Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Darth Paper Strikes Back

Darth Paper Strikes Back: an Origami Yoda book by Tom Angleberger. Published 2011.

I just read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda this summer and fell in love with it and was so happy to hear that the follow-up book just came out. I think what I love about these books are the heart of the tween characters. They're trying to figure out how to solve their own problems but they're still "childish" enough to try to solve it by asking advice from a paper Yoda. Its humorous, but also touching, how they embrace Dwight and his eccentricities without being sappy or melodramatic about it.

I think the first book might work for kids more because it really focuses on their ideas about whether or not Origami Yoda is real, but as an adult I really appreciated this follow-up. It had a sub-plot that dealt with school boards and Standardized Testing and budget cuts that I found really added something special on an intellectual level. Whether kids would enjoy it, I don't know.

In the words of Origami Yoda, "Read it, you must."

Interest level: Grades 3-6, Intended reading level: 4th Grade
Genre: Humor, fiction

Comparable Titles: Diary of a Wimpy Kid and other tell-all diary with illustration books

Book connections: origami folding book, Star Wars paper game

The Twits

The Twits by Roald Dahl. Published 1980.

I remember reading this when I was younger, but I couldn't actually remember it, so I've gone back to reading Dahl so I can reconnect with what I loved when I was younger. I think this book would make a great, quick read-aloud. While it is not the nicest book by leaps and bounds, its funny in that way that kids love. Probably because there is so much name calling and pranks happening.

In this story, the couple, Mr. and Mrs. Twit try to one up themselves in horribleness to each other. Finally, the monkeys they have been trying to train, fight against them to save the birds of the neighborhood. To be honest, not much really happens...but its all fun.

Interest level: Grades 3-6 Intended reading level: 4th Grade
Genre: Fiction, Humor

Comparable titles: Captain Underpants series, In the Land of the Lawn Weenies and other Lubar short stories

Book connections: monkey dolls in cage and stuffed bird dolls, wooden cane, balloons

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi. Published 2003.

This graphic novel has been on everyone's radar for a long time and for a good reason. While the material is definitely for upper tweens (think 8th grade) and YA, it should be on everyone's must read list. The perspective of the narrator, Marji, as a child in Iran during the Islamic Revolution is at both times poignant and humorous. The black and white illustrations and the form of a graphic novel make it easy to read and easy to absorb the stark illustrations while leaving room for depth of feeling. We see her witness violence at demonstrations, the death of friends and family, threat of imprisonment, as well as some childish antics and rebellion.

I enjoyed this story mostly for its history. Having been born during this time period, I didn't know anything about the revolutions in Iran. I read a little on this topic as an adult but the frame of this story makes it easier to understand and have an idea of what it was like from a child's perspective.

Interest level: Grades 8-12 Intended reading level: YA
Genre: Non-fiction, Graphic Novel
First book of a series

Comparable titles: Maus, Maus II

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers. Published 2007.

This story has been compared to a young female Indiana Jones which makes the idea of it quite exciting. Unfortunately I don't think it lives up to its expectations. The main character, Theodosia Throckmorton, lives in London in 1906 and spends her days ridding the relics her parents dig up in Egypt of ancient curses. Over the course of the first book, she discovers a secret society trying to protect the world from these Egyptian curses and their effects and she eventually joins them in their plight.

My issues with the story is that the frame is trying to follow Harry Potter too closely. While the Hero's Journey is as old as time, there is something gimmicky about this. Secondly, not much action actually happens. We get 100 pages in before there is any real excitement. I'm also wondering the whole time where she gets her special power to see the curses and this is never really explained and apparently she's the only one in the world who can do it.

The writing itself is not horrible and if a student really loved mysteries, Egypt and the Riordan series, or even was looking for life after Harry Potter, I would suggest this book.

Interest level: Grades 5-8 Intended reading level: Grade 5
Genre: mystery, fiction
First book of a series

Comparable titles: Red Pyramid, The Mysterious Bendedict Society, Akata Witch

Book connections: Egyptian figurines, amulet necklaces

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Chasing Vermeer

Chasing Vermeer: written by Blue Balliett, illustrated by Brett Helquist. Published 2004.

Chasing Vermeer is a story set in Hyde Park in Chicago about two almost-twelve year old kids, Petra and Calder, who bond while tracking down the theft of Vermeer's A Lady Writing painting. Between strange coincidences and clues sent to them through a mysterious book and Calder's pentominoes, the students use their ingenuity and intuition to solve a world-mesmerizing crime.

I liked that this book focused on the idea of puzzles, codes and clues and how sometimes these things aren't logical or make sense in the way we usually understand things. The idea of connected coincidences might be too advanced for the reading interest level but the mystery may intrigue students beyond the parts that might be too confusing for them.

I thought this would be a fun book to explore puzzles and codes and as an art connection. Plus, there's a plug for Progressive Education and inquiry-based learning through the character of the teacher Ms. Hussey. I also enjoyed that the two main characters didn't fit the norm of a white narrator. Both have mixed ethnicity, Petra identifies as Middle Eastern and Calder is Indian, but I like that the author points out that their parents are from different places and are different combinations, not really fitting into one defined standard.

Interest level: Grades 5-8 Intended reading level: Grade 5
Genre: mystery, fiction
First book of a series

Comparable titles: The Westing Game, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Book connections: Blue M&Ms, pentominoes, the color yellow, 12s of things, Vermeer reproductions