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.
Written by R.J. Palacio
Published by Knopf on February 14, 2012
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, Peer Relations
Three Word Review: Heartwarming, Compassion, Thought-Provoking
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that held him back from attending school due to numerous surgeries. However, now Auggie is a ten-year-old boy who is about to attend school for the first time. He desires to be ordinary and not be constantly stared at or judged by his face. Auggie knows exactly why people turn their head or gasp when they see him for the first time. His favorite day is Halloween when he can wear a different ‘mask’ and blend in. School is filled with the typical middle school drama, but Auggie has even more difficulty as classmates tease, bully, and ignore him. Auggie makes friends with a few who see the true Auggie. Wonder changes perspectives between different individuals who come into Auggie’s life, but it is mainly from his viewpoint. Hopefully, Wonder will make you look past outward appearances to see the real individual. I stated that this book is for ages 10+, but everyone can enjoy the book and take its message. In fact, it’s my city library’s Tacoma Reads Together book for 2013 for all ages. I plan to attend an author book talk hosted by the library.
Because of Mr. Terupt
Written by Rob Buyea
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on October 6, 2010
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, School, Peer Relations
Ages: 8+, 288 pages
Mr. Terupt is the new fifth grade teacher at Snow Hill Elementary School. The book takes the perspective of seven unique classmates in Mr. Terupt’s class. Jessica is the smart new girl; Alexia is your bully or friend; Peter is the troublemaker; Luke is the class brain; Danielle lacks confidence; Anna has a difficult home life; and Jeffrey dislikes school. Each student has his or her own problems and joys about everyday events and classroom situations told from their perspective. Mr. Terupt is a fresh and new teacher who connects with each student. He tries new things and lets the students think for themselves. Until the awful day when an accident occurs that changes everyone.
I really enjoyed Because of Mr. Terupt. We’ve all had that one special teacher that made a difference in our life. (Hopefully, more than one teacher.) The teacher that made us feel special or we tried something new and exciting for the first time. The students in Mr. Terupt’s class changed because of him. It almost made me cry. It’s a heartfelt book that can spark conversation. I recommend this book.
Written by Ingrid Lee
Published by Scholastic Inc. on October 1, 2011
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, Animal Rescue, Family Relations
Age: 10+, 176 pages
Billy Reddick found an injured and dirty cat alone on the streets. He took the cat home, although his dad hates cats. Since Billy’s dad hates cats he kept the cat hidden in his messy room. His parents constantly fought and the cat gave Billy some comfort as he talked to the cat and provided care. The whole town disliked cats, because many stray cats wandered the streets at night. The town citizens became upset and discussed ideas about how to remove the cats. There were disagreements, since the town was divided with many ideas. Some citizens wanted to kill off cats whereas others wanted to safety rescue the cats. Billy was caught in the middle with family tensions, a secret cat he owns, and the town’s discussions.
Cat Found hooked my interest right from the first pages. The book described how the cat became injured and it truly broke my heart. Amazon listed this book for ages eight and up, but the subject was sensitive with some sad moments. Depending upon the child’s maturity the book could be read with younger ages. The author wrote a similar book, Dog Lost.
Written by Grace Lin
Published January 2, 2012
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, Cultural, Taiwan, Family
Ages: 8+, 272 pages
Pacy Lin travels to Taiwan, for the first time with her two sisters and parents for her grandmother’s sixtieth birthday. Only the parents are excited to return to their homeland. Pacy may look like everyone else, but she feels out of place and has difficulty understanding people. Soon Pacy gains an identity and explores Taiwan. There are delicious foods everywhere, but Pacy falls in love with any type of dumpling. She even states the following: ‘There was no day that dumplings couldn’t make better’. She attends a Taiwan painting class and struggles with the techniques. Eventually, the time in Taiwan quickly ends and the sisters take fond memories of their adventure.
I thought Dumpling Days was a delightful book. It was humorous, but you also gained cultural awareness. There are simple black and white pictures throughout the book. The story is actually based on the author’s first experience travelling to Taiwan as a child.
Eva and Little Kitty on the Titanic
Written and Illustrated by Sidsel Carnahan
Published April 23, 2012 (Presently, only available in digital format.)
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, Titanic, Biography
Pages: (I read this book on a pdf document which was 25 pages.)
This is the partial true story of a Titanic survivor, Eva Hart. Eva is only seven years old when she boards the grand ship, Titanic, with her mother and father from England. Her father is very excited about their journey to America on the Titanic whereas her mother is unsure and believes something bad may happen. Eva asks if she can bring her Kitty on the ship, but is told no. However, this doesn’t stop Eva from hiding Kitty and secretly bringing the cat with her. Eva meets two young boys and she shows Little Kitty. She’s puzzled what to do about Little Kitty at night, because her mother is so worried she stays awake at night. The Captain notices Eva and asks if he can help. He states that Little Kitty can sleep in his cabin at night. One night, Eva is suddenly woken up and told to quickly dress. Her father takes Eva to the top deck. They are told that the Titanic hit an iceberg and everyone must get into lifeboats. Eva remembers Little Kitty and hurries to the Captain’s cabin. At first, only women and children enter the lifeboats so she leaves her father behind. Eva snuggles with Little Kitty and keeps close to her mother until they are rescued.
I thought Eva and Little Kitty on the Titanic was a delightful book while also being educational. I believe this is a good introduction to the Titanic tragedy for younger ages. The story is sweet and simple as you learn about a young girl exploring the ship. I also thought it was interesting that there were different opinions within the family: the father was excited and proud to be on the Titanic, yet the mother believed nothing could be unsinkable and had negative thoughts. Although the illustrations were nice and wholesome, I wasn’t personally fond of them. The style almost appeared out-dated. However, I still enjoyed the lovely story to introduce the Titanic.
Eva Hart was one of the last remaining Titanic survivors who died at age 91. Eva Hart was very outspoken about the Titanic sinking. She once stated: “If a ship is torpedoed, that’s war. If it strikes a rock in a storm, that’s nature. But just to die because there weren’t enough lifeboats, that’s ridiculous.”
Eva with her parents
My Name is Yoon
Written by Helen Recorvits
Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
Published April 3, 2003 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genre/Topics: Cultural, Realistic Fiction, Korean
Ages: 6+, 32 pages
Awards: Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award (2004), Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year (2008)
Yoon has moved to the United States from Korea and now must adjust to her new life. Her father tells her that now she must learn how to write her name in English. However, Yoon doesn’t want to write her name in English and feels her name looks happy in Korean. It means Shining Wisdom, but her father reminds her that even when written in English her name still means Shining Wisdom. When she attends school she learns about cat and must write her name on the paper, but she doesn’t want to write Yoon. Instead, she wrote cat on each line. Yoon doesn’t fit in and has no friends. She wants to go back to Korea where she is happy and the teacher likes her. A girl at recess gives Yoon a cupcake and Yoon decides that her schoolmates will like her if she is a cupcake. Finally, she writes her name as Yoon. She writes her name in English and it means Shining Wisdom.
I enjoyed this cultural book about fitting into a new place. Yoon wanted to still be in Korea and didn’t want to fit in at first. Slowly, she learned that different is good and she can still be herself too.
Yoon’s name written in Korean.
Written by Cynthia Lord
Published August 1, 2010 by Scholastic Inc.
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, Adoption, Foster Children
Ages: 8+, 192 pages
Tess Brooks is an eleven-year-old who believes that if she acts a certain way luck will follow. For example, she believes that if you touch blue then your wish will come true. She lives on a small Maine island with her family. However, the state of Maine is threatening to shut the school, because there are not enough school children. Her own mother is the school teacher. Tess and her family may have to move to the mainland until the reverend thinks of a creative idea to get more children to live on the island. He thinks of the idea of people taking foster children into their home to expand the school population. Tess and her family take in Aaron, a thirteen-year-old trumpet player. It takes time for Aaron to feel comfortable in the family. Tess hears how wonderful Aaron plays his trumpet and talks to busybodies for him to play at the 4th of July picnic. Every chapter begins with a superstition that Tess follows that relates to the story. I thought this was an enjoyable book about different family relationships.
Dead End in Norvelt
Written by Jack Gantos
Published on September 13, 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Ages 10+, 341 pages
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction, Humorous
Jack Gantos is grounded for the entire summer in Norvelt, Pennsylvania, in 1962. How did Jack get himself grounded during the entire summer? He accidentally shot a bullet from his father’s Japanese rifle and disobeyed his mother’s commands when he cut down her corn crop. To get out of the house, Jack agrees to help his elderly neighbor, Miss Volker, type obituaries. Miss Volker is a Norvelt town original and it is her duty to report obituaries for the original Norvelt citizens. The obituaries include much more than just information about the deceased, instead it is historical narratives about how their life impacted the small town. There are many colorful characters in Norvelt. Jack’s best friend is Bunny whose father is the town undertaker. Mr. Spizz rides an adult tricycle and adores Miss Volker, yet she has no plans to marry him. Each obituary leads to new adventures with real historical information scrambled in the book. Miss Volker always reminds Jack that people need to learn from the past, because mistakes can be repeated. Sprinkled inside the story are Girl Scout cookies, Eleanor Roosevelt, the Hells Angels, melted wax, a homemade airplane, a bloody nose, and even a possible murder.
Dead End in Norvelt won the Newbery Medal and the Scott O’Dell Award for historical fiction in 2012. Personally, I think this book was very humorous at times but I’m not sure it fully deserves a Newbery Medal. I think the book had little emotion, plot, character development, and it didn’t leave me with a lasting moral or lesson the way many wonderful Newbery Medal books have done. I enjoyed that there was real history throughout the pages, since Jack spent his grounded time reading historical books and he learned information from Miss Volker when writing the obituaries. If you’re searching for a book with sarcastic humor, death, true facts, and a glance into 1962 as a child then this may be your book.
Written by Jerry Spinelli
Published November 1, 1999 by Little, Brown Young Readers
Topics: Realistic Fiction, Racism, Homelessness, Sports
Maniac Magee wasn’t always known as Manic Magee, instead he was born as Jeffrey Lionel Magee. There are many legends about him and it’s sometimes difficult to know the whole truth. His parents died when he was only three, so he lived with his aunt and uncle who continually fought. Jeffrey had enough and he ran away, but he didn’t just run away. No, he ran and ran until his shoes fell apart. You may be curious how Jeffrey became ‘maniac’. When he finally slowed down, he left memorable impressions with individuals. Some people thought it appeared odd to rescue a kid from the feared house in the neighborhood or throw a football with one hand or eat dinner without knowing anyone at the table or hit a baseball from an unbeatable pitcher. Finally, whenever anybody discussed the new kid he was now known as Maniac. Maniac Magee didn’t have a home, so he often ran house to backyard to even the zoo. The legend is true that he never went to school, since he didn’t have a home to go to when school was out. Maniac Magee is most remembered for bringing the East Side and West Side together, which was racial divided by misunderstandings.
Maniac Magee won a Newbery Medal in 1991. Some Newbery Medal books I don’t think are worthy, but Maniac Magee is worth the high honor. I really enjoyed this book and even cried. It’s a great book with a powerful message to break down barriers and not keep prejudices, instead learn and understand about each other. There are racial remarks and hate messages throughout the book. The subject is complex, but there are many humorous situations as Maniac Magee doesn’t see black and white instead he sees challenges to overcome. I highly recommend this book.
For the life of him, he couldn’t figure why these East Enders called themselves black. He kept looking and looking, and the colors he found were gingersnap and light fudge and acorn and butter rum and cinnamon and burnt orange. But never licorice, which, to him was real black.
- Jerry Spinelli (Maniac Magee, page 51)
Scholastic Lesson Plans for Maniac Magee
Maniac Magee Lesson Plans, Vocabulary, & Activities
Various Lesson Plans with Maniac Magee, Newbery Medal, Jerry Spinelli’s Biography
The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman
Written by Meg Wolitzer
Published September 20, 2011 by Dutton Juvenile
Topics: Realistic Fiction, Competition, Friendship, Moral Choices
Duncan Dorfman, April Blunt, and Nate Saviano don’t appear to have much in common. Duncan Dorfman is the new kid in town who is trying to keep his mysterious power that he can read with his fingertips a secret. Duncan no longer wants to be nobody in middle school, so he shows his talent but a student overlooks and plans to use his power dishonestly in the Scrabble game. April Blunt wants to prove to her sports family that Scrabble is also a game. She desperately wants to locate a boy she met three years ago, but she doesn’t even know his name. Nate Saviano is home-schooled, but would rather be skateboarding. He plays Scrabble, but doesn’t love the game. His father expects him to be the best and win.
Duncan, April, and Nate live throughout the United States, but they arrive with their game partners to compete in the national Youth Scrabble Tournament in Florida. We meet and learn about each character separately then watch them use their Scrabble talents. It is much more than just a Scrabble game as they learn about themselves and make the right choices. It’s a very humorous book loaded with Scrabble information, such as two letter words and tricks to get high scores. The book will keep your interest until you discover the Scrabble Tournament outcome. So, I challenge you to analyze all possible anagrams and make as many bingos as possible, but please no coffee-housing or brailing. I’ve never been a fan of the classic word game, but after reading The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman I may need to play soon. The book had a similar writing style compared to E.L. Konigsburg. The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman was an enjoyable read.
Scrabble Glossary (What is coffee-housing?)
The Story Behind Scrabble
Written by Kate Messner
Illustrated by Brian Floca
Published May 1st 2011 by Scholastic Press
Ages: 7+, 160 pages
Topics: Realistic Fiction, School Situations, Friendship
Marty McGuire is a third grade student who loves everything about the outdoors and nothing about fancy dresses. She’d rather be caught with mud than wearing a frilly dress or dancing. Third grade started terrible, since her best friend was stolen from Veronica Grace Smithers who now controls recess. Things turn even worse when her teacher casts her to be the princess in the class play, The Princess and the Frog. Marty wants nothing to do with being a princess, but her teacher says that she has confidence and is perfect for the play. Marty has trouble being frightened by a toy frog, since she’d rather capture real frogs. She plots a plan with a classmate to make the play more memorable.
I thought Marty McGuire was a cute book about the importance of being yourself, but also learning how to handle moments when you don’t want to do something or don’t think you’re the best person for the job. Marty often has personal struggles, since she wants to call people names who upset her, but she never does because she’s not allowed to. Marty handles the situation without getting too upset while still being herself. The book is sometimes predictable, but I’m sure young readers will enjoy Marty’s humorous situations. A second book, Marty McGuire Digs Worms, releases February 1, 2012.
The Lemonade War
Written by Jacqueline Davies
Published: 2007 by Houghton Mifflin
Topics: sibling relationship, economics, realistic fiction
I read The Lemonade War during the wrong season, since I wanted a refreshing drink while reading it. Evan Treski deals well with people whereas his younger sister, Jessie, works better at math. Together they’d make the perfect lemonade team, however they’re at war with each other to sell the most lemonade. The tension began when Evan discovered that Jessie would be skipping a grade and both would be in fourth grade together. Normally, they get along fine as siblings but Labor Day weekend they use any business skill to make the most money. Every chapter starts with an economic term that relates to the chapter. The book changes perspectives between Evan and Jessie. I thought this was an enjoyable book that explains math and business in a fun way. The lemon business gets sour as the war ends with an interesting twist that leads into the next book, The Lemonade Crime. A third book, The Bell Bandit, in The Lemonade Series releases May 2012.
Written and Illustrated by Brian Selznick
Published: 2011 by Scholastic
Ages 9+, 608 pages
Genre: Graphic Novel, Mystery, Realistic Fiction
I don’t want to reveal too much about Wonderstruck, since letting the story unfold makes it a great book. You may already be familiar with Brian Selznick’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was recently made into a film. This book is similar, since part of the story is told through pictures. Don’t let the page numbers scare you, since the pages fly by and you’ll wish there was more to read. The book is about two individuals set 50 years apart who eventually intertwine together. The stories are separate, yet both desire something in their lives. Ben’s story begins in Minnesota, in 1977, who desires to learn about his father. Rose’s story begins in New Jersey, in 1927, who keeps newspaper clippings of a woman and feels out of place. Both discover a clue that leads them onto a quest. The stories move back and forth, Ben’s story is told through words and Rose’s story is told through pictures. This is the first graphic novel that I’ve read and it was magical. Brian Selznick’s illustrations and details make the story come alive. The pages need full attention, since there are messages within the illustrations. The book wasn’t exactly a mystery, instead it was as though Wonderstruck slowly revealed its secrets. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.
Ben’s hands were still shaking from the dream. Ever since the accident, the wolves appeared, galloping across the moonlit snow, red tongues wagging and white teeth glistening. He couldn’t figure out why they were stalking him, because he used to love wolves.
- Brian Selznick (Wonderstruck, page 17)