Book Review: Spunky Tells All

Author: Ann Cameron
Illustrator: Lauren Castillo
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (BYR)
Publication Date: October 11, 2011
Read Alone: Grades 2nd to 4th
Read Aloud: Grades 1st to 3rd
Source: Purchased
Fiction* Animal Narration * Early Chapter Book

Description from GoodReads:
Spunky the dog would be happy to share all of his secrets, if only his human family spoke his language. But no matter how hard he tries to talk, it's all "yerf!" to them. Through a series of unfortunate miscommunications, his family decides that Spunky wants a friend--specifically, a cat. Spunky can't imagine anything worse than having to share his family, especially Huey and Julian, with the snobby  Balinese Fiona. But when headstrong Fiona keeps getting into trouble and it's up to Spunky to save her, he is astonished to find that being her protector has given his life new purpose and meaning.

"Every dog needs boy or a girl.  Huey is my boy, and I love him.  I protect him. I think about 
him even in my dreams." - p. 12

My thoughts on the book:
I confess.  I am actually a cat fan. I have a deep-seated fear of most dogs.  However, I fell in love with the cover of this book, and it came recommended by John Schu (@mrschureads).  Though I may not be a dog fan, I have many students who love dogs, and I had a feeling they might just like this one.

Ann Cameron has created a loveable character in Spunky, the family pet dog.  By utilizing Spunky as narrator for the story, the reader gets a unique perspective on life as a dog (ancient dog customs, importance of smell, and how dogs communicate in dreams).  Spunky also provides unique observations of the various family members and his relationships with each one of them.  When the family decides to adopt a new kitten, life in the Bates household becomes even more entertaining.  The dialogue between Spunky, and Fiona, the cat, was particularly funny.  Fiona might see herself as more important than Spunky, but she soon learns how important her canine family member is to her well-being.    

Writing for children in the reading range between early readers and middle grade novels is difficult.  Maintaining a balance between a well told story and the use of limited vocabulary creates unique challenges.  Cameron has met the demands of this age group by providing a story that is enjoyable, flows well, and allows students transitioning to chapter books to find reading success.  

Classroom teachers looking for chapter books to read aloud to first through third graders would find a win in Spunky Tells All.   It would also make for a great addition to both classroom and school libraries in the transitional book section.  I look forward to sharing this one with my second graders when I return to school next week.

Who is Ann Cameron?  Find out more on her website: or on MacMillian's author page:

Who is Lauren Castillo? Find out more on her website: or on her blog:

Book Review - The Pull of Gravity

Author: Gae Polisner
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (May 10, 2011)
Pages: 208
Audience: Young Adult
Source: Advanced Reader Copy for Review
Genre: Contemporary Fiction 
Read withOf Mice & Men by John Steinbeck

Description from GoodReads:
While Nick Gardner’s family is falling apart, his best friend, Scooter, is dying from a freak disease. The Scoot’s final wish is that Nick and their quirky classmate, Jaycee Amato, deliver a prized first-edition copy of Of Mice and Men to the Scoot’s father. There’s just one problem: the Scoot’s father walked out years ago and hasn’t been heard from since. So, guided by Steinbeck’s life lessons, and with only the vaguest of plans, Nick and Jaycee set off to find him.

Characters you’ll want to become friends with and a narrative voice that sparkles with wit make this a truly original coming-of-age story.

Here is one of my litmus tests for a book that I really like - I pick it up to read and get interrupted but it stays in the back of the mind whispering for me to find it and finish reading it.  In the story, Jaycee and Nick are discussing foreshadowing in reference to Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.  Jaycee tells Nick:
"I guess. But that's what makes it so brilliant.  Because, if I closed the book now, you'd want to know what happens, right? Sure, you know something's is going to happen, but you don't know what.  And you care about them, so you want to know." (quote taken from p. 87 of the ARC)

Here I was suppose to be finishing a pile of books for a project, and I start reading The Pull of Gravity.  By about 50 pages in, I realized that I had to return to my book stack and reluctantly put it down. Yet, I was already attached to the characters in Gae Polisner's debut novel, The Pull of Gravity, and wanted to know what was going to happen.  I loved that Polisner managed in less than 50 pages to already make me care about the characters and that I knew this would be a book that I would go back to and read.

Likable characters are not the only thing I enjoyed about The Pull of Gravity.  I truly appreciated that the book had short, readable chapters and was only a little more than 200 pages.  With some teenagers, I have the challenge of trying to convince them to read a book.   If they already think they don't like reading and I hand them a book that is 400 pages long, I might lose them.  If I can read a couple of quick chapters to them, make them laugh, and hook them in, then I will usually be successful in convincing them to give it a try.   

The Pull of Gravity also has a boy narrator who actually seems like a 15 year old boy.  I spend a considerable amount of time with children and teens and the majority of the teen boys I meet do not seem like the suave, got it all together male heart-throbs in some YA novels.  Many are kind of geeky, awkward, and not sure what to do around a girl they might potentially like.  Nick (the main character and narrator) says/does/thinks a bunch of things that made me chuckle basically because it seemed real.  And yet despite all of the awkwardness, you really find yourself liking him.  He is paired up with Jaycee, a quirky classmate, who wears necklaces made of troll dolls and slinky bracelets.  Together they set out on a road trip guided by the lessons of Steinbeck, and with the mission of reuniting a first edition copy of Of Mice And Men with the estranged father of of their dying friend, Scoot.

If you have been counting, you'll notice there are several things about this story that I like (characters you care about and who seem real, short chapters, humor).  Here is another one, the road trip has a purpose.  By this, I don't actually mean why the characters went on the road.  Instead, the road trip has the purpose of helping the characters change and grow.  Road trips without purpose, no matter how fun or quirky it may be, actually irritate me.  This is probably my own personality quirks coming out but still, it makes my list of another reason I liked the book.  

I, also, have to admit not being exactly a true fan of contemporary fiction.  Partially because so much of it is filled with way too much high school drama.  Consequently, I can probably count on one hand the ones I really like.  Books such as Natalie Standiford's How To Say Goodbye In Robot or Allen Zadoff's Food, Girls, And Other Things I Can't Have stand out in my mind as contemporary fiction that I adore.  Polisner's The Pull of Gravity will likely appeal to fans of those books.

Finally, Polisner creates an ending for Nick, Jaycee, and the others that is right.  Not a perfectly wrapped up ending but one that feels right for the book and for the characters.  Polisner's debut novel is an enjoyable read and I certainly look forward to future offerings.

For more information about Gae Polisner, check out her website:
On Twitter, you can follow her: @gaepol

Below is the official book trailer for The Pull of Gravity: