly chronological.  There are flashbacks to the night of the party and the date rape which make the structure more complex.  The language of the text is contemporary and easy to understand. The point of view is from Melinda’s point of view.  However, she does not reveal what happens even to the reader when she herself cannot deal with what happened.  This builds up the tension and suspense as the reader tries to figure out why Melinda is in the situation she is in.  Dealing with as serious an issue as rape, Anderson does a beautiful job of portraying Melinda, her state of mind, and how she deals with this horrific event.  The readers sympathize with Melinda and cheer her on as she finds her voice and overcomes a second attack.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: date rape, high school life, fitting in, feeling like an outcast, art, facing fears, dealing with trauma

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Cut by Patricia McCormick
  • Staying Fat for Sarah Burns by Chris Crutcher
  • Loesrs by Matthue Burns

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Best Books for Young Adults
  • Printz Award honor
  • National Book Award finalist

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Melinda’s talk with Mr. Freeman
  • The way other students treat Melinda
  • Melinda trying to warn Rachel

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How does art help Melinda get her voice back?
  • What is the relationship between Melinda’s inability to speak and the lack of anyone to listen?
  • Why does Melinda choose to stay separate from others?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because of the controversy that sometimes surrounds it.  I was curious to see why it is protested.  I wanted to see how the date rape and after effects.

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.

 

Son of a Gun by Anne de Graaf

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de Graaf, Anne.  Son of a Gun. Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, 2006.  $8.00,

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.annedegraaf.com/Home.html

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: “Crazy mad and armed with an AK-47” describes Liberian child soldier Lucky and his sister Nopi.

Summary:

Snatched from their village school meeting, two Liberian children Nopi (10) and Lucky (8) are given guns and trained with other children to do the tasks that adults were too smart or to scared to do.  After Nopi is deafened defending her brother, they escape following other children.  They return to their village and home, which have been destroyed.  So they make their way to Monrovia to their grandparents, where thankfully they are reunited with their parents.  Trouble arises again later when then their parents and grandmother are taken to search for diamonds, leaving the children again on their own.  Nopi ends up being captured by rebel forces, becoming a third wife for a colonel.  Lucky is caught by the government army.  Both have to learn to fight to survive.  With nothing left, Lucky firmly becomes entrenched in the soldier mentality.  After five years of fighting, Lucky realizes the emptiness of his existence and returns home.  Nopi has been surviving in a refugee camp after her escape.  She, amazingly, finds her parents.  Soon the three are also reunited with Lucky, who turns in his gun to go to school.

Evaluation:

Written in alternating point of view, Son of a Gun tells the hopeless story of child soldiers forced to fight in the Liberian wars.  The language is simple and straightforward.  The bloody details are glossed over, but both children experience horrific violence and are expected to carry out terrible tasks.  De Graaf does a good job of showing how the child soldiers find a place and purpose in fighting which exists in a vacuum of opportunities and family.  The alternating points of view of children, as well as the shifts in time, does make the story confusing at times.  The plot is not linear, but circles back to similar events throughout the story.  This book shows a glimpse into the lives of child soldiers that is not so widespread.  Its message about the importance of education and options is clear.  It also does a good job of showing how and why the child soldiers are so firmly entrenched in the fighting.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction, historical fiction

Appeal Factors: history, Liberian wars, child soldiers, promise of a future

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
  • War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon McKay
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Batchelder Award honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The capture at school
  • Meeting James in the midst of battle
  • Lucky’s frame of mind as a soldier

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why does Lucky get comfortable in the life of a soldier?
  • What message does Lucky have for James?
  • Why do Lucky and James have such different views about being a soldiers at the end of the novel?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it was about child soldiers in Liberia.  I was interested in this subject because I have never read much about the topic.