June 1, 2011


Author: Jerry Spinelli
Copyright 2002 Knopf Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-0439444439
Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction

As an unconventional teenager, Stargirl Caraway enters a high school in which students struggle to accept differences.  During her first days of school, the students there speculate how Stargirl came to be – a home school disaster or an alien from outer space.  But Stargirl is not swayed by the gossip and continues to be her own person in a sea of characters who only conform.  Leo falls in love with Stargirl and her ability to be different.  However, after the high schoolers push Stargirl to the peak of her popularity and begin to deride her penchant for quirkiness, Leo is forced to decide: does he want to be in love with Stargirl or does he simply want to be liked?  This story offers young readers a fresh perspective on popularity, bullying, and the ability to be unique even when you are being pushed to conform.  It is a must-read for high school students.

June 1, 2011

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Author: Maya Angelou
Copyright 1983 Bantam Books
ISBN: 978-0553279375
Genre: Controversial

Maya Angelou, a famous writer and poet, creates an intriguing memoir of her childhood in the segregated southern state of Arkansas in her novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  Angelou is sent to live with her grandmother after her parents are unable to prosper in California.  She and her older brother Bailey help their wise and respected grandmother tend to the neighborhood store and learn a great deal about being of a different race during such tumultuous times.  After dreaming of being reunited with her mother, Angelou finally gets her wish and relocates to St. Louis to live with her and her new boyfriend.  She quickly realizes that this is not the dream she hoped it would be as her mother’s boyfriend begins to abuse her.  Through what she has learned from living with her strong grandmother, Angelou is able to overcome her struggles and triumph in the worst of circumstances.  Wonderfully written with great style and language, I Know Why the Cages Bird Sings presents readers with a unique perspective of a girl who learns to deal with her past and create her own future.

June 1, 2011

Boy Meets Boy

Boy Meets Boy
Author: David Levithan
Copyright 2003 Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 0-375-82400-6
Genre: Controversial

In this young adult novel, David Levithan weaves an intriguing tale about an uncoventional high school.  Paul is a sophomore, and unlike most teenagers his age, he attends a school in which most of the students would be considered different if they went to one of current society’s mainstream high schools.  Paul falls in love with a boy, his friend Darlene used to be known as Daryl, and his friend Tony is grappling with the knowledge that someday he will have to tell his religious parents about his sexual orientation.  Each of the characters in Levithan’s book are well developed and although the reader may not live their lifestyle, they are extremely easy to identify with.  This story presents a world in which acceptance is the norm and shows teens as well as adults what it might be like if no one were considered “different”.

June 1, 2011

Stuck in Neutral
Author: Terry Trueman
Copyright 2001 HarperTeen
ISBN: 0064472132
Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Stuck in Neutral is absolutely an excellent read.  Written from the perspective of Shawn McDaniel, a teenager who has severe cerebral palsy, this book forces readers to examine their beliefs about people with disabilities and society’s reaction to them.  Shawn is unable to communicate in any way because he lost the ability to control his muscles when he was born.  Although he is unable to convey it, he understands everything going on in the world around him and has a remarkable memory.  Shawn’s father has a particularly difficult time with his son’s disability and considers the unthinkable as the story unfolds.  Stuck in Neutral asks readers to consider what may be possible for thousands of people with severe disabilities – are these individuals trapped inside a body that will not function?

June 1, 2011

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Authors: Richard & Florence Atwater
Illustrator: Robert Lawson
Copyright 1938 Scholastic, Inc.
ISBN: 978-0316058438
Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is a delightful, classic tale about a man named Mr. Popper and how he came to be the leader of twelve Antartic penguins.  Mr. Popper, a painter by trade, struggles to support his wife and two children on a seasonal wage, and this task becomes even more difficult when he receives a penguin in the mail from one of his most admired world explorers.  As the story unfolds, Mr. Popper becomes the caretaker for eleven other penguins and with some creative thinking by Mrs. Popper, they provide a pleasant suprise for the Popper family.

May 28, 2011

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving
Authors: Canterine O’Neill & Margaret M. Bruchac
Photographers: Sisse Brimberg & Cotton Coulson
Copyright 2001 National Geographic Society
ISBN: 0-7922-7027-4
Genre: Multicultural

In this informative and eye-opening text, a new and more accurate view of the first Thanksgiving in America is outlined and explored for the reader.  As has been documented during the last few decades, accounts of Native American life and how colonists developed what is now the United States have often been historically incorrect.  This book describes the events leading up to the well-known feast that took place between the English colonists and the Wampanoag people in 1621.  The differences in historical myth and what most likely happened on that day are discussed, including the absence of such things as feather headdresses, silver-buckled top hats, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes.  The photographs illustrate historically accurate clothing and activities and can be seen today at the Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts.  The book also offers a timeline of events for the reader to better understand why the event might have occurred.  This text is an excellent portrayal of events that are often distorted in schools every fall.  Using this text with students may help them better understand why we celebrate Thanksgiving and how we must look at depictions of historical events with a critical eye.

May 28, 2011

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears
Retold by: Verna Aardema
Illustrators: Leo & Diane Dillon
Copyright 1975 Dial Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 0-8037-6089-2
Genre: Folklore

In this ancient African tale, the reader enters the world of several animals who lay blame on one another when a tragedy takes place in the jungle.  In the beginning, a mosquito tells a lie that sets a series of events into motion.  When the lion, king of the jungle, calls each animal before him to explain its actions, the animals learn that it is all the mosquito’s fault.  With this tale, storytellers provided an explanation for why the sun rises in the morning and why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears.  With beautifully created illustrations, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears is an excellent example of quality folklore retold for the contemporary reader.

May 28, 2011

Slap, Squeak, & Scatter: How Animals Communicate

Slap, Squeak, & Scatter: How Animals Communicate
Author/Illustrator: Steve Jenkins
Copyright 2001 Houghton Mifflin Company
ISBN: 0-618-03376-9
Genre: Informational Text

Steve Jenkins again captures his audience with the use of layering and texture in his collage illustrations.  The pictures in his book, Slap, Squeak, & Scatter: How Animals Communicate, come to life as Jenkins explains the different ways animals communicate.  Animal communication is a scientific area of study, and with this book, readers can explore how animals notify each other of danger, signal that they want to play, or attract a mate for reproduction.  Jenkins’s text is presented in a simple, understandable fashion so readers of all ages can enjoy it.

May 27, 2011

Back of the Bus

Back of the Bus
Author: Aaron Reynolds
illustrator: Floyd Cooper
Copyright 2010 Philomel Books
ISBN: 978-0-399-25091-0
Genre: Multicultural

Written with unique differences in language of African Americans during the mid-1950’s, Back of the Bus presents the reader with a fictional tale of a boy riding the bus with Rosa Parks.  Through this young man’s perspective, the reader learns about Parks and how she refused to move from her seat when a white man wished to sit down.  This quality children’s book can spark a discussion about the injustices of the Civil Rights era and how they might have been viewed by a young child at that time.

May 27, 2011

Ellington Was Not a Street

Ellington Was Not a Street
Author: Ntozake Shange
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Text Copyright 1983 Illustrations Copyright 2004 Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 0-689-82884-5
Genre: Multicultural

Ellington Was Not a Street is an interesting introduction to many of the individuals who were a part of changing the culture during the Civil Rights era.  In this unique children’s book, Shange recalls her childhood home and the powerful men who entered her home and would later be remembered by the world.  Using an atypical poetry style, Shange prompts the reader to ask questions about the men in the story and piques their curiosity.  At the end of the story, there is a brief description of each of the characters and their contribution to the movement of change for African Americans.  This book would be an excellent addition to a classroom library!