The Year of the Rabbit, Dragon, and…


The Year of Billy Miller By: Kevin Henkes

Genre: Fiction – Realistic

Published: Harper Collins Publishers – New York, NY,  September 17th , 2013

Awards: Newbery Honor Book – 2014

Themes and Topics: A lovely story of a 2nd grade boy, Billy, explores his life and his various encounters along the way. The themes addressed in this children’s novel are – family, identity, and growing up.

Summary: This four chapter book covers the the interactions that Billy Miller, a 2nd grade boy, has with the three most important people in his life – his mother, father, and little sister. As the story begins Billy has been in an accident, potentially impacting his abilities in the upcoming school year – so he thinks. The school year starts out pretty rough, and along the way Billy encounters some very difficult situations, assignments, and interactions between his friends and family.

Reflection: What was the main problem that the main character faces? How is this problem similar to a problem that most children have faced before? In what way could elementary children relate to this character?

To be quite honest, Billy experiences four problems through out the book. Each chapter is dedicated to a person – mom, dad, and sister – and also a problem. Billy begins dealing with the issue of growing up, and based off a classmates rude remark he decided to switch from a “babyish” papa to dad. Within this change comes a lot of heartache as Billy is not sure how his father will take the sudden change. In the second chapter Billy battles the issue of being scared, and seeks safety and comfort from his three year old sister in the midst of the night. Lastly, in relation to his mom, he has to complete a school assignment in which he dealt with an internal battle choosing between her and his father. As well, the assignment comes with a performance and detailing information about his mom. In comparison to most children of the age, all of them go through these very similar stages. They want to grow up and be older. They do not want to be “scared,” yet somehow it occurs and somehow they must find refuge. They struggle in school – battling nerves, hurt feelings, and pressure. This book is very relatable to children in elementary school given the main characters age and the situations he goes through.



Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans

Written and Illustrated By: Don Brown

51qqgvz8awl-_sx321_bo1204203200_Genre: Non-Fiction – Informative, Graphic Novel

Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Boston MA, August 4th, 2015

Awards: Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor Book – 2016

Themes and Topics: Although this story is non-fiction, it captures many themes. The themes in this work include: resilience, tragedy, and devastation.

Summary: As a 400-mile wide storm hits the town of New Orleans, the town is submerged under water. For the people that were not able to evacuate their lives hang in the balance. They retreat to swimming in the 20-ft water-filled streets, sitting on roofs of homes, and taking refuge in the Superdome. Many do not make it through this week of tragedy, and for the ones who are determined to survive – help is no where in sight.

ResponseWhat factual information did you learn? Did anything surprise you? How do you know if this information is accurate? (information books, biography, some historical fiction).

As many of us are aware that hurricane Katrina occurred, not many know the extremely devastating details of the events. For me, I was not aware of how the governments, on the federal, state, and city levels did not help the thousands of victims that were stranded due to their own communication issues. As well, I was not aware of the horrid conditions that people, who fought to stay alive, had to suffer through – no food, water, or supplies. Not to mention, I had no idea the amount of violence and looting that occurred, even from police officials. I was surprised by most of the content in the film, the minimal efforts made by George W. Bush and the environmental consequences that occurred because of the flooding. At the end of the book, Don Brown includes a five page bibliography and references list. As I further researched, Brown diligently sought to find the truth of the story. He found direct quotes from people and even exact numbers for flood waters, deaths, and people requested by outside forces.

Something Spectacular

SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE sam-and-dave-372x500

By: Mac Barnett Illustrated By: Jon Klassen

Genre: Fiction – Children’s Literature

Published: Candlewick Press – Somerville MA, October 14th, 2014

Awards: Caldecott Honor Book – 2015

Themes: Although a short story dedicated to young readers, the story explores themes such as  adventure, desire, determination, and learning to accept the unexpected.

Summary: Sam and Dave set out to find “something spectacular” one day, and they believe that digging a hole will help them achieve just that. The two, along with their dog, dig and dig and dig tying to just find something. The pictures in the book tell us that they are getting closer and closer to their goal, but every time you think they will fins that spectacular something, they dig the other way! Eventually, they find something spectacular at the end, that was completely unexpected.

Response: Describe the setting. Was the setting essential to the plot of the book? Explain why or why not.

The setting in this book, as depicted by the illustrations are the cornerstone in understanding the message and wit that the author is trying to give the readers. The setting, as one my think, is simply of Sam and Dave digging a hole. Therefore, they are in the dirt, digging deeper and deeper into the ground. As they search for “something spectacular” the setting begins to change and the reader is able to see those spectacular things while Sam and Dave can not. As you continue reading, you believe that Sam and Dave will finally find that spectacular something – but they keep changing paths, missing all things spectacular. The entire premise of the short story is to engage readers in hope that Sam and Dave will find something great. The setting keeps the readers on the edge, questioning if they will ever find the spectacular. As the story closes, and as the setting continues to develop the central theme is revealed – learning to accept that unexpected.

“…and when all the right words came together it was like and explosion.”

Booked By: Kwame Alexander 

Genre: Fiction – Poetry/Verse

Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Boston MA, April 5th, 2016

Awards: There are no awards currently for this work. However, Kwame Alexander is also the author of the Newberry Medal Winner and Coretta Scott King Honor Award Winner the Crossover.

30977379Themes and Topics: Booked is a powerful story that does not only cover the game of soccer. This title goes much deeper to discuss and show the power of language as it resides in a middle schoolers world. As the main character, Nick Hall, discovers and experiences the usual teen struggles – love, friendship, and bullying – Alexander also discusses the concepts of separation/divorce and finding ones self.

Summary: The love of soccer helps the main character of this title, Nick Hall, be free. As he plays there are no worries, no fears, nothing to hold him back. However, as he struggles with friends, a girl he comes to adore, bullies, and the separation of his parents soccer no longer helps him. He finds another way to freedom: words. His father, makes Nick read a dictionary as a chore. Nick starts by hating the task, just as you would hate taking out the trash. However, Nick comes to love the power of knowing what to say, how to say, and when to say the right things as language becomes his new form of freedom.

ResponseWhat was the main problem that the main character faces? How is this problem similar to a problem that most children have faced before? In what way could elementary children relate to this character?

The main problem the main character, Nick,  faces is one that many upper elementary/middle schoolers experience. Nick’s life is turned upside down and up again on multiple occasions as he attempts to understand his own love interest, and the diminishing love between his parents. Using soccer as an outlet, as many children in this age range would use an activity to forget the struggles of their everyday life, he attempts to find the answers to questions that do not necessarily have them.  Many children go through these very same experiences within themselves and with adults in their lives. Children experience the “coming and going” of adult figures all too much. As well, they begin to develop the idea of liking and loving someone. Nick, is a very relatable character to many students within the upper elementary and middle school grades. Nick experiences the same obstacles many children face and shows his own feelings through out the text, making it all more relatable to other children going through the same struggles.