Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

where the mountain highres


Growing up with her extremely poor parents in the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, Minli dreams of a life full of adventure and good fortune.  Even though Minli and her family live in desperate times, working tirelessly in the rice fields every day and barely able to fill their bellies at night, their nights are filled with the magical tales told by Minli’s father.  The tale that most strongly affects Minli is the tale of the Old Man of the Moon. As her father spins it, the Old Man of the Moon is able to transform the fortunes of those who confide in him.  Hearing this, Minli sets out on an incredible journey to see if the Man of the Moon can change her own family’s fortune.  Along the way, she meets characters that include a friendly dragon, an evil green tiger, and a pair of enthusiastic twins from the Village of Moon Rain who will help her find her way. This journey teaches her valuable lessons about herself, the importance of family and friends, and the determination to reach a goal all while she experiences excitement, magic, danger, and even humor.   Will Minli’s family eventually experience the good fortune that Minli always dreamed for them?  You must read to find out!  ***For those interesting in continuing to read about Minli’s journey, author Grace Lin shares on her website that she has plans to write two companion books. Look for those in the near future!***

The amount of raw emotion Lin created within her characters in truly inspiring.  Children and adults reading this book will easily be able to form a very real kinship with the protagonist, Minli, and relate strongly to the emotions she feels while rooting for her along the way.  The lengths that Minli goes to in order to ensure her family’s good fortune and the grief that her family experiences in her absence are “compelling and thoroughly human,” as School Library Journal puts it.  Minli’s attitude towards her journey comes from a very genuine place, and readers will easily be able to see that as they turn the pages.

Lin’s style of writing offers a very consistent point of view that will allow readers to not only fully delve into the fantasy world but also believe in the fantasy world created within their minds.  Throughout the story, Lin creates fictional places like Never-Ending Mountain and the City of Bright Moonlight, and fictional characters like goldfish that speak and green tigers that demand things of their people. None of these elements, however, are far-fetched in nature when considering the context of the novel.  All characters speak in a very conversational tone that young readers will easily be able to understand and events and characters are described in a very real manner.  For example, Lin eloquently introduces her readers to the main character, Minli, when she writes, “Minli was not brown and dull like the rest of the village.  She had glossy black hair with pink cheeks, shining eyes always eager with adventure, and a fast smile that flashed from her face” (Lin 2009, 2).

Interspersed throughout the novel are tales told by Minli’s father, the dragon, the myriad of characters Minli meets along her journey, and even the often skeptical Ma, Minli’s mother.  As we learn from Lin in the “Author’s Note” section in the back of the novel, these stories are based upon Chinese legends Lin heard in her youth. In addition to these stories “deepening the sense of both the characters and the setting and smoothly furthering the plot,” as Booklist states, they also provide an accurate portrayal of the Chinese culture, which children from all cultural backgrounds will thoroughly enjoy.

Also interspersed throughout the novel are beautiful illustrations set in Chinese inspired picture frames created by Grace Lin herself.  These illustrations set the stage for allowing readers to visually experience the plot points of the novel.  For example, on page 186, readers are able to visually understand what inhabitants of the Village of Moon Rain experience every night as they collect the pearl-like seeds that produce hundreds of silver trees that beautify their once drab city.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is best suited for advanced readers in fourth grade and up.  Although the vocabulary is not highly advanced, the plot twists are abundant and the overall amount of information presented will require determination.  Struggling readers who don’t comprehend well or read with a high level of fluency will likely become easily frustrated with this book.  An alternative to sharing this charming story with all readers, regardless of reading level, would be to present this book in audio form.  This would allow struggling readers to hear an example of how a fluent reader reads, expand their vocabulary, and improve their listening skills and allow all readers to expand their attention spans and adopt an appreciation for literary language (Vardell 2007, 223).

Grace Lin offers a wide array of resources on her personal website, http://www.gracelin.com.  Some of these resources include a downloadable (and therefore free!) activity book which highlights activities like making a compass (just like Minli did in the novel), drawing a dragon, and learning how to draw the Chinese symbols for mountain and moon.  These activities would be a great addition to any library program.

Also included on the website is an event kit that includes posters to promote the event, an invite to give to library participants, and all of the instructions for the game to be played at the event. Grace (n.d.) describes the game as “an age-appropriate series of puzzles; kids are rewarded at the end with a mysterious gift. The meaning of that gift can only be revealed by reading the book. Readers of the book get to relive the story of Minli’s journey, readers who have not yet read the book get excited and ALL have a great time!” What a fun way to encourage participation in library activities!

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was nominated for a 2012 Iowa Children’s Choice Award and a 2013 Nene Award.  It has also been recommended by School Library Journal.


Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University. Accessed November 17, 2013.

Grace Lin. n.d. “Activities.” Accessed November 18, 2013. http://www.gracelin.com/content .php?page=wherethemountainmeetsthemoon&display=activities

Lin, Grace. 2009. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. New York: Hatchette Book Group. ISBN 978-0316038638


Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka



Ever wonder about the life that the lunch lady leads outside of work?  That is exactly what main characters, Hector, Terrence, and Dee contemplate in the graphic novel Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarret J. Krosoczka.  Little do these three ordinary, nerdy students know, they will soon join Lunch Lady and her trusty assistant, Betty, on one of the greatest adventures of their lives as they seek to defeat one nefarious teacher’s evil plan to win the Teacher of the Year Award.

Jarrett does an excellent job of pursuing a tongue-in-cheek comedic humor in both his text and illustrations.  Throughout the graphic novel, the reader comes across several clever plays on words, which mostly include food.  For example, as Lunch Lady speeds away on her motorbike in pursuit of the bad guy, she is seen saying, “I’m on him like cheese on macaroni!”  Additionally, all of Lunch Lady’s weapons incorporate both food and food utensils.  Throughout the book, she is seen with a spatu-copter (a helicopter made out of spatulas), rubber glove suction cups, cannoli-oculars (binoculars made out of cannolis), and chicken nugget bombs.

Just as clever as the text are the illustrations. Illustrations are seen in shades of yellow and gray and very clearly convey the emotions of the characters. Although the illustrations are very visually stimulating, readers will not be overwhelmed with the amount of illustrations on the page. Jarrett does an outstanding job of interspersing pages that include multiple boxed illustrations and an abundance of text with pages that present illustrations that take up the entire page with minimal text.  This balanced illustration/text approach will serve to not overwhelm reluctant or dyslexic readers. As Booklist accurately states “yellow-highlighted pen-and-ink cartoons are energetic and smile-provoking.”

The Scholastic Book Wizards identify this graphic novel as a reading level 2.6 (Scholastic 2013), which means Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Subsistute would be appropriate for second graders reading on grade level.  This graphic novel, of course, can be enjoyed by readers in any elementary grade. Parents of elementary children should not be concerned that the material presented in the Lunch Ladies series is inappropriate in any way.  There is some violence presented in the text, but no humans are physically hurt and a happy ending will be well received by all.

Although the execution of the novel is predominantly comical, Jarrett does touch on the more serious subject of bullying.  The main characters, Hector, Terrence, and Dee are portrayed as the “nerds” in the school who often lack the confidence to stand up to those who may challenge them.  Not only will readers be satisfied with a happy ending when Hector, Terrence, and Dee assist in serving justice, but they will also be satisfied and be able to relate to Hector as he confidently stands up to the bully, Milmoe.  In regards to bullying, Booklist says, “the kids’ ability to stand up to the school bully shows off their newfound confidence in a credible manner.”

Jarret Krosoczka’s personal website offers a plethora of resources that could be used to enhance a library program.  If funding allows (450 dollars per half hour), a virtual author visit could be scheduled.  During this session, Jarrett provides a tour of his studio, talks about upcoming projects, and draws a character from one of his books to later be sent to the library/school.  Of course, children, hopefully already having read his books, will have a chance to ask questions (Studio JJK n.d.)

A Lunch Lady video game is also available on Jarrett’s website complete with robot cyborgs, spatu-copters, and hair nets. Video game illustrations and some plot points closely resemble the illustrations and plot points portrayed in the graphic novel. (Random House 2012).

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute was nominated for a 2011 Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award and has received positive reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly.


Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University.  Accessed November 29, 2013.

Krosoczka, Jarrett. 2009. Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute. St. Louis: Turtleback. ISBN 978-0375846830

Random House Kids. 2012. “Lunch Lady Legends.” Accessed November 29, 2013. http://www.randomhousekids.com/games/lunch-lady-legends

Scholastic, Inc. 2013. “Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute.” Accessed November 29, 2013. http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/book/lunch-lady-and-cyborg-substitute

Studio JJK. n.d. “Jarrett J. Krosoczka – Virtual Author Visits.” Accessed November 29, 2013. http://www.studiojjk.com/virtualvisits.html

I Am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak

I am the Messenger


In all of his nineteen years, Ed Kennedy, a lonely incompetent cab driver, has grown up with not much to look forward to.  He spends most of his time sulking in his broken down shack with his coffee-drinking, decrepit dog.  When he’s not doing that, he’s arguing with a mom who doesn’t love him, playing cards with his equally washed up friends, or trying to deny that he is madly in love with his best friend, Audrey.  This all changes, though, the day that he is portrayed as a hero who is able to stop a bank robbery.  Soon after, Ed receives an anonymous playing card in the mail with a mysterious message, one that inspires him to come out of his shell and approach those in need of help.  As Ed continues to receive playing cards from this unknown messenger, each with its own cryptic missive, he is not only challenged to positively change the lives of others, but also to find meaning in his own existence.  In the end, the messenger’s identity is revealed, and Ed gets the opportunity to look back at all of the good he has caused in the lives that he was courageous enough to change.  In that reflection, his life purpose is realized.

Zusak’s writing and character development stand out and will draw readers in.  Knowing that intermediate grade readers generally “enjoy reading about protagonists who are a year or two older than they are,” Zusak does an excellent job of creating a protagonist of an appropriate age who has a very conversational, relatable voice (Vardell 2008, p. 140).  Because the novel’s theme revolves around the lessons that Ed, the protagonist, learns, it is very appropriate that Zusak chooses to use his voice to make it happen. As Booklist states, “Two particular elements will keep readers enthralled: the panoply of characters who stream in and out of the story, and the mystery of the person sending Ed on the life-altering missions.”

Another brilliant element that stands out in this novel is Zusak’s use of italics and differing fonts to draw reader’s attention to key moments in the book.  Italics are mainly used to emphasize important thoughts that Ed thinks to himself while different fonts are saved for notes passed between characters or the code written on the playing cards.  For example, on page 77, as Ed experiences the violence on Edgar Street for the very first time, he speaks to himself, saying The door […] Go to the door – it’s open.  This is a powerful moment in the novel and one that is well suited for the use of italics.

Contemporary realistic fiction books like this one can be subject to controversy and book challenges.  As Vardell states, “Book characters may be coping with the death of a loved one, the divorce of parents, and family separations, personal sexuality issues, physical, mental, or emotional disabilities, war, and persecution, and other real life crises that touch us all in one way or another (Vardell 2008, p. 150).  This is certainly true with the main character, Ed Kennedy.  Before the plot of the book takes shape, readers learn that Ed’s father has died of alcoholism, that he has a strained relationship with his mother, and that his emotional and psychological health has reached unhealthy levels.  Throughout Zusak’s writing, readers also learn that Ed has completely lost sight of the purpose in his life and struggles with everyday emotional and sexual demons. Publishers Weekly adds that “graphic situations (both violent and sexual) mark this as a book for more sophisticated readers.”   Although all of these things have caused controversy among cautious parents at times, one would be hard pressed to argue against the notion that Zusak’s authorial voice is one of the most compelling in young adult literature.

With the movie release of Markus Zusak’s most popular book, The Book Thief, now would be a great time to introduce readers to all of the other books Zusak has written.  This could be done in a display or a poster in the Young Adult section of the library.  Biographical and book information is available on his Facebook page and an in-depth interview about his ideas and motivations is available at http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/mar/28/ whyiwrite.


Facebook. 2013. “Marcus Zusak” Accessed December 3, 2013. https://www.facebook.com /MarkusZusak

Kinson, Sarah. 2008. “Series – Why I Write.”  Accessed December 3, 2013.   http://www.the guardian.com /books/2008/mar/28/whyiwrite

Vardell, Sylvia. 2008. Children’s Literature in Action: A Librarian’s Guide. Westport: Libraries.

Zusak, Marcus. 2002. I Am the Messenger. New York: Random House, Inc. ISBN 978-0375836671

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt



Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt tells the unforgettable story of an adolescent boy, Doug Swieteck, who grows up in the small town of Middletown.  In the beginning of the novel, it is obvious that Doug doesn’t have a lot of reasons to be happy.  Things on the home front are very dysfunctional.  His father is abusive, his brother is an extreme trouble maker, his brother is off in Vietnam fighting a raging war and even though his mother has a smile that “Hollywood actresses would kill for” (Schmidt 2011, 23) she is not able to provide for her son in the emotional way that he so desperately needs.  Everything changes, however, the day that Doug finds refuge in his new friend, Lil, and his new hobby, painting birds.  As Doug struggles to overcome numerous barriers, he discovers more about himself, his creativity, and the world around him.  Readers will root for Doug’s success throughout the book and will be wholly satisfied in the end when he triumphs on many different levels.

Okay for Now fits very appropriately in the historical fiction genre.   The events happening in 1968 that are portrayed in the novel are Joe Pepitone slugging for the Yankees, NASA making efforts to put a man on the moon, and the Vietnam War in full swing.  The event at the forefront is, of course, the Vietnam War.  Author Gary D. Schmidt, does an excellent job of portraying what a disastrous effect the war had on men, women, and their families through the characters he develops and the events he portrays.   Throughout the novel, Doug experiences conflict with Coach Reed, his gym teacher, who he believes to be a very cruel man. One day Doug discovers several sketches of Vietnam, depicting dead bodies and the words “My Lai” (or I was there) at the bottom of the page.  That day, Doug was able to put all of Coach Reed’s so-called cruel actions into perspective, and their relationship changed for the better.  Another unforgettable scene with historical context is when Doug and his family go to pick up his brother, Lucas, who is returning from the Vietnam War.  Much to their dismay, the family finds a very broken man, one with no legs, a huge bandage over his face, and spirit that has been depleted.  Later in the novel, the hardships that Lucas faces in getting a job and starting the healing process because of his physical and emotional disabilities are highlighted in great detail.

One of the many standout elements in Okay For Now is the unforgettable protagonist, Doug Swieteck.  Doug struggles on so many levels – emotionally, physically, and psychologically – with the events that are happening around him – an abusive father, an accused criminal brother, another brother fighting in Vietnam, and a gym teacher who won’t ever get off his case, to name a few.   Through it all, Doug resiliently pushes through all of the hardships and grounds himself in his passions (art, Joe Pepitone, and playing with the neighborhood children) and in the arms of reliable people (Lil, his best friend, and Mr. Powell, his art teacher).   Readers will go on an emotional journey with Doug as he grows up in a just few short months, and comes to several realizations about himself and those surrounding him. As the Voice of Youth Advocates  eloquently states, “while there is much stacked against him, he is a character filled with hope that the reader cannot help but root for.”

Additionally, Doug has a very endearing way of communicating with the readers which often involves him using a very direct, sarcastic tone.  In moments of extreme emotion, good or bad, he often asks readers, “You know what that feels like?” and in moments of frustrations he mutters, “so what, so what?”  The tone in Doug’s voice set by Schmidt contributes to the portrayal of a real, human character, one that many adolescents will quickly relate to.

Besides the characters, adolescents will also relate well to other literary aspects of the novel.  Children growing up in a small town will likely understand the often negative emotions associated with living behind the shadow of rumors spread about a family member or friend.  Regardless of whether this rumor is true, word can travel fast in little time, though the aftershocks of those words often take time to dissipate.  Although the Vietnam War is fifty years behind us, many current adolescents have family members or friends who have served or are currently serving in Afghanistan or Iraq.  This will allow adolescents feeling any sadness or frustration related to having a family member in a warzone relate well to this book and possibly even help process some of their own emotions.

When times are tough, they are very tough for Doug.  Although the abuse scenes in this novel are never fully explored in detail, the plot is one that is likely best suited for an older, more mature adolescent audience.  This is something to keep in mind when scheduling library programming that involves this book.  Having pre-planned, appropriate discussion questions would be essential.  (Examples of these questions can be found at http://www.scribd.com/doc/112180819 /Okay-For-Now-Educator-Guide.)

Okay For Now doesn’t speak in depth about the historical aspects of the Vietnam War, but reading this book could easily serve as a springboard to introduce such topics.  Books such as “10,000 Day of Thunder” by Philip Caputo or “Vietnam War” by Martin Gitlin would be great additions to posters or displays in the library that focus on the Vietnam War.  The Moving Wall, a “half-size replica of the Washington, DC Vietnam Veterans Memorial” travels around the country and was recently in Cleveland, TX the week of October 10th.  Either visiting this memorial or taking pictures and sharing information about it would be a great way to get young library patrons inspired to learn more.   Additionally, a virtual tour of the Vietnam War Memorial is available at http://www.virtualwall.org/ and a slideshow of Vietnam photos is available at http://www.themovingwall.org/thewall.html.  These would be great resources to show to young learners.

Okay for Now has been nominated for a 2011 National Book Award, a 2013 Grand Canyon Reader Award, a 2012 Wyoming National Paintbrush Book Award, a 2012 Black-Eyed Susan Book Award, a 2013 Beehive Young Adults’ Book Award, and a 2013 Volunteer State Book Award.  In 2011, it won a School Library Journal Best Books of the Year Award and in 2012, it won an American Library Association Notable Book for Children Award.


Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University Accessed November 7, 2013.

Crochett, Joyce. n.d. “YouTube Video of the Song ‘The Wall.’”Accessed November 8, 2013. http://www.themovingwall.org/thewall.html

Schmidt, Gary D. 2011. Okay for Now. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN 0547152604

Scribd. n.d. “Okay For Now Educators Guide.” Accessed November 7, 2013. http://www.scribd.com/doc/112180819/Okay-For-Now-Educator-Guide

Vietnam Combat Veterans. 2013. “The Moving Wall.” Accessed November 8, 2013. http://www.themovingwall.org/

The Virtual Wall. 1997-2013. “The Virtual Wall: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Accessed November 8, 2013. http://www.themovingwall.org/thewall.html


The Earth Drgaon Awakes by Laurence Yep



On April 17th, 1906, San Francisco residents carried on like it was any other day.  Enrico Caruso sang in the opera and a huge roller-skating festival was set to take place.   Little did those dwellers know that mere hours later their lives would be turned upside down as they faced one of the most deadly earthquakes in history. As the title of Laurence Yep’s work of historical fiction rightly states, The Earth Dragon Awakes.

Yep tells the story of this earthquake through the eyes of two young boys, Chin and Henry.  Chin is a Chinese Immigrant whose father works as a servant for a wealthy banker and his family.  Henry is the son of this wealthy banker.  Despite cultural and economic differences, both characters bravely face catastrophes brought on by the earthquake and come to regard their otherwise ordinary fathers as heroes.  In the end, they are reunited to speak to each other about their own tales of survival.

One of the many strong elements that stands out in this book is Yep’s use of the present tense in his writing.  On his use of present tense, Yep writes, “When I wrote The Earth Dragon Awakes, I used the present tense to try to make readers feel as if they were experiencing the Great Earthquake and Fire moment to moment (Vardell 2008, 186).  Booklist agrees and states, “the narration provides a you are there sense of immediacy and will appeal to readers who enjoy action-packed survival stories.”

Another element that stands out is Yep’s simple but very descriptive word choices. Most sentences are composed of a singular concise thought.  Very rarely does he ever combine two thoughts to form a complex sentence.  Although Yep does introduce some complex vocabulary at times, he mainly sticks to very simple word choices, which would make this book an excellent selection for a struggling or reluctant reader.

Even though the format of the writing is kept simple, Yep’s imagery and use of adjectives will create stunning images in the minds of his readers.  On page twenty-four, as he describes the destruction, he writes, “cracks spread like crazy spidewebs around all of the wall” (Yep 2006, 24).   He writes that black smoke “fans outward like hair,” (76) is “like a giant worm,” and “swallows the moon and the stars” (80).

Yep also does an excellent job of interspersing factual information with the plot details of the main characters.  In the chapters that provide factual information, Yep broaches topics like tectonic plates, the Richter Scale, and specific data collected about the San Francisco Earthquake.  For example, readers learn that the force of the earthquake was greater than the atom bomb that struck Hiroshima (18) and that the earthquake caused the big water mains to break in over three hundred places (50).

In addition to facts, readers will also pick up on several themes that run throughout the book.  The most obvious theme is that of survival.  Any child who has lived through (or knows someone who has lived through) a natural disaster will easily relate to all of the characters in the book.  Other themes speak to the benefits of collaboratively helping others, making true friends despite cultural stereotypes, and learning to regard ordinary people as true heroes.

School Library Journal points out that “Yep’s research is exhaustive. He covers all the most significant repercussions of the event, its aftershocks, and days of devastating fires.” This is certainly true.  In the “afterword” section located in the back of the book, readers learn that Yep has a very real connection to this historical event as his grandfather was a houseboy at the time, much like the fictional character, Ah Sing.  In addition to numerous other facts about the earthquake, readers also learn in this section that Yep relied heavily upon the research of Gladys Hansen and Emmet Condon’s as presented in their book “Denial of Disaster.”  Yep also provides readers with an extended reading list and with two websites that he deems “the most reliable” (113).  The overall tone in this section is that Yep takes the process of searching for and using credible research very seriously.  Readers can rest assured that what they are reading is authentic.

One of the websites that Yep suggests is quake.wr.usgs.gov/info/1906/. The use of this website would be a great way to enhance a library program.  The website provides photos, an interview with a survivor, and eyewitness accounts that could be utilized in a book club or could be recommended to library patrons.  Additionally, this website also provides access to a wealth of earthquake activities for kids.  The interface is outlined below.  A librarian could engage participants by taking an earthquake quiz available by clicking on the “puzzles & Games” icon or facilitate a discussion on any questions participants may have about earthquakes.  The librarian could then compile the list, e-mail a geologist by clicking on “Ask a Geologist” icon, and follow up with answers during the next scheduled library event.


The Earth Dragon Awakes was nominated for a 2010 Sunshine State Young Readers’ Book Award and has received positive reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.


Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University. Accessed November 8-11, 2013.

U.S. Geological Survey. 2013. “The Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.” Acessed November 11, 2013. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/regional/nca/1906/18april/index.php

U.S. Geological Survey. 2013. “Earthquakes for Kids.” Accessed November 11, 2013. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/kids/

Vardell, Sylvia. 2008. Children’s Literature in Action: A Librarian’s Guide. Westport: Libraries Unlimited.

Yep, Laurence. 2006. The Earth Dragon Awakes. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0060008468

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia



Set in1968 in Oakland, California during a time of civil rights unrest, One Crazy Summer tells the story of an almost 12-year old girl, Delphine, and her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern.  Originally from Brooklyn, and now growing up with their father and grandmother, these girls travel to Oakland, California to spend a summer with their mother, who abandoned them at a very early age to pursue her poetry.  Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern quickly learn that their mother, Cecile, has no interest in being the kind of nurturing mother they so often longed for as children. In fact, Cecile has no interest in even calling them by their own names.  During the girl’s first morning in Oakland, Cecile says, “If you want breakfast, go’n down to the ‘people’s center’” (Williams-Garcia 2010, 56).  After initially being confused about where they were going, the girls soon realize that they are being shooed off to the local Black Panthers operation, a group focused on the rights of black citizens and one that provides for a needy community.  In addition to eating cold eggs every morning, the girls attend a revolutionary day camp where they learn more about their own cultural and ethnic identity as well as the many historical events happening around them.  In the end, Delphine gets a glimpse into the tumultuous life her mother had starting at age eleven and ultimately learns to understand her mother’s actions much better.  Although the relationship is not entirely mended, Delphine travels back to Brooklyn with a happy heart after being able to hug her mom for the first time.  For those interested in reading the sequel, P.S. Be Eleven is now available.

The reader does not have to have firsthand experience growing up in Oakland, California in the 1960’s to understand that the events and voices in this book are very real and reflective of the time.  Rita Williams-Garcia does a stellar job of developing a fictional plot and characters around an authentic setting.  In the Acknowledgments portion of her book, the author writes, “I could not have written this work of fiction without having read books, articles, and interviews that cover this period.  I specifically could not have felt the climate of the times from Black Panther accounts and perspectives without David Hilliard’s The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service (Williams-Garcia 2010, 217-218).  Although specific sources are not cited, this acknowledgment explains to the reader that careful thought and research was put into the historical details threaded throughout the book, giving it a high level of authenticity.

One such historical encounter occurs when the protagonist, Delphine, is visited by men dressed in black jackets and black berets, the reader’s first introduction to The Black Panthers.   Additionally, on page sixty-nine, Delphine describes her surroundings at the People’s Center, “Instead of pictures of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and President Johnson, there was a picture of Huey Newton sitting in a big wicker chair with a rifle at his side.  There were other pictures of mostly black men and a few black women hung up around the room.”  There, Delphine also acquaints herself with the famous Fannie Lou Hamer quote, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” All of these details intertwine very naturally throughout the plot and are told through the innocent voices of three girls encountering this history for the first time.  As the Voice of the Youth Advocates accurately explains, “The historical details sprinkled throughout the book do not seem forced; rather, they lend authenticity to the setting, and the portrayal of the Black Panthers breaks with the harsher stereotypes.”

Although the protagonist, Delphine, is specifically an African American pre-adolescent growing up in a difficult prejudicial time, many of her personal experiences and struggles transcend any age or race.  Throughout the course of the book, Delphine struggles to remain young despite having very adult-like responsibilities, contemplates a love-hate relationship with a parent, and is often the center of attention (negative or positive) for being different.  These examples are real hardships that children all over the world struggle with on an everyday basis, making the events in this book very relatable.

Events and names referenced in One Crazy Summer could encourage and inspire children to do further research on topics such as The Black Panthers, Huey Newton, Bobby Hutton, and COINTELPRO.   Having further information handy, whether in book or electronic resource form, would be a great way to promote library usage.  Additionally, including primary sources and inviting guest speakers to a library program would enhance children’s knowledge of the events depicted in One Crazy Summer.  1968 is a year not too far in the past.  Contacting local African American Organizations could be a great way to find a speaker who grew up in that time and experienced some of what Delphine and her sisters did in the book.  Several great videos depicting Huey Newton’s life in pictures and speeches are available on Youtube and could be easily incorporated into a library program.  One great example can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oIWjbhZI-A.  Blackpanther.org is also a great site for rare vintage audio clips and interviews never heard or seen by the public.

One Crazy Summer has been nominated for a plethora of awards including the National Book Awards in 2010, a Newbery Medal in 2011, the Judy Lopez Memorial Award in 2011, the Georgia Children’s Book Award in 2011, the Black-Eyed Susan Book Award in 2011, the West Virginia Children’s Choice Book Award in 2011, the Young Hoosier Book Award in 2012, the Maryland Children’s Book Award in 2011, the Great Lakes’ Great Books Award in 2011, The Rhode Island Children’s Book Award in 2012, the North Carolina Children’s Book Award in 2012, the Volunteer State Book Award in 2012, The California Young Reader Medal in 2013, and the Charlie May Simon Children’s Book Award in 2012.

Additionally, One Crazy Summer has won numerous awarding including the American Library Association Notable Books for Children Award in 2011, the Coretta Scott King Award in 2011, the Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award in 2011, and School Library Journal Best Books of the year in 2010.


Blackpanther.org. n.d. blackpanther.org. Accessed November 3, 2014

Books in Print. Texas Woman’s Univeristy. Accessed November 2, 2013.

Praylu Productions. 2006. “Huey P. Newton Interview.” YouTube video. http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=5oIWjbhZI-A. Accessed November 3, 2013.

Williams-Garcia, Rita. 2010. One Crazy Summer. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0060760908

The Wild Book by Margarita Engle



The Wild Book is a stunningly written free verse novel based upon stories author Margarita Engle’s maternal grandmother, Josepha de la Caridad Uría Pena, shared with her about growing up in the dangerous countryside of Cuba in the early twentieth century.  Early on in the novel, readers learn that Josepha, known as Fefa, struggles with word-blindness (dyslexia).  Despite Fefa’s frustration with the disorder, her mother is her biggest fan and encourages her to disregard the labels everyone has given her.  The disability is quickly put into perspective, however, when Fefa finds out her family may be in danger as wild bandits roam free during this turbulent time in her country’s history. Though she initially experiences feelings of worthlessness due to her disorder and the environmental anxieties, Fefa’s confidence slowly builds, until she is named a heroine in the end when she carefully reads a ransom note and exposes her friend as a fraud.  Fefa eventually comes to terms with her word-blindness when in the end she declares, “So I pick up one of the thick books I used to hate, and I open its gate-shaped cover, and I let my strong eyes travel, slowly exploring.”

Generally, Engle presents her writing in a consistent flow of 5-10 line paragraphs containing an average of four to six words per line.  However, single words are presented cascading down the page when Fefa is working to master reading and writing by slowing her brain down. Examples of this can be found on page 16 and 97.  Single words “Why? !Ay! Why?” also appear throughout the book when Fefa experiences strong emotions.  These elements together create a natural rhythm.

Language is carefully selected and used creatively to create images and emotions within the reader’s mind.  The most prominent imagery is created when describing words and the role they play in Fefa’s life. During her struggle with words, Fefa compares words to frogs that “know how to leap and escape (p 6),” “slippery striped snakes (p 114),” and storm clouds “always ready to explode (p 13).” During each of these descriptions, readers are impacted emotionally as they feel for Fefa.  In the end, language is used to assist readers in feeling a sense of triumph with Fefa as she overcomes many hurdles.  On page 113, she writes, “Flying to the truth of words/ instantly helps me/ feel/ as secure/ as a flower/ with deep roots.”  Voice of Youth Advocates put it best when they state, “Whatever the motivation of the reader, after completing The Wild Book, they will be enchanted by the beautiful words, words with which Fefa struggled, but ultimately, with whom she became dearest friends.”

References to Cuban culture, including traditions, historical events, holidays, and food are sprinkled throughout the book.  As an alternative to selecting a non-fiction book to produce a traditional report on Cuba, teachers and librarians could assign this book in a multicultural unit.

As author Margarita Engle is of Cuban decent and was the first Latina woman to win the Newbery Honor, setting up activities to highlight her life and poetic works would be appropriate to honor Hispanic Heritage month (September 15th – October 15th). These activities would not need to be limited to specific time period in a library but instead could be enjoyed year round. Events could include, but are not limited to, an online chat with the author herself, gathering and displaying her poetic works in an obvious spot in the library, or creating a poster that displays Engle’s biographical information.

The Wild Book has received many honors including 2013 Bankstreet’s Best Children’s Books of the Year, Horn Book’s Guide to 2012 Notable Novels in Verse, and Kirkus Reviews New & Notable Books for Children in 2012.


Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University Library (Accessed October 4, 2013).

Engle, Margarita. 2012. “Books about Latin America.” http://margaritaengle.com/allbooks.html (Accessed September 29, 2013).

Engle, Margarita. 2012. The Wild Book. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0544022751

The Library of Congress. n.d. “Hispanic Heritage Month.” http://hispanicheritagemonth.gov/ (Accessed October 3, 2013).

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate



Based, in part, on the true story of a gorilla captured in the now Democratic Republic of the Congo, Katherine Applegate introduces us to the fictitious and unforgettable character of a gorilla named Ivan.  Forced to live in the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, Ivan quickly learns to forget the previous life he lived and family he had in the African jungle.  In fact, he finds that forgetting this past life is an essential part of adjusting to the solitary, lonely life he now lives.  However, in his new daily reality, Ivan grows to love many things.  A small list includes western TV shows, a stray dog named Bob, an ex-circus elephant named Stella, finger painting, and a baby elephant named Ruby.  Tragedy strikes, though, when Ivan’s best elephant friend, Stella, falls ill and dies at the hands of neglectful humans. Ivan promises her that he will take care of her newly adopted baby elephant Ruby and provide her with a better life than the mall and video arcade environment can.  After making this promise, Ivan realizes how far-fetched it is but nonetheless, decides to give it a shot.  With an ending that involves finger painting, a persistent and empathetic young girl named Julia, and a father who is willing to risk it all to do what is right, Ivan is able to make good on his promise.  Too many plot details abound to sum up this book in one short paragraph, but it is a must-read!

Applegate’s masterfully uses the poetic elements of rhythm, language, imagery, and emotion in this verse novel.   Short lines are saved for dramatic statements or quotes, creating a staccato rhythm while longer lines and paragraphs are used to create plot flow.  Chapters vary greatly in length according to the emotion being expressed.  Additionally, the language is carefully selected using sensory words that serve to form mental pictures in the reader’s mind.  For example, on page 266, Ivan realizes that a change is coming by stating, “I don’t know what it is, but I taste it in the air, like far-off rain clouds gathering.”

This verse novel’s greatest strength may lie in Applegate’s ability to allow readers to go on an adventure with Ivan, experiencing each and every emotion he does.  In the beginning, readers will be heartbroken as Ivan is, but in the end every heart will be mended when Ivan finds his inner strength and triumphs over adversity.  Along the way, readers will cry, sigh, gasp, smile, and maybe even laugh as the raw emotions are portrayed. In February, 2012, Booklist wrote, “The text, written in first person from Ivan’s point of view, does a good job of vividly conveying his personality, emotions, and intelligence as well as creating a sense of otherness in his point of view.”

The text in Applegate’s verse novel can easily stand alone as an incredibly well written work of poetry, but illustrations are added throughout the story that help readers visualize some of the most critical plot points.  Overall, the illustrations add a nice touch and do not complicate the text. For example, on page sixty-nine as readers are introduced to the new character, Stella, a picture of her appears on the page.  She is seen with a look of apprehension as she slowly inches her way out of the big white truck in which she arrived.  In January, 2012, School Library Journal wrote “Castelao’s delightful illustrations enhance this lovely story.”

The Harper Collins Children’s webpage offers a great deal of extension activities for teachers and librarians to use with readers of The One and Only Ivan.  One idea provided is to introduce students to the story of the real Ivan, Katherine Applegate’s inspiration in writing this book.  After this, students could then do research on how to plan a campaign to save an animal in similar circumstances to Ivan.  It would be important to ask children questions like, “How would you raise awareness of the animal’s plight?” and “Who would you enlist to help you? (Harper Collins 2013)” This idea would fit well into a book club or literacy event hosted in a public library.

The One and Only Ivan has won a host of awards including the Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award in 2012, the School Library Journal Best Books of the Year in 2012, the Newbery Medal in 2013, the American Library Association Notable Books for Children in 2013, the California Book Awards in 2012, and the Christopher Book Awards in 2013. Additionally, the book has also been nominated for the Great Stone Face Children’s Book Award in 2012, the Great Lakes Great Books Award in 2013, and Bluebonnet Award in 2013.  This week, The One and Only Ivan is number nine on the New Times Best Sellers List under the category “Children’s Middle Grade.”  Since its release on January 17th, 2013, it is has spent thirty-four weeks on the top ten best sellers list in this category (New York Times 2013).


Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University. (Accessed September 27, 2013.)

The New York Times. 2013. “Best Sellers.” http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/childrens-middle-grade/list.html (Accessed September 27, 2013).

Harper Collins Children’s. 2013. “The One and Only Ivan.” http://files.harpercollins.com /HCChildrens             /OMM/Media/One%20and%20Only%20Ivan%20UPDATED%20TG.pdf (Accessed September 27, 2013).

Applegate, Katherine. 2013. The One and Only Ivan. Ill. Patricia Castelao. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0061992254