Monday, May 9, 2011

Professional Reading #16

Klebanoff, A. (2009, July 1). "Block Party: Legos in the Library." School Library Journal. Retrieved from:

My tween materials class has been focusing on programming for tweens this last couple of weeks. Through our discussions I read about this article with a fantastic idea for tween programming. Radnor Memorial Library in Pennsylvania has a Lego club that meets once a month. Attendance for this club can some months be as high as 50 kids. The club is open to children and tweens, but they have had an incredible turn out of tween boys. What's awesome about this club is that it isn't just a bunch of kids getting together to play with Legos at their library; the organizers incorporate books into the Lego club as well. The program lasts an hour and a half. A theme has been selected and advertised in advance, there is a book on that theme for each age group represented. Each group is either read to or reads a bit of their book and then goes to creating something that represents that theme out of Legos. Not only does this program get tween boys into the library, it also gets them reading.

Another thing I love about this program is that it makes the library part of the community. It offers a program for kids from different schools within the same community to meet over a shared interest. Libraries have to continue to find programs like these that bring in kids who might not have an interest in reading yet, but they love to create things out of Legos or music or art or any other interest which can be made into a library program. Books can even be incorporated into these programs, like with the Lego club.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Professional Reading #15

Pearson, M. (2009, September 10). "What YA Lit is and isn't." Retrieved from:

Up until this class it had been awhile since I had read tween or young adult fiction. Sure, I'd occasionally picked up a tween book now and then and read it, but then went right back to my adult fiction. Through my tweens materials class this semester I have had the opportunity to absolutely immerse myself in young adult books, focusing primarily on young adult fiction. This was an incredible experience for me, cathartic at times, as I recognized bits of my awkward former tween self within the characters of the books. Anyone who could possibly think that young adult fiction is just a watered down adult book has it dead wrong. These books I've read are meant for young people going through more changes mentally, emotionally, and physically than they will ever again in their lives. These books speak to those changes, the awakening of feelings of empathy or lack of self-identity. Characters like Gypsy and Woodrow from Belle Prater's Boy deal with heavy issues, such as the loss of their parents and how their small town views them. Books like Are You There God, It's Me Margaret teach about physical changes in a young girls' life how no nonfiction book on puberty ever could, as told by a tween girl, with human feelings and concerns included.

These books tackle heavy issues like racism, death, religion, disease, and war. There are many who focus on friendships or interpersonal relationships, also often heavy and complex topics within tweens' lives. These books I've read have also come from all directions, conservative in their approach to tween issues, or incredibly liberal. I have enjoyed them all, as they have reminded me of what it was like to be a tween, the good and the bad. After these last few months of reading tween books I feel as if I've been able to reconnect with my inner tween and have a better understanding of tweens themselves. I would encourage anyone who has smirked at me noticing the tween book in my hands to pick up some young adult fiction and read it for yourself. You may be surprised to learn some important lessons in life you had forgotten.

Professional Reading #14

Rhood, D. (2009, May 29). Sweet Valley Twins: Reading to Understand Contemporary Social Networks. Retrieved from:

Stout, H. (2010, April 30). Antisocial Networking? The New York Times. Retrieved from:

The writer of this article makes a pretty interesting comparison between Sweet Valley High books and social networks, in that they both provide a model of socializing for viewers, without them having to participate. As a tween, she used the books as a way of learning about and witnessing social interactions, interactions she was too afraid to experience for herself. I love the idea of learning about social interactions from books. The writer paints herself as on the nerdier side, enjoying reading about how popular girls interact with one another. She relates this to young people looking at Facebook.

I find the author's suggestion that Facebook can be a way for young people to view social interactions from a comfortable distance very interesting and reminded me of an article I discussed earlier, "Antisocial Networking?" which questions if social networking sites are damaging to young peoples' relationships with one another. I am a Facebook user who likes to look at friends photos and read what people are up to, but seldom comments and rarely posts anything myself. I never thought of it in those terms before, but I could see where young people could spend hours on Facebook (an easy thing to do) looking at friends' interactions with one another as a method of learning how peers socialize. As with reading fiction novels to achieve the same purpose, I'm not sure that Facebook communications are going to give young viewers a realistic social exchange. I feel that many younger Facebook users I have witnessed choose to post a more projected view of themselves, rather than the real thing. As an adult, this is easier to recognize, but I would worry about a tween who spends a great deal of time viewing Facebook posts and comments of friends to learn about socializing. I could see where this might lead to "Facebook depression," the recent studies of young people with low self-esteem becoming depressed by spending hours on Facebook looking at peers happily socializing.

The Westing Game

Raskin, E. (1978). The Westing Game. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.

Plot Summary:
Barney Northrup sent letters to potential renters of the apartments in Sunset Towers. In one day he had rented all the apartments to the only people he had sent letters, their names already printed up on the mailboxes before they agreed. Soon after moving in, the residents were invited to the Westing house on the hill for a reading of Samuel Westing's will. The house had been empty for some time, but smoke mysteriously had come out of the chimney one night, the night Mr. Westing died. As they gathered to hear the reading of the will, the residents were informed that one of them was the murderer and it was up to the others to determine who that was. They would each receive $10,000 to play the game, the winner becoming Westing's heir of over $200 million. The residents were paired off, some in the unlikeliest of pairs, and each given a set of clues. From these clues the pairs were to determine who was the murderer. The Westing Game had begun, players consisting of a dressmaker, a secretary, an inventor, a doctor, a judge, a bookie, a burglar, a bomber, and a mistake, and ultimately not what it seemed at all.

This book is fantastic. It was just as good reading it now as it was when I was a kid. It is a wonderful mystery, full of twists and turns, and an unlikely ending. The characters are wonderfully developed, each with their own quirks and secrets. One of my favorite parts of the book is the unlikely pairings of residents and how they each end up growing to care about one another and helping each other. Through this, the reader is reminded to not always judge a person without knowing them. Even though it is over 30 years old, the book stands up to the years, it isn't outdated at all. Tweens will love reading this book, as I did when I was younger. This book is likely to have and continue to awaken the mystery lover within many a young reader. An truly incredibly book, not a dull moment at all.

mystery, fiction

Reading Level:
Ages 9 - 12

murder, inheritance, friendship

Award Information:
Newbery Medal winner
ALA Notable book

Character Names/Themes:
Sam Westing (Barney Northrup, Sandy McSouthers, Mr. Eastman, Windy Windkloppel): millionaire owner of Westing Paper Products; likes to play chess; poses as salesman; poses as a doorman and heir to his own inheritance; poses as new director of Westing Paper Products; was married to Crow; paid for Judge Ford's schooling; loves the 4th of July; develops the Westing Game
Turtle Wexler (Alice, Tabitha-Ruth, T.R.): junior high student; likes to kick people in the shins; wears braids; plays the stocks; sister to Angela; partner to Flora Baumbach
Angela Wexler: engaged to Dr. Denton Deere; older sister to Turtle; partner to Sydelle; a bomber
Dr. Denton Deere: plastic surgery intern; engaged to Angela; partners to Chris
Grace Wexler: interior decorator; becomes a restaurateur; wife to Jake; mother to Turtle and Angela; partner to James; niece of Sam Westing
Jake Wexler: podiatrist; husband of Grace; father of Turtle and Angela; partner to Sun Lin; a bookie
James Shin Hoo: restaurateur; inventor; father of Doug; husband of Sun Lin; partner to Grace
Sun Lin Hoo: second wife of James Hoo; stepmother to Doug; cook at Hoo's restaurant; partner to Jake; a burglar
Douglas Hoo: track star; son of James Hoo; friend and partner of Theo
Flora Baumbach (Baba): dressmaker; partner to Turtle
Otis Amber: delivery boy for Sunset Towers; private investigator; partner and eventual husband to Crow
Sydelle Pulaski: secretary; fakes an ailment for attention; paints her crutches to match her outfits; partner to Angela; is a mistake
Berthe Erica Crow: cleaning woman for Sunset Towers; wife of Sam Westing; partner and eventual wife of Otis
Theo Theodorakis: high school senior; works in family's coffee shop; his father was once in love with Sam Westing's daughter; brother to Chris; plays chess; friend and partner to Doug
Christos Theodorakis: younger brother of Theo; has a degenerative disease; confined to wheelchair; studies birds; partner to Dr. Denton Deere
Judge J.J. Ford (Josie-Jo): judge; partner to Sandy; Sam Westing paid for her schooling

The residents of Sunset Towers are invited by the recently deceased Sam Westing to play a game. The participants play to discover the murderer among them and to win Mr. Westing's inheritance.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Professional Reading #13

Associated Press. (2011, March 18). “Young Math Whiz Helps Students to ‘Get It.’” Retrieved from:

This article is about a 12 year-old boy named Sandeep who is taking his love for math, something he enjoys working hard at, and using it to help others around his own age. He offered to provide his tutoring services in a program called the “After School Math Club” at his local library. The idea was his own and one he came up with after seeing his friends struggle with math. He was able to help these friends have a better understanding of math, which led him to volunteering at the library to a broader group of kids. Not only does he offer homework help, Sandeep provides grade appropriate worksheets he creates himself and then helps the kids work through him. At the time of the article Sandeep had 10 attendees to his math club, ranging in ages from 3rd to 6th graders.

Of course this article is incredibly inspiring and it shows the awareness of others that arises in kids when they hit their tweens. Sandeep developed an empathy for his classmates who were struggling with math, something he enjoyed. He took these feelings and did something with it. We have a tendency to get lost in the overwhelming media of cyberbully and sexting tweens and lose sight of the good that can come out of tweens. Their growing awareness for those around them, some take this and do harm, such as bullying, but others use it for good. I also am slightly tired of reading articles about tweens who write incredible blogs, or have their own clothing lines. I want to read more articles like this one, about kids who use their talent not for glory, but to help others their own age. Kudos to Sandeep and others like him, I hope to continue finding articles similar to this one.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Book Trailer #3: Surviving the Applewhites

Link to my Surviving the Applewhites glog:

Professional Reading #12

Springen, K. (2011, March). “What’s Right With This Picture?” School Library Journal.

What an incredibly inspiring article. In my MLIS classes I read so much about making the library more of a community space. It is through this process that the library will remain a relevant service in the digital age. The YOUmedia has achieved just that. The library realized that there was a need in their city to boost young people’s knowledge of new technology and they found away to fill that need. Libraries are struggling financially right now and not every library will be able to provide a space like this, either because of space limitations or funding, but it is incredible to know that it works. The photos in this article show tons of teenagers at the library, interacting with one another, creating music, videos, and socializing. YOUmedia is an excellent model for how libraries can keep current and continue to provide a valuable service to their community.

I love that the library involved teenagers in the creation process of this program and the space itself. They asked the teenagers in the community how they would like to sit while playing video games or what they would want in this type of program. Giving young people a say in something that is intended for them, gives them a sense of pride and a greater desire to take advantage of the program. Not only does YOUmedia provide a creative learning environment filled with digital media and technology, including media workshops run by teens, it also promotes the libraries other services as well. Library circulation among teens has risen as teens using the YOUmedia space are also picking up books on their library visits, many even participating in the One Book, One Chicago program. As the article states, YOUmedia follows President Obama’s goal of making young people “makers and creators of things, rather than just consumers.” I have read so many articles this semester where the goal is the opposite, it was incredibly refreshing to read this article.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Professional Reading #11

(2011, April 11). Abercrombie Bikini Top Controversy Sparks Debate on Parenting and Child Fashion. CBS New York. Retrieved from:

I have been looking for articles on this subject ever since a coworker told me about this. The clothing line, Abercrombie & Fitch, popular among tweens and teens, released a padded, push-up bikini top intended for girls as young as seven and eight years old. The thought of a seven year-old girl walking around with a padded push up bikini top is severely disturbing to me. Why are we sexualizing our children? What parent feels that it is appropriate to teach their young girl that she should be wearing a padded bikini, what lesson is that teaching her? I can guarantee that seven year-old boys could care less whether girls their age have large breasts, so who is this for? Is it for themselves and their own self esteem? If that is the case, how terrible is it that seven year olds feel they need to be sexy in order to feel confident.

This article claims that girls see their friends wearing these tops and want them for themselves. Susan Shapiro Barash, author of the book, "You're Grounded Forever... But First Let's Go Shopping: The Challenges Mothers Face with Their Daughters and Ten Timely Solutions" discusses that Gen-X mothers are more concerned about their appearance than their Baby Boomer mothers, which leads to them allowing their daughters to wear sexier clothes at a younger age. I don't typically read comments at the end of these articles, but these ones were pretty interesting. Most of them were from Gen-X mothers who were upset by Barash's comments stating that their daughter's appearance as well as their own is not of the utmost importance to them. These women argue that if begged by their daughters to allow them to wear a padded bikini top, they would have no problem saying no. Glad to hear it.

Professional Reading #10

Richtel, M. & Helft, M. (2011, March 11). Facebook Users Who Are Under Age Raise Concerns. New York Times.

I think that it's okay to restrict children under 13 years of age from signing up for a Facebook account. As great a tool as Facebook can be for keeping in touch, reconnecting with friends, or even a quick way to communicate with people you see often, it could also be put to some negative uses. I have read many articles recently which discuss cyberbullying and negative comments frequently posted by young Facebook users. I think that it is acceptable to have young people wait until they are more emotionally mature before using Facebook. I must say that I am very happy Facebook wasn't around when I was in middle school. Middle schoolers were hurtful enough face to face, I could only see it as being intensified when hidden behind a computer screen. This article even discusses actual instances of predators coming after young users of sites like MySpace or Facebook.

My primary issue with this article is the parents who are allowing their children to lie about their age in order to sign up for Facebook. I think it's a bad idea to teach your children that lying to get something you want is okay. The one mother discussed in the article justifies this by stating that her son would have done it anyway and at least now she can monitor his usage. If she had concerns that he would go behind her back to use Facebook, why isn't she already monitoring his Internet usage. This goes back to an earlier article I discussed where the parents take a very apathetic approach to their children and technology, like they're going to do it anyway, so why not prevent a whole lot of heartache and just let them. That doesn't necessarily sound like good parenting to me, but I'm also not a parent.

Built to Last

Macaulay, D. (2010). Built to Last. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

This book is divided into three parts, each discussing all of the stages of constructing a castle, a cathedral, and a mosque. Each of the buildings constructed and scenarios surrounding their creation are fictitious, but they are all based on actual buildings and architects. This book is absolutely filled with minutely detailed images showing each construction process from determining the location and building the foundation, to decorating the interior and adding the finishing touches. The book discusses the purpose for each building in society and how they were funded. It shows all of the jobs created by the long and ardous undertakings of the construction of these buildings. There were laborers, skilled masons, stained glass makers, and many more people involved. The book also provides maps showing where these buildings would have been constructed and how they impacted the surrounding areas. There is a glossary at the end of the book that defines many of the building terms discussed.

This book is incredible. The details included in the drawings and descriptions are fascinating. I loved how it showed the long process of each building, providing dates to see how long they each took. In the case of the cathedral, the decision to build it was made in 1223, and the cathedral itself was completed in 1314. Most of the people who initially conceptualized it or funded it were deceased. The author also provides a lot of information on the engineering and design of these building how flying butresses and support domes were used to give these buildings their incredible height. It is also full of fun and interesting little details such as how toilets were built into castle walls, that was something I had never even heard or thought of, and this book provided a full color diagram! This book was inspired by the author's three black and white architecture books, "Cathedral," "Castle," and "Mosque." It was meant to be more of a compilation of those books, but instead Macaulay re-did most of the drawings in color, improving on the accuracy of the scale of the buildings.


Reading Level:
Ages 9 - 12

architecture, construction, castle, cathedral, mosque

Follow along through the entire design and construction of a castle, a cathedral, and a mosque.

The Defenders of the Dead (Star Wars Jedi Apprentice)

Watson, J. (1999). The Defenders of the Dead (Star Wars Jedi Apprentice). New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.

Plot Summary:
Qui-Gon Jinn, a Jedi Knight, and his young apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, travel to the planet of Melida/Daan to rescue a captured Jedi, Tahl. They arrive in Zehava, the main city on the planet, which is in the middle of a civil war that has been going on for 30 years. The Melida and the Daan people have been fighting for so long, they don't even remember why they began. The city is divided into Melida and Daan sections, each guarded by their own people. All over the city are Halls of Evidence, which contain memories of those who died in the civil war, it is a way of perpetuating the emotions tied to the war. The Jedi's meet up with their contact, Wehutti, who claimed he would take them to rescue Tahl, but the Jedi's are betrayed by Wehutti. The Young aid the Jedi's in their escape from Wehutti and take them to their underground hideout. It is here that the Jedi's learn of the growing resentment of the young people of the city against the elders who fight for reasons they no longer remember. Obi-Wan is drawn to assisting the Young in their uprising against the Elders, but Qui-Gon struggles to remind him that their mission was to rescue Tahl, not get involved where they have not been requested.

I'm not a huge fan of science fiction, but this book definitely held my interest. It is a fast paced, quick read. I could see a lot of tweens, particularly those interested in Star Wars being very drawn to this series. There are a lot of interesting names and descriptions of characters, forcing readers to use their imaginations while they read. The book didn't end, which for me was slightly annoying because I just wanted to find out what happened and am not really planning on reading any further in the series, but I could see where this would inspire young readers in picking up the next book in the series. There are some good lessons to be had by Qui-Gon Jinn, who lives his life as a Jedi and is a methodical mentor to the more quick acting Obi-Wan Kenobi.

science fiction

Reading Level:
Ages 9 - 12

war, Star Wars

Series Information:
The fifth book in the Jedi Apprentice series.

Character Names/Descriptions:
Qui-Gon Jinn: Jedi Knight; Obi-Wan's mentor; wants to complete their mission to rescue Tahl and leave Melida/Daan without getting involved in their civil war
Obi-Wan Kenobi: a padawan (Jedi apprentice); sympathizes with the Young and wants to help them
Tahl: female Jedi; who the Jedi's are sent to Melida/Daan to rescue
Wehutti: point of contact for the Jedi's; he betrays them
The Young: led by Cerasi and Nield; the young people of the planet Melida/Daan are tired of the elders of their planet fighting

Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn are sent to the planet of Melida/Daan to rescue a fellow Jedi, but when they are betrayed by their contact their plan begins to fall apart.

Toy Story 3

Unkrich, L., dir. (2010). Toy Story 3 (Animated Film). United States: Pixar.

Plot Summary:
This is the third animated film of the Toy Story movies from Pixar. It begins with Andy getting ready to leave for college. All his favorite old toys, such as Woody and Buzz Lightyear are starting to speculate about what that means for them. Andy intends to put all of the toys (except for his favorite, Woody) into the attic in a garbage bag, but his mom mistakenly donates them to a daycare instead. Upset about being cast off, the toys try to make the best out of their new home at the daycare, but Woody leaves determined to make it back to Andy. Things at the daycare end up being horrible, as the toys are all put into the youngest kids' room and practically destroyed. It turns out that the daycare toys are being controlled by an evil stuffed bear who locks up Andy's toys and forbids them from leaving. Woody eventually makes his way back to the daycare to rescue the other toys, there they use all of their resources to escape, but the toys haven't succeeded yet. They must encounter some additional obstacles before finding themselves safely home.

Oh man, this movie had me in tears. It really got me thinking about all of the stuffed animals I still have in garbage bags in my parent's garage. I love Pixar movies. They are a lot of fun for all ages, full of enough silly humor to entertain the youngest kids, but also full of witty dialog, which is nice for older viewers. The characters are all very well developed and each bring their own unique talents and humor to the film. Woody is a great role model, he is a strong character who loves and cares for his friends and doesn't ever give up. The animation is incredible, I even felt that Pixar had greater success in animating humans, something I thought was not as good in the first Toy Story movie. The story was very silly, but will strike a nerve in tweens who were ever attached to their stuffed animals. I think some will also see toys represented in the movie that they played with when they were younger, like Mr. Potato Head.

animated film

Age Level:
rated G for general audience; all ages

growing up, loss

Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song

Character Names/Descriptions:
Woody: cowboy toy of Andy's; only toy Andy is taking to college with him; gets separated from the rest of the toys and goes back to rescue them; unofficial leader of the toys
Buzz Lightyear: space invader toy of Andy's; is reprogrammed by Lots-O-Huggin Bear and the other evil toys; is reprogrammed again to only speak Spanish
Jessie: cowgirl toy of Andy's
Lots-O-Huggin Bear: evil stuffed bear; rules all the toys at the daycare; tries to prevent Andy's toys from leaving the daycare
Andy: owner of all of the toys; leaving for college; means to put his toys away in the attic; eventually donates them all to Bonnie
Bonnie: girl in daycare who eventually receives all of Andy's toys; plays well with her toys

As Andy prepares to leave for college, his old toys mistakenly are donated to a daycare. It is up to the toys to find their way back to Andy's room.


Yolen, J. (2010). Foiled. New York, NY: First Second.

Plot Summary:
Aliera Carstairs is a very talented fencer; it is her life. She practices everyday after school and on the weekends. She has no friends at school, preferring to be by herself and not really interested in befriending anyone. She plays role playing games every Saturday with her younger cousin who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. Aliera is shocked when she is all of the sudden interested in the new boy in 10th grade, Avery Castle. He is gorgeous and popular and also her science partner. As he flirts with Aliera, she gets awkward and uncomfortable with his attention. As they spend a few weeks together working on the dissection of a frog, they begin to get comfortable with one another, and Avery asks Aliera on a date. As Aliera waits at Grand Central station at their determined waiting time she begins to see odd things and a bird begins attacking her hair. She puts on her fencing mask to protect herself and all of the sudden she is aware of fantastical colorful creatures all around the station. A beautiful woman urges her to use her secondhand practice weapon, with a ruby on it's hilt. It is here that Aliera discovers Avery is not who he claims to be, and there is a whole lot more to Aliera and her family than she could ever imagine.

I really wanted to like this graphic novel, and I definitely did in a lot of parts, but there was just way too fast of a transition between Aliera being a normal girl and all of a sudden the world's defender. Most of the action happens within the last few pages of the book. I still don't fully understand all that happened in the end. I loved Aliera's character. She was a kick-butt girl, with incredible fencing abilities. She also loved to play role playing games. I think I would have enjoyed the book a lot more if the whole switch to fantasy was explained better and more time was spent developing it. Odd things were definitely alluded to throughout the book, but the actual transition was rather quick. The illustrations were great. Aliera was colorblind, so the gray scale graphics made total sense. The dialog tripped me up a few times. I didn't always understand what was meant in certain thoughts or conversations.

graphic novel, fantasy

Reading Level:
Ages 10 - 15

fencing, rheumatoid arthritis, self-identity

Series Information:
book one of a series to come

Character Names/Descriptions:
Aliera Carstairs (Xenda of Xenon): 11 year old girl; 10th grader, lives in New York City; is a fencer; plays role playing games with her cousin, Caroline; has a crush on Avery; enters into a fantasy world; uses a practice weapon with a ruby on it her mom got secondhand
Avery Castle: cute new boy in the 10th grade; Aliera's science partner; asks her out on a date; turns into a troll
Caroline (Queen Furby): Aliera's younger cousin; has rheumatoid arthritis

Aliera lives for fencing and not much else. She prefers to be left alone, until she meets a new cute student at school who ends up being part of a fantasy world.

Bigfoot Caught on Film and Other Monster Sightings (24/7 Science Behind the Scenes Mystery Files)

Teitelbaum, M. (2008). Bigfoot Caught on Film and Other Monster Sightings (24/7 Science Behind the Scenes Mystery Files). New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.

This book explores popular monsters thought to exist, such as Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Kracken. It explains that the scientific name for these creatures is cryptids, of which the definition is, "a creature that some people believe is real but whose existence has not been scientifically proven." The book focuses on the three cryptids mentioned above, offering photos and evidence that supports their existence as well as evidence which negates it. It also briefly discusses a few other cryptids such as, the Chupacabra and the Mothman. It provides historical information on original sightings of these creatures and recent discoveries or confessions of people who falsified evidence supporting their existence. The book takes a scientific approach to the study of cryptids, explaining the role of cryptozoologists, those who study cryptids, and the kind of schooling involved and the other careers of these researchers. It even offers a quiz at the back to see if you "have what it takes to be a cryptozoologist." There is a glossary of terms at the back of the book and as well as a section for further research and reading, full of book titles and websites.

I really enjoyed the way this book was set up. I felt that it could have easily gone pretty hokey and played up the sensationalism of these cryptids. Instead, the book took a scientific approach to the introduction and study of these creatures, offering both information which supported and negated their existence. Most of the information was left relatively open ended, leaving young readers to come to their own conclusions, except for the case of the kracken, or giant squid. This is the only cryptid whose existence has been confirmed. There are plenty of photographs which capture the creatures throughout the book, some of which are confirmed false, with explanations provided for how this was done. The book discusses how young people interested in cryptids can document their own evidence they find, such as making a plaster cast of a footprint. I also thought it was really interesting that the author explains that cryptozoologists rarely ever do it as a career, it's more something of interest to them or something that goes along with their career, such as primatologists or anthropologists.


Reading Level:
Ages 9 - 12

cryptozoology, monsters

Research and evidence both supporting and against the existence of such creatures as Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster.


Erskine, K. (2010). Mockingbird. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.

Plot Summary:
Caitlin's family is no stranger to tragedy. Her mother died of cancer a few years ago and her brother was recently shot and killed in a shooting at his middle school. All who is left is Caitlin and her dad. Caitlin has Asberger's and depended on her older brother, Devon, to help her know what is right and wrong and to be her only friend. Mrs. Brooks, Caitlin's counselor at school, helps Caitlin learn about emotions and feelings and how to recognize them in other people. She also teaches her about manners and making friends. These are all concepts that Caitlin has a hard time learning and struggles with throughout the book. She eventually befriends Michael, a first grader whose mother was a teacher killed in the middle school shooting. This friendship helps Caitlin to work on feeling empathy for others and normal interactions between friends. Caitlin and her father are still struggling tremendously with Devon's death and Caitlin decides she needs closure. She searches throughout the book for the one thing that will give her some closure and realizes it's been under her nose the whole time. She persuades her dad to help her finish a chest Devon was making as a project to make Eagle Scout. It is through the completion of this project with her dad which begins to heal her family.

This is a great book. The style in which it is written, with Caitlin as narrator, is pretty incredible. It really helps to put you in the mind of someone with Asberger's with the capitalization of certain letters for emphasis and the italicization of dialog versus thoughts. It was pretty tragic though, and I'm starting to definitely see a pattern with all of the award winning tween books. Caitlin's mother died of cancer, her brother was killed in a school shooting, and she had Asberger's. But, the book is very well written and deals with the struggle of someone with Asberger's working her way through all of these tragic events in her life and dealings with feelings and emotions of herself and those around her. What was so nice about the book was that Caitlin's outbursts and over sharing of the things she is learning about empathy, friendships, and closure really help to educate those around her, especially her dad who is struggling tremendously throughout the book.

realistic fiction

Reading Level:
Ages 9 - 12

loss, Asberger's, siblings, friendships, cancer, school shootings

National Book Award Winner

Character Names/Descriptions:
Caitlin Smith (Scout): 5th grader; sister to Devon; brother died in a school shooting; mother died of cancer; has Asberger's; working with feelings, emotions, friendship, and closure; excellent artist
Devon Joseph Smith (Jem): killed in middle school shooting; brother to Caitlin; boy scout trying to make Eagle Scout
Dad (Atticus): dad to Caitlin and Devon; wife died of cancer; having a very hard time finding closure after Devon's death; helps Caitlin finish Devon's wood chest to find closure
Mrs. Brooks: Caitlin's counselor at school; helps her work with feelings, emotions, manners, friendships, and closure
Michael Schneider: 1st grader; Caitlin's first friend; son of teacher killed in school shooting
Emma: 5th grade classmate of Caitlin; starts to become a friend of Caitlin's
Josh: 5th grade bully; cousin of the school shooter

Caitlin has Asberger's and is struggling her feelings regarding her brother's recent death in a school shooting.