Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bigger Than a Breadbox Review

If you are like me, when you were a child, you understood that magic wasn’t real but part of you always wished and hoped that just a little bit of magic would happen for you.  Maybe it was reading books that had a little magic or maybe it was feeling like my life was a little too plain, but I always secretly hoped magic would touch my life.  When I was about ten years old I read a book about a girl who orders some magical concoction that allows her to sprout wings from her back.  Since then I secretly wanted wings.  I didn’t even want to fly necessarily, I just wanted the magical experience.  I imagined what I would do with wings.  Would I hide them?  Show them off?  Would it change me?  Could I still go to school?  These are such childlike thoughts and feelings.  These are just some of the thoughts that I was thinking and feeling as I read Laurel Snyder’s book, Bigger Than a Breadbox.

Rebecca has just seen her family tear apart and is stunned to find herself moving away from her father and the only home she knows.  She doesn’t want things to change, but when she is forced into this new place, she happens to find a little magic in the form of a breadbox.  The breadbox can make things appear.  All she has to do is wish and inside the breadbox she finds treats, an ipod, school supplies, gum, money, and more.  She uses this magic to make friends, please her mother, and quiet her younger brother.  Rebecca enjoys herself but, everything has consequences.  Now, she realizes that the magic may be affecting other people and it gets her into trouble too.  She tries to turn things around, but it may be too late to save her family.

Loved the concept of this book.  Loved reading it.  I have told a few people about it, and I loved that too.  This book was written for young girls like me who secretly wished and hoped for just a little magic.  I was thinking as I read it:  What would I wish for?  Who would I tell?  Would it change my life?  This book was full of thought and imagination. It was sweet and creative, exciting and touching, everything you hope for when you pick up a book.  I see it as an instant classic like Freckle Juice, The Chocolate Touch, and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.  I can’t wait to use this in my classroom and see how kids react to it.  Everything about the book would lend it to reading, learning, writing, and sharing.  I recommend this book without reservation to middle grades and up.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see this book continue in popularity over the years.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bun Bun Button Review

There is something magical in Patricia Polacco’s books.  She creates a special story that draws people into the words and pictures.  My very first years of teaching, I remember reading and falling in love with her work.  Always popular in classrooms, Polacco writes for children’s imaginations, but also connects with adult readers.  Her writing and messages are mature enough for middle grades, but innocent enough to make readers of all ages smile and imagine along with the characters.  This is what we love about Ms. Polacco and her books.

Bun Bun Button continues Polacco’s theme of childhood innocence with a story about Paige, a young girl who shares magical days with her grandmother.  The connection between the two is obvious as they share laughs, adventures, and a big comfy chair.  Grandmother adds a new friend to their special kinship when she introduces Bun Bun Button.  Bun Bun Button is the cutest little bunny with button eyes and a special ear that has the perfect place to put your finger as you nap or sleep. (What a great idea!) When Bun Bun Button goes on an adventure all on his own, Paige misses her little friend.  In the end Bun Bun Button has a fun adventure and returns home to her little girl, just a little worse for the ware. 

Beautiful as always, this book was lovely.  I did enjoy the story, the illustrations, and the author’s note about a little girl bringing Ms. Polacco a Bunny during a book signing.  I wonder how primary students feel about reading about about such a young girl, but the story will hopefully reach them, teach them, and spark imagination as always.  Perfect in the classroom or reading on a big comfy chair with your grandmother, this book is a classic Patricia Polacco for libraries and classrooms.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review: Fake Me a Match

If you are in the mood for a sweet book with middle school kids who have middle school insecurities, mild drama, and charming characters, I have a suggestion for you.  Fake Me a Match is the perfect read for middle school girls who always wish they had a sister, best friend, boyfriend, or classmate who was a real and sincere friend.  Author Lauren Barnholdt really knew her audience for this book and catered the story to appeal to girls who might think a lot about friendships and boys.  There really isn’t anything wrong with that, in a book like this.  

Avery has friends at school, but things haven’t been the same since her former best friend dumped her and became part of the popular crowd.  Her situation at home might give her a solution when her mother is remarrying and Avery gains a step-sister, Blake.  Blake can be a little aloof, but also has her sweet moments too.  So, when Avery has the chance to fix Blake up with her crush, Avery can’t resist.  That’s when everything seems to go wrong: the crush has his eye on someone else, Avery is caught in the middle of a school scandal, and Blake becomes close with Avery’s ex-best friend. 

This book includes a little bit of something for everyone including a wedding, school projects, parties, pets, first kisses, and student council.  This is exactly the kind of book I might have been interested in as a sixth grader.  The cover, to me, could have been just a bit more appealing to girls: c’mon, weddings, new sisters, and cute dog-loving boys.  The best you came up with was a cartoonish girl on a computer?  I hope it still can find its way into the hands of the 10 to 13 yr old crowd.  Otherwise this book was a win for me.  It will also be popular with middle schoolers looking for a tame but updated book about light middle school drama.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Putting My Teacher Hat On.
Review: Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life

So, I read Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson.  I laughed.  I read and enjoyed the pictures.  I even felt for the young character in the book, Rafe, who seems to really have the worst middle school experience accompanied by the best imagination ever.  But.  (You knew there was a but!) But, I am a teacher.  I was groaning as Rafe was claiming to ‘not hurt anyone’ while simultaneously steal educational time from his classmates and torment his teachers.  I taught in several inner city schools.  I have had my share of students who didn’t feel like the rules applied to them.  I know it’s a sport to them sometimes.  Trying to get the teacher to raise her voice, attempting to get kicked out of class, breaking rules one by one: all for attention or a game.  That is why this book wasn’t my favorite.
All that being said, students will like this book.  It’s sophisticated enough to appeal to middle school boys who like trouble and share secret thoughts of breaking rules to break the monotony of middle school, yet will appeal to students who like funny gags, hilarious drawings, and a story with a semi-happy ending.  I would totally put this book into the hand of any student who fit that bill.  But, the book was not for me.  I am guessing the writer and publishing juggernaut, James Patterson will get over it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review: Crocodaddy

Crocodaddy by Kim Norman and illustrated by David Walker is one of those books that we fell in love with at my house.  A rhyming story about a young boy whose imagination makes him believe that his father is a crocodile, this story is charming and sweet.  The illustrations are beautifully done to show a father and son playing in the water, but cleverly showing a croc’s body (sometimes with dad’s swim trunks and shadow).  The rhymes are perfect with splashes and roars punctuating a rhythmic day at a good old swimming spot.

There is just a lot to love about this book.  It may not win awards or get on any best seller list, but it’s a treasure to read, especially if you are a father reading to your son.  My Lil Guy loves to laugh about this one with his dad.  There is something about the book that makes the reader feel like they are in on a secret, which is fun and gives a sense of confidence to the youngest “readers”. Maybe it’s also the beautiful pictures of a young boy spending quality time with his dad that also make this book appealing.  Either way, I recommend Crocodaddy to fathers and sons, families who value quality time, reading books, and sharing a laugh.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I was Wonderstruck, Were you?

Wonderstruck has been greeted with a great deal of excitement and anticipation.  The book, written by Brian Selznick, is full of both words and pictures, that is to say: beautiful and stunning pictures and words.  The pictures tell the story of a young girl, Rose, in the 1920’s while the words tell the story of a boy, Ben, in the 1970’s.  The stories are interesting and told with a sense of urgency.  I flew through this book even though it’s a very large book.  I hadn’t felt a book that was this heavy since I read some of those huge Jean Auel in college.  I felt so compelled to find how these 2 stories were connected; I couldn’t put the book down.  I was struck by how the pictures pulled me into the book.

Ben’s story begins in Minnesota in the 1970’s.  He is dealing with the recent death of his mother and his partial deafness.  His story is already full of sadness and pain when tragedy occurs and he loses his hearing completely.  The only hope Ben can see in his life is a few clues he has found to the whereabouts of his father whom he has never met.  Rose’s story, set in New York in the 1920’s,  is full of mystery and action as she runs away to the big city to find a famous screen star.  The stories share a connection when each child ends up at a New York museum.  Ben continues to look for his father while Rose connects with someone at the museum too.  Each story has twists, turns, excitement, and distress.   

I enjoyed this book so much!  I couldn’t put it down and finished it in one sitting.  Selznick is a master at his craft, creating a new genre of books that will spark imagination and take readers on a ride.  Both Rose and Ben are carefully created characters with childlike actions and feelings.  You may not predict their actions, but they feel very real and true anyway.  Ben is that sensitive kid with a passion for collecting, while Rose is an adventurous girl who likes to create.  Plus, the resolution was satisfying and heart-warming.  This book won’t disappoint young readers or adults.  This is the kind of book that inspires all who read it.  It’s also the kind of book that I can’t wait to share with my Lil Guy when he reaches the right age.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Thanksgiving Tradtion
Review: Balloons over Broadway

Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade is more art than book, but that’s not to make light of the beautiful words that accompany author Melissa Sweet’s masterpiece of a book.  The book is so detailed, so lovely, so charming that even if the content weren’t appealing, you might still like it, but Sweet has chosen an inspiring topic for her picture book.  This non-fiction book tells about the man who first planned out and created the balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  If you are anything like me, Thanksgiving is all about family, turkey, football, and of course, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  As a lifelong viewer of the parade on our family room TV, I was surprised and had my heart warmed as I read this story.

Tony Sarg was the mastermind behind the large looming balloons that have become synonymous with the Thanksgiving holiday.  From when he was just a child he could imagine and build puppets that became lifelike.  When he was called upon to build a moving window display, Sarg created a beautiful scene, but Macy’s wanted more.  In one of the book’s most (to me) surprising pieces of information; Macy’s created the Thanksgiving Day Parade for its own immigrant workers who were missing their own holidays and traditions.  So, Sarg used his puppeteer skills to create the oversized balloons inspired by the street parades and carnivals of immigrant’s own memories of home.  The result became a national tradition that is part of many of our own Thanksgiving holidays.

I love this book.  I was stunned at the beautiful artwork.  Each page features mixed media that seems almost tactile on the pages.  Author Melissa Sweet hasn’t made a picture book to appeal to children, but to everyone’s visual sense using layers of paint, drawings, collage, and text.  I can’t tell you how impressive this book was to hold in my hands.  I wasn’t surprised to find that Sweet has already been honored for her previous work by a Caldecott Medal Honor, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this non-fiction gem also garnered attention from Children’s Literature awards.  Like The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, Balloons over Broadway should become part of Thanksgiving tradition.  It’s beautiful and worth all the praise I am sure it will soon be getting.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Keep on Trucking
Review: The Trucker

Is your little one obsessed over just one toy or theme that drives you crazy?  In The Trucker, by Barbara Samuels, one mother endures reading after re-reading of her son’s favorite book plus trucks at every moment from finding truck in her oatmeal to being used as a human construction set covered with vehicles.  She knows that her son is a trucker at heart, but a mom can only take so much, right?  Finally mom decides to take her little boy for a walk in the neighborhood intent on finding new interests.  When Mom tries to show flowers, the boy spies a garbage truck.  When she thinks he might warm to a new cat, he still isn’t interested.  Even when the cat comes home, trucks are the star of playtime.  The fun, albeit predictable, twist comes when the cat joins the boy in playing and turns out to love trucks too.

The book is fun from start to finish.  It’s a delight to read with pictures of the exasperated mother sitting in an overstuffed chair reading about tropical vacations while her son obsesses over his trucks.  It’s so believable and funny.  Like most toddlers, my Lil Guy has his own obsessions that drive me a little crazy.  (I mean, how many time can you put together and take apart Mr. Potato Head?)  I think parents will giggle and laugh at the book right along with children.  Especially if your child likes trucks and anything on wheels, you will enjoy this book and so will your child.  Author/Ilustrator Barbara Samuels won me over with mom-approved illustrations and a story that charmed me and my Lil Guy.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Want Something to Smile About?

You know when you read a good book and you just can’t wait to share it with someone?  How about when you read a book and something reminds you of a family member or friend?  Do you ever read a book and have to call a friend and demand that they read it too?  I love reading so much, I can’t wait to share it with other people.  Maybe that’s the reason that I love teaching reading so much.  I read a good book and I can’t wait to put it into the hands of others.  I also have this urge to put the perfect book into the hands of each student in my classroom.  If you like animals, video games, spooky mysteries, or even just love a story about falling in love, I like finding that book for you.  Sometimes though, a story just makes you smile.  If you are like me, you want other people to smile too … so you have to share that book that made you smile, pass it on, recommend it to a friend.  Write about it online. Share your smile with someone else!


Smile by Raina Telgemeier really did make me smile.  I had heard about the book but, I avoided it because I wasn’t really sure about graphic novels.  Finally, I took the plunge to read Smile.  The book had me smiling from the start because of the connection to Girl Scouts which is an organization that I have been involved with for over 30 years.  Seeing the characters in Girl Scout uniforms warmed my heart and I know that I was going to connect deeper with the novel as I continued to read.  The pain, agony, and difficult situations might not have mirrored those I had in junior high, but I remembered feeling awkward and out of place, just like Raina.

Main character, Raina, has major issues when she has a mishap involving her teeth.  It seems like trouble follows her, first forcing her into major orthodontia, then having to endure painful operations and teasing, all in her early teen years.  Despite all of her troubles, Raina manages to have a few smiles, learn a few tough lessons, and come out on the other side a stronger person.  Told in Graphic novel format, we are given a glimpse into many different parts of Raina life, meeting her family, friends, classmates, and dentists.  Everything from love and friendship, to schoolwork and family life are covered.

I enjoyed meeting Raina.  I enjoyed it so much; I made my husband read the book, then my mother.  I put the book and their hands and let the book draw them in, the way it drew me in.  That’s how a good book can make people feel.  I felt connected, I wanted others to connect, and they did!  I loved this book and am now willing to admit, I was surprised by how easy the graphic novel format was to read.  I might have had to look back at pictures to gain understanding of some of the storylines, but overall the story flowed effortlessly.  I can see why middle grade and YA readers like these books.  So, Smile made me smile.  I enjoyed the personal journey author Raina Telgemeier shared with readers, and I will happily read more of what she has to offer.  (And I might just make others read it too!)