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LITERARY LAGNIAPPE FALL 2007, SPRING 2008 Issue # 37 The word “lagniappe” (pronounced ‘lan yap’) is a common term used in Louisiana. It means “a little something extra.” The literary community of the University of New Orleans offers our readers a literary lagniappe–reviews of recently published books for children and young adults. The reviews of fiction, picture books, and nonfiction titles that follow are arranged alphabetically by the author’s last name. FICTION Jennifer’s Diary by Anne Fine. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Ages 7 to 10. Jennifer’s Diary is a great novel for young readers transitioning from children’s books to novels. Jennifer’s beautiful diary seems like the ideal gift to her friend Iola, but to Jennifer, the diary makes her feel emptier than before. Jennifer cannot seem to find any words to fill her pretty new diary, a problem that Iola does not seem to struggle with. Iola is an exquisite writer, always making up new and exciting tales to write about in class, while Jennifer sits in her desk, staring blankly at her paper. The diary seems to tear the two friends apart, each of the girls jealous of one another. Jennifer is jealous that Iola is such a great writer with so many ideas, and Iola is jealous that Jennifer has such a great diary to write in and is angry that Jennifer has no ideas to put in the diary. Eventually, the girls realize that their friendship is more important than this ongoing battle, and they make up. This story is great for young girls because it shows them that friendship is more important than any material object, and that when you have a weakness, your friends will always be there to help you with their strengths. –Lauren Kurtz How Ya Like Me Now by B. Halpin. 2007. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. After his father dies and his mother becomes addicted to prescription drugs, Eddie has to move in with his aunt, uncle, and their son, Alex. Eddie isn’t sure how he is going to handle the transition from being an only child and taking care of himself to sharing a bedroom with Alex and being provided for by his aunt and uncle. Eddie’s cousin, Alex isn’t pleased about having to share his bedroom or taking on the responsibility of helping Eddie adjust to his new life. Alex wants to be free to worry about his own problems, which include impressing girls and being misunderstood by the adults in his life. As the two teenagers get to know each other, they begin to realize that they aren’t as different from one another as they originally thought. Halpin’s decision to narrate the novel from both Eddie’s and Alex’s points of view is what makes the story work. Readers get to see the events through the eyes of both boys; therefore, both characters can be regarded as protagonists instead of one being viewed as the antagonist. If the book had been narrated differently, readers would not be able to completely experience Eddie’s frustration with Alex’s decision to defend his friend, “but not his own cousin” (31). Alex’s admission that “he wasn’t sure if Eddie would get upset” (36) if Alex came to his defense would have also been lost on readers if the book had been written from a different point of view. The use of alternating points of view leaves room for readers to focus on the themes of positive peer pressure, gifted teenagers fighting the same personal battles as other teenagers, and interracial relationships The cover of the book portrays two pairs of hands – one black and one white – holding Sony Playstation controllers. The white hands are more prominently displayed in the picture because even though they are the minority in the story, the protagonists are white. The Playstation remotes are symbolic of the way the characters in the story find a common ground and start to see that they can relate to one another in more ways than one. I enjoyed reading How Ya Like Me Now because the situations the characters find themselves in are very ironic, and the book does well in dispelling some widespread stereotypical images of different races. I would use this book with upper elementary, middle, and high school students because the content is mild enough for a wide age- range, and the themes are worth introducing to all children.–Kali Joseph The Pirates of Turtle Rock by Richard W. Jennings. Houghton Mifflin, 2008. Ages 10-14. This is a novel filled with imagination, love, and adventure. Jennings was successfully able to combine a timeless story of a pirates voyage with a modern day twist filled with iPods and hair dye. The book is about Coop DeVille, an 18 year old pirate who is on a search to find the treasure of an ancient tribe, the Ugiri Tom. Upon beginning his voyage, DeVille notices the lovely Jenny Snow, a 16- year-old girl yearning for excitement in her life. Using DeVille‘s map and the assistance of Jenny’s Uncle Daschell, the two teenagers go on a whirlwind quest that will make them rich. This thrilling novel is well worth the read because once it pulls you in, it‘s impossible to put the book down. By using cliff-hanger endings at the end of each chapter, Jennings is able to bring out a desire of adventure in all of us. Just like Jenny Snow, we are temporarily able to escape from our own dreary lives and go on a 150 page escapade. -Sarah Jurgelsky The Totally Made-up Civil War Diary of Amanda MacLeish by Claudia Mills. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Ages 8-12. Amanda MacLeish has a lot to face during her 5th grade year. With her dad moving out and her parents getting a divorce, it’s hard for Amanda to focus on anything else. The only thing she gets pleasure from is her writing. Amanda is working on a journal activity at school, where each student writes a daily log of a person living during the Civil War. Amanda’s character, Polly, is someone that she can definitely relate to. Polly’s brothers are fighting against each other in the war, one for the North and one for the South. Amanda releases her own emotions into the journal of Polly, getting praise from her classmates and teacher. Little do they know that Amanda’s inspiration comes from true troubles in her life. I found this book to be blunt and honest, qualities that younger readers need more of in their books. Now a favorite of mine, this novel is one that many children can relate to. From writing about Amanda’s finding her dad’s new girlfriend to riding home frantically in the rain to escape him, Claudia Mills doesn’t hold back the truth of what divorce feels like in the heart of a child. Even though Amanda learns of the harsh realities of a family split apart, she also learns that parents’ love is unconditional, even if they don’t live under the same roof. -Sarah Jurgelsky HARMLESS by Dana Reinhart. Wendy Lamb Books, 2007. $15.99. Ages 12-16 Harmless is an interesting novel that teaches a valuable lesson about telling lies. The story is told by three best friends in a diary-type format. One Friday night the three girls decide they are going to go to a party but they lie to their parents and tell them they are going to the movies. One girl’s mother goes to the movie and she sees no sign of them. So to keep from getting in trouble they decide to make up a story that is a total lie. The three girls all dealt with the lie in different ways. What happens next challenges their friendship, their community, their relationship with their families and their sense of themselves. Harmless is a gripping and provocative novel that is full of suspense and surprises. The novel teaches valuable lessons about the truth and about a person’s values. It shows that lies will eventually catch up with you and they may in fact become a bigger and worse problem than if the truth were told. When a lie is told, whatever the consequences are, a person must learn to live with it. Telling the truth is always the better choice. The title of the story is significant to the plot because when a lie is told it is never harmless and in this instance it was life-altering for the girls as well as the families, community, their friendships and themselves. The novel would be a great book to show teens how things can spiral out of control. –Barbra Washington WHAT MY MOTHER DOESN’T KNOW by Sonya Sones. Simon Pulse. $10.99. Ages 12-15. In What My Mother Doesn’t Know Sonya Sones cleverly uses verse to make a point. Sophie is an only child who tries to fool her mother with lies. She has two best friends Rachel and Grace Whose only goal is to love boys They all have crushes That gives them rushes and joy. Even though Sophie loves Dylan they have nothing in common. So she meets Chaz in cyber space instead of face to face. It doesn’t last because he’s a cad. And there’s her mother Who doesn’t bother To know more about her. She buys Sophie a dress That’s horrible at best For the big dance But Sophie does a switch Instead of looking like a witch. And pays the price To look nice. The dance is masquerade So she doesn’t know the masked boy She met by chance. In the end she knows him As a friend from childhood His name is Murphy Who everyone knew was quirky. To her surprise They connect like two peas In a pod. She soon realize That true love has no lies. So in the end For this book I had to take a second look. It was fast and funny Though not as strong as “Seeing Emily” By Joyce Lee Wong. Review in verse by Denise W. McConduit HURRICANE: A NOVEL by Terry Trueman. Harper Collins Publishers, 2003. Ages 10 and up. In this novel, Jose Cruz, is a teenage boy enjoying the freedoms of youth in his small town of La Rupa, Honduras. Everything changes though when Hurricane Mitch hits and his father and eldest siblings go missing. Jose is thrust into adulthood and becomes the savior of his town. Terry Trueman does an amazing job of getting the reader emotionally involved with his novel. It could be because the topic of loss is so easy to relate to these days, and it could be the knowledge that though this is fiction, events like this did take place. This heart-wrenching novel should be on everyone’s book if not to memorialize the destruction of this part of South America, then to remind us of our own losses on the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and how much worse it could have been. –Julie Little PICTURE BOOKS WHAT PET TO GET? By Emma Dodd. Arthur A. Levine, 2008. Ages 5-8. A little boy decides that he needs to get a pet. For every creature that he names, big or small, his mother finds a way to talk him out of it. Although a familiar plot, the illustrations make the book delightful. The animals the boy chooses are over the top, and facial expressions of the characters are hilarious. My favorite part was when the little boy wants to have a T-Rex for a pet. It was the best! The illustrator knows just how to capture an audience. Everything is drawn on a level that children of all ages would love. At the very end of the book the young boy decides he wants a do–the only normal choice in the book! –Amanda Rouse THE FISH WHO CRIED WOLF by Julia Donaldson. Illus. by Alex Scheffler. Arthur A. Levine, 2008. Ages 5-8. The cover of the book was very bright and full of color and immediately caught my eye. The book is about a small fish who makes up tales about the adventures he has been on as an excuse for being late to class everyday. The little fish makes up different stories to tell his teacher, friends, and grandmother. Towards the end of the story the little fish gets caught in a fish net and has a real story to finally tell everyone. This clever story has an important lesson for children to learn. We all know how children like to make up stories. They need to be taught that if they cry wolf all the time, nobody will be there when something bad actually happens. Pair this with the more sophisticated John Burningham’s JOHN PATRICK NORMAL MCHENNESY, a book with a similar plot and theme.–Amanda Rouse ALASKA by Shelly Gill. Pictures by Patrick J. Endres. Charlesbridge Publishers, 2007. $16.95 Ages 7-12 Alaska is a nonfiction book about our 49th state. It is filled with brief facts about the history, landscape, and wild animals of Alaska. The author, Shelly Gill describes Alaska through the eyes of a local describing the state to a tourist. However, it seems her only real qualification is the fact that she, herself, is a local. Her sources of information could come from any textbook or Google search. In each section, there is a “cheechako” tip. A cheechako is a newcomer to Alaska. These tips are not only unnecessary, but also border on crass at some points. The book does not easily flow from topic to topic. There is no real chronological structure or organization. The language does not require any specific background expectations, and there is yet one more problem: the stories are for older kids, the poems are for younger kids, and the cheechako tips are for much younger kids. Nothing blends particularly well together. The only redeeming quality of this book is the pictures. Photographer Patrick Endres managed to shoot a couple of high quality pictures. Some of the pictures seem outdated however and there is something missing in the feeling. The beauty of Alaska is not fully captured. Alaska may be home to the extremes of the wilderness, but this book is home to the extremes of bad. Alaska should be captured in all of its beauty and untamed charisma, not in its bad smells. A swing and a miss. –Staci Ricke THEA’s TREE by Alison Jackson. Illustrated by Janet Pedersen. Dutton Children’s Books, 2008. Ages 6 and up. Thea plants some strange purple seeds for a science project and all sorts of crazy happenings occur. A huge beanstalk grew in her yard, growing into and towering over her house. Thea hears music playing and even finds golden eggs. She contacts many professionals who may be able to explain what is in her yard, but she cannot find an answer. By the end of the story, the beanstalk is gone and all Thea has to show for her plant is a journal to her teacher explaining her wild situation. The illustrations in this book are very original, with the text being written in the form of letters between Thea and the various specialists in the area. It seems to be an entertaining story of folklore and giants. But I would leave it at that. While it is a very original idea, the story seems to be a bit drawn out. And even though the book is very fictional, I found some aspects to be too unrealistic. As I read the book, I was confused to see that Thea’s tree didn’t get more attention from the specialists and from her teacher, since it covered her entire neighborhood. Still, the book would be amusing for children to read, especially if they are familiar with fairy tales and folklore. -Sarah Jurgelsky GRANDMA CALLS ME BEAUTIFUL by Barbara M. Joosse. Illustrated by Barbara Lavallee. Chronicle Kids, 2008. Ages 4 to 8. Grandma Calls Me Beautiful shows the unique bond between a grandmother and her grandchild. Beautiful’s Tutu, her grandmother, tells Beautiful the story of the day she was born. In Hawaiian culture, grandparents often take joy in having a large part in raising their grandchildren. In telling Beautiful the story of her as a baby, she is teaching her about the ways of their lifestyle as well. Although it is educational for young readers, giving them a perspective on how different cultures speak in different ways, I found the text slightly boring and thought that it may be too complex for a younger child to understand. Illustrated in very bright watercolor, the pictures in this book show the diversity of Hawaii’s landscape and the descriptions of different animals teach children about a world outside of what they are used to. This book also shows children that even if they do not look a certain way, or are different from their peers, they are still beautiful and perfect in their own unique way. – Lauren Kurtz WAVE by Suzy Lee. Chronicle Books, 2008. For all ages. Using charcoal and watercolors, Suzy Lee creates a lovable story almost anyone can identify with. This wordless book tells the tale of a little girl and her day at the beach. She is at first untrusting of the ocean waves but soon finds herself completely enthralled and in love with the new friend she has found in the wave. The only colors used in the book are black, blue, and gray. The use of only three colors sets the tone of simplicity perfectly. Toying with the meaning of the word wave, this book tells a simple story of the timeless tale of friendship a young child finds on their first visit to the beach. It’s definitely a story for all ages.– –Julie Little I GET SO HUNGRY by Bebe Moore Campbell. Illustrated by Amy Bates. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008. Ages 6-8. This picture book is truly one that touches many peoples hearts. Nikki is overweight and has to deal with the struggles of being unhealthy, addicted to eating, and being teased on a daily basis. Being overweight makes her sad, but when she’s sad, all she wants to do is eat. She came from a family of bigger women, so her mom tells her that being big is okay. But Nikki wants to put a stop to her food addiction. With the help of her teacher, Ms. Patterson, the two exercise and lose weight together, giving Nikki tons of confidence. Being of the last books written by Campbell (1950-2006), this book gave a very realistic point of view about obesity among children today. From reading this story and seeing the detailed illustrations by Amy Bates, you see how difficult it is being overweight amongst your peers, along with the inner struggle of not having the confidence to make a change. The book shows us that despite the difficulty involved, we must have hope and beat our vices together. Nikki’s character brought tears to my eyes because like many people in the world, I am overweight and know of the exact emotions she was experiencing. Campbell does an amazing job at evoking those feelings in readers and connecting to so many on a personal level. -Sarah Jurgelsky THE LONESOME PUPPY by Yoshitomo Nara. Chronicle Books, 2008. Ages 3 to 6. This is the story of a puppy so large that no one ever notices him and the unlikely friendship that develops between him and the little girl that decides to climb him. The illustrations are at odds with the text, often making the characters look angry in what is supposed to be a book about making a friend. Nara is a celebrated Japanese artist which seems to be his true calling. The text in this book is as simple as the storyline which is why I’d only recommend The Lonesome Puppy to fans of Yoshitomo Nara or Japanese pop art. –Julie Little SILENT MUSIC, A STORY OF BAGHDAD by James Rumford. Roaring Brook Press, 2008. Ages 9 and up. Ali is just like every other young Baghdad boy who loves to play soccer, to play his music loud, and to dance. Most of all Ali loves to practice the art of calligraphy and does so nearly every day. He is inspired by the ancient calligrapher Yakut to perfect his writing and lives in his example when bombs begin falling on Baghdad. Finding tranquility and escape through the stylized writing, Ali patiently waits for peace to return to his home. James Rumford sets this story in the year 2003 when the United States began to bomb Baghdad. Inspired by photos found on the web and from American soldiers, Rumford created his illustrations using pencil and charcoal enhanced through the use of a computer. The illustrated pages are assembled in a collage style with mosaic backgrounds containing hidden patterns of peace doves, B2 stealth bombers, and humvee troop transports. Rumford leaves the reader as Ali contemplates the easiness of writing the word Harb or “war” to the more challenging word Salam or “peace.” Silent Music provides a brief background on Arabic calligraphy and a small history bit on the calligrapher Yakut. -Christian Paul KIDS LIKE US By Carole Lexa Schaefer. Viking, 2008. In this picture book, Schaefer incorporates a lesson in colors with her rhythmic and repetition phrases that children will be sure to join in during a read aloud. On a rainy day a class of preschoolers uses their imaginations to brighten their day. On their imaginary trips, the children become bus drivers, firefighters, dinosaurs in a jungle, clowns in a circus, hungry bears, and a marching band. Carole Lexa Schaefer and Pierr Morgan have collaborated on many books, including Dragon Dancing and Someone Says, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. As an adult reader and future teacher, the simplicity of this book was a turn off for me but I read it to a group of three and four years old and they loved it. The bright and vibrant illustrations were a big hit with the children. . –Nicole Hayes I, VIVALDI by Janice Shefelman. Illustrated by Tom Shefelman. Eerdmans, 2008. Ages 6 and up. I, Vivaldi! follows the life of young violinist and composer Vivaldi from his complicated birth to the pinnacle of his musical life. The young child nearly pronounced dead at birth is saved as his mother vows that he will grow up to be a priest. Influenced by his father’s daily practice of the violin, Vivaldi soon develops a passion for the instrument. To appease his mother, Vivaldi becomes the avowed priest but can’t hold back his desire to play and compose music at any given chance, even during his own sermons. Much of Vivaldi’s life is shrouded in mystery due to the nature of the Italian way of life but author Janice Shefelman is able to provide historical fact with fiction to tell a story of the now famous composer but forgotten figure of his time. Tom Shefelman brings the setting of Venice, Italy to life through the use of ink and watercolor and is able to capture the grandiose scale of the piazza and cathedrals Vivaldi performed in during his life. I, Vivaldi, told in the first person, provides its audience with a fact and fiction guide, a small glossary, and suggested audio listening for those interested in hearing the composer’s musical works.-Christian Paul THE TROUBLE WITH WISHES Written and Illustrated by Diane Stanley. Harper Collins Publishers, 2007. Ages 5-8 The Trouble With Wishes is a story based on the Greek myth, Pygmalion. A young sculptor, Pyg, is very talented. He has a friend, Jane, who wishes more than anything to be as talented as Pyg, who she loves. Pyg begins to teach Jane and he carves a beautiful goddess out of stone. He wishes the statue was more than just a statue and it comes to life. The problem is that the statue is cold and heartless. Eventually the statue finds her way to the palace, and Jane finds her way into Pyg’s heart once again. The theme of the story is love. What you see, is not always what you get. Diane Stanley brings the myth of Pygmalion into a modern day adaptation set in Greek times, if that makes sense. She says, “Aren’t there many different kinds of happy endings?” The story is captured from the sense of that different kind of happy ending. The illustrations have good movement, pattern, and unity. There are maybe only five or six different colors used in all the illustrations combined. The uses of so few colors allow the pictures to flow easily from one page to the next. Stanley’s version of this versatile myth works. All in all, a enjoyable adaptation.-Staci Ricke LITTLE BY LITTLE by Amber Stewart and Layn Marlow. Orchard, 2008. Ages 3-6. Otto the otter could do everything but swim. Everyday he would sit and watch everyone else swim around and wish he could join in on all the fun. His mother told him to keep trying and to practice everyday. Otto listened to his mother and in no time was swimming in the deepest waters. This is a great book young students would enjoy. Children will be able to relate to Otto, since most children in kindergarten or first grade may not know how to swim yet. In addition, the readers will learn about the theme of the story, which is the more you practice the better you become at everything. The story is easy to read and the watercolor illustrations are amazing. Detailed and colorful, the pictures are charming. I enjoyed this book and believe young readers would too. – Angelle Bourgeois WOOLVS IN THE SITEE by Margaret Wild. Illustrations by Anne Spudvilas. Front Street, 2007. Ages 10 and up. Margaret Wild creates a world of mystery and terror in Woolvs in the Sitee. Ben is a young boy living alone in a basement always in constant fear of the “woolvs.” The only other person he has contact with is his neighbor Missus Radinki who does not believe in the “woolvs.” When she goes missing Ben has to face his fears and go out into the world he has been hiding from. The words in this book are written phonetically and can be somewhat hard to read at times, but along with the text it is written in, they create the feeling of a horror movie. They also give the feeling that not only has Ben’s family been taken away by the “woolvs,” but his education as well. The dark, messy illustrations really capture the feelings of fear and loneliness Wild is trying to portray. The reader never finds out what the “woolvs” are and the ending is also left to the imagination. The illustrations though give the feeling that this could be taking place in the future or this book could be a metaphor for the terrible events that took place in the Second World War. While neither of those is certain, the one thing that is, is that Margaret Wild and Anne Spudvilas have created a one-of-a-kind book that is sure to be underappreciated by many of the children who read it. º Julie Little BOOMING BELLA by Carol Ann Williams. Illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008. Ages 3 to 6. Booming Bella is the story of a little girl who is very easily excited. On the day of her class field trip to the art museum, Bella is so ecstatic that she can’t seem to keep her voice down. She yells in school when she arrives, she yells on the bus on the way to the museum, and, even after being warned, she yells as the museum tour guide is teaching about various paintings. After shouting one too many times, the class and teacher become angry with her, and she feels ashamed and wants to go home. When it’s time to leave, Bella finds that she has gotten on the wrong bus. Her loud voice saves her, and she is returned to where she rightfully belongs, discovering that all of her classmates and teacher were very glad to have to her back. This book encourages children to embrace their unique qualities instead of being ashamed of them. The illustrations accurately show what field trips are like in elementary school: children are excited, some are not at all paying attention to their surroundings, some are just happy to be out of school. Overall, this is an entertaining children’s book that many kids can easily relate to. –Lauren Kurtz NONFICTION PENGUINS, PENGUINS, EVERYWHERE! by Bob Barner. Chronicle Books, 2007. $14.95. Ages 5-8. Penguins, Penguins, Everywhere! is a colorful, introductory book about penguins for early readers. With a rhyming text, Bob Barner initiates the reader into penguin environments, habits, predators, and more. The cut and torn paper illustrations are effective and quaint. An added bonus to the rhyming text is the “Penguin Puzzler”. In a simplistic way, Bob Barner answers penguin questions for his young audience. A “Penguin Parade” completes the book offering basic information about the seventeen species of penguins. While the facts included are accurate, they do lack depth. It is a delightful book to entice the K – 3 crowd to look for more.- Cheryl Schellhaas THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO SURVIVAL HANDBOOK: JUNIOR EDITION by David Borgenicht and Robin Epstein. Chronicle Books, 2007. $9.95. Ages 9-12. This witty survival guide is packed with unfortunate situations kids fall into, and helpful instructions on how to, well, survive them. Children will laugh until their sides ache as they learn how to butter up a steamed parent, repair a flat tire on a bicycle, make their secrets nosy-sibling-proof, outsmart bullies, and make others laugh with them instead of at them if they trip in the cafeteria or don’t display the hippest moves at a school dance. Not only are the tips easy for young readers to find via the index and appendix, but the book also features illustrations that help paint a picture of certain situations in the reader’s imagination. The silly pictures complement the wording as they tickle young funny bones. As helpful as this survival guide is in suggesting ways to sooth itchy bug bites and achy braces, it presents an idealistic world in which all problems children face are easily solved by following the rudimentary advice of a book. The simple solutions provided in this survival guide fall short of educating young readers about how to overcome the more serious obstacles facing children in the twenty-first century. –Kira C. Berggren TRACKING TRASH: FLOTSAM, JETSAM, AND THE SCIENCE OF OCEAN MOTIION by Loree Griffin Burns. Houghton Mifflin Books. $18.00 Ages 8 +. Tracking Trash is a non-fictional account of Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer project of tracking trash, which has traveled through vast bodies of water through ocean currents. The book begins by telling the audience about the scientist’s mother, who had greatly influenced him. The information written on these pages tend to be a bit redundant, as the author gives thorough details with much scientific detail. I found the pictures to be beneficial to my understanding; they kept my interest alive. I enjoyed how Loree Griffin Burns honored all of Dr. Ebbesmeyer’s influences and colleagues, which helped the reader accumulate the reasons why this experiment was beneficial and important. I believe that this book should be used as a reference when teachers introduce ocean and marine studies.– Michelle Spath ANA’S STORY: A JOURNEY OF HOPE By Jenna Bush. HarperCollins, 2008 Jenna Bush bases her first book, Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope, on her time spent as a UNICEF intern in Latin America. In the preface, Bush gives the reader some background information on her time with UNICEF, meeting Ana, and interviewing Ana, her family, and friends for more than six months. These meetings with Ana paved the way for Bush to write this work of narrative nonfiction. Written in third person, Bush tells the story of Ana, a teenager infected with HIV from her mother at birth. After losing both of her parents to HIV/AIDS, Ana must move in with her grandmother and keep many secrets - her disease, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. Eventually Ana is sent to a group home for people living with HIV/AIDS. It is there that she falls in love with Berto and becomes pregnant the one and only time they do not use a condom. Ana gives birth to a healthy baby girl and the story ends with a sense of optimism and hope. There is an extensive appendix with resources on HIV/AIDS, abuse, suggestions on ways to help, and classroom discussion questions. The writing is simple and the chapters are brief, some are only one paragraph long. This may make the book more appealing to reluctant readers. While the story could be stronger, and even with its nondescript writing, Bush’s first book tells a compelling story that will have readers empathetic to Ana’s life. – Daphne Miller UP CLOSE: OPRAH WINFREY by Ilene Cooper.Puffin, 2007. $6.99. Ages 13 and up. Ilene Cooper, long time admirer of Oprah Winfrey, creates a moving biography of this hardworking and giving woman of color. Cooper uses an easy-to-follow style. She points out the highs and lows of Oprah's life using simple language. Up Close: Oprah Winfrey is an eye opener for many who know her as the eloquent talk show host. Her past issues of being molested, poverty, and dealing with teenage pregnancy are excellently delivered by Cooper. Cooper's tone conveys how these issues contribute to why Oprah is empathetic and understanding of others. Oprah uses her own trials and tribulations of weight control, getting over her past, and dealing with failure to move her audience and connect with them. Cooper gives an in-depth account of Oprah's career and how it has evolved. The biography is well documented. All quotes are documented creating believability. This biography does not glamorize Oprah's childhood. It establishes facts that have led to who she is today. There are few real life pictures included. Cooper gives a hook in the introduction and then begins with Oprah at the age of four. The bio brings focus to the role Gayle King played in her life as friend, supporter, and later, editor of O magazine. Everything about Oprah defines who she is, "You become what you believe."-Julie Guidry BARACK OBAMA: An American Story by Roberta Edwards. Grosset & Dunlap, 2008. $3.99. Ages 7 and up. This book joins the list of many in the All Aboard Reading series. Readers getting acquainted with Barack Obama will find him a role model for all. His family is a melting pot within itself as we learn of his parents’ different races and cultures. Barack’s life story is told chronologically from the meeting of his parents up until present day where he is campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president. Even though his family was not wealthy and he faced racial barriers, his life has been spent striving forward as he has tried to fit in society and find his purpose by helping others in need. The author does not incorporate elements that would allow readers to verify the accuracy of the facts, such as citing sources or adding acknowledgements. However, with photos, maps, and illustrations on each page, the story comes to life and makes Barack feel like a friend. It is a simple, yet appealing book for young readers. –Wendy Gonzales WHO WAS FIRST? DISCOVERING THE AMERICAS by Russell Freedman. Clarion, 2007. 88pp. Ages 10 and up. Russell Freedman is one of the best non-fiction authors of children’s literature today. That is, if one goes by the amount of awards, accolades, and books attributed to the author. His latest work is no exception. This book, aimed primarily at middle-school age students, attempts to blow apart the common acceptance of Columbus-as-discoverer and replace the void with several valid possibilities to the question, “Who was first to discover the lands we now call America?” Freedman opens the book with a very clear and concise introduction to the problem addressed: We know about Columbus, but did other explorers come before him? He leaves no question as to what this book is going to be about. Following this into is the tale of Christopher Columbus, and it is here that readers will get a refresher course in second grade history but will also learn a great deal more. Freedman tells the story of several explorers and migrants that supposedly touched the Americas before Columbus did and of the scholars who think they deserve as much, if not more, credit than the famous Italian. The people he includes are Leif Eriksson the Viking, Admiral Zheng He of China, the natives encountered by the explorers, and the prehistoric nomads who crossed the Bering Land Bridge. As a graduate student in history, I didn’t expect to learn much from this book, only refresh my memory on controversial topics I am already familiar with. However, Freedman’s research is extensive, and his interviews with scholars on the topic are very revealing and thought-provoking. I learned a great deal from both the text and the carefully-placed images on almost every page. Thus, this book is not only a great resource for middle-school students and teachers, but also for historians looking for a new angle or an extensive bibliography for a research topic. My favorite aspect of the book is that Freedman doesn’t just put the question out there, but he answers it several times. However, he does not give the reader one definitive answer to take to the bank. He gives the reader all the information one needs to make an informed decision, and guides the reader to further study. The bibliography is not just a list, but a detailed summary of how and why these texts were chosen. Thus, he doesn’t just pose a question and leave us wondering, nor does he provide a real conclusion to the story of America’s earliest inhabitants. Instead, he leaves readers better informed, but still wondering, thinking, pondering, and questioning. And isn’t that what we want books to do for our kids–Make them want to find out more? –Rebekah Cade CARING FOR CHEETAHS: MY AFRICAN ADVENTURE by Rosanne Hansen. Boyds Mills Press, 2007. $16.95. Ages 8 and up. What’s the next best thing to meeting and working with a real-life cheetah? Reading about how Chewbaaka and his friends at the Cheetah Conservation Fund rescue and rehabilitate cheetahs to prevent them from becoming extinct. This 32-page, gloriously illustrated book, complete with a map, glossary, index, and reference section, is a must-have to educate young readers about the survival and importance of these extraordinary creatures. The crisp, vivid photographs of cheetahs—both wild and habituated—complement text which explains all of the following: like humans, no two cheetahs are the same, they can accelerate to burning speeds faster than most cars while chasing prey, and they are the most docile, shy, and graceful of all felines. Spending a day in the life of Chewbaaka and his scientist friends will not only enlighten readers about what CCF is doing to help the cheetah population recover, but will also explore the lives and habits of wild cheetahs, from how they hunt best with teamwork and how they communicate by chirping like birds. With their unique teardrop facial markings and their curiously amazing abilities to befriend humans, it is no wonder cheetahs are a species worth protecting from disappearance from Earth forever! That is the goal of CCF, to help creatures that have a rightful place in the world. –Kira Berggren PALE MALE, CITIZEN HAWK OF NEW YORK CITY by Janet Schulman. Illustrated by Meilo So. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random house Children’s Books. 2008. For ages 6-10.. This is a true story in which only Mother Nature could provide such drama. Janet Schulman’s Pale Male, Citizen Hawk of New York City, is the true story of an unlikely visitor to Central Park. It all started in the autumn of 1991 when a red-tail hawk far from home decided to move into the concrete jungle. Schulman first learned of Pale Male in 1995 on a nature walk through the park and has traced the bird’s history up till 2002. Even though this book is historical, Schulman ties the facts together with a captivating narrative leaving us as readers hoping for the best for the Hawk as we read about its struggles to adapt to an urban way of life. It’s easy to forget that you are learning a bit of history as you turn the page to find out the next challenge in Pale Male’s life such as finding a mate, building a nest, and being shunned by the inhumane. Janet Schulman wrote this book with a specific artist in mind, Meilo So, who has a special affinity for birds. The book is illustrated through the use of watercolor with very little use of pencil outlines, as if to capture the naturalist feel of the birds and Central Park. – Christian Paul TEEN MANNERS; FROM MALLS TO MEALS TO MESSAGING AND BEYOND by Cindy Post Senning, Ed.D., and Peggy Post. Collins, 2007. $16.89. Ages 13 and up. The title, Teen Manners: From Malls to Meals to Messaging and Beyond, gives no room to doubt what topic this book covers. From the daughter and daughter-in-law of the guru on etiquette, Emily Post, comes a book written specifically for the maturing teen. From the first page of Chapter One, Cindy Post Senning and Peggy Post proficiently tackle the task of explaining to their adolescent audience the concept of using etiquette in their daily lives. In a conversational tone, they explain, “etiquette is really about relationships…can shape the way you interact with people…can guide you in unfamiliar situations…is about choices.” They stress that all manners are rooted in three basic principles: respect, consideration, and honesty. These concepts are reiterated throughout their book. With a swift look at the table of contents, a reader can obtain a general idea of what is available within the text. What the reader may not realize until he or she actually peruses the chapter is how relevant the information can be to everyday life. Examples of topics include: how your choice of words and tone of voice affect others, when expletives are unsuitable word choices, when cell phone use is annoying, why table manners are important, tipping in a restaurant, applying for a job, and more. Even the topic of choosing to engage in sex is broached in a straightforward manner, “some questions to ask yourself before making the decision to have sex...am I willing to buy or use condoms?” In addition to giving practical instructions and tidbits of advice, the authors include inserts whereby many of the topics under discussion are role-played or modeled, consequently assisting the reader in applying the material to real life situations. The authors relied on their own etiquette expertise and the assistance of actual teenagers to create an entertaining and comprehensible resource for young adults. The book has an efficient index and some simple pen and ink illustrations that maintain the casual style of the book. – Cheryl Schellhaas FOURTH AMENDMENT; THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY by Rich Smith. ABDO Publishing Co., 2008. $17.95. Ages 10 and up. Fourth Amendment: The right to privacy is part of a new series The Bill of Rights. The intent of this book is to help students better understand the history and purpose of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Students are pulled into the topic as the introduction sets up a scenario showing students how they themselves are affected by the Fourth Amendment. With students feeling like they can relate, the Amendment is explained chapter by chapter. The descriptions and explanations are kept on a level students can understand by speaking to them, not at them. Although there is no bibliography or author’s notes, the accuracy holds true within the citing and explanation of the Supreme Court cases in each chapter that have made the amendment what it is today. A table of contents, index, and brief glossary are provided. Every other page contains a colorful photo that provides a visual description. A patriotic theme is carried throughout in the color of the text. Chapter titles alternate in red and blue as the photo captions are in red. The bottoms of the pages are bordered with a blue line. “We the People” borders the top of each page layout along with the typical American symbols. This book is an excellent resource for students. ---Wendy Gonzales ONE WELL: THE STORY OF WATER ON EARTH by Rochelle Strauss. Illustrated by Rosemary Woods. Kids Can Press. $17.95. Ages 8+. One Well, is a non-fictional account of the water cycle of the Earth. Rochelle Strauss explains the importance of water for every living creature on the planet. She uses the symbol of a well, to convince readers of the natural source of water and that the Earth’s water system can be described as coming from one source, that which is a universal well. Strauss also focuses on problems of a growing population and the effect it has on the water supply, which results in a shortage of water. Rosemary Woods uses blue tones and hues on her pages to display the Earth’s abundance of water. Wood’s vivid, yet earthy illustrations capture every type of natural environment found on Earth, all being surrounded by or using water. This emphasizes the author’s point in stressing the importance of the water cycle in both people’s and animal’s lives. Wood’s diagrams and charts coincide with Strauss’ text, evoking a sense of perception for reader, allowing them to fully understand the vast amount of water the author describes. Being an environmental education consultant in Canada and developing numerous projects and museums globally, Rochelle Strauss is fully aware and educated in the topic of her book One Well, that which is water history and preservation. Strauss adds notes for kids to become more involved in the issue of water conservation. She also has a page for parents and teachers, inviting them to share with children the importance of water and the crisis that the over-populated Earth is facing and will face in years to come. -Michelle Spath United Tweets of America - 50 State Birds, Their Stories, Their Glories. Written and Illustrated by Hudson Talbot. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008. Ages 6-8. Talbott’s book is written for educational purposes, but with a humorous twist. From Alabama all the way to Wyoming, each state bird get it’s own page to bask in the glory of. Along with colorful illustrations of each bird, random information such as the state’s official song, flower, and other trivia are listed. The parade of birds is intended to be a pageant competition for which bird is the best, but the decision is hard to make. Aside from birds like the Northern Cardinal representing seven different states, each bird is special in it’s own way. The theme of a country being united is evident in the story and children learn so much about their country through hilarious statements and illustrations. This book would be perfect for a Social Studies class or just for the pure entertainment of reading with both children and adults alike. It truly was a book I found hard to put down. – Sarah Jurgelsky LIFE ON EARTH-AND BEYOND: AN ASTROBIOLOGIST’S QUEST by Pamela S. Turner. Charlesbridge, 2008. Grades 6-8O Is there life beyond Earth? Are there little green creatures living out there? In Life on Earth – and Beyond: An Astrobiologist’s Quest, author Pamela S. Turner offers readers an inside look into the life of a scientist, the explorations of life on Earth, and the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. Dr. Chris McKay of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) makes the question of life in the universe his mission. Turner follows Dr. McKay as he explores remote locations on Earth with extreme environments that may mimic the environments on distant worlds. In conducting his research, Dr. McKay travels from Antarctica’s Dry Valleys to the Atacama Desert in Chile, from Siberia to the Sahara, and back to Antarctica to visit Lake Hoare. In each place, Dr. McKay searches for proof of microbes capable of living in such harsh climates. What Dr. McKay has found will amaze readers. Turner’s writing makes it easy for readers to understand the implications of Dr. McKay’s research. The illustrations and photographs give readers a vivid portrait of the extreme environments on Earth and Mars. Turner concludes the book with a statement on her research for the book, an excellent list of resources, photo credits, and an index. Life on Earth – and Beyond is geared towards the middle school audience; however, its beautiful layout and well-written story will appeal from upper elementary to high school. – Daphne Miller Editor: Patricia Austin Reviews were written by UNO undergraduate and graduate students in the following courses: Children's literature. Adolescent literature, and Nonfiction Across the Curriculum. Many thanks to the publishers who support the UNO Children’s Literature Examination Center.
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