This has to be one of my favorite novels that I've read in a long time. Ivan is a gentle soul and I felt immediately invested in the story. He's a gor...moreThis has to be one of my favorite novels that I've read in a long time. Ivan is a gentle soul and I felt immediately invested in the story. He's a gorilla that has been trapped in a cage at the Big Top Mall his entire life. He's cared for, but obviously not in the way that he should be. I feared that he would end up never leaving his cage. This poor animal was not allowed to communicate with other gorillas and he remembered his childhood before he was captured, which made this novel hard to read at times because I felt so much empathy for him.
I was happy when a young elephant, Ruby, arrives and Ivan starts to see that living in a cage may not be what's best for him and little Ruby. You can see the sudden shift in how he feels and it is this depth of character that made me enjoy reading this novel. It makes the reader think that maybe an animal feeling trapped is exactly the way Ivan describes it and that we should do something to stop animals from being mistreated.
This book is a wonderful book club selection and highly recommend it to anyone of any age, especially since it won the Newbery and it's based on a true story. (less)
I like going through library bookshelves and discovering tucked away gems, such as Katherine Paterson's Flip-flop Girl. Even though this novel is not...moreI like going through library bookshelves and discovering tucked away gems, such as Katherine Paterson's Flip-flop Girl. Even though this novel is not as well known as Bridge to Terabithia or Lyddie, this story stands out. Told from the perspective of Vinnie Matthews, a young girl that has just lost her father to cancer, we see her not only struggle with his death, but also reluctantly adjust to a new school. None of these situations are easy, so one feels immediately sympathetic for Vinnie's plight.
Like any other girl, Vinnie wants to fit in, but she finds that she doesn't have the right clothes and her mother can't afford to buy her what she wants. She's frustrated with her little brother, who refuses to speak. Although she can't seem to find any friends in her class, her teacher proves to be a bright spot in her life and she gets to know her classmate, Lupe, who seems to make the best of her situation even though she's worse off than Vinnie.
A friendship develops between the two girls through a mutual understanding of their situations. I think this novel may speak to kids that are currently experiencing loss or financial difficulties in their family. Vinnie has a strong voice and even though she doesn't always make the right decisions, kids may identify with her frustrations and see how she works out her problems even though things are not as perfect in her life as she'd like them to be. (less)
Kate DiCamillo's recent novel is absolutely adorable. Flora & Ulysses is about a little girl and her friendship with a squirrel, who also happens...moreKate DiCamillo's recent novel is absolutely adorable. Flora & Ulysses is about a little girl and her friendship with a squirrel, who also happens to have superhero abilities. He can lift a heavy vacuum, fly through the air and help Flora and her family reconnect.
Flora's parents are self absorbed characters, especially her mother, who seems to care more about her career as a romance novelist rather than actually being a parent that shows any affection towards her own child. Flora's father appears to have gone through some sort of nervous breakdown though we never really get to the heart of the reason why he's not more involved in Flora's life. Flora has developed a cynical attitude and acts like her parents' divorce hasn't affected her, but it soon becomes apparent that Flora is lonely and that she hungers for her parents' care and attention.
Ulysses comes along and fills a void in Flora's heart.Conflict arises in the story when Flora's mother decides that squirrel must meet his maker. Ulysses is like the cat with nine lives and manages to escape. He is a brave little squirrel and his love for Flora is what makes this story so charming. I especially liked his poem for Flora where he tells her that she is "everything, all of it - sprinkles, quarks, giant donuts, eggs sunny-side up- you are the ever-expanding universe to me." Aw, love sure is sweet.
Throughout the novel, there are black and white illustrations with a comic book layout, which highlights Ulysses superhero like qualities and Flora's love for comic book superhero Incandesto, which she often compares Ulysses to.
This is a great read for kids in grades 2-5. I definitely recommend it as a classroom read aloud.
Colorful Dreamer is the story of Henri Matisse, who has been one of my favorite artists since I was a little girl. Matisse didn't stumble upon his lov...moreColorful Dreamer is the story of Henri Matisse, who has been one of my favorite artists since I was a little girl. Matisse didn't stumble upon his love of creating art until he was a young man. He first started out as a law clerk and the job stressed him out so much that he ended up in the hospital. It was while he was in the hospital that he discovered his true passion, which of course disappointed his family. No one wanted him to become an artist, but Matisse followed his heart and began to create nonstop. This picture book is an inspirational story and it really encourages readers to follow their dreams even if those dreams are not so popular. The illustrations are black and white in the beginning with bursts of color as we look into Matisse's imaginative mind. As the story continues, the colors become more and more vibrant and take over the pages. Matisse's style graces each page as he becomes an artist and the colors become permanent once Matisse is happy and living a creative life. Biographies have recently become very popular amongst elementary school students, especially The Who Was series, but Colorful Dreamer not only has a great story, but also engaging illustrations. I highly recommend this biography. It is a great addition to your library, especially if you're trying to add to your nonfiction or common core collection. (less)
Rosie's Magic Horse is a gem of a book written by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Quentin Blake. Children will immediately recognize Blake's work fro...moreRosie's Magic Horse is a gem of a book written by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Quentin Blake. Children will immediately recognize Blake's work from Roald Dahl's books. The heartwarming and silly illustrations set the stage for this story, which is about a little girl, who collects ice-pop sticks that she finds on the ground. The sticks wish to be something other. They wish to be something important (after all, who would want to be a used stick in a shoe box), so they become a horse and take the little girl on an adventure to find treasure. The children that I read this story to, absolutely loved Stickerino, which is an adorable name for a horse and they were surprised that the little girl was able to solve her family's financial problems by finding a pirate's treasure. It's a simple story, but one that many children will identify with, especially if their family is experiencing financial troubles. Every child wishes to be a hero and this story fulfills this wish. If you're doing a storytime, pair this story up with "No Fits, Nilson!" by Zachariah OHora and "Should I Share My Ice Cream?" by Mo Willems. (less)
This graphic novel consists of a couple of interconnected short stories that revolve around people that were affected by the bombing of Hiroshima. The...moreThis graphic novel consists of a couple of interconnected short stories that revolve around people that were affected by the bombing of Hiroshima. The first story of Minami got to me the most because the young woman finally allows herself to fall in love, but she then dies due to unforeseen complications from the bomb. Fumiyo Kouno's drawings are wonderfully detailed and she captures the sadness and beauty of Japan perfectly.(less)
Marjane Satrapi's memoir of growing up in Iran is an intimate look at how war affects children. She sees first hand how it can ruin lives: her uncle i...moreMarjane Satrapi's memoir of growing up in Iran is an intimate look at how war affects children. She sees first hand how it can ruin lives: her uncle is executed and one of her friends ends up dead because of a bomb explosion. The drawings in this graphic novel are filled with humor and it made me fall in love with the story. It's hilarious to see little Marjane imagining herself as a prophet, especially when she tells her grandmother that old people will not suffer when she is a prophet because "it will simply be forbidden." The facial expressions of the characters made me laugh and have sympathy for their plight. By reading this book, you'll not only be entertained by Marjane and her attempts to defy those that try to take away her freedom, but you'll also understand more about the history of Iran, which is a real eyeopener. (less)
Benjamin is a teen with cerebral palsy; he is shy and extremely self-conscious until he meets Colleen at the Rialto Theater. She doesn’t seem to care...more Benjamin is a teen with cerebral palsy; he is shy and extremely self-conscious until he meets Colleen at the Rialto Theater. She doesn’t seem to care about his handicap and she doesn’t seem to care about herself either because she has a drug problem. They strike up an unlikely friendship and Benjamin gains the self-confidence that he desperately needs. I really enjoyed this novel. Ben is a sympathetic character because it is difficult to be a teen and fit in, but he has to also deal with his cerebral palsy, which makes him stand out in a crowd. He is uncomfortable with is body, but Colleen accepts him for who he is, which makes him start to realize that even though he may have a handicap, he shouldn’t become some sort of recluse. When they are about to have sex and Colleen sees Ben without his shirt, she says, “Bodies are really interesting. All the shit that happens to them, and they just don’t quit”(149-150). She doesn’t care about his physical flaws and Ben finally starts to accept himself. I felt that the theme of self-acceptance in this novel really gave the story a positive vibe, which I thought was a great message. The “unspeakable” part of this novel has to be Colleen’s drug use and the sex between the two teens. If it hadn’t been for Colleen’s drug addiction then Ben probably wouldn’t have met her, so the story wouldn’t have been able to take off. In other words, I think that the drugs acted as a device to get the story started and to also make Colleen’s character drift away from Ben in the end, so that he could continue to grow on his own. Drug use is never really the central focus of this narrative. Even when Colleen is in rehab, the reader does not find out what really happened while she was there; the author just glosses over this and gets back to Ben’s story because he probably didn’t think that drug use was the main point of this book. Ben’s sexual awakening comes along with his newfound confidence. He discovers that just because he has cerebral palsy does not mean that girls will not find him attractive or that he doesn’t have sexual needs because he is still a human being. Perhaps adults, like his grandmother, may think that he is too young to be having sex, but I thought that his sexual awakening was appropriate for his age and the author handled this “unspeakable” topic with grace. It wasn’t sleazy and it didn’t try to cover up the fact that Ben was turned on by Colleen. Drug use is obviously not explored in detail as in Burgess’s novel Smack, but Stoner & Spaz does examine teenage sexuality in a frank manner.
Plot: When Nick and Norah meet in a NYC rock club, they have no idea that they are about to embark upon a romantic relationship. Nick just wants a gir...morePlot: When Nick and Norah meet in a NYC rock club, they have no idea that they are about to embark upon a romantic relationship. Nick just wants a girlfriend for five minutes in order to make his ex jealous, but there's something about Norah that leaves him wanting more after she kisses him in response to his asking for a five minute girlfriend. The two end up spending the night together in NYC and begin to fall for each other.
Evaluation: I have to say that just like Doing It and Forever, sex is talked about just as openly in this novel. When Nick and Norah are getting intimate in the ICE room of the Marriott, the novel goes into great detail as to what the couple is doing in there. Norah says, “My heart is pounding pounding pounding and my mouth wants to go there but my head turns upward first, wanting to make eye contact with Nick, but in the fluorescent light I see his eyes are closed, so I speak instead, and I say, ‘Tell me. Guide me.’ Because I want it to be both our instincts making this happen” (Cohn & Levithan, 164). Norah is describing the fact that she wants to perform oral sex on Nick and it’s a rather frank description, but the reader also sees the emotional excitement that Norah is experiencing. Just like Katherine in Forever, Norah is taking pleasure in what she is doing and is not being forced into it. There is this recognition that sex is enjoyable and that it isn’t some sort of forbidden act. When Norah and Nick choose to wait in order to sexually consummate their relationship, it’s because they want to take it slow and get to know each other. They want to take pleasure in falling in love and to relish the sweetness of what might be in store for them in the future. To quote Norah, “What’s the big fucking rush?” (Cohn & Levithan, 166). It’s implied that the characters will continue their romantic relationship even after the novel’s conclusion.
It is the flirtatious relationship between Nick and Norah that is most enjoyable in this novel. Nick is a songwriter, so he is very good with his words and Norah is very witty. The two spend the evening taking delight in flirting verbally and getting to know each other in an emotionally intimate sense. Another aspect of the novel that is appealing is that both characters are very sensitive and afraid of jumping into a relationship, but they just can't seem to help themselves since they are so attracted to each other. Nick has been dumped by Tris and Norah has been dumped by Tal. Both characters are wounded and afraid of being hurt again, but I think that this makes them even more perfect for each other because they know what it's like to be hurt, so they are willing to take it slow and enjoy their romance. They treat each other's feelings rather delicately and most readers will take delight in the slow pacing of the novel and how the characters are sensitive towards each other. I have to say that I thought that Nick and Norah were an extremely romantic couple, which was quite refreshing after reading Burgess's Doing It. (less)
Plot: Dino, Jon and Ben are three teens that want to have sex. The narrative follows all three boys in their sexual escapades.
Evaluation: Melvin Burge...morePlot: Dino, Jon and Ben are three teens that want to have sex. The narrative follows all three boys in their sexual escapades.
Evaluation: Melvin Burgess received a lot of flack for this novel. The teenage boys that discuss sex in this book are very frank about it. The sex is also graphic. I thought there was nothing wrong with seeing the point of view of teen boys since I had already read Forever, which concerned love and sex from a female perspective. In an article that I read about Melvin Burgess and his works ("Sympathy for the Devil"), he stated that when he first set out to write Doing It, he went around to all of his friends and acquaintances and asked for their “early knobby stories.” Some of the stories that his friends told him were crude, pathetic, funny and even charming. For the most part, I think the main point of his novel is that sex isn’t something to be ashamed of and that everyone has a story about his or her very first sexual encounter. It can even be argued that Doing It has some of the same qualities of Forever, in that it gives a frank point of view concerning sex and what it’s like for the first time someone “does it.”
Even though the book is from a male perspective, the limited female perspectives were pretty interesting as well. I thought that Jackie was just as thoughtful about sex as Katherine was in Forever. It is obvious that she is unsure as to whether she should sleep with Dino. She thinks about it a lot and even though she wants to physically sleep with him, she knows that she is emotionally unprepared to give herself over to Dino. I thought that this internal wrestling of emotions that Jackie experiences is similar to the feelings that Katherine experiences. It's also interesting to note that both Dino and Michael do not understand why their girlfriends need to be "emotionally ready" to have sex. The concept seems foreign to both guys.(less)
Plot: Jen Dik Seong is studying the ancient martial art of hapkido. She's awesome at the sport. In fact, her parents and friends want her to participa...morePlot: Jen Dik Seong is studying the ancient martial art of hapkido. She's awesome at the sport. In fact, her parents and friends want her to participate in the 25th National Hapkido Championship because they think that she stands an excellent chance of winning. She saves up the money for the ticket to participate in the championship, but then she spends the money on buying a birthday gift for her crush Adam. He not only doesn't like her back (argh!), he re-gifts her present to a girl that he likes. In the end, Adam and Jen have to fight each other in the championship. He even asks her to throw the fight, but Jen stays true to herself and kicks his butt in the championship. She realizes that she doesn't like him and that she likes another boy, Dillinger, instead.
Evaluation: This graphic novel is beautiful in design and the illustrations are wonderful as well. The front cover features Jen and in the background there's a pink present wrapped with a light pink bow. Both Liew and Hempel give the illustrations a sense of humor, especially in the fight scenes. In the pictures, where Jen is fighting Adam, it looks like she's going to fly right of off the page. The shocked look on Adam's face made me smile. Actually the look on most of Jen's opponents, whenever she was about to kick butt, made me laugh.
The author and illustrators do a good job at showing what a dweeb Adam is...I mean, to re-gift a present from someone that has a crush on you and then give it to a girl that you're after is just bad karma. It definitely comes back to bite him in the butt and the sad part is that he's still a jerk even at the end of the novel. He tries to get Jen to throw the fight because he wants to win and he's willing to use her affections for him in order to get what he wants. Yuk. I was happy when Jen realized that Adam was not worth it, especially when she finds out that he re-gifted her present. Dillinger was obviously a much better choice as a boyfriend because he admires Jen's talent, but also likes her instead of pretending to.
My favorite character in the novel is Megan Schofield because of the way she disses Adam. Once she finds out that the present that he has given her was Jen's gift to him, she decides to dump Adam. The best part is that she does it to him at the championship and tells him that she doesn't under the sport or the violence of it. She literally ripes his self esteem apart and he deserved it.(less)