Monday, December 1, 2008

The Lightning Thief - Genre 6 Fantasy, Fiction, & YA

Bibliography
Riordan, Rick. 2005. The lightning thief. Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book 1. New York: Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN 0786856297
Plot Summary
A troubled boy named Percy Jackson floats from school to school fighting ADHA, dyslexia, and bullies until he comes to Yancy Academy. Here, he finally finds a good friend named Grover and a teacher who believes in him. His troubled life seemed fairly normal until the day he accidentally vaporized his pre-algebra teacher. This event started Percy on a voyage of discovery he never could have imagined. He learns that Grover is actually a satyr, that his favorite teacher is actually a centaur, and Mount Olympus is located on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building. He also learns that he himself is the son of a god and spends his summer at Half Blood Hill - a camp for children of gods and other mythological beings. The camp is a safe place for the demigods to train against the monsters who will try to kill them in the mortal world.

Not long after Percy's arrival, he discovers that he, Grover, and Athena's daughter Annabeth must go on a quest to find and return Zeus' master lightning bolt and Hades' helm to prevent a war between the gods which would be devastating for mankind. The three successfully complete the quest and prevent the war but in the process discover a traitor at the camp. Though the traitor leaves, the reader knows he won't be gone forever which, along with Percy's decision to leave the safety of the camp for the school year, opens the story up to a series of novels.
Critical Analysis
With chapter titles like "I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom" and lines like, "The guy on the bike would've made pro wrestlers run for Mama," one can't help but find the book humorous. Add that to battles to the death with various mythological monsters and the result is a captivating tale full of mystery, adventure, and fun.

The author seamlessly fuses ancient Greek mythology with modern life so that even if you know or remember very little about the Greek gods, you can still understand the story of Percy Jackson. While the adventures of Percy and his friends are certainly the stuff of fantasy, the author successfully leads the reader to suspend reality in favor of relating to the familar. The fight with the Minotaur is not as important as the feeling of loss and despair when Percy's mom disappears. The quest for Zeus' master lightning bolt becomes secondary to Percy's journey into becoming a good friend and hero. Ultimately, the reader can relate to the story - even those elements most fanciful. Afterall, is it really so hard to believe that L.A. is the gateway to the Underworld?
Professional Review Excerpts
from School Library Journal At the outset of this fast-paced tale by Rick Riordan (Hyperion/Miramax, 2005), it would seem that Percy Jackson is just another New York kid diagnosed with ADHD, who has good intentions, a nasty stepfather, and a long line of schools that have rejected him. The revelation of his status as half-blood offspring of one of the Greek gods is nicely packaged, and it's easy to believe that Mount Olympus, in modern times, has migrated to the 600th floor of the Empire State Building (the center of Western civilization) while the door to Hades can be found at DOA Recording Studio, somewhere in LA. With his new friends, a disguised satyr, and the half-blood daughter of Athena, Percy sets out across the country to rectify a feud between Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon. Along the way they must cope with the Furies, Medusa, motorcycle thug Aires, and various other immortals. Although some of Jesse Bernstein's accents fail (the monster from Georgia, for instance, has no Southern trace in her voice), he does a fine job of keeping the main characters' tones and accents distinguishable. He convincingly portrays Percy, voicing just the right amount of prepubescent confusion, ironic wit, and the ebbing and waning of concern for himself and those around him. Mythology fans will love this take and kids who haven't been inculcated with the Classical canon will learn aspects of it here while having no trouble following a rollicking good–and modern–adventure.

from Booklist The escapades of the Greek gods and heroes get a fresh spin in the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, about a contemporary 12-year-old New Yorker who learns he's a demigod. Perseus, aka Percy Jackson, thinks he has big problems. His father left before he was born, he's been kicked out of six schools in six years, he's dyslexic, and he has ADHD. What a surprise when he finds out that that's only the tip of the iceberg: he vaporizes his pre-algebra teacher, learns his best friend is a satyr, and is almost killed by a minotaur before his mother manages to get him to the safety of Camp Half-Blood--where he discovers that Poseidon is his father. But that's a problem, too. Poseidon has been accused of stealing Zeus' lightning bolt, and unless Percy can return the bolt, humankind is doomed. Riordan's fast-paced adventure is fresh, dangerous, and funny. Percy is an appealing, but reluctant hero, the modernized gods are hilarious, and the parallels to Harry Potter are frequent and obvious. Because Riordan is faithful to the original myths, librarians should be prepared for a rush of readers wanting the classic stories.
Connections
~ The easiest connection to make with this book is that of Greek Mythology. This book would be a great way to introduce students to the Greek gods and their stories.
~ Another great use of this book is in teaching the use of voice in writing. Fourth graders taking the TAKS writing test could learn a lot about how to give their characters personality and how the little details and comments can make a story more interesting.

How I Live Now - Genre 6 Fantasy, Fiction, & YA

Bibliography
Rosoff, Meg. 2004. How I live now. New York: Wendy Lamb Books. ISBN 0385746776
Plot Summary
This story, told by the character of Daisy, tells about how life changes during and after war. An unhappy teenage girl named Daisy finds a home in England with the family of her deceased mother. Not long after her arrival, Daisy's aunt leaves on a business trip of sorts and while she is gone, a war breaks out seperating the children from Aunt Penn forever. The children survive fine on their own for awhile but as the war progresses, they are eventually seperated with the girls going to live in the home of an Army Major and the boys being moved to a farm turned make-shift Army post.

From the seperation, the focus of the book is solely on Daisy and her cousin Piper and how the two manage to survive a war and their escape back home. After a long, hard journey on foot back to their home, the girls lay low waiting for the boys or at least some news of the boys to arrive home as well. Unfortunately, the first news to arrive is that Daisy is being deported back to New York. Daisy stays in New York for the six years it takes for the war to subside enough for the borders to re-open then returns to a war-torn but slowly reviving England - the only place that ever felt like home. Though her return is not entirely easy or natural, Daisy knows she's home and will probably never leave again.
Critical Analysis
This story, set in a modern day war affecting England and the U.S., can really make the reader think about what a modern war might be like - how hard it would be on society and how things we take for granted could be gone rather quickly. Another compelling theme of the story is Daisy's issues with a hated stepmother and eating which would be more familiar subjects for most readers. While other themes exist as well, the main theme of the story is that of growing up and finding a place to belong - another issue relevant to young readers. The love story within the plot is controverial, somewhat unrealistic, and not the most interesting of the plot lines. While it has some merit, the more compelling part of the story is how Daisy develops a view of the world outside of herself as she survives a war and protects her younger cousin in the process.

While the characters, plots, and themes were mostly realistic and relatable, the style of writing left something to be desired. The style of writing probably correctly reflects the writing of the 15 year old girl who tells the story but it still proves to be a little discouraging. The reader is left with many unanswered questions and the need for clarifications. And while punctuation is not necessarily needed when thinking or speaking, its absence from written forms of communication makes a story hard to follow.
Professional Review Excerpt
from Publishers Weekly This riveting first novel paints a frighteningly realistic picture of a world war breaking out in the 21st century. Told from the point of view of 15-year-old Manhattan native Daisy, the novel follows her arrival and her stay with cousins on a remote farm in England. Soon after Daisy settles into their farmhouse, her Aunt Penn becomes stranded in Oslo and terrorists invade and occupy England. Daisy's candid, intelligent narrative draws readers into her very private world, which appears almost utopian at first with no adult supervision (especially by contrast with her home life with her widowed father and his new wife). The heroine finds herself falling in love with cousin Edmond, and the author credibly creates a world in which social taboos are temporarily erased. When soldiers usurp the farm, they send the girls off separately from the boys, and Daisy becomes determined to keep herself and her youngest cousin, Piper, alive. Like the ripple effects of paranoia and panic in society, the changes within Daisy do not occur all at once, but they have dramatic effects. In the span of a few months, she goes from a self-centered, disgruntled teen to a courageous survivor motivated by love and compassion. How she comes to understand the effects the war has had on others provides the greatest evidence of her growth, as well as her motivation to get through to those who seem lost to war's consequences. Teens may feel that they have experienced a war themselves as they vicariously witness Daisy's worst nightmares. Like the heroine, readers will emerge from the rubble much shaken, a little wiser and with perhaps a greater sense of humanity.
Connections
~ An obvious subject of discussion inspired by this novel would be that of a 21st Century war - could it really happen the way this book describes it, would the results really be as the book describes it, would the results be the same in the U.S. as they were in England, etc.
~ Another great skill to be taught through this novel is that of inferencing. Since there are many details left out and gaps in the story, the reader must fill in the blanks.
~ This story could also be used to teach the skill of writing dialogue.

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

Bibliography
DiCamillo, Kate. 2003. The tale of Despereaux. Ill. by Timothy Basil Ering. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763617229
Plot Summary
This is "the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread," as the spine of the book states. In four books and a coda, DiCamillo tells of an unusually small mouse with unusally large ears named Desperaux. In addition to not fitting in physically, Despereaux never seemed to be able to concern himself with the things of mice - eating, scurrying, etc. Instead, Despereaux found he loved music, reading, and Princess Pea. These loves ultimately banished him to the dungeon...where the story of a rat named Roscuro is told. The reader learns that rats are supposed to love darkness and suffering but Roscuro loves the light and escapes from the dungeon. His shocking appearence at a party leads to the queen's death and the subsequent outlawing of soup, bowls, and spoons. This event, while setting in motion Roscuro's return to ratty and revengeful ways, introduces us to the story of Miggery Sow (Mig), a mistreated peasant girl who comes to live and work in the castle. At this point, all the characters merge into one story. It involves kidnapping and the loss of tails, bravery and love. Ultimately, the story is one of forgiveness and healed hearts.
Critical Analysis
The characters of the story can be hard to relate to since readers are not mice, rats, or living in a medieval castle. However, the struggles and desires of the characters are very familiar. We've all felt at least once that we don't belong and most of us desire to be more than we are. You don't have to be a king or a princess to miss loved ones who have died. And though the storyline jumps to different characters and the various areas of a medieval castle making it somewhat hard to follow at times, it is a wonderful tale of love, forgiveness, and being true to oneself. The author pulls the reader in by directly addressing the reader through comments and questions. Ering's illustrations also help to bring the reader into the story by providing a frame of reference for the settings and characters. His delicate and detailed pencil drawings show the light and darkness not only of the setting but also of the characters. Though the switch of settings and storylines can be a bit confusing, in the end, they come together in a beautifully woven tapestry.
Professional Review Excerpts
from Amazon.com Kate DiCamillo, author of the Newbery Honor book Because of Winn-Dixie, spins a tidy tale of mice and men where she explores the "powerful, wonderful, and ridiculous" nature of love, hope, and forgiveness. Her old-fashioned, somewhat dark story, narrated "Dear Reader"-style, begins "within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse." Despereaux Tilling, the new baby mouse, is different from all other mice. Sadly, the romantic, unmouselike spirit that leads the unusually tiny, large-eared mouse to the foot of the human king and the beautiful Princess Pea ultimately causes him to be banished by his own father to the foul, rat-filled dungeon.
Children whose hopes and dreams burn secretly within their hearts will relate to this cast of outsiders who desire what is said to be out of their reach and dare to break "never-to-be-broken rules of conduct." Timothy Basil Ering's pencil illustrations are stunning, reflecting DiCamillo's extensive light and darkness imagery as well as the sweet, fragile nature of the tiny mouse hero who lives happily ever after.

from School Library Journal A charming story of unlikely heroes whose destinies entwine to bring about a joyful resolution. Foremost is Despereaux, a diminutive mouse who, as depicted in Ering's pencil drawings, is one of the most endearing of his ilk ever to appear in children's books. His mother, who is French, declares him to be "such the disappointment" at his birth and the rest of his family seems to agree that he is very odd: his ears are too big and his eyes open far too soon and they all expect him to die quickly. Of course, he doesn't. Then there is the human Princess Pea, with whom Despereaux falls deeply (one might say desperately) in love. She appreciates him despite her father's prejudice against rodents. Next is Roscuro, a rat with an uncharacteristic love of light and soup. Both these predilections get him into trouble. And finally, there is Miggery Sow, a peasant girl so dim that she believes she can become a princess. With a masterful hand, DiCamillo weaves four story lines together in a witty, suspenseful narrative that begs to be read aloud. In her authorial asides, she hearkens back to literary traditions as old as those used by Henry Fielding. In her observations of the political machinations and follies of rodent and human societies, she reminds adult readers of George Orwell. But the unpredictable twists of plot, the fanciful characterizations, and the sweetness of tone are DiCamillo's own. This expanded fairy tale is entertaining, heartening, and, above all, great fun.
Connections
~ This book could be used in a study of the medieval time period - living arrangements and social standings.
~ This is also a good a good story for teaching point of view and perspective.
~ Another connection to be made with this story is that of good versus evil - what makes a character good or bad, there are consequences to our actions, etc.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! - Genre 5 Historical Fiction

Bibliography
Schlitz, Laura Amy. 2007. Good masters! Sweet ladies! Voices from a Medieval village. Ill. by Robert Byrd. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press. ISBN 9780763615789
Plot Summary
In this book, the reader learns about the various people of the Medieval era. Through poems and monologues written from the perspective of the village children, the reader learnes about the occupations and social status they create. Children from the lord's nephew all the way down to the beggar tell their stories and give insight to what kind of life they led.

The book also contains a foreward in which the author gives the background of the book's creation. The illustrator iincludes a two-page map of the village all the characters are from. He also provides smaller snapshot-like illustrations for each character. The author also includes a bibliography at the end of the book.
Critical Analysis
Though the language is somewhat difficult, this book provides students with wonderful insight into the Medieval world. Through the eyes of the children of a Medieval village, the reader learns about all the different types of jobs, the social status and position those jobs held, and how little choice people had in what position they held.

As the foreward states, the poems and monologues can be read in any order though reading them in order assists in making connections between the characters. The monologues also serve as excellent discussion starters for topics such as being an apprentice, cheating customers, going on pilgrimages, and the celebrations of the culture. While it proves to be an excellent tool for teaching, ultimately it is just a fun book to read.
Professional Review Excerpts
from Publishers Weekly Starred Review. Schlitz (The Hero Schliemann ) wrote these 22 brief monologues to be performed by students at the school where she is a librarian; here, bolstered by lively asides and unobtrusive notes, and illuminated by Byrd's (Leonardo, Beautiful Dreamer) stunningly atmospheric watercolors, they bring to life a prototypical English village in 1255. Adopting both prose and verse, the speakers, all young, range from the half-wit to the lord's daughter, who explains her privileged status as the will of God. The doctor's son shows off his skills ("Ordinary sores/ Will heal with comfrey, or the white of an egg,/ An eel skin takes the cramping from a leg"); a runaway villein (whose life belongs to the lord of his manor) hopes for freedom after a year and a day in the village, if only he can calculate the passage of time; an eel-catcher describes her rough infancy: her "starving poor [father] took me up to drown in a bucket of water." (He relents at the sight of her "wee fingers" grasping at the sides of the bucket.) Byrd, basing his work on a 13th-century German manuscript, supplies the first page of each speaker's text with a tone-on-tone patterned border overset with a square miniature. Larger watercolors, some with more intricate borders, accompany explanatory text for added verve. The artist does not channel a medieval style; rather, he mutes his palette and angles some lines to hint at the period, but his use of cross-hatching and his mostly realistic renderings specifically welcome a contemporary readership.

from Booklist *Starred Review* The author of A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama (2006), Schlitz turns to a completely different kind of storytelling here. Using a series of interconnected monologues and dialogues featuring young people living in and around an English manor in 1255, she offers first-person character sketches that build upon each other to create a finer understanding of medieval life. The book was inspired by the necessity of creating a play suitable for a classroom where "no one wanted a small part." Each of the 23 characters (between 10 and 15 years old) has a distinct personality and a societal role revealed not by recitation of facts but by revelation of memories, intentions, and attitudes. Sometimes in prose and more often in one of several verse forms, the writing varies nicely from one entry to the next. Historical notes appear in the vertical margins, and some double-page spreads carry short essays on topics related to individual narratives, such as falconry, the Crusades, and Jews in medieval society. Although often the characters' specific concerns are very much of their time, their outlooks and emotional states will be familiar to young people today. Reminiscent of medieval art, Byrd's lively ink drawings, tinted with watercolors, are a handsome addition to this well-designed book. This unusually fine collection of related monologues and dialogues promises to be a rewarding choice for performance or for reading aloud in the classroom.
Connections
~ Obviously, this story could be used in a study of the Medieval era.
~ This book also demonstrates a way of presenting research in a way other than a typical research paper.
~ The monologues could also be used in a drama class.
~ Since the characters all live in the same village, they often participate in the same events. For this reason, point of view and perspective can be demonstrated.

Sarah, Plain and Tall - Genre 5 Historical Fiction

Bibliography
MacLachlan, Patricia. 1985. Sarah, plain and tall. New York: Harper and Row. ISBN 0060241012
Plot Summary
In this story, a young motherless family from the midwest invites a woman from the east coast to come visit them. The hope is that Sarah will stay with them to become their new wife and mother. Through the perspective of young Anna, the reader sees how Sarah and this young family come together, learn about each other, and eventually become a new family. Sarah brings with her the love of the sea - its colors, shells, and landscape. In exchange, she learns about life on the prairie - hard work, hot summers, and wide open spaces. In the end, Anna is sure there will be a summer wedding.
Critical Analysis
This touching story, told from the perspective of a young girl named Anna, describes how a single woman from Maine leaves behind her family to become the wife and mother of Anna's family in the midwest. The author allows us to feel the pain of missing one's wife and mother as well as the anxious excitement of the possible addition of a stepmother to the family. The delightful observations of the children as Sarah introduces her east coast culture to the family and learns their midwest pioneer ways brings smiles and tears.

In addition to being a heartwarming story, the book also gives a lot of information about lief on the prairie. The reader learns that this life can be lonely and the work is hard. While there are many opportunities for fun like swimming in the cow pond and sliding down hay dunes, there are also many scary times like moms who can't get proper medical help and rainstorms that threaten to tear apart houses and barns. Readers learn about the culture of prairie life while falling in love with Anna, Caleb, Papa, and Sarah, plain and tall.
Professional Review Excerpt
from Amazon.com Review MacLachlan, author of Unclaimed Treasures, has written an affecting tale for children. In the late 19th century a widowed midwestern farmer with two children--Anna and Caleb--advertises for a wife. When Sarah arrives she is homesick for Maine, especially for the ocean which she misses greatly. The children fear that she will not stay, and when she goes off to town alone, young Caleb--whose mother died during childbirth--is stricken with the fear that she has gone for good. But she returns with colored pencils to illustrate for them the beauty of Maine, and to explain that, though she misses her home, "the truth of it is I would miss you more." The tale gently explores themes of abandonment, loss and love.
Connections
~ This story would be a useful illustration of the life of a farming family living on the prairie.
~ Another connection that could be made is that of comparing and contrasting cultures and exploring the idea of different cultures being able to come together.
~ From a writing perspective, the story could be connected to letter writing as well as point of view.

The Art of Keeping Cool - Genre 5 Historical Fiction

Bibliography
Lisle, Janet Taylor. 2000. The art of keeping cool. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0689837879
Plot Summary
In an effort to make ends meet while Robert's father is fighting World War II in Europe, Robert's mother moves the family from their Ohio farm to Rhode Island to live with his father's family. Upon arrival, Robert finally meets the family he had only vaguely heard about and soon discovers a great friend and artist in his cousin Elliot. During their long stay in Rhode Island, Robert, Elliot, and occationally Robert's little sister Carolyn explore the new massive guns installed at the Army Post on the coast. The boys go to school, study the uniforms of the soldiers, help maintain the garden, and befriend a German outcast who happens to be a famous painter. Ultimately, Robert also gains insight into the secretive rift between his father and grandfather. Through these experiences, Robert learns many valuable lessons of life.
Critical Analysis
This novel gives the reader a glimpse into life on the Atlantic coast after Pearl Harbor was attacked. The author subtly but poignantly describes the sacrifices made by patriotic Americans. The reader feels the fear that is brought on by the placement of huge guns at the Army Post in town and later by the tragic deaths of a friend's dad and the many sailors on the bombed ships. Once can't help but mistrust the German artist at first and then be sickened by the cruel treatment he received from the townspeople. The reader even gets a little hungry for meat. Overall, the story would be a history teacher's dream as it tells a lot about how Americans lived during World War II but presents the information in an exciting, page-turning manner.
Professional Review Excerpts
from Publishers Weekly This wrenching WWII novel traces the relationship between two 13-year-old American boys and a German-born Expressionist painter reputed to be a spy. The intimate first-person narrative brings universal themes of prejudice and loss to a personal level.

from School Library Journal Despite a misleading title (the word "cool" does not conjure up the 1940s), this is a well-drawn story that is part coming-of-age, part mystery. Robert and his mother have come to live with his grandparents on the Rhode Island coast in 1942, soon after his father has gone off to fight in the war. The coastal residents are getting ready for war and a German painter, living like a hermit on the outskirts of town, has raised suspicions of being a spy. To complicate matters, Robert's cousin Elliott, also an artist, is at odds with their grandfather, an imposing patriarch prone to anger. As the summer unfolds, the tension mounts. Robert and his mother wait anxiously for word from the front; Elliott grows more unhappy at home as he befriends the painter; the town turns against the outsider with tragic consequences; and Robert finally learns why his father has been estranged from his family. The focus is clearly on the men of the household, and cursory treatment is given to the women's feelings and thoughts. Although women in such situations are indeed often overshadowed by their husbands or fathers, the emotional depth of this story is undercut by their portrayals. Still this is a heartfelt story about family dynamics and the harmful power of prejudice and hatred.
Connections
~ Obviously, this book could be used as an example of life in America during WWII as well as provide a glimpse into life in Nazi Germany.
~ The novel could also be used to describe expressionist art and artists.
~ Another use for this book would be to explore family relationships and how past experiences shape current actions.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Boy on Fairfield Street - Genre 4 Nonfiction and Biography

Bibliography
Krull, Kathleen. 2004. The boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel grew up to become Dr. Seuss. Ill. by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. New York: Random House. ISBN 0375822984
Plot Summary
Kathleen Krull gives the history of Dr. Seuss' boyhood, formative years growing up in Springfield, Massachusetts. She tells of his family and his surroundings. Krull shows how many of the events of his school years shaped and led to his future accomplishments. Johnson and Fancher's paintings are paired with Seuss' own drawings to further tie the real and imagined worlds together.

The actual story of the book ends when Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) leaves home to begin his career with only hints of what is to come. The author answers the readers' remaining questions in a section labeled 'On Beyond Fairfield Street.' The author also includes a list of Dr. Seuss' books as well as some other resources that give information about Dr. Seuss.
Critical Analysis
This biography provides wonderful insight into the youth of the beloved children's book author, Dr. Seuss. The reader is able to get a sense of and therefore relate to how young Ted was a fairly typical boy with a strong family support system, but sometimes felt out of place. Krull also subtly ties in some of the plots and characters of Dr. Seuss' books to actual events in his life. While there aren't a lot of direct correlations of his life to his stories, the biography is a good example of how our experiences shape our future.

The paintings accompanying the text help create the time frame of the story as well as illustrate various moments in Dr. Seuss' life. The small illustrations taken from Dr. Seuss' work that are sprinkled throughout the book also add interest but rarely support the text.
Professional Review Excerpts
from Amazon.com Young doodlers and dreamers of the world, take heart--the famous Dr. Seuss, creator of Whos and Sneetches, was a doodler and dreamer, too. Kathleen Krull's engaging picture-book biography of Ted Geisel, the real Dr. Seuss, takes us from his early childhood on Fairfield Street in Springfield, Massachusetts, to the time when he's 22 years old in Greenwich Village and just starting to think he might make a go of it as a person who draws flying cows. Krull tells a lively story, carefully including details that help us understand how Seuss became Seuss, from playground injustice (Geisel was a German American and World War I loomed large) to his love for Krazy Kat comics.
Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, who also illustrated Seuss's My Many Colored Days, cast Seuss's childhood in a nostalgic light with lovely, old-fashioned paintings. A four-page section in the back picks up Seuss's story again, taking us to 1937 when he launches his children's book career with And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street and all the way to his death in 1991. A complete list of Seuss's books and recommendations for further research closes this fascinating look at one of America's most beloved creators of children's books.
from Booklist Before Geisel became Dr. Seuss, he was a boy who "feasted on books and was wild about animals." This introductory sentence begins a delightful picture-book biography about Geisel that chronicles how he became an innovative writer and illustrator beloved by readers young and old. Born in 1904 to a mother who enjoyed reading and a father who worked at the zoo in Springfield, Massachusetts, Geisel spent his days doodling, hanging out with friends, and generally fooling around. Yet there were also some difficult moments. His German heritage made him a target for teasing at the advent of World War I; he was also a rule breaker and was told by his teacher that he would never get anywhere with his art. The book ends when Geisel, already a published cartoonist, is 22, living in Greenwich Village, and looking forward to a bright future. An extended author's note details how Geisel became Dr. Seuss and discusses a number of his works. Krull's pithy text is extended by full-page paintings that glow with the memory of yesteryear and capture the mix of humor and poignancy that comes with trying to fit in. Spot art from Geisel's own books enlivens the text pages.
Connections
~ This biography could be used in a study of Dr. Seuss and his many books.
~ This book, or at least excerpts of it, could be used by a counselor helping students understand the emotions of childhood - how to fit in, what to do when you don't fit in, how to handle embarrassing and disappointing situations, etc.

Team Moon - Genre 4 Nonfiction and Biography

Bibliography
Thimmesh, Catherine. 2006. Team moon: How 40,000 people landed Apollo 11 on the moon. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0618507574
Plot Summary
This book tells the many little stories and incidences that made up the event of Apollo 11 - the moon landing. Thimmesh gives details into the behind-the-scenes work and the little known people that made Apollo 11 happen. She takes the reader from the early developmental stages of the trip to its splash landing back on earth.

Throughout, many quotes and photographs are included to document the event. The author concludes the book with a note that acknowledges the work of others who weren't necessarily mentioned in the book but who were still important to the project. The note also discusses the whole space program of which Apollo 11 was just one part. Also included are pictures of vaious key figures or representatives along with a quote about how that person or group supported the trip. The final pages list the sources, notes, acknowledgements, credits, references, index, and glossary.
Critical Analysis
This chronological telling of Apollo 11 is done very well. The author does an excellent job describing the large number of people involved in this one trip. The reader gets a feel for the excitement, the panic, the relief, and the exhileration of the people involved in each step of the process. Thimmesh also lets the reader know how involved each step of the process was. From the design of the various vehicles, suits, and tools to monitoring the sensors and even just relaying messages, the reader can really get a sense of the number of designers, engineers, mathmeticians, scientists, etc. were involved from day one and had to be on call throughout for those 'just in case' moments. Every single seemingly insignificant measurement, adjustment, wire, and lightbulb were of great importance.

In addition to the descriptions and quotes provided, the photographs help bring the story to life. Students today weren't alive during the race to the moon and have only limited exposure to space travel in general. This book helps recapture the feelings of those times and introduces them to a whole new generation.
Professional Review Excerpt
from School Library Journal In infectiously hyperbolic prose that's liberally interspersed with quotes and accompanied by sheaves of period photos, Thimmesh retraces the course of the space mission that landed an actual man, on the actual Moon. It's an oft-told tale, but the author tells it from the point of view not of astronauts or general observers, but of some of the 17,000 behind-the-scenes workers at Kennedy Space Center, the 7500 Grumman employees who built the lunar module, the 500 designers and seamstresses who actually constructed the space suits, and other low-profile contributors who made the historic flight possible. Despite occasional contrast issues when the white-on-black text is printed over blown-up photographs, this dramatic account will mesmerize even readers already familiar with the event–and also leave them awed by the level of care and dedication it took to surmount so many daunting technological challenges. Drawn from personal interviews and oral histories as well as a wide array of published sources, this stirring, authoritative tribute to the collective effort that left ...footprints, crisp and clear, pressed purposefully and magnificently into the lunar dust belongs in every collection.
Connections
~The obvious connection for this book would be in a scientific study of the moon, space, and/or space travel.
~The book could also be used to study the history of the Cold War and the race to be the first to land on the moon.
~One could also use the book to discuss all the different occupations necessary to complete one task. Many occupations and responsibilities are discussed showing the many different angles from which such a large goal must be approached.

The Brain - Genre 4 Nonfiction and Biography

Bibliography
Simon, Seymour. 1997. The brain: Our nervous system. New York: Morrow Junior Books. ISBN 0688146406.
Plot Summary
This is the story of the brain. Simon explains the important jobs of the brain and then tells how the brian performs them. It ties the brain into the central nervous system and then details the various parts of the system. Each part has its own job and parts. The book describes and defines glial cells, neurons, the spinal cord, the cerebrum, cerebellum, brainstem and many more.

Along with the descriptions and definitions are photographs and illustrations labeling the various parts described. The photographs are especially informational as they are actual pictures of the brain taken through scanning electron microscopes. Some of the photos are colored to help aide in part identification. Ultimately, the book both shows and describes the functions of the brain and central nervous system.
Critical Analysis
This informational book does a great job teaching the reader about the brain and central nervous system in general. While the vocabulary can get difficult, the author seamlessly defines it as he writes - though some pronunciation guides would be helpful. The text is written in such a way that the high-level concepts can make sense to even readers who struggle some.

The photographs and illustrations also add interest. Very few readers can resist actual pictures of the brain - what it looks like, how it's put together, how it works. The pictures go very well with the text to support and further describe.
Professional Review Excerpt
from Amazon.com Did you know that your brain (yes, even yours) is roughly the size of a large grapefruit? Award-winning author Seymour Simon clearly and skillfully exposes the many wonders of the brain and nervous system in The Brain: Our Nervous System. Author of more than 150 children's books about science, including The Heart: Our Circulatory System, Muscles: Our Muscular System, and Bones: Our Skeletal System, Simon has a knack for piquing the curiosity of youngsters and clearly communicating scientific facts. The Brain, written for ages 8 and older, is a solid launching pad for further investigation of the organ that makes us who we are. Kids will love learning that our brains grow until we are 7 years old, that our spines have 33 vertebrae, and that our skulls are made of 28 bones. Large, full-color photographs and illustrations show the fascinating, if slightly nauseating, areas of the human brain--a positron computed tomography (PCT) photo, for example, shows the dramatically different levels of visual stimulation to the brain when your eyes are open or closed. Two to three paragraphs of large type per page, plus one full-bleed illustration per spread, help make The Brain just the right amount of information for one grapefruit-sized brain to take in.

from School Library Journal In this most recent effort, Simon brings his deft touch to an explanation of the brain and the nervous system. His clear, concise writing style is complemented by stunning color images taken with radiological scanners, such as CAT scans, MRIs, and SEMs (scanning electron microscopes.) Included in his explanation are descriptions of the anatomy and function of the parts of the brain, long and short term memory, neurons, dendrites, and more. The layout is familiar?a page of text facing a full-page photo. There is no glossary or index, but, as usual, the book is so well organized that they won't be missed.
Connections
~Obviously, this book could be connected to biology and the actual study of the brain and/or central nervous system.
~This book could also be used to teach context clues and how to find the definition of a word within the text.
~Another possible use for this book would be the use of technology, photography, and illustrations to support the text.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The New Kid on the Block - Genre 3 Poetry

Bibliography
Prelutsky, Jack. 1984. The new kid on the block. Ill. by James Stevenson. New York: Scholastic, Inc. ISBN 0590408364
Plot Summary
In this collection, Prelutsky applies his knack for rhythm and rhyme to a variety of humorous subjects ranging from homework to dragon birthdays. Though the lengths of the poems vary from four lines to full pages, each poem contains something new - be it vocabulary or just a new way to view the subject. Steveonson's sketch-drawings also serve to illustrate the thoughts and ideas of the poems.
Critical Analysis
Prelutsky is a popular choice among children as his poems often deal with ridiculous or otherwise kid-friendly subjects and ideas. These subjects do not readily lend themselves to in-depth, educationally sound study though they do serve to expand vocabulary and sometimes horizons.

As always, Stevenson's drawings are well done and reflective of the poems. However, the drawings are not necessary to complete the thoughts of the poems. They are humorous additions to the poetry but the poems can stand alone.
Professional Review Excerpt
from Amazon.com This exuberant valise of verse bulges with more than 100 poems about things you've never thought about, such as Underwater Wibbles who dine exclusively on cheese, and things you probably have thought about, such as sneezing oysters and the dot-gobbling Flotz. Jack Prelutsky, one of the premier children's poets of our time, manages to be deadpan and goofy simultaneously and in perfect rhythm right up to the pleasantly unpredictable punch lines of his poems.
Take "Jellyfish Stew." "You're soggy, you're smelly, / you taste like shampoo, / you bog down my belly / with oodles of goo, / yet I would glue noodles / and prunes to my shoe, / for one oozy spoonful / of jellyfish stew." Poems about greedy grannies, exploding Bloders, and hypothetical situations such as having your nose unfortunately situated between your toes are guaranteed to delight you and your favorite kids. Quirky, surprising, and always delightful, Prelutsky's poems make us wish we'd grown up with his books in hand. Illustrator James Stevenson's loose pen-and-ink sketches are lively and fluid, waltzing along perfectly with Prelutsky's playful poetry.
Connections
~ An obvious use of this book is in a study of poetry.
~ This collection is a wonderful way to expand vocabulary among students.
~ A wonderful use of Prelutsky's poetry is to develop public speaking skills by having students memorize and/or recite various poems. This is also a valuable method for teaching expression and fluency and since the poems are so appealing to the students, they have few objections.

Meow Ruff - Genre 3 Poetry

Bibliography
Sidman, Joyce. 2006. Meow ruff: A story in concrete poetry. Ill. by Michelle Berg. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0618448942
Plot Summary
Through poetry, the author tells the story of a cat and dog who get caught in a rainstorm. Each shape poem describes the trees, grass, house, and even the picnic table. The animals come to life through their poetic speech bubbles. The interesting shape designs of the artwork only further enhances the shape and wording of the poetry. It also creates endearing characters that create interest in the story.
Critical Analysis
This beautiful collection of poems tell a quaint story of an unlikely friendship. In addition to providing an excellent opportunity for expanding a young reader's vocabulary, the words chosen for the poems perfectly describe and build interest in their subjects. The cloud poems are especially fun as they changed throughout the story to reflect the onset and decline of a thunderstorm.

The illustrations also served to enhance the poems as they further defined their intended shapes. In those places where the poem couldn't take the shape of its subject, the illustrations still kept the shape theme. Overall, the poems and illustrations melded together to form an inviting and interesting story.
Professional Review Excerpts
from School Library Journal Using concrete poetry as the vehicle, Sidman relates a simple story. A small dog escapes from its house and a little cat is abandoned at curbside. These natural enemies meet at a neighborhood park where, forced to wait out a thunderstorm under a picnic table, they take comfort in huddling together and later emerge as buddies. The adjective-loaded unrhymed verse is actually a series of descriptive phrases that have been compressed and arranged to create elements of the artwork. For example, the words large/white steamy/bread loaves rising/in the sun's bright heat/a billowing batch/of cumulus are printed in white and presented in the shape of a cloud, while patchwork, rabbit-nibbled, mower-cropped, wind-whispered grass fills a green border along the bottom of the page. Computer-generated cartoon graphics of the cat, dog, three crows, and other animals are set against a sky-blue background. Some details (the dog's tail and ears; a bird's wings) have gray-toned shadows that indicate movement. Some of the language is creative, and the beat is catchy, but occasionally the crowded monochromatic text is difficult to read, and many of the pages are cluttered with words and graphics.

from Booklist *Starred Review* It's typically said of picture books that art and text are inseparable, but the truth of that has rarely been more evident than it is in this introduction to concrete poetry--which, unlike most books about the form, doesn't just collect unrelated poems, but tells a story through them. With the same creativity of expression that marked Song of the Waterboatman (2005), a 2006 Caldecott Honor Book, Sidman develops a simple tale about a cat and dog trapped in a rainstorm, coding much of the substance right into the physical landscape. Indicating the coming downpour, for instance, cloud-poems build from a single word (wisp) to free verse dense with ominous imagery ("Thunder-plumped seething mass of gloomy fuming"); raindrop-poems, descending vertically from the clouds, intensifying from the merest "drips" to "monster splats" to "stinging ropes of water." Berg, who created the pictures digitally and is also the book's graphic designer, intelligently showcases the concept of words as building blocks in a stylized landscape of flat colors, two-dimensional forms, and wildly mutating typefaces.
Connections
~ This is an excellent example in shape poems for a unit in the study of poems.
~ This book could also be used to teach the definition and use of adjectives.
~ The description of the clouds and precipitation of the rainstorm would be an excellent resource for the study of weather.

Out of the Dust - Genre 3 Poetry

Bibliography
Hesse, Karen. 1997. Out of the dust. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN 0590360809
Plot Summary
Through poetic entries, the author tells the story of an Oklahoma family during the dust bowl era of the Great Depression. The poems are written from the perspective of a young teenager, Billie Jo, who struggles to come to terms with the loss and tradgedy the hard times bring. Just when all seems hopeless and the only option left is to run away from home, Billie Jo discoveres that her home actually resotres her hope.
Critical Analysis
The author's brilliant choice and placement of words tell a complete story in the form of poetry. This moving journal-like novel completely engulfs the reader in the story of this poor farming family just trying to survive through the tough times. The reader almost chokes on the all-encompassing dust and can't help but be affected by the continuous loss of friendships, livestock, crops, money, life, and hope. The desolation and desperation of this particular time in America's history is truly brought to life but so is the determination and will to overcome.
Professional Review Excerpts
from Amazon.com Like the Oklahoma dust bowl from which she came, 14-year-old narrator Billie Jo writes in sparse, free-floating verse. In this compelling, immediate journal, Billie Jo reveals the grim domestic realities of living during the years of constant dust storms: That hopes--like the crops--blow away in the night like skittering tumbleweeds. That trucks, tractors, even Billie Jo's beloved piano, can suddenly be buried beneath drifts of dust. Perhaps swallowing all that grit is what gives Billie Jo--our strong, endearing, rough-cut heroine--the stoic courage to face the death of her mother after a hideous accident that also leaves her piano-playing hands in pain and permanently scarred.
Meanwhile, Billie Jo's silent, windblown father is literally decaying with grief and skin cancer before her very eyes. When she decides to flee the lingering ghosts and dust of her homestead and jump a train west, she discovers a simple but profound truth about herself and her plight. There are no tight, sentimental endings here--just a steady ember of hope that brightens Karen Hesse's exquisitely written and mournful tale. Hesse won the 1998 Newbery Award for this elegantly crafted, gut-wrenching novel.

from Publishers Weekly In a starred review of the 1998 Newbery Medal winner, set during the Depression, PW said, "This intimate novel, written in stanza form, poetically conveys the heat, dust and wind of Oklahoma. With each meticulously arranged entry Hesse paints a vivid picture of her heroine's emotions."
Connections
~ This book offers a wonderful chance to look at the point of view of various characters.
~ This book can also be used to discuss and describe the history of the Great Depression as well as the economics of that time. For that matter, it can be used to help describe and discuss the current economic times as it can be used as a comparison.
~One could also tie this book into a poetry unit.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Horse Hooves and Chicken Feet: Mexican Folktales (Genre 2-Traditional Literature)

Bibliography
Philip, Neil, ed. 2003. Horse hooves and chicken feet: Mexican folktales. Ill. by Jacqueline Mair. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN 0-618-19436-0.
Plot Summary
This is a collection of Mexican folktales. The fourteen stories range in length from one to several pages. They also vary greatly in their plots. Some stories sound like the familiar stories of other cultures. Also included is an introduction providing insight as to the reason certain stories were selected for the collection as well as other points of interest concerning Mexican folktales. At the end, Mr. Philip provides notes on the individual stories included in the collection - where the story was collected from, variations on the story, and other tidbits of information pertaining to the story.
Critical Analysis
I found this to be a wonderful collection of authentic folktales. Some seemed to be simply the Mexican version of a traditional tale but even so, all were uniquely suited to the people and culture of Mexico. Some even seemed as though the meaning was somewhat lost in translation; as though the full meaning of the story could only be complete in the story's native language. The common spiritual and religious references to God, the Devil, St. Peter, priests, etc. reflect the strong Catholic presence in the culture. Many stories also reflected other aspects of the culture dating back to the ancient civilations of the area in their personification of the natural world (i.e. the Sun, Moon, and Wind helping the soldier find his true love).

The illustrations of the book further demonstrate the culture of the tales but are not necessarily weaved into the storylines. Being of an oral tradition, the stories stand alone without the aide of illustrations.
Professional Review Excerpts
From School Library Journal From the familiar "Cinderella" variant presented in "The Two Marias" to the Chelm-like stupidity of the "The Mule Drivers Who Lost Their Feet," this richly varied collection presents the unique blend of folkloric elements and Catholicism that defines Mexican folklore. In an informative introduction, Philip delineates the distinctive flavor of Mexican tales, their blend of religion and humor, and the particular pointed bite of many of the stories. The sparkle he discerns in the body of work comes through clearly in his stylish and humorous retellings. Mair's primitive acrylic illustrations, based on Mexican folk art, are alive with bright color and a kinetic sensibility. They both complement and extend the spicy stories, making this a well-put-together package. Clearly superior to the Little Book of Latin American Folktales (Groundwood, 2003), this title is narrower in scope, but the excellence of the text more than compensates for it. The book concludes with detailed notes on each of the stories and an extensive bibliography. All of the stories tell aloud well, which may be the way to introduce this sound and enjoyable volume to youngsters.

From Booklist Philip brings together a useful and attractively presented selection of 14 folktales from Mexico and people of Mexican decent from the American Southwest. The stories are simply yet effectively retold, usually in five or six pages, with many reflecting the strong influence of the Catholic Church on Mexican culture. Adding considerably to the overall appeal of the book are Mair's exuberant illustrations, accomplished in the style of Mexican folk art. Usually, one illustration comprising several images accompanies each story, each image mirroring some action, often in a way that is original and unexpected. Philip's illuminating introduction explains the origins of the tales, with appended notes providing even more background. An extensive bibliography of titles of Mexican folktale collections is appended. A solid collection that may also find an audience among readers who are older than the target audience.
Connections
~ This book lends itself to a comparison of traditional tales across various cultures.
~ With so many examples in one book, this can also be used to investigate the elements of traditional literature.
~ As with all literature from the oral tradition, this collection could be used as a practice in storytelling.

Cactus Soup (Genre 2-Traditional Literature)

Bibliography
Kimmel, Eric A. 2004. Cactus Soup. Ill. by Phil Huling. New York: Marshall Cavendish. ISBN 0-7614-5155-2.
Plot Summary
The story adapter sets the traditional story of Stone or Nail Soup around the Mexican Revolution. In the story, the Mayor and townspeople of San Miguell see soldiers heading in their direction and fear the soldiers will eat all of their food. They quickly hide all of the food in wells, trees, and even underground. They also change their appearence to look poor and hungry. When the soldiers arrive, they are told there is no food for them so the captain begins to prepare cactus soup for the town and soldiers. When the captain asks for a touch of this or a pinch of that, the townspeople go to their stashes resulting in a fine fiesta of food, music, and dancing that lasted all night long. The adapter also provides a few notes and definitions for the setting and language of the story.
Critical Analysis
This is a fine adaptation of the traditional story. The illustrations capture the setting and characters beautifully. The plot is humorous in that the townspeople set out to fool the soldiers but are in turn fooled by the soldiers. Yet, there is really no mean spirit to the tricks. In the end, a good time is had by all.

The subtle messages behind the story may be missed by the youngest readers/listeners but most will at least recognize the humor and irony of townspeople trying to trick the soldiers out of eating their food but in turn being tricked into providing a fiesta. Keen and critical readers will also recognize that the townspeople tricked themselves in thinking they had to hide their food. If they all contribute a little, there is plenty for all. This story proves to be a very funny way to teach the concept of sharing.
Professional Review Excerpts
From School Library Journal This Mexican variant of "Stone Soup" calls for a single cactus thorn as its base. The army captain repeatedly teases the poor people of San Miguel with the lament, "Why ask for something you don't have?," seducing the curious folk into adding still more ingredients like chiles, vegetables, and meat to his magical concoction, a yummy comestible that inevitably leads to a fiesta. Huling's elongated watercolor cartoons provide just the right playful, brown-hued visual temperament for the all-round festive deception. The glossary is welcome but, oddly, lacks a pronunciation guide. Even stranger, though, is the postscripted author's note, bizarrely politicizing an otherwise clever cultural retelling (although it gives the artist an opportunity to tack on interesting portraits of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata).

From Booklist *Starred Review* Kimmel once recast the gingerbread boy as a traditional Mexican foodstuff in The Runaway Tortilla (2000); illustrator Huling's previous picture book, Puss in Cowboy Boots (2002), plunked Charles Perrault's wily cat in the Southwest. How appropriate, then, that the two should team up to create a chile-infused recipe for stone soup. Their version is set in the Mexico of the Zapatistas, and it's a regiment of revolutionaries who suggest cactus-spine soup to villagers made stingy by a mayor who warns that soldiers "eat like wolves!" But cactus soup, of course, isn't as tasty without salt, pepper, chiles, onions, beans, and a chicken or two . . . "But why ask for what you don't have?" Soon missing ingredients materialize by the basketful, resulting in a splendid feast for the hungry soldiers and a rousing fiesta for all. Kimmel's relaxed storytelling, accompanied by a glossary for those whose Spanish vocabulary may not encompass camote (sweet potato) and alcalde (mayor), is perfectly matched by the sun-baked watercolors by Huling, whose lanky villagers dwarfed by looming sombreros, swaybacked horses, and bowlegged vaqueros evoke both the exaggerated perspectives of Mexican muralists and the tongue-in-cheek universe of Speedy Gonzales. A savory stew to serve alongside traditional versions of the classic tale.
Connections
~ Naturally, this book lends itself to a compare/contrast study of the story Stone Soup.
~ This story can also be used in a study of stories from various cultures asking the students to look for details specific to the cultures of the story.
~ The story could also be used as an introduction to a math lesson discussing measurement tools and their use and importance.

Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella (Genre 2-Traditional Literature)

Bibliography
Johnston, Tony. 1998. Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella. Ill. by James Warhola. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 0-399-23021-1.
Plot Summary
This is very much the traditional Cinderella story but with some twists. Most of the story follows the traditional plot: a dashing prince in need of a wife, a kind girl who lives with her mean stepmother and stepsisters, a party to which everyone was invited but the girl is left behind, a fairy makes it possible for the girl to go, the girl wins the prince's heart and after a search through the countryside, they live happily ever after. The story strays from the orginal through the characters (bigfoots instead of humans) and through it's unique view of beauty.
Critical Analysis
This is quite a fresh look at the traditional Cinderella story. The language can not necessarily be judged as smart though it is appropriate to the storyline and the characters of the story. The most endearing factor of the book is its setting and characters. These creative changes in the story not only provide a new twist to an old story, they also create a new subtle message in the story: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Sweaty, smelly, woodsy, hairy, big-footed ladies are not generally thought of as beautiful. This story however, teaches that what might not be beautiful to some can be a dream come true to others. Everyone is special to someone.

The illustations meld wonderfully with the text. They help create the forest world of the Bigfoot creatures - a world never seen by humans. The artist captured the loving or hateful dispositions of the creatures and truly supported the text without the story.
Professional Review Excerpts
From Publishers Weekly What becomes a Bigfoot most? This silly twist on a favorite fairy tale clears up that question (and more) with humor and style. The Bigfoot prince is looking for a wife. But his perfect mate must meet some stringent criteria: she must be odoriferous, have lots of matted fur and be the kind of nature lover that never picks flowers. Finding such a catch isn't easy, so the prince throws a forest-wide fun-fest at which all the female Bigfeet can compete for him. Rrrrrella is a good candidate but her wicked stepsisters (who wear wildflowers in their well-groomed fur) won't let her attend. With help from her Beary Godfather, Rrrrrella wows the prince at the fun-fest and leaves a giant bark-clog in her wake. Johnston's (The Chizzywink and the Alamagoozlum) wacky fantasy stays true to the Cinderella story, and her fresh setting and funny, evocative details will keep kids laughing. Warhola's (Bubba the Cowboy Prince) giant woolly creatures sport prominent, snouty noses and grimy-toothed grins. They cavort with glee and exhibit enough recognizably human behavior to sustain the visual humor.

From School Library Journal This ultimate reversal of the Cinderella story stars a dashing, nature-loving Bigfoot prince who is "horrendously hairy." Of course, he is as "tall and dark as a Douglas fir" and women long for him. Nearby live a mother and her two puny, furless daughters who not only bathe (ugh!) but also throw rocks at spotted owls. They despise Rrrrrella, their woolly, huge stepsister with feet "like log canoes." When the prince gives the annual fun-fest, Rrrrrella, who is left behind, is helped by her "beary godfather." The rest is history. All of this takes place in the old-growth forest where the Prince protects the environment with his rules, "No pick flower. No pull tree," and protects himself with the last rule, "No kick royal family." The troll-like Bigfoot population lives joyfully among wild animals in a forest paradise. Large, bright paintings in greens, browns, and gold depict the large-nosed, big-toed heroine and her "odoriferous" love interest. All but two crowd scenes can easily be shared with a group. The book can be read alone, aloud, or used for storytelling. It's hilarious fun with a message for all ages.
Connections
~This story can be used to illustrate point of view by discussing how the various characters as well as we as readers view beauty.
~ This story can also be used in a study of the various Cinderella stories; how they are alike, different, reflective of culture, etc.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Caldecott Celebration (Genre 1 Picture Books)

Bibliography
Marcus, Leonard S. 1998. A Caldecott celebration: six artists and their paths to the Caldecott Medal. New York: Walker and Company. ISBN 0-8027-8656-1.
Plot Summary
This book gives a little history behind the Caldecott Medal - it's purpose, medal eligibility, and the selection process. The author then gives a detailed history of six (current edition added a seventh book) Caldecott Medal winners - one for each decade of the award's existence. The history tells about the author/illustrator and how he/she develop the award-winning book in particular though other works are mentioned.
Critical Analysis
This very useful book gives a thorough history of the Caldecott Medal explaining it's creation and the process of selection. The book then examines one medal-winner from each decade. Marcus artfully provides insight into the author/illustrator's journey into book-writing and discusses his/her process for developing stories and illustrations with most attention being given to the medal-winning book. Accompanying the descriptions are photographs of the authors, real-life models for their illustrations, and original sketches of the book illustrations. Marcus is able to take the reader beyond the matter of fact history behind the selected titles into the sort of magical world of story creation.

While the book is quite informative, it is not necessarily intended for young children. Older children, teachers, and librarians will however find it to be an excellent resource for research and/or teaching purposes.
Professional Review Excerpt
From Amazon.com Review Leonard S. Marcus's thoughtful recognition of the labor and serendipity that go into the making of great art illuminates every page of A Caldecott Celebration. It is also to his credit that he has chosen six of the most beloved titles in the canon of American literature as his representative sample of Caldecott-winning children's titles: Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings, Marcia Brown's version of Cinderella, Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, William Steig's Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and Chris Van Allsburg's Jumanji. Marcus's subjects--both texts and creators--have amazing stories behind them. Not a drop of the mystery and fondness one feels toward these works is diluted by the details shared in A Caldecott Celebration, and after reading Marcus's considered tribute, you'll only love these books the better. --Jean Lenihan

From Publishers Weekly Filled with witty anecdotes and pithy observations, Marcus's (Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom) approach to examining the works of six Caldecott Medalists will be of as much interest to adults as to picture book readers. With a generous sprinkling of the artists' own words and sometimes those of his or her editor, Marcus chronicles the inspiration behind these works, the creative process, the artists' reactions to winning the prestigious award and its effect on their careers. With Marcus's sure hand guiding this tour, readers will find cause for celebration.
Connections
~An obvious connection for this book is to a Caldecott Medal Unit in which students learn about the award and the books that have won.
~This book is especially useful to 4th grade writing teachers who wish to show their students how much planning goes into writing and illustrating a good story.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Man Who Walked Between Two Towers (Genre 1 Picture Books)

Bibliography
Gerstein, Mordicai. 2003. The Man Who Walked Between Two Towers. Brookfield, CT: Roaring Book Press. ISBN 0-7613-1791-0.
Plot Summary
The book tells the story of a tightrope walker named Philippe [Petit]. It tells of several of his accomplishments but focuses on his famous walk between the World Trade Center Towers before their completion. The long and difficult journey to and set up at the top is described as well as Philippe's long-awaited trip across the wire and his subsequent dealings with law enforcement.
Critical Analysis
The author's choice of words were often simple but somehow poetic and profound. The reader is able to get a sense of why Philippe would do such a dangerous thing - the frustrations, ponderings, and exilerations felt throughout the daring feat. Then five simple words, "Now the Towers are gone,' from which flow very complex emotions. The text is quite compelling.

The illustrations support the text by providing a pictoral representation of Philippe's point of view sometimes and other times providing a glimpse into the overall picture. The arrangement of the illustrations also provide interest. Some take up a quarter of a page, some a full page. Some are tall and wide, some are long and skinny. There are even some that cause the reader to turn the book and open an extension page. These variations help to portray the size of Philippe's surroundings in various parts of the story. Ultimately, the complex illustrations combined with the simple language create a truly moving book.
Professional Review Excerpt
From Publishers Weekly This effectively spare, lyrical account chronicles Philippe Petit's tight rope walk between Manhattan's World Trade Center towers in 1974. Gerstein (What Charlie Heard) begins the book like a fairytale, "Once there were two towers side by side. They were each a quarter of a mile high... The tallest buildings in New York City." The author casts the French aerialist and street performer as the hero: How Philippe and his pal shang the cable over the 140-feet distance is in itself a fascinating-and harrowing-story, charted in a series of vertical and horizontal ink and oil panels. An inventive foldout tracking Philippe's progress across the wire offers dizzying views of the city below; a turn of the page transforms readers' vantage point into a vertical view of the feat from street level. Gerstein's dramatic paintings include some perspectives bound to take any reader's breath away. Truly affecting is the book's final painting of the imagined imprint of the towers, now existing "in memory"-linked by Philippe and his high wire. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

From School Library Journal Kindergarten-Grade 6-The pacing of the narrative is as masterful as the placement and quality of the oil-and-ink paintings. The interplay of a single sentence or view with a sequence of thoughts or panels builds to a riveting climax. A small, framed close-up of Petit's foot on the wire yields to two three-page foldouts of the walk. One captures his progress from above, the other from the perspective of a pedestrian. The vertiginous views paint the New York skyline in twinkling starlight and at breathtaking sunrise. Gerstein captures his subject's incredible determination, profound skill, and sheer joy. The final scene depicts transparent, cloud-filled skyscrapers, a man in their midst. With its graceful majesty and mythic overtones, this unique and uplifting book is at once a portrait of a larger-than-life individual and a memorial to the towers and the lives associated with them. Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Connections
~This story lends itself to the investigation of the consequences to one's actions as well as the need for compassion sometimes.
~A Caldecott Unit would be incomplete without the study of this book and it's unique illustrations.
~The book serves as a biography of Philippe Petit.
~This is also a good option for opening a discussion about September 11th and other related historical information.

Duck for President (Genre 1 Picture Books)

Bibliography
Cronin, Doreen. 2004. Duck for President. Ill. by Betsy Lewin. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc. ISBN 0-439-67144-2.
Plot Summary
Duck decided he did no like the rules Farmer Brown had set so he held an election to allow the animals a chance to vote him in as the new farm leader. Duck won the election but decided that running a farm was too hard so he began a campaign for governor. After winning that election, Duck set his sights on the Presidency and won. In the end, Duck headed back to the farm.
Critical Analysis
This story is a fun look into the election process (reasons for running, voter registration, campaigns, casting ballots, recounts, etc.) though some liberties have been taken. The author also does a nice job of presenting the hard work involved in the jobs children don't always think of as being hard. The vocabulary is somewhat high-level so the youngest readers would not be able to read the book independently but in the same token, the book is a fun way to expose children to the vocabulary.

The illustrations support the text well by adding details and expression. Many times, the illustrations also add to the overall humor of the story. The colors used are vibrant and patriotic throughout the book which in turn create interest. Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin make a great team.
Professional Review Excerpt
From School Library Journal PreSchool-Grade 2--Lewin's characteristic humorous watercolors with bold black outlines fill the pages with color and jokes. Cronin's text is hilarious for kids and adults and includes a little math and quite a bit about the electoral process. The animals, who have no verbal language that humans can understand, are empowered by the use of the written word, and the subliminal message comes through loud and clear--one can almost hear youngsters thinking, "Watch out grown-ups! Just wait till I learn to read."--Jane Barrer, Washington Square Village Creative Steps, New York City Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Connections
~An obvious connection is to social studies and government and specifically the election process.
~This book could also be used in an author/illustrator study of Cronin and Lewin.
~Analyze the character of Duck using this book as well as Dooby Dooby Moo, Giggle, Giggle, Quack, and other books containing the character of Duck.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Blog Purpose

The purpose of this blog is to review the various literature read for the course 'Literature for Children and Young Adults.'