Monday, November 30, 2009

Book of Totally Irresponsible Science


Biblio Bits The Book of Totally Irresponsible Science: 64 Daring Experiments for Young Scientists by Sean Connolly, Workman Publishing, 2008 (ISBN 9780761150206)

Reading Level/Interest Age Ages 9+

Genre Nonfiction, Science

Plot Summary
The title of this book pretty much says it all: it's a book of science experiments for young scientists (and their responsible adults). The book is organized into chapters: "Core Concerns," "Harnessing the Elements," "Food for Thought," "How Moving!", "A Lot of Hot Air," "100% Natural," and "Mad Science." The titles of each experiment are clever and eye-catching, like "The Rubber Chicken Bone" which is all about acids and bases and the importance of calcium. Each experiment gives a brief introduction, a detailed list of necessary supplies, a section called "Take Care" with any safety precautions, step-by-step instructions for the experiment, and the scientific principle the experiment demonstrates. The book has a vintage look and fun photos and illustrations.

Critical Evaluation
Overall, this is a fun book that is great for browsing. Most of the ingredients are readily available, and might already be lurking in your pantry. There were many that were suitable for younger children, though the forward admonishes readers that all experiments should be attended by a responsible adult. The Viking Funeral (p.116) was the only experiment that seemed confusing in the instructions, otherwise the instructions were clear and we had good results on the few that we tried. There is a list of the experiments that is organized by the amount of time each one requires. But it would be helpful to have an index, particularly one that organized the experiments by scientific principle or even just into different branches of science (physics, botany, chemistry, etc.).

Reader's Annotation
It's weird and gross, it's an egg without its shell, it's slimey and gooey, it'll make your hair stand on end... it's science! (And if you make a mess in the house, it will make your parents crazy!)

Author Information
Sean Connolly has written over 50 books for children and adults on many nonfiction topics. He is the father of three children. (Information from this author biography is from the back of the book. Not much else was online about him!)

Challenge issues
Experiments may result in messes and some of them could be dangerous, though there are ample warnings about what to be cautious about in the text.

Booktalking Ideas
The best way to booktalk this book would be to have a nifty, quick experiment to show and tell, probably something that's not too messy! I might recommend The Bold Little Ball (p.120), where you have a funnel and a ping pong ball and you blow air out. It turns out you can show why an airplane can stay in the air using this experiment. I would feature other books that of science experiments, maybe feature a few books on inventions, kid inventors, and biographies of famous scientists. The theme could be "Crazy Ideas That Stuck!"

Curriculum Ties
Obviously there are many links to science units in this volume (duh, it's a book about science experiments!), such as Boyle's Law (Potato Gun, p.45), Volume (Air Cannon, p.35), the Bernoulli Effect (The Bold Little Ball, p.121), and Photosynthesis (Sunny Exposure p.155).

Why this book?
This is a great book to have in your home or library for those long summer vacations or rainy November days (like today!). It's easy to find something in these pages that you have the ingredients for already!

Awards
None.

Rockport Public Library owns?

So Yesterday


Biblio Bits So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld, Penguin Group, 2004 (ISBN 159514000X)

Reading Level/Interest Age 770 lexile/Ages13+

Genre Realistic Fiction, Mystery

Plot Summary
At the top of the Cool Pyramid are the Innovators, like the first person who made fingerless gloves awesome instead of something that a hobo would wear. Then the innovation trickles down to the Trendsetters, the Early Adopters, the Consumers (by which time the innovation is no longer cool), and finally to the Laggards (still sporting their mullets and feathered hair). Hunter is definitely a Trendsetter and he is also a cool-hunter for new innovations; he works for a big, name-brand company and attends cool tastings (focus groups) to give his opinion on what will and won't fly. He meets Jen, an Innovator, and together they begin to pursue the coolest shoes they've ever seen, possibly a bootleg. The shoes are tied up with some other mysterious events occurring among Manhattan's elite and Jen and Hunter go undercover to see what they can find out. Someone is out to challenge the status quo and the Cool Pyramid may be about to tumble down.

Critical Evaluation
So, so cool. And clever. Westerfeld has written a book that raises questions about our consumer culture, aimed at the very audience who is one of the most prime (and fastest growing) targets. This is a book that packs a big message in a cleverly-plotted and fast-paced story. Westerfeld inserts many pop-culture references, yet without naming names; teens will appreciate the currency and the puzzle of figuring out what's being referred to. There is some romance that develops between Jen and Hunter, but Jen remains an enigma that Hunter has trouble fully understanding. But that's what happens when you're an Innovator, people don't always "get" you. Overall, this was a quick and fun read that left me with a lot to think about.

Reader's Annotation
You know where you are on the Cool Pyramid. But the bastion of Cool is about to be radically challenged by a group with an unusual agenda; Hunter and Jen are on the trail to discover who's behind the mystery of the coolest shoes they've ever seen.

Author Information
Scott Westerfeld was born in 1963 in Dallas (TX) and grew up there, Connecticut, and California. He obtained his B.A. in Philosophy at Vassar College and attended NYU for one year to work on graduate study in Performance Studies. He has written science fiction books for adults and youth, and has ghost-written several books. Westerfeld's latest book for young adults is called Leviathan (2009). He and his wife split their time between Sydney, Australia and New York City (summers only). (Information for this author biography is from his official site.)

Challenge issues
Some swearing, and examination/critique of consumer culture in America (which could offend consumers and/or big corporations).

Booktalking Ideas
I would love to put this in a booktalk called "No More Status Quo" (or maybe something more catchy) with other books that feature teens who challenge prevailing ideas and work for change. Other books to include in the booktalk would be Little Brother (Doctorow, 2008), Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment (Patterson, 2005), The Gospel According to Larry (Tashjian, 2001), Hunger Games (Collins, 2008), and Uglies (also Westerfeld, 2005).

Curriculum Ties
Oh so many options for this book. This book should be required reading for 7th and 8th graders! The assignment could be to look at prevailing trends in pop culture (fashion, music, technology, etc.) by examining ads in print, online, and on TV. Students could research the origins of current trends (ugh, pencil-leg jeans are back from the 80s), or identify references to other trends or media (such as sampling, in music). We'd all like to think we're Innovators, but most of us are not. Where do we each fit into the Cool Pyramid?

Why this book?
Because it's clever and takes a big whack at the consumer life-style we all live in. It's always good to have your ideas questioned!

Awards
Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, Prize for Young Adult Fiction.

Rockport Public Library owns?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Homework Machine


Biblio Bits The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman, Simon and Schuster, 2006 (ISBN 0689876785)

Reading Level/Interest Age 690 lexile/Ages 10+

Genre Realistic Fiction, Humor

Plot Summary
A homework machine seems too good to be true, but the other members of the D Squad believe it when they see it. The D Squad is a small group of four fifth graders, who all have last names beginning in "D," put together by their teacher, Miss Rasmussen: lackluster Kelsey, smart-aleck Snikwad, goody-goody Judy, and Brenton, the class brain who invented the Homework Machine. Brenton agrees to let his group-mates use his invention but, oddly enough, he doesn't want anything in return for the favor. That just proves how eccentric Brenton is; he invented the Homework Machine because he didn't like the busy-work that his teacher was giving out, he'd much prefer to pursue his own interests and studies. The four students start going to Brenton's house after school to use the Machine and begin to get to know each other a little better. And they quickly get hooked by the ease of using the Machine and don't want to "go back." But someone is trying to find out more about what they're doing each day after school. Is it the CIA? The FBI? The secret has leaked: what is the D Squad going to do?

Critical Evaluation
This book might appeal to reluctant readers, since the narration is in short segments, by the various players in this drama. It's a fantasy that many of us have dreamed of: the ease of life without the time-drain of homework. Gutman's writing style is straight-forward and conversational, as though the narrators are speaking directly to the reader. The plot moves quickly with a bit of mystery thrown in, as the D Squad tries to discover who has leaked the story of the Homework Machine. Each character responds differently to this new development and pretty soon the conclusion winds up, with a couple of plot twists that are quite unexpected. The primary characters slowly develop a friendship through this drama, even though they have some prejudices about each other (slacker, goody-goody, trouble-maker, geek).

Reader's Annotation
A machine to do your homework for you? Sounds like every kid's dream, right? More free time to do the things you want, great grades, and it's all so easy. Except you're living a lie.

Author Information
Dan Gutman was born in 1955 in New York City and grew up in New Jersey. He obtained his Bachelor's Degree from Rutgers University, in psychology. He turned his attention to writing after a couple of years in graduate school, and began writing humorous essays in 1980. Gutman has 86 published works to date including fiction and nonfiction, for adults and children. HE currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and two children. (Information for this author biography is from his official site.)

Challenge issues
Some people don't like the word "sucks" and that's in here. There are devious kids here, bucking the time-cherished tradition of homework, and that's pretty scary too.

Booktalking Ideas
Someone mentioned that this book might be a good one to recommend to fans of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series (Kinney, 2007). Though this one is lacking the copious illustrations, I think that it's a good read-alike for the school setting, friends/enemies, and the humorous aspects. I think a booktalk called "If you like the Wimpy Kid books, try these next..." could be a good one. Other books might include Sideways Stories from Wayside School (Sachar, 1985), Julia Gillian (and the Quest for Joy) (McGhee, 2009), The Boys Start the War (Naylor, 1993), and Frindle (Clements, 1996).

Curriculum Ties
Certainly an obvious curricular connection would be related to instruction and guidelines on academic honesty. When did Miss Rasmussen begin to suspect that there was something up? How do people get caught cheating? Can teachers "tell" if you've plagiarized? Why do people cheat? Are these the same reasons (or are there different ones) that the D Squad started using the Homework Machine? Also, students might draft their own Ten Commandments of Homework, like Miss Rasmussen's.

Why this book?
Aren't you just a little intrigued by the title? I tried listening to it on audio but found the full-cast narration to be confusing since there are so many (and frequent) switches in point of view. It seemed like a pretty great selection for this list, so I went back to it in book form.

Series/Sequel
The Return of the Homework Machine (2009), which I see from Gutman's site addresses the one remaining loose end of the first book: What the heck was that red blinking light on Brenton's computer, that never went off even when the power was killed?

Awards
Maine Student Book Award, Second Place, 2007-2008; Booklist Editors' Choice, Books for Youth, Middle Readers Category, 2006.

Rockport Public Library owns?

Year of the Dog


Biblio Bits The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin, Little, Brown, and Co., 2006 (ISBN 9780316060004)

Reading Level/Interest Age 690 lexile/Ages 9-12

Genre Realistic Fiction, Humor

Plot Summary
It's the Year of the Dog, by the Lunar Calendar, and Grace's Taiwanese-American family is ringing in the new year! Grace has two sisters and the family lives in upstate New York; Grace's family is the only Chinese-American family in her community and at Grace's school. But wait, is she Chinese-American or Taiwanese American? Or both? This is a question that Grace herself puzzles over. Though Grace knows she's different, her classmates and teacher are supportive and inclusive of her ethnic and cultural heritage. One day, a new girl comes to school and she's also Taiwanese-American. Melody and Grace become fast friends who share many interests, like music, writing, and art. They team up for the class science fair and try an experiment with plants: they plant four pea seeds and water each one with a different liquid to see how the plants grow. Unfortunately their scientific method is not quite perfect and their results are skewed. When the girls get an assignment that combines art and language arts, to write and illustrate their own book for a national competition, Grace is stumped for an idea that is original. Will Grace discover her own inner talent this year, which is one of the possibilities in the Year of the Dog?

Critical Evaluation
Lin has created an engaging narrative in this semi-autobiographical work. This was the type of book that she wanted to read as a young girl, since none of the books she had access to were about people like her. Lin has peppered the text with lovely black and white illustrations. The story is occasionally interspersed with other stories, such as How Grandpa Got Rich, and Mom Sleeps in School. These stories-within-a-story help to provide round out the story of Grace's family and their experiences while living in Taiwan. There is a lot of cultural information here, but it's wrapped in an appealing story of a "regular" American girl who wants the lead role in the school play, who wants to fit in with her peers, and who wants to be able to be herself. Grace's narrative shows that she is beginning to understand who she is, both within and outside of the bounds of her ethnic and cultural heritage.

Reader's Annotation
The Year of the Dog is supposed to be about finding yourself and learning what your special talents are. But Grace doesn't win the science competition and she doesn't get the part she wants in the school play, so what's left for her?

Author Information
Grace Lin grew up in upstate New York with her two sisters and parents. Though she wanted to be a professional ice skater, she was much better at drawing herself as a professional ice skater. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design and began illustrating children's books. This book was Lin's debut as an author/illustrator for older children. She currently lives in Somerville, MA, with her husband. (Information in this author biography is from this site)

Challenge issues
Pretty innocent story here and not much to object to. Unless you might have someone who thinks that the library should only have books about WHITE Americans. (A troubling thought!)

Booktalking Ideas
This would be another great book to include in a booktalk on diversity and families. What makes our familieis different? What makes our families the same? Other titles might include Drita My Homegirl (Lombard, 2006), Granny Torrelli Makes Soup (Creech, 2003), Sahara Special (Codell, 2003), and How Tia Lola Came to (Visit) Stay (Alvarez, 2001).

Curriculum Ties
What are those stories that we hear over and over again in our families? The Time Sylvan Sleepwalked and Peed on the Floor, or When Jonas Almost Rolled Off the Doctor's Examining Table, or The Time the Thanksgiving Table Collapsed, or Things That Poppie Has Left Behind and Driven Away From By Mistake. Students could identify, collect, and write down some of these stories that exist in their own families. It could be a great writing project to give just before the winter break, that way students could review those stories with relatives and jot down a rough draft or notes.

Why this book?
Like Drita My Homegirl (Lombard, 2006) this book packs a big message about diversity. Though we may have different cultural heritages, our strengths are in the qualities we share in our relationships with friends and family.

Series/Sequel
This book is followed by The Year of the Rat (2008).

Awards
ALA Notable Children's Books, Middle Readers Category, 2007; BookList Editors' Choice, Books for Youth, Middle Readers, 2006.

Rockport Public Library owns?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Horrid Henry


Biblio Bits Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony Ross, SourceBooks Jabberwocky, 2009 (ISBN 9781402217753)

Reading Level/Interest Age Ages 9-11

Genre Humor, Realistic Fiction

Plot Summary
In this, the first book in this series, we meet Henry and his family, including his brother, Perfect Peter; we also encounter Moody Margaret, Henry's arch-nemesis. In every Horrid Henry book there are four stories or installments; they are not chapters in a continuing story, but always follow Henry and his latest naughty capers. This book opens with Horrid Henry's Perfect Day, in which he spends the whole day being perfect, like Peter always is. Consequently, the family is late for Cub Scouts because the parents slept in (no sounds of fighting to wake them up!). This new and unexpected turn of events infuriates Perfect Peter, who doesn't quite know what his role is now and even tries out being Horrid himself! This story is followed by Horrid Henry's Dance Class, Horrid Henry and Moody Margaret, and Horrid Henry's Holiday. Horrid Henry is rude, disagreeable, disgusting, conniving, difficult, and manipulative, but somehow totally hilarious at the same time.

Critical Evaluation
This series is as perfect as Henry is horrid, particularly for reluctant readers, fans of humor, anyone who has a sibling, or as a classroom or family read-aloud (if you don't mind being interrupted by hysterics). It's Henry against the world, which is a feeling that we can all relate to: a perfect brother (Peter loves veggies, going to bed early, dance lessons, and he gets perfect grades); parents who make us do terrible things (dance lessons instead of karate, wilderness camping instead of cushy camping); and his rival, Moody Margaret, who is always out to thwart Henry at every turn. It's a little bit like the picture book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Viorst, 1972). The illustrations reminded me of Roald Dahl's books and sure enough, Ross illustrated my own copy of Fantastic Mr. Fox. There is always at least one anecdote per Horrid Henry episode that has my own family rolling off the couch with laughter (ages 7-35).

Reader's Annotation
He's awful, he's rude, he's disagreeable----He's Horrid Henry! What happens when Henry decides to try being perfect for a day? Can he do it? If Henry's being Perfect, where does that leave Perfect Peter?

Author Information
Francesca Simon was born in St. Louis (MO) and was raised in California. She majored in Medieval Studies at Yale and Oxford Universities, and then "threw away a lucrative career as a medievalist" to pursue a career in journalism. She worked free-lance for the Sunday Times, The Guardian, and The Mail (all British publications), and Vogue (US). Simon is a best-selling children's book author in the UK; over 12 million Horrid Henry books have been sold, in 24 countries around the world. Simon now lives in London with her husband, son, and dog. (Information in this author biography is from her official site.)

Challenge issues
Any responsible adult might worry about Henry's thoroughly reprehensible behavior and would surely hate to think that the children in their care adopting Henry's antics.

Booktalking Ideas
The Trouble With Siblings would be the theme of this booktalk and I would try to focus on books that are also funny. I would include The Penderwicks (Birdsall, 2005), Superfudge (Blume, 1980), Beezus and Ramona (Clearly, 1955), and Ten Ways to Make My Sister Disappear (Mazer, 2007).

Curriculum Ties
It would be a great writing prompt to ask students to develop their own Horrid Henry story, inspired by an autobiographical anecdote. Have they ever had one of those days when EVERYTHING goes wrong? At every turn, you are thwarted by your parents who want you to wash your hair or change your shirt, or siblings who insist on having that one LEGO piece that you can't live without?? I could create a character called Irritating Iris whose husband, Jesting Jacob, is constantly making jokes that are just not that funny if she's in a grumpy mood. Irritating Iris bothers Jesting Jacob by telling him that sometimes his jokes really stink! Anyway, it would be a good group activity to "brainstorm" the type of story that makes a "good" Horrid Henry installment: the element of cringing horror that the stories elicit in readers, the interaction between characters, the roles of each character and how that advances the plot, etc.

Why this book?
Isn't it thrilling to read about characters who are horrible and get in trouble? Who do things that we do (or wish we could)? It's satisfying to read about one who is so predictably devious as Henry. Since, chances are, we are not as bad as he is, we delight in his antics.

Series/Sequel
Yes, indeedy, there are plenty more Horrid Henry books. Check the website, here, for the full list.

Awards
None.

Rockport Public Library owns?
No. (But we own others in the series!)

Trouble


Biblio Bits Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt, Clarion Books, 2008 (ISBN 9780618927661)
Reading Level/Interest Age 930 lexile/Ages 13+

Genre Realistic Fiction
Plot Summary
At fourteen years old, Henry Smith has led a relatively trouble-free life. His father always liked to say that "If you build your house far enough away, Trouble won't be able to find you." In the classic homestead that his family has owned for 300 years, and in the elite community on Cape Ann, MA, it seems like Henry's dad is right. Until Henry's perfect, athletic, older brother is struck by an inattentive driver while running, loses an arm and is placed in a medically-induced coma. The family falls into a deep grief and scatter to their respective corners of the family home. The driver of the vehicle, Chay, is also a student at Franklin's private school; Chay and his family are Cambodian and came to America as refugees. Chay's family lives in a nearby town that was settled by many Cambodian families and racial tensions begin to heat up between the two communities. Henry and Franklin had talked about a climbing trip to Mt. Katahdin, in Maine, and now Henry is determined to follow through with that goal. The story is a tightly-woven narrative that is laced with psychological intrigue and suspense, a story of families who find themselves in all kinds of trouble.

Critical Evaluation
Schmidt has crafted a literary coming-of-age story that touches on many emotional nerves: racism, classicism, grief, loss, and families under stress. Though the themes are serious, the book is compelling and does not feel morose or "heavy." Henry rescues a dog from near-drowning who is malnourished and has been abused. Though his parents initially resist, the dog provides an anchor for him in his grief; this relationship is sweet and funny and helps Henry from being totally alone, since his family members are so isolated in their grief. Though the book is very character-driven, it is cleverly crafted so as not to feel slow or brooding, and in fact, sometimes is very suspenseful. There are no easy answers here, and older tweens who are ready for more of a challenge will not be disappointed in Schmidt's storytelling.

Reader's Annotation
Is it possible to hide from Trouble? Henry's family has, in their elite community north of Boston, for over 300 years. But suddenly, Trouble is everywhere in Henry's life and he thinks he knows how to get his life in balance again: Climb Mt. Katahdin alone.

Author Information
Gary D. Schmidt was born in 1957 in Hicksville, NY. He attended Gordon College for his Bachelor's Degree and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for his Master's Degree, where he also received his Ph.D. He is married, with six children, and currently lives in Grand Rapids, MI. Schmidt has received numerous awards and recognition for his other works of children's literature, including two Newbery Honor Awards. (Information in this author biography is from Gale's Contemporary Authors Online, 2009).

Challenge issues
A rape is mentioned, but not described in detail. There is some violence though not overly graphic or gruesome.

Booktalking Ideas
This book definitely falls into the category of the teen problem novel, and more specifically, into the subject of death and grief. In a booktalk, I would emphasize the ways that Henry's family has avoided trouble so far: being white, being privileged, being lucky, and being sheltered in their family homestead. I would also emphasize Henry's goal of climbing Mt. Katahdin as his own way of coping with his grief. Henry finds out that trouble is everywhere. A Summer to Die (Lowry, 1977), Autobiography of My Dead Brother (Myers, 2005), and One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies (Sones, 2004) might be other titles to include for this theme and age group.

Curriculum Ties
This would be an ideal book to read while studying the Civil Rights Movement or immigration because it is clearly shows that institutional racism and segregation are alive and well and living in the United States, during many periods in our history and currently. I could imagine this book as a starting point for a discussion about immigrant or refugee communities in the students' own communities and the issues that might have arisen from their arrival. A formal or informal debate might be initiated, perhaps with the following questions: How can communities respond appropriately to an immigrant influx? What kinds of social services might they need? What about American taxpayers who resent the loss of jobs and higher taxes? What are the next steps for the fictional communities of Blythbury-by-the-Sea and Merton and how will they reconcile their differences?

Why this book?
This book had been recommended to me months ago, but I kept avoiding it because it sounded like the subject matter was so dreary. But I am glad I returned to it.

Awards
MSBA Reading List 2009-2010; Oprah's Reading List New Releases, ages 12 and up.

Rockport Public Library owns?
Yes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Arrival

Biblio Bits The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2006 (ISBN 9780439895293)

Reading Level/Interest Age Ages 9+

Genre Science fiction, Graphic Novel

Plot Summary
This is the story of a refugee, told in pictures only. Our protagonist leaves his home, his daughter and wife, to seek a safer alternative in a new country. The illustrations indicate that there is something menacing the city he leaves behind: something big, dark, and with a spiny, tendril-like tail has taken over. We follow our protagonist on his journey across a large body of water, aboard a steam ship, and then into the grand harbor of the new world. Once there, he must be processed and made official; there are lots of lines and waiting, which is reminiscent of pictures from Ellis Island. The new world is as unfamiliar to readers as it is to the protagonist, with strange symbols that must be writing, bizarre and fantastic architecture, unusual animals, implements, and foods. Even shopping for food is different, almost like an old-fashioned automat. Our protagonist finds a place to live and works several jobs in order to save money to bring his family over. Throughout the story we meet other refugees and learn of their stories also, as our protagonist makes friends. This is a singular work that is both evocative and beautifully rendered.

Critical Evaluation
I have read and re-read this book several times and each time I find myself just as astonished and moved by the narrative as the first time I read it. Tan's book is completely unique in many ways. The book design is made to look old or worn, with interior pages that have stains or cracks, and a cover that looks like a weathered, leather album. The illustrations are rendered impeccably in a variety of black, gray, and sepia tones. Some page layouts are comprised of lots of little boxes (like the cloud spread), while others are full-page spreads. There is a soft luminosity in Tan's drawings that makes me think of Old Master etchings. And yet this is only the technical aspect of the work. The sequencing and pacing feels very cinematic: our attention is sometimes focused in on a detail through several frames, or alternatively, we start out close in and then zoom out through several frames, like the movement of a film camera. Tan also manages to convey deep emotions and stir a reader's empathy so that we are no longer reading about a refugee in a strange, new land, we are the refugee.

Reader's Annotation
I really can't tell you about this book, you just have to experience it for yourself. It's the story of a stranger in a strange land, who has come seeking safety. It sounds like a million other books, but I promise this one is different.

Author Information
Shaun Tan was born in 1974 in Australia. His father is a Chinese Malaysian and his mother is Australian, of English and Irish descent. Tan studied fine arts, English literature, and history at the University of Western Australia and graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts. Tan has received many awards for his works and, in 2010, will be the Guest of Honor at the World Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne, Australia, where he currently lives. (Information in this author biography is from Gale's World Literature Today, 2008, and Wikipedia.)

Challenge issues
There are some scary parts of this story and strong emotions that are expressed.

Booktalking Ideas
I think the best way to begin a booktalk on this title would be to talk in some kind of gibberish for the first minute or so, perhaps holding the book and "asking" listeners whether they are familiar with the story (using facial expressions and gestures). Making the switch into English, it would be easy to hook readers in by showing them a few illustrations and asking some pointed questions. Have you ever had to leave your home? Moved to a new country without your family? What if you got there and no one understood you? How would you find food and shelter? It would be an interesting book to include in a themed booktalk on immigrants, mixing fiction and nonfiction, such as Maggie's Door (Giff, 2003), A Step From Heaven (Na, 2000), Letters from Rivka (Hesse, 1992), and others.

Curriculum Ties
This would be a fabulous book to tie into a unit about immigration, in fact I might recommend beginning the unit with this book, perhaps in small groups. For students who have not been an immigrant or refugee, this exercise would offer them a chance to be one. Have students become the protagonist: leaving behind his family in unsafe conditions, his quest for food and shelter, his utter bewilderment in his new surroundings. Perhaps they could also draw an identification page, like the protagonists, with a self-portrait and Tan-inspired symbols/language to represent his status and information (as in, no words in any recognizable alphabet!).

Why this book?
Because it's unlike anything I had ever seen before and I loved the old look of the cover and intriguing cover illustration.

Awards
ALA Notable Children's Books, Older Readers, 2007; Parents' Choice Awards, Fiction, 2007; Booklist Editors' Choice, Books for Older Readers, 2007; Oprah's Kids' Reading Lists, New Releases, Age 12 and up; New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books, 2007; New York Times Notable Books, Children's Books, 2007; School Library Journal Best Books, 2007; USBBY Outstanding International Books, Grades 6-8, 2008; Australian Book Industry Awards, Book of the Year for Older Readers.

Rockport Public Library owns?

Totally Joe

Biblio Bits Totally Joe by James Howe, Ginee Seo Books, 2005 (ISBN9780689839573)

Reading Level/Interest Age 910 lexile/Ages 12-14

Genre Realistic Fiction

Plot Summary
Thirteen year-old Joe has a writing assignment: an "alphabiography," meaning that it's supposed to be the story of his life from A to Z. But when he finishes it, he realizes there's a lot of pretty personal stuff in there, and though he doesn't censor himself, he begs his teacher to handle it with care (and NOT make him read any of it out-loud!). Joe is gay. He's always known that he was different from other boys: he doesn't make armpit farts, he is not an expert on cars or acting tough, and he doesn't use the word faggot all day long. Joe wore dresses when he was little and he liked to play with Barbies, but now that he's in middle school, he's thinking about his friends (straight and supportive), avoiding the name-calling bully, and his first boyfriend. But his boyfriend Colin is not so comfortable with being gay, so their relationship is "in the closet." When some rumors start circulating in school that Joe and Colin were caught kissing, Colin gets cold feet. This is a story about first crushes, friendship, and family. It's about being different and being O.K. with that. Joe is totally himself.

Critical Evaluation
This is an excellent contribution to the genre of queer coming-of-age stories. What is most notable about it is that Joe's family and friends have known his "secret" forever and they love and support him for who he is. He's just Joe, who loves cooking and movie stars and his friends, and who approaches his life with enthusiasm and humor. I also like this book because it is geared to a lower age-group than some other titles in this category, so it would be perfect for a tween who might be exploring or questioning his/her sexual identity in late childhood, or maybe, like Joe, has always known. There is the theme of name-calling and bullying in this book also, but it is resolved for the positive (almost too neatly) when the bully's conservative parents pull him out to attend private school. Ultimately I do wonder if this book isn't a tad wishful: accepting friends and family, supportive school officials---it seems too good to be true for a gay tween. But there is much to recommend here and maybe a hopeful wish for gay tweens everywhere.

Reader's Annotation
Joe is totally himself: funny, fun, a great cook, a good friend, a clever narrator, and---oh! he's also gay. Joe has had a crush on Colin since 5th grade and now it seems like Colin might like him back! What will having a boyfriend be like? Is Joe ready?

Author Information
James Howe was born in 1946 and grew up in upstate New York. He has been married twice: his first wife died, and he divorced his second wife. Howe is a very prolific children's author for books including the Pinky and Rex early reader series and the Bunnicula series. He has received many awards for his books and body of work, recognizing his contributions to the field of children's literature. Howe currently lives in New York with his partner, Mark Davis. He has one daughter from his second marriage. (The information in this author biography is from Gale's Contemporary Authors Online, 2007).

Challenge issues
Joe, our frank and homosexual (or frankly homosexual?) narrator, might be cause for objection in some circles.

Booktalking Ideas
I would focus this booktalk around the supportive network Joe has in his life. His friend Addie starts a campaign to end name-calling at their school because of how Joe is being treated. In 5th grade, at Joe's request, his friend Skeezie tries to teach him how to act like a guy-guy (but gives up, because it's pretty hopeless). His Aunt Pam encourages him to officially "come out" to his family. These are all people who show Joe that he is accepted with their actions and words. We all need a network like Joe's.

Curriculum Ties
This is another great one for the tolerance files: how to be yourself and be O.K. about it. I would want to link this book to a unit on getting to know yourself better, and I think I would borrow shamelessly from Mr. Daly's assignment and have students create an "alphabiography" of their own. The story of your life so far, from A to Z.

Why this book?
Great cover! And a perfect book for tweens about being gay and about being a tween, period.

Awards
ALA Notable Children's Book, Older Readers, 2006; Rainbow Lists, Middle/Early YA Fiction, 2008; MSBA Reading List, 2006-2007.

Rockport Public Library owns?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Buddha Boy

Biblio Bits Buddha Boy by Kathe Koja, Frances Foster Books, 2003 (ISBN 9780374309985)

Reading Level/Interest Age 1090 lexile/Ages 14+

Genre Realistic fiction

Plot Summary
There's a new boy at Rucher High and he's already earned a nickname for himself because of his unorthodox behavior: Buddha Boy. He looks like a small version of a monk, with his shaved head and hippie tee-shirts, and even begs for food at lunch; though he is called Michael on the official school paperwork, he asks to be called Jinsen, which he identifies as his spiritual name. When Justin, our narrator, and Jinsen are placed in a group for a collaborative project, Justin is hesitant because he doesn't want to be associated with this new weirdo. But there's a lot more to Jinsen than meets the eye: he is a practicing Buddhist and an amazing artist. Gradually, Justin starts caring less about what people will think, and more about the ideas that Jinsen has shared with him. But the teasing that Jinsen has experienced is getting worse, as he is physically bullied and and threatened. Justin wants to be a good friend, but he's not sure how to handle this, especially since Jinsen doesn't want the school administration involved.

Critical Evaluation
This is a slim book that delivers a lot of emotional impact. The portrayal of high school cruelty is realistic; in this case, the bullies are considered the "golden" boys of the school who can do no wrong. Justin's gradual acceptance of something new, his confusion about how to help Jinsen deal with the bullying, and the mix of strong emotions that surrounds their friendship, all work together to create a convincing narrative and sympathetic main character. It was sometimes hard to find the flow in Koje's writing, since she uses some unconventional stylistic techniques to express conversation and narration. I also was not fully convinced that Justin's friends, particularly Megan, would have so quickly changed their minds about Jinsen, right after he is given a special award for art and his commissioned banner is displayed for the school to see.

Reader's Annotation
Who's that nutty new kid in the dorky hippie tee-shirt? What's with his shaved head? He looks like some kind of, I don't know, like a monk or something. Is he begging? Oh. My. God. He is coming. To. Our. Table.

Author Information
Kathe Koja was born in 1960 and has made a name for herself as a writer of the horror genre for adults. She has been recognized for her work as a writer in numerous sources and awards. Koja attended Clarion Workshop for writers. She cites J.D. Salinger, Louise Fitzhugh, and Francesca Lia Block as inspirations. Koja lives in Detroit (MI) with her husband and son. (Information in this author biography is from her official site and the Gale's Contemporary Author's Online database, 2008.)

Challenge issues
Language, language, language! Wow. This book was somehow in the Juvenile section of our library and I will be making a recommendation that its designation be switched to YA. There is some swearing, and also references to drinking, smoking, and drugs.

Booktalking Ideas
I would probably design a booktalk about the theme of bullies and bullying and all of the ways this can happen, from excluding/ignoring someone to name-calling and teasing to destruction of property and physical violence. Mostly this has to do with somehow being different from the norm (which most of us are!). Though not as light-hearted, this book reminded me in many ways of Stargirl (Spinelli, 2000). There are lots of books that deal with this topic: Parrotfish (Wittlinger, 2007), Ten Things I Hate About Me (Abdel-Fattah, 2009), and Looks (George, 2008) to name a few.

Curriculum Ties
This book would make a great selection for a class on social health issues or life skills. The topic of bullying is the primary one, and is taken to several levels which could be discussed in large or small groups. The reason why Justin befriends Jinsen is because of a school project, but what else helped Justin to "see" Jinsen in a new way? What does this say about the dehumanization that occurs when we bully or reject or ignore other people?

Why this book?
I was looking for a book to add to my collection that dealt with bullying, and this one was one I had seen on the shelves. I thought it was going to be geared to a younger audience!

Awards
International Reading Association Children's Book Award for fiction.

Rockport Public Library owns?

Mysterious Benedict Society

Biblio Bits The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, Little Brown, 2007 (ISBN 9780316057776)

Reading Level/Interest Age 840 lexile/Ages 10+

Genre Adventure, Science Fiction, Mystery

Plot Summary
Reynie Muldoon is an eleven year-old orphan who sees the following advertisement in the newspaper: "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" He pursues the unusual testing sessions which turn out to be designed to evaluate more than just book smarts. It turns out that only four children have been selected, though they each approached the tests in very different ways, and are met at their concluding test site by Mr. Benedict. A genius with an uncanny talent for mind-reading, Mr. Benedict has made a startling discovery: subliminal messages of puzzling nonsense and contradictions are being broadcast through the televisions of the masses. The villain behind this is none other than Ledopthra Curtain, entrepreneur and founder of the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened (L.I.V.E. or backwards, EVIL!). The children soon infiltrate the institute as students and must work together, drawing on each other's talents, to solve the mystery and stop this dastardly megalomaniac. Will they be able to thwart his plans without being discovered as spies?

Critical Evaluation
I'll tell you how much I liked this book: at a time in the semester when time is of the essence, I didn't just abandon this book after gathering the necessary information to write an informed post about it! I had to finish it, and plan to read the two sequels over the break between semesters. Stewart has created a clever, engaging, and tightly plotted story here, filled with the types of unlikely heroes that readers love rooting for, and some great vocabulary words along the way. Constance seems the least likely heroine: grumpy, prickly, rude, and often dull. Readers will enjoy puzzling about why Constance is even a part of this group; they may suspect that she has a big part to play. In fact, the book is filled with puzzles, large and small, that will engage readers along the way. There is just the right amount of emotional engagement with and empathy for the characters, mixed with humor, suspense, and adventure. The adults at L.I.V.E., including Mr. Curtain, may remind readers of Roald Dahl's adults: those most odious ones who think they know everything and condescend to children.

Reader's Annotation
Are four kids really capable of foiling a global plot to brainwash its citizens by thought-control messages in their TVs? (Wait a minute, is this realistic fiction?) They make an unlikely team of heroes but quickly infiltrate the headquarters of the mastermind and use their combined talents to puzzle out the solution.

Author Information
Trenton Lee Stewart was born in 1970 and graduated from the Iowa Writer's Workshop. He lives in Little Rock (AR) with his wife and two sons. He conceived of this, his debut novel, out of a chess riddle that randomly came to mind on his way to a restaurant. (Information from this author biography was found here and from the book jacket.)

Challenge issues
Oh come on. It's good, clean fun. Evil masterminds, genius orphans, friendship, cleverness. OK, I guess if you have a nose like a cucumber you might be offended by the description of Mr. Curtain's nose.

Booktalking Ideas
Stylistically, this book reminds me of the Series of Unfortunate Events (Snicket) books or The Willoughbys (Lowry, 2008). But I think I would approach a booktalk by emphasizing The Kids Saving The World (or at least making some necessary changes) theme of this book. It's pretty creepy to consider subliminal messages being piped out of our TVs (and not so far from the truth). Other titles that might fit in could be Holes (Sachar, 1998), Hoot (Hiasson, 2002), Chasing Vermeer (Balliett, 2004), and That Girl Lucy Moon (Timberlake, 2006).

Curriculum Ties
There are some ideas about problem-solving and teamwork in these pages. It would be interesting to have small groups of students consider how the team (Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance) work together, perhaps even through some role-playing. How does each one fulfill a role that benefits the group? Why did Mr. Benedict choose them as individuals, and why does he consider them the perfect team? And there is a lot to say about Constance---she is so enigmatic, disagreeable, awkward, and difficult. Why is she part of the team?

Why this book?
My almost-eleven year-old and some of his good friends really loved these books and just read the latest installment, so I thought I would give their recommendation a try.

Series/Sequel
Yes. This book is followed by: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey (2008), and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma (2009).

Awards
MSBA Reading list 2008-2009; Booklist Editors' Choice Books for Youth, 2007; School Library Journal Best Books, 2007; ALA Notable Children's Books, 2008.

Rockport Public Library owns?

Ten Things I Hate About Me

Biblio Bits Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah, Orchard Books, 2009 (ISBN 9780545050555). Originally published in Australia in 2006.

Reading Level/Interest Age 720 lexile/Ages 13+

Genre Realistic Fiction

Plot Summary
Sixteen year-old Jamie is just your typical Aussie teenager: bleach-blonde hair, blue eyes, and now she's attracting the attention of Peter, one of the most popular boys in her school. She should be psyched about this social upgrade, right? Sure, except for Jamie is really Jamilah, an Australian of Lebanese descent who is a practicing Muslim (and sometimes wears colored contact lenses). Her dad forbids her to go out at night, her sister is a political activist who wears the hijab, and she has to attend Arabic school on the weekends. Since her mother died suddenly, Jamie's dad has become even more protective of her. Jamie has made the choice to hide her cultural identity in favor of blending in: she doesn't want the negative attention that she would get if she "came out" as who she really is. Jamie has never even told her closest friends about her secret. When racial tensions are running high at school, after the anti-Arab riots (based on true events of 2005), Jamie is as uncomfortable as ever in her assumed identity as racist comments fly among her peers.

Critical Evaluation
This title follows Abdel-Fattah's debut young adult novel, Does My Head Look Fat in This? (2007). As with her previous work, the multi-cultural lessons feel a bit overstated sometimes. While the author does a good job raising the issues, somehow the delivery falls a little flat: characters are either stereotypes or deliberately NOT stereotypes, they are pretty one-dimensional, and the plot development is predictable. The book feels needlessly over-long and creates a weaker impact since the essence of the story is distilled over more pages. That being said, this could be a powerful book for any tween who is contemplating their own identity, religious, cultural, or otherwise; what came off to me as rehashing of the same angst, could be just the right tone for a tween in a similar situation. We have all been in social situations in which we have obscured parts of ourselves, or in situations when another person's beliefs have been offensive; these are the universal themes of the book that will ring true for all readers.

Reader's Annotation
Jamie or Jamilah? Caucasian Australian or Lebanese-Australian? Jamie finds it easier to "pass" as a white in her racist high school. But when she continuously hears racist comments from her friends, will she dare to stand up to them?

Author Information
Randa Abdel-Fattah is an Australian of Egyptian and Palestinian heritage. She is a twenty-seven year-old lawyer who is married, with a young daughter. Abdel-Fattah grew up in Melbourne and now lives in Sydney. She is active in her local interfaith council and serves as a member of the Australian Arabic Council. Abdel-Fattah received Autralia's Kathleen Mitchell Award for Young Writers for this, her second, book. (Information for this author biography is from the book jacket, Wikipedia, and here.)

Challenge issues
Violent race riots and gang-rape are referenced. While nothing is explicit about this latter issue, it might raise further questions in readers.

Booktalking Ideas
This title would be a natural book to include in a booktalk about differences and how characters choose to deal with their own differences from the dominant culture. This could easily branch into questions of sexual identity, as in Parrotfish (Wittlinger, 2007) or My Most Excellent Year (Kluger, 2008). The theme of living with your own differences could even cross into various genres, including the supernatural books that are so popular (How do you blend in as a teen werewolf?), or into fantasy/sci-fi books like The Angel Experiment (Patterson, 2005). I would focus on the hidden identity part of this book of living a double life, and what that means in day-to-day life for Jamie/Jamilah.

Curriculum Ties
For older middle-school students this would be an interesting book to bring up in a social studies discussion about the historical context of "passing." Particularly in the post-Civil War era and the early 20th century, this phenomenon was common in the U.S. Discuss what this really means. Why would someone choose to do this? What is gained/lost? What does it mean for a person's family and extended family? Imagine a family in which a lighter-skinned sister chose to pass, while her darker-skinned sister doesn't have that option.

Why this book?
I was curious about where this author would go next, having read her first YA novel last year.

Awards
Oprah's Kids' Reading List, ages 10-12; Kathleen Mitchell Award for Young Writers, 2008.

Rockport Public Library owns?

Drita My Homegirl

Biblio Bits Drita My Homegirl by Jenny Lombard, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2006 (ISBN 9780399243806)

Reading Level/Interest Age 690 lexile/Ages 9-12

Genre Realistic fiction

Plot Summary
Drita is a ten year-old refugee from Kosovo who arrives in Brooklyn with her family. Her father, an engineer, escaped over a year ago and has been driving a taxi so he could bring his family to the safety of the U.S. Drita just wants to fit in and be liked by her peers, but things start out pretty lonely for her, with her limited English skills, strange-smelling lunches, and unfashionable clothes. To top it off, Drita's mother is in a deep depression about leaving home and the safety of her extended family .Maxie is an African-American girl who is in Drita's new class. Maxie is one of the homegirls of the fourth grade: she's funny and athletic and has a lot of friends, but she's often impulsive and gets into trouble. Maxie is being raised by her dad and grandmother; her mom died when she was just seven years old and Maxie really wants her back. Maxie is definitely not ready for her dad to have a new girlfriend. Maxie's teacher suggests an unusual social studies project: to study Kosovo, the homeland of the newest class member, and introduce Drita's story to the whole class. This sensitive story includes a lot more than just a book about two friends: it's about the things that we all have in common and about how our differences make the world a smaller place.

Critical Evaluation
This story includes a lot of "food for thought" without being too preachy about it, mainly because the characters and plot development are so well-constructed. The chapters are very accessible, alternating between chapters by Maxie and Drita. Chapters are short and the pace of the story is steady, which may make it a good pick for reluctant readers. Both characters have very distinct narrative voices and, just to underscore the shift in perspective, two different fonts are used in the text. The story of Drita's immigrant experience included many details that readers will find familiar (like any student at a new school) and also surprising. Lombard writes English as Drita hears it, when she is beginning to learn: "Ov curs, Drita. Tek va pass" ("Of course, Drita. Take the pass." p.37). While Maxie at first comes off as a smart-aleck, we quickly see that her antics are to cover the pain that she is hiding about her mother's death. Overall, this book was engaging and readable, a moving story of friendship and family.

Reader's Annotation
We all have things that are hard for us. Some things are obvious, like being a refugee from Kosovo and starting a new school with hardly any English skills. Some things are hidden, like when your mom dies and you don't tell anyone because that would make it real.

Author Information
This is Jenny Lombard's first novel, though she has written a nonfiction book for adults and several plays and TV treatments. She is a public school teacher in New York City and says that she got the idea for Drita's and Maxie's story when she realized that there were nine languages other than English spoken in her classroom. Since the war in Kosovo was constantly in the news at the time, Lombard began to wonder what it would be like for a refugee family. Lombard lives in New York City with her husband, son, and two cats. (Information in this author biography is from the book's official site.)

Challenge issues
Pretty wholesome story here, though some might be turned off by Maxie's behavior at times.

Booktalking Ideas
There are several books about friendship and its benefits and challenges, geared to this audience: Ruby Lu Brave and True (Look, 2004), Julia Gillian and the Quest for Joy (McGhee, 2009), Moving Day (Cabot, 2008) and Ivy and Bean (Barrows, 2006), and The Year of the Dog (Lin, 2006) to name a few. I would focus on Drita's point of view: Imagine being woken up in the middle of the night and leaving your home with only the clothes on your back...Going to a new school and not being able to talk to anyone or understand them...

Curriculum Ties
This book wants to be read aloud and discussed as a class. It would be great to read in a community where there is a large refugee population, or just to raise awareness about refugees and immigrant issues in general. How are Drita and Maxie alike? How are they different? How are their families alike/different? These questions could spark some good conversation. Perhaps this class conversation could lead to a classroom code of conduct for social behavior for all new students (making them feel welcome but not overwhelmed, introducing them to classroom culture, school culture, etc.). Or the class could come up with ideas about how to approach a non-English speaker, which may not sound like an issue for most people, but in Maine this is something we need to teach (and not just to kids!).

Why this book?
The cover of this book caught my eye and was recommended to me by a former youth services librarian.

Awards
MSBA Reading List 2007-2008.

Rockport Public Library owns?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Matilda

Biblio Bits Matilda by Roald Dahl, narrated by Ron Keith, Recorded Books, 1994 (ISBN 0788701398)

Reading Level/Interest Age 840 lexile/Ages 9-11

Genre Magical Realism

Format Audio Book

Plot Summary
Matilda is a child genius of two very dull parents who have no idea about her mental capacity. At an early age, she discovers the library and the kind librarian, as an alternative to sitting at home, alone in front of the television (while her mother plays Bingo). Matilda spends her afternoons, at age four, reading classic works of literature. When she enters school, she already knows how to read, do complex math, and spell. Her teacher, Miss Honey, would like to promote her to the top form but Miss Trunchbull has been warned by Matilda's father about this new trouble-maker. Miss Trunchbull is the headmistress, a true Dahl villain, who hates children and reserves a special closet for punishment in her office. So Matilda stays with Miss Honey, who offers her extra work and lessons to augment what she is teaching. Matilda is not conceited about her abilities and has several friends at school. She develops the ability to move things with her mind and these moments, like the clever tricks she plays on her parents, are triumphant. A classic tale of a misunderstood child who finds support outside of her family and ultimately triumphs.

Critical Evaluation
Roald Dahl is a terrific tween author because his protagonists have those qualities of the psychological moment of tweendom---taken to Dahl levels of extremism! Feeling misunderstood? So are Matilda, Sophie (BFG) and James (of Giant Peach fame). Feeling like everyone is out to get you? (Ditto the previous examples!) Are your parents dull and stupid? (Matilda's are!) Dahl's stories have the quality of a fable, since the characters are extremes: so lovely (Miss Honey) or so horrible (Miss Trunchbull). In Matilda, readers will empathize with the awful, embarrassing scene of the boy who is forced by Miss Trunchbull to consume an entire, enormous cake as punishment for sneaking a piece (we are not ever sure that he really did), in front of the whole school. While it is unlikely that readers will have experienced this particular cruelty, we have probably all experienced moments of unjust accusation and public humiliation by adults. The reader, Ron Keith, does an amazing job of giving unique voices to so many characters, with excellent emphasis and sense of drama.

Reader's Annotation
Classic Dahl! Matilda is ignored and maligned by her parents but saved by the lovely Miss Honey, who recognizes her as the child genius she is. The true villain is the nefarious Miss Trunchbull, headmistress of the school.

Author Information
Roald Dahl was born in Wales to Norwegian parents, in 1916. He attended private schools in England and was not considered a student with promise, as this statement from one of his report cards at Repton indicates: "Vocabulary negligible, sentences mal-constructed. He reminds me of a camel." (Gale Cengage, Literature Resource Center). He was a pilot for the Royal Air Force during WWII, also serving as an intelligence agent. Dahl was married to Patricia Neal for 30 years and they had five children; he subsequently remarried Felicity D'Abreau Crosland. Dahl died in Oxford in 1990. (Information in this author biography are from the Gale Cengage, online database Literature Resource Center, and from Wikipedia.)

Challenge issues
Matilda, and other works by Roald Dahl, appear on ALA's list of most frequently challenged books/authors. This book portrays neglect and outright cruelty, as well as telekinesis.

Booktalking Ideas
I would love to have this in a book/movie talk, as I think the film adaptation was excellent. Others might include Because of Winn-Dixie, Mary Poppins, Holes, and Hoot. Or perhaps this could be part of a booktalk of award-winning audio books, with others from the ALSC Notable Recordings list.

Curriculum Ties
Roald Dahl deserves his own author study in a language arts unit. Activities might include a project in which students develop a wiki about this author, his narrative themes, characterization, and style.

Why this book?
Because everyone loves a book where the villains are justly rewarded! A favorite scene from this book is when Matilda puts super-glue on her father's hatband so that the hat gets absolutely stuck on his head. And when it is finally cut off, the hair is pulled off also!

Awards
ALSC Notable Recording, 1995. Matilda also appears on many statewide reading lists, according to NoveList K-8 Plus.

Rockport Public Library owns?

Days Are Just Packed

Biblio Bits The Days Are Just Packed by Bill Watterson, Andrews and McMeel 1993 (ISBN 0836217357)

Reading Level/Interest Age Ages 9+, All ages

Genre Comics, Humor

Plot Summary
How to summarize the plot of a collection of comic strips? (Is there anyone left on this planet that would actually need a summary of Calvin and Hobbes?) Calvin is a boy of six (Wikipedia), who has a stuffed animal tiger, called Hobbes. When Calvin and Hobbes are alone, Hobbes is a fully animate "real" tiger who talks, but when anyone else is present, Hobbes reverts to his stuffed animal form. Calvin wages war against reality: his parents, the food they serve, bathing, his teacher, homework, normalcy, his babysitter, and most of all, Susie (his neighbor, classmate, and arch-nemesis). In this collection, frequently individual strips will build upon each other for 4-8 strips, and then be followed by a one-page, full color strip (that would have appeared in the Sunday paper).

Critical Evaluation
Watterson has masterfully captured what is universal about childhood, through Calvin's eyes, while also peppering his strips with clever cultural references built into the narrative. Quotes from Paul Gauguin, Calvin's diatribes against the marketing machine, destiny versus free will, and the homogeneity of TV culture are just a few of the gems that made it into the pages of this collection. But then there are just the straight-up funny ones. Like when Calvin sticks his nose in a jar of mustard and gets shot right out of his shoes (p.113). Or this family favorite, in which the phone rings and Calvin answers: "Hello, we are unable to come to the phone right now...So please leave a message at the sound of the click." Followed by a frame that depicts Calvin, slamming the phone down (p.76). Truly, there is something here for everyone.

Reader's Annotation
The best snow sculptures ever (more here) and the best fantasy/humor/sci-fi/adventure/philosophy/realistic fiction in one volume. Can any other volume boast the same?

Author Information
Bill Watterson was born in 1958 in Washington D.C. He spent time drawing and cartooning as a child, and cites Charles Schulz as an inspiration. Watterson graduated from Kenyon College (OH) with a degree in political science and continued to hone his artistic talents as a cartoonist for the college newspaper. He began the Calvin and Hobbes strip in 1985 and retired the strip in 1995. Within the first year, the strip was syndicated in over 250 newspapers. Watterson is a very private person and has not published any other strips. He is credited with changing the format of the Sunday strip, to allow for the merging of frames, diagonal reading, and frames-within-frames. He currently lives in Cleveland with his wife. (Information in this author biography is from Wikipedia.)

Challenge issues
Calvin is an equal opportunity offender. You could say that he's sexist, since he hates Susie, his mom, and babysitter, but he also attacks Moe and his Dad with equal aplomb. There are ideas in these strips that are decidedly complex for kids and that perhaps adults would be uncomfortable explaining to them.

Booktalking Ideas
Oh, do we have to? Again, my guess is no need to booktalk this one. Kids love Calvin. And they know about Calvin. But it would be an obvious selection for a booktalk on graphic novels and comics, and since there is lots of genre cross-over here, you could promote it in a humor or science fiction or fantasy or realistic fiction booktalk. But how about in a booktalk on winter sports? It would be excellent to show some of the more creative snow sculptures and snowball fight sequences.

Curriculum Ties
Older students could be asked to "read" Calvin and Hobbes for cultural references and then research their origins and context for more information. Younger and older students could be asked to create a simple strip with themselves as the protagonist, in the style/spirit of Watterson. Have they experienced a "Calvin moment" with a teacher, parent, or arch-nemesis? Their would not even need to include text at all, as there are many examples of strips that include no or few words.

Why this book?
As with Tintin, any collection without a representative the Calvin and Hobbes would be remiss. Calvin and Hobbes books, also like Tintin, are read and loved to death in the library. These comic strips appeal to all ages, at a variety of levels from burp humor to deep philosophy.

Awards
Watterson has received many awards, including multiple Harvey Awards, Eisner Awards, and Reuben Awards, and an Adamson Award.

Rockport Public Library owns?
No. (But there are others!)