Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Science Fiction

Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman
Reading Level: Grade 10-12
Publisher: William Morrow, 1997

After helping a girl battered and bleeding on the street one night, Richard discovers the next morning that he no longer exists. His fiancee does not recognize him, his ATM cards don't work and his apartment is rented out to other people. In an effort to get his life back, Richard sets out to find the girl he helped, only to discover an alternate world in the London underground full of unusual characters. Neverwhere is very reminiscent of "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Wizard of Oz", but with a dash of Clive Barker. Not a book for immature readers.

The City Of Ember - Jeanne DuPrau
Reading Level: Grade 4-7
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2003

The city of Ember was designed to be the last hope for mankind. 220 years have past, maybe more, and resources are becoming scarce, the generator is failing, and soon Ember might be plunged into eternal darkness. Lina Mayfleet has discovered a set of badly damaged instructions. Can she and her friend Doon Harrow unlock the secret that can possibly save their city?

Frankenstein - Marry Shelly
Reading Level: Grade 9-12
Publisher: Signet Classics, 2000

When Victor Frankenstein tries to bring life to a mass of deceased human body parts, he is horrified at what he has done. The Monster, isolated and tormented by everyone seeks its revenge upon its creator.
This classic of science fiction literature has always been a favorite of mine. What is interesting, is Frankenstein was written as part of a competition between Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori to see who could write the best horror story. This was also during a time when in history when there was a bias on against female writers and is seen as a classic in literature. Frankenstein is widely view as the first work of science fiction.

Robopocalypse - Daniel H. Wilson
Reading Level - Grade 9-12
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2011

In the not too distant future, robots are in cars, appliances, toys, and they even act as companions They have become part of our daily lives and their one goal is to make life easier for humans. When Archos, an artificial intelligence becomes sentient he takes steps to stop Earths destruction, the only problem is, he sees the human race as its destroyers.

The Nobody - Jeff Lemire
Reading Level: Grade 7-8
Publisher: Vertigo, 2009

The town of Large Mouth is a quiet town where nothing exciting ever happens. Then one day a stranger arrives wrapped head to toe in banda0ges. The people of Large Mouth learn to accept the new person who likes to keep to himself. When something goes wrong, and a loved one doesn't come home, the stranger is the first one they blame.

Nightmares and Fairy Tales: 1140 Rue Royale - Serena Valentio
Reading Level: Grade 8-10
Publisher: SLG Publishing, 2007

"This tale belongs to the dead and the house they dwell in..." The original owner Madame Lalaurie inflicted unspeakable acts and grotesque experiments on her slaves in her New Orleans home. Now they seek to take their revenge on the new owners. Miss Victoria and her niece Rebecca seek to find a way to end this haunting and stay alive while they uncover the houses horrible secrets. The simple dialogue, makes it a quick read, but the intense imagery may be a little harsh for some readers.

Amulet: The Stonekeeper - Kazu Kibuishi
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Publisher: Scholastic, 2008

Since witnessing the death of her father 2 years ago, Emily has never been the same. Struggling financially, Emily, her Mom and her younger brother Navin, move into the home of her deceased great-grandfather, who disappeared without a trace. Emily finds a Amulet that begins to speak to her and tells her she needs to keep her family together. One night, while inspecting strange noises coming from the basement, Emily's mom is taken through a door by a strange creature. Not wanting to lose another parent, Emily and Navin follow her into an underground world inhabited by monsters, robots, and talking animals They set out to rescue their mom and discover the secret of the amulet.

Nova's Ark - David Kirk
Reading Level: Grade 1-3
Publisher: Callaway, 2005

Nova has alway been a curious and imaginative robot who loves to build things. Nova's curiosity however gets the best of him during a class trip to the space center when he leaves his group to explore on his own.When his spaceship crash lands on an empty planet, Nova populates it with robot friends made from the wreckage of the spaceship. Loosely based on the biblical tale of Noah's Ark, Nova's ark is filled with complex real and imaginary words that might make this a little confusing for an early reader, but an advanced reader might really enjoy this tale.

Oh no! Not again! (Or How I Built a Time Machine to Save History) (Or at Least My History Grade) - Mac Barnett
Reading Level: Grade: K-2
Publisher: Disney/Hyperion, 2012

"Oh No! Not Again!" is a sequel to "Oh No!" But this time around she can't accept the fact that she has gotten an "A" on her history test. The only solution is to invent a time machine to get that correct answer.

Not really Science Fiction, but an honorable mention...

Goodnight iPad: a Parody for the Next Generation - Ann Droyd
Reading Level: K+
Publisher: Blue Rider Press, 2011

As said in the title, Goodnight iPad is a parody of the classic children's book "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown. There isn't enough to be said about this powerfully funny book. However, it does convey an important message. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Chick-lit, Fractured Fairy Tales and LGBT literature.

The Notebook - Nicolas Sparks
Reading Level: Grade 8-12
Publisher: Turtleback, 1998
Genere: Chick-Lit

At her bedside from an old age home, a man reads from a journal about two people who fell in love durning the summer in 1932. Noah and Allie were from two different social classes and after that summer they did not speak ever again. 14 years later and engaged, Allie returns to New Bern searching for a love that was lost. Has the war and 14 years changed Noah? Or is he the same youthful boy that Allie fell in love with?

Aquamarine - Alice Hoffman
Reading Level: Grade 4-6
Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks, 2002
Genere: Chick-Lit

Claire and Hailey have always spent their summer at the Capri Beach Club. Now, the run down beach club is closing after this season, and Claire is moving to Florida. After a storm closes the pool, they discover a mermaid at the bottom of the deep end. Aquamarine is dying, but she refuses to return until she meets Raymond, one of the remaining staff members of the Capri. The two friend hatch out a plan to grant aquamarine's wish and return her to the sea.

The Fairy's Mistake - Gail Carson Levine
Reading Level: Grade 4-6
Publisher: Harper Collins, 1999
Genere: Chick-Lit, Fractured Fairy Tales

Rosella is generous and kind, her twin sister Myrtle is rude and obnoxious. When they meet up with the fairy Ethelinda on separate occasions Rosella is rewarded with jewels that fall out of her mouth whenever she speaks, and Myrtle spits out bugs and snakes. Ethelinda, proud of her decisions, finds that Rosella is held captive by a greedy prince, and Myrtle is using her new found curse to get everything she wants.

Snoring Beauty - Bruce Hale
Reading Level: Grade 1-3
Publisher: Harcourt Children's books, 2005
Genre: Fractured Fairy Tales

Princess Marge is doomed to be run over by a pie cart and die on her 16th Birthday, but the half deaf fairy Tintinnitus modifies the spell to dave her from such a tragic death. Snoring Beauty retells the tale of "Sleeping Beauty" with a new twist. An excellent read aloud, the text and artwork are covered with hidden puns to make this enjoyable to an adult as well.

Stop That Pickle - Peter Amour
Reading Level: Grade 1-3
Publisher: Sandpiper, 2005
Genre Fractured Fairy Tales

In a modernized version of The Gingerbread Men, the last pickle escapes Mr Adolph's Deli and takes off through the city streets to escape being eaten. When Deli owner Mr. Adolph can't run any longer, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a pretzel, some raisins and other snack foods give chase. Will the pickle get away?

Cinderella Skeleton - Robert D. San Souci
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books, 2000
Genre: Fractured Fairy Tales

The images might provoke nightmares in younger readers, but this warped tale of cinderella looks like it might come from the mind of Tim Burton. It would be a good read aloud if the rhyming scheme is mastered by the reader. Enjoyable and creative use of all the deviations from the original tale. Here cinderella needs to return home before dawn, but of course fails and loses more than a slipper.

... and Tango Makes Three - Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Reading Level: Grade PreK-3
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2005
Genre: LGBT Literiture

Based on a true story about Roy and Silo, two male penguins, who spent more time with each other than with female penguins. They built and shared a nest like other penguin couples, but never had an egg. When the couple started caring for an egg shaped rock, a zookeeper puts a fertile egg in their nest and the two fathers did what came naturally for any parent. The Expressions on the faces of the penguins add a wonderful touch to the tale of this true story. According to Amazon.com "The book received several awards and was the single most challenged or banned book in the United States in 2006 and 2007."

Uncle What-is-it is Coming to Visit!! - Michael Willhoite
Grade Level: Grade 1-4
Publisher: Alyson Books, 1993
Genre: LGBT Literature

Igor and Tiffany's Uncle Brett is coming to visit. They haven't seen him since they were babies and when their Mom says he's gay she fails to explain what that means. The two then set off to find some answers. Unfortunately, the local bully fills their heads with all sorts of stereotypical images that frightens them more than answers their questions. Before long, Uncle Brett is here and the siblings finally get the answers they were looking for.

A Tale of Two Mommies - Vanita Oelschlager and Mike Blanc
Grade Level: Grade 1-4
Publisher: Vanita Books, 2011
Genre: LGBT Literature

This book looks at the non-traditional family as seen through the eyes of three young children playing one day at the beach. Through their conversations and the questions they ask, a reader can understand that it does not matter what type of parents you have, as long as they are loving and are there for you.
An excellent book for a 1 on 1 read.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Graphic Novels

Chiggers - Hope Larson
Reading Level: Grade 5-8
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008

Abby can't wait to get back to summer camp, but this year her best friend from last year, Rose, is cabin assistant, and is too busy. The new girl and a late arrival, Shasta shows up and share the same interests as Abby, but nobody else likes her. Soon the cabin mates turn against Abby for becoming friends with the Shasta, and Abby has to deal with the possibility of being an outcast.

American Born Chinese - Gene Luen Yang
Micheal Printz Award, 2007
Reading Level: Grade 8-10
Publisher: First Second 2006

American Born Chinese is made up of three separate story lines: The Tale of the Monkey King,  an asian boy who is trying to fit in, and an American high school student who is visited by his stereotypical Chinese cousin, All three stories weave together in the final chapter. Each tale has a "feel" of its own, but all deal with someone to find a way to fit in. I found myself feeling guilty laughing at all the racist puns throughout the book.

Babymouse: Queen of The World - Jennifer L. & Matt Holm
Reading Level: Grade 3-6
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2005

Imaginative and sassy Babymouse wants to be invited to Kitty Whiskers' slumber party. She'll do anything to get invited. At the party she finds out that she has nothing in common with the rest of the girls, and her best friend is right under her nose.

Gettysburg: The Graphic Novel - C. M. Butzer
Reading Level: Grade 5-9
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2008

A comic-style retelling of a historical event in U.S. history. Even though it is in comic form, the images are a little harsh. The story is short, but there is substantial end material describing the panels from each page, and the events that surrounded them. Sometimes even using direct quotes from historical records.

Little Mouse Gets Ready - Jeff Smith
Reading Level: Pre K
Publisher: Toon Books

Short and sweet. Mother Mouse is going to the barn and little mouse has to get ready. Putting on his clothes one piece at a time. Getting dressed seems like nothing to adults, we do it without thinking. But  little mouse is making sure his tail goes through the hole in his underwear or buttoning his shirt,  it is a big accomplishment. A funny one on one read for a child is learning to dress himself.

Maus: A Survivors Tale - Art Spiegalman
Reading Level: Grade 9-10
Publisher: Pantheon, 1986

The story begins when Speigalman visits his aging father in Rego Park, NY. He asks him to tell his story for a book he is working on. Though his fathers tale a story of survival unfolds. As the war progressed, loved ones were carted off, friends disappeared, and people turned on one another. A chilling tale of Holocaust survivors in a comic format.

Ghostopolis - Doug Tennapel
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Publisher: Graphix, 2010

Terminally ill Garth Hale is accidentally zapped into the afterlife by Frank Gallows, a ghost wrangler in charge of sending escaped ghosts back to Ghostopolis. By chance, Grath runs into his grandfather and discovers that the laws of time and space don't apply to the world he finds himself in. Back in the real world Frank Gallows, enlists the help of his Ex-girlfriend, Claire, to save Garth and get him back home.

Coraline - Neil Gaiman
Reading Level: Grade 6-8
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2008

This is a comic adaption to Neil Gaiman's 2002 Novel. While exploring her new house, Coraline discovers a bricked up door. When she returns to it later the door is a passage into a reality that mirrors her own. The "other-mother" wants her to stay, but Coraline does not. When she returns, she finds her real parents are missing and in danger. It is up to Coraline to confront her "other-mother" and rescue her real parents.

The Color of the Earth - Kim Dong Hwa
Reading Level: Grade 9-10
Publisher: First Second, 2009

This is the first in a trilogy and the imagery is simple and elegant. Korean Girl Ehwa grows up helping her widowed mother run the local tavern. In each chapter Ehwa is a year older, and learns more about her body, love and about being a woman. As Ehwa discovers herself, her mother learns to love again.

Robot Dreams - Sara Varon
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Publisher: First Second, 2007

This book is perfect for a young reader, since there is virtually no text, the story is told just through the images. Dog wants a friend, So he builds one. Dog and Robot do everything together, until one day at the beach, Dog invites Robot into the water. On the beach rusted and unable to move, Robot is abandoned by dog. As the seasons pass, Dog gains new friends but not that match what he and Robot had, while Robot lies on the sand and reflects on what once was and what might have been.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood - Marjane Satrapi
Reading Level: Grade 9-12
Publisher: Pantheon, 2004

Childhood is tough, especially childhood during the 1979 Islamic revolution through to the Iran-Iraq War. As daily life in Iran is changed, Marji must adapt to a world full of religious fanatics. Her open defiance get her into trouble as she loses loved ones, and friends.

Leo Geo and His Miraculous Journey Through the Center of the Earth - Jon Chad
Reading Level: Grade 2+
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2012

The book is meant to be read vertically and follows Leo Geo on his adventure through the earth. With science on his side, Leo descends through earths layers yo discover the unknown. Before long Leo has to leave his ship, and avoid monsters, and save the human race from an underground civilization.

Civil War - Mark Millar 
Reading Level: Grade 6+
Publisher: Marvel, 2008

Ok, so I couldn't leave the graphic novel genre without doing a superhero book, and my friends would expect nothing less. The Marvel Universe is about to be turned upside down. When supervillan Nitro causes an explosion that decimates an elementary school and all those inside. The public calls for justice and the "Superhuman Registration Act" gets signed into law. Heroes are forced to register their secret identity with the U.S. Government, or be considered criminals. The decision is considered a violation of their civil rights and seen as unconstitutional by many. This forces heroes to choose sides and pits hero against hero, tearing friendships and families apart. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Historical fiction, biographies for younger readers, and picture books for older readers.

Historical fiction

A Journey to the New World: The Diary Of Remember Patience Whipple 
    - Kathryn Lasky
Reading Level: Grade 3-6
Publisher: Scholastic, 1996

Twelve year old Remember Patience Whipple documents in her journal a two month voyage aboard the Mayflower and the hardships and loss of friends in the months that follow. She works helping her father with the land, and nurses the sick but more than anything she wants to meet the feathered men.

The Scarlett Letter - Nathanel Hawthorne

Reading Level: Grades 10-12
Publisher: Penguin Classics, 2006 (reprinted)

The Scarlett Letter is set during the 17th Century in a Massachusetts Puritan community. This classic piece of literature tells the tale of a woman, Hester Prynne, who has been ostracized from the community because of an of an adulterous affair that resulted in the illegitimate birth of her daughter Pearl. Written in a old world century language, I found it interesting but very difficult to get through.

Biographies in picture book format

The Boy on Fairfeild Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to be Dr. Seuss
    - Kathleen Krull
Reading Level: Grade 4-5
Publisher: Random House, 2010

Specifically written for the younger fans of Dr. Seuss, this book focuses on his childhood and college years. Never studious, he won popularity contests such as, "Class wit" and "Lease likely to succeed". Such a famous figure from of everyones childhood, truly had a rough start.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers - Mordicai Gerstein

Caldecott Award, 2004
Reading Level: Grade 1-3
Publisher: Roaring Book Press, 2003

The story of Philippe Petit, a french juggler/street preformer who walk between the two tower of the world trade center in 1974. The poetic illustrations pay tribute not only to the daring man who felt free as he dancing and walked on the wire, but the majesty of the towers as well.

Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero 

    - Marissa Moss
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011

At nineteen, Sarah disguised herself as a man in order to fight in the Civil War. As "Frank Thompson" in the confederate army, she excelled on the battlefield and became a nurse to wounded solders, only to be asked to become a spy. Her character and morality always remembered to help those who helped her. I accidentally ran across this in the library when I pulled out a book next to it, and it fell at my feet. An extremely exciting and interesting read.

What to do About Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy! 

    - Barbra Kerley 
Reading Level: Grade 3-5
Publisher: Scholastic, 2008

This is a fun and unusual biography about Theodore Roosevelt's biggest problem, his daughter. She loved life, yearned to travel the world, and wanted nothing to do with being proper. The illustrations, awkward placement of text, and use of different fonts keep the biography of the first daughter as exciting as her life. This is an excellent introductionary book to get a child interested in reading biographies.

Picture books for older readers

The Houdini Box - Brian Selznick
Reading Level: Grade 3-4
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2001

Like any other child Victor is captivated by magic, especially the work of Harry Houdini. He soon discovers he can't escape from trunks, walk through walls, or hold his breath for very long, leaving him baffled and defeated. But one day he has a chance encounter with the great Harry Houdini himself, and clobbers him with questions. Houdini promises to send Victor a letter, and weeks later that the letter read, "A thousand secrets await you. Come to my house..."

Stardust: Being a Romance Within the Realms of Faerie 

    - Neil Gaiman & Charles Vess
Reading Level: Grade 8-10
Publisher: Vertigo, 1999

In the town of Wall, Tristan is in love with Victoria, but she is not with him. She promisis her hand, if he retrieves the fallen star and brings it to her. To do that he must pass though the hole in the wall on the outside of town, a hole which is actually a passageway into the realm of faeries, More than one person is looking for this star, because it can get what you desire. Unknowingly, Tristan is connected to this world more than he realizes. This is a beautifully illustrated adaption of the original novel.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Multicultural Literature

Plain City - Virginia Hamilton
Reading level: Grade 6-8
Publisher: Scholastic, 1993

13 year old Buhlaire-Marie Sims has always felt different. Her mother, a singer and a dancer who is always traveling, tells her that her father was missing in action in Vietnam. She soon learns that her father is very much alive and is closer than she thinks. When she finds him, he is homeless, mentally unstable and living on the streets. HE can't give her anything but some of the missing "back time" from her past.

The First Part Last - Angela Johnson
Coretta Scott King Award, 2004
Reading Level: Grade 7-12
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2010

Bobby is a normal New York City teenager who receives some news from his girlfriend, Nia, on his 16th birthday that changes the course of his life forever. A the responsibilities of being a dad arise, he must decide what is the right thing to do for himself and his girlfriend. The story is told in alternating "now" and "then" chapters wich allow the reader to put the story together themselves.

The Dreamer - Pam Muñoz Ryan
Pura Belpré Award, 2011
Reading Level; Grade 6-8
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2010

Neftali is shy and imaginative. A collector of unusual items, a boy who writes words down and stores them for safe keeping. He wants to be a writer, but his father believes this is foolish and ridiculous hobby. All his childhood he must do things his father would disagree with in secret until he can go off on his own. A fictional story based on the childhood of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda that combines traditional chapters and poetry.

One Green Apple - Eve Bunting
Reading Level: Grade 1-4
Publisher: Clarion Books 2006

For Farrah, it is hard being the new girl in school. Her dupetta she wears sets this little muslim girl apart, even more so when she doesn't speak the language. Her class is taking a field trip to the orchard and a class project making cider becomes a metaphor for cultural differences. The watercolor painted illustrations captures a photorealism that helps to bring this story to life.

90 Miles to Havana - Enrique Flores-Galbis
Pura Belpré Honor, 2011
Reading Level: Grace 4-7
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2010

Julian's parents make the decision to send their three children to a refugee camp in Miami as part of Operation Pedro Pan, where they must fend for themselves. The camps, like the dictatorships back in Cuba, are run by bullies and Julian is soon separated from his bothers. Many readers can relate to the strong family ties Julian has with his brothers and the hardships he faces when being forced from his home country. A sophisticated read, with a constant flow that will keep the readers interest.

A Jar of Dreams - Yoshiko Uchida
Reading Level: Grade 3-6
Publisher: Aladdin, 1993

Growing up in California during the Great Depression, 11 year old Rinko, like every other child wants to belong. Instead, because she is Japanese, she is ridiculed and singled out. When her Aunt comes to visit, she and her family each discovers an inner strength in themselves. Regardless of your cultural background, the book provides a theme of overcoming diversity and believing in oneself.

Tar Beach - Faith Ringgold
Caldecott Honor. 1993
Coretta Scott King Honor Illustration 1992
Reading Level: K-3
Publisher: Crown Publishers. 1991

In Cassie's dreams she can fly, To her, the Harlem rooftops where she sleeps is her magical "tar beach" As she glides over the rooftops, she can see everything and claims it all as her own. Cassie even claims the union building to give to her dad so he can be rich and it won't matter if won't let him join the "old Union". Set during the Great Depression, she dreams of making life better for her family so they can eat ice cream every night for dessert.

Freedom Summer - Deborah Wiles
Reading Level: K-2
Publisher: Atheneum Books, 2001

Joe is white. His best friend John Henry is black. They do everything together, shoot marbles, chase cats and swim in Fiddler's Creek, because John is not allowed in the town pool. It is the summer of 1964 in the South, the civil rights act is in effect, and tomorrow John will be allowed to swim in the town pool. What they discover at the town pool the next day is that people don't like change.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Award Winners

Mr. Poppers Penguins - Richard and Florence Atwater
Newbery Honor, 1939
Reading level: Grade 4-5
Publisher: Little Brown & Company, 1938

     Mr. Popper is a poor house painter who dreams of adventures larger than his simple life. After sending a letter to his hero Admiral Drake, who is currently exploring the Antarctic, the Popper family receives a surprise package. This surprise package, a penguin named Captain Cook, soon becomes 12 penguins. Mr. Popper now has more adventure then he ever dreamed of.  Mr. Popper and his amazing penguins, quickly become the most popular people in Stillwater. This classic and quite humorous piece of children's literature is an quick and easy read, the story is constantly moving but easy to follow. A excellent book for any nature lover.

Because of Winn-Dixie - Kate DiCamillo
Newbery Honor,  2001
Reading level: Grade 4-5
Publisher: Candlewick Press 2000

     10-year old India Opal's mother deserted her and her preacher father. They start life in a new town and India Opal has no friends. One day, she claims a happy, ugly, horse of a mutt she named Winn Dixie, as her own to prevent him from going to the pound. That one event and "Because of Winn-Dixie", Opal starts a chain of serendipitous events meeting and befriending the residents of her new town She learns to see people with her heart and not what others say about them. The only reason I read this book was because a 10 year old recommended it. I'm glad I did.

Doctor De Soto - William Steig
Newbery Honor, 1983
Reading Level: Grade 3-4
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1982

     With Mrs. De Soto as his assistant, Dr. De Soto: the mouse dentist, treats all animals big and small, except "cats and other dangerous animals." One day, a fox shows up with a horrible toothache, and feeling sorry for the fox, He decides to take his chances. When the fox comes back for his new tooth, will the good Doctor end up as the fox's next meal or will he out smart the fox? This tale of kindness makes a wonderful read aloud, and there are many resources for lesson plans located on the net.

Al Capone Does My Shirts - Gennifer Choldenko
Newbery Honor, 2005
Reading Level: Grade 6-8
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile, 2004

     When his father gets a job at a prison, Moose Flanagan and his family move to Alcatraz Island. He is forced to give up baseball and help care for Natalie, his autistic sister, when she gets rejected from a special school. To complicate his life even further, he meets Piper, the irresistibly cute and troublesome warden's daughter. Slowly, Moose adapts to life on Alcatraz and even helps his sister fit in. Interestingly, the story is set in 1935 when guards lived on the island with their families and when the prison's most famous inmate, Al Capone, was a resident. The unusual coming-of-age story holds the readers interest with what life was like in that setting in 1935.

Outside Over There - Maurice Sendak
National Book Award for Children's Books, 1982
Reading Level: K-2
Publisher: Harper Collins, 1982

     When father is away at sea, Ida is in charge of watching her baby sister. when Ida is not looking Goblins in robes take her away. Yes, it won an National Book Award, but it does not change the fact that this book is creepy. The "ice baby" illustration was enough to make me dislike this one. Although it does utilize a old style font that helps create the creepy atmosphere of the book, children seem to love this one. 

The Tale of Despereaux - Kate DiCamillo
Newbery Award, 2004
Reading Level: Grade 3-5
Publisher: Candlewick, 2004

     A tale with four unlikely heroes: Despereaux Tilling (a small mouse with big ears), Miggery Sow (an imaginative servant child hard of hearing), Chiaroscuro (a rat longing for the light), and Princess Pea with whom Despereaux has fallen in love with. Kate DiCamillo tells this tale in a "Dear Reader" style. She explains everything that might be hard to understand. It is divided into 4 "books" or chapters and the first three are told in reverse, with the most recent events being first and then going backwards in time. This allows the reader to easily put together the pieces of the story together themselves. The captioned illustrations helped explain portions of the story that a reader might have trouble imagining, Miggory Sow's "clouted ears" for example. I would have to say this was my favorite read this week.

A Step From Heaven - An Na
Michael L. Printz Award, 2002
Reading Level 8-12
Publisher: Speak, 2003

     When she was 4 years old Korean, Young Ju immigrated to America with her parents, She believed since the plane is going into the sky, America must be closer to heaven. The family soon finds out the difficulties before them. Their economic struggles, difficulties with language, and a drunk abusive father are only some of the problems they encounter. Adapting to a culture different from her own Young Ju's courage throughout the book is astonishing. The book is written in the first person, where english is not her language. The first few chapters starts out as thoughts from a four year old and is sometimes difficult to decipher, but as the book progresses and Young Ju learns english the storytelling flows much better.

Ramona and Her Mother - Beverly Cleary
National Book Award, 1981
Reading Level: 2-5
Publisher: Scholastic, 1984

      Both her parents work, her sister is a becoming a teen, Ramona, at 7 1/2 tries to win her mothers heart, but nothing works out for Ramona. When she adds bluing to the bathtub to make the water look more like an ocean, she and her friend fall into the tub and blue themselves. When everyone forgets to turn on the slow cooker, and dinner is not ready, an argument between Mom and Dad erupts. She begins to believe there she is not loved and everything is going downhill. Even when she tries to please herself and "fulfill her lifelong dream of squeezing an entire tube of toothpaste", Mom is not pleased, but Mom has one trick up her sleeve. As an adult, you tend to forget that the littlest things effect a child's perspective so greatly. Written from the perspective of a 7 year old, this book reminds you of that. It also teaches the young reader that not everything is how it seems.