Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Professional Book Review-Final Project

Littlejohn, Carol and Cathlyn Thomas. 2001. Keep Talking That Book: Booktalks to Promote Reading, Grades 2-12 Volume III. Worthington, OH: Linworth Publishing.

Carol Littlejohn has created the third volume of her successful Professional Growth Series books, Keep Talking That Book: Booktalks to Promote Reading, Grades 2-12. Author and library media specialist Littlejohn “aims to help media specialists and others use booktalks or brief book chats to stimulate interest among individuals of all ages and ultimately match the right readers with the right books.” For Volume III, she has collaborated with school librarian and writer Cathlyn Thomas to produce a valuable booktalk resource.

This slim volume is jam packed with information divided into five parts. Readers will find a list of book awards, an alphabetical list of tips and strategies, genre and subject headings, sample booktalks, and indexes. The efficient, user friendly organization of the volume allows the reader to skim and access information instantly.

Part 1 includes a list of book awards arranged alphabetically. Most of the booktalks listed in the volume are based on books from recommended reading lists. Readers will find the background information on the various awards highly valuable.

In Part 2 booktalkers are treated to an alphabetical listing of tips and strategies, and yes, there is something for every letter of the alphabet. Take X, for example, “X-Files: Booktalk any topic related to the X-Files television series, aliens, telepathy, Bermuda Triangle, any conspiracy topics, the FBI, anything supernatural, fiction or nonfiction. Like magic, the books will disappear!”

Part 3 finds a list of Genres and Subject headings for beginners or those in need of an inspirational boost. This particular volume offers some subject headings like Bullies, Holidays, Mental Illness, Moving, Nature, Seasons, and Transportation that were not listed in the previous editions.

Dive in to Part 4 for a multitude of booktalks for readers of all ages. Arranged alphabetically by the author’s last name, they also include bibliographic information, age/grade appropriateness, various book awards, genre, subject, and related books. A section called “Notes” is included to give any additional information about the book, author, genre, or maturity content. If profanity is present in the book, it might be noted here. At times, the ending of the book may be revealed in the notes, but this is only information for the booktalker. The authors stress, “The ending of a book should never be shared with students since the purpose of booktalks is to encourage reading.”

The Indexes of Part 5 are a helpful listing of author, title, reading level, genre, and subject lists. The authors have made it easy to use the Genre and Subject indexes to reference books or booktalks that will assist them to further arouse interest in reading from a particular subject area. Designed to match related books for booktalking themes and recommendations, these indexes are an asset to any educator.

If you are thinking about implementing a booktalking program at your school or library and you would like to motivate students to read, this book provides a helpful framework for getting started. Littlejohn and Thomas have created awesome models to use and execute and mold into your own to inspire and stimulate a life long love of reading. The easy to use booktalk format will allow you to springboard ideas and create new and exciting booktalks for your readers, reluctant or not. In the words of Carol Littlejohn, “Let’s keep talking those books!”

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Module 8 NonFiction: Sports Illustrated Kids

Sports Illustrated Kids
Sports Illustrated April 2007

Sports Illustrated Kids is designed to provide sports entertainment and news to children and young adults. Sports Illustrated Kids is filled with full-color, glossy photographs in this 65-page magazine. The graphics are busy and varied with text, charts, lists and tables to represent a variety of sports information and statistics. There is something for every sports fan, girl or boy. In this particular issue, readers can find two full sized, pull-out posters, nine detachable sports cards featuring a variety of sports and teams, male and female, jokes, games and cartoons, in addition to the well written and informative articles. Perfect for reluctant readers and sports enthusiasts alike, this magazine is visually appealing with colors, graphics and texts making an exciting reading experience. This issue featured articles on NBA breakout stars, making a baseball bat, a college Lacrosse star, and Soccer favorite, David Beckham. Readers are encouraged to visit the Sports Illustrated Kids website at sikids.com and read additional articles and participate in other online events. Accurate and factual information, engaging interviews with sports favorites, fun and entertaining games and action packed photographs make this a magazine kids will be unable to put down. Winner of the Association of Educational Publishers and the Parent’s Choice Award, this is a magazine that parents and children can enjoy together.

Module 8 NonFiction: Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud forest of New Guinea

Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud forest of New Guinea
Montgomery, Sy. 2006. Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud forest of New Guinea. Photographs by Nic Bishop. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

“A kangaroo, in a tree?” Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop have once again teamed up to bring us an up close look at life in a cloud rain forest of Papua, New Guinea. Filled with facts and trivia, this award winning book is more than just information about another endangered species. The text and graphics bring the reader right into the heart of the expedition as Montgomery details the journey with an introduction to the team, an account of the supplies needed to survive and vivid dialog and descriptions of their unique and daring field trip in the wild. The story follows the passion of scientist and conservationist, Lisa Dabek, in her search for the endangered Matschie’s tree kangaroo. Montgomery’s narrative can be embraced by readers of all ages as she provides phonetic pronunciation guides after each scientific or difficult word. She even sometimes chooses to use more ‘kid friendly’ words to describe things (like drool for saliva when discussing the leeches numbing effects on the skin) without compromising the quality of the text. Themes of triumph over adversity and overcoming difficulty are found throughout this book. Lisa’s struggle with asthma does not deter her from her life’s work of saving the endangered tree kangaroo. The beautifully illustrated maps of the area, with a helpful glossary of the Tok Pisin language of the native New Guinea tribe, and websites for students to look up additional information about the endangered Matschie’s tree kangaroo make this book a fascinating resource for animal lovers and conservationists of all age levels.

Module 8 NonFiction: National Geographic Kids

National Geographic Kids
National Geographic April 2007

The children’s version of National Geographic magazine is much more exciting and inviting than the adult. This magazine is filled with fun and exciting activities from games to play that focus on attention to details, jokes to read and tell, and trivia and facts to entertain. The glossy, less than 50 page magazine will hold the attention of the most distractible reader. Even the advertisements looked like articles in the magazine. This particular issue was filled with information about albino animals, silly pet tricks, and behind the scenes food advertisement tricks and gimmicks. There was something for every interest. Readers can find a link to kids.nationalgeographic.com for more fun, including jokes, cartoons, amazing videos of penguins, sharks, lions and a lot of other animals. One article challenged readers to enter America’s most Amazing Pet Contest where ‘anyone can go online, see the finalists’ entries, and vote for America’s most amazing pet!’ Another advertisement, which read like an article, explained how to make comics about your pets and gave some examples. This magazine is the perfect gift for a young reader who is curious about the world around her and likes to imagine and invent. National Geographic Kids magazine’s numerous honors include EdPress 2005 and 2006 Periodical of the Year, a Golden Lamp Award, the Parent’s Choice Gold Medal, a Parent’s Guide Children’s Media Award, the Folio: Editorial Excellence Award, and an Ozzie Award for Design Excellence.

Module 8 NonFiction: A Voice Of Her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet

A Voice of her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet
Lasky, Kathryn. 2003. A Voice of her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet. Illustrated by Paul Lee. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

Torn from her family in Africa and brought on a slave ship to America at the tender young age of seven, Phillis Wheatley was fortunate enough to be bought by a family who would teach her to read and write, unheard of for slaves at that time. Named Phillis after the slave ship on which she arrived in the colonies, the young girl quickly learned to read and write in many languages. Soon, she was writing poetry and became famous in both England and the United States as the first published Black woman poet. In the Author’s Note, Lasky compares Phillis’ enslavement to the Revolution and illiteracy, “To be voiceless is to be dehumanized. We are all diminished as human beings—not simply as a race but as members of a species—when we are silenced.” A facsimile of the frontispiece of Wheatley’s book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, can be found in the book, but glaringly missing are references to her poems or where to find them. A few lines are interspersed throughout the story, but just enough to make the reader realize that there is much more to Wheatley’s work. A tender, poignant reference is made to Wheatley’s early life in Africa, but her life after about age twenty until her early death at age 31 is glossed over and the book abruptly ends. Paul Lee’s warm, detailed illustrations bring life and emotion to this otherwise bland tale. A rare look at an African American Pioneer.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Module 7 Fantasy: Babymouse: Queen of the World!

Babymouse: Queen of the World!
Holm, Jennifer, L. and Matthew Holm. 2005. Babymouse: Queen of the World! New York: Random House.

Brother and sister team Jennifer and Matthew Holm have created a delightful, lovable hero in Babymouse, Queen of the World, a pre-teen rodent full of spunk and ingenuity. Babymouse struggles with all the angst of growing up, complete with feelings of insecurity, the desire for acceptance, and the daily challenges of school life. She has all the flaws of an endearing protagonist—she must straighten her less than perfect, curly whiskers each morning, she is not the most attentive student, and she must suffer the hardships of having an annoying baby brother who likes to pull on her tail. She tends to cope with the trials and tribulations of her existence through her overactive imagination where she wrestles giant squids, solves mysteries as a private detective, is a poker playing cowgirl, banished to Antarctica, and finally, Queen of the World. Additional characters such as her best friend, Wilson Weasel and her arch nemesis, Felicia Furrypaws (complete with naturally straight whiskers, of course) round out the creative cast of characters. At breakneck speed, Babymouse will slip into the most incredible daydreams and fantasies that rival the works of H. G. Wells and the Brothers Grimm. Drawn in simplistic black and white tones by the talented Matthew Holm, a graphic artist, Babymouse’s fantasies are highlighted in pink to aide the reader in visually keeping track of her reality and dream worlds. Just like Babymouse’s pink heart logo which can always be found somewhere on her, she carries a bit of that spark and imagination with her in either world, real or make-believe. The themes of friendship, acceptance, and independence will speak to readers of all ages. The simplistic format of the graphic novel will appeal to even the most reluctant reader. Luckily, there are many more adventures of Babymouse to be found in additional novels such as, Babymouse, Our Hero and Babymouse, Rock Star. As Babymouse, herself would say, “Typical”, she is anything but. Allow yourself to indulge in Babymouse.

Module 7 Fantasy: The Spiderwick Chronicles

The Spiderwick Chronicles: Book One The Field Guide
DiTerlizzi, Tony and Holly Black. 2003. The Spiderwick Chronicles: Book One The Field Guide. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black have teamed up to bring us a delightful, action-packed adventure into the world of goblins, boggarts, faeries, pixies and brownies. The Grace children, older sister Mallory, and twins Jared and Simon must move with their recently divorced mother to a relative’s run-down, old Victorian house. The house provides the setting for the magical adventures that exist all around us if you only know where to look. “In a man’s torso you will find/My secret to all mankind/If false and true can be the same/You will soon know of my fame/Up and up and up again/Good luck dear friend.” This mysterious message begins a series of adventures for the threesome that will cause them to band together to overcome their problems and strive to help and understand creatures different from themselves. Jared finds a ‘field guide’ in Arthur Spiderwick’s secluded library that educates them in the world of these other creatures. After the siblings have destroyed a brownie’s home, Jared is blamed for a series of mischievous pranks played on the others. Exquisite, detailed illustrations exemplify the humor and imagination of the whimsical and playful adventures that the authors have created. The artistic account of Mallory, tied to her bed by her hair will make you laugh out loud. Determined to clear his name and right their wrongs, Jared prepares a new home for the brownie and harmony is somewhat restored in the odd, mysterious home. This short, picture filled novel will appeal to the most reluctant reader. The brief chapters with easy to digest plot and dialog will leave children clamoring for more. The Field Guide sets the stage for four other novels to follow which chronicle the adventures of the Grace children and their interaction with the magical world. The recently released movie tie-in has created much buzz and interest into this charming series.

Module 7 Fantasy: Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl
Colfer, Eoin. 2001. Artemis Fowl. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

Poor little rich boy, Artemis Fowl’s family has fallen on hard times. His father is missing and presumed dead and his mother can barely cope with reality and is locked in her memories of the past, leaving Artemis to get by on his own, with help, of course, from his butler, Butler, a highly skilled, deadly, bodyguard with a heart of gold. After unlocking the code in the Book, the fairies’ Bible, of sorts, incredibly gifted, twelve year old Artemis devises a plan to kidnap an elf and receive a ransom of gold. Little does he know when he captures Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon (Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance) Unit that he has met his match. Eoin Colfer’s magical world of fairies and elves comes alive with colorful creatures and technical gadgets such as Foaly, a centaur, who controls all communication and transport devices, Mulch Diggums, a tunnel digging dwarf with a criminal history, and tough talking, cigar chewing, LEP Commander Julius Root. The ransom is paid and Holly is saved but it comes at a much higher price-- in the process, she saves Butler’s life and it seems that there is a connection here to be continued in future novels. There are talks of this series being made into a movie and the action packed drama and humorous dialog will appeal to readers of all ages. The story ends nicely with the main characters safe and sound and the objects being returned to their rightful owners. Artemis’ mother is restored to her normal self and readers are left with a happy ending but just enough loose ends to warrant anticipation for a sequel. The audio book version of this novel is outstanding as well. Read by the talented Nathaniel Parker the characters come alive with his gift of dialects and voice—don’t miss it!

Module 7 Fantasy: Ender's Game

Ender’s Game
Card, Orson Scott. 1977. Ender’s Game. New York: Tom Doherty Associates Books.

The fate of the world rests on the shoulders of a six-year-old boy in this futuristic science fiction thriller by Orson Scott Card. Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards for outstanding books in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre, Ender’s Game is an exhilarating, fast paced adventure of Andrew (Ender) Wiggin, a young boy thought to be the world’s only hope against the aggressive ‘Buggars’. These highly evolved, insect-like aliens have attacked Earth years earlier and are attempting to do so again. Ender is selected and sent to a training ‘academy’ to learn anti-gravity military tactics and battle strategy. Forced into endless situations where he is set up for failure, Ender prevails victorious time and time again. Unbelievably fighting, commanding and winning every battle in which he competes, Ender is prematurely advanced into the ultimate battle—a showdown with the Buggars. He has no idea until it is over that this was the real deal. He defeats the enemy and saves the world but feels betrayed by the lie of being led to believe it was yet another ‘game’. By this time, he is only about eleven years old. Ender is gifted with the ability of feel incredible empathy yet have a deadly knack for self-survival. Orson Scott Card creates a psychological thriller on many levels of strategy, relationships, and conflicts that will account for hours of symbolic analyzing. At its most basic level, Ender’s Game is a story of Good vs. Evil and the hardships of politics and war. Military buffs and political strategists will enjoy this highly complex novel. Not for younger readers as it is filled with technical words and descriptions in addition to scenes of violence and adult language.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Module 6 Historical Fiction: The Pharaoh's Daughter

The Pharaoh’s Daughter: A Novel of Ancient Egypt
Lester, Julius. 2000. The Pharaoh’s Daughter: A Novel of Ancient Egypt. New York: Silver Whistle.

“I know that being born something doesn’t mean that’s what you are” so states Almah in The Pharaoh’s Daughter: A Novel of Ancient Egypt. In this fictional account of Moses told by Newbery Award winning author Julius Lester, religion and Egyptian history intersect to reveal the story of the young prophet and his early struggles with self awareness, identity, and purpose. Lester takes great strides to separate the commercialized, modern view of Moses (think Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments) to one of his own unique creation. The basic story of Moses being spared from death and raised by the Pharaoh’s Daughter stays true, but Lester creates a fictional coming of age story of one of the greatest Old Testament icons and gives him a realism and humanity unmatched thus far. The moral conflicts that Moses, called Mosis in Lester’s version, his sister Almah, and Batya, the Pharaoh’s Daughter, must face are complex and difficult, to say the least. Mosis knows his life was spared because he is destined for a higher purpose. In keeping with the historical accounts of Moses being quiet and ‘thick tongued’, Lester keeps his dialog simple and succinct. Almah, on the other hand, is a complete creation of Lester’s imagination. A free spirit, independent, strong willed and probably the earliest feminist, Almah is her own person, reveling in her ritualistic sun worship, going against all her cultural teachings, bringing shame and dishonor to her family, but it is she who will save Mosis’ life, not once, but twice. The Biblical story of Moses’ sister is vague, to say the least, but Lester’s interpretation of her carries the story and adds juxtaposition and conflict to the narrative. Told from various viewpoints, first Almah’s then Mosis, and then Almah’s again gives the reader insight and adds dimension to the two most central characters. We feel the anguish and despair of these two first hand as they struggle with their choices, which they know will be against everything they have been raised to do. Through the Introduction, Author’s Note, Glossary and Bibliography readers will understand Lester’s inspiration, choices, and historical trivia that will add depth to the overall concept of the story. The Pharaoh’s Daughter is a fresh, exciting take on a very old tale and readers will come away with a new respect for the time period, inspired to learn more.

Module 6 Historical Fiction: Bud, Not Buddy

Bud, Not Buddy
Curtis, Christopher Paul. 1999. Bud, Not Buddy. New York: Delacorte Press.

It is easy to see why Christopher Paul Curtis has won so many awards. His gift of finding just the right voice for his characters has put him head and shoulders above the rest. The title character, Bud, in his Newbery Award winning Bud, Not Buddy, is an eternally optimistic, independent orphan who never lets life get in his way. He makes things happen--which is why he runs away from his abusive foster family in the middle of the night, determined to find his ‘father’, the great jazz musician Herman E. Calloway. All he has left from his deceased mother are a few music flyers, some rocks, a blanket and his memories that he carries in an old battered suitcase. When he gets the idea to find his family he lets nothing deter him from his quest. Set in the era of the Great Depression, Bud’s personality is the polar opposite from the mood and tone of the time. His sunny disposition and positive spirit bring a ray of hope that will carry the reader through the darker times of the period and keep looking toward a better horizon. Curtis’s ability to draw realistic, multi-faceted and dynamic characters, full of quirks and tics, with strong voices and their own charm comes from the wealth of characters in his own family on which to build them. In the afterword of the book, we find that two of the major characters in the story were loosely based on Curtis’ own grandfathers. The pictures and author’s notes add a depth and realism to the story that allows the reader to feel as if they really knew these people and their problems. Curtis’ easygoing style and humorous, tongue-in-cheek dialog give this read all it needs to be a favorite for years to come. What is the mystery that surrounds the crotchety Herman E. Calloway? Why does he so dislike the effervescent Bud, and may even fear him? Well, you just have to read to find out.

Module 6 Historical Fiction: Willow Run

Willow Run
Giff, Patricia Reilly. 2005. Willow Run. New York: Wendy Lamb Books.

In her follow-up to Lily’s Crossing, Newbery Award winning author, Patricia Reilly Giff continues the tale of eleven year old Meggie Dillon as she moves from her beloved Rockaway, New York home to Willow Run, Michigan where her father has taken a job in a manufacturing plant building B-24 Bomber planes during World War II. Meggie is a solid character, adept, caring, independent, resourceful, with a strong sense of integrity. Even though she and her friends repeatedly steal from the ice cream vendor because they think he is a spy, she feels a great deal of guilt and eventually repays him with a gift greater than money. Patricia Reilly Giff creates a moving account of life on the home front complete with all its sacrifices, suspicions, fears, and hopes. Meggie must face prejudice when some thugs paint a swastika on the window of her adored, German born Grandfather’s house. She bravely chases them away, cleans up the mess and tries to keep the incident from her family. She helps the ice cream vendor, who turns out not to be a spy, but an apprehensive teenager who must face his civic duty to fight for his country, come to terms with his decision and secretly invites her Grandfather to come and keep up his garden while he is gone. Giff expertly reflects the tone of the times in the heartbreaking anxiety felt by the supportive families of the soldiers serving overseas when her brother, Eddie, is reported missing in action after storming the beaches at Normandy, France on D-Day. Many pop culture icons keep this story true to the times with references to Spam, movie reels and Meggie and her Grandfather’s chronic addiction to contest entry forms, one of which they eventually win. Patricia Reilly Giff’s tale of life in the World War II era is a satisfying read that will leave you inspired and uplifted.

Module 6 Historical Fiction: The Green Glass Sea

The Green Glass Sea
Klages, Ellen. 2006. The Green Glass Sea. New York: Viking Press.

Dewey Kerrigan struggles to keep afloat as she charts her course in life. After her grandmother suffers a stroke and is forced to move into a nursing home, Dewey once again faces abandonment as she travels across the country to live with her often-absent father. Looking forward for the opportunity to spend time with him, she moves to a mysterious, uncharted town, Los Alamos, New Mexico, where Mr. Kerrigan works with scientists and engineers to create a secret ‘gadget’ during World War II. Dewey, with her love for order and rules moves in with Suze, an unruly, boorish classmate, when her father must leave again. The two begin to bond and find common ground in comic book heroes which act as somewhat of an allegory for the ‘larger than life’ world in which they find themselves. They escape into the comics as a way to find some sort of purpose for their gifts. Dewey, with her skills at machinery and technology and Suze with her gift of art and creativity come together to overcome their differences and face the world and all its problems. Set against the stark, primitive backdrop of the barren Southwest, Scott O’Dell Award Winner Ellen Klages paints a poignant picture of friendship, acceptance, and loss in The Green Glass Sea. The story stays true to the time period with appropriate dialog, phrases, music and entertainment references. Klages’ offers up some often overlooked impacts of the Los Alamos situation. The children and community members of that particular group faced many challenges such as when high school seniors wanted to apply to college they were denied because their school, much less, town did not even exist due to its top secret security. Family members cards and letters were screened as if they were prisoners. The title, itself, refers to the test bomb dropped on White Sands, New Mexico and how the heat of that event turned the sand to a ‘green glass sea’. Klages’ hits her mark with this one.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Module 5 Contemporary Realistic Fiction: Clementine

Pennypacker, Sara. 2006. Clementine. Illustrated by Marla Frazee. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

Move over, Ramona and Junie B., there’s a new kid on the block. Sara Pennypacker’s title character, Clementine, is a delightful imp with a heart of gold, but seems to find herself in some sticky situations due to the ideas that keep ‘sproinging up’ in her brain. Pennypacker provides the reader with heartwarmingly realistic characters, full of life and all its problems. Marla Frazee’s pen and ink illustrations accurately capture the essence of the characters that give movement and definition to the tempo of the story. The short, easy to read chapters told in first person narrative from Clementine’s point of view help keep the whirlwind pace that follows the turbulent title character. Even reluctant readers will find pleasure reading about Clementine’s antics from cutting her friend Margaret’s hair (badly) in an attempt to help remove gum to battling the Great Pigeon War with her father. Clementine has some great ideas; she just goes about achieving her goals in unusual and unpredictable ways. Yearning for acceptance and friendship, Clementine will tug at the heartstrings of anyone who has ever felt awkward and misunderstood. This book is definitely meant to be read aloud. If you do happen to read it silently, make sure you are alone because you will certainly get some strange looks when you suddenly burst into laughter at Clementine’s quirky musings and behavior. Older readers will enjoy the story on many layers. This book will keep you laughing out loud and wanting more. Luckily, there are other Clementine adventures on the way in the form of The Talented Clementine and Clementine’s Letter.

Module 5 Contemporary Realistic Fiction: The Wright 3

The Wright 3
Balliett, Blue. 2002. The Wright 3. Illustrated by Brett Helquist. New York: Scholastic Press.

The Wright 3, Blue Balliett’s follow up to Chasing Vermeer, seems to have the right stuff. Returning characters Calder, Petra, and Tommy join forces to save an architectural gem in the Chicago area, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. Each of Balliett’s gifted characters brings their own unique talents and skills to solving the mysterious set of circumstances and events that surround the impending demise of the treasured building. The trio of friends work through their differences first with their entire class and then, alone, to save the historic home from demolition. Balliett expertly weaves a tale of intrigue incorporating exotic elements of math, classic literature, film, art, and architecture culminating in a suspenseful ‘whodunnit’ worthy of praise. Brett Helquist’s intricate illustrations add depth and detail to the mystery. Loaded with clues, his artistic renderings are not to be missed. Look for hidden pictures within pictures for hours of fun. The multiple themes of friendship, trust, passion for standing up for a cause, historical preservation and aesthetic appreciation which meld together to create a rousing adventure worthy of being read again and again. Readers of all ages will be culturally elevated to new highs and learn a great deal about geometry and art all while enjoying a remarkable story.

Module 5 Contemporary Realistic Fiction: The Road to Paris

The Road to Paris
Grimes, Nikki. 2006. The Road to Paris. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Coretta Scott King Award winning author Nikki Grimes offers up another slice of realism in The Road to Paris. The short, easy to read chapters in this slim novel will appeal to a wide variety of readers in the middle grades. Eight-year-old Paris Richmond is a girl of mixed race, living in foster families and trying to find her way in life. From the dedication page, “For Kendall Buchanan, my foster brother, and for the children of Royal Family Kids Camp”, it is clear that Nikki Grimes knows about the hardships many children in foster care face first hand. Independent and determined not to trust in others, Paris finally finds a family to love that loves her as well, yet she is forced once again choose between her biological, alcoholic abusive mother and her foster family. Grimes creates gut-wrenchingly heartfelt moments through realistic, believable characters. We feel Paris’ desperation as she and her brother, Malcolm, unsuccessfully try to get help from their grandmother, which eventually leads to their separation from each other. We sense Paris’ loneliness and depression through her unsent letters to Malcolm as she so desperately needs his shoulder on which to lean. The harsh truths of prejudice, betrayal and poverty are beautifully exposed in powerful dialogs and narratives portraying one young girls search for acceptance and self-awareness. Powerful themes of friendship, family, love, trust and hope give this story a positive perspective and leave the reader with promise that Paris’ might just have the moral strength to overcome all the roadblocks along her way.

Module 5 Contemporary Realistic Fiction: Flush

Hiaasen, Carl. 2005. Flush. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Newbery Award winning author Carl Hiaasen presents another eco-adventure for young adults worthy of praise. With its intriguing title, Flush hooks readers from the start. Noah’s father has been thrown in jail for sinking a casino gambling boat in an act of eco-terrorism. But who is the bigger terrorist, Noah’s dad, Paine Underwood for sabotaging the boat in an effort to bring the issue to light or the owner of the boat and perpetrator of the more devastating eco-crime of dumping sewage and illegal disposal of waste into Florida’s protected waterways? Some mature issues are tackled by adventurous teens in this rousing adventure full of more twists and turns than the Florida Everglades. Hiaasen’s gift a drawing multi-layered characters and building a story within a story makes this a must read, exciting activity. Noah’s strong sense of doing what is right; not only to clear his father’s name, but to protect the community in which he lives is a noteworthy trait. Hiaasen, who has written many outstanding books for adults along the same lines, can sometimes create unbelievable dialog for the kids in the story. Told in first person narrative from Noah’s point of view many of his thoughts and descriptions are quite advanced and righteous for a teenager but considering the advanced subject matter of saving the environment it seems necessary and not distracting to move the plot along. Serious issues about choices, right and wrong, ecological preservation, greed, and determination make this an exciting read, jam packed with an electrifying, mysterious twist at the end where the good triumph over evil once again.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Module 4 Poetry: This Little Piggy and other Rhymes to Sing and Play

This Little Piggy and other Rhymes to Sing and Play
Yolen, Jane. 2004. This Little Piggy and other Rhymes to Sing and Play. Illustrated by Will Hildenbrand. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

Jane Yolen has collaborated with Will Hildenbrand and Adam Stemple to create a collection of classic lap songs, finger plays, clapping games and pantomime rhymes guaranteed to amuse and entertain readers of all ages. From the introduction with Peek-a-Boo to the clapping games of Patty Cake, Yolen fills the book with as many games, songs and rhymes as she can. Navigating the book is easy with a complete table of contents and even a first lines index. Hildenbrand’s mixed media illustrations add a tender, whimsical feel to the text in addition to providing visual instructions on how to play many of the games. A delightful CD of numerous of the songs is included, which allows opportunities to learn unfamiliar tunes and assist the tone deaf. The book, which is perfect for parents, grandparents and anyone who loves children, is organized into sections such as Upsie, Downsie; Bumpety, Bumpety; Wiggle, Wiggle; Clap, Clap, Clap; and Take a Bow. Each section includes songs and chants complete with regional and historical information and trivia about the rhyme. Variations on the verses and instructions on how to act out the dance, claps or games translate to hours of fun for children and adults. This collection of timeless rhymes is a must have for anyone with small children.

Module 4 Poetry: This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness

This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness
Sidman, Joyce. 2007. This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness. Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Caldecott Honor Award winner Joyce Sidman has created a unique look at the admission of guilt and absolution in This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness. Created by an imaginary class of sixth graders, these poems delve into long held secrets and open admissions of indiscretions, poured out from the heart, begging for forgiveness. The book is arranged with table of contents and an introduction by Anthony K., the editor, who sets up the book for the reader and explains its genesis. Part 1 consists of the Apologies, inspired by the poem, “This is Just to Say” by W.C. Williams. Part 2 are the Responses to the apologies. Sidman expertly creates the individual voices and personalities, which ‘author’ each poem. Fictitiously illustrated by Bao Vang with the help of Mr. Willow, the art teacher (in reality, the gifted Pamela Zagarenski), the book is filled with images created by mixed media on paper, canvas, and wood, collage and computer graphics which emphasize the diversity of the collection. Sidman uses Haiku, snippets, rhymes and two-part poems, which easily lend themselves to entertaining read alouds and participatory events. The reader is even introduced to a pantoum, where the second and fourth lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines in the next stanza. A variety of emotions are exposed as some of the ‘authors’ feel extreme remorse to none at all. It is interesting to explore the responses of those who were wronged and learn their side of the story. Joyce Sidman’s fresh approach to a practice that deserves a little more attention shows us that ‘to err is human, to forgive, divine’.

Module 4 Poetry: Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems

Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems
George, Kristine O’Connnell. 2002. Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems. Illustrated by Debbie Tilley. New York: Clarion Books.

Award winning poet Kristine O’Connell George captures teen angst and adolescent insecurities in Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems. The various poems are told though the voice of a typical middle school student as she experiences the ups and downs of daily life as a young teenager. Her descriptions paint vivid poetic pictures that desire to be read again and again, “He stood up slowly,/ his stutter/ like the heartache/ of a trapped bird,/ wings beating/ against the windows.” Through her eyes we experience the insecurities “Whispers, sly looks, notes slipped into books /I look away—don’t need to see to know those notes are all about me”, embarrassment, “Changing in and out of gym clothes/so not one inch of skin shows”, frustration, joy, confusion and many other emotions associated with the universal coming of age event. The vignettes of her life are exposed through a variety of poetic formats such as Haiku, acrostic, rhyming, and free verse representing the ever changing evolvement of self-awareness. Kristine O’Connell George’s poignant account of the emotional trials and tribulations of the middle grades is a must read for any young adult. Debbie Tilley’s whimsical pen and ink illustrations provide a lighthearted look into the often comical world of middle school life. The narrator’s journey tugs at all of our memories, new or not so new, and provides us with a heartwarming reminder that we, as well, swam upstream and made it through, better and stronger because of it.

Module 4 Poetry: Once Upon a Tomb: Gravely Humorous Verses

Once Upon a Tomb: Gravely Humorous Verses
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2006. Once Upon a Tomb: Gravely Humorous Verses. Illustrated by Simon Bartram. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

J. Patrick Lewis’ sense of humor comes alive again in Once Upon a Tomb: Gravely Humorous Verses. His witty collection of 22 poetic epitaphs chronicles the lives of a variety of people ranging from a bully to an underwear salesman. The unique, succinct verses cleverly capture the essence of the deceased and the bereaved. For the Underwear Salesman, “Our grief/was brief”, and The Book Editor, “She lived on the margin./And died./Period”, Lewis gives us a chance to laugh at our own mortality and even ponder on what our own epitaph might read. (Could the verse, Poet, “Reader, if I had more time/I say au revoir in rhyme,/Sayonara, ciao in verse --/But I have to catch a hearse” be Lewis’ own?) Each of the two page spreads offers an ode to a different dearly departed individual. The beautifully illustrated acrylic paintings created by Simon Bartram add to the tone and lighthearted mood and offer hours of exploration in the fine details. The delightful poems just beg to be read aloud as they trip off the tongue with alliteration. (He swept a beam across the bay/That set the barges on their way./A dozen lights shone past the pier--/The coast had never been so clear.) If you are looking for a good laugh and an upbeat, fun read, ironically Once Upon a Tomb is far from grave.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Module 3 Traditional Literature: Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book

Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book
Morales, Yuyi. 2003. Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book. Illustrated by Yuyi Morales. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Death has to wait in this humorous tale by Yuyi Morales. Senor Calavera, which literally translates to Mr. Skeleton in Spanish, comes to take Grandma Beetle, who is not quite ready to go with him just yet. She has just a few more things to do such as sweep the floor, make some tortillas, set the table, all in preparation for her birthday party. Senor Calavera becomes more and more frustrated but eventually settles in and even begins helping Grandma Beetle with the preparations. When he finds that he is, in fact, the tenth invited guest, he gives in to his delight and decides not to take Grandma Beetle leaving her a note saying how much fun he had and that he wouldn’t miss her next birthday for anything in the world. In Grandma Beetle’s slow, methodical way, she has indeed tricked him into allowing her to live at least another year. The warm and colorful acrylic and mixed media illustrations give depth to the wise and cunning Grandma Beetle and depict Senor Calavera as silly and cartoonish, not to be feared. Morales has a gift for capturing the joy and expressions of love on the faces of the grandchildren and their grandmother. The text is repetitive and lends itself to reading aloud with opportunities for participation and includes counting words in English and Spanish. Readers will anticipate what Grandma Beetle will think of next to try to postpone leaving with her guest. Don’t miss the cat, appearing on every page, giving hope that Grandma Beetle, having escaped Death this time, may also have nine lives, perhaps?

Module 3 Traditional Literature: The Little Red Hen

The Little Red Hen
Pinkney, Jerry. 2006. The Little Red Hen. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.

Caldecott Award winner Jerry Pinkney’s The Little Red Hen is a delight for readers young and old. The classic tale of the industrious chicken that tries unsuccessfully to enlist her friends to help her with a task is a universal story of the benefits of hard work and the consequences of laziness. Pinkney’s graphite, ink and watercolor illustrations bring this tale to life and allow the reader to see the finely etched details of the characters and pastoral setting. This Eastern European traditional tale emphasizes the value of a strong work ethic; labor and diligence will pay off in the end. Pinkney’s hen is smart and practical, concerned for her family and clearly wanting to include the other farm animals in her task by appealing to their independent skills so all can enjoy the benefits. By contrast, the dog, rat, goat and pig would rather not be involved and the disappointment in their choice is evident in their faces as they can only watch as the hen and her chicks enjoy their bread. Pinkney, himself, can be found as the miller who assists the little red hen with grinding the grain into flour and giving her a jar of berry jam, adding a little extra sweetness to this timeless tale. The rhythm of the story lends itself to being read aloud and allows many opportunities for participation with the predictable, “not I said the …” that children will anticipate and enjoy.

Module 3 Traditional Tales: The Hungry Coat

The Hungry Coat
Demi. 2004. The Hungry Coat. Illustrated by Demi. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Demi depicts the classic moral of not judging people by what they look like in her beautifully illustrated version of The Hungry Coat. This tale from Turkey is based on the practical and sensible Nasrettin Hoca, a Turkish folk philosopher and teacher. Nasrettin Hoca, “a funny little wise man”, wears a huge white turban, an old worn out coat, likes to ride on his little gray donkey and help people. On his way to his rich friend’s banquet he stops to help catch a frisky goat that has gotten loose in a caravansary, a hostel for travelers. He arrives late to the banquet, dirty and smelling of goat, where his friends ignore him. He goes home to bathe and change into a beautiful new coat returns to the party where now he is the most popular man at the banquet. He begins to feed his coat saying, “Eat, coat! Eat!” and fills his jacket with all kinds of food. His friends, thinking this is very strange, ask why he is doing this and he replies that they must have wanted the coat to eat because when he was there earlier, no one paid him any attention but now they offer him food. “This shows it was the coat—and not me—that you invited to your banquet!” He reminds them to, “Look at the man and not his coat.” You can change the coat, but not the man. “With coats new are the best, but with friends, old are the best!” Friendship and prejudice are universal themes, which resonate across all cultures. The wise words of Nasrettin Hoca are as true today as they were hundreds of years ago. Demi’s intricate paint and ink drawings bring a depth to the story that goes beyond the tale. Look in the windows of the hostel and in the patterns of the rugs to find more details for hours of fun. This would provide an exciting storytelling opportunity for those who wish to try.

Module 3 Traditional Tales: Beautiful Blackbird

Beautiful Blackbird
Bryan, Ashley. 2003. Beautiful Blackbird. Illustrated by Ashley Bryan. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Ashley Bryan’s Beautiful Blackbird is a classic tale of finding beauty within. Blackbird, whose “feathers gleam all colors in the sun” is determined by the other birds to be “the most beautiful one” and the others desire a bit of black in their feathers to be like him. With his sage advice of “color on the outside is not what’s on the inside”, he invites the birds to a party where he paints them with black feathers and they sing and dance. He always reminds them of their individuality when he says although he is giving them some of his blackness, “I’ll be me and you’ll be you.” Adapted from a tale from the Ila speaking people from Northern Rhodesia, now known as Zambia, Bryan does an excellent job of staying true to the stories roots and spreading a little ‘blackness’ in his readers and enriching their lives by learning a little culture. The cut paper collage illustrations provide authenticity to the tale and allow the reader to focus simply on the colors and shapes to find uniqueness in the characters. The rhythm of the text makes this an enjoyable story to read aloud and even provides opportunities for movement as children can act out the dances and songs. Alliteration and internal rhyme make this story fun and exciting for children everywhere. Ashley Bryan has once again created a beautiful picture book with a powerful message that speaks to readers of all ages and backgrounds.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Module 2 Picture Books: Dona Flor

Dona Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart

Mora, Pat. 2005. Dona Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart. Illustrated by Raul Colon. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Pat Mora has reached down into her Spanish roots to blend the traditional tall tale with a cultural flair. Dona Flor is an oversize female with an equally giant heart to match. Popular in her pueblo for helping others and spreading kindness, Dona Flor is called upon to save the village from the terrible howling puma. Animal friendly Flor speaks all languages and soon discovers that the fearsome ‘monster’ that has frightened her friends is only (to her) a small, prank-loving wildcat that soon becomes her gentle pet. Raul Colon’s watercolor washes give a sense of movement and emphasize Dona Flor’s exaggerative size and proportion. Contrary to traditional fairy tales where giants are feared, Dona Flor is gentle, kind and helpful. The texture is unifying and the etched illustrations flow throughout the double page spreads. Pictures go off the page to give emphasis to Flor’s size as if she is too big for the book. The humorous, non-threatening characters will appeal to readers of all ages who may just learn a few new words in Spanish, themselves.

Module 2 Picture Books: Scranimals


Prelutsky, Jack. 2002. Scranimals. Illustrated by Peter Sis. New York: Greenwillow Books.

In Jack Prelutsky’s whimsical collection of poems about ‘scrambled animals’, Scranimals, readers are introduced to a wide variety of unusual creatures. Fruit, vegetables, plants and even other animals are combined to create scranimals who are detailed in Prelutsky’s nonsensical poetic style. Children of all ages will delight in Peter Sis’ textured black line art combined with watercolors that make the characters come to life. The rich vocabulary, inventive wordplay and rhymes meld together to describe a world in which scranimals co-exist in harmony. This delightful collection of poems jogs the imagination and tickles the funny bone for hours of reading enjoyment. From the gentle PANDAFFODIL to the scary RADISHARK, Scranimal Island is filled with characters just begging to be discovered and creates opportunities for children to extend the concept to invent creatures of their own.

Module 2 Picture Books: But Excuse Me That is My Book

But Excuse Me That Is My Book

Child, Lauren. 2005. But Excuse Me That is My Book. Illustrated by Lauren Child. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.

A patient brother, Charlie, accompanies his energetic sister, Lola, to the library in an effort to find her beloved book, Beetles, Bugs and Butterflies, “the very best book in the world” in But Excuse Me That is My Book. Award winning author and illustrator, Lauren Child has captured the joy of a young child’s fixation on a favorite book and the attempt at finding her a replacement that meets her interest when she discovers her book has been checked out. The 60’s style, cartoon-like illustrations embed collage and mixed media techniques, creating an eye-catching, fast paced appeal matching that of Lola’s personality. Text is all over the page and a variety of fonts are intermingled throughout the story, creating a virtual mood. Bold lines and overstated expression give depth to the characters’ feelings and emotions. Readers of all ages will enjoy the exaggerative and dramatic dialog. This book will particularly appeal to younger readers who will want to participate in a read aloud opportunity.

Module 2 Picture Books: Old Turtle

Old Turtle and the Broken Truth

Wood, Douglas. 2003. Old Turtle and the Broken Truth. Illustrated by Jon J. Muth. New York: Scholastic Press.

The universal theme of peace and harmony drive Douglas Wood’s Old Turtle and the Broken Truth. Truth can be found throughout nature if you just stop to listen and accept its beauty and awe. In the story, a piece of truth falls to earth where the animals and nature find it nice, but incomplete. Humans find the piece and it turns them into self-absorbed, isolated, greedy people until a little girl goes on a journey to heal the nations. She befriends Old Turtle who imparts her wisdom and gives the girl the ability to restore the truth. This story will appeal to adults and older students with its more sophisticated art and text. Jon Muth’s watercolor illustrations are ethereal and add to the essence of the fable. The pieces of the broken star, the truth, stand out in sharp detail against the backdrop of the muted watercolor wash. The color guides the tone in this worldwide message of tolerance and acceptance. The humans change from black and white to color as they achieve self-awareness and realize the truth is found within themselves and in nature. The topics of ecology and world preservation are current and appealing to all grades and readers.

Module 2 Picture Books: The Other Side

The Other Side

Woodson, Jacqueline. 2001. The Other Side. Illustrated by E. B. Lewis. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Annie and Clover try to make sense of the racial tension that divides their town and overcome physical and social barriers that inhibit their friendship in Jacqueline Woodson’s heartwarming book, The Other Side. E.B. Lewis’ beautiful watercolor illustrations give this poignant story a gentle, pastoral feeling. The illustrations can be so realistic that they almost look like photographs capturing the essence of the time. The fence dividing the town can be found throughout the book and is a powerful metaphor for the race barrier isolating the children and adults of the community. At the end of the story, as the children try to find a solution to an adult problem, Annie says, “someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down.” This hopeful union of two children who simply aspire for friendship is an inspiration for all of us to strive for tolerance and acceptance.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Module 1: An Introduction to Children and Their Literature

LS 5613-20 Module 1: An Introduction to Children and Their Literature

Library Lion

Knudsen, Michelle. 2006. Library Lion. Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Cambridge: Candlewick Press.

Is there ever a good reason to break the rules? The loveable Library Lion laments his decision to do just that in Michelle Knudsen’s delightful picture book. Kevin Hawkes acrylic and pencil illustrations help convey the varied feelings and emotions of surprise, contentment, fear, sadness and joy found throughout the book. Much to the delight of the children, a book loving lion comes to the library where he attends story time and helps with odd jobs. As long as he is not breaking any rules the librarian allows him to stay. When the librarian falls and the lion runs to get help, he breaks the rules by roaring loudly and is ejected from the library. The library just isn’t the same without the lion. A new rule is established, “No roaring allowed, unless you have a very good reason—say, if you’re trying to help a friend who’s been hurt.” The lion returns to the library where it is noted that ‘sometimes there was a good reason to break the rules. Even in the library.” This book will appeal to children and adults, especially those who aren’t perfect and need to be reminded that sometimes we might break the rules and it is ok. The theme of friendship and devotion transcend the pages in this charming and beautifully illustrated picture book.

My Librarian is a Camel

Ruurs, Margriet. 2005. My Librarian is a Camel. Pennsylvania: Boyds Mills Press.

Inspired by an article about a camel in Kenya that was used to bring books to people in remote desert villages, Margriet Ruurs researched various ‘mobile libraries’ all over the world. Her account of thirteen unique and diverse library systems, arranged alphabetically by country, details interesting facts and trivia about the culture and the people dedicated to promoting literacy through whatever means possible. “Libraries are services, not buildings,” is a theme subtly repeated in each account. The two-page spreads in this picture book depict a country, complete with full color photographs showing libraries in action and children around the world enjoying and sharing books. In addition, Ruurs includes a map, flag and interesting facts about each country. Readers will enjoy the variety of settings where libraries may appear (such as the beach in England) and the assortment of creatures (like elephants in Thailand) involved in supporting the efforts of these community outreach programs. This innovative collection of libraries provides many opportunities for discussion and further research.

Green Eggs and Ham

Dr. Seuss. 1960. Green Eggs and Ham. New York: Random House

It just goes to show that you never know if you are going to like something until you try it. The persistent Sam in Dr. Seuss’ classic Green Eggs and Ham never gives up and keeps suggesting creative ways to eat the strange meal until the exhausted main character (we never know his name) finally agrees. “Sam! If you will let me be, I will try them. You will see.” Sure of his convictions, the main character is surprised to find he actually enjoys the green eggs and ham. Dr. Seuss’ trademark illustrations perfectly depict the weariness of the main character and the determination and optimism of Sam. The variety of settings and conditions suggested in which to consume the meal is revealed to the reader though Seuss’ whimsical cartoonish style. His larger than life, iconic drawings leap off the page and support the action in this simple story. Repetitive verse and rhyming text convey the nonsensical banter of conversation between the two characters. Although the level of text is geared for a beginning reader children of all ages will enjoy this poetic masterpiece for years to come.

Elijah of Buxton

Curtis, Christopher P. 2007. Elijah of Buxton. New York: Scholastic Press.

2008 Newbery Honor Book
2008 Coretta Scott King Book Award

Newbery Award winning author Christopher Paul Curtis has scored another hit with his humorous, often emotional, jarringly realistic Elijah of Buxton. Elijah Freeman is the first freeborn child of former slaves in the community of Buxton Settlement of Ontario, Canada. From the very beginnings of his life, he is destined for great things. Once held by the great Frederick Douglass, Elijah realizes his importance in his community when he takes it upon himself to help a family friend and put his own life in danger. Often described as gullible and ‘fra-gile’, the sensitive and caring Elijah struggles with the frustrations and confusions of growing up. He takes on a daring mission to help a friend and ends up saving a young slave child and rescuing her to freedom. Christopher Paul Curtis weaves a delightful, entertaining narrative complete with authentic and consistent dialog. He thrusts the reader front and center into the Settlement of Buxton with his accurate descriptions of this historic community. Elijah must tackle some serious, unpleasant aspects of humanity such as death, treachery, and the horrors of the slave trade, but he faces his challenges head on with courage and resolve. Curtis has crafted a strong, heroic character in Elijah that will be in inspiration of hope for readers young and old.