Sunday, November 16, 2008
Howe, James. 2001. Misfits. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks. ISBN: 0689839561
Bobby, Addie, Joe, and Skeezie are four kids who have become friends because the one thing they have in common is that they are different from everyone else. They march to the beat of their own drum and are tired of trying to fit in. They embrace their individuality and join together as a band of misfits. In order to get their message of acceptance and tolerance across, they get a fellow student DuShawn to run for student government under their No Name party. When he drops out, the group has to work together by all going on the ticket with Addie as their president. Their slogan is "Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirit," and even though they do not win, their idea of a "No-Name" day where everyone goes a day without calling other people names catches on and the students finally have the "freedom to be who you are without anyone calling you names."
Making fun of people does not stop in middle school. It only begins there. Millions tune in to Saturday Night Live to see actors mimic and make fun of celebrities and politicians. MTV has a TV show dedicated to "Yo Mamma" jokes. While these can be taken as fun and games, it is never fun for the person being teased. Everyone has been teased for something: race, clothes, accent, sexual orientation, weight, and the list goes on and on. Kids are even teased for their names and their family members. This topic hits home with everyone, and it is addressed beautifully in this book.
This book opens the door for students to discuss how they have been teased and how they can stop it from happening to others. Students do not always sit around and think of solutions to problems, but reading a book like this opens that discussion. As Addie and the rest of the group figure out how to make a difference, the reader can decide what can be done in his or her own life.
The No Name Party members are fun and realistic. Bossy Addie writes down verbatim what is said in the meetings and even makes the other members talk slower so she can keep up. She is angry that she is judged unfairly when she picks DuShawn to run for president simply so they can have a black person on the ticket. This brings to home that even those who think they are not judging may have secret prejudices lying under the surface, which would be a great discussion for students to have. Bobbie, the overweight tie salesman, is a typical middle school boy who struggles to find connections with his father and who feels the absence of his mother heavily. Whether a reader has lost a parent or not, the feeling of not being able to connect with parents is prevalent. Joe is coming out as a gay person, and his struggle is not so much with himself but with how his friends and society will react. Skeezie is the misunderstood bad boy. With each character facing different teasing, Howe gives readers someone with whom they can identify and relate.
Howe uses Joe and DuShawn to add some humor into the story. Joe goes to his locker and finds the word "fagot" written on his locker. Instead of getting upset, he asks," Don't they teach spelling at this school?" Joe also demands to be called Scorpio in some of Addie's meeting notes, which she does. He often has one liners that give a lighter note to this deep, tough topic. DuShawn, who is comfortable in his skin, can call Addie out about picking him because he is black and can make jokes about wanting peach ice cream in reference to Addie's skin color. The humor offsets the seriousness of the subject.
Even with the humor, the book can get a little preachy. The first part of the book seems to be the main characters sitting and spouting off a long tirade against the establishment. It is not until events start happening that the reader finally connects with the characters and the storyline. After that, the book is more action and less preaching.
From School Library Journal: Unfortunately, The Misfits rambles rather than flows. Bobby's long-winded narration is written in a passive voice and sprinkled with only occasional dialogue. When the characters do speak, their formal dialogue (presented as minutes from the friends' Floating Forum meetings) goes on for pages on end, lacking any commentary from Bobby. It is not until the last third of the novel that readers begin to identify with the characters and bask in the success of Bobby's political partners. Louie Lahana, New York City Public Schools Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Publishers Weekly: The four "misfits" are slightly larger than life wiser than their years, worldlier than the small town setting would suggest, and remarkably well-adjusted but there remains much authenticity in the story's message about preadolescence stereotyping and the devastating effects of degrading labels. An upbeat, reassuring novel that encourages preteens and teens to celebrate their individuality. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
http://yazoo.lib.ms.us:8000/kcweb/kcContent?isbn=0689839553&type=review&controlnumber=+++12233869&referedby=titlelist (Accessed November 16, 2008)
Langan, Paul. 2007. Shattered. New York: Townsend Press. ISBN: 9781591940692.
Trust is the name of the game in the twelfth book in the Bluford High series. Darcy has been through a lot in the books before this one. She was nearly raped by an older boyfriend, Brian, until her father showed up to save her. In this book, she is still dealing with Brian's attack, her mistrust in her current (and former) flame Hakeem, and her mother's distrust of her father, who has recently come back to the family after years of being an absent father. Through the book, Darcy deals with her feelings with the help of her friends and ultimately has to trust herself enough to stand up for herself against Brian and her own feelings.
Like the other Bluford High books, this book is a quick read. The plot moves quickly, and the sentences give just the bare story. Nothing about the book is elaborate except the plot. The sentences are short and choppy, and there is little elaboration to create mental pictures. While the writing may lack the articulation, it is the plot that draws readers, especially reluctant or slow readers who get boggled down with long sentences and detailed descriptions.
Darcy deals with drama many kids in urban cities face (like the school where I teach). The absent father has come home and wants to do what is right for the family. While his intentions are good, Darcy and her mother and sister have a hard time believing and trusting on a man who once turned his back on his family. No matter what a student's background is, he or she can relate to having trust broken whether it is a family member or friend. Students can identify with Darcy's struggle to believe her father. Darcy's fears about her father are put to rest when he finally confides in her that he is attending AA meetings when they think he off doing bad things.
Darcy also has to deal with a friend whose advice is more gossip than fact when Brisana tells Darcy that Hakeem may be cheating on her with a girl she's never seen before. Gossip runs wild in schools, and this book does a good job of showing how Darcy calmly deals with the gossip by walking away instead of getting into an argument or fight. She decides to believe Hakeem until she runs into him and the "other" woman. It is then that she realizes to trust Hakeem she must also share what happened to her with Brian while Hakeem was gone. In the end, she confronts Brian and puts those old ghosts to rest, allowing her to move on with Hakeem.
Darcy and her father both learn that burdens and struggles should be shared with the ones you love, and that trust can be regained even when you think it is shattered. These are two lessons young adults should hear, and this book does a good job of teaching them while still telling a fast-paced story that appeals to kids from all backgrounds.
**NOTE: I had a hard time finding reviews by "experts" on this book, so I went to the publisher's website, where I found reviews by teachers, which are probably more relevant than someone who doesn't work with kids. :)
"Thank you for the wonderful Bluford Series! We bought a lot of them for that great price. We were looking for anything our reluctant readers would spend more than 10 minutes reading. Kids are now swapping books, discussing them, not wanting teachers to end SSR time, and teachers have been coming begging for sets for their rooms also."
--R. Archer, Reading Teacher, Cabrillo High School (Long Beach, CA)
"I teach in a middle school, and there is little my students like less than to be asked to read. The Bluford books, however, have made a huge difference. The boys in particular will pick them up and actually lose themselves in them."
--H. Pollock, Teacher North Brandywine Middle School (Coatsville, PA)
http://www.townsendpress.com/product/97.aspx (Accessed November 16, 2008)
Hesse, Karen. 1999. Out of the Dust. New York: Scholastic Inc. ISBN: 0590371258
Billie Jo is a young woman living in 1934, struggling with her family to survive on a farm in a dust field land. She enjoys playing the piano and is looking forward to the birth of her new sibling. However, A horrible accident causes her mother's death, and Billie Jo must deal with her father's distant attitude, her guilt over her part of the accident, her loss of ability to play the piano with ease, and life in general.
Hesse tells a heart wrenching tale of a young girl's struggle in life. The set up of the poems clearly reflects the mood of the story. In the entry Almost Rain, the sentences are short and convey the hopeless feeling of the town, and Billie Jo, of the lack of rain.
Hesse's use of short, terse lines conveys the feeling that disappointment was the norm. They also show the hopelessness of the people to do anything to prevent nature's cruel destruction of their hard work on the crops.Hesse's writing has an authenticity to it that draws reader into the story. Lines like,"We shake out our napkins, spread them on our laps, and flip over our glasses and plates, exposing neat circles, round comments on what life would be like without dust" clearly describe what life was like during a dust storm or living in a dusty place without the type of building we have now.
Hesse's description of the day Billie Jo's mother got burned and then dies grabs the readers heart even though it is written simply as "Ma got burned bad" and "Ma died that day giving birth to my brother." I asked my students who had read the book to tell me what they thought, and one girl said she couldn't put it into words but that the style of writing felt real. Although life in this era was difficult, Hesse ends the book with the protagonist once again playing the piano, full of hope for the future.
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." Ages 11-13.
School Library Journal: Hesse's ever-growing skill as a writer willing to take chances with her form shines through superbly in her ability to take historical facts and weave them into the fictional story of a character young people will readily embrace.Carrie Schadle, New York Public Library
Ferguson, Alane. 1994. Poison. New York: Bradbury Press. ISBN: 9780027345285.
Chelsea is a typical teenager. She wants to lie around and relax during the summer but is forced to work at her dad's company, Symthe Towers. She does not know her father well as he is a workaholic, and she misses both her deceased mother and her stepmother who walked out of her life without a goodbye. These emotions and conflicts play right into the mystery when Chelsea overhears two men discussing moving something, money, and the police. Intrigued by what she hears, Chelsea convinces her friend Amber to go along with her to find out what the men are hiding. What she finds is her worst nightmare--her stepmother lies dead in a cave near the water. She and her friend go to the police, who later cannot find a body at the crime scene. Chelsea and Amber are left to solve the mystery on their own.
This book is a light, quick mystery that goes beyond the "who did it" to dealing with relationships. Chelsea misses her mom so desperately that she is thrilled when her new stepmother Diane pays attention to her. Although Diane is much younger than her father, Chelsea instantly likes Diane's independence and confidence. Chelsea believes Diane loves her when in reality Diane is isolating her from her best friend Amber and even her father. When Diane walks out of their lives and her father will not answer any questions, Chelsea becomes even more alone. Ferguson develops the relationship between Chelsea and her father throughout the book. In the beginning, her father was cold when asked about Diane and stubborn about making his daughter work her way up the corporate ladder. Chelsea acts impulsively without even thinking about her father and his feelings. By the end of the book, her father shares his feelings about Diane with Chelsea, and he is the first person she calls when she goes to the police station after being threatened. This character development makes up for the small holes in the mystery part of the book.
The reader knows something is not quite right with Diane by the clues about how she has pulled Chelsea away from her friends. While Chelsea does not believe Amber when she tells her this, it is obvious to the reader. The reader just does not know how involved Diane is until the end. The most obvious hole in the mystery is that there were not enough clues as to who the killer really was. Ferguson drops some clues that lead to the father as Chelsea wonders if her father is guilty of murder, but he is quickly ruled out. Readers like to solve the mystery along with the protagonist, so more clues should have lead the reader to suspect Diane was involved in fraud with Peter Karsch and Dr. Marcroft. Instead, the reader has no idea who these men are until the murder is solved. This jump in information takes some of the fun out of reading and solving the mystery, yet Chelsea's renewed relationship with her friend and father make up for this hole in the plot.
School Library Journal: The unlikely plot, sketchy setting, and minimal character development keep the book from being deeply engaging, while the few clues offered make it difficult for readers to solve the puzzle independently. Despite these flaws, however, this is an entertaining, light mystery. Fans of the genre will enjoy the chatty, contemporary tone and be attracted by the provocative title (a reference to Diane's favorite perfume and, as Chelsea discovers, a clue to her personality).Lisa Dennis, The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Publishers Weekly: The tale is not complete without Mr. Smythe's brief imprisonment, a high-tech stalking, the revelation of Diane's life of crime and a riveting if far-fetched confrontation with a would-be murderer. Product names, dropped in abundance, serve to define characters, while their emotions are most often telegraphed by the state of their clothes: "His suit had pulled to one side... and tears had left dime-sized marks on his powder blue shirt." Ages 12-up. Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
http://www.amazon.com/Poison-Alane-Ferguson/dp/0027345289/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1226875113&sr=1-6 (Accessed November 16, 2008)
Sonnenblick, Jordan. 2004. Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN: 0439755190.
Steven is a normal middle school boy. He has a crush on a girl, the most popular girl on campus, loves playing the drums, and gets along with his parents. When his brother, Jeffrey, gets leukemia, Steven's world changes. What was once a carefree life is now replaced by a life of isolation from his family as they concentrate on Jeffrey's illness, failing grades in school, and a fear for his brother's life.
Sonnenblick's style is one of the most refreshing voices in young adult literature. Because he taught middle school, Sonnenblick speaks the language of middle school kids. The characters are real. He captures the sarcastic and quick wit that is rampant in young adults, and that wit and fresh voice make this book a fantastic read for both young adults and adults. Steven says things like, "You have to love it when the doctor lays all this horrific stuff on you and then tells you not to worry. It's like saying, 'Here's thirty-seven pounds of assorted chocolates. Try not to think about food though.' Or,'Look! There's Renee Albert in a bikini. But please try to keep your mind on algebraic functions.'" This wit makes the book that deals with a tough topic (cancer) an enjoyable and fun read.
Young adults often think they are invincible, but sadly, many kids are diagnosed with cancer and leukemia specifically each year. This book touches on the realities of cancer: long hospital stays, missed vacations, and even death. Steven starts the book out as a carefree, normal kid. He ends the book at his 8th grade graduation as a more reflective kid, one who thinks of how Samantha died and the lessons she taught him.
The book stays realistic with Steven's grades plummeting as he feels distant from his classmates and ignored at home. Sonnenblick accurately describes the teachers' responses and Steven's disgust because school should be a place where things stay the same. Sonnenblick also adds to the realism by having Steven make "deals" with God to let Jeffrey live like "Here goes a good offer, Lord. If that bird on that tree over there flies away within ten seconds, Jeffrey is cured." While it has a funny tone, it's a realistic reaction for a middle school kid.
While the book remains funny, it focuses in on a serious topic of cancer and its affect on not only the sick patient but also the family. Steven learns that it is okay not be the center of attention and how families stick together during tough times and how parents do love both kids even if they have to focus on one more for a while. And finally as he falls for Annette, his best friend, he learns that sometimes the best friend and love can be the one right before your eyes.
TeenReads: Readers who have never gone through what Steven is going through will have a newfound understanding of what it is like to --- very literally --- battle someone else's cancer. Those who have will be grateful to Sonnenblick for getting it so right. --- Reviewed by Jennifer Krieger http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/0439755190.asp (Accessed November 16, 2008)
Booklist: The recriminations, cares, and nightmares that come with a cancer diagnosis are all here, underscored by vomiting, white blood cell counts, and chemotherapy ports. Yet, this is also about regrouping, solidarity, love, and hope. Most important for a middle-grade audience, Sonneblick shows that even in the midst of tragedy, life goes on, love can flower, and the one thing you can always change is yourself. Ilene CooperCopyright © American Library Association.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/product-description/0439755204/ref=dp_proddesc_0?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books (Accessed November 16, 2008)
Blume, Judy. 1975. Forever. New York: Simon Pulse. ISBN: 978141693444
Katherine is a high school senior who meets Michael, a charming and kind guy. She quickly falls for Michael, and their relationship moves to sex fairly quickly. Katherine goes through the emotions of wondering about her feelings for Michael, worrying about STD's (called VD's in the book), getting birth control, and balancing relationships with her parents, friends, and her new love. While Katherine is convinced their love will last forever, she soon realizes young love is not always lasting love when she is forced to go camp, where she meets Theo. Katherine soon develops feelings for Theo, leaving her to wonder about her relationship with Michael. Katherine ends things with Michael, and she quickly starts a relationship with Theo, leaving the reader to wonder how long forever really is.
In today's world, teens often have sex recklessly and without much though. Judy Blume's book Forever, while written long ago, speaks loudly and clearly to today's youth. Katherine is a typical girl who falls for a guy. Blume does a great job of keeping the relationship realistic with the teens meeting at a party, going on dates, and even meeting each other's parents. The sexual relationship also progresses naturally. Judy Blume gives a realistic and detailed description of sex, contradicting the misconception that sex is like it is in the movies. She also has Katherine going to get birth control, teaching that birth control is mandatory while not preaching at the reader. On the contrary, Michael had a VD from a previous relationship, and that is blown off as something that is not a big deal. He tells Katherine that he took some medicine and is fine. Katherine naively believes him, and this could have been explored more in the book. STD's are common in America's teens, and Blume could have taken that opportunity to teach more about STD's and reach deeper into Katherine's blind acceptance of his explanation.
More groundwork could have been laid to show how the relationship progressed. The reader is not sure about what makes Michael so special. Why is he different from other guys? Why is he the one she should have sex with? Because this is not shown, the reader questions whether the love is real or if it is just hormones. This questioning continues when Katherine moves on so quickly, especially when she sees Michael after the break-up. She knows she is "not ready for forever" but can only say, "See you around." Then she gets home to hear that Theo has called. There is no mourning over the end of her relationship with her first love. It treats that first love and first sexual experience as not that big of a deal when it should be.
In this book, Blume also explores the relationship between teens and parents. Katherine has a healthy relationship with her parents, but when she becomes sexually active, the relationship changes some even though the parents do not come out and talk to Katherine about sex. The relationship becomes more tense with Katherine's parents eventually having to send her to camp in an attempt to get her away from Michael. This type of relationship was typical for the time the book was written. However, today, more parents are talking about sex with their kids, and many kids are more openly discussing their lives. While some parents may fear their children reading a book that speaks so openly about sex, if they are talking to their kids about sex, this book does not cover anything new. Instead of banning this book, adults should use it as a springboard for an honest, open talk about sex and its consequences, especially when rushed into.
"A convincing account of first love." –The New York Times Book Review
"No preaching (Blume never does) but the message is clear; no hedging (Blume never does) but a candid account by Kathy gives intimate details of a first sexual relationship. The characters and dialogue are equally natural and vigorous, the language uncensored, the depiction of family relationships outstanding."--Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. ALA Best of the Best Books for Young Adults.
http://www.amazon.com/Forever-Judy-Blume/dp/1416934006/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1226878051&sr=1-2 (Accessed November 16, 2008)
Cormier, Robert. 1974. The Chocolate War. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf. ISBN: 0440944597
Jerry is a high school freshman at Trinity High, a strict private school. While he deals with the death of his mother and a uninvolved father, Jerry finds his place by saying he will not sell the chocolate for the school's fundraiser. His refusal creates problems for Jerry as Brother Leon is depending on the students to sell the chocolate. Brother Leon is so desperate to sell the chocolate that he works with the leader of the Vigils, the elite group on campus, to coerce Jerry into selling the chocolate. Jerry remains firm in his resistance, and he must fight Emile Janza in his final stand against the Vigils.
Robert Cormier writes a dark tale about the conformity expected in schools and the bullying that often accompanies any refusal to follow a group. His realistic view of life is universal. While not every student has been asked to sell chocolate, many students wish they could stand up against the rules and hierarchy of a school. These readers will want to root for Jerry, but because the reader is not given much insight into Jerry's thoughts and feelings, it is hard to identify with him or completely support him.
A couple of areas could be addressed further to make readers relate to Jerry more. Jerry's mother is dead, yet there is little written about Jerry dealing with those emotions or feelings. Jerry also has random sexual feelings which are not explored throughout the book. Jerry wonders why he feels guilty about buying Playboy in one scene and then feels aroused while tackling another guy at football practice. These scenes fall flat as they are not developed more. They almost seemed an afterthought instead of a part of the plot. If Jerry's feelings and emotions had been shared with the audience more, perhaps readers would care if Jerry made a stand or not!
While the character of Jerry falls flat, the situation is realistic. Every school or organization has the elite group that runs the social aspect of the school. At the beginning of Jerry's refusal, students believed Jerry was completing an assignment given out by the Vigils. As his stand continues, it becomes obvious that Jerry is refusing for his own reasons, defying Archie and the Vigils. His refusal makes him an enemy of both the Vigils who like to control people instead of allowing people to think and to act for themselves and Brother Leon, who must have the students sell the chocolate. Brother Leon is so desperate that he resorts to teaming up with Vigils, suggesting that authority figures are sometimes corrupt and use students for their own needs. This idea is further proven when Brother Leon allows Archie to orchestrate a final showdown between Emile Janza, the school thug, and Jerry. The idea that an adult would allow students to fight is disturbing since school officials should protect students.
Jerry's stand ends when he loses the fight, leaving the readers to reflect on how good people do not always win in life. Jerry took a stand for what he believes is right and yet still did not win. While this outcome does not seem fair, it is one that often happens in real life. It is a lesson young adults should learn early on. In addition to Jerry's loss, Archie is protected by a crooked adult, and Archie suffers no consequences for his actions, which is another hard lesson.
So while readers may find it hard to identify with Jerry, everyone understands the struggle against evil and sometimes not winning.
“Masterfully structured and rich in theme; the action is well crafted, well timed, suspenseful.”—The New York Times Book Review
“The characterizations of all the boys are superb.”—School Library Journal
“Compellingly immediate. . . . Readers will respect the uncompromising ending.”—Kirkus Reviews
An ALA Best Books for Young Adults
A School Library Journal Best Books of the Year
A Kirkus Reviews Choice
A New York Times Outstanding Books of the Year
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/product-description/0375829873/ref=dp_proddesc_0?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books (Accessed November 16, 2008)
Bartoletti, Susan Campell. 2005. Hitler's Youth. Singapore: Scholastic Nonfiction. ISBN: 0439353793
In this deeply moving book, Bartoletti goes to people themselves who followed Hitler to discover and to document the move that brought Hitler into power in Germany. The book explores both the movement leading to the rise of Hitler, his reign of terror, and the aftermath of his fall. Because the book uses the words of the youth who were brainwashed by Hitler and his lackeys, its authenticity stands out and creates a moving read.
This book is a powerful read. I have often wondered how people could follow Hitler so blindly and miss the atrocities being committed while they served without questions. Although I had studied the history of WWII and Hitler's charisma, reading this book was eye-opening. It is amazing to read in the words of the kids how Hitler began putting the pieces into place many years before the war. Tactically speaking, Hitler's plan to create a Hitler's Youth group was brilliant, turning kids into robots of war.
Quotes from members of the group like, "We ran for Germany. We did the long jump for Germany. We did it all for Germany," clearly depict the total brainwashing of these children. Their total identities were wrapped up in not only their country but the socialism promoted by Hitler. The songs they sang contained words like "When Jew blood spurts from the carving knife/ Oh, it's that much more okay." The brutality of the lyrics also demonstrate the sadistic mind and its influence on vulnerable children.
What is most moving aspect of the written part of the book is the anguish some felt after the war. When the war began, these warriors were children, innocent and naive. That innocence was shattered when American troops brought them to see the destruction of the Hitler regime. Their grief over the pain and slaughter they had contributed to is heart wrenching. One boy says,"The impact of what we had seen was too great to be immediately digested." However awful the crimes against them, the book documents that the survivors of the concentration camps never retaliated after they were freed. "I thought they were going to tear us to pieces, but never a word was uttered, never a hand was raised." That may be the most moving part of all.
Bartoletti also spends adequate time focusing on the young people who saw through Hitler's rhyme and reason and who stood up for the truth. These teenagers were tortured and sometimes put to death. While many historians focus only on the negative actions of the people of Germany, Bartoletti paints a full picture by highlighting the efforts of teens such sixteen-year-old Helmuth Hubener, who died for his stance against Hitler.
The language of the book is perfect for the age group targeted. Because the book is for younger readers, many of the brutalities are not given in detail. The sentence structure and flow are also easy to read.
The pictures for the book were thoughtful and added to the story immensely. Since the book is geared toward younger readers, the pictures are not the most gruesome ones that can be seen at Holocaust museums around the world. The pictures added to the story but did not take away from the power of the words of the people who lived through this time.
Publisher's Weekly: "Bartoletti's portrait of individuals within the Hitler Youth who failed to realize that they served "a mass murderer" is convincing, and while it does not excuse the atrocities, it certainly will allow readers to comprehend the circumstances that led to the formation of Hitler's youngest zealots." Ages 7-10. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Winner of the 2002 National Book AwardYoung People's Literature
A 2003Newbery Honor Book
A 2003Michael L. Printz Honor Book
Monday, April 28, 2008
Children's Literature: "This is a delightful tale for everyone who loves the fantasy that even a common girl can become a princess. "
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Myers, Walter Dean. 1999. Monster. New York: HarperTempest. ISBN: 9780064407311
Steve Harmon is only sixteen, but he is on trial for felony murder. Told through film format, Steve takes the reader though his trial with flashbacks to his life before going to jail. Steve is an average young man who makes a few choices that lead him to either being in the wrong place at the wrong time or participating in a heinous crime, depending on whether you believe the prosecution or the defense. The "film" shows Steve's day to day life in prison, his trial, and the eventual outcome of the trial.
This is an amazing book for so many reasons. First, the set-up is different, which grabs the readers attention. Its format is that of a film, so the story is told from a camera's point of view with film direction added to the narrative. Inside the action are glimpses of the narrator's thoughts through what appear to be journal entries. Lower readers will love the book because a lot of side elements like details on setting or extraneous information is left out, leaving just the pertinent information of the story. Therefore lower readers will not waste precious energy struggling to read extra information that enthralls faster readers but boggles down reluctant readers.
Second is the subject matter, which is a sixteen-year-old African-American boy on trial for murder. Because of his age, younger readers can relate to this thought process and feelings. Because the crime involved acquaintances of Steve, students can relate to the idea of friends getting them into trouble. Myers shows how fair-weathered friends will turn on one another to benefit themselves as Bobo does in the story. Because students can relate to the topic so much, it can be related to their own lives and be a way to not only communicate with the young adults but also give some advice without lecturing...let the book speak to them.
The third is the lack of detail. Myers leaves a lot of detail to the reader's imagination. Steve writes, "I hate, hate, hate this place," but he never tells us why. Readers are allowed to let their imaginations and prior knowledge/hearsay of jail to influence what could make Steve hate jail. Myers also has Steve say,"I feel terrible. My stomach is gassy and bloated. I still can't go to the bathroom in front of everyone." Although the sentences are short and simple, it gives the reader insight that even the most ordinary of daily events is not the same in jail. (Plus, young adult boy readers love anything about body functions!)
School Libary Journal--"Monster is a must purchase for all middle and high school libraries. English teachers should be encouraged to use this audiobook as a possible writing prompt or as an introduction to readers' theater."-Lynda N. Short Copyright 2000 Cahners Business.
Children's Literature--"This is a powerful, intense, thought-provoking story. It is great for discussions about the judicial system, pre-judging, self-perception, parent-child relationships and our prison system."
I use literature circles in my classroom, and I believe this would be a great book for literature circle. Those kids who hate long books or choose books simply based on length would love the style and set-up of the book while still making me happy by reading a great book.
I think it would also be a great book to read as the book club book through the school library. I think the book has so many aspects for discussion that it shouldn't be limited to one subject area. I think it's also a book that kids should be able to bring out the topics that interest them most because there are so many: parent-child relationship, jail, making good choices, law and trials, friends, and many more.
(In fact, I read this book during silent reading time in my classroom, and I had three or four kids put their names down to read it when I finished.)
Monday, April 7, 2008
Pearsall, Shelley. 2002. Trouble Don't Last. New York: Yearling. ISBN: 9780440418115
Samuel is an eleven-year-old slave. He was born into slavery, but Old Harrison, an old slave on the same farm as Samuel, grabs him one night and runs with Samuel towards freedom. Throughout the book, the reader travels on a journey to freedom with the two characters where they meet with unusual characters, treacherous adventures, and ultimate reward.
This book is capturing in many ways. I had to finish it in one day because I had to find out what happened to Samuel and Old Harrison. First, the author sets an authentic setting with wonderful dialect. Conversations with comments like," Now, let's git them hogs fed 'fore they start chewin up the walls," create the southern feel and colloquialisms.
Second, the vivid descriptions of the interaction between Samuel and the other slaves and Mas'er Hackler and his family create a stirring in the reader to want to do something to help Samuel. Anger swells as as Mas Seth trips Samuel, causing him to break a dish and creating an uproar in the house. The author creates a sense of urgency that Samuel must escape and thankfully he does. Another way the author urges the reader to take up the cause of freedom is to describe from a young boy's perspective the wounds on Old Harrison's back. "I had seen them a hundred times, and seeing them always brought the snake twisting back around my throat. I couldn't do a thing but look again. The terrible stripes tore back and forth like the jagged scars that lightning makes when it splits through the bark of trees." Although brief, the description leaves the reader feeling like Samuel did--"Seeing them just made me feel weak all over and sick."
On the journey, the author keeps the story lined up with historical evidence. Many of the places like the homes people hid runaways in, the river crossing, and the network of help are all historically accurate. The interesting characters like the widow Lucy Taylor who still saw and talked to her dead husband provide a light note in an otherwise somber journey.
Finally, the author creates a feeling of suspense. The reader is often left wondering if Samuel will face the end result many runaway slaves did: recapture and punishment if not death. The final challenge when Samuel is captured and must finally believe and present himself as free is wonderful. He learned to "walk free" and his courageous act won him not only his freedom but those with him.
The author gives us a fabulous ending, one where Samuel's mom is there waiting for him in freedom and all those involved live happy lives.
Kirkus Review: "This succeeds as a suspenseful historical adventure with survival at stake and makes clear that to succeed Harrison and Samuel, as well as others, must never give up even while combating manhunters, bloodhounds, mental illness, disease, hunger, cold, and their own despair."
This book would be great in an ELA classroom for discussion on dialogue and suspense. It would also serve well either in excerpts or in whole during a lesson on the Underground Railroad or slavery.
Avi. 1884. The Fighting Ground. New York: HarperTrophy. ISBN: 9780064401852.
Jonathan is a thirteen year old boy in America in the year 1778. Although he is young, he leaves his home one day to fight with the American forces. During his one day of service, Jonathan encounters enemy forces, learns about fighting, and a little about how all people are the same inside.
The book's set-up of having each section divided by time sets the scene for a young boy's daily routine. However, the day is anything but ordinary. Avi takes the reader for a journey into the personal day of a soldier in the Revolutionary War that is intriguing and very insightful to the daily life of the soldiers.
American students always hear that the soldiers in the American wars were young, but Avi drives the fact home by contrasting Jonathan's enthusiasm with his inept ability to perform. In the opening scene, Jonathan is ready to fight, even daydreaming about it. "His father's flintlock musket leaned against a stump. The cartridge box and powder horn were also there. The gun was primed, ready to be used. Jonathan knew how." These sentences show how Jonathan had been planning to help fight in the war and his confidence that he was equipped to fight. However, a few hours later, this confidence fades as he is "unsteady" and fails to load his gun quickly and accurately, revealing how most American boys were ill-prepared to fight.
American textbooks often idealize the American side of the war, but Avi gives a balanced approach. He shows the commander of the group to be a coward. He walks by Jonathan and does not really help. He only goes to the house to defeat the enemy after Jonathan heroically escapes with the young boy. He also shows the softer side of the enemy forces by having them not kill Jonathan and feed him instead.
In fact, it is the interaction with Jonathan with the Hessians that is the most compelling part of the book. Avi shows Jonathan's terror in the situation by not translating the Hessians' conversations. As the Hessians speak rapidly at Jonathan, the reader too feels confused and isolated. It is not until the end of the book that the reader realizes that the Hessians mean Jonathan no harm and want to "Let him go!" This interaction--Jonathan's saving the Hessians and their want to let him go free--show the most important theme of the book: that we are all human no matter what side of a war we are on.
Notable Children's Books of 1984 (ALA)
1984 Best Books for Young Adults (ALA)Notable
1984 Children's Trade Books in Social Studies (NCSS/CBC)
1984 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction for Children
This book would be a great extended lesson in a history class. Because it's a quick read, it would be easy to read a little each day or to assign it as an extension homework assignment.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Simon, Seymour. 1987. Icebergs and Glaciers. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. ISBN: 0688061869
In this book, Seymour Simon begins with a simple snowflake and ends up with a glacier. Through simple paragraphs and detailed pictures, the reader discovers how a snowflake is one crystal that when joined together with many other snowflakes can create snow, which creates ice, which forms blocks of ice known as glaciers. After learning about the formation, the reader then finds out what happens with a glacier's movement, type, changes.
The book is twenty years old. In the last twenty years, much news has been made about global warming and the melting of ice caps and glaciers around the globe. With this new trend, a book written twenty years ago is outdated and archaic. However, this does not render the book totally useless. Its easily understandable text makes the book a great explanation for how glaciers are formed while Its simple sentences like "All glaciers move in both ways" are short sentences designed to keep scientific (and often complex) ideas simple for early students to not only read but also understand.
The pictures are vivid for the 1980s, but today's children are used to bolder and clearer pictures with the technology we have today. However, the choice of keeping the background all white adds to the glacier look as do the block letters, which give the feel of the blocks of ice.
Overall, while the book is clear, well-written, and informative ,the information presented is just outdated. In fact, I checked this book out from the library where I teach, and it's interesting to note that the book has only been checked out twice since 1990 according to the stamps in the back of the book. One of these dates in the last 17 years is the date when I checked it out! Perhaps this is a book that could be revised with today's facts and pictures from our new technology.
School Library Journal: "This one would almost be worth adding to collections for the spectacular illustrations alone, but Simon's lively and informative text makes the book even more impressive." Jonathan Betz-Zall, Sno-Isle Regional Library System, Marysville, Wash.
Because of the book's age, I don't know if it would be currently useful. However, if a class was discussing global warming and glaciers today, it would be interesting to compare it to the knowledge shared in this book to see how things have changed in twenty years.
Montgomery, Sy. 2004. The Tarantula Scientist. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN: 0618147993
In this book, Sy Montgomery follows scientist Sam Marshall as he travels to French Guiana's rainforest on a quest to find out more about tarantulas. The book begins with Sam's quest to find the tarantulas, analyze their habits and living conditions, and ends with his return to the lab to study his findings. Readers not only learn about the research involved but also about tarantulas.
Sam Marshall is one out of four or five scientists world-wide who study tarantulas, so this book is an important tool for learning more about tarantulas and the study of them. Sy Montgomery 's challenge is to take detailed scientific research and to make it understandable (and interesting) to kids. She systematically does this in a few simple ways. First, the font is fun. It's not typical font for what kids would see as a "science" textbook. Its thin but sometimes crooked letters almost look like spiders' legs, which sets the feel of the book. Second, the difficult words are accompanied by a phonetic spelling so that kids are not daunted by words such as arachnologist ("ar-rack-NAWL-o-gist"). That is a helpful took to a kid who has not clue how to say the word (and spellcheck has no suggestion for its spelling). The third way is that difficult concepts for younger kids like how the animals are divided into kingdoms, which are further divided, are compared to things like separating clothes--fancy from play, etc. This helps kids relate a harder concept to something they do in their own room.
Because the book follows Sam on an expedition into the rainforest and includes many quotes from the scientist himself, the book clearly demonstrates the passion Sam feels, which gets the reader interested as well when he cracks jokes like, "If life gives you worms, make spider bait," as he is trying to entice a spider out of her burrow. When there's a quote from Sam, saying, "She's a regular eight-legged Martha Stewart," the reader laughs and knows exactly what the spider is like, which connects the text to the reader.
Instead of organizing the book in chronological order of Sam's expedition or by topic, the book seems to jump around from telling about the tarantulas, back to the jungle, then to the research, and then to different types of tarantulas. Comprehension of the facts in the book would be aided by better organization. I could see this book being used as a source for a science paper or science fair project, and better organized (and labeled) chapters would aide in finding specific information.
The pictures are fabulous. The photographer, Nic Bishop, captures the tarantulas in their natural habitat. He captured some wonderful shots of the tarantulas shedding their skin and kicking up dirt in anger. These vivid pictures add to the written description of Sam's findings.
Kirkus Reviews: "Bishop's phenomenal photos show spiders mating, shedding their skin, even leaping through the air. It's enough to make Miss Muffet fall in love." (Nonfiction. 8-14)
School Library Journal: "Informative, yes, but even more important, this is a vivid look at an enthusiastic scientist energetically and happily at work, both in the field and in the lab, questioning, examining, testing, and making connections. A treat, even for arachnophobes." -Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
This would be a fabulous book to have in a science classroom. The pictures are great visuals to go along with science lessons. Also, since the pictures are all taken in the natural habitat, students would get to see exactly how the spider lives.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
George, Kristine O' Connell. Ill. by Lauren Stringer. 2005. Fold Me a Poem. New York: Harcourt Inc. ISBN: 0152025014
In this collection of short (some are haiku but not all) poems, Kristine George uses origami foldings as inspiration for poems. A young boy creates origami animals throughout the day. The boy's vivid imaginations takes readers to a place where pieces of paper can become anything a creative mind wishes them to be.
The idea of the origami is catchy. I read the book to two five-year-olds. They immediately started talking about how they made origami at school and wanted me to show them how to make all the different animals presented in the story.
The book follows the creator of the origami throughout his day, starting with the rooster who starts the day off and ending with a mystery noise ("Is someone dancing?") while the boy goes to sleep with an origami animal in his hand. Young readers will recognize the daily habits of waking up, taking a bath, and going to sleep as the same things they do. With that recognition, they will also see how creative the boy is with even the most mundane experiences.
My favorite poem is "Tub," but I could not tell you specifically why. I think it is because the lines "I hope these boats will float. The shore is lined with passengers" grab me because the child is so involved with his pretend world that it follows him everywhere just like a good idea or dream that I have will follow me through the day. The first time I read through the book, I thought it to be boring except for this poem. The second and third read caused me to like the book more as I saw past its simplicity to it's creative meaning.
The illustrations are bright and eye-catching. Kids are drawn to bright colors, and these will grab their attention. The background of each page is pretty bland or monotone, which allows the origami creations to really pop and to stand out as the true part of the book. The first time I read it, I barely read the words because I was intrigued by the colorful designs. The pictures also express the idea that people must be involved in creativity and ideas by showing the boy manipulate the "boring" paper into something beautiful and unique.
Publishers Weekly:"This unusual poetry volume is a dazzling celebration of imagination." Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Review:"There are no step diagrams, so this engrossing collaboration is more a motivator than a teaching resource-but Stringer supplies a list of classic titles for beginners at the end, and (librarians: be warned!) the square, brightly colored end papers make tempting, oh so tempting starter sheets." (Picture book/poetry. 6-9)
This book would be a great introduction to poetry because the short poems are catchy and easy to imitate. They would not be overwhelming to students. In this module, we've learned that many people are intimidated or bored with poetry, so this is a nonthreatening way to start learning about poems.
It could also be used in an art class as an introduction to origami.
Prelutsky, Jack. Ill, by Paul O. Zelinsky. 2001. Awful Ogre's Awful Day. New York: Grennwillow Books. ISBN: 0688077781
This collection of poems introduce readers to Awful Ogre's world. Through the 18 poems, readers are taken from the beginning to the end of Awful Ogre's awful day. Awful Ogre encounters many situations like dancing, eating, writing a letter, and talking to neighbors that readers themselves experience except his day has an "awful" twist.
This book is a hit for boys (and those girls) who love gross stuff! The collection starts with a bang in "Awful Ogre Rises." Readers get a clear mental picture of Awful Ogre who is awakened by his rattle snacks. Lines like "My rats attack me as I rise but scatter when I roar" and "I tickle my piranha who rewards me with a bite" give readers a clear picture of this strange Ogre's life. However, the bizarreness of his morning awakening makes the reader want to turn the page.
The book is cleverly written with phrases like "Scream of Wheat" and "You're truly perfection, demure and petite, just fourteen-foot-four from your head to your feet." The final poem "Awful Ogre's Awful Dream" cleverly contradicts the normal view of a great day by having Ogre end his day with a nightmare where "The sun's an orange circle, and the sky's a brilliant blue. Bees are buzzing busily, and roses show their blooms."
The illustrations for this book definitely add to the book. The pictures accompanying the poem "Awful Ogre's Breakfast" perfectly illustrate the poem. As Awful Ogre feasts on Scream of Wheat, the picture shows an open, screaming mouth inside the bowl as Awful Ogre is smiling happily at his meal. The picture for "Awful Ogre Speaks of Stature" is definitely in touch with the young boy readers as the picture shows Awful Ogre's snot dripping out of his nose onto the small elves and gnomes who are calling him grotesque. Talk about payback!
My three-year-old nephew did not want me to read the book to him. He grabbed it and immediately began talking about the pictures, making up his own story! My seven-year-old niece asked me if she could read it on her own. On the sticky note I gave her, she wrote,"I think he's weird, disgusting, and lazy." (The spelling was changed for the blog!)
Publishers Weekly: "Prelutsky uncorks his latest collection of light verse, a divinely wretched celebration of subversity. Every detail of Awful Ogre's day offers possibility for gross-outs, from sunup ("I flick aside the lizard/ Clinging grimly to my chin,/ And now I feel I'm ready/ For my morning to begin") to sundown (a sly swat at Goodnight Moon as Awful Ogre drifts off to sleep with "Good night to furtive spiders/ That lurk in murky wells./ Good night to loathsome vermin/ With nauseating smells")."Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.5. Connections:
This book would be a good one to read to the class to get them to enjoy the book. Through out this module, we as students have learned that many people don't enjoy poetry and seem intimidated by it. Reading a fun collection like this is sure to get students, especially boys, engaged in poetry. They may even be inspired to write a poem themselves!
Monday, February 18, 2008
McKissack, Patricia C. 2006. Porch Lies: Tales of Slicksters, Tricksteres, and Other Wily Characters. New York: Schwarz and Wade Books. ISBN: 0375836195
This collection takes readers to a swing on a porch, where they can listen in on stories similar to those passed down from generations about schemers who sometimes win and who sometimes get what they deserve. McKissack keeps in the oral tradition of the African-American culture in which she grew up listening to porch lies by telling her own porch lies to an eager audience. She explores characters such as Aunt Gran who cons the cons into protecting her property against white supremacists and Mingo Cass who only carries around a 100 dollar bill, keeping him from ever having to "break" it and pay for anything.
People of all cultures and races can enjoy and identify with the short stories told in this collection. Although the stories are set in an African-American setting, all readers can relate to family members telling stories, often exaggerated, about days gone by. Although the book is fictional, McKissack addresses civil issues that were prevalent in Southern communities during times of racial segregation and strife. She also adds the hope of many of that time that one day the races would be equal by having the white Mis Crickett ride in the front seat with her black chauffeur.
The colloquialism in the story adds to the southern feel, creating the slower-paced southern small community who would take the time to tell stories on the porch. Diaglogue such as,"See, he aine got it" and "Looka here. Looka here" add to the feel of the small town tone of the stories.
I do agree with one review that McKissack could have made a notation to explain the truth of the social setting of the African-American culture within these "lies." While the stories may be fiction, the inequality in the world, especially for African-Americans, was sadly the norm during the time of the stories, and this sobering truth should be pointed out amid the fun stories.
The illustrator's use of black and white colors only in the pictures provide a striking contrast to the colorful and vibrant personalities of the tricksters highlighted in the stories. Andre Carrilho only adds to the story with his understated pictures, which allow the reader to create the colors from the story and not Carrilho's interpretation of the story.
"It would have helped readers unfamiliar with African-American history to have an author's note helping separate the "truth" of these lies that allude to Depression-era African-American and Southern traditions. That aside, they're great fun to read aloud and the tricksters, sharpies, slicksters, and outlaws wink knowingly at the child narrators, and at us foolish humans."-Susan Hepler, formerly at Burgundy Farm Country Day School, Alexandria, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
"As McKissack (The Dark-Thirty) opens this treasure chest of tales, she recalls spending summer evenings on her grandparents' front porch in Nashville, where her grandfather and visitors would share spellbinding "porch lies," comically exaggerated stories that often centered on rogues and rascals." Publishers Weekly
This collection is a great asset in a language arts classroom. The stories can be used to discuss the African-American tradition of passing on stories orally because that was the only means of communication when slavery existed. It can also be used to discuss the difficulties African Americans after the Civil War since the book addresses topics like the Knights who terrorized innocent people like Aunt Gran.
I plan to use this book in my own language arts classroom as examples for my students to write down a story told often in their own families.
Young, Ed. 1989. Lon Po Po: A Read-Riding Hood Story From China. New York: Paperstar. ISBN: 0698113829
Similar to the classic story of Red-Riding Hood, Lon Po Po tells the tale of a wolf disguised as a grandmother, called Po Po in this Chinese tale, to trick innocent children. Set in China, Young adds a variation by having the wolf come to the children's house while the mother is gone. The three sisters become suspicious when they go to bed with Po Po, only to find her different. The girls comment that her foot has a bush on it and that her hand has thorns. Shang, the oldest daughter, figures out that Po Po is a wolf and quickly devises a plan. She and her two sisters convince the wolf that it must have gingko nuts, which can only be enjoyed by climbing the tree and plucking them out. Of course, the wolf cannot do this task and must be lifted by the girls, who proceed to drop the wolf three times, eventually killing him. They then go back to bed and sleep peacefully with a locked door as their mom requested.
The story shines on the ingenuity of a the oldest sister to protect herself and her sisters in the face of danger. Shang creates a strong female heroine, who is quick-thinking and protective of those she loves. The sisters work well together, creating the idea of teamwork as a way to defeat a common enemy. The story follows the Red-Riding story American kids have enjoyed for years, but the illustrations are what set this book apart from the American version and make it distinctively Chinese. The pictures are captivating. The dedication sets the standard high in words and picture by saying, "To all the wolves of the world for lending their good name as a tangible symbol for our darkness." The words are thought-provoking but the picture is amazing. It shadows the outline of a wolf looking at the reader with the outline of a human looking to the right, mixing both man and beast. Suspense is added further by the illustrator when he only shows the shadow of the wolf when "Po Po" is at the door. The illustrations are even more startling by the illustrator's decision to depict only parts of the whole picture. For example, when the wolf is in bed with the children, Young only shows the wolf's eyes, which are brightly colored in contrast to the dark fur of the wolf. The author uses this again by showing only the rope falling from hands as the girls drop the wolf to his death. This simple showing of only part of the picture makes the actions stand out while letting the reader imagine the rest.
"The juxtaposition of abstract and realistic representations, the complicated play of color and shadow, and the depth of the artist's vision all help transform this simple fairy tale into an extraordinary and powerful book." Publishers Weekly
This book would be excellent for two classroom or library uses. First would be to expose children to other cultures. Another connection would be to use it in comparison to the version American kids know well. By reading both, students could see how cultures often have the same stories and tales with slightly different twists depending on their cultures and customs.