Archive for June, 2010

Benny and Penny in the Big No-No by Geoffrey Hayes

Benny and Penny in the Big No-NoLast year I had the honor to be on the committee to choose the winner of the Geisel Award—the award given to the best easy-reader of 2009. There were many amazing books, but the most amazing of all was Benny and Penny in the Big No-No, the book that the committee chose to win the award. Today (Monday, June 28th) is the day that we finally get to present the award to Geoffrey Hayes and the people at Toon Books.

The book tells the story of two young siblings—irascible Benny and sweet younger sister Penny—and their encounter with a mysterious new neighbor. Is she really as mean as Benny thinks? Is she really a thief and a monster? Or is it just a misunderstanding?

The book is ideal for any new reader who enjoys illustrated books, but is ready to move beyond picture books into reading on their own—this lively, gently-humorous story will drawn everyone in.

Posted by: Sarah

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Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Anything But TypicalJason, a sixth grader, has a real talent for creative writing and uses his fictional characters to tell great stories. His writing is so good that he posts them on a message board called Storyboard, where people leave encouraging feedback for him. He loves the online forum, most especially because online, no one can tell he has autism. In the real world, he is nearly non-verbal, has a lot of facial ticks and hand movements and does not understand the social interactions of his classmates, whom he calls neurotypicals, or NTs.

Life among the NTs gets even harder for Jason as he develops an online relationship with another Storyboard member, a girl whom he thinks of as maybe his girlfriend. The trouble is that Jason’s parents, to reward him for good behavior, are taking him to the Storyboard in-person conference this year and his ‘girlfriend’ is going, too. Now Jason knows that he will have to interact with her, this NT girl who will surely be put off by Jason’s different-ness.

Baskin’s story deftly follows Jason as narrator, but also paints a believable portrait of Jason’s parents and NT little brother as real people trying to figure out how to live with an atypical person. It would be easy of Baskin to end the story with a grand statement about learning to accept people who are different, but really it’s more about Jason’s coming to terms with who and how he is and how being atypical can still mean being true to yourself.

Posted by: Cindy

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I Am Going by Mo Willems

I Am GoingWith picnic season just around the corner, I Am Going! is the perfect book to share with preschoolers and beginning readers. Mo Willems brings the funny duo of Elephant and Piggie back in this latest adventure. This time Gerald is worried that Piggie is going to leave him and tries to convince him to postpone his departure. However, Gerald soon discovers that Piggie has a good reason to leave and joins him for a tasty picnic lunch. This is another winner from Willems.

Posted by: Liz

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The Best Pet of All by David LaRochelle

The Best Pet of AllIt’s the classic story of a boy who really, really REALLY wants a dog and a mother who says NO! What’s a boy to do but to keep asking since dogs are the BEST PETS of ALL, but once he is convinced that his mother is going to keep saying no, he comes up with another plan. He decides to ask his mom if he could have a dragon. Well his mom tells him that if he can find a dragon, he can keep it for a pet, of course never imagining that he will find one. The boy goes looking for a dragon, and finally finds one at a drugstore wearing dark glasses and a hat. Now the boy just needs to convince the dragon to come home with him and does so by telling him he can play with all of his toys.

Right away there are problems – first of all dragons really like to play with toys, BUT they do not like to put them away, and they do not like to help with chores, and they make messes in the kitchen, and they roast hot dogs in the living room, and they dance to loud music all night long. Finally, mom has had enough, and she demands that the dragon leave this minute, but the dragon just shakes his head and goes back to eating spaghetti in the bathtub. The boy tells his mom “Too bad we do not have a dog. Dragons do not like dogs.” His mother then has to admit that maybe they do need a dog. All the boy has to do is put a sign in the window “DOG WANTED”, and soon there is a knock at the door. Of course, it’s a dog, and that’s pretty much all the dragon needs to see, and he was out the door. In the end, mom of course realizes that a dog really is a good pet, especially in comparison to a dragon. And from over the hedge, the dragon gives the little boy the thumbs up signal — the boy (and the dragon’s) plan has worked! The best thing of all about this book is the wonderful 50’s and 60’s style illustrations. How clever and fun and a wonderful twist on the classic story!

Posted by: Mary

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Red Scarf Girl: a Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-li Jiang

Red Scarf GirlJiang Ji-li as she is introduced in the book is in sixth grade when the cultural revolution in China begins to impact her family. She accepts the revolution and the teachings of Chairman Mao. She is a revolutionist. She wears her red scarf proudly and voices the communist philosophy.

One day at school she is chosen to audition for a dance training class. Ji-li is very confident. She has always been an excellent student. She feels that she has a very good chance of being accepted into the troop. However, when she goes home her father is very negative. He tells her that her family’s class status is bad because his grandfather was a landlord. He says that she will never be accepted into the Liberation Army Performing Troup.

As her life unfolds, her family’s class status begins to impact everything. She had been a class leader and a good student but is now a target of classmates comments and attacks. Her home is searched and her family is under suspicion. She tries to overcome her class status and succeed but she keeps meeting all sorts of obstacles.

I liked this book very much. I really empathized with Ji-li. I felt terrible for her and her family. I kept wanting to yell at her to wake up to the fact that the Communist party was unfair and flawed. The book gives you a sense of living under that kind of government. I also liked that it was a true story and that Ji-li tells you in the afterward what happened to her and to her family. This is a very interesting bit of history told from a personal perspective and the story will make you appreciate the freedoms that we enjoy in this country.

Posted by: Fran W.

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Once by Morris Gleitzman

Once“Once I escaped from an orphanage to find Mum and Dad. My name is Felix. This is my story.”

Once, in 1939, a Jewish boy named Felix was sent by his parents to live in a Catholic orphanage in Poland. Three years and eight months later he is nearly 10 years old and is a wonderful story teller. On the day Felix discovers a whole carrot in his soup he believes it is a sign that his parents are coming for him. Instead, the Nazis who show up at the orphanage burn the books and Felix decides to escape and find his parents on his own.

Once along his journey he saves a girl named Zelda from a burning house. Sadly, they are taken by Nazis and forced to walk the long distance into the city with many other Jewish people taken from their homes. They witness some of the horrors of war. Felix keeps Zelda entertained with his stories.

Once there was the Holocaust. This story is a portrayal of a terrible time in history through the eyes of an innocent 10 year old boy. While there are many heartwarming moments, there are also events that are shocking and at times are difficult to read.

“Everybody deserves to have something good in their life at least . . .once.”

Posted by: Wendy

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Niagara Falls, Or Does It? by Henry Winkler

Niagara Falls, Or Does It?Tired of books about 4th grade boys who are nothing but selfish brats with no redeeming traits at all? Then try the Hank Zipzer books; Niagara Falls or Does It? is the first title in the series and it’s a welcome addition to the stories about underachieving boys. Hank is a decent kid with great ingenuity who really does try to do what is right. In this book, he has to write an essay about his summer vacation but finds writing a horrible chore. Wanting to do the work required of him, he builds an elaborate papier-mache replica of the Falls, complete with running water. You might guess this doesn’t end well for Hank. He is sent to detention for two weeks, meaning he will miss the magic show he and his friends are performing for his grandpa’s friends. His music teacher, however, realizes that there might be a real reason why Hank isn’t living up to his potential and recommends he be tested for a learning disability. This sets up the rest of the series about a good-hearted boy learning to live with dyslexia.

If the author’s name looks familiar, you must have owned a tv in the 70s and 80s—Henry Winkler is of course better known as The Fonz from “Happy Days.” But don’t let the celebrity name worry you—these books are much better than most of the ones written by famous non-writers. Winkler himself has dyslexia and he does a thorough and believable job of capturing the struggles of a child with a learning disability. While these books would work very well for a child with reading difficulties, Hank is a well-thought-out character and will appeal to all kinds of readers. Should you read it? “Aaay.” (Sorry, I can’t resist a Fonz joke.)

Posted by: Cindy

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