The Tale of Despereaux

Author: Kate DiCamillo
Reading Range: 4.7 ( AR Finder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR Finder)
Plot: The story is divided into four parts. The first three parts focus on a particular character. The first part focuses on Despereaux. It tells of his birth and of his life. He is an unusual mouse with big ears who does not act like a mouse. He can read and is interested in stories with knights. He falls in love with the Princess Pea. The Mouse Council condemns him to the dungeon with the rats because he talked to the princess and he does not act like a mouse. The second part focuses on the character of Chiaroscuro (Roscuro) who is a rat that lives in the dungeon of the castle. He does not act like a rat because he is attracted to light and he is actually a good “person.” One night, he goes into the castle main hall and accidentally scares the queen to death.He blames Princess Pea for what happened and he plots revenge against her. The third part focuses on Mig Sow. Her father sold her because her mother died. The man he sold her to abuses her. Eventually, she is taken to the castle where Princess Pea lives. The fourth part focuses on Roscuro’s revenge against Princess Pea. He uses Mig to take his revenge because he can manipulate her. Despereaux is the only one that can save her.
Review: All three characters want things that they are told they cannot have. Despereaux falls in love with the princess and wants to be apart of her world. Roscuro wants to live in the light. Mig wants to be a princess because she thinks they are “stars on the earth.” Each is denied what they want. Despereaux is told by the Mouse Council what he wants is wrong and that he breaks Mouse Law by wanting it. Roscuro is not welcome in the castle’s main hall. Mig is told by everyone she is pretty much worthless and will never be a princess. Roscuro is able to manipulate Mig because of that desire. In the story, everyone is saved not by the use of violence but because they are able to forgive each other. Despereaux is able to forgive his father for condemning him to death and become the knight he wants to be. Roscuro is able to forgive the princess for rejecting him. Although, his heart never completely heals. Mig is reunited with her father after he is imprisoned for crimes he committed. What I liked about this story is that there is still hope even in the darkest of times. Each character experiences their darkness times and they are able to overcome it in someway. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to read fantasy and stories with knights and princesses. Even through the knight is a mouse.
Additional Info:
This book won a Newbery Medal.
Main Characters:

Despereaux Tilling-Despereaux is the last mouse born to his mother. He is an odd mouse even from birth. He was born with his eyes opened and the biggest ears of any mouse. He chooses to read books instead of eat them. He becomes fascinated with a story that features a knight and a princess. He falls in courtly love with Princess Pea.

Princess Pea-Princess Pea is the princess of Dor. She is the only child of the king and queen. She loves Despereaux in return. She is kind-hearted but not used to people telling her no.

Chiaroscuro (known as “Roscuro”)Roscuro was born in the castle dungeon. He is fascinated by light and goodness unlike the other rats. He seeks revenge against Princess Pea for his rejection in the human world.

Miggery “Mig” Sow-Mig’s mother died when she was young leaving her to her father. Her father sold her to a man who abused her. She is still well-meaning but simple. She wants to be a princess.

Botticelli Remorso-Botticelli is an old rat who lives in the dungeon. He believes the meaning of life is to cause the suffering of others. He delights in the pain and suffering of others.

Gregory the Jailor-Gregory saves Despereaux from the rats for the price of a story.

Furlough Tilling-Furlough is one of Desperaeux’s many brothers. He is the one who betrays Despereaux to the Mouse Council. He tried to teach Despereaux how to be a mouse but it did not take.

Lester Tilling-Lester is Despereaux’s father. He condemns Despereaux with the other members of the Mouse Council to the dungeon.

Antoinette Tilling-Antoinette is Despereaux’s mother. She is very picky about her appearance. She does not understand Despereaux.

Theme:  Darkness and light, Desire to escape, Good versus evil, Individual versus society

Bibliographic Info:

DiCamillo, K. (2004)  The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread.  Waterville, ME: Thorndike Press

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Wonder

Author: R. J. Palacio
Reading Range: 4.8 (AR Finder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR Finder)
Plot: Auggie was born with a facial deformity. For that reason, it was thought he would not survive long after birth, but he did. He has never been to school before and he is about to start the fifth grade. He is nervous about going to school for the first time. When people first see Auggie, they either stare at him or look away. Auggie wants to be treated just like everyone else. Many of the students are not sure what to do with him. They mostly ignore him except for the students who are assigned to help him adjust to school-Julian and Jack. Auggie starts to get close to Jack. Jack begins to see how cool he is until one day he makes a cruel comment about how if he had a face like Auggie, he would kill himself. Auggie stays away from Jack until Jack figures out that Auggie heard him. He apologies to Auggie and they become friends, again. Julian starts to bully Jack because of his friendship with Auggie. Can Auggie make it through his first year of school?
Review: Most of the story is told from Auggie’s point of view but other character tell their stories and how Auggie has affected them. The book captures what it is like to be different from other people and to be almost constantly reminded of that difference. That was part of the reason he was kept out of school until now. It was touching to read how Auggie and Jack were able to become friends even after Jack said that thing about him. Jack started to see him as a person. Many of the characters are able to see Auggie as just Auggie. Some of them are not going to be able to. Julian’s view of Auggie does not change in the book. He sees him as a freak and that is all he can see him as. He cannot directly bully Auggie but he can get away with bullying Jack because he is “normal.”  Part of the reason for Julian’s attitude is his mother. His mother thinks that Auggie should not be allowed near “normal” children because of his deformity. In reality, there are a lot of people who feel the way Julian’s mother does. Even through Auggie wins over a lot of people there are still people who are prejudice against him. I would recommend this book to all ages. I loved it.
Additional Info:
Main Characters:
Auggie Pullman-He is starting school for the first time. He has a facial deformity. He loves Star Wars.
Via Pullman-Via is Auggie’s sister. She is starting high school. For the first time, she is not just Auggie’s sister but her own person.
Julian-Julian is a popular boy at school who is assigned to help Auggie when he first starts school. He dislikes Auggie.
Jack Will-Jack is another student who was assigned to help Auggie. He and Auggie become friends. He discovers how cool Auggie is.
Summer Dawson-Summer is the first person to sit with Auggie. She accepts him from the start.
Justin-Justin is Via’s boyfriend. He becomes protective of Auggie and Jack when he meets them.
Isabel Pullman-Isabel is Auggie and Via’s mother. She tries to protect Auggie the best she can.
Nate Pullman-Nate is Auggie and Via’s father.
Miranda: Miranda is Via’s friend. They start to drift away in high school. She loves Auggie ever since he was born.

Theme: Coming of age, Empowerment, Isolation

Bibliographic Info:

Palacio, P. J. (2012). Wonder. New York, NY: Knopf Books for Young Readers

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Bystander

Author: James Preller
 
Reading Range: 4.2 (AR Finder)
 
Interest Range: 6 and Up (AR Finder)
 
Plot: Eric has just moved to a new town. One day he is playing basketball when he sees a boy running past him. It seems the boy is running away from something. After that a group of kids come up and he meets Griffin for the first time. Griffin is very charming. At first, Eric finds himself telling Griffin things that he does not talk about with anyone. Things about his dad and the mental illness his dad suffers from. Then, he starts to learn who the real Griffin is. Griffin likes to use the kids in his group to bully others. He likes to “play” with people. After Eric witnesses Griffin using another student to bully a boy, he starts to avoid Griffin. Griffin notices and he starts to bully Eric. Eric has to figure out how to get Griffin to stop bullying him and to break his hold over the group of boys who hang out with him.
 
Review:  What is interesting about Eric is he starts to realize his role in allowing Griffin to get away with bullying people. He stands by the first few times not doing anything but he come to know that by doing that he is still taking part in the bullying. He recognizes he is a bystander. That causes him to walk away from Eric and to start questioning him. This book shows how easy it is to fall under the charm of another. Griffin is charming and he knows how to use it. He gets people to things. He gets another boy, Cody, to beat up Eric. After Cody beats Eric up, he starts to question why he did that. Cody notices that Griffin is able to get him to do things that he might not ordinarily do. Most people think bullies bully because they are lacking social skills. That is true of some but some have great social skills. They like causing other people pain and they like the power. Griffin likes having the power to get other boys to do what he wants and he does not get in trouble for that. I would recommend this book to middle school students. I think this is an interesting book about bullying.
 
 
Additional Info:
 
Main Characters:
Eric-Recently, his family moved to a new town. He does not know anyone before he came. He starts hanging around Griffin before he discovers who he really is.
 
Griffin-He is the bully of the school. He is charming, at first.
 
David-He is Griffin’s main target. He wants Griffin to accept him so he will do anything to get his attention.
 
Mary-She becomes Eric’s friend. She knows what Griffin is really like.
 
Cody-He is Griffin’s main henchman. He follows Griffin’s lead.

Theme: Injustice, Power and corruption

Bibliographic Info:

Preller, J. (2009) Bystander. New York, NY: Feiwel and Friends

Tagline:  A bystander? Or the bully’s next target?

Blubber

Author: Judy Blume
Reading Range: 3.8 (AR Finder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR Finder)
Plot: Linda is the girl in class that everyone makes fun of. They call her Blubber because she is overweight and she presented a report about whales. The story is told from the point of view of Jill. She is one of the girls who is teasing Linda. The main person who is teasing Linda is Wendy. Wendy controls the classroom and all the students follow her. Linda threats Jill after one bullying incident. On Halloween night, Jill and her friend, Tracy Wu, play a prank on their mean neighbor. He catches them and their parents agree to have them clean his lawn to make it for it. While cleaning his lawn, Jill realizes that Linda must have told on her and Tracy to their neighbor. She decides that she needs to get back at Linda. She tells Wendy and they decide that Linda needs to be put on trial by the whole class. They put Linda in a closet during lunch and are about to start the trial when someone reminds them that Linda needs a lawyer to defend her. Jill agrees that in order for it to be right Linda needs a lawyer. Wendy disagrees and says to go on with the trial. Jill lets Linda out of the closet because she disagrees with Wendy. The next day Wendy starts to target Jill for bullying. Jill has to figure out what to do.
Review: I read this book a number of times and I like the fact that Judy Blume is able to capture what it is like to be that age. Kids can be cruel to each other. I think people forget that we need to teach kids how to be kind to each other. At that age, it is very easy to think that anyone who is different is wrong. Linda is an easy target because of her weight and her gray tooth. What I mean by that is they like getting her. For example, a boy shows Jill his hand and there are pins in it. She did not respond because she knows the trick but Linda screams when she sees it. This book is not told from Linda’s view but Jill’s view. Jill does not have a lot of empathy for Linda. There is a scene where Linda, Jill, and Jill’s brother, Kenny, are at a party together. Kenny and Linda are able to talk and get along. Kenny thinks Linda is interesting while Jill can only see her one way.  Honestly, I did not like Jill because she is a mean girl. She may not have been the one leading in the teasing but she took part. I am hoping she started to get it a little when she was teased by Wendy but I am not sure. I would recommend this book to tweens but also to their parents. I think this is good to read to remind adults how cruel kids can be.
Additional Info:
According to the American Library Association (ALA), “Blubber” is a book that has been frequently challenged or banned. It has made the top 100 lists of frequently challenged books from 1990 to 1999 and from 2000 to 2009.  In fact, many of Judy Blume’s books are frequently challenged or banned. The story is told from Jill’s point of view and Jill is not a nice girl. It can seem that bullying is apart of school culture and just sometime to accept from this book. I think that disturbed parents reading it. I think that this book is a warning to adults about what can happen when teachers are not aware of what is happening in their classrooms. While reading this book, I noticed that a lot of the things that happened to Linda might not have happened if the teachers knew what was going on.
Main Characters:

Jill Brenner —She is the main character in the book. She takes part in the bullying of Linda. She starts to get bullied by Wendy when she turns against Wendy.

Wendy —She is in the same class as Linda and Jill. She is the popular girl in class and everyone follows her. She is the one that mainly bullies Linda. She starts to bully Jill when Jill crosses her.

Caroline —She is in the same class as the other girls. Caroline is Wendy’s best friend and her “muscle.” She follows Wendy’s orders.

Linda Fischer —She is the girl who is bullied by the other kids in class. She is called blubber because of her report on whales.

Kenny Brenner — He is Jill’s little brother.

Tracy Wu —She is Jill’s best friend. They are not in the same class. They both get in trouble because of a prank they play on a mean neighbor.

Gordon Brenner —He is Jill and Kenny’s dad.

Ann Brenner —She is Jill and Kenny’s mom. She is trying to quit smoking.

Theme: Injustice, Manipulation, Vulnerability of the meek, Power and corruption

Bibliographic Info:

Blume, J. (1974). Blubber. New York, NY: Bradbury Press

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Eight Keys

 
Author: Suzanne LaFleur
Reading Range: 3.8 (AR BookFinder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR BookFinder)
Plot: Elisa is starting her first year of middle school and already things are not going right. Her locker partner does not like her and starts to bully her. She falls behind in her homework. A new baby moves into her house making it harder for her. She is not getting along with her best friend, Franklin. She discovers a key that opens a door in the upper part of her uncle’s workshop. There she discovers a gift left for her by her dead father. More keys come and open more doors for her allowing her to learn more about her dead parents. The more she learns about her parents leads to her learning more about herself. She does a bad thing that may cause her to lose her friendship with Franklin. Can she repair what she broke?
Review: Elisa has lost both of her parents before she even started school. She lost more then most people have but she discovers she still has a lot left. It was interesting reading the clues her father left for her and the rooms he left. It shows how much love that her parents had for her. She gets to have a connection to her parents that she did not have before. With her going to middle school, it showed her going out of her comfort zone and preparing her to learn about her parents. Learning about her past helped her with her present. She was able to grow strong enough to confront her bully. The girl who is her bully, Amanda, makes her feel uncomfortable because she seems so much older then her and cooler. Elisa is a tomboy. She starts to accept those differences about her and it helps her relationship with Franklin. She was pulling away from Franklin because she felt so babyish with him. I recommend this book to just about any age.
Additional Info:
Main Characters:
Elisa-She is starting middle and already she feels she does not fit in. Amanda starts to bully her. She has to get used to the new baby in the house. She comes to love the new baby.
Franklin-He is Elisa’s best friend. They have been friends since they were small.
Uncle Hugh-He is her father’s brother. He took her in after her father died. He is a carpenter.
Aunt Bessie-She is Uncle Hugh’s wife. She offers Elisa a lot of advice.
Amanda-She is Elisa’s locker partner. She does not like Elisa and she bullies her.
Caroline-She was Amanda’s friend. She stops liking her after she starts bullying Elisa. She becomes Elisa’s friend.

Theme: Coming of age, Empowerment, Family, Identity crisis

Bibliographic Info:

LaFleur, S. (2011) Eight Keys. New York: Wendy Lamb Books

Tagline: Eight secrets. Each will unlock the past.

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

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The Giver

Author: Lois Lowry
Reading Range: 5.7 (AR Finder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR Finder)
Plot: This book is set in a future where everything seems perfect and everyone is the same. The families all have a mother, a father, a son and a daughter. Everyone is given a role in the community and they are given training to fulfill that role. There are rules to living in the community that must be obeyed. If these rules are not obeyed, they can be released. People who are old or not useful are also released. Jonas is the main character in this story. He is turning twelve which means he is an adult in his community. For the children, they have Ceremonies for each age from one to twelve. For example, the Ones are given to their families. For the Twelves, they receive their roles in the community. Jonas received the role of “The Giver.” What this means is he carries memories of times in the past. He discovers how restrict his community really is and what it means to be released. He starts to question everything he has learned in his life. When he discovers a child his family has been caring for is to be released, he has to decided what he will do.
Review: The book questions what it means to live in a perfect society and what one has to give up to live there. In Jonas’ world there is no war, hunger or poverty. Many of the problems we have now are gone. In order to have this world a lot had to be given up. Privacy and choice are not allowed. They are monitored and their transgressions are broadcast to the community. From birth to death, everyone’s life in the Community is mapped out. They know what will happen at each stage of life. Those that are not useful are released or killed. Jonas starts to question this when he begins his training with the Giver. He starts to realized how restrictive his world really is. He sees and experiences things that no longer exist in his world. He starts to feel real emotions during this time. They use medicines to blunt emotions including lust. I would recommend this book but I would recommend it to older tween readers. There is some material and ideas that might be too much for them. It would be a good idea to talk with them after they read the book.
Additional Info:
This book has been challenged and restricted in some libraries and classrooms. There are some scenes that made parents uncomfortable. Jonas and his friend, Fiona, volunteer in their version of a nursing home. They are helping to bathe residents. It is not explicit.
Main Characters:
Jonas –He is the main character of the story. He is about to become a Twelve. At his Ceremony of Twelve, he is given the job of the Giver.
The Giver –He has the most important role of the community. He can experiences true emotions because of his role. He carries memories of many lifetimes and he shares those memories with Jonas. It is hinted that Jonas might be his son.
Lily –She is Jonas’s younger sister in his family. She will become an Eight.
Gabriel (Gabe) –He is a baby that his family is taking care of because he needs extra nurturing. He does not sleep through the night until Jonas takes care of him. It is hinted that Gabe might be Jonas’s biological brother.
Asher –He is Jonas’s best friend. Asher is a happy boy who often is getting into minor trouble.
Jonas’s “father” –He works as a Nurturer taking care of newchildren until they are given to their families. Jonas thinks he is kind and loving. He is not Jonas’s biological father.
Jonas’s “mother” –She works as a judge at the Department of Justice. She is more intelligence then her husband. She is not Jonas’s biological mother.
Fiona –She is another of Jonas’s friends. She is assigned to be a Caretaker of the Old.

Theme: Chaos and order, Disillusionment, Fate and free will, Individual versus society, Totalitarianism

Bibliographic Info:

Lowry, L. (1993) The Giver. New York, NY: Laurel-Leaf Books.

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