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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren

What the Moon SaidLike any eleven year old girl, Esther struggles to find her place between childhood and young adulthood.  This struggle is intensified by the fact that Esther is growing up during one of the most difficult eras in our nation's past - The Great Depression.  Her Pa loses his job in Chicago, so Ma and Pa decide to take on great risk with the purchase of a rundown farm in Wisconsin.  Without running water, plumbing, or electricity, the family makes the best out of their new home and livelihood.  Misfortune during this time period was common and heartbreaking, and Esther's family may not be spared.  Will the farm survive a harsh dry summer and an even colder winter?

All the while, Esther has another ongoing challenge to deal with, and it is quite a personal one.  Esther, the sensitive heroine of our story, grapples with her relationship with her overly superstitious, seemingly cold, Russian immigrant, Ma.  Ma's beliefs in reading the signs in the world around her creates a sometimes tension filled household for Esther and her siblings.  Does a ring around the moon really mean bad luck is coming?  Can seeing a spider before breakfast bring good luck?  Esther struggles to obtain her Ma's approval and love, so she often errs on the side of caution and follows Ma's warnings.  But what if Ma is wrong?  And will Esther find a way to get Ma to show love for her?

This soft but powerful book told in vignettes will remind readers of the great classics like Little House on the Prairie, or Anne of Green Gables.  The reader feels every emotion of Esther, and hopes that her deepest wishes come true.  While many lessons are taught throughout this book, in never feels preachy or overbearing.  This historical fiction is outstanding at making the past feel modern and kids and adults alike will be able to relate to the character's actions.  What the Moon Said is a fabulous read aloud for younger kids, and the 8-12 year old kids will love reading about Esther on their own.  This book is a great example of life during the Depression, and shouldn't be passed by.  This is a new favorite for me and I am excited to hopefully read more of this new author's work soon. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog by Tom Watson

Stick Dog Wants a Hot DogStick Dog and his friends are back in book two of the series. Poo-Poo, Mutt, Stripes, Karen and Stick Dog devise a plan to'll never guess....I mean it you'll never guess....okay, you might have guess it - frankfurters! Did you guess that? Did you know frankfurters are another name for hot dogs? The five dogs have to find a way to distract Peter, the hot dog man (a.k.a. Piddly-Pants, Pumpkin-Head, Patsy Puffenstuff and Prickle Pop)in order to get to the hot dogs. And if that wasn't enough, there is a band of raccoons moving in for the steal too. Each friend comes up with a crazy plan, so again it's up to Stick Dog to save the day. During their adventure, Karen gets trapped and the friends have to change their mission to free Karen. Will they reach the hot dogs before the raccoons do? Great book for second and third graders. Tom Watson writes the story on what looks like notebook paper, which may just make boys or reluctant readers interested in reading this book. His stick drawings are really bad, but it adds to the hilariousness of the book. You also have to love his sarcasm. I can't wait to see what silly schemes his friends think up in July in Stick Dog Chases a Pizza!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean

ZA Dog Called HomelessCallie is a thoughtful girl and she feels everything that happens around her.  This includes some not-so-cool school experiences, the death of her mother and losing her home in which she had grown up. She, her father, and brother move into a small apartment. She feels as if she has no say in anything.  At school, she participates in a silence fund-raiser.  Callie hasn't talked since.Wait a minute. If she doesn't talk, how does she communicate with her blind friend? It is one thing to be blind, but to also have multiple medical conditions makes Callie really empathize. 

This story demonstrates that learning how to listen might be more important than what is being said. If you need to compare books sometime, you might consider comparing this to Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo and Almost Home by Joan Bauer. They might share many of the same elements of blindness, rescue dogs, losing a home, losing a parent, and wonderful children.  No, they didn't copy!!!!!! They wrote almost at the same time and the authors don't even live near each other. One doesn't even live in the same country. This book has already won the Schneider Family Book Award. It is also nominated for the 2015 Bluestem Award. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Half a ChanceHave you ever heard the eerie call of a loon early in the morning?  The sound alone can bring about a number of emotions - excitement about the creature that makes such a sound, appreciation that nature is so beautiful and mysterious, sadness and loneliness as it is often so quiet when a loon calls, and finally happiness that you were fortunate enough to hear something so rare.  This thoughtful book brings about a similar stir of emotions, as Lucy finds herself trying to deal with the move to a new lake house in New Hampshire.  Lucy's father, a professional photographer, has a strong sense of wanderlust that sends him immediately out for a photo shoot in Arizona.  This leaves Lucy to once again miss her dad, wish she could gain more of his praise for her own photography and learn about her new surroundings on her own.  Lucy might get her chance to do all of these things by entering a photo contest for kids that her dad just happens to be judging.  Given a long list of words like, Sticky, Wonder, Out of Place, and Lost, Lucy must take photos that illuminate those ideas.  After quickly making friends with the next door neighbor boy, Nate, and his large extended family, including an aging grandma battling dementia, Lucy gets to work with Nate's help.  This is their story of finding adventure, protecting the endangered nesting loons on the lake, becoming friends, and coping with nature's unfairness of aging and death.

This book has some beautiful moments as Lucy attempts to understand her new home, and her place not only in it, but in life.  There are moments of exuberance and brilliance.  And yes, this story has moments of sadness, but it is an honest and lovely story of real life problems that sooner or later, everyone must face.  The description of nature's serene splendor, the fun of venturing out into the woods or onto a lake, and the desire to help an ailing friend are all things that hit home with me and made this book special.  It is a quick read for an upper elementary or middle grade student, perhaps best described as a quiet read for a thoughtful student. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz

Zebra ForestAnnie and her little brother Rew, lived with Gran, for as long as she could remember.  Annie and Rew spent most of their days unde the birches and oaks of the Zebra Forest. The only thing they kew about their father was he was killed in a fight with an angry man.

One day an angry man escaped from prison, entered their home and held them all hostage. The man was their father Andrew Snow.  Four lives changed forever in that moment in time, it seemed it was their father who was angry, and killed another man thus ending up in prison. Would Gran ever get out of bed?  Would Rew ever forgive Annie?  Would Andrew Snow ever go back where he belonged?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Almost Home by Joan Bauer

Almost HomeI thought that Almost Home was going to be nominated for the Rebecca Caudill Award.  Sugar is in the sixth grade. Yes, Sugar is her real name. Sugar and her mother lose their home in Missouri due to the irresponsibility and gambling of Sugar's father. Even worse than losing her home, Sugar loses the best-ever teacher.  Luckily, Sugar stays in touch with the teacher through e-mail.  Her teacher has always encouraged her writing. It's a good thing that Sugar has writing talents; it helps her cope with everything that she is going through.  It also helps that a dog and Sugar find each other. They truly help each other. Sugar and her mom end up in Chicago and her mother has to go into a shelter because of her extreme depression.  Sugar is in a good place now, a foster home with the right support.

Sugar learned a life-long lesson from her grandfather.  He impressed on her that sometimes a kid has to act older than she is.  Isn't it special that wisdom can be passed on through grandparents. I am not surprised that Almost Home is nominated for the 2015 Rebecca Caudill Award.   

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Heaven is Paved With Oreos by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Heaven is Paved with OreosOkay, so you can never go wrong when Oreos are part of the title. Am I right? Sarah is a 14 year old girl who is on the verge of starting high school Her "boyfriend" Curtis loves science like Sarah. Both have very unique personalities and Curtis is socially awkward even though he is a star athlete and many of the girls want to be his girlfriend. Sarah and Curtis spend so much time together doing science experiments that they just tell people that they are "boyfriend/girlfriend" so that they don't have to answer questions about their relationship. But the summer before school changes things and Curtis doesn't want to pretend anymore so they break up. Now Z comes into the picture. Z is Sarah's zany grandmother. It's going to be Z's 64th birthday and she wants to take Sarah on a pilgrimage to Rome with her. While in Rome, Sarah cannot stop thinking about her relationship with Curtis and is also puzzled over her grandmother's odd behavior. The trip will change Sarah's life in more ways than one. She uncovers longtime family secrets and discovers she may be ready to take on a new relationship with Curtis. While Sarah is a bit socially awkward, I really liked how she grew as a character during the novel. This book is part of the Dairy Queen young adult trilogy, which I had never read, but am now putting on my list. This is definitely a book for middle school girls as I think they can relate to the changes in relationships that Sarah is going through. I also thought I had the book figured out, but I was wrong as there is an important twist near the end. Don't forget to grab a package of Oreo's as you read the book, a favorite sweet of Z's and Sarah.

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