Picture Books and More: What We Read Last Summer

Welcome to the July / August / September edition of Bookmarks, our shortlist of mini book reviews. Where does the time go?!

Because we are covering so much time – generations and centuries in reading speak – I have selected only those books that stuck with us well after we finished the last page.

You can always see what we’ve added so far on our 2012 Books We’ve Read Page. Book reviews on the Reading Tub website will have the requisite link. Each Bookmark has basic info and an original blurb / overview. We’ll introduce the key players; add our reader reaction, and ask the author and/or illustrator a question or two.

Noteworthy July / August / September Bookmarks

Unspoken; A Story from the Underground Railroad
written and illustrated by Henry Cole
Scholastic Press, 2012
Audience: upper elementary and middle school readers
Category: wordless picture books
NOTE: This book will not be released until November 1, 2012.

A young girl is going about her day doing the chores that all farm girls do. Today is a bit different, though. When she goes to get the potatoes mother wants, she sees an eye staring back at her from the pile of cornstalks. What should she do? For days, she takes food out to the shed only to return to an empty napkin. Then one day, the napkin has been transformed into a doll.

Who are the key players?
The young girl – I called her Hattie – guides this story, but the key player is the person hidden in the larder.

A Reader’s Thoughts
Unspoken is an aptly named title for the book. Without saying a word it leaves you speechless. The illustrations are captivating and the images they leave behind when you close the book are haunting. It isn’t until you read Mr. Cole’s history at the end that you understand the significance of some of the imagery in the beginning.

Questions for Henry Cole

  • Would you classify this wordless picture book as historical fiction or oral history?
  • Does the girl in the story speak a name to you? If so, what is her name?
  • What questions do you want kids to ask about the story?

Where did you get this book? I was very fortunate to receive a galley at BookExpo America.

My Mouth is a Volcano
by Julia Cook; illustrated by Carrie Hartman
National Center for Youth Issues, 2006
audience: preschool through elementary
Category: picture books

Whatever thought he might have, Louis thinks its important enough to share with everyone … right then and there. The only problem is, that other people might be sharing ideas that are important to THEM, and Louis takes all the attention. It keeps getting him in trouble, and Louis needs a solution to his interrupting.

Who are the Key Players?
Readers follow Louis through his day and all of the predicaments his interruptions create for him.

A Reader’s Thoughts
I quietly left this book on the coffee table to see what would happen … and the bait worked. My 10-year-old (who is prone to interrupting) not only picked it up and read it, but read it several times and asked for “more Julia Cook books.” The author does a great job “being” Louis. She not only describes what happens in a way that kids can understand, she gives them easy ways to “fix” the problem with the same ease.

Question for Julia Cook

  • How difficult is it to channel the personalities and vocabulary of elementary students?
  • This is one of several books you’ve written for the National Center for Youth Issues … do you have a favorite book? a favorite character?

Where did you get this book? I picked this up at BookExpo America.

Lily Dale – Awakening
by Wendy Corsi Staub
Walker Books for Children, 2009

How could this happen? Somehow Calla’s always carefully precise mom fell down the stairs and died. It was going to be hard enough moving from Florida to California for dad’s sabbatical. Dad wants her to live with his brother’s family, but Calla opts to live with her maternal grandmother Odelia in Lily Dale, NY. It is where her mother grew up, so maybe she will feel closer to her mom; but what she learns is that she may not have known her mom at all.

Who are the Key Players?
Calla Delaney is the protagonist, and our story is driven by her life, but the pivotal player is her grandmother Odelia. Throughout the story, Calla faces questions about what her life will be like without her mom. As she begins to unravel her mom’s history she is drawn to Odelia as a connection to her mom, but also as someone who might help her understand what is happening and how to reach her.

A Reader’s Thoughts
About halfway through book one – which the author donated to the Reading Tub – I ordered the rest of the series for my personal library. The five books, which all-told cover about one year of Calla’s life, were devoured in a week. The story is a set of tightly woven subplots about relationships: mother and daughter; father and daughter; friends and boy friends; and how they connect to our past and our present, as well as guide our future.

Questions for Wendy Corsi Staub

  • If you could “be” one of the characters in Awakening who helps Calla, who would it be?
  • Do you see (or not) parallels between the process Calla goes through learning about her gift and the ‘pieces of visions’ that come with writing a novel?
  • When did you know that this would be a series? Has Calla asked to tell more of her story?

Where did you get this book? The publisher donated a copy for review.?

What We’re Reading

Fly Trap (Fly By Night)
by Frances Hardinge
HarperCollins, 2011

This is the second title in Hardinge’s Fly by Night series featuring Mosca Mye and Eponymous Clent.

Initial Thoughts: This is a book that I tried to read about a year ago and abandoned after the third chapter. Now I am giving it another try. I have found it more enjoyable and am now about halfway through.

Mistral’s Race Into Time
by Lynne Copeland
Nightingale Books, 2011

Jasper (a dog) is alerted by a scent in the yard that turns out to be Mistral, a fallon, on a mission to save the planet. Jasper’s keen sense of smell is the key to finding the planet-saving mineral and thwarting the galaxy’s destruction.

Initial Thoughts: The pace is fast, with lots of back and forth, so it is taking me a bit to sort out the characters and their roles.

With the Cybils now upon us, I am going to read these books more slowly and instead focus on the Easy Reader / Early Chapter Book nominations.

Click here to see other Reading Tub book reviews, including chapter books, this month. Use these links to take you to your favorite children’s and young adult book categories.


Note: Book covers and titles link to Amazon.com, with which the Reading Tub has an affiliate relationship. We may earn income from purchases made through these links. They are offered for convenience and do not represent an obligation to buy from this vendor.