PLAIN TALK
Booknotes from the Plains Reading Council
 
    RESPONSES TO BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS

    Here is what readers in our part of Alabama think about some books that they have read recently.  We invite other students and teachers to share their responses to books.  If you would like your review of a book that you've read recently to appear on this page, send it by e-mail to to Prof. Terry Ley at <leyterr@mail.auburn.edu>.  Be sure to include all of the information that you see in these reviews in your own reviews.

Gary Paulsen
Jon Paul Ferrara (cover illustration)
THE TRANSALL SAGA
Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1998
248 pages
0-440-21976-0

The Transall Saga is a science fiction book about a boy who is hiking on a camping trip when he sees a blue light and is transported to another time on what appears to be another planet. He meets weird-looking people and discovers qualities about himself he never knew he had. There is much violence among the people, and Mark must choose sides. He is always looking for the blue light that will transport him home. Gary Paulsen did a great job of filling the book with suspense. I couldn't put it down!

Bjîrk, Christina
Erikson, Inga-Karin
VENDELA IN VENICE
Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999
93 pp.
ISBN 91-29-64559 X
     First published in Swedish by the author of Linnea in Monet's Garden, this 1999 Mildred Batchelder Honor winner provides a child's eye view of the historic and artistic treasures of Venice.   We see Vendela travel on
the canals, learn about the legend of St. Mark, dodge pigeons in her hurry to see the four horses on the gallery of St. Mark's Church, and have fun discovering humorous little details at the bottom of famous paintings in the museum. Myers, Walter Dean
MONSTER
HarperCollins, 1999
279 pp.
ISBN 0-06-028077-8
     To stay sane in prison, Steve Harmon, a sixteen-year-old on trial for felony murder in which he acted as look-out, "films" the event, and the jail and trial scenes, giving the reader a vivid account of life in prison and an insight into Steve's desperate search for his identity.  Is he the good student and sensitive film maker his teacher testifies him to be, is he the hero his brother always thought he was, or is he the monster the prosecutor says he
is?  1999 Coretta Scott King Award. Lunge-Larsen, Lise
Illustrations by Betsy Bowen
THE TROLL WITH NO HEART IN HIS BODY AND OTHER TALES OF TROLLS FROM NORWAY
Houghton Mifflin, 1999
32 pp.
ISBN 0-395-91371-3
     Trolls are scary and trolls are huge, but fortunately they are not very smart.  From the three Billy Goats Gruff to Ashlad, each hero or heroine of the nine stories in this collection manages to outwit a greedy troll.  The lively retellings of these popular Norwegian fairytales and legends are accompanied by dramatic woodcuts in beautiful shades of cold blues softening to purple and deep greens reminiscent of northern woods. Edwards, Richard
Illustrated by Susan Winter
COPY ME, COPYCUB
HarperCollins, 1999
32 pp.
ISBN 0-06-028570-2
     Spring, summer, and fall Copycub follows his mother around through the north woods, imitating all her actions, learning how to be a bear.  Charming, slightly anthropomorphic pictures of mother bear and Copycub show panel by panel how a bear develops and learns to survive throughout the year. Copycub's last adventure, reaching their den before he falls asleep in the deep snow, culminates in a picture showing mother watching over
Copycub as he curls up safely for winter hibernation.  Scientifically accurate, this is a lovely book for introducing the concept of seasons or animal habits and habitats. Clement, Gary
Illustrated by Gary Clement
THE GREAT POOCHINI
Groundwood, 1999
32 pp.
ISBN 0-88899-331-5
     By day an ordinary dog, Jack becomes The Great Poochini, an opera star at night when his owners are out or asleep.  Tonight he is to perform in Dog Giovanni and is getting ready to leave when he discovers that both the
door and the window are locked. Fortunately a cat burglar breaks in.  Gallant Poochini frightens him off and leaves by the window, now open, arriving just as the curtains go up at the opera. The humorous plot carries
the story even for those who may not catch all the word play. Mead, Alice
Illustrated by Christy Hale
BILLY AND EMMA
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2000
32 pp.
ISBN 0-374-30705-9
     Every day at 2:00 p.m., Billy, a blue gold macaw, and Emma, a lovely green, perform for the visitors at the zoo.  For their grand finale Emma plays a toy piano, which moves Billy to tears. Surrounded by their friends,
the two are happy until one day a robber steals Emma. With the help of an owl, a crow, and some fine navigating pigeons, Billy locates Emma far uptown, on Audubon Street, and manages to rescue her. At the end of this
humorous animal adventure the author provides informational notes about birds' intelligence. Gerrard, Roy
Illustrated by Roy Gerrard
WAGONS WEST!
Farrar Straus Giroux, 1996, 2000
32 pp.
ISBN 0-374-48210-1 (pbk)
     The story of the Westward migration is retold in humorous verse with rounded short people and their rounded cattle, puppies, and geese as the pioneers.  Accurate details of the trip from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon are provided by both text and illustrations: "So we bought provisions here and repaired our broken gear,/ While our mules and cattle had a well-earned rest./  As our journey had been taxing, we needed some relaxing,/ and the dancing was the thing that I liked best." The picture shows a lively dance scene at Fort Laramie; details abound, from soldiers' uniforms to lacy drawers hanging on a wash line. Graham, Joan Bransfield
Illustrated by Nancy Davis
FLICKER FLASH
Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
32 pp.
ISBN 0-395-90501-X
     Each of these concrete poems describes in playful words and graphics a different aspect of light. For Lightning Bolt" the words "NEWS FLASH! BEN FRANKLIN USES KITE AND KEY TO UNLOCK ELECTRICITY" zig zag diagonally across the page while Ben Franklin is seen with his kite and key. "Days and Years" is represented by a stylized bright yellow sun with the words "earth is spinning toward the light,/first it's day, and then it's night," printed in green in a ball shape, while a banner of words circles the sun: "around the
sun in one big swing summer fall winter spring."  Great for science, language arts, and art. Erdrich, Louise
Illustrated by Louise Erdrich
THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE
Hyperion, 1999
244 pp.
ISBN 0786822414
     Omakayas, little frog, survives a smallpox epidemic that wipes out her family and village on an island in Lake Superior in the 1840s.  Adopted by another Ojibwa family, she is raised as one of their own.  The author
describes daily life for her ancestors through the eyes of Omakayas, whose responses to her family, work, the mission school her sister attends, and the joys and sorrows the family experience make characters and events come to life.  This historical fiction is a must when teaching Native American life of the Plains Indians. The book would make an excellent companion reading for 4th - 6th graders with Little House on the Prairie and other Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  Click here for previously published reviews from Plains Council readers.