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Miss Denilyn's Super Sequoyah Suggestions - 2014 Edition!

DenilynMiss Denilyn of the Norman Public Library is back with reviews the 2014 crop of Sequoyah Children's Book Award nominees!

According to the Oklahoma Library Association, who sponsors the award, the Sequoyah is the third-oldest children's choice award in the nation, the first prize having been awarded in 1959.  The 2013 winner was The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.

Which book will win this year?  If you're a student in grades 3-5, read at least three of the books from the 2014 Sequoyah Children's masterlist and you can vote for your favorite!

 Dancing Home by Alma Flor Ada and Gabriel M. Zubizarreta

Margie (Margarita) was adamant about being an American. She was born in Texas and her parents grew up in Mexico and frequently spoke in Spanish. Margie didn’t want to learn the language and needed her classmates to see her as an American.  She worked hard at appearing to be like her “American” classmates and part of that effort was to dislike anything to do with Mexico.  She is succeeding in fitting in until her cousin, Lupe, from Mexico moves in with Margie’s family.  Lupe is Margie’s age and speaks very little English and converses with Margie’s parents in Spanish. Margie feels like an outsider and is embarrassed and ashamed of Lupe. Some kids at school tease Margie calling her “Margareeeeeta”.   As Margie learns to love Lupe and appreciate Mexican customs and culture, she is able to embrace the culture of her parents and recognize the benefits from being both an American and having a Mexican heritage.

This description of the struggle to assimilate is appropriate for upper elementary students. It speaks to tolerance of diversity, appreciation of other cultures and the fact that "fitting in" can be overrated.

Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Jacobson
Jack’s mother has always been unpredictable but when Jack and his mom go on a camping trip to Acadia National Park in Maine, she abandons him with no way to contact her and very little money for food. Contacting authorities might get his mom in trouble and he might be placed in the custody of the state. So Jack determines he must find his way back to his home in Boston with his only companion, a small toy elephant. He loves his mom and she at times is loving and fun but other times she thinks and talks very fast and she forgets Jack. On the trip to Acadia Jack wanted to stop and see Lydia, the only elephant in Maine. His mom wouldn’t stop and Jack holds on to the hope he will yet see Lydia. Finding ways to survive and keep moving are an intense adventure. The author does an excellent job of describing Jack’s thought processes, explaining his fears and his past experiences with his mentally ill mother. The resolution is hopeful but realistic.

The book is appropriate for 5th through 8th grades and addresses in an unflinching way the difficulties of living with a mentally ill parent. Jack is a very compelling protagonist and the story holds the reader’s interest.

You’ll Like it Here (Everybody Does) by Ruth White

Meggie Blue is a 6th grader and moved suddenly from California to South Carolina with her mom, brother and grandfather because her family had been persecuted.  She is like her classmates in most ways but she is an alien with few telltale signs except for a streak of blue that occasionally shows up in the hair of her family.  When she is a little older she, too, will have the blue hair streak problem.  Her South Carolina neighbors begin to suspect the Blue family members are alien causing the Blues to flee in their space travel vehicle again.  A slight miscalculation places the family in a totalitarian state where the populace is controlled by drugs and brain washing.  The Blues find friends but Gramps is shipped off to “Vacation 65” where he will be terminated. Can the family save Gramps, their friends and escape this evil place?

This book is suitable for grades 5 through 8 and describes a dystopian world. The story is fine but has been done in a better and more developed manner in the Giver series by Lois Lowry.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Ha is ten years old and lives in Saigon, Viet Nam, where she cherishes her friends, rich traditions and her papaya tree. It is 1975 and her father is a naval officer who has been missing for nine years. Suddenly the war is moving close and her family, including her mother and three brothers, must flee with few possessions and on an undersupplied ship. The family experiences hunger and thirst on board. After a stint in a refugee camp they finally find a sponsor and move to Alabama. Ha, in Saigon, was considered smart. Now she feels stupid as she tries to learn English. Her classmates make fun of her and she feels very alone. One boy intends to hurt her and she is rescued by her brother. She finally begins to make friends.

This book is appropriate for the upper grades.  It is beautifully written and eloquently told in the voice of a strong, loving girl facing huge challenges. The story is of one year in this girl’s life but addresses not only the historical period when Saigon fell but the experiences of many children trying to assimilate into a new culture after being displaced by war.

Won Ton by Lee Wardlaw

This is the story of a shelter cat, WonTon, adopted by a boy. The cat’s adjustment to his new home is examined from the cat’s point of view using haiku poetry. Somehow haiku is the perfect language for a cat. In the car on his way to his new home Won Ton says “Letmeoutletmeoutletmeoutletmeout. Wait—let me back in”. Won Ton has opinions about many things including dogs, appropriate names for cats and his boy.

This picture book is accompanied by illustrations by Eugene Yelchin. The illustrations wonderfully catch the expressions on Won Ton’s face from fear to disdain to love. The book is probably aimed at the 4 to 8 year olds but is delightful and would appeal to cat lovers of any age. It would also be a tool for teachers teaching the haiku poetry form.

Saving Audie:A Pit Bull Puppy Gets a Second Chance by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent ; photographs by William Munoz

Audie is a pit bull puppy being raised to fight in dogfights. He was one of 49 dogs rescued when Michael Vick was arrested. The dogs were assumed to be vicious and were slated to be euthanized. However, due to the work of organizations like the ASPCA and the Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls, the dogs were tested to see if they could be handled. One of the dogs is Audie and this book is a photo journal of his rehabilitation. The loving care of his owner set him on a journey including surgery that ends in his ability to participate in agility training. Audie now helps other dogs learn good behavior as a “canine coach”.

This book is aimed at 8 to 10 year olds and tells a touching story of love and care triumphing over the fear and poor care experienced by the dogs. It also works to lessen the “bad rap” of the pit bull breed. The outstanding photography enriches the narrative.

Marty McGuire by Kate Messner

Marty McGuire is a 3rd grade tomboy who rejects all things “princess” and would rather look for frogs at recess than play with the girly girls.  The third grade is not what she hoped for because her best friend, Annie, has begun playing with the girls who would rather play dress up than hunt crawdads. Marty is further disappointed when she is chosen to play a princess in the “Frog Princess” play at school. Marty is encouraged to improvise by a visiting drama coach and utilizes this skill to make the princess role a better fit for her. She also learns to compromise with the princess-crazy girly girls so she can engage in the play she prefers while wearing a tiara.

This book is an excellent introductory chapter book for 5 to 9 year olds. The frequently interspersed graphics illustrate the action. This is the first of a new Marty  McGuire series. The heroine is refreshing as she marches to her own drum in a culture filled with princess paraphernalia for young girls.

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans By Kadir Nelson

This nonfiction book is an historical overview of the African American experience from 1545, when slaves were first brought to the new world by Spaniards, until January of 2009 when Barack Obama was inaugurated as President. The struggles, shameful treatment, inequalities and cruelties are presented within an historical context. The history is personalized by a grandmotherly narrator whose life spans from knowing her grandfather,  who was a slave captured in Africa, to the election in 2009. The tremendous difficulties are described including being owned by whites; being freed, but living in extreme poverty; experiencing separate but very unequal treatment and actual physical abuse and murder. The triumphs are also appreciated including the strength, persistence and courage leading to a change in national attitudes and laws determining the treatment of African Americans. The author celebrates descendants of the slaves who have been sports figures, inventors, political leaders, musicians and writers. This is an amazingly comprehensive overview for 100 pages.

Ages 9 and up will appreciate this Sequoyah nominee.  In addition to the well-researched and personalized narrative, the author is a gifted painter and the illustrations are beautiful and poignant.

Sidekicks by Dan Santat

In this graphic novel Captain Amazing is a superhero with a peanut allergy. He is beginning to slow down in his middle age and is looking for a sidekick to help him fight crime. His four pets all want to spend more time with him and compete for the sidekick position. The pets are a cat, dog, hamster and chameleon.

The story unfolds with humor and adds some narrative tension with a villain. This metaphor for sibling rivalry and family cooperation is easily consumed because of the personalities and quirks of the pets. The comic book illustrations are well done.
There are no female characters and the story is not very memorable. The book is suitable for grades 3-6. This is a graphic novel with little violence, fun animal characters and a superhero and may be enjoyed for those elements.

The Trouble With Chickens: A J.J. Tully Mystery by Doreen Cronin

A retired search and rescue dog, J. J. Tully is trying to enjoy his retirement after a career of daring heroic rescues. An annoying mother chicken, Moosh, and her two chicks, Dirt and Sugar, hire J. J. with the promise of a cheeseburger to find the chicks’ two missing siblings, Poppy and Sweetie. The chickens believe the chicks have been kidnapped and are being held hostage by an inside dog, Vince the funnel. J. J. follows clues, faces captivity and uses his sleuthing skills to solve the mystery and “save” the chicks.

This detective novel with lots of dry humor and plot twists is fun and a great read-aloud book. Plenty of delightful illustrations illuminate the personalities of each of the characters.  This book is appropriate for grades 2 to 4 and is a short humorous mystery for readers new to chapter books.

Saving Zasha by Randi Barrow

Mikhail is a 13 year old Russian boy who finds a dying man and his beautiful German Shepherd dog, Zasha. The era is the end of WW II and anything German is despised by the Russians; putting the dog in danger. There are almost no dogs left in Russia because of their use during the war and the hardships experienced by the people of Russia leaving them no food to feed pets. Because dogs are scarce, they are valuable and dog thieves scour the country side to find any dogs that may be hidden.  Mikhail’s father has not come back from the war and he has not been heard from in a long time.   Mikhail and his family adopt Zasha from the dying man and then train and hide Zasha. The dog is expecting puppies and hiding her is becoming more difficult. As Zasha is hunted by thieves, a snoopy neighbor girl and Dimitri, who is trying to breed dogs; the tension and excitement mounts. In the end everything turns out.  Dad comes home from the war, the neighbor girl loves dogs, Dimitri will take some puppies for his breeding project and Mikhail gets to keep Zasha and one of her puppies.

This is a good read for grades 3-7.  It introduces an historical era and describes loving and training of a dog.

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

One of the main characters in this delightful book is Castle Gower, who chooses the king of the Kingdom of Skeyn and adds new rooms to itself every Tuesday. Celie, is an 11-year-old princess who is mapping the castle as it changes and is a favorite of the castle. Princess Celie’s parents have gone on a trek to see her oldest brother graduate from Wizardry School. When returning they are ambushed and disappear. Her brother, Rolf, is the castle’s choice for king, but is reluctant to fill that role while his father may still be alive.  Rolf and his two sisters are being manipulated by unsavory characters. Their aim is to steal the kingdom from Rolf and his family; in the process kill the castle and remove the abilities of the castle to choose the king. The children retaliate in many clever ways and are aided by the castle.

The story is compelling, surprising and suspenseful. It is funny and scary and best of all it includes secret passages, puppies and a strong family caring for each other and working well together. Although, some of the topics are heavy (plotting murder, inheritance, ambushing) the humor counterbalances these concepts. The book is appropriate for 2nd through 5th graders. Although, truth be told, this senior citizen was enchanted.

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