Archive for Middle Readers

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo: A flawless work of fiction.

Because of Winn DixieBecause of Winn Dixie

Middle Reader

Ages 7 to 12

By Kate DiCamillo

182 pages



2001 Newbury Honor Book



Kate DiCamillo is an exceedingly gifted storyteller and a truly talented writer. She uses her mastery to create distinctively memorable books with vivid, natural characters that come to feel like friends. She’s penned picture books, novels and books for middle readers. DiCamillo received a 2001 Newbury Honor for Because of Winn Dixie, her first book. Additionally, she won the 2004 Newbury Medal for The Tale of Despereaux and the 2014 Newbury Medal for Flora and Ulysses. She was also chosen to be the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for the 2014-2015 term.

The first time I read Because of Winn Dixie it was in one sitting. I have since read it at least three more times and each time I’ve felt that gratifying wave of exhilaration that comes from reading an incredibly special book. There’s a magical quality imbued in her words and a comfort to her stories. It’s difficult to put into words (truly, I’ve been trying for days to capture this properly) how DiCamillo weaves a story that so quickly and seamlessly pulls readers in.

Because of Winn Dixie is told from the perspective of 10-year-old India Opal Buloni. Her smart, sweet, eager, vulnerable and bold voice feels absolutely authentic and never simplified or insufficient. Readers will identify with her worries, cheer for her efforts, and delight in her accomplishments. While it’s clear that a ten year old is telling the story—the writing is simple and direct—her thoughts, feelings and observations are familiar and universal. She’s just trying make all the pieces in her world fit together as comfortably as possible.

Opal, as she’s called, has recently moved to Naomi, Florida with her father, “the preacher.” She’s having trouble adjusting; she had to leave her school and her friends and she’s been thinking a lot about her mother, who left when she was just three. But things begin to change for the better when Opal meets an extraordinary stray dog.

Anyone who has ever loved a dog can’t help but fall in love with Winn Dixie: an energetic mutt who becomes a friend to all, who smiles when he’s happy and sometimes smiles so big it causes him to sneeze. This exceptional dog captivates all who encounter him—characters in the story as well as readers of the book.

Opal first encounters the dirty, lanky stray in a Winn Dixie Supermarket—he is wreaking havoc in the produce section and causing the manager to have a conniption. The large, homely dog seems to be having the time of his life running through the store. He rounds a corner and skids to a stop in front Opal. Then, while looking right at her, he smiles wide, showing all his teeth, and wags his tail like crazy. When the frazzled manager mentions calling the dog pound, Opal suddenly claims the troublemaker as her own, and names him Winn Dixie. (Incidentally, Winn Dixie is my second favorite supermarket name, after Piggly Wiggly.)

The immediate bond between Opal and Winn Dixie is palpable. Opal’s urgency and desire to keep this dog is plain and she knows she must proceed with caution in convincing the preacher.

The preacher loves his daughter but he uses his work to keep from facing the reality of his life: that his wife is never coming back and that raising his daughter alone means also including her in his life.

Opal explains to the preacher that she’d encountered a “Less Fortunate” in need of a home. When he learns that the “Less Fortunate” is a stray dog, he tells Opal that she doesn’t need a dog but Opal counters that this dog needs her. The preacher’s resolve is no match for Winn Dixie’s broad smile and happy sneezes. The stray found a home and Opal found a friend and, more importantly, an ally.

With her mama gone, her friends in another city and her father always “preaching or thinking about preaching or getting ready to preach,” Opal yearned for someone who would just listen to her, and Winn Dixie was able to fill that void. Not only was he a great listener, he also seemed to consider what Opal was saying before “responding.” Right away Opal starts talking to Winn Dixie about everything, and talking to him gives her confidence.

Because of her talks with Winn Dixie, Opal finds the courage to ask the preacher about her absent mother. “I’ve been talking to Winn Dixie and he agreed with me that, since I’m ten years old, you should tell me ten things about my mama. Just ten things, that’s all.”

The preacher supplies Opal with ten facts about her mother—some kind, some unpleasant, but all true. And with that exchange Opal makes a tiny crack in the preacher’s protective shell, a crack that eventually becomes an entrance into a whole new relationship with her father.

Because of Winn Dixie, Opal begins to explore her new town and the people who inhabit it. She starts at the pet store. There she meets Otis, the man who runs the shop. Winn Dixie is starting to look like a proper well-loved dog and he needs a collar and a leash but Opal has no money. She quickly strikes a deal with Otis: she’ll sweep and clean the store every day to work off the cost of the items.

Ms. Franny, the librarian, suffers quite a fright when she mistakes Winn Dixie for a bear. Years before, she’d had a bear walk right into the library and steal a book from her and she’s been afraid of a recurrence ever since. Opal invites Winn Dixie inside to put Ms. Franny at ease. When Winn Dixie smiles wide at Ms. Franny and rests his head in her lap, the three are fast friends.

When Winn Dixie runs into the overgrown, tangled yard of “the witch,” Opal has no choice but to follow. There in the yard she finds Gloria Dump feeding peanut-butter sandwiches to an ecstatic Winn Dixie. “You can always trust a dog that likes peanut-butter.” The elderly, mostly blind woman becomes Opal’s newest friend.

One day, while at the pet store, Opal discovers that Otis had been in prison. Her immediate reaction is to be frightened, but Otis isn’t scary. He’s kindhearted and he takes excellent care of the animals. Early in the morning, before the store opens, he takes all the animals out of their cages and plays his guitar for them. The animals sit transfixed, like stone statues, under the spell of Otis’ alluring music. Opal can’t reconcile the seeming contradiction of an ex-con who is a good and kind person.

While having lunch with Gloria, she poses the question; “Do you think I should be afraid of him?. . . For doing bad things? For being in jail?” Gloria Dump says not a word and leads Opal to the very back of her yard. There stands a giant tree with countless empty bottles tied to and hanging from nearly every branch. Gloria—the nicest person Opal knows—explains that the bottles represent all the bad things she’s ever done and that mistakes are a part of being human.

Each new friend Opal makes shares stories of love, loss, adventure and sadness; these enchanting gems nestled amongst Opal’s frank narrative come together in a beautiful tapestry. With each new friend Opal learns something new about the people around her, about herself and about the world. She learns that every person faces struggles and one may never know what sadness and pain another person is harboring. And she learns that good friends boost each other up and help guide your way; they make the hard times in life a little bit easier and the good times in life even better.

Because of Winn Dixie is a remarkable book, one that I never wanted to end and one I know I will read again and again. Gift it to all the children you know, read it for yourself even if you do not have children, or read it aloud to your whole family.


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Grammy’s Schmammy’s. The Caldecott and Newbury Awards are where it’s at!

The 2014 youth media awards have been announced by The American Library Association (ALA)!


The John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature goes to Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures written by Kate DiCamillo and published by Candlewick Press.

Readers may be familiar with her 2004 Newbury Award winner, The Tale of Despereaux or her 2001 Newbury Honor book, Because of Winn Dixie (one of my favorite books for middle readers). Also, DiCamillo was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress for the term 2014-2015.


Four Newbery Honor Books also were named:

Doll Bones, written by Holly Black (the author of The Spiderwick Chronicles) and published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.

The Year of Billy Miller, written by Kevin Henkes and published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Kevin Henkes was awarded a Newbury honor in 2004 for Olive’s Ocean and was awarded the Caldecott Medal for Kitten’s First Full Moon in 2005.

One Came Home, written by Amy Timberlake and published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

Paperboy, written by Vince Vawter and published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.


The Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children was awarded to Locomotive, written and illustrated by Brian Floca and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. This phenomenal picture book will delight train lovers and quickly convert any non-train lovers.


Three Caldecott Honor Books also were named:

Journey, written and illustrated by Aaron Becker and published by Candlewick Press. This magical, wordless picture book is overflowing with beauty and adventure.

Flora and the Flamingo, written and illustrated by Molly Idle and published by Chronicle Books LLC. This (also) wordless picture book is bursting with pure joy! 

Mr. Wuffles!,  written and illustrated by David Wiesner and published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. David Weisner was also awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1992 for Tuesday, in 2002 for The Three Pigs and in 2007 for Flotsam.


Congratulations to all the award winners and honorees! Click here for a complete list of all the 2014 youth media awards.

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Happy World Penguin Day! Here’s ten books to celebrate with.

Earlier today I discovered that it’s World Penguin Day. Though I had no idea such a day existed, I happen to love penguins. The penguin room at the Central Park Zoo is one of my favorite places in New York City.

So, in honor of this sacred day and my love for these utterly delightful creatures, I present ten of my favorite books featuring penguins.


Your Personal PenguinPersonalPenguin

Board Book

Ages Birth to 4

By Sandra Boynton

24 pages




I’ve mentioned before, and can’t stress enough, how much I adore Sandra Boynton; her books—full of humorous stories, adorable characters, and warm, fuzzy feelings—are perfect for babies and toddlers. Her straightforward text and instantly recognizable, simple art is utterly appealing and completely irresistible.

In this heartwarming story, a darling little penguin is attempting to endear himself to an initially confused, eventually amenable, hippopotamus.

“Now, lots of other penguins seem to be fine in a universe of nothing but ice. But if I could be yours, and you could be mine, our cozy little world would be twice as nice. I want to be Your Personal Penguin.”

Who could truly resist such an offer?

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A Penguin StoryPenguinStory

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

By Antoinette Portis

40 pages




As with Portis’s other books (Not a Box and Not a Stick), she uses limited colors and produces beautifully austere, perfectly textured art.

Edna is a small and inquisitive penguin. She’s surrounded by white—the ice and snow, black—the night, and blue—the sky and the water. When she goes searching for more color, she finds an orange tent.

She brings some of her penguin friends to check it out and one of the human researchers inhabiting the tent gives Edna an orange glove. She dons it as a hat and wonders what other colors the world might have to offer.

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Penguin and Pinecone: A Friendship StoryPenguin&Pinecone

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

By Salina Yoon

40 pages




Yoon’s bold, cartoon-y illustrations and sparse text combine to produce an endearing story of friendship and patience.

When Penguin found Pinecone he didn’t know what it was but it seemed like it was cold, so he knit a scarf for it. Grandpa explains to Penguin that pinecones live in forests, not in the snow.

Penguin is sad but he must do what’s best for Pinecone, and he returns him to the forest. Later, when Penguin comes back to visit his friend, he discovers that Pinecone has grown, and so has Penguin’s love for Pinecone.

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Lost and Found Lost&Found

Picture Book

Ages 2-7

By Oliver Jeffers

32 pages




Oliver Jeffers’s, This Moose Belongs to Me (2012) was a NYTimes Bestseller. His soft, calming art is crisp and expressive.

“Once there was a boy who found a penguin at his door.”

The boy, thinking the penguin is lost, sets out to find out where this quiet bird belongs. He learns that penguins live at the South Pole; the boy and the bird make the trip together.

Once at their destination the boy learns his new friend wasn’t lost at all, just lonely, and the two friends decide to stick together.

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Tacky the PenguinTackythePenguin

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By Helen Lester

Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

32 pages




This pair has created some wonderful books together; Tacky the Penguin was one of my favorite books to sell. Lester’s stories are touching and funny and Munsinger’s art is whimsical and vibrant.

Tacky is not like the other penguins. They wear bowties, he wears a Hawaiian shirt; they are quiet and polite, Tacky is loud and graceless. But it’s Tacky’s odd behavior that scares off a pack of hunters and saves them all.

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The Emperor Lays an Eggemperorlaysanegg


Picture Book

Ages 4-8

By Brenda Z. Guiberson

Illustrated by Joan Paley

32 pages




Clear text and luscious collage art take us through a year in the life of Emperor penguins—their harsh environment, their family dynamic and their eating habits.

After the mother lays the egg, the father must carefully roll the egg onto his feet and keep it warm. Once the egg hatches, both parents must work diligently to feed the chick and keep it safe and warm. The chick will make its first swim during the short summer, then the whole family must fatten up for the approaching winter.

This informative non-fiction book is also a beautiful storybook.

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If You Were a PenguinIfYouWereAPenguin

Picture Book

Ages 4-9

By Florence Minor

Illustrated by Wendell Minor

32 Pages

Katherine Tegen Books



With playful, rhyming text and lush, detailed art, this husband and wife team takes readers on a journey through some of the fun activities a penguin experiences—diving, swimming, and sliding on the ice, to name a few.

There’s also a visual key to the ten different species of penguins found in this book and resources for learning more about penguins.

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One Cool FriendOneCoolFriend

Picture Book

Ages 4-9

By Toni Buzzeo

Illustrated by David Small

32 pages




Small’s clean, loose line drawings and restricted palette bring Buzzeo’s spare and quirky text to life.

Young Eliot visits the zoo with his father and decides to bring one of the penguins home with him! His father—easily distracted and often otherwise engaged—doesn’t seem to notice the new resident at his house, or so readers are lead to believe.

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The Adventures of Marco and PoloDSC01831

Picture Book

Ages 4-10

By Dieter Wiesmuller

40 pages



Out of print


Stunningly beautiful, sumptuous paintings cover every page of this over-sized picture book.

Polo Penguin and Marco Monkey meet when Marco’s cruise ship arrives in Antarctica. Marco is amazed at all the icy sites Polo introduces him to; he’s also amazed at how cold he is.

When Marco says he must go home Polo decides to travel with him since he’s eager to learn all about Marco’s home. The lush, green world is very different from his icy blue environs, and so, so hot!

The two friends would like to be together but realize they must each return to their own home; now they each have a pen pal.

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And Tango Makes ThreeTango

Picture Book

Ages 4-10

By Justin Richardson

and Peter Parnell

Illustrated by Henry Cole

32 pages

Simon & Schuster



This beautiful book is based on a true story about an unorthodox family at the Central Park Zoo. Soft, realistic watercolors adorn this uplifting and sweet story.

While all the other mated penguins are tending to their newly laid eggs, Roy and Silo—two male penguins—find a rock to care for together. The zookeeper notices their activities and trades the rock for a penguin egg in need of nurturing.

The two take turns caring for the fragile egg and before long their daughter Tango is born.

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Mr. Popper’s PenguinsMrPoppersPenguins

Middle Reader

Ages 5-12

By Richard & Florence Atwater

Illustrated by Robert Lawson

140 pages

Originally published: 1938

Reprint edition: Little, Brown



This fantastically ridiculous story—and 1939 Newbury Honor book— was illustrated by the extremely talented Robert Lawson (The Story of Ferdinand). 

Mr. Popper wishes he’d seen more of the world before he married Mrs. Popper. He spends his spare time reading and daydreaming about Arctic explorers. Then one of those explorers sends him a penguin in response to a fan letter!

When that penguin gets lonely, the Poppers acquire another lonely penguin to be his mate; eventually the pair produces ten more penguins. And that’s when Mr. Popper starts touring the “Popper’s Performing Penguins, First Time on Any Stage, Direct from the South Pole” show.

And hilarity ensues.

This is not only an excellent read-aloud book for the whole family, but also an enjoyable (and quick) book for any reader who loves to laugh.

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Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede: Not your standard princess story.

Dealing with DragonsDealingWithDragons

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles: Book One

Middle reader

Ages 8 to 14

By Patrica C. Wrede

212 pages

Harcourt Brace



Patricia Wrede (pronounced REE-dee) is a fantasy writer, and a fantastic storyteller. Her writing is fast paced and wry; her characters are interesting and witty and the worlds she creates are fully formed and ever so appealing. Fans of Tamora Pierce, Diana Winn Jones, Bruce Coville, or Terry Pratchet should thoroughly enjoy Patrica Wrede as well.

Dealing with Dragons is one of my favorite middle readers in any genre. Chronologically it takes place first in The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, which consists of four books. Talking to Dragons (1985) was published first and had three subsequent prequels, with Searching for Dragons (1991) and Calling on Dragons (1993) completing the series. I cannot recommend this excellent and highly entertaining series enough. Lovers of humor, fantasy or books with a strong female lead will not be disappointed.


Princess Cimorene found the whole princess thing completely unbearable. Her six older sisters were typical princesses, but not Cimorene. She wanted to learn magic, take fencing lessons and cook. She did not want to waste time with embroidery, dancing and etiquette. When she was told that her actions were not proper and certain things were “just not done” by a princess, she had perfectly valid argument; she was a princess and she was doing those things, therefore those things were done by at least one princess.

Her parents, the king and queen, were well aware of Cimorene’s stubbornness and decided something needed to be done about her, and quickly. They introduced her to Prince Therandil, the man they intended her to marry, and Cimorene decided she must do whatever possible to avoid the nuptials. So, at the advice of a frog and with the help of his detailed directions, she surrendered herself to a dragon.

Kazul was one of five dragons present when Cimorene entered the vast cave. Any one of them could have easily eaten her—after all, dragons are very fond of princesses. The sight of the dragons initially frightened Cimorene, but she’d gained her composure quickly and stated her case thoughtfully. She willingly offered to be a captive princess and cook and clean for one of them. Woraug suggested they eat her despite this but Kazul claimed Cimorene for herself. She was already obviously more competent than any of the other princesses Kazul had encountered, and she was eager to learn magic—something “not done” by princesses.

It wasn’t long before knights started arriving to rescue her. If a knight should defeat a dragon, he’d win the hand of the captive princess; Cimorene, however, does not want or need rescuing. She swiftly grew tired of explaining the situation to each well-meaning knight and, being an extremely unusual arrangement, it always took a lot of explaining. So in an effort to reroute and delay more potential rescuers—and to get a bit of peace—Cimorene went to post a sign, “Road washed out,” along the trail to Kazul’s cave.

She was carefully walking along a narrow ledge near a cliff when the earth in front of her just simply disappeared. She looked up to find a tall man cloaked in robes standing over her and she knew instantly that he was a wizard. In fact, it was Zeminar, the newly elected head of the Society of Wizards. Though he offered to assist her, she knew better than to accept help without knowing what it might cost her.  Her refusal greatly irritated him; to her, a clear indication that his offer was malevolent.

That evening, Kazul and her guests were discussing this unwelcome and highly unusual event of a wizard entering their territory when—during the course of the conversation—it was revealed that a very important book of magic had recently been stolen from a dragon’s library. Most of the dragons present were alarmed and had quite a lot to say about this but Woraug only tried to convince the others that Cimorene was mistaken and just trying to make trouble.

Some time later, Cimorene noticed a wizard in a field collecting an herb she did not recognize; she clipped a piece to bring back to Kazul for identification. It turned out to be dragonsbane, a plant deadly to dragons. Though she’d only brought a small sample, it still made Kazul very ill. This new information, combined with the other events, spelled clear danger. Kazul dispatched Cimorene to share the events of the day with the dragon, Roxim.

On her way to Roxim’s cave Cimorene encountered an imprisoned prince made of stone, but upon rescuing him she became stuck with him. She could not be waylaid any longer, so she left him in one of the caves—a service room—along her route.  When she arrived at Roxim’s she learned there was news even more dire than hers; Tokoz, the king of the dragons, was dead—poisoned. Trials to choose a new king would begin the following day. 

Meanwhile, while quietly hiding where Cimorene had left him, the stone prince overheard Woraug and two wizards discussing plans to rig the trials for king. In exchange for guaranteeing his place as king of the dragons, Woraug had promised to surrender the King’s Crystal to the wizards which would allow them to locate every piece of magic in the world. The other dragons needed to be notified; Woraug and the wizards had to be stopped!

Cimorene formed a plan with some allies and they set off for the trials. But they were detained, and taken prisoner, by Woraug and his dragon guards before they could reach the location. Upon hearing the loud cheers in the distance, they knew a new king had been chosen. They soon arrived at the site of the trials to learn that Kazul had been crowned King of the Dragons! Cimorene, now the proud princess of a worthy king, couldn’t be happier.

Dealing with Dragons—a smart twist on that pervasive cultural juggernaut: the fairy princess—breezes along from scene to scene, with humor provided by knowing jabs at the standard fairy princess clichés.


Here is the full wrap-around cover so beautifully rendered by Caldecott Award winning artist Trina Schart Hyman.

DealingWithDragons 1


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Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I think every person should read this book.


Middle reader

Ages 10 and Up

R. J. Palacio

320 pages

Random House


Book trailer



Wonder is R.J. Palacio’s first book. Raquel Jaramillo, the woman behind the pseudonym, has spent twenty-nine years in the book world as an art director and book jacket designer. I can honestly say that I don’t recall ever loving a book as much as I love Wonder. Full disclosure: I read the majority of this book through tears, some of sadness, others of joy.

It’s a perfectly crafted story and an emotional roller coaster, as well as a reminder of the human condition and the importance of kindness. After I finished reading it I began handing it off to friends insisting they read it as well.

The story is told in eight parts with six different people sharing the first person narration: Auggie (the main character), his sister Via (short for Olivia), Via’s boyfriend, Justin, Via’s ex-best friend, Miranda, and two of Auggie’s classmates, Summer and Jack Will. Although the characters range in ages from ten through sixteen, Palacio adeptly switches between narrators. Each character possesses such a distinct and separate voice that readers will have no trouble believing they’re reading the experiences of different people. Her skilled storytelling and compact chapters may easily lull readers into finishing the book in one sitting, as I did.

August Pullman (aka Auggie) seems like a totally ordinary ten-year-old boy; he loves Star Wars, video games and his dog. He’s starting 5th grade in the fall. But Auggie is anything but ordinary; he was born with severe facial deformities and multiple health problems. Until now, he’s been home-schooled by his mother because he was never well enough to attend school. He’s had 27 surgeries—the first at four months of age, the last about ten months ago.

Auggie is reluctant to start school—he knows how people see him, and there is no avoiding seeing him.

“I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

Though he soon comes to like the idea of attending school, it’s obvious that there will be challenges. Auggie just wants to fit in, make friends and be a “normal” kid but his presence is distracting. And, as in real life, the true character of a person becomes apparent, for better or worse, when their world is challenged. The mother of a classmate attempts to have Auggie removed from the school; though she is unsuccessful, her actions are damaging nonetheless. She decides to move her son to another school instead; these events are all too realistic and terribly sad for everyone involved.

As each person’s story unfolds, readers begin to understand what it feels like to be this young boy whose only wish is to blend into the crowd, to never be noticed.

“You can’t exactly blend in when you were born to stand out.”

Via allows us to step into the life of a sibling to a kid with extremely present and endless needs. And though uncomfortable, Jack Will’s reason for pretending not to be Auggie’s friend in front of their classmates is understandable. These people are just trying to survive in their own skin.

Though Auggie is the one who must face the world every day without a mask, real or imagined, the other characters are all hiding struggles of their own. But Auggie has something many of the other characters do not: a supportive and loving family. That’s what helps to make Auggie the extraordinary boy that he is. Getting a glimpse into the lives of the separate characters, it’s undeniable how very crucial that love and support is.

Wonder takes readers on an amazing journey, from fear and ignorance to education and empathy and finally love and understanding. No person can know what it’s like to be another person; the closest we can come is to read about other’s experiences. This book provides that opportunity—to step into someone else’s life, however briefly, and see the world from someone else’s eyes, feel another’s feelings. Wonder is a profound reminder that every person you see is facing struggles of their own, whether visible or not, and that a bit of kindness and empathy can make a world of difference.

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The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, a cautionary tale about the value of community.

I originally posted this review on September 20, 2012. George Saunders’s latest book, Tenth of December, has been getting quite a lot of well deserved attention so I wanted to take this opportunity to remind readers of this lovely gem he wrote for children.



The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip 


Middle Reader

Ages 5-12

By George Saunders

Illustrated by Lane Smith

84 pages

Villard Books



Persistent: continuing firmly or obstinately in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition

Gappers: baseball sized, bright orange creatures with multiple eyes


Frip: a small, seaside town consisting of three leaning shacks


George Saunders received a MacArthur Fellowship (aka, a genius grant) in 2006 and is generally an adult writer by trade. His short stories and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, GQ, Harper’s and McSweeney’s, to name a few. I’ve not acquainted myself with his other works, but I adore this book. Saunders has a gift for weaving a tale while dropping in bits and pieces that all come together to form a delightful story. And an ideal story for the illustration style of Lane Smith.

If you know children’s books, you know Lane Smith. He is the illustrator of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, The Time Warp Trio Series, Grandpa Green, It’s a Book, and many, many others. His style is unmistakable, even with all the copycats out there; no one comes close to Lane. He combines a variety of media to create the most engaging, enticing, quirky, interesting and utterly perfect art. I adore his books. All of them.

If you don’t know Lane Smith’s books, a whole new world is about to open up for you.

The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip is a cautionary tale; one which demonstrates that you should not take joy in another’s misfortune, for you may someday find yourself in a similar position.

Frip’s entire population is made up of three families—Capable, and her recently widowed father, the Romos and the Ronsens—and though they all live by the sea, their livelihood is reliant on their goats, since goats make milk that the families can sell.

Gappers, those meddlesome creatures, love goats more than anything else. They attach themselves to the goats, and then proceed to emit a high-pitched squeal of pleasure. This is troublesome to the goats; it causes them lose sleep, lose weight, and eventually, stop giving milk.


It is the job of the children to brush the gappers off their family’s goats, gather the gappers in sacks, and empty the sacks into the sea. It takes the gappers three hours to crawl out of the ocean, up the cliff and back onto the goats. Therefore, the children must perform this task eight times a day. Every day.


Capable’s house is closest to the sea so the gappers always reach her goats first. When one marginally smarter gapper realizes that they can get all the goats they need from this one family, things become unbalanced.

The Romos and Ronsens couldn’t be more pleased to be relieved of their brushing duties and are all too vocal about it. Now Capable is doing the work of three families all by herself and she cannot keep up. Despite her father’s wishes, Capable asks the neighbors for help. Not only are they not willing to help, but they also blame Capable for bringing this plague upon herself! In fact, they’ve moved their houses farther away from hers so as not to “catch” whatever it is she has that brought all the gappers to her yard, instead of spreading out over all three yards.

Capable can take no more. Though her neighbors tell her she should work harder, smarter and more efficiently than physically possible, she rounds up all her goats and sells them in a nearby town. Capable knows she tried her best and her best hadn’t worked. She decides to take up fishing; something that no one in Frip has done for quite a long time.

The gappers are forced to move onto the next family’s goats, those that belong to the Romos. Evidently, it had not occurred to the other families that the gappers would be back to taunt their goats once Capable’s goats were gone. With the tables turned, the Romos now look to the Ronsens for help. The Ronsens, clearly not anticipating what is to come, refuse to help. After a series of ridiculous (yet true to life) strategies to rid themselves of gappers, the Romos and the Ronsens find themselves in dire circumstances. Capable, initially pleased to see the families get their comeuppance, takes pity and invites them for dinner. 


Finally seeing the wisdom of Capable’s ways, the Romos and the Ronsens decide to sell their goats and take up fishing. And things in this small seaside town get a little better.


But what of the gappers? With the all the goats gone they need to find a new object of devotion to which they can attach themselves and emit their loving shrieks. They soon find something perfectly suitable to their needs, creating the scene of one of my favorite book endings ever.


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La famille Mennym: « C’était juste une famille unie, une famille de poupées de chiffon grandeur nature. »

The following review is the second of three previously posted reviews to be translated into French. Again, credit to Guillaume Bariou for the translations, with special thanks to Marielle Brehonnet and Deborak Kacik for facilitating the process.


La famille MennymTheMennyms


Jeunes adultes

Âge : de 10 à 14 ans

Par Sylvia Waugh

224 pages

Greenwillow Books



Qui est, ou plutôt qu’est-ce que la famille Mennym ? Ces quelques lignes extraites du Chapitre Trois le résument très bien : 

« Elles n’étaient pas humaines voyez-vous, pas au sens normal du terme en tout cas. Elles n’étaient pas faites de chair et de sang. C’était juste une famille unie, une famille de poupées de chiffon grandeur nature. »

À la mort de Kate Penshaw, il y a de cela quarante ans, les dix poupées qu’elle avait créées s’animèrent. Mademoiselle Quigly et neuf autres Mennyms « revinrent à la vie » apportant avec elles leurs histoires et leurs personnalités. Ensemble, elles s’occupent de la maison mais font en sorte de ne pas attirer l’attention sur leur existence singulière. Pour se donner figure humaine, elles « miment » différentes activités, comme prendre des repas en famille par exemple, alors qu’elles n’ont pas besoin de se nourrir.

Sir Magnus, aussi appelé Grand-père Mennym, est plein de bonnes manières et très respecté. Il écrit des articles, parfois sur ses faits d’armes, à des fins de publication universitaire. Il gère toute son activité par courrier et réussit ainsi à rester discret. Sa femme, Tulip, supervise les finances du foyer. Leur fils, Joshua, travaille comme gardien de nuit dans une usine du coin. Il est passé maître dans l’art du déguisement et ne noue contact que très rarement, ce qui le fait passer pour un grand timide. La femme de Joshua, Vinetta, confectionne des vêtements qui seront vendus dans les magasins locaux. Les commandes sont faites par téléphone et Appleby, un des cinq enfants du couple, s’occupe des livraisons.

La jeune fille, âgée de quinze ans, est l’exemple type de l’adolescente difficile. Elle est insolente et intrépide. C’est aussi la seule qui peut se fondre parmi les humains, ce qui rend son audace d’autant plus dangereuse pour sa famille. Soobie, seize ans, est le plus âgé des enfants et possède un grand sens pratique. Confectionné de fil bleu, il est le seul à ne pas adhérer aux « simulacres » de la famille. Les jumeaux, Poopie et Wimpie, ont entre cinq et six ans et font preuve de beaucoup d’imagination. Googles est un bébé et dort beaucoup mais, lorsqu’elle est réveillée, elle est d’une nature enjouée et joviale. 

La pauvre Mademoiselle Quigly vit dans le placard de l’entrée et ne « rend visite » que toutes les deux semaines. Les Mennyms, à l’exception de Soobie, font mine de ne pas remarquer lorsqu’elle s’éclipse du placard, sort par la porte de derrière, fait le tour de la maison et sonne à la porte d’entrée. Après avoir passé quelques heures dans la famille, Mademoiselle Quigly quitte la maison par la porte d’entrée, se faufile à nouveau dans la maison et regagne son placard jusqu’à sa prochaine visite.

Les Mennyms vivent dans la même maison depuis qu’ils ont vu le jour. Depuis quarante ans, ils paient le loyer à l’héritier du domaine de Kate, par le biais d’une société de gestion. Lorsqu’un jour, ils reçoivent une lettre d’Albert Pond, le neveu du propriétaire de la maison, ils craignent d’être découverts. Oncle Chesney est décédé : Albert est le nouveau propriétaire de la maison des Mennyms et il tient à leur rendre visite. Pour des raisons évidentes, ce n’est pas envisageable.

La famille a d’autres affaires urgentes à régler. Joshua a été licencié et doit trouver un nouveau travail qui lui permette de rester caché. Appleby, de son côté, doit gérer un secret bien à elle tandis que Soobie a déniché une poupée inachevée dans le grenier. C’est non seulement une autre Mennym, mais surtout sa sœur jumelle !

Waugh est une conteuse pleine de talent, capable de happer les lecteurs dans la vie de ces improbables protagonistes. Elle a donné naissance à des personnages captivants dans lesquels les lecteurs se retrouvent et relate des situations familières et bien réelles, même si les Mennyms, eux, ne le sont pas.

Je suis impatiente de vous faire partager d’autres aventures de la famille Mennym. Je les ai toutes beaucoup appréciées.


La famille Mennym et le Monde Sauvage

La famille Mennym Assiégée

La famille Mennym Seule Contre Tous

La famille Mennym en Vrai


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