All the Books I’ve Reviewed and their Categories

PART I:

Picture Books / Easy Readers (4):

  • Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann and Elizabeth Kann
  • Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
  • Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, Illustrated by David Roberts
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Literary Awards (2):

  •  2×2: Age 2 through second grade (released in January): Can I Be Your Dog? By Troy Cummings
  • Texas Bluebonnet Award: Third through sixth grade (released during the Texas Book Festival): The Boo-Boos that Changed the World: A True Story about an Accidental Invention (Really!) by Barry Wittenstein and Chris Hsu

Caldecott Medal Books (2)

  • Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
  • The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

Newbery Medal Books (2):

  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
  • The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo

One Book from the Older Years:

  • Lone Star: Sixth through eighth grade (released December 1): Nevermoor 1: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Graphic Novels (2):

  • Smile by Raina Telgemeier
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Informational (1):

  • This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids From Around the World by Matt Lamothe

Multicultural & International (1):

  • I Love My Hair! by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, Illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Historical Fiction (1):

  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Part II:

Romance & Poetry (2):

  • World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum by Metropolitan Museum of Art by Lee Bennett Hopkins
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Realistic Fiction (1):

  • Holes by Louis Sachar

Christian (1):

  • What is God? by Etan Boritzer, Illustrated by Robbie Marantz

Fantasy (2):

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • Fellowship of the Ring: Being the first part of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Biography / Autobiography (1):

  • Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges

Pura Belpre (1):

  • Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Coretta Scott King (1):

  • Thank You, Omu by Oge Mora

SciFi (1):

  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Horror (1):

  • Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz, Illustrated by Stephen Gammell

Mystery/Suspense (1):

  • The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris, Illustrated by Lissy Marlin & Kyle Hinton

LGBTQ+ (1):

  • Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders, Illustrated by Steven Salerno

Printz Award Winners (2):

  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

I Love My Hair! by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, Illustrated by E. B. Lewis – Multicultural/International

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Evaluation:

I Love My Hair! by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley is an adorable, self-empowering, and culturally-sensitive picture book about a little girl and how she wears her hair. Tarpley’s figurative language makes an ordinary task of doing one’s hair an imaginative process leaving the reader feeling as contented and carefree as the narrator. Tarpley uses similes, metaphors, personification, and onomatopeias to communicate the girl’s feelings about her hair.

Lewis’s illustrations reinforce the text well throughout the book, following the journey the narrator takes in doing and appreciating her hair. In the beginning, the pictures show the little girl sitting with her mother, trying not to make a fuss over the pain of detangling her curls. Then the pictures follow the little girl’s imagination and wonder as she compares the different styles of hair to things like thick forests and cotton candy.

The illustrations also establish the mood of this story. The only time the little girl does not have a smile on her face is when her mother is trying to detangle her hair. For the rest of the book, she wears a smile and shows wonder in her eyes. The scenes of space and of her flying at the end leave the reader feeling peaceful and charmed by the innocence of this little girl expressing love for her hair.

Response:

I Love My Hair! is a beautiful little story of acceptance and love. I know I’ve heard before that African-American girls tend to be shamed by society for their curls. I think that is ridiculous because natural, black, curly hair is beautiful! Everyone should love and appreciate their natural look. Unfortunately, society has made many women, no matter their race, feel like something about them is not good enough. I’m really glad that little African American girls can read this book and feel the love and enjoyment of the different things that they can do with their hair. I also love the way the author and illustrator can make other girls feel normal about their hairstyles and their memories of their mothers doing their hair. I hope that this is an empowering example of embracing what you were born with instead of conforming to society’s unrealistic standards. I personally can relate only slightly to this story as I have wavy red hair. It was a struggle for me to learn to do my own hair and to accept what my hair wants to do. Sometimes I still struggle with this so I know there are African American girls who also struggle. I hope this book helps them realize that they are beautiful no matter what they choose to do with their hair.

Conclusion:

Natasha Anastasia Tarpley’s I Love My Hair! is the story of a little girl and her love for the many things she can do with her hair. This is a great example for little girls and for anyone who thinks that their natural hair isn’t good enough. I think this can also be a teaching moment for anyone who does not understand African American hair. This story is great for a read aloud to young elementary students or to anyone needing a little encouragement to love the hair they have.

Citation:

Tarpley, N. A. & Lewis, E. B. (Illustrator). (1998). I love my hair! New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend – Lone Star Reading List 6th-8th grade

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Evaluation:

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend is the first book in a fantastical tale about the young Miss Morrigan Crow who, in the beginning, is sentenced to death on her 11th birthday because she was born a cursed child. Thankfully, this does not happen as she is whisked away to another world where she is safe, but she also has to prove her worth in order to stay. Townsend’s figurative language in this story makes for a more interesting and whimsical read. Personification, imagery, simile, and metaphor are found scattered throughout the pages. An example of such personification is when Morrigan is in the midst of cheating death: “Fear had set up camp in her stomach and was having a festival.”

Townsend also masterfully wields precise vocabulary especially after the introduction of the eccentric Jupiter North. Jupiter uses words such as “demonstrably, superbly, brilliantly alive,” when making a point to Morrigan’s father about the fact that she hasn’t died yet even though the whole family acts as if she has. He also says “indelicately baptized,” when referring to Morrigan’s first impression of his arachnipod. These words could also be claimed by the amusing dialogue, more so than vocabulary in itself. Jupiter is a fascinating character with comical quips such as “I could murder a bacon sandwich.”

Most importantly, The Trials of Morrigan Crow is filled with insights both expected and unexpected. Knowing the premise of the book, the insights about fearing death are more or less expected by the reader. However, there are other insights about illegal aliens being in need of help, talent meaning nothing if one is “no honest, and determined, and brave,” and that people leave invisible trails of emotion wherever they go. There’s so much to think about and relate to one’s own life.

Response:

I found The Trials of Morrigan Crow very entertaining. I’m surprised I had never heard of it before now. It seems to me to be a mix of several other fantastical stories that I have read, heard or seen before such as Doctor Who, Harry Potter, and Jupiter Ascending. I could see parts of each of these stories shining through this book. I think if I was a middle schooler or even an upper elementary schooler, I would love to have something like this to read. I think even high schoolers would enjoy this story. I’m an adult and I enjoyed it! I might have to go read the next one now.

Conclusion:

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend is the beginning of a whimsical and outlandish tale about a so-called cursed young lady who is whisked away to another world for safety and belonging in the Wundrous Society. Townsend’s use of figurative language, precise vocabulary in dialogue, and both expected and unexpected insights make for an engrossing read. I recommend this book to anyone who is able to read the words as it has wonderful morals in an imaginative world. It would also make a great read-aloud book.

Citation:

Townsend, J. (2017). Nevermoor: The trials of morrigan crow. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – Printz Award Winner 2019

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Evaluation:

Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X is a powerful story of a Dominican, Harlem teenager told through the poetry she writes in her journal every day. The entire novel is written in poems so there is ample figurative language. Acevedo includes some dynamic imagery along with similes, metaphors, onomatopoeias and more. One example is from an assignment Xiomara, the narrator, submits: “I dress my thoughts in the clothing of a poem.”

Acevedo also utilizes music in language in certain pieces throughout the book. In the poem “The First Words,” she uses repetition to reveal just how often Xiomara is told, “You sure ain’t an easy one.” Words like that repeated over and over in someone’s life can shape their opinions of themselves and therefore shape their personality. She also uses repetition when Father Sean, Xiomara’s priest is lecturing her instead of trying to find out why she had an outburst in confirmation class. Then again, the repetition shows how comfortable she feels in the arms of her love interest.

Through the dialogue, Acevedo uses understatement. Much is said through what the characters don’t say when there was a chance to speak. Xiomara’s mother is a strict, religious woman and most of what she says in Bible verses. Even when Xiomara comes back to confront her mother about hitting her and burning her journal, the mother just cries, pats her back, and runs her fingers through Xiomara’s hair. Her father is also the silent type when it comes to Xiomara, until the very end when the family begins seeing Father Sean more often for counseling. His words at the end about dancing and love make so much more of an impact because of this. Even Xiomara herself holds back on what she says to people. An example of this is when she is complimenting a friend on her writing.

Response:

Wow. I can see why this has already won so many awards even though it was only published last year. The emotion just pours through this book. It was so relatable to me growing up in a strict, religious household. Thankfully my mother was never as hard on me as Xiomara’s. Her mother was downright abusive. Her father, however, reminded me even more of mine. He takes a backseat to the mother’s crazy, authoritarian parenting style. She says that he is absent even though he is still living there with the family. I identify with that more than I realized until the very end when he asks Xiomara to dance. I cried then, just like I cried when my dad danced with me at my wedding. So many young people can make similar connections to this text. It is a great book for teenagers. There is definitely some mature subject matter along the lines of violence and sexuality, but what teenager hasn’t encountered these in this day and age? The topic of rebutting against religion almost turned me off of this book, however, Xiomara goes through a lot and it’s no wonder she wants to ask questions. I love that her priest begins to work with her and allows her to ask questions. She even ends the book still not sure whether she’s for or against the church. I think this is also something that a lot of modern teens struggle with and it might be good for some to hear about others having the same doubts.

Conclusion:

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is a novel-in-verse about a young Dominican, Harlem teen trying to discover herself and her voice through poetry. This emotional story contains all the figurative language and music in language that can make poetry so effective. The understated dialogue also packs a powerful punch. I would recommend this book to teenagers and young adults because of the themes that are so common to this age group. So many emotional connections are to be had when reading Xiomara’s poetry. I do not, however, recommend this book to anyone younger than high school because it so so mature.

Citation:

Acevedo, E. (2018). The poet x. New York, NY: HarperTeen.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo – Newbery Medal Winner 2004

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Evaluation:

Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux is the fantasy story of a mouse in love with a human princess, a rat in love with the light, a girl who just wants to be treated right. This pseudo fairy tale is told in four parts and three different points of view. DiCamillo writes whimsically using figurative language all throughout the book. From onomatopoeia to idiom and hyperbole, from alliteration to simile and metaphor, the figurative language makes the story more interesting to read.

DiCamillo also draws a line in the sand at the very beginning of her tale. Despereaux’s mother goes through some terrible labor when giving birth to him and who should have been his brothers and sisters. None of the babies make it, except for Despereaux. When the father mouse asks if the mother will name the lone surviving babe, she bemoans that all the others have died and that most likely this one will too. She names him anyway even though she thinks he will die like the others. The readers, of course, know that this name she gives him is the title character and therefore he will live after all.

The vocabulary in The Tale of Despereaux is quite precise, even if Kate DiCamillo is a tad condescending about it. Words like “perfidy,” “indignant,” and ” beleaguered,” are wonderful words for anyone to practice reading and using. However, Kate DiCamillo does like to point this out and also point out that the reader should look them up in a dictionary which is debatably condescending.

Response:

Before reading The Tale of Despereaux, I had heard of the book and heard of the movie. I think I even own the book in my old classroom library. However, I had not ever read it until recently. I have to say that my first impression is, while it was written fairly well, that it is a weird story. I get that it is supposed to be fairytale-like, but I just couldn’t deal with that absurd ending. Absolutely nothing about this story is believable, and maybe that’s how DiCamillo meant it? I also thought it was odd to have a character so mistreated, and yet so unlikeable such as Mig. Then, to have sympathy for the villain in the end? It all just struck me as odd. I guess I’m used to more traditional fairy tales. I did enjoy the message of forgiveness and making things right though. I think that’s a nice, positive spin. Then, there’s also the abundance of opportunities for teaching both figurative language and vocabulary. Teachers love that! One thing I did not appreciate, however, was the condescension and speaking directly to the reader. I’m not usually a fan of “breaking the fourth wall,” but some might like it.

Conclusion:

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo is the fantastical story of a mouse, a rat, and a girl and how their fates intertwine. DiCamillo’s use of figurative language, drawing a line in the sand, and precise vocabulary make this book a teacher’s dream. Although the explaining of vocabulary and speaking directly to the reader limits the audience for this tale, I do recommend it for elementary school students. It would make a great read-aloud book for all of the aforementioned teaching points, but also for the many opportunities to use great voices while reading.

Citation:

DiCamillo, K. (2003). The tale of despereaux. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead – Newbery Medal Winner 2010

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Evaluation:

Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me is a realistic tale with a dash of science fiction set in late 1970s New York. It’s told from the perspective of Miranda, a preteen girl, who begins to receive mysterious notes from a stranger predicting the future. When You Reach Me is riddled with unexpected insights. Stead drives home themes about friendship, identity, social class, compassion, and forgiveness through the characters’ reactions to the events of the book. Miranda, as the narrator, has many introspective moments that the reader gets to share with her.

Rebecca Stead uses understatement occasionally throughout this book to portray those oh-so-common awkward moments in life. The reader can see this with Miranda’s inability to apologize to her mother when she insults the cleanliness of the apartment. All Stead reveals is that Miranda can’t apologize to her mother, but not why. Then again, when her friend Colin comes to the apartment and kisses her. She simply kisses him back, then there’s no more mention of Colin and Miranda’s relationship until the end when Miranda is reflecting on kissing Colin a few more times that year.

Stead’s dialogue in When You Reach Me is revealing of the different characters and their personalities. Miranda expects her frenemy, Julia, to overreact when her watch falls off and accidentally breaks. She had just been calling Miranda an idiot for not watching out for Annemarie more, but all Julia says about the watch is “Oh, great,” and mumbles about how the day “stinks.” This is showing the Julia isn’t exactly the person Miranda thinks.

Response:

I had never read When You Reach Me before until this summer and I was honestly very confused throughout a good chunk of the book. There are so many mysteries that come into play in the book early on and you keep turning the pages to find out the answers. Well, let me just tell you that the answers don’t come until very nearly the end of the book. Even some of the understatement and insights left me feeling a little confused and I had to put the book down for a bit to mull it over before continuing. I did enjoy the text-to-text connections with A Wrinkle in Time, however, I have not read that book, only watched the movie. Thankfully, I had watched the movie though or else some of the references wouldn’t have been as powerful. I will say that a lot of the time travel talk was still very confusing, but maybe it is supposed to be? The chapter titles were interesting as well. I made sure to go back and look at each subtitle after I finished the chapter in order to make the connections between them and what happened. I also adored all the themes about friendship and forgiveness. It’s true that people tend to figure life out through introspection and that’s exactly what we see with Miranda. She realizes that being kind is better than being indifferent and that to say something is better than not saying anything at all.

Conclusion:

Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me is a realistic fiction story about time travel and friendship in late 1970s New York. Stead’s use of unexpected insights, understatement, and dialogue come together to make a fascinating, mysterious, and thought-provoking novel. I recommend it to anyone from upper elementary up as it is appropriate and profound.

Citation:

Stead, R. (2009). When you reach me. New York, NY: Wendy Lamb Books.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer – Romance

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Evaluation:

Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight is a teen sensation young adult romance involving a century-old vampire who still looks like a teenager and the new girl in town who strikes his fancy. This series exploded with popularity among women from puberty-stricken teenage girls all the way up to hopeless romantic housewives. However, Meyer’s understatement is debatably the only aspect of this book that actually makes it a good read. The thing that seems to be what garnered fame for the series is the fact that the reader can put themselves in the main character/narrator’s shoes and insert their own personality.

The dialogue in this book could have been what saved it, but much of what the narrator wants to say only comes out as thoughts and is never actually said. When she does speak, it’s awkward and choppy depicting her as stiff and dull. The vampires are all very quiet, stoic characters and therefore don’t say much themselves. There are a few minor characters who speak more but this is just accredited to their “bubbly” personalities.

Meyer’s vocabulary in Twilight waivers between precise and controlled throughout the book. There are pages where Meyer uses words like “shattering, thunderous” and then there are pages where it seems she’s just throwing words out there for the sake of elongating sentences. She also attempts some figurative language in the book by comparing the way the vampires look or how they act to other things, but it is too few and far between to make an impact.

Response:

I first read this book when it came out, which was when I was in high school. Of course, back then, I was more interested in love stories than in actual good writing. I had to read and analyze enough good writing in school, so when I was outside of school I wanted to read something with a topic that interested me. That topic at the time happened to be unique romance. I will give Meyer this: Twilight appeals to a societally driven desire for women to fall madly in love with handsome, mysterious, rich, young-looking, yet wise men. I loved it when I read it and bought each new book as it came out. I even watched each new movie as those premiered, though the movies were MUCH worse than the books. After a few years of college and the real world slapped me in the face, I realized that these books do not stand the test of time. They were not very well written and do not accurately portray real love, but the mere fantasy of it.

Conclusion:

Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight is the fantasy tale of young love between a painfully awkward teenage girl and a century-old vampire who at least looks the same age as the girl all told from her perspective. Meyer’s understatement, particularly when it comes to dialogue, is the only redeeming aspect and even then it does occasionally detract from the story. I do recommend this book to any lovelorn young females looking to satisfy their hormones.

Citation:

Meyer, S. (2005). Twilight. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.