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The Princess in Black by Shannon & Dean Hale & LeUyen Pham

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Hale, S., Hale, D., & Pham, L. (ill.) (2014). The Princess in Black. Candlewick Press: Massachusetts. ISBN: 9780763665104

Annotation: When the monster alarm rings, Princess Magnolia jumps into action and transforms into her monster fighting alter ego, the Princess in Black!

Reaction: In this short beginning chapter book, the Hales introduce readers to the wonderful character of Princess Magnolia, who is a perfect, pink-wearing princess, until it’s time to kick some monster tush. Then it’s time for Princess Magnolia to don practical shorts, boots and a cape in black.

One of the best things about this book is the way Princess Magnolia embraces both sides of herself: the girly, super feminine princess and the strong, capable, monster-tush-kicking superheroine. I recently came across a great article about how it does a disservice to children and women to treat girliness as being less good than tomboyishness, and I think, in light of that, the Hales have done something remarkable here. This is a book that tells children that being feminine and wearing pink is great! And so is going out and saving the kingdom from monsters! The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and that’s a great lesson.

On top of that, the story is engaging and funny, and though this story is pretty brief, the Hales have managed to create fully realized characters and a world around them. The illustrations are bright and colorful and add a lot of whimsy and humor to the text.

I really, really hope there are going to be more adventures of Princess Magnolia/the Princess in Black. The Hales have only begun to scratch the surface in this one.

Media used: watercolor and ink

Author’s Website

Illustrator’s Website

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Those Rebels, John & Tom by Barbara Kerley

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Kerley, B., & Fotheringham, E. (ill.) (2012). Those Rebels, John & Tom. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN: 9780545222686

Annotation: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were opposites in every way, but they shared a love for America. Together, they united the Continental Congress and led the colonies into freedom.

Reaction: From the duo that brought us What to do About Alice?, comes a look at how John and Tom met and became friends. With the same humor and informative text sprinkled with quotes from primary sources used in Alice, Kerley tells us about these two great men. Each set of pages tells the reader about John and Tom’s personalities, daily habits and hobbies and how different they are from each other. If John likes to play rough and box with other boys, Tom likes to read quietly to himself in his father’s library. John gets his hands dirty on his farm while Tom oversees the construction of his estate in Virginia. This juxtaposition really sets up how wonderfully they work together and how their opposite personalities complement each other.

This book was also fun to read after reading Worst of Friends, which tells the story of their falling out and eventually re-friendship. I would definitely hand both of these books to a kid to be read together, that way they get a complete picture of the amazing relationship between these two men.

Fotheringham almost solely uses shades of primary colors to illustrate this book, with some browns thrown in, and I love the effect. He also uses large exclamation points, question marks, “yay” and “nay” to highlight BOLD ejaculations and loud noises, which is a nice way to get across the chaos of that time without words or complicated pictures.

I would use this as a part of a 5th or 6th grade history unit.

Media Used: Digital media.

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Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel

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TenNapel, D. (2010). Ghostopolis. New York: Graphix. ISBN: 9780545210287

Annotation: When Garth, a live boy, is accidentally sent to Ghostopolis, he and his dead grandfather must find a way to get him home before the evil ruler of Ghostopolis takes him prisoner.

Reaction: This book was a fun adventure, and I think 10-13 year olds would love it. The story is quick, entertaining and funny enough to keep even reluctant readers interested. In fact, I actually already have plans to let a co-worker’s son, who doesn’t read, borrow it! Plus, it has a great message about the importance of family and forgiveness.

The art is amazing, very crisp and clean, and reminds me a lot of an animated cartoon. TenNapel has a great style that I think would appeal to a lot of kids who spend a lot of time playing video games and watching TV. The colors are great. TenNapel stays within his panels, and the story flows really smoothly. I like the use of the black page border when the reader sees Vaugner, the evil ruler, in his castle.

This book is on my Top Ten Favorites list for this class.

Media Used: Drawn digitally using Manga Studio EX 4.

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The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

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Joyce, W., & Bluhm, J. (ill.) (2012). The fantastic flying books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781442457027

Annotation: One day, a storm scattered of Morris Lessmore’s beloved books. He wandered and wandered until he found a magical place where books came alive.

Reaction: This book was heartwarming and made me so happy to read it. I love the quiet way Morris Lessmore tended to the books until he reached the end of the book of his life and the powerful message this book sends about the power of the written word. Books can change your life, and I think this book could turn kids into readers. I have every intention of buying this book for myself just as soon as I can.

The art in this book is beautiful and tells the story of Morris and the books’ daily life in a way that the text can’t. Joyce and Bluhm do a wonderful job of turning all the books into characters with their own personalities and including delightful little details, such as the old books walking around with canes at the end and the piano and life support machines that are made out of books. I also really liked the way the artists used black & white and color illustrations to symbolize the difference between people’s sad, lonely lives before discovering books, and the the joy and satifaction they felt after they found books.

I want to hang up the picture of the woman flying away with books in my house.

This book is on my Top Ten Favorites list for this class.

Media Used: Multimedia.

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Animalia by Graeme Base

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Base, G. (1987). Animalia. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. ISBN: 9780810918689

Annotation: This alphabet book offers pages detailed pictures that all start with the same letter and silly sentences full of alliteration.

Reaction: An alphabet book may seem too young for our target audience, but this is a book for those 10-12 year olds who loved Base’s other books, like The Eleventh Hour and The Sign of the Seahorse. Kids will have fun naming all the different things “of a kind” Base has included in his illustrations, many of which only older readers will be able to identify; Base even includes delightfully nerdy references in his illustrations, such as a Dalek and the Doctor from Doctor Who and the Enterprise from Star Trek: the Next Generation. To make the reading experience even more fun, he has included an illustration of himself in each picture for a rousing game of “Where’s Graeme?” Sometimes, he’s easy to spot, and sometimes, the readers have to work a bit to find him. The art is richly detailed and beautifully colored and is sure to delight and amuse readers of all ages.

Each letter of the alphabet is represented by a wonderful, almost nonsensical sentence of alliteration

Media Used: None listed, but it seems likely that he used acrylic paint as in The Eleventh Hour, given the similarities of the illustrations in the two books.

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The Graves Family by Patricia Polacco

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Polacco, P. (2003). The Graves family. New York: Philomel Books. ISBN: 9780142406359

Annotation: The Graves family moves to town, and they are … different. Most people avoid them until two friendly neighborhood kids befriend the family and help them become accepted by everyone else.

Reaction: I laughed out loud when I read Mr. and Mrs. Graves’ first names: Doug and Shalleaux (Dug and Shallow Graves!!). This book was really fun, and Polacco does a great job of mixing the text and art. The situations in which the Graves get themselves are riotously funny: Mrs. Graves’s Venus Flytrap eating everyone at the Garden Club, the bald men using Mr. Graves’s elixir and growing huge pompadours, the behaving like cats. The illustration of all the cat behaviors exhibited by the men is probably my favorite in the entire book.

Polacco’s use of pencil gives the illustrations the feeling of being sketches, but her addition of the watercolors brings them to life and gives them complexity. I love her use of color and how intricately colored all the pictures are.

Media Used: Pencil and watercolor.

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Cat Burglar Black

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Sala, R. (2009). Cat burglar black. New York: First Second. ISBN: 9781596431447

Annotation: When K arrives at the Bellsong Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, where her long lost aunt is dean, she discovers something strange: there are only three other students and the only classes teach you how to be a world class cat burglar.

Reaction: This book was so much fun to read! I really enjoyed K and the adventures she had at Bellsong, and I immediately looked up the author to see if he had written a sequel. He left so many questions unanswered, and I want to read more about K’s quest to find the truth about her family and what happened to the other girls at Bellsong.

The art is cute and quirky. Evil people are ugly and evil looking, while the innocent have cherubic, trustful faces. Sala makes excellent use of color which catches the eye. He does not venture outside the panels, which have a regular, even flow.

Media Used: None listed.

Author’s Website