What to do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley

Kerley, Barbara. 2008. What to do About Alice? Il. by Edwin Fotheringham. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN 0439922313.


A highly entertaining picture book biography, What to do About Alice?, takes the reader along with Alice Roosevelt as the went through life “eating up the world.” (Kerley, 2008)  Fotheringham adds period accurate, vibrant illustrations.  Whether it is his drawings of Alice bouncing on the sofa, waving to her friends at her father’s swearing in, or the remarkably familiar looking double lines of schoolgirls and their matron, Fotheringham’s drawings compliment, and occasionally overtake, the text.


Kerley works with, and around, the illustrations.  For example, on the page where Alice is ransacking her father’s library teaching herself in her father’s library, all of the text fits in the shadow of a moose head.


What to do About Alice? is a bit of a conundrum.  The book presents Alice Roosevelt as a well known figure in Washington.  In her time, she was.  However, despite the tabloid-worthy news mentioned in the book, many people haven’t heard of Alice.  While it may be a children’s book, I think many adults would be surprised by the existence of Alice Roosevelt Longworth.


Thank goodness for author’s notes!


What to do About Alice? could easily be used when studying influential women in America (or perhaps famous Alices).  It could be used to study Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency from a different point of view.  If the books could be found, I think it would be fun to invite kids to do research about other “forgotten” icons, though it would likely be best to have a list ready.



Sibert Honor Book

Parents Choice Award

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

An ALA Notable Book


Publishers Weekly- ” Debut illustrator Fotheringham creates the perfect mood from the start: his stylish digital art sets a fast pace, making use of speed lines (rendered in dots, these earn their names) and multiple vignettes to evoke characters in perpetual motion.”


Publishers Weekly. 2008. http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-439-92231-9


Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea by Sy Montgomery

Montgomery, Sy. 2006. Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea. Il. Nic Bishop. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0618496416

Imagine a place where a botanist has to give up counting plants.  Imagine a place where birds can be poisonous.  This place is the Cloud Forest of New Guinea and this is where Montgomery and Bishop take the reader in search of an elusive marsupial.

Quest for the Tree Kangaroo reads a lot like a fiction novel.  Its sections could easily be considered chapters, and it is written in a linear fashion.  However, this is not a fiction novel.  Despite the fact that some of Bishop’s photographs seem like something out of Middle Earth, Montgomery paints a clearly scientific, though humorous, account of a group of scientists tracking and observing Matschie’s tree kangaroo.

Montgomery tells of Lisa Dabek, who started out by observing ants in a paper cup, who fell in love with tree kangaroos in Seattle.  The book tells not only of the expedition Montgomery went on, but also Lisa’s conservation project.  Montgomery tells of the less than glamorous task of trying to dry socks, or only having a cold waterfall for a shower.

Montgomery doesn’t end the book when the scientists return after successfully collaring four kangaroos.  Instead she writes about Jirrah, a tree kangaroo in a zoo, and people’s responses to her.  Also included is advice from Lisa to kids about following their passion for animals, a list of zoos with tree kangaroos, a brief one page glossary of Tok Pisin, and an acknowledgement page as well as an index.

Where could this book be used?  It could be used for a geography project.  It could be used in a “strange but true” style series about animals.  It could be used to discuss scientists who are tracking animals.  Perhaps, most importantly, it could simply be used to fuel someone’s passion for animals.

Considering the numerous animals mentioned in the book, it would be plausible to assign children different animals from the Cloud Forest to research.


John Burroughs Young Reader Award

Orbis Pictus Award for nonfiction from the National Council of Teachers of English!

A Booklist Editor’s Choice for 2006

A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year 2006

A Junior Library Guild Selection

Booklist- “Montgomery gives a chronological, sometimes moment-by-moment account of the challenging climb into the remote cloud forest, the conditions in camp (rice-and-fern dinners; icy waterfall showers) and the awe-inspiring encounters with barely studied animals.”

The Horn Book- “Montgomery’s friendliness and curiosity set the tone: she enthusiastically engages with the people, plants, and animals she encounters on the trip.”

Booklist. Posted at http://symontgomery.com/?page_id=420.

The Horn Book. Posted at http://symontgomery.com/?page_id=420.

Also, symontgomery.com has suggested classroom activities to go with Quest for the Tree Kangaroo.

Volcanoes by Seymour Simon

Simon, Seymour. 1988. Volcanoes. Collins Publishers. ISBN 0060877170.

Part of Collins’ Smithsonian collection, Volcanoes is a fun, informative read about a terrifying force of nature.  The engaging descriptions of not only the types of volcanoes, but also specific eruptions such as Mount St. Helens by Simon are brought to life with photographs courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.  Simon concludes with the reminder that despite the destruction the cause, volcanoes bring new life.

The back cover is the glossary, index, and further reading for this book (most of which are other Simon books).  While it is likely geared towards elementary aged children, it would not be a bad source for a middle school science fair project.  The book may be made for small hands and big eyes, but Simon writes to an audience of equals who do not know the technical terms.  He explains the difference between the violently erupting volcanoes and the nearly steadily gushing Hawaiian variety as well as briefly mentioning myths about the Icelandic and Hawaiian volcanoes.

School Library Journal- “Further, it can be used successfully to generate interest on the part of those readers reluctant to pick up nonfiction books… However, the illustration of the plates, or crust layers of the earth, is somewhat difficult to understand.”

Publishers Weekly- “But given the expert presentations and finesse readers have come to expect from Simon, this work seems more difficult than it needs to be, and lacks the forcefulness and clarity of his previous books.”

Zsiray, Jr., Stephen W. . School Library Journal. December 1988. Book Index with Reviews

Publishers Weekly. August 1988. Book Index with Reviews

Please Bury Me in the Library by J. Patrick Lewis

Lewis, J. Patrick. 2005. Please Bury Me in the Library. Ill. by Kyle M. Stone. Orlando: Gulliver Books/Harcourt, Inc. ISBN 0152163875.


Please Bury Me in the Library is small.  It has relatively simple words.  It has captivating, yet childlike acrylic illustrations by Kyle Stone.  Yet, for all of that, it is most enjoyable if you get the jokes.  The first clue that this collection of poems is not for brand new readers is the first poem, “What If Books Had Different Names?”  The reader no only has to understand rhyme, but they should also be familiar with the books mentioned, which includes both Alice in Wonderland and Huckleberry Finn.  


Stone’s paintings are the perfect complement.  They are just as zany and off-beat as the poetry.  Could the book stand without the images?  Not in the same way.  The illustrations add to the atmosphere.  While the poetry is wonderful on its own, the mother butterfly or the two page spread of birds (there are thirty-two, by the way) bring the words to life.

Lewis plays with his words. He tells of an “Ottobiography” written by a flea named Otto (p.6).  He asks for “a dozen long-stemmed proses.” (p.12)  Perhaps the most surprising thing he does, at least for modern readers, is admit there are bad books.  In “Great, Good, Bad,” he states that “A bad book owes to many trees/A forest of apologies.” (p.10)  Considering how few people today seem to be willing to admit to children that there are poorly written books, this is refreshing.  Granted, children can form their own opinions about good and bad books, but in a world where everything is accepted, it is nice to know that it’s ok to think something is bad.

By the same token, Lewis is fluid in his structure.  “Pictures, Pictures, Pictures” runs together as the speaker, and therefore the reader, reads faster and faster.  The second stanza doesn’t line up “properly,” but it rushes the reader to the inevitable conclusion.  Even his acknowledgements are a poem. (Even better, they are a funny poem.)


I’m tempted to say throw this at the class of high school freshmen who are forced to do a poetry section.  They’re funny.  They’re short.  There are multiple kinds of poems in the book.  It’s the kind of book you can reach the end of and go “I can do that.”  However, while I think fourth grade might be the average youngest to appreciate Please Bury Me in the Library, by no means is it limited to one grade or gender. (I say average youngest because there are always those who read older or younger than their age)


I will admit, I was slightly surprised by the suggested age, 2nd to 4th grade.


Kirkus Review- “Stone debuts with broadly brushed, page-filling acrylics to match: Children in pj’s rest beneath or teeter atop piles of books; mice and owls peruse large volumes by moon- and candle-light; an elderly, rather Seussian creature listens contentedly to a young reader.”


Booklist- “Despite the picture-book format, it will take children older than the preschool crowd to appreciate the wordplay, which on occasion is quite sophisticated (Lewis credits Lear, Carroll, and X. J Kennedy as his inspirations).”




Bill Martin Jr. Picture Book Award 2006-2007.


“PLEASE BURY ME IN THE LIBRARY by J. Patrick Lewis”. Kirkus Reviews Issue:April 1st, 2005. Review Posted Online:May 20th, 2010. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/j-patrick-lewis/please-bury-me-in-the-library/

“Please Bury Me in the Library” Booklist. Found on Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Please-Bury-Library-Patrick-Lewis/dp/B0057DCUW6


The Braid by Helen Frost

Frost, Helen. 2006. The Braid. New York: Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9780374309626.


I feel like I must start this with a phrase I started using in high school…Holy Paper Cranes!


The Braid is the kind of poetry novel I wish I had found when I was still in middle school or high school.  It tells the story of two Scottish sisters, Sarah and Jeannie, who are separated partially by being evicted and partially by Sarah’s stubbornness.  They each have a braid made of each others’ hair twined with their own.  However, the work itself is a braid.  A word or theme will carry from the narrative poems to the smaller praise poems.  Frost also makes the lines of the narrative poems have the same number of syllables as the speaker’s age. (I will admit, I didn’t figure this out on my own.  I read the author’s note and then went back to count.) However, I will admit to flipping back and forth when a word or phrase from a previous praise poem were used again in a narrative.


The two sisters grow up separately together.  Much like their braids, they are twined around each other.  Jeannie wonders if she is being like Sarah, while Sarah wishes Jeannie was there to talk with.  While Jeannie is fending for her mother and brother by finding scraps to build a table or planting wheat to earn money, Sarah is learning about love and what it means to live on an island of family.  It isn’t a matter of the sisters growing apart, in fact, they still yearn for each other, it is simply a matter of growth.


Frost tells the story of two people, yet she often uses the same images.  The blue sky or mussels, or seals and wind, these images weave through both girls’ lives even though they are not physically near each other.  While the words themselves are not complicated or hard to understand, The Braid practically begs to be read multiple times.  Due to the twisted nature of the story, rereading only enhances the experience.  It allows the reader to see exactly how connected the sisters, actually the whole family,  are.


The Braid is a history lesson.  It’s a lesson in culture.  It’s a story about family.  Like a literal braid has many strands, there are many approaches that could be taken to discuss this verse novel.  It would be easy to encourage each child to approach it in a different way.  There is no need to limit any discussion or analysis of The Braid to a three pronged attack simply because most braids only have three strands.  I do think this is geared more towards middle school kids than elementary school children.


Kirkus Review- “Readers will hold their breaths waiting to discover what happens to the sisters while their verbal reservoirs will be restocked with incredible imagery, rich vocabulary and powerful storytelling.”


School Library Journal- “While the inventive form is accomplished and impressive, it’s the easy flow of the verse and its emotional impact that will carry even reluctant readers into the windswept landscape and the hardships and dreams of these two girls.”



YALSA “Best Books for Young Adults, 2007”


2007 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book

School Library Journal “Best Books of the Year, 2006”

Kirkus Reviews “Editor’s Choice, 2006”

Special Recognition: 2007 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People

Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List


“THE BRAID by Helen Frost.” Kirkus Reviews Issue:Oct. 1st, 2006. Review Posted Online:May 20th, 2010. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/helen-frost/the-braid/

Maza, Jill. “The Braid” School Library Journal. http://www.helenfrost.net/item.php?postid=17

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Applegate, Katherine. 2012. The One and Only Ivan. Ill. by Patricia Castelao. New York: Harper. ISBN 9780061992254.

The One and Only Ivan begins simply, and carries that straightforward attitude throughout the verse novel.  “I am Ivan. I am a gorilla.” (p. 1)  Ivan calmly describes his world at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall.  He eats, he draws, he occasionally throws “me-balls,” which the small glossary helpfully defines as “dried excrement thrown at observers,” and he talks to Stella the elephant and Bob the dog.  He is content in this life.  Then, it all changes.  What Ivan knows, that the Exit 8 has been losing money, suddenly changes his world in a surprising way.  Mack, the owner of the circus mall, buys a baby elephant to attempt to give new life to the dying attraction.  While Ruby does bring more visitors to the mall, she also makes Ivan reconsider his life.  When he promises a dying Stella that he will take care of Ruby, Ivan realizes that he will have to find some way to get Ruby out of the Exit 8 Big Top Mall.

Ivan is a wonderful animal story, but unlike traditional animal stories, such as Hank the Cowdog or even Black Beauty, Ivan infuses maximum emotion into minimum words.  Yes, there are three hundred pages of Ivan’s story, but some pages only have a dozen words.  The poetry sinks the reader into Ivan’s skin.  We can feel his frustration with the humans who don’t understand him.  We rejoice when Julia, the daughter of the maintenance man at the mall, deciphers Ivan’s drawings, whether they are bananas or zoos.  Then, rather suddenly, Ivan speaks of being raised like a human child by Mack.  Suddenly, it makes sense that Ivan does not always consider himself a good silverback.

Applegate uses simple words.  She uses the words that a gorilla might pick up if he lived the majority of his life around humans without truly understanding the complexity of the English language.  Yet at the same time, Ivan uses words that clearly show he is a member of the animal kingdom.  He sees his cage as his domain.  For much of the book, he refuses to call it a cage.  It is his domain up until he realizes that he does not want Ruby to grow up alone and far from other elephants.  Suddenly his domain is a cage.  It prevents him from caring for Ruby like he wants to.  He is no longer in charge of his world, and so what he could comfortably call a domain, almost a home, was suddenly holding him back from finding a home.

Despite the fact that it is broken up like a poem, in many ways Ivan is almost a poem in disguise.  I don’t know that if I had simply picked it up I would have gone, “This is a poem.”  This to me is an advantage.  Instead of forcing children to rhyme, it shows them that free verse is a wonderful, and perfectly acceptable, form of poetry.  It would not be hard to invite kids to write their own poem from the point of view of an animal, possibly their own.

Kirkus Review- “How Ivan confronts his harrowing past yet stays true to his nature exemplifies everything youngsters need to know about courage.”

School Library Journal- “Applegate makes a powerful statement about the treatment of animals–especially those living in captivity–and reminds readers that all creatures deserve a safe place to call home.”


2013 Newbery Award Winner

2013 Bluebonnet Award List

“The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.” Kirkus Reviews Issue:Oct. 15th, 2011. Review Posted Online:Sept. 28th, 2011. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/katherine-applegate/one-and-only-ivan/

Karr, MaryAnn. “Pick of the Day: The One and Only Ivan.” Posted June 11, 2013. http://www.slj.com/2013/06/reviews/pick-of-the-day/the-one-and-only-ivanaudio-pick-of-the-day/