Thursday, November 27, 2008

Book Review Set #9


    Genre: reader's advisory; Age: adults who work with children or children

Annotation: Do you need a book that's scary? Multicultural? Sports related? Check out the BookHive, where you'll find subject-divided booklists and more.

Review: BookHive is a service of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. The flashy bee theme might appeal to children, but the reader's advisory lists are definitely for adults who know what they are looking for, with subjects such as "multicultural," "read aloud," "concept," etc. There are a few subject headings that are readily understandable, such as "scary," but the librarian lingo keeps this from being truly kid friendly. Even so, the lists are great and cover a variety of genres and subjects.

Critical Review: Not available.


Pancakes for Breakfast, by Tomie dePaola, published by Voyager Books

    Genre: picture book, wordless; Age: 2-5; Pages: 28

Annotation: A little old woman tries everything imaginable just to have the perfect pancakes. What would you do to get pancakes for breakfast?

Review: How do you describe the process of pancake making without using words? Through a series of pictures, and Tomie dePaola does it flawlessly in this wordless picture book. This is a great book to read with your children; follow it up with making pancakes the old-fashioned way—from scratch!

Critical Review: School Library Journal says that the "optimistic determination of the woman… make this an appealing book for the very young," and this is a true assessment of the book. The book is very humorous, yet subtle in its humor. Similarly, the Children's Book Review Corner at raves about this book saying, "this is a book that has stood the test of time" and points out that the pancake recipe contained within is easily followed, despite the lack of words. This is a great book to read with children, and to help them get involved with cooking.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Thieves of Ostia


Diary of a Wimpy Kid Rodrick Rules

Book Review Set #8

Castle by David Macaulay, published by Houghton Mifflin Company

    Genre: non-fiction, award winner; Age: 8-12; Total Pages: 80

Annotation: Join Master Jim as he builds a new castle in thirteenth century Wales for Lord Kevin, as part of the English plan to conquer the island.

Review: The simple story of Lord Kevin's castle is really a backdrop for showing the process of castle-building and all that it entailed. Macaulay's illustrations are immaculate and the accompanying story wonderfully describes the process of building a castle from start to decay. This is a favorite from my own childhood, and is what instilled my love of the Middle Ages. This would be a great book for boys and girls. It's great.

    Critical Review:

Time Magazine raved about this book, saying, "David Macaulay can draw—churches, cities, pyramids—he does better than any pen-and-ink illustrator in the world. Castle once again goes through a brick-by-brick assembly, employing cross-hatches and thin black lines to evoke a medieval place and period." What better praise is there than this? This book is certainly masterful in its illustrations and it is sure to satisfy any child who loves details. Review had similar praise for the book and recommended it for kids who like to know how things work. But, the art is so exquisite that it is not just for the scientific-minded but for the artistic mind as well.

PBS Kids.

    Genre: kids website, educational; Age: preschool-first grade

Annotation: For parents and children, PBS kids offers coloring options, music, games, information about shows, as well as parenting resources.

Review: This is a great resource for young children. To support children's use of the website, it has audio features so that when you scroll over a tool, it says it out loud. This would be really great for young children who are not yet readers.

The coloring book pages correspond to some of the popular TV shows, and so do the games and music. This would be a great extension for a child who loves the show. This is a great resource.

National Geographic Kids.

    Genre: kids website, educational; Age: kindergarten and up

Annotation: Do you love nature? Science? Hands-on activities? Talking about books? If so, National Geographic Kids is for you. This interactive website features all of the above and more, just for kids. Check it out!

Review: This is a great interactive tool for teaching children a variety of things, including, how to speak Arabic, what happened during the first Thanksgiving, what space-walking is like, and more. But, it's not just educational; there are interactive games and activities as well. This is a great website that should be bookmarked in any parents' kid-friendly bookmarks.

The Harry Potter Lexicon.

    Genre: kids website, just for fun; Age: fourth grade and up

Annotation: A lexicon is a vocabulary of terms associated with a specific subject, and in this case, the subject is the magical world of all things Potter.

Review: I love this website, but I'm a Harry Potter fanatic. You know the kind; the ones who pre-order the books, the ones who talk about it at any moment, the ones who throw theme parties. If you can identify with that descriptor, this is the place for you. The Lexicon defines important terms, collects all the details about characters (everything you could ever want to know about Dumbledore is found on the "Which Wizard" page), magical items, and more. If you love Harry, then visit the Harry Potter Lexicon.

Fairies World.

    Genre: kids website, just for fun; Age: "very young" to "older children"

Annotation: If you love fairies, you'll love this website, with pictures from around the world, coloring pages, puzzles, games and more. Check it out!

Review: This is a really cool site, with many choices for different age groups. Unfortunately, it has prominent ads along the side of the page that look like they could be links within the website that children could mistakenly click on. Because of that (and you don't want your child accidentally installing spyware), adults should visit the website with their children.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Book Review #7

Spiral-Bound (Top Secret Summer) by Aaron Reiner, published by Top Shelf Productions

Genre: graphic novel Age: 10 and up Total Pages: 178

Annotation: School's out for summer, and everyone's heading off to summer camp. Everybody has something Top Secret to work on, but, will the Pond Monster destroy the town?

Review: The town is peopled by animals of all sorts—even marine creatures in Bubble-Domed cars filled with water. Everyone has a niche and when summer camp rolls around, Turnip doesn't know what to do. Fortunately, Stucky Hound invites him to a concert, and that's when the fun begins.

This story with the vivid characters and bigger-than-life town deal with issues that are familiar: fitting in, losing friends, growing up, overprotective parents, and terrifying monsters. But, the friendships and sense of adventure carry this story and you don't want to leave this place. This is a great read for all of those juvenile sleuths out there who want to know what the REAL story is.

Critical Review:

Booklist raves about this book with its sweet characters which are just like real children: wholesome, but not too sweet. The Booklist review recommends this for fans of Harriet the Spy or Matilda. Those would be great crossovers, but could potentially limit the audience to girls, whereas Spiral-Bound truly is for both boys and girls. also gave a very favorable review to the book, both for adults looking back upon their childhood, as well as for children actively living it. Comic Book Galaxy's only critique was for the very busy illustration which sometimes provided too much to look at. It's true—the art is very busy. It reminds me of the episodes of Family Circus where the oldest son Billy traces his adventures with the busy map. But, while it could be a negative feature for adults looking for a clean story, the busy-ness of the graphics illustrates the haste of the children in the story. In all, this is a great story about summer adventure.

The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Laurence, published by Roaring Brook Press

Genre: chapter book, historical fiction, mystery Age: 8-12 Total Pages: 150

Annotation: Flavia just meets her new friends Jonathan, Nubia, and Lupus, when the neighborhood dogs suddenly start dying gruesome deaths. The group must solve the mystery before Scuto winds up dead.

Review: Though completely gruesome in how the dogs die, the book itself is a very pleasant romp through a surprisingly cleaned up Roman empire. Historical fiction in the sense that it takes place in a historic setting, the characters act quite modern—the girls are strong and independent, the parents and nannies are absent, people curl up with scrolls to read, etc. Even so, the book does teach some historical facts such as the practice of slavery, the persecution of religious groups, and the racial diversity of ancient Rome. The book is a fun read and you find yourself cheering on the kids as they race to find the dog-murderer. Because the dogs' deaths are quite disturbing, this would be better for older readers or for children reading along with their parents.

Critical Reviews:

Publisher's Weekly called the story "atmospheric" and praised the book for its description of the "customs, attitudes and class systems of the Roman empire." Similarly, School Library Journal praises the book's description of the attitude and description of the classes in ancient Rome. Both reviews enjoy the mystery and the setting. Publisher's Weekly said the book would be good for ages 9-14, whereas School Library Journal said it would be best for 4th-6th grades. The writing is a little too forced for kids above age 12, though the mystery really is a fun read. This is a good book for older kids looking for a mystery or for a book about Ancient Rome.

Sly the Sleuth and the Pet Mysteries by Donna Jo Napoli and Robert Furrow, published by Dial Books for Young Readers

Genre: chapter book, mystery Age: 6-8 Total Pages: 92

Annotation: When things start going wrong with your pets, you need a detective, only it can't be any detective, but one that will sneak, gather clues, and figure out the answer. Call Sly the Sleuth.

Review: The chapters in this book are very short, perfect for children who are transitioning to chapter books. However, the writing is very choppy which can be a deterrent to an older reader. Even so, Sly is a strong female character who tries to solve mysteries that her cat would care about. When three mysteries about pets show up on her front step, she has to figure them out.

Critical Review:

Booklist and School Library Journal both praise the book for its lovable character and the pet-friendly mysteries. Sly is a lovable character and she only solves cases that she thinks her cat would like. This leads her to befriend her neighbors and their pets. It's a sweet book.

Where the Sidewalk Ends: 30th Anniversary Edition by Shel Silverstein, published by HarperCollins

Genre: non-fiction, poetry Age: 5-12 Total Pages: 183

Annotation: A children's poetry classic, Where The Sidewalk Ends is filled with moral lessons disguised as nonsensical poems and illustrations with favorites such as "The Generals" and "Mr. Grumpledump's Song."

Review: The world encased in Where the Sidewalk Ends is place where imagination runs wild and people do silly things. These poems have become childhood classics and with messages about laziness, dirtiness, greed, fighting, etc., they contain lessons that parents want their children to learn. But, with poems filled with belching contests, baby eating, people flying by their hair, etc., they are poems that kids want to read. This is a great foray into the wonderful world of poetry, and if you haven't read anything by Shel Silverstein, this is a good place to start.

Critical Review:

The Reading Teacher said that this was an ideal book to have handy; The Barnes and Noble Review called this book part of the canon of children's literature, and that is part of the problem with reviewing it. How can you critique a book that has withstood the test of time in a field where books come and go so quickly? It has endured and the silliness that resonated with current adults as children, continues to resonate with new generations of children.

What Kinds of Seeds Are These? By Heidi Bee Roemer and Olena Kassian, published by Northword

Genre: non-fiction, seeds Age: 4-8 Total Pages: 28

Annotation: How many kinds of seeds can you think of? In What Kinds of Seeds are These?, the authors introduce many different types of seeds with beautiful illustrations and rhythmic text.

Review: This beautiful picture book introduces children to the many varieties of seeds, including some seeds that might be a surprise: coconuts and blackberries come to mind. The pictures are beautiful and the book is worth reading just to enjoy them.

Critical Review:

Both School Library Journal and Booklist praise the book for its riddle-style text that keeps kids guessing and interacting with the text. They also point out that the book has extension activities, which would make it a good book for a unit on seeds or plants. Booklist suggests that this book might be more appropriate for urban kids who might not understand the relationship between seeds and plants. This is a good suggestion and the rhythm of the text would make it a great read aloud.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Book Review Set #6


The Giver by Lois Lowry, published by Dell Laurel-Leaf

Genre: chapter book, award-winner (Newberry) Pages: 179 Audience: fifth grade and up

Annotation: When Jonas was an Eleven, his life was filled with Sameness. But, as a Twelve, he faces Assignment and that's when he meets The Giver.

Review: I have heard so much about this book from various students over the years. This comes up in class conversations nearly weekly for some reason or another, and I now see why.

The Giver is a book that sticks with you and lingers. As Jonas learns about Feelings in his newly assigned role, the reader becomes painfully aware of how necessary it is to be an individual and cherish your memories—even the bad ones. This is a powerful book, more appropriate for mature readers as it deals with issues of infanticide and euthanasia, but transcends those issues to deal with what makes us unique.

Critical Reviews: School Library Journal writes about the "tightly plotted story and believable characters" that will linger with the reader. Kirkus Reviews calls it a "richly provocative" story. The New York Times Review says that it is "powerful and provocative." What's clear is that The Giver is a story that lingers with the reader. It reminds me of a passage of Fahrenheit 451, where Faber describes good books as ones that get into your pores and lingers. The Giver seeps into your pores. The dystopian story is truly haunting, as only two characters in the book realize that anything is wrong at all. Everyone else is convinced that the world is perfectly ordered and functions as it ought to. All of the sources say that this is a book for older students (12 and up), and with issues of infanticide and (prescription) drug use, that is quite appropriate. Overall, this is a fabulous book for mature readers.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, published by Scholastic

Genre: graphic novel, award winner Pages: 525 Audience: fifth grade and up

Annotation: Alone and lonely, Hugo Cabret struggles to rebuild his father's Automaton, keep his secrets, and stay alive in the bustling Parisian train station. But will the station inspector or the grouchy toy seller turn him in?

Review: A "novel in words and pictures," this book seamlessly brings to life the power of this story: an orphan struggling to stay alive in early 20th century Paris, clinging to the hope of bringing his father's Automaton to life. It is a fabulous story, dealing with magic and reality, secrets and truth, isolation and friendship. The drawings and the story are wonderful. I have never read a graphic novel in a similar structure, and thought it was an excellent format for telling this tale.

Editorial Reviews: Publishers Weekly said that this was a masterpiece and describes the book as "sumptuous" and a "standout achievement." Similarly, School Library Journal says that The Invention of Hugo Cabret is "characteristic intelligence, exquisite images, and a breathtaking design" and further praises it as "a masterful narrative." I think "sumptuous" was exactly the adjective for this book. It is something to savor, like a decadent piece of chocolate. The plot is powerfully done, and the illustrations are truly magnificent. This is a must-read for any reader.

CON-fidence by Todd Strasser, published by Holiday House

Genre: chapter book, realistic story Pages: 154 Audience: fifth grade and up

Annotation: After going to middle school, Lauren looks longingly at the "Don't You Wish You Were Me" girls and is shocked to learn that the new girl, Celeste, is already sitting with them. How far would you go to sit with them too?

Review: The book says its target age is 10 and up, but despite dealing with middle school issues, the book is more appropriate for children anticipating middle school, as opposed to those who are actually there. The writing is a bit forced, and the characters' choices are so obvious to anyone who's been in a similar situation, that it is rather painful to read. Celeste is more of a caricature than a character, as is Lauren's other friends. In fact, the only character that shows depth is Lauren. Perhaps this is because the story is told in the first person point of view. Regardless, the stiff storytelling and forced characters make this a painful read.

Editorial Reviews: Both Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal praise this novel for its realism and for Strasser's clean writing. Frankly, I thought the book was barely tolerable. I wouldn't recommend it at all.

Lady of Palenque, Flower of Bacal by Anna Kirwan, published by Scholastic

Genre: chapter book, series (The Royal Diaries) and historical fiction Pages: 204 Audience: fifth and up

Annotation: Join ShahnaK'in Yaxchel Pacal, Princess Green Jay on the Wall, as she travels from her treasured home of Lakamha to Xukpi to marry her family's ally. With dangerous weather, wild animals, and enemy warriors around, will she make it safely?

Review: I admit it, I was very skeptical of a series entitled "The Royal Diaries" that featured nothing but princesses from around the globe. But, this was a great historical fiction book about Mesoamerica. Told entirely in the first person (it is a diary after all), the reader experiences firsthand the dangers that Princess Green Jay on the Wall experiences as she travels from the safety of her home to her new husband's city. The descriptions of ceremonies, animals, plants, and traditions are wonderful. The use of Mayan language is a bit cumbersome, but once you discover the glossary at the end, it is totally fine. The Mayan names can be confusing in the story, but by midway through the book, you settle into the usage and spelling. Personally, I just skipped them. This book requires a lot of prior knowledge about the ancient Mayan culture, but the heroine is strong, which is quite admirable.

Editorial Reviews: School Library Journal says the book is for grades 4-6, whereas Booklist says the book is for grades to 6-9. Quite a difference! In terms of style of the novel, Lady of Palenque is more suitable for 4-6 graders, but the difficult subject is much more appropriate for 6-9. The foreign subject (Ancient Mayan culture) and the complex names and traditions make it suitable for middle schoolers, though ninth grade is too old for this book. Both reviews praise the strongly independent female characters, but complain about the glossary and scanty historical notes. I don't think it was that cumbersome, but it could be difficult for a fourth grader to read and understand. This would be very well suited for a class studying Ancient Mayan culture so that the necessary pre-knowledge could be taught. I enjoyed the book, but can understand the difficulty within. Overall, though, I would recommend this book for readers who enjoy strong heroines and exotic locations. This one has them both!

Recommended Reads Lists

Iranian? Persian? What's That?


Allah Created Everything by C. Alta, published by Amica, 1995.

Celebrating Norouz (Persian New Year) by Yassaman Jalali, published by Saman Publishing, 2003.

Forty Fortunes: A Tale of Iran by Aaron Shepard and Alisher Dianov, published by Clarion Books, 1999.

Happy Nowruz: Cooking with Children to Celebrate the Persian New Year, by Najmieh Batmanglij, published by Mage Publishers, 2008.

Iran in Pictures by Stacy Taus-Bolstad, published by Lerner Publishing Group, 2003.

Ramadan by Suhaib Hamid Ghazi and Omar Rayyan, published by Holiday House, 1996.

Ramadan by Susan L. Douglass and Jeni Reeves, published by Carolrhoda Books, 2003.

Rostam, Tales from the Shahnameh (Persian book of Kings) by Bruce Bahmani, Robert Napton, and Karl Altstaetter, published by Hyperwerks, 2005.

The Enchanted Storks: A Tale of Bagdad by Aaron Shepard and Alisher Dianov, published by Clarion Books, 1995.

The King and the Three Thieves: A Persian Tale by Kristin Balouch and Omid Balouch, published by Viking Juvenile, 2000.

The Legend of the Persian Carpet by Tomie dePaola, published by Putnam Juvenile, 1993.

The Persian Cinderella by Shirley Climo and Robert Florczak, published by HarperTrophy, 2001.

Your First 100 Words in Persian by JanThee Wightwick, McGraw-Hill, 2003.

These books represent a range of ages, but they are predominantly picture books for older readers (8 and up). I learned about them by either skimming them or by reading reviews. I decided to do a collection of stories about Iran because I have several students who don't know where Iran is and because I see many of my high school South Asian and Middle Eastern teens who are looking for literary role models. I initially was going to look for books about India, but my local branch of the library did not have very many books about being Indian on the shelf, but I did find a few about life in Iran. I also included a few about being Muslim because that is the religion of Iran. Having had a few Persian students as well, I thought this would be a good collection.


Dragons, Dragons Everywhere!

A Practical Guide to Dragons by Lisa Trumbauer, published by Mirrorstone, 2006.

Beowulf graphic novel by Gareth Hinds, published by Candlewick, 2007.

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke, published by The Chicken House, 2004.

Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons by Ernest Drake and Dugald Steer, published by Candlewick, 2003.

Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin (Includes A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea, The Other Wind), published by Spectra

Great Book of Dragon Patterns: The Ultimate Design Sourcebook for Artists and Craftspeople by Lora S. Irish, Fox Chapel Published, 2004.

Hatching Magic by Anne Downer, published by Aladdin, 2004.

Here There Be Dragons by Jane Yolen, published by Harcourt, 1998.

How to Raise and Keep a Dragon by Joe Nigg, published by Barron's Educational Series, 2006.

Inheritance Cycle (Includes Eragon, Eldest, and Brisingr) by Christopher Paolini, published by Laurel Leaf

Jeremy Thacker, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville and Gary A. Lippincott, published by Magic Carpet Books, 2007.

Pete's Dragon starring Helen Reddy and Jim Dale, produced by Walt Video, 2001 (DVD)

The Book of the Dragon by H. Gustavo Ciruelo Cabral, published by Sterling, 2005.

The Dragon of the Lost Sea by Laurence Yep, published by HarperTrophy, 1988.


This is a collection of books about dragons, not the evil ones, but wise, mysterious, sometimes good dragons. The recommended reads list is for 4th-8th grades and includes a movie, a collection of poetry, faux non-fiction, as well as the standard fantasy novels. Most of the books are geared for younger readers, but a few are for older readers (The Earthsea Cycle and Inheritance Cycle both transition from younger to young adult). I have read a few of these items, speed-read some, and read reviews on all of them.