All posts by Colleen Mitchell

Friendship is Sharing: A Review of ‘A Mouse and the Motorcycle’

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”–Leo Buscaglia

Reading Level:

Grades 4-5

Review and Thoughts:

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary is a story about a mouse named Ralph and a boy named Keith who develop a true friendship based on a love of motorcycles, speed, adventure, and an impatience to see life unfold.  I must confess that I do not like rodents or anything that I would classify as a rodent.  Ralph, however, is special and not on my mental list of nibbling mammals.  He is endearing, honest, and absolutely a thrill seeker.  Keith is a young boy who is excited about possibilities and savors new experiences. He seems mature in the way he ponders situations and draws responsible conclusions. Continue reading Friendship is Sharing: A Review of ‘A Mouse and the Motorcycle’

A Mysterious Turn of Events: A Review of ‘Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery’

By Deborah and James Howe

A dog has one aim in life…. to bestow his heart. J. R. Ackerley

A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.  Ernest Hemingway

Reading Level:

Grades 4-5

Review and Thoughts

Before the actual story begins James Howe, the author, explains the evolution of Bunnicula — how he and his wife created a group of characters who became a story and ultimately how that story became the book, Bunnicula.

The Editor’s Note is quite clever and explains how the story of Bunnicula is then delivered to the editor by a dog carrying a large brown envelope.  Inside the envelope is a letter addressed to the editors. The letter is actually written by the dog and explains that the manuscript, also in the envelope, is written in his own words.  It tells a true story about his family (names changed to protect family), and he hopes they find it interesting enough to publish. Continue reading A Mysterious Turn of Events: A Review of ‘Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery’

A Third Grader Extraordinaire: A Review of ‘Clementine’

“When the light turns green, you go.  When the light turns red, you stop.  But what do you do when the light turns blue and orange with lavender spots?”  Shel Silverstein, A Light in the Attic

Reading Level

Grades 2-3

 Review and Thoughts

“There is absolutely nothing common about Clementine.”   This is a testimony given by Clementine’s parents, and the reader will surely agree with them after reading about one week in her life. Clementine is an extraordinary girl, although some may say she is a bit peculiar. She has a lot of ideas and impressions about things bouncing around in her head, and the reader is allowed to observe them as they develop.  They provide a good idea of who this young whirlwind of a girl is.  She says, “Spectacular ideas are always sproinging up in my brain.”  I have to “grab them fast or else they get bored and bounce away.” These notions often lead to dilemmas that become more and more complicated, and the consequences of her actions are not what Clementine thinks about until she meets them face to face. Continue reading A Third Grader Extraordinaire: A Review of ‘Clementine’

An Unexpected Pet: A Review of ‘Not Norman, A Goldfish Story’

“For every animal of the forest is mine, beasts by the thousands on my mountains. I know every bird of the heavens; the creatures of the field belong to me.” (Psalm 50:10-11)

Reading Level

Grades K-1

Review and Thoughts

There is nothing happier than a birthday party with balloons, cake, and presents for an eight year old boy.  Wait!  This present isn’t what the boy wants. It’s a goldfish named Norman, and he wants a very, very different kind of pet. Mentally, the boy quickly checks off all the requirements for his ideal pet. No, he’s sure this fish isn’t what he wants.  He knows that fish are known to have a calming effect on anyone who watches them, but this present – this “pet” – is so far from perfect he decides to trade the goldfish for a good pet as fast as he can. Continue reading An Unexpected Pet: A Review of ‘Not Norman, A Goldfish Story’

A Daughter’s First Love: A Review of ‘Crow Call’

“It is a wise father that knows his own child.”  William Shakespeare

Suggested Reading Level

Grades 2-3

Review and Thoughts

Crow Call is the story about a young girl named Liz and her dad as they begin to rediscover their love after the very long separation of World War II.  They begin this journey by going crow hunting soon after he returns.  It is the fall season and Liz is dressed in her rainbow colored hunting shirt – an overly large adult shirt that comes to her knees and with sleeves that have been rolled up in order to see her hands.   From the beginning of the story the reader can sense that Liz is having trouble getting used to being with her dad again.  As they ride in the car on their way to their hunting destination she says, “I sit shyly next to the stranger who is my father.”   She also practices whispering his name over and over again, “Daddy. Daddy.” Continue reading A Daughter’s First Love: A Review of ‘Crow Call’

Friendship Marks a Life: A Review of ‘Amber Brown Is Not a Crayon’

“I want my friend to miss me as long as I miss him.”  Saint Augustine

Suggested Grade Level

Grades 2-3

Amber Brown Is Not a Crayon by Paula Danziger is a realistic story about Amber, a spunky third grader, who is almost always very confident.  She knows she is messy, has a good memory, and can sometimes be sarcastic, according to her mom.  Her teacher says she has “an active imagination,” and she doesn’t argue that point.  She expresses her feelings so well throughout the story that the reader is allowed into the special places in her heart.  When she begins a sentence with “I, Amber Brown….” it signals that she is about to make an important announcement about herself and her present state of mind.  Amber is facing a very difficult year however. Her best friend is moving away. We can see that at the beginning of her story she is struggling with the emotions of losing her best friend when she says, “When I grow up and remember third grade, I’m going to immediately try to forget it.” This is her journey. Continue reading Friendship Marks a Life: A Review of ‘Amber Brown Is Not a Crayon’

Friends Forever: A Review of ‘Frog and Toad Together’

“Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasure, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious.”  St. Thomas Aquinas

Grades K-1

Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel tells the story of two faithful friends who encounter both everyday experiences and an exciting adventure.  Their friendship is as strong as another well known pair, Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh. Every chapter is filled with special moments that only true friends can share. Continue reading Friends Forever: A Review of ‘Frog and Toad Together’

The Beginning of a Friendship: A Review of ‘Hi! Fly Guy’

“The only way to have a friend is to be one.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Suggested Reading Level:

Grades K-1

Review and Thoughts:

Hi! Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold is the first book in a continuing series, and what an enjoyable beginning it is!  The story introduces the two main characters, Buzz and Fly Guy, on a quest to find different things.  Buzz, the boy, is searching for an amazing pet to enter into a pet show while Fly Guy is searching for amazing food.  Their lives change when they literally bump into each other.  Circumstances aren’t perfect for Fly Guy at the start, but those change rather quickly.  Buzz has one purpose for Fly Guy and that is to confine him and make him a pet.  At first Fly Guy is mad, but after he makes it known he can say “Buzz,” everything changes.  Buzz thinks he is the smartest most wonderful pet because he can say his name.  The fact he can say “Buzz” also convinces Buzz’s parents that he is truly a pet – an amazing one.  Fly Guy is happy and comfortable because of the care Buzz gives him, but the food doesn’t hurt with his settling in either.  The final challenge is to convince the judges at that contest that Fly Guy is truly a real pet.  Persuading the judges however is more difficult.  Fly Guy is rejected as a contestant because a fly cannot possibly be a pet!  Buzz tearfully decides to let Fly Guy free when he doesn’t measure up to the standards of the show.  Fly Guy is a faithful friend and does not abandon Buzz but does tricks and again says Buzz’s name to try to convince the judges. He performs his final trick and is accepted as a pet.  He even wins a prize in the contest.  Buzz and Fly Guy are now a team and great friends. Continue reading The Beginning of a Friendship: A Review of ‘Hi! Fly Guy’

Inside the Imagination of an Eight-year-old: A Review of ‘Ramona Quimby, Age 8’

“The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”  St. Thomas More

Suggested Grade Level

Grades 2-3

Review and Thoughts

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary is a realistic fiction story about a girl named Ramona, her sister Beezus, and her parents. We are allowed a close up look at this family as they handle the pressures of everyday life, adjustments to new schools for the girls and the dad, money issues, and family responsibilities.  All of this is seen through the eyes and imagination of Ramona.

Ramona is a lively and dramatic character.  Throughout the story the reader gets an intimate glimpse into her thoughts and interpretations about the events in her life. Many times these thoughts are humorous and may sound familiar and at other times they are not very nice, like those of an upset eight- year-old.  What’s fair and not fair is always an issue with children, and Ramona is no different.  She just desperately wants to be “the clever young daughter who is doing her part to help the family,” but life and her perception of things seem to get in the way, and she struggles to uphold that promise to herself. Continue reading Inside the Imagination of an Eight-year-old: A Review of ‘Ramona Quimby, Age 8’

The Price of Disobedience: A Review of ‘Strega Nona’

“Never bother about people’s opinions.  Be obedient to truth.  For with humble obedience, you will never be disturbed.”–Blessed  Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Suggested Grade Levels:

Grades 2-3

Review and Thoughts:

The story of Strega Nona may sound familiar because it is a retelling of a familiar folktale.  It can be compared to such stories as “The Porridge Pot”, a German folktale, or even The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  In this version Tomie dePaola retells the story with an Italian setting and flavor.

The people of Calabria frequently visit Strega Nona , Grandma Witch, because she helps them with problems using her very special potions.  She conjures remedies for their difficulties , and  everyone is happy and satisfied with the results of their visits to her.

At this time in her life however, Strega Nona feels she is getting old and needs help with household chores.   A citizen of Calabria named Big Anthony applies for and gets the job even though he is known as someone who doesn’t pay attention.  Strega Nona explains the list of chores he will have to do.  She also tells him that the one thing he must not touch is her pasta pot. Continue reading The Price of Disobedience: A Review of ‘Strega Nona’