Magazines can a excellent source for children, but magazines are often get overlooked. While they are shorter and do not have the same gravitas as books, the information in a quality children’s magazine can delight, thrill, and educate as well as any book. Magazine could be a great resource to utilize for reluctant readers. The stories will be short enough that their attention shouldn’t wander too far away and by presenting stories in a shorter format, it will help the child to associate reading with positive aspects.

One great children’s magazine is Cricket, which has both fiction and non-fiction stories. Some of the stories are standalone, but others are broken into parts, serialized within the volumes. The fiction and non-fiction are balanced nicely and the non-fiction stories are written in a narrative form. If not for author’s note and aspects the children can easily research, it would be easily to confuse the too. However, this is a strength of the magazine because it makes the non-fiction stories comes to life and create characters the readers can love and a conflict then will want resolved while providing opportunities for further research and learning,

The readers of Cricket are called bugs and they can write it with comments and questions. The letters, and sometimes answers, are at the beginning of each issue. There are also poems featured along with the winners of a poetry contest at the back of this issue. Peppered throughout are bright, bold illustrations in various mediums that are sure to grab the attention of the readers. They do not detract from any of the print, but enhance the words on the page.

Cricket is an excellent choice for both avid and reluctant readers. It is good to try and entice reluctant readers into reading and would be good for avid readers who might not favor non-fiction or want to try reading a format other than novels. Cricket is best for upper elementary readers.

Bibliographic Information:
Letvin, Alice. Cricket. Vol. 41, No. 6., 2014. Print.


The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

Some of the first stories many children grow up with are fairy tales or fables. Though many may be introduced to fairy tales first by their film versions instead of print, fairy tales doesn’t appear to going anywhere. Disney has capitalized on taking classic fairy tales and spinning them into animated feature films. Their newest creation, Frozen, seems to be on everyone lips (for good or worse), and we can’t seem to let go of “Let It Go.” Adults are probably aware that Disney’s “inspiration” for the film was Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. For children and adults who watched the film, recommending The Snow Queen is a great way to introduce Andersen’s fairy tales.

snowqueenThe Snow Queen is the story of two best friends, Kai and Gerda, who are as fond of each other as if they were brother and sister. But after Kai gets a piece of broken glass stuck in his eye and his heart (he doesn’t know they’re there), he turns means and sullen. When a beautiful Snow Queen appears and offers him a chance to leave town, he ties his sleigh to her carriage and rides away with her into the sky. Now, the bit about the broken glass? That was the work of villainous trolls who wanted to take a magnificent mirror they made to the heavens. The mirror made things who looked hideous look lovely and things that look lovely look hideous as it reveals a person’s true nature. But on their way to the heavens, the mirror breaks into a million billion pieces and the pieces fall to earth. The pieces of the mirror, some no bigger than a grain of sand, make the person see only the bad in the world. If a sliver of the mirror pierces a person’s heart, their heart would turn to a lump of ice. Kai’s heart is rapidly turning to ice with no help in sight, but even worse? His family believes him to be dead.

Months go by, but Gerda doesn’t believe him dead. Gerda sets out on a perilous journey to save her best friend. She talks to the river, to trees, to flowers, to an old woman who works magic to keep Gerda at her house, to a Lapland woman, to a Finn woman, and to a reindeer before reaching the palace of the Snow Queen. Kai is bone cold, almost dead, and it is only Gerda’s love for her him, her warm tears and tender kisses that thaw the ice inside him.

This fairy tale is much more accessible for children than some of the classic Grimm or Perrault tales. For adults concerned about violence and sex, there is none in The Snow Queen. This isn’t to say that there aren’t complicated themes and motifs here because there certainly are, but there aren’t witches who have to dance to death in red-hot shoes or stepsisters who have their eyes pecked out by crows. It’s a bit of an atypical fairy tale because there isn’t one true villain to hate. The trolls are the most likely candidates as they created the mirror. The Snow Queen doesn’t even die; she wasn’t even keeping Kai hostage, not really. He simply had to figure out a riddle to leave. She wasn’t fattening him up for supper, cursing him to prick his finger on a spindle at age sixteen, or handing him a poison apple. Ultimately, the story is about friendship and the power of love—all kinds of love, not just romantic love.

In a world where more and more conversations are being had about gender roles and stereotypes in literature (especially children’s literature), The Snow Queen abounds with female characters. Kai is only male character. Not only are there multiple female characters, they are vastly different. There is no one form of femininity expressed or favored above the others. The typical gender roles that children would recognize from growing up on princess movies are reversed here. Kai is the damsel in distress, locked away in a palace, waiting to be rescue. Gerda is the knight in the shining armor, but unlike many of princes in stories and movies, she needs nothing extra special about herself to save Kai. She already possesses the power she needs to save her friend.

The only weakness in the story is the part where Gerda is asking all the different flowers if they have seen Kai. They all tell her their stories, but none of them relate to Kai. While there is undoubtedly much meaning to be read into those flowers’ stories, it slows the story down. Some readers may become impatient and just want her to get on with it and go rescue her best friend.

Frozen-movie-posterI won’t discuss the similarities and differences between The Snow Queen and Frozen because that would be a series of blog posts, and I need to only do one. But this could serve as a great conversation at a children’s book club in a library or a lesson plan in a classroom or school library. Most of the children will be very familiar with Frozen, if not able to quote most of it and sing the songs at the appropriate times. It presents something they are already enthusiastic about in a new form and challenges them to compare and contrast the two. It could also serve as an introduction to classic fairy tales or even a series where the children compare Disney (or other) movies to fairy tales or myths. If they’re not into Frozen, almost any Disney movie could do. The boys may like Hercules more (or it may have more appeal across both genders), which would still work for a compare and contrast unit on the myth of Hercules and what the Disney movie depicts.

Bibliographic Information:
Andersen, H. C. Fairy Tales. Trans. Tiina Nunnally. Ed. Jackie Wullschläger. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.

Readalikes (all non-Disney or movie franchise versions):
The legend of Mulan
Beauty and the Beast
The Little Mermaid
(older elementary/early middle school (depending on the kid)—it’s not as pleasant as the movie)
Anything else by Hans Christian Andersen
Aesop’s Fables
Sleeping Beauty
The Princess Bride

Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke, narrated by Elliot Hill

ghostknightCornelia Funke’s Ghost Knight tells the story of eleven-year-old Jon Whitcroft, who has been sent away to a boarding school he is sure he will hate. But he never expected to be chased by angry spirits or to makes friend with quirky Ella who has a taste for adventure. After summoning the spirit of Longspee to fight out off the angry spirits, there is only one question left: Can Longspee be trusted?

The audio book starts out strong, but fizzles out near the end. It is not for a lack of action. There’s a scene early on in the book that I thought was the climax of the entire novel! It felt resolved and over. Not having the physical copy, and not paying attention to how many more hours the audio had, it was surprising to see how much longer the audio lasted.

Perhaps this was also because this particular scene had more than just the narrator’s voice. There were the sound of horse’s hooves, clashing swords, and an increased space of the narrator’s voice. The rest of the action scenes (and there are many) are lacking in this regard. The narrator is far from monotone and his accent is charming, but there are multiple occasions where the text finishes with the character “said tensely” or “tersely” or something to that effect, but the narrator’s voice gave no indication of this. It requires readers to reimagine how the sentence was said.

Despite some of the lacking in the narration, the story is engaging enough to draw readers in and keep their attention. This is good audio for children who are already listening to and might prefer audios, but is probably not the best choice for someone who is new to audiobooks.

Bibliographic Information:
Funke, Cornelia. Ghost Knight. 2012. Narr. Elliot Hill. Audio recording. Listening Library, 2012. 23 March. 2014. Digital File.

2013 Odyssey Honor

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Spirited Away

spiritedawayHayao Miyazaki is known throughout the world for his breathtaking animation, especially in a CGI world, Miyazaki’s more traditional drawings can feel like a breath of fresh air for adults watching it with children. For children, it may remind me them of older Disney movies or introduce them to an entirely new format.

Spirited Away is perhaps the most well-known of his movies in America, aided by winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003. The movie is rated PG, and though it has great appeal for adults, it is intended for children. Miyazaki’s skill in animation is undeniable. The colors are bright and engaging, his landscapes feel as real as a picture. His world building is undeniable also.

Chihiro, a sullen ten-year-old, and her parents wander into what appears to be an abandoned theme park on their way to their new home. But it actually turns out to be a resting place for spirits. As the sun sets, the spirits arrive in all their various forms. There are large spirits, tiny spirits, frog spirits, radish spirits, and every kind of odd shape spirit you can imagine.

It is not only that Chihiro is stuck in the spirit world, but that her parents have turned into pigs. You read that right. Her parents begin eating at the abandoned park, devouring the food like they haven’t eaten in years. During this early scene, I remember thinking, “Man, they’re eating just like pigs.” Then, they turned into actual pigs.

The immediate comparison is to Alice in Wonderland and that is apt comparison. Chihiro doesn’t fall down a rabbit hole, but she certainly does enter a different world with different roles, unreal people and places, and food that alters appearance and perception. She eats something Haku (a boy at the bath house) gives her, and she’s able to cross the bridge safely. Later, Haku gives her more food that increases her strength and improves her mood.

Over ruling the bathhouse, and most of the spirit world, is Yubaba, an old woman with a huge head. Like, literally, her head is completely out of proportion with her body. Yubaba can also turn into birds, but keeps her human head. Joined by Yubaba is her giant baby (seriously, GIANT) that she keeps locked in a room. And the baby can talk.

There are too many other characters to mention by name, but know that the movie is far from simple. There is depth, metaphors, symbols, motifs, and commentary of everything from poverty, economics, greed, trust, family, and heroism to fear, trusting yourself, and trusting others. To touch on each of those topics would require a separate blog post for each one.

The film could be used in a variety of ways. For children interested in different types of animation, this film is a gem. It provides a great contrast to CGI and computer animated films like Toy Story and Frozen. It can also serve as an introduction to Japanese culture and history. The comment is made by Chihiro’s parents that so many amusement parks popped up all over the country but closed after the economy went south. There are also statues and shrines for the deceased, common in Japanese culture, which could open dialogue and research about Japanese customs and beliefs concerning the dead.

The only weakness in the film is that it may be disturbing to some viewers. If a kid is freaked out by Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz, this may not be the film for them. However, for fans of those films, Spirited Away is sure to delight.

Bibliographic Information:
Spirited Away. By Hayao Miyazaki. Perf. Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, & Susan Egan. Studio Ghibli, 2001. DVD.

Oscar for Best Animated Feature, 2003
Saturn Award for Best Animated Film, 2003
Silver Scream Award, 2003
Annie Awards, 2003:
Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Theatrical Feature
Outstanding Directing in an Animated Feature Production, Hayao Miyazaki
Outstanding Music in an Animated Feature Production, Joe Hisaishi
Outstanding Writing in an Animated Feature Production, Hayao Miyazaki
Awards of the Japanese Academy, 2002:
Best Film
Best Song, Youmi Kimura
Golden Berlin Bear, 2002
Blue Ribbon Award for Best Film, 2002
Boston Society of Film Critics Award, Critics Choice Award for Best Animated Feature, 2002

And many, many others…. If I list them all this post will be go on forever


Alice in Wonderland
The Wizard of Oz
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Howl’s Moving Castle
My Neighbor Totoro




A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return by Zeina Abirached

swallowsA Game for Swallows is a non-fiction graphic novel that depicts the Civil War in Beirut, Lebanon in the 1980’s. The graphic novel centers on one memorable day during the war when Zeina’s parents are stuck at a relative’s house. Beirut is divided into East and West with Christians living on the West and Muslims living on the East of the demarcation line.

The graphic novel is told in stark black and white. Zeina is a young child, eight or so, and the conflict is told through her eyes. The story is certainly about war, but it is more about the relationships with the people in her building. While her parents are away, all the people in the building gather in their foyer, not only to stay with children, but because it is the safest location. Their conversations and actions prove this is a weekly, if not daily, tradition. Zeina tells the story of all the people—how the war affected them, who plans to leave, who plans to stay, who has died, and who will die.

All except for two pages are drawings. (The book does not exactly what media the novel is done in). There are two pages near the end that are pictures from the war the word that are graffitied on a wall. “To die, to leave, to return. It’s a game for swallows”—Florian. The war in the novel was already very real, but the pictures help drive the point home. This is a true story. This is what happened to these people in this war.

This graphic novel sheds light on a war that many American readers probably know little to nothing about. The book can be used in a variety of wars. Not only can it be used as an introduction to the Lebanese civil war, but it can also be used as a discussion point for any war. The book is not about military strategies, defeats, and victories. It is about the regular, every day people who are stuck in the middle of a war, the people who are often forgotten by history books. This concept can be applied to any war to get children, and adults, questioning what went on behind the walls of the buildings. How does life change when a war is fought in your country? For an American audience this is an intriguing questions as it has been centuries since a war has been fought on American soil.

The novel does provide both an introduction and an author’s note at the end about why she decided to write and illustrate the book and a little bit of background about Beirut, the war, and the after effects.

The book will have great appeal as more and more children are gravitating toward graphic novels and more non-fiction graphic novels are being published. Non-fiction graphic novels are an innovative way to entice reluctant readers, or even avid readers who don’t like non-fiction, to try something new.

School Library Journal recommends the book for grades 5-8.

Bibliographic Information:

Abirached, Zeina. A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return. New York: Graphic Universe, 2012. Print.

A Bag of Marbles: The Graphic Novel by Joseph Joffo (WWII; grades 6-9)
The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown (1930’s Dust Bowl; grades 5+)
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donnor Dinner Party (1840’s America, survival tale; grades 3-6) Also, this is a series of non-fiction graphic novels that cover different historical events.

Jane, the fox, & Me, written by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, and translated by Christelle Morelli.

Jane, the fox, & Me is a graphic novel told mainly through black and white colors. The graphic novel is done using mixed media (pencil, color crayon, gouache, ink, and watercolor), and some were assembled or touched up digitally.

janethefoxandme_coverThe novel focuses on Helene, a young girl who is tormented by her schoolmates. They scribble means things on the bathroom walls and whisper that she has body odor and weighs 216 pounds. But Helene has one escape: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. When Helene reads Jane Eyre, all her troubles drift away and her drab, black and white world fills with color. Helen identifies with Jane’s problems, but when Helene is humiliated on a class trip, it’s going to take more than Jane Eyre to heal her.

Parts of this were a little confusing. Helene goes on a four-day nature retreat with her classmates and sees a fox while she’s there. The bit where the fox appears may confuse reads at first, but as the fox is the only color in the book that isn’t about Jane Eyre, the fox represents Helene’s desire for a friend. But when another girl who is sleeping in her tent scares the fox away, Helene blames herself. She scares boys, friends, and even foxes away. Helene does make a friend, a brave girl who stands up for her and becomes an outcast like Helene is.

What is most striking about the book is the subtle commentary on weight and body image. Helene is nowhere near 216 pounds, but views herself as a sausage. There’s a heartbreaking illustration where Helene is trying on bathing suits, and instead of seeing a person, there is a sausage in a swimsuit. She refers to herself as a sausage multiple times, and while this is not the focus of the novel, it is an important conversation on how easily bullies’ comments can become what you believe. Then, there is a scene at the doctor where Helene is weighed.

She weighs 88 pounds.

Just think about that for a moment. 88 pounds. I thought Helene was in middle school, but with that weight, I’m thinking Helene is elementary school. Helene claps both hands on either side of her face and pretends to shriek like the woman in the cereal box ad. But Helene says her mother also does this every time she weighs herself before bikini season. To her mother’s credit, she is embarrassed as Helene argues with that doctor that she is fat. He reassures her that she is simply growing, that it is normal, and she has nothing to be concerned about.

This is where the book could have become saccharine. Helene could’ve told her mother everything that was said at school, and they would’ve had a touchingly sweet, yet unrealistic, moment. Instead, Helene keeps the bullying to herself as she realizes the less she thinks about it the less it’s true.

This graphic novel will appeal to both younger and older readers. There are no swear words and no inappropriate drawings (nudity, sex, or violence) to not make this an appropriate title for eight to nine-year-olds and up. Considering the prevalence of bullying, and the rise of young girls dieting, introducing this book to younger readers could help a young girl, or boy, find their selves in a book that ultimately tells them what the bullies say are wrong. That is not who they are. They get to decide who they are.

Bibliographic Information: Britt, Fanny, and Isabelle Arsenault. Jane, the Fox & Me. Trans. Christelle Morelli. Toronto: Groundwood, 2013. Print.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier
Babymouse by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm
The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams (not a graphic novel)


Anastasia-Family-Fun-Edition-DVDAnastasia centers around the idea that the Princess Anastasia managed to escape the seize of the castle in the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. Rumors are swirling in St. Petersburg that Anastasia is alive and her grandmamma is willing to pay a large sum to the person who delivers her precious granddaughter back to her. This is the opportunity Dmitri has been waiting for. This is his chance to escape bleak St. Petersburg, and he auditions girls to try out for the role of Anastasia. Aided by his friend Vlad, they stumble upon a girl who bears remarkable resemble to the princess. And Dmitri would know—he’s the one who helped Anastasia and her grandmother escape the palace. What follows is a thrill-filled musical as the trio, along with Anastasia’s dog, Puka, travel from St. Petersburg to Paris, France. But their trip is not without hazards as the evil, Rasputin, who sold his soul and cursed the Romanovs, and has vowed to kill the last of Romanovs.

Of course, the movie is not accurate in regards to Russian history. Rasputin’s powers of darkness are cited as the reason for the Bolshevik revolution. Rasputin’s appearance in the movie is not terrible far off from the real Rasputin’s appearance though. Both are creepy. Rasputin in the movie can be downright terrifying. The movie is rated G, but adults should be aware of some scenes that might scare children. In the first few minutes of the movie, Rasputin sells his soul to the powers of darkness, a swirling green mass of cylindrical lights. The powers rip Rasputin’s skin from his body, leaving nothing but bones until theyrasputinana restore his flesh. He falls beneath the ice while chasing Anastasia through the town and gets trapped in limbo. When his faithful servant, a bat named Bartok, finds him in limbo, he is literally falling apart. His mouth moves down his beard, his neck and stretch until he hits the top of his skull-covered home. His arm stretches and the tendons are visible as his skin melts away. His hand pops off, leaving nothing but a stump with a piece of bone visible and red muscle around it. He actively tries to kill Anastasia by invading her dreams and trying to make her jump off the ship in the middle of a storm. This is after trying to kill her on the train by breaking the cars apart and tearing down the bridge.

rasputinRasputin is a remarkable villain, but Anastasia is a more remarkable princess. Coming more than a decade by Disney’s feisty Princess Merida in Brave and Queen Elsa and Princess Anna in Frozen, and a year for Mulan, Anastasia speaks her mind and saves not only herself, but Dmitri. She accidentally hits Dmitri in the face when he wakes her and he grumbles about it. Anastasia remarks under her breath that all men are baby. She is not looking for a prince, for love, but looking for connections to the past she can’t remember. Anastasia remembers nothing before the orphanage and her first musical number is her desire to find her past, to find herself, and to find a home. Though she does find love, because it’s almost impossible for a princess movie to not include romance, it is simply something that happens to Anastasia as it often does in real life.

In the final climatic scene, Rasputin has reappeared and breaks yet another bridge and tries to send Anastasia into the frigid waters below. Dmitri swoops in and helps her back from dangling off the ledge of the crumbling bridge, but it isn’t long before he is knocked unconscious. Anastasia is left battling Rasputin by herself and kicks his butt. She captures his glass vial that contains his powers. She smashes is with her foot, smashing it for Dmitri and for her family. With a final smash of heel, Rasputin turns to dust. She was a super action hero princess before there was such a term or trend.anasmash

While the movie does have some disturbing parts, children are sure to love it. The songs are just as catchy as anything Disney produces. For the children and adults, go watch this for nothing except to get “Do You Wanna Build A Snowman?” and “Let It Go” out of your head. I’ve included a two YouTube clips, one for “There’s a Rumor in St. Petersburg” and “Once Upon a December” for your viewing pleasure. It balances the dark and the humorous rather well. While Bartok is Rasputin’s batty sidekick, he is hilarious as it Puka, the dog. Ultimately, the movie is about the importance of family, friends, honesty, and most importantly finding oneself.

The movie can be used for both younger and older children. For older children who may know a little about Russian history, it can be used to contrast the reality versus the fantasy the movie puts forth. For any child who might have already heard of Anastasia—the rumors for many years that she did survive—this movie will thrill and delight. For those who haven’t heard of Anastasia, a good book to start with would be the Royal Diaries about Anastasia. It could serve as a very brief introduction to Russian culture by providing students/patrons with factual books about Russian culture and history.

ASCAP Most Performed Songs from Motion Pictures: Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty for the song “At the Beginning”, 1999
Outstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting by a Male Performer in an Animated Feature Production: Hank Azaria for “Bartok”, 1998
Blockbuster Entertainment Award: Favorite Animated Family Movie, 1998
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards: Best Family Film, 1998
Casting America Society, USA: Best Casting for Animated Voice Over, Brian Chavanne, 1998
Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA: Best Sound Editing-Music Animation, Brent Brooks & Tom Villano, 1998
Young Artist Awards: Best Family Feature Film-Animation, 1998

Bibliographic Information: Anastasia. By Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. Perf. Meg Ryan, John Cusack. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 1997. DVD.

The Princess and the Frog

“There’s a Rumor in St. Petersburg

“Once Upon a December”

Little White Duck by Na Liu and Andres Vera Martinez

littlewhiteduckLittle White Duck is eight short stories about the author and her sister’s childhood in China between the years 1976 and 1980. The stories reveal a much different China that why many American children would think of today and a much different China than what the author’s parents grew up in. The book is not about Chinese history, but is a snapshot of what it was like for two young girls to grow up in China during a transitional period. In an author note at the back, Liu calls her generation a transitional won as hers was the generation that grew up without the leadership of Mao Zedong. With his death, China became more open to other countries and the world. The graphic novel is fully colored with bold artwork that feels reminiscent of traditional Chinese scrolls with a sprinkling of propaganda style posters as some of Chinese history is revealed.

Liu’s life in the most densely populated city in central China is not much different than children’s lives in large cities. This is a theme that continues throughout the novel. While some things may seem strange and foreign—and a few are—her experiences in school and with her family transcend countries and nationalities. However, there are many elements that will be new to American readers, like needing to bring in rat tails as part of a school assignment. Liu goes outside to brush her teeth using water from a spout and only one of the children, her younger sister was allowed to officially attend school. Their mother was an elementary school teacher and Liu was able to go to work with her and obtain an education.

Though the book is set during just a few years, there is a lot of Chinese history through the stories her parents told her their childhood. Both of her parents received assistance from the government and their stories will be familiar to American readers as they closely resemble the “American Dream.” Her father was from a poor farming family, but walked miles to school and studied hard to be at the top of his class, which led him to getting a government scholarship to further his education. Her mother contracted polio as child and suffered from a paralyzed leg, but with free medical attention from the government, she was able to walk and run again.

The graphic novel serves as a good introduction for any child interested in Chinese culture or history. The legend of the Nian monster and the Chinese New Year is introduced, which is an excellent starting point for a child’s research. The book also raises many questions. If this is how China was the, what is China like today? How has it changed? How is it the same? How are we like them? Are these character’s lives different from me own? How?

The author also provides a glossary of Mandarin Chinese words and other names along with a brief timeline of Chinese history, a short biography, a map of China and her specific city, and a translation of the Chinese symbols used throughout the novel. The novel is sure to entrain those interested in Chinese culture, but it is also easily adaptable to be teaching tool or part of a lesson on Chinese history, culture, or an introduction to the language.

Bibliographic Information:
Liu, Na, and Andrés Vera Martínez. Little White Duck: A Childhood in China. Minneapolis: Graphic Universe, 2012. Print.

A Game for Swallows: to die, to leave, to return by Zeina Abirached (Beirut Civil War)
And the Soldiers Sang by Lewis J. Patrick; illustrated by Gary Kelley (WWI)
The Sons of Liberty series by Joseph & Alexander Lagos (Fantasy, Pre-Revolutionary America)
The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan (1937 American Dust Bowl)

Hotel Transylvania

hotelHotel Transylvania is a laugh-out-loud coming age of story about Mavis Dracula, daughter of the Dracula, as she celebrates her 118th birthday and yearns to explore the world outside the confines of her safe home. Dracula built the hotel as a haven for monsters. Hotel Transylvania is a sanctuary where no evil, blood-thirsty humans are allowed. Mavis’s lavish birthday party should go off without a hitch. All of the monster guests, everyone from the Mummy to Frankenstein to the werewolves, arrive on time, but all of Dracula’s well laid plans are gone to waist when an ordinary human boy wanders into the hotel! Dracula disguises the boy as a monster, but his life is further complicated by Mavis’s growing crush on the human, Jonathan, and the other monsters’ love for him and his stories.

Adults who enjoy classic horror movies will like the movie for its references to the classic monsters that may go over the children’s heads. Quasimodo is the cook; Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s bride are Mavis’s aunt and uncle; zombies are the bellboys; the Invisible Man startles everyone; and various other monsters that pop up throughout.

Ultimately, the movie has a positive message about accepting yourself and others who are different from you. It is also emphasizes the love a father has for a parent and how parents want nothing more than their children to be happy and the lengths a parent will go to ensure that. It is about finding yourself, taking risks, and chasing your dreams.

The Motion Picture Association of America rated the movie PG for some rude humor, action and scary images.

BMI Film Music Award Film Music: Mark Mothersbaugh, 2013
Kids’ Choice Awards, USA, Favorite Voice from an Animated Movie: Adam Sandler as “Count Dracula”, 2013

Bibliographic Information:

Hotel Transylvania. Dir. Genndy Tartakovsky. Perf. Selena Gomez, Adam Sandler. Universal, 2012.


Monster House
Monsters vs. Aliens
Monsters, Inc.


Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Allison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile

binkBink & Gollie is three separate stories about two best friends, Bink & Gollie, and their adventures. The first story is about Bink getting outrageous rainbow colored socks that Gollie can’t stand and then the two of them learning to compromise. The second story is about Bink’s desire to go on a adventure because it’s been too long since her last one. Bink places a sign on the door, asking for no interruptions as she climbs the Andes mountains. Once she’s achieved her goal, Bink realizes triumphs are better shared with friends and invites Gollie to join her. The last story is about Gollie adopting a fish, taking him everywhere with him, and then tripping and almost loosing him. It is Bink who saves the day and places the fish in the pond, telling Gollie that she is most marvelous companion of all.

The illustrations in the book draw the eye directly to Bink and Gollie. Their world is white-washed with very little colors outside of their characters. The only color comes in when Bink and Gollie interact with a person or thing. The girls bring color and happiness in an otherwise drab world. Their imaginations fill the spaces on the pages. Gollie lives in a ginormous, impossible tree house. Her house looks like a typical house inside and out, but it’s perched in a tree. Gollie’s adventure to the Andes mountain is entirely in her imagination.

Bink & Gollie is recommended for kindergarten through third grade. This is the perfect book to bridge the gap between early readers and chapter books. It is longer than typical early readers, but there are not enough words for the book to be considered a chapter book. There are some pages where there are no words at all. It is ideal for a younger child who may read at a higher level but is having difficulty finding age appropriate books. On the opposite end, it is a great option for an older reader who may not be struggling with reading. The books does feature vocabulary words that children aren’t likely to know like “implore” and the concept of compromising and “gray matter.” Bink tells Gollie to use her “gray matter” when she wants the younger child to think.

The book will probably appeal more strongly to girls than boys simply because the main characters are girls, but beyond gender, the book can hold almost universal appeal. Because of the striking illustrations, the length of the book, the vocabulary, and it’s position as a transition book between early readers and chapter books.

Kiddo Award, 2011 Nominee Best Transitional Book United States
New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books, 2010 United Statesundefined
Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, 2011 Winner United States

Bibliographic Information:
DiCamillo, Kate, Alison McGhee, and Tony Fucile. Bink & Gollie. Somerville, MA: Candlewick, 2010. Print.

The other books in the Bink & Gollie series
Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst
Ling & Ting by Grace Lin
Ivy & Bean series by Annie Barrows