The Light Between Oceans
Written by M.L. Stedman
Published by Scribner in July 2012
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction
Three Word Review: Thought Provoking, Moral Dilemma, Heartache
Tom Sherbourne recently returns home to Australia, after being away during World War I. He wants to forget the difficulties during the war and takes a job as a lighthouse keeper. He is now completely alone and away from society. He marries and brings his wife, Isabel, back to the island. They encounter numerous stillbirths and Isabel is heartbroken until she hears the distant cries of a baby upon the shore. Tom and Isabel discover a washed ashore boat with a dead man and bundled baby. Isabel pleads for Tom not to report the finding in the official log books. She believes the mother must also be dead and wonders what mother would send a baby on a boat. The two raise the child as their own which is easy to hide the truth from family, since Isabel was recently pregnant and they are away for years at a time. When they return to visit the mainland they discover the truth behind the death and baby. The Light Between Oceans constantly ponders exactly what is morally right at the cost of a loss.
I thought The Light Between Oceans was an interesting plot that I questioned what truly is the right and best choice. I quickly finished this book and I think it would spark a good discussion for book clubs.
Written & Illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Published by Roaring Brook Press on January 1, 2012
Genre/Topics: Nature, Color
Ages: 2+, 36 pages
Awards: Caldecott Honor Book 2013
Can a book that focuses on one color be exciting to read? Green is a beautifully illustrated book that displays the many hues of the color green. Some greens are standards such as forest green, lime green, fern green, and pea green. Other greens are more creative with a tiger hiding in green grass, a chameleon in khaki green, faded green on signs, and fireflies with a glow green. Along the book, there are die-cuts giving a sneak into the next green. You can guess the next picture. My favorite die-cuts are the pages with the green fireflies that then turn to red apples on a green tree when you turn the page. There’s a page showing all the green shades. The book also displays pages with no green, such as a red stoplight and a white snow scene. The illustrations appear very lovely like a canvas with bold brush strokes and vivid colors. The last two pages show a young boy planting a tree then shows a grown tree that is forever green.
This is a wonderful book to explore the many shades of green. It’s perfect for younger ages, because there’s only a few words on the page. The book also can be used with older ages to view the unique canvas-like illustrations to then create art. Green is a great book to explore our naturally green world that hopefully stays green.
The Dry Grass of August
Written by Anna Jean Mayhew
Published by Kensington Books in 2011
Genre/Topics: Adult, Historical Fiction, South, Integration
The Dry Grass of August is told from the perspective of 13 year-old June “Jubie” Watts in the South during the 1950s. On a hot August day in 1954, Jubie, her mother, siblings, and their black maid, Mary Luther, travel from Charlotte, North Carolina, towards Florida. Mary Luther has been with the family, since Jubie was five. Jubie feels a closer relationship to Mary who provides care than her own mother. Along the journey to Florida, Jubie notices anti-integration signs and hostile feelings towards blacks. The story switches between present time during the vacation and a past back story to learn more about the family. The reader slowly understands Mary Luther’s role in the family and family tensions. Tragic events occur and Jubie must decide how to act with her feelings.
I really enjoyed The Dry Grass of August. It was a different perspective about a topic that many are familiar with. The reader knows that something happens to Mary Luther in the first paragraph, so you don’t know exactly when and how it occurs. There is some violence and difficult context at times, so I recommend this for adult readers. If you enjoyed The Help, I think you’ll enjoy The Dry Grass of August. It also is a great book for a book discussion.
Eating the Alphabet: Fruits & Vegetables from A to Z
Written & Illustrated by Lois Ehlert
Published March 10, 1989 by HMH Books
Genre/Topics: Alphabet, Foods
Ages: 1-3, 28 pages
Eating the Alphabet is a simple alphabet book with no actual story, instead the reader enjoys colorful fruits and vegetables illustrations. Most letters appear either on one or two pages. Every fruit and vegetable is written twice – once in all capital letters and the other all lower case letters. It’s a great way for children to really view how letters are displayed in words. I really enjoyed this book, because most letters are represented with 3-6 fruits and vegetables. It’s not your typical ‘A is for Apple. B is for Banana.’, instead Eating the Alphabet highlights fruits and vegetables that are new to young children and perhaps even adults too. Some examples are avocado, artichoke, cauliflower, eggplant, jicama, kumquat, lime, okra, papaya, and xigua. Does the child need to know each food? Of course not, instead it introduces the colorful world of fruits and vegetables besides apples, bananas, and carrots. It goes beyond a simple food alphabet book and opens discussion about healthy foods, finding the fruits and vegetables in the store, and of course tasting the foods that are in the book. There is a food glossary at the back with brief information about each fruit and vegetable. This is also a great book to teach colors, since the illustrations are so vivid and colorful. I highly recommend this alphabet book in your child’s book collection.
The Trumpet of the Swan
Written by E.B. White
Illustrated by Edward Frascino
Published by HarperCollins Publishers in 1970
Genre/Topics: Animals, Friendship
Ages: 6+, 210 pages
Louis is a Trumpet Swan, however he was born without a voice. His father and mother are concerned, because without a voice he will have difficulty finding a mate in the Spring. Louis is also worried because he doesn’t want to be different from his siblings. Louis’ father takes a risk and steals a trumpet from a music shop, so that Louis will now have a voice. The problem is that his father is in debt from stealing a trumpet and smashing the shop. Louis is grateful for the trumpet, but knows he must help his father repay the debt. As a young swan, Louis met Sam Beaver who is a kind boy and loves animals. Sam takes Louis to school and helps him learn to read and write. With Sam’s help Louis gets paying jobs to play his trumpet and becomes quite famous to repay his father. More importantly, Louis now has a voice and can woo the swan he loves. Although Louis was born different he is determined to be his best and never gives up his dreams.
E.B. White is most famous for Charlotte’s Web, so The Trumpet of the Swan may get overlooked. The Trumpet of the Swan is a sweet book with many powerful messages. There is a fantasy element, since the animals have human-like characteristics and people communicate with Louis however it can still be used as a tool for discussion. Some possible discussions may include being different, never give up, love what you do, friendship, and animal care.
Open Very Carefully: A Book With Bite
Written by Nick Bromley
Illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne
Published February 1, 2013 by Nosy Crow
Genre/Topics: Humor, Animals
Ages 4+, 32 pages
The book begins with the story of The Ugly Duckling, but then disaster occurs when a crocodile interrupts the story. The book challenges the reader to turn the pages very carefully, since there’s now a crocodile loose within the story. Throughout the book, the ugly duckling appears on the pages almost interacting with the crocodile. While the crocodile is in the book it eats letters and gobbles sentences. When the crocodile is asleep then a crayon is used to draw a tutu and bow, so it no longer appears scary. Finally, the crocodile eats through the pages until it leaves the book from an actual hole in the book’s back cover.
Open Very Carefully is a humorous book that connects the reader and book, since the writing continually asks if the book will still be read with a crocodile. There are also pages when the reader needs to shake the book to hopefully get the crocodile out. The end was especially fun, because there are holes where the crocodile ate pages and climbs out the back. The first time reading it could be fun to hide the back so it’s a surprise.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Written by Helen Simonson
Read by Peter Altschuler
Published by Random House Audio on March 2, 2010
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction, British, Romance
13 hours, 358 pages
Three Word Review: Cute, Humorous, Heartfelt
Major Pettigrew lives in a small village in the English country. He’s now in his early sixties, yet his morals and principles have remained the same. Major Pettigrew’s younger brother just died and he now feels at a lost. The death sparks a new friendship with Mrs. Ali, the older Pakistani shopkeeper. The friendship begins simple with tea and book discussions. Soon Major Pettigrew feels a strong attachment to Mrs. Ali. The small town is filled with humorous characters who think it’s their right to know everybody’s business. Some of the town citizens don’t view Mrs. Ali as Major Pettigrew and only see her as a ‘ethnic diversity’ and ‘low status’ as a shopkeeper. Both Mrs. Ali and Major Pettigrew have personal conflicts in their lives, yet these problems almost pull them together more. Can their relationship survive in difficult situations?
I thought Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand was cute with a fairly simple plot, but it was still enjoyable. You feel for Major Pettigrew as nothing seems to go right for him. Sure this book is romantic but it’s not an overly gushing romance. I think this is because the entire story is from Major Pettigrew’s perspective and his feelings for Mrs. Ali slowly develop. It’s refreshing to read about a relationship that begins completely wholesome as a simple friendship and moves to something more. I listened to Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and it was quite enjoyable. It had a ‘British’ voice without being too dramatic. If you enjoy small town humor and a non-gushy romance then you may like Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.
Al Pha’s Bet
Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrated by Delphine Durand
Published May 12, 2011 by Putnam Juvenile
Genre/Topics: Alphabet, Humor
Ages: 4+, 32 pages
How exactly did the twenty-six letters form the alphabet that we know today? Well, it occurred long ago when a king announced that he wanted someone to arrange the twenty-six letters. A man named Al Pha made a personal bet with himself that he would indeed make the perfect arrangement for the letters. It started with A for his name then gradually everything seemed to naturally fall into place as he organized the letters. When his friend Jay came to visit HI J was formed. Near the middle Al became discouraged, but he told himself NO that he needed to finish. Finally, Al Pha presented his arrangement to the king who then sang the letters. Well of course the king asked Al if ‘this time won’t you sing with me?’ The king loved Al Pha’s letter arrangement and decided it would be known as Al Pha’s Bet.
I absolutely loved Al Pha’s Bet! The writing was fun and humorous with brilliant pictures to match the writing. The alphabet slowly forms on the pages as you read. After reading Al Pha’s Bet you’ll almost agree with how the letter arrangement formed. I’m sure children and even adults will laugh while reading this book.
Written by Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Published in 1982
Genre/Topics: Humor, Fantasy
Ages: 6+, 212 pages
Most people don’t even think giants exist and those that do are usually very afraid of them. However, the Big Friendly Giant or the BFG doesn’t want to hurt anyone. Sophie is an orphan who first meets the BFG while looking out her window at night. The BFG notices and reaches through her window to take her away, since nobody would believe her if she said she saw a giant. Soon Sophie realizes that the BFG is friendly and has no plans to eat her, instead he was out at night putting dreams with his long trumpet into children’s ears. It’s not always pleasant, because the BFG is the smallest among other giants who desire to eat human beans every night. When the large and revolting giants are out eating human beans, the BFG captures dreams and stores thousands into jars. Sophie learns where the giants plan to find their next meal and the BFG and her form a plan to stop them before it’s too late.
The BFG has all the standard humor, fun, and zany words that are unique to Roald Dahl. So far I haven’t been disappointed by one of his books. I’m sure you’ll wish you also knew a giant, well at least a friendly one.
The Curious Garden
Written and Illustrated by Peter Brown
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on April 1, 2009
Genre/Topics: Environment, City Life, Gardening
Ages:6+, 40 pages
Liam is a curious young boy who lives in crowded city with no gardens, which makes it quite boring and unappealing. One day while exploring his city, Liam stumbles upon old train tracks that actually have a few dying plants. Liam decides that these plants need a gardener, so he begins his task to care for the plants and watches them grow and flourish. The garden itself is curious and grows across the tracks and soon throughout the city. With time there are more gardeners and the gardens grow upon buildings and many small spaces throughout the city. It no longer is a boring and gray city.
I really enjoyed The Curious Garden. Many individuals live in industrial environments and assume that they can have no gardens and landscapes. However, gardens truly can grow upon building rooftops and nooks if we let the plants grow. There is an author’s note and he states that he was curious what would happen if an entire city decided to cooperate with nature and how would the city change. I especially like The Curious Garden, because there are a few full color pages with no words to really ‘experience’ how the city has changed from all city life to small gardens throughout. This book could be used in the classroom during a discussion about the environment, gardening, preservation, and how plants can grow within cities. I suggest this book for older ages, because there are more words on each page and to discuss the overall topic. Although, all ages can enjoy this colorful garden book.
While searching through photos I stumbled upon a potential garden similar to The Curious Garden in my own city of Tacoma, Washington. You can just barely see the train tracks running through the grass and wild flowers. I’m not sure how long this train track hasn’t been in use. It’s amazing what nature truly can do when we leave it alone.
Written by Tatiana de Rosnay
Published by St. Martin’s Press on January 1, 2006
Genre/Topics: Adult, Historical Fiction, Holocaust, France
Three Word Review: Heartbreak, Tragedy, Secrecy
Sarah’s Key surrounds two individuals and time periods: Sarah a ten-year-old Jewish girl in 1942, and Julia an American Journalist in 2002. Both stories begin in Paris, France. Julia begins research on the sixtieth anniversary of the Vel’ d’ Hiv‘. The Vel’d'Hiv’ Roundup was a mass arrest upon 13,152 Jewish men, women, and children in July 1942 by the French police. Julia discovers that many French citizens are either unaware of the tragic event or deny it. Sarah’s family was arrested and taken to the Vélodrome d’Hiver (indoor cycle track) where they lived in terrible conditions before being sent to death camps. During the arrest, Sarah told her younger brother Michael to hide in the cupboard and she would return to free him with the key. Julia discovers a secret connection to Sarah and is determined to learn all the facts. However, during her research into Sarah’s past she begins to question her own life. Sarah’s Key is filled with heartbreak through Sarah’s and Julia’s eyes.
I enjoyed Sarah’s Key, but at times I thought it was a little predictable. It highlights a small tragic event through the eyes of a young girl. I think Sarah’s Key would be a great discussion for a book club.
Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Published Balzer + Bray on January 17, 2012
Genre/Topics: Magical Realism, Sharing, Humorous
Ages: 4+, 40 pages
Awards: 2013 Caldecott Honor and the 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award
Perhaps, I enjoyed Extra Yarn because I love to knit and crochet. Annabelle and her dog discover a small box filled with yarn of every color. Her entire town is either white due to snow or gray from the chimneys. Well, you can just imagine what Annabelle decides do to with all this colorful yarn. She knits a simple sweater for herself and dog, however there’s still extra yarn. Annabelle knits sweaters and hats for everyone in town, but there’s still extra yarn. Soon the town is no longer in shades of white and gray, but cheerful colors created with all the extra yarn. The words are simple with a few sentences on each page.
As a knitter and crocheter I agree, there’s always something you can make with a little extra yarn left over. Perhaps I should share some of my yarn creations.
Written by Edward Bloor
Published by Sandpiper in 1997
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, Sports, School
Twelve-year-old Paul and his family recently moved to Tangerine, Florida. Paul is legally blind, but can still see with his glasses. In fact, Paul feels that he can see and sense things that others around him cannot see. However, nobody seems to listen to him. Strange events occur in Tangerine, Florida, such as constant lightning and fires. His mom’s mainly concerned with the odd town situations. His father only focuses on his high school brother’s goal of becoming the next great football player. Paul finally finds his ‘groove’ when he joins the middle school soccer team, although even then it takes time for him to really fit in. Tangerine is entirely written from Paul’s perspective in journal entry format.
I enjoyed Tangerine, but I felt it was rushed at the end and there were loose ties. My book edition included questions in the back. I think Tangerine would be useful for great discussion in the classroom. It’s listed on Amazon as ages 10+ and others state Tangerine as a Young Adult book. I think the book’s length and sensitive topics at times may lead to a Young Adult, but Tangerine could be read by middle school age readers.
The Wind Blew
Written & Illustrated by Pat Hutchins
Published by Macmillan Publishing Company in 1974
Genre/Topics: Humorous, Rhymes
Ages 3+, 32 pages
We’ve all experienced a really windy day when we need to hold our hat tight and hope nothing gets blown away. Well, everything seems to blow away in the book The Wind Blew. It begins with an umbrella being turned inside out. (Living in a ‘rainy’ city, it always makes me laugh when I see people attempt to hold an umbrella on a rainy and windy day.) Soon the wind blew hard enough that it swept up a balloon, hat, scarf, judge’s wig, and much more. The words are simple and somewhat rhyme. It plucked a hanky from a nose and up and up and up it rose. The book is fun, because you can guess what may get blown away next. Here’s a small clue: the object is something on the previous page but you’re not exactly sure what it is. I read this book in a classroom and the students thought it was funny. I’d also like to highlight that this book was written in 1974, which proves that great books can be discovered anytime.