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Books Open the World

A Little About Myself

International Literature

A look at literature from abroad ---

Author Focus:  Mem Fox


Fox, Mem. 2000. Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild! Orlando, Florida:

     Harcourt, Inc. ISBN: 0-15-201977-4.


Plot Summary


A story told by Fox of a much-to-real life situation between a mother and daughter.  Harriet seemingly awakens “on the wrong side of the bed” and her mother just might have done the same.  Harriet isn’t trying to annoy her mom, nor is her mom meaning to lose her temper with Harriet; but that’s just what happens.  Each time little Harriet mistakenly messes something up, her mom kindly says, “Harriet, my darling child.  Harriet, you’ll drive me wild.”  As mom’s patience wears thin through Harriet knocking over drinks, dripping paint everywhere, and destroying a pillow, her mom does lose her temper and yells at little Harriet.  The story ends with the two lovingly apologizing to one another.


Illustrator, Marla Frazee, has endured similar incidences in her life, as she is a mother of three boys.  Frazee’s illustrations in Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild! are done in pencil with colored inks that are befitting to the childish nature of the events of the story.  You get a feel that it’s just like your house.  The characters’ facial expressions, body language, and clothing add a reality piece to the story.


Analysis & Literary Considerations


Although Fox’s books appear to be intended for younger audiences, lessons can be gained from the pieces.  The simplistic nature of the language makes for a wonderful read aloud for the very young; however, elementary readers would enjoy Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild! as well.  The predictability of the story through repeated lines aids the amateur reader quite well.




I chose to read this selection with a friend’s little girl.  She was immediately drawn to the cover stating, “She had some overhauls like that!”  Harriet is shown on the cover dressed in her play clothes, accompanied by her dog, and wearing that innocent “what-did-I-do-wrong?” smile.


As stated above, the text proved to have a predictable element that worked well with the reader I chose to share my book with.  She even read along with me in a sing-song manner when we arrived at that line in the book. 


Frazee’s illustrations caught the child’s attention as well.  She seemed to find more humor in the little “accidents” than I did.  We talked about whether she thought Harriet was really accidentally doing these things.  My little reader stated, “No! I don’t think so.”  “She just wants her mommy to pay attention to her!”  I was getting a clear picture that the child was definitely bringing prior knowledge to the story as well as connecting to the piece.


What a wonderful book for parents to share with their children as a demonstration of the need for patience, understanding, and ultimately --- love in the parent-child relationship.


Almond, David. 1998. Skellig. New York: Dell Yearling. ISBN: 0-440-41602-7.


Plot Summary


International author, David Almond, writes a multi-faceted mystery of adventure and discovery.  This prose tells of a ten-year old boy, a new home, and of friendship for Michael.  As if moving to a new house wasn’t heartbreaking enough, Michael’s baby sister becomes ill and his mother and father are at her bedside most of the time.  Poor Michael is overcome by helplessness.


As he wonders about his new surroundings he discovers, inside a dilapidated garage hidden beneath the bluebottles and dead flies, a strange beast-figure.  In an attempt to aid the malnourished creature, Michael and newly-acquainted friend, Mina, elect to befriend the “beast”.


“Skellig”, as he calls himself, insists on remaining inside the old garage, and Michael and Mina must somehow convince him to let them help him before the structure he makes home is torn down, most likely with him dwelling within it.  It is through Mina and Michael’s friendship and compassion that Skellig’s spirit is renewed.


The baby sister miraculously recovers, and the mother tells of an angelic-like being that appears before she and the infant prior to the child’s overcoming her life-threatening illness.


Analysis & Literary Considerations


A piece definitely written for lovers of fantasy/adventure, Skellig will certainly capture the attention of readers the likes of  Harry Potter.  The short chapters allow for possible discussion time if the novel were used in a book study setting. 


The author’s ability to describe the dwelling the creature lived in and his unsightly appearance added a greater dimension to the novel as he spoke of the filth and darkness inside.  Almond illustrates through carefully chosen words the frail, helpless, almost unimaginable creature.  The added connection to Mina’s interest in birds and of nature in general further mystifies the reader.




This book has received numerous awards:  The Michael L. Printz Honor Book, The ALA Notable Children’s Book, The New York Times Notable Book to name a few.  The award that caught my attention; however, was The Parent’s Choice Silver Honor Book. With a book that had received so many awards, I was eager to read Skellig to find out what it was that won the piece such honor.


This book lacks in grabbing the reader’s attention, as the initial one-third of the book drags somewhat.  Almond spends a good portion of the piece building the three separate story lines before weaving them together a little too slow for my taste.  In fact, it isn’t until the end that we learn the ultimate connection.  The reader is left desiring something more substantial to take place a little sooner.


This novel would be of great interest to upper elementary students with an interest in the typical fantasy novels.  In addition,  Skellig could be used as a piece within a friendship unit.


Funke, Cornelia. 2000. The Thief Lord. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.

            ISBN: 0-439-42089-X.


Plot Summary


Fantasy/adventure, The Thief Lord, is a clever story about a group of children gathered together in an old movie theatre in Venice.


Two of the children, Proper and Bo, join the core group when their parents die and they refuse to live with their Aunt Esther.  So, it’s off to the wonderland their mother so fondly spoke of.  The city doesn’t turn out to be quite as the boys had envisioned it to be.  Bo begins to see leader, Scipio, as a role model --- something his brother, Prosper, worries about.  Scipio, who calls himself “The Thief Lord”, represents an image of mystery and thieving to a group of impressionable young people.  Interestingly enough, he too is a youngster.


While Aunt Esther’s hired detective keeps Prosper and Bo dodging out of sight to avoid being captured, the truth about The Thief Lord emerges.  Scipio steals, alright, but he does so from his father --- not from the grand palaces of Venice as he leads the others to believe.


As the story comes to a close, Aunt Esther has a change of heart after spending a mere day with Prosper and Bo.  The two, along with fellow rebels Hornet, Riccio, and Mosca, find comfort and a place to call home with a friend.  The Thief Lord --- well, he becomes a well-known, respected apprentice for the detective Aunt Esther had hired to find Bo and Prosper.


Analysis & Literary Considerations


Sprinkled with bits of Italian throughout the piece, The Thief Lord offers the reader a magical adventure of rebellious children trying to make a life of their own on the streets of Venice.  The author’s use of authentic words with an index in the back provides for a more realistic view of the culture.  In addition, the inclusion of the map of Venice in the front of the piece aids the reader in following the transition of the setting from the various palaces and canals.  Funke’s description of the surroundings, as Prosper and Bo avoid Victor’s capture, bring to life the structural appearance of the streets and buildings.




The mysterious cover of The Thief Lord certainly draws the reader to Funke’s book.  A hazy depiction of a ponte (bridge) with Scipio’s silhouette appearing in the moon provides a glimpse into the mysterious nature of this piece.


The addition of pencil drawings at the beginning of each chapter contribute to the story by providing the reader a taste of Venice, the amazing structures, and canals that are the thoroughfare of this piece of Italy.


The Thief Lord, a book of numerous awards, among them The Mildred L. Batchelder Award, New York Times Bestseller, and USA Today Bestseller, slowly brings the reader into the piece.  Once engaged, the reader finds himself engrossed in the adventures of the children, their leader, and others trying to lend aid to them.

Thumbnail pictures of books provided by Scholastic, Inc.'s website,, and Barnes & Noble respectively.

Experience it with me!!!