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2015 October



In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: Battle Bugs: The Lizard War by Jack Patton

On 05, Oct 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Lizard WarBattle Bugs: The Lizard War written by Jack Patton

Lexile: 740L

From Goodreads: Bug Island is under attack! The lizard army is invading and the Battle Bugs are losing. Their only hope against the intruders is a strange creature they’ve never seen before–a human being named Max.
Max doesn’t know how he ended up on Bug Island–but he does know the Battle Bugs need his help!

I would not call this book great literature. But boy is it exciting and engaging! Battle Bugs combines bugs, insects, and various other creepy crawlies in a war with lizards and reptiles. This would be a great book to hand to reluctant readers who are interested in insects or reptiles (although the reptiles are the villains). The plot is pretty straight forward despite the “mystery” of how Max got to the island and it’s full of suspense, quick saves and action.

Max is a cool kid that draws on his knowledge of insects to help them fight and win a battle. I like it when smarts are not something a kid has to be ashamed of. And I like it even more when a kid can totally geek out without shame.

I picked up a copy for a few dollars on Amazon because our second grade does a unit on insects and thought this might tie in nicely with that. I booktalked it to the third graders since it’s closer to their reading level right now and they’ve already asked for more in the series. So far three are out with the fourth coming out in the next couple weeks and the fifth due in January.

Max’s ethnicity is never mentioned in the book, at least not that I caught, and yet he’s drawn as black. I love that the pictures did not default him to white. I do wish he was on the cover, though.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: Chickadee by Louise Erdrich

On 04, Oct 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

ChickadeeChickadee written by Louise Erdrich, pictures by Louise Erdrich

Lexile: 800L

From Goodreads: Twin brothers Chickadee and Makoons have done everything together since they were born—until the unthinkable happens and the brothers are separated.

Desperate to reunite, both Chickadee and his family must travel across new territories, forge unlikely friendships, and experience both unexpected moments of unbearable heartache as well as pure happiness. And through it all, Chickadee has the strength of his namesake, the chickadee, to carry him on.

This is the fourth, and as far as I can tell, final book in the Birchbark House series. You don’t necessarily have to have read the other books to enjoy and follow this one (I have read the first, but not the middle two). The ending felt like it left some ends untied so maybe Erdrich plans on writing another in the series?

Chickadee is more of an adventure story than The Birchbark House, however it features many of the everyday life scenes and thoughts that made the first book so good. At times the pacing felt uneven as it switched between following Chickadee and then his family searching for him. But these stories are not meant for readers who like plot-driven novels. They’re for readers who like quiet, realistic daily life stories. Chickadee’s story line features some really interesting history (western expansion and trade) and some great wilderness survival scenes that I can see really hooking in boys.

The “villains” Baptiste and Babiche and the scenes with them remind me so much of some of Sid Fleischman’s books (The Whipping Boy for example). I wish there had been more because they are incredibly funny despite the fact that they are rather menacing and kidnap Chickadee. There is a fair amount of humor in the story despite the fact that Chickadee is stolen from his family and struggles to reunite with them and I think that will really appeal to kids. The book also has the great message of small things and people should not be discounted. Chickadee learns that he has an inner strength despite not being a rough-and-tumble, strong boy.

As with The Birchbark House, I think Chickadee would make a great read aloud. It might move a little slowly for some readers, but kids who like books about family, daily life and historical fiction should find a lot to love about this book.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: Two for Joy by Gigi Amateau

On 03, Oct 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Two for JoyTwo for Joy written by Gigi Amateau, pictures boy Abigail Marble

Lexile: 620L

From Goodreads: Eight-year-old Jenna is dreaming of playing Olympic soccer when the phone call wakes her. Great-Great Aunt Tannie has broken her ankle, and Jenna’s worried mom decides Tannie should move in with them. Tannie is no delicate old lady—she does heavy chores on her Virginia farm, drives a huge pickup, and even rides her own motorcycle. Plus she’s full of joie de vivre, given to kicking a soccer ball and teaching Jenna all about the birds she’s collected on her life list. Jenna’s excited to have her favorite aunt and cat, Butt, come to stay, but with so many changes to get used to, tempers around the house soon start to flare. Maybe with all the caring and being taken care of, they’ve forgotten what Tannie is still so good at—and neglected to have any fun.

I don’t really remember where I saw Two for Joy recommended or reviewed, but I must have seen it on some blog if I found it to read. I do know I picked it up because it features a family taking on caring for an older member. So many stories seem to feature parent-child families living together with grandparents living some distance away or not featuring at all. But I think the reality is for many children that grandparents, older aunts and uncles, etc. live with them or near by. This was especially true in the economic crisis we had- a lot of people moved in with family – and it’s nice to see that reflected in some way in this book.

Care for elderly relatives often falls on families. Many people (most?) can’t afford expensive nursing homes and assisted living facilities so older parents end up living with their children.Even when someone lives in a nursing home there is still a fair amount of care and involvement required from families. I know my own mother is over at my grandmother’s apartment once and twice a week delivering supplies, paying bills, checking in and driving her to doctor’s appointments. This can really take a toll on a family and Two for Joy examines this from the perspective of a child. Being a kidlit novel the ending resolves fairly easily and there isn’t the drop-down, drag-out fight over Tannie leaving her home of 50+ years which I think would have been more realistic, if not appropriate. Again, seeing this relationship and its difficulties reflected in a children’s novel is really refreshing.

In content Two for Joy reminds me a lot of Pearl Versus the World which was another fantastic, short book about caring for an aging (and in Pearl’s case, dying) relative. Give kids Two for Joy if they liked Pearl or steer them to that one next (although use your judgement because of the ending in Pearl and based on what a child’s situation might be). Also give it to kids who may have had an older relative move in with them recently and to kids who like gentle family stories where members are supportive and caring, but not without their flaws.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz

On 02, Oct 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Rad American Women

Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl

Lexile: 1040L

From Goodreads: Like all A-Z books, this one illustrates the alphabet—but instead of “A is for Apple”, A is for Angela—as in Angela Davis, the iconic political activist. B is for Billie Jean King, who shattered the glass ceiling of sports; C is for Carol Burnett, who defied assumptions about women in comedy; D is for Dolores Huerta, who organized farmworkers; and E is for Ella Baker, who mentored Dr. Martin Luther King and helped shape the Civil Rights Movement.

And the list of great women continues, spanning several centuries, multiple professions, and 26 diverse individuals. There are artists and abolitionists, scientists and suffragettes, rock stars and rabble-rousers, and agents of change of all kinds.

This is technically probably not a chapter book and it certainly has a high reading level, but the format is so close to a chapter book and it’s so perfect for those kids who are reading chapter books.

The mix of women and movements they started or supported is incredible. Kids will be exposed to all sorts of activism, from political to social to historical, and may even find a cause they can be passionate about. The book is both a great history lesson and a great lesson in fights for equality and justice that are still going on. Some of the women may be familiar to kids from curriculum, media or other picture books, but many won’t be and that’s fantastic.

The book does require a bit of outside knowledge. There is mention of types of music, historical movements, and ideas that the book doesn’t focus on defining. This isn’t a failing per se, but it will require that the reader have some exposure to these ideas or that you open up conversations with them about them. I hope it does open up those conversations in homes and in classrooms because we need to be having them and kids need to be aware of them.

I really hate to be critical of artwork because I have no talent as an artist, but some of the portraits in the book aren’t as good as others. I love the style- cut paper on a bold, single-colored background and the majority of them are great portraits of the people. And I am over the moon that it is not some pink and girly book despite it being all women. It’s just that a few of the portraits have little odd elements (odd hands or wrinkles) that make them seem off and I think that’s due in part to the style. It’s hard to capture detail with the broad swaths of cut paper. Will that bother kids reading this? I’m not sure. Many kids latch onto things like that and may be more likely to in a book that touches on some uncomfortable topics in an effort to channel their awkwardness. It’s such a minor complaint though in a book that is rad.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: Fatty Legs by Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

On 01, Oct 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Fatty Legs

Fatty Legs: A True Story written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes

From Goodreads: The moving memoir of an Inuit girl who emerges from a residential school with her spirit intact.

Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools.

I was pleasantly surprised by Fatty Legs. I expected a depressing book about the hardships of a boarding school meant to strip children of their language, culture and family. Certainly the school tried to do that. But they were in a for a run for their money with Margaret. She would not be dominated or crushed, although the two years she spent in school were damaging and depressing, it made her more determined.

Now I’m not opposed to sharing with children, even younger ones, the terrible things that have been done to native populations (North American and other places), but I think there is an appropriate way to go about it. Depressing and disheartening books have their merit, but I’m really glad this one featured a plucky, smart girl. While it shows the despicable nature of these boarding schools, kids get a strong girl to identify with and root for. Margaret’s ability to be upbeat while telling a story that is, at heart, difficult, unjust, and upsetting is wonderful for the age group the book is aimed at.

I know plenty of Native American children know of the horrors of these boarding schools and it’s incredibly important that we share that and talk about it in hopes that it doesn’t happen again. And in hopes of creating a generation of people who are more tolerant and understanding. I know I’ve said this before, but children are incredibly attuned to injustice and, for most, it’s infuriating. Fatty Legs does an excellent job of showing the injustice that will make kids angry, but without going over the top and making it a book parents (especially white parents) will balk at. In other words, kids will get it. They’ll know what happened wasn’t right and they’ll start asking questions and opening conversations.

The book includes photographs at the back of Margaret, her family, and many of the places mentioned in the story. In the text there are small notes in the margins directing the readers to these pictures which I think is unintrusive while providing some really interesting context. I’m amazed that she seems to have so many photographs of these critical moments from the story! It’s incredibly fortunate. There are also definitions of unfamiliar words down at the bottom of the page , which again is unintrusive, but provides context for kids who don’t know the words. Plus, what kid uses a glossary? The words are right there on the page, no need to flip back and forth breaking your concentration and flow.

My only complaint about the book is the format. The full color pictures and larger size of the book make it feel younger. It’s certainly appropriate for fourth graders, even a strong third grade reader could pick it up. But fifth grade and sixth grade, who would also make a perfect audience, might shy away from it purely based on looks. It drives me crazy when publishers do that to good books.

Excellent book for reflecting the experiences of many Inuit families and opening up discussions with non-native children who are probably ignorant of what went on less than a century ago.

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