Book review: The Center of Everything

Center of Everything coverby Linda Urban
Realistic fiction
Interest level: 3-6
Reading level: 5.1
5 out of 5 stars


This is a wonderful story that I give 5 out of 5 stars. However, it is not a story that everyone will enjoy, so I recommend it to 4th and 5th-graders who are looking for a thoughtful read. Twelve-year-old Ruby Pepperdine is trying to make sense of her world after the death of her grandmother, her beloved Gigi, who was her “center of everything.”

The story takes place throughout the course of a small town parade celebrating Captain Bunning, the inventor of the hole in the center of donuts. Told in flashbacks, this quiet story is made of small moments strung together, which challenges Ruby, and the reader to figure out the world, and our place and role in it.

Ruby struggles a lot with the issue of what you are supposed to do and feel, and ends up with the thought, “What if there is no supposed to?”

Linda Urban has created characters who are flawed, but so real and recognizable to readers. She accurately describes and makes real the feelings of confusion and pain as you try to move forward with your life following the death of someone close to you.

Book review: Half a Chance

Half a Chance coverby Cynthia Lord
Realistic fiction
Interest level: 3-6
Reading level: 4.3
5 out of 5 stars


Cynthia Lord has created another masterpiece, to follow the amazing RULES. Twelve-year-old Lucy has just moved to a new cabin on a lake. She struggles through meeting and making new friends, and trying to fit into this new lifestyle. Along with her neighbor and new friend Nate, she decides to enter a photography contest to impress her professional photographer father, and also to win the prize money. She wants the prize money to help Nate’s Grandma Lilah, who is struggling with the onset of dementia. Lord has crafted a story that deals with really difficult topics in a simple, straight-forward, and very real way.

This book can also be used to open a discussion with kids about the ethical issues that surround taking photos. This is so timely, with everyone having a cell phone with photo and video capabilities, but rarely does anyone stop to think about the implications of a photo. Does the person in the photo have the right to say no to it being publicized? If the photo is important, or captured in a really artistic way, does that change your thinking about publishing it? When does taking a photo get in the way of experiencing that moment in time?

This would make an excellent class read-aloud!  I would put this on a possible Newbery list.

Book review #290: Firefly July #bookaday

Firefly July coverselected by Paul B. Janeczko; illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Poetry, picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 4.5
4 out of 5 stars


This is a collection of 36 brief poems that are organized into four seasonal categories. These poems make great examples for children of how a few well-chosen words can create vivid images in your mind. The selected poetry includes some well-known poets — William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, and Emily Dickinson. Melissa Sweet has created the collage-style illustrations, and has wonderfully captured the essence of each poem.

Book review #289: The Scraps Book: notes from a colorful life #bookaday

The Scraps Boook coverby Lois Ehlert
Autobiographical picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 3.3
5 out of 5 stars


This amazing book is both an autobiography of Lois Ehlert, as well as a documentary about her vast portfolio of children’s books and the process she undergoes in their creation. She includes images from her books, sketches of the works-in-progress, collages of found and collected materials that were inspiration, and photographs from her life. I loved being let inside her studio and her mind.

This book would be a great start to an examination of the many works of this celebrated artist. Collages are an art form that can be done by everyone, so I love that children can see everyday objects used in the context of her published works. At the end of the book, she claims, “Art chose me,” and she invites anyone who feels the same to “find a spot to work, and begin.”

Book review #288: Julia’s House for Lost Creatures #bookaday

Julia's House for Lost Creatures coverby Ben Hatke
Picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 1.7
4 out of 5 stars


This is a very creative and original picture book that features a young girl named Julia. You must begin reading this book on the title page, where we see a Victorian-style house perched on the back of a giant tortoise. You can immediately tell this is a work of fantasy! Julia’s house is too quiet, so she hangs a sign welcoming lost creatures. She is joined by a dragon, mermaid, ghost and trolls. As you can imagine, things could get a little out of hand, but Julia is quick-thinking and gets it all under control. I love her strong and independent character.

The illustrations are very sweet and perfectly fit in this younger children’s fantasy picture book.

Book review #287: Here Comes the Easter Cat #bookaday

Here Comes the Easter Cat coverby Deborah Underwood; pictures by Claudia Rueda
Picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 1.7
4 out of 5 stars


This is a fun and adorable book. Everyone looks forward to a visit from the Easter Bunny, except for Cat, who is a little put out with all the attention that the Bunny gets. He comes up with his own Easter plan, complete with sparkly clothes and a motorcycle. Cat comes to really appreciate the Easter Bunny and hatches an even better plan in the end.

There is tremendously witty banter between the narrator and Cat, who has priceless facial expressions. This is a unique and fun option for holiday reading. I love that this book is different in size compared to most picture books — it is smaller and thicker. Very creative and unique all around!

Book review #286 – Roller Coaster #bookaday

Roller Coaster book coverby Marla Frazee
Picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 2.2
4 out of 5 stars


The text of this book uses easily understood language and takes us through all the steps of riding on a roller coaster. Our main character is a young girl, riding for the first time. The author doesn’t focus or even identify her until the very end. We get to live, through the illustrations, all the different experiences that people have. As the ride gets going, the illustrations make you feel part of the ride. Be sure to note the expressions on all the rider’s faces; I love the older couple!

This would be a great book to use to model sequencing and predicting. It’s fun to meet the characters in line, form an idea of who they are, and then follow them throughout the ride to see how they like the experience. You could also read this book to kids before their first trip to the amusement park. It really is a great introduction! This is a well-crafted book all around.