Tag Archives: death

Summer Reading: The Great Unexpected


The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech. Realistic Fiction/Mystery/Folklore.

Naomi and Lizzie find their friendship tested when a body falling out of a tree turns out to be Finn, a boy who captures hearts.  Meanwhile, across the ocean, Mrs. Kavanaugh and Miss Pilpenny discuss murder and plot revenge.

Themes/Content: Friendship, family, orphans, tragedy, death, revenge, relationships, forgiveness, Ireland, Irish folklore, Finn McCoul, symbolism, setting, reality, fear, coping, connectedness, crows (rooks)

Recommended for: Grades 5 and up, discussing symbolism, discussing author’s craft and word choice, readers who like a bit of sadness, but not sobbing tear-jerkers, readers who like a mystery, readers who are able to trust a story, discussing characterization, discussing parallelism

My Two Cents:  It was very hard to assign a genre to this book.  In some respects it felt like a mystery… Who (or what) is Finn?  What kind of devious revenge are the spinsters planning? In some respects this felt like folklore/fantasy… Is Finn a ghost?  What’s with all of the crows (rooks)?  Is there really fairy gold?  I think though that this is mostly a story about relationships, which I think makes it fall best under realistic fiction.  Reading the themes and content above you may get the impression that this is a dark depressing book, but in fact it is not.

For the many Sharon Creech fans out there, the writing won’t disappoint.  She just has such a unique style that on every page I was delighted with her little gems of word choice.  This was also a book I had a hard time putting down, for several reasons.  Of course her word choice is incentive enough to keep reading, but I really loved Naomi, Lizzie, and all of the characters in the book.  Naomi is down to earth and a little sarcastic (which I can always appreciate.) Lizzie is a little more needy and formal, and a chatterbox!  They make an unusual pair, but when their friendship is tested you find yourself hoping that they will overcome the challenge.  Finn is a charmer, and a mystery and the source of friction between the girls.  The odd thing is that even after finishing the book he is still a mystery to me.  The secondary characters in both Blackbird tree and “Across the Ocean” are just as interesting, each one with a unique quirk or personality.

This book could be challenging for some readers.  It is the kind of book in which you have to have a little blind faith that the confusion at the beginning of the story will work itself out by the time you reach the end.  That confusion was part of what kept me glued to this book.  I kept reading because wanted to make sense of the story.  Creech is masterful in the way that she reveals essential plot points little by little along the way.  This could work as a read aloud, but might be difficult because of the way the dialog is written (at times,) and the Irish brogue.

Here is a short video in which Sharon Creech discusses The Great Unexpected:

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Blashfield, Jean F. Ireland. New York: Children’s Press, 2002. Print.
  • Burns, Batt. The King with Horse’s Ears and Other Irish Folktales. New York: Sterling, 2009. Print.
  • De Valera, Sinéad. The Magic Gifts. Dublin, Ireland: Wolfhound Press, 2000. Print.
  • Doyle, Roddy. A Greyhound of a Girl. New York: Amulet Books, 2012. Print.
  • Krull, Kathleen. A Pot o’ Gold : a Treasury of Irish Stories, Poetry, Folklore, and (of course) Blarney. New York: Hyperion Books, 2009. Print.
  • Spilsbury, Richard, and Louise Spilsbury. A Murder of Crows. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2003. Print.
  • White, Ruth. Way Down Deep. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.

Favorite Quote: (There were so many it was hard to choose!)

“Her companion, Miss Pilpenny, recapped the pen. ‘Yes, Sybil, a fine and clever revenge.’

‘Shall we have a murder tonight?’

‘Indeed Sybil, splendid notion.’

‘And then perhaps a little jam and bread.'”

(Creech, Sharon. The Great Unexpected. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2012. 10. Print.)

The Final Word(s): Beautiful writing! Stick with it! 😀

Summer Reading: Navigating Early


Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool. Historical Fiction.

After his mother’s death, Jack Baker’s move from Kansas to a boarding school in Maine causes him to feel like a fish out of water.  His relationship with his father is distant both physically and emotionally and when his father has to postpone his visit, Jack finds himself on an adventure with an eccentric classmate who is on a quest to find Pi.

Themes/Content: Friendship, family, Pi, Boarding schools, Polaris, death, Ursa Major, bears, navigation, math, rowing (crew), fathers and sons, WWII, Appalachian Trail, Maine, Billie Holiday, synonyms, similes, National Geographic Magazine, military, adventure, first person narratives, synesthesia, autism, quests

Recommended for: Grades 5 and up, students and adults, students who like math, students who like historical fiction, students who like adventure, discussing constellations or stars, discussion of Pi (as well as pie,) discussion of simile, read aloud, character study

My Two Cents: Clearly this has been the summer for reading some outstanding books, because Navigating Early is certainly another winner.  I love it when an author combines such a unique storyline with such powerful characters.  There are two story threads that entwine around each other.  The first is the story of the friendship between Jack and Early.  The second is the story of Pi, interpreted by Early who sees the story in the infinite decimals places of Pi.  Pi’s story is paralleled in the quest that Jack and Early make as they navigate their way along the Appalachian Trail.

Vanderpool’s story is creative and smart and her characters are completely captivating. I laughed out loud at Jack’s sarcastic and slightly self-deprecating sense of humor.  Early is outwardly confusing  and eccentric, but as the story progresses we realize that internally, he has a much tighter grasp on reality than he communicates.  (My opinion is that Early has a type of synesthesia although Vanderpool, in her author’s note, is not quite so specific.)  Given his determination and quirkiness, Early reminds me of Owen Meany (A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.)

There are a multitude of curricular tie-ins with this book and it would make an outstanding read aloud. I’m grateful that Vanderpool included “Pi: Fact or Fiction” in her author’s note.  (If she hadn’t, rather than completing this book review right now, I’d be trying to calculate the digits of Pi.)

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Buchan, Jamie. Easy as pi : the countless ways we use numbers every day. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest, 2009. Print.
  • Dowd, Siobhan. The London Eye mystery. Oxford: David Fickling Books, 2008. Print.
  • Mass, Wendy. A mango-shaped space : a novel. New York: Little, Brown, 2005. Print.
  • McCallum, Ann. Eat your math homework : recipes for hungry minds. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2011. Print.
  • Neuschwander, Cindy. Sir Cumference and the dragon of pi : a math adventure. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 1999. Print.

Favorite Quote: (It was hard to pick just one.) “Connecting the dots. That’s what Mom said stargazing is all about.  It’s the same up there as it is down here, Jackie. You have to look for the things that connect us all.  Find the ways our paths cross, our lives intersect, and our hearts collide.” (Vanderpool, Clare. Navigating Early. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013. 291. Print.)

Final Word(s): A unique and amazing read!  Love it! 😀

Summer Reading: Liesl and Po


Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver.  Illustrated by Kei Acedera. Fantasy.

Lonely, grieving and locked in an attic, Liesl is befriended by a ghost, Po and its pet, Bundle.  An accidental mix-up by an alchemist’s apprentice, Will, soon has all of them entwined in a dangerous adventure as Liesl endeavors to return her father’s mortal remains to his final resting place.

Themes/Content: Friendship, family, death, grief, alchemy, ghosts, magic, drawing, apprentices, orphans, stepmothers, figurative language, imagery.

Recommended for: Grade 5 and up; fantasy lovers, read aloud,

My Two Cents:  I enjoyed this book so much, that I am having a hard time writing about it.  I just won’t be able to do justice to Oliver’s clever and magical writing.  I’d get that little “butterfly in the stomach”  feeling as a read certain passages and marveled at how she chose her words.  As I was reading I started taking pictures of the text with my phone so that I could remember some of my favorite passages.


Oliver, Lauren. Liesl & Po. New York: Harper, 2011. 142. Print.

You’ll have such empathy for the protagonists Liesl, Po, Bundle and Will, but my heart was stolen by Mo, the Lady Premiere’s guard.

Also worth mentioning… read the author’s note at the end of the book.  I always do, but this one was truly touching and gave me even more appreciation for the story.

Similar Book from EHUE Library:

  • Auxier, Jonathan. Peter Nimble and his fantastic eyes : a story. New York: Amulet Books, 2011. Print.
  • Barrie, J M. Peter Pan. New York: Scholastic, 2002. Print.
  • Gaiman, Neil. The graveyard book. New York: HarperCollins, 2008. Print.
  • Nimmo, Jenny. Midnight for Charlie Bone. New York: Orchard Books, 2003. Print.

Favorite Quote: “This was the other problem with the living ones: They were separate, always separate.  They couldn’t truly merge.  They did not know how to be anyone other than themselves, and even that they did not know how to be sometimes.” (Oliver, Lauren. Liesl & Po. New York: Harper, 2011. 92. Print.)

The Final Word(s): Read it immediately! 😀