Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Banned Book Week REVIEW: In the Night Kitchen

Sendak, M.  (1970).  In the Night Kitchen.  New York:  Harper Collins Publishers.


PLOT SUMMARY:  A young boy named Mickey is having trouble sleeping because of all the noise coming from the kitchen.  He goes on an adventure, losing all his clothes and falling through the floor into the Night Kitchen where he searches for milk for the morning cake.

Okay, so here's the thing I avoided saying in that little summary.  Initially, the Night Kitchen bakers bake Mickey into a cake.  Some kids, will find this freaky.  I mean, there is literally this picture where Mickey's little hand is presumably waving, trying to escape the batter:

Weird, right?

The illustrations are dark and kind of bland, but they do create a fantastical world in which getting that oh-so-necessary cup of milk is essential (making this a wonderful book to share with kids who don't want to drink their milk).

The majority of the text of this book is one long, poetic run-on sentence.

Reasons Censored:

In the Night Kitchen is the 25th most banned book of the 1990s.  But since it hasn't made the top 10 list of challenged books in the 2000s, the ALA doesn't give the reasons for the challenges.

So, here's my guess as to why:  There's full frontal nudity, on the part of wee little Mickey.

I was once told a second-hand story about this book by a librarian.  She told me of a library patron who'd checked this book out and when she returned it, she approached the librarian, carrying the book.  The patron whispered, "The little boy is naked in several of the illustrations of this book."  Before the librarian could respond, the library patron continued, "so I went through and drew blue diapers on all the inappropriate illustrations.  You can feel free to send me the rest of the library's copies to me and I'd be happy to draw diapers on the rest."

Oh, library patron.

Potential Counter-Arguments:

While Mickey is naked and his private parts are exposed in several of the illustrations, he's depicted as a small child.  There's nothing sexual about it.  In fact, Mickey is shown to be an age when children often love to run around naked.  I doubt the four or five-year-olds would take offense.

Now, if someone wanted to object to this book on the grounds that the book is a little creepy...well, I'd have to agree.  But I wouldn't take it off my classroom book shelf.  How about you, few and dear readers?

Uses in the Classroom:

This is a fun imaginative read that could be used as a bedtime story.  Since all of the Night Kitchen bakers are male, a teacher could try to challenge traditional gender roles by showing men cooking.  After reading the book, a teacher could guide children in the kitchen and create some of their own fantastical treats.  (Of course, under no circumstances should the teacher attempt to bake any child into a cake.  No matter how delicious kiddie-cake may be.  It's still illegal, or something)

Another option includes discussing where readers really think milk comes from.  They could tell stories about the possibilities, then drink their daily dose of it, chanting "the milk's in me."

Quotes of Note:

"Did you ever hear of Mickey, how he heard a racket in the night and shouted "Quiet down there!" and fell through the dark, out of his clothes, past the moon & his mama & papa sleeping tight."

"And they put that batter up to bake a delicious Mickey-Cake."

"What's all the full?  I'm Mickey the pilot!  I get milk the Mickey way!"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

BOOK GIVEAWAY!!!! Winter's Tail

Over the next three weeks, we're going to we're going to be entering names from those readers who leave comments to win a special Winter's Tail:  How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again prize pack.

Commenters have a chance at winning their own copy of Winter's Tail, a dolphin plush toy, a dolphin keychain AND a copy of the Nintendo DS Winter's Tail game.

Chances are good, dear readers, that you have heard of Miss Winter the dolphin previously on the news:

So check back here each Monday and Thursday to learn more about Winter's Tail.  Each of us will be posting a review.

You can also find out more about the book at its official website here.

To qualify for the prize, you must leave at least one comment on one of the posts made between, hmmm, NOW and October 18th.  If you post an anonymous or don't want to link your account to a blogger profile, please leave your first name and last initial, an email address or both so we can announce the winner on the blog by name or contact him or her.

The more comments you leave, the more times your name or email will be entered into the drawing.

We'll announce the winner on the afternoon of October 19th, but check back over the next few weeks to learn more about Winter!

Banned Book Week REVIEW: It's Perfectly Normal

Harris, R.H.  (1994).  It's Perfectly Normal:  Changing bodies, growing up, sex & Sexual Health.  Cambridge, MA:  Candlewick Press.


Holy crud, is this book thorough!  It's Perfectly Normal  uses aloof, nonjudgemental language to describe the differences between sex and gender, the process of reproduction, puberty and on and on.  The 85 page information book takes into account the psychological and physical aspects of growing up.  The book includes multiple illustrations on every page of children and adults from various racial backgrounds.  It shows both bi-racial and homosexual couples without judgement.  To help lighten the topics a roughly drawn bird and bee share jokes and
common responses to the information being presented.

It's Perfectly Normal is the most thorough sex-ed book I've seen.  It doesn't omit any topic.  It explores aging, specific sex acts (including masturbation, vaginal intercourse, oral and anal sex--all described in distant non-judgmental terms), sexually transmitted diseases, abuse, birth control, etc.

Now having said that, It's Perfectly Normal isn't the type of book I'd personally want to get caught reading on my own in public...or in private.  There are many, Many, MANY illustrations of nude figures that realistically show the many variations of human bodies (we're talking different races, ages, weights and disabilities).  While this is meant to make readers comfortable in their own skin, if a reader, say, opened this book to a random page while picking up the book at her local library, I might have been just a tad bit shocked and embarrassed.  But I got over it.

Did I mention that this information book was thorough in terms of the topics it addressed and maintained a nonjudgemental scientific voice throughout?  Yes, yes, it does.  I was very impressed.

Reasons Censored:

It's Perfectly Normal was the 13th most challenged book of the 1990s, and has made a few appearances on the top ten lists during the current decade.  The reasons cited for the challenges are "homosexuality, nudity, sexual content and sex education."

Potential Counter-Arguments:

Here all the accusations are 100% true.  But, umm, it's kind of the point.  I can't think of many sex-ed related questions that It's Perfectly Normal doesn't answer in honest nonjudgemental language.

This is a valuable resource, even if some parents, school administrations, religious institutions, etc. disagree with some of the details shared.  It's Perfectly Normal  lends a scientific and honest voice to many topics that students are too often encouraged to remained silent about.

The book specifically attempts to welcome readers from different backgrounds into the text and to remind them that not only their experiences are normal, but that they are too.

Uses in the Classroom:

Sex-ed, focusing around the time of puberty.

As with most books that present awkward or challenging topics, it's important to allow for open and honest discussion about the topics raised.  Handing off a book to a child is never enough.  An adult has to be willing to talk with students, no matter how awkward.

Quotes of Note:

"Sometimes between the ages of eight or nine and fifteen or so, kids' bodies begin to change and grow into adult bodies" (p. 9).

"Both girls and boys have crushes.  They have crushes on people they know, as well as on people they don't know--like TV stars, movie stars, rock stars, or sports stars.
They have crushes on people of the same sex, as well as on people of the opposite sex, on people who are the same age, older or younger.  Having a crush on someone is perfectly normal" (p. 13).

"Babies and children grow up in all sorts of families.  There are kids whose mother and father live together, or whose mother and father live apart, or who have only one parent, or whose parent or parents have adopted them, or who live with a parent and a step-parent, or who live with an aunt, an uncle, a grandmother, a grandfather, or other relative, or who have gay or lesbian parents, or who have foster parents" (p. 50).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Literary Feast: The Warrior Heir Discussion Chapters 1 through 4

*Spoilers below*

While we'll try to avoid being too specific, these literary feasts will, in general, include spoilers for the books. Below is a space to discuss content from the first 116 pages of The Warrior Heir.

So, let's kick off our discussion of The Warrior Heir! Anyone out there reading it? Here are some of our initial thoughts....

SHEL: As I began the book, I felt too many characters were introduced too quickly. Do you not realize, Cinda Williams Chima, I am TERRIBLE with names. I remember nobody. You're making my life painful! Who are these people? Should I remember them? How do I know them? Why must they have unusual names? Although, Bob, Fred and Paula would probably also be difficult for me....

But the first sentence did make me happy: "The scent of wood smoke and roses always took him back there, to the boy he was and would never be again."

And here the scent of wood smoke makes me think of smores. And how I was the terrible girl scout who kept setting the marshmallows on fire while everyone else patiently toasted theirs.

MONICA: You are *so* right about the names. Of course, I’m one of those people who can’t remember characters’ names until the last page of the book. Until then, it’s all “that snippy little ex-girlfriend” and “that best friend kid who wants to know what’s going on but doesn’t” and “that sort of useless aunt.” It works well for me, because it means that when, 60 pages in, “Nick” becomes “The Great Wizard Nicodemus Snowbeard,” I can still keep mentally referring to him as “handyman dude with magical powers.”

In other news, I actually liked the opening – to the point that I was vaguely sad when time flashed forward. (What? I just loved all the mayhem and destruction!) I recognized that it had to happen, but even in just those few pages I found myself getting rather ridiculously attached to his sister. You know, before she was vaporized.

SHEL: Maybe she'll come back. As much as a person can ever come back from vaporization...hmmm.

So far, Jack feels younger to me than 16. His relationship with his mom, the way he asked permission to go home and get his felt like he was 12, until the ex-girl was presented. I think out of those my biggest struggle is over the medicine. What sixteen-year-old has never questioned who he needs to take a medicine each day. When I was eight or nine, my nose would be a steady leak, I'd be coughing like a male beast calling for a mate, but I'd still pour my cherry medicine down the drain because I didn't like the taste or because I didn't think it would do any good. On the other hand, I like the way the narration pokes fun at the medicine, how Jack and his mom perceive it to be like a magical potion. Hahaha.

MONICA: I’m having the same problem you’re having – plus, he seems so *tame*. I recognize he’s just an Heir, not a Warrior, yet, but come on. Maybe it’s supposed to help us see the difference in The Way He Is Now as compared to The Way He’s Going To Be, but I’m at the point now where I need him to start whapping people with his whomping big sword. Also, like you mentioned, since I wouldn’t have been willing to take delicious gummy vitamins as a kid (let alone bizarre viscous fluids) without me whining about why I needed them, I do think that for him to have never once wondered about it seems kind of ridiculous.

Ah, necessary plot points. How I accept your existence.

I am finding it kind of adorable, way deep down. Jack is just such a gumpy sweetheart! We’ll see how it goes, though. I'm fully prepared to be awed by his Warrior Skills, if it comes to it.

SHEL: I am starting to get into it a little more with the search for the sword. It's nice to have the boys out and about unsupervised. Behaving like the sixteen-year-olds they're supposed to be. Plus, it's vaguely Arthurian. A sword only one can withdraw from the ground...makes me happy. I like that you call him "gumpy." That's such a good description for him! Dead on.

Your thoughts, our few but dear readers? Also, keep reading! We'll start discussion of chapters five to eleven in a post on Friday night!

Banned Book Week REVIEW: The Stupids Die

Allard, H. (1981).  The Stupids Die.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin Company.


The Stupids series are a group of picturebooks that are relatively light in plot and share the silly misunderstandings the Stupid family has as they go about their day.  Luckily the Stupids are cared for by their rather intelligent pets.

The big misunderstanding the Stupids have in The Stupids Die is that during a power outage, the Stupids assume they have died.

The Stupids series is a romp into the absurd, likely to make some readers a little uncomfortable and others uproariously amused as societal norms are violated.

Often the illustrations are essential in understanding how one of the Stupids have misinterpreted a simple activity.

Reasons Censored:

The Stupids are listed as 27 on the most challenged books of the 1990s.  But that particular list doesn't share the most common reasons why the series was challenged.  But I can imagine that it has do with age appropriateness or casual way the word stupid is thrown around.

Potential Counter-arguments:

While adults may find this series a little inappropriate, young students will love the fun with language and nonsensical behavior.  An adult can calm all of their concerns over sharing this book by reminding children that while it's okay to laugh at the Stupids and call them 'stupid,' it's not okay to use that word with real people.

An adult could also encourage readers to think of synonyms for the Stupids behavior.  A key word to embrace would be "silly."

Uses in the Classroom:

The Stupids can be used to show that everyone makes mistakes.  These books provide a fun little rebellion for young readers, providing them an opportunity to say "stupid" without getting in trouble and to poke fun at a lot of societal norms, like sleeping in beds instead of under them (much more fun!).

Quotes of Note:

"One morning Stanley Q. Stupid woke up with a funny feeling.  "Something really stupid is going to happen today," he said."

"The Stupids all had breakfast in the shower, as usual."

"After breakfast the two Stupid kids had chores to do.
Buster mowed the rug."

On a non-banned book related topic, check the site again tonight!  We're going to be launching a book giveaway that will last through October 19th.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Thirty-Eight and Thirty-Nine

So, nobody seemed to notice.  I kinda, sorta forgot to do an update last week.  Oopsie.

I'm also not too excited about having to post this week either.  All summer, I've been becoming more and more frustrated with the submission process.  I'm not giving up.  Don't think that for a second.  I'm just feeling frustrated.

On an unrelated note, don't forget we want to begin our reading feast series on Monday!  We're going to begin by discussion The Warrior Heir.  Feel free to join us.  The more peeps reading, the merrier!

Read with us!

It's not often you find a fantasy story that's partially set in Ohio.  So pick up The Warrior Heir and devour it with us.

Banned Book Week REVIEW: More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Schwartz, A.  (1984).  More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.  New York:  HarperCollins Publishers.


Enjoyment Rating:  !!!

Schwartz's Scary Story trilogy are collections of short American folktales meant to scare and entertain.  Shwartz is an actual folklorist, who collected and retold these narratives.  And his series has been immensely popular to bring on camping trips and also is one of the most challenged series of the 1990s.

Speaking from my own experience, these stories never scared me.  Not ever.  The writing is mediocre, characters are never introduced well, but there is often a sentence in most of the stories that reveals the twist or spooky aspect (which if fine).  The illustrations done by Stephen Gammell on the other hand...

...kept me up a few extra minutes before falling asleep when I was younger.

More Scary Stories is split up into parts, focusing on ghost stories and many creepy events that could really happen.  Some of the narratives are in first person, others in third.  Quite a few are set in the past, but only a small handful actually mention their setting.

Reasons Censored:

The Scary Stories series is most commonly challenged with the argument that it promotes the occult (and I suppose "A Ghost in the Mirror" chapter could lend support to this since it describes how to play the game Bloody Mary while looking into a mirror).  Other reasons given are inappropriateness for age group (the books are listed on the cover for being for ages nine and up) violence and insensitivity.

Potential Counter-Arguments:

Most of these stories are common oral tales that are a part of our culture. Ignoring them, we ignore stories about ourself.  These stories provide another perspective on ordinary places and events.  And honestly, you may as well allow kids to enjoy reading these tales, because chances are good they'll hear worse from their classmates or friends.

Another argument is to present these stories as light fun.  The last section contains humorous stories.  In all cases, the supernatural elements are preexisting, nothing that necessarily encourages a child to go out and research the occult.  Rather, a teacher could try to use these stories to get a child interested in folklore.

Uses in the Classroom:

Middle grade students would probably appreciate the option of hearing or reading some of these stories on a school camping trip or around Halloween.

Since some of the stories are based in history, (such as during The Civil War) a teacher could take those individual short stories as teaching moments.

These stories are an excellent way to share the concept of folklore.  But, overall, probably best as an elective read for individual children who want to pick up the series.  If it does spark interest with students, a teacher could also direct them to the Ghosts of America website which organizes people's ghost sightings by state and city.

Quotes of Note:

"These scary stories will take you on a strange and fearsome journey, where darkness or fog or mist or the sound of a person screaming or a dog howling turns ordinary places into nightmarish places, where nothing is what you expect."

"I will go away and take Arthur with me.  And you will get a new mother with glass eyes and a wooden tail" (p. 32).

"She saw two small yellow-green lights moving through the woods near the graveyard at the bottom of the hill.  They looked like the eyes of some animal.  But she could not make out what kind of creature it was.
Soon the creature left the woods and moved up the hill toward the house.  For a few minutes, Margaret lost sight of it.  Then she was it coming across the lawn toward her window" (p. 37).

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Banned Book Week: The Harry Potter Series

Let us begin this week of Banned Book reviews with the obvious...The Harry Potter Series.

PLOT SUMMARY (just in case you do in fact, live under a rock.  Which begs the question of how you gained access to the internet): After he turns eleven, Harry Potter learns that he is a wizard and heads off to wizarding school where he makes both friends and enemies.  While there, he learns that the evil wizard responsible for his parents' death isn't as dead as the wizarding community thought.  Let the epic battle between good and evil begin!!!!!!!

While not the number one most challenged book of the 1990s or 2000s (yet), Harry Potter has had it's share of controversy and has been subject to book burnings.  In fact, several burnings.

I'm guessing at least some of the book burners must have skipped the official challenging process established by the ALA, because the series was only number 48 on the most banned list of the 1990s.  (Of course, most of the books came out in the 2000s, but Harry Potter was already a growing cultural phenomenon in the late 90s)

And since Harry Potter is so popular, I thought I'd ask you, my few and faithful readers, have you had any experiences of people expressing hate for Harry Potter?

Since I teach children's literature to undergrads, my students expect me to discuss the books (although I've never assigned any of them, assuming my students either have already read them or really don't want to.  Plus, if I were to teach one of the books in the series, it'd be Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, because of the discussion we could have about the government's role in education.  But that book doesn't come first, is lOOOOOOOooooOOOOng and I'm not that mean).  So, how about you?  And HP dramas?  Any good lesson for incorporating HP?

Reasons Censored:


Of course a better argument against the series would be age appropriateness.  As Harry matures so do the conflicts and problems he faces.  Some of the imagery in the later books could be downright disturbing.  Inferi, I'm talking about yoooouuuuuuuu!  Lots of nightmare potential for students who aren't ready for those creatures (and that's not something limited by age).  So, a better argument would be not to share the first books in a classroom of middle grade readers for fear that they may read on and discover plots they're not ready for.  Of course, chances are good, students would be reading on their own, so at that point, any censorship decisions should fall to the parents.

Potential Counter-Arguments:

While the books do feature magic, they still show moral struggles over right and wrong, with the goal of good triumphing over evil.

In general the books show education in a positive light and make readers excited both to read and learn.  The series has become a cultural phenomenon with its own movies, music and games, making it hard to ignore.

Plus the characters, celebrate christmas as a happy occasion for gift giving and family and friends.

This series gets kids reading.  A dream come true right there.  Let them read!!!!!!

In response to my own challenge on the basis of age appropriateness, if students are reading the book independently and they discover a tension, image, plot point they aren't ready for, the kids may self-censor and stop reading or skip ahead all on their own.

Uses in the Classroom:

These books are fun and imaginative, catching the attention of many students who wouldn't otherwise pick up a book so thick or any book at all.  That alone is reason enough to make this series available to readers.

If a teacher were to use the books or quotes from the books in a classroom teachers could use the books to discuss mythological figures, dealing with loss, character foils, descriptions, and on and on.

Day One of the Best Week Ever AKA Banned Book Week

Today is the beginning of the best week all year for promoting books with young readers.

It's ALA's Banned Book Week. Check out your local library for books that have caused some controversy around the country. They always make for great subject matter and discussion in the classroom.

To find out about some of the books that have made the ALA's list, check back here all week. And to find out more about Banned Book Week, check the ALA site. They have events planned and ideas of how to use this week in the classroom.

Nothing tastes so good as forbidden fruit and nothing is as fun to read as a book you're denied.

I plan to wear banned book T-shirts into class the week, discuss censorship with my education students, and show them this brief, but powerful video.  I'll also show them video of YA poet, Ellen Hopkins, reading her poem, Manifesto:

You can find the words to the poem here as well.

Are you ready to cause some controversy in your classroom? All you need is one book.

REVIEW: Tangerine

Bloor, E. (1998) Tangerine
294 pages - 9780590432771

Thirty second summary: Despite being legally blind after a mysterious childhood accident, Paul Fisher can see what everyone else ignores. His brother is a bully who’s going from bad to worse, his parents are covering something up, and his new town of Tangerine is the weirdest place ever. With the help of his new friends, will Paul have the courage to see the truth about his family and his past?

God bless the Scholastic Book Club, because that’s how I acquired this gem of a novel. Tangerine may, in fact, be one of the most fantastic YA books of all time. The front cover looks like science fiction! The back cover sounds like a typical adventure! The inside reads like a sports story (soccer *and* football, no less) wrapped around a family drama and beaten over the head with some social commentary! There’s something for everyone, unless you happen to hate sports and adventures and coming-of-age stories and epic battles of good against evil and incredible writing and mysteries and oranges, in which case I have nothing more to say to you.

Tangerine also contains, brace for this, commentary about urban sprawl, a discussion of the lives of rural farmers, a bit about the problems of classism, and a surprisingly informative explanation of citrus fruit tree grafting. You’ll be treated to the battle of Man verses Nature – in Tangerine, muck fires burn constantly out in the fields, native ospreys are devouring the townspeople’s expensive koi, their houses are crumbling thanks to infestations of crazed, ground-dwelling termites, Paul’s school is sucked into a sinkhole.... There’s also a lesson about standing up to bullies, and although the final decision is obviously “You should because it’s the right thing to do,” there’s enough pain and cowardice thrown into the mix to make the situation realistic.

Paul’s uber-macho brother Erik is every hulking bully you ever encountered in middle school, and his parents are well-intentioned but incredibly guilt-stricken and desperate to prove that they’re all One Big Happy Family. Through all the drama, Paul is the perfect narrator. You feel his frustration with everything – the shallow better-than-thou nature of his town, the ignorance of his former friends, and his parents’ own willful blindness towards his increasingly dangerous brother. There’s so much foreshadowing I’m surprised I could see the last fifty pages through the weight of it, but the story is so well-written that even though you know who the bad guys are, you’ll still be impressed at how it ends.

Sort of weird and incredibly thought-provoking, Tangerine is both entertaining and engrossing. By the time it barrels through to the final conclusion, you will be standing on your feet cheering (or booing, depending on what character you’re reading about at that moment). The book delivers in every sense of the word, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Quotes of Note:

I’m in my room now, at the computer, listening to the sound of Erik kicking a football into a net in the backyard. It’s a short, violent sound, like some big guys holding up some little guy and punching him over and over in the stomach. Poomph. Poomph. Poomph. (p. 38)

The fire in the old grove was blazing high and wild, scorching the leaves off anything near it. By midnight we had chopped down four lightning trees. The ice was forming too rapidly in the new grove; the coatings on the trees were too thick. The loud cracking sound of trees splitting off branches like amputated limbs, or splitting in two like they’d been pole-axed, hung horribly in the frozen night air. We were losing. (p. 218)

There’s no big mystery here…Their lives are not made up of bits and pieces of versions of the truth. They don’t live that way. They know what really happened. Period. Why would that seem so mysterious to me? (p. 241)

Tasty Rating: !!!!!

If you thought this was delicious, try:
Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen
For those of you who liked watching the ospreys fight back against the town of Tangerine, you’ll love Hoot. Trust me, you’ll be rooting for the owls to win.

Friday, September 25, 2009

REVIEW: The Demon's Lexicon

Rees Brennan, S. (2009). The Demon's Lexicon. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Teenage brothers Alan and Nick were dealing with a leaky pipe when an unkindness of ravens flew through the window to attack. The birds were possessed by a demon and controlled by a magician. The brothers have often had troubles like these since their mother was driven crazy and since their father's murder. But what's complicating this particular situation, is the fact that a brother and sister, named Jamie and Mae, from school happened to witness the attack and have their own magical problem that they need the brothers help with.
Mae and Jamie's demon problem becomes the brothers' as well and actually draws out the original reason Nick and Alan have been running across Great Britain for as long as they can remember. Twists abound as strong and angry Nick hunts a way to defeat those who hunt him even if his plans oppose his more sympathetic brother's methods.
On the cover of the book, there is a quote by YA author Scott Westerfeld which states "The Demon's Lexicon is full of shimmery marvels and bountiful thunder." Ummm. Bountiful thunder? Really? Now, I loves me some books my Scott Westerfeld. He's an excellent author. But, ah, I don't really know what he's saying here. I read The Demon's Lexicon...I'm paging through it again now. I don't see anything that I would call a "shimmery marvel" or a "bountiful thunder." I think I need some more information, Scott. Maybe with some language that isn't quite so pretty, but that actually means something. That's all I'm saying.
The Demon's Lexicon includes a lot of great humorous lines and excellent witty banter. The only think the book has more of than those is suspense. Oh the fantastic dramas! They never stop. As I began reading The Demon's Lexicon, I was strongly reminded of the TV show Supernatural: Two brothers, fighting the forces of evil, helping others at great personal risk, etc.
And as with several episodes of Supernatural, the Nick and Alan could be mistaken for a couple.
A teacher or literature circle leader could guide discussion about the rules Rees Brennan creates to construct the supernatural world, the occult, the mix of old and new culture and architecture in older cities, the experience of having to move often or having a deceased or insane parent, the consequences a parent's choices may have on their child's life, etc. Students could also discuss the ethical implications of making family members pay to be present with a loved one as their health declines.
A teacher could also pull out quotes from this book to demonstrate how to write snappy dialogue.
Quotes of Note:
"The pipe under the sink was leaking again. It wouldn't have been so bad, except that Nick kept his favorite sword under the sink" (p. 1).
"He hoped that their uninvited guests would be gone by the time he reached home. It shouldn't take long for Alan to tell them that there were magicians in the world who could call up demons and set them on people. That there were quite a lot of other things happening side by side with the normal world those idiots pretended they didn't fit into. They had probably just heard the warnings Alan had spread and convinced themselves they needed "occult help."
Chances were, after all, that whatever problem the pair had was imaginary. He turned the engine on. It roared to life, and he pulled away fast from the side of the river where the body was sinking.
Imaginary problems. Must be nice" (pp. 16-17).
"Do you remember Mrs. Gilman, our neighbor from three houses ago?" Alan asked. "She used to watch you practicing the sword with binoculars. I never told you. I'm sorry."
Nick laid his sword down on the draining board with a metallic clink.
"Why did you do it?"
"Well, Nicholas, she was over sixty. I thought you'd be a little disturbed" (p. 39).
"People die all over the world, and I doubt you lose sleep over them. What's so special about you? Why should I want to help you?" (p. 44).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Reading Feast! Join Us In Reading The Warrior Heir

Hey guys! The two of us are planning on reading The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima over the next week or so. We're going to be tracking our progress on the blog, of course, and you are more than welcome to read along with us and comment as we go. It's our humble attempt at setting up a blog-wide book club. We'll see how it goes.

We'll officially begin discussing the book on Monday so you can take a bit of time this weekend to beg, borrow or steal buy a copy of the book.  (But don't worry if it takes some time to get ahold of one. We're going to devote a full two weeks to discussing aspects of the book, so you can always catch up! Unless you're very, very slow....)

Here's the description from the back jacket:

"Before he knew about the Roses, sixteen-year-old Jack lived an unremarkable life in the small Ohio town of Trinity.  Only the medicine he has to take daily and the thick scar above his heart set him apart from the other high schoolers.  Then one day Jack skips his medicine.  Suddenly, he is stronger, fiercer and more confident than ever before.  And it feels great--until he loses control of his own strength and nearly kills another player during soccer team tryouts.
Soon Jack learns the startling truth about himself:  he is Weirlind, part of an underground society of magical people who live among us.  At their help sits the feuding houses of the Red Rose and the White Rose, whose power is determined by playing the Game--a magical tournament in which each house sponsors a warrior to fight to the death.  The winning house rules the Weir.
As if his bizarre heritage isn't enough, Jack finds out that he's not just another member of the Weirlind--he's one of the last of the warriors--at a time when both houses are scouting for a player."

Go ahead and read it with us.  You know ya wanna!

Also, we're going to try to make this book club feast a regular thing.  So, let us know if you have book suggestions for the future of books you want to discuss!  (Small disclaimer for that last statement:  Self-published authors, this is NOT an opportunity for you to pimp your books in our comments section)
(No, seriously. Monica has a hand-held laser pointer, and she's willing to aim for your eyes.)

REVIEW: The Lost and Found

Teague, M. (1998). The Lost and Found. New York: Scholastic, Inc.


Wendell and Floyd wait outside the principal's office, lamenting their bad luck when the new student, Mona comes in looking for the Lost and Found. She's missing her lucky hat. As Mona looks through the Lost and Found, she gets lost in the giant box. Wendell and Floyd soon follow, looking for her. They soon discover that the Lost and Found is much bigger than they had ever imagined.

This is a fun picturebook that gives a magical dimension to a concept that already contains some mystery. I enjoyed this light fantasy.

I do have a slight problem with the cover though. To me, it doesn't really represent the fantasy aspect of the book. Now I know hundred of hats spilling out of a room should seem a little unusual, but the cover as it is didn't hold my attention long enough for me to decipher the details of it. Honestly, I assumed this book was going to have something to do with the Native American experience, since at first glance, the headdress was the only hat I actually noticed.

While published years before JK Rowling ever mentioned a room of requirement in the Harry Potter series, as Wendell, Floyd and Mona discover rooms devoted to lost items, I was strongly reminded of Hogwarts. So, way to be ahead of the curve, Mark Teague.


If a teacher ever held a special costume or funny hat day, The Lost and Found could definitely be a featured read aloud. If a teacher were desperate to draw out some lesson, they could focus on the illustrations of some of the ancient objects pictured in the Lost and Found or the different cultures and times some of the different hats come from. A teacher could also try to use this book to get students to narrate about their own lucky objects or describe how they feel if they've ever been lost.

With younger students, a teacher could also use this book to trigger a conversation on the intended use of a lost and found box.

Quotes of Note:

"Wendell and Floyd were in trouble. That morning a giant squid had trapped them in the boys' restroom for almost an hour, causing them to miss a math test. Their teacher, Ms. Gernsblatt, had been furious."

"Wendell pointed to a bin marked LOST AND FOUND. "I wish I had a lucky hat."
"So do I," Floyd agreed. "Then maybe we wouldn't get into these crazy situations."

"Don't be silly," Wendell told him. "How can you get lost in the Lost and Found."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

REVIEW: Sarah's Unicorn

Coville, B. (1985) Sarah’s Unicorn
48 pages – 9780064430845

Thirty second summary: Sarah lives in the woods with her Aunt Mag, a terribly wicked witch. When Sarah makes friends with a unicorn, Mag finds out! She plans to cut off the unicorn’s horn and use it in her spells. Sarah is forced to fight back with the help of her animal friends and the magical (but slightly snooty) unicorn Oakhorn.

Sarah’s Unicorn has the distinction of being the first book I ever purchased. It wasn’t a monetary deal per se – my local bookstore hosted a summer reading program, and for every twenty-five books I read, I’d get a $5 coupon. I easily spent two hours looking over every single book in the children’s area until I finally settled on Sarah’s Unicorn, and let me tell you, it was a brilliant purchase on my part.

This book is fantastic. Sarah is exactly the kind of girl every six-year-old wishes she could be – orphaned, barefoot and clothed in rags, skipping through the forest, talking with squirrels and ladybugs… and did I mention, she’s best friends with a unicorn? A unicorn. Tell me the six-year-old still hiding in your psyche didn’t squeal with delight at that thought. (It’s okay to admit it, Guy Readers. We won’t think less of you.)

The book has the additional benefit of a legitimately evil character. Although we know Aunt Mag *used* to be nice (before an unfortunate spell-rebound – kids, don’t play with cauldrons unless you know what you’re doing!) she stomps across the pages like everything you could ever hope for in a wicked witch. And honestly, wanting to chop the horn off a unicorn? That’s just harsh.

Coville is a genius, as I’m sure all of you know, but this is far and away one of his most light-hearted and… well, girly children’s books, complete with beautiful illustrations. He bypasses his usual aliens and monsters and boy heroes and focuses on Sarah, a (fairly) ordinary girl who clings to the firm belief that most people are inherently good. I can’t tell you the ending, obviously, but I’ll give you a hint: Happily ever after. And there’s a unicorn!

I apologize, friends, because this is the second book in a week I’ve reviewed that’s relatively difficult to find. It’s out of print – a crime even worse than lopping the horn off a unicorn, in my opinion – and so your best bet will be your local library or Amazon. Make the effort, though. I promise, it’s worth it.

Quotes of Note:

”Once Mag had asked Sarah to gather flowers. Now she made her gather toads and spiders.”

”Sarah didn’t want to go. The forest was scary at night. But if she didn’t go, Mag would make it rain in her bedroom for a week.”

”She gave Oakhorn a kiss. He made an awful face.”

Tasty Rating: !!!!!

If you thought this was delicious, try:
Into the Land of the Unicorns, also by Bruce Coville
Imagine Sarah’s Unicorn all grown up, with a little more danger and a lot more awesome. The first in an extremely slow-to-be-written series.

REVIEW: The Lightning Thief

Riordan, R. (2005). The Lightning Thief. New York: Miramax Books.


I found myself having to reread The Lightning Thief and thought I should blog about it this time around.

Percy Jackson has always struggled in school, dealing with his ADHD, his tendency to cause disasters and his vile step-father. Close to his mom, Percy has never known his real father. While on a class trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, twelve-year-old Percy has a strange conflict with his teacher, Mrs. Dodds, that involves hissing, bat wings, fangs and a pen that turns into a sword. Worse, after the battle none of the other students or teachers acknowledge anything has happened. Percy's ADHD seems to worsen along with his mood, he's going to be expelled and he learns he's in great danger.

The only safe place for Percy is a very special camp that only children with a parent that is a Greek god may attend. Percy's mother and best friend Grover risk their lives to get him there.

Not at the camp for long, Percy, his friend Grover and a potential new friend, Annabeth, must set out on a quest, the first hero's quest in several years. They must act to prevent the Greek gods from declaring war on one another, which would mean disaster for mortals all around the world.

The first time I read this book, I initially had trouble getting into it, but then Percy went to a camp for special descendants of the Greek gods and had to be put in a house under one of the 12 Titans. That's when I picked-up on a Harry Potter vibe and got into the book. Of course, there are a lot of aspects of The Lightning Thief that are wonderful without making that connection, but it helped me to ease in. I love the blending of fantasy and myth, and so many gods and creatures from Greek myth are included. Very exciting!

Even more exciting, word on the blog-way is that Percy Jackson is currently being made into a movie as I type. I'm pretty happy with some of the choices for the adult cast.


This is an excellent book to share with kids for enjoyment but also to secretly educate them on Greek myths and gods. It can be an excellent recommendation for fantasy (and especially Harry Potter) fans.

Since Riordan has a tendency to introduce characters from myth through description and avoid giving their actual names for several pages, students can try to guess which figures from myth are being incorporated into the story. (Obviously, this would require some previous knowledge of myth or an excellent guide to the gods and other creatures)

Quotes of Note:

"Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood.
If you're reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life.
Being a half-blood is dangerous. It's scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways.
If you're a normal kid, reading this because you think it's fiction, great. Read on. I envy you for being able to believe that none of this every happened" (p. 1).

"See, bad things happen to me on field trips. Like at my fifth-grade school, when we went to the Saratoga battlefield, I had this accident with a Revolutionary War cannon. I wasn't aiming for the school bus, but of course I got expelled anyway. And before that, at my fourth-grade school, when we took a behind-the-scenes tour of the Marine World shark pool, I sort of hit the wrong lever on the catwalk and our class took an unplanned swim. And the time before that...Well, you get the idea" (p. 2).

"What you may not know is that great powers are at work in your life. Gods--the forces you call the Greek gods--are very much alive."
I stared at the others around the table.
I waited for somebody to yell, Not!" (p. 67).

"Once I got over the fact that my Latin teacher was a horse, we had a nice tour, though I was careful not to walk behind him. I'd done pooper-scooper patrol in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade a few times, and, I'm sorry, I did not trust Chiron's back end the way I trusted his front" (p. 75).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

REVIEW: Going Bovine

Bray, L.  (2009).  Going Bovine.  New York:  Random House Children's Books.


Cameron, a teenage boy who is distant from his sister, parents, and lacks any close friends; has been hallucinating.  He blames the visions on some bad marijuana, that is until the visions become worse and his health begins to deteriorate.  Eventually, Cameron is diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (AKA Mad Cow).  Aware of his impending decline and death, Cameron feels anger toward his classmates as he is hospitalized and given an experimental treatment.

Believing that fire demons that he sees during his hallucinations will bring on the apocalypse, Cameron is led by an angel with pink hair and combat boots to escape the hospital and go on a road trip with a classmate named Gonzo.  They travel to many places, beginning with New Orleans, encountering Jazz Musicians, tourists, cult members, partying teens, a talking Norse gnome, etc.

Don't let this description fool you.  Cameron's voice in Going Bovine is memorable, humorous and honest (which is pretty amazing to be able to say, since much of the book satirizes culture).  The young adult novel is filled with great lines, fun twists, questionings of reality, culture and religion and plenty of quirky characters (too many quirky characters?).  It addresses a lot of serious issues with lightness and even joy.  It makes many intertextual references and parallels to Don Quixote, the works of Shakespeare, etc.

This book represents what I thought was a surprising and fun change from the supernatural and historical Gemma Doyle series that Bray had previously written.


While probably best for a book club or individual read, a teacher could encourage discussions about Mad Cow disease, physics, reality, death, and on and on and ON.  

One of the key questions students could focus on while reading would be whether they believe what Cameron is experiencing is reality, a dream, some combination, and whether that matters as long as Cameron believes the events to be real.  And on that note, this book is begging to be paired with Don Quixote.  

In terms of reflection, students could write about their own childhood experiences at theme parks or other childhood events that have helped to shape their lives thus far.

Quotes of Note:

"The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World.
I'm sixteen now, so you can imagine that's left me with quite a few days of major suckage" (p. 1).

"Maybe you don't have a daddy at home.  Maybe you do.  But here at the Buddha Burger, I like to think of us as family.  You know what that means?"
There's yet another place where I can feel awkward, resentful, and out of touch?" (p. 40).

"It's like the information is a big wave rushing over me, and I can only grab at certain words and phrases to hold me up.  "Progressive muscle weakness," "uneven gait," "dementia and delusions," "four to six months," "hospital," "experimental treatments."
I don't hear anybody mention it's going to kill me.  PRobably because no one actually comes right out and says it.  In fact, Dr. Specialist does everything he can not to say it.
And that's when I know I must be in some deep shit" (p. 83).

"In a world like this one, only the random makes sense."
"Wait, I thought you just said everything's connected.  How can it be both-"
"Randomly connected, connected very randomly," she says, examining Jenna's stuffed cat, Mr. Bubbles Kitty.  "Cute.  So soft.  Cotton?  Hey there, kitty.  Do you think Cameron should go on this mission and save the world from complete destruction?  Just nod for yes."  She makes the cat nod" (pp. 118-119).

"You've been assigned an identity since birth.  Then you spend the rest of your life walking around in it to see if it really fits.  You try on all these different selves and abandon just as many.  But really, it's about dismantling all that false armor, getting down to what's real" (p. 253-254).

Monday, September 21, 2009

REVIEW: A Nap in a Lap

Wilson, S. (2003). A Nap in a Lap. New York: Henry Holt and Company.


A little girl and her dog are shown in places all around the world viewing the different positions and places that different animals sleep in before she shares her own favorite nap location.

The illustrations a colorful and often vaguely humorous. They show baby animals smiling as they sleep in positions of safety with a parent. Also, since the girl character's coloring is darker with black hair, readers with similar complexions may be able to identify with her.

Beyond preparing a child for a nap, a parent or teacher could share this book while the young reader sits in his or her lap, and ask the child to label the different animals and colors shown.

This book is comparable to The BIG Sleep Book and to If Animals Kissed Good Night in terms of its content.


There are a lot of good vocabulary words in A Nap in a Lap for young children to hear. It can also help provide a sense of safety and contentment to resting in a loved one's lap. And as previously mentioned, this book can also be used to encourage children to say colors and animal names aloud.

Quotes of Notes:

"It's easy to nap
tucked in a flap
or wrapped in a coil"

"or snuzzled
and fuzzled
and kissed on the nose"

Sunday, September 20, 2009

REVIEW: The Face in the Frost

Bellairs, J. (1969) The Face in the Frost. New York: MacMillan.

Thirty second summary: Prospero the wizard and his friend Roger Bacon must make a perilous journey to locate and defeat Melichus, a villain of unparalleled evil who plans on destroying Prospero and summoning a perpetual winter.

Several centuries (or so) ago, in a country whose name doesn’t matter, there was a tall, skinny, straggly-bearded old wizard named Prospero, and not the one you are thinking of, either. So begins The Face in the Frost, one of John Bellairs’ first novels, but in my opinion one of his best.

The book is chock-full of some of the most perfectly imaginative ideas ever, from miniature sailing ships making their way through underground rivers, to a king with a clockwork galaxy in his castle tower, to a grumpy and tune-deaf magic mirror that accompanies its singing with even more out-of-tune bagpipes. (“O-over-head the moon is SCREEEEAMING...”) When Roger Bacon tells Prospero that “one should not attribute a very high degree of reality to [his] house,” you’ll completely agree.

Keep in mind, though, that there’s a reason this book, originally aimed at children, has more and more found itself described as an adult fantasy novel. There is true evil in Face -- not the “omg Edward is such a brooding and potentially dark vampire” kind, but rather a shifting, creeping, shadowy evil that vanishes when you look too closely and reappears when you’re not expecting it. Some people die, and some come back to life, and some may never have existed in the first place.

His hand was on the latch when he heard another voice---not the whispering leaf voice but a little girl’s weak cry.
“Help me! I can’t get out!”
He turned and ran to where he saw a small white blur under a willow tree. But when he clasped the child to him, her head crunched under his hand and the whole body turned to crackling fluttering paper. In the air someone was laughing, and the laughter was more horrible because it was a child’s---wet, gulping, and somehow harsh
(p. 83).

Now, don’t let the Scary put you off – I was telling the truth when I said this was one of my favorites of Bellairs’. It’s witty and hysterical and dripping with magic. There an almost regrettable last-minute deus ex machina ending, which I felt stole something from Prospero and Roger’s quest (I won’t give it away, but keep an eye out for a dealer in used back doors), but since they never cast themselves as “questing” in the first place, it’s not as disappointing an issue as it might otherwise have been.

The illustrations are brilliant, although not, unfortunately, particularly compelling as a cover image. Call me snooty, but I require more in a cover than black-over-brown line drawings. Thankfully, that was remedied in later editions.

The biggest problem with Face in the Frost is locating a copy! It was (thank goodness) reprinted within the last few years through Olmstead Press, but even those copies seem few and far between. Luckily, there should still be some lurking around your local school or small-town library. Trust me, the hunt is well worth it.

Quotes of Note:

Prospero bent to set the candle down, and then, straightening up suddenly, he walked to where the slumping figure stood. Grasping her shoulders, he shook her violently. There was a clatter on the floor at his feet, and when he looked down he saw a long, slightly curved butcher knife. He looked up at the women again and stepped back with a gasp. His hand went to his face and his staff fell to the floor. The woman’s eyes were gone. In her slowly rising head were two black holes. Prospero saw in his mind a doll that had terrified him when he was a child. The eyes had rattled in the china skull. Now the woman’s voice, mechanical and heavy: “Why don’t you sleep? Go to sleep.” Her mouth opened wide, impossibly wide, and then the whole face stretched and writhed and yawned in the faint light (p. 94).

”Hum,” said Prospero. I do hope no one is out fishing on the lake. I’m not sure what I’d do if I saw a wee little ship scooting past my rowboat, but I think I might be tempted to smack it with an oar” (p. 44).

”But I can’t ride a horse!” said Prospero. “You know that. I was frightened of ponies when I was a child” (p. 120).

Hungry Readers Exclamatory Rating:

If you thought this was delicious, try:
Mister Monday by Garth Nix
With a main character who is every bit as confused as Prospero, and a big to-do about a key, you'll think you're reading the same book! Almost. Only with completely different plots....

REVIEW: Count Karlstein

Pullman, P. (1982). Count Karlstein. New York: Dell Yearling.


At the beginning of the novel, the antagonistic Count Karlstein is described as being "given to gnawing his nails, muttering to himself, and poring over works of German philosophy at midnight" (p. 6).


This doesn't make him seem evil to me. This makes him seem like a grad student.

Pullman goes on to write, "but he had other defects, such as a temper you'd have put down for its own sake if it'd been a dog, a vile sarcastic tongue, and--worst of all--a kind of bright-eyed delight in being cruel, whether it was to a horse or a dog or a servant--or a little niece from another country, with nowhere else to go" (p. 6).


Still a grad student. A grad student preparing for her general exams or completing her dissertation, but a grad student nonetheless. But that is where the similarities to grad school life end.

In his search for the demon huntsman named Zamiel who appears each year on All Soul's Eve, Count Karlstein decides to sacrifice his two orphan nieces as prey for the spirit. Hildi, a servant girl overhears this plan and decides to hide the two young girls.

Complicating the story, several escaped prisoners are in town causing trouble as the town takes in many visitors preparing for a hunting tournament. Hildi's own brother hopes to win the competition despite having escaped jail himself for poaching.

Count Karlstein is the first book Pullman ever published. It has the unique characteristic of beginning and ending by following Hildi's perspective, but also includes a second part that incorporates many different voices.

As a warning, you can expect quite a few reviews of Pullman's books in the coming weeks. I'm focusing on him for a project.


Set in 1816, in Switzerland, this book can be used with a number of different social studies lessons. History topics include Napoleon (a teacher could assign projects on researching his life and influence upon culture), the gypsies (the way they were perceived and discriminated against, the negative association of the word, "gypped") exploring stories of huntsman in folklore literature, the geography of Europe, etc. A teacher could also lead discussion on the class structure historically in Europe and the concept of upward mobility.

The second part of the book, which includes many different narratives from many different characters about their parts in the events has the potential to be very confusing for young readers since the narratives each begin or describe a slightly different amount of time throughout the evening. To help compensate, a teacher could have students break into groups and have each group member pick one of the characters and write or give a monologue on that character's perspective of the events and have them discuss as their characters what happened when. This also could feed into a lesson on different ways of perceiving one event.

Quotes of Note:

"Peter crouched over the fire, stirring the embers so that the sparks swarmed up like imps on the rocky walls of hell. Behind him, his shadow shook and flared across the wall and half the ceiling of our little bedroom, and the cracks between the floorboards shone like golden rivers in the darkness" (p. 3).

"But none of the customers below ever came so close to Zamiel as Peter and I did, and I came closest of all: I was in the very room when he came for his victim, and I'll never forget what I saw if I live till the year 1900" (p. 4).

"It all began on a gray afternoon in October. The year was 1816, and I'd been working at Castle Karlstein for nearly a year" (p. 4).

"And then I realized something that brought a little chill to my heart. Today was Wednesday' they [the girls] were leaving tomorrow, Thursday, and staying, said the count, for a few days...which meant that they'd be at the hunting lodge on All Souls' Eve, Friday night--the very night when Zamiel the Demon Huntsman was said to ride through the forests, driving every living thing before him. Scorched footprints were found after his passing, they said, and animals dead of terror, with no mark upon them..." (pp. 12-13).

"However, then, as now, I was able to console myself with the reflection that an English gentlewoman can rise above any circumstances, given intelligence and a loaded pistol" (p. 104).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

REVIEW: Maggie and the Monster

Winthrop, E., & dePaola, T. (1987). Maggie and the Monster. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.


One of the many books by Tomie dePaola, Maggie and the Monster, tells the story of how a monster bumped and grumbled about Maggie's room while she was trying to sleep. As the monster continues to visit Maggie each night, it becomes apparent that there is more to this monster than the typical scary beastie. It falls to Maggie to help the monster get what she needs.

Done in dePaola's usual style with many neutral colors, the monster appears far from threatening, but rather is meant to be humorous looking. This happens to be my favorite picture:
Although, it was kind of hard to choose, since there was this one too:

I know that was always liked peeking behind the curtains too.


This is one of the many books out there that can be helpful to children who fear a monster is bumping about in the nighttime. The monster described and illustrated in Maggie and the Monster is funny and relatable. This story can be used to share the idea of looking beyond appearances and initial behavior to understand what is going on with others at a deeper level and how communicating politely can contribute to creating a friendship.

Quotes of Note:

"Every night, a monster came into Maggie's room."

"Maggie didn't like the monster.
"GET OUT OF MY ROOM!" she shouted."

"That night, Maggie hung a sign on her doorknob. It read:

"You are the clumsiest monster I've ever met."

Friday, September 18, 2009

REVIEW: So Happy!

Henkes, K. (2005). So Happy! China: Greenwillow Books.


So Happy! Shares the story of a magic seed, a little rabbit and a little boy and the day that their stories intertwine when the rain arrives. With a Southwestern setting, this story has no clear setting in time. The characters dress in traditional Mexican attire.

The illustrations are done by (the very successful) Anita Lobel. Her use of colors, shapes, and angles is impressive to capture desert setting.

My one complaint about this book is the title. While the idea of being "so happy" does enter into the text, I feel like Henkes and his editor could have thought of a better title for the book. As it is, I don't think the title captures the actual sentiment of the story.


So Happy! Could be used to describe the way that animals, plants and the environment are dependent upon one another. A teacher could focus on gardening, weather patterns or the way that seeds grow into plants (which could then be paired with the long term assignment of trying to have each student grow their own plant in their own pot that they painted. (What? Did I have to do that assignment as a child? Yes, yes I did. And my friends and I competed to see who's plant grew the fastest.)

A teacher could enter a tentative discussion on the idea of magical realism, not so much as a genre, but in terms of seeing magic in nature and in the environment. The ability for a seed to grow is described as being a certain type of magic.

The boy featured in the story shows an interest in the architecture of bridges, so this book could hold special appeal to a child with similar interests.

Quotes of Note:

"Someone had planted a magic seed.
The sun shone down,
but there was no rain,
so the seed didn't grow."

"The seed was thirsty.
The rabbit was lost.
The boy was bored. Then..."


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