The Children's Book Compass

Archive for September 2011

My Name is Mina and I Love the Night by David Almond.  (2011).  300 pages.   Delacorte Press.  Grades 5 and up.  Novel.

One of the lyrics from the song, “Maria” in the Sound of Music asks – “How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?”  That’s what it is like to try to describe this latest David Almond book, My Name is Mina . . . .  I experienced a sense of wonder as I read this book.  Wonder at Almond’s originality and talent.  Wonder at the delightful character of the nine-year-old Mina who is full of a zest for life, learning and growing.  This book is a prequel to Almond’s book, Skellig.  Mina tells about herself before the events in Skellig.  Mina tells her ideas, thoughts, wondering as her story unfolds through her journal.  Mina uses different font sizes and forms to emphasize her thoughts in her journal.  She likes to play with words, “I keep on playing with words and my pen.  I look at an empty page and it’s like an empty sky waiting for a bird to fly across it.”    When she finds a word that thrills her she writes it in bold and large font – “Pneumatization!

She writes poems and sometimes ideas for “extraordinary activities.  She gets to “mooch about” because she is homeschooled.  She read and rereads favorite books. She loves three of my favorite picture books, which she calls “three of the extraordinariest books in the world: Where the Wild Things Are, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and Dogger!  Lay on my bed and read them and looked at them just like I did when I was a little girl.  And danced the dance of the Wild Things with Max, and tiptoed into the bear’s cave with the family, and felt really sad with Dave about his lost toy, Dogger, and really happy with him when he found it again.  … I read them all again, a second time, and got all dreamy…”  Mina is a character who comes alive through her musings in her journal.  At the end she asks, “Does everybody feel this excitement, this astonishment, as they grow.  I close my eyes and stare into the universe inside myself.  I feel as if I’m poised on the threshold of something marvelous.”  When children finish this book they will want to go on to Skellig to continue the wonder and pleasure of reading.


Goyangi Means Cat by Christine McDonnell.  Illus. by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Viking.  Grades K-4.  Picture Book/Realistic Fiction.

I’m Adopted! By Shelley Rotner & Sheila M. Kelly.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Holiday House.  Grades K-5.  Nonfiction.

Nini by Francois Thisdale.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Tundra Books.  Grades K-4.  Picture Book/ Realistic Fiction.

These three books fill a need for stories about adoption.  They will be especially loved in families who have adopted.  Share them with children in discussions about different kinds of families in your home or classroom.  Also, please note my previous review of a novel about adoption, Mother Number Zero.

Goyangi Means Cat tells the story of a young girl, Soo Min, who is adopted from Korea and the first week in her American home.  McDonnell skillfully captures how overwhelming it must be for a child to experience a new home, parents, places and especially a new language.  Soo Min teaches her new parents some Korean words.  She finds comfort in the family cat that she calls Goyangi.  The child is tearful when the cat disappears.  But when it returns, Soo Min declares, “Goyangi home” her first English word.  The illustrations in this book are evocative of the tone and nuances in the story.  .The illustrators use paper collage with acrylic and oil paints.  “The patterns used in the paper collage were selected to reflect the Eastern and Western worlds of Soo Min…”  The richness of the patterns with Korean characters integrated into them provide a textured and softly colored background for the story.

I’m Adopted! is a joyful celebration of the variety of ways families adopt.  The simple text is accompanied by bright photographs that feature children adopted at different ages and countries as well as the U.S.  The authors focus on questions that children have about adoption.  “Usually adopted children want to know why their birth mothers could not keep them.”  Or, “Adopted children often want to know about the country where they were born.”  The answers are straight forward and show that there are various ways to address the questions.   The photographs are the highlight of the book.  There are several to a page that shows animated, happy children and their families engaged in all kinds of activities.  The book ends with the satisfying statement about how “Most children want to hear the story of how they came to their families . . . They want to hear it again … and again.”

Nini is unusual and memorable in its portrayal of the adoption of the author’s daughter from China.  It starts with the baby in the womb and how she listens to the voice of her mother.  “It spoke of rice paddies and lotus flowers blowing in the evening breeze.”  …“Warm and safe, she listened carefully to all it said.”  The illustration that accompanies this part of the text shows the baby floating in the womb.  Then the story follows the child to an orphanage and finally to the home of her new parents across the ocean.  The story comes full circle ends with “Years have passed.  Some days, the child hears a distant echo.  She thinks of rice paddies, of lotus flowers in the wind, of a little house with a pointed roof.  Sometimes, just before she sleeps, she whispers to the moon that she is happy. . . . And they (the family) thank a distant echo that travels on the night breeze for allowing them to become a family.”  Thisdale uses mixed, multi-textured images that are haunting in their beauty.  Some of the illustrations feature photographs of his daughter woven into the illustration.  Words, child-like drawings and Chinese characters also float through the pictures.  Treasure this story.



Marching With Aunt Susan: Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage by Claire Rudolf Murphy.  Illus. by Stacey Schuett.  (2011). Pages not numbered.  Peachtree.  Grades 3-6.  Picture Book/Historical Fiction.

One of my college students once explained how reading a children’s book about the fight for women’s suffrage impacted her voting behaviors.  “I’ll never miss voting again, now I see what a precious right it is.”   This excellent book will influence younger students about our hard-won voting rights.  Murphy has fictionalized an incident from 1896 in the life of Bessie Pond, a girl growing up in San Francisco.  Bessie’s family hosts Susan B. Anthony when she comes to California to lead the campaign for a referendum to give women the vote.  Bessie is inspired by Anthony to see the inequalities that women suffer.  Murphy frames her story from the point of view of Bessie who is angry that she is not allowed to participate in activities with her brothers because girls are not considered strong enough.   Sadly, it would be fifteen more years until women were granted full voting rights and twenty four years until the The Nineteenth Amendment would give women in every state voting rights.  Schuett’s illustrations extend the text with details that add to the characterizations and dramatic scenes.   Extensive back matter provides short biographies of Bessie and Anthony as well as a time-line about the fight to achieve the vote for women, information about the California Suffrage campaign, suffrage history, photos and recommendations for further reading.  An author’s note on the copyright page lists the author’s sources.  Read aloud this story to encourage a conversation about voting rights and being involved in our democracy.

The Three Bears by Paul Galdone.  (1972).  Pages not numbered.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Grades P-3.

The Three Little Kittens by Paul Galdone.  (1986).  Pages not numbered.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Grades P-3.

The Three Little Pigs by Paul Galdone.  (1970).  Pages not numbered.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Grades P-3.

The Little Red Hen by Paul Galdone.  (2001).  Pages not numbered.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Grades P-3.

Paul Galdone is a master storyteller and illustrator.  He has retold and illustrated these tales in a way that makes them sparkle.  Now these four tales are available again and have just been reissued as “Folk Tale Classics”.  Careful attention has been given to the trim size and format of the reissues.  The uniform font size for the covers and the brightly colored illustrations distinguish them.  Children love to hear theses stories read aloud again and again.  The Three Bears was a particular favorite of our youngest daughter.  She would linger over the page that introduced the three bears as “Little wee Bear, … a Middle-Sized bear … and the other was a Great Big Bear.”   The font size of the text matches the size of the bears.  Galdone’s endearing illustration shows the bears looking out at the reader.

Galdone retelling of the tales feature consequences for characters that make unwise decisions.  For example, in The Three Little Pigs the wolf eats the two pigs that don’t build sturdy houses.  The illustrations feature colorful and expressive characters that make each tale memorable.  These stories should be part of a child’s cultural heritage.  Look for more Galdone classics to be reissued soon.


The Glass Swallow by Julia Golding.  (2011).  304 pages.  Marshall Cavendish.  Grades 7-12.  Fantasy Novel

This romantic fantasy tackles issues of class, disparity in incomes, women’s rights and working together for peace.  The heroine, fifteen-year-old Rain, secretly designs stained glass windows for her father’s glass blowing business.  The glassmaker’s guild forbids girls to do so.  When her father gets a commission to design windows for a ruler in Magharnan, a country far away, Rain travels there with her cousin and the Magharnan ambassador.  The plan is that she will secretly create the windows while her male cousin receives the credit.  However, in traveling to the capital everyone in the group but Rain is killed by bandits.  Rain survives in the cruel society and eventually thrives.  She provides leadership when the government and society of Magharnan collapse.  Alternate chapters tell about the adventures of Peri, a falconer, considered an untouchable in Magharnan.  How Rain and Peri come together to create a new society for Magharnan makes an engrossing tale.  A map provides details of the Magharnan city and surrounding countryside.  The intricate plot is a page turner while the issues it explores have strong connections to today’s headlines.  Golding has a talent for creating strong portrayals of major and minor characters.

Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

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