Friday, September 2, 2011

Check out my goodreads page for more reviews!

Here is a link to my goodreads page.

Goodreads is a social networking site (like facebook) but it's all about books.

On my goodreads page you will find hundreds of books reviews. I try to dip my toes in all genres but being that I have a young son, you'll find that I most frequently review picture books.

I do hope to one day keep this blog up and running, but for right now, goodreads is really convenient and easier to manage.

Thank you!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Just Juice

Hesse, Karen. (1998). Just Juice. New York: Scholastic Press.
Literary Genre: Realistic Fiction (Chapter Book)

The Faulstich family is going through a hard time. Pa has difficulty keeping work and is depressed. Ma is pregnant and has gestational diabetes. Juice is in trouble with the truant officer because she does not go to school as she should. Markey and Charleen (Juice’s older sisters) worry about Juice. Juice, Markey, and Charleen pitch in to care for the two little ones, Lulu and Turtle. They barely have enough food to eat, so when Pa gets a letter saying they have to pay taxes or lose their house, he keeps it a secret from Ma.  It seems like the Faulstich’s are doomed. Can Juice get her family through these hard times and deal with her own secret?
Hesse successfully captures the essence of a family’s bond and love. Throughout all these hardships, the Faulstich’s encourage one another, support each other, and remain hopeful that things will get better. The language has some slang that might stump some young readers in the beginning but it allows the reader to visualize the characters. Hesse also does a nice job of addressing the challenges that people with reading disabilities face in their day-to-day lives. My only criticism is that there is not a sequel.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Van Allsburg, Chris. (2006). Probuditi! Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Literary Genre: Fiction (Picture Story Book)

Calvin’s birthday gift is tickets for him and a friend to go see “Lomax the Magnificent, the world-famous magician and hypnotist”. After the performance, Calvin and his friend decide to do some hypnotizing of their own and shortly after Calvin’s little sister Trudy is barking, whining, panting, and walking on all fours like a dog. The real magic of this story is the humorous events that take place as the boys spend the afternoon trying to snap Trudy back to normal. Van Allsburg’s incredible, sepia pencil drawings will hold the attention of readers and pull them back into the 1940s where this story takes place.

I absolutely love this story. Many of Chris Van Allsburg’s books are magical but the realistic nature of this story makes it much more magical to me. Calvin and Trudy’s relationship is portrayed very true to the complicated but loving dynamics of siblings and is one in which readers will most certainly relate to. The 1940s setting is a nice touch because it represents the perfect childhood neighborhood and again readers will be able to make connections to their own childhood shenanigans. This story could be used in the classroom for a variety of things, but I would focus on the development of the relationships between characters.

Coraline -spoiler alert-

Gaiman, Neil. (2004). Coraline (Kindle Edition). D. McKean. New York: HarperCollins e-books

Literary Genre: Fantasy (Chapter Book) 

Coraline Jones just moved into a new large house with her mother and father. The house is so large that the Jones’ share it with others. Coraline is an explorer and her parents are always busy on their computers, so it isn’t long before she starts to explore the house and meet her neighbors. Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, “both old and round,” live in the flat below Coraline’s family with a number of Highland terriers. A crazy old man who is training mice for a mouse circus occupies the flat above Coraline’s family. After several rainy days, Coraline becomes bored. She counts ever door in her flat and stumbles upon a door that leads to a creepy parallel world.

In this creepy parallel world, Coraline has an “other mother” and “other father”. Her “other” parents and “other” neighbors resemble the real parents and neighbors only they are taller, thinner, and have black buttons for eyes. The “other mother” is the creator of this world and she very much wants Coraline to have black button eyes and remain with her forever. Although, this other world has better food, magical toys, a talking cat, and more attentive parents, Coraline does not wish to stay this other world. The “other” mother hides Coraline’s real parents in an attempt to lure Coraline but Coraline reverses the roles and challenges her “other” mother instead. With the help of the talking cat, and the ghosts of three children trapped in the shadows of a magical mirror, Coraline manages to escape her “other” mother’s creepy world with her parents and the souls of the ghost children. However, when the “other” mother’s bony hand follows her into the real world Coraline must face her “other” mother alone. Is she successful? You must read this magically creepy tale told from Coraline’s perspective to find out.

When I first started reading this book, I really struggled with how creepy it was. I could only read a few pages at a time and I even had some nightmares about my own son encountering his “other” mother. When, the Coraline discovers that her parents are missing through the magical mirror, it felt more like a scene from an episode of Criminal Minds not a scene from a children’s book. But once, Gaiman introduced Coraline’s challenge, the story transformed into an adventure and I was then able to root for Coraline. The guidance Coraline receives from the talking black cat reminds of Binx, the talking black cat from the movie, Hocus Pocus. Coraline is most definitely a memorable piece of literature. Coraline has a distinct honest voice that readers will be able to relate to. The book reads almost like a fairy tale, the language is descriptive enough for readers to visualize the unfolding tale, yet simple enough for younger readers to understand. The creepiness of the text is in part due to Gaiman’s amazing ability to make this “other” world seem possible, which is a critical element of quality fantasy. Coraline’s story is full of action, believable characters, creativity, and extraordinary elements which paired with Gaiman’s language and McKean’s black ink sketches makes a captivating realistic fantasy that interests readers.


Javaherbin, Mina. (2010). GOAL! A. G. Ford. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Literary Genre: Multicultural/International (Picture Book) 

Ajani has to get water from the well before dark, but his homework is finished, so first it’s soccer time! Ajani and his friends must be careful as they play soccer because the streets are not safe in South Africa. When bullies come their way, Ajani and his friends are clever. The combination of repetitive phrases and detailed illustrations of bright blues and warm browns bring soccer to life and successfully highlights its power to bond the friends together during hard times.

I enjoyed this story because it allows readers to experience what it is like to be a young boy in South Africa. Ajani goes to school and plays with friends, but he also has responsibilities that most young boys in the United States do not, such as getting clean water and looking out for bullies that roam the streets. The illustrations represent a poor, dusty shantytown in South Africa; the boys have dirty, torn clothing; which is an accurate account of the environment and clothing of the area. Javaherbin provides an Author’s Note that provides more background on the significance of soccer. The note shares that the people of South Africa (and other countries) play soccer in spite of war, poverty, bully rulers, unsafe alleys, revolution, and hardship. “They play to stay connected. They play to stay children. They play to stay human. But mostly, they play to play.” Javaherbin does an excellent job of helping readers understand how this sport influences and inspires the people of South Africa this is what multicultural literature is intended to do.

Too Many Frogs!

Asher, Sandy. (2005). Too Many Frogs! Graves, K. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Literary Genre: Picture Storybook 

Rabbit lives by himself, cooks for himself, tidies up after himself, and at the end of every day, he reads himself a story. Rabbit likes his simple, no fuss, no clutter way of life. Then one night, Froggie comes “knock-knockety-knocking” at Rabbit’s door and invites himself inside to listen to Rabbit’s story. Froggie is prone to fuss and clutter and after several visits to Rabbit’s house, Rabbit learns to like a different way of life. Vivid colors and expressive details in the illustrations pair nicely with the humorous and repetitive nature of the text, making this a fun read for children of all ages.

I absolutely love this book! It is an excellent read aloud because the plot revolves around Rabbit’s reading and bringing others closer together. Asher uses several literary devices to captivate the reader. For instance, several phrases are repeated throughout the book, emphasizing text with different placement on the page, and her word choice invites readers to express feelings. The art definitely enhances and extends the text and allows the readers to have a greater understanding of the characters and plot.

Duck Soup

Urbanovic, Jackie. (2008). Duck Soup. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers.

Literary Genre: Fiction (Picture Storybook) 

Max is a duck who loves to cook. Max is in the kitchen working on a special soup that is sure to be a masterpiece when he notices that it is missing something. Max goes out into the garden to find an herb that will make the soup perfect. Meanwhile, his family (a lively bunch of animals) spot a “feather” in the soup and they try to save Max until Max himself interrupts them. In the end, the family is thankful that Max is safe and they have pizza for dinner instead of soup. Colorful illustrations and bright characters that are incredibly engaging contribute even more humor to this entertaining story.

I really appreciate how Jackie Urbanovic uses a variety of font sizes, colors, styles to emphasize certain words, sounds, and dialogue of the characters. It makes the story more engaging for the reader and really fun to read aloud to children of all ages. I can also make a personal connection to the story, when things go wrong in the kitchen; pizza finds its way to my dinner table as well.


Creech, Sharon. (2004). Heartbeat. New York: Scholastic, Inc. (partnered with HarperCollins Publishers)

Literary Genre: Poetry (Chapter Book)

Twelve-year-old Annie loves “running running running”. Especially barefoot running. She likes to feel her bare feet hit the soft earth and the wind on her face. Running is the glue that bonds Annie to many of the important people in her life. Her mother and grandfather were both runners. Her best friend, Max runs barefoot with her nearly every day, but he runs to escape his life. Max is moody, disadvantaged, and maybe even a little jealous of Annie’s family. Max’s grandfather died and his father left. Annie, on the other hand, has a loving, growing family. Annie’s mother is expecting a baby and her grandfather’s health and memory is unstable, so he moves in with Annie and her parents. Although Annie’s grandfather is losing his memory, there are moments when he shares his life experiences and wisdom with both Annie and Max. As one life is starting and another is ending, Annie gets to thinking about who people are and how they become who they are.

Max sees running in track as his ticket out of the small town where the story takes place and Annie’s reluctance to join the track team seems to cause some tension in their friendship. While running is a major theme of this novel, Annie is also an artist. At school, Annie is given an assignment to draw the same apple for 100 days. Annie takes the assignment more seriously than her classmates do and she starts to view the apple (a symbol for life) from different perspectives. The baby’s birth brings change and resolution to the novel. Annie is trying to understand herself and those around her, but everything is changing. Will Annie learn to accept these changes and understand those around her? Read to find out.

Sharon Creech writes this touching story in free verse poems. This format paired with strategic repetition allows the reader to feel the rhythm of Annie’s story. From the “thump-thump, thump-thump” of the running to the “a-whoosh-a-whoosh-a-whoosh” of the baby’s heartbeat, Creech’s utilization of onomatopoeias bring the story to life. The flow of the verses also lends itself well to developing Annie’s voice. Heartbeat is without a doubt quality poetry/children’s literature. The novel portrays emotion, insight, and a fresh viewpoint. Creech’s effective usage of language and poetic devices gives Annie a sincere voice that readers can connect to. I absolutely loved this novel! I was intrigued by the realness and complexity of the relationships between Annie and the other characters.
**Related Links:
-Visit the Author's Website at
-A Literature Circle Guide (For Teachers)
**Podcast Review:

Cactus Soup

Kimmel, Eric A. (2004). Cactus Soup. P. Huling. New York: Marshall Cavendish.

Literary Genre: Multicultural/International (Picture Book) 

Hungry soldiers ride into the town of San Miguel to eat and rest but the townspeople hide their food and pretend to be very poor. The captain asks for a cactus thorn and he begins to make cactus soup. The townspeople are tricked into adding salt, pepper, vegetables, and meats into the soup and soon enough the town of San Miguel is transformed into a lively fiesta. The colorful, detailed southwestern style illustrations do a nice job of representing the time period and avoiding cultural stereotypes.

Cactus Soup is the Mexican version of the story "Stone Soup". There are a variety of versions of this story across many cultures and they could all be used to discuss/celebrate diversity in a classroom of nearly any age group. I value Eric Kimmel’s supplementary features, such as, an author’s note that shares information about the Mexican Revolution and a glossary that defines many of the Spanish words used in the story. I enjoyed this book and believe it can be useful in the classroom, however; I feel that it is at the lowest level (contributions approach) of the multicultural hierarchy because it does not engage readers in Mexican culture.

The Swamps of Sleethe

Prelutsky, Jack (2009). The Swamps of Sleethe: Poems from Beyond the Solar System. J. Pickering. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (an imprint of Random House Children’s Books).

Literary Genre: Poetry (Picture Book) 

This space themed collection of poetry will take you on a journey to undiscovered planets beyond our solar system. While the poems exhibit Jack Prelutsky’s humorous flair, the warning nature of poems are a little darker in tone than his other works to suit the maturity level of older students. The colorful illustrations were created using mixed media, which appeals to older children and adds another dimension to the space themed poems. Prelutsky invites readers to interact with the poetry with a fun bonus feature; many of the planets’ names are anagrams that need to be translated into a descriptive English word.

I really enjoyed the quirky illustrations and the somewhat spooky verses about the wild creatures and vegetation that lurk on these undiscovered planets. The Swamps of Sleethe captured my attention because it is a collection of poetry that could spark school-aged boys’ interest in poetry. It is critical for educators, parents, and others working with children find interesting reading materials (such as this) to motivate boys that are resistant to reading. The descriptive language in the poems lends itself for plenty of uses in the classroom, such as enriching vocabulary, discussing prose, word choice, voice, mini-lessons on developing setting, and much more.

Klondike Gold

Provensen, Alice. (2005). Klondike Gold. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Literary Genre: Historical Fiction (Picture Book) 

Bill Howell and a friend drop everything and head to Canada in search of gold in this adventurous tale. Alice Provensen organizes each page into three panes to provide the reader with more details and background knowledge about the 1897 gold rush of the Yukon Territory. The top pane highlights the detailed artwork that corresponds with the middle pane’s main story of Howell’s journey. More artwork, facts, maps, and diagrams are presented in the bottom pane to assist readers in expanding their knowledge about the daily lives and experiences of the people and prospectors that traveled to Yukon Territory looking for gold.

Alice Provensen proves to readers that the information shared in this text is authentic and accurate by acknowledging her sources of information. I am not sure how I feel about Provensen’s method of displaying some of the historical information in the bottom pane of the page. I like the added learning value but feel that the bottom pane is distracting and possibly overwhelming to readers. Additionally, while the story is intriguing, it is written much like a miniature textbook and may not appeal to children. When combined with other books, activities, resources, this book could be used to help children understand how tough and dangerous it was for the people that traveled to and sought gold in the Yukon Territory.

Mars Needs Moms!

Breathed, Berkeley. (2007). Mars Needs Moms! New York: Philomel Books, a division of The Penguin Group.

Literary Genre: Fantasy (Picture Book) 

“Anyone could see that [mothers] were giant, summer-stealing, child-working, perfumy goblins. There was hardly much special about that.” Or so Milo thinks until jelly bean colored Martians from Mars seize his mom in the middle of the night. Milo follows the Martians to Mars and in the process; he learns why mothers are so special. Berkeley’s brightly colored illustrations and colorless comical graphics add another dimension of humor and quality to this out of this world story that is sure to touch the hearts of many families.

I saw the preview for this movie (which was awesome) and when I learned it was a book, I knew I had to read it. Berkeley easily convinces his readers that Martians from Mars could very possibly come to Earth and nab our Moms…they need rides to soccer, someone to cook and clean, pack lunches, and bandage boo-boos, just like we do. The Martians even use Starbucks coffee as bait to help them nab Moms on the street. Milo’s character and language is well developed which allows readers to relate to him and makes the story even more believable. Mars Needs Moms! also shows potential for the classroom, children could write their own stories about venturing to Mars or other fantastical creatures in need of mothers.

Ice Cream

Gibbons, Gail. (2006). Ice Cream: the Full Scoop. New York: Holiday House.

Literary Genre: Informational (Non-fiction Picture Book) 

Gail Gibbons brings everyone’s favorite cool treat to life with this brightly water-colored, cheerfully illustrated book. Gibbons shares the history of ice cream from a snow, rice, and milk mixture to its modern factory made mixture we enjoy today. Children will love discovering all of ice cream’s interesting facts, such as, the first ice-cream maker, which cows produce the creamiest milk, who invented the ice cream cone, how sundaes got their name, and much more.

I chose to read this book because a student I work with loves history and ice cream is her favorite treat, this was a perfect combination of those things. The student especially liked the illustrations with captions to explain how the ice-cream maker and different processes at the factory works. I especially liked how Gibbons included the names of people involved with ice cream, so that students could be encouraged to expand their knowledge by reading more about Nancy Johnson, Marco Polo, and others. Gail Gibbons is well known for her non-fiction picture books and her work is respected because she provides accurate information in an attractive and interesting manner that is well suited for children of all ages.

The Best Story

Spinelli, Eileen. (2008). The Best Story. A. Wilsdorf. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Literary Genre: Picture Storybook 

A young girl (unnamed) is inspired to enter the Red Brick Library’s writing contest. Her brother suggests writing a story with action, her father advises having plenty of humor, her aunt thinks the best stories make you cry, and her teenage cousin wants to see some romance. Bright watercolor paintings illustrate the wacky story the girl keeps modifying to satisfy all the suggestions of her family members, until finally, the girl’s mother shares that the best story is “one that comes from the heart.” The girl writes about her family, two best friends, her cat, snow days, toast with strawberry jam and other things from her heart. As she is turning her story into the judges, she already feels like a winner!

What a great message! I can relate to this book because as I child, I often struggled with finding topics to write about. This book is a nice way of reminding children that stories they read come from the author’s heart and they should write from their hearts. The artwork definitely enhances the text bring the pirate, frogs, monkey, and onions to life. A variety of sentence structures are used which makes the book a good candidate for teaching features of writing. I did not appreciate the main character being nameless, if she is learning to write from her heart, the readers should know who “her” is. This might make it difficult for younger students to connect to the book because they need concrete things like names to make the story meaningful for them.

The Girl Who Spun Gold

Hamilton, Virginia. (2000.) The Girl Who Spun Gold. L. and D. Dillon. New York: The Blue Sky Press.

Literary Genre: Traditional Literature (Picture Book) 

Quashiba is a beautiful girl who finds herself in a seemingly impossible predicament because of her mother’s lie. Quashiba is married to the young Big King who demands her to weave him three rooms of golden things or stay looked in a room forever. A magical tiny shadow man with a wooden leg and long tail offers to help Quashiba but she only has three days to guess his whole name or she will be turned tiny. The art brings this golden tale to life with its metallic and acrylic paints and gold leaf borders.

I enjoyed this West Indian variant of German’s “Rumpelstiltskin” because it offers a special twist that portrays Quashiba as a strong woman. Many traditional tales portray women as only beautiful and not smart or strong, so finding books like this to counteract the stories with stereotypes is nice. The dialect might scare some readers but I find that it helps to develop the characters and provides cultural authenticity and lends itself to a fun read-aloud. Additionally, the Author’s Note in the end shares the origin of the tale and its connections across cultures, this is an artifact that is expected in a quality traditional tale picture book.

Lost Boy

Yolen, Jane. (2010). Lost Boy: the Story of the Man Who Created Peter Pan. S. Adams. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.

Literary Genre: Biography (Picture Book) 

James Matthew Barrie’s character Peter Pan is a favorite among children (young and old) and readers will enjoy learning how events in Barrie’s life led to the creation of the magical boy who never grew up. Every page displays a quote from one of Barrie’s works that emphasizes the influence that Barrie’s life had on his novels and plays. The beautiful illustrations invite the readers to see Barrie’s playfulness and highlight his connection to the Llewellyn Davies boys that inspired his greatest work.

This is perhaps one of the best picture book biographies I have read. Many times biographies provide facts in a dull manner; this book is very much the opposite. Jane Yolen writes Barrie’s life story as if it were a fairy tale, she even begins with ‘Once upon a time’. Although Barrie did experience many hardships, Yolen does a nice of job of showing how Barrie overcame those and kept pursuing what he loved, the theatre. The inclusion of quotes from Barrie’s works is one of my favorite aspects of the book; it is a nice of way for readers to indirectly connect his life events to his works. Yolen also includes a list of Barrie’s works as well as a list of famous actresses (yes, actresses) that played Peter Pan.

Almost Gone

Jenkins, Steve. (2006). Almost Gone: The World’s Rarest Animals. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers.

Literary Genre: Informational (Picture Book) 

Jenkins teams with the long-time running “Let’s-Read-And-Find-Out Science series” to introduce young readers to 28 endangered animals…before they’re gone. Each animal is introduced with its species name, location, and the number of animals left; followed by a paragraph sharing where it used to be found, facts about its size and appearance, what it eats, and reasons for the animal’s endangerment. A section of the book is dedicated to the Moa, Steller’s Sea Cow, Tasmanian Wolf, and the Guam Flying Fox because these animals are gone forever. Jenkins ends his book by sharing that not all endangered animals become extinct, with hard work they can come back, just like the Whooping Crane and Alpine Inex. Jenkins famous colorful, cut-paper collages depict all 28 of these marvelous creatures.

I was delighted when I came across this book at the library. I read Jenkins’ books, Actual Size and Bigger, Stronger, Fastest a few years ago and they are favorites at our house. Steve Jenkins’ works are well known and can be trusted to be accurate and authentic, this paired with his structured organization, and appealing illustrations qualify this book to be deemed quality children’s informational literature. My son loves animals. His favorite bird is the California Condor, so it was fun reading that page with him. I was born in San Diego and have early memories of going to the zoo, so animals are also an interest of mine. I feel that it is important to share books (such as this) about endangered animals with young readers because it helps them to make the connection between our lifestyle and the effects it has the environment and animals living in the environment.

Shiver Me Letters

Sobel, June. (2006). Shiver Me Letters: A Pirate ABC. Cole, H. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Literary Genre: (Concept Book) Picture Storybook 

The feisty crocodile captain proclaims, “R’s not enough. We need other letters to help make us tough.” Then he sends his animal pirates off on a quest to capture all the other letters in the alphabet. The G glistens in the treasure chest, the T is on a turtle, and the waves washed up W. The letters are humorously hidden throughout the bright, engaging water-colored illustrations and the alliterated text provides clues that assist young readers in learning their ABCs.

My four-year old son loves pirates, so this book was a big hit for him. The illustrations are strategically designed to invite the reader to respond to the story. For example, young readers will have fun pointing out the fun facial expressions of the animal pirates as well as, enjoy discovering the letters and other items such as sea shells, fish, gold coins, etc, that are scattered throughout the story. The variety of sentence structure makes the book fun to read and introduces sentence types to young listeners. Overall, I like the book and think it is important to have books of high interest topics (such as pirates) in your book collection.

The Firebird

Yolen, Jane. (2002). The Firebird. V. Vagin. Hong Kong: HarpersCollinsPublishers.

Literary Genre: Traditional Literature (Picture Book) 

“In a certain land, in a certain kingdom—as they say in old Russia—on the far side of a certain tangled wood” was a garden ruled by an evil wizard, Kostchei the Deathless. Kostchei holds the princess and her nine maidens captive in his garden, anyone who attempts to rescue them is turned to stone. Prince Ivan is out hunting and follows the magical firebird to this garden. The red firebird bestows one of his magical feathers to Prince Ivan, but will that be enough to help him conquer Kostchei and free the princess and her maidens. Vagin’s exceptional illustrations display the folktale as well as depict scenes from the famous ballet.

I loved this book! The language flows naturally making this book ideal for a read aloud; this is an essential element of traditional literature. The Firebird also exhibits other features of quality traditional literature, for instance, the simple story structure, the struggle between good and evil, references the oral tradition, has an indistinct setting, and succinct language. The illustrations are so entrancing that I had to go through and look at all the illustrations on every page before I read the story. Yolen includes an author’s note at the end that provides the reader with some insight into Russian folktales. The Firebird is a reoccurring character in many Russian tales and sometimes dwells in a golden cage. My four-year-old son actually introduced me to this folktale via Disney’s “Little Einsteins - Rocket's Firebird Rescue” (a movie made for preschoolers), and we were both ecstatic to learn that the hero in the traditional version is Prince Ivan because Ivan is my son’s middle name :). I am very excited to start reading other variants and versions of this magical tale!

The Jacket -spoiler alert-

Clements, Andrew. (2002). The Jacket. H. McDavid. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Literary Genre: Realistic Fiction (Chapter Book) 

It was a hectic Thursday morning and Phil is rushing down the school hallway looking for his brother, so he can give him his lunch money. Finally, he spots his jacket and calls for his brother but his brother doesn’t hear him. When Phil catches up to him, he realizes it is not his brother and accuses Daniel of stealing his brother’s jacket. They get into a scuffle and a teacher escorts them to the principal’s office. The principal allows each boy a chance to state his side of the story, then she calls Daniel’s mother to verify that he received the jacket as a gift. Daniel’s mother shares that a friend of Daniel’s grandmother provided the gift. When the principal shares the name of the grandmother (Lucy), Phil realizes that he made a mistake and apologizes because Lucy is his family’s cleaning lady and his mom must have given away the jacket. Daniel feels embarrassed and refuses to take the jacket back.

Phil starts to feel guilty. He starts thinking that maybe he accused Daniel of stealing because he is black. Phil starts to notice that he gets along with other African American kids in his school but he does not have any black friends. As he walks home, he starts to count the number of black people he sees in his neighborhood and he thinks that they look out of place, as if they do not belong. Phil is concerned that he is “prejudiced” without knowing it. He talks to his mother, who brushes it off but warns Phil not to bring it up to his father. Phil notices that Lucy calls everyone in his family by their first name except for his father. Lucy calls him Mr. Morelli and his father uses a “different” tone of voice when speaking to Lucy and Phil understands why, his father is “prejudiced” too. When Daniel doesn’t come to school the next day, Phil is worried that it his fault and comes up with a plan to make it right. In the end, Daniel is thankful for Phil’s effort and it seems they might even become friends. McDavid’s black and white pencil illustrations place emphasis on the book’s overall theme of racial prejudice.

At first, I was not sure if I was going to like this book or not. It is difficult to find a book that focuses on prejudice or racism without it being too preachy. Clements has an amazing ability to capture the essence of a child’s mind. Phil’s thoughts are honest and not preachy. Readers, regardless of ethnic background, would be able to relate to and connect with Phil’s thoughts and feelings. When Phil is describing the change in neighborhoods as he runs to Daniel’s house it reminded of driving down University Avenue in Des Moines. You can see the ratio of white people to black people change as you go from the east to the west, but just as Phil realizes, you will see that black people’s houses can also look like white people’s houses. I would definitely say that this book is a quality example of realistic fiction. Clements shares a story that engages readers to the point where they really care about the outcome. The plot is definitely a situation that could happen to any reader and requires problem solving. One thing that I really liked about the ending is that allows readers to know that they have control over their lives and can change things that need to be changed. Phil felt like he was unconsciously “prejudiced” so he decided to reach out to Daniel to let go of those prejudices, it would have been easier for him to stay the same, but he decided to do better.

Martin's Big Words

Rappaport, Doreen. (2001). Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. B. Collier. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Literary Genre: Biography (Picture Book) 

“When I grow up, I’m going to get big words, too.” Martin did grow up to just this. He was a minister, just like his father and used big words to preach. Martin said “together” when others were saying “separate”. Martin walked, talked, and sang with others as they protested for equal rights. When black Americans were beaten and murdered for marching, Martin reminded people that “love is the key to the problems of the world.” In April of 1968, Martin was shot and died in Memphis, Tennessee, but “his big words are alive for us today.” Rappaport’s creativeness with text size, placement, and color emphasizes Martin’s big words while Collier’s stained glass artwork emphasizes Martin’s non-violent beliefs.

I enjoyed this biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. because it was organized uniquely and provides readers with a new perspective on a well-known leader. Both the Author and the Illustrator have written a “note” on the dedications page that reveals how they are both connected to and inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I particularly like how Rappaport mentions that she read several other biographies on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in preparation for this book (and she learned that a child, Martin was determined to use “big words”) because it validates her authenticity but teaches the readers something new about this great leader.

The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders

Prelutsky, Jack. (2002). The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders. P. Mathers. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Literary Genre: Poetry (Picture Book) 

Jack Prelutsky’s language is rhythmic and playful in these 28 poems for young readers. Many of the poems will carry readers around the world from the mountains of South Dakota to the waters of Monterey Bay, from the sycamore tree of Indianapolis to a flock of penguins in the Gulf of Mexico. Other poems share verses about animals, such as the ten brown bears with big bow ties, the furry furry squirrel, a little brown toad, and one old owl. Mathers' simple, bright watercolor illustrations are engaging and are sure to encourage readers to laugh aloud while reading Prelutsky’s humorous words.

Jack Prelutsky is one of my favorite Children’s Poets. One reason being that he exposes younger readers to rich language and new vocabulary, with words such as “frolicking”, “serenade”, “gaily” and “ominous”. Prelutsky is also a master of rhyme; it gives his poem a rhythm that almost reads like a song. I particularly liked the animal poems in this collection and how Prelutsky and Mathers came together to have the illustrations show another feature of the animal than the text describes as if inviting the reader to go and learn more about these amazing creatures. This is without a doubt quality poetry that engages readers and shines a positive light on a genre that often intimidates (even scares) readers.

Silent Movie

Avi. (2003). Silent Movie. C. B. Mordan. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Literary Genre: Historical Fiction (Picture Book) 

“1909. Goodbye to the Old World! Papa Hans sails for America.” This Swedish father makes the trip to America six months before his wife and son, Gustave. When, Mama and Gustave arrive to New York they have no luck finding Papa. Gustave is seen by a silent movie director, Bunting, and becomes a good actor. Papa, weary from looking for his family, takes a break at the nickelodeon and sees his son on the screen. Gustave becomes the well-paid “wonder boy” of silent movies and his family fulfills the American Dream. The minimal text and black and white framed illustrations mimic the design of a silent movie.

Love this book! I am a huge fan of historical fiction in general, but I am especially fond of immigrant stories. Avi’s ability to transform a picture book into a silent movie is remarkable. The minimal text may hinder children’s ability to follow the plot on their own. However, Mordan’s close-ups of the characters allow the readers to feel the emotions of the characters and allow inferences to be made. Both the author and illustrator include a “note” at the end of the book that shares historical information about the time period, and silent movies. Avi mentions that silent movies were popular among immigrants because there was no language barrier, this is a huge insight that allows young readers to connect with how immigrants felt; which is what makes historical fiction so great. I would definitely recommend this quality book to others.