Tag Archives: Choices

Spot Light • December 2014

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The RumorThe Rumor

by Monique Felix (Chronicle, 2011)

Publisher Summary  Word travels quickly through a peaceful village when a hungry beast is spotted in the hills. Some say he has ears that can hear a potential meal from a mile away! Others declare that his stink is enough to kill you with just one whiff! Still others report that his snout is stronger than a vacuum cleaner! The threat compels friends to warn one another and in humorous fashion turn hearsay into an increasingly inaccurate rumor. Uncertainty abounds, but by the time the villagers are safely gathered together out of harm’s reach, one thing is for sure readers young and old will be charmed by The Rumor!

Make Way for Books  When a well-intended, simple warning adopts dramatic changes with each retelling, even youngest readers can predict the dangerous, even ironic impact a rumor may have. A clever tale that uses humor and cause and effect to convey an important concept.

Darling Mercy Dog of World War IDarling: Mercy Dog of World War I

by Alison Hart, illustrated by Michael G. Montgomery (Peachtree, 2013)

Publisher Summary  This action-packed and heartwarming story of a dog in World War I is the first book in the exciting new Dog Chronicles Series. At home in England, Darling is a mischievous but much-loved pet to Robert and Katherine. But when the British military asks families to volunteer their dogs to help the war effort, they send Darling off to be trained, even though it is very hard to say goodbye. Darling is ultimately used as a mercy dog, seeking out injured soldiers on the battlefield and leading the medics to them. After saving the lives of numerous soldiers, Darling is faced with a major challenge.

Make Way for Books  Uniquely told from a dog’s point of view, this book is both authentic and inspiring. While readers witness Darling’s transformation, from spoiled, carefree pet into self-sacrificing war hero, her journey provides a new perspective on World War I and allows readers to think about the kind of character necessary for thinking of others first in moments of life and death. Written with engaging characters and just the right amount of action, this story shows the change that love and loyalty can bring to one’s character. The story’s conclusion includes the history behind the story, along with an extensive bibliography of print and digital resources. (There are some very descriptive battle scenes, and while they are not inappropriate, the death depicted may warrant some discussion prior to reading.)

MurphyAlso Available:
Murphy: Gold Rush Dog (Peachtree, 2014)



Winter SkyWinter Sky

by Patricia Reilly Giff (Random House, 2014)

Publisher Summary  Sirens! A scary sound, especially to Siria, whose brave pop is a firefighter. Siria loves everyone at Pop’s city firehouse. She also loves to study the stars. Her mother named her after the brightest start in the winter sky.When Siria hears sirens, she sneaks out to chase the trucks, to bring Pop and the other firefighters luck. She’d be in big trouble if she ever got caught. Good thing her best friend, Douglas, is always by her side.As Christmas approaches, Siria suspects that someone in the neighborhood is setting fires. She has to find out who’s doing it. When clues point to a surprising suspect, she realizes that solving this mystery will take all kinds of courage. Patricia Reilly Giff, the author of many beloved and award-winning books, is at her best in this action-packed story.

Make Way for Books  “The rescue is everything,” explains Siria’s firefighting father. While watching her courageous father chase sirens through city nights, Siria worries she will lose him, her only parent. Enter a stray dog, suspicions about a close friend who may be an arsonist, and the caring love of several adults, and Siria soon learns despite danger, courage can lead to extraordinary outcomes. As Christmas and her New Year’s birthday approaches, Siria must bravely face her own mistakes and relax in the love that surrounds her. With her usual focus on developing memorable characters, Giff once again provides a story that is poignant and believable.

(paperback available January 2015)

The Right Word The Right Word

by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans, 2014)

Publisher Summary  For shy young Peter Mark Roget, books were the best companions—and it wasnt long before Peter began writing his own book. But he didn’t write stories; he wrote lists. Peter took his love for words and turned it to organizing ideas and finding exactly the right word to express just what he thought. His lists grew and grew, eventually turning into one of the most important reference books of all time.

Readers of all ages will marvel at Roget’s life, depicted through lyrical text and brilliantly detailed illustrations. This elegant book celebrates the joy of learning and the power of words.

Make Way for Books  “The use of language…[functions] as an instrument of thought; not being merely its vehicle, but giving it wings for flight.” – Peter Mark Roget

Roget’s delight with language oozes from these pages. Illustrations, mostly hand-drawn give the sense Roget is telling his own story—how curiosity and wonder drove his search to capture a moment or thought or concept with just the right word. His vast experience as doctor, inventor, and author both entertains and inspires, showing readers the noble value of inquiry paired with humility. A masterful presentation and a must for lovers of language!

Mending Broken Windows


“…our children shouldn’t have to be afraid. I shouldn’t have to be afraid when they walk out the door.” 1

Last week, my 5 a.m. consciousness struggled to place these newscaster’s words. Somehow, Deborah Wiles’ Revolution, fresh in my mind, projected like a newsreel right into the morning’s story. This news was Ferguson, MO, not Wiles’ Greenwood, MS account. Sadly, I had the same feeling several weeks before.

I had been begun Revolution, a documentary novel of Freedom Summer, 1964.

“The air in Fairchild’s, which always smells like bacon and lettuces and yeasty bread and sawdust and air-conditioning in the summer, was laced with the smell of uncertainty then, and there was a hush from some of the white customers—you could feel it. It was a bristly feeling.” (p. 226)

Wiles has a way of making her readers feel it by placing us in the footsteps of young people. We readers see through their eyes, like fragile windows—smudged, cracked, broken, and mended.

“I asked Daddy the question I most wanted to know the answer to: “What’s going to happen?”

“We’re going to watch, Sunny,” he answered me, “and stick together. Everything will be all right.” (p. 206)

That was when a news report from this summer, July 2014, started up like a movie in my mind. A correspondent was sharing stories of two families sheltering during the escalating conflict in the Gaza Strip.2

In Ashkelon, Israel, 30-40 neighborhood family members hunkered in an underground concrete bunker.

“My kids are very anxious,” [one mother says]. They won’t go home to sleep, or shower, or eat…they’re terrified.” “Things are not OK,” [her 10-year-old son says]. “I’m scared.”

The correspondent asks the boy if he ever thinks that kids in Gaza might feel the same. “My mother told me there were sirens there, too,…and those kids also have to run away.”

In Gaza City, families have no bunker to defend against bombing.

“Sometimes I lie,” [says one father]. “I tell my kids, ‘Those aren’t bombs; they’re fireworks.’ When it’s huge, I try to act carefree so they’ll see me and feel reassured.”

“We feel so scared, ” says one 10-year old. The report continues, “she is angry that Israelis can hide in shelters, while her family and people are killed.” When the correspondent asks the girl if she wants Israeli kids to die too, she responds, “They are like me. They have rights. They shouldn’t die. They should be protected, just like we should be protected.”

In an interview with teachingbooks.net, Wiles was asked why she chose to write about Freedom Summer:

I wanted to show the larger arc of our nation’s history, juxtaposed against an individual’s smaller arc. History is made by individuals, one moment at a time. By experiencing Sunny’s walk through it [in Revolution]…, readers see that, choice by choice, they craft a life.3

Wiles has crafted a masterpiece. The angst of youth amidst a rapidly changing, chaotic period colors it. Although poignant photographs document the time — the Beatles, soldiers in South Vietnam, Willie Mays, Freedom Houses — in black and white, this tale’s young heroes, both black and white, see in all shades of gray as they search for understanding and meaning-making. Notably, each chapter’s beginning page is vertically edged with a scale of grays ranging from black to white extremes, reminiscent of a test print pattern. Though subtle, readers see what uncertainty looks like.

Events escalate toward the day black communities line up to claim their voting rights through registration. Standing by their side is an army of college-age volunteers from the North and the West. Bob Moses, the quiet son of a Harlem janitor, had organized this massive group. “They won’t pay attention to us if we die…but bring kids here from the North, from the West…and people will pay attention. And, most important we need their help. We need to work together, black and white together.” (p. 70) Wiles’ young main characters are coming of age, seeking to identify with the fire, the courage and reason just a few years more might yield.

Seeing in black and white is not a youngster’s propensity, so as this novel unfolds, we feel the deep struggle, and marvel at the choice that ultimately places a dying black boy in the care of a broken-hearted white girl. She desperately petitions a deaf-eared physician: “I am covered in his blood and nothing has happened to me!” Suddenly, all gray is punctuated with red. Understanding has dawned. The depth of her empathy, of our reader-empathy, is palpable.

“Whose side are we on?” That was the other question I needed to ask.

“It’s more complicated than that,” Daddy said. “We’ll keep talking. Right now, I need to get you to Meemaw’s…It will be like old times,” Daddy said.

“I didn’t like the old times,” I answered. (p. 206)

That was early in Wiles’ Revolution.

“I’m ready for this situation to be over but I don’t want to go back to the old normal; I want to go back to a new normal,” says Ken Cieslak. He says “the new normal” means caring about what is happening to everyone in St. Louis County, not just the neighbors on your block or who went to your high school. He says the old normal was isolation. The new normal they’re hoping for is…to laugh, learn, listen and come to know each other.4

That was last week in Ferguson. A hope for things yet unseen; an arc of history, mending broken windows.


1 http://www.npr.org/2014/11/27/366956579/damaged-businesses-vow-ferguson-will-rebound-from-violence
2 http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/07/09/330183767/on-opposite-sides-of-israeli-gaza-border-feeling-the-same-fears
3 http://www.slj.com/2014/06/standards/curriculum-connections/revolution-a-conversation-with-deborah-wiles/#_
4 http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/11/24/366308090/ferguson-forward-churchgoers-seek-a-new-normal

Spot Light • September 2014

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Lost in BermoodaLost in Bermooda

by Mike Litwin (Albert Whitman & Co., 2014)

Publisher Summary  Bermooda has no “outsiders,” and most prefer to keep it that way. That is, until Chuck ventures into the boneyard alone and discovers a young human boy who has been washed up unconscious on the sandbar! The young boy’s name is Dakota and doesn’t seem as scary as Chuck thought humans should be. Chuck decides to “cowmouflage” Dakota to pass as a bovine in town. Dakota and Chuck become fast friends, but trouble is brewing and Dakota’s true identity is at risk of being discovered.

Make Way for Books  This delightful first written work by illustrator Mike Litwin introduces readers to Bermooda, the island home to talking cows and a host of other colorful characters – a ‘flying’ pig, a plump gray cow whose yellow shirt is as bright as his personality, and an orange manic monkey, to name a few. When adventure-loving Chuck discovers Dakota (a hu’man) washed ashore, he offers help, protection, and a way back to hu’man civilization, almost. Word play and outlandish humor enfolds this budding-friendship tale that helps readers see the destruction of lies and the strength and hope of trust. And, through age-appropriate high-flying drama, Litwin shows how fearing the unknown leads to cowardice, not courage. Perfect for reluctant readers and for reading aloud.
Crown CowibbeanDon’t miss the recently-released sequel, Crown of the Cowibbean (Albert Whitman & Co., 2014), another delightful adventure that unfolds like a Pixar movie, complete with stormy seas, tight spots, and close calls, all on the waves of humorous narrative!


Extra CreditExtra Credit

by Andrew Clements (Simon & Schuster, 2011)

Publisher Summary  It isn’t that Abby Carson can’t do her schoolwork. She just doesn’t like doing it. And consequently, Abby will have to repeat sixth grade—unless she meets some specific conditions, including taking on an extra credit project: find a pen pal in a distant country. But when Abby’s first letter arrives at a small school in Afghanistan, complications arise. The elders agree that any letters going back to America must be written well, but the only qualified English-speaking student is a boy. And in this village, it’s not proper for a boy to correspond with a girl. So, Sadeed’s sister will dictate and sign the letters for him. But what about the villagers who believe that girls should not be anywhere near a school? And what about those who believe that any contact with Americans is…unhealthy?

As letters flow back and forth—between the prairies of Illinois and the mountains of central Asia, across cultural and religious divides, through the minefields of different lifestyles and traditions—a small group of children begin to speak and listen to each other. And in just a few short weeks, they make important discoveries about their communities, about their world, and most of all, about themselves.

Make Way for Books  Anyone who has struggled to conquer something seemingly impossible can relate to Abby’s challenge—in order to avoid being held back in school, she must move from lazy indifference to responsibility. This timeless tale of conquering obstacles and personal growth is just a small part of this story’s appeal. This is the story of two children who must learn who they are and what to believe. Their newly-forged friendship allows them to ask hard questions and to find the courage to influence their own communities. It is a story of the delicate balance between tradition and respect and making room for new people and ideas.

We enjoy many Andrew Clements’ titles. Be sure to check out the Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School series and the Jake Drake series.

We the Children Jake Drake Know-it-all

We the Children (Simon & Schuster, 2010)
Jake Drake Know-it-all (Simon & Schuster, 2007)



Going PlacesGoing Places

by Peter and Paul Reynolds

Publisher Summary  A go-cart contest inspires imagination to take flight in this picture book for creators of all ages, with art from New York Times bestselling illustrator Peter H. Reynolds.

It’s time for this year’s Going Places contest! Finally. Time to build a go-cart, race it—and win. Each kid grabs an identical kit, and scrambles to build. Everyone but Maya. She sure doesn’t seem to be in a hurry…and that sure doesn’t look like anybody else’s go-cart! But who said it had to be a go-cart? And who said there’s only one way to cross the finish line?

This sublime celebration of creative spirit and thinking outside the box—both figuratively and literally—is ideal for early learners, recent grads, and everyone in between.

Make Way for Books  Bright, colorful illustrations match the buoyant spirit of this story’s optimistic theme where the limitations of rules and instructions suddenly become a framework for creative opportunity. This endearing story is a unique challenge to inside-the-box thinking and helps readers discover freedom in understanding the intent of an instruction versus mindless adherence for the sake of adherence.

Share this for all ages. This is one of those unique children’s books that inspires adult readers to become childlike for a moment and consider this mindful freedom. Indeed, going places requires it.

BeamLightOn a Beam of Light

by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky

Publisher Summary  A boy rides a bicycle down a dusty road. But in his mind, he envisions himself traveling at a speed beyond imagining, on a beam of light. This brilliant mind will one day offer up some of the most revolutionary ideas ever conceived. From a boy endlessly fascinated by the wonders around him, Albert Einstein ultimately grows into a man of genius recognized the world over for profoundly illuminating our understanding of the universe. Jennifer Berne and Vladimir Radunsky invite the reader to travel along with Einstein on a journey full of curiosity, laughter, and scientific discovery. Parents and children alike will appreciate this moving story of the powerful difference imagination can make in any life.

Make Way for Books  “He wanted to discover the hidden mysteries in the world.” How is that done? Author, Jennifer Berne beautifully, almost methodically, unfolds Albert Einstein’s insatiable appetite for learning. He imagined the uncharted, he asked questions-questions-questions, he read, studied, and wondered. He thought and figured. A cohesive text-illustration marriage introduces readers to this unbounded, creative thinker through scrawl-like pictures and fun-loving trivia. Somehow, this brilliant individual becomes as down-to-earth as the rest of us, making us wonder if we too, could imagine the uncharted. A powerful and accessible biography for all ages.