Luther College Student Reviews

Reviews are sorted alphabetically by author’s last name.

Alcorn, Stephan. Odetta the queen of folk. 2010. Scholastic Inc., (212-343-6100). 40pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-439-92818-2.

This story is about a young girl, Odetta, who was born during the Civil Rights Era in Birmingham, Alabama. Odetta loved singing and playing the piano but could never make them sound beautiful. She always tried to play the black and white keys on the piano but they would never work together to create beautiful music. It wasn’t until her family moved to Los Angles, California that Odetta realized the errors in the southern way of life and how it was not right to treat colored people so unfairly. Odetta grew into a woman who sings and motives people to be proud of who they are and where they come from. She is a person who worked through her music to prove that whites and blacks can work together in harmony, whether on the piano or in life. This book would be great for teaching children about fighting against slavery and for equal rights. The complexity of the text makes this book geared more towards middle school aged readers (KS).

Bauer, Joan. Close to famous. 2011. Penguin Group USA, Inc. (Viking). [email protected], (212-366-2000). 250pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-670-01282-4.

Foster may not be able to read, but she can bake a fantastic cupcake. When she and her mother are chased out of Memphis by an Elvis impersonator, they settle into the small town of Culpepper. Foster dreams of having her own cooking show, and soon meets other residents of Culpepper with dreams of their own. Foster’s determination, kindness, and humor make her an instantly loveable character, and her journey towards literacy is rewarding. Close to Famous is worthy of the Newberry buzz it has received. Highly recommended, especially for reluctant readers who will relate to Foster’s reading struggles. (MC)

DeStefano, Lauren. Wither. 2011. Simon and Schuster. [email protected], (800-223-2336). 358 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-0905-7.

Wither, the first novel in Lauren DeStefano’s The Chemical Garden series, chronicles a year in the life of Rhine, a girl kidnapped and forced to marry a young and wealthy architect. In the novel’s post apocalyptic world, the United States of America is the only country left on Earth after a ravaging World War III. Besides the loss of most of the world’s culture, humans born to parents who were genetically altered by modern science to be perfect, die by a certain age. For women the age is twenty years, for men it is twenty five. Because of this time limit on human life, young women disappear unexpectedly in order to be sold into either sex trafficking or arranged marriages. Rhine is one such girl. She is forced to live in a severely protected mansion with two sister wives and an extremely oblivious husband. Attempting to cling to the freedom and carefree memories of her past, Rhine struggles with her caged new life. However, she proves to be an inspiring and courageous heroine. Wither also alludes to gender based crime, a rare theme to appear in today’s young adult literature, which is more appropriate for more mature teen readers. (ARS)

Dixon, Heather. Entwined. 2011. HarperCollins Publishers (Greenwillow Books). [email protected], (212-207-7000). 472pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-200103-0.

Based on the fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Dixon turns a tale of sisterly bonding and nights of endless fun into a dark and painfully emotional tale of the bond between sisters. After they lose their mother, Azalea and her 11 younger sisters, named alphabetically and after flowers, find a remaining bit of magic in a hidden staircase in their formerly enchanted castle. This dark magic also reveals The Keeper, who lives up to his name in many sinister ways. The sisters escape their days spent mourning their late mother and dodging the wrath of their emotionally unyielding father, the King, by dancing. The romantic sub-plot keeps the story moving nicely and contributes especially to the building of suspense towards the end. Overall, Entwined is completely delightful in its storytelling and will leave any reader wishing this darkened fairy tale will never end. (ARS)

Hatkoff, Juliana, Isabella Hatkoff, and Creig Hatkoff. Leo the snow leopard: The true story of an amazing rescue. 2010. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press)., (212-343-6100). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0545229272.

This is the true story of a Pakistani goat herder who found an abandoned snow leopard and took it in to raise and keep safe. Soon, Leo the snow leopard became too large for the goat herder to keep and care for, so he contacted the World Wild Life foundation, who came and took Leo. They took him to a facility where more experienced people could care for him and give him the right nutrition to become healthy again. Since Leo was an endangered animal, he was soon transported to the Bronx Zoo by the Wildlife Conservation Society. This allowed Leo to be in a habitat where he could grow but still allowed him to be cared for by humans. Leo was also placed in a habitat with another snow leopard Shelby, who taught him the way of life and characteristics a typical wild snow leopard would have. This is a great informational book for students to gain an understanding of how endangered or wild animals can be rescued by humans, and portrays a positive view of humans helping wild animals (KS).

Kluger, Jeffrey. Freedom stone. 2011. Penguin Group USA, Inc. [email protected], (212-366-2000). 316pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25214-3.

The young slave Lillie and her family were promised freedom when her papa decided to serve in the Civil War, but when his dead body is found with gold coins, the army claims he stole them. Lillie is determined to clear her father’s name and gain her family’s freedom before her brother Plato is sold off. Even with her ability to read and write and the help of a mysterious and magical baker name Bett, it is a risky plan. The inclusion of magic could have trivialized the realities of slave life, but Kluger succeeds in balancing history and magical realism in this novel. Recommended for late elementary school and middle school readers. (MC)

Lord, Cynthia. Hot rod hamster. 2010. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press)., (212-343-6100). 40pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-545-03530-9. Illustrated by Derek Anderson.

This hot rod hamster is on a mission to build his own vehicle and win a race. But this isn’t an ordinary race – it’s typically only for dogs. However, the hot rod hamster is not intimidated by his large competitors and keeps his eyes on the prize. The colorful illustrations and rhyming text are simple and engaging in a way with which younger readers will thrive. A number of lesson plans would fit well with this text; such as goal making and following through, the behaviors of hamsters as both nocturnal animals and as pets, and vehicle safety. The theme of this book conveys to younger readers that though they are small, they can do anything they set their mind to and that determination triumphs over sheer size. (BB)

Mitchell, Sandra. The vespertine. 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Harcourt). [email protected], (800-597-6127). 296pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-48247-7.

For readers looking to be transported into an entirely different time and place, they need look no further than The vespertine. Set in Colonial New England, Amelia struggles to fit in with her cousin Zora’s social circle while spending the summer in Boston. However, Amelia quickly gains popularity once she discovers she can communicate with other-worldly powers and see into the future. Soon Boston’s young adults are vying for Amelia’s time and talents, not realizing how serious and powerful her abilities are. The one person who does understand how Amelia feels as a member of the supernatural is the handsome and independent Nathaniel. Despite his lower social status, Amelia and Nathaniel form an inexplicable and profound bond that only strengthens as Amelia’s predictions start spiraling out of her control. Mitchell creates a gripping and somehow believable supernatural story with extremely elegant and honest prose. The vespertine appeals mostly to young women interested in reading fantasy with substance. Some difficult vocabulary appears sporadically, but not so much as to hinder younger middle school readers. This has potential to be an interesting read to accompany traditional history lessons focused on Colonial America. (ARS)

Nethery, Mary. The famous Nini: A mostly true story about how a plain white cat became a star. 2010. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Clarion Books). [email protected], (800-597-6127). 32pp. ISBN 978-0618977697.

This story is about a stray white cat who wanders into a small coffee shop in Italy owned by a lady named Nonna. Nonna was struggling to keep her coffee shop afloat when one day a famous composer walks in the door. Nini befriends the composer and helps him find the perfect musical note for his piece. The composer promises to return the favor to Nini by telling his friends about the coffee shop and helps to save the business! Eventually word gets around and many people come in to the coffee shop to ask for Nini’s help or advice. With the business booming, Nini is able to become a permanent resident of the coffee shop and is no longer a stray! This book would be great for a young audience and has colorful and cartoon-like illustrations that will attract the reader’s attention. (KS)

Oz, Amos. Suddenly in the depths of the forest. 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Harcourt). [email protected], (800-597-6127). 134pp. $15.99. ISBN 978-0-547-55153-1.

Long ago, the animals disappeared from a small village, and none of the villagers know why. Two children, Matti and Maya, are too young to remember what animals are like, but one day they see a fish and venture into the forest, where they discover the true reason why the animals left. The repetitive prose reads like a fairy tale, which may be enchanting for some and frustrating for others, but the book conveys an important message about respecting animals. Elementary and middle school aged students would enjoy this book. (MC)

Portis, Antoinette. Kindergarten diary. 2010. HarperCollins Publishers (Harper). [email protected], (212-207-7000). 29pp. $12.99. ISBN 978-0-06-145691-6.

Like many children, Annalina is scared to begin kindergarten. This diary chronicles the day by day events that eventually wipe away all of Annalina’s fears. She makes friends but noticed the un-friendly behavior of the first graders and consequently decides not to become a scary first grader the following year. This book works as an effective tool in comforting in-coming kindergarteners that harbor fears about going to school for the first time. Annalina’s example of kindergarten success will encourage children to be brave and have fun. The pictures are very detailed, so even if a child isn’t able to read all the words, the pictures provide a strong mental image that conveys the meaning of the text. (BB)

Proimos, James. Swim! Swim!. 2010. Scholastic, Inc., (212-343-6100). 26pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-545-09419-1. Illustrated by James Proimos.

Lerch, a fish donning a red hat, becomes disheartened and lonely in his solitary fish tank existence. Lerch tries to befriend the surrounding objects, but unfortunately Lerche doesn’t receive the friendly response he hopes for from the lifeless content of his tank. Unfortunately the only living creature is the cat living outside the bowl who thinks that Lerch’s name is actually Lunch! But when Lerch is most crestfallen, Dinah, Lerch’s true match, is introduced into his tank. This book is filled with suspense and giggles, and with just a small amount of text on each page and immense pictures, it is perfect for beginning readers. (ARS, BB)

Sepetys, Ruta. Between shades of gray. 2011. Penguin Group USA, Inc. (Philomel). [email protected], (212-366-2000). 344pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25412-3.

Between shades of gray presents a fresh perspective on World War II for young adult readers through the journey of a Soviet Union teen artist, Lina. The work opens as the protagonist and her family are taken from their home by the Soviet secret police and sentenced to live in Siberia. Although the reasons for this are sometimes unclear for a reader who has only studied the WWII events of Eastern Europe, the main message lies in Lina’s strength and determination to survive and chronicle the injustice she and her family experience. Sepetys creates for younger readers, especially young women, a character deserving of respect and admiration as she perseveres through unimaginable circumstances. Lina’s story speaks to readers on the level of the human threshold for physical and emotional pain, as well as on the level of a woman’s ability to stay true to herself in the face of male-dominated violence. Between shades of gray would be most well-received by readers of both genders in 7th grade and above. There is some extremely disturbing content characteristic of any WWII novel will address, if the novel does justice to the war’s true events. Between shades of gray leaves reader always wanting to know what happens next, even after the last page is turned. (ARS)

Underwood, Deborah. The quiet book. 2010. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children). [email protected], (800-597-6127). 28pp. $12.94. 978-0-547-21567-9. Illustrated by Renata Liwska.

This book focuses on the different forms and properties of certain “quiets.” From “top of the roller coaster quiet” to “best friends don’t need to talk quiet,” this book works perfectly as a bed time story. It provides the environment for introspective reflection in the quiet time before sleep. The quiet book introduces the complex and somewhat paradoxical idea of different kinds of quiet, but does so in a simple way that will work for a young reader’s mind. (BB)

Waber, Bernard. Lyle walks the dogs. 2010. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. [email protected], (800-597-6127). 20pp. $12.99. ISBN 978-0-547-22323-0. Illustrated by Paulis Waber.

In this Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile Book, Lyle explores his new job as a dog walker. With each day, Lyle becomes more popular and his business expands. Though Lyle struggles with maintaining harmony between dogs of differing personalities, his positive work ethic ensures his success. This book is geared towards young readers in the beginning stages of reading and counting. The enjoyable story draws the reader in, but also provides simple and sufficient counting and reading practice. (ARS, BB)

Wheeler, Lisa. Ugly pie. 2010. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Harcourt Children’s Books). [email protected], (800-597-6127). 32pp. $16.00. ISBN 978-0152167547. Illustrated by Heather Soloman.

This story is about Ol’ Bear and his journey to find ugly pie. He travels to Grandpa Grizzles, Ma Hickory, Snip, Snarl and Sweet Cicely, all to see if they have an ugly pie. However, instead of ugly pie, each person has their own pie, like pumpkin pie or honey pie. Instead giving him ugly pie, each person that Ol’ Bear visits gives him an ingredient that he could use for making his very own ugly pie. So Ol’ Bear makes the ugly pie for himself but shares it with all of his friends who shared their ingredients with him. This book is directed at a young audience because of the word structure and use of rhyming and rhythm. It will also help children remember the sequence of the items because Ol’ Bear sings a song about each item after he receives them from his friends. The story’s overall theme is sharing, which is great for younger kids to learn (KS).

Whelan, Gloria. Small acts of amazing courage. 2011. Simon and Schuster. [email protected]. (800-223-2336). 217 pp. $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-0931-6.

Set in India while under British rule, main character Rosalind struggles against the expectations of her British peers and elders to conform to their ideas of what is proper and right. Although she is not hindered by her mother to befriend the Indian people and experience their rich and beautiful culture, Rosalind and her mother are both under the control of Rosalind’s military commander father once he returns from the war. The readers join Rosalind in a string of selfless, heroic quests that others would consider beyond their power to achieve. One such quest leads Rosalind into a dangerous Indian slum that eventually causes her to be sent away by her father to live in England with her aunts. Once in England, Rosalind becomes even more enthusiastic about the British people and their right to be freed from British rule. Throughout her journey, Rosalind is constantly inspiring others and in turn being inspired by them to discover true love and respect for others. Small acts of amazing courage is beautifully crafted and challenges the reader to reach out to the less fortunate. One of the book’s most poignant messages is to speak out against what is morally wrong, to help those that may not have the voice to do so. Middle school readers would not have trouble reading the story and comprehending key events, but they may have difficulty understanding the moral and ethical motivations behind some of the characters. As merely a story Small acts of amazing courage is gripping and exciting, but the work has so much more to offer beyond entertainment as a historical and social commentary. (ARS)

Wood, Audrey. Piggy Pie Po. 2010. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Harcourt Childrens Books). [email protected], (800-597-6127). 32pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0152024949. Illustrated by Don Wood.

Within this book there are three short stories about Piggy Pie and his adventures. The first is about Piggy Pie and the different clothing he wears when he does different activities. His outfits include party pants, rubber fins, a yellow coat and more! The second story is about Piggy Pie’s intelligence. He can paint, make sounds, count, and read a book all on his own, but sadly he still cannot tie his own shoes. The third story is about Piggy Pie’s adventure when was left at home all by himself. Piggy Pie explores different foods around the kitchen, like a red pepper, and tastes them to see whether or not he enjoys them. The rhyming and rhythm throughout the stories are directed toward an audience of young readers. Also, the illustrations are very bright and colorful to attract and interest the readers (KS, ARS).

Woon, Yvonne. Dead beautiful. 2010. HarperCollins (Hyperion). [email protected], (212-207-7000). 456pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-142311956-2.

Renee Winters does not believe her parents’ sudden deaths were caused by heart attacks, and when her grandfather sends her to the austere Gottfried Academy, she only grows more suspicious. At the academy she meets the mysterious and cold-skinned Dante Berlin, an Edward Cullen-like romantic interest. While the book does borrow heavily from Twilight and Harry Potter, the mythology present is unique and Woon builds up the suspense to keep the reader turning pages. High school students interested in paranormal romance will enjoy this novel, but it probably will not gain any new converts to the genre. (MC)