The Hunger Games: Summary and Review

The Hunger Games: summary and review, cover artThe Hunger Games: summary and review
Title: The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games: summary and review
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Age Category: 16 to 19 years +

Well, I’m late to the “game” on this one.  Nevertheless, having just read the first in Suzanne Collins’s young adult fiction trilogy—in the wake of the buzz around the just-released third book of the trilogy, MockingjayMockingjay by Suzanne Collins—I feel that I must write something about it.  My reaction to The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games: summary and review can be summed up in three words: Blown.  A.  Way. For those who have not yet read it but plan to, my Hunger Games summary and review will not spoil any crucial plot twists.

The Hunger Games: Summary

The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games: summary and review portrays a dystopian vision of the future of North America, now the nation of Panem.  In Panem, a powerful and technologically advanced city—The Capitol—rules mercilessly over 12 outlying districts, each named simply for their number. Every year, The Capitol requires that each district select two teenagers by lottery—one boy and one girl—to represent the district at the annual Hunger Games, as “tributes”.

The Hunger Games are a cross between the reality show Survivor and the Roman Colosseum: the 24 teens fight to the death on live national television in a huge outdoor arena (we’re talking many square miles here), which encompasses a range of natural geography that varies from year to year. Continue reading

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Illustrator Interview: Don Tate, The Brown Bookshelf

the brown bookshelf african american children's books blog bannerHere is another in my series of children’s books blogger interviews. Today I report on my interview with Don Tate (abbreviated “DT” below), who blogs at The Brown Bookshelf, a multicultural children’s books blog focused on the work of African-American artists and authors.   At The Brown Bookshelf Don posts children’s book reviews and news that fit with the focus of the blog.  As you will see from the interview, Don is primarily an illustrator of multicultural children’s books.  He has illustrated (beautifully!) many books, some of which are sprinkled throughout this post, and he maintains a website (Don Tate – Children’s Literature Illustration) focused on his illustration work.   The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent websites focused on children’s books.  I am particularly excited to introduce my readers to Don Tate and The Brown Bookshelf, as they inject an important African-American voice into the discussion.  So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out The Brown Bookshelf, as well as the many excellent multicultural children’s books resources he mentions in the interview. And why not buy one of his books while you’re at it?  Thanks Don!

Q: I understand that you are primarily an illustrator.  How and when did you begin being interested in illustration?

DT: Well, I’ve always been an artist. I was the “best drawer in class” throughout grade school, and I never considered anything else beyond art. I went to a vocational-technical high school. My core area was commercial and advertising art, so I’ve always operated within the commercial art realm—art with a commercial purpose. Following college, I started getting freelance illustration projects from a local educational publishing company. I loved children’s publishing, and have pretty much stuck with it. Continue reading

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The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau: Summary and Review

the fantastic undersea life of jacques cousteau by dan yaccarino cover artthe fantastic undersea life of jacques cousteau by dan yaccarino
Title: The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteauthe fantastic undersea life of jacques cousteau by dan yaccarino
Author: Dan Yaccarino
Genre: Picture Books for Children (Nonfiction)
Age Category: 6 to 8 years

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Today, in honor of Nonfiction Monday, I’m reviewing Dan Yaccarino’s The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau.  I must say, this picture book made me nostalgic: I grew up fascinated by Cousteau’s television programs.  That history made me especially excited to weigh in on Yaccarino’s book.

Picture Books for Children: Summary

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteauthe fantastic undersea life of jacques cousteau by dan yaccarino is a delightful picture book biography of the revolutionary underwater explorer, filmmaker, and scientist, Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

The picture book begins with Cousteau’s boyhood, in which he overcame difficult health conditions by swimming in the Mediterranean Sea.  Yaccarino points to Cousteau’s fiercely determined and innovative spirit, even as a boy.  The picture book also brings out the fact that Cousteau loved to tinker as a boy; Yaccarino describes one occasion on which Cousteau bought a movie camera with his own money and then promptly took it apart to see how it worked.

The turning point in the picture book comes when Continue reading

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Blogger Interview: Elizabeth Bird, A Fuse #8 Production

Children's Literature Gems: Choosing and Using Them in Your Library Career cover art, by elizabeth bird a fuse #8 production
Here is another in my series of children’s books blogger interviews. Today I report on my interview with Elizabeth Bird (abbreviated “EB” below), who blogs at A Fuse #8 Production.  Her blog is one of several hosted at the School Library Journal websiteElizabeth Bird is perhaps the most prominent and prolific blogger in the kidlitosphere (kidlit celebrity?).  She posts children’s book reviews, along with news, videos, and funny stuff related to kids’ books.  She is also a public librarian in New York City, as you will see from the interview. The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent websites focused on children’s books. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out A Fuse #8 Production (link above), as well as the many other excellent resources she mentions in the interview. Thanks Elizabeth!

Q: How and when did you become interested in thinking/writing about children’s books?

EB: Excellent question.  Basically, I stumbled into it.  After I determined that I wanted to become a librarian I was a little vague on what kind of librarian I could be.  I took a course on children’s literature to fill a credit while getting my MLIS (Masters in Library and Information Science).  Honestly, I probably just saw it as an easy “A”.  But then as I started to get into the class, I discovered my calling.  I’d been reading books like Harry PotterHarry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and His Dark MaterialsHis Dark Materials for years for fun.  It never occurred to me to make a whole occupation out of it. After that, I was a clear goner. Writing about children’s literature just seemed a natural next step after studying them all the time. Continue reading

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Interview: Melissa Fox, Book Nut

melissa fox book nut photo children's books
Here’s the next installment in my series of children’s books blogger interviews. Today I report on my interview with Melissa Fox (pictured to the right, abbreviated “MF” below), who blogs at Book Nut. Melissa’s blog focuses on children’s book reviews, though she reviews some adult books too.  She is also an active member of the online children’s literature community (the “kidlitosphere”), as you will see from the interview. The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent websites focused on children’s books. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Melissa’s blog (link above), and the other kidlit resources she points to. Thanks Melissa!

Q: How and when did you become interested in thinking/writing about children’s books?

MF: Back in about 1995, a friend of mine was appalled that I had never read BeautyBeauty, by Robin McKinley by Robin McKinley. She insisted that I read it, and I was hooked: I loved the story, I loved the writing, I loved the idea that, as an adult, I could experience books that I’d missed as a kid. But then, over time, I realized that there was just so much more good writing and story telling going on for children, more so than for adults, and that’s what appeals to me most. So, that’s what I read. Continue reading

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Interview: Jen Robinson, Jen Robinson’s Book Page

jen robinson's book page logo baby book worm image
Here’s another post in my series of children’s books blogger interviews.  Today I report on my interview with Jen Robinson (abbreviated “JR” below), who blogs at Jen Robinson’s Book Page.  Along with excellent children’s book reviews, Jen’s blog has a particular focus on child literacy.  She is also a leader in the online children’s literature community (the “kidlitosphere” as it is sometimes called), as you will see from the interview.  The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent websites focused on children’s books.  So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Jen’s blog (link above), as well as the many excellent resources she mentions in the interview.  Thanks Jen!

Q: How and when did you become interested in thinking/writing about children’s books?

JR: I never stopped reading children’s books, just because I enjoyed them so much. I was also always an advocate of people helping kids to grow up to love books. I think that the whole growing bookworms concept [AMM: hence the bookworm graphic above] resonated with me because I loved books SO SO much as a child. And my love of books enriched my life, both subjectively (countless hours of pleasure) and objectively (high SAT scores, admission to my dream college, etc.). I was a grassroots advocate for literacy for years, long before there were blogs, but I always wished that I could do more. Blogging gave me a platform to work in an area that I was already passionate about. Continue reading

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The Complexity of Children’s Stories and Social Development

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling cover art
What makes for good children’s books?  In this series on how to choose children’s books, I have suggested that choice-worthy children’s books have both subjective appeal, and developmental value.  In other words, good kids’ books are appealing to a child, and help her grow.

One characteristic that can affect the developmental value of a kids’ book is the complexity of the book’s story.  In this article I will explain what I mean by “story complexity,” and what I see as the connection between the complexity of children’s stories and social development (e.g., emotional and intellectual development).  I will draw on prominent examples of recent juvenile and young adult fiction to illustrate my points: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter seriesHarry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling, and Rebecca Stead’s Newbery Medal winner When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medal Winner.  While what I have to say will apply mostly to older children, I will also try to give some rough guidance on choosing complex stories for younger children.

If you would like to read from the first article in this series, How to Choose Children’s Books,” click here.

Children’s Stories and Social Development: Complex Characters

Viewed one way, the basic elements of a story are characters and plots.  Both of these elements may contribute to the complexity of a story.  First, I will discuss how the characters in a story may contribute to its complexity.  A complex character is one whose mental, emotional, and behavioral activity is developed by the author to such a degree that she seems deeply true to life. Continue reading

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Pippo Gets Lost, by Helen Oxenbury

pippo gets lost by helen oxenbury cover art
Title: Pippo Gets Lostpippo gets lost by helen oxenbury
Author: Helen Oxenbury
Genre: Best Baby Board Books
Age Category: Infant to 2 years

In my view, Helen Oxenbury’s old-school baby board books set the gold standard for children’s books in the infant-to-2-years age category.  Here I review a board book from her delightful series about Tom and Pippo.  For my review of Oxenbury’s equally delightful baby board book Clap Hands, click here.

Best Baby Board Books: Summary

Tom is a toddler with a favorite toy monkey named Pippo.  On the first page of the board book—the page with the publication details, before the story begins—there is a picture of Pippo wedged between two books on a bookcase.  As the title suggests, Pippo is lost, and this first illustration shows us where he is hiding.

When Tom discovers that Pippo is lost, he begins looking for him.  The board book’s opening line, “Sometimes Pippo gets lost…,” suggests that Pippo has been lost before (does this bring to mind any toddlers you know?). Continue reading

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Children’s Books that Support Language Development

Clap Hands by Helen Oxenbury cover art
There is sometimes a difference between good children’s books, and books that children like.  But what is that difference?  I think it is summed up in the term “developmental value”: good children’s books are books that both appeal to kids, and help them to develop.

In the previous article in this series—“Criteria for Book Selection: Developmental Value in Children’s Literature”—I explained the notion of “developmental value” and its importance as a criterion for choosing children’s books.  In this article, I will begin to explain the specific qualities that might make a book developmentally valuable, focusing on children’s books that support language development.  I will explain the book characteristic I call “edifying language,” i.e.,  language that contributes in some way to a child’s development, and how edifying language contributes to child development.  I will also try to give some guidance on choosing children’s books that support language development.

This article is the eighth in a series on how to choose children’s books.  If you would like to read from the beginning, click on How to Choose Children’s Books.”

Children’s Books that Support Language Development

Children’s books can be an essential help to a child in learning her native language.  Depending on how much a child is read to—and I hope the kids in your life are read to a lot!—children’s books can be a central example of how the language works, i.e., how sentences are structured, what the basic rules of grammar and syntax are, and what particular words mean. Continue reading

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Criteria for Book Selection: Developmental Value in Children’s Literature

This article is the seventh in a series on selection criteria for children’s books.  If you would like to read from the beginning, click on “How to Choose Children’s Books.”  In this article, I will explain the concept of “developmental value,” and its importance as a selection criterion for children’s books.  I will also give a brief roadmap for the next several articles in this series, which will focus on the particular considerations that give children’s books developmental value.

Criteria for Book Selection: Children’s Literature

As I see it, there are two main criteria that should govern the selection of kids’ books.  First, adults should choose children’s books that have what I call “subjective appeal”. In other words, adults should choose books with qualities that make them attractive to children. The subjective appeal of a children’s book might consist in any number of considerations, such as an interesting theme, attractive illustrations, a good story, or humor. To this point in my series on how to choose children’s books, I have focused on this criterion of subjective appeal, and I have written articles on each of the considerations just noted.

However, there is a second general criterion that should guide adults in choosing kids’ books, which I call “developmental value.”  A children’s book has developmental value if it has qualities that allow the book to contribute to a child’s cognitive, emotional, moral, or even spiritual development. Continue reading

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Beezus and Ramona: Summary and Review

beezus and ramona by beverly cleary cover artTitle: Beezus and Ramonabeezus and ramona by beverly cleary
Author: Beverly Cleary
Genre: Juvenile Fiction / 3rd Grade Chapter Books
Age Category: 6 to 12 years

With the upcoming release of the movie “Ramona and Beezus” on July 23rd, I thought it would be fun to review Beverly Cleary’s classic  chapter book Beezus and Ramonabeezus and ramona by beverly cleary, the first in the series of books Cleary wrote starring the Quimby sisters, Beatrice (nicknamed Beezus) and Ramona. (Cleary won the Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. HenshawDear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary, and Newbery Honors for Ramona Quimby, Age 8Ramona Quimby Age 8 by Beverly Cleary, and Ramona and Her FatherRamona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary.)  While the trailer for the movie (embedded at the bottom of this post) suggests that the movie tries to capture the entire Ramona series—and thus may not be a straight translation of this children’s book into film—the movie’s title does resemble the book title (with the names in reverse order), so I’m sure there are points of connection between movie and book.

Beezus and Ramona: Summary

Beezus and Ramona beezus and ramona by beverly clearyis a character driven 3rd grade chapter book that focuses on Beezus Quimby, the 9-year-old sister of 4-year-old Ramona Quimby.  The book is essentially a series of vignettes depicting the relationship between the two sisters, in which Ramona’s mischief features prominently.  The book is different from the other books in the Ramona series in that Continue reading

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Interview: Marya Jansen-Gruber, Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Review

Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews logo

For some time I’ve wanted to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent websites focused on children’s book reviews.  With that intention, over the next little while I plan to interview some bloggers and online writers who focus their work on children’s book reviews.  I will then post the interviews in brief transcript form, with links to their excellent websites.  So, today I’m posting the first of these interviews.  Marya Jansen-Gruber (abreviated “MJG” below), editor of Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Review, graciously agreed to be my first interviewee.  After reading the interview I encourage you to check out her website and her related blog (click here for Marya’s blog).

Q: How and when did you become interested in children’s books?

MJG: I was living in Washington DC in 1992 and I was walking home one evening when I saw this large stone lion statue on a bridge. I found myself wondering what could happen if it came to life. I began writing a story about the lion soon after. I have been involved in the world of children’s book in some way ever since. Continue reading

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle cover art
Title: The Very Hungry CaterpillarThe Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Author: Eric Carle
Genre: Baby Board Books
Age Category: Infant to 2 years

The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Summary

Eric Carle’s classic baby board book, The Very Hungry CaterpillarThe Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, begins with a small white egg resting on a leaf by moonlight.  When the sun comes up the next morning—on Sunday—the little egg hatches and a tiny, very hungry caterpillar pops out.

The caterpillar goes searching for food over the course of the week.  It finds and eats holes through several kinds of fruit, food that you might expect a caterpillar to like.  For example, on Monday he eats through an apple, on Tuesday two pears, on Wednesday three plums, and so on.  However, after eating five oranges on Friday he is still hungry (he is a very hungry caterpillar!), so on Saturday Continue reading

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Summary and Review

Harry Potter Books: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling, cover art
Title: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Age Category: 14 to 19 years +

I plan to review the seventh and last of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter booksHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling—before the release of the seventh Harry Potter movie in November, 2010.  But, I can’t review the seventh book before I review the sixth, right?  So, here’s my take on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling.  While I will not divulge here any important plot twists or outcomes of this book, I will talk about the plot of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling, so if you are worried about spoiling that book, stop reading!

Harry Potter Books: Summary

In the previous installment of the Harry Potter booksHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling—Voldemort and his minions tried to steal a prophecy (i.e., a crystal ball that preserves prophetic words previously spoken) about Harry and the Dark Lord, to help them in their wicked bid for power over the wizarding world.  With help from members of the Order of the Phoenix—a secret society formed to counter Voldemort’s forces—Harry and his friends foiled the plot in dramatic “shoot-em-up” style. (For my review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, click here.) Continue reading

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How to Choose Funny Children’s Books

how to choose children's books for your students: frog and toad togetherThis post is part 6 in a series on how to choose children’s books. How to Choose Children’s Books is the first in the series if you would like to read from the beginning. Last time, in Selection Criteria for Children’s Books: Good Stories,” I discussed stories in children’s books, and how to choose stories that are attractive to kids of various ages. In this post I will discuss the role of humor in rendering kids’ books appealing, and I will give some suggestions for how to choose funny children’s books.

Funny Children’s Books

My eldest daughter, Isabella, loves funny children’s books.  In particular, she thinks the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip is hilarious. In second grade her teacher had a small classroom library of books that the kids could take home for a few days at a time. The definitive three-volume collection of Calvin and Hobbes, The Complete Calvin and HobbesThe Complete Calvin and Hobbes, was Isabella’s favorite item in that library. Continue reading

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