Deza Malone and her family struggle to return to normalcy after a tragic accident involving her father forces them to leave their home in Gary Indiana.
Topics/themes: families, African-Americans, the great depression, Joe Lewis (boxer), resilience, poverty, character development, alliteration, words
My two cents:⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I’m happy to finally have had the opportunity to have read this book. It was recommended to me by a colleague shortly after it came out and I’m just getting around to it now.
As I’ve seen in many of Curtis’ books his characters rely on the strong relationships with family and friends. Deza and her family are smart and caring and were it not for the fact they are African-American and living during the Great Depression their story might be completely different. In his afterwards, Curtis talks about poverty in America today. This book could be a great springboard for conversations about education, and children, and the impact that poverty has on their lives.
Children of the Great Depression by Russell Freedman
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.
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! 😀
Zoe and her family, who foster rescued Great Pyrenees dogs, hope that their furry friends will help the new boy next door find his voice.
Themes/Content: Family, courage, rescue dogs, mutism, Great Pyrenees dogs, writing, imagination, friendship, coping, patience, parrots, first person narratives
Recommended for: Grades 4 and up, dog lovers, read aloud, role models, Adopt a Shelter Pet Month (October)
My Two Cents: This is a heartwarming story for dog lovers everywhere. Zoe’s entire family serve as wonderful roles models. Her mother is passionate about rescuing unwanted dogs. Her father is a veterinarian. Her sister Alice has a vivid imagination and see everything through the lens of an author writing a story. Zoe is patient and courageous, especially when it come to her relationship with the new neighbor, Phillip.
Minor spolier alert: If you’re looking for high drama, this is not the book for you. There is just enough drama to to add a hint of danger. This is not a tear-jerker… no dogs die in this book.
This book would make a great read-aloud for any class. I would be the perfect choice for October, which is Adopt a Shelter Pet month. You could even tie in community service projects with the local animal shelter.
Nuzum, K A. The Leanin’ Dog. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2008. Print.
Paulsen, Jim, and Gary Paulsen. Road Trip. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2013. Print.
Favorite Quote: “We laughed and laughed so much that Kodi woofed at us, and the sun came out from behind a cloud creeping across the yard and up the steps to warm our feet.” (MacLachlan, Patricia. White Fur Flying. NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013. 47. Print.)
As penance for his actions, Julian Twerski’s English teacher, Mr. Selkirk, requires him to write about the event that caused his recent suspension from school. The project stretches through the school year as Julian avoids studying Shakespeare and avoids discussing the topic.
Themes/Content: Friendship, family, regret, bullying, writing, school, first person narratives, foreshadowing, Shakespeare, running (track), self image, Judiasm
My Two Cents: This is a compelling story, set in the late 1960’s, about a boy who knows he’s done something wrong, but doesn’t want to admit it. Each chapter chronicles another misadventure in which he tries to show that what he did to cause his suspension was not as bad as some of other things he has done in the past. Julian is a very likable character and even though he makes a lot of poor choices, he also makes his best effort to make amends. I can really relate to Julian because he communicates much better in writing than he does orally. As the story progresses you can see the writing on the wall (no pun intended) as he documents his conversations. You feel for him, when those conversations lead to misunderstandings.
The events in the story focus on Julian and his friends, all sixth graders. Consequently there is a lot of action revolving around sixth grade boys doing typical “sixth-grade-boy” things. There are dangerous stunts, and budding romances, and there is some language that you might expect from sixth graders out of earshot of adults. A few of the passages might not be appropriate for some readers, but as a whole the story is very appropriate for sixth graders.
This is a good book for teaching foreshadowing because you know something bad as happened but Julian skirts the issue, leaving the reader curious about what he did. As the story progresses, Goldblatt drops little bits and pieces of information that change your perspective about what has been written previously. The historical backdrop does not play a very big role in this story so I put this in the category of realistic fiction rather than historical fiction. I can recommend this a read-aloud for the right class, provided you are comfortable with the pubescent passages and text.
Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:
Aliki. William Shakespeare & the Globe. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. Print.
Buyea, Rob. Because of Mr. Terupt. New York: Delacorte Press, 2010. Print.
Canfield, Jack, and Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Hansen and Iren. Chicken soup for the preteen soul : 101 stories of changes, choices, and growing up for kids 9-13. New York: Scholastic, 2000. Print.
Clements, Andrew, and Mark Elliott. Trouble-maker. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011. Print.
Preller, James. Bystander. New York, NY: Feiwel and Friends, 2009. Print.
Schmidt, Gary D. The Wednesday wars. New York: Clarion Books, 2007. Print.
Shakespeare, William, David S. Kastan, and Marina Kastan. William Shakespeare. New York: Sterling, 2000. Print.
Shakespeare, William, William Rosen, and Barbara Rosen. The tragedy of Julius Caesar : with new and updated critical essays and a revised bibliography. New York: Signet Classic, 1998. Print.
Favorite Quote: “Sometimes when you brace yourself for a storm, you get a gentle breeze. The storm only comes when you’re braced for nothing whatsoever.” (Goldblatt, Mark. Twerp. NY: Random House, 2013. 16. Print.)
Final Word(s): Julian’s an honest character. Read this one! 🙂
For as long as Micay can remember, with the exception of her family, all of the people in her village call her “Ugly One” because of the deep scar that runs from her eye to her lip. She is an outcast who is ridiculed, bullied, and ignored. When Paqo the village shaman makes Micay his pupil she is confused by what the Gods might have in store for her.
Themes/Content: Incas, storytelling, Machu Picchu, self-esteem, beauty, shamans, Peru, macaws, rituals, gods and goddesses, descriptive language, context clues, loneliness, destiny, family
Recommended for: Grades 6 and up, readers who are interested in the ancient Incas or Machu Picchu, readers who need reassurance about self-image
My Two Cents: This book is very different from anything I have read lately. The text is very descriptive and yet also feels slightly primitive. It is more introspective, possibly because Micay spends so much time alone. When the book begins she is very self-conscious about her appearance, and to some extent, brings her isolation upon herself. Her self-isolation and negative self-image only serve to fuel her tormentors. As much as she tries to stay strong, she is hurt by their words and actions.
Her life begins to change when a stranger from the jungle presents her with a gift of a baby macaw, who becomes her companion and confidante. She names him Sumac Huanacauri, or “Beautiful One,” and it is Sumac who leads her to the Shaman and her destiny.
It took me a little while to get into this book, but after a few chapters I was hooked. One aspect of the book that I appreciate is the fact that even though the people in her village have shunned her, her family, especially her sister, sticks by her and tries to gives her support.
Some of the descriptions of the activities and rituals of the ancient Incas may be disturbing, and although possibly historically accurate, may not be appropriate for all readers. The author includes a glossary, although she also explains the Quechua (language) of the Incas in context. Ellis also includes an author’s note and additional resources. With my limited knowledge of the ancient Incas, I would have liked the author’s note to explain her choices a bit more.
Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:
Calvert, Patricia. The ancient Inca. New York: F. Watts, 2004. Print.
Clark, Ann N. Secret of the Andes. New York: Puffin Books, 1980. Print.
Gruber, Beth, Johan Reinhard, and National Geographic Society (U.S.). Ancient Inca : archaeology unlocks the secrets of the Inca’s past. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2007. Print.
Mann, Elizabeth. Machu Picchu. New York: Mikaya Press, 2000. Print.
Silate, Jennifer. The Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. Detroit, MI: KidHaven Press, 2006. Print.
Favorite Quote: “The more you observe, New Voice, the more you understand. Once you can interpret the voice of the world, you become its revealer.” (Ellis, Leanne S. The Ugly One. New York: Clarion Books, 2013. 135. Print.)
The Final Word(s): Pretty good for the right reader. 🙂
Life in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC is pretty typical until trouble rolls into town in the form of Detective Joe Starr. Before long the town is buzzing with news of a murder and it’s up to Mo LoBeau and her friend Dale (a.k.a the Desperado Detectives) to crack the case.
Themes/Content: Detectives, murder, family, friendship, orphans, hurricanes, restaurants, first person narratives, kidnapping, voice, small town life, read aloud, NASCAR, humor, abuse, dialogue, word choice
Recommended for: Grades 5 and up, readers who like mystery, readers who like action and adventure, readers who like a funny story, read aloud, discussing word choice, reader’s theater
My Two Cents: Yet another terrific novel to add to my summer reading list! Turnage has concocted a cast with just the amount of quirkiness that you’d expect from a small town. Their names alone will catch your attention (Moses LoBeau, The Colonel, Miss Lana, Lavender Macon, Thessolonians…) All of the town seems to meet and eat in the “café” and you’ll get caught up in their sometimes-casual, sometimes-chaotic lives.
There are also serious aspects to the story, however. Mo has started a “message-in-a-bottle” campaign to find her “upstream mother” who lost Mo during a hurricane. There is also an actual murder, and kidnapping, and there are dangerous criminals in their midst. At times the story seem humorous and light only to turn introspective or dangerous. Turnage is able to successfully work these conflicting emotions into a believable and balanced tale.
Not only would this book make a wonderful read aloud, I think it would be an excellent choice when talking about word choice and author’s craft in writing.
Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:
Barnett, Mac. It happened on a train. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011. Print.
Montgomery, Monte. Kid confidential : an insider’s guide to grown-ups. New York: Walker, 2012. Print.
Pullman, Philip. Two crafty criminals! : and how they were captured by the daring detectives of the New Cut Gang. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. Print.
White, Ruth. Way Down Deep. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.
Favorite Quote: “Dale can choose not to worry like he chooses not to wear socks. Miss Lana says I have more of a Jack Russell brain. I think things apart for sport.” (Turnage, Sheila. Three times lucky. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012. 237. Print.)
Final Word(s): Three thumbs up! Great mystery, fun read! 😀
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! 😀
Eleanor’s awful August begins with the devastating news that Bibi, her babysitter, is moving far away. After Bibi leaves, everything reminds her of Bibi and makes her sad. Eleanor wonders how her life will ever be the same.
Themes/Content: Babysitters, friendship, change, family, coping, loss, novels in prose, first person
Recommended for: Primary grades, students with friends/relatives moving away, introducing prose novels
My Two Cents: This is a short, sweet book that makes the reader realize that the magnitude of a problem is in the eye of the beholder. To an adult, a friend moving away may seem like a minor loss compared to other situations, but to a third grader this is a great tragedy. Eleanor’s new babysitter handles the situation with compassion, not trying to step into Bibi’s shoes, but finding her own path into Eleanor’s heart.
Although the novel is written in free verse, there is not a lot of figurative language. This might be a good way to introduce free verse because the text is so direct. Cordell’s illustrations are on nearly every page and work well to draw attention to specific lines of the text. As much as I don’t like to stereotype a book, I think that this book will probably appeal more to girls than boys, and therefore might not be the best choice for a read aloud.
Similar/Paired Books in EHUE Library:
Bowe, Julie. My last best friend. New York: Scholastic, 2007. Print.
Bryant, Annie. Bad news/good news. New York: Aladdin Mix, 2008. Print.
Cabot, Meg. Moving day /#1. New York: Scholastic Press, 2008. Print.
Carbone, Elisa L. Starting school with an enemy. New York: Knopf, 1998. Print.
Danziger, Paula. Amber Brown is not a crayon. New York: Putnam’s, 1994. Print.
Krishnaswami, Uma. The grand plan to fix everything. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011. Print.
Mattox, Wendy A. Babysitting skills : traits and training for success. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Press, 2007. Print.
Sternberg, Julie. Like bug juice on a burger. 2013. Print.
Early Pearl and her family dream of one day owning a home of their own. Their plans are crimped however, when her father mysteriously disappears, and her apartment is ransacked and robbed. She, her mother, Sum, and brother, Jubie, have no choice but to seek refuge at a homeless shelter.
Recommended for: Grades 5 and up. Learning about the plight of the homeless, learning about figurative language, teaching poetry, students who love a good mystery, discussing words and word origins, students who like books with some drama, read aloud
My Two Cents: Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) writes, “How would children see reading differently if we taught language arts as an art appreciation class?” Blue Balliett has created a masterful work of art filled with the commitment and courage, repetition and rhythm. From the very first pages I wanted the Pearl family to find their dream. They are such strong and loving family, with intelligent and compassionate parents who are providing the best for their children even though they can afford very few “material things.” They have a plan, and they hold each other up as they work toward putting that plan into action. When Dash disappears and their home is robbed the family is shocked and devastated. This family holds fast to each other as they persevere and face the toughest challenges they could imagine.
Balliett deftly crafts this story. She draws on the poetry and rhythms of Langston Hughes in several ways. Hughes writing provides the Pearls their smooth soulful voices. Every conversation is poetry. Hughes’ poetry and writing also play a significant role in the mystery of Dash’s disappearance. Balliett does a brilliant job of weaving the story with word play and figurative language. Words are tossed and twisted and taken apart. You’ll have blast finding those gems.
This book would make a great dramatic read aloud.
Similar/Paired books from EHUE Library:
Bauer, Joan. Almost home. New York: Viking, 2012. Print.
Carlson, Natalie S. The family under the bridge. New York: Harper/Trophy, 1958. Print.
Clements, Andrew. Room one : a mystery or two. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2006. Print.
Cooper, Floyd. Coming home : from the life of Langston Hughes. New York: Putnam & Grosset, 1998. Print.
DiCamillo, Kate. Great joy. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2007. Print.
Hughes, Langston. The dream keeper and other poems : including seven additional poems. New York: Knopf, 1994. Print.
Langston Hughes. New York: Sterling Pub., 2006. Print.
Lewis, Barbara A. The kid’s guide to service projects : over 500 service ideas for young people who want to make a difference. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Pub., 2009. Print.
O’Connor, Barbara. How to steal a dog : a novel. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.
Perdomo, Willie. Visiting Langston. New York: H. Holt, 2002. Print.
Perkovich, Olugbemisola R. 8th grade superzero. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010. Print.
Favorite Quote: “Reading is a tool no one can take away. A million bad things may happen in life and it’ll still be with you, like a flashlight that never needs a battery. Reading can offer a crack of light on the blackest of nights.” (Balliett, Blue. Hold fast. New York: Scholastic Press, 2013. 166. Print.)
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.
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.
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.)