Tuesday, March 17, 2009

3 Willows

Written by Ann Brashares
Most enjoyed by girls in 5th through 8th grade

Ama, Polly, and Jo have been best friends since 3rd grade when they cemented their friendship by planting three willow trees together in the park. Now, they've graduated from 8th grade and high school is only a summer away. Ready for a change, the three begin to drift away from each other. Ama has applied for a summer camp in the hopes of getting a top grade that will look good on her school records. Polly discovers through a relative that her grandmother had once been a model. Jo, hoping to be accepted by the cool high schoolers, takes a job busing tables at the local restaurant. But despite their wishes, summer has plans of its own.
Ama gets accepted into a wilderness camp which was not the camp she wanted. She wants to quit but how can she when her sister never quit anything? Polly enrolls in modeling school without the support of her mother, who spends hours in her art studio. When Polly visits the studio, she makes a discovery that turns her life upside down. Jo's summer seems to get off to a rocky start until she meets handsome Zach on the bus ride home. It looks like a summer of romance for Jo until Zach's girlfriend from last summer shows up.

'3 Willows' is about friendship, dreams, families, and learning about yourself. I liked Ama, Polly, and Jo right from the start. All three are easy to like, so much so that I found myself wanting the book to continue so I could find out what happens to them next. Despite the troubles they run into, none of them give up. Instead, they discover that they each need to put their own stamp on the world instead of trying to conform. I highly recommend this book and look forward to the next one in the series.

Friday, March 13, 2009

How I Learned Geography

Written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz
Most enjoyed by 3rd through 8th graders
2009 Caldecott Honor Book
This book appears deceptively simple. A young boy is flying over land covered with elements from many lands. A mosque, skyscraper, palm trees, a camel. It looks like it could be a story of a boy and his dreams. And it is, but this boy dreams to escape constant hunger and extreme poverty.

In 'How I Learned Geography', author Uri Shulevitz tells the story of how his family fled Poland in 1939, after the Warsaw blitz. They escaped to Turkestan where they shared a home with complete strangers and struggled to survive. One day, when his father returns from the market, Uri and his mother look forward to the bread he will bring for them. But instead of bread to feed their hungry bellies, he brings a map. A giant map, one that covers an entire wall of their house. At first, Uri is angry, but as he spends his days drawing pictures from the map, he begins to imagine life in all of the distant places the map shows. He climbs mountains, visits temples and desert sands, and makes little rhymes out of the names of places on the map. The world of war around him disappears as he draws and takes his imaginary journeys.

In time, Uri forgives his father for bringing home the map. He realizes it has given him hours of pleasure. Perhaps his book will inspire you to bring home a map of your own to dream over. It just might make the waning days of winter go faster!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Written by Carl Hiaasen
Most enjoyed by 5th through 8th graders

Bunny Starch is the most hated teacher at Truman School. Her expectations are high, she's demanding and intimidating. One day, during class, she's singles out Duane Scrod, Jr, for questioning. As her questioning becomes stronger, Duane bites off the end of the pencil she's pointing at him, chews it up, and swallows it. The next day, he doesn't show up for class. No matter; the class leaves on their scheduled field trip to Black Vine Swamp without him. There, Mrs. Starch tells the students to stay together in their groups, but the field trip is interrupted when the swamp begins to burn. The students gather at the bus and watch as Mrs. Starch goes back into the burning swamp to look for a student's inhaler. And doesn't return.

Then, or the next day, or the day afterwards.

It appears that something terrible has happened to Mrs. Starch. Nick and Marta, who've both braved Mrs. Starch's biology class and watched her disappear on the field trip, aren't so sure Mrs. Starch has met her end. When Mrs. Starch leaves a message for the headmaster that she's taking a leave of absence due to a family emergency, Nick and Marta are convinced that there's something funny going on. Mrs. Starch doesn't have any family, so why would she have a family emergency. Furthermore, could her disappearance has something to do with Duane's disappearance? Duane has a reputation for being a pyromaniac, but would he go so far as to set a fire that would hurt a teacher? And what was that scream Nick and Marta heard in the swamp? Could it be related somehow?

Carl Hiaasen has previously written two very popular eco-friendly books for young readers in 'Hoot' and 'Flush'. Fans will not be disappointed with his newest, 'Scat'. Combining concern for an endangered panther with the get-rich-quick schemes of an oil-seeking millionaire, 'Scat' is full of Hiaasen's trademark quirky characters and loads of mystery and adventure to keep you turning the pages turn quickly. You'll find 'Scat' a fun read that is hard to put down.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wangari's Trees of Peace:A True Story from Africa

Written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter
Most enjoyed by peace lovers everywhere

Wangari lives in Kenya and grows up under the beautiful green trees. As a child, she helps her mother gather firewood from those same trees. When Wangari is older, she gets a scholarship to continue her schooling in America, but when she returns home, she finds the trees gone. Women who relied on them for firewood now must travel greater distances to find enough wood for their homes. The trees have been cut down to make way to more buildings. Enough, thinks Wangari. She begins to plant trees on her own, then soon begins a program paying women to plant even more trees. Often laughed at for her efforts, even arrested, Wangari persists until her world is restored to the green forests of her childhood.

This is the true story of Wangari Maathai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts at restoring the ecology of Kenya. Through her persistence and dedication, she made her world a beautiful place again. How inspiring! So what are you doing to make your world a better place?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Lincoln Through the Lens

How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life
Written by Martin W. Sandler
Most enjoyed by history lovers in 5th through 8th Grade

This excellent biography of Lincoln portrays him as a media savvy candidate and president who used the developing technology of photography to his advantage. It’s an interesting presentation in light of our recent election where many of the candidates took advantage of today’s technologies (i.e., test messaging, the Internet) in their campaigns much as Lincoln used photography. Young readers will find themselves engrossed by the pictures so much so that they will gravitate to the accompanying text to learn more. Some of the photographs are dramatic, such as the enlarged photo that shows Lincoln at the Gettysburg dedication and a long-lost photo of Lincoln lying in state.

Young readers who can’t get enough of Lincoln will enjoy ‘Lincoln Through the Lens’. A great addition to any Lincoln collection, find this on our shelves in the History section. Our review copy was provided by the publishers, Walker and Company, thanks to The Picnic Basket, a source of blog reviews for teachers and librarians. Find my review of this book on their website here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Our Abe Lincoln

Written by Jim Aylesworth
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Most enjoyed by Preschoolers through 1st Graders

I love this book. This is a perfect picture book biography of Abraham Lincoln to share with preschoolers, Kindergartners and 1st graders. As the book begins, we see children getting ready to present a play called ‘Our Abe Lincoln’. Each two-page spread shows another act in the play, or episode in Lincoln’s life. Some of the episodes are familiar, such as his log cabin birth and his election to the presidency. But some may be new - his family’s early three-sided home in Indiana or Lincoln’s visit to a customer he had overcharged. The story can be sung to the tune of ‘The Old Grey Mare’ which is what makes it a hit with young listeners. Barbara McClintock’s illustrations of the costumed kids portraying the historical characters are charming. Some of the pictures are so detailed one could make an ‘I Spy’ game and have readers pouring over the book for hours.

The aspect I liked best about ‘Our Abe Lincoln’ is the way Lincoln’s death is handled. There is no mention of the assassination, which can be a tough topic to talk about with very young children. Instead, the words and accompanying illustration tell of Lincoln’s death in such a way that help kids realize how tragic it was without dwelling on specifics.

Highly recommended, ‘Our Abe Lincoln’ is a title perfect for the littlest Lincoln bicentennial birthday celebrators!