Middle-school librarians Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan prove that two heads are better than one when it comes to discussing YA and children's books
Monday, July 28, 2014 11:06 am
National Geographic Super Readers
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
What child isn’t curious about their world? Books about nature and science are always popular with young readers and for librarians and teachers, there is an endless demand for books about bugs, birds, animals and our physical world. With the addition of CCSS, that demand is even higher. National Geographic has a relatively new leveled series that will make adults and young readers very happy. National Geographic Super Readers are available in five levels. All the books feature National Geographic’s trademark fabulous photography. The text is clear, often assisted by icons and full of fascinating information. The series uses correct terminology and vocabulary and understanding is aided by examples and descriptions that are well-suited to young readers. A Super Reader website provides access to posters, videos, badges, prizes, quizzes and games. And don’t miss Cindy’s interesting information about using this series with middle schoolers!
Lynn: The two levels designed for preschoolers are Pre-Readers and Explore My World, both series intended to be read to the child by an adult. High interest topics such as monkeys, butterflies, and frogs will quickly snare busy youngsters. A Vocabulary Tree is a feature of the Pre-Readers that will help young readers to begin to understand and categorize vocabulary. I tested several of these books with Henry, the youngest member of our focus group and he loved everything about them. Penguins, for example, opens with an irresistable picture of a baby penguin snuggled on a parent’s feet. The text explains that these penguins are as “tall-as-a-first-grader,” something a child can easily picture. A simple map and key conclude the book. And did I mention those fabulous photographs? These are books that a child will return to again and again, sometimes with an adult reader and often on their own.
Cindy: I have a Level 1 title Sea Otters and a Level 3 title Mars and both have attractive “creatures” on their covers and content that will appeal to their audience.
What does an otter say in an emergency? Kelp! Kelp!
That groan-worthy joke complements a page about where sea otters dwell and a boxed “Otter Word” in which “kelp” is defined.
Another feature, “What in the World,” will appeal to young readers, too. There are close up photos of sea otter life to be identified..answers appear on another page.
The Mars book has some similar features ratcheted up a notch for the more experienced reader and includes extras like “Weird but true” fact boxes: “Frozen carbon dioxide, or dry ice, forms frost and falls as snow on Mars!” An illustrated timeline of major Mars exploration events from 1964 to 2012 is helpful. A section on what astronauts might eat if they travel to Mars includes information about a 3-D printer that is in development that could make foods at the push of a button. The photos of a pizza being “printed” is sure to grab attention! A multiple choice quiz and an illustrated glossary wrap up the book.
As Lynn hinted, I’ve had some success with this series in my middle schools. We have a section in our collection for early readers that I have named “GRAB” books. It stands for Get Reading a Book and the signage encourages students to check them out for themselves or to read to a younger sibling. Our special education and English Language Learner classes use this section heavily but many students check them out to read to their siblings and the GRAB name, instead of “easy,” cuts down on the stigma of checking out these books. The nonfiction titles in this National Geographic series help even further as the books do not look “babyish.” Last year we used the Thomas Edison and Amelia Earhart titles from the Readers Bios series with our 6th grade scientist/inventor/explorer project. These titles were a big help to our ELL and low readers and I hope that series continues to expand. Elementary and public libraries will want all of these for sure, but middle school librarians should take note if your students have similar needs. These books can’t help but grow more Super Readers!
Wednesday, July 23, 2014 2:12 pm
Skink–No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Cindy: ‘”Hold my eye,” (Skink) said, and plucked the left one out of his face.’ By page 8 reluctant readers are going to be hooked by Hiassen’s latest mystery, Skink–No Surrender (Knopf 2014). Skink won’t be new to Hiaasen’s adult fans who may have encountered the hermit Vietnam vet, ex-governor of Florida in a half dozen of his adult titles, but he will delight teen readers meeting him for the first time. Richard finds Skink on a Florida beach using a straw to breath under the sand in a fake Loggerhead turtle egg nest while he waits to catch a thief who sells the prized eggs on the black market. Richard soon learns that Skink has no hesitation in administering vigilante justice to those who harm the environment. Teens will be laughing as they get some lessons on the dos and don’ts of responsible stewardship of natural things.
The mystery in this new Hiassen novel, aimed at a slightly older audience than his previous children’s novels, extends beyond the environment. Richard’s cousin, Malley, doesn’t show up for the beach outing and then goes missing. Turns out she’s been corresponding with an online boyfriend and has run away to meet him and avoid boarding school. In an unlikely pairing of “secret agent bounty hunters,” Skink and Richard hit the road and the shenanigans begin. Malley is in danger but the details are left vague and teens can fill in the blanks for themselves.
I laughed out loud while reading this and have already shared it with two 7th grade teachers who both stayed up late turning pages. We are all eager to test it on their students in the fall. I think I need some eye gumballs on hand when I booktalk this. “Here, hold my eye!”
Lynn: I want to be there for THAT booktalk! Cindy’s going to need a zillion copies! Hiaasen’s books are always popular here anyway and this one is sure to make past fans happy and create a lot of new ones. Skink is toned-down a bit but not much in his first appearance in youth books. There plenty of ewwww moments with road-kill and eating the leeches that stick to his beard but Skink’s motives, as always, are on the side of nature and justice. Alligators, feral pigs and even the ivory-billed woodpecker make appearances too and the theme of respecting the environment is strong. Skink’s responses to littering may be a bit drastic (filling a BMW convertible with garbage after the owner throws a wrapper onto the highway) but the thought IS cheering.
The main character, Richard, is a nice guy – reliable and responsible, if a bit guilt-ridden about something he did a year ago – AND he worries about his mother. He also worries about his wild impulsive cousin and the plot thread of an online-stalker is what pushes this book to a slightly older audience. We are assured that thanks to Malley’s tough character, nothing much happens to hurt her, but a definite uneasiness lies under the surface and the stalker meets a gruesome end. I think readers will love this fun, fast-paced story and respond to the underlying messages. As Richard notes:
My father used to say that you live most of your life inside your own head, so make sure it’s a good space.”
Monday, July 21, 2014 8:02 am
Swim, Duck, Swim! by Susan Lurie
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Cindy: Swim season is upon us making Swim, Duck, Swim (Feiwel and Friends 2014) a perfect book to share. My own children took to water like, ahem, ducks to water, but not every child does. Murray Head’s close up and expressive photographs are paired with Lurie’s spare words to tell the story of a duck who does not want to learn to swim. His parents encourage him and wait patiently for him to be ready to join the other ducklings who are happily paddling away, but he does not. want. to. get. wet. Little duck finally makes the plunge and his self-esteem soars at his achievement. This is a book that will acknowledge many types of fear in little ones (and perhaps even in the adults reading the book aloud in laps or groups). It understands the heart of a three-year-old who wants to be “big” but is afraid of the leap sometimes. Bravo little duck!
Lynn: Even if the text weren’t wonderful and so well suited to pre-schoolers, and the message SO appropriate for the age level, Murray Head’s photographs would make this book a gem for me. The enchanting close-up photographs are full-page with the large-size text imposed over the top. It’s not easy to choose a favorite as these wonderful pictures of the duck family would win over the hardest of hearts. However, one stands out as the most adorable of all the adorable shots. A close-up of our reluctant swimmer with his feathers fluffed and ruffled is one I’d like to keep forever. This book is the definition of cute!
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 5:14 am
Boundless by Kenneth Oppel
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Cindy: There are times when Lynn’s and my literary tastes don’t match up, but usually when she begs me to read a book I should listen to her and respond immediately. She has been raving about The Boundless (Simon & Schuster 2014) for months, as have many other readers (it published in April so you can get on board the caboose of this Kenneth Oppel fan party with me if you haven’t read this adventure novel yet.) Yes, young Will Everett is in for quite the adventure when he takes the first ride on the newly finished Boundless train, one that stretches for miles and includes a traveling circus among its nearly 1000 train cars. It’s also historical fiction with statistics and details about the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 1800s woven into the story, and fantasy too with sasquatch beasts roaming the countryside (and one captured for Mr. Dorian’s circus–a man who rivals Barnum for trickery and hoax). There’s murder and mystery and plenty of danger. Will gets separated from his first class accommodations and has to keep safe the key that would open the funeral car and endanger its treasures to thieves, but Oppel keeps the plot twisting. From moonlit runs and leaps across the top of the moving train to hypnosis to the evil Muskeg hag to circus acts there’s plenty of action to keep readers turning the pages and Oppel keeps the story elements securely coupled for a smooth ride. This journey is a true coming of age story as Will witnesses the social class structure on the train and also comes to terms with his own talents and dreams and how those clash with his father’s plans for him. All aboard, my friends. You don’t want to miss this literary trip.
Lynn: Ahem, did you all read Cindy’s first line? She should listen and respond immediately?? Take note of that please! Of course I won’t mention the books on my stack that SHE has asked me to read and I haven’t gotten to yet. Still, I’m savoring the moment.
But back to Boundless. I did love this journey and its many twists and turns. There is a lot to keep track of from lovely young escape artist Maren, to “imaginary” creatures that are anything but imaginary. The train itself is practically a character and I loved the way Will’s eyes are opened to the realities of social stratification as he moves forward through the cars. The world-building is as compelling as the dangerous adventure and the door is left ajar at the end for readers to imagine what Will’s next journey will be. This is a trip readers will love taking.
Thursday, July 10, 2014 4:25 pm
Try This! by Karen Romano Young
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: We’ve been having a beautiful summer here in Michigan but even the best summer vacations include some rainy days. Occupying active kids cooped up inside can be a challenge but here at Bookends, we have the answer. Put kids’ minds and hands to work and play with science experiments! The focus group loves science experiments so I’ve had some experience with various resources. Often the suggestions are long on gee-whiz, short on the science and require things I seldom have on hand. So I am very happy to report on the terrific Try This! 50 Experiments for the Mad Scientist In You (National Geographic, Aug. 2014).
The focus group and I recently tested this excellent book one rainy day and it is a winner with the boys and with me – both the grandmother me and the teacher me. Young divides the book into 7 sections including such broad topics as Bugs and Microbes, Things Water Does, Weird Physics and Reactions. Within each section are clear step-by-step experiments. Each step is paired with a photograph that is very helpful. Many experiment books do this sort of thing but Young has done much more here to make this book stand out for me. First, as she notes in her introduction, Young field-tested the experiments with 27 kids, ages 10 – 15 and includes quotes from them. Colored boxes provide information on how long the experiment will take, what is needed, what to expect and the science of what is happening. Each experiment is linked to science concepts and specific STEM standards. One of the elements that the boys and I especially liked is is called “Our Try” which reports the results of the kids who tested the experiments and Glitch which discusses what happened when the experiment DIDN’T work and why. They thought this was cool and wanted to compare our results with theirs. The teacher in me also liked the focused Questions that were provided.
As expected with a National Geographic book, this is bright and appealing with excellent photographs. The boys found it easy to use and understand and I loved the fact that the materials required were things I had around the house. We tried three experiments one rainy day: Ivory Soap Foam, Cat IQ and Dancing Oobleck. I was amazed at how long the boys spent with each experiment and how much they enjoyed each one. They spent an entire hour playing with oobleck and they spent at least three building, testing and refining the Cat IQ experiment. The book is full of sticky markers for experiments they want to try next. It was a terrific way to spend a day for all of us. This would be great for classrooms, school and public library collections and to recommend to parents and grandparents looking for fun ways to occupy kids. The science at the heart of these is a terrific bonus. I’ve included some shots of the focus group hard at play.
Monday, July 7, 2014 9:56 am
Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Cindy: “Cuando la causa es justa, los demás te siguen.” “When you fight for justice, others will follow.” This quote from Separate Is Never Equal (Abrams 2014) couldn’t have been more true. Tonatiuh brings to light a little known case about school desegregation in California that would go on to be used in the more well known Brown v. Board of Education. Sylvia Mendez and her brothers were denied admittance to Westminster schools, relegated to the inferior Mexican school because “that is how it is done.” Sylvia’s father followed the chain of command to the Orange County School Board, and at every step he was turned down without satisfactory reason for this inequity.
Unsatisfied, he filed a lawsuit and the ruling favored the Mendez family. After another appeal was won, the California governor, Earl Warren, signed the law desegregating schools in the state. He would go on to become the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, hearing and supporting Brown in the historic national case.
We’re recommending this book for grades 2-4, but it really could stretch into middle and even high school. It would make a great launch for research on civil rights, segregation, or educational policy. Art teachers will be interested in the mixed media art with distinctive style. I cringe when I turn the page and see a public pool sign declaring “No dogs or Mexicans.” I get angry when I read the quotes taken from the trial transcripts that deny the Mendez and other Mexican American children equitable schooling because they are bad mannered, unhygienic, and inferior in scholastic ability or language. Working as I do in a school system with a large percentage of Hispanic students, many of them children of farmers, I am thankful for this rare book that illuminates some of their important history, painful though it may be. Unfortunately, the alarming demographic statistics in segregated housing trends and educational opportunity warn us that this issue is not all past history.
Almost seventy years later we need to be reminded of the court statement by an education specialist at the time:
“Segregation tends to give an aura of inferiority. In order to have the people of the United States understand one another it is necessary for them to live together, and the public school is the one mechanism where all the children of all the people go.”
Lynn: I couldn’t agree more with Cindy. If you only buy a few picture books this year, make sure this is one of them! This is an important story – one that everyone should know and honor. But even more importantly, this story is told and illustrated in an absolutely outstanding way. The story is clearly and compellingly told and told in a way that kids will directly relate to and understand. Cindy’s comments are just right so I will only add that the back matter is really excellent too. A lengthy Author’s Note, photographs of the family and schools, a glossary, and extensive bibliography are included. It is worth noting that the dialogue in the trial scenes comes directly from transcripts that Tonatiuh shortened and edited for clarity and pacing. The rest of the dialogue was inspired by conversations he had with Sylvia Mendez.
I am also crazy about the illustrations!! They are “hand-drawn and then collaged and colored digitally,” according to the publisher. They are starkly evocative, unique in style and flat-out amazing, according to me. This one belongs in every youth library collection.
Common Core Connection:
Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply reasons that support the opinion, use linking words (e.g., because, and, also) to connect opinion and reasons, and provide a concluding statement or section.
Read the book to the students. Discuss Brown vs. Board of Education. Ask students if they think being able to attend school is important. Ask them to imagine being told they could not attend school at all. Would that change their life in the future? Ask students to write their opinion on whether being able to attend school is important and why. Read the essays together. In follow-up discussion, ask students if they think the school they attend has the same things as other schools in the area.
Thursday, July 3, 2014 9:23 am
There’s No Place Like Home…
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Cindy and Lynn: We are safely home from #alaac14 and all we can say, is that if we ever have to return to Las Vegas for an ALA conference, we want a super hero like Gene Luen Yang’s The Shadow Hero to accompany us. You’ll have to get the stories from others. Forget the cliche, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” the truth for us is that we just hope to purge that experience from our memories…on to good books and what we read on the plane ride to home, sweet, home.
Cindy: I started the flight by finishing a 2013 title that I had started before conference, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (Candlewick). We had forgotten to do the 24 hour advance check in for our Southwest flight and with C44 and C45 boarding passes knew we were not destined to sit together and would be squished into middle seats. I figured Meg Medina’s title would give me wide berth with my seat mates! No one would dare hog the arm rests when they saw what I was reading, right? Seriously, I just was eager to finish this fabulous story about bullying and so much more. Lynn blogged it as a solo last fall and you can read her thorough description and critique through the linked title above. I’m sorry that it took me so long to get to it but I’m glad that I finally did and I’ll be ready for the CCBC-net discussion of this title set to run the week of July 28. My middle school counselor loved this book and has used it with some of our 8th grade girls. There are a few matures scenes in the book and of course the realistic and appropriate title that will land this book mostly in public teen library or high school collections, but I am contemplating adding it to my middle school collection rather than just having copies in the counselor’s office now that I’ve read it. I’ll definitely want to have a discussion with my principal, but Medina’s book has so much to say to young women in this book that it is worth the “fight” to include it for my teens who will not be shocked by the title or the content. Piddy thinks back to her mother’s thoughtful comment, “The question is, What kind of person will you be?” Her aunt, Lila, has other advice for surviving tough school situations, including bullying:
It’s you that has the real strength in all this, Piddy. You just don’t know it yet. One day you’ll be so far from Parsons Boulevard, you’ll think you dreamed this hellhole. Her aspirations for me are blinking above like fireflies just out of reach.
Many of us felt the same way as we walked the strip…we’ll think we dreamed that hellhole.
After turning the last page in Yaqui Delgado, I started The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza, Jack Gantos’ fifth and final book in the Joey series, says the advanced reader copy I was eager to pick up from the Farrar booth. Joey’s missing dad has had appearance-altering plastic surgery and his mother has had a baby and is suffering from postpartem depression and Joey is once again trying to hold things together in his family. We will probably have more to say about this book later in the summer; it publishes in early September and all of the books in the series have new cover art by Lane Smith.
Lynn: One of my missions at this conference was to get my hands on a copy of Garth Nix’s Clariel (Harper, Oct. 2014) and the Harper people made me a happy soul! So that is what I plunged into on the flight home. It is every bit as good as I had hoped and I am only 30 pages from the end. I’d be finished except I came home to full days with the older focus group and it’s been nonstop biking, swimming and activities. I reread the entire series recently but this is so good I am yearning to start all over again.
There are a couple of other treasures tempting me though. Jandy Nelson has a new book called I’ll Give You the Sun (Penguin/Dial Sept. 2014). I loved her writing in the The Sky is Everywhere (Penguin/Dial). This new one is told in the two voices of a pair of twins, once incredibly close but three years later, barely speaking. Can’t wait to read this!
Also high on my stack is Strike: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights (Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek Oct. 2014) by Larry Dane Brimner. This is a high interest topic for me as our area depends heavily on migrant workers and many of the families have settled here. I especially admired Brimner’s book Black & White (Boyds Mills 2011) so I am really looking forward to his work here.
And lastly, it’s important to note that we loved the conference itself with all the amazing events and catching up with friends. We just hope it is never in that unmentionable location again! Have I mentioned that a glass of low-end white wine was $20 in our hotel????
Tuesday, July 1, 2014 8:41 am
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Cindy: The Green Turtle superhero in The Shadow Hero (First Second 2014) is in third place for me, behind superheroes Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, the creators of yet another fabulous graphic novel for teens. Yang is no stranger to illuminating Asian history and culture through engaging graphic storytelling and this book is no exception. Based on a five-volume American comic of the 1940s and some rumor and legend, Yang provides the back story for the genesis of The Green Turtle, who quite possibly was the first Asian American superhero, despite the original publisher’s best wishes. Our hero, Hank, a second generation Asian American has grown up in his parents’ grocery store in Chinatown and is happy to follow in his father’s footsteps. Mother is less than thrilled with this cowardly, bland path and sees another option after being rescued herself one day by a superhero. Not to be outdone, she pulls out the sewing machine and creates a caped costume for Hank and then using all of the comic hero tropes (insect bites, toxic spills, etc.) to great humorous effect, she attempts to arm him with some real superhero power.
The Green Turtle’s real power comes unexpectedly after a tragic death while fighting organized crime in Chinatown. Hank’s need for revenge takes hold but it is tempered by the honest and responsible parenting his father provided. There is much to love here. Liew’s artwork is perfect and it was fun to find small treats (the nod to the 1938 picture book The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Bishop or to Yang’s American Born Chinese with a glimpse of Chin-Kee–both on page 99) and Yang’s storytelling is strong and sure…and funny. The action is classic comic with an Asian twist. This is a winner. More please!
Lynn: Well, I don’t know what that original publisher could have been thinking! Who can resist a super-hero who starts out to fight for justice without actually having any superpowers? Who could resist a superhero with a turtle-shaped shadow that goes everywhere with him? And who could resist a superhero who tries to listen to his mother? I adored this smart funny book! As Cindy says, it is full of little details that are so much fun to spot. The story is really engaging and Sonny Liew’s illustrations, color and panel design are terrific. I love how his one super-power arrives after loss instead of through one of the standard tropes. And when asked to chose his power, Hank impulsively responds instead of thinking it through. A charming tribute to the golden days as well as a thoroughly modern spin on the genre. My favorite thing? It may come at the end when the Anchor of Justice says, “My parents aren’t from around here either.” Don’t miss this!
Tuesday, June 24, 2014 8:54 am
HIdden by Loic Dauvillier
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: I’m starting this post with a mea culpa admission. When I first heard about this book I was cranky. Who would imagine they could write a book about the Holocaust that is appropriate AND understandable for a very young audience? Not possible! Loic Dauvillier has me eating my words.
Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust (First Second 2014) first published in 2012 in France and is translated from French by Alexis Siegel. A small girl wakes in the night and slips out of bed to find her grandmother weeping. She asks her grandmother to tell her why she is sad. Slowly the grandmother tells her the story she has kept hidden inside for so long. It is the story of her Holocaust experience and told completely from a child’s perspective. Little Dounia doesn’t understand why her family has to wear the Sheriff’s star badge, why she is suddenly treated differently. When the Nazis come to arrest her family, her parents hide her in the wardrobe. Eventually her neighbors find and hide her and as the danger increases, slip her out of Paris to a country farm where she lives out the war. Her mother survives the war but her father does not. Years later, Dounia has a much-loved family but has kept silent about her experiences until her granddaughter assures her that the nightmares will be better if you tell someone about it.
Graphic novels have a long tradition in France and artist Marc Lizano and colorist Greg Salsedo have more than met the challenge this story presents. I’ll let Cindy talk more about that but I wanted to say first that I loved these illustrations that have a Charles Schultz appeal to them that I found irresistible.
This book is a remarkable achievement. It is frank while also understanding the perspective of a young child. The fear, the loneliness, the bewilderment all come through in way that children can identify with. Dounia doesn’t understand why she and her parents and friends are being treated this way and, all these years later, I’m not sure any of us do. What is also beautifully portrayed is that love and compassion existed side by side with the hatred and it is the love that won in the end.
Cindy: Oh, the target audience might be elementary, but I can’t wait to show this to my middle school students and my teachers. Our 8th graders read The Diary of Anne Frank play by Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett and then the students always want to read other related books. For many of them, it is their first introduction to the Holocaust and the impact is suitably strong. Hidden will be a great addition to a middle school collection too. If you are still struggling to get your teachers to embrace graphic novels, I believe this book would be a great one to convince them that the format has merit in the classroom.
Lynn’s comparison of the characters to Charles Schulz is interesting. The big heads on small bodies and the age of the main character sure bring to mind a Lucy van Pelt who experienced an entirely different life. The Peanuts gang and Schulz never shied away from serious issues, even on the baseball field, but the complexity and tone of the panels here is not as spare as the cover or that comparison might suggest. The dark, muted, pastels are reflective of the times and the setting. The scenes in which the grandmother is sharing her painful story are distinctive for their brown and orange glow from the fireplace late in the night, helping young children to keep track of the switches in time and place. The art is perfect for the storytelling.
The New York Times featured this book along with two other Holocaust titles recently. You can read their take here. Lynn and I need to hunt down their recommended picture book, The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren (Kar-Ben 2014) that Booklist starred. Their other recommendation, Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 True Stories of Survival by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis (Scholastic/Levine 2014) sold really well during my spring book fairs, including to my middle school ELA teachers in all three grades.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014 7:56 am
The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: The second case for the Desperado Detective Agency snuck up on Mo and Dale “dressed in the happy-go-lucky colors and excitement of an auction.” Miss Lana goes off to the auction of the decrepit Old Tupelo Inn to buy an umbrella stand and comes home having bought the entire property – complete with its ghost! Readers who loved the eccentric inhabitants of Tupelo Landing in Turnage’s Newbery Honor winner, Three Times Lucky (Penguin/Kathy Dawson 2013) will happily find Mo LoBeau in fine form, still bossing her partner Dale around, sticking her nose into everyone’s business (for their own good), taking orders at the cafe and writing letters to her Upstream Mother. I loved Mo in the first book and but I think I enjoyed The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing (Penguin/Kathy Dawson 2014) even more.
Mo and Dale are rising 6th graders now and if ghosts and shaky real estate deals weren’t enough to manage with, their teacher, Miss Retzyl, assigns them a written history of their community based on interviews with the town elders! Dale is adjusting to his daddy being in prison, a snarky new boy moves into town and a moonshiner complicates everything. Mo and Dale volunteer to interview the ghost at the Old Tupelo Inn and we’re off on a new adventure. Mo narrates again and her turns of phrases crack me up. Turnage does a wonderful job with dialog. Mo is brash, outrageously confident and in-your-face with all the subtly of a buzz saw, all the while revealing far more than she realizes. I feel as if I’ve known these engaging characters always.
The mystery comes together nicely with all the pieces fitting in place as the Desperadoes triumph again – with a lot of help from their friends. I loved being back in Tupelo Landing. Don’t miss this great second episode with Attila, Grandmother Miss Lucy, moonshiners, Duesenbergs, ghosts and drunken mules. Here’s hoping for many more!
Cindy: We recommended Three Times Lucky as a read aloud and it was also named as an E. B. White Read-Aloud Honor book. This installment will fare just as well. English language arts teachers will cheer the lessons to be had as Mo tries to teach Dale about figurative vs. literal language, how to distinguish when a question is meant to be answered or is a rhetorical question, and other subtleties of language. Passing History isn’t easy either when you select a ghost for your living history interview.
Interviewing a ghost is not an easy task, but as usual, Mo tells Dale she has a plan.
“Don’t worry, I got a plan.”
“Am I in it?” (Dale)
“Of course you’re in it.”
“Then I’m worried.”
When Nellie the ghost is late for the history project interview, Mo is nonplussed.
“We’ll give her an hour,”…”Eternity could be in a different time zone.”
Moses LoBeau, is wise for her age and as a result some of her observations will be especially appreciated by adult readers (like Richard Peck’s humorous historical fiction). For instance, when Mo is worrying about the case and can’t sleep:
Miss Lana says insomnia is life’s invitation to overachieve.
Nobody knows for sure if Sal actually files taxes. Dale and me suspect she fills out the forms for fun, same as Miss Lana does Sudoku.
But there’s plenty of kid in Mo, too. When suck up Attila sees her teacher at the cafe she announces that she can’t wait for school to start tomorrow. And Mo?
The words thudded into my heart like dull wooden stakes.
I’ve just started my summer break, so those words are not welcome here, either, but when school does start back up I’ll be ready to book talk this gem to my 6th graders. Like, Mo, though, I can wait a bit. I need a glass of sweet tea and a nap on the veranda.
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