Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Book Review: 'Prisoner 88' by Leah Pileggi

✰✰✰✰ Life hasn't been easy for ten year old Jake Evans. There's never enough food on the table, and his father doesn't even care about him. After committing a crime, Jake finds himself locked up in a prison for adult offenders, since juvenile facilities did not exist back in the 1880s. Although being locked up is frightening at first, Jake makes a few friends. One of the men begins to teach him to read, and Jake even gets a job on the outside helping a pig farmer. Little by little the prison becomes Jake's home. As the days turn into months, Jake begins to grow up. He reaches a turning point when he must decide between doing the right thing at personal risk to himself or looking the other way. Jake shares his story simply, and we are left to wonder what ever happened to him.

The Bottom Line: Writing in the voice of a ten year old boy, author Leah Pileggi's debut novel is a very quick and engaging read. The theme of friendship shines through this sad, yet hopeful, story. Prisoner 88 is loosely based around the true account of James Oscar Baker, the real prisoner 88, who was sent to the Idaho Territorial Penitentiary back in 1885 at the age of ten. While there is no information about Baker's daily life in prison, Pileggi does a fantastic job of describing what life might have been like for him in this novel. Teachers looking for a book of historical fiction to read and discuss in class should check out this out. This would be an appropriate choice for kids in grades 4 - 8.

Details: Prisoner 88 written by Leah Pileggi. Published by Charlesbridge in 2013. 142 p. ISBN: 978-158089-560-6 NOTE: I received an Advance Reading Copy from Charlesbridge at the 2013 ALA Conference in exchange for nothing.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Book Review: 'The Snatchabook' by Helen Docherty

✰✰✰✰✰ In every house in Burrow Down, bedtime books are read each night. The animals look forward to all kinds of tales about princesses, pirates, and faraway adventure. However, just as little rabbit Eliza Brown settles in with her book, it disappears. How very strange. That night books everywhere disappear without a sound, and bedtime just isn't the same without a story. Night after night the thief returns until Eliza Brown decides to find the culprit. With a simple plan and a pile of books, Eliza waits and waits. What flies in through her window is a surprise. Will Eliza be able to solve the mystery or have the books disappeared from Burrow Down forever? Read this charming tale to discover who's been stealing all the bedtime stories.

The Bottom Line: Children ages 3 - 6 will enjoy the catchy rhyming verse in this adorable picture book. The imaginative illustrations are pleasing to the eye and fun to look at. Highly recommended for bedtime reading or story hour.

Details: The Snatchabook written by Helen Docherty & illustrated by Thomas Docherty. Paperback picture book published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in 2013. 32 p. ISBN: 978-1402290824 NOTE: I recived an Uncorrected Advance Copy from Sourcebooks at the 2013 ALA conference in exchange for nothing.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Book Review: 'Bluffton: My Summers with Buster' by Matt Phelan

✰✰✰✰✰ Imagine a simpler era before smart phones, FaceBook, and YouTube swallowed up our time. Henry Harrison, a ten year old resident of Muskegon, MI in 1908, is intrigued when Vaudeville performers arrive with an elephant and zebra in tow. Henry dreams of the show biz life and takes every opportunity to visit nearby Bluffton, where the performers have set up the Actors’ Colony. Among the performers is a boy named Buster Keaton, who was billed as “The Human Mop.” As the two become friends, each boy longs for what the other has. Buster is a natural comedic actor who can perform physical comedy and stunts without ever cracking a smile. During his summers at Bluffton, all Buster wants to do is play ball, swim, and enjoy some free time. However, given the opportunity, Buster would someday like to be a civil engineer. Meanwhile, Henry is a small town boy who yearns for the limelight. Instead of going to school and working in his father’s hardware store, Henry longs to learn stunts and falls. As time passes, the boys grow up and go their separate ways, each following their own path in life. Using soft watercolors supplemented by text, author and illustrator Matt Phelan tells the magical story of a young Buster Keaton who had hopes and dreams just like everyone else.

The Bottom Line: This very quick read is a great introduction to both historical fiction and Buster Keaton. Buster Keaton’s family did indeed spend summers in Bluffton before his silent film days. Phelan’s artwork is beautiful, nostalgic, and reminiscent of a time long past. Through Phelan’s gentle storytelling, a new generation of Buster Keaton fans will appreciate this fictional look at the childhood of one of the greatest performers of all time. Highly recommended for kids in grades 4 – 8, but younger readers may also enjoy this book, especially the illustrations.

Details: Bluffton: My Summers with Buster by Matt Phelan. Hardcover published by Candlewick Press in 2013. 228 p. ISBN: 978-0-7636-5079-7 Note: I received a free copy from Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

General Questions for Nonfiction Book Clubs

Asking the right questions during a book club can make all the difference in the world. While many books feature discussion questions or reading guides, there are so many more discussion worthy books that don’t come with questions. This is especially true of nonfiction books as fiction book clubs are still somewhat more popular.

When choosing books to discuss, it would be unfortunate for book clubs to limit themselves to only discussing books with reading guides. For these situations, I keep a list of basic discussion questions and topics that I fall back on from time to time. I have found that the best questions are open-ended and encourage participants to freely share their opinions. Here is my general list of questions and topics for nonfiction book clubs: 
  1. Did you know anything about this person (or subject) prior to reading this book? What preconceived opinions did you have and did these change after reading the book?
  2. Why do think the author opened the book this way?
  3. Do the issues raised in this book affect your life? How so? How about in the future?
  4. Do you think this book was controversial? If so, which side would you align yourself with?
  5. If the author discussed problems or issues, did he also provide solutions? Do you agree with these solutions or are there other solutions out there?
  6. Talk about the writing style and language of the book. Was the language engaging, inflammatory, etc.? Did it draw you into the story or not? Was the language easily accessible? Were unfamiliar terms and concepts explained?
  7.  Is the focus of this book interior/psychological or exterior/action oriented?
  8. What are the book's strengths and weaknesses?
  9. Did the author succeed in teaching the reader something? If so, what did you learn? If not, how did the author fail?
  10. Have you learned anything new about yourself by reading this book? Please share.
  11. Please share a specific passage or quote from the book that left an impression on you. How did it affect you?
  12. What role do illustrations, maps, etc. play in this book?
Use as many of these questions as you like, but feel free to let the discussion go where it will. Just like an engaging conversation, book discussions can meander from topic to topic and don’t necessarily follow the questions in order. If one or two particular topics really fascinate the group, let them explore these topics for a little while before moving on. As a book club moderator, my personal goal at the beginning of each meeting is to gently guide the group through the questions and topics, but most importantly we are there to have fun. So let the conversation flow and enjoy.
P.S. Here's a fun bonus question that works well with both fiction and nonfiction books: Would this book make a good movie? Cast the movie!
Note: I found the book question mark clip art at: