The Children's Book Compass

Archive for the ‘Books about Reading’ Category

Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed by Eileen Christelow.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Clarion Books.  Ages 2-6.  Picture book.

The five little monkeys from Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed are back!  This time Mama reads them bedtime stories but when it’s time for “Lights out! Sweet dreams!” the monkeys keep reading.  The books are so good, they laugh, cheer, scream and cry.  Each time Mama comes back to tell them,  “Lights out! Sweet dreams!  No more reading in bed!”  But each time the monkeys find another book they just can’t resist.  Finally, they are sleepy and say, “Just wait till tomorrow, and then we’ll read more!”  The front endpapers add to the fun, showing each monkey reading in a different spot – on the toilet, outside, swinging, in a comfy chair or while eating.    The expressive monkeys and their loving and patient mom are softly colored.  A great read aloud to celebrate the joys of reading.


Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos.   (2011).  341 pages.  FSG.  Ages 11- 14.

Gantos won the Newbery for 2012 for this humorous, autobiographical novel. In 1962, twelve-year-old  Jack gets in trouble and is grounded for the summer.  His mother only lets him out of his punishment to help an elderly neighbor type obituaries for the local newspaper.  Gantos loads his story with unexpected twists and turns that are zany and sometime mysterious.

Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard.  (2011).  183 pages.  Delacorte Press.  Ages 14-adult.  Realistic Fiction.

As sixteen-year-old Alex begins the school year at his boarding school, he is unable to save his roommate from drowning.  That event consumes Alex as the truth of what happened consumes him with guilt.  A supporting English teacher nurtures Alex’s poetic talents and tries to help him come to terms with the drowning.  This novel explores moral issues and the cost of peer pressure in a way that demonstrates the complexity of being a teenager.

 Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor.  (2011).  247 pages.   Putnam.  Ages 11- adult.

Reading this book was a gift.  The story features lovable and intriguing characters that by the end of the book seem like friends.  The Mother of seventh grader, Raine, unexpectedly takes a job for the summer at a small artist retreat, Sparrow Road.  Raine is not happy about having to leave her home in Milwaukee.  It turns out that her mother wants Raine to meet the father she has never known who lives near Sparrow Road.  The summer turns out to be memorable and life changing for Raine.

Bluefish by Pat Schmatz.  (2011)  226 pages.  Candlewick Press.  Ages 12- adult.

Travis has hidden a secret – he can’t read.  When he gets to middle school he encounters a teacher who discovers his secret and offers him a solution.  A new friend, Velvetta, also helps him with his reading.  Both Travis and Velvetta are dealing with grief and loss.  How they learn to trust and support each other as they become friends makes a story that sticks to the heart.


Miss Dorothy and Her BookMobile by Gloria Houston.  Illus. by Susan Lamb.  (2011) Pages not numbered.  Harper.  Grades 2-6.  Picture Book.

When I was a child my family visited our local library every Saturday.  The children’s librarians encouraged my reading and even saved books for me that they thought I would like.  Gloria Houston dedicates her newest book to such librarians, “For all Librarians, who bring the world to our door.”  Her story starts, “When Dorothy was a young girl, she loved books, and she loved people, so she decided that she would become a librarian.”  Houston chronicles how Dorothy fulfilled that dream.  In the process, through her hard work and dedication, she brought books to people in remote parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina first using a bookmobile and then through an established library.  “Everywhere Miss Dorothy went, she made new reading friends.”  The story ends with letters from some of those friends that show how Miss Dorothy influenced their lives.  Softly colored illustrations show the lovely landscapes Miss Dorothy traveled through as well as the perils she encountered in fording flooded streams and snow covered hills.  An Author’s Note at the end tells about the real Dorothy and how she was a bright spot in the lives of many.  “Her memorial is the love of books she engendered in the lives of her patrons, young and old.”  Houston and Lamb teamed on another book, My Great-Aunt Arizona, which also promotes the love of learning and reading.  Connect this with two other books on the topic, Biblioburro: A True Story from Columbia by Jeanette Winter and That Book Woman by Heather Henson.

Mockingbird (mok’ing-bûrd) by Kathryn Erskine.  (2010) 235 pages.  Philomel.  Grades 5 and up.  Novel/Realistic Fiction.

Some books make indelible imprints on our hearts and memories.  Mockingbird (mok’ing-bûrd) is such a book because it helps us understand and have empathy for a child with Asperger’s syndrome.  Caitlin, a ten-year-old girl with Asperger’s syndrome, narrates the story of how she tries to help herself and her dad deal with grief.  Her older brother, Devon and two others were killed in a shooting at his middle school.  The school counselor, Mrs. Brook, works with Caitlin.  Mrs. Brook tells her that, “people have a hard time understanding me (Caitlin) because I have Asperger’s so I have to try extra hard to understand them and that means working on emotions.”   In a T.V. news report of the tragedy Caitlin hears the newscaster say, “isn’t it good that we now have closure?”  Caitlin wonders “how CLOsure can help.  And what it is.”  Her dictionary, gives her a definition of closure:  “the state of experiencing an emotional conclusion to a difficult life event such as the death of loved one.”  Caitlin works hard to figure out how to reach closure in order to heal her father’s grief and her own.

Erskine writes in her Author Note at the end, “This book was inspired by the events at Virginia Tech as well as my own need to try to explain what it’s like for a child to have Asperger’s syndrome.  … I hope that by getting inside her head (Caitlin), readers will understand seemingly bizarre behavior.  And I hope that readers will see that, by getting inside someone’s head, really understanding that person, so many misunderstandings and problems can be avoided—misunderstandings and problems that can lead to mounting frustration and , sometimes, even violence.”

Erkine’s skill at storytelling and creating realistic characters helps her readers achieve that understanding.  Caitlin’s literal take on the world provides levity and keeps the story from being sad.   The characterizations of Mrs. Brook and Caitlin’s teachers show the positive support teachers and counselors can provide.  The title refers to the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird.  Caitlin loved to watch it with her brother and sees herself as Scout.  Caitlin’s love of books enriches the story. She says – “Books are not like people.  Books are safe.”  Reference books and stories provide help her understand emotions.  This is a book that children will want to discuss.  Such discussions may lead to new understandings about the pain caused by bullying.

How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills.  (2010).  Schwartz & Wade Books.  Pages not numbered.  Grades K-2.  Picture Book.

Here’s another book to promote the joy of reading.  Rocket, a frisky dog, meets a small yellow bird who announces that she is his teacher and she is going to teach him to read!  She starts by reading aloud and at first, Rocket’s nap is disturbed, “But before long he found himself captivated.  To Rocket the story was as delicious as the earthy smells of fall.  It was as exciting as chasing leaves.  He closed his eyes and listened to every word.”  Every morning Rocket returns to the yellow bird’s classroom and there he listens to stories and learns “all of the wondrous, mighty, gorgeous alphabet.”  Hills’ softly colored illustrations extend the text and add to the characterization.  Best of all is the double-page spread that shows Rocket spelling words in the snow while the bird has flown south for the winter.  The story ends with the bird and the dog reading stories again “And again. And A-G-A-I-N.”  It is a most satisfying ending.  Team this one with Miss Brooks Loves Books! ( and I don’t) by Barbara Bottner that is reviewed below.

Miss Brooks Loves Books! ( and I don’t) by Barbara Bottner.  Illus. Michael Emberley.  (2010).  Knopf.  Pages not numbered.  Grades 1-4.  Picture Book.

Miss Brooks, a school librarian, loves books and shares them with her students in exciting and innovative ways.  However, the narrator of this humorous picture book does not love reading.  She tells Miss Brooks that she will “never love a book the way you do” Miss Brooks replies, “Don’t be so sure,” while she fills the child’s bag with books to read at home with her mom.  But the narrator is determined to not like any of those books either – “They’re too kissy.  Too pink.  And too silly.”  Her mother tells her, “You’re as stubborn as a wart.”  Finally, the girl discovers something that she wants to read about –“WARTS!!”  Luckily, her mother knows a book that includes warts – Shrek!  In the final scenes she dresses up in a costume as the ogre and tells the other children about Shrek, even giving them stick-on warts.  Miss Brooks is thrilled and says that “…even ogres can find something funny and fantastic and appalling in the library.”  The expressive and animated illustrations picture a zany Miss Brooks clothed in costumes to match the books she reads aloud to the children – Barbar, one of the Wild Things, the Hungry Caterpillar, Lincoln, and more.  This book demonstrates that each child has a unique way of discovering books that she will love.

Start the school year with a theme – “Why Read?”  Read aloud and invite the children to read all kinds of books that celebrate reading.  Miss Brooks Loves Books can be shared with such a textset.  It will spark a discussion about choosing books to match your interests.  The connecting books below all celebrate reading.

Connecting Books

Birdseye, Tom.  Just Call Me Stupid.  (Puffin, 1993).

Patrick is in the fifth grade and still can’t read.  He is sent to the Resource Room which makes his problem even worse.  Then a new girl comes to his class and changes his life by reading aloud to him.

Bloom, Becky.  Wolf!. (Orchard, 1999).

A wolf discovers the pleasures of reading as a result of his encounters with a cow, a duck and a pig, all avid readers.

Borden, Louise.  The Day Eddie Met the Author.  Illus. A. Gustavson. (Margaret McElderry, 2001).

Eddie discovers how an author can create a book with parts meant just for him.

Bradby, Marie.  More Than Anything Else.  Illus. C. Soentpiet. (Orchard, 1995).

Nine year old Booker works with his father and brother in the salt works while making his dream of learning to read comes true.

Bunting, Eve.  The Wednesday Surprise.  Illus. D. Carrick.  (Clarion, 1989).

Anna and her grandmother work hard together to prepare an unusual surprise for Dad’s birthday.

Daly, Niki.  Once Upon a Time. (FSG, 2003).

Sarie struggles when her teacher calls on her to read aloud in her South African school.  But then her Auntie Anna finds a book about Cinderella and together they work to make reading fun.

Garland, Michael.  Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook.  (Dutton, 2003).

When Miss Smith reads a story aloud to her class the characters come to life.  There is trouble when the principal reads from the book and doesn’t know the secret to containing the characters.

Harris, Robie.  Maybe a Bear Ate It! Illus. M. Emberley.  (Orchard, 2008).

A simple picture book that humorously chronicles a little creature’s search for his lost book.  All is well when he recovers the beloved book.

Herman, Gail.  Sam’s First Library Card.  Illus.  T. Petrosina.  (Grosset & Dunlap, 2003).

Sam learns about borrowing books from the library and the pleasure of reading.

Hesse, Karen.  Just Juice..  (Scholastic, 1998).

Nine year old tomboy, Juice, is the capable member of a large family.  Yet she has difficulties with reading and writing and can’t make sense out of letters and words.  As a result she skips school until a caring teacher provides support..

Johnston, Tony.  Amber On The Mountain.  Illus. R. Duncan. (Puffin, 1998).

Amber’s life on the mountain is lonely without friends or even a school.  Then Anna comes to live on the mountain and Amber gains a friend who teaches her to read and write.

McGill, Alice.  Molly Bannaky.  Illus. C. Soentpiet.  (Houghton, 1999).

Molly is a milkmaid in 18th century.  When the cow kicks over the milk pail, Molly is taken to court for stealing the milk from the Lord of the Manor.  Molly’s ability to read saves her from hanging.  She is sent to American to be an indentured servant and later teaches her grandson, Benjamin Banneker to read.

McPhail, David.  Santa’s Book of Names.  (Little, Brown, 1993).

Edward has trouble with reading until Santa arrives on Christmas Eve.  Santa enlists Edward’s help in reading his book of names and making deliveries of gifts to the children of the world.  When the long night is over, Edward discovers he can read!

Miller, William.  Richard Wright And The Library Card.  Illus. G. Christie. (Lee & Low, 1999).

A picture book vignette from Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy.  Wright was not allowed to use the public library since he was African American.  However, he took a risk, borrowed a white man’s library card and satisfied his passion for reading.

Mora, Pat.  Tomas And The Library Lady. Illus. R. Colon. (Dragonfly, 2000).

When his family of migrant workers moves to Iowa, Tomas discovers new stories at the public library to share with his family.

Mora, Pat.  A Library for Juana.  Illus. B. Vidal.  (Knopf, 2002).

A biography of a Mexican writer who lived in the 17th century.  As a child, Juana Ines learned to read at the age of three and was allowed to go to school.

Polacco, Patricia. Thank You Mr. Falker.  (Philomel, 1998).

Patricia’s struggles with reading impact her self esteem until her teacher, Mr. Falker, finds a way to help her overcome her difficulties.

Reiche, Dietlof.  I, Freddy.  Illus. J. Cepeda.  (Scholastic, 2003).

Freddy is a golden hamster that teaches himself to read and then learns to communicate his thoughts using a computer.  A novel, that reads well aloud.

Stewart, Sarah.  The Library. Illus. D. Small (Sunburst, 1999).

Elizabeth Brown loves to read.  When her collection of books takes over her home, she creates a library for the town.

Vaughan, Marcia.  Up the Learning Tree.  Illus. D. Blanks.  (Lee & Low, 2003).

A slave boy risks severe punishment in order to learn to read and write.

Well, Rosemary.  Read Me a Story.  (Hyperion, 2002).

Yoko doesn’t want anyone to know she can read and write.  Both her teacher and her mother are frustrated with her performance until the reason Yoko is afraid to show her ability comes out.

Wilson, Nancy Hope.  Old People, Frogs, and Albert.  (FSG, 1997).

Albert is discouraged with his ability to read in the fourth grade.  A classroom volunteer, Mr. Spear, helps Albert overcome his difficulties.

Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

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