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Middle Grade



In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper

On 24, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

LowridersLowriders to the Center of the Earth written by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third

From Goodreads: The lovable trio from the acclaimed Lowriders in Space are back! Lupe Impala, Elirio Malaria, and El Chavo Octopus are living their dream at last. They’re the proud owners of their very own garage. But when their beloved cat Genie goes missing, they need to do everything they can to find him. Little do they know the trail will lead them to the realm of Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of the Underworld, who is keeping Genie prisoner! With cool Spanish phrases on every page, a glossary of terms, and an action-packed plot that sneaks in science as well as Aztec lore, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth is a linguistic and visual delight. ¡Que suave!

I love, love, love these books. They are so much fun. The first book featured themes of friendship, culture, adventure, and perseverance and the second also has these. They make for a really enjoyable story. It’s not necessary to have read the first book, but kids should read it anyways because it’s is also such a great story.

In this one there is a lot of Aztec mythology worked into the story. The culture is so fluidly written in (not surprisingly, but it’s refreshing to read that). This would make Lowriders a great suggestion for kids who want to read mythology, but are not ready for the task of Percy Jackson (plus I’m really bored with Greek mythology, it’s everywhere). Camper has even thrown in a bit about rock science by using some pretty silly, pun-ny jokes.

The art. Oh my gosh, the art! Raul the Third is incredible. I believe, as with the first book, the pictures are done with ball point pens! I can’t even. How does he turn out such amazing illustrations with just three or four colors? And ball point pens? Not exactly fine artistic tools, but his art is incredible. Each picture and panel is full of interesting details, little jokes, and humor.

An added bonus, this is a bit science fiction-y and we need more of that in our collection. The graphic novel format is a great way to hook in reluctant readers, as are the subjects of adventure and cars. I’ve already bought a copy for the library and highly recommend it for anyone with students third grade and up.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: Manatee Rescue by Nicola Davies

On 23, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Manatee RescueManatee Rescue by Nicola Davies

From Goodreads: Manuela had imagined that killing a manatee would be like killing a very big fish, just more exciting. But when her father successfully harpoons one, leaving its baby orphaned, she finds that her feelings have changed. She vows to rescue the baby manatee and return it to the river. But she soon realizes what an enormous task she’s taken on. Will she be able to save the baby manatee—and protect him from being hunted in the future, too?

I was surprised by the author on this one. I am familiar with her picture books and wondered how she would handle a chapter book. I was a little worried about a white author writing about a rural population in Colombia. And then it’s about conservation which can be contentious with poor, rural people. I wasn’t sure if it would read like someone denigrating the people trying to survive or imposing white values on a society that sees the world differently. I would love to hear someone who has a better sense of these things chime in, but I thought Davies did a fine job telling the story.

The writing was good and the story well told. She tackles the idea that the people are poor and reliant on the land, but that they would have reasons to want to join conservation movements. The story is actually based partially on a true story and a real manatee conservation organization. Airuwe is a real manatee who was rescued. I think that lends the story some authenticity that might have otherwise been hard to capture. Davies never made the people seem backwards or ignorant. She didn’t dwell on their poverty. While Manuela cares for the manatee baby she is watched by her village. She respectfully tries to teach them about why they might want to save Airuwe and manatees in general. Moreover, most of the villagers come to the conclusion that they shouldn’t hunt manatees on their own.

I liked that Manuela was not a hero per se. She did what felt right to her. The first scene where she and her father hunt and kill the mother manatee is not graphic, but it changes her. She realizes what it means to take the life of an animal and she decides she needs to save the baby.

Manatee Rescue reminds me of Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins. If that one is popular in your library you should definitely purchase this one. Both are great books about animal conservation. This would make a good addition to a library that has kids interested in animals and conservation. There is a bit of back matter in this one that discusses manatees and their precarious situation across the globe. It also shares a bit about conservation efforts along the Amazon.

There are some sweet black and white water color pictures sprinkled into the book. They don’t add a whole lot to the book, but they are charming. I am not wild about the cover and I am curious if that is the correct kind of manatee. There are three kinds apparently and that one looks like the ones I’ve seen in Florida and it appears to be missing the distinctive white chest patch of Amazonian manatees.

I will definitely be buying this one for out mellow yellow section. It’s the transition from chapter books into the honest-to-goodness fiction section. We have books like The One and Only Ivan shelved there. In theory it could probably go in our transitional chapter book section. It isn’t terribly difficult and it clocks in at just under 100 pages. It would be one of our harder chapter books which is why I think I would bump it up. Either way it’s a good addition to those kids working their way into harder fiction books.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

On 08, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

ZahrahZahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

From Goodreads: In the northern Ooni Kingdom, fear of the unknown runs deep, and children born dada are rumored to have special powers. Thirteen-year-old Zahrah Tsami feels like a normal girl—she grows her own floral computer, has mirrors sewn onto her clothes, and stays clear of the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. But unlike other children in the village of Kirki, Zahrah was born with the telling dadalocks. Only her best friend, Dari, isn’t afraid of her, even when something unusual begins happening—something that definitely makes Zahrah different. The two friends determine to investigate, edging closer and closer to danger. When Dari’s life is threatened, Zahrah must face her worst fears alone, including the very thing that makes her different.

The world building in this book was incredible. Okorafor is so clever in the things she weaves into new worlds. There isn’t just a layer of magic or technology laid over our own world. And it isn’t some vaguely medieval setting. In the Ooni Kingdom plants are an integral part of their world. They are used to make technology (the old ebooks are a special kind of leaf), they are used to make buildings (they are literally hollowed out or shaped as they grow to create skyscrapers and libraries), and then there is the Greenie Jungle that lurks just on the outskirts of their world.

When Zahrah’s best friend falls into a coma she has to face both who she is and the Greenie Jungle to save him. I loved that Zahrah was not necessarily brave and she is fighting a lot of her demons, but her voice was never irritating. She is afraid, but she doesn’t throw up her hands and whine about how she can’t do it. She has been picked on at school and people think she’s strange for her hair. This has hurt her, but she doesn’t throw up her hands and let other people tell her who she is. It was refreshing, first to have a girl saving a boy, but also to watch a girl who come into her own without being a “chosen one”. The story is really about Zahrah finding her inner strength. She does have a special power, but she really only draws on it in a major way at the very end, and even then not in a deus-ex-machina way.

Zahrah’s journey also includes elements of discovering the world around her and questioning everything she has been taught. She comes to realize that maybe her people have been closed minded and afraid. I think a lot of adolescents go through this kind of discovery process where their worlds open up around them, at least in an intellectual sense. Zahrah’s transformation from timid girl to confident young woman is one a lot kids will want to relate to and watch. As an introvert I appreciated that, although she gains confidence in herself and discovers how to use her new skill, she doesn’t become a different person. She is still quiet and thoughtful, she just now has an inner strength.

The reading level and length make this much more of a book for middle school age kids, which is too bad because it was awesome and I would have loved to put it in my library. I may still. Buy this if you have fantasy fans in your library. Buy it if you are in an elementary library that has really strong readers. We need more variety in our fantasy and not another book set in a thinly disguised Europe.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Looking For Me by Betsy Rosenthal

On 02, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Looking for MeLooking For Me in this great big family by Besty Rosenthal

From Goodreads: One of 12 siblings growing up in depression-era Baltimore, Edith isn’t quite sure of who she is. Between working at her father’s diner, taking care of her younger siblings, and living in the shadow of her more mature sisters, Edith feels lost in a sea of siblings. When a kind teacher encourages Edith to be a teacher herself one day, Edith sees prospects for a future all her own.

Looking For Me was such an enjoyable book. Edith is a really likable girl who seems to get short shrift in her family.  It’s a memoir in verse of Betsy’s mother’s childhood growing up in a very large Jewish family. Edith really struggles to find her place and make her parents see her. There are also a lot of expectations put on her. She helps care for all the younger children because she is “the little mother”. This is a role she doesn’t necessarily mind, but she also resents having it be expected of her and having it be the only role her family sees her in. She also must work in the family restaurant after school everyday until nearly midnight. But she’s usually a happy kid with good perspective.

I am always looking for books that feature Jews, but not the holocaust. Why are all books with Jews about the holocaust?! Here the family is loud and boisterous and always short on money. They run a diner and barely keep a lid on all their children in the best possible way (I sort of imagine my dad’s childhood was a little like this, actually, running a bit feral with all his siblings). Their faith doesn’t play into the book too much, which I appreciated in that I am not looking for Jewish Books, but books with people who happen to be Jewish. Where the Judaism infuses their lives, but isn’t front and center.

A warning, one of Edith’s younger brothers dies. It’s a bit dramatic, but not detailed or gory. He comes down with what, at the time, was a fairly common childhood disease (I’m sorry I can’t remember what it is right now) and is whisked off to the hospital.

While appropriate for an elementary library, it seems better suited to middle schoolers who are really grappling with who they are. I think I have a few fifth graders who might enjoy this and they could certainly read it, I just worry that these glimpses into everyday life are not quite what they willingly pick up. I would give it to fans of Marilyn Nelson’s How I Discovered Poetry. Both are memoirs in verse and feature themes of self discovery. This would make a great addition to a classroom library as well. And I hate to give it the kiss of death, but it would be a good class read. I’m still undecided on whether or not I will purchase for our library.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Biography Review: Carver: A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson

On 01, Jul 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

CarverCarver: A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson

From Goodreads: George Washington Carver was born a slave in Missouri about 1864 and was raised by the childless white couple who had owned his mother. In 1877 he left home in search of an education, eventually earning a master’s degree. In 1896, Booker T. Washington invited Carver to start the agricultural department at the all-black-staffed Tuskegee Institute, where he spent the rest of his life seeking solutions to the poverty among landless black farmers by developing new uses for soil-replenishing crops such as peanuts, cowpeas, and sweet potatoes. Carver’s achievements as a botanist and inventor were balanced by his gifts as a painter, musician, and teacher.

This was an incredible and eye-opening book. Unsurprisingly I learned nothing about Carver in my history classes and I’m pretty sure no one is explicitly studying him in any of our current social studies curriculums. Such a shame because he was a fascinating figure. While relegated to terrible jobs on chicken farms because of the pervasive racism at the time he did some incredible research into soil science and farming. All of it was inspired by a desire to help poor black people raise themselves out of poverty and do a better job farming. Carver is best known for peanut butter, I think, but there was SO much more to his studies.

I love novels in verse and this was an wonderful way to open up the history here. Carver really came to life on the page as did the times he lived in. Nelson’s work is always worth reading, but especially this book.

A heads up: the n-word appears in one (possibly two) of the poems. In context I think it makes sense, so it isn’t gratuitous use of the word. The inclusion of the word didn’t make or break my decision not to purchase the book, either. I do hesitate, however, to have materials with slurs or with stereotyped/racist content and depictions on our shelves because our students are not having conversations around that material, particularly the materials they pick up in the library (they take them home, read them on their own, and return them). Instead of learning about the power of words (or images) and how hurtful they can be and how they can be used intentionally to hurt and oppress others, they are simply internalizing those images and words. And that is insidious. It eats away at their ability to call out racism (and other -isms) and see how it truly influences our world.

More to the point, though, for buying this for an elementary school library, is the reading ability required to follow the narrative. The poems aren’t totally straight forward. It’s free verse, but the mix of narrators and settings made it a little harder to follow. This makes for a deep reading experience, but one that I think is above even my fifth grader’s heads. Sometimes I can make the case that strong fourth grade readers and fifth graders can handle a book that is more middle school (Almost Astronauts for example, or Moonbird), but with the verse format in Carver, I think they would really struggle.

I would have no hesitation buying this book for a middle or high school library, however. I would highly recommend it for an English and/or history class to use too. There is so much good information and history and writing here. So much!

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor

On 30, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Roll of ThunderRoll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor

From Goodreads: Why is the land so important to Cassie’s family? It takes the events of one turbulent year—the year of the night riders and the burnings, the year a white girl humiliates Cassie in public simply because she’s black—to show Cassie that having a place of their own is the Logan family’s lifeblood. It is the land that gives the Logans their courage and pride—no matter how others may degrade them, the Logans possess something no one can take away.

Considering this won a Newbery Award I’m surprised I haven’t read it before. I was only vaguely aware of it’s presence in middle school. Such a shame because it was a fantastic book. It should be taught in more English classes instead of some of the boring, male- and white-centric novels we read in middle and high school (Catcher in the Rye, I’m looking at you).

Our library has one or two of the Logan series so I picked this up both because of its awards and because I was curious if we should add it to our collection. I’m sort of torn. It isn’t the longest of the Logan books and it was certainly interesting and engaging. But it was also a tough read in terms of reading level. Plus this is a much more introspective book and I think kids who aren’t already strong readers won’t have the stamina to get through it. If I had picked it up in late elementary school and even into middle school I wouldn’t have finished it, let alone appreciated and enjoyed it. It would have just been too hard.

I think if one of our classes studied Reconstruction Era and/or the Depression I would highly recommend it as a book to read as a class. With a teacher guiding fifth graders through, it’s possible. The book takes place during the Depression, but you can see threads of slavery and Reconstruction and Jim Crow in the story that would make for excellent tie-ins with history studies and bring on tough, but necessary, conversations about institutional racism and systems put in place to keep anyone who isn’t white, down.

The story was absolutely heart-wrenching and heart-warming. The Logan family faces a lot of challenges from racism, to white supremacists, to poverty, to a father being away at work. Plus a lot of hardships befall them. Their mother is fired from her teaching job for teaching black pride and history. Their father breaks his leg and is unable to go back to his job on the railroad. And payments on their land and farm are coming due because white people who don’t like them are fiddling with the system and trying to force them into foreclosure. But they also have a large close-knit family that promises to see them through. Cassie makes for a great narrator for all these events. While realistic and at times introspective about their situation, she is also optimistic. Plus she gets some AWESOME revenge on the white school’s bus and on the girl who humiliates her. The book itself is also nuanced in its look at Southern life. There are out and out racists and bigots and there are white people who support and help the Logans and other black families, overtly and covertly. There are African Americans who are afraid and timid and there are African Americans who stand up for what they believe even if it means putting themselves out there as targets. In other words there is no binary here.

Although this is technically book four in the series that chronicles the Logan family, it made perfect sense picking it up and reading it. There were a few references to events that had happened in earlier generations, but they were explained within the context of the story and didn’t leave me wondering if I needed to go back to earlier books. This may be in part due to the order the books in the series were written and published. I don’t think they necessarily came out in chronological order.

I really think that this is truly a middle grade book suited to middle school age. I don’t think elementary students can’t handle anything in it, but the reading itself might be very taxing. I’m going to have see what others we have in the series and if they need to be passed up to our middle/high school library or if I should flesh out the series a bit. I will note that the first book chronologically is The Land and clocks in at 400 pages!! Yipes, that would be a looong book for a fifth grader.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Ten Days a Madwoman by Deborah Noyes

On 05, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Ten DaysTen Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter, Nellie Bly by Deborah Noyes

From Goodreads: Young Nellie Bly had ambitious goals, especially for a woman at the end of the nineteenth century, when the few female journalists were relegated to writing columns about cleaning or fashion. But fresh off a train from Pittsburgh, Nellie knew she was destined for more and pulled a major journalistic stunt that skyrocketed her to fame: feigning insanity, being committed to the notorious asylum on Blackwell’s Island, and writing a shocking exposé of the clinic’s horrific treatment of its patients.
Nellie Bly became a household name as the world followed her enthralling career in “stunt” journalism that raised awareness of political corruption, poverty, and abuses of human rights. Leading an uncommonly full life, Nellie circled the globe in a record seventy-two days and brought home a pet monkey before marrying an aged millionaire and running his company after his death.

I actually picked this up to see if it might work for our lower school biography collection and I think it might. The length isn’t bad (we have longer, drier biographies on the shelf) and there isn’t anything particularly shocking in it (Bly is asked at one point if she is a nightwalker, but it’s such a brief mention that it will probably pass most younger kids by). Really, though, the book is just so gripping I can totally see some of my older students getting sucked in. We have a picture book biography of Nellie and she’s a fascinating female character that rather broke with convention in her time. I think this would be a good place to go from that picture book if the kids are interested in learning more.

There is the issue of the care of the “insane”. This is Nellie’s reason for becoming a madwoman. She wanted to write an expose on how female patients were treated in the facilities that “cared” for women that were deemed insane. These women were abused. Many were not insane at all, but did not fit within societal expectation. It’s not a pretty scene that Nellie shows the world and while this is clearly written for children, it’s not a pretty scene that readers will discover. Kids will love to feel the outrage that Nellie felt over the conditions she reported on. Lucky for Nellie she was always going to get out. The book could certainly open up a lot of conversations about treatment of the mentally ill (something we are better at to be sure, but are still sadly lacking in) and unfair restrictions and expectations placed on women.

There is a lot about Nellie Bly in this book. Information about her childhood and her career. Nellie herself struggled with the low expectations for women of her era. She chaffed against them, but she was also able to rise to the challenge and find ways to make a living and buck convention. She was really quite interesting and I’m sure her story will fascinate any reader who picks this book up. A good one for an upper elementary and middle school biography collection.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: Botswana by Patti Wheeler and Keith Hemstreet

On 24, Feb 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

BotswanaBotswana written by Patti Wheeler and Keith Hemstreet

From Goodreads: When Gannon and Wyatt arrive in Botswana for an African safari, they find themselves tangled up in much more than a family vacation. After receiving word that a poacher has shot and wounded a lioness, they set off into the wild in the hopes of saving the mother and her cubs before the poacher finishes the job. While on this amazing journey, they encounter Africa’s Big Five — elephants, rhinos, cape buffalos, leopards, and lions — only to discover that the most dangerous predator in the African bush is not the king of beasts, but man himself.

I picked this one up because our principal scheduled one of the authors to come visit our fourth and fifth grade. I figured I should read at least the first book in the series just to see what they were all about. The book was at best problematic. No joke, the first section of the book is called “The Dark Continent”. I know they’re trying to give the impression of the “great” explorers of the African continent, but this is 2016. We should not be calling it that. The name implies that the countries there are backward and ignorant, which is not true and I don’t think we should be encouraging kids to think they are. The narrators, Gannon and Wyatt, two white American twins, also repeatedly refer to Botswana as Africa. Africa is not a country, let’s get away from that idea. And those “great” explorers were symbols of some pretty serious oppression and exploitation and weren’t really discovering anything new to boot.

The book also buys into the white savior narrative and the narrative that paints Africans as poor but happy. They aren’t great narratives to say the least. Again I think it paints countries in Africa as backward and ignorant. The purpose of the books is said to help educate kids about other places, but this is not what I would want my daughter learning about Africa (or Botswana).

What really got me, though was when the family went to visit the Bushmen (is this really the term they prefer??) they talk about how their land is being taken away and their lifestyle has had to change as a result. But the boys are more concerned about an injured lioness. I get that wildlife is important, but placing more value on African wildlife than on the people is a huge issue. (Please see this article or think back to the whole hullabaloo over the lion killed by the dentist.) True, Gannon and Wyatt’s mother decides to help the tribe build its school for a week, but that’s just an teeny tiny footnote in the whole story as is the plight of these people and is again part of the larger white savior narrative.

Still, I enjoyed the story. It was exciting and suspenseful. The other librarian and my principal were hoping the series would hook our reluctant readers, but it won’t. The book is way too hard for struggling fourth and fifth graders. Even ours who read well above grade level. I think it would work for struggling seventh and eighth graders, but not lower school

This book is part of a larger series and they go other places that may be handled better. More specifically the ones set in Western countries. I don’t want to say I don’t recommend the book, but reading back in my review it sounds like I don’t. So there you have it. I may read the Ireland title, but I can tell you our library does not need more books about white kids in white countries. We need really, truly diverse books. Books that show Africa as a vibrant continent with lots of countries and cities and people who are rich and poor and not in need of saving from us, but needing structures taken down that oppress them. Books that have diversity as a matter of course, not as part of some narrative.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: The Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

On 17, Feb 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Book ScavengerThe Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

From Goodreads: Twelve-year-old Emily is on the move again. Her family is relocating to San Francisco, home of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger, a game where books are hidden all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles. But Emily soon learns that Griswold has been attacked and is in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold and leads to a valuable prize. But there are others on the hunt for this book, and Emily and James must race to solve the puzzles Griswold left behind before Griswold’s attackers make them their next target.

I really enjoyed this book and it was a recommendation from one of my students who also enjoyed it. There was a lot to enjoy in the book from puzzles, to literature, to San Francisco. The mystery itself was a lot fun to solve along with Emily as the solution couldn’t be solved until she discovered each of the pieces and I think that made it more interesting of a story for an adult to read.

As a native of Northern California I was familiar with many of the places mentioned in the book and Chambliss made a point to make the places real. That was a really fun element to the book and kids who have been to the City or live in it may find that appealing.

Emily’s new (and really only) friend in San Francisco is a boy (hooray for boy-girl friendships). He is also Asian. I’m rather tired of books with the diverse characters as secondary characters and wish Emily’s family hadn’t been white. I also wish there had been more than just James as a diverse character. Your mileage may vary with that, but it’s better than the vast majority of our chapter book collection so I’ll give it some credit there.

I had one gripe with the book that can really be chalked up to my being an adult (meaning it wouldn’t have even registered with me as a kid). At one point in the story the villain contacts Emily’s school saying she has a book of his and he needs it back or he will lose his job. For some reason her history teacher gets wind of this and talks to the guy and then to Emily, extracting the book from her with lots of guilt and shaming for not wanting to give it back. First of all, I don’t know why exactly Emily doesn’t spill the beans about being followed and threatened by two goons who work for this villain (I mean she does have a reason, and as a kid I would have found it acceptable, but given the circumstances as an adult I think she needed to tell someone). More importantly though, why did this condescending teacher not check this story out? I know a lot of adults take other adult’s word over children, but it is highly suspicious that this person calls the school to contact Emily and raises even more red flags that this teacher didn’t fact check and call her parents before talking with Emily. Or better yet that he didn’t just pass the information along to Emily’s parents to let them deal with the situation. I take issue with teachers that are jerks and this teacher really was, but on his moral high ground he endangered Emily and that’s not realistic or okay.

If you have kids that like mysteries, literature, San Francisco, and puzzles definitely a worthy purchase.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Hundred Penny Box by Sharon Bell Mathis

On 07, Oct 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Hundred Penny BoxThe Hundred Penny Box written by Sharon Bell Mathis, pictures by Diane and Leo Dillon

Lexile: 700L

From Goodreads: Michael loves his great-great-aunt Dew, even if she can’t always remember his name. He especially loves to spend time with her and her beloved hundred penny box, listening to stories about each of the hundred years of her life. Michael’s mother wants to throw out the battered old box that holds the pennies, but Michael understands that the box itself is as important to Aunt Dew as the memories it contains.

I am so sad this book:

  1. Is not actually broken into chapters.
  2. Has such a boring and dated cover.
  3. Doesn’t have a smaller form factor.

I was totally blown away by this story as it’s a story about death. While Michael reflects back on his great Aunt’s life with her through her pennies (one for each year of her life) he also struggles with his mother who wants to toss the old box that holds the pennies. This is a big metaphor for how she feels about Aunt Dew living with them and Michael doesn’t quite understand that, but he picks up on the tension.

The story is so worth reading, but those three things I listed above will make it a really hard sell with kids. Also, while I loved the book, there’s something about the story that didn’t feel quite modern. It’s kind of an intellectual story and it’s very slow moving (two things I could not have gotten past as a child-reader). I think it would make an excellent read aloud either in the classroom or at home. I think a lot of kids will relate to caring for an elderly relative and the strain that can put on their family. It would also make an excellent literature study.

Oddly enough Amazon has the book available as a Puffin Picture Book. The book is pretty long and doesn’t have that many illustrations so I’m not sure why it got that reprinting treatment. It is also listed as  a book for 6-9 year olds. I would say 9 is about the age where this book’s range should start. It’s a complex and nuanced story and a six-year-old may not sit through it and without some serious discussion, isn’t going to get it. Plus that reading level is pretty high.

SPOILER ALERT: Although it doesn’t say it out right on the last page, I believe Aunt Dew dies with Michael lying next to her. I think this is part of what makes the story so incredible. She passes peacefully, but Michael gains this understanding of the importance of a life well lived and in keeping your memories alive. Part of the beauty of the story is also in that Michael, a child, clearly understands the importance of the hundred penny box much better than the adults (Aunt Dew excepted) and tries very hard to fight for it and convince his mother of its power and importance.

I checked the book out of my library both to see if I can find some good diverse chapter books and hand sell them to my patrons and to see what we might weed out of the collection. I doubt this book has circulated in years (update: it looks like it hasn’t circulated since we put our catalog on the computer 15 years ago) so it should go if I can’t convince any one to read it and love it. If you have kids or students that like slow books or are dealing with older relatives then it would be worth previewing.

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