All posts by Colleen Mitchell

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’

Lessons In Love: A Review of ‘Little Bear’

“You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.”–St. Therese of Lisieux

Suggested Grade Level:  
Grades K-1

Review and Thoughts:

Little Bear by Elsa Holmelund Minarik is one of those chapter books that beginning readers are drawn to and excited to read.  This story is told through simple vocabulary and captivating pictures.  I have always enjoyed reading stories about fictional bears (Corduroy, Winnie-the-Pooh, Paddington) because of their innocence, and they are just so adorable.  Then again, it might be that these stories bring back memories of my own little brown Teddy who was a constant companion for a time in my youth.

The four chapters in this book tell a story of a mother’s love for her Little Bear – simple, giving, and sacrificial – through actions and special endearing words.  It also tells the story of Little Bear responding to and reflecting on the love from his mother. Continue reading Lessons In Love: A Review of ‘Little Bear’

Making the World More Beautiful: A Review of ‘Miss Rumphius’

Suggested Grade Level:

Kindergarten -2nd Grade

Review and Thoughts

 “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

This was the advice given to the main character, Alice, by her very wise grandfather.  Alice was just a little girl with big dreams, but she took his advice to heart and made it the third goal she hoped to achieve in her lifetime.  But she wasn’t sure exactly how she would do that.

When she grew up she traveled and experienced marvelous sites, adventures, and friendships.  She lived happily by the sea.  “She was almost happy.”  It took Alice a long time to discover how to accomplish her third goal – the challenge given to her by her grandfather.  As an old woman living by the sea Alice saw that the little garden next to her house had scattered its seeds to new and surprising locations.  She saw the beauty and it renewed her effort to spread this beauty.   She began to scatter handfuls of seeds wherever she walked.  The next spring exploded with lupine beauty.  The promise to her grandfather was accomplished.  She had made the world more beautiful. Continue reading Making the World More Beautiful: A Review of ‘Miss Rumphius’