The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars

I recently referenced The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars in a comment on a post on Doug Johnson’s The Blue Skunk Blog. (BTW: It’s not just a good blog name; the blog itself is equally good.) Here’s an excerpt from what Doug wrote:

The unsung hero of success is empathy. Understanding the needs and desires of others is critical for leaders, salesmen, politicians, lotharios, preachers, CEOs, writers, teachers, consultants … well, just about everybody. The better one understands others, the more effective one can meet their needs, appeal to their self-interests or, I suppose, manipulate them. And with a global economy, our empathy needs to extend beyond our next door neighbor.

The question is, then, can empathy be learned – and how? Is there a small muscle somewhere in the mind or soul that can be exercised, stretched and built that allows us to more fully place ourselves in others’ shoes?

Reading fiction – especially when the setting is another culture, another time – has to be the best means of building empathic sensibilities. How do you understand prejudice if you are not of a group subject to discrimination? How do you know the problems faced by gays if you are straight? How does it feel to be hungry, orphaned, or terrified when you’ve always lived a middle-class life? Harnessing the detail, drama, emotion, and immediacy of “the story,” fiction informs the heart as well as the mind.

Viewing the world through the eyes of a narrator completely unlike oneself, draws into sharp detail the differences, but also the similarities of the narrator and reader. And it is by linking ourselves through similarities – common human traits – that we come to know others as people, not just stereotypes.

The question is never asked: If one can read but is not changed by reading, why bother?

Oh, my nominee for best empathy building novel I’ve read recently is Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Reading it left me with a better understanding of autism and autistic children. A recent empathy builder you can recommend?

To which I responded:

“If one can read but is not changed by reading, why bother?”

Thanks for raising this issue. Too often we lift up comprehension as the ultimate goal of reading instruction when, in reality, understanding what one reads is merely a means to the end of being changed by what one reads.

I would also recommend the Newbery-winning The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars. It was published back in 1970, but the themes are still relevant today. This story helps young readers to develop empathy for persons with mental disabilities and helps first- and last-born children develop empathy for the middle child.

Taking Terri Mueller by Norma Fox Mazer

Those who know me well know that I cringe whenever someone uses the nouns “boy” and “girl” as adjectives, whether it’s to describe a color (Since when did rays of reflected light belong to a particular gender?), a book, or anything else. That being said, some authors tend to write for and/or attract a narrow audience. Norma Fox Mazer is one such author.

Now, I must confess that when I picked up Norma Fox Mazer’s Taking Terri Mueller, I had convinced myself that I was going to “take one for the team” (The “team,” of course, is a legion of former and future students.) and read a “girl book.” Having finished the book, I no longer have visions of martyrdom.

I’d like to share with you a quote from the author:

When asked why she wrote Taking Terri Mueller, Ms. Mazer replied, “I read that there are an estimated 25,000 children stolen each year in the aftermath of divorce and that most of them will never see their mothers again. I was not only saddened by this bleak statistic, I was also startled and fascinated that in the name of love adults would deprive their children not only of a parent but of family and friends, community and stability. I wrote this book for both adults and children. First, because it’s a story I think everyone can connect to; and second–as in all my writing for young people–to say, ‘Okay, life is not easy, but don’t despair. There is strength inside you.’ ”

Things Hoped For by Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements’ Things Hoped For is easily one of the best books I have ever read. And that’s not hyperbole. In fact, I’m not sure I’m capable of writing a review that will do this book justice. Instead, I think I’ll share the text from the back cover:

Gwen’s grandfather has disappeared from their home in New York City, but he’s left her a phone message telling her not to worry–and to let no one know he’s gone. The timing couldn’t be worse. Gwen has violin auditions soon at Manhattan’s top music schools. More stress is not what she needs. The she meets Robert, also in town for auditions, and her new freedom actually seems to have some benefits. After all, she’s seventeen, suddenly on her own, and there’s no place on earth quite like New York.

But below the surface, other forces are in motion. There’s the great-uncle who keeps coming to the house, insisting he has to talk with her grandfather. There’s the strange man Gwen sees one day when shopping, and then there’s the discovery, right in her own home, that brings the NYPD crashing onto the scene, uniting Gwen and Robert in ways neither of them could have foretold.

In this remarkable follow-up to the wildly popular Things Not Seen, award-winning author Andrew Clements brings readers a multi-layered story about art and identity, about friendship and family, and ultimately, about life and love.

Unbeknownst to me, Things Hoped For is actually the second book in what will soon become a trilogy: Things That Are is scheduled to be released on September 18, 2008. It’s not necessary to have read Things Not Seen to appreciate Things Hoped For. But you can bet Things Not Seen will be next on my reading list, followed by Things That Are as soon as it’s released.

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

I picked up Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog because I absolutely loved her novel Walk Two Moons, which won the Newbery Medal in 1995. A la Creech’s Heartbeat and Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, Love That Dog is a realistic fiction novel written in free verse. But Love That Dog isn’t just for people who like poetry; Love That Dog is also for people who think they don’t like poetry–like the novel’s protagonist, Jack.

Although Love That Dog is written in free verse, it’s almost a dialogue (a la Beverly Cleary’s Dear Mr. Henshaw) between Jack and his teacher, Miss Stretchberry, though the reader must infer Miss Stretchberry’s thoughts based on Jack’s poems. (If you’ve ever listened to one end of a phone conversation and been able to figure out what the person on the other end was saying, you shouldn’t have any trouble following this novel’s plot.) Despite his preconceived notion that “boys don’t write poetry / Girls do”, over the course of one school year, Jack learns that boys do indeed write poetry–and that they can be very good at it. Through poetry, Jack finds his voice, a voice he uses to share his thoughts about life, love (between father and son and of the a-boy-and-his-dog variety), and loss.

Love That Dog was a poignant reminder that each of us has a story within us and that each of us has the ability to tell that story through poetry. So pick up Love That Dog (or any of Creech’s other novels). You won’t be disappointed!


Charlie Bone and the Hidden King by Jenny Nimmo was a G-R-R-R-R-EAT book! I chose this book because the was bib and looked great to read. This book is mostly mysterious, it has very little humor, it has a few animals with powers and a lot more animals with no powers (very many). The Theme to the story is there was a boy named Charlie Bone and he is going through two very difficult problems. The first problem Charlie Bone experiences is that all the animals are gone but are then found, the second most difficult problem he faces is: he notices his mother (Amy Bone) has forgotten about her husband and now he needs to make the king’s tears go clear, make his mother stop forgetting about her real husband and get some of the king’s tears and give it to his father. The setting takes place in a town (I don’t know the name of it) and it takes place in an unknown year. The story’s time passes a at least a year. The plot of the story is: the main thing that happened is that Charlie’s mother had begun to forget her husband and makes life more difficult for the city. It all leads up to a happy moment, when Charlie’s mother finally sees his parents together again. The characters of the story are: the main character is Charlie Bone. Some of the other characters are: Billy Raven Charlie’s friend; Amy, Lyell, and Grandma Bone Charlie’s family; and Manfred Bloor Charlie’s least favoriteperson he has met. This was great and I liked it because it is such an adventurous story. I liked it when Charlie takes his mother to see his father and makes him remember his wife because it was such a happy ending. It made me feel very happy, I felt different at some points in the story. I would recommend it to friends. I would read other books by this author (by the way I am reading book 6). I learned that you should always solve the problems you get before gets worse. I think this book should be VERY famous. It is an adventurous book with very little humor.        

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Tuck Everlasting

Tuck Everlasting is a good book. I choose this book because i read the back and I thought it would be interesting. This book is more of an adventurer and about family.

Tuck Everlasting is about a girl named Winnie and she lives in a small cottage in Treegap and her father also a forest that is right by their home. She has never been in that forest until today… She left home and went into the forest without none of her parents knowing. So she walks into the forest and finds a boy and his name is Jesse. They talk and then Jesse drinks from this spring that is coming from the ground. She said that she was thirsty to so she asked if she could have some. But he said no and told her to come with him. So she does and they met up back with Jesse’s mom and brothers and his sister. She goes with them and when they’re on their way there a man in a yellow suit see them but doesn’t come out from hiding. When they get to the house Jesse and them had some food to eat so they ate it and then they told her that the spring is some water that will make you live forever. Thats if you drink some. So she really is confused. So they tell her that just to spend the night since its dark outside. So she does. The next day comes and they are eating breakfast when Jesse’s brother Tuck swings the door open and says ” Someone stole our horse.” While they are trying to figure out who stole it. The man in the yellow suit is at Winnie’s cottage telling her father,mother and grandmother she has been kidnapped. Then the man in the yellow and Winnie’s father have a bet. The bet is that the man in the yellow suit can have the forest and the man in the yellow suit would tell where Winnie is. So they made the deal. So the the man in the yellow suit goes to get Winnie. When he gets there he told Jesse and his family that he is taking Winnie. So he takes Winnie and apparently Winnie does not want to leave. So while she is screaming Mae takes Jesse’s shotgun and told the man in the yellow suit don’t move or take her anywhere or I’ll shot. So he stops for a minute and then keeps walking out the door like she isn’t going to do anything. But she shoots and he drops on the floor. The police come and take Mae and Winnie. [Mae for jail and Winnie for home.] The man in the yellow suit dies so she is for sure going to jail. But when Winnie is outside and Jesse comes to see her he tells her a plan and gives her a bottle of the spring and says when she turns 17 come and find me and we can run off together and get married. So she smiles. And then at midnight as Jesse said to go to the jail cell and she will switch places with Mae. And then Winnie gets out of jail [ Mae out of jail. And she is outside again laying on the grass looking at the clouds when she sees a toad that she has been seeing for the ast week and runs inside to get the spring water and pours it on the frog and the frog will live forever.

If you are wondering did I like this story?

I did I thought it was very unique. Very interesting. The best part of the book is when Winnie pours the spring on the frog. I felt sad at first that she had gotten kidnapped but then i was happy that she felt happy and safe. But then I felt bad because Winnie switched places with Mae and was in jail for a long time. Yes, I would recommend i to my friends because it was a good book. Yes, I would. I’ve learned that you may fell safe with people but not all the time other people understand. Thats why I like and recommend this book.

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

I choose this book because it looked very intresting. I also heard good reviews about this book. This book is about fantsy.

I think the theme of this book is about making desicions and to gain justice. The setting is in Narnia this is in the past. this is when they had sowrds and bows an arrows. If you stay in narnia for a day in the real world a whole week has gone by. Thi story is mostly about Prince Caspian gaining his his place as king. His uncle Miraz is the king and doing horrible things in narnia he is bringing humans and trying to kill all the talking animls. The characters in this book are Peter,Edmuend,Lucy,Susan,Aslan,and Prince Caspin. There is also a terafieing secret. So i really recamend tis book to all of you and overall this book is very good. I sa two thumbs up.

The Voice on the Radio by Caroline B. Cooney

This book is a third book of The Face on the Milk Carton. I chose this book because it is a it is book you can’t put down. This kind of book is a fantasy.

The them of this book is when Jaine kidnapping it broadcast all around New Jersey and she dosen’t even know it. The author describes it to like real life. It takes place in Connecticut and New Jersey. This book is about Janie and about her secret, her two families about the kidnapping, also about how Reeve miss up her life again. The main characters are Jaine, Reeve, Jodie, Brian. Jodie is the sister, and Brain is the brother. They help cheer up Janie durning the problem. This book is a great book to read beause this is possible story. How you can get kidnap and they raise you but you never knew. This book is a happy book but that it goes into a sad part. The best part is when she finally forgives Reeve.

This a great book and i hope you like it to.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

This is my book review just to show you how good a book this is so here we go. First of all i chose this book because it just looked interesting and in the back also was really interesting. I think this story only suits those who are interested in family or real life situation books. The theme is simple it is about a rich girl named Esperanza. Her father and mother have a ranch that grows grapes for the wine company, called “El Rancho de Las Rosas”. She was planning her 15th birthday in which in they’re tradition is called her “Quincenera” which is in spanish for her 15th birthday. BUt one day her father went out with the others to go hunt and he never came back but his other friends did and said he did not make it back. The next day her whole house was set on fire by her tio luis and her tio Marco who was very jealous of esperanza’s family.
Her tio’s were pressuring esperanza’s mother to marry him for they had nothing but themselves. Their grandmother had to be sent away with her sisters for she was sick and would find them when she was better. Esperanza and her mother then had to move and live under poverty for they did not want to be with her tio luis.
So, she had to leave with her servants to live somewhere far where no one knows them.
I just loved to read this book because of the suspense and all of the evnts that go on.The best part was knowing that esperanza still had her birthday with al her loved ones.

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman

I chose this book beacuse it was very intersting to read.

Once upon a time there was a prince named prince Horace he was so naughty that every called him princd Brat . but the prince is not to be spanked or kiked .so an orphan boy name Jemmy is taken away from the streets to be the prince’s wipping boy.

When prince Brat starts to run away he takes jemmy with him .the boy begins a wild adventure and land in the hands of two theifes.

can Jemmy use his street to outwit the kidnapers and free him and the prince.”you will find out by reading the book.