The Dreamer

TThe Dreamerhe Dreamer is the story of Pablo Neruda.  As the jacket flap says, “Combining elements of magical realism with biography, poetry, literary fiction, and sensorial, transporting illustrations, Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis take readers on a rare journey of the heart and imagination.” A rare journey indeed…through words and sounds, colors and emotions, joy and agony.

The collector in me immediately connected with the shy, determined Neftali.  His shelves of feathers, rocks, shells and nests and his daily joy in looking at and seeing the wonders around him spoke to me. His days of dreaming and wondering are like quiet meditations.  Those calm languid feelings collide abruptly with the harsh anger and bitter barked commands as his father enters the story.  Neftali is never enough, never quite right, never important.  His moments of shame and humiliation are painful stinging slaps stinging showing another side of reality.  Never enough, until finally, Neftali Reyes in becoming Pablo Neruda found the way to follow his heart without shaming his family name.

The words, the pictures, the poems make this a strikingly beautiful book, but it is not for everyone – lovers of action and a tightly woven plot will likely find the pace tedious, but readers who savor the shimmer of well polished words like these when Neftali first sees the ocean…

“Neftali’s breath caught in his throat at the sight of the infinite colors and the gentle curve of the faraway horizon. He had never imagined the height of the white spray breaking against the rocks, the dark sand, or the air that whispered of fish and salt. He stood, captivated, feeling small and insignificant, and at the same time as if he belonged to something much grander.”

… will enjoy each and every moment.

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only IvanThe One and Only Ivan

by Katherine Applegate

320 pages that will make you think and wonder, imagine and cry

Ivan is a silverback gorilla.  He lives alone in his small domain in the Exit 8 Big Top Mall.  Yes, that’s right a mall.  Ivan is there with Stella and a stray dog, Bob who sneaks into Ivan cage for comfort, companionship and warmth.  Once a star attraction, the mall is no long doing very well so Mack, Ivan and the mall’s owner, must do something about that.

Mack brings in a new baby elephant, Ruby, as the new star attraction.  Ruby lives with Stella, until an unattended infection leaves her weak and dying.  Her last wish extracts a promise from Ivan – he must find a way to make sure Ruby does not spend her life alone in the mall; he must find her a better place.

Julia, the janitor’s daughter, comes to the mall most days to do her homework while her dad cleans.  Over time she has discovered that Ivan is an artist.  She has given him paper and crayons.  Mack has discovered Ivan’s artistic talent too.  What Ivan draws, Mack sells.  He doesn’t look as closely as Julia does.  She sees what Ivan is working to represent. Julia knows it is more than just a scribble.

Ruby brings new life to Ivan. Watching Westerns and romances is no longer enough. Living in a day-to-day haze is no longer enough. Her questions lead Ivan to remember. For years, not remembering has been Ivan’s habit. He prefers not to think of his past, either with his family in Africa or as a young gorilla who didn’t have to stay confined to the mall. But soon he is telling what he does remember of the past to Ruby.

The young elephant also brings a new urgency to Ivan’s art. Ivan has a plan.  He has an idea of how he can keep his promise to Stella.  Every night he paints.   All the little pictures lead toward one goal. All Ivan has to do is find a way to make someone, anyone, understand what he is telling through his art?

The One and Only Ivan is a book that will change you.  You will wonder at the endurance, friendship, kindness and commitment found in the characters.  You will question and wonder – and then you will discover that this story is based on a real Ivan, and you will wonder even more.  How?  Why? Can we be more mindful, more empathetic, more involved.  Read The One and Only Ivan, you’ll be glad you did!

The Kneebone Boy

288 pages – great for 4th or 5th graders and up

Living in Little Tunks, (no big tunks) a small town in the middle of nowehere can be hard. It is harder still when you are the Hardscrabble children, the kids that are treated as if they had a monstrous case of chicken pox. They live alone with their father, because their mother had mysteriously disappeared. Their father usually gives them a few weeks to warm up to the fact that he is going away, but this time, no. He packs their bags, and whisks them away to London to stay with their cousin Angela. But when these adventuresome kids run into the dead end of Angela being on vacation, they have to fend fro themselves on the dangerous streets of London.

Ellen Potter delivers an awesome storyline, an incredibly discreet sense of humor (not a bad thing, a good thing) and some excellent characters in The Kneebone Boy. This was a great read!

Ellen Potter’s website is here.

Sweet on Books, a new book website I found that has a really good perspective on The Kneebone Boy, and it even has some book group questions for teachers.* (*Psst, kids, you can use the questions too, for homework in a pinch!)

Buy this book on!



by Anne Ursu

312 pages with an intriguing twist to an Anderson’s fairy tale – It will make you wonder… where is your place?  How do your fit?

For all Hazel knows maybe the changes began with a perfect snowfall of brilliant snowflakes – the morning of the snowball. Or perhaps they began when a magic mirror broke, hurling shards of glass to earth and changing all those they touched. Hazel didn’t know when, how or why the changes started, but she knows her best friend, Jack, changed suddenly.  He was mean. So now the only person who helped her fit in, doesn’t anymore.  She is alone, confused and sad. Now stories are all she has.

She doesn’t fit in at home. She supposed to try harder to stay in reality and not pretend so much.  She doesn’t fit at school.  She supposed to learn the facts and know the rules.  And now she doesn’t fit with Jack either – and he was the one who shared her stories and helped her know all the rules.  What will she do?

And then he’s gone.  Vanished.  Tyler, the one at school who calls her “Crazy Hazy” tells her he saw Jack go off in a sleigh with a snow lady.  Hazel knows immediatly it is the witch from a story, her story. How can that be?   Hazel decides to follow the white witch into the woods.  She knows stories.  She knows she has to.   It’s the only thing Hazel can do because she must find Jack and bring him home or like in all the stories, the magic will trap him forever.

This is a fun book of friendship, stories, enchantment and adventure.  There are connections to lots of different books and stories.  What can happen when story and reality collide – sometimes it’s wonderful, but not always.  Have fun following the breadcrumbs into the woods.  I hope the birds don’t eat them before you are ready to return.


WonderstruckWonderstruck  by Brian Selznik

realistic fantasy   608 pages – don’t be frightened by the number. Each page will make you think and wonder, what else would a good book do?

Have you ever had a hard time explaining how or why you like a book?  I have vivid memories of past students dragging their fingers across their faces, “Ooooohhh, re – flec – tion!  Ugh!  Why do we always have to explain it all?”  Or this year, a student wrote, “It is funny.  It is cool.” And then dropped his head to the table, “Ahh…that’s not enough.”  I have a similar feeling – how can I possibly explain the wonders of Wonderstruck?

I want lots of kids to read it.  I want to talk to them about how it is written and what happens when the two stories collide.  I wonder what readers will love most?  The Cabinet of Wonders?  Learning how museum displays are created?  Deaf culture through time? Thinking about memories, what they mean and how they return?  Will they love the quote from the book “Wonderstruck” within the book Wonderstruck – “Some collections grew beyond the confines of a single cabinet and took over entire rooms.  The viewer was able to walk into one of these rooms and, as if reading a book, understand the wonder of the world just from the stories told by the collected objects and how they were displayed.”

Wonderstruck is a book I would love share with a book club.  In addition to how stories from 1927 and 1977 come together, I want to talk about how the author/illustrator’s idea emerged.  I want to wonder how we could put things together like that to come up with a totally original idea in a book.  Maybe I can do that, but if I can’t do, I hope that you will take the time to be totally wonderstruck!  And then let me know …

Click on this link and scroll down to the Meet Brian Selznik video clip.  You’ll be glad you did.

all about Wonderstruck


The Dragon of Cripple Creek


The Dragon of Cripple CreekThe Dragon of Cripple Creek

By Troy Howell

400 pages for middle grade readers of realistic fiction/fantasy blend – with adventure on the side

Katlin Graham, better known as Kat, is fascinated by gold. She has been all her life.  She named her pony Goldie. She had her tooth capped with gold. And when she sees an ad for tours of the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine she won’t rest until she convinces her dad and brother they have the time to visit. Kat, her older brother Dillon, and her father are heading west for a new life, their old one having ended when a freak accident put her mother in a coma and caused them to lose everything.

Once in the mine Kat moves a bit away from the tour.  When she tries to get back to the group she has a nasty fall, discovers a rather large gold nugget (perhaps the answer to her family’s problems), and stumbles across a dragon. He is a real live dragon named Ye – the very last one in the world. He is gentle and helpful and wise.  Kat knows he is a kind soul and when Ye explains to her the origin of gold she is caught in a moral dilemma.  How can she choose between helping her family and respecting her friend’s wishes.  Later, back on the surface, the consequences of her choice become clear.  She accidentally begins the 21st century gold rush.  It is more horrible than she could ever have imagined and Kat decides she must change the course of her action. But how?

There are all sorts of people after Kat and the information about the origin of the gold.  There are all sorts of characters – some silly and some somber, some sinister and many selfish.  Kat has tough decisions to make and with the help of understanding and family, she does.  Read The Dragon of Cripple Creek to see what happens and to compare your choices with those that Kat makes.  Sometimes it is hard to know what is right or to understand how one choice is connected to the next and the next down the line.

This is a fun, original book – Ye might not be real, but the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine exists in Colorado.  Have fun reading The Dragon of Cripple Creek and let us know what you think.

Check out the book trailer here:The Dragon of Cripple Creek

Diamond Willow

Diamond WillowDiamond Willow

by Helen Frost

109 pages for middle grade readers (and everyone else too.)

It took me a while to get and read this book.  I don’t know why.  I loved it!  Jenny, if you read this review – this book is for you.  You’ll relate to Willow.  She is strong and determined.  She is a survivor who depends on herself and her unbreakable connections with her family.  She’s not a sparkly girl – but she does realize she can have friends.  Caroline, if you’re reading this review, this book is for you.  It is a dog book, written in verse.  You will love Roxy and want so much for great things to happen for her.  She loves to run.  She is the lead dog – so smart and with almost a second sense when Willow is there.

For all other readers, it is that and so much more.  I love the diamond verse with the secret message in the heart of each one.  I love the connection between people and the land.  It is a wonderful way to understand a bit about life in Alaska and to get an introduction to the close connection between animal spirits and the ancestral heritage of the Athabascan. You’ll read it from start to finish and then close the book with a sigh – full of wonder.  Can you imagine writing like that?!

The Memory Bank

The Memory BankThe Memory Bank is both is stange and wonderful at the same time.  The book combines prose and illustration to share the story of sisters who love each other dearly.  “Hope and Honey Scroggins were the closest of sisters, had been right from the start.  Truly, they were lucky to love each other so!  Not so lucky when it came to their parents, though.  Mr. and Mrs. Scroggins were simply awful people.” (p.9)

Right after this passage the Scroggins unceremoniously leave  Honey by the side of the road for laughing too much in the car.  “Forget her,” they say to Hope and do.  But Hope cannot and does not.  Unable to forget and devasted by despair Hope retreats to her dreams.  There at least she might glimpse something of her beloved Honey.  As a result of too much dreaming, Hope is summoned to the World Wide Memory Bank (WWMB) where she is asked to account for her deficit of new memories. You can’t make new memories if you don’t participate in the real world – not something that typically happens to a nine-year old.  The keepers of the Bank are quite surprised by this and not sure what to do.  While plans are being made, Hope learns more about the conflict between the Clean Slate Gang, a group that seeks to destroy memories, and the WWMB, guardians of memories. She sees how memories are kept, shared and treasured and for the first time in her life she feels valued, wanted and cared for.

Meanwhile, Honey has been picked up by an exuberant,candy eating, live-in-the-moment group whose actions are told wordlessly  via multi-page illustrated sections. The reader gradually sees how these stories will intersect.

Though a little confusing in some places, this book will make you think as you’re reading and after you are done.  It will keep coming back to you.  How will you live in the real-world?  What memories will you keep in the Bank?  Which will you picture and which will you record?

Till Death Do Us Bark

Till Death Do Us Bark

Till Death Do Us Bark is the punny, third book of the 43 Old Cemetery Road series by Kate and M.Sarah Klise.  Written as a collection of letters, newspaper articles and advertisements (as are other Klise favorites), this book tells the story of a boy who, though trying very hard to be perfect, discovers he is not.  He has to learn to deal with that – he runs away.  Hmmmm, perhaps not the best choice.

The story begins with a dog arriving at Spence Mansion.  Seymour (the trying to be perfect boy) is overjoyed. His adoptive parents, Ignatius B. Grumply and Olive C. Spence, are not — especially when Secret, the dog, begins barking all night long. They have chapters of the book to write and illustrate. With the noise they cannot seem to work, harsh words are said and, also bothersome, Shadow is missing.

Is it possible Secret misses his old companion, the late Noah Breth, whose children are fighting like cats and dogs over their father’s fortune?  Could it be that Secret just wants to be home in his own doghouse?  Or does Secret have a secret that, in the end, will make the entire town of Ghastly sigh with relief?

You’ll have fun reading this series – the story is fun, the word play is funnier, the limericks are good and the characters are the best.

The opening line is a quote from Henry David Thoreau –

“That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest.”

What are your pleasures this summer?

The White Giraffe

The White Giraffe

When Martine’s house catches on fire and her parents die in the blazing house, she ends up going to her Grandmother’s house – but there’s one thing. She didn’t even know she had a grandmother! She ends up going to her grandmother’s house at the Sawubona Game Reserve. When she arrives, she discovers that the only place she fits in is with the animals. But her grandmother strictly forbids her to pass behind the fence of Sawubona without Tendai, the keeper. When she learns about the Zulu myth, things happen that make her question if it’s myth or reality. Read The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John to find out how Martine manages to live life in Africa.

For Lauren St. John’s website click here.