Punia and the King of Sharks

PZ 8.1 .W215 PZ is Fiction and juvenile belles lettres, 8.1 is Folklore, legends, romance.  The legend of Punia is a Hawaiian folktale.

Adapted by: Lee Wardlaw, Pictures by: Felipe Davalos
0803716826 ISBN-13: 978-0803716827
City and Publisher: New York: Dial
Copyright Date: 1997
Author’s Website: http://www.leewardlaw.com/

Reader’s Annotation: Although the fearsome king of the sharks guards the cove, if Punia is clever he can trick the shark king and get food for his family.  If he is very clever, he can trick the shark  more than once!

Plot Summary: Punia’s father was killed by the king of the sharks, who guards the lobster cove with his shark subjects.  Punia and his mother have nothing to eat except yams and poi until Punia thinks up a clever trick and steals a lobster.  Punia continues to match wits with the shark king, until eventually one of them triumphs.

Critical Evaluation: Punia’s story is a tale of danger, daring, and cleverness.  Wardlaw employs a classic repetitive story telling structure which allows the plot to unfold with just the right amount of uncertainty.  Wardlaw incorporates the Hawaiian language in a way that is non-intrusive but still instructional.

Illustrations: Davalos’ colorful drawings illuminate a time long past which is both unusual and familiar.  While I can take or leave the depictions of Punia and the other humans, I love Davalos’ sharks, which expertly skate the line between cartoon and menace.

Reading Level/Interest: 5 & up.
Curriculum Ties: Folklore, sharks and ocean creatures.
Booktalking Ideas: A short excerpt of a play of the Punia story is available online here: http://www.itme.info/punia.htm.  Have students read the parts in this play, which reveals back story.  Hawaiian music, food, and/or flowers might also serve to draw people into the story.  Alternatively, a discussion of sharks might be a great segue into this story.

Genre: Folktales/Fiction
Animals included:

Challenge Issues: Punia’s father was killed by a shark, which may be a little darker than some parents would prefer for their children.  Punia also wears very little clothing.

About the Author: Wardlaw graduated from Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo with a degree in Education and taught school for five years before becoming a full time author.  She has written 25 books for children, including 101 Ways to Bug Your Teacher and 101 Ways to Bug Your Parents.  More info at http://www.leewardlaw.com/author.htm

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

PZ 7 .K296.  PZ is Fiction and Juvenile Belles lettres, k296 is the cutter for the author’s last name.   The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate has received the International Reading Association Children’s Book Award (Intermediate Fiction, 2010), was on the International Reading Association Teachers’ Choices list (advanced, 2010), was a Newbery Honor Book (2010), received Bank Street’s Josette Frank Award (2010), was on the Chicago Public Library Best of the Best List (2010), was on the Texas Lone Star Reading List (2010), and was on Vermont Department of Libraries’ Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award Master List (2009-2010).

Author: Jacqueline Kelly
ISBN-10: 0805088415 ISBN-13: 978-0805088410
City and Publisher: New York: Henry Holt
Copyright Date: 2009
Author’s Website: http://www.jacquelinekelly.com

Reader’s Annotation: It’s 1899 and eleven year old Calpurnia Virginia Tate  observes with burgeoning interest the effects of heat and drought on the flora and fauna of Fentress, Texas.  Although the librarian won’t lend her Darwin’s Origin of the Species, her reclusive grandfather gives her a copy and lays the foundation for a relationship between a naturalist and a naturalist to be.

Plot Summary: Calpurnia Virginia Tate has six brothers; she is the middle child and only girl.  And her peculiarities don’t stop there.  Although other girls of eleven in 1899 Fentress, Texas are interested in playing piano and the Science of Housewifery, Callie Vee is interested in the natural world.  The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate follows Callie’s progress as a scientist, and her relationships with her loving but befuddled family, and her increasing bond with her grandfather, a reclusive fellow naturalist.

Critical Evaluation: Nothing much happens in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.  The book meanders like a lazy river, and Callie’s life is the passing scenery.  Callie is a wonderful character, with an inquisitive and devious mind.  I loved the idea that she cut her hair at the rate of one inch a week so no one would notice.  I’m also partial to this time period, and to the idea of the frontier (or semi-frontier) in literature.  The relationship between Callie and her grandfather is a heartwarming match between two kindred souls at the opposite ends of life.  Read this book for the themes, characters, and overall tone, rather than for the plot.

Reading Level/Interest: 9 & up
Curriculum Ties: Scientific method, natural world, taxonomy, evolution of ideas
Booktalking Ideas: Lynn Rutan and the Roselle Public Library have each posted short book talks on YouTube.  Additional ideas might include bringing in local naturalists’ photographs or other paraphernalia.

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Challenge Issues: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate does not really have many potential challenge issues.  It does discuss evolution, and does depict a girl who doesn’t easily conform to societal expectations.  However, the 100 year plus removal from the time period may make those a little easier to take for the few parents who might take issue.

About the Author: Jacqueline Kelly grew up in Canada but moved to Texas with her family in time to attend college in the desert heat.  She practiced medicine, moved on to practicing law, and has finally settled as an author of fiction.  More at http://www.jacquelinekelly.com/author.html


PZ 7.B4627. PZ is Fiction and Juvenile Belles lettres, B4627 is the cutter for the author’s last name.  Exodus was shortlisted for the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year, awarded an Eco Prize for Creativity (from Friends of the Earth Scotland and Eco Trust), named one of the Best Scottish Books of the 21st Century (The List), was the winner of Lancashire Children’s Book of the Year Award, and was nominated for the Carnegie Medal.

Series Title: Exodus Trilogy
Author: Julie Bertagna
ISBN-10: 0802798268 ISBN-13: 9780802798268
City and Publisher: New York: Walker & Company
Copyright Date: 2002
Author’s Website: http://www.juliebertagna.com

Reader’s Annotation: In the year 2099, Mara must convince her community that there is hope for a life safe from the rising ocean in the sky city of New Mungo.  But the city is only a whisper of lost legend, and there is no telling what they may find even if they can manage to get there safely.

Plot Summary: Mara is a young woman who resembles her grandmother not only in looks, but also in leadership potential.  As the rising ocean threatens to wipe out her island community, she hatches a plan to bring everyone to the legendary city of New Mungo.  But sanctuary remains a castle in the air.  Her sense of responsibility grows to encompass a larger community of refugees and urchins, and she must find a way and a place where they can all live safely.

Critical Evaluation: Exodus is a lyrical novel.  It unfolds slowly.  Mara’s world is one of half familiar mystery, and readers are left puzzling out landmarks that never quite come into focus.  Tragedy stalks every page.  Mara is a semi-engaging character.  She is more able to place events within a larger context than other characters, but her grief never quite rings true.  This is not a novel to be devoured, not a page turner.  But it is engaging none the less.  It addresses ethics and morality, but its conclusions are ultimately simplistic and under-satisfying.

Reading Level/Interest: 13 & up
Curriculum Ties:
Global Warming/Climate Change, society and ethics
Booktalking Ideas: Ask students if the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  Ask some of the classic questions  (sacrifice one child to save 1000 people, etc) and get them to discuss these issues.  Bring in the context of climate change and describe this book as addressing those issues within this context.

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopias

Challenge Issues: Exodus deals with a morality in which individuals must be sacrificed for the good of the society.  Encourage parents to read this book along with their children, and to discuss these sticky issues.

About the Author: Julie Bertagna is a Scottish writer, and often sets her characters there as well.  She has a degree in English literature and has worked as a teacher, an editor, and a freelance journalist.  Exodus has a sequel, Zenith, which was published in 2007.  The third book in the trilogy, Aurora, is due out in 2011.  More at : http://www.davidhigham.co.uk/clients/Bertagna.htm

Carnivorous Plants

QK 917.P37: Q is Science, QK is Botany, QK 900-989 is plant ecology.

Series Title: Nature Close-Up
Author: Elaine Pascoe
ISBN-10: 1410303098 ISBN-13: 978-1410303097
City and Publisher: Detroit: Blackbirch (Thomson Gale)
Copyright Date: 2005
Author’s Website:

Reader’s Annotation: Learn about the main groups of carnivorous (meat-eating plants).  Then find out how you can grow your own and what experiments you can do with them.

Plot Summary: Carnivorous plants eat insects (and sometimes even other small animals), although they don’t really eat meat like we do.  There are several different varieties, many of which are endangered or threatened.  You can grow your own carnivorous plants, and this book gives instructions and tips for growing Venus Fly Traps.  It also suggests four experiments in detail, and gives ideas for more.  Includes glossary, bibliography and plant source guide.

Critical Evaluation: Carnivorous Plants is clearly written, providing an appropriate level of detail on the subject for the targeted reading level.  The section describing different varieties provides good information, but is a little poorly organized; it is difficult to tell if the categories are reflecting scientific taxonomy or the author’s own ideas about classification.  The experiments are a little simplistic.  They do however operate in a true scientific context; if the experimenter is confused by the results, he or she is encouraged to  do it again.

Illustrations: The illustrations are color photographs.  The pictures which depict the plants provide a good illustration of each variety’s features.  I was disappointed that there were no photographs of the plants in their wild context.  The author emphasizes the threat to their habitats, but those habitats are never shown.  The pictures in the grow your own and experiments section seem dated.  The book was published in 2004, but those photos feel about ten years older.

Reading Level/Interest: 6-11
Curriculum Ties: Biodiversity, Ecology, Plants, Science and Scientists
Booktalking Ideas: Bring in some carnivorous plants

Genre: Non-Fiction

Challenge Issues: N/A (?)

About the Author: Elaine Pascoe has written more than twenty non-fiction books for children.  She has worked as a reporter, editor, and was a member of the adjunct faculty at Western Connecticut State University, 1986-87.  She has also contributed to the New Book of Knowledge and other encyclopedias.  There is a teensy bit more information here: http://us.macmillan.com/author/elainepascoe

Mola: Cuna Life Stories and Art

F 1565.2 .C8: F is “History of the Americas”, F 1201-3799 is “Latin America. Spanish America”, and F 1561-1577 is Panama.  Mola was on the commended list for the1996 Americas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature (sponsored by the national Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs).

Author: Maricel E. Presilla
ISBN-10: 0805038019 ISBN-13: 978-0805038019
City and Publisher: New York: Henry Holt and Company
Copyright Date: 1996
Author’s Website: http://www.maricelpresilla.com/index.html

Reader’s Annotation: The Cuna people live on a group of islands off the coast of Panama.  Their culture and their lives are told through their Mola, hand sewn clothing that doubles as art.

Summary: Mola: Cuna Life Stories and Art explains the history, values, and everyday lives of the Cuna people.  Originally from Panama, they now live on islands just off the coast.  Their traditions are reinforced through their art, fabric panels sewn by the women.  The Cuna people are semi-independent from Panama, with a distinct cultural heritage that includes an honored place for women.

Critical Evaluation: Mola is told in simple yet poetical language.  Descriptions of the landscape, flora, fauna, and Cuna people provide a detailed and well balanced picture of the life and environment in the San Blas Islands.  The book is written for Western children and caters to that perspective, yet manages to explain another culture in a non-diminutive way.  The Cuna people are not exoticized or portrayed as primitive.

Illustrations: Mola’s illustrations are exclusively photographs of Mola panels.  The panels are chosen in a way that perfectly illustrates the text (or perhaps the text is written in a way that perfectly illustrates the panels).  As the book unfolds, the reader not only learns about the Cuna people, but also learns how to read Cuna art.  In effect, the story has been co-written by Cuna women.

Reading Level/Interest: Ages 4-10
Curriculum Ties: Latin/Central America, Native peoples, Art and Folk Art
Booktalking Ideas: Bring in some Mola or blow up pictures from the book and ask students to tell you what is going on in the picture.  Show other pictures and read their excerpts.

Genre: Non-Fiction

Challenge Issues: One page shows and discusses a Cuna flood legend, explicitly comparing it to Noah in the Bible.  This depiction may make certain parents edgy, as with any discussion of religion.

About the Author: Maricel Presilla is originally from Cuba, but now lives in New Jersey.  She is interested in both the food and culture of Latin America, and has written a book on chocolate (with recipes) for adults as well as two other children’s books.  More at http://www.maricelpresilla.com/bio.html and at http://us.macmillan.com/mola

The Carbon Diaries

PZ 7.L77874. PZ is Fiction and Juvenile Belles lettres, PZ(1)-(4) is Fiction in English.  The Carbon Diaries was a School Library Journal 2009 Best Book of the Year and the 2009 Grand Prize Winner of the Green Book Festival.

Series Title: Carbon Diaries
Author: Saci Lloyd
ISBN-10: 0823421902 ISBN-13: 978-0823421909
City and Publisher: New York: Holiday House
Copyright Date: 2008
Book Website: http://www.carbondiaries.com/home
Author’s Website: http://www.sacilloyd.com/index.htm

Reader’s Annotation: As severe storms and heat waves wreck havoc on the planet, England introduces mandatory carbon-use rationing in a last ditch attempt to counter climate change.  Laura Brown’s diary describes the utter chaos that ravages London and her 16 year old life.

Plot Summary: Laura Brown is 16, and lives in London in the year 2015.  Following the great storm, England has decided to be the first country to introduce mandatory carbon-use rationing.  Every citizen must limit their use of heat, fuel, and electricity, or be sent to Carbon Offenders Boot Camp.  Laura tries to live a normal life, playing in a punk band and quietly crushing on the boy next door, as the world goes up in flames around her.  Her family, her city, and the entire world are turned upside down in this near-future imagining of the effects of climate change.

Critical Evaluation: Long on observation and short on plot, The Carbon Diaries is a patchy but imaginative look at the potential for global havoc as a result of climate change.  Laura Brown is a fairly well written character.  She is somewhat self-absorbed and totally befuddled by the world around her.  Her voice is a little forced however; The Carbon Diaries feels a bit like a grown-up’s idea of a teen diary, rather than an actual teenager’s slang, concerns, and observations.  Much of the writing is devoted to Laura’s reports of events outside her personal scope.  The  story feels like a series of reports, rather than the development of a good plot.

Illustrations: Illustrated in a scrapbook style, The Carbon Diaries contains artifacts of Laura’s life meant to look as if they’d been pasted in to her diary.  In general, they are interesting and contribute more to the authenticity of the story than the actual text.  Some drawings feel like they are just taking up space, however.

Reading Level/Interest: 13 & up
Curriculum Ties: Climate change, social studies/societal behavior, geography and weather
Booktalking Ideas: Bring in items or representations of activities with carbon values assigned.  Ask which items students would be willing to give up and which items would be essential.

Genre: Science-Fiction, Dystopian, Near-Future

Challenge Issues: The Carbon Diaries depicts a world in chaos, with details of violence and rioting.  Laura’s parents are very self-absorbed, and Laura decides what to do and where to go without much input from them.

About the Author: Saci Lloyd has worked as a cartoonist, as a member of a straight edge band, and at a sixth form college.  She lives in London.  A sequel to The Carbon Diaries 2015 (entitled The Carbon Diaries 2017) was released in 2010.  More at: http://www.sacilloyd.com/about.htm

Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the Past

GN 293.D43 – GN is Anthropology. Bodies from the Ice has received several awards and honors.  It was a 2009 Robert F. Sibert Informational Award Honor Book (awarded by the ALA’s Association for Library Service to Children), a finalist for the 2010 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books, a Kirkus Reviews’ Best Children’s Books of 2008, an ALA Notable Book for Children 2009,  a 2009 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12 (National Science Teachers Association and the Children’s Book Council), a Capitol Choices Noteworthy Book 2009 (10-14), and it was on the 2008 New York Public Library, 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list.

Author: James M. Deem
ISBN-10: 061880045X ISBN-13: 978-0618800452
City and Publisher: Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Copyright Date: 2008
Author’s Website: http://www.jamesmdeem.com

Reader’s Annotation: Bodies as old as 5,000 years have been discovered  in glaciers!  Travel the world for a look at who has popped out of the ice.

Book Summary: Bodies from the Ice takes a look at glaciers and how they work to preserve pieces of our past – human bodies.  The book covers bodies found in the Alps, the Andes, the Himalayas, and even in Canada, from copper age mummies to lost explorers of the past century.  It examines the change in the rate of glacial melt and discusses what readers can do about it.

Critical Evaluation: Bodies covers a fascinating subject from many angles.  The emphasis is on process and science, rather than anthropological speculation.  At times the book is overly detailed about the behavior of glaciers, but it returns to anthropology and recaptures the reader’s interest.  The section at the end on personal ways to help the environment and effects of glacial melt seems to be a bit of an afterthought, and is the weakest part of the book.  Deem treats his gruesome subject in a very matter of fact fashion; he is neither too delicate nor cavalier.

Illustrations: Both color and historical photographs, as well as maps, are this book’s primary illustrations.  The photos feel a little National Geographic-y.  The pictures of dead bodies are unapologetic and frankly, but not gratuitously, gruesome.

Reading Level/Interest: 9 & up.  As with Tracking Trash, Bodies from the Ice is simple and clearly written but not babyish.  Older children, teens, and adults may find this book interesting.
Curriculum Ties: Anthropology, Environmental Studies, Climate Change, Geography, and Meterology
Booktalking Ideas: Blow up a few pictures from the book and bring in artifacts.  Wear mountain climbing equipment and pretend to fall to your death.

Genre: Non-Fiction

Challenge Issues: The photos of dead bodies are realistic and gruesome.  The chapter on Incan child sacrifice is particularly graphic.  Some parents may wish to shield their children from these images.  Some children may want to shield themselves from these images, particularly if they are prone to nightmares.  Parents with concerns should be reminded that the library should serve everyone’s needs, and must provide a wide variety of information.  Reading or not reading this book is a personal choice.

About the Author: James M. Deem is the author of more than 20 books, of both fiction and non-fiction. He is married with four children and has a Ph.D. in reading education.   In addition to writing about bodies discovered in glaciers, he has written about ghosts, UFOs, treasure, ESP, castles, and bodies discovered in bogs.  More at http://www.jamesmdeem.com/bio.htm

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion

GC232.B87 – GC is Oceanography and GC 229 – 296.8 are assigned to Currents.  Tracking Trash has quite a few awards, including 2008 — ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2008 — IRA Children’s Book Award, 2008 — Orbis Pictus Award Recommended Title, 2008 — John Burroughs Honor List of Nature Book, 2007 — Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year, and 2007 — Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Award.

Series Title: Scientists in the Field
Author: Loree Griffith Burns
ISBN-10: 0618581316 ISBN-13: 978-0618581313
City and Publisher: Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Copyright Date: 2007
Author’s Website: http://www.loreeburns.com/

Reader’s Annotation: Ever wonder where that shoe that washed up on the beach came from?  Tracking Trash explains how Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer and other scientists use flotsam and jetsam to study ocean currents.

Book Summary: Tracking Trash takes an in-depth look at ocean currents, explaining the research and processes of scientists who study flotsam and jetsam, among other things.  The book explains how currents work and how science can work to preserve marine habitats.  The information includes what everyday people can do to participate and to help keep our oceans healthy.

Critical Evaluation: Tracking Trash is chock full of information, a very comprehensive look at ocean currents, trash, scientific methods, and conservation efforts.  It succeeds because it imparts this information on a very personal level, interspersing facts with human details such as how a scientist’s mother can help shape his research.  It uses clear and precise language, breaking down concepts into manageable packets.  The pacing is excellent, chapters are exactly the right length to maintain interest, and the books insert helpful sidebars  at exactly the right points.

Illustrations: This book is primarily illustrated with color photographs and maps.  The overall effect is somewhat like a coffee table book for children but the photos and maps really help support the book’s information.

Reading Level/Interest: 9 & up – the book’s treatment of a complex subject is clear and simple but not unsophisticated.  The book is not “babyish” and therefore might also be suitable for older children, teens, and even adults looking for a basic overview of ocean currents.
Curriculum Ties: Oceans, Ecology/Environmentalism, Scientists and the Scientific process
Booktalking Ideas: Bring in some interesting flotsam and jetsam or messages in bottles.  Ask if anyone has ever found anything strange on the beach and wondered how it got there.

Genre: Non-Fiction

Challenge Issues: Tracking Trash is mostly about science and scientists, but it does have an environmental/conservationist tilt (not quite a bias).  This may concern parents who have a knee jerk reaction to “being green.”

About the Author: Loree Burns has a Ph.D., a husband, and three children.  She has written another book, The Hive Detectives, which is about honey bee colony collapse.  There is an excellent interview with her here: http://kathyerskine.wordpress.com/2010/03/07/loree-griffin-burns-interview/