Friday, September 24, 2021

review of Pony by R.J. Palacio - 9.24.21

I'm still on a blog break (oh, you should see my downstairs... torn up and dust everywhere), but I had to jump on and tell you about this wonderful story!

Like so many of you, Wonder was a book that stayed with me long after I closed the pages.  Auggie and his family and their journey was one that made me want to be different in life and always choose kindness.  Since Wonder, author R.J. Palacio has given us more stories from Auggie's world, but now we finally have a new story.

Pony by R. J Palacio
by R.J. Palacio
published by Random House Children's Books
publishes September 28th

You might be like me and not want too much information about the book.  You might want to discover all of the book on your own, without preconceived notions.  Before starting the story, I really didn't know much about it.  I wanted the story to unfold before me.  If that's you, then continue on with this paragraph.  I'll give you plenty of notice when I'm going to tell more.  For those of you won don't want to know more, here's the little bit I'll give you.  Like the covers of the books, this story differs from Wonder.  The writing is beautiful, but in a very different way.  It takes place in a different time and setting, and while the characters will stick to you, it's in a different way.  The careful planning that went into the writing is shown in the meticulous way the story unfolds.  It's a historical setting, without it being a historical fiction novel.  I can't wait for you and your readers to meet the beautiful characters in this story and fall in love with Palacio's writing all over again!

Now, for the blog readers who want to know a little more without any spoilers... Read on!

This is a story about how love transcends and comes to us in ways we cannot imagine.  It's about how life endures and carries on even when you think all is lost.  It's about how the connection between humans and animals can be lifesaving.

Do I have you hooked yet?  Let me tell you a bit more about this story.

In this story, we meet Silas.  Silas lives with his Pa, a loving father, and a very intelligent man.  Silas' mother passed away in childbirth, but Pa has nothing but beautiful and loving things to say about her.  When we start the story, some unsavory men have come to their house to take Pa away.  They keep calling him by a different name and tell him that their boss has a job that only he can do.  The men have two extra horses, one for Pa to ride and one for Silas, but Pa convinces them to leave Silas out of this.  Pa leaves and gives Silas firm instructions to stay at home.  Not long after, the pony that had been meant for Silas to ride comes back to their home and Silas takes it as a sign to go find Pa.  Silas has a friend that only he can see, Mittenwool, who tries to convince Silas not to leave.  However, Silas is determined and he leaves with the pony.  Mittenwool travels with them.  Their first task is to make it through the Woods.  Silas has history with the Woods and we discover that Silas can actually see ghosts of people who have passed, and the Woods are full of them.  Silas meets an older man in the woods, a US Marshal named Enoch Farmer.  It turns out Marshal Farmer is actually looking for the same people that took off with Pa.  Marshal Farmer reluctantly agrees to take Silas with him.  This sets off a chain of events that ultimately leads Silas onto a journey that will impact the rest of his life.
While this story takes place in the past (1860s), it's not a book about the past.  The setting and time period is important to the plot of the story, but it's not meant to be a historical fiction novel.  Yet another decision by Palacio that makes perfect sense for this story.
The book is separated into eleven parts.  People who remember the quick chapters in Wonder will also like the fast chapters in this story.  I kept saying "just one more part"!  At the beginning of each section, there is a photograph, or what I thought were regular photographs.  Part of the story has to do with photographs and how they were developed and created at that time.  It was another unique and interesting part of the novel.
This book will appeal to fans of Dan Gemeinhart's Some Kind of Courage.  This is a book that I sincerely hope the Newbery committee is looking at very closely right now.  It has all the feels for me!
Pony publishes this coming Tuesday, September 28th.  I highly recommend preordering this one and probably having multiple copies on hand!  

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Cat & Dog: A Tale of Opposites - book review - 9.14.21

Concept books used to be books - often board books - that would be all about a concept that is important for young readers to learn.  Alphabet and numeral books, books about colors and shapes, opposites and preposition words and phrases.  There weren't stories included in most of these books, usually they were more about the illustrations in order to make the concept be very clear.  However in recent years there has been a shift in these stories.  They are still usually very clear in teaching a concept, but as the reader goes through the book, a story emerges through the illustrations.

Cat and Dog by Tullio Corda
Cat & Dog: A Tale of Opposites
by Tullio Corda
published by Red Comet Press

In Cat & Dog: A Tale of Opposites, each layout has two words that are opposites (inside, outside and slow, fast).  However, as the reader goes through the story, we see there is more that is happening with our main characters - a dog and a cat.  It starts with introducing them as being awake (the cat) and asleep (the dog).  But as the brave cat wakes up the afraid dog, we see their personalities start to emerge.  The dog isn't thrilled with the cat's decision, but the cat clearly wants someone to play with it.  My favorite page shows the dog quite upset and the opposite side of the layout has the cat licking it's paw and the word is "unconcerned"!  But when the animals eventually go outside, it's the cat who gets a little scare and the dog that ends up the hero.  So even though the entire story is told in single or two word phrases, there is actually a story line within the illustrations that creates an actual plot line for the book. I also appreciated that the author didn't stick to typical opposite words, but has some unconventional ones inside, like the above example of "upset" and "unconcerned".  I'll let you discover some of the other fun ones!

If you are thinking about using this book in your classroom, be sure to check out this downloadable activity kit!

Check out this YouTube video of the author explaining more about this fun book!

Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for the review copy!

Happy - and definitely not sad - reading!!

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Once Upon a Camel blog tour - 9.01.21

A story about the power of story.  How telling a story can save a life.  How a story can pass time.  And how a story can make a difference.

Once Upon a Camel
written by Kathi Appelt
illustrated by Eric Rohmann
published by Atheneum
publishes 9.07.21

Summary (from Goodreads)
An old camel is out to save two baby kestrel chicks during a massive storm in the Texas desert.

Zada is a camel with a treasure trove of stories to tell. She’s won camel races for the royal Pasha of Smyrna, crossed treacherous oceans to new land, led army missions with her best camel friend by her side, and outsmarted a far too pompous mountain lion.

But those stories were from before. Now, Zada wanders the desert as the last camel in Texas. But she’s not alone. Two tiny kestrel chicks are nestled in the fluff of fur between her ears—kee-killy-keeing for their missing parents—and a dust storm the size of a mountain is taking Zada on one more grand adventure. And it could lead to this achy old camel’s most brilliant story yet.

My thoughts
Usually when I start talking to kids about books I'll ask about their reading preferences.  It's funny how readers are often definite realistic fiction readers or fantasy readers.  Personally, I gravitate towards realistic fiction, but I can be a sucker for fantasy.  The kind of fantasy I don't usually pick up?  Animal stories.  Especially if the animal is narrating it.  However, there are a few that hold my interest.  I'll be adding Once Upon a Camel to that list.  In fact, I'll go as far as saying author Kathi Appelt is a queen at writing animal-narrated-fantasy stories.  I really think this one may be her best.  I love that it featured a camel as the main character, such a different character from what we typically see.  When the story first started and the haboob was coming, I really didn't understand how she was going to feature an entire story with this as the problem.  I love the way she wove Zada's past history into stories that literally helped the baby kestrels stay calm and survive.
The book is a trim size - it may seem like a long story, but because of the size of the book, you'll find you get through the book much faster than you may have thought.  I also loved seeing Appelt's humor come through in this story.  I laughed out loud several times!  The chapters are relatively short and despite it taking place in the past and in locations that are probably not as widely known, Appelt makes everything feel comfortable no matter what the background knowledge the reader comes to the book with.  I think this book would make an excellent read aloud.  Short chapters, action, heartwarming and touching story, with some humor... yes, kids are going to enjoy this one!
The story is also full of illustrations by the immensely talented, Erik Rohmann.  No surprise but his illustrations really made the story come to life!

Using it with novel study groups?
  • doing a closer look at settings?  Track how the setting affects the story.  What details did Appelt use to show this story takes place in the past?
  • study the cause/effect plot lines
  • there are three storylines to follow: Zada's current trek, Pard and Perlita's journey, and Zada's stories from the past.  How does the author keep them different?  How do the storylines intersect?
  • think about the concept of story.  What stories are told?  Why are they important?  How did the author use this concept within the story itself?
I am so excited to get this story into the hands of readers next week (Tues., Sept. 7th)!  I know readers are going to fall in love with Zada... they'll laugh with her and perhaps even shed a tear.  Make sure you have this one on your release radar!

More about author Kathi Appelt:

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award Finalist, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award Finalist for The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Some of her award-winning books include Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and Max Attacks to name just a few. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, visit her website at

Find Kathi Appelt on Facebook and Pinterest!

Would you like to own a copy of this gorgeous story (the answer is yes!)?  Atheneum has generously donated a copy for giveaway (US addresses).  Fill out the form for your chance to win.  A winner will be selected on September 8th.