book review

Module #6: Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type

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Book Summary
What happens when the cows on Farmer Brown’s farm learn to read and write and type?  They leave notes demanding certain improvements, of course. 

APA Reference

Cronin, D. (2000).  Click, clack, moo: cows that type.  New York, NY:  Simon &Schuster Books for Young Readers

Impressions

Cronin’s humorous story of barnyard animals who band together over a typewriter and their new-found delight in the power of sending messages delights young readers, teens, and adults.  Lewin’s water color images with bold tracings convey the expressiveness of both Farmer Brown and his animals as messages are sent and received.  The simply repeated phrase, “click, clack, moo” sets the book’s light-hearted rhythm, inviting readers to participate whenever the familiar stanza appears, accentuated with large and bold font.  Older readers might even recognize some parallel’s with George Orwell’s Animal Farm and enjoy discussing the irony of Farmer Brown’s situation and the pigs from the classical novel. 

Professional Reviews

Section: Focus On: COMMUNITY

PRESCHOOL – GRADE 4
CRONIN, Doreen.
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type.
illus. by Betsy Lewin.
S. & S. 2000.
RTE $15.95. ISBN 0-689-83213-3.
K-Gr 3– Life on the farm will never be the same after the cows discover an old typewriter. When Farmer Brown refuses their first written request for electric blankets, the determined cows go on strike. In a bold act of community organization, they convince the hens to join them, and soon the baffled farmer is out both milk and eggs. Neutral Duck arbitrates with hilarious results. Lewin’s watercolors are as big, bold, and outrageous as the animals’ demands. Video and audio versions available from Weston Woods.

Auerbach, B. (2005). Click, clack, moo: cows that type [Review of the book Click, clack, moo:  cows that type]. School Library Journal51(9), 58.

Library Uses

Use this text alongside Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin’s other works including Duck for President and Giggle, Giggle, Quack (all which take place in Farmer Brown’s barnyard) for students to explore the work of one author/ illustrator team more in depth.  

Module 13: Tales from Outer Suburbia

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Summary:
Shaun Tan explores many of the themes and issues present in modern day suburbia through a collection of comic, illustrated stories and sketches.  The stories are presented through a satirical lens and offer the the reader a sophisticated but humorous examination of suburban lifestyle. 

APA Reference:

Taun, S. (2008).  Tales from outer suburbia.  New York, NY:  Arthur A. Levine Books.

Professional Review:
Section:

Grades 4-8: CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS

Fiction
TAN, Shaun.
Tales from Outer Suburbia.
illus. by author. 96p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks.
2009. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-0-545-05587-1.
LC number unavailable.
Gr 4 Up– Intriguing, wacky, or downright surreal, these dynamic illustrated vignettes by a master artist show unequivocally that there is no such thing as an “ordinary” suburban community. Tan works his magic with a few well-chosen words and a vibrant and expansive artistic vision, inviting readers to observe and explore familiar landscapes and look for untold stories beyond the obvious. BOOK

Tales from outer suburbia [Review of the book Tales from outer suburbia]. (2009). School Library Journal5540.

Impressions:

Unlike his award-winning The Arrival, which focuses on a singular plot and cast of characters, Tales uses a series of short vignettes, some not even prose, to explore fantastical stories of stick people, whales beached in backyards, and even a “how-to” grow your perfect pet. Even taking the graphics out of consideration, the text alone in this work would not warrant the label “novel.” But, because it has illustrations, we are quick to place it in the graphic novel genre.

Readers who enjoy illustrated texts that invite deeper exploration in the graphics and images will enjoy this book.  The quirky alien neighbors and random how-toinfluences provide some laugh-out-loud moments as well as moments for further consideration where you may even stop to wonder if Tan is sneaking in a social commentary of some sort in between his more light-heared sic-fi moments.  




Library Uses:
This title is an excellent discussion starter for graphic novels as a genre.  Invite students to explore how this book is organized, the role of the graphics and the text, the multiple story lines and modes of writing, and them invite them to compare this to more linear-styled graphic novels such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick or any number of more traditional graphic novels.  

Module 11: How They Croaked

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Summary:
King Tut, George Washington, Cleopatra, Marie Curie–what do all of these great historical figures have in common?  They all croaked, kicked the bucket, met their maker…they died.  Not only did they die, but they died in some of the most strange, gruesome, and mysterious ways.  This collection of biographies of the famous chronicles the lives of its subjects–often debunking or proving myths–and provides a scientific analysis of each of their deaths.  

APA Reference:

Bragg, G (2011). How they croaked. New York, NY:  Scholastic.

Impressions:
This title details the gruesome deaths of several famous figures including Queen Elizabeth, Pocahontas, Napoleon, Einstein, and many more. This title is a social science/ biography nonfiction book presented in chapters, one for each figure. The margins are wide and text is often accompanied with black and white drawings and figures that correlate with the subject matter. 

Other than just being very informative,
How They Croaked is a riot! The writing style incorporates colloquialisms and humor while providing the details and sometimes hilarious facts surrounding each death (King Henry VIII’s body exploded in his tomb because of the amount of infection and gasses that had built up in the layers of fat!)

At the end of each chapter the author provides little tid-bits and related facts such as all the different things that were named after Caesar (calendar, cesarean section, czar, Kaiser, etc.)

As an example of an excellent informational text,
How They Croaked engages students through it’s relatable language, humorous tone, and related sketches. The brief chapters make for excellent read-alouds for students of all ages. Even our HOSA (Health Science Occupations) teacher came in and bought one for her class because of the direct tie-in with her curriculum.


Professional Review:

Section:
The Book Review

BRAGG, Georgia. How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous. illus. by Kevin O’Malley. 178p. charts. bibliog. further reading. index. Web sites. CIP. Walker. 2011. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-8027-9817-6; RTE $18.89. ISBN 978-0-8027-9818-3. LC 2010008659.
Gr 5-9–King Tut died of malaria; Edgar Allan Poe is suspected to have had rabies. Beethoven and Galileo both met their ends due to lead poisoning. Fifteen other historical figures, including world leaders, writers, and scientists, were felled by things as mundane as pneumonia and as unpredictable as angry mobs. Each entry provides the circumstances of the person’s death and gives context to those circumstances, from discussions of the political climate to medical practices of the time. Chapters are separated by a spread of brief facts related to the individual, the demise, or the era. Lively, full-page caricatures set in decorative frames appear throughout, along with spot illustrations. Back matter includes a lengthy list of sources. The sometimes-snarky writing gives the material a casual, conversational tone that will appeal to many readers. The title alone provides an easy booktalk; expect this one to be passed around and pored over.
~~~~~~~~
By Brandy Danner, Wilmington Memorial Library, MA

Danner, B. (2011). How they croaked: the awful ends of the awfully famous [Review of the book How they croaked:  the awful ends of the awfully famous].School Library Journal57(4), 189-190.

Library Uses:
This book would be a very entertaining opening title for a book talk featuring biographies for young adults.  A trailer could cleverly preview a few of the famous and their deaths. 

Module #5: Ship Breaker

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Book Summary
Nailer was born a scavenger and will most likely die one.  In fact, he comes very near to drowning in a pitch-black oil reservoir in the belly of the beached tanker he is scavenging for copper when a “lucky strike” leads him to an escape hatch, spilling hundreds of gallons of “black gold” onto the beach.  That evening a terrible storm hits the beach where the scavengers live, ripping apart tents and threatening to drown anyone in its path.  The storm brings with it a new treasure, a high-tech, fast-sailing clipper ship with very precious cargo, a girl.  Nailer must decide if he will stay true to his roots and give up the girl or see her safely returned to her tycoon father.

APA Reference

Bacigalupi, P. (2010).  Ship breaker.  New York, NY:  Little Brown.

Impressions

Everything involved with the actual reading experience of this book feels true to its content:  the slick, book cover with copper glinting through a sheen of oil; Nailer’s rough and “survival of the fittest” exterior coupled with his true heroic nature; and the epic journey across the Gulf Coast Region that lay in waste following years of man-made abuse.  Nailer’s addict father is absolutely terrifying;  Bacigalupi succeeds in convincing me that he would easily gut his own son without a second thought or ounce of remorse.  The final confrontation between Nailer and his father leaves the reader breathless and slightly heartbroken as he wrestles with the consequences of his actions.   His conflicting emotions and motivations for rescuing “Lucky Girl” and the magnetism between the two reminds me of the remarkable relationship between Todd and Viola in Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go, another post-apocalyptic, science fiction coming of age epic.  Ship Breaker however raises relevant questions regarding mankind’s insatiable thirst for resources, the impact on the planet, and the greater impact on the individual.

Professional Review

Section: Multimedia Review

Ship Breaker (unabr.) 8 CDs. 9:11 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2010. ISBN 978-1-4418-8347-6. $49.97.
Gr 7 Up–Along a devastated U.S. Gulf Coast in a sci-fi future that includes half dog/half man creatures, teen boy Nailer must work as a ship breaker salvaging anything valuable on dangerous oil tanker wrecks.Other risks include an abusive, drug-crazed father, unemployment when he grows bigger, and flimsy shelter from ferocious storms. After one hurricane’s onslaught, he and friend Pima discover Nita Patel, a rich girl almost drowned in her futuristic clipper ship. When his father threatens the girl and wants to ransom her or accept money to turn her over to her father’s enemies, Nailer and Nita escape by hopping a train accompanied by Tool, an unusually independent dog/man. The three go to Orleans (no longer called New), a broken down relic of a city, and hope that a trustworthy captain from the Patel Company will show up.When Nailer’s dad kidnaps Nita, the boy faces a final showdown with his father to free her. Joshua Swanson narrates Paolo Bacigalupi’s fast-paced novel (Little, Brown, 2010), winner of the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults, with steady, dramatic intensity and enlivens characters with admirable vocal variety. The action and adventures are exciting, but occasionally quite bloody. Even more distressing are the harsh conditions faced by these youthful salvagers, much like contemporary third-world children. With an interesting mix of fact and fantasy, this title offers excellent potential for conversations on international child welfare issues.

Wysocki, B. (2011). Ship Breaker [Review of the book Ship breaker]. School Library Journal57(3), 78-79.

Library Uses

This title would make an excellent companion to other post-apocalyptic novels exploring questions of survival and individuality such as Lord of the Flies, The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hersch, and After the Snow by S.D. Crockett.  A book talk featuring these titles and others might help readers venture further into science fiction, dystopian, and futuristic novels.

Module #4: A Wrinkle in Time

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Summary
Meg and her young brother charles, together with a new friend, Calvin, embark on an adventure to save their father who had been experimenting with time travel.  As they encounter the most evil forces traveling through space and the most benevolent allies, Meg, Charles, and Calvin must rely on their unique talents and gifts and ties to one another to save Mr. Wallace and find a way back to Earth in time to save it from the darkness.

APA Reference
L’Engle, M. (1962).  A wrinkle in time.  New York, NY:  Random House.

Impressions
It’s difficult to add to the immense amount of reflections and critiques of this work.  Often hailed as the original science fiction for children, L’Engle’s famous novel has been dissected, discussed, and passed from reader to reader with enthusiasm and joy for years and will be for years to come.  As I was reading it, I felt sad that I did not experience it the first time as a child or even young adult.  As an adult, I found myself relating to the adults and guides in the novel, hoping for the children’s safety and speedy return, rather than empathizing with the children themselves.  I can best describe the novel’s profound impact on the reader by sharing that as I was reading it, I forgot that it was science fiction.  The time travel, technology, creatures, and outer realms became so believable through the eyes of the children that I was able to achieve suspension of disbelief;  this comes difficult for me as sci-fi is not one of my preferred genres.

Professional Review

The decade of the 1960s saw publication of A Wrinkle in Time (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1962), first of the Time Quintet. Written by Madeleine L’Engle, this book introduces Meg Murray, whose scientist father has disappeared, and three unusual characters that “tesseract” Meg, her brother, and a friend around space to locate her dad. VOYA Board Member Paula Brehm-Heeger states this work was groundbreaking in its “use of science fiction, with a dash of fantasy,” and a female heroine. Complete with other worlds and unusual creatures, it illustrates the fantasy worlds crumbling due to unproductive traditions, juxtaposed against Meg’s own family struggles. The book is still read today, often referenced in literary and pop culture, and is number twenty-three on ALA’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009 (http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/ challengedbydecade/2000_2009/index.cfm).

HOLLEY, P. (2011). Groundbreakers [Review of the book A wrinkle in time]. Voice Of Youth Advocates34(2), 116-119.



Library Uses
 In addition to a special collection of Newbery and other award winners, A Wrinkle in Time, can be integrated into genre talks and presentations about science fiction.  It’s important to teach readers about genre so that they can better select texts that might interest them.  Science fiction is an often misunderstood genre;  many patrons still think of it as space opera (e.g., Star Wars).  The librarian could use excerpts, trailers, or even film clips to introduce young readers into the basic tenets of science fiction/ fantasy and follow it with a book pass of titles that represent the diversity the genre has to offer.

Book trailer for a recent graphic novel adaptation of the original classic.


Module #4: The Graveyard Book

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Book Summary
A toddler unknowingly escapes the murdered who has just killed his entire family by waddling into a graveyard whose ghosts become enamored with the young boy.  With a frantic and final plea from the young child’s recently murdered mother, the residents of the graveyard vow to protect him and make him part of their community, shielding him from the Jack who seeks to finish the work that he began.  The toddler, Bod, grows into a curious and adventurous young man who is constantly seeking connection with the outside world, sometimes through very dangerous encounters with the spiritual and physical world.

APA Reference

Gaiman, N. (2008). The graveyard book.  Harper Collins:  New York.

Impressions
Without risking any major spoilers, I have to confess that I was nearly unable to move past the first ten pages.  As soon as my mind attached itself to the eighteen-month old boy bumping his rump down a flight of stairs, diaper sagging, my heart stopped.  Any mother of a young child, especially a boy, will immediately feel a maternal affection for Bod and his tragic dillema at the onset of the story.  Anyone of us in Mistress Owens’ shoes would have done the same.  From the first line  “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife” I was hooked, and despite my initial gut-wrenching reaction to the murder of Bod’s family and his mother’s final plea, I knew I had to find out what happens to that little naked baby.
Gaiman crafted this novel to be character-driven, particularly through Bod, but also through the villainous Jack, enigmatic Silas, and host of ghosts and ghouls who reside in the grave yard.  The relationships that Bod form with each of them drive the plot and conflicts, leading to an ultimate mash-up of life and death fighting to save one young man.  In one particularly poignant scene, the dead leave their home to attend a festival during which they dance with the living only to be forgotten once more by morning.  Scenes such as this serve as a reminder of the ways in which we remember and keep loved ones who are no longer with us, near us.
This very unique and extraordinary community demonstrates the validity to the adage, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Professional Review

“While his parents and sister are murdered by a mysterious character named Jack, a toddler gets out of his crib, walks out the open front door, and makes his way uphill to a nearby graveyard.  “Protect my son!” his mother’s ghost exhorts the spirits of the graveyard.  A character named Silas and the Owenses, a childless ghost couple, want to raise the boy.  The graveyard residents convene and, despite some objections, vote to keep the boy.  It won’t be easy, though, says Silas. “It is going to take more than a couple of good-hearted souls to raise this child.  It will take a graveyard.

And just as Mowgli was raised by the wolves and other jungle animals in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book–Gaiman’s childhood favorite and the inspiration for this novel–the boy is adopted by the graveyard community.  Since the toddler can’t tell them his name and looks like nobody they know, they name him Nobody Owens–Bod for short.”




Schneider, D. (2010). It Takes a Graveyard to Raise a Child [Review of the book The Graveyard Book]Book Links19(3), 6-8.


Library Uses
The Graveyard Book would be an excellent Newbery Award winner to introduce to students as they explore awards for children’s literature.  It could stand as the centerpiece to a display or as a gateway for children who are comfortable with illustrated and graphic novels to try a chapter book.  Additional award winner’s such as Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret could be the content of a book talk featuring illustrated novels that have received recognition in the world of children’s literature. 


Book trailer narrated by Neil Gaiman

Module #9: Double Helix

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Summary:
Eli and his father live in an uncomfortable, awkward, and at times tumultuous home.  After obtaining a job with a famous biologist, Dr. Wyatt, Eli's estrangement from his father grows as a mystery decades old unravels.  What is the relationship between Eli's terminally ill mother and Dr. Wyatt?  Why does Eli's father hate the biologist so much?  Who is the mysterious, beautiful girl staying with Dr. Wyatt and why does Eli feel so drawn to her?  His relationships unfurl and deteriorate as Eli seeks the answers to his questions.  When he learns the truth, will it change how Eli sees himself?

APA Reference:
Werlin, N. (2004).  Double helix. New York, NY:  Dial Books.


Professional Review:

DOUBLE HELIX Nancy Werlin. Dial, $15.99 (256p) ISBN 0-8037-2606-6

In this mesmerizing novel, Werlin (The Killer’s Cousin) adapts the medical mystery genre to explore the bewildering, complex issues surrounding experimental gene therapy. Narrator Eli Samuels, about to graduate from high school, has fired off an e-mail to Quincy Wyatt, a world-famous scientist and head of a genetics research corporation–stunningly, Wyatt summons Eli and offers him a job. Eli is thrilled, but the news horrifies his father, who, without explanation, asks Eli to turn it down (Eli takes it anyway). Eli’s father’s silence on the subject of Wyatt has many precedents within Eli’s home. Eli’s mother is rapidly deteriorating from Huntington’s disease, a hereditary illness. Eli has not told his girlfriend, Viv, about his mother nor even introduced Viv to his father. Eli has talents he hides, but somehow Wyatt knows of them and even takes pride in them. Meanwhile Eli knows that his father conceals other information–and that Wyatt has somehow been pivotal to his family. The characterizations feel somewhat incomplete, but the plot moves at a tantalizing clip, with secrets revealed in tiny increments, and hints and clues neatly planted. Werlin distills the scientific element to a manageable level, enough for readers to follow Eli as he ponders Wyatt’s work and his mother’s illness. As the author tackles bioethical issues, the story’s climax appeals to reason and love for humanity without resorting to easy answers. Brisk, intelligent and suspenseful all the way. Ages 12-up.(Mar.)

DOUBLE HELIX (Book) [Review of the book Double helix]. (2004). Publishers Weekly251(7), 173-174.

Impressions:
Nancy Werlin’s medical mystery weaves suspense and medical drama into a thought-provoking narrative.  The main characters, Eli, Dr. Wyatt, and Eli’s father, are complimented by a cast of secondary female characters, the enigmatic Kayla and Eli’s girlfriend Viv.  Werlin creates strong supporting female characters who display confidence, courage, and intelligence, helping to unweave the puzzle Wyatt presents.  In Dr. Wyatt we see the epitome of egotism in medical research and blatant disregard for ethical issues, a warning that Werlin brings home to the readers.   Even with a whispered warning regarding the implications of researching involving stem cells, embryos, and genetic engineering, the book itself does not come off as didactic or overly-preachy. Instead, the reader is left with questions regarding these issues and the thrill of a well-structured and evenly paced mystery. 

Library Uses:This title is a terrific choice as a read aloud for Language Arts classes and Biology or other science classes as it allows teachers to build cross-curriculuar connections through literature.  The library can support the exploration of medical ethics through text sets that include other science fiction and literary texts and nonfiction texts that address the scientific and ethical issues that surround genetic engineering and research.  Additional novels may include Jodi Piccoult’s My Sister’s Keeper and Nancy Farmer’s House of the Scorpion.