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?  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Debut Author Challenge ~ May B.

Caroline Starr Rose is a fan of the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and her debut middle grades book, May B, is Rose's tribute to the Kansas prairie of Wilder's youth.  Rose's story, written in verse, describes the vast, desolate prairie land of western Kansas and tells the story of one young girl's harrowing experience as a hired girl in the late 1870s.

Mavis Elizabeth Betterly, May B, lives with her ma, pa, and brother, Hiram, in a soddy ( a house made of sod) in the short grasslands miles outside the nearest town.  The family is poor, and Ma and Pa decide to send May to a neighbor's soddy to work and help the new bride adjust and take care of the house.  May doesn't want to go.  The neighbors live fifteen miles away, and May will have to miss school for months.  She's angry at her Pa for making her go and feels expendable and unwanted.

May's pa drives her in their wagon to the neighbor's home in the middle of summer and promises to pick her up before Christmas.  When May arrives, it is obvious to her that the new bride is miserable with life on the prairie.  May does everything, and tries her best to be useful, but it's of no help to the miserable young woman May has been sent to work for.  The young bride runs off to live with her family in Ohio, and her husband sets off to find her.  They never return.

May is alone.  She has no way to contact her family or any neighbors.  She doesn't know where she is, and on the plains of Kansas she has no real way to orient herself to her surroundings.  May decides her best course of action is to stay put until her father's promised return in December.  A blizzard traps May inside the soddy, wolves prowl outside her dirt shelter, and she's quickly running out of food.  Lonely, scared, and hungry, May digs her way out of the icy snowpack and starts the dangerous trip home.  Along the way, May is rescued by a neighbor who has come searching for her after hearing that the couple she was working for have disappeared.

Caroline Starr Rose weaves a heart-wrenching subplot into the fabric of May B.  May is dyslexic.  She is smart, loves school, and works twice as hard as the other students, but May stumbles over words.  She dreams of being a teacher, but no one, including May, has confidence in her ability to pass the teaching exam.  Dyslexia is unheard of in the late 19th century.  Kids who struggled with reading were considered dumb or slow.  May's time alone gives her insight into her difficulties with reading.  She discovers techniques to help her read aloud and decides she won't give up on becoming teacher.

May B is a lovely story and a great elementary introduction to verse.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Okay For Now

Wow!  I just finished Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt.  I loved every page.  The characters are brilliantly written, the story is touching, and the plot kept me reading well passed my bedtime.  The relationships that Doug creates with his family, his peers and the townspeople of Marysville are the very heart of the book.  I love how Schmidt allows the story to unfold through Doug's personal interactions.  Schmidt never has to tell us that Doug is special, he let the other characters tell us through the bonds they form with him.  Doug's transformation from a broken, angry kid to a boy with hope is simple and touching.  Schmidt writes with humor and hope, anger and pain, and captures the spirit of a young boy in Doug.

Here are just a few of my favorite lines:

"Underneath the glass was this book.  A huge book.  A huge, huge book.  Its pages were longer than a good-size baseball bat.  I'm not lying.  And on the whole page, there was only one picture.  Of a bird."

"OKAY.  So I was going to the library every Saturday.  So what?  So what?  It's not like I was reading books or anything."

"By the way, in case you weren't paying attention or something, did you catch what Mr. Powell called me?  'Young artist.'  I bet you missed that."

"You know what that feels like?
It feels like having Principal Peattie tell you that not a single teacher in the whole school gives a rip about you - not a rip - because they all gave up on you a long time ago, like on the day you started."

"Polly had this book about a house in a forest where Laura lives with Pa and Ma and her sisters.  You'd be surprised how good this was, especially considering that nothing happens."

"'So is Lilian your girlfriend?' said Mrs. Windermere.
Everything stopped.
'Skinny Delivery Boy, you know I never beat around the bush.  Yes or no?'
I looked at Lil.  She looked at me.  She wasn't planning to be helpful with this.  I looked back at Mrs. Windermere.
'Yes," I said.
I looked back at Lil.  Smiling."

"You know what it feels like to stroke color onto an Arctic Tern flying off the page, going wherever he wants to go?

Schmidt has a way of turning dialogue into poetry.  Poetry even Doug Swieteck would love.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Read to Me - Picture Book Challenge ~ Cool Cat

I love words.  For me, words are the story.  I love the way words come together to form meaning in beautiful and creative ways.  Because I love words, I tend to avoid books without them.  Don't get me wrong, I love illustrations too.  It is the mixture of words and illustrations that creates a recipe for a perfect picture book.  Imagine my surprise when I picked up Cool Cat, an illustrations only picture book by two-time Caldecott Medalist Nonny Hogrogian, and couldn't put it down.

Cool Cat is the story of an artistic feline, unsatisfied by the brown and desolate world she lives in.  Cool Cat sets about changing her world using paints and brushes and a bit of imagination.  Each turn of the page reveals more color and detail in the cat's world.  A team of artistic woodland friends help Cool Cat turn the littered wasteland into a lush paradise.

My kindergartener adores this book and wants to buy a copy for her school's art teacher.  A brilliant idea!  When I handed my six year old a copy of Cool Cat, she turned each page slowly, studying the subtle changes and pointing out the new animal characters as they appeared.

In the last scene, Cool Cat has packed up her art supplies and looks to be ready to leave, taking a final moment to smell a rose.  I asked my daughter if she thought Cool Cat was leaving now that her work was done.  With the innocence of a kindergartener, she looked at me as if I'd lost my mommy mind.

"Why would she want to leave?"  She asked, turning to look at the picture again.  "I think she's just going to school."  We flipped the page, revealing a small picture of Cool Cat napping in the lush world she had created.  "See Mom, she's just tired from all that work."

I still love words best, but I love Cool Cat too.  I love that my daughter and I could share this quiet story, pointing out the changing beauty and interpreting the illustrations in our own unique way.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I'm A Winner - of a Liebster Blog Award

I am thrilled to announce that my Literary Lunchbox has been honored with a Liebster Blog Award.  I'm not at all sure how this blog award got started, but I'm sure glad it did.  The idea behind the Liebster is for honorees to "pay it forward" by acknowledging the award, the blogger who gave it to you, and passing the award on to five blogs you deem worthy of of receiving distinction.  Only blogs with less than 200 followers are eligible for this award in hopes of generating more traffic to their site.  I love that!

I'd like to start by thanking Mary Kinser at Sprout's Bookshelf for awarding me with a Liebster Blog Award and for writing such nice things about Literary Lunchbox.

Oh, and before I forget, I'm suppose to include five random facts about myself  Here goes...

1. I'm scared of stuff.  Lots of stuff.  The short list includes snakes, sharks, heights, the dark and accidentally electrocuting myself.  There's more, but I don't have all day.

2. I'm a basketball coach.

3. I'm still scarred (probably for life) by not being able to wear Ditto jeans in high school.  I have a 36 inch inseam, and I could never pull of "the cuff".  Seriously, it still haunts me.

4. I'm left handed.  Totally, irreparably left handed.

5. Cats hate me.

Now on to the winners of the Liebster Blog Award.  

1. Buy - Borrow - Donate - Destroy.  That's Erik's rating system.  Over at KID BOOK RATINGS, Erik doesn't mess around.  He reviews picture books, gives you three pros and three cons, sums it up with "one dad's opinion" and then tells you to buy it, borrow it, donate it or destroy it.  Oh, and did I mention how funny he is?

2. Annie and Aunt is a thoughtful, family blog written by Annie, a high school teacher/mother, and her Aunt Debbie, a bookseller/mother.   The blog is made even more charming by the fact that their posts are written as letters.  They talk about books through their personal correspondence.  Oh, I just love that!

3. Katie Dekoster is the teacher genius behind Book Love.  Katie is a teacher AND school librarian.  Now folks, I could stop right here, and you'd have all you need to know.  Teachers are the heart and librarians are the soul!  And her blog is well written, thoughtful, and she chooses diverse titles to review and explore.

4. Casie at loves kid lit writes about a little bit of everything on her blog - reading, writing, funny little anecdotes on family.  I'm a big fan of her conversational snippets.  I like that she adds a personal touch to her blog.  I feel like she shows me who she is by what she writes, and I find myself clicking on her blog just to see what she's up to.

5. Laura's Life is exceptional!  It's loaded with reviews on Newbery award books dating back to 1922 and has a majority of the FUSE #8 Top 100 Children's Novels reviewed as well.  Laura's perspective is thoughtful and her blog is very well written.  She's funny too.  Oh, and did I mention Laura's in sixth grade.

Kudos to these wonderful blogs.

Blog you later!

Ali B.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Debut Author Challenge ~ Glory Be

"Libraries are about books.  Books have no color.  And they don't care who reads them."  What a great quote!  These lines are spoken by title character Glory's father in response to a threat to close the public library by a racist busybody who is upset by the new policy to allow "coloreds" to apply for library cards.  Glory Be is the debut middle grades book by Augusta Scattergood, a former librarian and proud Mississippi girl, who wrote this fictional story based on her real-life experiences growing up in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement.

Glory Be is the story of Gloriana Hemphill and the town of Hanging Moss, Mississippi during the turbulent first half of the 1960s.  It is summertime, just before Glory's twelfth birthday, and all Glory wants is to swim in the town's pool, hang out with her best friend, Frankie, and celebrate her birthday with a party on the Fourth of July.  It is what Glory has done every summer for years, but this summer is different.  There is unrest in the small town of Hanging Moss.  "Yankees" have come down from the north to make changes and champion the rights of African Americans, and Glory is torn between supporting the cause and wishing that things would go back to the way they used to be.

The two things that make this book so timeless, and I do think this is a story that will be read for generations, are the subject matter and the voice of Glory herself.  Scattergood's approach to writing about the Civil Rights Movement for kids is honest without revealing aspects that are better left for older readers.  And what can I say about Gloriana Hemphill?  She is literary perfection.  Scattergood creates a character in Glory that any girl can identify with.  She's smart, she's headstrong, and she tries to do the right thing, but sometimes all she wants is to be a kid.

This one belongs on your bookshelf.

Blog you later!

Ali B.