The Children's Book Compass

Archive for August 2011

Mother Number Zero by Marjolyn Hof.  (2011). 179 pages.  Groundwood.  Grades 5 and up.  Novel: Realistic Fiction.

Fay and his older sister, Bing, are adopted.  Their parents are loving and supportive.  The parents have always wanted their children to know as much as possible about their birth parents and how they were adopted.  Unfortunately, there is not much information.  Bing was adopted from China.  She was found outside in the freezing cold.  Fay has been told that his birth mother was from Bosnia, but that she came to the Netherlands to have him.  Fay has always thought, “All children come out of a belly and nobody can remember that.  What’s the difference – one belly or another?”  But then he meets Maud, a new girl, who is curious about his adoption and asks questions about his origins.  Suddenly Fay has questions about his birth mother.  His parents provide a way to find out the details about his birth mother.  But, his search impacts Bing who has no hope of finding her birth mother.  This novel is set in the Netherlands and is a balanced portrayal of issues for adoptive children, their adoptive parents and birth mothers.  The strong characterizations contribute to the thoughtfulness of this novel.  Several other plot lines add interest to the story: Fay’s love of drawing birds at the park; his interactions with friends; his encounters with a homeless man.  Young readers will benefit in discussing this book.


When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew: Tales of Ti-Jean by Jan Andrews.  Illus. by Dusan Petricic.  (2011). 67 pages.  Groundwood.  Grades 3-6.  Folktale.

Three New World tales with an Old World flavor feature Quebec folktale hero, Ti-Jean.  Familiar folktale characters and motifs are featured in the lively tales.  Ti-Jean performs difficult challenges, saves his brothers, is kind and caring to others and loves his mother.  What’s not to like about his adventures, especially his those that involve his love for his mother?  Sometimes Ti-Jean seems foolish and other times wise.  His personality changes keep the reader guessing and involved.    An added bonus is that each story features a female in an active role.  The black pencil drawings add droll details to the stories.  A perfect selection to read aloud or to learn to storytell.

Hocus Pocus by Sylvie Derosiers.  Illus. by Remy Simard.  (2011). Pages not numbered.  Kids Can Press.  Grades Preschool – 2.  Picture Book.

A blue rabbit pops out of a magic top hat while a magician and his dog nap.  Bright illustrations in this almost wordless book tell the story of how the rabbit tries to get a carrot and avoid the awakened dog.  The antics of the rabbit in besting the dog are action packed.  All the while the magician is clueless because earphones on, he is snoozing and listening to his I-Pod.  The varied lay-out of the pages provides interest.  Some illustrations are full-page, others have six frames on a page.  The carefully detailed illustrations seem to move.  The only words included are those that imitate the sounds of the actions: pop, splash, sniff, splatt.  Children will want to tell this story themselves as they “read” the pictures.

Dog in Boots by Greg Gormley.  Illus. by Roberta Angaramo.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.   Holiday House.  Grades K-3.  Picture Book.

In an original and humorous tale, Dog is inspired by reading Puss in Boots to visit his local shoe shop to obtain his own footwear.  However, the new boots “were not at all splendid or magnificent for digging.  So Dog took them back to the shop.”  After many visits to the shop to obtain new shoes that fit his needs, Dog discovers that his own paws work best.  What a fun romp – why should cats have all the adventures with boots?  This is a circle story, the adventures begin and end with Dog reading a brilliant book.  At the end he is pictured reading Red Riding Hood.  The reader is left wondering how will Dog be inspired by that tale?  The expressive, colorful illustrations add to the fun.  The large size of the book will make it a great read aloud, because the children can see all Dog’s shoe swaps and his humorous trial of each pair.


All the World’s a Stage: A Novel in Five Acts by Gretchen Woelfle.  Illus. by Thomas Cox.  Holiday House.  Grades 6-9.  Novel/Historical Fiction.  –

This fascinating novel is based on historical events and people, like William Shakespeare.  Woelfle creates a new character, Kit Buckles, a twelve-year-old orphan who leaves behind a job as a pickpocket to become one of the skilled stagehand in Shakespeare’s theater.  The dramatic event in the story centers around the acting company’s eviction from their playhouse.  Working together the actors and stagehands secretly dismantled the theater, moved it across the Thames and reconstructed it to become the famous Globe Theatre.  During the dramas that involve the theater company, Kit discovers his passion for carpenter work.  A lively girl, Molly adds humor and colorful language to the story.  Speaking to Kit when he feels sorry for himself, Molly says, “You are like a pitiful hound, ears dragging in the dirt.  A pityhound, ‘tis what you are.”  Woelfe adds a contents list, a list of the characters, a glossary, author’s note, and bibliography to support readers.  Blac-line drawings for each act and scene will help young readers visualize the story.


As an introduction to this novel, build young reader’s background knowledge of Shakespeare and his plays with the picture book, All the World’s a Stage by Rebecca Davidson with illustrations by Anita Lobel


The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson.  (2011).  208 pages.  Delacorte Press.  Grades 5-8.

In her author’s note, Larson writes, “In November of 1927, fifty-eight Friendship Dolls arrived in the United States as a gift from Japanese schoolchildren.”  Larson takes that historical fact and builds five short stories around one of the dolls, Miss Kanagawa.  The stories span the time period from 1928 to the current time.  Each story follows Miss Kanagawa on her travels across the United States starting in New York City and ending in Seattle.  Four of the stories focus on a young girl and her experience with the doll.  Miss Kanagawa’s own voice is woven into the stories and the hearts of the girls.  In the second story, Lois Brown sees Miss Kanagawa at the Chicago World’s Fair.  Lois finds herself eye to eye with Miss Kanagawa in a display.  “It was as if those eyes were movie screens, shimmering with images that slowly flickered into focus.  Lois couldn’t tear gaze away.  On that screen Lois sees scenes with her friend.  Lois feels a poke in the chest and a voice speaks in her heart, “A good friend gives our heart wings.”  Lois reconsiders a plan to spend money on herself and buy a gift to take back to her friend.  The encounters between Miss Kanagawa and the girls change Miss Kanagawa.  She fulfills the wish of the dollmaker who created her that she “will find a doll’s true meaning: to be awakened by the heart of a child.”

Larson’s author note at the end gives more information about the actual historical events in the stories.  The last and the shortest of the stories is about Mason whose grandmother is Lucy, the star of the fourth story.  Mason discovers Miss Kanagawa in his grandmother’s attic.  That discovery brings Miss Kanagawa into the light and a new opportunity to teach a child.  This book fulfills Larson’s hope, “…through this book I can in some small way, pass on their (the doll’s) message of friendship and peace.”

Wild Wings by Gill Lewis.  Illus. by Yuta Onoda.  (2011). 287 pages.  Atheneum.  Grades 4-8. Novel/Realistic Fiction.

Wild Wings is the best novel for young people I have read this year.  It is a captivating and memorable read.  Callum thinks he knows everything about his family’s farm nestled in the hills and valleys of Scotland.  Then he meets Iona, a new girl from the village, who shares a secret about a discovery she has made.  Two osprey are nesting near the loch on the farm.  Osprey are rare and haven’t nested on the farm for more than a hundred years.  Callum and Iona keep the news about the osprey secret until the female is hurt, hanging upside down, tangled and caught in a fishing line.  Then the children ask Callum’s Dad to call for help from a nearby nature preserve.  Hamish comes and is able to free the osprey and examine her.  When Callum sees the female up close he is awestruck, “Nothing prepared me for seeing her right in front of me.  It was as if the lochs and the mountains and the sky were folded deep inside of her as if she was a small piece of this vast landscape and none of it could exist without her.”  Before he frees her to go back to her eggs in the nest, Hamish fits the osprey with a satellite transmitter.  He says that now they will be able to track her position, tell how high she is flying and how fast.  Best of all they “can follow her journey all the way to Africa and back.”  Hamish gives the children a special code for their computer that will plot her journey on Goggle Earth.  Hamish also cautions the children to keep the nest a secret.  “Some people pay thousands to get their hands on osprey eggs.”  Callum begins a record of the osprey.  Eventually, the children follow the female’s flight to Gambia in Africa.  When the osprey appears to be lost, Callum sends many e-mail message to the area where her transmission stopped, asking for help in locating her.  A girl, Jeneba, answers and the people in her village take their boats to search for the bird.  The bird is found and helped.  The e-mail messages between Callum and Jeneba enrich the story.

There are many layers to this story.  Lewis skillfully weaves several themes into her story.  The main theme is the value of taking care of the environment.  Another theme is friendship.  Lewis also shows the value of community and family by creating well drawn, realistic characters that support Callum in his efforts to help the osprey and Jeneba.

In a note to the reader at the end of the book readers are invited to connect with Lewis “as she travels to Scotland to assist in the tagging of the 2011 osprey chicks and see conservational research in action.  Readers will be able to follow her “osprey blog-and the journey of these tagged birds-on her websites …”  This book makes an excellent read-aloud and children can learn more about the osprey on Lewis’s blog.  A few black line drawings are sprinkled throughout the story.  Please note the book is titled Sky Hawk in the UK.

Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

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