Ship of Dolls

Ship of Dolls by Shirley Parenteau is a nominee for the 16-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

The year is 1926, and Lexie Lewis would like nothing more than going back to live with her mother, a singer and flapper who is always the life of any party. That party is currently far away in San Francisco. Lexie’s new stepfather doesn’t think this life is a place for a child, so Lexie is living with her grandparents in Portland. She’s not happy about the situation–especially since her grandmother is so strict–and she longs to be reunited with her mother.

At school, Lexie may have an opportunity to see her mother once again. Her class has been collecting money to send a Friendship Doll to Japan. Letters will be sent along with the doll on its long journey, first to San Francisco and then to Japan. The student who writes the best letter will get to accompany the doll on the first leg of the journey. Lexie is determined to win this all-important contest, travel to California, and be reunited with her mother…permanently.

But winning this contest is not as easy as one would hope. Lexie gets into a bit of trouble trying to get inspiration for her letter, and that trouble leads to even more as her little lies turn into big ones. Then there’s the matter of Louise Wilkins, Lexie’s rival at school. Louise is also determined to win this contest, and she’s willing to do anything to get her way.

As Lexie works on her Friendship Doll project, she continues to focus on being with her mom again. Sure, working on this project has brought her closer to her grandparents, especially her grandma, and maybe they’re so strict for a reason, but Lexie belongs with her mom. Right?

Lexie’s potential reunion with her mother is growing closer and closer, and, soon enough, Lexie faces an important decision. Should she go with her mom on whatever adventure is next, or should she stay with her grandparents in Portland? The answer may surprise even Lexie.


Lexie Lewis’ story is fictional, but it is based on an actual event…and one that I had never heard of. In the late 1920s, Dr. Sidney Gulick organized the Friendship Doll Project, which sent over 12,000 dolls from the U.S. to Japan in an effort to foster friendship and peace between the two nations. Japan reciprocated with fifty-eight Dolls of Gratitude sent to the U.S. While the two countries did eventually engage each other in World War II, the dolls of friendship were remembered years later, and some of them have been found, restored, and displayed in museums.

Aside from the interesting historical events in this story, I think Ship of Dolls is a good book for addressing concepts like honesty, friendship, forgiveness, and tolerance. Lexie, her grandmother, and even Louise grow throughout the course of the book, and it’s interesting to see how their interactions change–particularly in regards to the concepts listed above–as the story progresses.

If you’d like to promote Ship of Dolls in your classroom or library, feel free to use the book trailer below.

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Going Places

Going Places by Peter and Paul Reynolds is a nominee for the 2016-2017 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

When the teacher announces that the annual Going Places competition is about to begin, all of the kids are excited. They each get an identical go-cart kit, and they’ll all build and race their creations.

Rafael gets to work immediately and follows the precise instructions. When he finishes, he wonders how his neighbor Maya is coming along with her go-cart. He realizes quickly that Maya has some different ideas for winning this contest.

Rafael and Maya join forces and use a bit of ingenuity to create something truly astounding! Will their creativity pay off? Will they win the Going Places contest? And where will their imaginations take them next?

Going Places, which was a featured book during my school’s Engineering Week activities, is a wonderful read-aloud and an excellent book for encouraging readers young and old to be creative and think a bit differently. (Normal is boring, after all.) Sometimes embracing our differences and using our imaginations can have amazing results!

Double Dog Dare

Double Dog Dare by Lisa Graff is a 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominee. It is a great addition to libraries and classrooms that serve both elementary and middle grade students. Double Dog Dare, told in alternating voices, revolves around two fourth-graders, but I do think a lot of middle school students will find this story both relatable and entertaining. (The title alone, which brings to mind the fantastic movie A Christmas Story, may be enough of a hook to get some more precocious readers interested in this charming book.)

Kansas Bloom and Francine Halata are up for the same job. Both of them have been nominated to be the fourth grade Media Club’s news anchor for next semester, and their teacher is leaving it up to them to figure out who should get the job. Well, that may not be the smartest idea when a group of fourth-graders is involved. It seems that the job will go to whoever wins a Dare War. The members of the Media Club will vote on dares for Kansas and Francine to complete, and the person who finishes the most dares before winter break will win the anchor job. What could go wrong? (If you guessed pretty much everything, you’re on the right track.)

Almost immediately, the dares in this war get both Kansas and Francine into a bit of trouble. But their troubles are not limited to vying for the anchor position. Kansas has just moved to California from Oregon, and his mom is divorcing his dad after years of turmoil. His little sister is convinced that Dad will eventually return for good, but Kansas isn’t so sure. Kansas is sure, though, that he absolutely must win this Dare War…even though he didn’t really want the anchor job at first.

Francine, who has longed to be anchor for a while, will do whatever it takes to get the job…even if it means eating eighty-seven packets of ketchup, dying her hair green, or going into the boys bathroom. But there may be something she wants more than this position. She wants her parents to get back together. Her dad has moved out, and he and her mom are getting divorced. Francine wonders if there’s anything she could do to fix her family, but how can she do that when her own life is quickly spiraling out of control?

It’s clear than Kansas and Francine have more in common than either of them realize. And when the Dare War comes to a head, will they be able to put aside their battle, work together, and form a friendship in the midst of so much uncertainty? Who will win the coveted anchor job? I double dog dare you to find out when you read Double Dog Dare by Lisa Graff!

Double Dog Dare was equal parts entertaining and moving. I think many readers will find the dares (and their results) very funny (even though the responsible adult in me cringes at some of these antics). I also think this might be a good book for young readers dealing with divorce. Both of the main characters are dealing with different–yet similar–divorce situations, and this book may let readers experiencing this trauma know that they’re not alone.

This book is also a good fit for any student who has ever been a part of his/her school news team or media/broadcasting club.

If you’d like more information on Double Dog Dare and other books by author Lisa Graff, visit http://www.lisagraff.com/index.html.

The Adventures of Beanboy

The Adventures of Beanboy by Lisa Harkrader is a nominee for the 13-14 South Carolina Childrens’ Book Award. This novel, told through drawings and first person narrative from the perspective of seventh-grader Tucker MacBean, has real heart. This is a book that I will be all-too-happy to share with my students, especially those who love comic books and are looking for a hero they can really relate to.

Tucker MacBean feels like his life is spinning out of control. He’s virtually invisible at school, he rarely sees his mom (who works during the day and attends college at night), he has to take care of his younger brother, Beech, and his dad has packed up and moved to Boston. Tucker is desperate to find a way to make things a little better for everyone…and he may have just come across something that will work.

Tucker’s favorite comic book, H2O, is holding a contest to see who can come up with H2O’s sidekick. The prize? The new sidekick will be featured in upcoming episodes, and the prize winner will receive a full college scholarship. Pretty great, right? Well, Tucker gets the bright idea to enter the contest…and try to win the scholarship for his mom. Tucker thinks he’s come up with a great idea for a sidekick–Beanboy, a boy who harvests the majestic power of beans–but how can he prove to the contest judges that his creation has the heart of a true hero…and how can Tucker find the hero within himself?

In Tucker’s quest to come up with the perfect comic book sidekick, he’s also facing the scariest girl at Amelia Earhart Middle School, the terrifying Sam Zawicki. Sam seems to delight in being mean to everyone…except Beech, Tucker’s little brother. With him, she’s almost nice, and that small bit of niceness starts to make Tucker think that there may be more to Sam than anyone knows.

Time is running out for Tucker to enter the contest with the power to change his life. Things will get in the way–his run-ins with Sam Zawicki, finding time to work on his entry, coping with a mom who’s never around (but really wants to be) and a special needs brother (who he dearly loves and will do anything for), a school dance, mean girls, and doing the right thing–but Tucker will do everything in his power to not only enter this contest but win. Is H2O’s new sidekick (hopefully) everything he should be? More importantly, what has Tucker learned about himself as he’s struggled to create a hero? Find out when you read Lisa Harkrader’s The Adventures of Beanboy!

Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel

Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel is the sequel to Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything.  It’s not absolutely essential that you read the first book before this one, but it would definitely help.  Also, the first book is made of awesome, so you need to read it anyway.

If there is a perfect summer read for kids who just finished the fifth grade, Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel, written by Steve Cotler and illustrated by Adam McCauley, might just be it.  As a matter of fact, this is an excellent summer read for kids of all ages, especially those of us who have ever been to summer camp!  Everything that made Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything a great read also holds true for this sequel.  Cheesie’s voice is delightful and laugh-out-loud hilarious, and I know my students will love this book as much as they are currently eating up the first one (which is nominated for the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award).

In Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel, readers follow Cheesie, his best friend Georgie, and a whole cast of characters to Camp Windward (for boys) and Camp Leeward (for girls) in Maine. (Events in this book pick up right where they left off in the first book.  It’s the summer after fifth grade graduation.)  Cheesie is sure that this will be the best summer ever because he and Georgie will be the oldest of the Little Guys at camp. Unfortunately, thanks to events that occurred in the first book, things don’t quite work out the way Cheesie had hoped. Now, Cheesie and Georgie are the youngest in the Big Guys group at camp. (Not a big deal if you’re already kind of big like Georgie, but it’s bad news if you’re already a little guy like Cheesie.)  This presents a whole new set of problems, and the biggest one is probably Kevin Welch, his sister Goon’s boyfriend.

Camp Windward is not off to a stellar start, but Cheesie comes up with a way that might help him to make the best of things.  He challenges Kevin to a Cool Duel.  Whoever is voted the coolest in their cabin at the end of a week is the coolest guy at camp!  Kevin gets out to an early lead, but Cheesie isn’t a quick-witted kid for nothing.  He comes up with a couple of things that are sure to earn him some votes.  But will he get enough votes to win the Cool Duel?  You should definitely read this book to find out!

Even though the Cool Duel is a big part of this book (hence the title), there’s also a lot of other stuff going on:  a dance with the girls from Camp Leeward, sneaking into the computer lab, snakes, a talent show, and the most epic scary story in the known universe.  Cheesie also introduces readers to exciting new words (only a few of which are made up) and questions to ponder.  Cheesie’s website, http://cheesiemack.com/, also plays a big part in this book.  This wonderful site makes this book, like its predecessor, truly interactive.

All in all, Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel is the perfect follow-up to the first book, and I can’t wait to see what Cheesie gets up to next!