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  • 2011 Comstock Read Aloud Honor Book

    Gunner, Football Hero written and illustrated by James E. Ransome and published by Holiday House, 2010.

    Gunner Football HeroGunner loves football and wants to be a star quarterback, but he looks different from most players, “too short and too round.” The Pee Wee football coaches are skeptical of his abilities until they see him throw a pass. They immediately sign him up as the third-string quarterback. Gunner faithfully attends all the practices, studies the playbook, and watches college and pro football on weekends. Nevertheless, he spends the season sitting on the bench. In the last game, both the first and second-string quarterbacks are injured, and the coaches send in Gunner. The fans sigh. Much to everyone’s amazement, Gunner throws “a straight-as-an-arrow spiral” and the receiver scores a touchdown, and then he throws another “long bomb” for a second touchdown. When Gunner makes his final throw, he’s not so lucky. It’s intercepted by a small player who jumps high in the air to make the catch. Still Gunner is a hero and receives the rookie of the year trophy. Children enjoyed the surprise twist at the story’s end which revealed that the player who intercepted the pass and won for the opposition was a girl.

    Ransome uses watercolor to create numerous double-page spreads. A dramatic vertical page captures the story’s climax of the interception. Children enjoyed the “great illustrations” and especially liked the facial expressions, which depict the characters through cartoon caricatures. One third grade group noted that the “illustrations helped give feeling to the story.”\

    This book was enjoyed by children from ages seven through twelve. A fifth grade teacher commented that the story flowed along perfectly and had just the right amount of words per page. A coach who read the book aloud noted that “it was a good book to talk about perseverance.” Children liked how Gunner kept plugging away, not giving up. A mother who read the story aloud to twelve-year-olds liked Gunner’s strong, supportive parents and the message “Be all you can be and stand tall.” The story elicited much discussion. One reader sums it up best: “The author has written the story in a way that the reader becomes Gunner.”

    James R. Ransome, who is an Assistant Professor of Art at Syracuse University, lives with his family in New York state.

    An activity sheet for this book is available on the publisher's website. CAROL HANSON SIBLEY

    My Brother CharlieMy Brother Charlie writen by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete with Denene Millner, illustrated by Shane W. Evans, and published by Scholastic Press, 2010.

    Told through the voice of a young girl who has a brother with autism, this touching book tells the story of a love between siblings, even when one child cannot always communicate that love. Charlie and Callie are twins, but that doesn’t mean that they are similar. Charlie has always been a bit different, and that’s because he has autism. His autism often makes it hard for Charlie to communicate with people and interact with kids his own age. It can be tough being Charlie’s sister, but there are good things too. Even when he can’t find the words, Charlie manages to tell his sister how much he loves her in ways that only he can. Evans’ mixed media art in vivid colors focuses on characters with large, Japanese manga-stylized eyes that bring the Peetes’ semi-autobiographical story to life.

    This story was read aloud to children from ages eight through eleven. It incited a lot of discussion during read aloud sessions. Children paid intent attention throughout and understood the messages of showing love and accepting those with differences. One child commented, “I like that the book told us it’s okay to have autism.” Other children stated that they could understand how an autistic child thinks after reading this book. Discussions from this book brought classrooms together and helped students better relate to others. An authors’ note explains in some detail the authors’ motivation for writing the book and encourages everyone to “find value in the uniqueness of people.”

    Actress Holly Robinson Peete is a board member of Autism Speaks and travels internationally to advocate on behalf of autism causes. Her daughter, Ryan Elizabeth Peete, often travels with her to speak about her experiences with her brother, RJ, who has autism. The Peetes live in Beverly Hills, California. Shane W. Evans lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

    A video by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete about this book can be found at the publishers website. BRITTANY LAZUR