Don't Judge a Book by its Cover 
Denise Fleck, 2013
Dog Ear Publishing
24 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781457517587

It’s a sad fact…kids of all ages tease others based on their looks, what they wear and where they live. It’s another disheartening fact that dogs in black coats are less likely to be adopted from Animal Shelters.

Did you know that older, gentle, loving dogs who know their manners are generally over-looked by humans with blinders on while they search for an adorable puppy who will soil and chew up their house? Did it ever occur to you that man’s (and woman’s) four-legged best friend faces similar stereotypes to what people face? Does the mention of a specific breed or seeing a large dog make you cringe? Looking beyond what one sees on the outside is truly canine in that dogs do not judge others based on their income, beauty or status. They love unconditionally, live in the moment and rejoice in all kindnesses shown them.

That is what Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover teaches children and reminds adults who share this story with them.  These are lessons no one is too young or too old to learn and practice and when explained through the eyes of a young girl and her first fur-ever friend, it becomes a heartwarming tale of love, kindness and friendship. It will make the most jaded of us take notice of any indiscretions we may show in the unfair judging of an individual based on the way he or she appears to only our eyes.

Mary-Alice and her friends like pretty clothes and hanging with the in-crowd, but when she requests a puppy for her birthday, her parents decide the fluffy one with the pink bow in the pet store may not be the best choice. Instead Mary-Alice ends up at the local Animal Shelter where she not only saves the life of a loving older dog, but learns that once you look beyond the plain cover of things, you can be treated to the true joys that lie underneath!

Looking beyond the cover is truly canine in that dogs do not judge others based on their income, beauty or status. They live in the moment rejoicing in every kindness they are shown. Humans, young and not-so-young, can learn pawmazing lessons from our four-legged friends and when they Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover.

Author Bio
Birth—March 3, 1961
Where—Winter Park,Florida, USA
Education—University of Southern California
Currently—lives in Los Angeles, California

Author Denise Fleck was raised by a Great Dane and has spent her life loving animals having been dog mom to 11 and cat mom to 1. After a successful turn as a Motion Picture Studio Publicist, she followed her heart volunteering at animal shelters and teaching people to take better care of their four-legged friends.

In addition to sharing Pet Safety Tips in magazines, on TV and radio, through her company Sunny-dog Ink, she teaches Pet First-Aid/CPR to pet parents, trainers, groomers, pet sitters and any one interested in helping animals live longer, happier, healthier lives. She can also be found instilling her own passion for our furry, feathered, finned & scaled friends in high school students through an after-school Animal Care program she teaches weekly.

Denise’s own black Labrador Retriever, Mr. Rico, was the inspiration for Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover, but she and her husband Paul are currently owned by two Japanese Akitas—Haiku & Bonsai—who have stories of their own to share, so stay tuned. (From the author.)

Visit the author on Sunny Dog Ink.
Follow Denise on Facebook.

Book Reviews
My favorite books from my childhood that I remember the most clearly are ones that told a moral tale, wrapped up in an imaginative story. The Little Red Hen was one I asked to have read to me over and over, and aside from making me love chickens (as friends not food!) I really do believe it helped me understand me the value of patience, hard work, and the fruit—delicious bread—I’d get to eat as the result of my labors. When an acquaintance I admire told me she’d written a children’s book, I was intrigued. Author Denise Fleck  is not only a talented writer, she is the Past President of the Volunteers of the Burbank Animal Shelter, has her own line of pet first-aid kits, and she’s been on many TV shows demonstrating Pet First-Aid & CPCR. While she has written a series of animal care pocket guides, her latest book is a beautifully illustrated children’s story, Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover. Here’s more about this modern moral tale which can help teach children not to make judgements based solely on appearances—not just pets, but people too…. Mary-Alice and her friends like pretty clothes and hanging with the in-crowd, but when she requests a puppy for her birthday, her parents decide the fluffy one with the pink bow in the pet store may not be the best choice. Instead Mary-Alice ends up at the local Animal Shelter where she not only saves the life of a loving older dog, but learns that once you look beyond the plain cover of things, you can be treated to the true joys that lie underneath! Looking beyond the cover is truly canine in that dogs do not judge others based on their income, beauty or status. They live in the moment rejoicing in every kindness they are shown. Humans, young and not-so-young, can learn pawmazing lessons from our four-legged friends and when they Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover.

Author Denise Fleck’s new children’s book Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover, follows the main character Mary-Alice and her search for her very own “pawmazing” companion. Fleck uses her main character to teach readers that there is always more than what meets the eye.... Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover is the first in what will be a series of illustrated children’s storybooks…. Its message is "Pets are part of the family," Fleck says. Be sure to buy this book and look out for the rest of the series coming soon.
Cara Meyers - Global Animal
This book is a MUST have for both children and adults!! It delivers the important messsage about not judging others by their appearance or preconceived prejudices. This is especially true for our animals which have no voice. This book helps speak for the abandoned animals that need love and a family yet are overlooked for multiple reasons. If all children read this book we can begin to change the world as generations grow up with new found compassion. More than just a book this is a guide to becoming a better human thus creating a better world. 5.0 out of 5 stars AMAZING!!
Lindsay Neumann

This book is excellent for children. It teaches a valuable lesson that is often forgotten. The author also stresses the importance of adopting from an animal shelter. She sets you straight and squashes the misconceptions often associated with shelter animals. It's a great read and entertaining. Artwork is also captivating. I know it will be a book that my children reach for often at story time. Thank you for writing a book for children that champions our furry homeless friends!
Brenda Castaneda

Discussion Questions
1. Have you ever judged a person, animal or anything by what it looked like or what someone else told you about him/it?

2. What did you find out after you got to know the person or animal? Did you feelings change?

3. If you see a book or DVD with a picture on the cover that you like, are you more likely to buy it? What if it was just a plain wrapper—would you consider reading or watching it?

4. Why do you think it is harder for older dogs to get adopted?

5. When a pet gets old, is it okay to just give it away or abandon it? Explain your thoughts.

6. If you were walking down a line of cats or dogs, which color fur coats would most quickly attract your eye?

7. Have you ever formed an opinion about animal based only on his breed or name? How about a person based on where they came from, their accent, the color of their skin or hair or their name? How do you feel about this decision you made and did you change it?

8. What can you do to not misjudge in the future?

9. What is your picture of an Animal Shelter? Do you think it is a good place to adopt a pet from?

10. Do pet stores in your neighborhood sell dogs and cats? Do you know where the stores get those pets from?
(Questions courtesy of the author.)

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Acea and the Animal Kingdom 
Kyle Shoop, 2013
321 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781480207677

Welcome to the Animal Kingdom—where mystery and adventure roam free!

Twelve-year-old Acea Bishop was always the nerdy kid who would rather go to the library during recess to read about animals instead of playing basketball like the other boys. Now, after being kidnapped and waking up inside of an ancient kingdom strangely resembling a zoo, Acea is running from those same animals he used to love reading about.

Worse yet? Acea's not just on a quest to get home—his mom and the dad-he-never-knew are both being held hostage inside by an evil sorcerer with a vendetta. Realizing that his odds of survival and freeing his parents are slim, Acea raises an army of animals to combat the sorcerer and regain control of the kingdom.

Follow Acea as he travels through the exotic zoo habitats in rooms labeled "aquarium," "safari," "jungle," "aviary," and "terrarium." Unlock secrets with Acea located deep inside the Animal Kingdom which reveal the kingdom's mysterious past and hold the key to Acea's fate.

Acea has secrets. Big ones. He just doesn't know it yet.

Author Bio
Where—Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Education—B.A., Brigham young University; J.D.,
   Gonzaga University
Currently—lives in Herriman, Utah

Kyle Shoop is the author of the Acea Bishop series. He lives in Utah with his wife and children. After spending several years volunteering in his wife’s elementary classrooms, he was inspired to write this first book of the series, Acea and the Animal Kingdom. The first in a planned trilogy, the second book is expected in 2014. In addition to writing novels, Kyle is also a practicing attorney. (From the author.)

Visit the author's website.
Follow Kyle on Facebook.

Book Reviews
This book is pretty cool! There are a lot of interesting twists and mechanisms that really drive the story.  It reminded me a lot of Harry Potter.  I really like how Vesuvius was drawn, as much as we don’t want to like a villain, a story without a good villain is kind of "blah."  I recommend the book—I know you’ll love it!
Youth reviewer -

Even though it only Shoop’s freshman endeavor Acea and the Animal Kingdom is one of the better novels for young readers I’ve seen. Shoop is already a terrific storyteller, with a wonderfully vivid imagination which will suck readers into the novel for a fun, slightly scary, always exciting, emotional ride.  It’s not surprising then to find this novel is fun, exciting, a little scary, imaginative, unique, relatable and educational; in short, all the things you want from a middle-grade novel.
Christopher Taylor - Lunatic or Genius Reviews

Discussion Questions
1.  What was your favorite zoo room and why?

2.  Did you learn anything new about any of the animals in the book?

3.  Were animal characteristics effectively used in the book to move the plot forward, rather than feeling like a lesson about animals?

4.  Did you find the use of the first person point of view helpful in creating mystery and tension?

5.  Often times, a fantasy-adventure novel relies upon the reader being able to have a clear vision of the world in his/her head—did the author adequately describe each of the rooms to allow this?

6.  If you were Acea, how would you have felt once you learned about why you were brought to the Animal Kingdom, and the Kingdom's mysterious history?

7.  The name of the second book is Acea and the Seven Ancient Wonders. If you haven't read the first chapter of this book (which is at the end of Acea and the Animal Kingdom), what do you think is behind the "Exit" door? If you have read the first chapter of book two, what would you have had behind the door? What do you think will happen in the second book?
(Questions courtesy of the author.)

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Bud, Not Buddy
Christopher Paul Curtis, 1999
Random House Children's Books
272 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780553494105

It's 1936, in Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but Bud's got a few things going for him:

1. He has his own suitcase filled with his own important, secret things.

2. He's the author of Bud Caldwell's Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself.

3. His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: flyers of Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!!

Bud's got an idea that those flyers will lead him to his father. Once he decides to hit the road and find this mystery man, nothing can stop him—not hunger, not fear, not vampires, not even Herman E. Calloway himself.

Bud, Not Buddy is full of laugh-out-loud humor and wonderful characters, hitting the high notes of jazz and sounding the deeper tones of the Great Depression. Once again Christopher Paul Curtis, author of the award-winning novel The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, takes readers on a heartwarming and unforgettable journey. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—May 10, 1953
Where—Flint, Michigan, USA
Education—B.A., University of Michigan-Flint
Awards—Newbery Medal (2); Coretta Scott King Award

Christopher Paul Curtis is an American children's author and a Newbery Medal winner who wrote The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963 and the critically acclaimed Bud, Not Buddy. Bud, Not Buddy is the first novel to receive both the Coretta Scott King Award and the Newbery Medal. His book Elijah of Buxton (winner of the Scott O'Dell Historical Fiction Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and a Newbery Honor) is set in a free Black community in Ontario that was founded in 1849 by runaway slaves. His latest book, The Mighty Miss Malone, was released in January of 2012.

Christopher Paul Curtis was born in Flint, Michigan, on May 10, 1953 to Dr. Herman Elmer Curtis, a chiropodist and factory worker/supervisor, and Leslie Jane Curtis, an educator. Curtis is an alumnus of the University of Michigan-Flint (UM-Flint). Curtis is the father of two daughters, Ayaan Leslie, born in 2010, and Ebyaan Hothan, born in 2012 to Curtis and his wife, Habon Aden Curtis. Christopher modeled characters in Bud, Not Buddy after his two grandfathers—Earl “Lefty” Lewis, a Negro league baseball pitcher, and 1930s bandleader Herman E. Curtis, Sr., of Herman Curtis and the Dusky Devastators of the Depression. The city of Flint plays an important role in many of Curtis's books.

Education and Work
Curtis is a product of the Flint Public Schools system. He attended Dewey Elementary, Clark Elementary, Pierce Elementary (in the Academically Gifted Program), Whittier Junior High School, McKinley Junior High School (where, in 1967, he became the first African-American student to be elected to student council in the school's 32-year history), and Flint Southwestern High School. Graduating from the University of Michigan-Flint in 1999, he received his bachelor's degree at the same ceremony where he was the commencement speaker.

Every year since 2008 Curtis has returned to the University of Michigan-Flint to host the Christopher Paul Curtis Writing Challenge, a program instituted by Dr. Rose Casement and Dr. Fred Svoboda. During the program every fourth-grade student in Flint comes to UM-Flint's auditorium to hear a presentation by Curtis. Afterwards they are provided with a story starter that Curtis has written and given the challenge of finishing the story. A winner from each of Flint's elementary schools is chosen by the teachers to return to UM-Flint with their families for an award ceremony where Curtis and Dr. Casement announce an overall winner. The stated goal of the challenge is to expose Flint's youth to the university environment and to encourage writing as a means of expression.

The summer after graduating from high school Curtis became a member of a Lansing, Michigan based theatrical/musical group called Suitcase Theatre. The group was directed by Powell Lindsay and performed musical numbers and the works of Langston Hughes. The group toured and performed in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, France, England, Canada, and the United States.

Curtis spent the first 13 years after high school on the assembly line of Flint’s historic Fisher Body Plant #1. His job entailed hanging car doors on Electra 225s and LeSabres, which, he later claimed, left him with an aversion to getting into large cars, particularly Buicks. After quitting Fisher Body he took a series of low-paying jobs. He worked as a groundskeeper at Stonegate Manor housing cooperative in Flint, Flint campaign co-manager for United States senator Donald Riegle, customer service representative for Mich Con in Detroit, temporary worker for Manpower in Detroit, and warehouse clerk for Automated Data Processing in Allen Park, Michigan. Curtis took a year off of work to write his first novel, The Watsons Go To Birmingham: 1963. He wrote the novel in longhand in the Windsor Public Library.

Curtis has been a full-time author and lecturer/speaker since 1998.

In 2009 he received a Doctor of Laws Honoris Causa from the University of Windsor in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Published Works
The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963—When Kenny's 13-year-old brother, Byron, gets to be too much trouble, the Watsons head from Flint, Michigan, to Birmingham, Alabama, to visit Grandma Sands, the one person who can shape Byron up. But the events that shake Birmingham in the summer of 1963 will change Kenny's life for ever.

Bud, Not Buddy—It is 1936, in Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but Bud's got a few things going for him. The book was released in September of 1999.

Bucking the Sarge—Luther T. Farrell has got to get out of Flint, Michigan. He just needs to escape the evil empire of the local slumlord, his mother.

Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission—When Russell's dog, Rodney Rodent, jumps into a mural to chase a demonic-looking gnome and disappears, the Flint Future Detectives are on the case.

Mr. Chickee's Funny Money—Mr. Chickee, the genial blind man in the neighborhood, gives 9-year-old Steven a mysterious bill with 15 zeros on it and the image of a familiar but startling face.

Elijah of Buxton (2007) A story based on the real settlement of former slaves who escaped to Canada on the Underground Railroad.

The Mighty Miss Malone—This book is set in depression-era Gary, Indiana, and Flint, Michigan. The work is a spin-off from Bud, Not Buddy and is narrated by 12-year-old Deza Malone.

Curtis's next book, Benji & Red, (Formerly titled The Madman of Piney Woods) returns readers to Buxton, Ontario, this time in the year 1901. It is a story told in alternating chapters by two twelve year old boys. One, Alvin "Red" Stockard is an Irish boy living in Chatham, Ontario, and the other, Benjamin "Benji" Alston is an African-Canadian boy living in the settlement of Buxton. Several characters from Elijah of Buxton make brief reappearances. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
Curtis's magical touch in his debut novel, The Watsons Go to Birmingham1963 (1995), is once again evident in all its powerful, funny glory in his latest lovely novel. Ten-year-old Bud Caldwell, wise beyond his years, is hit particularly hard by the Depression in 1936. Bud has been bounced back and forth between a Flint, Michigan, orphanage and foster care since his mother died when he was six. Fed up with beatings from those who take him in, Bud grabs his few meager treasures and sets out in search of his father. With determination and a cautious but curious spirit, Bud heads for Grand Rapids, home of Herman E. Calloway, legendary bass player and leader of a renowned jazz band. Convinced that Calloway is his longlost father, Bud seeks a reunion. Bud's only guidebook is Bud Caldwell's Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar out of Yourself, his own set of poignant, riotous tips for preserving sanity. In a scene of stunning hilarity, Bud is rescued by Lefty Lewis, who takes Bud to Grand Rapids, where the child learns yet again that life is not always what it seems. Curtis writes with a razorsharp intelligence that grabs the reader by the heart and never lets go. His utterly believable depiction of the selfreliant charm and courage of Bud, not Buddy, puts this highly recommended title at the top of the list of books to be read again and again

As in his Newbery Honor-winning debut, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, Curtis draws on a remarkable and disarming mix of comedy and pathos, this time to describe the travails and adventures of a 10-year-old African-American orphan in Depression-era Michigan. Bud is fed up with the cruel treatment he has received at various foster homes, and after being locked up for the night in a shed with a swarm of angry hornets, he decides to run away. His goal: to reach the man he--on the flimsiest of evidence--believes to be his father, jazz musician Herman E. Calloway. Relying on his own ingenuity and good luck, Bud makes it to Grand Rapids, where his "father" owns a club. Calloway, who is much older and grouchier than Bud imagined, is none too thrilled to meet a boy claiming to be his long-lost son. It is the other members of his band--Steady Eddie, Mr. Jimmy, Doug the Thug, Doo-Doo Bug Cross, Dirty Deed Breed and motherly Miss Thomas--who make Bud feel like he has finally arrived home. While the grim conditions of the times and the harshness of Bud's circumstances are authentically depicted, Curtis shines on them an aura of hope and optimism. And even when he sets up a daunting scenario, he makes readers laugh--for example, mopping floors for the rejecting Calloway, Bud pretends the mop is "that underwater boat in the book Momma read to me, Twenty Thousand Leaks Under the Sea." Bud's journey, punctuated by Dickensian twists in plot and enlivened by a host of memorable personalities, will keep readers engrossed from first page to last.
Publishers Weekly

When 10-year-old Bud Caldwell runs away from his new foster home, he realizes he has nowhere to go but to search for the father he has never known: a legendary jazz musician advertised on some old posters his deceased mother had kept. A friendly stranger picks him up on the road in the middle of the night and deposits him in Grand Rapids, MI, with Herman E. Calloway and his jazz band, but the man Bud was convinced was his father turns out to be old, cold, and cantankerous. Luckily, the band members are more welcoming; they take him in, put him to work, and begin to teach him to play an instrument. In a Victorian ending, Bud uses the rocks he has treasured from his childhood to prove his surprising relationship with Mr. Calloway. The lively humor contrasts with the grim details of the Depression-era setting and the particular difficulties faced by African Americans at that time. Bud is a plucky, engaging protagonist. Other characters are exaggerations: the good ones (the librarian and Pullman car porter who help him on his journey and the band members who embrace him) are totally open and supportive, while the villainous foster family finds particularly imaginative ways to torture their charge. However, readers will be so caught up in the adventure that they won't mind. Curtis has given a fresh, new look to a traditional orphan-finds-a-home story that would be a crackerjack read-aloud. —Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC
School Library Journal

Bud, 10, is on the run from the orphanage and from yet another mean foster family. His mother died when he was 6, and he wants to find his father. Set in Michigan during the Great Depression, this is an Oliver Twist kind of foundling story, but it's told with affectionate comedy, like the first part of Curtis' The Watsons Go to Birmingham (1995). On his journey, Bud finds danger and violence (most of it treated as farce), but more often, he finds kindness—in the food line, in the library, in the Hooverville squatter camp, on the road--until he discovers who he is and where he belongs. Told in the boy's naive, desperate voice, with lots of examples of his survival tactics (Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar out of Yourself), this will make a great read-aloud. Curtis says in an afterword that some of the characters are based on real people, including his own grandfathers, so it's not surprising that the rich blend of tall tale, slapstick, sorrow, and sweetness has the wry, teasing warmth of family folklore.

Discussion QuestionsFamily and Relationships
1. What are some of Bud's special memories of her? Why did his mother never tell him about his grandfather? Why do you think Bud's mother left home? Changed her last name? If Bud's mother was so unhappy, why did she keep the flyers about her dad's band?

2. Why is Bud so convinced that Herman Calloway is his father? Discuss whether Bud is disappointed to learn that Calloway is not his father but his grandfather. What type of relationship do you think Bud will have with his grandfather? How is Calloway's Band like a family? What is Miss Thomas's role in Bud's new family?

3. Bud has been without a family since age six. What type of survival skills does Bud learn at the Home? Make a list of "Bud Caldwell's Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself." How does Bud use these rules to survive difficult situations? Have the class discuss whether Bud will continue using these rules now that he has found a family.

4. Discuss how the flyers in Bud's suitcase give him hope. Bud's mother once told him, "When one door closes, don't worry, because another door opens." (p. 43) How does this statement give Bud the hope he needs to continue his search for his father? Discuss the moments in the story when a door closes for Bud. At what point does the door open? Cite evidence in the novel that Herman Calloway had hope that his daughter might return.

5. Engage the group in a discussion about the different types of racism. Bud encounters racism throughout his journey. Ask students to explain Mrs. Amos's statement: "I do not have time to put up with the foolishness of those members of our race who do not want to be uplifted." (p. 15) How does this statement indicate that Mrs. Amos feels superior to Bud and other members of her race? Why does she think that Bud does not want to be uplifted?

6. Bud meets many homeless people at Hooverville. What evidence is there that racism prevails among them? How does racism affect Herman E. Calloway's band? Eddie tells Bud, "Mr. C. has always got a white fella in the band, for practical reasons." (p. 205) Discuss what the "practical reasons" might be. How does this reflect the times? Would Mr. Calloway's reasons be valid today?
(Questions issued as part of a teaching guide from Random House Publishing Company.)

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R.J. Palacio, 2012
Random House Childrens
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780375869020

I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.

August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face.

Wonder begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.

Winner of the 2013 E. B. White Read-Aloud Award for Middle Reader. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
R. J. Palacio lives in NYC with her husband, two sons, and two dogs. For more than twenty years, she was an art director and graphic designer, designing book jackets for other people while waiting for the perfect time in her life to start writing her own novel. But one day several years ago, a chance encounter with an extraordinary child in front of an ice cream store made R. J. realize that the perfect time to write that novel had finally come. Wonder is her first novel. She did not design the cover, but she sure does love it. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
Rich and memorable...It's Auggie and the rest of the children who are the real heart of 'Wonder,' and Palacio captures the voices of girls and boys, fifth graders and teenagers, with equal skill.
New York Times

What makes R.J. Palacio's debut novel so remarkable, and so lovely, is the uncommon generosity with which she tells Auggie's story…The result is a beautiful, funny and sometimes sob-making story of quiet transformation.
Wall Street Journal

The breakout publishing sensation of 2012 will come courtesy of Palacio [and] is destined to go the way of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and then some.
London Times

I think every mother and father would be better for having read it. Auggie's parents — who are never named in the book, and don't even get to narrate a chapter of their own — are powerful examples not only of how to shelter and strengthen a child with heartbreaking facial anomalies, but also of how to be a loving advocate to any kid.
Huffington Post (January, 2012)

It's in the bigger themes that Palacio's writing shines. This book is a glorious exploration of the nature of friendship, tenacity, fear, and most importantly, kindness.
Huffington Post (March, 2012)

The Top 10 Things We Love This Week: In a wonder of a debut, Palacio has written a crackling page-turner filled with characters you can't help but root for.
Entertainment Weekly

Auggie Pullman was born with severe facial deformities—no outer ears, eyes in the wrong place, his skin "melted"—and he's learned to steel himself against the horrified reactions he produces in strangers.... Few first novels pack more of a punch: it's a rare story with the power to open eyes-and hearts-to what it's like to be singled out for a difference you can't control, when all you want is to be just another face in the crowd. (Ages 8-12).
Publishers Weekly

Everyone grows and develops as the story progresses, especially the middle school students. This is a fast read and would be a great discussion starter about love, support, and judging people on their appearance. A well-written, thought-provoking book. (Grades 4–7)—Nancy P. Reeder, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Columbia, SC
School Library Journal

Palacio divides the novel into eight parts, interspersing Auggie's first-person narrative with the voices of family members and classmates, wisely expanding the story beyond Auggie's viewpoint and demonstrating that Auggie's arrival at school doesn't test only him, it affects everyone in the community. Auggie may be finding his place in the world, but that world must find a way to make room for him, too. A memorable story of kindness, courage and wonder. (Fiction. 8-14)
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1.  What do you think of the line "Don’t judge a boy by his face" which appears on the back cover of the book? Did this affect how much you wanted to read the story? How much did this line give away about the story you were about to read?

2. Throughout Wonder, Auggie describes the way that many people react to seeing his face for the first time: by immediately looking away. Have you ever been in a situation where you have responded like this to seeing someone different? Having now read Wonder, how do you feel about this now?

3. Auggie’s face is not fully described until quite far on in the story, in Via’s chapter "August: Through the Peephole." How close was this description to your own mental picture of Auggie? Did you have a picture of his face in your mind while reading the book? Did this description alter that picture?

4. How would you describe Auggie as a person in the first few chapters of the book? What about the final few chapters? Has he changed significantly? Are there any experiences or episodes during the story that you think had a particular effect on him? If so, how?

5. In the chapter "Costumes" Auggie describes the astronaut helmet that he wore constantly as a younger child. We later learn that Miranda was the one to give Auggie the helmet, and is proud of the gift, but that it was Auggie’s father who threw it away. What do you think the helmet signifies to each of these characters and why do you think they all view it so differently?
6. Star Wars is one of Auggie’s passions. Why do you think this is? Do you see any reasons for Auggie to identify with these characters, or to aspire to be like them?

7. Auggie’s parents bring Auggie around to the idea of attending school by joking with him about Mr Tushman’s name, and telling him about their old college professor, Bobbie Butt. To what extent is humour used as a tool throughout Wonder to diffuse difficult or tense situations, or to convey a part of the story that would otherwise be depressing or sad? Look at the chapter, "How I Came To Life."

8. What did you think of Via as a character? Did you empathise with her? Why do you think Via was so angry to learn that Auggie cut off his Padawan braid? Do you think Via’s own attitude towards her brother changes throughout the story?

9. Look at the emails between Mr Tushman, Julian’s parents and Jack’s parents in the chapter "Letters, Emails, Facebook, Texts." Up to this point in the story we have seen how the children at Auggie’s school have reacted to him. Is Mrs Albans’ attitude towards Auggie different? What do you make of her statement that Auggie is handicapped? Do you think she is correct in saying that asking "ordinary" children, such as Julian, to befriend Auggie places a burden on them?

10. The author has explained that she was inspired to write Wonder after an experience at a local ice cream parlour, very similar to the scene described in the chapter "Carvel," where Jack sees Auggie for the first time. In this scene, Jack’s babysitter Veronica chooses to get up and quickly walk Jack and his little brother Jamie away from Auggie, rather than risk Jamie saying something rude or hurtful. What do you think you would have done, if put in that position?

11. The precepts (rules to live by)

"When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind."   —Dr. Wayne Dyer

"Your deeds are your monuments."   —Inscription on ancient Egyptian tomb

"Have no friends not equal to yourself."   —Confucius

"Fortune favors the bold."   —Virgil

"No man is an island, entire of itself."   —John Donne

"It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers."   —James Thurber

"Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much."   —Blaise Pascal

"What is beautiful is good, and who is good will soon be beautiful."   —Sappho

"Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can."   —John Wesley

"Just follow the day and reach for the sun."   —The Polyphonic Spree

"Everyone deserves a standing ovation because we all overcometh the world."   —Auggie Pullman

(Questions from the author's website.)

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Dark Places
Gillian Flynn, 2009
Crown Publishing
368 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307341570

I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details—proof they hope may free Ben—Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club...and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members—including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—February 24, 1971
Where—Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Education—B.A., University of Kansas; M.A., Northwest University
Awards—Ian Fleming Steel Daggers
Currently—lives in Chicago, Illinois

Gillian Flynn is an American author, screenwriter, comic book writer, and former television critic for Entertainment Weekly. Her three published novels are the thrillers: Sharp Objects, Dark Places, and Gone Girl.

Early life
Flynn was born in Kansas City, Missouri. Both of her parents were professors at Metropolitan Community College–Penn Valley: her mother, Judith Ann (nee Schieber), a reading-comprehension professor; her father, Edwin Matthew Flynn, a film professor. "Painfully shy," Flynn found escape in reading and writing and watching horror movies.

Flynn attended the University of Kansas, where she received her undergraduate degrees in English and journalism. She spent two years in California writing for a trade magazine for human resources professionals before moving to Chicago where, in 1997, she earned a Master's in journalism at Northwestern University.

Initially, Flynn wanted to work as a police reporter but soon discovered she had no aptitude for police reporting. She worked briefly at U.S. News & World Report before being hired as a feature writer in 1998 for Entertainment Weekly. She was promoted to television critic, writing about both tv and film.

Flynn attributes her craft to her 15-some years in journalism:

I could not have written a novel if I hadn't been a journalist first, because it taught me that there's no muse that's going to come down and bestow upon you the mood to write. You just have to do it. I'm definitely not precious.

Although Flynn considers herself a feminist, some critics accuse her of misogyny because of the unflattering depiction of female characters in her books. Yet feminism, she feels, allows for women to be bad characters in literature:

The one thing that really frustrates me is this idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing.

Flynn also said people will dismiss...

trampy, vampy, bitchy types—there's still a big pushback against the idea that women can be just pragmatically evil, bad, and selfish.

Flynn began writing novels during her free time while working for Entertainment Weekly. Her three books are—

Sharp Objects (2006) revolves around a serial killer in Missouri and the reporter who returns to her Missouri hometown from Chicago to cover the event. Partly inspired by Dennis Lehane's 2001 Mystic River, the book deals with dysfunctional families, violence, and self-harm. It was shortlisted for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar in 2007 for Best First Novel by an American Writer. It won the Crime Writers' Association "New Blood" and "Ian Fleming Steel Daggers" awards.

Dark Places (2009) centers on a woman investigating her brother who was convicted in the 1980s, when she was only a child, of murdering their parents.The book explores the era's satanic rituals and was adapted into a 2015 film. Flynn makes a cameo appearance in the film.

Gone Girl (2012) concerns a couple, the wife of which disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, and her husband who comes under police scrutiny as the prime suspect.
The novel hit No. 1 on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Bestseller list for eight weeks. Times culture writer Dave Itzkoff wrote that the novel was, except for the Fifty Shades of Grey series, the biggest literary phenomenon of 2012. By the end of that year, Gone Girl had sold over two million copies (print and digital).

After selling the film rights for $1.5 million, Flynn wrote the Gone Girl screenplay. The 2014 film, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, was released to popular and critical acclaim.

Other writing
Flynn was an avid reader of comic and graphic novels when she was a child. She collaborated with illustrator Dave Gibbons and wrote a comic book story called "Masks," as part of the Dark Horse Presents series. It came out in 2015.

Flynn agreed to write the scripts for Utopia, an forthcoming HBO drama series adapted from the acclaimed British series Utopia. The HBO series is to be directed and executive produced by David Fincher, who also directed Gone Girl.

Personal life
She married lawyer Brett Nolan in 2007. They met through Flynn's grad school classmate at Northwestern but did not start dating until Flynn, then  in her mid-30s, moved back to Chicago from New York City. The couple still resides in Chicago with their two children. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/13/2015.)

Book Reviews
Libby Day, the protagonist of Flynn’s disturbing second novel, was, as a seven-year-old, the only survivor of her family’s brutal murder by her older brother.... [Years later she] is forced to reëxamine the events of the night of the murder. Flynn’s well-paced story deftly shows the fallibility of memory and the lies a child tells herself to get through a trauma.
The New Yorker

In her first psychological thriller, Sharp Objects, Flynn created a world unsparingly grim and nasty (the heroine carves words into her own flesh) written with irresistibly mordant humor. The sleuth in her equally disturbing and original second novel is Libby Day....It's Flynn's gift that she can make a caustic, self-loathing, unpleasant protagonist someone you come to root for.
New York Magazine

Gillian Flynn coolly demolished the notion that little girls are made of sugar and spice in Sharp Objects, her sensuous and chilling first thriller. In Dark Places, her equally sensuous and chilling follow-up, Flynn…has conjured up a whole new crew of feral and troubled young females…. [A] propulsive and twisty mystery.
Entertainment Weekly

Flynn follows her deliciously creepy Sharp Objects with another dark tale.... The story, alternating between the 1985 murders and the present, has a tense momentum that works beautifully. And when the truth emerges, it’s so macabre not even twisted little Libby Day could see it coming.

Edgar-finalist Flynn's second crime thriller tops her impressive debut, Sharp Objects. When Libby Day's mother and two older sisters were slaughtered in the family's Kansas farmhouse, it was seven-year-old Libby's testimony that sent her 15-year-old brother, Ben, to prison for life. Desperate for cash 24 years later, Libby reluctantly agrees to meet members of the Kill Club, true crime enthusiasts who bicker over famous cases. She's shocked to learn most of them believe Ben is innocent and the real killer is still on the loose. Though initially interested only in making a quick buck hocking family memorabilia, Libby is soon drawn into the club's pseudo-investigation, and begins to question what exactly she saw-or didn't see-the night of the tragedy. Flynn fluidly moves between cynical present-day Libby and the hours leading up to the murders through the eyes of her family members. When the truth emerges, it's so twisted that even the most astute readers won't have predicted it.
Publishers Weekly

Once in a while a book comes along that puts a new spin on an old idea. More than 40 years ago, Truman Capote (with In Cold Blood) took readers inside the Clutter farmhouse in Holcomb, KS, to show them what it was like to walk in a killer's shoes. Flynn (Sharp Objects) takes modern readers back to Kansas to explore the fictional 1985 Day family massacre from the perspective of a survivor as well as the suspects. For all public libraries. —Nancy McNicol
Library Journal

The sole survivor of a family massacre is pushed into revisiting a past she'd much rather leave alone, in Flynn's scorching follow-up to Sharp Objects (2006).... Libby Day, seven, testified that her brother Ben, 15, had killed the family.... [Now 31, she] reluctantly agrees to earn by digging up the leading players.... Flynn intercuts Libby's venomous detective work with flashbacks to the fatal day 24 years ago so expertly that as they both hurtle toward unspeakable revelations, you won't know which one you're more impatient to finish. Only the climax, which is incredible in both good ways and bad, is a letdown. For most ofthe wild story's running time, however, every sentence crackles with...baleful energy.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Did you like Libby as a character? Do you think the author intended for her to be likeable?
2. As the book shifted between points of view, did you find one most appealing, most enlightening, or most reliable?
3. Why has Libby ignored Jim Jeffreys’s advice to earn an income for so many years? Do you believe she feels she’s earned the money she’s been gifted by strangers? What is her attitude toward money?
4. Throughout the book, many characters seem to feel as though life is something that happens to them; others take a more proactive role in steering its course, often with disastrous consequences. Discuss the book’s theme of action versus reaction, investigation versus acceptance. Where does Libby’s behavior fit in this contrast?
5. Like others Libby meets during her investigation, Barb Eichel seems pleased to have been contacted, having “wondered if you’d ever get in touch.” Why did Barb wait for Libby to come to her? Did Barb do enough to remedy the harm she thinks her book has done?
6. As Lyle first brings Libby through the Kill Club gathering, he distinguishes between different types of members—role players and solvers, for instance. Do you consider these to be meaningful differences? How do the various groups make use of the club?
7. In considering the case of the missing girl Lisette Stephens, Libby thinks to herself, “There was nothing to solve.... She just vanished for no reason anyone could think of, except she was pretty.” Do you think it’s strange that Libby considers this an uninteresting case? What does her attitude toward Lisette say about her view of her own family’s murder? Was there something to “solve” in the Days’ murder?
8. What do you make of Magda, the middle-class Kill Club member so fond of Ben, and so callous to her own son? What does her character tell us, if anything, about the Kill Club and its members?
9. One of the appealing aspects of the Day case (according to Lyle) is the role of children as instigators, victims, and unreliable witnesses. Do you see any similarities among Krissi’s accusation, Libby’s false eyewitness account, and Lyle’s role in the California fires? Were these children to blame for their mistakes? In what ways did they attempt to right the wrongs they caused?
10. “No one ever forgives me for anything,” one character says. What role does forgiveness play in Dark Places? Which characters should be more forgiving? Less?
11. What do you think of Diondra’s relationships? Why is she attracted to Ben? Why is Trey such a constant companion? Do you think she was romantically involved with Trey?
12. Patty Day frequently worries whether she is a good mother. What do you think? How does the book depict parents in general? Who do you consider the “good” and “bad” parents in the book?
13. Did you think Ben was guilty? Does the author intend for us to doubt him?
14. Why doesn’t Diane return Libby’s phone calls? What does she mean at the end of the book when she says, “I knew you could do it.... I knew you could...try just a little harder”? Do you like Diane?
15. Why do you think Libby, at the end of the book, thinks twice before shoplifting? Is this reflective of a new attitude toward the world? How?
16. Do you think Ben will find Crystal? What do you imagine their reunion would be like? 17. Why do you think the author chose to set the murders on a farm? What images and themes does the heartland and farming evoke?

18. Libby is a liar, a manipulator, a kleptomaniac, and an opportunist. Does she have any redeeming qualities? Are you able to empathize with her? If so, why?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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