Caroline Davis

Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

In Books on February 17, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Summary: Life is hard in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl in the 1930s, where farmers wait for rain and pray that their crops aren’t destroyed by the frequent dust storms.  For Billie Jo Kelby, life becomes even harder after a terrible accident takes the life of her mother and unborn brother, and leaves her hands burned and useless.  Unable to talk to her father, who is struggling to deal with the loss, and unable to play piano, which had been her passion and release, Billie Jo wonders how she can escape from the dust and the sadness at home.  Like the gentle rain that brings hope and relief to the farmers, Billie Jo learns that forgiveness can allow healing to begin and a new life to start.

Highlights: Out of the Dust manages to be both heartbreaking and beautiful.  The story is completely written in a series of free-verse poems told from Billie Jo’s perspective, as if she was keeping a poetic diary as the events of 1934 and 1935 unfolded.  Along with recounting the private struggles of her family and neighbors, Billie Jo has an awareness of the events taking place throughout the nation, from the proclamations of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the attempts of migrants to make new lives for themselves in California, the local excavation of dinosaur fossils, and even the news of quintuplets born to a woman in Canada.  What results is a moving tale of grief and redemption.  Winner of the 1998 Newbery Medal and several other awards.


Karen Hesse Biography

Interview with Karen Hesse (Scholastic)

Other Reviews:

@ Becky’s Book Reviews

@ Maw Book Blog

@ Dirt Roads and High Topped Shoes

@ words by Annie


Fair Weather by Richard Peck

In Books on February 17, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Summary: In the thirteen years of her life, Rosie Beckett has never traveled farther from her farm than a horse could take her in one day.  This all changes when a letter arrives from her Aunt Euterpe in Chicago, inviting Rosie and her siblings to come visit for a week to see the World’s Columbian Exposition – the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair!  For a country girl impressed by getting to travel on a train, the marvels of the World’s Fair are almost too incredible to believe.  If only they could get Aunt Euterpe to stop worrying about everything and enjoy herself!

Highlights: This well-researched bit of historical fiction gives the reader a glimpse into the excitement of the turn of the century.  Rosie is an character that many readers can identify with – caught between growing up like her sister, Lottie, who has a male caller, and staying young like Buster, her little brother.  The activities of an 1890’s rural Illinois farm come to life as she experiences them, and even more so the bustle of the crowd at the Exposition.  One of the 2002 Best Books for Young Adults and a Notable Book in the English Language Arts.


Interview with Richard Peck (Publisher’s Weekly)

Richard Peck at

Other Reviews:

@ the imponderabilia of actual life

@ Read, Read, Read!

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo

In Audiobooks on February 15, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Summary: After his mother’s death, Rob Horton and his father move into the Kentucky Star Motel, where his father works for the manager, Beauchamp.  One morning, Rob discovers a tiger locked in a cage in the woods – the most beautiful creature he has ever seen.  At school, Rob is tormented by bullies, and even the new girl, Sistine (“like the chapel”) Bailey gets upset at him.  Rob is relieved to be sent home from school – indefinitely – because of a skin condition on his legs, and he starts helping his father work around the motel.  When Sistine comes to visit Rob after school, Rob can’t help but tell her about the tiger and bring her to see it.  Sistine insists that they have to free it, but Rob doesn’t know how they can.  More importantly, would it be dangerous?

Highlights: The audiobook version of this story was very well done (read by Dylan Baker, a film actor).  I think the best thing about The Tiger Rising was how relatable it was – kids who have endured bullying or the loss of a family member, like Rob, or dealt with the disintegration of their parent’s marriage, like Sistine, will be able to identify with the main characters.  More importantly, they will learn that even in this midst of sadness they can find something beautiful – perhaps even within themselves.  A National Book Award Finalist.

Kate DiCamillo’s Official Website

Interview with Kate DiCamillo (Minnesota Public Radio)
(Has links to audio interviews)

Other Reviews:

@ DogEar Diary

@ Stuff as Dreams are Made on

@ Living Amidst Boys!

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

In Books on February 6, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Summary: Despereaux is a small mouse with a big heart.  The other mice think he is strange because he loves beautiful things like stained glass windows and music instead of focusing on finding food to eat.  When Despereaux meets the Princess Pea, he falls in love with her – just like the brave knights and fair ladies from his favorite book.  After a revenge-seeking rat and a foolish servant girl kidnap the princess and take her to the dungeon, can Despereaux find a way to rescue her?

Highlights: This sweet story has all the right elements for a traditional fairy tale, but it rises above the usual fare because of DiCamillo’s handling of her characters.  Each of the main players has a back story that gives them dimension and explains the motivations behind their actions.  Even the rat with a dastardly plan becomes sympathetic, and some of the light characters have spots of darkness within them.  It is obvious that DiCamillo loves her characters, and the reader is invited to love them as well.  This book would be excellent for the younger set of “tweens,” perhaps particularly those who are developing their reading skills.  The book is very engaging (the narrator often speaks directly to the “reader”), and has a smattering of vocabulary building words – some of which I needed to look up!  Most importantly, the story is heart-warming, often humorous, and a delight to read.  Winner of the 2004 Newbery Medal.


Kate DiCamillo’s Official Website

Interview with Kate DiCamillo (PBS)

Interview with Kate DiCamillo (Scholastic)

Other Reviews:

@ Brimful Curiosities

@ Books Love Me

@ Out of the Blue

Emma (Volume 1) by Kaoru Mori

In Manga on February 1, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Summary: Set in Victorian England, a young maid named Emma and a wealthy member of the gentry named William Jones meet and fall in love, but they are unable to express their feelings to each other because of the class differences that keep them apart.  To further complicate things, a visiting prince from India (William’s friend Hakim) is also attracted to Emma, and William’s father expects him to marry Eleanor, a girl from a higher class.  In the midst of societal pressures and expectations, can true love conquer?

Highlights: The first installment of this manga series caught my interest quickly with the beautiful and detailed drawings and the introduction of several interesting characters.  The story is paced slowly (or this could be a result of the difficulty I had in reading the panels right-to-left, as I am not a regular manga reader), and the love story unfolds in a series of interactions between the two main characters.  After finishing Volume 1, I’m already impatient to find out what happens next!

The series is rated “Teen Plus,” defined by CMX Manga as “appropriate for an audience of 16 and older. They may contain partial nudity, mild profanity and more intense violence.”  According to my research, later volumes in the series contain some nudity in a non-sexual context, which may be the reason for the rating.  In my opinion, this volume is appropriate for a younger audience, as it contains none of these elements.

Library Journal listed Emma as one of the Best Graphic Novels of 2007, and YALSA named it as one of the 2008 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens.  It has also been adapted into an anime series titled “Emma: A Victorian Romance.”


Official Emma Website

Publisher’s Weekly Article

Other Reviews:

@ At Home With Books

@ Dear Author

@ things mean a lot

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

In Books on February 1, 2010 at 12:05 am

Summary: When their traditional summer vacation plans are canceled, the Penderwick sisters and their widowed father make last minute arrangements to rent a cottage on an estate for three weeks.  While their Latin-spouting botanist father focuses on his work, the four sisters explore the estate and make fast friends with Jeffrey, the owner’s son and perfect summer companion.  Thus they embark on a series of adventures, as long as Jeffrey’s villainous mother, Mrs. Tifton, doesn’t succeed in destroying their fun!

Highlights: There is so much to love about this book.  The sisters – Rosalind, age 12, Skye, age 11, Jane, age 10, and Batty, age 4 – are smart girls depicted with individual personalities and interests and a common family pride.  The sibling dynamics and tone of the novel hearken back to nostalgic classics in children’s literature, such as Little Women (by Louisa May Alcott) and The Railway Children (by Edith Nesbit).  The book is humorous and light reading that will appeal to 8-12 year olds (and the adults who are lucky enough to read it out loud to them).  If another set of famous siblings, the Pevensies, had not discovered a passage to Narnia in the wardrobe, one might imagine that their exploits on the old professor’s estate would be similar to the Penderwick’s summer.  Winner of the 2005 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.


Interview with Jeanne Birdsall (NPR)

Jeanne Birdsall’s Official Website

Transcript of Birdsall’s National Book Award Acceptance Speech

Other Reviews:

@ A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

@ Big A little a

@ Here in the Bonny Glen