Extra Yarn

© Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen

Module 6: Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Jon Klassen


Annabelle lives in a town filled with either black soot or white snow. One day she comes across a small box containing some colorful yarn. She decides to knit scarves and sweaters for herself, her dog, and her family. She realizes there is still plenty of yarn! She continues to knit sweaters for the people in the town, the trees, and just about anything that could wear a sweater but she still has plenty of yarn. An evil archduke attempts to steal her yarn but it makes its way magically back to her as she brightens up the small town she lives in.


I’ve read other Klassen books and I absolutely love his illustrations. This is my first book by Barnett but it was a perfect blend of whimsy and morality. Annabelle is a sweet, helpful character and her cute little story belongs in every child’s library.


“Like the very best picture books, this is a simple tale where text and pictures are brilliantly combined. There is a powerful allegorical message about greed, beauty and creativity.”

– Sophie Smiley

“Klassen’s art, however, really steals the show. The sharply edged figures with slyly comic, slightly skewed geometry recall his work in I Want My Hat Back (BCCB 9/11); the bleak wintry landscape is virtually monochromatic, with almost everything—kids, houses, pets—shades of a murky brown against the snow, save for Annabelle’s varicolored creations (and a touch of pink in chilled cheeks and noses).”

– Deborah Stevenson

Library Use

This book is a great way to introduce knitting, crocheting or really any craft to students. When the book came out HarperCollins held an Extra Yarn Contest (http://extrayarn.tumblr.com/) where bookstores knitted sweaters for “things that didn’t even wear sweaters” like Annabelle does in the book. This is a cute idea that could be used at any library during the winter months.


Barnett, M, and Klassen, J (Illustrator). (2012). Extra Yarn. New York, New York: Harper Collins.

Extra Yarn [image]. (2012). Retrieved from http://thereisabookforthat.com/2012/04/08/extra-yarn/.

Smiley, S. (2013). Barnett, Mac and Klassen, Jon: Extra Yarn. School Librarian 61(3), 149. Retrieved from http://www.slj.com/.

Stevenson, D. (2012). Review of Extra Yarn. Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books 65(5), 243-244. Retrieved from http://bccb.lis.illinois.edu/.


Before We Were Free

© Julia Alvarez

Module 5: Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez

“It’s like my whole world is coming undone, but when I write, my pencil is a needle and thread, and I’m stitching the scraps back together.”


Eleven-year-old Anita grew up believing that she was supposed to love El Jefe (Rafael Trujillo), the Dictator of the Dominican Republic. Her world is rocked after her last remaining extended family is suddenly shipped off to New York City, while her Uncle Toni is still missing. Anita battles through normal teenage experiences – fighting with her older sister, being told to shush during important conversations, and feeling like a “grown-up” but not being treated like one – while simultaneously experiencing the resistance movement against El Jefe in the 1960s.


I am not usually a reader of historical fiction but this book reaches out and  grabs you. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Alvarez at a book signing that I worked at and I instantly wanted to read one of her books, so when given the option for school, I picked up Before We Were Free. I related easily to Anita, having been called talkative all my life. She sees things with a gentle naivety that is both hard to read when you understand the severity of what is happening, but makes you glad for her innocence during some of the harder scenes. Her story is a tragic one that is certainly hard to imagine for those who have lived in America their whole lives. Alvarez’s words held a lyricism, that while still appropriate speak for an 11 year old, captivated me in a way most books for young adults do not. 


“Alvarez takes her readers on an emotional journey as we follow Anita through her thoughts of confusion, sorrow, and fear as she strives to understand and survive in a world that is much too grown up for her. Anita’s story awakens the reader to a silent world of memories lost in a young girl’s eyes while eliciting our emotions of sympathy and respect.”

– Cecily Callan

“Alvarez’s pacing is swift and sure, and the description of the ever-increasing dangers faced by the de la Torres is utterly compelling. Fans of Anne Frank’s diary will eagerly devour this fictional story of a family on the run from a fanatical political leader.”

– Jeannette Hulick

Library Use

This books is an excellent example of historical fiction – especially as a read for examples of turmoil in South and Central America. It would easily couple with a history lesson on political problems with dictatorships as well as giving an example of some of the more sinister reasons that people emigrate to the United States.


Alvarez, J. (2002). Before We Were Free. New York, New York: Random House Children’s Books.

Callan, C. (2005). Review of Before We Were Free. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 48(5), 437, 439. Retrieved from http://www.reading.org/general/publications/journals/jaal.aspx.

Hulick, J. (2002) Review of Before We Were FreeBulletin of the Center for Children’s Books 56(3), 97. Retrieved from http://bccb.lis.illinois.edu/.

Jellicoe Road

© Melina Marchetta

Module 5: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

“My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die. I counted. It happened on the Jellicoe Road..”


Jellicoe Road is a story that bridges relationships and how they change us over and through time. Though is has one of the most ominous first lines in book history, the story begins as a seemingly typical high school drama. Kids from the Jellicoe School, the nearby Cadets, and the aptly named “Townies” have a make-believe territory war every year over who controls parts of the landscape surrounding the school. After being abandoned by her mother on the Jellicoe Road at age 11, Taylor’s only real friend at the school, Hannah, has mysteriously disappeared. The territory wars, who’s in them, and where Hannah went all plague Taylor as she puts together pieces of her past and how it relates to the novel Hannah had started but never completed.


If I’m honest, going into this book I was not expecting much. My very good friend who is an avid YA reader suggested that I choose this book as my required reading during the Award Winners section of my class. I am so glad that I read this book. It is easily one of my top 5 favorites as of now. Hannah’s novel is so tragically complex but filled with moments of clarity, wonder, and friendship that it adds such a beautiful backdrop to figuring out the mystery of Taylor Markham’s life. She is surrounded with people who make her feel threatened and although she cares, she is better at shutting people out than showing them. She is crass, but a character most can relate to. If there is only one book that you read this year, it should be Jellicoe Road.


“Even readers with boringly normal lives will recognize the strains of Taylor’s individuation (about Hannah, she says, “I hate her for not working out what I need from her”), and they’ll be relieved to see her and her collection of surprising yet staunch friends finding their way at last.”

– Deborah Stevenson

“Every time I read On the Jellicoe Road [the original Australian title] it simply takes my breath away. I fall in love with this book all over again, it hits me full strength no matter how well I think I know the story, it makes me smile and cry and sometimes both in the same time, all while I get drunk on the beauty of Marchetta’s words.”

– Ariana from ReadingAfterMidnight

Library Use

In a fashion similar to Holes by Louis Sachar or Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, this book is a good example of a non-linear story line. It’s also a really good example of preventing history from repeating itself. Because of the drama within the school, it could also be a good book to use as an example for kids to see the emotional effects of pushing people away.


ReadingAfterMidnight. (2013). Review On the Jellicoe Road [re-read]. Retrieved from http://www.readingaftermidnight.com.

Marchetta, M. (2008). Jellicoe Road. New York, New York: Harper Collins.

Stevenson, D. (2008). Review of Jellicoe RoadBulletin for the Center for Children’s Books 62(3), 124-125. Retrieved from http://muse.jhu.edu/.

Where Things Come Back

© John Corey Whaley

Module 5: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

“I can’t seem to be a pessimist long enough to overlook the possibility of things being overwhelmingly good.”


Cullen Witter lives an ordinary life in small town Arkansas until the day his brother Gabriel goes missing. His town snaps into a frenzy – not just about Gabriel, but also about a thought-to-be-extinct bird: the Lazarus Woodpecker. Cullen describes the seemingly normal interactions following the months after his brother goes missing and how that affects not only himself, but the friends and family that surround him. On another page, Benton Sage is beginning a mission trip in Ethiopia where he feels like his work is doing little to promote the Lord. Benton’s experiences in Ethiopia incite a series of events circulating around the Book of Enoch, obsession, and angels.


There are so many things I could say about this book. The story that Cullen tells, and the story that starts with Benton is meaningful, hopeless at times, and oddly satisfying in it’s tragedy. Though the synopsis on the back of the book mentions the disappearance of Gabriel, reading his interactions with Cullen and his friends and family make him feel so real and likable even in a short amount of time. Throughout the book you get to know Gabriel more and more by the way Cullen describes him – it gets to the point where you can feel Cullen’s sadness as your own. Benton’s interactions in Ethiopia and in school are heavy but give the story a safe melancholy. This story is an important one to be shared because of its insight into how humans interact and experience each other. Cullen Witter has been compared to Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye  by J.D. Salinger and I would say that is a fair assessment.


“Insights into the nature of friendship, male siblings, and sibling loss provide additional dimension, and thoughtful readers will appreciate this coming-of-age story overlaid with a ripped-from-the-headlines mystery and enfolded in a larger narrative about great expectations, loss, and acceptance of the ordinary.”

– Karen Coats

“The realistic characters and fascinating mix of mundane with life changing and tragic events create a memorable story most young adult readers will connect to.”

– Susan Shaver

Library Use

This book would be a great introduction to the teen genre. Cullen is a character that most teens could relate to – he’s average enough to connect with many but his situation is different enough to set him apart. It would also be a good book to talk to kids about loss or even religious fanaticism.


Coats, K. (2011). Review of Where Things Come BackBulletin for the Center for Children’s Books 64(9), 445. Retrieved from http://muse.jhu.edu/.

Shaver, S. (2011). Review of Where Things Come BackLibrary Media Connection 32(2), 78. Retrieved from http://librarymediaconnection.com.

Whaley, J. C. (2011). Where Things Come Back. New York, New York: Anthenum.


© Louis Sachar

Module 4: Holes by Louis Sachar


Holes tells the story of the cursed Stanley Yelnats. His family is cursed because a crime his great-great-grandfather committed. Stanley’s curse causes him to be incorrectly accused of stealing a pair of tennis shoes and sent to Camp Green Lake – a detention center where the boys are taught to dig holes to build character. Holes‘ plot is complex in that it has many interconnected parts. There is the story of Stanley’s grandfather courting a woman named Myra; the origin of the outlaw “Kissin” Kate Barlow; and the the intricacies of how Kissin’ Kate’s and Stanley Yelnats I’s story come together.


Holes is one of the more complex children’s books I have ever read. I read it once before when it was first released and I remembered loving it fully. Now reading it again, I believe this may have been the origin of my love for non-linear story telling in both books and movies (see Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer). Sachar is compelling in his writing and keeps the reader guessing the entire book. His mix of humor and tragedy are superbly executed. Everyone has been blamed for something they have not done, or blamed for something that happened to them or their ancestors, so Stanley’s story is one that is easy to relate to.


“We haven’t seen a book with this much plot, so suspensefully and expertly deployed, in too long a time. And the ending will make you cheer-for the happiness the Yelnats family finally finds-and cry, for the knowledge of how they lost so much for so long, all in the words of a lullaby.”

– Roger Sutton

“This is a wonderfully entertaining book. The intertwined subplots are told bit by bit, so the reader doesn’t figure it all out too soon. The humorous twists keep the reader hooked.”

– Lee Gordon

Library Use

This book is a great option to share with children the idea of storytelling and complex stories. It’s a great backdrop for explaining to them that not all stories are linear and to practice deductive reasoning skills in figuring out the links between the different parts of the story.


Gordon, L. (1999). Review of HolesBook Report 18(1), 66. Retrieved from http://www.librarymediaconnection.com/.

Sachar, L. (1998). Holes. New York, New York: Farrar, Strous, and Giroux.

Sutton, R. (1998). Review of Holes. The Horn Book Magazine 74(5), 593-595. Retrieved from http://www.hbook.com/horn-book-magazine-2/.