Review: The Cat Who Came In Off the Roof

The Cat Who Came InReview:

The Cat Who Came In Off the Roof

Author: Annie M. G. Schmidt

Publisher: Delacorte Press, English translation copyright, 2014

Source: Personal Purchase

Mr. Tibble is a reporter, but he’s got a problem. He’s too shy to get any real news. Instead he writes articles about cats. He’s about to be fired, but his editor is giving him one last chance. Tibble must submit a news article by the morning.

Luckily for Tibble, a very unique young lady – Miss Minou – comes into his life when a dog chases her up a tree. She claims she is really a cat. She certainly has some very cattish traits. She sleeps in a box in his attic apartment. She is ready to pounce when a schoolgirl brings her pet mouse to show Tibble. She purrs and hisses and her very favorite person in the neighborhood is the fishmonger.

It is Miss Minou, whom Tibble calls his secretary, who saves Tibble his job, for as she climbs out onto the roof and converses with the other cats of the neighborhood, she is able to dig up some real news for Tibble to report. Again and again she is able to find out things long before anyone else hears a word. Tibble becomes the star reporter at the newspaper.

However, just as Miss Minou and her ‘sources’ are the reason behind Tibble’s success, they could be his downfall. Can Miss Minou save the situation? And now that she has somewhat adjusted to being human herself, what will she do if she has the opportunity to once again become a cat?

This delightful story will have readers cheering for everyone – Tibble, Miss Minou, and all her feline friends, even Tatter Cat, who is more than a bit rough around the edges. It’s a timeless and ageless little romance in the truest of feel-good traditions.

Review: The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs

The Nine Lives of Jacob TibbsReview:

The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs

Author: Cylin Busby

Publisher: Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, 2016

Source: Personal purchase

If readers think that my review of the nonfiction book The Whydah, A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found may have dampened my enthusiasm for a swashbuckling tale, I must confess that it has not. Give me more vicarious adventure on the high seas, including run-ins with violent (or silly, as in Jack Sparrow) pirates and tales of perilous storms!

Fortunately The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs has somewhat satisfied my thirst (although not entirely – I could be entertained by a lot more) even though it is a story lacking in pirates. It is fiction, but very solidly based in fact. Although the “walking the plank” myths are missing, it is filled with plenty of real-life adventure.

Jacob Tibbs is a ship’s cat. He’s just a little guy – a kitten and the runt of the litter – but he’s the son of the infamous Mrs. Tibbs, a formidable ratter and a cat who can accurately foretell the weather. Mrs. Tibbs is famed on the docks of Liverpool and her kittens are much desired – all except little Jacob. So Captain Natick sets sail for American with both Mrs. Tibbs and her young son on board.

Jacob quickly realizes that it takes a lot of learning to be a ship’s cat. They are barely out of port when Mrs. Tibbs forecasts a storm. The weather seems clear but Captain Natick is uncertain. There’s no sign of an impending storm, yet Mrs. Tibbs has never been wrong. Unwisely he does not heed her warning, a choice he will come to regret. Within hours the violent storm brews up, one which will cost  men their lives, cause a mutiny and ultimately aid in the discovery of new land. Jacob Tibbs will face many dangers: harsh storms, cruel sailors (some are kind), and dangerous beasts of several varieties.

There are plenty of historical fiction books that feed us facts like a too-obvious pill in the jam. By using the fresh perspective of Jacob Tibbs, Busby is able to give readers the information, yet avoid boring everyone with too many facts and too little story. The balance is just right and the story is enjoyably gripping as we follow Jacob from one danger to the next.

Visit Cylin Busby’s website to learn more about her books at: http://cylinbusby.com/

 

 

 

Review: Fish in a Tree

fish-in-a-tree.jpgReview:

Fish in a Tree

Author: Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Publisher: Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2015

Source: Library

Ally Nickerson is called many names: freak, dumb, loser. The truth is that she is simply different, and she thinks she knows why. She has a problem which she tries desperately to conceal even though this secret “is like dragging around a concrete block” (pg. 69). Ally can’t read. No matter how hard she tries, she simply can’t make sense of those squiggly, little symbols.

So far she has been able to fool her teachers, though not without consequences which include regular visits to the principal. When her teacher goes on maternity leave, her substitute, Mr. Daniels – a grad student studying special education – discovers the truth. Ally is dyslexic. Ally begins to realize that different is not stupid.

The intriguing title comes from a quote that reminds us all of this fact: If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its life believing it is stupid.

This book celebrates students with all kinds of abilities. It explores the importance of friendship and family and offers hope to those who struggle academically. At the end of the book is a wonderful set of discussion questions and a journal of sketches of “impossible things.”

Check out Lynda Mullaly Hunt at: http://www.lyndamullalyhunt.com/

 

Review: The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher

the-misadventures-of-the-family-fletcher-2.jpgReview:

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher

Author: Dana Alison Levy

Publisher: Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, 2014

Source: Public Library

What do two dads and four very different brothers make? A sea of testosterone? Complete chaos? A family, of course – a little bit wacky, a little bit chaotic (but what family with kids isn’t?), but also very lovable.

Jason Fletcher and his husband Tom Anderson have reached out and adopted four boys. Frog (really Jeremiah) is the youngest. At six, he is just starting kindergarten along with his imaginary friend and pet cheetah, Flare. At school he meets plenty of real boys and girls, but who exactly is this elusive friend named Ladybug?

Jax and Eli are both ten and until this year have attended the same school. This year, however, Jax will be attending the local upper elementary school while Eli will be heading off to a private school for gifted students. And though the boys and the schools are different, both boys are to find that there are challenges to face. Will Jax be overshadowed by older brother Sam? And is Pinnacle School the best thing that ever happened to Eli – or not?

Sam is the oldest (12) and seems to have everything figured out. He’s one of the cool kids and the best goalie on the soccer team. He’s got a real chance to make it on the Shipton Under-15 Elite Team. But Sam has other gifts, too, and is not at all certain which direction he should go.

Add to this mix a dog with MIR (maximum inconvenience radar), a cat, a cranky neighbor who moves to the neighborhood looking for a quiet life, and a loving aunt from NYC who makes cupcakes for a living, and you have the kind of unforgettable story and characters that make you want everything about this book to be real.

Learn more about Dana Alison Levy and her books at: http://danaalisonlevy.com/books

 

 

Discussion Questions: Touching Spirit Bear

Touching the Spirit BearDiscussion Questions for Touching Spirit Bear:

 

  1. Do you think that spending a year completely alone on a remote Alaskan island is going to be easier than jail time?

 

  1. Cole is angry with his parents for letting this (facing jail) happen to him. Is it their fault?

 

  1. Do you think Cole truly understands Circle Justice? Do you think he knows what it means and how it works?

 

  1. Cole thinks that if someone (Garvey) is scared of him, he can trust them. Is this how trust works?

 

  1. According to Edwin, in order to survive, Cole will need to learn “patience, gentleness, strength and honesty” (pg. 17). How will these traits help Cole to survive in the wilderness?

 

  1. Cole also learns about Spirit Bear from Edwin. Spirit Bear has “pride, dignity, and honor” (pg. 17). Cole responds by saying he will kill the bear. Why would he do this? Edwin responds to Cole by saying, “Whatever you do to the animals, you do to yourself” (pg. 18). What does he mean?

 

  1. Garvey shares his at.óow with Cole, but do you think he can really trust Cole?

 

  1. Cole thinks that his stay on the island is a “game” of which he is in charge. Is he really? What do his actions show?

 

  1. Cole thinks that if Peter forgives him, his punishment should be lessened. Garvey tells him, “Forgiving isn’t forgetting” (pg. 33). What does he mean?

 

  1. Cole thinks he can escape the island by swimming to another nearby island. He quickly realizes that Nature is not something he can control. How does this make him feel? Does he truly understand Garvey’s comment: “Try manipulating a storm or lying to your hunger. Try cheating the cold” (pg 57)?

 

  1. When Cole sees the Spirit Bear, he challenges it. Why does he do this?

 

  1. How does Cole feel when he sees the baby sparrows after the storm? Has his experience changed him?

 

  1. Why does Spirit Bear return to the spot where Cole lay? Why doesn’t it attack him? Cole feels that at least before his life ends it is important that “He had trusted and been trusted” (pg. 97). Has he really learned about trust?

 

  1. Why has Garvey helped Cole? Is it for Cole or for himself?

 

  1. Edwin has told Cole that “anger was a memory never forgotten” (pg. 112). Are there other memories, too, that are never forgotten?

 

  1. After six months of medical care, Cole is once again going to face sentencing. Since he broke his first contract with Circle Justice, it seems unlikely he will get another. However, with Garvey and Edwin’s help, he does. Do you think Cole should be given this chance? Do you think it will turn out differently?

 

  1. What is the lesson to be learned from Edwin’s stick?

 

  1. In addition to building his own shelter on the island, Edwin gives Cole other daily tasks. These include the early morning swims in the pond, carrying the rock, and animal dances. Why are these tasks so important?

 

  1. When Cole finds the log, his first thought is to make a canoe and escape. However, he changes his mind. Why? And what do you think of his plan for the log?

 

  1. On one of Edwin’s check-in visits, Cole asks about Peter. What does this show about Cole?

 

  1. What do you think about the two questions that are haunting Cole? “What was the one thing that would help him heal? And how could he become invisible?” (pg. 188)

 

  1. What has Cole learned about his anger?

 

  1. Describe Cole’s relationships with his mother and father. How have they changed?

 

  1. As Cole heals, Peter’s situation worsens. What do you think of Cole’s plan to help Peter?

 

  1. Moving forward, beyond the island, what do you think will be the outcome for the boys? How has Spirit Bear helped each of them?

Review: Touching Spirit Bear

Touching the Spirit BearReview:

Touching Spirit Bear

Author: Ben Mikaelsen

Publisher: Harper Trophy, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001

Source: Personal Purchase

Cole Matthews pretends he doesn’t care about anything. He doesn’t care that he’s always in trouble. His latest run-in has involved beating another boy, Peter Driscal, to a bloody mess. Peter suffers permanent injuries due to the beating, but to Cole it doesn’t matter. Peter had it coming to him. In the past, his parents have always paid for Cole to be bailed out of whatever fresh trouble he has gotten involved in.

This time will be different. Prosecutors want to try Cole in adult court, and he is facing jail time. His parents have divorced and are no longer as willing to help. However, Cole does have one chance to escape jail. From Garvey, his youth probation officer, he learns he can apply to a new program called Circle Justice. This program is “a healing form of justice practiced by native cultures for thousands of years” (pg. 12).  It is an opportunity for a person to make their wrongs right. To Cole, it’s just another opportunity to get away with his crimes.

Cole’s application is accepted, and he is brought to a remote Alaskan island where he will spend a year alone. When he sees the shack that has been prepared for him, his anger and resentment blaze up. As soon as he is left alone, he burns down the shack and his supplies. He attempts to escape the island by trying to swim to another nearby island, but finds that he cannot make it while the tide is coming in. Again his anger flares. While near the remains of his shack, he sees a white bear, Spirit Bear, and decides to challenge the animal. It is a grave mistake, for the bear mauls and nearly kills him. He survives simply because Garvey finds him and gets him the necessary medical help he needs.

Cole’s journey is not yet over. It takes six months for his injuries to heal (and even then he still needs plenty of therapy.) Although he has broken his contract with Circle Justice, and it seems unlikely that he will be trusted enough to go to the island again, he is given one more chance to redeem himself. Has Cole really changed? Can he really heal all of his scars, not just the physical ones, but the emotional and spiritual ones? And, most of all, can he somehow earn Peter’s and his own forgiveness?

This is a great story. Cole certainly is a troubled young man and yet, despite his attitude, the reader never loses faith. I think it’s the type of story that will appeal to young men, not only for the emotional aspect but because of the adventure part, too.

Stay tuned! As usual with stories that mean a lot, I have been working on discussion questions!

Review: Paper Wishes

paper-wishes.jpgReview:

Paper Wishes

Author: Lois Sepahban

Publisher: Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016

Source: Personal Purchase

Manami and her family lived on Bainbridge Island, Washington. They are Americans, but when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Manami, her parents, and her grandfather are brought to a prison camp in the Californian desert. Manami’s brother and sister, Ron and Keiko, are away at college and have been able to avoid the prison camp. When preparing to leave her home, Manami attempts to bring the family’s dog, Yujiin, but soldiers take her pet away.

Life in the prison camp is difficult. It is hard to grow herbs and vegetables when your garden is in the desert. Living space is cramped, and father and mother work hard. Manami is able to attend school where a very kind teacher, Miss Rosalie, does her best to help the students. Then Ron, concerned about his family’s welfare, joins them at the prison camp. He will also teach, handling the older student classroom. Keiko remains at college, available to help should her family be freed. While Manami is happy that Ron is with the family, his presence brings complications – dangerous secrets that will affect everyone and their safety.

For readers who think they don’t like historical fiction, I have to say: please give Paper Wishes a chance. It’s a wonderfully told story and while it is historical, the history blends itself in seamlessly, never catching our attention by being overly obvious or didactic.

Check out Lois Sepahban’s website, especially the classroom guide for Paper Wishes at: http://www.loissepahban.com/pdf/PaperWishes-Classroom-Guide.pdf

May 2017 Round Up

Check out my reviews for the month of May! You can find links to all of these reviews in the Index!

Let me know in the comments below what books you want me to review next!

Review: Wizard’s Hall

Wizard's HallWizard’s Hall

Author: Jane Yolen

Publisher: Magic Carpet Books, Harcourt, Inc. 1991

Source: Public library

When he is eleven years old, Henry’s mother sends him to Wizard’s Hall to learn wizardry. Henry is worried that he might not have the talent for it, but his mother explains that whether or not he has talent is not important. “Talent don’t matter,” she tells him. “It only matters that you try” (pg. 2).

When Henry arrives at Wizard’s Hall he is renamed Thornmallow because he is prickly on the outside but squishy within. He begins his classes and learns that perhaps he does have some talent for magic because he is able to (accidentally) conjure up an avalanche of snow and some red roses.

But Thornmallow’s real purpose is something else. For the Magisters (teachers) are fighting a dark wizard and a Beast quilted from the dark side of souls, and it is going to take the right person – someone prickly on the outside but squishy within – to help them defeat the dark forces and save the school.  Thornmallow is not sure if he has what it takes, but he is going to try.

This book predates the Harry Potter series, but I found the similarities between the two uncanny. I mean, two eleven year old boys going off to wizardry schools – actually castles – that contain all kinds of magical elements like talking pictures. Both boys are befriended by a red-headed, freckled boy as their closest friend. And both young wizards will find themselves fighting a dark wizard against seemingly impossible odds. My only complaint is that Yolen’s version is too short. As with Harry, I was ready to follow Thornmallow to a much longer adventure/battle.

 

 

Review: The Someday Birds

The Someday BirdsReview:

The Someday Birds

Author: Sally J. Pla

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, 2017

Source: Public library

When Charlie’s father, a teacher, part-time journalist and single parent, sustains a brain injury while covering a story in Afghanistan, the lives of his four children are thrown into chaos. And chaos is something that Charlie cannot live with or understand. Charlie needs order and regularity.

Charlie’s grandmother struggles to cope, but is torn between the needs of her son and the needs of his family. When she is told that her son must be moved from the hospital in California to a world-class research hospital in Virginia where he will hopefully receive the treatment he needs in order to make a recovery, she must go with him and leave the children behind with a babysitter. Unfortunately, the babysitter fails to show and the kids are left on their own.

Charlie’s sister Davis and his twin brothers begin to run amok. Davis invites her boyfriend over and the twins go on a major gaming spree. When Gram discovers the situation, she calls in a back-up babysitter. It is Ludmila, a weird woman whom they don’t know but has been hanging around their father’s hospital room for no apparent reason. The children don’t trust her and decide to run away to Virginia to the hospital where their father has been taken.

What follows is a crazy road trip. They attempt to leave with help from Davis’s boyfriend, but he wrecks his car in an accident. Ludmila shows up on the scene again and agrees to take them to Virginia. Along the way, they will make some tourist stops, with the intention of letting the kids see some sights. Charlie plans to complete the list of “someday birds” that he and his father had hoped to observe together, Although he will learn about birds, he will learn even more about connecting with other people, including the unlikely Ludmila. He will bond with a very special dog.  His relationships with his siblings will mellow. These new experiences will force Charlie to grow in new and unexpected ways.

I don’t usually like to give spoilers, but there is one fact I feel readers should know. Although Pla never specifically labels Charlie, he is a child with Autism spectrum disorder. There are many clues in the book, but I am not sure if middle grade readers would recognize them as such. That being said, I feel that Pla’s handling of the character Charlie is excellent. Charlie is brutally honest, quirky, often frustrating to his family – and totally lovable.