Friday, February 22, 2013

Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look, Illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf

Image from
Atheneum Books for Young, 2004

Chinese-American Ruby Lu is almost eight years old and she’s excited about just about everything. She loves her new baby brother, Oscar, and her friends on 20th Avenue South are wonderful. She loves her house, her 2nd grade teacher, and Pohpoh and Gunggung, her grandparents. But Ruby is not so sure about going to Chinese School on Saturdays. And she’s not so sure about Christina, the new girl from sunny California. And most of all, she’s very worried about meeting her cousin, Flying Duck, who is immigrating to the United States from China. In a series of short episodes connected episodes, Ruby makes new friends, puts on magic shows, gets in trouble, and learns that no matter what her friends and family on 20th Avenue South will always love her.

Set in Seattle’s diverse Beacon Hill neighborhood, Look’s text is perfect for new chapter book readers and Wilsdorf’s playful black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout the book are attractive and spirited. Chinese-American terms are defined at the back of the book in “Ruby’s Fantastic Glossary and Pronunciation Guide.” This is a wonderful example of a multicultural book that simultaneously introduces outsiders to the culture and provides a joyful reflection and celebration for readers already inside the culture. But the best thing about this book is Ruby Lu. She’s an inquisitive girl who’s not afraid to be herself. Readers will root for her when she makes new friends and cringe with her when she’s teased by the neighborhood mean girl.

Read an excerpt of the book and fall in love with Ruby Lu.

*Use this for a book club for new chapter book readers. Check out the discussion questions provided by the Tallkin’ Bout Books blog.

*Learn to knit like Ruby’s father in the book. Knitting is a great way for kids to develop fine motor skills.

*Read more about Ruby, her family, and friends:

*Read more chapter books by Lenore Look:

The Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker
The Ivy and Bean series by Annie Barrows
The Ramona series by Beverly Cleary
Year of the Dog by Grace Lin

Age 6+ / Grade 1+


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Global Exploration is Just Around the Corner!

Hi all-

Today I'm posting something a little bit different, but I hope you enjoy it and can help me out. I'm taking a graduate course on the Art of Storytelling and one assignment is to create a digital advocacy story to highlight one of our values in librarianship. Part of the assignment is to get feedback using social media, so if you have 5 minutes, please take a look at the Prezi and leave your feedback on the blog or project comment area.

Click here to see the project:
Global Exploration is Just Around the Corner!

Thank you,

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay

Image from

Margaret McElderry Books, 2005.

Everything changed the day Saffron Casson realized her name wasn’t on the paint color chart in the kitchen of the Banana House. Her protective brother, Indigo, and her two sisters, animal-loving Cadmium and stubborn, artistic Rose, were all on the chart. Later that day Saffy learned that she was not only missing from the chart, but her brothers and sisters were really her cousins. Saffy’s mother died in a car crash in Italy when Saffy was just 3 years old and after that she was raised by her aunt and uncle. No matter how much her family says they love her, Saffy feels like an outsider. When Saffy is thirteen her beloved grandfather dies and he leaves each grandchild an inheritance. “To Saffron. Her angel in the garden. The stone angel.” As Indigo tries to cure himself of his phobia of heights, Rose paints an edible picture, and Caddy struggles to pass her driving test and school exams, Saffron and her new best friend, Sarah, set out to figure out about Saffy's angel. Where is it and how can they get it back?

Set in an unnamed British suburb, this book is an enthralling page turner. Although the plot is engaging, it’s really the characters that make this book special. There’s something enchanting about the artistic and free-spirited Casson family members as each one tackles life in their own special way. McKay’s characters are unique and endearing, from determined and creative Rose to flighty Caddy. This book is also notable for including a three-dimensional supporting character, Sarah, who uses a wheelchair to get around. Written in third person, the sharp, humorous, and honest observations and conversations between characters make McKay’s writing stand out from the crowd. On a personal note, I've read this book three times now and it never fails to entertain and engage.

Read an excerpt from the book or listen to an excerpt from the audio book version read by Julia Sawlha.

*Check out the Teacher’s Guide published by Hodder Literature, which has an introduction by Hilary McKay and includes lessons and activities geared toward middle school students.

*This book is a fast read and would make a great book club choice. Take a look at the discussion questions provided by Scholastic. 

*Make edible paintings as Rose does in the book. Bring in at least one food per color. You probably won’t want to keep the paintings, so be sure to take pictures.

*Read more about Saffy and her family in the Casson Family Series books:

*More books by Hilary McKay:

Age 8+ / Grade 3+


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

Image from

Disney Hyperion Books, 2007.


Rex’s book is smart and savvy. Tip is a hilariously observant narrator and J. Lo is sidekick, bumbling misfit, and alien rolled into one. The story tackles big issues, such as immigration and colonization, with razor sharp humor. Rex’s illustrations are used to show the pictures Tip takes with her camera, as well as the comic book-like explanations of Boovish history created by J. Lo. This is a science fiction book that will appeal to kids and adults. By creating an outrageous scenario Rex is able to simultaneously make fun of and expose the hypocrisy of humanity, all the while making readers laugh out loud. The graphic novel-y appearance of some of the pages is a good way to draw in reluctant readers.

Read an excerpt of the book to get an idea of Rex’s hilarious sense of humor or listen to Bahni Turpin read the opening chapter from the audiobook version. 

*What if you had to explain human objects to an alien? Have kids write a paragraph or give an oral presentation describing an object for an alien. Encourage the use of all five senses.

*Use this book as jumping off point to talk about immigration, colonization, and relocation.

*Check out the Smek Day website for extras written and illustrated by Adam Rex.

Boom by Mark Haddon
Holes by Louis Sacher
Peter and the Star Catchers by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson

*Other middle grade/teen books by Adam Rex:
            Cold Cereal
            Fat Vampire
Age 9+ / Grade 4+


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Around the World by Matt Phelan

Image from
Candlewick Press, 2011

This graphic novel begins with an enticing two page introduction to the basic plotline of Jules Verne’s novel, Around the World in 80 Days, which inspired adventurers in the late 1800’s. The rest of the book is divided into three sections. First is the story of miner-turned-cyclist Thomas Stevens, the first man to ride a bicycle around the world. Next, Phelan presents the adventures of determined newspaper reporter, Nellie Bly who circumvented the globe in just 72 days. The last section features the bittersweet story of Joshua Slocum, who made his trip in a small wooden sail boat with just his books and his memories to keep him company.

This is a fast read (I read it in an hour) and presents a great deal of information in an attractive format. Although it's clear from the start that all the travelers make it around the world, this book focuses on all the reasons why they did decided to embark on these journeys. The loose watercolor illustrations use a muted color palate reminiscent of hand-colored photographs. Each triumph is celebrated, but Phelan does not shy away from the obstacles encountered or individual character flaws. The first two chapters have a lighthearted style, while Slocum’s story, with heartbreaking flashbacks, provides a somber contrast. The back matter includes an author’s note and a bibliography for further reading, including the first person accounts of all three travelers. This is a great recommendation for a child who has just a few hours to write a book report. 

Check out the book trailer for a look at Phelan’s illustrations.

*Start an Adventurer’s Club. Read more books that feature global adventures:
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne (this link allows you to download the eBook through the Gutenberg Project)
Around the World in 100 Days by Gary Blackwood
The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois

*Have a scavenger hunt with passports that kids can get stamped when they visit each country. Bring in photographs that feature people, geography, and foods from each country.

* Create an Adventurer’s Hall of Fame with biographies and facts about real-life adventurers. Include the length of their trip (in days and miles); the city/country they began/ended in; other regions, countries, and cities visited; items they traveled with; and any notable incidents.

*Chart each traveler’s journey on a world map, include Phileas Fogg’s route.Where do the routes intersect? Who's trip was the longest or the shortest? Have kids plan their own route and explain their reasoning.

*More middle grade books written and/or illustrated by Matt Phelan:
The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, Illustrated by Matt Phelan
Lucky Breaks by Susan Patron, Illustrated by Matt Phelan
The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan

Age 9+ / Grade 4+