The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

blue book cover with eyes

BIBLIO: Ages 2004 (reprint), Scribner. 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-0743273565

This time old classic is revered by readers of all ages. The complicated plot revolves around wealth, love, and secrets. The narrator is Nick Carraway, a young and hopeful man that works in the business world but would rather be a writer. He moves into a small home in West Egg, the up and coming societal housing of Long Island. His neighbor is the mysterious, eccentric, and fabulously connected Jay Gatsby. Nick’s cousin Daisy marries a college sweetheart, Tom Buchanan, loaded with old money and a great reputation as an ex-polo player, and lives just across the river in East Egg. The story spins out of control as the three main characters interact. Nick’s admiration and pity for Jay, Jay’s loneliness and obsession for Daisy, his old flame, and Daisy’s need for security and desperation in looking for an escape, all play into the human condition and draws the reader in.

This novel is set in the roaring 1920’s and while fictional reflects plenty about the slang, the fashions, the corrupt underworld, and the rich culture. Nick describes his encounters at Jay’s summer night extravaganzas, Tom’s second life of flirtations, with his mistress Myrtle, and booze in the city, and his own simple life getting twisted into this lush lifestyle. With plenty of tragic turns and enthralling confrontations this book is a must read.

I would recommend this book to 8th grade and up for boys and girls. This novel is a great introduction into the literature of the time and a peek into the American canon. I would recommend this book as a classroom read, as many students have already experienced. It looks into strong themes like fidelity, wealth, desire, facades, and dreams.

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

Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant

Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant by Jack Prelutsky

collage elephant book cover

BIBLIO: 2006 GreenWillow Books/ HarperCollins publishers, ages 4 to 8, $17.89.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Picture Book
ISBN: 978-0-06-054318-1

Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant is a charming collection of poems written by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated using collages by Carin Berger. The short picture book has a total of seventeen different poems. Each poem showcases an individual animal object hybrid. The wording is at an easy to medium reading level with words such as “clamorous” “circumnavigates” and “proficiency” adding a dash of vocabulary. A quaint and useful touch is that each animal hybrid has a phonetic pronunciation guide for example “pan-thur-MOM-it-ur”. There are many ways to uses this book as a teaching tool. The rhyming is switches between the classic ABCB patterns and AABB patterns. There is a musical lilt to it and makes it easy to follow along and read independently. Entertaingly, Prelutsky’s love of music has influenced his poetry to the point where his poems can be performed as songs. The animals’ antics fit the objects of the hybrid well, such as the Splatoons calling out for syrup! It would be quite easy to keep young children absorbed in the details of the poems and the collages. This book would be a great start to an imaginative art project or daily writing exercise. The collages of mixed media of illustration and scrap paper is illustrative and adds a whimsy homemade feel. The collages contain subtle word art, for example the umbrellaphant is collaged out of what appears to be an arabic text and the shoehornets nest has a pattern of chinese characters. Poetry is painting with words and Berger did a great job at visually embodying that concept. This is a work with prestige. The Lee Bennett Hopkins Award is only given every three years! Jack Prelutsky is also very popular for his work Scranimals, a book the precedes Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant and hybrids animals with vegetables. He is the first Children’s Poetry Laureate the years 2006-2008 appointed by the Poetry Foundation.

P.S. I Like You

P.S. I like You by Kasie West

 girl and boy on a bench book cover

BIBLIO: 2016,Point an Imprint of Scholastic, Ages 12 to 16, $17.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN:978-0-545-85097-1

A classic and quick read this novel is perfect for the romantic type. The main character Lily Abbott narrates her crazy, relatable life. The second child of four Lily talks frequently about her family-centric life with her eccentric family. Lily is shy, quirky, and feels like a friend. She daydreams and doodles frequently in her notebook full of dress designs and half-finished songs and plays on her guitar. The plot kickstarts when she is caught doodling in chemistry class and writes on the desk and there’s a response the next day! Lily begins a pen pal relationship with a surprising someone. In the meantime Lily has plenty of awkward encounters with the opposite sex between being set up with David, asking out Lucas, and arguing with Cade. Isabel, her best friend helps her maneuver the mine field of dating and encourages her to share her music. There is plenty of excitement, humiliation, lovely letters, lively banter, and genuine teenage life. I would recommend this book for teen girls. There are a lot of positive behavioral examples regarding divorce, friendships, and family commitment. The style is simple yet entertaining and perfect for the reluctant readers.