Author: Jerry Spinellli
Reading Range: 4.3 (AR Finder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR Finder)
Plot: This book traces Donald Zinoff’s life from first to sixth grade. Zinoff is a very unusual boy. His first day of school he goes wearing his favorite hat which is a giraffe. He thinks the best job in the world is to be a mailman like his father. Zinoff can be loud and laughs at inappropriate times. His handwriting is terrible and he is bad at sports. Yet, he has a good heart. He tries to do what he thinks is right. Some of his teachers like while others can barely stand him. He is very hyper. He does not have many friends. As the years past, the kids in his class notice how different he is from them. They start to call him a loser because he cannot seem to do anything right. At first, Zinoff does not notice that he is different from the other kids around him. He starts to realize how different he is from them. He tries to fit in but he is not always successful.
Review: What makes someone a loser? To many of the characters in the book, Zinoff is considered a loser. He does not excel at the things that most people consider important. He is not good at school. He is not good at sports. He does not fit in with the other kids. He lives in his head more than he lives in the world.  The thing is that Zinoff has a good heart. He does not give up. Even when others think he is terrible, he keeps going and trying to do the best he can. He sees the world differently then most people. Zinoff is not really a loser. He is just different but at that age many children have a hard time accepting children who are different. Even some adults have a hard time accepting people who are different. He reminds me of a boy I used to know. This boy had trouble because it was hard for him to read social cues. He ended up annoying more of his classmates to the point they snapped at him. He did not understand what he was doing to them. I would recommend this book to just about any grade. I think it is a good book to use to discuss what a loser is and maybe people we think are loser are actually not.
Additional Info:
Main Characters:
Donald Zinoff-Zinoff is different from many of the children in his class. They consider him a loser because of his differences. He tries his best and he has a good heart. He used to throw up until he had a surgery to fix his stomach.
Mr. Zinoff-He is Zinoff’s father. He is a mailman and he loves his son.
Mrs. Zinoff-She is Zinoff’s mother. She gave him stars when he did something good.
Andrew-He was Zinoff’s neighbor until he moved away. They meet again in sixth grade and he is considered a cool kid.

Polly-She is Zinoff’s little sister.

Mr. Yalowitz-He is Zinkoff’s 4th grade teacher. He is one of the teachers who likes Zinoff.

Miss Meeks-She is Zinkoff’s 1st grade teacher. She is one of his favorite teachers.

Mrs. Biswell-She is Zinoff’s 2nd grade teacher. She hates children and especially hates Zinoff. He drives her crazy.

Theme: Individual versus society, Inner versus outer strength, Will to survive

Bibliographic Info:

Spinelli, Jerry. (2003). Loser. New York, NY: Scholastic



The Higher Power of Lucky

Author:  Susan Patron

Reading Range: 5.9 (AR Finder)

Interest Range: 4-8 (AR Finder)

Plot: Lucky lives with her father’s ex-wife, Brigitte. After Lucky’s mother died, her father asked Brigitte to come from France to take care of her. Lucky does not have a relationship with her father. Brigitte is raising her in the town, Hard Pan, California, where Lucky lived with her mother. Brigitte and Lucky have lived together for the past few years. Hard Pan is a small town with only a few people that live there. People there are tight knit but they also not have a lot of money. They depend on the government to provide them with things because there are not that many jobs available. Lately, Lucky has noticed  that Brigitte seemed to want to go back home to France. She worries that Brigitte is going to leave her alone and that she would be forced to live in an orphanage in Los Angeles. She would not see her friends or her dog, HMS Beagle. She needs to convince Brigitte to stay and continue to take care of her. She believes that finding her Higher Power will help her do that.

Review: This is a charming book. Lucky has an unique way of viewing the world. She lives in a world that is different from what most people experience. The characters in this book live in a very isolated place. Many of them are very poor. A lot of the adult characters are dealing with addiction. They are addicted to alcohol or cigarettes. The book does not shy away from showing how these addictions have affected their lives. A character lost her wife because of his addiction. One of the parts of the book I liked is the relationship between Lucky and Brigitte. Brigitte does not have to take care of her but she agreed to. She left her home in France and traveled to a country where she barely spoke the language. She went to help a child she never met. Brigitte does love Lucky and Lucky loves her. Lucky is afraid she will lose Brigitte like she lost other people she loved. I would recommend this book to just about any tween.

Additional Info:

This book has been challenged in few places because the word scrotum was used in the story. A story is told, in an AA meeting, about a dog who is bit on the scrotum by a rattlesnake. Some people feel that word should not be in a story for children.

Main Characters:

Lucky-She is the main character of the book. Her mother is dead and her father abandoned her before she was born.

Brigitte-She is taking care of Lucky because Lucky’s father asked to. She is from France.

Short Sammy-His dog was the one that was bit on the scrotum. He makes good chili and he is an alcoholic.

Lincoln-He is Lucky’s friend. He likes to tie knots. His mother wants him to become president.

HMS Beagle-This is Lucky’s dog.

Miles-He is a five year old boy carries a book called “Are You My Mother?”. His mother is in jail so his grandmother had to take care of him.

Themes:  Friendship, Loyalty, Love

Bibliographic Info:

Patron, S. (2006) The Higher Power of Lucky. New York, NY: Scholastic


School of Fear

Author:  Gitty Daneshvari

Reading Range:  6.2 (AR Finder.com)

Interest Range: 4-6 (Amazon.com)

Plot:  After annoying their families with their fears, four children are forced by their families to go to the School of Fear during the summer.  This school is hidden and kept secret from anyone who could learn about it.  There they are forced by their ex-beauty queen headmistress, Mrs. Wellington, to face their worst fears.  Madeleine is afraid of spiders. Theo is afraid of death. Lulu is afraid of small spaces. Garrison is afraid of deep water.  Mrs. Wellington’s six-week curriculum is either going to cure their fears or kill them. Is she just insane or an insane genius? A tragedy forces them to band together to save Mrs. Wellington’s beloved bulldog, Macaroni (Mac), and the school. Can they put aside their fears and band together?

Review:  This is a funny book that exaggerate common fears people have.  It does show how fear can limit the lives of people even if it is exaggerated. Madeleine is so afraid of insects that she cannot live without her bug spray the veils she wears to keep bugs away from her. Theo cannot stand not knowing where his family is in case one of them dies. Lulu cannot go into an elevator or any small place. Garrison lives in Florida and they have hurricanes in Florida. What is interesting is that even through Mrs. Wellington seems crazy she sometimes has good insights when she tells Garrison that working through fear is a process and if his father cannot handle that his fear of Garrison’s fear says more about him then Garrison. This book left me smiling at the end and eager to read the next one.

Additional Info:  The first book in the “School of Fear’ series.

Main Characters:

Madeleine Masterson-Madeleine is from London, England.  She is so scared of insects and spiders, she has to cover herself head to toe in bug spray. She is not able to work around without her veil.

Theodore Bartholomew-Theo is from New York city where he lives with his parents and brothers and sisters.  He is so afraid of death and dying he has his family check-in with him nearly every hour. He knows a lot of facts about accidents and death which he annoys people with.

Lulu Punchalower-Lulu is from Providence, Rhode Island.  She lives with her parents and brother. She is tough and with strong views but she has claustrophobia.

Garrison Feldman-He lives in Florida with his parents. He is the star athlete but no one knows his deep, dark secret-his fear of water. He hides this fear because he is afraid of losing his popularity. He finds School of Fear so that he can face his fears.

Mrs. Wellington-The headmistress of School of fear. She founded it and has successful treated nearly every children who came to her except for one. Her curriculum is unusual.

Schmidty-the caretaker.

Macaroni-Or Mac as he is known. He is a bulldog who can sleep electronics.

Themes:  Empowerment, Fear of failure, Overcoming fear

Bibliographic Info:

Daneshvari, G. (2009). School of fear. New York, NY: Scholastic

Tagline: Everyone’s afraid of something. . .

Lost and Found

Author:  Shaun Tan

Reading Range: 5.6 (AR Finder)

Interest Range:  5-8 (Follett Library Resources)

Plot:  This book features three stories that tell of things that are lost and found.  These three stories were originally published separately then they were gathered together.

Story 1-The Red Tree

This is a simple but visual complex story about a girl who is lost in her life and trying to find her way.

Story 2-The Lost Thing

A boy encounters a being that does not seem to belong anywhere.  He takes it home but he parents tell him that it cannot stay with them.  He decided to find a place where it can be safe and where it can belong.

Story 3-The Rabbits

The rabbits are invaders who come to a place that is different from their own.  They forced their way onto the land and start to change it without regard for what it used to be.  They take the land away from the people who used to live there forcing them to adopted their values and customs.


In the three stories, very few words are used to tell them.  Mostly it is images that convey the feelings and thoughts of the characters.  The illustrations Tan created are very rich in detailed and layered.   All the stories center around the them of losing something and finding something.  In “The Red Tree,” the images can be seen as a metaphor for feeling lost in ones own life.  There is an image of the girl where she is on stage with different object surrounding showing that she does not know who she is supposed to be.  The alien landscapes just magnify how lost and alone she feels in this world.  It is very dreamlike and beautiful.  “The Lost Thing” is the story with the most words but it still has very rich details in the pictures.  This story discuss conformity and what happens when things do not conform.  This story created a world where it is not safe for things that are different even through differences can be wonderful.  “The Rabbits” is the story that I connected to the most because of my background.  I am Native American.  This story can be seen as another metaphor for what happened to Indigenous people when the settlers came to either America or Australia.  The author is Australian and he meant it as a fable for what happened to the Aboriginals.  This one is heartbreaking because in the others stories there is a little hope in the “lostness” but here there is no hope.  I would recommend this book because it shows how beautiful and complex graphic novels can be.  This is a good example of how words and images together can convey something beautiful.

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

The Red Tree:

Girl-She does not have a name but the story follows her through her day.

The Lost Thing:

Boy-He narrators the story of trying to find a place for the Lost Thing.

Lost Thing-It follows around the boy.

The Rabbits:

Rabbits-They come to “The People’s land and take over.

“The People”-They get pushed out by the rabbits.

Themes: Convention and rebellion, Desire to escape, Disillusionment and dreams, Displacement, Vulnerability of the meek

Bibliographic Info:  Tan, S. (2011). Lost and fond. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Tagline: A girl finds a bright spot in a dark world. A boy leads a strange, lost creature home. And a group of peaceful creatures cedes their home to hostile invaders.

Are You There God? Its Me, Margaret.

 Author: Judy Blume

Reading Range: 3.6 (Accelerated Reader)

Interest Range: 3-5 (AR Finder)

Plot: Margaret moves to a new town with her parents before starting her sixth grade year of school. This is about the changes she experiences as she goes through her year of school. She is making new friends. She is learning about herself and her family.

Review: Margaret captures the feelings that most young girls feel when they start to enter puberty.  There is a longing to change but there is also embarrassment about those changes.  Margaret wants to start her period and develop breasts but she is embarrassed to buy her first bra.  This book also shows the range of body shapes and mental ages that sixth graders can be at.  An example of this can be seen with Laura Danker.  Poor Laura is already in sixth grade and she looks like a full-grown woman.  Margaret’s friend, Sylvia, starts to spread rumors about Laura making out with boys. That is not true but because of what she looks likes they assume it is.  It is often assumed that because a child’s body looks like an adult that they are actually more mature than they really are.  This is a good book to give a young girl as she starts to navigate her way through puberty to help her understand some of the feelings and changes she is going through.

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Margaret Simon –She is starting the sixth grade in a new school and town after moving from New York City.  She is becoming a teenager.

Barbara Simon– Margaret’s mother.

Herbert Simon – Margaret’s father.

Sylvia Simon – Margaret’s grandmother.  She is her father’s mother. Margaret is very close to her.

Nancy Wheeler – Margaret’s first new friend when she moves.

Laura Danker –She becomes Margaret’s friend after a few misunderstandings.  The most developed girl in their class.

Themes: Growing up, Acceptance, Religion.

Bibliographic Info:

Blume, J. (1970). Are you there, god? it’s me, margaret.. New York: Yearling.




First edition cover 

Author:  Gary Paulsen

Reading Range:  5.7 (Accelerated Reader)

Interest Range:  Gr 4-8 (AR Finder)

Plot: Brian Robeson’s parents are divorced.  He is trying his best to cope with that fact.  His father has gone to work in the Canadian oil fields.  He is going to visit him for the summer.  While flying in a bush plane to go see his father, the pilot has a heart attack and dies.  Brian is forced to land the plane.  He is left alone in the wildness without anyone but himself to help him.  He has to learn fast how to survive otherwise he would not last long.

Review: This book is very fast-paced even through its focus is only on one character.  There is not a lot of dialogue in this book because most of it is Brian by himself.  It is interesting watching the way he changes through the book.  Brian thought the biggest issue he would have to deal with was keeping his mother’s secret for why she divorced his father.  Then something bad happens and Brian has to adapt quick.  The author gives a sense of the danger that Brian is in.  If he makes one mistake, he could get serious hurt or even die.  This book may seem to appeal just to boys but this book is for anyone who wants to read a story of survival.

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Brian Robeson-He is going to visit his father for the summer.  He is trying to deal with his parents’ divorce until he discovers he has bigger issues to deal with.

Themes: Survival, Independence, Self-Reliance

Bibliographic Info:

Paulsen, P. (1987). Hatchet. New York: Bradbury Press.


Gender and Books

I was talking with my mother before I started to write this post.  My mother teaches a children’s literature class in college.  She was telling me that when she talks to her students about “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” a number of her female students will raise their hands to say they read and loved that book.  When she mentions “Hatchet” for guys almost no male students raise their hand for that book.  Girls seem to have books they read and share.  It does not seem guys are the same way.  In her opinion, girls have more books then boys.

Do I agree with her? I think I do.  In the last few years, it seems that things for children have gotten very specifically marketed for gender for boys and girls.  I worked a few book fair and it was fairly easily to pick out the books for boys and girls by just colors.  Pink, light blue, and white for girls.  Dark blue, red, black for boys.  As an example, there were counting books and instead of being gender neutral, girls got purses while boys got trucks.  That applied even for tweens.  There was a book series call “Dork Diaries” that seemed like a girl version of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”  I have seen both boys and girls read “Wimpy Kid” and I know both genders like it.  I do not see many boys reading “Dork Diaries” because the pink covers would scare them off.

To be honest, I do not think that this is a good idea.  I think that it gives an impression to boys that reading is for girls.  Boys do not read as much as they should be reading.  The people who are pushing reading are more likely to be women.  Growing up I saw both my parents reading.  They shared books with me.  I still share books with my mom and dad.  I am not sure how many boys have that experience of their fathers giving them books to read.  Who is the parent that holds out books to their kids?  I am not sure because I am not a parent, yet.

I think there is hope.  I want to close with this story.  A boy showed me the books he checked out a few days ago.  One of them was “The Hunger Games.”  He told me that he thought that Katniss was cool.  He liked her because he thought she was strong and tough.  I think boys will read books about girls and they like it when they are strong and capable.  There are books that can unite boys and girls.  I think we need to make more of those.

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