The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman

The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman is a clever chapter book written from the perspective of four different preteens who have been caught cheating on their homework with a “homework machine.” The book is also fun as the students overcome their own prejudices and judgments of one another in order to unite in using the machine to better enjoy their afternoons. They come to recognize the ways that they are similar to one another, and they stand up for one another against the mockery of the rest of the class. I liked the book as a look at the friendship among young kids.

One of my favorite aspects of the novel was the different voices for each of the youngsters. It is clear from their voices that each has a very different personality, and their writing styles reflect that. This would be a fun novel for a teacher to use to demonstrate the importance of voice in a fictional text.

Beyond that, The Homework Machine is a fun story about kids cheating the “system.” What kid does not wish to do away with busy work homework?

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan is a powerful story about a rich and spoiled Mexican girl whose sudden impoverishment in the 1930s takes her in to the migrant worker camps of California. It teaches much about the Great Depression as well as discrimination during that period. Continue Reading

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, the Newbery Award Winner for 1991, is celebrating its 25th anniversary since publication. It’s hard for me to imagine this book being an “old” one, but since I knew I read it as a child, I should not be so surprised.

Maniac Magee is the story of a legend, a homeless boy called “Maniac” who stumbles in to a racially divided town and manages to break barriers and build new bonds of friendship among the town residents. This legendary story takes place in a timeless yet obviously historical era, a decade maybe in the 1960s or 1970s. It seems contradictory to say it’s timeless and yet in the past; yet, that is how it feels as I read it. Continue Reading

999 Frogs (Two Books by Ken Kimura)

My son and I enjoyed 999 Tadpoles by Ken Kimura dn Yasunari Murakami (May 2011) when we read it years ago, so I was excited to see the two sequels to it in our local library.


999 Frogs Wake Up (North South, 2013) is a fitting read for the beginning of spring. As the frogs emerge from the mud after a long winter, Mother Frog is disturbed when she only counts 998 of her babies. Where is the last one? When Big Brother is found to still be sleeping, the frogs decide to find out who else may be sleeping in the early Spring. I really enjoyed this book because I see the educational value of learning about animals that sleep over a long winter. As an adult, I enjoyed the anticipation, knowing that the silly young frogs would meet one of their own predators in their search to wake the other animals! My daughter enjoyed the story too.

999 Frogs and  Little Brother (North South, 2015) has a different feel to it from the others in the series, because this book starts back when the frogs are still tadpoles and it focuses on one of the frogs for a portion of the story. The youngest frog has not quite become a frog yet and must remain in the pond by himself, and he is delighted when a small young crayfish becomes his friend, thinking they are brothers. Thus, Big Brother (the littlest frog) makes a dear friend. When he eventually must leave the pond too, the friendship continues, because the young crayfish comes to the rescue of the frogs at a later date. I liked the emphasis on friendship. Although Big Brother truly was the youngest and smallest, he still could find a friend with whom to play. Never underestimate the power of a friend, even if you have 998 siblings! Note: I received a digital copy for review consideration.