Friday, October 31, 2014

Izzy & Oscar

* This review is provided to you prepublication from the wonderful people at Sourcebooks.

Izzy & Oscar cover art

Estes, A. & Stark, D. (2015). Izzy & Oscar. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.  Illus. by T. Dockray. ISBN: 978-1492601500

Plot Summary:

Izzy wants a pet.  All of her friends have a pet.  So when she finds Oscar the octopus she decides to keep him.  Teaching an octopus to be a good pet is hard.  But their are things that he can do that other pets can not do.  And that makes him just right for Izzy.


Izzy & Oscar is a simple, yet endearing tale of a girl and her octopus.  While not the pet for everyone, Izzy embraces Oscar's unique qualities.  Readers will delight in learning about octopuses and the amazing things that they can do.  The illustrations by Tracy Dockray are fun and colorful and provide a wonderful addition to the story.  The pencil and dye technique adds color and whimsy to the books making it a perfect choice for the story.  A sweet story of love and acceptance or differences and finding strengths.


A Simple Case of Angels

cover art
Adderson, C. (2014). A simple case of angels. Ontario, House of Anansi. $14.95. ISBN 9781554984305.

Gr 2–5— June Bug has behavior issues. She really can't help it. After all, she is just a puppy. But when her owner, Nicola, hears that June Bug's days with the family may be numbered, she decides that doing a good deed will solve the problem and ensure the dog's place in heaven and in the family. Shady Oaks retirement home is just the opportunity that Nicola, her new friend Lindsay, and June Bug need. But all is not well at the retirement home, and some patients are being kept against their will. Could these special patients be more than they appear? Will June Bug's and Nicola's good deeds be enough to save June Bug and keep her with the family? Young readers will enjoy and appreciate the struggle to "be good." Nicola is a relatable character with qualities that will resonate with girls and boys alike. The portrayed family dynamic is healthy, yet not without normal struggles. One of the most touching themes is the need to protect and respect the elderly and ensure that every person is treated with dignity. A sweet-natured and thoughtful read.—Elizabeth Speer, Cisco College, TX

Additional Reading:
Additional Books by Caroline can be found at
The Angel Tree by Daphne Benedis-Grab  ISBN 978-0545613781

Family Activities:
Visit a nursing home
Learn about therapy dogs
Make Angel wings:  This tutorial uses cardboard and a paper mache technique

Little Man

Little Man cover art
Bibliography:  MANN, Elizabeth. Little Man. 208p. Mikaya. Oct. 2014. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781931414494; pap. $8.95. ISBN 9781931414500.  

Every so often I am asked to review books for School Library Journal.  Sometimes these books are really well written.  This was one of those times.  Below you will find my published review for Little Man.

Gr 4-7 -- A charming story of a Caribbean middle school boy named Albert. Small for his age, Albert is dubbed Little Man by schoolmates. Lonely after his best friend moves and feeling out of sorts in a new school, Albert is not quite feeling like himself. While attending his father's music gig, the boy is introduced to a group of Mocko Jumbies, or stilt walkers. He is invited to join in and learn their craft. He soon begins an exciting journey of self-discovery and faces his fears. This slim novel begins slowly, but quickly picks up steam and carries the momentum all the way to the last page. Albert is a likable and relatable character. The setting is an integral part of the story and is clearly explained without feeling like a geography lesson. Readers will enjoy learning about the fabulous art of stilt walking and Albert's journey to find his place among the tall performers. Overall, a well written and enjoyable tale with Caribbean flair and the wonders of childhood discovery. -- Elizabeth Speer, Cisco College, TX

Speer, E. (2014). Little man. School Library Journal, 60(10), 106.

Additional Reading:

Sky Dancing by Ellen Erwin    ISBN 978-0982555422

Fun Activities:

Make coffee can stilts - 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Sense & Sensibility

Sense & Sensibility

Austen, Jane. 2011. Sense and Sensibility. Adapted by Nancy Butler and Lonny Liew. New York: Marvel.  ISBN 978-0785148203
A graphic novel representation of Jane Austen's classic Sense and Sensibility.  This is the story of two sisters on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to emotions and intellectual views.  Elinor and Marianne along with their mother and younger sister must make their way in the world after the death of their beloved father totally dependent on the grace of others.  This visual representation of the original novel provides those who are unfamiliar with Austen's work a starting point from which to explore the family relationships for which she is known.   
Butler and Liew's version of Sense and Sensibility is a shortened and watered down version of the original which still somehow manages to retain the heart of the story.  Whereas the original work was conveyed largely through letters, Butler and Liew had to alter this aspect due to the nature of graphic novels.  Therefore, extensive changes had to be made by way of dialogue inclusion. 
The story contains all of the major events from the original work.  Readers unfamiliar with Austen will be able to easily follow the characters and events which are clearly laid out in an easily readable format.  Speech and though bubbles are used throughout as are text boxes to note major changes in locations and events.  Also, the adaptors did not lose the essence of political commentary which Austen included in her work.  The lack of rights for women and their dependence on the mercy of men in their lives is clearly defined without the lead female characters appearing overly weak. 
The artwork by Liew is done in a Victorian pallet which is complementary to the setting of the work.  However, readers who judge a book by it's cover will be disappointed in the harsh lines used throughout the work.  The cover art suggests more of a soft watercolor effect for the work. 

This graphic novel has not won any awards.  However, Nancy Butler has also adapted Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Northanger Abbey for Marvel. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

We've Got a Job to Do

Levinson, Cynthia. 2012. We've Got a Job to Do: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March. Atlanta: Peachtree. ISBN 978-1-56145-627-6
We've Got a Job to Do: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March by Cynthia Levinson is the true story of the 1963 childrens march on Birmingham.  Included within the text are stunning photographs which help to tell the story.  The book includes chapters on important players in the march, before and after effects of the march and the march itself.
 We've Got a Job to Do: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March is incredibly well researched and written.  This is especially true considering the explosive nature of the content.  The civil rights era is still a hotbed topic for many Americans.  Cynthia Levinson manages to convey the events on the march and the feelings of the children and adults involved without being preachy or finger pointing.  The facts are clearly laid out and historical photographs are incorporated in a way that enhances the work and information. 

The selected participants give a human face to what is often overlooked or incorporated as one giant civil rights movement.  Often we forget that a movement has individuals with names and faces and stories. 

We've Got a Job to Do: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March  is not only the story of Birmingham, but also the story of many towns in the south.  However, the events of the first week of May 1963 are clearly detailed and the events of that week would help shape and change a nation.
  • -Starred review from Booklist
  • YALSA award for excellent in nonfiction finalist 2013
  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly
  • Publishers Weekly best books of 2012
  • Starred review from Kirkus
Accompanying website:

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate


Kelly, Jacqueline.2009. The Evolution of  Calpurnia Tate. New York: Henry Holt and Co.  ISBN 978-0-8050-8841-0

Calpurnia Tate is an eleven year old girl in a family of six brothers.  Turn of the century Texas is not an easy place for a young girl with an inquisitive nature.  Exploring the world around her with her naturalist grandfather allows Calpurnia to discover many things about life with brothers, her grandfather, and who she is.  Amazing changes and surprises can happen in a girls life over the course of a year.


The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is, at its heart, a love story between a young girls and her grandfather.  The novel is about discovery.  Calpurnia discovers her love of science when she notices that the yellow grasshoppers surrounding her home are much larger than the green ones.  With that discovery, Calpurnia finds a deeper understanding of the world around her because of her grandfather and Charles Darwin's The Origin of the Species.  Her discoveries do not stop with science, but continue throughout the novel with questions of place in society and the world.

Ms. Kelly manages to produce likable and historically realistic characters.  The role of women at the turn of the century is clearly portrayed as are the expectations of men.  The year 1899 was a time of great change in the world.  The publication of Darwin made people question the world around them, their beliefs, and their place in the universe.  The Origin of the Species was so controversial that Calpurnia was actually denied access to the book at the local library by the librarian. 

Calpurnia is a precocious child who does not understand why she has to learn cooking and cleaning while her brothers do not.  She questions her role as a girl and weighs what she wants in a future.  The historical setting of the novel make these questions especially prudent and controversial. 

Ms. Kelly does readily acknowledge that she has taken liberties with Texas history and scientific notation.  Readers from Texas may notice the errors when they occur, but few other readers will.  The slight liberties taken with history do not in any way diminish the quality of the story. 

While there are many tertiary characters, their existence is simply to provide a frame of reference for Calpurnia and her grandfather.  Her mother provides the archetype of what a woman of society should be and what society expects Calpurnia to become.  Calpurnia's brothers represent the "normal" male of the era with very clear ideas about where a woman belonged and what her rights were, in that she had none.  Perhaps the most interesting character is Calpurnia's grandfather.  Because of his experiences in the war he is self sufficient and knows how to darn socks and cook.  Calpurnia finds these skills fascinating in a man as she knows of no others who can do them. 

Throughout the novel, Calpurnia finds so much that is changing and evolving.  But, the most important discovery is that of the love that she and her grandfather develop and share.
Newbery Honor Award

Monday, July 15, 2013

I Hunt Killers

I Hunt Killers

Lyga, Barry. 2012. I hunt killers. New York: Little Brown.  ISBN 978-0-316-12584-0
Jasper, or Jazz as he prefers to be called is the teen son of a notorious serial killer.  His father taught him how to think like a killer with the intention of Jazz joining the family business.  Now that his father is behind bars Jazz fights to have a conscious and live a normal life.  But how do you unknow how a killer thinks and feels?  Then a body is discovered in a field missing fingers and without any clothes.  Jazz is sure it is a serial killer.  Now he must find a way to work with the police and catch the latest threat to small town Lobo's Nod.

Barry Lyga manages to create a dark and disturbing world which readers will happily immerse themselves.  Jazz is a well thought out and developed character who, due to circumstances beyond his control, does not have a fully developed conscience.  Lyga manages to allow Jazz to be both likable and slightly scary.  Due to the nature of the story and the gruesome plot of dead bodies with missing fingers, it is easy to forget that Jazz is a 17 year old boy.  His insight into the mind of a serial killer due to his fathers teachings makes the character seem much older at times.  However, his social awkwardness and poorly developed internal sense of right and wrong balance out the adult knowledge base and bring him back into the teen realm quite nicely.

There are several secondary and tertiary characters within the novel that act as Jazz's support system.  His best friend and partner in crime Howie is extremely important.  Because of Howie's hemophiliac medical condition he could bleed to death from a simple injury.  The delicate balance which has to be maintained and the control which Jazz must use in his dealings with Howie make Jazz a better person who is more aware of what a small amount of physical damage can do to a person.  Jazz's girlfriend Connie, an African American theater lover, acts as a "jiminy cricket" for Jazz and provides him with the normal perspective on his actions.  Also important for Jazz is Sheriff G. William Tanner.  After catching and putting Jazz's father in jail, the sheriff acts as both a watchman and surrogate father figure for Jazz.

The technical aspects of the book are disturbing but really well researched and act to allow the reader to follow the morbid, murderous aspects of the novel.  The dark twists and turns and surprises which continuously appear are more often found in adult crime fiction than in YA literature.  The combination of a teen protagonist and the adult content of the novel make for an interesting read. 
  • There is a sequel to the novel titled Game
  • I Hunt Killers has been purchased for development as a TV series.