Tag Archive: school


jessicas box

Jessica’s Box by Peter Carnavas

Released March 1, 2015

Jessica can’t sleep, it’s the day before her first day of school.  The next day her parents assure her that she will make lots of friends, and Jessica had a plan to make sure that happened.  In a box on her lap, she carried her teddy bear to school, but when she revealed it later in the day, kids laughed at her or just walked away.  The next day, Jessica put something else in her box and headed to school.  But the cupcakes in the box disappeared quickly without so much as a thank you from the kids.  The third day of school, Jessica snuck her dog into class.  Doris was very popular, but dogs weren’t allowed at school.  By the fourth day, Jessica was dejected.  She dragged her box to school empty and then put it over her head.  And that’s when Jessica figured out exactly what she should have had in her box all along, something very special indeed.

Carnavas tells a very successful story here.  I love that the main character is in a wheelchair and yet the story is not about her disability.  It’s a first-day-of-school story and a making-friends story instead.  Also throughout the book she is shown as entirely capable and not needing help, except for a little encouragement of different sorts from her family members that any child would want and need.  The use of the box is smartly done, using it both as a metaphor and also as a way to build suspense for the reader about what is being taken to school that day.

The art is friendly and colorful, also helping build suspense with page turns that lead into the reveal of what’s in the box.  Carnavas shows loneliness very nicely on the page, isolating Jessica clearly on the white background.  He also shows connections in a gentle way, displaying a subtlety that is particularly nice on the page with Jessica and her father being quiet together.

A very inclusive book about school jitters and making friends, this will be a nice read aloud to share with kids about to enter school.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital copy received from Kane Miller.

fish in a tree

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

The author of One for the Murphys returns with a brilliant second novel. Ally hates school. She’d much rather spend her days drawing the vivid pictures in her head. Homework is almost impossible for her, since she has such trouble reading. To cover up her problems, she uses her disruptions and gets sent to the principal’s office often. When Ally gets a new teacher though, things start to change. Mr. Daniels can see who she is under the reading and writing problems, offering her compliments about the way she thinks and the way she draws. As Ally gets more confident, she just might be brave enough to ask for the help she needs rather than hiding and trying to be invisible.

Hunt writes with a light touch, never negating the powerful feelings that Ally is wrestling with and how serious her issues are. Yet it is that soft touch that allows the book to be so effective in its approach to dyslexia and the variations in the ways different brains think. Throughout the book, there is hope and readers will yearn to have Ally recognized as the bright and funny person they now her to be. Hunt also incorporates a bully who is intelligently drawn with just a glimpse as to why she is that way and who is just cruel and mean enough to be realistic.

Ally is a wonderful protagonist. She doesn’t hide her difficulties from herself at all, but works so hard to hide them from everyone else in her life, something she can achieve because she is so bright. Throughout Ally is immensely likable, someone who would make a tremendous friend. I love that she does not become this as the novel moves on, but she is already there, just waiting for others to discover her behind the barriers she puts up. The two characters who become her close friends are also strongly written and unique voices too, adding depth and diversity to the story.

An incredibly strong novel, this one belongs in every library and will be inspiring to students and teachers alike. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

my three best friends and me Zulay

My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Zulay is in first grade along with her three best friends.  She starts the day by linking arms with them and singing in the hallways and then waiting in line to hug their teacher hello.  When she finds her desk, she feels with her legs to make sure she is sitting right and then readers see her cane, which she pushes to the back of her desk.  It is at this point that it becomes clear that Zulay is blind.  She still studies what everyone else does, but she also has extra classes to learn to use her cane.  When Field Day is announced, Zulay surprises everyone by declaring that she wants to run in a race.  Will Zulay be able to make her dream come true?

Best introduces Zulay as a person first and then reveals her disability.  It offers readers a chance to meet Zulay as a first grade girl and see how she is just like her friends first and then realize that she is still just like the others in her class but with the added component of blindness in her life.  Best also incorporates all of the details that children will want to know.  How does Zulay find her desk?  How does she do class work?  What is her red and white cane for?  The result is a very friendly book that celebrates diversity in a number of ways.

Brantley-Newton’s illustrations add to that friendly feel.  They feature children of many different races together in school.  She clearly shows the emotions of her characters too from worry to pride to joy.  The illustrations are bright and cheery.

This is a book about diversity and meeting challenges head on.  It’s a great addition to public libraries of all sizes.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

terrible two

The Terrible Two by Jory John and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Kevin Cornell

Miles is moving to Yawnee Valley along with his parents, a place with larger spaces, bigger lawns, and lots of cows.  He had been known in his last school as the prankster, but upon arrival at his first day of school Miles discovers that there is another prankster already at work.  That prankster has put the principal’s car at the top of the stairs to the entrance to the school, blocking it so that no one can enter.  So Principal Barkin is forced to have each and every kid at school climb through his car to enter the building.  Of course, he could also have had them use the back door…  Miles is introduced to Niles, a model student who is assigned as his buddy.  Niles is immensely annoying, perfect in class, kissing up to the teacher.  But NIles is also the prankster who pulled off the car stunt.  As the two become rivals, a pranking war begins, one that involves insects, pie, forgeries, and lots of cake.  Who will reign supreme at the school and will Principal Barkin survive it?

This book, which I assume is the beginning of a new series, will be adored by kids.  It has exactly the right tone and sense of humor.  The two rival boys are a delightful contrast to one another, yet equally likeable and one isn’t quite sure who to root for so you end up rooting for the prank to be great.   And what pranks they are.  Principals may not enjoy the humor here, but it is much more about this one school and a principal who loses his cool regularly than about any real prank being pulled in a real school setting.  The pranks are elaborate enough that no one is going to be taking real cues from this book.

Cornell’s illustrations add to the humor.  I particularly enjoy the cows, the cow facts done as a list, and the rubber chickens.  The book has a wonderful wildness to it, an edginess of a prank about to go wrong, that is also reflected in the zany art.  Reluctant readers will enjoy the breaking up of the text into manageable chunks. 

Get this into the hands of fans of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and those who are outgrowing Captain Underpants.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from ARC received from Abrams Books.

poem in your pocket

A Poem in Your Pocket by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

The third in the Mr. Tiffin’s Classroom series, this book focuses on Elinor, a girl who just wants everything to be perfect.  Unfortunately though, poetry and perfection really don’t work together no matter whether you are talking haikus, concrete poems or rhyming stanzas.  A poet is going to be visiting their school and Elinor desperately wants to impress her with her poetry.  But as the time goes by, the pressure builds and Elinor becomes less and less able to write poetry.  When she finally does start writing, she’s not happy with any of the poems she has written.  Can the kind teacher Mr. Tiffin find a way to let Elinor know that it’s OK to make mistakes?  Maybe this is a job for a poet!

This is a wonderful addition to an already strong series.  McNamara “perfectly” captures the trap of perfectionism for students and the pressure that it builds in a person.  Tying it to poetry was inspired, something that doesn’t work with tension or pressure but instead relies on inspiration and creativity.  Elementary students will see themselves in both Elinor and her classmates who are more relaxed about the entire thing.  Watch for the poem that ties to How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? for fans of the series. 

Karas’ illustrations continue in his signature style that is playful and friendly.  His drawings add to the accessibility of the entire book and the series as a whole. 

A winning addition to a popular series, this third book will delight during poetry units and may inspire a more relaxed approach to writing too.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Schwartz & Wade and Edelweiss.

red pencil

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

Amira is an artist who spends her free time drawing with sharp sticks in the dirt.  She has just turned twelve and is now old enough to wear a toob.  Amira longs to go to school, but her mother doesn’t believe that girls should go to school.  So Amira stays on the family farm with her parents and younger sister who was born with misshapen legs.  Then the peace is shattered when their farm is attacked and Amira’s beloved father is killed.  Now they must leave their farm behind and head to a refugee camp where people are crowded into a small space and hunger is constant.  But when Amira is given a red pencil, her mind once again is able to escape into her art and she starts to once again dream of a different future and how to get there.

Set in Sudan, this verse novel is filled with power, wrenching written.  The brutality of the attack is captured clearly on the page as is the shock of loss that continues to ripple and tear at the small family remaining.  Pinkney captures grief on the page, writing with a clarity and beauty that is stark at times and layered and subtle at others.  Her verse speaks to the power of dreams to lift people out of where they are trapped and make a difference. 

From waves of wheat on the page to the family together, Evans’ illustrations support the powerful verse.  As the tone of the poems shift, so does his art which moves from playful to dramatic along with the text.  My favorite images capture small pieces of life, little glimpses of what makes a home and a day.

An impressive novel in verse, this book offers a strong survivor of a protagonist who uses art as a force to lift herself.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

categorical universe of candice phee

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg

This Australian award winner is the story of 12-year-old Candice who is completing a school project that is supposed to be a paragraph for each letter of the alphabet that reveals something about her.  But Candice can’t keep it to one paragraph, so she begins to do chapters for each letter and the words she chooses for each letter are unexpected too.  As she writes, Candice is telling the story of her family and her pet fish.  She worries about her family falling apart, since her mother is still grieving the loss of Candice’s baby sister Sky to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  Her father is working on software in his spare time to prove that he can be as successful as his brother, Rich Uncle Brian, or flying his toy plane.  Either way, both parents are self-absorbed rather than paying attention to Candice.  She also doesn’t have any friends, until an unusual boy comes to school, a boy who believes that he’s traveled to another dimension and spends his time trying to get back home by falling out of a tree.  It seems to Candice that it’s up to her to fix a lot of what’s wrong, but how can she?

Jonsberg has crafted a unique character in Candice.  She may or may not be on the autism spectrum, but it is clear that she is different from the others in her grade and that they know it.  Yet Candice functions fully, just in her own way.  She loves her family, makes connections with others, and cares deeply about what is happening around her.  She just does it in her own way, one that makes sense and that shows just how smart she is. 

The book is wonderfully funny, with situations that are almost slapstick at times and others that are cleverly worked.  The scene where Candice forces herself to get on her uncle’s boat to talk about the problems between him and her father is classic nausea humor that is done to perfection.  Yet the book has plenty of depth too, with the deep depression that her mother has fallen into and even a little romance.

Strong writing keeps this complex book from tangling into knots and a strong protagonist gives it a unique and smart voice.   A great Australian import that is ideal for middle grade readers. 

Reviewed from e-galley received from Chronicle Books and Edelweiss.

my heart is laughing

My Heart Is Laughing by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson

Dani has always been happy, but now that her best friend has moved away to another city, she is unhappy sometimes too.  But Dani tries not to think about being unhappy.  Dani didn’t know anyone in her class when she started school, but now she does.  When two girls in her class both get a crush on the same boy and ask him who likes best, they are amazed when he shows that he’s much more likely to like Dani.  Dani tried to keep being friendly with the girls, but neither of them wanted anything to do with her.  Dani sat by herself at lunch, but she didn’t mind because she just thought about all of the fun she had visiting her best friend.  But then her teacher moved her between the two girls, and Dani was cruelly pinched by them.  Dani finally had enough, and reacted by squirting them (and then the teacher accidentally) with sauce.  Now it is up to Dani to tell the truth about what happened and to figure out how to find happiness without her best friend at her side.

This is the second book featuring Dani, following My Happy Life, which tells the story of how Dani met her best friend and then how she had to move away.  In this second book, the focus is on bullying and the author does a great job with it.  As the situation escalates, Dani remains apart from the situation for awhile, then finds herself right in the middle of it.  I appreciate that Dani is not faultless in the situation in her reaction, but also that she reacts humanly and believably to the situation. 

Set in Sweden, the stories have a universal appeal but also are clearly not set in the United States.  This is a gentle introduction to the subtle cultural differences and a great way to start a discussion about how people are both the same and different in other cultures. 

Fans of the first book will love the next in Dani’s adventures.  This will also find an audience as a read-aloud for teachers wishing to discuss bullying with elementary students.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Gecko Press and NetGalley.

el deafo

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Author/illustrator Cece Bell has created a graphic novel memoir of her loss of hearing as a child.  At age four, Cece contracts meningitis and the disease takes away her ability to hear.  At first Cece attends school with other children who have hearing loss and wear hearing aids, but then she is sent to first grade with a new super-powered hearing aid, the Phonic Ear.  Her new teacher has to wear a microphone, one that she sometimes forgets to take off (even when she uses the bathroom) which leads to some rather interesting sounds!  But along with these superpowers come some ethical questions and some technical problems.  As Cece copes with her hearing loss, she is also living the normal life of a child, attending school, making new friends, all with a big hearing aid on her chest.

Bell writes with a great honesty here, revealing helpful hints about what deaf people need to help them read lips and understand people better, things that other people can help with.  There is plenty of humor throughout the novel, making it very appealing.  Also adding to the appeal is Bell’s transformation from human to bunny in the illustrations, sending herself as an imaginary superhero flying upwards with her long ears.

While this is a book about a disability, it is much more a book about Bell and how her creativity helped her through times that required a real strength of character.  Her sense of humor also helped immensely, and it is her positive take about her hearing loss that makes this such an incredible read.

A top graphic novel for children and libraries, this is a must-read and a must-have.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.

miss brooks story nook

Miss Brooks’ Story Nook by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Michael Emberley

A sequel to Miss Brooks Loves Books, this picture book celebrates story telling.  Missy loves going to Miss Brook’s Story Nook right before school each day.  She takes the long way to school, because otherwise she has to go past Billy Toomey’s house and he steals her hat and yells at her.  Then one day at Story Nook, the power goes out so they have to tell their own stories.  Missy though insists that she’s a reader not a storyteller.  But soon she is telling her own story, inspired by Billy Toomey.  It is the story of an ogre named Graciela who has a pet snake that escapes.  The trick is that Missy needs to figure out a satisfying ending to her story of an ogre and a bully.

Bottner has created another engaging story filled with humor and clever solutions.  Miss Brooks is inspiring with her enthusiasm for books and stories and the way she encourages the children to keep making their stories better.  It’s a joy to see Missy tell her very creative story, struggle with some of it but persevere and create a satisfying tale for the entire class to enjoy.

Emberley’s illustrations add a lot of zing to the book.  He captures moods so clearly in his characters from the jaunty excitement of Miss Brooks to Missy’s ever-changing moods.  They are told through expressions and also body language. 

Smart and funny, this is a book to inspire young readers to create their own stories just like Missy.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from digital copy received from Edelweiss and Random House.

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