One Green Apple

One Green Apple by Eve Bunting

Girl in apple orchard book cover

BIBLIO: 2006, Clarion Books, ages 4 to 11, $16.00.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Picture Book.
ISBN: 978-0-618-43477-0

Farah is a Muslim immigrant going on her first field trip on her second day of school. The plot is driven by her differences from her classmates. Namely, her cultural differences such as the dupatta and the girl-boy intermingling and her inability to speak English. The children are elementary school aged, possibly around the age of nine. They are going to the apple orchard to pick apples and symbolism is used when Farah picks a single green apple instead of a red one like her classmates’ apples.
Farah interacts with a few people in the story. She is befriended by Anna and Jim, who were not afraid to talk to her because she was not just the new student but also different from them. Unlike her classmates however, the teacher shows an alternate reaction, frustrating Farah with her oversimplified explanations because Farah knows she is intelligent but has no way to communicate this yet.
This book is great for young readers, especially in a classroom setting because it allows for deep conversations about morals. Children will appreciate this book for its colorful and detailed illustrations and the relatable characters. The artwork done by Ted Lewin accentuates the touching realities of this story.

Interview with Eve Bunting

Mercy Watson to the Rescue

Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo

pig running book cover

BIBLIO: 2005, Candlewick Press, ages 6 to 8, $12.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Early Reader.
ISBN: 0-7636-2270-2

Mercy Watson to the Rescue is about Mercy the pig’s antics one night. Her parents Mr. and Mrs. Watson tuck her in and she gets scared of the dark and runs into their bedroom and they are dreaming when the bed starts to fall through the floor because of their weight. They all wake up in a panic. Mercy the pig, thinking about toast, jumps off the bed leaving the Watsons stranded. She searches for toast, disappointed when there is none she goes to the neighbors’ house, Eugenia and Baby Lincoln, in search of sugar cookies and affection from Baby. Lurking at the window she scares Baby and Eugenia calls the firefighters telling them there is an emergency because they think Mercy is a monster. Ned and Lorenzo the fire fighters arrive to see Eugenia chasing Mercy but then they hear the Watsons calling for help. They are able to rescue the couple before the bed crashes through the floor. Everyone celebrates Mercy’s [inadvertent] success by eating her favorite food, toast.
The gouache artwork by Chris Van Dusen adds a humorous and lively feel to the book. The interspersing of the pictures adds a lot to the story and helps to reaffirm what is happening. The cartoonish style and detail draw the eye.
This book is great as a classroom tool because it addresses literary topics like vocabulary, sentence structure, repetition, plot development, etc. It also provides openings for discussions such as fear of the dark, being judged, “Pigs should not live in houses”, being a hero, and social interactions.

More titles in the Series:
pig in car book coverpig in bush book coverpig at drive in theaterpig in princess costume book coverpig in shadow book cover

Flora the Flamingo

Flora the Flamingo by Molly Idle

girl and flamingo book cover

BIBLIO: 2013, Chronicle Books LLC, Ages 3 to 7, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Picture Book
ISBN: 978-1-4521-1006-6

Flora and the Flamingo is a charming picturebook created by former DreamWorks animator Molly Idle. It is about a girl, named Flora, trying to copy the graceful flamingo in it’s complicated dance. The flamingo suspects she is doing so and he contorts himself in a way that causes Flora to lose her balance and tumble to the ground when she tries to mimic him. Flora is upset and embarrassed in her clumsiness and she is sad that the flamingo was so mean. Realizing he had made her feel that way the flamingo laments and helps her to her feet. Knowing that all she wanted to do was dance the flamingo shows her his dance and they dance a smooth and complimentary duet together. They finish their dance with a splashy finale and a bow.
There is a the catch. This book has no words, so the plot summary above is just one interpretation of the book. A reader will bring their own experiences to the story with them. Each one will interpret this story differently from their classmates much like any other book but it is especially emphasized in this picturebook because it is all up to the reader’s imagination. This is a great book to use when examining narratives in the classroom. It can also be used for a writing exercises. It allows for a lot of discussion about making friends and special talents.
As an author Idle tells the story solely through pictures. Molly Idle’s style is as unique and distinguishable as it can get. Her layered colored pencil sketches show a lot of dimension and flawless blending . As this book unfolds, like her other illustrated works, the reader is immersed in a whimsy, inviting, and especially in this case, humorous world of fantasy. As challenging as this can be, the Caldecott​ honor winner pulled it off through the use of several common illustration techniques.

More titles in the Series:
Girl and penguin covergirl and peacocks book cover

Zel

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

girl with leaves book cover

BIBLIO: 1996 Dutton Children’s Books/ Penguin Books , ages 12 to 15, $15.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Middle Reader.
ISBN: 0-525-45612-0

This is a retelling of the classic fairytale Rapunzel. The narrative switches between the three main characters Zel (Rapunzel), Konrad, and Mother (the witch). The plot starts a few day prior to Zel’s thirteenth birthday when she and Mother go to the marketplace. There Zel meets Konrad at the smithy’s when she is admiring and comforting his horse Meta. Konrad gives Zel the gift of a goose egg and they become smitten with each other. Mother, sensing that there is this new part of Zel’s life is threatened and whisks the young girl off to a hidden tower. Konrad searches for the next two years for the girl he fell in love with at first sight and Zel longs for the boy she found so charming. The plot reaches a turning point approximately fifty pages from the end of the novel as the end of the two years approaches. Konrad has finally found his mystery girl, mentally disturbed after months and months of isolation. They spend the night together and Konrad promises to return and free Rapunzel. Mother comes for her daily visit and Rapunzel reveals that she loves a young man and stands up to her mother. Mother uses her witch’s power over the plants to banish Rapunzel to a beachy region far away from their home in the Alps. Konrad comes back to find the witch and jumps and lands on thorns becoming blind. For the next three years the lovers are still separated, Rapunzel gives birth to twin girls and Konrad resumes his search while still blind. He eventually is able to travel to Rapunzel’s new home and they reunite and Rapunzel cries into his eyes, healing them.
This novel closely follows the classic, gruesome version of Rapunzel. The narrative is split into three parts, Zel’s, Konrad’s, and Mother’s. There are eight parts, four of which focus on each character and their interpretation of rejection, loneliness, obsession, and love. Napoli works very hard to create layers of reality and is skillfully subtle in some of her ideas such as puberty and physical maturity, religion, abuse, and morality. She is able to draw out some of these themes because the tale of Rapunzel is quite familiar and reinterpreting it can mean changing such details. This book would be a good suggestion for reluctant readers because of the basic plot. It is also a fair book to read individually.

Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender in a spacesuit book cover

BIBLIO: 1977 Tor/ Tom Doherty Associates LLC, ages 13 and up, $5.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 978-0-7653-5070-2

Ender’s Game is a book set in the future on a very different Earth. The International Fleet trains children in the hopes to fend off the Buggers, an alien race that tried to invade twice before. The story follows the young genius Ender Wiggin as he goes through battle school and command school in space. There is a subplot that follows Valentine and Peter Wiggin as they influence politics on Earth. The plot cuts between the mind of Ender, conversations Colonel Graff and other adults, and the subplot of the other Wiggin children.
Ender struggles as an outsider, still managing to make friends along the way such as Alai, Bean, Petra, Dink, and others. He has to fight in battles and in simulations, winning every one along the way. The twist is that when he plays the simulator game Ender does not realize that he is actually controlling a real fleet. The reason being that Ender is empathetic but competitive and if he knew that is was really he would be crushed.
This book written well and great for students who want a challenge. It would also be great as a way to examining topics such as population, children soldiers, empathy, competitiveness, etc.

More titles in the Series:
spaceship book covertower book coverspace station book coverspaceship cover satellite book cover
The parallel series:
 two boys playing video game book cover boy and earth book cover white and red book cover two people and stars book coverrocks book cover

Shadows Alive (no cover available)

Ruby Holler

Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech

cabin in the woods book cover

BIBLIO: 2002 Joanna Cotler Books/ HarperCollins Publishers, ages 9 through 12, $16.89.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 0-06-027733-5


This book is about twin orphan Dallas and Florida. They are thirteen years old have been in the foster system since infancy. Bouncing into families’ homes and right back to the Boxton Creek children’s home is the only cycle the twins have ever known. They reveal some of the terrible realities they experienced regarding bad foster parents and the home they always return to.
Before long, Tiller and Sairy, an older couple bring them back to their home in Ruby Holler. Slowly the twins realize what it’s like to be loved and cared for unconditionally. Although they talk about running away they each end up on separate adventures. Florida and Tiller adventure down the river and Dallas and Sairy take a hike over the hills. Through all of it the four characters realize that Ruby Holler is truly their home and their doubts get answered along the way.
The caretakers of the Boxton’s children’s home try to stir up trouble trying to find the treasures that Tiller and Sairy hide in the woods of their home. Z, their neighbor, acts as a double agent until the older couple and the twins return. Other troubles stir up the plot such as both sets of adventurers get lost, Tiller’s heart attack, the twins trying to run away and acting like goofballs, and plenty more.
This book, while sweet and whimsical addresses some serious questions and topics children might not be aware of and connects to them in a personal way. It talks about orphans and the corrupted system, aging among parents, coping with nightmares and bad memories, the confusing reality of raising children at all stages of development, being your own person, along with any number of extra things.
Uniquely, this novel does not have a resolute ending. It does not reveal if Z is the twins’ father, or if the twins got adopted for sure, or what happens to the Trepids and the children in the home. After all, that is what the real world is like.

Catherine Called Birdy

Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

girl writing book cover

BIBLIO: 1994 Clarion Books/ Houghton Mifflin Publishers, ages 12 through 15, $13.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 0-395-68186-3

​As a medieval historical fiction story this book is highly entertaining and fits closely with the norms of several hundred years ago. Written as a diary the reader sees the world through the eyes of the mischievous young Catherine, affectionately called Birdy. These are thirteen year old Birdy’s entries for an entire year and accounts all of the exciting feasts and dreary days. Most importantly she writes about the numerous suitors she must meet and the inevitable reality of an arranged marriage and the lady’s duties that accompany her emerging adulthood. Through her the reader gets to meet some dynamic characters, some of which she loves and some of which she loathes, such as her brothers Thomas, Robert, and Edward. Her mother, father, Uncle George, and her caretaker Morwenna. Not to mention Birdy’s realistic and relatable friendships with Perkins, Gerd, and Aelis, and the descriptions of adventures she has with them that often leads to scolding. All of this despite the fact that she wishes to run away and take up any other occupation besides wife. It is easy to fall in love with this sensitive and spunky young girl; to connect with her hopes, dreams, and interests because they are very much like a modern child’s. Her chores however accurately depict those of the time including spinning, sewing, and making disgusting ointments for healing. There is never a dull entry, even the ones that are one word long are quippy and worth the read. We see her antics of burning down the privy, watching a hanging, the birth of a sister, and rescuing a circus bear to name a few of the most memorable. Overall this book is a great way to delve into the history of the medieval times and to gain some perspective as to what it would be like to be a child in a time that was such an oppressing time to be a child and a girl at that.