"Flora & Ulysses" by Kate DiCamillo

October 20, 2014

"Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures" by Kate DiCamillo is a delightful and engaging story for tweens.  It justly won the Newbery Award this year for its contemporary yet timeless story of superheroic, poetry-writing squirrel Ulysses and his cynical yet hopeful human sidekick Flora.  Their adventures rival those of any dynamic duo.

Ulysses becomes aware after a close encounter with a powerful vacuum cleaner. At first, only Flora appreciates that he is now sentient and can understand human language.  But as time passes, more and more people, including the adults in Flora's world, come to appreciate the depth and warmth that is Ulysses.

Part of what I appreciate about this novel is that it depicts children with real world issues and problems.  Flora's parents are divorced, and that doesn't magically change as a result of the arrival of Ulysses.  But Flora does come to appreciate just how much each of her parents loves her in their own ways.  Another child character, William Spiver, is struggling with the loss of his father and his mother's remarriage.  Again, DiCamillo doesn't resort to "solving" this problem--but William is coping better with his situation by the end of the story.

What I love generally about DiCamillo's stories--from "Because of Winn Dixie" to the "Tale of Despereaux" to "Bink and Gollie" to the Mercy Watson books--is that they are engaging without being simplistic.  The characters, even the most magical, also feel amazingly real and believable.  I suspect that one of the reasons DiCamillo's works resonate so much with readers of all ages is that no one ever feels as if she is talking down to them.  I also am pleased that she serves as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.

I whole-heartedly recommend this book for readers of all ages.  DiCamillo is, without a doubt, one of my favorite authors for children--and me too.
 

"Seedfolks" by Paul Fleischman

October 13, 2014

I would love to teach this book with older elementary or middle school students. The gentle way it teaches how one person doing a simple action can create and build community is quite lovely. Luckily, I am getting to do the next best thing. 

The teacher that I am mentoring this year is going to use this book as a read-aloud with her third and fourth grade class.  They are studying community and are working at learning how to build a community from diversity.  And I could think of no book th...

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“Friends Forever” by Amy Ariel

July 31, 2012

Local St. Paul author Amy Ariel has written a charming novel that gives a glimpse of what life was like in St. Paul in 1912 and how that view might seem both familiar and alien to a contemporary child.  In the process, the reader is transported, just like the character of Hannah, back to a world that makes us appreciate what we have now and anticipate with curiosity what may come in our future.

Our narrator is Abigail, a thirteen year old girl writing in...


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“Into the Unknown” by Stewart Ross, Illustrated by Stephen Biesty

July 27, 2012

Exploration across human history has made us and revealed us as who we are: curious, adventurous, daring.  “Into the Unknown:  How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air,” written by Stewart Ross and illustrated by Stephen Biesty, does an excellent job of capturing this side of humanity.

Ross has chosen an interesting spectrum of people to discuss, and not all of them are familiar household names.  Because of his focus on journeys he deems “amazing,” he can choose pe...


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“The Unforgotten Coat” by Frank Cottrell Boyce

July 5, 2012

How does a child respond to a new classmate who is an immigrant from a very different part of the world?  Frank Cottrell Boyce tackles this topic in his engaging and thought-provoking short novel, “The Unforgotten Coat.”  Using first person narration and photographs, Cottrell Boyce draws the reader into the story of Julie – the “good guide” – and Chingis and Nergui – the new arrivals from Mongolia.

This book addresses many themes that teach...


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“If You Lived Here: Houses of the World” by Giles Laroche

July 4, 2012



“If You Lived Here:  Houses of the World,” written and illustrated by Giles Laroche, provides lovely and informative looks at various houses throughout history and the world.  The collages give intricate details that draw a reader in and make the accompanying text that much more interesting.

I have a few minor observations though.  When I first looked at the book, I was confused by the very first house.  Nothing in the title or on the cover made clea...


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“Never Forgotten” by Patricia McKissack, Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon

July 2, 2012

A book with richly textured illustrations and text, “Never Forgotten” tells a story mostly absent from the history of the African slave trade – the story of the people who were left behind.  The imaginative and lyrical language of Patricia McKissack combines with the evocative and compelling images by Leo and Diane Dillon to create a story that assumes mythic depth.

The tale opens with the blacksmith Dinga choosing to raise his newborn son (whose m...


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“Waiting for the Magic” by Patricia Mac Lachlan, illustrated by Amy June Bates

June 27, 2012

“Waiting for the Magic” is a sweet take on the ubiquitous talking animal story.  Mac Lachlan’s tale with believable characters, both human and animal, is enhanced by the charming illustrations by Amy June Bates.  The novel’s central message is that, for true communication to take place within a family, people need to listen.  And here, in the family of human characters of William and Elinor, listening enables a person to hear the animals as well.

As the book opens, William and El...


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“Around the World” by Matt Phelan

June 26, 2012

Okay, I am starting with my quibbles first.  “Around the World” is categorized both by our list and by my local public library as a “graphic novel.”  Yet most of the book is based on fact and research.  This left me wondering – is the category labeling a result of the form, or is there some fictionalizing going on that isn’t immediately apparent?

The unifying theme, such as it is, in “Around the World” is the idea of traveling around the world as individuals.  Phelan taps...


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“Soldier Bear” by Bibi Dumon Tak

June 21, 2012



“Soldier Bear” is an entertaining but curious amalgam of fiction and history.  Set mostly during World War 2, “Soldier Bear” follows a group of Polish soldiers, displaced by the Nazi invasion of their homeland, and their animal mascot, Voytek the bear.

This book is billed as fiction, but draws on an actual historical event.  The author includes photos of Voytek and some of human and animal friends.  As an adult, the choice to call this fiction made me wonder—how much is true?  ...


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About Me


Lydia Schultz I am a school librarian and part-time college English teacher. I hope to review many of the books I read, both in the context of my research about children's books as well as in my pursuit of recreational reading. I want to share what I read--so what else is new?

Please feel free to contact me.  I welcome hearing feedback and advice.  If you would like to comment on a particular post, click on the title of the post and a comment box will appear after the post when the page reloads.

Thanks!



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