Poached – Book Review

Poached by Stuart Gibbs

Reviewed by Daughter, age 10

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About the book, Poached:

poached book coverIt all started when Vance Jessup bullied Teddy Fitzroy into dropping an arm and foot (from a mannequin) into the shark tank at FunJungle.

When he was being chased by security guards, Teddy escaped by hiding in the koala exhibit with Kazoo the Koala.  He still had the backpack that Vance had given him with the arm and foot in it (now mostly empty).  Teddy accidentally fell asleep in the exhibit for half an hour.  When he woke up, the guards weren’t searching for him any more.

Teddy’s situation got worse.  Security video showed him entering the exhibit with a big, somewhat empty backpack slung over one shoulder, and exiting with the backpack on both shoulders – with the backpack looking like it could have something in it.  And, Kazoo the Koala was missing – replaced in a tree by a gift shop stuffed animal.

Teddy knows that Large Marge, the head security guard at FunJungle, won’t bother looking for the real criminal because she is too busy trying to find evidence that Teddy took Kazoo.  So Teddy has to catch the real criminal himself.

What follows are exciting adventures as Teddy works to unearth the truth,including swimming in the shark tank, and talking to Summer McCraken, the daughter of J.J. McCraken, the owner of the zoo.

I loved this book.  I would recommend it to anyone who likes animals or very gripping books.


Fortunately, The Milk

PrintFortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman

Guest Reviewer — Reviewed by Daughter, age 9


The setting of the book is in the main characters’ house, outside on the street, and in a lot of other places, all over.

FortunatelytheMilkThe main characters in this book are:  the children, their father, and Professor Steg.  The backup characters are:  the people in the jungle, the green, globby aliens, the wumpires, and the volcano god, Splod.

This book is about when the children’s mother leaves to present a paper on lizards.  The next morning, the family runs out of milk.  The father goes to the corner shop to get more and is gone for hours.  When he returns, he tells of being abducted by aliens, nearly being sacrificed to a volcano god, having incidents with wumpires, being rescued from pirates by Professor Steg in a floaty-ball-person-carrier, and an encounter with singing space police dinosaurs.

I would recommend this book to people who like adventurous and hilarious books.

Roald Dahl Day September 13, 2013

Roald Dahl Day September 13, 2013

Roald dahl day 2013Some of our long-time family favorite books are those written by Roald Dahl.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Giraffe the Pelly and Me, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, Danny Champion of the World.  These books tend to have unlikely heroes, involve creative solutions to problems, fantastical situations, and elements that celebrate childhood.

Today, September 13, 2013, is Roald Dahl Day.  For some fun reading and activity ideas, visit http://www.roalddahlday.info/Resources.aspx.  You’ll find free downloadable pdfs with activity guides, posters, sticker templates, and party packs.

James and the Giant Peach guideThis year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of James and the Giant Peach.  There is a special Teacher’s Resource Pack – as a free pdf.  This is a fun guide with ideas on exploring teamwork and friendship, science, dance and drama, creative writing, and history.

Celebrate reading, celebrate childhood.  Read and giggle together.  Cheer on unlikely heroes.  Think about an enormous chocolate river, a clever window washing team, a brilliant plan to capture pheasants, and a bighearted giant who sends wonderful dreams to sleeping children.


Understood Betsy

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, illlustrations by Kimberly Bulcken Root

Understood Betsy coverWhen readers first meet the main character, they see a timid, worried Elizabeth Ann, who lives with her Aunt Harriet and Aunt Frances in a city.  Elizabeth Ann is in the third grade at the big, local school.  Aunt Frances devotes herself to taking care of, protecting, explaining, and understanding Elizabeth Ann – and passes on all of her own fears to the young girl in the process.

Things change suddenly for Elizabeth Ann when Aunt Harriet becomes terribly ill with pneumonia, and Elizabeth Ann is sent away to stay with other relatives.  As the next set of relatives have just contracted a different illness, and don’t really want her anyway, Elizabeth Ann is sent to the Putney cousins.  Aunt Frances has told Elizabeth Ann about them – they live in Vermont, are horrible, and make children do chores.

When Uncle Henry meets Elizabeth Ann at the train station in Vermont, he calls her Betsy, wraps her in a warm shawl, and asks her to drive the team of horses for him while he does some figuring (math) on a scrap of paper.  Elizabeth Ann has never driven horses before, but the job keeps her mind busy and distracts her from feeling frightened.  The reader gets the feeling that Uncle Henry is watching, and would step in if there were any real danger – and that the horses know the way home on their own.

The Putney cousins – elderly Uncle Henry and Aunt Abigail, and their grown-up daughter, Cousin Ann – welcome Betsy into their home in their own way.  Soon Betsy has her own kitten to take care of, is walking to the little school on her own, is helping make applesauce, and discovers that she really isn’t afraid of dogs.

At the one-room school, Betsy is confused when the teacher puts her in different levels for different subjects (unheard of in her former school) based on Betsy’s abilities – seventh grade for reading, third grade spelling, and second grade math – but that is one of the many different things about her new school, and her new life.  The teacher asks Betsy to help a younger girl, Molly, with her reading – which is another new experience for Betsy – helping a younger child – and makes Betsy feel good about herself.

Betsy grows to love the Putneys, her new home, and her new life.  Young Molly comes to live at Putney Farm, too, when circumstances make it necessary for Molly to find a new home.  Betsy grows in confidence, and is able to take care of herself, and Molly, when neighbors accidentally leave them at a Fair (think state fair, with livestock judging, food booths, games, and rides) many miles from home.  Betsy has grown healthier, more independent, and happier than she was in the city as Elizabeth Ann.

This book was first published in 1917, and has a few old-timey aspects:  the author steps in as narrator in the first few pages as we meet Elizabeth Ann, but disappears as Betsy lives at Putney Farm.  My children find the few pages of Elizabeth Ann living in the city a little less than thrilling, but really enjoy the story once Betsy leaves Aunt Frances and heads for Vermont (change happens in the first chapter).

The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award has honored children’s literature for over 50 years – students in the 4th – 8th grades in Vermont vote to determine the winning books.  To learn more about this award:  https://sites.google.com/a/cesuvt.org/dcf-award/

More about the author, Dorothy Canfield Fisher:

Named by Eleanor Roosevelt as one of the ten most influential women in the United States, Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1879-1958), brought the Montessori Method of child rearing to America, presided over the country’s first adult education program, and influenced American literary tastes as a member of the Book-of-the-Month Club selection committee from 1926 to 1951. A committed educational reformer and social activists, the popular Arlington, Vermont, writer produced 22 works of fiction and 18 nonfiction books on a wide range of subjects.*

* from biographical information at:  https://sites.google.com/a/cesuvt.org/dcf-award/

The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin

The hundred dresses coverThis is a story about Wanda.  But, it is also a story about Maddie, and about Peggy.  It is a story about being a little different, and a story about bullying and how a group treats someone who is a little different.

Wanda was a little different than the other girls in her class.  She lived with her father and brother on Boggins Heights, a little way out of town.  Her last name was Petronski, which was different from the other last names in the class (like Smith, and Allen).  And, she always wore the same light blue, faded (but clean) dress.  The teacher had her sit in the back of the class with the rowdy boys (although she was quiet).

Maddie was poor, too, but not as poor as Wanda.  Maddie sat in the front row of the class, and got good grades.  She was best friends with Peggy, who was the most popular girl in the class.

Nobody really thought much about Wanda, until one day on the way to school.  The girls had gathered around to admire someone’s new dress.  They all were happy and talking excitedly.  Wanda walked by with her big brother, then hesitated, and slowly joined the group.

“Everyone was talking to everybody else.  Nobody said anything to Wanda, but there she was, a part of the crowd…Wanda was somehow enveloped in the group.”


“…maybe she figured all she’d have to do was say something and she’d really be one of the girls.  And this would be an easy thing to do because all they were doing was talking about dresses.”

Wanda did say something.  Wanda told Peggy that she, Wanda, had a hundred dresses at home.  Peggy shouted this information to the crowd, which turned silent, and turned toward Wanda and Peggy.  When the school bell rang, the girls ran off laughing and talking, and forgetting about Wanda….until Peggy remembered each day to have ‘fun’ with Wanda by asking her about the hundred dresses.

Maddie wasn’t happy about the ‘fun’ they were having with Wanda.  It made her feel uncomfortable inside, and made her wish Peggy would stop.  But, Maddie didn’t say anything.

“She wished she had the nerve to  write Peggy a note, because she knew she’d never have the courage to speak right out to Peggy…”


“She pictured herself in the school yard, a new target for Peggy and the girls.  Peggy might ask her where she got the dress she had on, and Maddie would have to say that it was one of Peggy’s old ones that Maddie’s mother had tried to disguise with new trimmings….If only Peggy would decide on her own accord to stop….”

One day Wanda wasn’t in school.  She wasn’t there the next day, or the day after that.  Maddie noticed, and wondered.  Peggy noticed, too, because she looked for Wanda to have ‘fun’ with her.

The school had a drawing contest for each class – one for boys and one for girls.  Everyone assumed that Peggy would win because she could draw so well.  On the day the winners were to be announced, the children entered their classroom and found it covered in beautiful, colorful pictures of dresses.  The teacher announced that Wanda had won the contest with her one hundred drawings of different dresses.  Everyone admired them.  But, Wanda wasn’t there.

A little later, the teacher read a letter to the class written by Wanda’s father.  The letter said that Wanda and her brother were not going to that school anymore.  The family had moved to the city.  They had left because of teasing and generally feeling unwelcome.

Maddie felt horrible.  She and Peggy walked up Boggins Heights to see if Wanda really had left — the house was empty, the family gone.  Maddie did some serious thinking on her own.

“This was the hardest thinking she had ever done.  After a long, long time she reached an important conclusion.  She was never going to stand by and say nothing again.  If she ever heard anybody picking on someone…she’d speak up.”

Maddie and Peggy wrote a letter to Wanda, intending to apologize, but ended up just being a friendly letter.  Just before Winter break, the class received a letter from Wanda, telling them to keep the drawings of dresses, and saying that one in particular was for Maddie, and one for Peggy.  When Maddie got home, she cried and stared at drawing carefully hung up in her room – and realized that it was a picture of her, and that Peggy’s was a picture of Peggy – in dresses Wanda had created and described to them when they were having ‘fun’ with her.

This is a strong story with some messages about bullying and treatment of others –  but, it is not preachy, and it doesn’t talk down to the reader.  Maddie makes her own realizations and decisions not to stand by ever again while someone is being mistreated.

This story was first published in 1944, so it has a few things from that era that readers may notice.  All of the girls wear dresses to school.  The school desks are lined up in rows, rather than grouped or in tables as many classrooms do now.  And, there is a drawing contest – the girls are to draw dresses, and the boys are to draw motorboats.  I don’t think these things take away from the story.  When my daughter noticed, we talked about different attitudes and expectations in different times in history.

Because of Winn-Dixie

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

because of WinnDixie

“My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”

So begins this compelling middle grade novel by Kate DiCamillo.

Opal, the main character, has just moved to a new town with her father.  She is lonely.  Her mother left when Opal was very young, and Opal’s father, whom she calls ‘the preacher,’ is occupied with his sermons and his church.  Opal’s father cares about her, and knows she is lonely, but he still misses her mother and retreats inside himself on occasion.

So, on that day when Opal goes to the grocery store and finds a stray dog wrecking havoc running around the store, she names him Winn-Dixie and takes him home to save him from the dog pound.  Opal’s father, the preacher, allows her to keep Winn-Dixie even though he says they don’t need a dog.

“I found a dog,” I told him. “And I want to keep him.”

“No dogs,” the preacher said.  “We’ve talked about this before.  You don’t need a dog.”

“I know it,” I said.  “I know I don’t need a dog.  But this dog needs me.”

Winn-Dixie, has a way of smiling at people, and seems to sense moods.  He listens quietly while Opal tells him things she is thinking about and worrying about.  After talking with Winn-Dixie, Opal feels brave enough to ask her father to tell her ten things about her mother – one thing for each year she has been alive.  Opal thinks about her mother a great deal, and mentally collects stories she would like to tell her mother if they ever meet again.

Winn-Dixie helps Opal meet people in town, and make new friends.  Opal and Winn-Dixie become friends with the librarian, who tells her interesting stories about the town and its past; with an old woman who is going blind, who some children call a witch, and who makes wonderful peanut butter sandwiches; with a man who works in the pet store who likes to play his guitar to the animals and was once in jail; with a girl Opal dislikes at first, then begins to like after Opal learns the girl’s little brother died the year before; and with some boys who seem mean and tease her at first.

Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal is happier and less lonely.  And, Opal grows and makes new friends.

This is a book for readers ages 8-12 who can handle the themes of a mother leaving a child, and a lonely child finding a companionship and a place for herself in a new town.

The Cricket in Times Square

cricket-in-times-squareThe Cricket in Times Square by George Selden, illustrated by Garth Williams

Chester Cricket was a country cricket.  He enjoyed hopping around in his meadow, sitting on his stump, and eating liverwurst.  Chester Cricket hopped onto a picnic blanket to eat part of a liverwurst sandwich – and found himself bundled up with the sandwich into a picnic basket and, via, trains and the subway, he ended up in a pile of dirt in the Times Square subway station.

Chester Cricket made some very good friends in the Times Square subway station.  Mario, whose family owned a newspaper stand, heard Chester’s chirp and carefully dug him out of the dirt and trash – and made a home for him in the newspaper stand.  Harry Cat and Tucker Mouse, who lived together in a drain pipe in the Times Square subway station, became Chester’s friends – talking with him or showing him around whenever the humans were away.

Chester had some adventures with Harry and Tucker like seeing Times Square at night, and sleeping in the newspaper stand cash register (and waking up to find he’d eaten some money).  When Tucker turned on the newspaper stand radio late one night, Chester discovered that he could make music like the tunes he heard on the radio.  Tucker, Harry, and Chester tried out different radio stations and types of music – from opera to pop – and found that Chester could play everything he heard beautifully.

Mario’s family didn’t have much money.  The newspaper stand barely made any money.  When Chester began to make music that humans recognized  – opera, classical, and popular tunes – people crowded around the newspaper stand to listen, and bought newspapers and magazines.

Eventually, Chester grew tired of performing concerts at the newspaper stand.  He gave one last private concert for Mario, then (with Tucker and Harry’s help) got on a train headed out to the country.

This is a wonderful story – full of friendship, problem-solving, and music.

Tuesdays at the Castle

I try to avoid princess books unless the young royal in question is a very strong character who takes matters into her own hands.  Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George has a main character who is strong, creative, quirky, and, oh yes – a princess.

Princess Celie is the youngest child of King Glower the Seventy-ninth and Queen Celina.  The royal family lives in Castle Glower, a castle that seems alive and magical at times.

For instance, if Castle Glower finds a visiting dignitary annoying it might move the dignitary’s rooms to, say, next to the stable’s manure pile.  The castle seems to know people well.  It sent the message that the oldest royal son wanted to study magic by providing books in his room while moving the next oldest royal son’s room closer to the throne room indicating that he should be the official heir.

Princess Celie loves Castle Glower.  And, Tuesdays are her favorite days because, “whenever Castle Glower became bored, it would grow a new room or two.”  And, that usually happened on Tuesdays when King Glower was hearing petitions.  Celie knows Castle Glower better than anyone else.  She has a large book filled with maps she has drawn of the various rooms and corridors of the castle, updated as they shift and change.  Celie knows all the secret passages, and all the trick ways to get to different rooms.  For example, if you turn left three times then climb out the nearest window you will end up in the kitchens.

When King Glower, Queen Celina, and their oldest son disappear – with signs of a successful ambush on the road – and representatives from the neighboring kingdoms come to “advise” the royal Glower children, Celie leads her sister and brother in foiling a plot to overthrow the family and take over the kingdom.  Castle Glower helps Celie and her siblings in their efforts.

According to author Jessica Day George’s website, inspiration struck and everything clicked into place for this book.  She also hopes to write more than one adventure for Celie, making Tuesdays at the Castle the first book in a new series.

I really enjoyed this book, as did my young readers.  Some points are serious, and others are very humorous.  I found myself rooting for Celie as she outsmarted (sometimes aided by the Castle) those out to harm her family.  Twists and turns (and changing corridors), evil plots, funny revenge, a protective castle, and a strong, intelligent girl make for a wonderful story.

There is a sequel now:  Wednesdays in the Tower.  I recommend both books!

Gooseberry Park

I first came across Cynthia Rylant’s writing through the Henry and Mudge books when my children were learning to read.  When they were ready for longer books, we found several books by Cynthia Rylant that seemed safe, yet still new and interesting, to my blossoming readers.

Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant was a favorite for both my young readers.

Gooseberry Park is a wonderful story for children moving from beginning reader books to chapter books.  Arthur Howard’s black and white illustrations appear at the beginning of each chapter, and are scattered throughout the pages – visually breaking up the text, but still giving the reader a sense of reading a real chapter book.

Kona is a chocolate Labrador who lives with wise hermit crab named Gwendolyn and a retired biology professor.  The professor and Kona frequently visit nearby Gooseberry Park where Kona’s good friend lives in an oak tree – a red squirrel named Stumpy who has just had babies.

One day a storm with freezing rain hits the area, coating everything in a thick layer of ice, and leaving downed and broken trees in Gooseberry Park.  Kona makes his way to the park to check on his friend and her family, and finds the oak tree broken on the ground, Stumpy missing, and a bat (named Murray) taking care of the squirrel babies.  Kona and Murray hide the baby squirrels in the professor’s house to keep them safe and warm.

Kona then faces the challenge of reuniting Stumpy with her babies, and of hiding the babies and Murray, who likes to snack on Oreos and other treats, from the professor.  Eventually, with the help of Gwendolyn and Murray, Kona comes up with a plan – involving weasels, rumors, and a glowing watch – that gets a message to Stumpy and shows her the way to the professor’s house.

Gooseberry Park is a story about friendship, and courage.  Rylant takes readers on this adventure with warmth and plenty of humor.  Two paws up rating.