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August 20, 2008 > Footnotes: August 2008 book reviews

Footnotes: August 2008 book reviews

"Unlovable" by Dan Yaccarino, Owlet paperback, $6.95 (2004)

Alfred is a little pug who is unlovable. He knows this because the cat tells him so, the parrot calls "unlovable, squawk! Unlovable!" and the other dogs in the neighborhood will have nothing to do with him. He can't figure out what's wrong. When Rex moves in next-door and Alfred starts talking to him through their backyard fence, Alfred tells a fib. He tells Rex that he's a golden retriever! Now he hears digging - Rex wants to meet him face to face! What is going to happen when Rex sees the REAL Alfred? Will he think Alfred is unlovable, too?

A funny little book about being an oddball, with the reassuring message that there is someone for everyone.

Recommended for kindergarten and first grade. Reviewed by dh.

"Why We Teach - Learning, Laughter, Love, and the Power to Transform Lives" by Linda Alston, Scholastic Books Paperback, $15.99 (2008)

Recently, a senior citizen told me of a humiliating incident that occurred on the first day of school. An unthinking, cruel kindergarten teacher would not allow her to take a bathroom break and then publicly punished her for the inevitable accident that occurred. So many years later, and that memory still stung. In those days few children went to preschool so this really was the first day of school. How this must have colored this child's view towards what should have been the start of a great journey, her education. Luckily for Linda Alston's students, those first steps are positive ones.

In this memoir we are introduced to an exceptional kindergarten teacher who creates a safe, orderly, beautiful oasis for children who are poor with adult-sized problems. Linda Alston reminds us through remarkable stories of courage and faith of the joy that teaching a child can bring. Ms. Alston is a teaching professional and the students are equally professional. They take their jobs seriously. For example, she assigns children to be members of the Logistics Team with job descriptions - children who put the chairs up on the tables at the end of the day are called "chair technicians" or "concierges;" the receptionist gets a script for answering the phone; the line leader walks tall and straight with dignity and pride.

Each chapter includes a story from her over twenty years of classroom experience, a brief reflection, and an affirmation that others can use to transform their own teaching and the lives of their students. This book is an inspiration for new teachers and a reminder to veteran teachers of why they teach.

Recommended for teens and adults. Reviewed by jp.

"Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff" by Jennifer L. Holm and Elicia Castaldi, Ginee Seo hardback, $12.99 (2007)

It's the beginning of 7th grade, and Ginny Davis has a long to-do list. She wants to change her look and be more popular. She wants a yellow sweater, so she also wants to earn some money babysitting. And there's all sorts of other goals, all expressed in her notebook. As you follow her through her year, you'll see that her best-laid plans go a bit off course. Peek over her shoulder, reading her IM messages, see her report cards and notices home, her post-it notes. Discover her personal thoughts through her doodles, memos and poems. At times hilarious, other times poignant, Ginny's 7th grade makes for a great read!

Recommended for junior high. Reviewed by dh.

"Thirteen Reasons Why" by Jay Asher, Penguin hardback, $16.99 (2007)

An extraordinary novel about a very uncomfortable subject - teen suicide. We are told almost immediately that Hannah Baker killed herself. There are all sorts of rumors about her taking pills or drowning in a tub; both or neither. Clay Jenson, who always admired Hannah but didn't think she'd ever give him the time of day, is shocked when he finds a shoebox full of tapes made by Hannah. In them she explains that there are only two rules. Clay must listen to all the tapes, and afterwards forward them to the next person indicated.

The first people on the tapes are people he knows, people who had a direct effect on Hannah. He is certain he never did, but as he continues listening he becomes aware that there was much he did not know about Hannah. Why is he getting the tapes? How could he have prevented her death? What should he have known? As Clay gets more and more involved in Hannah's life, readers too are drawn into this compelling and disturbingly real story.

Recommended for Young Adults. Reviewed by dh.

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