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:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

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.

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.

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.

Flash Burnout by L.K. Madison

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Madigan, L.K.  Flash Burnout.  Houghton, 2009.  $16, 336 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:  http://www.flashburnout.com/index.html

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

One photograph forever changes Blake’s relationship with his girlfriend and his friend who is a girl.

Summary:

Blake’s life is as good as it can be.  Even though he has supportive but weird parents who bring home death each day (his dad is a medical examiner, his mom is a chaplain), he has a beautiful girlfriend Shannon, enjoys watching Spinal Tap, making smart aleck comments, and photography, a class he shares with his friend Marissa.  Blake’s world is shaken up, however, when one of his “gritty” photographs of a homeless woman passed out in the street turns out to be Marissa’s meth-addicted mother.  When Marissa asks Blake to help her find her mother, he soon finds himself having to juggle his relationship with Shannon and his friendship with Marissa.  What once was a picture perfect life, has become overexposed in a flash burnout where all of his relationships are at risk.

Evaluation:

LK Madigan’s characterization of Blake and his friends is spot on and believable.  Told from Blake’s point of view, Flash Burnout provides a view right into a teenage boys head.  From the language used, to the sarcasm, lust, insecurities, doubts, struggles, and confusion, Blake is a realistic teen.  The portrayal of his relationships is also realistic.  Neither Shannon nor Marissa is painted as the “bad guy.”  Shannon struggles to be accepting of Blake and Marissa’s friendship and not to be jealous.  Marissa has no designs on Blake, and is not trying to break him and Shannon up.  The language used in the novel is contemporary, with liberal use of slang and other vernacular terms to make the characters and story even more realistic.  The quotes about photography and terms used throughout the novel, bring attention to particular aspects of the story.  Madigan beautifully explores the delicate balance of boy-girl relationships (romantic and platonic) in this novel.

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:  realistic fiction, romance, coming of age

Appeal Factors:  relationship drama, photography, high school protagonists, mystery, friendship

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Stoner and Spaz by Ron Koertge
  • Paper Towns by John Green
  • Punkzilla by Adam Rapp

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2010 Best Books for Young Adults
  • 2010 William C. Morris Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Presenting the picture of Marissa’s mother to his photography class
  • DJ Cappie’s gossipy broadcast about Shannon being jealous
  • Gus and the Hurtle

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Are the portrayal of Blake’s relationships with Shannon and Marissa realistic?
  • How are the photography quotes at the beginning of each chapter significant?
  • Compare and contrast Blake and Marissa’s parents and the influence they have on their children.

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because of the potential for drama between Blake’s two relationships with girls, one romantic and the other platonic.  The picture on the cover drew me in with a boy with his eyes closed, holding two pictures of two different girls.  Then there was the mystery of what Blake and Marissa would do about Marissa’s mom.  Would they be able to find her?  Clean her up?  How would an experience like that change their friendship?  Would it bring them together and at what cost to Blake’s relationship with Shannon?

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

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Alexie, Sherman.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  Little, Brown, 2007.  $16.99, 256 pages.

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

Links to Interviews with Author: 

Links to Online Reviews:

Reader’s Annotation:  Junior has more going for him than basketball skills and artistic ability, he has hope for a better life beyond the reservation.

Summary:

Born with hydrocephalus (explained by Junior as “water on the brain”), Arnold “Junior” Spirit is at risk for seizures, stutters, in addition, he has terrible vision, is skinny and with his oversized head and hands and feet, he has earned the not so endearing nickname “Globe.”  Living with his ex-alcoholic mother, alcoholic and absent father, depressed sister, surrounded by other alcoholics, bullies, and just plain ignorance, Junior despairs at the standard of living on the reservation.  The straw that breaks the camel’s back is when he sees his mother’s name on the same textbook that he has to use in math class.  Although Junior accidentally breaks Mr. P’s nose when he throws the book out of frustration and anger, Mr. P visits Junior and encourages him to leave the reservation to attend Reardan High School, a white high school over twenty miles away.  When Junior takes his encouragement and, with the support of his family, enrolls in this other high school, he soon faces a multitude of other challenges, including a high stakes basketball game against his former classmates and school.

Evaluation:

Sherman Alexie’s coming of age tale is a powerful story.  The extent of the despair and desperation to escape truly oppressive living situation is felt deeply though the book.  It is easy to feel sympathy and even pity for Junior’s character and his plight.  As one disaster after another is heaped upon him, the reader feels all his frustrations and longing for something better.  The beauty of this book is that despite all the realistic struggles, Alexie and Junior have a message of hope and offer a means of climbing out of the life that had trapped Junior for so many years.  Amazingly, it is the truth in this work that have brought criticism and the call for this book to be banned.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian deals with sex, masturbation, violence, alcoholism, bullying, poverty, ignorance uses profanity, and does not pull punches in portraying some of the common hardships found in the Native American culture and on reservations.  This book could easily be used to open up discussion of these controversial topics.

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: realistic fiction, coming of age

Appeal Factors:  illustrations, dark humor, basketball, high school relationships, family relationships, friendships, overcoming obstacles

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • You Know Where to Find Me  by Rachel Cohn
  • Who Will Tell My Brother? by Marlene Carvell
  • The Way by Joseph Bruchac

Awards Won and Reading Lists:

  • 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
  • 2008 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award
  • 2009 Odyssey Award (for the audiobook read by Sherman Alexie)

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Throwing the book at Mr. P
  • Self description of Junior
  • Reardan vs Wellnipit  basketball game

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How does Junior use drawings to deal with his life?
  • How do you think the rest of Junior’s high school experience will be?
  • Compare and contrast Junior’s relationship with Gordy and Rowdy.
  • What elements of this novel might critics protest against?  What is your response?

Why I Chose It:

I chose this novel initially because I had heard how controversial it had been, with it being one of the top challenged books.  I was then sucked into Junior’s world, feeling for him every challenge, death, or tragedy that he had to face.  This novel brought to light aspects of reservation life and Native American culture that I have not had much experience with.