Book review: Otis and the scarecrow #bookaday

Otis and the scarecrow book coverby Loren Long
Picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 3.6
4 out of 5 stars

Otis is back in another sweet story about friendship. Here, Otis and his friends try to befriend the sour-looking scarecrow that the farmer puts up in the field. I love how all the characters in previous Otis books are back, and the illustrations are sweet and wonderful.

The ending of the book is left up in the air — we don’t really know if the scarecrow likes the attempt at friendship by Otis and friends — so readers have to be willing to speculate and be satisfied with the idea that it is always good to try to include people so they don’t feel left out. I was tempted to give the book 3 instead of 4 stars, but Otis is so wonderful that I always enjoy his stories, no matter what!

Book review: And Tango makes three #bookaday

And Tango makes three book coverby Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell; illustrated by Henry Cole
Picture book/non-fiction
ALA Notable Children’s Books 2006
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 2.6
4 out of 5 stars

When you see the adorable penguin illustrations in this book, it makes you wonder how this book ends up on the banned books list every year. It is a true story about a penguin couple at the Central Park Zoo in New York City who are unable to have their own chick, but one day the zookeeper needs a surrogate family for an egg and the couple hatch and raise Tango. And they all live happily ever after.

The controversy arises because the couple are both male penguins. While their story is unique for penguins, it is also beautifully told. This penguin couple instinctively was like every other penguin couple in the zoo — they created a nest together, incubated the egg, and raised the chick like all penguins do. It’s no big deal for them.

The message that children can get from the story is that all families are different, but the love and nurturing of parents/guardians is a thread that makes them all similar too.

This book is commonly shelved with fiction picture books, but I think it would more accurately fit in the non-fiction section. It is a true story.

Book review: Rain Reign #bookaday

Rain Reign coverby Ann M. Martin
Realistic fiction
Schneider Family Book Award Middle School: 2015
Interest level: grades 3-6
Reading level: 3.5
5 out of 5 stars

I fell in love with Rose, the main character in RAIN REIGN. She is such a complex and intriguing person and you can’t help but root for her. Rose loves homonyms (like the book title), prime numbers, her Uncle Weldon, and Rain, her dog. The relationships between Rose and Uncle Weldon, and Rose and Rain, are such beautiful examples of pure love, where each party accepts the other person for their strengths and weaknesses. Those are the good things in Rose’s life.

But the beauty of Rose and her story comes in how she handles the hard parts of life — her single father who drinks too much and angers too quickly, the arrival of a super storm that throws her life into turmoil, struggles to make friends and find acceptance at school. Rose is an incredibly smart and strong young female lead in a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat, with a Kleenex close at hand.

This story is told from Rose’s point of view and lets you in on her thoughts and feelings. Rose has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and part of what makes RAIN REIGN so wonderful is that as readers we get a glimpse of the world through her eyes. I would love for everyone who reads this book to come away with a better understanding of people with ASD and how the label does not define or limit them as people.

This would make an amazing class read-aloud.

Book review: El Deafo #bookaday

El Deafo coverby Cece Bell
Graphic novel
Newbery Honor: 2015
Interest level: grades 3-6
Reading level: 3.3
5 out of 5 stars

In EL DEAFO, Cece Bell shares her story of growing up after losing her hearing at the age of 4. She shares her thoughts, feelings, and struggles to make friends, and to find her place in her school and neighborhood communities. This book is so honest and respectful about the struggles and misunderstandings that plague childhood friendships.

Besides the wonderful, rich content, this book stands out as a spectacular example of a strong graphic novel. Bell’s illustrations are cute and accessible, yet professionally rendered and sequenced. Sometimes dream sequences or changes in time are confusing in graphic novels, but in EL DEAFO they are clearly defined and easy to distinguish.

My copy of this book has been very popular with 5th-graders, who pass it from friend to friend. EL DEAFO is one of those books, like WONDER, that can open your eyes to the experiences of people with special needs. I wish everyone would read this book!

Book review: This One Summer #bookaday

This one summer bookcoverby Jillian Tamaki; illustrated by Mariko Tamaki
Young adult graphic novel
Caldecott Honor Book: 2015
Michael L. Printz Honor Book: 2015
Interest level: Grades 8-11
Reading level: Young adult
4 out of 5 stars

The artwork in this book is absolutely amazing! The thing about reading graphic novels is that the good ones really make you slow down and read the pictures as well as the words, which are minimal in this work. The story is about a young girl, who is at that awkward stage between childhood and young adult. She is forced to grapple with some very adult themes during her summer beach getaway — teen pregnancy, a crush on an older boy, troubles in her parents’ marriage, and her mother’s overwhelming battle with depression. This is an intense book, but if you savor the artwork as you read, it is a wonderful, deep, realistic fiction work.

Oh, and usually I love first lines in books, but this book has one of the best final lines, “Boobs would be cool.”

Book Review #305: Little Santa #bookaday

Little Santa coverby Jon Agee
Picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 2.9
4 out of 5 stars

We all know Santa as the jolly old man with the snow white beard, but what was young Santa like? Jon Agee has fashioned a wonderfully creative story to answer that question, as well as other mysteries of Christmas…how did he get flying reindeer? Where did the elves come from? Why does he have a sleigh? Why does he come down the chimney?

This would make a very nice read-aloud story, which is a good family activity for the holiday season. The book is slightly oversize and the illustrations are fairly basic, with thick lines outlining the drawings and Santa standing out by the color of his wardrobe versus his family.

I like that this isn’t an overly sappy Christmas story, although the idea of Santa’s family leaving him behind when they move to Florida is a bit depressing. Holy Snowflakes, this is a nice addition to a Christmas library collection.