Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Brown Angels – African American Literature

Bibliography
Myers, Walter Dean. 1993. Brown Angels: an album of pictures and verse. USA: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-022917-9

Plot Summary
A collection of poems written for or inspired by a collection of old photographs. The photos are all of black children posed professionally or just out at play and the accompanying poems match accordingly.

Critical Analysis
As expected, Myers’ poetry is moving and insightful. The poems occasionally use grammatical phrasing reflective of the African American culture like “He walk like his grandpa” or “Say you just smiling cause you don’t have nothing else to do.” Some poems could be paired with photographs of any children, dark, light, or other. Others specifically describe African American children as brown, dark, black, tan, and coffee and recognize the struggle and pride of those African Americans who have gone before.

The photographs in the book are of African American children of long ago. They are happy kids, posing for professional pictures though some seem to be more spontaneous in nature. As the author says in his preface, the children appear to be those of hard working people who took pride in their children and looking their “Sunday best.” Overall, this is a wonderful book celebrating our love of children and the hope of their future.

Professional Reviews
From Publishers Weekly
Myers ( Scorpions ; Now Is Your Time! ) gathers a stirring collection of turn-of-the-century photographs of black children and sets them to poetry, his verse alternating between the music of 19th-century hymns and that of plain talk. The arresting portrait of a truly angelic-looking child on the book's cover, for example, is accompanied by "Prayer": "Shout my name to the angels / Sing my song to the skies / Anoint my ears with wisdom / Let beauty fill my eyes." A series of pictures of smiling children illustrates a poem that mocks adults who are "so tizzy-busy / They don't remember / How good a grin feels / Ain't that something / How people forget that?" Myers's tone is sometimes sentimental--especially in the depiction of "sweet" or "precious" children, like the "pretty little tan girl / She knows all the tricks"--and sometimes didactic; he's best in his lightest moments. The design of the book, with its warm sepia-toned photographs and Victorian decorations, handsomely showcases the haunting and hopeful faces of the children, whose names have been lost along with those of the men and women who photographed them. All ages.  Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal
Grade 2 Up-A unique celebration of the continuum of human life and of childhood in all its robustness, fragility, and evanescent beauty. Motivated by a desire to share his pleasure in the old photographs of African-American children that he collects, Myers has created an exquisite album. The 42 superbly reproduced, black-and-white and sepia prints radiate intensely with the personalities of their subjects. The author's 11 original poems are in various forms and range from humorous to elegiac. The language is simple and reads aloud well. Although the pictures will not show up well enough at a distance for story programs, Brown Angels will have innumerable uses in the classroom, from family history projects to poetry writing. This is a book that children may not pick up on their own because of its old-fashioned appearance, but once they have discovered it, they will pore over the images and want to hear the verses again and again. The fact that the children are black adds poignancy, but the feelings that animate their faces are universal.  Sue Norris, Rye Free Reading Room, NY

Connections
This book would be an excellent tool in a poetry unit as well as a lesson in using photographs as an inspiration for writing. Also, since the voice in Love that Dog uses Walter Dean Myers as an inspiration in his own poetry, pairing this book with Sharon Creech’s book would be a great connection.

Locomotion – African American Literature

Bibliography
Woodson, Jacqueline. 2003. Locomotion. New York, NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. ISBN 0-399-23115-3

Plot Summary
This story, written as a collection of poems, is about a young man named Lonnie Collins Motion - Locomotion. Lonnie’s parents died in a house fire and he has to deal with their loss, being separated from his sister and adjusting to a new home with Miss Edna in addition to just regular growing pains. His teacher encourages him to use his words and his poems to work through his emotions.

Critical Analysis
This wonderfully written book not only shows us the power of poetry but also provides some insight into the African American culture. In the vernacular, “kicks” are shoes and your really good friend is a “Dog.” People named Lamont and LaTenya use ‘be’ instead of ‘is’ or ‘are’ and often use double negatives in their speech. Hair is done in braids or cornrows, sometimes using coconut hair grease, and lotion is applied so their skin doesn’t appear ashy. The reader also gets a feel for how the main character is often followed by a guard in a store like he was going to steal something and that sickle-cell anemia will be an unfortunate reality in his life. The reader also sees how those who are not African American, are not always comfortable with differences between the cultures as demonstrated when Ms. Marcus asks Lonnie why he included the word “white” in his description of a lady on television and missed Lonnie’s focus on throwing away good food.

In addition to telling readers a little about life as an African American boy, the story also gives some insight into the life of a foster child. Lonnie writes about being moved from family to family and then to a group home where he begins to feel like a “throwaway boy.” He is separated from his sister and eventually the two are settled into different homes where they only get to see each other when all the adults involved agree. The book shows us that life is hard and sometimes tragic but with stable, loving people to support us, things usually turn out ok in the end.

Professional Reviews
From Hazel Rochman (Booklist, Feb. 15, 2003 (Vol. 99, No. 12))
Lonnie is grieving and angry about the loss of his parents in a fire four years ago and about his subsequent separation from his beloved little sister, who is in foster care. He expresses his feelings in his fifth-grade poetry-writing class, encouraged by his wonderful teacher Ms. Marcus. In a series of free-verse poems and more formal verse, such as haiku and sonnets, he writes about his life and about the writing that "makes me remember." The framework of the story is fairy-tale idyllic--perfect family before the fire; happy-ever-after foster family by the end of the book--but the poetry is simple and immediate, true to the voice of the lost kid who finds himself with caring people and with words. The line breaks make for very easy reading, and Lonnie talks about those line breaks and about poetry forms, making this ideal for use in classrooms where students are reading and writing poetry. From rap to haiku, Woodson shows and tells that poetry is about who we are. Category: Books for Middle Readers--Nonfiction. 2003, Putnam, $15.99. Gr. 3-6.

From Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2002 (Vol. 70, No. 22))
Count on award-winning Woodson (Visiting Day, p. 1403, etc.) to present readers with a moving, lyrical, and completely convincing novel in verse. Eleven-year-old Lonnie ("Locomotion") starts his poem book for school by getting it all down fast: "This whole book's a poem 'cause every time I try to / tell the whole story my mind goes Be quiet! / Only it's not my mind's voice, / it's Miss Edna's over and over and over / Be quiet! . . . So this whole book's a poem because poetry's short and / this whole book's a poem 'cause Ms. Marcus says / write it down before it leaves your brain." Lonnie tells readers more, little by little, about his foster mother Miss Edna, his teacher Ms. Marcus, his classmates, and the fire that killed his parents and separated him from his sister. Slowly, his gift for observing people and writing it down lets him start to love new people again, and to widen his world from the nugget of tragedy that it was. Woodson nails Lonnie's voice from the start, and lets him express himself through images and thoughts that vibrate in the different kinds of lines he puts down. He tends to free verse, but is sometimes assigned a certain form by Ms. Marcus. ("Today's a bad day / Is that haiku? Do I look / like I even care?") As in her prose novels, Woodson's created a character whose presence you can feel like they were sitting next to you. And with this first novel-in-verse for her, Lonnie will sit by many readers and teach them to see like he does, "This day is already putting all kinds of words / in your head / and breaking them up into lines / and making the lines into pictures in your mind." Don't let anyone miss this. 2003, Putnam, $15.99. Category: Fiction. Ages 9 to 13. Starred Review. © 2002 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

From Amy Alessio (VOYA, February 2003 (Vol. 25, No. 6))
Woodson makes every word meaningful in this narrative through the verse of Lonnie C. Motion. What begins as a class assignment to keep a poetry journal turns into the expression of four years of emotion built up after the death of Lonnie's parents in a fire. Through skillful free verse, haiku, and sonnets in a true, likeable teen voice, Woodson draws the reader into Lonnie's story of group and foster homes. Three-dimensional characters emerge through the verse--Lonnie's caring teacher, tough foster mother, and worried sister. Lonnie writes about his confusion over a bullying classmate who sings in a church choir and spends some time in the hospital with sickle cell anemia. The plot is moved forward by Lonnie's successful efforts to spend more time with his sister, who is in a separate foster home. As in Woodson's Hush (Putnam's, 2002/VOYA February 2002), troubled teens are treated with respect and sympathy, leaving readers with hope for their futures. Woodson continues to grow as an important writer in young adult fiction, showing that her poetic ability equals her considerable talent with fiction. A strong addition to the genre of novels in verse and recommended for public and school libraries, this title will appeal to most teens and would also be useful in conjunction with poetry groups and assignments. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Putnam's, 128p, $15.99. Ages 11 to 18.

Connections
This book would be great in a poetry unit, showing examples of different kinds of poems and how powerful just a few words can be. It would also be great in an author study of Jacqueline Woodson as an example of how an author can write in many different styles.

John Henry – African American Literature

Bibliography

Lester, Julius. 1994. John Henry. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. New York, NY: Dial Books. ISBN 0-590-53936-1

Plot Summary
The story of John Henry, the legendary man who ran faster than a horse and was stronger than dynamite. Based on folksongs and lore passed down through the ages into the American culture, the author tells of John Henry’s birth, his many great accomplishments – including beating a steam drill through a mountain, and finally to his supposed burial on the White House grounds.

Critical Analysis
This well written and illustrated story is set in the Appalachian, namely the Allegheny, Mountains of West Virginia. As stated in the preface, the truth behind the legend is hard to find. There probably was an ex-slave on whom the stories are based but no one knows for sure because as the book states, “My great-grandaddy’s brother’s cousin’s sister-in-law’s uncle’s aunt was there that morning” to witness the incredible feats of John Henry. So the author relies on the legends and songs to tell the story of hard working crews who came up against insurmountable odds which John Henry gets them through. The author captures the descriptive language of the area and people through phrases like, “it was hard as anger” and “Next to the mountain, he didn’t look much bigger than a wish that wasn’t going to come true.” The author also uses names like mama, papa, and granddaddy and calls a carbonated beverage a “soda mom”.

Staying true to the culture’s use of nature in its stories, the author includes animals of the region and personifies the sun and moon to provide the emotions of the story. The illustrator captures these personifications as well as the spirit of the people well. He includes wood buildings that are reflective of the setting and shows the people as one might imagine they would look – muscular for the hard-working farmers and railroad men and thin as most people of this time and region were poor. The illustrations are also quite telling as there is a mixture of black and white characters in the illustrations and yet the ‘boss’ is always a white man. Ultimately, this is the celebration of a man who may or may not have really lived but embodied the spirit of a people who were decent, hard-working folk deserving recognition but often having to go without. John Henry overcame the hardships and even made it to the White House.

Professional Reviews
From Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, 1994)
Onto the page bounds the colossus John Henry, man of legend, man of myth (though the preface keeps things off balance on that point). John was the archetype for the "Just Do It" generation; he was all bustle and business, surrounded by an aura of triumph. Lester hits upon all of John's special moments: his stupendous growth spurt; his humbling of Ferret-Faced Freddy; his smashing the great stone so fast that he creates a natty rainbow around his shoulders; and, of course, the climactic duel with the steam drill deep in the hills of West Virginia. John smoked the drill, but his big heart burst in the process. Lester (The Last Tales of Uncle Remus, p. 70, etc.; The Man Who Knew Too Much, see below) wisely makes it clear that you don't have to be John Henry to get things done: You just need the will; there's a bit of John to be tapped in us all. Pinkney's watercolors walk a smart and lovely line between ephemerality and sheer natural energy. The rainbow whispers the lesson here: "Dying ain't important. Everybody does that. What matters is how well you do your living." Amen. 1994, Dial, $16.99; PLB $16.89. © 1994 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

From Hazel Rochman (Booklist, June 1994 (Vol. 90, No. 19 & 20))
Based on the popular black folk ballad about the contest between John Henry and the steam drill, this picture-book version is a tall tale and a heroic myth, a celebration of the human spirit. Like Lester's great collections of the Uncle Remus tales, also illustrated by Pinkney, the story is told with rhythm and wit, humor and exaggeration, and with a heart-catching immediacy that connects the human and the natural world. ("This was no ordinary boulder. It was as hard as anger . . . a mountain as big as hurt feelings"). The dramatic climax of the story is set at the time of the building of the railroad through the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia, but Lester begins with the hero's birth, when all the birds and animals come to see the baby and the sun is so excited it forgets to go to bed. Pinkney's dappled pencil-and-watercolor illustrations capture the individuality of the great working man, who is part of the human community and who has the strength of rock and wind. John Henry swings his hammer so fast, he makes a rainbow around his shoulders, and the pictures show that light everywhere, "shining and shimmering in the dust and grit like hope that never dies." Category: For the Young. 1994, Dial, $16.99 and $16.89. Ages 4 and up. Starred Review.

Connections
This book could be used in a study of Tall Tales. It could also be used in a lesson on figurative language with its many phrases like “a mountain as big as hurt feelings.” The book also contains great vocabulary such as flabbergasted, pulverized, and commotion. The line "Dying ain't important. Everybody does that. What matters is how well you do your living," would also make an excellent subject for a reader’s response journal.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

An Innocent Soldier – International Literature

Bibliography

Holub, Josef (translated by Michael Hofmann). 2005. An innocent soldier. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books. ISBN 0-439-62771-0

Plot Summary
This is the story of a young farmhand who is forced into the army before he is of age in place of the farmer’s only living son. The poor boy faces many hardships because of it. The other soldiers make fun of the crack in his voice. One particular sergeant seems to have it out for him and bullies him just for the fun of it. And all of this is on top of the horrible lack of supplies due to Napoleon’s bad planning. However, the young soldier becomes friends with a young lieutenant and together, the two survive and return home heros.

Critical Analysis
The quick start of the book hooks the reader immediately. Though the pace slows down a bit and the British translation shows itself occasionally through phrases like “cheeky” and being “kitted out,” the reader is driven to keep reading because there seems to be one troubling event after another. Of course, the troubles are to be expected when Napoleon assembles the largest of military forces ever seen, the Grande Armée, but doesn’t plan ahead enough to provide the supplies needed for such a long and arduous task of waging war against the Russians. The good-natured humor of the main character telling the story also adds to the charm of the novel.

From a cultural standpoint, one learns about German society through the eyes of an obedient, trusting, uneducated farmhand who through various circumstances becomes the loyal servant and friend of a count turned lieutenant. We learn that German noblemen must be concerned about their honor to the point of challenging each other to duels – something with which the common soldier is glad he never had to concern himself. The book also introduces us to a bit of the Russian landscape has the book describes the short summers, harsh winters, and wooden houses with copper roofs that the “red-clad Cossacks and Bashkirs” lived in. More than anything, this book sheds light on what it was like to be a soldier in Napoleon’s Grande Armee. The author’s descriptions of the harsh and desperate conditions will make even the proudest of military men question the good of war.

Overall, this is a great read! One can not help but be pulled into the world of this “Innocent Soldier” and hold his breath in hopes that he and his beloved wellborn lieutenant make it out of the terrible war alive.

Professional Reviews
From Jennifer Hubert (Booklist, Nov. 15, 2005 (Vol. 102, No. 6))
In this unevenly translated novel, a teenaged farmhand is forced to take part in Napoleon's ill-fated Russian campaign. Unsuspecting orphan Adam is handed over to recruiting officers by the farmer he works for as a replacement for the man's drafted son. Assigned to the horse artillery, Adam leads a miserable life until the blue-blooded Lieutenant Konrad Klara requisitions him to become his personal servant. The young men head toward Moscow, but are soon overcome by hunger and disease. After witnessing many wartime atrocities, the two survive the suicide march out of Russia and form an unlikely bond that transcends class and station. Other than a brief historical note, little background information is given, assuming much prior knowledge on the part of the reader, and though the novel is evocative in places, the translation is replete with odd-sounding phrases and awkward transitions. The book's greatest strength is the friendship: a bond formed by two motherless boys from different classes who find common cause in an unwinnable war. Category: Books for Older Readers--Fiction. 2005, Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $16.99. Gr. 8-11.

From Susan Shaver (Library Media Connection, March 2006)
Readers are sure to become quickly engrossed in this captivating story told from the point of view of a young farmhand. It is the middle of the night when young Adam is awakened, fed, and taken by the farmer he works for and driven into town. There he suddenly finds himself standing alone before a group of officers who draft and initiate him into the harsh realities of military life as a member of Napoleon's Grande Armee in the place of the farmer's son. This is the beginning of what seems to be an unending journey of amazing hardships, struggles for survival, loss of innocence, and enduring friendship. Suffering at the never ending bullying of Sergeant Krauter, Adam thinks of escape, but is saved from this harassment by Lieutenant Konrad, a young aristocrat in need of a personal assistant who requests Adam's service. Together the two young men travel across Europe facing the challenges of war; fighting battles; surviving bitter cold, lack of water, and supplies; overcoming near starvation, disease, and theft; and dealing with Sergeant Krauter. Over time the barriers of class are broken and both young men survive the terrible realities of war, while developing a deep and lasting friendship. It does not take long to become engaged in this quickly developing personalized story of war, feel sympathy for the characters, or experience the growing friendship of Adam and Konrad. Recommended. 2005, Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic), 240pp., $16.99 hc. Ages 11 to 16.

From Beth E. Andersen (VOYA, February 2006 (Vol. 28, No. 6))
Sixteen-year-old Adam Feuchter trusts the cruel farmer who is his master and is stunned to discover that the farmer has tricked Adam into being conscripted into Napoleon's infamous half-a-million-strong Grand Armee, replacing Georg, the farmer's son. Napoleon's catastrophic march into Russia is a historical reality that Holub brings to life in blisteringly honest detail. Adam becomes the target of a crazed sergeant, bent on killing the young boy, until an aristocrat officer, Lieutenant Konrad Klara, takes Adam under his wing. Using their cunning, honed by a frantic desperation to stay alive despite the crushing obstacles of a terrible war plan, deadly weather, and unconventional combat methods used by the enemy, the two young men are among the few who make it to Moscow and back. Holub, who was a teenaged soldier during World War II, published his first book at age sixty-seven. He is the recipient of two prestigious European literary awards-the Peter HSrtling Prize for Children's Literature and the Znrich Children' Book Prize-and should, by rights, receive more accolades for this unforgiving look at the shockingly brutal reality of warfare and its terrible cost. Highly recommended, it can easily take its place next to Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun and All Quiet on the Western Front by Remarque. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2005, Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 231p., $16.99. Ages 12 to 18.

Connections
This book can be used in connection with many lessons. The most obvious is of course Napoleon’s march to Russia. It can also be used to teach similes such as, “He’s as whipped as a little doggie.” The book can also be used to teach military language such as bivouacked, howitzers, sergeant, lieutenant, etc. Finally, the story provides a wonderful reader response or literature circle prompt about stealing with the line, “No, I convince myself, it wasn’t theft, it was necessity. After all, this is war. Other laws apply.”

Lydia, Queen of Palestine – International Literature

Bibliography

Orlev, Uri (translated by Hillel Halkin). 1993. Lydia Queen of Palestine. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-395-65660-5

Plot Summary
A tale of a young Jewish girl named Lydia. The story covers Lydia’s life from preschool age through sixth grade as she and her family overcome the growing anti-Jewish sentiments in their homeland of Romania by moving to Palestine. Lydia’s family does not travel there together though. After her parents separate, Romania becomes a dangerous place for Jewish men so Lydia’s father goes first. As tensions rise, Lydia’s mother decides it will be easier to get out of the country if she and Lydia travel separately so Lydia is sent to Palestine with a train full of other children fleeing the country. She is to live on a kibbutz until her mother can join her. Though it is not quite the family it was, Lydia is finally reunited with her parents to begin a new life in Palestine.

Critical Analysis
The overall story is a wonderful one describing the thoughts and predicaments of a precocious and mischievous girl. As the story is told from a child’s point of view, there are some descriptions and character developments that are lacking though they serve to bring a realistic quality to the story. The author loosely based the book on the life of a young lady he met while completing his “army service.” For this reason, the cultures represented in the story seem quite accurate.

The story begins in the countryside of Romania and then shifts to city life. In both environments, Lydia discovers she is different when it comes to religious practices. She finds she is Jewish though she is not necessarily aware of how that life is different from anyone else’s until she is unable to play with friends while they are at church and then later when she attends a Catholic school for a time. Her childhood also exposes her to the various cultures of her nannies where she learns about the German and French cultures. She generally finds little difference between being Romanian and being Jewish until she is no longer allowed to attend the Catholic school and begins to loose friends because she is Jewish. She then attends a Jewish school where she learns more about and begins to better appreciate her culture. She is taught Jewish stories and Hebrew. However, she is taken from it abruptly to escape the Iron Guard of Romania that has been killing Jewish men and is making life hard for all other Jewish people. She is quickly sent to a kibbutz in Palestine to await her mother’s escape from Romania. It is at this point in the story where the culture switches to that of a Palestinian kibbutz. Lydia, who refused to change her name to one more Jewish in nature, must now wear a uniform, sleep in a dormitory, and generally follow the rules and schedules of the kibbutz. Here, they have regular chores and responsibilities and they refer to each other as “comrade” since they admire Soviet Russia and Comrade Stalin’s fight against the Germans. There is much to be learned about life in World War II Romania as well as life in a kibbutz from this book.

Professional Reviews
From Publishers Weekly
Orlev's "judicious invocation of historical events and his energetic emphasis on the characters' personal dramas" bring to life two very different protagonists in these exceptional novels set during WWII; the impact, said PW, is "unimpeachable." Ages 10-up; 12-up.  Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal
Grade 4-7-Lydia, a typically self-centered and unusually spirited child caught up in the dissolution of her personal and societal worlds, narrates her story. Her parents separate, divorce, and ultimately remarry-both to people she considers to be her enemies. World War II Romania becomes an increasingly dangerous place for Jews, and Lydia's mother sends her to a kibbutz in Israel, promising to follow soon. Adjustment to communal life is difficult for an individualist like Lydia, and when her mother neither arrives nor writes, she seeks out her father, already in Israel. Reluctantly, she comes to realize that "That Woman" to whom he is now married is not really an adversary. When her mother arrives married to the man Lydia had tried to get rid of, she is also able to accept him. For slightly younger readers than, and neither as taut nor as involving as, Orlev's The Island on Bird Street (1984) and The Man from the Other Side (1991, both Houghton), this is an honest book peopled with convincing characters whose petty jealousies and concerns occupy them more than the larger events of the world in which they live. Lydia's experiences are often wryly humorous; she is both inventive and unpredictable, and never boring. This offers a contrast to the spate of Holocaust books with harrowing escapes and heroic protagonists, but it may not have as much intrinsic appeal for young readers. Louise L. Sherman, Anna C. Scott School, Leonia, NJ

Connections
Using this book, one could teach about life during World War II. This book also lends itself to lessons in Jewish culture, especially life in a Jewish kibbutz. The book is also a wonderful example of writing from a specific point of view since it is told from the perspective of a young girl.

Rose Blanche – International Literature

Bibliography

Innocenti, Roberto and Christophe Gallaz (translated by Martha Coventry and Richard Graglia). 1985. Rose Blanche. Mankato, MN: Creative Editions. ISBN 0-15-200917-5

Plot Summary
This story takes place in Germany during World War II. A young girl experiences the hardships war brings to a country and then discovers that others experience far greater hardships than she. She does what she can to help the others she discovers in what we adults know to be a concentration camp. The war comes to an end and life goes on but not before being reminded of how tragic war really can be.

Critical Analysis
This simple but very realistic story progresses as a war does. At first, it points out small, subtle changes where very little is different. However, by the end of the story, the reader is keenly aware of how lives have been drastically changed by loss and death and yet the hope of renewal is present.

The text describes German towns and how busy they become when soldiers are moving through on a regular basis. It tells of the narrow cobblestone streets, tall houses, and old fountains. It also tells of the changes that are made during war like muddy streets now filled with ruts and the long wooden houses behind barbed wire outside of town. One of the most telling lines was one that told of how the people were getting thin and only the Mayor was staying fat. The illustrations are quite instrumental in telling the story and describing the setting and characters. Reading this book gives one a sense of the people and landscape of Germany, especially during World War II.

Professional Reviews
From Horn Book
An unforgettable book. Not illusionary, not sentimentalized, this realism is literal, pulsing with drama…and it’s magnificent.

From Publishers Weekly
This is a stunning book and a forceful argument for peace. All ages.

From School Library Journal
An excellent book to use not only to teach about the Holocaust, but also about living a life of ethics, compassion, and honesty.

Connections
This book would be a valuable tool in lessons about World War II Germany and the Holocaust. Because of its somewhat non-specific ending, this story would a wonderful discussion starter either in a literature circle or reading response journal format. For writing instruction, this story would be an example of how powerful illustrations can be in a story as well as the use of weather to set the mood.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Koala Lou – International Literature

Bibliography

Fox, Mem. 1989. Koala Lou. Illustrated by Pamela Lofts. New York: Voyager Books. ISBN 0-15-200502-1

Plot Summary
Koala Lou was a very loved koala bear. However, it was her mother who loved her best and often said, “Koala Lou, I DO love you.” As mother’s life got busier with more children, Koala Lou heard that phrase less from her mother. In an effort to provoke her mother into saying it again, Koala Lou trained for and competed in the gum tree climbing event of the Bush Olympics. When she didn’t win, Koala Lou was devastated but was later thrilled to hear her mother profess her love all the same.

Critical Analysis
This sweet story serves to reassure young readers that even when they don’t say it, moms love us. It also serves as a reminder to moms that kids need to hear it – a situation true around the world, it seems. The story progresses at a good pace and contains great vocabulary. The illustrations support and add to the text beautifully.

An intriguing aspect of the book is its setting of Australia. The continent is represented first through its characters. The koala, kookaburra, emu, and platypus make an appearance in the text and the illustrations depict even more of the native animals. Koala Lou doesn’t compete in just any competition, she competes in the Bush Olympics and her event is to climb a Gum Tree, both of which are quite Australian. Koala Lou’s mother uses the phrase, “How’re ya going, blossom?” which rings of Australian dialect. The story is a quite universal tale but the details definitely give insight into the landscape of Australia.

Professional Reviews
From Children's Literature
The koala heroine enters the Bush Olympics and hopes to win the gum tree-climbing event so that her mother--overwhelmed by the birth of many, many koala babes--will tell her eldest daughter "Koala Lou, I DO love you." Even though Lou loses the event, she gains what she most wants: the knowledge that her mother loves her--and always will. My favorite illustration shows fluffy Lou racing in red sneakers and pumping weights. 1989, Harcourt, $14.00 and $6.00. Ages 3 to 7. Mary Quattlebaum

Connections
There are many ways this book could be used outside of just a good read aloud. First, it could be used in Geography or Social Studies if studying Australia. It could also be used by the counselors to reassure students of the love of parents even when it is unspoken. There are many vocabulary words that could be taught through the book such as splendid, ached, and spectators. Finally, the book would be a wonderful tool for teaching the use of descriptive phrases in writing. Phrases such as “cried her heart out”, “flung her arms”, and “a hush fell over the crowd” would be welcome additions to any fourth grade writing prompt.