Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

While the weather has been less than ideal, it has been an excellent summer to find books that can be read out loud to fourth and fifth graders!!!

My newest favorite is The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.

It is funny, features male protagonists but will also appeal to girls, and has lots of Star Wars references. Huzzah!

Here's a review from the blog 100 Scope Notes:

What’s the next level above gold? Platinum? In both content and appearance, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is reluctant reader platinum. The Star Wars association will draw attention, but the spot-on portrayal of the awkwardness, friendships, and first crushes of 6th grade life will hit home.

The stage is set from the first lines:

"The big question: Is origami Yoda real? Well, of course he’s real. I mean, he’s a real finger puppet made out of a real piece of paper. But I mean: Is he REAL? Does he really know things? Can he see the future? Does he use the force?"

The evidence is inconclusive. He’s a finger puppet, true, but he also gives out some pretty incredible advice. Or does that advice actually come from Dwight, the outcast who created origami Yoda? Probably not – Dwight’s too weird to actually provide sound council. Tommy is determined to find out if the finger puppet can be trusted. He has a girl dilemma, you see, and needs some help. To get to the bottom of things, he’s put together firsthand accounts of his friends’ helpful, confusing, and odd interactions with Origami Yoda. Each chapter is a new anecdote, from a different perspective. When the middle school dance comes around, Tommy has to decide if he should listen to the tiny Jedi master or not.

Angleberger nails the tone here. The dialogue, the inside jokes, the mindset of an outsider – it just feels authentic. Fans of his solid Qwikpick Adventure Society will find Origami Yoda just as easy to relate to.

The interest level is high, the humor is frequent, and the situations authentic. A winner, appears to be, it does.

Here are some reviews from journals:

From School Library Journal
Grade 3–6 — For Tommy, the only question is whether or not Origami Yoda is real. Of course he's real as a small puppet on Dwight's finger. But does the oracle possess magic power? In order to find out, he decides to compile scientific evidence from the experiences of those who asked Origami Yoda for help. His friend Harvey is invited to comment on each story because he thinks Yoda is nothing but a "green paper wad." Tommy also comments because he's supposedly trying to solve the puzzle. In actuality, the story is about boys and girls in sixth grade trying to figure out how being social works. In fact, Tommy says, "…it's about this really cool girl, Sara, and whether or not I should risk making a fool of myself for her." The situations that Yoda has a hand in are pretty authentic, and the setting is broad enough to be any school. The plot is age-old but with the twist of being presented on crumpled pages with cartoon sketches, supposed hand printing, and varying typefaces. Kids should love it.

From Booklist
Tommy and his friends think that Dwight is a weirdo who’s “always talking about robots or spiders or something.” In true Dwight fashion, he shows up at school one day brandishing a little origami Yoda finger puppet. The really weird thing is that it doles out very un-Dwight-like bits of wisdom, and the mystery is whether the Yoda is just Dwight talking in a funny voice or if it actually has mystical powers. The book is structured as a collection of stories gathered by Tommy and told by kids who either believe or don’t. See, Tommy has a more vested interest than just idle curiosity—he is dying to know if he can trust Yoda’s advice about asking the cute girl to dance with him at the PTA Fun Night. Origami Yoda—a sort of talking cootie catcher—is the kind of thing that can dominate all those free moments in school for a few weeks. Angleberger’s rendering of such a middle-grade cultural obsession is not only spot-on but also reveals a few resonant surprises hidden in the folds. Naturally, Yoda-making instructions are included. Grades 4-6. --Ian Chipman

I recommended the book to Natalie, but am not sure whether she'll choose to read it. She's pretty intent on reading Rebecca Caudill nominees this summer!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams

I have found another good 4th and 5th grade choice for Joliet Reads. While it has a female protagonist, she has a younger brother and the book has a *special* guest who is a prominent male.

The 242 page book is The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams, written by Rhonda Hayter. It is light, fluffy and fun.

Here are some reviews:

From Booklist -
For fifth-grader Abbie, being a modern-day witch can be fun, especially when she gets to do primary research for school by time-traveling. It also brings challenges, such as hiding her family’s magical abilities. Life gets more complicated when her new kitten turns out to be 13-year-old Thomas Edison, under enchantment. Soon, Abbie’s regular worries about performing in the school play or preventing her little brother from turning into a wolf and biting his teacher give way to new concerns about how to remove Tom’s spell and return him to his own time. Abbie’s breezy, personable narrative incorporates droll asides and references to Edison’s life and to famous literature, from Alice in Wonderland to Harry Potter. Her colorfully drawn family includes her physician father, whose attempts at curing dreaded “Witch Flu” add humor and depth. Whether facing familiar issues (fitting in, sibling challenges) or fantastical ones, such as developing and using her magic responsibly, Abbie is an appealing, peppy protagonist who finds that there are “all kinds of magic in the world . . . with or without witchcraft.” Grades 4-6. --Shelle Rosenfeld

Excerpt from Kirkus -
"Delivers plenty of entertainment to the elementary and middle-grade audience interested in magical fantasy....Light as cotton candy and just as tasty." --Kirkus

One Crazy Summer

There's been considerable Newbery talk about One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia.

It received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, Hornbook and Kirkus. (And possibly The Bulletin of Children's Books - I would need to doublecheck that.)

It was an interesting read. I was 7 years old in 1968 so have minimal (okay, no) knowledge of the Black Panther Movement. I vaguely remember that some people with big afros were on trial for something, but that's about it. (Along with the impression that Black Panthers were "dangerous.") I had no idea that the Black Panthers fed children or did other positive things for their community.

Given the time period, I was aware that some women were more interested in "finding themselves" than being mothers. (My mother-in-law was one of those women.) And I think there have probably been mothers who don't value motherhood throughout history.

I can't say I LOVED the book. I resented the way the mother treated her children, and couldn't get past her behavior. However, I could appreciate the book and see all of its strengths.

Here are some reviews I found on Amazon:

From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 4–7 — It is 1968, and three black sisters from Brooklyn have been put on a California-bound plane by their father to spend a month with their mother, a poet who ran off years before and is living in Oakland. It's the summer after Black Panther founder Huey Newton was jailed and member Bobby Hutton was gunned down trying to surrender to the Oakland police, and there are men in berets shouting "Black Power" on the news. Delphine, 11, remembers her mother, but after years of separation she's more apt to believe what her grandmother has said about her, that Cecile is a selfish, crazy woman who sleeps on the street. At least Cecile lives in a real house, but she reacts to her daughters' arrival without warmth or even curiosity. Instead, she sends the girls to eat breakfast at a center run by the Black Panther Party and tells them to stay out as long as they can so that she can work on her poetry. Over the course of the next four weeks, Delphine and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, spend a lot of time learning about revolution and staying out of their mother's way. Emotionally challenging and beautifully written, this book immerses readers in a time and place and raises difficult questions of cultural and ethnic identity and personal responsibility. With memorable characters (all three girls have engaging, strong voices) and a powerful story, this is a book well worth reading and rereading.—Teri Markson, Los Angeles Public Library
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From Booklist
*Starred Review* Eleven-year-old Delphine has only a few fragmented memories of her mother, Cecile, a poet who wrote verses on walls and cereal boxes, played smoky jazz records, and abandoned the family in Brooklyn after giving birth to her third daughter. In the summer of 1968, Delphine’s father decides that seeing Cecile is “something whose time had come,” and Delphine boards a plane with her sisters to Cecile’s home in Oakland. What they find there is far from their California dreams of Disneyland and movie stars. “No one told y’all to come out here,” Cecile says. “No one wants you out here making a mess, stopping my work.” Like the rest of her life, Cecile’s work is a mystery conducted behind the doors of the kitchen that she forbids her daughters to enter. For meals, Cecile sends the girls to a Chinese restaurant or to the local Black Panther–run community center, where Cecile is known as Sister Inzilla and where the girls begin to attend youth programs. Regimented, responsible, strong-willed Delphine narrates in an unforgettable voice, but each of the sisters emerges as a distinct, memorable character, whose hard-won, tenuous connections with their mother build to an aching, triumphant conclusion. Set during a pivotal moment in African American history, this vibrant novel shows the subtle ways that political movements affect personal lives; but just as memorable is the finely drawn, universal story of children reclaiming a reluctant parent’s love. Grades 4-7. --Gillian Engberg


“Delphine is the pitch-perfect older sister, wise beyond her years, an expert at handling her siblings...while the girls are caught up in the difficulties of adults, their resilience is celebrated and energetically told with writing that snaps off the page” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review) )

“The setting and time period are as vividly realized as the characters, and readers will want to know more about Delphine and her sisters after they return to Brooklyn...” (Horn Book (starred review) )