Zeely (Virginia Hamilton)

Elizabeth and her brother John are sent off for a summer of adventure down to their uncle's house in "the country." They aren't even settled into the house before Elizabeth (who has renamed herself Geeder and her brother Toeboy) becomes obsessed with a neighbor named Zeely Tayber.

Zeely Tayber is the tallest, most richly dark, beautiful, most regal lady Geeder has ever seen. She appears to float instead of walking, she has a supernatural ability with the farm animals, and above all Zeely Tayber is nothing like the other women in town.

When Geeder comes across a photograph in an article about the Watutsi, an ancient African tribe known for their height, she is convinced that Zeely is a Watutsi queen.

By the end of their adventures together, Geeder realizes that Zeely Tayber is very much a queen after all.

I had not read Virginia Hamilton before Zeely, yet for some reason (possibly their collective inclusion on certain reading lists), I had equated her style with Zora Neal Hurston and perhaps even a hint of Maya Angelou. Going into this book with that expectation left me deeply disappointed in Hamilton's prose. Dry, choppy, and free of emotion, Zeely couldn't be farther from what I expected.

Wonderful Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum)

I love the Wizard of Oz. Seriously. Love. It. I am all about some "Somewhere oooover the rainbow..." "Follow the yellow brick road!" and "If I only had a brain." and "I'll get you, and your little dog, too!" and "I'm mellllttttiiiinnnggg!"

And those Munchkins? Don't you dare get me started.

But y'all. Judy Garland had it all wrong. All joking aside, the movie version should have had a disclaimer stating that it was loosely based on the book. There is so much left out, so much that is changed in the version written for the big screen.

Originally published in 1900, it all starts out about the same way. Dorothy has lost both her parents and is living with her aunt and uncle. A cyclone takes away Dorothy and her dog Toto to Munchkin Land, where her house accidentally kills the Wicked Witch of the East. The Good Witch of the North sends Dorothy (with the East Witch's silver shoes-NOT ruby slippers) on a journey to the Emerald City to get help there from the Wizard of Oz. Along her way, she meets the characters we know and love so well from the 1939 movie: Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. In the book, however, the story goes into great detail about the Tin Woodman and how he came to be rusted there on the side of the road. As the book tells it, the Tin Man used to be just a woodman who was in love with a girl. The Wicked Witch of the East put a hex on his axe, which turned against him and chopped his limbs off one by one. They were replaced with tin prosthetics until his entire body was made only of tin. His tin body was not given a heart, so he was unable to continue loving the girl he had lost his life over.

The Wicked Witch of the West blames Dorothy for her sister's death and sets out to doing whatever she can to keep her from getting to the Land of Oz. She sends hordes of crows, bees, and wolves to try and stop them. Two additional differences from the movie are that the Wicked Witch of the West has an army of Winkies in her service AND the witch has this Golden Hat. The Golden Hat grants permission to the owner to summon an army of winged monkeys to do her/his bidding. The witch uses her last summoning on Dorothy and her gang, and the monkeys tear apart the Tin Man and Scarecrow. Dorothy gets angry and throws a bucket of water on the witch, wherein she melts theatrically. No surprise there, at least.

So now Dorothy has the Golden Hat. She uses it to get the winged monkeys and the Winkies to help them all get put back together and taken to the Emerald City. They meet the wizard who really isn't a wizard at all, and he accidentally leaves Dorothy and Toto behind when his hot air balloon takes off unexpectedly. Dorothy and her friends make the long journey to see Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. After another series of adventures involving a giant spider and crazy trees, they make it to Glinda. Glinda tells Dorothy that the silver shoes have been her way home the entire time, and so they are. Dorothy and Toto are returned to her aunt's and uncle's house, and they all live happily ever after.

Check it out yourself in Google Books.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney)

My students are obsessed with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. At no less than 5 requests every single day, these items are hot commodities in my school library. At the end of the year I was finally able to wrangle the first installment to see for myself just what all the fuss is about.

The very first observation I had about this book was that Greg Heffley is a little jerk. He's narcissistic, rude to his parents, completely self-absorbed, and the most inconsiderate, selfish "friend" any kid could ever have. But, you know what? A lot of upper elementary/middle school boys are just like Greg Heffley. I suppose at the end of the say, it's all a part of their emotional development and that they are who they are at this stage for a reason. Still. He might be funny, but he's still a little tool.

And he is most definitely funny. Greg Heffley makes some pretty witty observations about the social order in schools that I think most educators and maybe even parents miss out on. There is a tinge of a "bully or be bullied" theme which I definitely believe is part of the under-the-table social interactions between students. Another observation I have is that the books are 5th grade level readers, which I think is overestimating a bit. These books are not exactly solid 5th grade level material. There are illustrative comics interspersed throughout, which make it even more popular with kids. These kiddos do love their graphic novels (sigh)...

Overall, it's a good set to have in the school library. As for me, I'm done with you, Greg Heffley. But I like that my kids like you, so maybe you were worth my time after all.

Malia and Sasha Obama (Jennifer M. Besel)

I always find the Biography section of the library a most interesting place. This section is filled with the life stories of people who have lived important lives and done important things and experienced important events. Anytime I browse a new vendor catalog I am always a wee bit concerned over the saturation of biographies of young people who (Lord willing) still have 3/4's of their lives left to lead on this earth. Is it appropriate to write biographies of children and young adults? Is it appropriate for kids to read these stories of lives that can so easily change in the next month, or perhaps were drastically changed even before the book was completed, printed, and published? Is that contributing to the amount of inaccurate information our kids can take in, if we are not careful? And I wonder also about the subjects' opinion of people writing books about them. What are Malia and Sasha going to think in 20 years when there is a book on a library shelf stating that their favorite musicians are the Jonas Brothers? (Nothing against the JB, I'm just sayin'...)

Maybe I'm overthinking it.

After all, Malia and Sasha Obama are easily the most famous kids in America right now. With their dad as President Barack Obama, that makes them the youngest children to live in the White House in a very long time. As school-age children learn about how our government functions, they are naturally curious about current leaders and their families. This book, this biography of America's most popular 12 year old and 9 year old, barely stays on the shelf in my school library. I can hardly check it in before another child wants to check  it out, and unlike most biographies there are no boundaries in its target audience. Boys want to read it, girls want to read it, high readers, low readers, etc. Even teachers are interested to flip through it.

Here are a few things that I learned about the Obama girls from this book:
-Malia's birthday is July 4th; she gets to be in a parade every year on her bday (how fun is that!)
-Her dad calls her "Little Miss Articulate" because she has a talent for saying just the right thing.
-Malia suffers from allergies and asthma.
-Sasha's real name is Natasha; Sasha is just a nickname.
-Her dad calls her his "precious pea."
-Sasha had meningitis when she was just 3 months old.
-Their room at the White House was decorated from items from Pottery Barn, Target, and Crate & Barrel. When they moved into the White House, they brought their own Jonas Brothers posters from home.
-They have chores, which include cleaning up their own rooms, making their own beds, clearing the dishes after supper. If they complete all of these, they get $1 a week as their allowance.

The pictures of the girls at places such as the presidential inauguration, serving troops by stuffing backpacks for their children, helping serve food to the homeless, and looking beautiful in their famous attire are probably what draws most readers to this book. I like that the visuals communicate to kids that being the child of the American president doesn't make you a princess; it makes you a joyful servant of the nation's people...and that makes me think that this is a pretty great addition to my library.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)

One word: ABSURD.

This book, a childhood classic and available for free download via Google books, Kindle book store, etc. is just. plain. weird.

Alice is a little girl who is minding her own business one day, when out of the blue she follows a talking rabbit into his hole. Thus begins the first of numerous wacky experiences for Alice, as she enters the mysterious Wonderland.

There is a preface that explains that Alice's story was created as an entertaining bedtime story for children. It definitely has that mindless, pointless but entertaining aspect.

What I found most troublesome was the common thread that every single person Alice met was so incredibly contrary and argumentative. Everyone was rather rude, and both insulting and easily offended. I have no idea if there is some worthy symbolism below that surface, but I found Alice, her talking rabbit and turtle and cheshire cat and pig-baby simply....weird.

At least I got it for free on my Kindle! :)