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.