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.