Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the U.F.O. by David Adler

23 Mar

David Adler’s series surrounding a girl with a photographic nicknamed Cam are intriguing stories for ages 7-10. In terms of literary offerings, they are slim, but when trying to motivate students to read this series is a great to have in the primary school library. The story begins with Cam and her friend Eric Shelton discussing the upcoming Junior Photography Contest. Mysterious bright light are seen off in the distance and leave it to Cam and Eric to discover what the eerie lights are. In the end, the mystery is solved and Eric goes on to receive honorable mention in the photography contest. This story is recommended with reservations, but this series is truly a big hit with younger readers.

Insight:

If I were reading this book for me, boring, boring and more boring. Luckily for this title, selecting books for my library means putting the wants and needs of library patrons first. Will most kids like this series? Probably. Are there better books out there? For sure. As long as children are reading these books and loving them…consider having them in your collection and not just a single copy, but at least two of each. This series goes super fast in our school library and students always ask for more.

Suggested Library Activity:

Using a Venn Diagram have students compare and contrast the differences and similarities between Eric and Cam.  Be sure to use adjectives in the lesson and also discuss how adjectives make characters come to life.

Bibliographic Citation:

Adler, D. (1980). Cam jansen and the mystery of the u.f.o. New York. Viking Press.

Additional Book Review:

Horn Book (Spring 2001)

“Each volume contains two previously published Cam Jansen stories bound together. These formulaic, mild mysteries describe how Cam and her friend Eric solve problems using moxie and Cam’s never-fail photographic memory. Early chapter-book readers may appreciate the stories, which are illustrated with black-and-white line drawings.”


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Jane by April Lindner

20 Mar

April Lindner’s Jane is a refreshing revamp of the old classic Jane Eyre. Jane holds true to the Jane Eyre story line, but modernizes the story and makes it more accessible for young readers. Jane finds herself having to quit college and get a nanny job when both her parents die suddenly in a tragic accident. Jane ends up working for the mysterious Nico Rathburn, a rockstar with shocking secrets.  Lindner takes a risk with this story, potentially alienating diehard classic fans, but most readers will find the plot and story line just as appealing as the old classic. High schoolers are not always excited to read the classics, but with Jane you get a fresh retelling in a modern setting. A must read for high schoolers longing for a bit of romance and intrigue.

A refreshing take on a tried and true classic

Insight:

If you like the old school version of Jane, give this one a shot. This book does not have  vampires or other creatures of the night, but there is a distinct, dark mood within this book. Jane believes herself to be of average beauty, strong character and not awestruck by people’s fame. Nico Rathburn takes an interest in her and well…you just have to read it. Think romance mixed with  music and a dash of brooding. Yes please.

Suggested Library Activity:

Have students write a different ending to the story and share. Also, have students read Jane by Jane Eyre and discuss how the author changed the story to make it more relevant and appealing for today’s reader.

Bibliographic Citation:

Lindner, A. (2010). Jane. London: Little Brown.

Additional Book Review:

Library Media Connection (January/February 2011)

Jane is a modern retelling of Jane Eyre. Orphaned at age nineteen, Jane finds work as a nanny for Nico Rathburn, a rock star. While taking care of his daughter, Jane falls in love with Nico. There are some odd accidents, but Jane chalks them up to Brenda, a housekeeper who lives on the third floor, where all others in the house are forbidden to enter. Eventually Nico proposes to Jane, but on their wedding day Jane discovers that Nico is still married. Nico reveals that the resident of the third floor is his wife, who is schizophrenic and dangerous. Jane, feeling like a fool, flees. When she learns about a horrible accident, Jane realizes that Nico is the only man she ever loved and returns to him. The basic elements from Jane Eyre exist, but at times it felt like the author glossed over situations. This is a compelling read, whether you know the original story or not. However, trying to translate Bronte’s writings into a present day situation is complex, and the story feels like too much is trying to be accomplished. I would recommend this for libraries that have a large chick-lit collection. Recommended. Emily Cassady, Educational Reviewer, Dallas, Texas

Cassady, E. (January/February, 2011). Book Review of Jane. Library Media Connection.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

20 Mar

Hatchet is a story about a boy’s survival in the wilderness. Brian, a thirteen year old boy is flying across the Canadian wilderness when the pilot of the plane has a heart attack. The plane crashes in to a lake and Brian must learn to survive alone in the wilderness. He must learn to make fire, find food and build shelter. Brian survives by crafting a bow and arrow and using various equipment and supplies leftover from the plane wreckage including a hatchet. He experiences many hardships during his time in the wilderness, but also learns to value and appreciate his life back home. During his time in the wilderness Brian experiences flashbacks of his old life and questions whether to tell his father his mother is having an affair.   Brian’s brush with death makes him a stronger, more reflective person. Young readers,boys and girls interested in survival and adventure will enjoy Paulsen’s vivid descriptions and imagery. Paulsen does an excellent job depicting how a thirteen year old boy could survive in the Canadian wilderness and does so in a believable and realistic manner.

Winner of Newbery Award 1987

Insight:

This book is a classic. I find the scenario utterly amazing because on some level this could have actually happened. This book will appeal to children especially those that like the outdoors and are interested in survival. As much as I like to think of myself as an independent and capable person, this book sure tells me otherwise.  For the more mature, older reader consider suggesting Alive.

Suggested Library Activity:

Have students imagine what it would be like to be lost in the wilderness. What would they do to survive? Expand on this to include different climates. What would students do in the desert? In the rainforest? What kind of shelter would they build? Have them document their imaginary experience in a journal.

Bibliographic Citation:

Paulsen, G. ( 2006). Hatchet (6th ed.). New York: Simon Pulse.

Additional Book Review:

“The plot from the publisher reads, “Brian Robertson, sole passenger on a Cessna 406, is on his way to visit his father when the tiny bush plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness. With nothing but his clothing, a tattered windbreaker, and the hatchet his mother had given him as a present, Brian finds himself completely alone. Challenged by his fear and despair — and plagued with the weight of a dreadful secret he’s been keeping since his parent’s divorce — Brian must tame his inner demons in order to survive. It will take all his know-how and determination, and more courage than he knew he possessed.”

In 100 Best Books for Children Anita Silvey says that, “the book was actually inspired by a visit to the Hershey, Pennsylvania, Middle School in April 1986.  While talking to students about their passions, Paulsen realized that he should write the survival tale that had been brewing in his mind, and he dedicated the book to those children.”  A lot of the trials Brian endures in the course of the novel actually happened to Mr. Paulsen as well.  Everything from the mosquitoes to the fire to the turtle’s eggs (Silvey writes, “Although he was not successful at getting them down, he decided that Brian, being much hungrier, would be able to do so.”)

In an interview with School Library Journal in June of 1997 Paulsen said that when writing this book, “I didn’t think of boys at first. At one point, I actually toyed with the idea of writing Hatchet with a girl protagonist.” Later, when asked which of his books are his favorites he says, “Hatchet is in the sense that it struck some nerve that I still don’t understand, and that has made it one of my favorite books. It was not when I wrote it…”

Top 100 Children’s Novels. (2010, March 11). [Review of the book Hatchet]. School Library Journal Online.

Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola

17 Mar

A Caldecott Honor Book

Strega Nona is a classic tale about a “Grandma Witch”  that needs assistance with her house and garden. Strega Nona hires Big Anthony and gives him specific instructions to not touch her magic pot. During Strega Nona’s excursion to see her friend Strega Amelia, Big Anthony decides to make the most of his boss’ departure. Sure enough, Big Anthony goes and repeats the magic words that make the pot bring forth glorious noodles. To his dismay, Big Anthony cannot make the pot stop producing noodles and the noodles fill up the house and overflow out of the house. The noodles continue growing and begin to fill up the town.  Upon Strega Nona’s return, she magically ends the never ending pasta. Big Anthony learns a lesson when Strega Nona graciously offers him a fork to begin cleaning up his noodle mess. The illustrations in this story are captivating and hold the reader’s attention. This story is especially enjoyed by a younger audience (age 4-8), perhaps those students needing more visual reinforcement. Tomie de Paola’s story and illustrations are classic and not to be missed.

Insight: 

Strega Nona is the grandma we all secretly long for. She teaches her moral lessons silently, letting us learn by making mistakes through experience and trials. My favorite aspect of this story are the illustrations. The illustrations call to mind Medieval paintings-with their flat 2dimensional appearance. This story is a classic, delighting both young and old.

Suggested Library Activity:

Begin a multiplication lesson reading this story. Have students put one elbow pasta in to the pot. Retrieve two elbow pasta magically out of the pot. Relate this to multiplication. Write the multiplication sentence on chart paper. Do this again and again doubling the elbow pasta each time. Record on the chart to share whole group. Have students illustrate their own pots and record what comes out of their pots.

Bibliographic Citation:

DePaola, T. (1975). Strega nona: An old tale. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall.

Additional Book Review:

“From my old review: “Strega Nona lives by her lonesome in a small cottage in Calabria, Italy. A witch by trade, she cures the townspeople of their ailments, warts, and headaches. When Big Anthony is hired on as Strega Nona’s servant she gives him very strict instructions on what he is required to do, and what is forbidden. Quoth Strega Nona, ‘The one thing you must never do is touch the pasta pot’. You see where this is going. After watching the witch conjure delicious cooked pasta fully formed from the pot, Anthony is eager to show this miracle himself to the people of the town. When Strega Nona leaves on a trip, Anthony speaks her spell and feeds everyone in the vicinity delicious, piping hot pasta. Unfortunately, Anthony didn’t quite catch the trick to making the pasta stop flowing. As the villagers attempt to prevent the growing threat from destroying their town, Strega Nona arrives just in time to put everything right again. Anthony receives a just comeuppance and all is well in the world.”

Apropos of nothing, I always thought that Big Anthony was kinda cute.  This is why I’ve been careful to avoid marrying any picture book characters.  I have terrible taste in their men.

Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results. (2009, April 14th). Strega Nona: an old tale [Review of the book Strega Nona]. School Library Journal Online.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

17 Mar

Ryan’s story is full of vivid imagery and painful lessons. It is a story about Esperanza, a privileged girl living in Mexico during the Great Depression. After Esperanza’s father is murdered by bandits, Tio Louis offers to buy her home, but does not offer a fair price. Esperanza’s other refuses to sell and the whole property including the vineyards is set on fire and burns to the ground. Tio Louis then offers his hand in marriage to Esperanza’s mother. Esperanza’s mother and Esperanza prepare to flee Mexico with their servants and head to California to begin a new life. This is where Esperanza’s story really begins. During one episode, Esperanza is taught how to prepare potatoes for planting. Esperanza’s mother becomes ill with valley fever and Esperanza has to survive and work to pay for her mother’s care. During this time Miguel, her friend steals all of her money and vanishes in to thin air. Miguel does eventually resurface retrieving Esperanza’s grandmother from Mexico. This is a deep story about survival, injustice and what it truly means to live.

Winner of the Pura Belpre award

Suggested Library Activity:

Have students research this time period. Have them imagine what it would be like to be children living during this time. Create a news broadcast and interview someone from this time (another student can act a character out). What kinds of questions would they ask someone from this time period?

Bibliographic Citation:

Ryan, Pam Munoz. (2008). Esperanza rising. New York: Scholastic.

Additional Book Reviews:

“Esperanza Rising is a very thought provoking book about the plight of those seeking seasonal employment on the big farms in California during the Great Depression. Esperanza learns the value of hard work and after a while overcomes her selfish ways…”
Wednesday, B. (2010, May 19). Book Review: Esperanza Rising.

http://thislittlebookblog.blogspot.com/2010/05/book-review-esperanza-rising-by-pam.html

Horn Book starred (Spring 2001)

In this poignant look at the realities of immigration, thirteen-year-old Esperanza, daughter of an affluent Mexican rancher, is forced to trade fancy dolls and dresses for hard work and ill-fitting hand-me-downs after her beloved father dies. Laboring in the United States, picking grapes on someone else’s land for pennies an hour, Esperanza is transformed into someone who can take care of herself and others.

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

17 Mar

Book Cover

This is the story of Bud Caldwell, an orphan living during the Great Depression. After much adversity and repeated abuse from his foster brother Todd Amos, Bud decides to runaway from his home in Flint, Michigan. He sets out to find Herman Calloway, a supposed relative. Along the way Bud befriends a railroad porter  named Lefty Lewis and Lewis offers a place for Bud to sleep. Bud eventually meets up with Herman Calloway and receives a cold welcome from Calloway. When Bud’s collection of rocks are discovered, Calloway believes that Bud has stolen them.

Insight:

This story is  emphasizes good prevails (even though it is not a realistic view), even in challenging times. This book is superb. I would use this as a read aloud in class as a way to discuss determination and strength in character. Bud, Not Buddy is the recipient of the Coretta Scott King award and also the recipient of the Newbery Medal. This title is a must for an elementary school’s library collection and an essential read for any elementary student.


Suggested Library Activity:

Have students create a class newspaper focusing on different aspects of the novel’s time period. Include information on homelessness, Jazz, the Great Depression, etc. Have students gather all their research and create a  newspaper to be displayed in the library for all to read.

Bibliographic Citation:

Curtis, C. (1999). Bud, not buddy. New York: Delacorte Press.

Additional Book Review:

As in his Newbery Honor-winning debut, The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963, Curtis draws on a remarkable and disarming mix of comedy and pathos, this time to describe the travails and adventures of a 10-year-old African-American orphan in Depression-era Michigan. Bud is fed up with the cruel treatment he has received at various foster homes, and after being locked up for the night in a shed with a swarm of angry hornets, he decides to run away. His goal: to reach the man he–on the flimsiest of evidence–believes to be his father, jazz musician Herman E. Calloway. Relying on his own ingenuity and good luck, Bud makes it to Grand Rapids, where his “”father”” owns a club. Calloway, who is much older and grouchier than Bud imagined, is none too thrilled to meet a boy claiming to be his long-lost son. It is the other members of his band–Steady Eddie, Mr. Jimmy, Doug the Thug, Doo-Doo Bug Cross, Dirty Deed Breed and motherly Miss Thomas–who make Bud feel like he has finally arrived home. While the grim conditions of the times and the harshness of Bud’s circumstances are authentically depicted, Curtis shines on them an aura of hope and optimism. And even when he sets up a daunting scenario, he makes readers laugh–for example, mopping floors for the rejecting Calloway, Bud pretends the mop is “”that underwater boat in the book Momma read to me, Twenty Thousand Leaks Under the Sea.”” Bud’s journey, punctuated by Dickensian twists in plot and enlivened by a host of memorable personalities, will keep readers engrossed from first page to last. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)

Publisher’s Weekly. (1999, September 6). Book Review Bud, Not Buddy. Retrieved from  http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-385-32306-2

Horn Book (November/December, 1999)

In a story that’s as far-fetched as it is irresistible, and as classic as it is immediate, a deserving orphan boy finds a home. It’s the Depression, and Bud (not Buddy) is ten and has been on his own since his mother died when he was six. In and out of the Flint, Michigan, children’s home and foster homes ever since, Bud decides to take off and find his father after a particularly terrible, though riotously recounted, evening with his latest foster family. Helped only by a few clues his mother left him, and his own mental list of “Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself,” Bud makes his way to a food pantry, then to the library to do some research (only to find that his beloved librarian, one Charlemae Rollins, has moved to Chicago), and finally to the local Hooverville where he just misses hopping a freight to Chicago. Undaunted, he decides to walk to Grand Rapids, where he hopes his father, the bandleader Herman E. Calloway, will be. Lefty Lewis, the kindly union man who gives Bud a lift, is not the first benevolent presence to help the boy on his way, nor will he be the last. There’s a bit of the Little Rascals in Bud, and a bit more of Shirley Temple as his kind heart and ingenuous ways bring tears to the eyes of the crustiest of old men-not his father, but close enough. But Bud’s fresh voice keeps the senti-mentality to a reasonable simmer, and the story zips along in step with Bud’s own panache. r.s.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by El Konigsburg

17 Mar

Winner of the 1968 Newbery Medal

Every child dreams of an adventure and Claudia Kincaid sets out on a trip that will change her life. She decides to runaway from her home in Greenwich because…”She was the oldest child and the only girl and was subject to a lot of injustice.” Claudia Kincaid, an eleven year old girl, chooses to runaway to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She also decides to take her younger brother Jamie along. Kincaid methodically plans her adventure right down to the bus fare for her and her brother Jamie. While in the museum the two children’s curiosities are peaked when they view a sculpture of an angel thought to be created by Michelangelo himself. Lady Claudia and Sir James as the two refer to each other decide to discover the creator of the angelic scupture. After visits to the library Lady Claudia and Sir James find out the person that auctioned the sculpture is Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Claudia and James eventually solve the mystery and return safe and sound to their home with the help of Mrs. Frankweiler.

Insight: 

Having actually runaway as a child I understand what little Claudia must be feeling at the beginning of the story. Getting lost amid all your brothers and sisters does make one feel quite small. The author has taken that emotion and created an entire adventure that gives children experiencing that emotion a place to take solace. This book is mystery, adventure and a dash of glam. Who wouldn’t want to live in a museum-The New York Metropolitan museum at that? Somewhat of a bohemian lifestyle, taking bathes in the fountain. When can I sign up and hopefully I don’t have to pay rent! I have never been much of a mystery person, but surprisingly I thoroughly enjoyed this story.

Suggested Library Activity:

Have students create their own sculpture using clay.  Show an art documentary about famous sculptors.

Bibliographic Citation:

Konigsburg, E. (1967). From the mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. New York: Atheneum.


Additional Book Review:

For 35 years, even readers who have never traveled to New York City have visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, courtesy of Claudia Kincaid, heroine of From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. Winner of the 1968 Newbery Medal, this novel charts one girl’s mission to run away from her straight-As life to somewhere beautiful-the Met. In the process, she becomes obsessed with uncovering the secrets of a breathtaking statue. A 35th-anniversary dust jacket and a new afterword by the author caps this adventure that has captivated readers for more than a quarter-century.

Publishers Weekly (November 11, 2002). Review of the book From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Retrieved from

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-689-85322-7