Whales on Stilts and A House of Tailors

By Lani Harac — April 15, 2005 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

For restless adolescents—kids 12 and older—there’s nothing like an exciting adventure, even if it means getting some scrapes and bruises along the way. In Odo Hirsch’s Yoss (Delacorte), the 14-year-old title character is a naive boy who leaves his mountaintop village for what’s meant to be a symbolic rite of passage. He encounters various scoundrels, thieves, and brigands in the towns he visits but eventually finds his way home with his innocence intact. In A House of Tailors (Wendy Lamb), by Patricia Reilly Giff, Dina Kirk is forced to make a new home for herself in America after leaving Germany in the 1870s. She’s pleased about the move until she discovers that the sewing work she so hated in Breisach is how she must earn her keep in Brooklyn. The outspoken behavior that gets the teenager into trouble early on ultimately proves to be her greatest strength.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Gifts (Harcourt) is set in the mythical Uplands, where strength is measured in terms of the power each person wields: speaking to animals, for example, or destroying with a glance. Fearful of their capacity for harm, two children decide to forsake their supernatural skills and develop more earthly ones. In World War II Shanghai, Ye Xian thinks that her only skill is enraging her stepmother, who kicks the girl out of the house after an argument. Adeline Yen Mah’s Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society (HarperCollins) follows Ye Xian as she joins an eclectic band of orphans, learns kung fu, and embarks on a covert mission to aid a group of American airmen.


Libby Madrigal, 14, still lives with both her parents, but whenever her father gets drunk, which is often, he seems completely different. In The Serious Kiss (HarperCollins), by Mary Hogan, Libby longs for a typical teenage life as her father struggles to rediscover himself. Kalpana’s Dream (Front Street), by Judith Clarke, tells of another kind of search. Neema, an Australian girl, is unexpectedly visited by her great-grandmother from India; Kalpana has come because a recurring dream promises she can see her late husband’s beloved face again. As Neema gets to know her family’s history, she feels a strange connection with a new boy in school, who unwittingly played a part in Kalpana’s visit.

Julia Song is carrying out a family tradition by breeding silkworms—in this case, for the state fair. But she’s worried that the activity, suggested by her mom, is too Korean compared with the pies, quilts, and other Americana being made by others. At the end of each chapter in Project Mulberry (Clarion), Julia also “converses” with author Linda Sue Park about how the book was written. M.T. Anderson takes the whimsical even further in Whales on Stilts! (Harcourt), a kind of comic book without pictures. When Lily Gefelty discovers that a thinly disguised mad scientist plans to take over the world by hypnotizing the sea creatures and outfitting them with laser-beam eyes, she enlists two superhero pals to foil his nefarious plot.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 2005 edition of Teacher as KIDSBOOKS


Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Boosting Student and Staff Mental Health: What Schools Can Do
Join this free virtual event based on recent reporting on student and staff mental health challenges and how schools have responded.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
Practical Methods for Integrating Computer Science into Core Curriculum
Dive into insights on integrating computer science into core curricula with expert tips and practical strategies to empower students at every grade level.
Content provided by

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum More States Require Schools to Teach Cursive Writing. Why?
Technological advances notwithstanding, advocates give a long list of reasons for teaching students cursive.
5 min read
Photo of child practicing cursive writing.
iStock / Getty Images Plus
Curriculum Computer Science Courses Are on the Rise—But Girls Are Still Half as Likely to Take It
Schools expanded the availability of foundational computer science classes, but stubborn gaps in access to those courses persist.
4 min read
Photograph of diverse group of primary school students using laptops in a bright classroom.
Curriculum Many States Are Limiting How Schools Can Teach About Race. Most Voters Disagree
A majority of polled voters want students to learn about the history of racism and slavery in the United States and its legacy today.
4 min read
The "statue" of Michelle Obama, played by Kaylee Gray, talks to students during Black History Month's wax museum at Chestnut Grove Elementary School in Decatur, Ala., on Feb. 27, 2020. Instead of the usual assembly, Chestnut Grove students played the roles of famous black and white people who contributed to the civil rights movement and black people who have made significant contributions to history.
The "statue" of Michelle Obama, played by Kaylee Gray, talks to students during Black History Month's wax museum at Chestnut Grove Elementary School in Decatur, Ala., on Feb. 27, 2020.
Jeronimo Nisa/The Decatur Daily via AP
Curriculum Download DOWNLOADABLE: Choosing Grade School Books With Complex Representation of People and Topics
A new tool from The Education Trust helps educators think deeply about what complex representation of people, cultures, and topics means.
1 min read
Image of an open book, and a hand drawing a character of the content.