Monday, November 26, 2007

Genre 6 Fiction, Fantasy, & YA: The House of the Scorpion

The House of the Scorpion
1. Bibliography:
Farmer, Nancy. 2002. THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0-689-85222-3

2. Plot Summary:
In a futuristic world eerily similar to ours, Matteo Alacran was harvested instead of born. He is a clone of a rich and powerful drug lord and it is at his whim that Matt is allowed to live. When Matt realizes that his life was created to prolong El Patron’s, he decides his only chance for survival is to escape the compound and the bodyguards that surround him and take his chances in the world beyond. He is treated worse than an animal on the compound but the life that awaits him on the outside is one of child slavery. His daring escape and the friends he makes along the way give him the strength and courage to return victorious to his former home and right the wrongs of past generations.

3. Critical Analysis:
In her Science Fiction novel, The House of the Scorpion, Nancy Farmer brings us into a futuristic world where clones are harvested for body parts to prolong life and others are rendered mentally void of original thoughts. This book deals with several complex themes such as cloning, humanity, civil rights, immortality and self-awareness. In Matt’s world, clones are treated worse than barnyard animals and most are turned into ‘eejits’, which are implanted with a chip to suppress original thought, and make them totally subservient. When Matt and Tam Lin come across a man lying dead in the field, Tam Lin explains that the Farm Workers are eejits, “That’s why they work without resting until the foreman orders them to stop and why they don’t drink water unless someone tells them to.” The reader is exposed to the horror of slavery and the idea that the government allows humans to be turned in to robots used primarily at one’s will. Matt’s world closely resembles our own and his thoughts and fears are similar to many children’s. He has a desire to be loved, live freely without humiliation and embarrassment, and explore his dreams. Readers can identify with Matt’s fears and frustrations and he realizes his role in ‘life’. He was created to prolong his benefactor’s life, El Patron. El Patron’s death symbolizes Matt’s freedom as he escapes from the compound, but he is still not free. He is captured on the outside and forced to work in a shrimp harvesting camp. Here he is able to show his true self and use his intelligence and leadership skills to lead his newfound friends on an escape back to his original home where he has the chance to live as the new Matteo Alacran and make good choices instead of selfish ones.

4. Review Excerpts:
Newbery Honor Book 2003
Michael L. Printz Honor Book 2003
Starred in KIRKUS. “Farmer has a talent for creating exciting tales in beautifully realized, unusual worlds. With undertones of vampires, Frankenstein, dragons' hoards, and killing fields, Matt's story turns out to be an inspiring tale of friendship, survival, hope, and transcendence. A must-read for SF fans.”
Starred in HORNBOOK. “Farmer has shown great imagination in creating a unique, plausible, and disquieting view of the future.”
Starred in BOOKLIST. “This is a powerful, ultimately hopeful, story that builds on today's sociopolitical, ethical, and scientific issues and prognosticates a compelling picture of what the future could bring.”

5. Connections:
Other books by Nancy Farmer:
THE SEA OF TROLLS. ISBN 0-689-86744-1
Related books:
THE GIVER by Lois Lowry ISBN 0-553-57133-8
TUCK EVERLASTING by Natalie Babbitt ISBN 0-374-37848-7
Make a new book jacket for the cover
Find and research scorpions in books or on the web
Create a Reader’s Theater from Chapter 26 The Lost Boys

Genre 6 Fiction, Fantasy, & YA: Monster

1. Bibliography:
Myers, Walter D. 1999. MONSTER. Ill. by Christopher Myers. New York, NY: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-06-028078-6

2. Plot Summary:
Told from sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon’s point of view, Walter Dean Myers puts us right in the middle of a murder trial that could very well end up with a guilty verdict. Myers two formats to convey Steve’s thoughts; through diary-like narratives we see what it is like to be in prison and in film script format the courtroom trial unfolds. What will the jury decide?

3. Critical Analysis:
Award winning novelist Walter Dean Myers spins a chillingly realistic tale of what it is like to be on trial for murder. Through journal entries and script like texts the saga of the courtroom proceedings and Steve Harmon’s thoughts and fears become jarringly clear. The gritty dialog makes the characters jump from the page as the readers can imagine themselves sitting in the courtroom as a juror member or family friend. “KING- Yeah. All we need is a lookout. You know, check the place out—make sure ain’t no badges copping some z’s in the back. You down for it?” Christopher Myers’ stark pencil illustrations bring Steve to life. His sometimes blurred images reinforce the doubt and confusion that Steve feels. Myers brings in the reality of prison life by including sounds and images into Steve’s journal writings. “There was a fight just before lunch and a guy was stabbed in the eye. The guy who was stabbed was screaming, but that didn’t stop the other guy from hitting him more. Violence in here is always happening or just about ready to happen. I think these guys like it—they want it to be normal because that’s what they’re used to dealing with.” Steve’s conscience and his frustration about the consequences of his decisions drive this story and make it a gut wrenching, coarse journey into right and wrong. Readers can identify with Steve’s moral dilemma of self-punishment and pity. He is greatly disturbed by the effect his actions have had on his family. This eye-opening tale of one man’s decision to be in the wrong place at the wrong time gives us all reason to reflect that even the smallest choices can lead to greater problems.

4. Review Excerpts:
Coretta Scott King Award Winner 2000
Reviewed in BOOKLIST. “The tense drama of the courtroom scenes will enthrall readers, but it is the thorny moral questions raised in Steve's journal that will endure in readers' memories.”
Starred in HORNBOOK. “Myers adeptly allows each character to speak for him or herself, leaving readers to judge for themselves the truthfulness of the defendants, witnesses, lawyers, and, most compellingly, Steve himself.”
Reviewed in SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL. “It's an emotionally charged story that readers will find compelling and disturbing.”

5. Connections:
Other books by Walter Dean Myers:
SCORPIONS. ISBN 0-06-024365-1
Other related books:
MAKING UP MEGABOY by Virginia Walter ISBN 0-385-32686-6
TEARS OF A TIGER by Sharon Draper ISBN 0-689-31878-2
FORGED BY FIRE by Sharon Draper ISBN 0-689-80699-X
Find and read scripts and screenplays. Investigate the notes about camera angles and shots, etc.
Visit a local jail or police station to take a tour
Have students write about what they think Steve does after the trial

Genre 6 Fiction, Fantasy, & YA: The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux
1. Bibliography:
DiCamillo, Kate. 2003. THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX. Ill. By Timothy Basil Ering. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0-7636-1722-9

2. Plot Summary:
Despereaux Tilling is a mouse on a quest for adventure. From the moment of his birth, he was bound for greater things. The only surviving mouse from his litter, born with his eyes wide open and big ears, Despereaux was always a bit different. He hears music one day and breaks a major rule in the animal world. He speaks to a human. Not only does he speak to Princess Pea, he eventually falls in love with her and goes on a journey through the castle to the deep, dark dungeon to save her life and, in a way, his own.

3. Critical Analysis:
In her Newbery Award winning novel, Kate DiCamillo tells the heroic tale of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse bound for greatness. In this low fantasy of talking animals, royalty, castles and dungeons, DiCamillo digs into themes of love, bravery, sacrifice, and hope. In a quirky take on novel writing, DiCamillo speaks directly to the reader as if they were right there along for the adventure, watching from the sidelines. This approach, which was at first disconcerting, eventually grows on the reader and leaves them wanting more. “Reader, do you know what ‘perfidy’ means? I have a feeling you do, based on the little scene that has just unfolded here. But you should look up the word in your dictionary, just to be sure.” The reader feels the need to do exactly what she says else they might miss something important. (It means treachery or deceit, by the way!) There is much symbolism in the way Despereaux is described. His ‘big ears’ give him the ability to hear the beautiful music, which in effect starts his adventure. They also cause him to listen to and be aware of others and empathize with them. Miggery Sow, on the other hand, has her ears beat so much that they are described as useless and like cauliflower. She is hard of hearing and slow witted. She is instrumental in setting Princess Pea up for her impending doom. Despereaux is born with his ‘eyes wide open’ and the only one of his litter to live. These descriptions give the reader the impression that he is on a solo journey from the beginning and he is bound for greatness. Being born with his eyes open implies that he is aware of and accepts his fate, and will use the ability to catch even the smallest detail to his advantage. His red thread around his neck that banishes him from the mouse world is much like Hester Prynne’s Scarlet Letter A that announces her sin to the public. Readers will enjoy the feeling of being a part of the adventure and how every comes out in the end. Will they live, “Happily Ever After”? You must read to find out more…

4. Review Excerpts:
Awarded Newbery Medal 2003
Starred in KIRKUS. “And so unwinds a tale with twists and turns, full of forbidden soup and ladles, rats lusting for mouse blood, a servant who wishes to be a princess, a knight in shining-or, at least, furry-armor, and all the ingredients of an old-fashioned drama.”
Starred in HORNBOOK. “Framing the book with the conventions of a Victorian novel, DiCamillo tells an engaging tale.”
Starred in BOOKLIST. “Part of the charm comes from DiCamillo's deceptively simple style and short chapters in which the author addresses the reader: "Do you think rats do not have hearts? Wrong. All living things have a heart.” And as with the best stories, there are important messages tucked in here and there, so subtly that children who are carried away by the words won't realize they have been uplifted until much later. Ering's soft pencil illustrations reflect the story's charm.”

5. Connections:
Other books by Kate DiCamillo:
Related books:
HAPPILY EVER AFTER ed. Bruce Lansky. ISBN 1-59961-130-9
THE FROG PRINCESS by E.D. Baker ISBN 1-58234-799-9
Find recipes for and make soup to enjoy while you read
Read about and find more information about castles
Have students reenact the Mouse Council and make cases for Despereaux’s fate as if they were his lawyer.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Genre 5 Historical Fiction/Biography

Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam
1. Bibliography:
Kadohata, Cynthia. 2007. CRACKER! THE BEST DOG IN VIETNAM. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 1416906371

2. Plot Summary:
Told against the backdrop of the 1960’s and the Vietnam War, Cracker! is a moving and emotional story of friendship and trust between a man and a dog. Cracker, the German Shepard and Rick Hanski, her handler, travel to Vietnam with the U.S. Army to detect enemies, bombs and traps to secure the safety of the soldiers at war. Rick and Cracker overcome their differences and learn to work together to save many lives and complete several successful missions. The Army has a policy that animals are looked upon as equipment that is to be destroyed when their usefulness has ended…will Cracker make it back to the U.S. alive when their tour of duty is over or will she be yet another casualty of war?

3. Critical Analysis:
Newbery Award winning author Cynthia Kadohata gives us an action packed glimpse into the Vietnam War through the eyes of Cracker, a German Shepard scout dog and her handler, Rick. Kadohata creates a gripping, emotional tale that will cause you to laugh and cry. Told from both the viewpoints of Rick and Cracker, Kadohata provides us with insight from all perspectives of the war. The author keeps the story believable because Cracker thinks and acts like a dog, the reader just gets to hear her thoughts, no one else. “Cracker had no idea what he was saying, but he sure did know how to pet a dog.” Kadohata sets the stage for the gritty reality of the war. “Cracker thumped against the man and heard his gun fire a moment later. She knew just where to sink her teeth: the man’s neck. Once his neck was torn, she swung around and saw Rick pushing himself up. He looked in her eyes for just a half a second, and she could see he was fine. Then he started running, and she ran after him.” Her accurate descriptions of the military maneuvers came from first hand accounts of Dog Handlers and Scout Platoons who served in the war. She provides an Author’s Note and Acknowledgements along with photos of soldiers and their dogs, which gives validity to her work. Readers will be thrilled at the ending and anxious to learn more about these brave soldiers who gave their lives so valiantly.

4. Review Excerpts:
Reviewed in KIRKUS. “Despite thin spots, the story succeeds on the strength of its characters, their struggles and their relationship, reaching a readership that doesn't get enough quality writing in this genre.”
Starred in HORNBOOK. “Without asking too much of her middle-grade readers, Kadohata creates tension and pathos around the bonds between humans and dogs in wartime.”
Starred in BOOKLIST. “The author of Kira-Kira (2004) andWeedflower (2006) tells a stirring, realistic story of America's war in Vietnam, using the alternating viewpoints of an army dog named Cracker and her 17-year-old handler, Rick Hanski, who enlists to "whip the world" and avoid a routine job.”

5. Connections:
Other books by Cynthia Kadohata:
KIRA-KIRA. ISBN 0-689-85639-3
WEEDFLOWER ISBN 0-689-86574-0
Related books:
Paulsen, Gary. WOODSONG. ISBN 0-02-770221-9
*Students can research Scout Dogs and how they are used in War and Peacetime situations.
*Invite a dog trainer/handler to speak to the students and possibly demonstrate dog training techniques.
*Find Vietnam on a map and explore the country and research their culture.
*Research Scout Dog platoons on the internet and read about real dogs who actually served in Vietnam. (EX: )

Genre 5: Historical Fiction/Biography

1. Bibliography:
LaFaye, A. 2004. WORTH. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1416916245

2. Plot Summary:
Twelve-year-old Nate is injured at the beginning of this story and can no longer help his family with the grueling demands of maintaining a farm on the Nebraska prairie. His father brings in John Worth, an orphan from New York City, to help with the job. Nate and John, each fighting their own internal battles, must overcome their differences and work together to save the farmland from the ‘fence cutters’ who are trying to wreak havoc on the community.

3. Critical Analysis:
Alexandria LaFaye creates a moving story of friendship and courage in her account of two boys in nineteenth century Nebraska. The setting of the story makes the historical period come to life. Nate is injured while working on the family farm during a lightening storm. Medical attention is hard to come by and practices for mending a broken leg were much different in the 1800’s. After months of recuperating, he is lame and unable to help his father tend to the crops. When Nate’s father brings home an orphan boy to help with the chores, Nate begins to feel insecure about his worth. LaFaye keeps the dialog true to the spirit of the time. “On account of my mood, Ma thought my leg had me down in the body, so she brought me my supper in bed.” Her style reflects the flavor of the times and she creates a beautiful story of overcoming adversity in the unyielding Nebraska prairie. Nate must deal with his injury and inability to pull his weight on the farm and John must adjust to his new surroundings that are so different from his city upbringing and deal with the grief from the loss of his family. Both Nate and John discover their ‘worth’ and find their true value to their family and the community. Readers will identify with Nate’s jealousy of John and his insecurity about not living up to his father’s expectations. These are timeless emotions that readers of all ages can appreciate and share. LaFaye has created an enjoyable tale of daring and hope and leaves you wondering what happens next.

4. Review Excerpts:
Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction Winner 2005
Starred in BOOKLIST. “The short, spare novel doesn't need the heavy heroic parallels; it tells its own story of darkness and courage. A great choice for American history classes.”
Starred in HORNBOOK. “This short tale has a quietly epic sweep.”
Reviewed in SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL. “A satisfying piece of historical fiction.”

5. Connections:
Other books by Alexandria LaFaye:
NISSA’S PLACE. ISBN 0-689-82610-9
*Read and compare with other books written by A. LaFaye and look for similarities and differences.
*Research the North American Council on Adoptable Children (
*Research Orphan Trains at
*Create a Readers Theatre to enact from Chapter 18, “What We Learn”.
Other related books:
Osborne, Mary Pope. 1989. FAVORITE GREEK MYTHS. ISBN 0-590-41338-4
Warren, Andrea. 1996. ORPHAN TRAIN RIDER: ONE BOY’S TRUE STORY. ISBN 0-395-69822-7

Genre 5: Historical Fiction/Biography

1. Bibliography:
Stanley, Diane. 2000. MICHELANGELO. Hong Kong: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-688-15085-3

2. Plot Summary:
Diane Stanley once again captures the essence of her subject, this time Michelangelo, to create a masterpiece. Michelangelo Buonarroti’s life unfolds to reveal a chaotic, cantankerous artist who suffered with disappointment, loneliness, and frustration. Stanley tells the story of this Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect and poet most famous for his work on the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.

3. Critical Analysis:
Stanley’s beautifully illustrated biography of Michelangelo enhances the artist’s work while adding visual depth to understanding his immense gift. Michelangelo’s art was his life and that is expertly defined in this quote, “I already have a wife who is too much for me; one who keeps me unceasingly struggling on. It is my art, and my works are my children.” Stanley provides many graphic aids to enrich the details of the story. A map of Italy in the Age of Michelangelo helps the reader understand the distance traveled by the artist in the course of his life. She also includes a Bibliography for reference to other sources about the great artist, which gives credibility to the details of his existence. Readers will enjoy the trivia facts about some of Michelangelo’s works that provide a human and realistic quality to a long gone icon. Stanley intersperses the narrative of Michelangelo’s life with details about the art itself. When telling about the painting of the Sistine Chapel she notes that, “Michelangelo had painted the ceiling in reverse…As a result of what he saw, he approached the second half differently…His style changed too, gradually becoming more confident and bold.” When discussing the painting, The Last Judgment, we learn that he, “even painted himself into the picture in a most gruesome way—his is the dark, distorted face on the flayed skin held by Saint Bartholomew.” This poignant and insightful account of Michelangelo’s life allows the reader to see the artist as he really existed, complete with frustrations, doubts, insecurities, and family problems. Stanley completes her own masterpiece by showing us that Michelangelo was a real person who happened to have a great gift of art.

4. Review Excerpts:
Starred in KIRKUS. “This handsome, affordable, lavishly illustrated and wonderfully readable book has broad appeal. It deserves heavy representation in home, school, and public library collections.”
Starred in HORNBOOK. “Stanley captures in words and pictures the essence of Michelangelo, man of the Renaissance--sculptor, painter, architect.”
Starred in BOOKLIST. “Stanley continues her series of outstanding biographies, but this time she puts a new twist on some venerable art by using computer images. One of the most pleasing things about Stanley's books is the way her sturdy texts stand up to her strong artwork.

5. Connections:
Other books by Diane Stanley:
CLEOPATRA. ISBN 0-688-15480-8
Related books:
Vasari, Giorgio. 2003. LIFE OF MICHELANGELO. ISBN 0-8189-0935-8
Cook, Diane. 2003. MICHELANGELO. ISBN 1-59084-156-5
*Research Michelangelo and other Renaissance Artists on the Internet.
*Compare Diane Stanley’s other works and find similarities and differences between them. (Especially fun would be to compare and contrast Michelangelo and DaVinci)
*Have students choose one illustration from the book and write a story about it.
*Show a book of Anatomy and have students try to draw the human form.