Sample Book Ideas for Literature-Based Reading Enthusiasts

From the 1993 edition of:
The Handbook for the Young Reader's Choice Award
sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Library Association.

for more information contact
Gale Sherman:
Bette Ammon:

The 1993 Young Reader's Choice Award Winner (Grade 9-12):
The Face on the Milk Carton
by Caroline B. Cooney

PUBLICATION DETAILS: Cloth: 192 pages 1990. $14.95 (ISBN 0-553-05853-3). Bantam. Paper: 184p. 1990. $3.50 (ISBN 0-553-28958-6). Bantam.
GENRES: Contemporary realistic fiction, mystery
THEMES: Kidnapping, self esteem, boy-girl relationships, honesty, friendship, families, cults, school life
READABILITY: Sixth grade
INTEREST LEVEL: Seventh through twelfth grade


"There's a good bit of melodrama in the plot (a cult-influenced mother and a pair of nervous grandparents hiding from the Hare Krishna), as well as a sort of half-baked romance. But Cooney does not give into facile resolutions, and her depiction of Jane's personal quandary, while not rendered with depth, seems real enough as it follows the girl's struggle to make sense of what's happened and to balance her feelings for the couple she knows as her parents with her curiosity about the family to which she once belonged." Booklist 86(12):1154 Feb 15 '90. Stephanie Zvirin.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 43(6):133 Feb '90. Roger Sutton.

"Many young people fantasize about having been adopted or even kidnapped, but the decisions Janie must face are painful and complex, and she experiences denial, anger, and guilt while sorting her way toward a solution. Janie's boyfriend--sensible, funny, with problems of his own--is an excellent foil for her intensity. Their romance is natural and believable. Cooney again demonstrates an excellent ear for dialogue and a gift for protraying responsible middle-class teenagers trying to come to terms with very real concerns. School Library Journal 36(2):109 Feb '90. Tatiana Castleton.

"The Face on the Milk Carton is sure to be selected one of the best books for young adults for 1990. If it is not, then the committee should take a second look. I could not put it down....Cooney does a beautiful job of writing and most readers will do as I did and read the book in one sitting. The story is a heartwarming one and will have some teenagers questioning their identities." Voice of Youth Advocates 12(6):341 Feb '90. Geraldine Harris. (Rating: #5-quality, #5-popularity)



Caroline B. Cooney born and bred in Connecticut and still lives there in a small town. She began writing mysteries in college because that was her genre of choice to read. Since she was first published at age 30, Cooney has written numerous books for children and young adults, including a television movie adaptation of her book Rear View Mirror. She writes romances also because she believes "that to love and to be loved are the most fierce desires any of us will ever have." Cooney has two daughters and one son. She likes talking long walks on the beach, playing piano for school music programs, embroidery, and reading.


Janie Johnson thinks her life is fine (except her name is boring) until she sees a milk carton picture of three-year-old missing child. Suddenly Janie's life becomes confused as she has flashbacks of her early childhood. She does some investigating at home and finds a locked trunk labeled with the name Hannah and the polka dot dress the child on the milk carton is wearing. Janie is haunted by unanswered questions: Are her parents really her parents? Who is Hannah? Does she have another family somewhere else?


This compelling, fast read will be devoured by romance readers and mystery lovers alike. Both the subject and the writing style rapidly carry the reader forward. You won't have to read this aloud - booktalk it to hook potential readers.


Janie saw a Face on a Milk Carton. She recognized it as her own three-year-old self - but how could that be possible - that would mean she had been kidnapped twelve years ago.
Inside, her mind spun. It was like having a color wheel for a brain. When it slowed down, things were separate, like primary colors: I have a mother and a father...I have a childhood...I was not kidnapped...kidnapping means bad people...I don't know any bad people...therefore I am making this up. But when her mind speeded up, the colors blended dizzily. That is me on there. I, Janie Johnson; I was kidnapped. But it could not be. The facts did not compute. She tried to climb outside her mind and go where her body was: sitting neatly at a desk, neatly taking notes. It was like crawling on glass. No matter how firmly she resolved not to think such stupid things, she thought them. She slithered backward into her mind. Perhaps it's insanity...(pages 13-14, paperback edition)
Is Janie insane? Is the face on the milk carton really her?


Too many questions and not enough answers. Janie has reason to believe that her parents might have kidnapped her - stolen her away from her real family when she was three years old. The time is right for a confrontation with her mother.
I will go mad if I don't find out, [Janie] thought. If I'm not already mad. Still dripping from the rain, clinging to her book bag, Janie said, "I want to know why there aren't any photographs of me until I'm five. Even if you didn't buy a camera until then, you would have had a baby portrait done. I want to know who Hannah is upstairs in the trunk. I want to know why you won't let me see my birth certificate." (page 79, paperback edition)
Janie's question are all answered in The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney.


Mental Health:

Janie's mother urges her to seek professional counseling to deal with the new discoveries concerning their family. Many teens may need help at one time or another as they cope with stress, relationships, peer pressure, school, etc. Make available some self-help books such as Sarah Gilbert's Get Help Solving the Problems in Your Life (Morrow Jr. Books, 1989), Teenage Survival Manual: How To Reach 20 in One Piece (and enjoy every step of the journey) by H. Samm Coombs (Discovery, 1989), and/or You'll Survive by Fred Powledge (Scribner, 1986).


Janie is able to locate newspaper articles about her kidnapping by referring to the New York Times Index and then she finds the actual articles on microfilm. Have students choose a date or an event and use local or national newspaper indexes to retrieve information.

Social Issue:

The issue of missing children is continually addressed in the media. Newspaper and magazine articles abound and television programs frequently focus on missing or kidnapped children. Featuring photographs on milk cartons is one method of trying to locate some of these children. Using periodical indexes and other resources, students can research this social problem. How many children are missing each year? How many are located? What are the circumstances surrounding these various events? Organizations such as Child Find of America, Box 277, New Paltz, NY 12561 (800) 431-5005 and Find the Children, 11811 West Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064 (213) 477-6721 serve as contact points to reunite parents and children.



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Copyright © 1992 by Gale Sherman & Bette Ammon. All right reserved.
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