Aloha Crossing by Pamela Bauer Mueller

When I was much younger, I had a German Shepherd puppy named Maggie, who my family raised and donated to The Seeing Eye.  I hadn’t thought of that experience in over a decade, but Pamela Bauer Mueller’s Aloha Crossing brought some of those memories flooding back.  

Aloha is a guide dog partnered with Kimberly Louise, an older blind woman who lost her sight in a car accident two years before.  Aloha was raised by Diego, a 12 year old puppy raiser on the other side of the country, in Oregon.  When Diego comes to Georgia to visit Aloha and Kimberly Louise, no one expects the first hurricane in over 100 years to hit southeastern Georgia.  When the Category 4 hurricane makes landfall, Aloha has gone missing and Kimberly Louise and Diego are stranded on the island, praying for their own safety and Aloha’s.


This is a beautiful story and will appeal to kids who like adventure stories, because the chapters devoted to the hurricane are frighteningly realistic!  I have never experienced a hurricane, but I have lived through my share of nor’easters, and those are scary enough for me.  Mueller’s description of the hurricane winds, rain, and the overall danger will keep kids turning the pages.  The story will also appeal to animal lovers, because Aloha is an amazing dog and will leave you with tears in your eyes.  (And wishing you could raise a guide dog.  I definitely did not go research raising a guide dog as soon as I closed the book.  Nope, definitely not. )  I think this book will inspire kids to get involved as puppy raisers, or at the least introduce them to the concept.   

At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of Aloha Crossing when I read the first few chapters.  I haven’t read many (if any) middle grade books where an adult is the main character.  I wasn’t sure if kids would identify with Kimberly Louise.  But after giving the book a chance, I couldn’t put it down.  I don’t the human characters in the book matter nearly as much as Aloha does.  And I love the Mueller treats Aloha as a dog, only allowing us to see her through the eyes of the humans around her.  Diego, Mr. Mulligan, David, and of course Kimberly all share their thoughts about Aloha, which builds a clear picture of her.  

This is a great book for middle grade readers, boys and girls alike.  I am looking forward to sharing it with some of my kids when we go back to school next week.  I know it will hook them, and it will serve as a great introduction to living life as a blind person (especially someone who lost their sight late in life).  Blindness isn’t dealt with in a lot of middle grade books, and Mueller does a great job of writing an action-packed, dog-filled story that also teaches kids about tolerance and diversity.  This is a small press book, and I would love to see it get some wider recognition, because it really touches on a lot of ideas and themes that middle grade novels don’t seem to focus on.

Aloha Crossing is the second book about Aloha, though I don’t think you need to read the first in order to get the most out of the story.  I haven’t read Hello, Goodbye, I Love You, but I definitely plan to now!  



*The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not represent the opinion of the Cybils panel as a whole. 

Poetry Friday

I first heard this poem when James Howe read an excerpt at the TC Reunion.  His reading brought tears to my eyes, as he explained that Marie Howe wrote the poem to her brother after he passed away from AIDS.



by Marie Howe


Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.

And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up


waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.

It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through


the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.

For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,


I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those

wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,


I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.

Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.


What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want

whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss–we want more and more and then more of it.


But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,

say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep


for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:

I am living. I remember you.


From The Atlantic

Grow by Juanita Havill

I admit that I haven’t read a lot of verse novels, but I do enjoy the ones that I have read.  Verse novels always seem slightly deeper than prose novels- maybe it’s the white space on the page that seems to leave more room for thinking.  Or the line breaks that allow you to breathe.

Grow is a beautiful story about a young girl, a retired special ed. teacher, and an urban community garden.  Berneetha is big.  She is round.  And Kate hears how the neighbors comment on her size and weight.  But when Berneetha plants a garden on an empty lot, the neighborhood is slowly brought together.  From Harlan, whose father is less of a father and more of bully, to Hank, the war veteran, the neighborhood and the garden slowly become one.

This is a great book for reluctant readers.  It’s about 120 pages long, so kids won’t think it’s a “baby book”.  But the line breaks and white space leave enough room for struggling readers to breathe.  And while the story is neat and simple on the surface, there is much room for deeper, more critical thinking.  Every character introduced in the story has a background and that background is deep and powerful. This is a book many students will connect with, because everyone has been part of a neighborhood, whether in the city or a quiet suburb.

Stanislawa Kodman’s illustrations are also gorgeous!  The seeds, flowers, and other living things take on a life of their own in the sketches!

My Class Wants You to Vote!

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The End of an Era

courtesy of American GirlAs a child, I spent many years begging my parents for an American Girl doll.  I read all the books, stalked the mailbox for the catalog, and put the dolls on my Christmas list every year.  Finally, Santa brought me Samantha, the best American Girl doll of all!  I loved that doll.  I read each and every book and pretended that I lived in Victorian America.  I wanted Samantha’s clothes, her friends, her relatives, her adventures, and her gorgeous hair.

Today I found out that Samantha is being retired.  American Girl is pulling her from their shelves (though they will still stock the books in bookstores nationwide).  I am so sad!  I don’t remember any other dolls being retired by the company, and I always thought Samantha was one of the more popular characters!

I do love the American Girl Company.  I think the dolls are a gateway to reading and learning about different times in history.  I will be upset to see Samantha go.  Am I the only one?

Nonfiction Monday: Ballots for Belva by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman’s Race for the Presidency was exactly what I needed in this race to the finish for the 2008 election. I am inundated daily by campaign ads on TV, radio, flyers, and more. (We live only a few miles from a battleground state). While I am heavily invested in the race, I am sick and tired of the negative ads. I have been trying to stay away from politics on this blog, but picture books are partisan enough. And I really enjoyed this one!

Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman’s Race for the Presidency is the story of Belva Lockwood, an woman well ahead of her time who ran for president twice, in 1884 and 1888. In this picture book biography I learned that Lockwood was married, a mother, a widow, a college graduate, a teacher, and a suffragette.  In the midst of all this, at the age of 39, she decided she wanted to become a lawyer, but no law school would admit her.  In true independent spirit, she “moved a mountain” and got her law degree.

But what the book really focuses on is Belva’s nomination at the Women’s National Equal-Rights Convention for President of the United States. The campaign was not easy for her.  Most newspapers referred to her campaign as “the most laughable masquerade… ever witnessed.” Most women did not support her! In fact, the National Woman’s Suffrage Association did not support her. But Belva continued traveling across the United States promoting her message of equal rights for all people, regardless of their gender.

I loved this book!  I think it’s a story that very few children or adults will be familiar with, but it is one that we should all know.  Belva’s campaign is inspirational and a great conversation starter with kids.  In fact, I plan to read the book to my students this Tuesday as part of our Election Day activities.  Bardhan-Quallen includes a wonderful author’s note and glossary, along with a timeline of important date’s in women’s rights.  In class, we will be using the context clues in the book to define unfamiliar vocabulary (related to the election) in the book, and then checking our answers against the glossary.

While this is an especially timely book during this election season, I think this would also fit in well during Women’s History Month (when I plan to use it again).  Our students need to know that there are amazing women besides Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks out there!  (Any teacher knows that these are the only famous women chosen for Women’s History projects, year in and year out!).  Hopefully, Belva will introduce students and teachers to a new heroine!

Election 2008

Like Stacey, I spent a lot of time today considering how I would approach the election with my students this week.  Due to the NJEA Teacher’s Convention, we only have a 3-day week, so things are hectic as it is!  But I knew that I wanted to involve my students as much as possible in this historic election while still allowing enough time to move forward with Tuck Everlasting and our personal essay unit of study.  Then, while paging through some of my resources, I had a great idea.  

Susan E. Goodman’s See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes, and the Race to the White House is a book I have been meaning to use all year, but somehow never got to until now.  While perusing Susan’s website today I found a great presidential survey for kids.   With a few adaptations, I made a copy that I can use in my classroom tomorrow.  My students will be filling out the survey and then writing an essay entry in their writer’s notebook about the 3 biggest issues our new president will face upon election.  I am really looking forward to hearing their thoughts!