Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Esperanza Rising ~ Pam Muñoz Ryan Visit

I love my kids' school. It's a magical place. The teachers are incredible, and I couldn't imagine a more creative learning environment for my son and daughter. One of the things I love most about our great school is that our students learn about and value art in all its forms - visual, written, performance, and musical.

The fifth grade classes have been studying California. The history, culture, government, climate, landscape and the art. The teachers have been reading the glorious book, Esperanza Rising, and discussing Mexican farm labor, migrant workers, and the San Fernando agricultural area among other things. It is the perfect book to generate a rich and interesting dialogue.

The big drumroll moment came yesterday. Pam Muñoz Ryan, the author of Esperanza Rising, came to talk to our students about her life as an author and to answer questions about her work. She brought and autographed donated copies of her books for the school and generously agreed to read the last chapter of Esperanza's story. The kids were thrilled. The teachers were thrilled. It was magical.

In honor of the author's visit, I am re-sharing a previous blog post I wrote on Esperanza Rising. If you haven't read the book, please do. And share it with your favorite student studying California history. You won't be disappointed.

"Be patient and the fruit will fall into your hand."  This quote is from Esperanza Rising, a middle grades book by Pam Muñoz Ryan.  It is also the words the author wrote to my twelve year old niece, Lindsay, when she autographed the book for her in 2001.  The story of Esperanza is one of hope and patience, and what it truly means to be rich.

I loved the story of Esperanza, the wealthy Mexican landowner's daughter who becomes a campesina living and working on a company farm in the San Fernando valley during the Great Depression.  I thought that Muñoz Ryan did a lovely job of portraying the plight of the Mexican farm worker, accurately describing their struggles with a MG-age appropriate story.

I was worried when I first started the book that Esperanza was going to be a stereotypically spoiled rich girl who transforms into a hardworking farm worker and a union hero.  Thankfully, she wasn't.  Esperanza did come from a life a privilege and was accustom to nice things, but she did what she had to do to support her family.

Muñoz Ryan does make the distinction between migrant of the working/peasant class and those that came to the camps from wealthy backgrounds.  The working class families endured the hard work and living conditions of field workers in San Fernando Valley with the hope of making a better life for themselves.  They viewed the work they did as an opportunity to improve their lives.  Their wealthy counterparts had fallen from positions of power and luxury.  The prospects of hard work were daunting, but the emotional toll was even more difficult.  In the minds of the formerly wealthy campesino, life was cruel and farm work was about survival, not self-improvement.

I loved the author's use of frutas y verduras as the chapter titles.  Esperanza learns to mark the passage of time not by seasons or months, but by cosechas.  The book also delves into the early efforts of migrant workers to unionize and strike for better living and working conditions and for fair wages.  Valley Fever, an illness that still exists, is another of the risks that field workers of the San Fernando Valley faced as they strived to provide for their families.

Muñoz Ryan peppers her dialogue with spanish word and phrases and gives young readers a taste of life in Mexico and in Great Depression-era California.  It's a great book for the classroom or the home.

This book brought to mind other amazing stories of class, power, adversity and the struggle for equality. Here are a few that come to mind:

The Lemon Grove Incident (movie)
Me Llamo Rigoberta Menchu y Así Me Nació La Conciencia by Rigoberta Menchu
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Roots by Alex Haley
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

Add to my list.  I'd love to read your examples.

Blog you later!

Ali B

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Wookiee, A Worried Kid and a Mountain Girl

I can't let myself get too far behind on blogging. There's so much reading wonderfulness out there, and I just gotta write about it. However, in the interest of time to read CYBILS nominees, I will be keeping it brief. (insert wink emoticon)

My ten-year-old son has read all three of the Origami Yoda books. In fact, he's read each book multiple times. I know because I can hear him giggling through the walls. The latest book in the series, The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee, has been nominated for a CYBILS award in the Middle Grades Fiction genre. 

I'll have to admit I was skeptical. My son had explained the premise of the series, and I wasn't sure about the broad appeal of the ongoing story. I was wrong. Very wrong. The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee is hilarious. I love Tommy and Kellen and the rest of the wacky gang of friends at McQuarrie Middle School. I love how they stick together, argue, make-up and trust in paper Star Wars characters to solve their adolescent problems.

I recommend the Origami Yoda series to kids 8 - 12 who like a funny story with heart. 

Justin Case - Shells, Smells, and the Horrible Flip-Flops of Doom was another unexpected surprise. A wonderful surprise. I know I'm not suppose to judge a book by its cover, but with Justin Case, I did. I was expecting another Nate or Greg character (not that there's anything wrong with that) but instead I got Justin. Funny, worried, slightly-nerdy Justin. 

Rachel Vail is the author behind this funny book about a nervous kid who over thinks...everything. Justin has just finished fourth grade and will be spending the summer at camp. But not comfortable, tried and true science camp. This year Justin has decided to go to Camp GoldenBrook. And at GoldenBrook, Justin will be outside his comfort zone. Way outside his comfort zone.

Written as journal entries, Justin Case chronicles the ups and downs (mostly downs) and ins and outs of Justin's summer camp experiences. GoldenBrook is a camp more suited to athletes and competitors, but Justin sticks it out, finds some friends, and makes a firm decision about his plans for next summer. Science Camp, definitely.

I recommend this book to everyone.

My last book for this post isn't funny or silly. It is serious. And lovely. And heartbreaking. And inspiring. Child of the Mountains is the story of Lydia, a young girl growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia in the 1950s. Her mama is in prison, her little brother is dead, and Lydia alone must find a way to clear her mother's name.

Lydia and her family speak the Appalachian dialect, and the rich traditions and culture West Virginians are examined in the day to day life of the characters. Marilyn Sue Shank, the author of Child of the Mountains, is a West Virginia native and includes an Author's Note about her heritage and the history of the rural coal mining towns of her home state.

Lydia is a character with a story to tell. I simply fell in love with her. I recommend this book to fans of historical fiction over the age of ten. Her story can be appreciated by anyone, but I hope that Lydia is discovered by girls, young and old, who can connect with her beautiful spirit and unwavering loyalty.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Liar & Spy

My son is quirky. Most of his friends are quirky too, so I tend to connect with characters who aren't the cool kids on the block. My house is often full of the not-so-cool ~ we're our own little island of misfit toys. I wouldn't have it any other way. Georges, Safer and Bob English Who Draws are well-written, believable and quirky, and they're the reason that Rebecca Stead has another hit with her latest middle grades novel, Liar & Spy.

Georges, his mom and dad have to move. Money is tight after Georges' dad loses his job, so the family moves into an apartment building. His first day in their new place, Georges and his dad find a note in the basement announcing an upcoming meeting of a spy club. Reluctantly, Georges goes to the meeting and meets Safer. He joins the spy club - which is really just Georges and Safer and occasionally Safer's little sister, Candy.

At school, Georges is lost. His former best friend now hangs out with the "popular" kids, dresses like a wannabe skater and ignores Georges. Without a group to call his own, Georges ends up sitting next to a kid they call, Bob English Who Draws, and trying his best to ignore the taunts of the class bully.  

A science class experiment and a covert mission to spy on a mysterious neighbor reveal truths about Safer and Georges. Truths that test their friendship, and for better or worse, push them to be different.

I love Liar & Spy and can't wait to share it with my ten-year-old son. I recommend this book to middle grades readers who don't need a high-octane adventure to engage with a story or stick figure drawings to connect to a character. Liar & Spy would also make a great read aloud for parents or teachers who want a character-driven story about bullying and unlikely friendships.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Books About Boys

My husband is the baseball fan in our family. I prefer basketball. Of course I'd heard of the great Satchel Paige, but knew next to nothing about his prowess as a pitcher. King of the Mound ~ My Summer with Satchel Paige taught me some of the subtle nuances of pitching and catching and the relationship between the two.

Nick is a young pitcher with a lot of promise until Polio leaves him with a bum leg. His father, a minor league catcher, defines himself by his skills as a player, and can only sees Nick's limitations.  Nick thinks his pitching days are over.

Two unlikely friendships forever change how Nick feels about himself and others. The legend Satchel Paige joins the local minor team and takes Nick under his wing, teaching him lessons about baseball and what it means to persevere in the face of adversity. And Nick's neighbor Emma helps Nick confront his fears, proving to him that not everyone sees him as a cripple.

This book was equal parts fun and inspiring. You can't help but love Nick, and the Satchel Paige stories were interesting even to a non-baseball lover. I recommend this book to kids eight and older, especially those who like baseball. King of the Mound is definitely a draw for sports-minded reluctant readers or lovers of baseball history. I'd also suggest this book to teachers who are looking for a strong story featuring an African American icon. Great any time of year, King of the Mound would make a wonderful lesson or read aloud during African American Heritage month.

Patricia MacLachlan writes well-crafted stories with genuine, believable characters. She wraps these charming stories in small packages and presents them to us as gifts.

Her latest middle grades fiction, Kindred Souls, is a love story - a spirited grandfather and his school-age grandson share an enviable bond. Grandpa Billy is in his twilight years and yearns for the comforts of his past. His grandson Jake can't imagine a world without Billy. When Billy gets sick, Jake and his family work together to give Billy a piece of his past - a sod house built in the same spot as Billy's childhood home.

Like MacLachlan's Sarah Plain and Tall, Kindred Souls is a timeless piece of writing to be cherished by young and old. I recommend this book to independent readers and a young middle grades audience, but it will also be enjoyed by parents, grandparents and teachers who crave well-written stories with simple plots and memorable characters.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Blogworthy Books from the CYBILS

At the rate I'm going my short list is going to be anything but. There are so many exceptional titles. Thankfully, I'll have my fellow Round 1 Middle Grades Fiction panelists to help me sort it out. Here are three well-written and wonderfully readable books.

The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook is story of love and loss and moving on. Big sister Oona uses her vivid imagination to craft adventurous tales for her little brother Fred about the previous lives of their ailing cat. Oona and Fred live in a tiny apartment with their mom. Their father has passed away, and both of the children are still dealing with the loss - Oona is sad and protective, and Fred misses the dad he is slowly starting to forget.

When her mother starts to date, Oona becomes resentful and suspicious. When her imagination and catnapping plans get Oona into trouble, she makes some discoveries about the real life Zook led before he wandered into their lives and learns to open her heart to possibilities.

Joanne Rocklin is the author of this touching story, and I adored Oona and her relationship with Fred. I loved that Rocklin added little habits and details to Oona's character that helped me visualize and connect with Oona. I enthusiastically recommend this book to kids (especially girls) in the 9-10 age range. It feels to me to be an early middle grades story.

Ellen Potter is the author of The Humming Room, a Secret Garden inspired story about an antisocial orphan who would rather commune with nature than communicate with people.

Potter's main character Roo was safely hidden under a trailer when her father and his girlfriend were murdered. She loved her dad, but he was troubled and didn't take care of Roo properly and his girlfriend was neglectful and mean. Without nearby family, Roo ends up with her eccentric uncle on his private island.

I loved the mysterious feel of The Humming Room. The uncle's wife had died and there were rumors the uncle was to blame. Eery howling noises can be heard throughout the uncle's home - a former children's tuberculosis sanitarium, and  Roo discovers a beautiful garden hidden within the walls of the former hospital. Oh, and did I mention the ghost boy who can be seen rowing his boat on the misty river?

Potter definitely scores with this suspenseful story reminiscent of Jane Eyre (for kids of course.) I recommend this book for kids ages 9-12 who like mystery and quirky, strong characters.

The third book of this outstanding trio is The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine. I can't stop talking about this book.

Marlee is twelve years old and scared to speak. Really. She doesn't speak to anyone outside of her family and a couple of friends. She has a lot to say, but she's too scared to say it. But Marlee's wordless world changes when she starts seventh grade in 1958.

Marlee lives in Little Rock, Arkansas. Laws are changing and African Americans are gaining rights they've never had before, but the segregationists of the south and the governor of Arkansas are against the integration of public schools. When Marlee meets a new friend, it throws her family into the heat of the segregation/integration battle.

This book is outstanding! It has incredible crossover appeal and would make a wonderful read aloud for a middle grades social studies teacher. I also recommend this story to middle grades and young adult readers who like strong stories of friendship, loyalty and human rights. And parents, you'll love it too.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Group of Three

I am happy and content and up to my eyeballs in Middle Grades Fiction - I love being a CYBILS judge! For the next three months my blog will be dedicated to reviews of nominated titles, but I have three beautiful and worthy books I want to post about first.

In Mary Pearson's The Adoration of Jenna Fox, a teenager wakes from a coma with no memories of life before her accident. Jenna's parents try to shelter her, and her grandmother is strangely distant and cold. No one wants to give Jenna straight answers.

Aided by videos of past birthdays, Jenna regains parts of her memory. Strangely vivid, strangely early memories. But a minor injury brings up major questions and leaves the reader wondering just how far they'd go to save someone they love.

TAJF is smart, well-written and a great read for lovers of soft sci-fi.

Speak is an award winner - a multiple award winner. It was even made into a movie starring everyone's (ahem) favorite lip-chewing, vampire loving ingenue - Kristen Stewart. I'm not necessarily recommending the movie. I can't - I only saw a few scenes. But I can and do recommend the book.

Told from the perspective of an ostracized, high school freshman, Speak is a powerful and darkly funny story of loneliness, shame and an unspeakable hurt. It's about finding your voice and silencing your demons.

At an end-of-the-summer party, incoming freshman Melinda Sordino commits social suicide by calling the cops. She starts high school with no friends and an awful secret about what really happened at that fateful party.

Speak is beautifully crafted. Melinda is believable and touching. It is a Young Adult novel worthy of its many accolades.

Karen Cushman spoke at the 2012 Summer Conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. She was, in a word, inspiring. Having never read her work, I promptly added The Midwife's Apprentice to my TBR pile. It is a gem.

Winner of the 1996 John Newbery medal, The Midwife's Apprentice is the charming story of Beetle, a young woman rudely named by the midwife who finds her sleeping in a dung heap. With nowhere to go, Beetle goes to work for the midwife.

Over time, Beetle's self-confidence grows, and she discovers that everyone wants for things - even Beetle. Changing her name to Alyce, the young woman learns to make decisions for herself and plans for her future. "I know what I want. A full belly, a contented heart, and a place in this world."

Karen Cushman includes an informative Author's Note, making The Midwife's Apprentice the perfect read for kids and parents interested in Medieval England and the practice of midwifery.

I love and recommend all three of these gorgeous books. They are about girl-power, finding your voice and the beauty of personal growth. Wow!

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Get Ready! Get Set! CYBILS!

Let the nominations begin! October 1st - October 15th = Two weeks of of opportunities for you to nominate your favorites in children's literature. There are nine different genres and you can make a nomination in each of the nine. But only ONE, so choose wisely.

The CYBILS website has all the information you need to know, so click on the link and...
Get Ready! Get Set! CYBILS!

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Wicked and the Just

I finished The Wicked and the Just. The fact that I finished it while waiting for a throat culture and a migraine shot thankfully did not diminish my enjoyment. And, I believe that my willingness to read this remarkable book while in eye-twitching pain should serve as testament to the quality of the writing and the story. Folks, I've gotta really love what I'm reading to read it through a migraine.

J. Anderson Coats is the author of The Wicked and the Just, and she did her homework. This well-researched work of historical fiction takes place in Wales during the thirteenth century. It's about two young women, one Welsh and one British, who live two very different lives in a Caernarvon, a settlement in Wales ruled by the King of England.

The story is told in alternating points of view - Cecily, a spoiled English brat, and Gwinny, a poor Welsh servant. You don't have to delve far into the book to realize that there is more to the headstrong protagonists than the roles they play. Cecily can be just and Gwinny can be wicked.

When Welsh rebels attack the British townspeople of Caernarvon in a violent uprising, Cecily is forced to serve her servant, and Gwinny becomes the master. How they adjust to these new roles is what made me fall in love with these strong and multidimensional heroines. The plot is fascinating from a historical standpoint, but it is the character development that drives this story.

I recommend The Wicked and the Just to history buffs and lovers of great characters.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I'm judging the CYBILS

I am absurdly excited to announce that I have been chosen as a first round judge (panelist) for the 2012 CYBILS. C-Y-B-I-L-S stand for Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards. I will be a panelist in the Middle Grade Fiction category. My favorite! (insert squeal of delight)

What does it mean to be a judge for the CYBILS? For me it means that I get to spend three months (October-November-December) happily digging out from under an avalanche of books. Great books! Not-so-Great books! Sad books! Happy books! Funny books! Serious books! Long books! Short books! Books! Books! Books! I'm dedicated to reading (or at least partially in some cases) about 150 Middle Grade books. BOOKS!

How do books get nominated? Anyone can nominate a book. But you can only nominate one book per genre. Eligible books are those published after the last contest ended and before closing of nominations for this year. Nominations will be taken between October 1 - 15, 2012. Check back here for a nomination link on October 1st. Wow, I wrote nomination a lot in this paragraph.

The finalists will be announced on January 1st and the winners on February 14th.

Did I mention that I'm a judge for the CYBILS?

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Between Shades of Gray

"Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch."

Between Shades of Gray is the harrowing story of Lina, a Lithuanian girl, separated from her father and deported from her homeland along with her mother and younger brother. Their crime? Being anti-Soviet.

Abused, starved, and broken, Lina is taken to Siberia along with countless other prisoners, to live out their sentences as slaves. Given little to survive on and with no access to medical care, many of the deportees did not survive the cruel cold of an arctic winter.

Those that did survive were forced to work for the Soviets for no pay and meager rations. If they couldn't work, they were murdered or had to rely on the kindness of others to carry on.

Ruta Sepetys is the author of Between Shades of Gray. The story is a personal one. Sepetys is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, and her book is a tribute to the hundreds of thousands of people who suffered and died when Stalin purged the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

This summer I had the pleasure of hearing Ruta Sepetys speak at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' conference. She was being honored with The Golden Kite Award. Sepetys is not only a gifted writer, but a charismatic and inspiring speaker.

Her message above the signature on my copy is simple: Hope. Love. Freedom! Thank you, Ruta, for your story. Lina is a character for the ages.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday

I'm joining in the fun of Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  Daisy asks the question, "What are your top ten favorite books read during the lifespan of your blog?"

Here's my list: 

Okay For Now - Gary Schmidt

That was hard!  Narrowing my list to ten was a challenge - I've read and blogged about some extraordinary books.  My list of favorites is dominated by Middle Grades Fiction - no surprise there.  But I also included two exceptional Young Adult novels and three beautiful Picture Books.  

I look forward to the next Top Ten Tuesday challenge.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Penguin Story

I recently attended the 2012 Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Los Angeles.  Inspirational!  What a pleasure it was to listen to and learn from the best in children's literature - Gary Schmidt, Tony Diterlizzi, Clare Vanderpool, Patricia Maclachlan, Lin Oliver and on and on.

I write middle grades fiction, so I wasn't sure what I would take away from the Illustrators Panel.  I love I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen and recently enjoyed the illustrated middle grades book, Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin, and since both of them were on the panel, I decided to attend. It was fascinating to hear about the process of bringing text to life through illustrations.

Antoinette Portis was also on the Illustrators Panel.  She is the author/illustrator of Not a Box and Not a Stick.  During the panel she told a funny story about the creativity and business behind her book, A Penguin Story.

A bought this elegant and simple story for my daughter.  Ms Portis was kind enough to sign it for my six-year-old, and it has quickly become one of my kiddo's nighttime favorites.

The book tells the story of a penguin named Edna who has grown weary of her world of blue, black and white.  She takes off on her own in search of something different.  Edna stumbles upon a group of Arctic scientists with their orange equipment, jumpsuits and bright orange plane.  Just like that, the penguin and her friends have a new color in their lives, and Edna sees a world of possibilities.

Blog you later,

Ali B.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Gregor The Overlander

My lovely and eloquent ten-year-old son likes sharing his opinions on books.  He also enjoys being interviewed.  Having just finished Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, he suggested I ask him some questions and post the answers on Literary Lunchbox.  He's not shy, my kid.

Before the interview started he promised to make his answers sound professional.  Phew!

Can you please give me a synopsis of Gregor the Overlander?

What is a synopsis?

Okay, can you please give me a summary of Gregor the Overlander?

It is about a kid named Gregor who falls into an air duct and is transported to a world that is ruled by giant spiders, cockroaches, rats and bats.

What is the name of this other world?

The Underland

Who are the main characters?

Gregor - a human boy (the protagonist)
Boots - Gregor's two-year-old sister
Vikus - another human who got lost in The Underworld
Queen Luxa - queen of the bats
Temp - a boy cockroach who is a friend of Gregor's and thinks Boots is a princess
Tick - a girl cockroach who is a friend of Gregor's and thinks Boots is a princess
King Gorger - king of the rats. (the antagonist)

Who are the bad guys?

The rats are the bad guys, but the spiders can be a little bit irritating, too.

Were the characters believable?

Yes.  I could imagine them in the real world.

Who is the audience for this book?  

I believe people going through adolescence.  I think they'd enjoy a book like this.

To whom would you recommend this book?

I would recommend this book to fans of The Hunger Games series because it was written by the same author.

If you were to compare Gregor the Overlander to another book or series, what would it be?  Why?

I can't compare this book to any other because it is so unique and mysterious.  It does remind me a bit of The City of Ember.

Gregor the Overlander is the first book in a series.  Will you read the rest?

I will read the rest because the ending left me in suspense.

Any final comments?

Gregor the Overlander is a very, very good book.  I hope some of my friends read it so we can improve our relationship by talking about this book.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


It's like people you see sometimes, and you can't imagine what it would be like to be that person, whether it's somebody in a wheelchair or somebody who can't talk.  Only, I know that I'm that person to other people, maybe to every single person in that whole auditorium.

August Pullman is ten years old but has never gone to school.  It has always been easier for August to be taught at home.  There were surgeries to be considered and doctors appointments.  You see August has a facial deformity and it shapes his life.

Wonder is the story of August's first year in school, his fifth grade year.  August enrolls at Beecher Prep Middle School where the academics are easy for him, but his severe facial deformity makes it difficult for him to trust the motives of his peers.  It is hard for August to make friends.

Some incredible people are in August's life - his mom, dad and older sister cherish and protect him.  But a boy needs more.  He needs friends.  Two kids at Beecher Prep are able to see the boy instead of the face, and their friendship opens a door for August.  He learns he is more than a face and that others can see that too.

R.J. Palacio is the author of Wonder.  It is her first novel, and she so got it right.  August is believable, written as a fifth grade boy like any other except he constantly deals with the stares of strangers and the bullying and insensitivities of some of his peers.  He's not perfect.  He can be harsh and selfish, but the August that you take away from this book is charming, smart, honest and funny.

 The story is primarily told from August's perspective, but other characters jump in and tell their story as it relates to August.  Again, Palacio pulls off a literary challenge - changing narrators without losing the character.

August is a wonder.  You'll cry for him, cheer for him, and you'll wish you knew him.  He's that special.

But hey, if they want to give me a medal for being me, that's okay.  I'll take it.  I didn't destroy a Death Star or anything like that, but I did just get through the fifth grade.  And that's not easy, even if you're not me.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars

I am at a loss for words.  Not an enviable position to be in when you are trying to describe one of the best books you've ever read.  Notice I didn't say, "one of the best YA books," because it isn't just YA good ~ it is good good.

Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace are teenage cancer patients.  They meet in support group, develop a friendship and fall in love.

There is so much to love in this book.  Do yourself a favor and read it.  Here are some of my book club's favorite lines:

"...suffice it to say, that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate."

"I want this dragon carrot risotto to become a person so I can take it to Las Vegas and marry it."

"That's what I believe.  I believe the universe wants to be noticed.  I think the universe is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed.  And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell that universe that it - or my observation of it - is temporary?"

"There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1.  There's .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others.  Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million.  Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.  A writer we used to like taught us that.  There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbound set.  I want more than I'm likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got.  But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity.  I wouldn't trade it for the world.  You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful."

"I'm in love with you, and I'm not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things.  I'm in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we're all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we'll ever have, and I am in love with you."

"'Mother's glass eye turned inward,'  Augustus began.  As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once."

Blog friends, I could go on and on and on...  Every line is well constructed and crisp.  But I want you to read this book.  Laugh, cry, and be thankful that there are writers like John Green and books like The Fault in Our Stars.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


My ten year old son recommended Rules.  He read it in school with his book circle group and suggested I read and review it at Literary Lunchbox.  Book recommendations from my fourth grader?  Does it get any better than that?

Rules is the touching story of an adolescent girl and her eight year old autistic brother.  Catherine loves her little brother David, but his needs and habits are also a source of embarrassment and resentment.  In an attempt to teach David proper manners and behaviors, Catherine composes a list of rules for her brother.
  1. If someone says "hi," you say "hi" back.
  2. If it's too loud, cover your ears or ask the other person to be quiet.
  3. No toys in the fish tank.
In Rules, Cynthia Lord writes characters in real life situations who have to adjust their actions to accommodate differently abled friends and family.  I enjoyed this book for its attention to autism, friendship and family dynamics.  I recommend this award winning book to Middle Grade readers and their parents.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The False Prince

I'll admit I was surprised by being surprised by The False Prince.  From the beginning I liked the main character Sage, but I was worried about the plot set up.  It seemed predictable.  Too predictable.  A handful of orphans, an empty throne, greedy men, and a treasonous plan to fool a kingdom - It didn't seem too hard to figure out what would happen.  Here's how I thought things would go down:

  1. Rich baddy (Conner) would try his best to beat/intimidate/terrorize orphan boys until they bent to his will.
  2. Sage, the rebellious orphan, would rebel and cause mischief.
  3. The orphans would become friends and unite in their hatred for Conner.
  4. Conner would see that Sage was the best *prince* to take the throne.
  5. Conner would somehow use Sage's loyalty to his new friends to manipulate him into pretending to be the prince.
  6. Somehow Sage would outwit Conner and save the day and the kingdom.
Some of my predictions were accurate.  Conner was bad.  Sage was a rebel.  I love a good rebel.  And Sage does outwit the evil Conner, but Jennifer Nielsen does a great job of keeping the reader guessing and wondering who to trust.  I stayed up late enjoying Nielsen's plot twists.  I love a good plot twist.  
The False Prince is a book about kingdoms and castles, honor and deceit.  There's plenty of mystery and intrigue in the story, but it won't overwhelm adolescent readers.  I recommend it to both Middle Grades and young Young Adult readers looking for an adventure series without vampires, werewolves or cyborgs.  

Blog you later!  ~  Ali B.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I have an unwritten policy (as most of my policies are) that I don't review sequels if I have previously reviewed another book in the same series.  Today, I'm ignoring that policy.  I just finished Insurgent, and I want to write about it.

I tip my hat to Veronica Roth for keeping the momentum going and following up her debut novel Divergent  with a *can't put it down* sequel.  I did not read it in one sitting.  It is, after all, 544 pages and I have to sleep, work and take care of those two adorable and demanding kids of mine.  Until my clone is spawned, I have other things to do besides read and write.  Bummer!

Here's what I liked:

  • The factions are still important to the story and plot, but Roth did a great job of building up the role of the Factionless and the Divergent.
  • Roth blurred the line between bad and good.  I like that.  Her characters, even though they belong to strictly-defined factions, aren't one dimensional.  Some of her *good* characters do bad things, and some of her *bad characters* do good things.  
  • Veronica Roth painted a landscape with words.  When I read her descriptions, I can see the setting.  She gives readers enough to visual a faction's headquarters or an Erudite laboratory.  
  • I like to be surprised, and there's no better surprise than death.  Roth doesn't have a problem killing off her characters, large and small.  For an added twist, she doesn't mind bringing a character back from the dead either.  That's just the right amount of soap opera drama for YA fiction.
  • Tris isn't beautiful.  It's a YA novel, and the lead character isn't a knock-out.  Enough said. 
So, if there are things I liked, there are bound to be a couple of things I struggled with.  They weren't game changers, but I have two small issues.

Here are my issues:
  • I grappled with faction identity.  There are five factions, the Factionless, and the Divergent, and it was hard keeping track of who belonged where.  It was especially hard to follow who was Divergent, and while I understand the reason behind revealing the characters who chose different factions other than the one they were born to, it made things a bit confusing.  Add to that the alliances and faction traitors, and things got messy for me.
  • I love Tris!  I love Tobias!  I didn't love their relationship in this book.  Too much lying and none of the unconditional trust from Divergent.  I appreciate that conflict needed to be created to maintain the YA love angst, but I hope Roth returns to the original Tris and Tobias in book #3.
If you haven't read Insurgent, read Divergent first ~ then read the sequel.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You

You are my angel, my darling, my star.  .  . and my love will find you, 
wherever you are.

Reading with your child shows them how much you care.  It is such a simple act ~ snuggly and safe and comforting.  Wherever You Are:  My Love Will Find You is a beautiful story about the power of parental love.  The book tells the story of a parent's ever-present love for her child.  Each page, each illustration, each line sends the message that the child is never alone, love is always there.

The text is simple and appealing, especially for the preschool crowd.  It rhymes and little kids like that.  The illustrations are my favorite part of the book.  They are, in a word, charming.  The parent is never in the pictures.  That's kinda the point.  The child is pictured, small and busy, with a different wild animal in every scene.  And the scenes are vast ~ the sea, a lake, a rolling prairie.  But the child is not fearful.  Love is there.

My bookshelves are full of wonderful stories about children who have tested the limits of parental patience only to learn that their parents still love them.  I love these books.  I read them to my children and quote them quite often.  With Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You, Nancy Tillman has added a different version of parental love to my shelves.  Her book is about love's ability to stretch and grow and find us know matter where we go.  We don't outgrow our parent's love.  Hallelujah!

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


The future.  New Beijing.  Cyborgs.  A plague.  Lunar life.  Interested?  You should be.  Cinder is a futuristic Cinderella story complete with an evil stepmother, a handsome prince, and a magical ball, but there are differences too.  An android has replaced the singing mice.  A plague-fighting doctor has replaced the fairy godmother.  And Cinder doesn't lose a glass slipper, but she does lose her cyborg foot.

I'd had Cinder in my "to be read" pile for months.  My pile grows like evergreen - fast and beautiful.  I was especially intrigued by Cinder - the character.  I wanted to read about this teenage cyborg mechanic.  She wasn't a helpless beauty.  In fact, she's described as rather plain with unkempt hair and a wardrobe of grease-stained cargo pants.  She sounded like my kind of girl.  It turns out she is.

Cinder  reads like the first book in a series - you know there's more to come.  There are some unanswered questions and a few spots where I wanted more backstory, but not so many that Cinder becomes confusing or dull.  On the contrary, I was hooked from the very first chapter.  It's a new take on a classic fairy tale, so there are some obvious conclusions to be drawn, but there were also lots of surprises, twists, and original characters to delight YA readers.

Marissa Meyer has done a fantastic job of leaving her mark on the classic Cinderella story!

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Grandpa Green

This book is delightful.  Touching.  Beautiful.  Grandpa Green is a story of memories, family, and the topiary garden that one great-grandfather creates to share his life history.

Grandpa Green's great grandson takes us on a tour of the topiary garden.  From chickenpox to wedding cakes, farmyards to battlegrounds, our little tour guide moves us through the highs and lows of his great grandfather's life.

I read this book to my little girl, and she was charmed by the creative, visual history of the garden.  Her class recently worked on a family storybook project as part of the school wide theme - Traditions.  Each kindergartner had to choose a story from their family history (recent or less so) to share with the class.  They dictated their stories to a parent, brought the story to school, and then illustrated their work.  My daughter loved this project, and reading Grandpa Green helped her understand the importance of storytelling and family history.

I recommend Lane Smith's lovely picture book to parents and grandparents who want to talk to their young ones about family legacy, memory, and love.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred

Cleverly written and beautifully illustrated, The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred is the story of a young farm girl and a group of helpful animals who join together to make a large pot of rice pudding ~ arroz con leche.  Each new character adds a needed ingredient or cooking supply for the dessert recipe.

Written in the fashion of The House that Jack Built, Samantha R. Vamos introduces children to Spanish by first presenting a word in English and then replacing that word with its Spanish equivalent.  The result is a lyrical, bilingual book that engages children by using language in a fun, musical way.

The illustrations are rich and colorful and vividly portray the culture of Latin America.  Rafael Lopez is the artist behind these vibrant pages.  His magical style brings life to the farm maiden and animals, and the color and detail add excitement to every scene.  It is no wonder Rafael has won many awards for his art including the Pura Belpre Award - an award given annually to Latino authors and illustrators whose work captures and celebrates latino culture through children's literature.

I read The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred to my six year old daughter.  A young lover of music and language, she was interested and engaged in this poetic story.  There's a rice pudding recipe at the end of the book that we've decided to try.  It sounds delicious!  She and I both recommend this wonderful book.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Small As An Elephant

I read this book in a day.

The story is compelling, and the main character Jack is well-written and believable.  From the first page of Jennifer Jacobson's middle grades book, I found myself emotionally connected to this brave and loyal boy.  I simultaneously wanted to save him and cheered his efforts to save himself.

Small as an Elephant is the story of Jack, a young boy who wakes up on the first morning of a camping trip and realizes his mother is gone.  Although worried and upset, Jack knows what has happened.  His mom has left. Again.

Alone in a strange state, Jack must find her.  But how does a penniless, eleven year old boy go about finding his bipolar mother?

Some of the things I loved about Small as an Elephant:

  • Jack's mother is not a character.  She only appears in Jack's thoughts and memories.  Her absence throughout the book makes Jack's predicament all the more heart-breaking and real.
  • Jack loves elephants.  His love for the animals and facts about elephants are important elements in the story.
  • Jack's journey is believable.  His efforts to find his mom, feed himself, travel, and not get caught are plausible actions for a resourceful young boy.
Small as an Elephant would make a great book club selection for middle grades readers or a book for a parent to share with their child.  There's much to be discussed in this wonderful story.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Read To Me - Picture Book Challenge - Touch The Sky

I was a high jumper in high school.  A very mediocre high jumper.  Alice Coachman was a world class high jumper, ten time National Champion, and Olympic gold medalist.  In and of themselves, these are huge accomplishments, but as an African American woman in 1940's Albany Alabama, these are truly remarkable.

Touch The Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper is the story of a young, poor, African American girl with big dreams and even bigger talent.  Ann Malaspina wrote this captivating biography in lyrical free-verse, telling the story of Alice's life from her humble beginnings - she made her own high jump crossbar with sticks and rags - to the final page where Alice win's the Olympic gold medal in 1948.

The artwork captures Alice Coachman's story using beautiful illustrations by Eric Velasquez.  The Author's Note at the end of the book tells more about this remarkable woman who continued to inspire others long after becoming the first African America woman to win an Olympic gold medal.  The author includes early photos of Alice Coachman with her teammates from the Tuskegee Golden Tigerettes track team and of Alice in competition.

I try to read to my fourth grade son as much as possible, but sometimes he just doesn't want me to.  Fair enough.  I've always preferred reading to being read to.  I decided to share Touch the Sky with him.  I wanted a more mature perspective on the free verse story than my six year old daughter could provide.  He really enjoyed it.  He loves watching the Summer Olympics (me too) and thought it was cool that Alice Coachman won her gold medal in the same city where the 2012 Olympics will be held.  And, he loved the poetry.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Honestly, I don't read a lot of YA.  The fads and trends are tiresome, and  I hate the constant comparisons.  That being said, I have read some incredible YA.  When the story is good, it sucks me in.  I can't put it down.  Literally!

Three years ago, while in the throws of my Twilight obsession, I read at stoplights, in parking lots, and yes, in the bathroom.  During one particularly engrossing reading session, I even agreed to let my son (then seven years old) give away all his money in a *cash sale*.  It wasn't until he had trouble dragging a kitchen chair out the door while trying to balance his piggy bank that I came out of my stupor.  I appreciated his philanthropic idea, but got nervous at the idea of my 1st grader sitting outside handing out cash to people who walked by and, in his word, needed it.

Divergent is worth every stolen moment of YA pleasure.  All my doubts about reading another dystopian series vanished when Veronica Roth introduced me to Tris.  Tris has a lot in common with other noteworthy dystopian heroines - Katniss comes to mind - but Tris is her own person.  She's strong, stubborn, and a bit of a bad-ass.  I'm a fan!

There are five factions in the Divergent's Chicago of the future.  Amity is the faction of peace.  Candor is honesty.  Erudite is intelligence.  Abnegation is selflessness.  Dauntless is bravery.  On choosing day, all sixteen year old citizens must choose a faction.  The choice of factions decides your friends, beliefs and loyalty, but first you must pass initiation.

Setting up a society where people are separated by virtue - this can't go smoothly.  Am I right?

Divergent  is my kind of YA.  I can't wait for the sequel - Insurgent - coming May, 2012.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Debut Author Challenge - The Whole Story of Half a Girl

Middle School is a horrible place for some kids.  The three years you spend in middle school are filled with changing bodies, social expectations and cliques.  The pressure to *fit in* is overwhelming.  Popularity becomes a goal, and some kids will go to any lengths to achieve it.  In her debut MG book, Veera Hiranandani skillfully captures the social dynamics of middle school.  Reading her book transported me back to my own adolescence - some of it good and some of it bad.

The Whole Story of Half a Girl tells the tale of Sonia Nadhamuni, a half Indian and half Jewish American girl, whose life is turned upside down when her father loses his job and Sonia and her little sister are forced to leave private school to attend the local public school.  The two schools are worlds apart.  At her old school everyone hung out together, but now Sonia must decide between hanging out with the popular crowd or with a group of kids who bus in from a different town.

There are other elements to the story that make The Whole Story of Half a Girl compelling for Middle Grades readers:

  • Depression
  • Race
  • Cultural identity
  • Prejudice
  • Boy/Girl relationships
The Whole Story of Half a Girl is a great choice for MG readers (especially girls) who are struggling with navigating social pressures while trying to remain true to themselves.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dead End In Norvelt

Jack Gantos knows how to write great characters.  Of course, one of his characters IS Jack Gantos, but I don't know if that made it easier or harder to write.  The characters kept me reading his Newbery Award winning book, Dead End in Norvelt.  The story was interesting enough, but I wouldn't have enjoyed the book if it weren't for Jack, Bunny - his best friend, and his feisty old neighbor, Miss Volker.

Jack is a smart kid with odd parents and a nose that bleeds whenever he gets scared, stressed or excited.  He makes some bad choices and ends up grounded for the summer in the sleepy Pennsylvania town of Norvelt.  Jack's only diversion is helping his neighbor write obituaries for the founding citizens of Norvelt.   Jack doesn't mind writing obituaries, but he doesn't like dead bodies and his best friend lives in a mortuary.

Bunny Huffer is Jack's best friend.  She isn't a main character, but her story appearances are memorable and funny.  Bunny is an abnormally short and stout young girl with a big mouth and big ideas.  She's the self-proclaimed leader of her Girl Scout troop and the Norvelt little league team.  She has no sympathy for Jack's predicament and often berates him for not being able to join her for summer fun.  She's scared of nothing and willingly starts a neighborhood watch group to track down the gang of Hell's Angels terrorizing Norvelt.

Miss Volker is Jack's elderly neighbor.  Hounded by the town's lovesick busy body, Miss Volker occupies her days writing for the Norvelt newspaper.  The town of Norvelt was a planned community, championed by Eleanor Roosevelt to help poor coal miners and their families buy their first homes.  Mrs. Roosevelt gave Miss Volker the responsibility of tracking the health of Norvelt's founding townspeople, and Miss Volker believes that duty extends to writing their obituaries.  Jack's mom volunteers him to help write and type the obituaries, but Miss Volker also enlists Jack's help as a chauffeur, errand runner, and exterminator.

There is plenty going on in Norvelt - motorcycle gangs, mysterious deaths, fires - to keep readers interested in Jack's *sleepy* little town.

Jack Gantos knows how to write great characters.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Read to Me - Picture Book Challenge ~ I Want My Hat Back

I am not an artist.  I can draw stick figures, a decent house, and recognizable flowers, but that's about it.  I am not an artist, so I rarely critique the art in picture books.  I do love illustrations, but I just don't have any idea what it takes to create them.  Genius and an eye for detail are what I assume it takes.  The illustrations in I Want My Hat Back inspired me to change my ways and start my review of Jon Klassen's book with a critique of his art.

They're funny.  The illustrations are funny.  I especially like that everyone's eyes are the same.  And, no mouths.  None of the animals have mouths, yet they are some of the most expressive picture book characters I've seen in ages.  The lack of expression makes the characters expressive.  Does that make sense?

The story is all dialogue.  A bereft bear goes in search of his missing hat, asking animals he meets along the way.  One of those animals, a fast talking rabbit, almost fools the bear (even though he's wearing the missing hat right on his head.)  Just when the bear is about to give up hope of finding his pointy, red hat, a deer triggers his memory and he takes his hat back from the rabbit.  But, not before the bear does something that results in him doing some fast talking of his own.

When I read this story to my kindergartner, she didn't get the twist at the end.  She didn't understand that the bear ate the rabbit.  She liked the story and loved the illustrations, but the subtlety was too subtle.  Today, I read the story to a group of second grade students.  They howled with laughter at the story's ending.  "He ate the rabbit!  The bear ate the rabbit!"  They loved it.

Two years makes a big difference when they are the two years between six and eight years old.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Breaking Stalin's Nose

"The Young Pioneer is devoted to Comrade Stalin, the Communist Party, and Communism."

Sasha has always wanted to be a Young Pioneer.  It's what all good communist children strive for.  Sasha's dad is a decorated officer in the State Security - a secret agent who Stalin once called an iron broom purging the vermin from our midst.  Sasha worships Stalin and pities those who don't live in the great U.S.S.R.

Breaking Stalin's Nose is the captivating story of a young boy whose world turns upside down when his father is arrested as an enemy of the Communist party.  With no place to go and no one to turn to, Sasha tries to go on as if nothing has happened, convinced his father will be released once Comrade Stalin realizes the mistake.  All too quickly Sasha must face the reality that his heroes are not what he thought they were - including his father.

Eugene Yelchin is the writer and illustrator of picture books.  Breaking Stalin's Nose is his first novel.  The story takes place over two days, but captures the realities of the thirty year reign of Joseph Stalin.  As an illustrator, Yelchin is able to portray the characters, their personalities, and life in the Soviet Union in stunning black and white pictures.

Breaking Stalin's Nose is a must-read, historical fiction book for middle grades readers.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I've decided to tear my review of Breadcrumbs in half.   The obvious way to do this would be to review the first and second halves of the book separately.  After all, the first half of Breadcrumbs is about the real world of Hazel and Jack, and the second half is a fairy tale.  A very dark fairy tale.

I'm not going to do that.  I'm going to review the writing first.  This will be part #1.  Then I'm going to review the story - part #2.

Part 1 - Writing

Anne Ursu is an artist.  Her writing is beautiful, her sentences are magical, and her word choice is both lyrical and jarring in equal measure.  Her descriptions of the cold, unforgiving forest of the Snow Queen make me shiver.  Literally.  Her characters, and there are many, are well-written and easy to imagine.  I am especially impressed (envious) of her ability to illicit a visceral response.  When she describes the mind control the Snow Queen has over Jack and Hazel, I feel it, too.

"He was afraid she would stop coming, that he would disappoint her-or even worse, bore her.  She would lose interest, not even notice him anymore.  He would not give up, though.  She would not like that."

Part 2 - Story

Anne Ursu wrote a captivating story.  The idea is bold and I love the abrupt switch from the real world to the fantastical.  The characters in the novel's first half are often sad and occasionally bad, but they are very real.  The characters in the second half of the book are quite different.  Well-constructed and written well, the characters in the woods are from the darkest regions of the fairy tale world.  Deceptive, greedy, mean, and obtuse, they have lost their humanity.

My issue with the Breadcrumbs - and it's a pretty big one - is that I couldn't see this book in the hands of a middle grades reader.  I had a nagging concern that I couldn't quite define until the book's conclusion - Breadcrumbs is on the wrong shelf.  With a story this complex and writing this studied, Anne Ursu's book needs a more mature crowd.   I hope this book will find a crossover audience in young adult book lovers.  It deserves to be read.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The One and Only Ivan

Ivan is a silverback gorilla.  Stella is an elephant, and Bob is a mutt.  They live together at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.  Ivan lives alone in an enclosure.  His cage.  A broken window allows a homeless dog, Bob, access to Ivan's space.  Bob sleeps on Ivan's belly and is his only physical companionship.  In the adjoining cage is Stella, a motherly elephant with a chronic leg injury.

The One and Only Ivan is the story of majestic animals, taken from the wild and put on display for the amusement of humans.  Ivan tells the story.  It is his story to tell.

Along with his twin sister, Tag, Ivan is stolen from his lowland home as a young gorilla and raised by Mack, the owner of the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.  Ivan adapts to his new life, rarely remembering his life in the wild, but that all changes when Mack buys Ruby.  Ruby is a young elephant calf.  Scared and vulnerable, Ivan, Bob, and Stella look after Ruby.  Especially Stella, who acts as Ruby's surrogate mother.  When Stella dies, she extracts a promise from Ivan - to get Ruby out of a cage.

Although The One and Only Ivan is a work of fiction, it is based on the true story of a real Ivan and tells the story of the mistreatment of animals in roadside carnivals, circuses, and animal shows.  Katherine Applegate tells this touching story through the thoughtful eyes of Ivan the silverback gorilla.  The dialogue is so believable and the descriptions so honest, I found myself forgetting that these characters weren't human.

The One and Only Ivan is a must-have for any young reader interested in animals, their care, and the conservation of species.  The story is powerful without being preachy, and it beautifully highlights the the often horrible existence of captive animals without being scary or horrific.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Debut Author Challenge ~ The Cabinet of Earths

When Anne Nesbet decided to write The Cabinet of Earths, she also decided she wasn't going to hold anything back.  This books is full of compelling characters and imaginative plot twists, and it's set in the most beautiful city in the world ~ Paris.  Oh, and it has magic and disease and a mysterious cabinet, too.

I always love learning about the true bits and pieces of any book I read, so I  appreciated the information in the Author's Note at the end of the book.  In fact, I wish I'd read her note first.  In the note, Anne Nesbet talks about the life and work of two very real French chemists of the eighteenth century, a painting in the Louvre Museum called The Madonna of Chancellor Rolin, and a peculiar house at 29 avenue Rapp in Paris.  The people, the art, and the house are all real, and they all appear in The Cabinet of Earths.  I love that!

This book would make an excellent choice for a middle grade reader who is almost, but not quite, ready to delve into the world of young adult fiction.  It has a hint of romance, but nothing to keep it out of the hands of a fifth grader.  Lots of deep looks and flirting.  There's also some dark magic, addiction, and a mother who is ill with cancer, so it should be read by kids who are mature enough to *enjoy* the material.

Anne Nesbet has shown us a bit of what she's got in The Cabinet of Earths, and I can't wait to see what else she's got in store for us.  Maybe a book set in Russia, or a story about the film industry - and those are just ideas I got from her book jacket.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Mighty Miss Malone

Deza is The Mighty Miss Malone.  Smart, funny, loyal, and hardworking, Deza Malone lives with her mother, father, and older brother, Jimmie in Gary, Indiana during The Great Depression.  This story is hers,  and she is exceptional, but I want to write about Jimmie.

Jimmie is Deza's fifteen year old brother.  He's small for his age - he stopped growing when he was twelve.  He loves his family, is caring and kind to Deza, and wants to do the right thing, but Jimmie always finds a way to land himself in trouble.  Maybe it's because he wants to prove he is big, maybe it's because he loves and wants to help his family, or maybe it's because Jimmie is not too bright, but Jimmie makes bad choices. He hangs out with a numbers man, steals pies off windowsills, and gets into fights with bullies.  It feels like you should dislike Jimmie, but you can't.  Jimmie is a likable scoundrel.

Jimmie has a hard time reading, he can't draw or spell, but Jimmie has one talent that everyone recognizes.  Jimmie can sing.  He sings in church, he sings for his family, and he sings the National Anthem at Negro League baseball games.  Jimmie needs no accompaniment.  His pitch is perfect, and his voice is high and clear.  And Jimmie loves to sing because singing makes him feel ten feet tall.

When Deza and Jimmie's father leaves the family to go find work, the family packs up and goes looking for him.  Things are bleak for the Malones, but by the story's conclusion Christopher Paul Curtis teaches us a thing or two (or three) about heroes - they aren't always big, they aren't always smart, and they aren't always the story's main character.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Frindle ~ An Award Winning Essay

My bright and beautiful, quirky and kind son wrote this essay for a contest sponsored by the San Diego Public Library.  He won!  The topic of his essay ~ If all the books in the world were about to disappear, which book would you save and why?  

  FRINDLE ~ By Mateo

Frindle is a book about a fifth grader named Nicholas Allen who creates a new word, and the word spreads across the country.  If all the books in the world were about to disappear I would choose this one because it’s about creativity, it teaches you how to make new words, plus it’s super funny.
Frindle is a book about creativity, and if you put something out there, you never know what to expect.  Really, this book makes you realize one change can go a long way.  Nicholas Allen learns from his teacher how words are created, how they are used, and how they aren’t used.
The book teaches you how words are created, and what words have to do to be a real word.  For example, it has to be written, spoken, and finally, put in the dictionary.
Frindle is a funny book with an interesting story about comedy and creativity and laughing at every page.  The story is so funny I laughed myself to sleep.  For example: “Mrs. Granger was one of those people who never sweats.  It have to be over 90 degrees before she even took off her jacket.”  This is one part of the book that is really funny.
In conclusion, Frindle is about creativity, how words are created, and a pinch of hyperbole.  All these reasons are why I chose Frindle to be the book I would save if all of the books were about to disappear.  I hope you have a great time reading Frindle.

I'm asking my followers and visitors to my blog to answer the essay question ~ If all the books in the world were about to disappear, which book would you save and why?