Monday, November 30, 2009

Giveaway The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and The Christmas Magic

As you hopefully know, Monica and I are participating in a holiday giveaway through Big Honcho Media for The Christmas Magic and The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

To have your name entered for a chance to win copies of the books, just post a comment on one of the posts mentioning the giveaway.

Today, I'll be sharing my review of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.  This new picturebook shares the original words of E.T.A. Hoffmann's original story with new illustrations painted by Gail de Marcken.  She used watercolors and ink for the details to create the elaborate and historical illustrations:

I was particularly fond of the endpages, which show a town quite possibly built of candy. That's the kind of page I would have stared at for oh, 20 minutes as a kid, trying to decide what it would be like to live in the town and which building/road/flower I would eat first.  Alas, I will not be including a picture of said end pages.  You're just going to have to comment to the post to try to win your own copy of the book.

For those unfamiliar with the general story of The Nutcracker, the story revolves around a young girl receiving a Nutcracker doll for Christmas.  Her (as I remember him PURE EVIL) brother attempts to play with the doll, breaking his jaw and the girl, Marie, cares for him.  Then, in the night the mouse king arrives to destroy all of Marie's toys.  The Nutcracker fights to protect the toys and Marie.  The next day, Godfather Drosselmeier arrives to tell Marie more about the Nutcracker's history.

This story holds a special place for me in the realm of somewhat positive to awesome childhood memories.  My school performed a version of the story when I was in...fourth (fifth? third?) grade?  I was lucky enough to be one of the Arabian dancers, which was awesome because they had the BEST music in the ballet.  But I'm not bias at all.

I also wanted a nutcracker doll of my very own for years and years.  My mom finally got me one when I was in sixth-ish? grade.  Alas, no rat king emerged from our walls for the nutcracker to save me from.  Sometimes life is SO unfair.


Since seeing or listening to the music of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet is often a seasonal tradition, a teacher could use this picturebook as an introduction to the story.

One drawback of this story is the amount of text on most of the pages.  It may send many young readers and some time-strapped parents running in the other direction.  And the amount of time it would take to share the book as a read aloud may take too long for many kids' attention spans.  Of course, a teacher or parent can easily balance that by using it as a longer read aloud drawn out over several days.  With everyone drinking hot chocolate.  And sitting near a crackling fire place.  And with a nutcracker.  Do it!  These are precious childhood memories here.

Quotes of Note:

"Once upon a time, on the magical night before Christmas, the now fell gently against the windows of the Stahlbaum house.  Two children, Marie and Fritz, were playing with their toys in the back parlor room."

"Meanwhile, Marie noticed an unusual object in the corner.  It was a small wooden doll with a very strange shape.  He looked like a soldier and had a sword, but his uniform was a rich royal purple.  He wore gold tassels at his shoulders, yet this was not the most eye-catching part of him, nor was it the miner's cap upon his head or his white beard made of cotton or his bared teeth.  For Marie only noticed the sweet nature of his face and instantly fell in love.
"Papa," asked Marie, "whose present is this sweet little man?"
"Ah, my dear Marie, that is a nutcracker doll.  It belongs to the entire family and will crack nuts for us all," said Papa."

"As the clock rang out in the empty room, another strange noise started.  Small scratching and rustling sounds and whispers came from every direction.  Marie looked up to the clock, and the hand-sculpted own atop it was moving its wings.  Then she heard an eerie voice singing:
     "Stop the clocks from ticking....
      Be there no sounds tonight....
     This is a silent warning....
     The Mouse King's ears are to fine...."

"Do you know the story of the Nutcracker?  It all started with a king, a queen, some mice, and a young princess named Pirlipat."

Tasty Rating:  !!!


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Forty-Eight

Guys, I received a new bestest-rejection ever email!  It was very exciting, because it came from an agent who usually doesn't formally send out rejections, but allows her unending silence do the rejecting for her.  Anyway, the agent offered to read more of my work.  But I'm having trouble deciding what to send her.  After getting so many stories rejected by so many agents and editors, I'm starting to have self-esteem issues about all of my completed projects.  But still, exciting!

So, most of my weekend has been devoted to rereading my general exam questions in preparation for my defense that will be taking place SOME time this week (I will not be more specific in case of some dreaded failure action.  Not that it really matters.  It's not like it's a driver's test that I can retake a few days later.  Not that I had to retake my driver's test.  I'm just saying, I didn't tell anyone when that test was going down either).

But let me tell you,  eeeeeek to all the typos!  They are all over the place.  If I weren't reading my papers I'd wonder if I could read.  Alas, the same is true for a lot of my fiction works too.  While the first 20 pages or so are usually very polished, as the stories go on, there are more and more tiny typos since I look over those parts less often.

In other frightening news, it seems overall I may be having an easier time obtaining my Ph.D than getting a book published.  What does that say about me?  About the state of the publishing world?  I don't really want to think about it.

REVIEW: Patricia von Pleasantsquirrel

Proimos, J.  (2009).  Patricia von Pleasantsquirrel.  New York:  Dial Books for Young Readers.


30-Second Plot Summary:  Patricia sees herself as a princess (meaning it's her right to order everyone around).  After reading Where the Wild Things Are, she decides to fly off and seek out her own kingdom.

This books shows how a book can spark a young reader's imagination and perhaps spark more readers' imaginations.  It would be possible to argue that while Where the Wild Things Are shares a boy's adventure into the imagination, Patricia von Pleasantsquirrel shares a girl's adventure into the imagination.

While this picturebook features standard narration, Proimos also makes use of dialogue boxes and arrows to share Patricia's story.  The illustrations are minimalistic, with mainly grey, purple and yellow.

As may be obvious by the title (Pleasantsquirrel!  Hehe) author/illustrator Proimos has a some of fun with language and imagery in this picturebook.  I particularly like Patricia's princess-ly crest which is in the endpapers.

If a teacher drew students' attention to the figure, the kids could draw their own personal crest in response, either incorporating elements of their name or interests.


Patricia von Pleastansquirrel shares many of the imagined duties of a princess (including never taking off her crown, reading everyone a bedtime story, and waving often) a teacher can use this to discuss some of the realities of being a princess--or at the very least, what one would have to learn in school.

Since Where the Wild Things Are is mentioned in the book and sparks Patricia's plan the picturebook could easily be paired with Patricia von Pleasantsquirrel.  There's also an intertextual reference to The Giving Tree as well.

The book includes a moral about respecting and following rules.  Teachers could easily emphasize that, if they so chose.  Another option would be discussing how the experience of going to a new place can help you to appreciate home more.


"Once there was a princess who had not yet found her princessdom.  Her name was Patricia von Pleasantsquirrel."

"To the dungeon with you!"

"If a silly boy with no social graces could be made king with no effort at all, then imagine how easy it would be for me to find my princessdom."


Saturday, November 28, 2009

REVIEW: The Curious Garden

Brown, P.  (2009).  The Curious Garden.  New York:  Little, Brown and Company.


30-Second Plot Summary:  In an industrial city with no gardens or wildlife, a boy named Liam, the only person who loves to be outside, discovers some plants in need of tending.

What is it about gardens right now?  Every fifth book I see involves a garden.  It could be me, it could be environmental concerns.  But I'm starting to go a little garden crazy.  Bring on the jungles already!  I need me a garden break.

Ranting over, I promise.  But having said that, what a cute book, guys.  The use of color is wonderful.  From the start the reader can see the dreariness of Liam's town (and can  potentially compare it to their own town).  The reader understands that any use of color (particularly red) is striking in contrast to the grays of the town.  And then they can see the colorful transformation once the garden begins to grow and spread:

I also like that Liam struggles to learn to garden (as any newbie would).  He has "pruning problems" and nearly drowns flowers.  But the book shows his perseverance and the plants' "patience."

And as you can perhaps see by that last sentence, the garden in anthropomorphized.  It lives, it wants to grow and explore.  While in some books this technique might make me cringe.  I rather like Brown's use of personification in The Curious Garden.  It reinforces the fact that plants are living, without assigning them too many human emotions.  

The Curious Garden is just that.  Curious.  Without being preachy about environmental or urban sprawl issues, Brown presents a slightly mysterious and fun way of improving a community and shows the difference one person can make.


Aside from reinforcing the patience that is necessary to learn to garden from day to day, The Curious Garden shares that gardeners must also be patient throughout the winter and shows how to use that time to advantage.

A teacher could use this book to trigger a gardening or neighborhood beautification project.  Students could discuss where their nearest garden or park is and make plans to visit it.

Quotes of Note:

"There once was a city without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind.  Most people spent their time indoors.  As you can imagine, it was a very dreary place."

"However, there was one boy who loved being outside.  Even on drizzly days, while everyone else stayed inside, you could always find Liam happily splashing through his neighborhood."

"The first thing he saw was a lonely patch of color.  Wildflowers and plants were the last things he had expected to find up there.  But when he took a closer look, it became clear that the plants were dying.  They needed a gardner."

"With miles of open railway ahead of it, the garden was growing restless.  It wanted to explore."

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Friday, November 27, 2009

REVIEW: Among the Impostors

Haddix, M.P.  (2002).  Among the Impostors.  New York:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.


172 Pages.

30-Second Plot Summary:  Luke has left his family's farm for the first time in his life to attend school under the identity of another boy.  As Luke deals with the shock of being around many new people, bullying and not getting lost as he travels the school's halls, he begins to realize that something may be off about the Hendricks school.

I like to think of Haddix as being the JJ Abrams of children's literature.  For the longest time, both of these creative types are excellent at writing surprising, twisty narratives.  But the more time you spend reading/watching their work, the more you learn to expect the completely unexpected and can figure out where they're going.  Plus, in both cases, when the two work on series, they eventually get distracted and mentally move on to other things leaving you mid-series with a project is slowly going downhill.

When I read the first book in the Shadow Children series, Among the Hidden, I was impressed that Haddix managed to keep me interested in a book that featured a protagonist who spent much of the book in one room.  With the second book, reading about Luke being stuck in one building got a little old much more quickly.  Luke's big adventure is to escape to the woods outside the school and plant a garden.  And I was left going, "A garden?  Really?  Ugh.  Do we REALLY have to watch the plants grow.  Really?!  I like potatoes.  I'm in no way opposed to planting them.  But do I have to read about it here?  Really?!"  So imagine my joy when his garden was trampled and Luke had a new mission:  Discover who else is leaving the school and meeting in the woods and why.

I also started to wonder how long it would take for Luke to finally age.  I'm only on book two and it already feels like enough time has passed in these two books that he should have had a birthday by now.  Is it part of the shadow children's distopian world that they're to be powerless hidden children forever?  Never to age or grow?  Yes, I'm starting to think so.

I also struggled with the way the Hendricks Academy was run.  This could be a teacher thing, but Luke is introduced to the school.  And isn't given a class schedule.  He wonders from random class to random class.  Later the reader learns that a lot of the students at the school have special needs.  This made the teachers' disinterest in their classes that much less believable.  Now, several characters explain the reasons why the school is the way it is.  I still struggled.

Of course, the last forty books or so of the book were still pretty tense (and involved a touch of violence) that kept me up a little late to finish the book and ready to read book three, Among the Betrayed.  It is important to note, this really is a series that needs to be read in it's proper order.  No picking which book has the coolest title or cover (if I still made book decisions that way, there's no way Among the Impostors would have been the second book I read).


Since Luke/Lee has little understanding of how school works, what with never leaving his parents' house EVER before, the boy struggles to fit in and is bullied upon his arrival.  This could be a nice reminder for middle grade readers about how people have different experiences from one another and how we (teachers included!) need to make certain to welcome new students and make sure they are comfortable and understand the school rules.

One of the tensions throughout Among the Impostors is the way that children from the country are perceived.  A teacher could lead discussion on stereotypes, in this case the way farmers are perceived both in the book and in American culture.  (This can turn into a history lesson since Jefferson had a lot to say about citizens who farm compared to those who don't.)  Also since, Luke starts growing a garden, a class can do the same.

As with the rest of the series, the distopian world Haddix has created lends itself to discussion social revolutions, the passage of laws, the population laws of China or historical events like the Holocaust and other situations where groups of people were persecuted.


"Sometimes he whispered his real name in the dark, in the middle of the night.
"Luke.  My name is Luke" (p. 1).

"It was awful.  All those eyes, all looking at him.  It was straight out of Luke's worst nightmares.  Panic rooted him to the spot, but every muscle in his body was screaming for him to run, to hide anywhere he could.  For twelve years--his entire life--he'd had to hide.  To be seen was death.  "Don't!" he wanted to scream.  "Don't look at me!  Don't report me!  Please!" (p. 15).

"But Luke wished for so much, he couldn't go on.
He was so busy longing for big, impossible changes, he never gave a thought to wanting anything smaller or more practical.  Like an open door.
But that was what he got" (p. 37).

"He'd thought that coming out of hiding would expose him to the world, teach him everything.  But being at Hendricks seemed like just another way to hide" (p. 79).


Thursday, November 26, 2009

REVIEW: Rivka's First Thanksgiving

Rael, E.O.  (2001).  Rivka's First Thanksgiving.  New York:  Margaret K. McElderry Books.


30-Second Plot Summary:  The daughter of Jewish immigrants, it's up to young Rivka to share with her family the lessons she has learned about Thanksgiving from her school.  Rivka is set on her family celebrating the national holiday, but it will take some convincing to get her family and the Jewish community to be willing to participate.

While sharing the more happy, nationalistic interpretation of the holiday that kids are used to hearing, Rivka's First Thanksgiving considers the question of who Thanksgiving is for.  The picturebook focuses on the idea of how Thanksgiving isn't just for people whose families have been in this country for several generations, that it doesn't also have religious significance, but that the holiday is for all Americans.

This book has a lot of layers.  The text includes details that hint at the less than ideal treatment and housing arrangements of immigrants as well as many mentions of Jewish culture that a teacher could work into lessons on Judaism, reasons large groups of people choose to emigrate or on a lesson on assimilation of cultures within the U.S.

The illustrations done by Maryann Kovalski are pleasant, capturing the historical time period well.  She used a lot of neutral colors and gave the characters a lot of curved and cute features.


This story draws readers' attention to the immigrant experience.  Although it is historically set a teacher could choose to discuss the experience of immigrants historically or in a contemporary context.  A teacher can lead discussion on how the children of recent immigrants often negotiate or take on the responsibilities of the adults because of language and cultural knowledge differences.  If there are children in the class who have to take on such responsibilities, using this picturebook could open up a safe time for them to discuss their experiences and difficulties.

The immigrants depicted in the story are Jewish.  They use a lot of Yiddish terms which can provide teaching moments for students who do not know much about the Jewish culture and at the same time, Rivka's First Thanksgiving provides representation for children from a Jewish background.

Quotes of Note:

"That's a funny-looking Kotchka," Mama said, peering over Rivka's shoulder at her colored pencil sketch.
"It's not a duck, Mama," Rivka replied, returning to her drawing.  "It's a turkey to celebrate Thanksgiving."

"Thanksgiving?  What is it?" asked Bubbeh.
"It's a big happy holiday to celebrate the friendship between the Indians and the Pilgrims.  It's an important holiday, and I think we should celebrate it too!"

"Thanksgiving is for all Americans, Bubbeh.  Aren't we Americans, too?"

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

REVIEW: Little Brother

Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother
382 pages -- 0765319853

Thirty second summary: After San Francisco is attacked by terrorists, made into a police state, and written off by the rest of the country, seventeen-year-old Marcus and his friends find themselves in a fight for their lives against the Department of Homeland Security.

So there I was, friends, at the library, when I stumbled upon a book that looked fairly awesome. Teenagers in sneakers? Check. Binary code everywhere? Check. A ringing author endorsement… from Neil Gaiman? Check and check.

Perfect! Better take it home!

I’m not going to lie to you – I finished Little Brother, read the last of the author’s notes, looked at the book for a minute or two, and then flipped to the front and started it over again. Partly, it was just that good. Partly, I wanted to give it a second read-through with Google on standby, helping me with any technobabble I didn’t quite get the first time around. Equal parts futuristic what-if and present day warning (with, you know, some fun and dancing and swearing and sex thrown in), you’re going to end the book convinced that your laptop is being monitored for anti-government sentiment, that your bus card is being tracked for suspicious activity, that pinhole cameras are eeeverywhere, and that at any moment your basic civil rights are going to be swept away from you in a flurry of “for the greater good”ness. Some of you may *already* feel this way, but that’s… a discussion for another post.

This isn’t going to come as a shock to anyone who takes more than a cursory glance at the book, but the adults in Little Brother are the Bad Guys. The sixties’ shout of “Don’t trust anyone over 30” has been pared down to “Don’t trust anyone over 25.” Good to know I still sneak in under the wire, I suppose! Marcus’ parents are useless at best (and dangerous at worst), blindly accepting martial law and the restrictions that come with it, and the only helpful teachers and reporters are helpless against the onslaught of the US Government. The teens take the ineffectiveness of their authority figures in stride, though, and go on to try and save their city without any help or supervision.

This isn’t a happy-go-lucky, Let’s Change The World kind of book. Marcus and his friends may eventually come out on top, but there are serious costs. His life is thrown upside down and turned inside out. His kidnapped-and-rescued friends are PTSDing. His trust in his parents, his government, and the world at large is shattered. People are betrayed and captured and tortured, and in the end, no one is actually punished. Grr.

The big issue in Little Brother boils down to this: Is it worth trading your privacy for the illusion of security? Marcus spends the entirety of the book fighting to prove that it’s not – facing both the anger of Homeland Security (whose creepiness factor is cranked up to eleven) and the “awesomely serene” blindness of his parents and other adults. Regardless of your opinion on the issue, you’ll be rooting for him by the end too.

(As an aside, Little Brother has the added bonus of being one of the geekiest books I’ve read in a long time. Half of it went right past me – I’m techy, but not *that* techy, and I’d never even heard of things like Bayesian math. I was so relieved, though, when Marcus went about explaining public and private keys to me in a way that I could actually understand – Now, at last, I can read xkcd without feeling like I’m completely in over my head! Thanks Mr. Doctorow!)

So go out and read Little Brother, friends. Or, better yet, download a copy for free. Do it now… and prepare to get paranoid.

Quotes of Note:

Why did we have cameras in our classroom now? Terrorists. Of course. Because by blowing up a bridge, terrorists had indicated that schools were next. Somehow that was the conclusion that the Board had reached anyway. (p. 92)

“My name is Trudy Doo and you’re an idiot if you trust me. I’m thirty-two and it’s too late for me. I’m lost. I’m stuck in the old way of thinking. I still take my freedom for granted and let other people take it away from me. You’re the first generation to grow up in Gulag America, and you know what your freedom is worth to the last goddamned cent!” (p. 191)

“Do you know what waterboarding is, M1k3y?” Her voice reeled me in. “You get strapped down like this, and we pour water over your nose and down your mouth. You can’t suppress the gag reflex. They call it a simulated execution, and from what I can tell from this side of the room, that’s a fair assessment. You won’t be able to fight the feeling that you’re dying.” (p. 344)

Tasty Rating: !!!!!

If you thought this was delicious, try:

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Forget privacy versus protection – what if we chose comfort and television entertainment over human lives?

REVIEW: Maybe a Bear Ate It!

Harris, R.H. (2008).  Maybe a Bear Ate It!  New York:  Orchard Books.


30-Second Summary:  A young cat who is all ready for bed can't find his (or her?) book and won't go to sleep until he (she? it?) finds it.  The cat thinks of many imaginative creatures and places the book could have gone to.

The protagonist, who is a young cat, reminded me strongly of one of the Wild Things from Where the Wild Things Are.  In a very cute way:

I imagine this was done very intentionally.  And it kinda made the book for me.  It also of course, lends itself to a parent or teacher sharing Where the Wild Things Are along with Maybe a Bear Ate It.

The illustrations also do an excellent job of foreshadowing all of the creatures the cat suspects could have taken his/her/its book in the form of the stuffed animals around the bed.  I liked this touch since so many young children's imaginations are fueled by the objects in their immediate environments.


Since the cat LOVES his/her/its book, Maybe a Bear Ate It really encourages a love of reading and it promotes including reading as a regular part of the going-to-bed routine.

This book also centers on visual literacy, since the reader can tell early on where the cat's book has gotten to.

Also, since the story considers a number of unlikely places the book could have gotten to or unlikely creatures who could have taken it, a parent and child can come up with some unlikely places and beasties of their own.

Quotes of Note:

"Where--is--my book?  I need my book!"

"Maybe a Bear ate it!"

"Well--I can't go to sleep without it!  So I better go look for it!"

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

REVIEW: Leviathan

Westerfeld, S.  (2009).  Leviathan.  New York:  Simon Pulse.


434 Pages.

30-Second Plot Summary:  An alternate history to the beginning of World War I, Leviathan switches back and forth between the points of view of Alek, a fifteen-year-old Austrian prince, who finds himself on the run after his father was assassinated and Deryn, a fifteen-year-old girl who disguises herself as a boy to join the British air service in London.  Underlying their stories, Westerfeld has imagined a steampunk world in which Austrians, Germans and Swiss rely on steam-powered machines and the British, French and Russians rely on Darwinian theorized mega-beasts to drive all their technology and transportation.  The Clankers vs. the Darwinists.  With the death of Alek's father the different schools of thought, ways of life have finally found themselves at war.

As Alek runs to try to find a secure hiding place from the Germans, Deryn finds herself stationed on the giant sailing whale, Leviathan, desperate to prove herself and hide the fact that she is a woman.  As the Leviathan is given a new mission to pick up a Darwinist scientist, paths will collide in the Swiss Alps, where neutrality won't actually prove to mean safety.

Alek and Deryn don't actually meet until mid-way through the book.  But that was one of my favorite parts.  That's not to say I didn't enjoy what came before.  Although I wouldn't say that I was completely immersed in Leviathan, visualizing every moment of what was happening, but whenever I picked it up to read, I. Could. Not. Stop.  Even when I knew I had to get up to teach in just five hours.  And while I was having fun now.  My students' wouldn't be having the same amount of fun the next morning when I'd be sleep deprived and moody.  *Grrrrr*

I saw the book trailer for Leviathan a few months ago and was thoroughly entertained:

It does a good job of capturing the imagery and tensions of the book.

Physically, this is a stunning book.  The map of Europe that makes up the endpapers is wonderful.  Good for staring at longer than one person should.  The illustrations throughout really helped me to visualize what was going on, especially since Westerfeld is writing about a lot of invented beasts and machines.  He uses a lot of invented words to help with that.  So, a lot of the time, a teacher should encourage students to "get the gist" of the descriptions and let the illustrations and their own imaginations to do the rest.

And oh man, is this book ever imaginative.

I've always considered Westerfeld to be a particularly inventive author, but this raised him up several notches in my mind.

Every two chapters the narration transitions between telling Alek and Deryn's stories.  A very fair technique, but at times a little frustrating since I personally found Deryn's story more entertaining at first (girl dresses up like boy to do what society wouldn't allow = feminst funz!!!).

The book doesn't have a completely satisfying ending.  Sure, one problem is overcome.  But more problems have arisen and there's still a mission to be completed.  And so the wait for Behemoth begins.


While not a necessary route, a teacher could pair Leviathan with a historical or information book on World War I to help students distinguish between what is historical and what fantasy.  (The author's note at the end also helps do this)

A teacher can also trigger a discussion on the different energies that can be used to power a civilizations and what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.  Or a teacher could use the disagreements over the Darwinist and Clanker schools of thought as an allegory for other competing paradigms.

The book also opens itself up to discussions of the women's movement, the biography and studies of Darwin, the history of World War I and the way that individuals experience war as diplomats argue.

Quotes of Note:

"The Austrian horses glinted in the moonlight, their riders standing tall in the saddle, swords raised.  Behind them two ranks of diesel-powered walking machines stood ready to fire, cannon aimed over the heads of the cavalry.  A zeppelin scouted no-man's-land at the center of the battlefield, its metal skin sparkling.
The French and British infantry crouched behind their fortifications--a letter opener, an ink jar, and a line of fountain pens--knowing they stood no chance against the might of the Astro-Hungarian Empire.  But a row of Darwinist monsters loomed behind them, ready to devour any who dared retreat" (p. 1).

"After all her studying and everything she'd learned when her father was alive, the middy's test would be easy.  But when was in her head wouldn't matter unless she could food the Air Service boffins into believing her name was Dylan, not Deryn.
She'd resewn Jaspert's old clothes to alter their shape, and she was plenty tall-taller than most boys of midshipman's age.  But height and shape weren't everything.  A month of practicing on the streets of London and in front of the mirror had convinced her of that.
Boys had something else...a sort of swagger about them" (pp. 21-22).

"But before Deryn had been born, the great coal-fired engines had been overtaken by fabricated beasties, muscles and sinews replacing boilers and gears.  These days the only chimney smoke came from ovens, not huge factories, and the storm had cleared even that murk from the air" (p. 66).

"A week ago Austria-Hungary had finally declared war on Serbia, vowing to avenge their murdered archduke with an invasion.  A few days later Germany had started up with Russia, which meant that France would be next into the fray.  War between the Darwinist and Clanker powers was spreading like a vicious rumor, and it didn't seem that Britain could stay out for long" (pp. 143-144).

"I just happened to be out hiking when I saw your ship come down."
"Out hiking?" Deryn said.  "In all this barking snow?  At night?"
"Yes.  I often hike on the glacier at night."
"With medicine?"
Alek blinked.  "Well, that was because..." There was a long pause.  "Um, I'm afraid I don't know the word in English."
"The word for what?"
"I just said:  I don't know it!"  He turned from her and began to slide away on his funny oversize shoes.  "I have to go now."
Alek's story was clearly a load of blether" (p. 241).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Monday, November 23, 2009

REVIEW: The Lion & the Mouse

Pinkney, J.  (2009).  The Lion and the Mouse.  New York:  Little, Brown and Company.


Jerry's back!  And his illustrations of this retelling of one of Aesop's fable are amazing.  (Caldecott amazing?  Maaaaaaaaaaybe?  Again, I'm not a betting kinda girl)  They make the book.  (Literally!  Since the book is almost wordless)  And that may be the reason why Little, Brown and Company chose to solely have an illustration on the front cover of the book.  No text.

Don't worry though.  The mouse graces the back cover (again with no text).  Using visual literacy alone, a reader can know that this is the story of The Lion and the Mouse.  It's awesome attention to detail that when opened flat, the reader can see that the lion is looking at the mouse.  Fun!  I likes it muchly!

And all this peritext hints at the content:  A picturebook that is almost completely wordless except for the hoots, squeaks, and roars of the animals featured in the story.

The fact that the animals aren't as anthropomorphized as they often are in other retellings is fun.  Pinkney calls the choice "natural."  I thought it was a nice departure from the majority of the ways that Aesop's fables are shared--which usually feature talking animals with a clear moral at the end of each short story.

30-Second Plot Summary:  After a lion spares a mouse, the wee little mouse finds itself in a unique position to help the lion in return.

Wee-little kiddies are especially prone to liking this story, since it's the wee-little creature that *Spoiler* manages to save the big-tough lion.


This is an excellent book to encourage visual literacy.  For the youngest of readers, a teacher can work on having children label the different types of animals featured.  For kindergartners and first graders, a teacher can encourage the students to narrate or summarize the story.  The story also lends itself to play acting, with students taking turns pretending to be the mouse, the mice babies, the lion and the humans.

For older kids, a teacher could give students access to different versions of the fable and the young readers could compare the different approaches.

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

REVIEW: Mom's Story

Nickum, Mary. Mom’s Story: A Child Learns About MS

Thirty second summary: Amy knows there’s something wrong with her mother, and the disease – multiple sclerosis – sounds scary. With the help of her family and friends, however, she learns that while MS is a serious disease, her mother is going to be okay.

Here’s a bit of a warning, friends: You’re not going to want to grab this book off the shelf and read it for fun. Like any book written mainly for instructional purposes, Mom’s Story is a little light on plot and character development. Dialogue, especially on the part of the younger children, has a tendency to drift – the conversation between Amy and Kayla is one notable example, when neither one is aware of the other’s birthday despite being best friends.

However, with that being said, Mom’s Story definitely accomplishes what it sets out to do – namely, to educate younger readers about a tough topic in an easy to understand and extremely nonthreatening way. Kelly, Tony and Amy each react in a different but understandable way to the news that their mother is ill, showing readers that everyone has their own way of coping with the issue. The more technical information provided at the back of the book is also age-appropriate and should help further explain the disease to children, although the family resources listed at the very end are obviously meant for adults.

Again, while I'm not going to keep a copy around for pleasure reading, I'd definitely suggest the book to any parent who needs help talking to their child about MS, or for any child who needs reassurance that they or a family member are going to be able to live with the disease.

Quotes of Note:

Becky said the doctor was giving her a test called an MRI. What kind of a test is that? I never heard of that kind of test in school. What would that test be like?

"Why do you want to tell big-mouth Kayla? She'll tell the whole school. Nobody needs to know there's something wrong with Mom," Tony said, grabbing and twisting my wrist.

Tasty Rating: !!!

A copy of Mom’s Story was provided to Hungry Readers courtesy of the author. She can be reached at her website:

Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Forty-Seven

Hello, peeps!

Not much to report here.

I'm pretty much abandoned NaNoWriMo.  I know, I know.  Major FAIL on my part.  But I've had other projects on my mind--mainly editing the last novel I'd completed to try to resubmit it.  I'll plan to hit up NaNoWriMo in a more committed way next year.  I swear.  Kinda.

I do have one major frustration with my current editing process.  To make more edits, I work better with a printed out version.  But it's a catch-22, cause now I see all those terrifying red pen marks that I've made to the first third of the novel and I REALLY DO NOT WANT TO TYPE UP ALL THOSE CHANGES!  It'll take forever!  Plus, I'll have to decipher my own handwriting.  That's so much work!  And I'm so lazy.

I think I just might wait until I've made changes to the entire piece by hand.  Then I'll type up all those changes, making sure that just enough time has passed so that I don't even remember what I intended to write.  It'll be fun.  Maybe.

Good time ahead!

REVIEW: Spot the Plot: A Riddle Book of Book Riddles

Lewis, J.P.  (2009).  Spot the Plot:  A riddle book of book riddles.  San Francisco:  Chronicle Books.


PLOT SUMMARY:  J. Patrick Lewis assembled 13 poems that reference classic picturebooks and middlegrade novels.  Through the hints in the poems and the illustrations readers can guess the books being referenced.  (And just in case there's a book described that no reader can guess, the answers to the poem riddles are listed at the end of the picturebook)

While the artwork is cute and child-friendly, I can't help but think it would have been totally AWESOME if the illustrator Lynn Munsinger had mimicked at least some of the styles used in the books referenced.  I'm certain the publishers at least considered that option.  While it'd be fun to travel to San Francisco to knock on Chronicle's office door and ask why they chose not to take on the styles of the classic books, such a trip will have to wait for a later date.  (Say for when it's really cold here in Columbus and San Francisco will provide the perfect vacation)

J. Patrick Lewis's rhymes are easy to read.  Each with several hints at the book being referenced.  Every now and then though, the rhymes did feel a little forced.  For example, in a poem about Cinderella, Lewis writes:

"This poor miss
had two sis-
ters who were
mean to her."

I don't know.  Separating Sisters like that for the rhyme feels a tiny-teeny bit like cheating to me.  What do you think?


If students have trouble guessing the books Lewis based his poems around, there's an easy solution:  READ THE BOOKS!!!!  Yays!

Students can also write their own riddle-poems about other stories they've read in class.  They can even include some popular movies or TV shows.  Or if a teacher wanted to stay with the book, he or she could xerox pages and have students draw poems from a hat to perform and have other students guess the book described.

Spot the Plot can also be used to discuss who to write poems.  Although Lewis always uses rhymes, a few of his poems play with structure or are only a single sentence long.  So, a teacher can discuss some of the preconceived notions about what a poem is.


"The sky shook,
the wind tossed
me in the air.
Toto-ly lost,"

"Imagine a castle
without any towers,
or a thundercloud bursting
without any showers.
Now imagine a bull
who loved only flowers."

"There is a book
I know you know--
the perfect bedtime
book, although

the rabbit who
has gone to bed
can't fall asleep"


Saturday, November 21, 2009

REVIEW: Setting the Turkeys Free

Nikola-Lisa, W.  (2004).  Setting the Turkeys Free.  New York:  Jump at the Sun.


Interest Rating: !!!!

In preparation for Thanksgiving on Thursday, I thought I'd post about Setting the Turkeys Free now, since it lends itself to the classic Thanksgiving art activity of making a turkey with the outline of a hand (although the book instructs using paint.  My teachers never trusted me with something so messy.  I did enough damage with markers and glitter).

As you can probably see from the cover, all of the illustrations in this book feature a turkey that is made in the shape of a child's hand.  And even better (at least in my opinion) the hand used to make the turkey is that of a black child (who is shown at the beginning of the book), so black readers can feel represented.

Setting the Turkeys Free begins with a young boy giving instructions on how to make a hand-turkey.  As the boy continues to construct his work of art, he begins to narrate the illustration--a wonderful example to set for young readers.  The boy creates a threatening fox who wants turkey for dinner.  The boy must use his imagination and arts-and-crafts skills to save his turkeys from becoming a foxy meal.


Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaake a hand-turkey, of course!  If students made cut-outs of their hand-turkeys, they could use them in a puppet show.

A teacher could also encourage students to narrate as they create other art projects and to make use of multiple mediums when creating their masterpieces.

Quotes of Note:

"Come see!
My dog and I are making a turkey!"

"Uh-oh!  A storm is coming.  And what's that I see?  Foxy the fox!  Where'd he come from?"

"No, Foxy the fox!  You can't have my turkeys!  But what should I do?"

Friday, November 20, 2009

REVIEW: Amelia Rules! What Makes You Happy

Gownley, J.  (2006).  Amelia Rules!  What Makes You Happy.  Harrisburg, PA:  Renaissance Press.


168 pages.

PLOT SUMMARY:  Amelia's back to rule again.  In this second installment of the comic books, Amelia must face Valentine's Day, fights with other kids, the death and funeral of a distant relative and *gasp* playing spin the bottle.

While I've previously praised the first graphic novel in this series for depicting the ordinary with both honesty and humor, I do however, have a problem with What Makes You Happy.  You see, it turns out Amelia's aunt, Tanner, who Amelia and her mom came to live with after the divorce, is actually a pop icon from the 1990s.  As people in their small Pennsylvanian town discover this, they begin to treat Amelia differently.  An experience far-removed from most fourth graders.  Sigh.  Other than that though, What Makes You Happy does manage to capture the experience and feelings of a young girl, overall still making this graphic novel very relatable.  


A good book to introduce around Valentine's Day, since there are undertones of awkward romance throughout.

As with other graphic novels, it requires visual literacy as well as textual.  Since Amelia is a relatable character that can be used to try to spark some interest in reading with reluctant readers.  (Although, in many cases, the students reading about Amelia may be older than the character due to the amount of text on each page)

In response to Amelia's stories, readers could look back and reflect on their own experiences with friends and family.  They could write or illustrate about their experiences.


"Let's see, how should it go...I hardly ever get sick.  No that's no good.  Too mushy.  C'mon, c'mon, think!  Oh!  When I think of cookies generally remain un-tossed.  Geez, Amelia.  Why not just say you love him?"

"REGGIE:  Mary Violet isn't exactly a cool superhero name, you know.
MARY VIOLET:  How about Pretty Sunshine Flower Girl?
AMELIA:  That wasn't exactly what Reggie had in mind, either" (pp. 54-55).

"REGGIE:  Members of G.A.S.P.!  The 'Force' is with us!  The enemy's gate is down!  But a shadow rises in the east!  Which seeks to be the ultimate power in the universe!  But by the power of G.A.S.P. we have the power!  Yet with great power comes great responsibility!  And though ninja are a superstitious and cowardly lot, we must be daredevils, the men without fear who boldly go where no one has gone before!  And when we go, we go in search of truth, justice, and the American way!  For the ninjas must know the truth!  For the truth is out there!" (pp. 75-76).

"It's pretty scary.  One day you're a normal kid in a superhero club, and the next you're off kissing ninjas!  I guess it happens to everybody.  But I'll tell you one thing...that's the last kissing this girl plans on doing!  It's way too embarrassing" (p. 115).


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Scholastic Contest and REVIEW: The Christmas Magic

Thompson, Lauren and illustrated by Jon Muth. The Christmas Magic.

Thirty second summary: As the days until Christmas grow shorter, Santa prepares for the coming of the Christmas magic which will allow his reindeer to fly.

Friends, it’s time for one of our Scholastic Christmas Book Contest reviews! Remember, for every comment on one of these reviews, you'll be entered into a drawing to win copies of both Christmas books! So comment, readers. You know you want to.

The Christmas Magic is a delightful holiday book, featuring a somewhat nontraditional (or perhaps simply European) Santa. Sporting a reasonably slender waistline and decked out in blue robes, he leads the reader from the first moments of the holiday right up to the moment the sleigh hits the atmosphere. By the time the book ends, you'll be so ready for Christmas that you'll practically be able to smell the pine trees. Or maybe that's just the new book smell. (Mmm, new book smell. Other than chocolate and roller skates, I'm pretty sure there's not anything I love more.)

Mrs. Claus and the elves are noticeably absent from this story. Instead, Santa wanders around his house in his bunny slippers, darning his own socks by the fire and packing the giant bag of Christmas gifts by himself. It’s a strangely lonely existence, and in my opinion a little sad, but he seems content enough. (One wonders, though -- What does he do the rest of the year, when the reindeer are out in the fields and the sleigh is in the barn? Does he make toys with no one but the cat for company? Does he go for long walks and daydream about Christmases past? Am I thinking too much about this?)

The illustrations are simple and whimsical, and go wonderfully with Thompson's writing. Santa is one hundred percent perfect, and children will love the scenes of him feeding parsnips to his reindeer, and allowing his cat to climb on his shoulder and play with his mustache. Muth is one of my favorite illustrators -- and as a fun nod to the readers, if you look closely in one of the scenes, you'll see the somewhat awkward panda from his Zen books making a guest appearance.

Now, I’m the kind of person who will love a book based solely on its illustrations, and I didn’t think this was fair to the author. So I called in backup. Yes, that’s right. I handed The Christmas Magic to my mother and had her read it out loud to me.
The verdict?
“Oh, I like this book. This is a good book.”
So there you have it, friends. Kid tested. Mother approved.

Quotes of note:
“The reindeer raise their heads when they hear the music of the bells: Is the magic here?”
“’No, not yet,’ Santa tells them. ‘It’s not here yet.’”

“Then this deep winter’s night, the stars begin to shine more brightly than ever. They fill the dark night with their flaming light.”

Tasty Rating: !!!!

REVIEW: The Imaginary Garden

Larson, A.  (2009).  The Imaginary Garden.  Tonawanda, NY:  Kids Can Press.


PLOT SUMMARY:  When Theo's grandfather moves to an apartment and is no longer able to have a garden, the two create an imaginary garden using paints and brushes.

The book is on the text-heavy side.  While it could be readily used as a read aloud with a class of future world-famous artists, it also lends itself to being used one-on-one.  That way, a student can focus on some of the details of painting techniques to complete their own masterpieces.

The illustration style is very interesting, using a collage of color ink and pen.  The artist, Irene Luxbacher, used this technique to its fullest.  The partial sketches done with pen are only used to represent the real world.  When Theo imagines being in the garden, the illustrations are done completely in in colorful paints.


Since both painting and gardens are featured throughout the story, a teacher can take advantage of that and read this book aloud to students then focus on having students complete projects--either paintings of flowers or preparing a classroom garden.  Also, The Imaginary Garden encourages its readers to narrate stories about paintings.  A teacher can take advantage of this technique and encourage students to create narration about other works of art.

Focusing on painting, The Imaginary Garden shares how to mix colors to form other colors.  The book also gives basic lessons on painting technique--particularly on how to draw flowers and birds.

If more interested on drawing attention to the gardening aspect of the story, a teacher could reinforce kinds of flowers.  Poppa mentions crocuses, scilla, tulips, daffodils, Forget-me-nots, etc.

To go a completely different route, a teacher could take this book as a teaching moment to discuss how Theo (short for Theodora) can be a girl's name too!!!!!!  And how just because a girl has a name that's unusual or is spelled differently doesn't mean you should assume that name belongs to a boy.  Cause let me tell you, that'll complicate that girl's life more than a little and she might just grow up to be ornery and desperate to find a more "feminine" nickname that isn't Shelly.  Because hearing the name "Shelly" makes her cringe.  EVERY TIME!  I'm just saying.


"Theo loved Poppa's old house.  She loved Poppa's old garden."

"Poppa's new apartment didn't have a garden.
"Are you going to put flowers out here on the balcony?" asked Theo one day.
"I think it's too windy for flowers," answered Poppa."

"I know!" said Theo.  "We could have an imaginary garden."
Poppa's eyes lit up.
Theo and Poppa planned their imaginary garden before spring had even come."

"A few weeks later, Poppa prepared to leave on holiday.  He asked Theo to take care of the garden.  "But Poppa, how will I know what to do?" Theo worried.  She had never gardened by herself before."


Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Larbalestier, J.  (2009).  Liar.  New York:  Bloomsbury.

371 pages.

30-Second Plot Summary:  Micah is known throughout the school as a liar.  She has her reasons.  Her father is a liar too and they both have to protect the fact that Micah has been stricken with the family illness.  When her secret-boyfriend, a popular boy named Zach, who has another (not so secret) girlfriend, is murdered, suspicion turns to Micah.  Her lies slowly begin to unravel as Micah tries to figure out who she truly is.

I've written about this book previously.  Before Liar was released, there was a lot of drama about the cover, since Bloomsbury originally planned to have a white girl on the cover even though Micah's mom is white (and French!oui) and her father is half-black and Micah herself is described as having some black physical features.  To find out more about the drama, click here to see Justine's blog.

Because of all the said drama, I was excited to read this book.  Also driving my interest was the fact that Micah, who narrates her entire story, is a liar (thus the title).  While readers may take Micah at her word from the beginning of her story, they will soon realize that they can't trust her narration to be completely truthful.  A fun challenge to keep readers on their toes!

I had a little trouble with this book in terms of its genre.  For the first half of the book, it feels very much like realistic fiction with the potential for a paranormal hint or two.  Then the second part was decidedly paranormal.  Although there aren't hints in the way that Larbalestier builds the world of Liar, there are hints of the paranormal dimension in Micah's characterization.  So, it's not like I wanted to throw the book against the wall because it didn't give me a chance to predict what would happen in the text, but the book did undermine my expectations and make me grumble a little.  Almost as though I'd been lied to (Hmmm, interesting.  Questions of genre paralleling questions over the narrator's believability?  Who'd a thunk?).

I also had trouble with a jump in location that occurs fewer than 30 pages before the end of the novel.  To be as vague as possible--Micah is stuck in a location where she doesn't want to be.  With nobody who I can see as being willing to help her.  No cell phone.  No car.  No money.  Yet, when Micah decides she wants to be elsewhere at the top of page 348.  There's a jump to a new chapter and then BAM! Micah is where she wanted to be.  With no explanation of how she got there.  And I was left thinking, "Dream?  A new lie?  Did Scotty beam her over?  What just happened?"  But there was no evidence that it was just another lie.  Not really.  If anybody else out there has finished Liar, I would love to talk this over in the comments.  Anyone?  Anyone?

I have to say over all, while Liar was engaging, it wasn't as much of a must-read-this-now-I-don't-care-if-I-fail-out-of-school-I'll-be-okay-since-I'll-know-how-this-book-ends-yayz! book as I was expecting.  Part of the problem could be the fact that I heard the book's premise so long before I had a chance to read it.  I built up my own idea of how a book with such an unreliable narrator would play out.  What are your thoughts, our few but beloved readers?  Have any of you read Liar?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.


While this may be best as an individual recommendation, it does open the door to discuss genetics, race, censorship, the way language shifts, and methods of birth control.  Lots of good topics!  Much of the world building of Liar is grounded in science (specifically biology) so a teacher could pull out specific passages to discuss those issues.

Of course, the go-to discussion would be about the fact that Micah is unreliable in her narration.  If used in class assignments, as students are reading, they could keep track of which of Micah's assertions they believe or are suspicious of and why.

Other discussion topics include issue of identity (from race, to sense of belonging, to being honest about who you are--with others and yourself).  There is also a strong tensions over control of one's emotions and body and between urban and country life that can become a topic of discussion.


"I was born with a light covering of fur.
After three days it had all fallen off, but the damage was done.  My mother stopped trusting my father because it was a family condition he had not told her about.  One of many omissions and lies.
My father is a liar and so am I" (p. 3).

"You probably think I'm weird with the mask and the sort-of-but-not-really boyfriend who's dead and all the lies.
Past lies, I mean.  I haven't lied to you and I won't" (pp. 19-20).

"...Why would I want anyone to think I was some kind of freak?"
Because I wanted them to pay attention to me.
Something like that.
Mostly it's the joy of convincing people that something that ain't so, is.  It's hard to explain.  But like I said at the beginning, I've quit the lying game now" (p. 32).

Tasty Rating:  !!!

REVIEW: Rumi: Whirling Dervish

Demi.  (2009).  Rumi:  Whirling Dervish.  China:  Marshall Cavendish Children.


Rumi is a beautifully illustrated picturebook biography of the life of the famous mystic poet Rumi.  Born over 800 year ago in Afghanistan, Rumi was taught by his father and became a preacher.  Late in life his was "awakened" and he recited MAD amounts of poetry.  He also created the Whirling Dervish dance, which the book describes.

Within the biography, Demi includes a handful of lines of Rumi's poetry.  His artwork appears traditional in style, incorporating a lot of gold into the detailed designs.

Using a picturebook like this could ease middle grade and even high school students into a lesson on Rumi's poetry in a much more enjoyable way than an old photocopied article.  This is not, by any means, a fast-paced, exciting adventure novel, but it does give a fair overview of Rumi's life with beautiful artwork on each page.


This picturebook would be an excellent introduction to a unit on poetry, to Middle Eastern history or to some islamic practices.

Rumi includes some insights into the Old Testament as well.  It can be used to discuss the connections among various religions and how the belief in one God is about love.

Quotes of Note:

"A long time ago, on September 30, 1207, a boy was born in the city of Balkh in Afghanistan.  His parents named him Jalaluddin, "Splendor of the Faith."

"Jalaluddin loved learning new things and having his father as his teacher.  Then one day, when the boy was twelve, news came that a terrible warrior, Genghis Khan, and his Mongol army were conquering their homeland."

"But after his spirit had been awakened, he began to recite more than 50,000 rhymed couplets.  He felt like he was no longer in control.  Instead his creative spirit was in charge."

"Rumi circled and circled.  'Round and 'round he went, without stopping, for thirty-six hours, until he fell to the ground."

"Whirling dervishes danced to his words, spinning out their love for God."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

REVIEW: Grizzly Dad

Harrison, J.  (2008).  Grizzly Dad.  New York:  David Fickling Books.


PLOT SUMMARY:  A young boy's dad wakes up in a bad mood.  After the dad is sent to take a nap, the boy discovers that his father has turned into a grizzly bear.

I love the SIZE of this book.  It is huge and many of the illustrations are just as GIGANTIC.

It is such a fun demonstration of what an artist can do when playing with perspective in the illustrations.  The book's even cuter, though when you put it in the hands of a wee little child who can barely hold the book up.  Cuteness. And then the child accidentally rips the page out of the book as its falling out of his chubby little hand, meaning you (the adult who was so enraptured by the cuteness a moment ago) must now tape the book up and hope a librarian doesn't notice as you return the book because you're not classy enough to pay for it.  Yep.

Back on topic, the illustrations include a lot of fun humorous details that kids will get a kick out of noticing.  There.  I said that.  Now I can move on to a new topic.

Despite the dad's bad beginning to the day, the boy is willing to confront his dad about his bad mood, stating "I'm fed up with you!!! First you're in a bad mood, then you turn into a bear!"  And then the two have a wonderful day together.  While this may not always be able to become the reality, a teacher or parent can discuss having a child speak up calmly when they feel an adult is being unfair or grumpy.  Then the adult can also calmly do the same when the child is also grumpy.  It's only fair.


Grizzly Dad is a good way to discuss emotions, letting children know that adults can get just as grumpy as kids their own age.  The book can also be used to encourage metaphorical thought.  All a teacher needs to do is ask questions like "Do you really think the dad turned into a grizzly bear?"  From there, a classroom or family can start using "grizzly bear" as a code for someone being too grumpy and needing to calm down.

Also, to encourage father-son or father-daughter bonding, the young readers and their guardian could spend the day doing what the narrator and grizzly dad do--seeing a movie or playing in the park.  Then the adult could be super-sneaky and do another read aloud with the child to reinforce reading as a fun activity.  Cause it totally is!


"Dad woke up in a Grrrrizzly mood!"

"Dad!!!" I yelled, and pulled back the bedcovers.
But it wasn't Dad in bed at all...It was a GREAT BIG GRIZZLY BEAR!"

"I should have been frightened, but the grumpy look on its face reminded me of someone.
"Dad," I said.  "Is that you?"


Monday, November 16, 2009

REVIEW: The Espressologist

Springer, K.  (2009).  Espressologist.  New York:  Farrar Straus Giroux.


184 pages.

30-Second Plot Summary:  Jane can tell a lot about a person based on the drink they choose at the cafe where she works.  She starts putting her knowledge to good use, playing matchmaker among the customers and her fellow baristas.  When her boss hears about her successes, Jane's skill becomes a Winter Holiday promotion complete with lines around the block and media attention.  Even with the mounting chaos, Jane may even stir-up a match of her own.

So, speaking as a coffee addict and former barista, I had to read this book!  In fact, I found myself wondering why I hadn't written a book with a similar premise.  I used to have a crush on a regular customer who always ordered a grande, skim, white mocha.  I was always a venti, soy, white mocha (with whip!) drinker myself.  I think we would have been a good match.  That is until he started bringing in a girl with him who ordered "what he's having."  Ugh.  *Roll eyes*  Make your own decisions, girl.

So, anyway, reading Espressologist brought back fond memories of working in a cafe.  Probably it brought back fonder impressions than the memories actually deserve.  Remember, me!  You had to stand all day!  Some customers were jerks!  Caffeine addicted JERKS!

Now onto the book itself.  I think I love the premise more than the actual book.  Springer's writing is good.  I wanted to like Jane, but her interest in going to school for fashion didn't match with her characterization as a super-psychologist-personality-matcher enough.  Plus all the mentions of skinny jeans fur-lined vests and skinny jeans are only going to date the book.  There were also too many people introduced too quickly for my taste.

I also had trouble with both the villain and main love interest.  I needed more reason for Melissa, a super-mean girl, to be mean.  Don't get me wrong, I love evil characters.  I just need a hint of why she's so evil.  And as for the main love interest (I won't say his name, since there is a faux one running around) I needed him to have more face-to-face time with Jane.  I mean, there are hints of why he's a good guy, but I needed to see more of Jane connecting with him early on.

As I read the book, I was strongly reminded of Vegan Virgin Valentine.  If a student likes one, the other is a natural recommendation.  They'd be good for comparison, since there are some key differences among the protagonists.


This is a good romance recommendation for teen readers, particularly girls who are coffee lovers or love hanging out/working in a cafe.

If a student read this as an individual read and wanted to create a project for school based off of it.  They could take coffee drinks, or a comparable option where people have lots of choices and create their own personality keys about what the choices people make says about them.  It would be a fun research project and they could apply the scientific method to test their theory.

Quotes of Note:

"Large nonfat four-shot caffe latte
Cocky sex-deprived butthead guy drink.  Expect only the utmost stupidity to come out of his mouth.  So-so body, could stand to work out more.  Crappy dresser" (p. 3).

"It's getting to the point where I can guess most customers' drinks on sight" (p. 4).

"It's a "you are what you drink" philosophy.  So I've been documenting people's drinks--all kinds of people.  Young and old, skinny and fat, blue-collar and white-collar.  It's become my little project" (pp. 18-19).

"You are our holiday promotion," he says enthusiastically.
"I don't get it," I repeat.
"It's simple.  Corporate says I need to do a promotion to bring in more customers over the holiday season, and you, my little Espressologist, are it" (p. 83-84).

Tasty Rating:  !!!

REVIEW: Amelia Rules! The whole world's crazy

Grownley, J.  (2006).  Amelia Rules!  The whole world's crazy.  Harrisburg, PA:  Renaissance Press.


Originally a series of comics, the different installments of Amelia Rules! have been collected to form the five parts (but with smaller stories within that) of this book from the larger series.

PLOT SUMMARY:  A fourth grader, Amelia makes direct addresses to her readers, informing them/us that her mother and her moved in with Amelia's aunt after her parents' divorce two months previously.  Her worries and doubts over the end of her parents' marriage underlies all of Amelia's experiences of starting a new school, trick or treating, determining if Santa is real and going on a camping trip with her father in the Spring.

Amelia likes (but does NOT like like!) her friend Reggie, but Amelia's sworn frienemy Rhonda does like like him.  The three, along with Pajamaman are usual kids, watching their favorite TV show, playing tag, fighting, making bets, etc.  Oh, and from time to time they dress up as superheroes.

The Amelia graphic novel series explores the ordinary in a very real and often striking way (particularly when the images in the panels provide contrast to the text and dialogue).

Although The Whole World's Crazy does assume whiteness throughout, the graphic novel does explore issues of class (which makes me happy!).


This series can be used to encourage reluctant readers to begin to see reading as enjoyable, especially reluctant girls.  This series helps with visual literacy as well as written, such much of the humor comes through Amelia's expressions.

However, chances are good those reluctant readers won't be the same age as the nine-year-old protagonists.  There's a lot of text to each page.  Some advanced vocabulary.  Literary references.  While some advanced fourth graders will like Amelia (and chances are the books will be preferred by female readers) going on the language alone, I'd be more likely to recommend this book to sixth or seventh graders--many of whom would find the experiences of a fourth grader below them.  It's a conundrum.


"There's only one way to introduce Amelia Rules!...with a BANG! (Not to mention an EEEEEK!, ACK and HA HA HA!)  Move over Captain Underpants!  Make way for Amelia Louise McBride (aka Princess Powerful) who steals the show with her hilarious fourth grade hijinks."

"I guess you should parents split up.  That's how come me an' Mom moved in here with Aunt Tanner.
The whole thing is kinda weird, an' it made me feel...I don't know...guilty?  So I asked Mom if I was the reasons they got divorced.  She got real nervous an' tried to make a joke.  She said..."If that were true, we would've broken up years ago."
That's on thing I've noticed about grown-ups...they're not funny" (p. 10).

"So that's basically parents are crazy, my friends are crazy, everybody is crazy but me.  I'm normal.  Then again...if everybody is one way, and I'm the other...then maybe it's not them...maybe it's me!" (p. 16).



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