invitations to reading: 2012 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts

Children’s Literature Reviews
Invitations to Reading: 2012 Notable
Children’s Books in the Language Arts
April Bedford, Patricia Bandré, Donalyn Miller, Nancy
Roser, Tracy Smiles, Yoo Kyung Sung, and Barbara Ward
he Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts offer invitations to young readers
to interact with excellent books highlighting
many and varied uses of language. The collection of
books selected for the 2012 list invites readers from
kindergarten through eighth grade to participate in
language play and use innovative texts as models
for their own writing, to observe and marvel in the
natural world surrounding them, to laugh at humorous incidents or unexpected ways with words, to
imagine new and different experiences, to preserve
and learn from diverse cultural heritages, to question their own thoughts and feelings, to take the perspective of others, and to take action on behalf of
issues and people that matter to them.
Invitations to Participation
and Invention
Shout! Shout It Out!
Written and illustrated by Denise Fleming
Henry Holt, 2011, unpaged, ISBN 978-0-8050-9237-0
On her signature handmade papers created
from cotton pulp, Denise Fleming has created
a picturebook that explicitly asks children to
participate—to shout out what they know. Against
bright background spreads, embellished numbers
and letters dance across the pages as a classroom
of diverse and exuberant round-faced children
open wide, snaggly-tooth mouths to lead the
exhibition of knowledge. What fun to show what
you know by answering the invitation to “Shout!
Shout! Shout it out!” A tiny mouse with bulging
eyes appears on each page, urging, commenting,
and repeating. Readers can also shout the names
of colors and of spirited creatures—with open
mouths, beaks, and bills—that seem to be shouting,
too. At book’s end, Mouse (and readers) can shout
out all the letters, numbers, and words reprised on
a two-page spread. “Well done!” says the teacher.
“Thank you,” says Mouse, and trips off across the
endpapers. Language loud—but sanctioned! (NR)
The Cazuela
That the Farm
Maiden Stirred
Written by Samantha
R. Vamos
Illustrated by Rafael
Charlesbridge, 2011,
unpaged, ISBN 978-158089-242-1
“This is the cow/
that made the fresh milk/ while teaching the cabra/
that churned the crema/ to make the mantequilla/
that went into the cazuela that the farm maiden
stirred.” The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden
Stirred is an enchanting bilingual story that follows
the tradition of the classic nursery rhyme, The
House That Jack Built. This cumulative tale begins
when the farm maiden commences cooking by
stirring a pot. Everyone helps through different
tasks, such as going to the market, plucking limes
off the tree, and planting the rice. Excitement
leads to celebration, the characters sing and dance,
and the arroz con leche is almost ruined. All is
well when the cabra, vaca, pato, burro, gallina,
campesina, and farm maiden stir the cazuela
one more time. This irresistible book contains
exuberant illustrations, delightful prose, and a
short glossary of Spanish terms. (TS)
Language Arts, Volume 90 Number 4, March 2013
Copyright © 2013 by the National Council of Teachers of English. All rights reserved.
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Lemonade: And
Other Poems
Squeezed from a
Single Word
Written by Bob Raczka
Illustrated by Nancy
Roaring Brook Press,
2011, 43 pp., ISBN 978-159643-541-4
Playing with ordinary
words like lemonade
and friend, Raczka
creates unique poems using only the letters found in
each word. Letters drop down from their positions,
creating word pictures, which readers can track
with a finger down the page, assembling each poem
letter by letter. One poem titled “Constellation”
reads, “a/ silent/ lion/ tells/ an/ ancient/ tale” (p.
12). On the reverse page, each poem appears in
standard poetry form. Part anagram, part coded
message, Raczka’s poems demand imitation and
experimentation. Lemonade offers an excellent
mentor text for word play, poetry exploration, and
vocabulary development. (DM)
Invitations to Observation
and Wonder
Me . . . Jane
Written and illustrated
by Patrick McDonnell
Little, Brown, 2011,
unpaged, ISBN 978-0316-04546-9
This clever
and appealing
introduces young readers to Dr. Jane Goodall,
“primatologist, environmentalist, humanitarian,
and United Nations Messenger of Peace,”
and to Jubilee, the stuffed chimpanzee who
accompanied Jane on all her early adventures.
Through childhood photographs, drawings, and
puzzles shared by Jane herself along with the
simple and child-like text and illustrations, readers
are invited to share Jane’s wonder in the natural
world. Inspired by her love of animals, her avid
reading and insatiable curiosity, and her careful
observations of and reverence for the world around
her, young Jane dreams of traveling to Africa and
helping the animals there. In a delightful surprise
photo, adult Jane is pictured waking up to her
dreams come true. (AB)
Over and Under
the Snow
Written by Kate Messner
Illustrated by Christopher
Silas Neal
Chronicle, 2011, unpaged,
ISBN 978-0-8118-6784-9
Alternating between
life above and
below the snow,
this picturebook
combines beautiful
language and accurate
scientific detail in an exploration of the subnivean
zone—the hidden spaces between the snowpack
and the ground. Rich with imagery and specific
vocabulary, Messner describes the beauty of a
winter landscape and the secret world beneath
the snow. “Over the snow I glide, past beech trees
rattling leftover leaves and strong, silent pines
that stretch to the sky. On a high branch, a great
horned owl keeps watch. Under the snow, a tiny
shrew dodges columns of ice; it follows a cool
tunnel of moss, out of sight.” Over and Under the
Snow serves as an excellent mentor text for both
expository writing and figurative language. (DM)
A Butterfly
Is Patient
Written by Dianna Hutts
Illustrated by Sylvia Long
Chronicle, 2011,
unpaged, ISBN 978-08118-6479-4
How would you
define a butterfly?
In this nonfiction
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picturebook, Aston begins her definition by telling
the reader, “A butterfly is patient. It begins as an
egg beneath an umbrella of leaves, protected from
rain, hidden from creatures that might harm it . . .
until the caterpillar inside chews free from its eggcasing, tiny, wingless, hungry to grow.” Subsequent
openings describe additional characteristics,
teaching how a butterfly may be helpful, protective,
poisonous, a traveler, and ultimately patient yet
again as it lays its eggs, waiting for metamorphosis
to occur once more. This story, like the life of a
butterfly, is cyclical in structure. Written with an
informative, personable voice and accompanied by
vibrant watercolor illustrations, Aston and Long’s
stunning book will encourage readers to experience
the beauty and magic of a butterfly’s life time and
time again. (PB)
Pablo Neruda:
Poet of the People
Written by Monica Brown
Illustrated by Julie
Henry Holt, 2011,
unpaged, ISBN 978-08050-9198-4
Not only can words
express emotions
powerfully, but they
can also inspire others
and motivate change. This picturebook biography
lovingly traces Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s lifelong
affection for “words that whirled and swirled.”
From childhood, Neruda was observant, fascinated
by the natural world. Using some of Neruda’s own
writing, the author paints vivid word pictures of
the scenes that intrigued Neruda, a careful observer
who noticed nature’s artistry through the “stones
rolled by waves onto the beach and stones polished
by sand and salt.” The text follows the budding poet
into forests to look closer at hidden natural treasures
and along Santiago’s streets with his poet friends,
describing “velvet cloth the color of the sea.” Using
his words to fight for justice, this Nobel Prizewinning people’s poet “loved wild things wildly
and quiet things quietly.” The bilingual vocabulary
and softly hued images fill the pages with colors
reminiscent of nature, clearly illustrating the
undeniable power of words. (BW)
Invitations to Laughter and Delight
Won Ton: A Cat
Tale Told in Haiku
Written by Lee Wardlaw
Illustrated by Eugene
Henry Holt, 2011,
unpaged, ISBN 978-08050-8995-0
Won Ton: A Cat Tale
Told in Haiku is a
charming story told
through the thoughts of
a cat as he is adopted
from a shelter and begins life anew with “his boy.”
Won Ton’s humorous story is told entirely through
haiku, or actually senryu, a type of haiku that
focuses on “the foibles of human nature—or in
this case, cat nature.” It includes funny anecdotes
about how naughty Won Ton discovers that the
couch makes a superb scratching post, accidently
makes a squishy in a shoe, and prefers to sleep on
dirty socks rather than fancy cushions. This book
would make an excellent mentor text for writing an
alternative kind of haiku (senryus), and will appeal
to poetry and cat lovers alike. (TS)
Poems about
Written by Laura
Purdie Salas
Illustrated by Josee
Clarion, 2011,
unpaged, ISBN 978-0547-22300-1
Books finally receive much-merited attention
through 21 lively poems and mixed-media
illustrations paying homage to the print- and paperfilled treasures themselves. Clearly, a bibliophile
lovingly crafted the poetry, since a book plate is
“a paper love tattoo” and a book’s end is “not so
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much/ The End/ as I am an/ invitation back/ to
the beginning.” “If a Tree Falls” wonders whether
unopened books “trap words inside a cage?”
“Skywriting” regards print as “line after line of
inky black birds/ forming the flocks that shift
into words,” which then fill pages that become
“tales winging by,/ singing a story against a/ white
sky.” Book characters plead for their lives or, in
the case of “Cliffhanger,” desperately beg the
author to “write/ a sequel fast!” Two poems even
describe the plight of a pristine book left on a
shelf “unread,/ unshared,/ unloved” and the havoc
wreaked by mischievous, misbehaving books after
the lights go out. (BW)
The Cheshire Cheese Cat:
A Dickens of a Tale
Written by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
Illustrated by Barry Moser
Peachtree, 2011, 229 pp., ISBN 978-1-56145-595-9
This feline-filled adventure might seem a little
“catty” or even a bit “cheesy” to some, since a
celebrated type of cheese is central to its plot. A
literary Valentine to Victorian writers, the story is
filled with clever word play that will make readers
chortle. For instance, news spreads through “Word
of Mouse” (p. 100), and the authors notice how
“Curiosity raised its feline head again” (p. 100).
The plot revolves around a cheese-loving alley cat
named Skilley who strikes a bargain with Pip, a
literate mouse, to catch and release the inn’s mice
in return for all the cheese he wants. Things go
awry with the arrival of Skilley’s enemy, Pinch,
who hates mice. The inn is a favorite meeting
place for authors, including Charles Dickens who
seeks distraction as he desperately searches for the
right opening line for his latest story. Dickens’s
own “great expectations” (p. 221) are eventually
realized with Pip’s help. (BW)
Dead End in Norvelt
Written by Jack Gantos
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011, 341 pp., ISBN 978-0-37437993-3
Eleven-year-old Jack Gantos’s dreams of a carefree
summer in 1962 are quickly dispelled when,
caught in the crossfire between his parents, he
is grounded for disobeying his mother. Mostly
confined to his room, he spends his days reading
and typing obituaries for Miss Volker, the elderly
town medical examiner whose crippling arthritis
prompts her to enlist his services as her scribe.
Miss Volker has a way with words and a knack for
adding historical side notes to her stories, and she
knows the background of the citizens of Norvelt,
named for Eleanor Roosevelt. Unexpectedly,
several of the town’s elderly citizens die during
that summer, and Jack becomes suspicious of
everyone around him. His eccentric neighbors
and the Hell’s Angels who roar through the streets
provide humor to this poignant tribute to the art of
storytelling and a dying town. Readers may also be
drawn to read the books that Jack reads due to his
appealing summaries. (BW)
Invitations to Imagination
Written by Mary Lyn Ray
Illustrated by Marla
Beach Lane, 2011,
unpaged, ISBN 978-14424-2249-0
In a paean to stars (“A
star is how you know
it’s almost night”),
Mary Lyn Ray reminds
young readers that stars
are everywhere. There
are the “stars” that dot June grasses to become July
strawberries, and those cut from shiny paper to
make a wand or label a sheriff. The tall rectangle
of the picturebook design provides both for big
skies, as well as plenty of white space for Marla
Frazee’s vignettes of tumbly, tousled children who
stargaze or who feel “shiny as stars.” Double-page
spreads show children sliding beneath showers
of snowflakes, blowing swirls of dandelion star
seeds, or charmingly tucked within a moss-starcovered hollow tree to share a story. But the book’s
culmination is an evening scene, with the children
snuggled with families along a low stone wall, all
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looking skyward to find the first evening star: “And
another/ and another/ and another.” Ray’s quiet,
simple words reassure: “And if sometimes you
can’t see them,/ they’re still there.” (NR)
Balloons over
Broadway: The
True Story of
the Puppeteer of
Macy’s Parade
Written and illustrated
by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin,
2011, unpaged, ISBN
This nonfiction picturebook is a story of an idea
becoming a reality. One of New York’s iconic
events, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,
is retraced through the inventor, Tony Sarg. The
young Tony loved to figure out how to make things
move. He was just six years old when he became a
marionette maker for the first time. After he grew
up, his marionette arts became so popular that
Macy’s hired him for a “puppet parade,” which
eventually grew to become the Macy’s Parade. The
story succinctly but compassionately tells how the
homesickness of Macy’s immigrant employees
for their holiday traditions were validated
through Tony’s parade. The evolving process
of the large puppets transforming into enlarged
balloons demonstrates how Tony Sarg persistently
challenged himself to make improvements
and shows how asking “What if?” can achieve
desired realities, such as the moment when “the
magnificent upside-down marionettes rose up to
the skies!” Readers learn that imagination is the
first step toward magical realities. (YKS)
The Friendship Doll
Written by Kirby Larson
Delacorte/Random House, 2011, 201 pp., ISBN 978-0-37585089-9
In 1927, 58 exquisitely crafted dolls were sent
from Japan as “Ambassadors of Friendship” (p. 38)
to the children of the United States. Kirby Larson’s
imagined journey of one doll, Miss Kanagawa,
transports readers from Depression-era New York
to Chicago to the Appalachian Mountains, and
finally to Oregon. In each locale, Miss Kanagawa
is bestowed upon a new owner, and each of these
girls—Bunny, Lois, Willie Mae, and Lucy—help
transform her from a haughty, unlikeable character
into a true friend. Incorporating newspaper articles,
letters, famous quotations, and an author’s note
outlining the factual and fictional aspects of the
text, this book invites immediate response to
learn more about the actual dolls, to see their
photographs, and perhaps to solve the mystery of
the 13 dolls that have disappeared—or to imagine
their journeys the way this author did. (AB)
The Scorpio Races
Written by Maggie
Scholastic, 2011, 416 pp.,
ISBN 978-0-545-22490-1
Every November
on Thisby Island,
the Scorpio Races
take place—a heartpounding contest on
the beach between
the capaill uisce:
wild, flesh-eating
water horses. Many riders and horses don’t
survive, but the winners become heroes. Puck
Connolly, desperate to save her destitute family,
and Sean Kendrick, the reigning champion, must
race for what they love most. Thisby’s culture is
inextricably linked to the sea and the dangerous
horses that consider it home. Stiefvater’s precise
writing communicates both the sea’s dangerous
beauty and the emotional current underneath
characters’ actions. Based on ancient water horse
legends, The Scorpio Races isn’t a book about
horses. It’s about the power of a place to hold you
and the love that keeps you there. (DM)
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Invitations to Preserve
and Bear Witness
These Hands
Written by Margaret H.
Illustrated by Floyd
Houghton Mifflin, 2011,
unpaged, ISBN 978-0547-21566-2
In poetic language,
a loving African
American grandfather
directs his young
grandson to “look at these hands, Joseph,” as he
recalls what his hands “used to do,” and reminds
what they still do, including help “a young fellow
learn to tie his shoes,” “play ‘Heart and Soul,’”
and “hit a line drive.” But Grandpa also shares
memories of a time’s injustice: “Did you know
these hands/ were not allowed to touch /the bread
dough/ in the Wonder Bread factory?” Through the
evocative but sparse text, Joseph learns what his
grandfather did to help change things, so that “now
any hands can mix the bread dough, no matter their
color.” Grandpa’s words are confident, proud, and
hopeful. Joseph responds with what his own hands
are learning to do, and Grandpa assures him young
hands can do “anything at all.” With its rhythmic
refrains, this book is for reading aloud. Cooper’s
large-scale oil wash paintings offer a textured
softness of warm, near-sepia shades. (NR)
Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom
Written and illustrated by Shane W. Evans
A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Book Press, 2011, unpaged,
ISBN 978-1-59643-538-4
dramatic illustrations to convey strong feelings
related to events surrounding the Underground
Railroad. Bright colors are only used at the end of
the story to accentuate the joy of arrival to a free
state. The book includes information about the
Underground Railroad that teachers can use to talk
with young students about the history of slavery in
the United States. (TS)
Passing the
Music Down
Written by Sarah
Illustrated by Barry
Candlewick Press,
2011, unpaged, ISBN
Inspired by
the lives of Melvin Wine and Jake Krack, two
accomplished old-time fiddle players, this book
tells the story of a young boy, his love for playing
the fiddle, and the experienced musician who
teaches him the songs of the past. Root’s lush
watercolor and gouache illustrations mingle with
Sullivan’s rich, lyrical text to place the reader in
the heart of the Tennessee hills. “Come August,
with corn strutting high in the fields and tomatoes
plumping out on the vine, folks get to talking
about tuning up and heading over twisty mountain
roads to hear fiddle players and banjo pickers
make music under the stars.” Gradually, the boy
and the old man spend more time together, play
their fiddles, work side-by-side on the old man’s
farm, and become friends. “Their lives are stitched
together in a quilt of old-time tunes. Passing the
music down.” (PB)
Underground is an emotionally compelling
picturebook about the Underground Railroad.
The sparse text (two or three words on a page)
and striking images tell the story of a family of
slaves that embarks on a dangerous journey to find
freedom. They find safe havens and friends, are
nearly captured, and experience exhaustion and
fear, but they persevere until they stand together in
front of the rising sun and proclaim, “Freedom.”
Evans pairs exquisitely precise text with dark,
Heart and
Soul: The Story
of America
and African
Written and illustrated
by Kadir Nelson
Balzer + Bray/
HarperCollins, 2011,
108 pp., ISBN 978-006-173076-4
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“Many of us are getting up in age and feel it’s time
to make some things known before they are gone
for good. So it’s important that you pay attention,
honey, because I’m only going to tell you this
story but once” (p. 7). With these words, Nelson’s
grandmotherly narrator begins weaving a story
from the threads of American history, African
American history, and her family’s history. Divided
into chapters, the book begins at the time of the
Revolutionary War and culminates with the Civil
Rights Act. In the epilogue, the narrator fittingly
remembers all those who came before her as she
casts her vote for Barack Obama, the first African
American president of the United States.
“I thought about them all and smiled; and as I
walked away, I closed my eyes and said, ‘Thank
you’” (p. 99). Accompanied by Nelson’s rich,
dramatic oil paintings, the text gives voice to a
fresh perspective on an important topic. (PB)
Requiem: Poems of
the Terezín Ghetto
Written by Paul B. Janeczko
Candlewick Press, 2011,
89 pp., ISBN 978-0-76364727-8
“False hope/ said
those who spoke/ of
transports and rumors
of gas./ You are making
music/ in the shadow
of the gallows./ They
were right, we knew,/
but we played nonetheless” (p. 23). Requiem is
a poetry collection of different voices during the
dark era of World War II in the Terezín Ghetto
in Czechoslovakia where the Jewish artists and
intellectuals of Prague were temporarily relocated
before they were transported to concentration
camps like Auschwitz. Each poem sketches cruelty
with trembling or hateful screams. The anger and
hate from the prisoners are understandably real,
being as desperate and powerless as they were. The
complexity of humanity is illustrated through the
voices in the poems. (YKS)
Invitations to Question
Addie on
the Inside
Written by James Howe
&Schuster, 2011, 202 pp.,
ISBN 978-1-4169-1385-6
Words are powerful.
Addie understands
this fact. She hears
the gossip spread in
the hallways of her
middle school, reads
the daily news, and interacts with her grandmother
and the other adults in her life. Figuring out who
you are and how you fit into the world isn’t easy
when there are so many voices telling you what
you are and who you ought to be. Sometimes,
though, saying nothing can be more important than
saying something. Through prose poetry, Addie
eloquently shares her thoughts about the challenges
of attending middle school, having relationships,
being a good friend, and finding your own way in
the world. Ultimately, in the poem “I Am Who I
Say I Am,” Addie realizes: “I am who I say I am. /
I’m not some fantasy. / I am the me I am inside / I
am who / I choose/ to be” (p. 202). (PB)
Amelia Lost:
The Life and
Disappearance of
Amelia Earhart
Written by Candace
Schwartz & Wade/
Random House, 2011,
118 pp., ISBN 978-0375-84198-9
Readers are propelled
back to 1937 during the days immediately
following the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and
her plane somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. The
author accelerates the book’s dramatic appeal by
skillfully shifting the narrative back and forth from
Amelia’s formative years to vignettes describing
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those days in July when the nation awaited news of
the aviator who was on a daring around-the-world
flight. Readers experience vicariously the anxiety
and growing frustration of ship crews trying to
catch her radio signal and the stories of two teens
in Wyoming and Florida who heard Amelia’s
voice on their shortwave radios but were unable to
convince authorities of their reports’ authenticity.
Fleming avoids romanticizing Earhart’s life,
describing her business partnership and romance
with the already-married George Putnam and
her carelessness in familiarizing herself with the
plane’s equipment. She even wonders if more
experience with the plane’s radio might have saved
the life of this ever-fascinating woman. (BW)
A Monster Calls:
A Novel
Written by Patrick Ness
(Inspired by Siobhan
Illustrated by Jim Kay
Candlewick Press, 2011,
205 pp., ISBN 978-07636-5559-4
Every night at 12:07,
Conor O’Malley, a
13-year-old boy whose
mother is dying, receives a visit from a monster at
his window. The ancient creature promises to stop
terrorizing him if Conor will admit the truth about
his recurring nightmares. Heavy with grief, love,
and fear, Conor finally lashes out: “And the fire in
Conor’s chest suddenly blazed, suddenly burned
like it would eat him alive. It was the truth, he knew
it was. A moan started in his throat, a moan that
rose into a cry and then a loud wordless yell and
he opened his mouth and the fire came blazing out,
blazing out to consume everything, bursting over the
blackness, over the yew tree, too, setting it ablaze
along with the rest of the world . . .” (p. 188).
This lyrical, haunting tale about the monsters we
imagine and the monsters that are all too real will
launch honest discussions about our experiences
with loss. (DM)
Invitations to Empathy
and Compassion
Hound Dog True
Written by Linda Urban
Harcourt, 2011, 149 pp.,
ISBN 978-0-547-55869-1
When Mattie Mae’s
Uncle Potluck says
something is “hound
dog true,” he doesn’t
necessarily mean truth
verifiable in traditional
ways. Instead, Uncle
Potluck, Director of
Custodial Arts at Mitchell P. Anderson Elementary
School, means something that should be true. Stuff
like: If you talk to the moon, the moon talks back.
In the week before her fifth-grade year, Mattie Mae
and her peripatetic mom have moved in with Uncle
Potluck at the old family farm where Uncle Potluck
and Mattie’s mom grew up. Shy Maggie hopes to
avoid the awkward newness of her fourth school by
becoming Uncle Potluck’s custodial apprentice. In
her new writer’s notebook, she keeps detailed notes
on the “Custodial Wisdom” he delivers cheerfully
and eloquently. Potluck is a lover of words, and he
uses them with both precision and poetry. Urban’s
narration reverberates with the action, effectively
using fragments, offering fresh language (“puddles
orphaned” and “hair tornadoed”), and displaying
an ear for a young girl’s longing for a place to
belong. (NR)
The Great Wall
of Lucy Wu
Written by Wendy WanLong Shang
Scholastic, 2011, 312 pp.,
ISBN 978-0-545-16215-9
This story is about
11-year-old Chinese
American Lucy Wu
and her journey to
become the captain of
a winning basketball
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team in the sixth grade. Such success delivers
self-confidence in her multiethnic identity, a
quality the passive Lucy has been lacking. When
Lucy’s father returns from a business trip to
China accompanied by a long-lost aunt, Yi Po,
the surprising guest interrupts Lucy’s longed-for
plan to have her own room after her big sister
leaves for college. To Lucy, her new aunt and the
Chinese language school her parents require her to
attend are unwanted tensions until she discovers Yi
Po’s survival story from the Cultural Revolution.
Through Yi Po, Lucy learns to embrace her
Chinese heritage and discovers her interest in the
Chinese language. Chinese proverbs are inserted as
storytelling devices throughout the book, enriching
the reader’s cultural experience. Code switching
between Mandarin and English adds realism to this
humorous and multilayered text. (YKS)
Inside Out &
Back Again
Written by Thanhha Lai
HarperCollins, 2011,
260 pp., ISBN 978-0-06196278-3
“I step back, hating
pity, having learned
from Mother that
the pity giver feels
better, never the pity
receiver” (p. 133).
Instead of the typical
experience of refugee victims, this story invites us
to experience the dignity of the young Vietnamese
protagonist, Hà, and her family’s bonds created by
their native culture, language, history, and love. In
the year 1975, after Hà’s family celebrates New
Year’s, they leave their country before it is invaded
by the Communists. After a long ocean voyage
filled with fear, anxiety, and unpredictability, Hà’s
family settles in Alabama. Hà’s self-respect shines
as she makes proactive adjustments to new places
and to her new language. Her attitudes toward
learning English highlight her pride in her native
language as she refuses to accept the inferior
status conferred upon English language learners.
Hà’s love for her mother and brothers continually
empowers her to stay strong despite her hardships.
Written by Pat Schmatz
Candlewick Press, 2011,
240 pp., ISBN 978-07636-5334-7
Travis is living with
Grandpa in a different
house, leaving behind
the woods he loves
and his dog, Roscoe,
who disappeared
before the move. Vida
(Velveeta) is missing
her neighbor and friend, Calvin, a trusted adult
in whom she could confide. For both of them,
change is hard, life is lonely, and there is plenty
of baggage to carry around. With the help of a
knowledgeable reading teacher, a caring librarian,
and a loyal friend named Bradley, Travis and
Velveeta learn to support one another and find that
change can be okay when you have friends by
your side. In Bluefish, Schmatz presents characters
that are like night and day but complement one
another beautifully. Travis’s melody and Bradley
and Velveeta’s harmony combine with the other
elements of the book to create a tune not easily
forgotten. (PB)
Invitations to Advocacy and Action
True (. . . Sort of)
Written by Katherine
HarperCollins, 2011,
360 pp., ISBN 978-0-06196875-4
A “surpresent,”
according to Delly,
is “a present that’s a
surprise; the best kind
of present possible”
(p. 359). That was
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C h i ld r en ’ s L i te r at u r e Rev i ews | 2012 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts
what Delly predicted was coming her way the day
Ferris Boyd came to town. True (. . . Sort of) is a
poignant story centering around two young girls:
Delly Pattison, a high-spirited trouble magnet
who is convinced she is inherently “horribadible
(a horrible, terrible bad )” (p. 359), and the new
kid, Ferris Boyd, a tomboy with exceptional
basketball skills and the ability to befriend wild
animals, though she never speaks or allows herself
to be touched. Through their friendship, the girls
discover how the truth about people is learned
and often misunderstood. Together, they confront
an inexplicable crime through the courage they
have found in each other. Hannigan’s beautiful
descriptions, coupled with Delly’s uniquely
expressive vocabulary and Ferris’s determined
silence, could invite explorations of language as a
means of alienation, of empowerment, and as an
agent for change. (TS)
Written by Anne Ursu
Illustrated by Erin McGuire
Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins, 2011, 312 pp., ISBN
Hazel and Jack were friends, but when Jack
begins to avoid her and spends time playing with
other boys, Hazel’s parents tell her it’s normal.
Refusing to accept that Jack would abandon her,
Hazel suspects that Jack has been enchanted by
the evil Snow Queen. Armed with the knowledge
she’s gained from her beloved fairy tales and
fantasy books, Hazel travels into the woods
to rescue Jack. From the characters’ names to
Hazel’s heroic journey to extensive references to
children’s works like Alice in Wonderland, the
Narnia books, and When You Reach Me, Ursu
weaves literary allusions throughout the text,
providing opportunities for readers’ connections
and recommendations for further reading. (DM)
Okay for Now
Written by Gary D.
Clarion, 2011, 360 pp.,
ISBN 978-0-547-15260-8
Okay for Now
tells the story of
Doug Swieteck, an
eighth grader and
minor character
first introduced in
Schmidt’s previous
novel, The Wednesday
Wars. The novel begins when Doug’s father loses
his job, necessitating his family’s move to the small
town of Marysville in upstate New York. Doug’s life
is not easy. His seemingly helpless mother, abusive
father, crippled and dejected Vietnam-vet brother,
and another bully of a brother pose unimaginable
challenges for Doug. While in the town’s small
library, he discovers a new talent for drawing and
embarks on a mission to recover missing plates to
the town library’s original John James Audubon
book. As he learns to draw, Doug also learns to
understand and accept the people in his community
and his family. The honest, no-frills language and
first-person narrative powerfully portray how a
troubled boy finds hope and healing through the
power of art, friendship, and advocacy. (TS)
2012 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts Committee Members: April Bedford (AB), Chair,
University of New Orleans; Patricia Bandré (PB), Baker University; Donalyn Miller (DM), Northwest
Independent School District, Fort Worth, TX; Nancy Roser (NR), University of Texas, Austin; Tracy
Smiles (TS), Western Oregon University; Yoo Kyung Sung (YKS), University of New Mexico; and
Barbara Ward (BW), Washington State University.
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