Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Cowboy's Touch by Denise Hunter

When Abigail Jones begins to see the effects of working too hard for her family’s failing magazine, she relents to her mother’s request to take a break and heads to the middle of nowhere Montana to visit her Aunt Lucy. Bored after a few days, Abigail takes a job as a nanny for a young girl named Maddy, whose father is a handsome rancher. Although Abigail feels an attraction to Wade, his past keeps them apart. After coming across a secret from his past, Abigail must decide whether to use that secret to save her family’s magazine, which is closing its doors after this last edition or keep the secret of the man she is coming to love.

This book is a great read. Characters are very important for me as a reader. I’ll read anything if I like the characters, and the characters in this book are well-developed and likeable. I would like to see what happens with Dylan, who is Wade’s best friend and somewhat of a player, and I hope Denise Hunter writes his story next! I recommend this book to Christian fiction fans.

I received this book from Booksneeze for the purpose of reviewing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

M4 Your Own, Sylvia (A LS5663 Review)

Hemphill, Stephanie. 2007. Your Own, Sylvia. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN: 978-0-375-83799-9.

     Your Own, Sylvia tells the story of Sylvia Plath, a tormented young poet who took her own life fifty years ago. Hemphill tells Plath’s story from birth to suicide through poems, each from the point of view of someone in Plath’s wife. Although the book is a work of fiction, Hemphill researched Plath’s life through journals, poems, interviews, and biographies. The poems reflect the feelings and thoughts of those who loved Plath. The poems are told in chronological order, and each poem is accompanied by information about Plath’s life and work at the time of the event.

     What stands out about this work is its haunting picture of a woman who had “everything” yet nothing. Plath’s intelligence, social life, family support, and even her children could never help her overcome her own demons inside. Even with her success, she still found herself searching. Perhaps it was mental illness or anguish over her father’s death. Since her last journal and many letters were destroyed, the public may never know why she took her own life. The poems reflect the ups and downs of a woman who did not quite know herself or what she was doing. The emotion of the poems carries the tale and implores the reader to check out the original work of Sylvia Plath.

      While the book should be read in its entirety to get full story of Plath’s life, several poems can be taken out of the book for individual analysis. These poems, written by Hemphill, were imitations of Plath’s own poems. Underneath the title of these poems, Hemphill indicates which of Plath’s poems is mimicked.

“Paris in the Winter”

Imagining Sylvia Plath

     In the style of “Winter Landscape, with Rooks”

     Winter 1956

"She repeats his name like a lullaby,

     the sonorous Sassoon. He sings

To her, then flaps his wings, a magpie

     shaking his tail of her. Nothing

For her between his beak except lies.

She sketched this out in faded watercolor,

     Richard not answering

Her bell, fleeing her like a schoolboy. Where

     did he run? She circles his building.

She taps her cold toes. Did he even open her letter?

She freezes this trip to Paris, the city of pigeons.

     There are not enough scarves to warm her.

She stalks his door. She awaits his return

     ridiculous as a rook without its jacket of feathers.

She never once glimpses his silhouette against the curtain."

This poem can be read by an English class to compare to Plath’s work, analyzing the similarities in style and emotion.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

M4 The Tree that Time Built (A LS5663 Review)

Hoberman, Mary Ann. 2009. The Tree that Time Built. Brainerd, Minnesota: Bang Printing. ISBN: 978-1- 4022-2517-8.

     Charles Darwin was convinced that the universe and all beings and substances were connected. After traveling the world, he came home and created a diagram that he named Tree of Life, which later developed into his theory of evolution. The Tree that Time Built organizes poems from various poets into an exploration of the trees and branches of Darwin’s tree. The main trunk is life, and the book is organized into sections covering birds to dinosaurs and everything in between. Each section has an introduction with a brief history of Darwin’s ideas about that topic. Many poems have questions or comments at the bottom of the page, which spark self-reflection. The book also includes a glossary and a short biography for each poet included in the compilation. A CD, with forty-four poems read aloud, accompanies the book and provides enrichment for the reader.

     The poems included in the book range from old poems by Whitman to modern poems by Hoberman. The styles are different, but the reflection of man’s connection to nature and to animals connects all of the poems into a smooth read. Although the ideas range to man’s individuality like in Eve Merriam’s “Thumbprint” to the connection all of creation shares in Felice Holman’s “Who am I?”, the poems all support the notion that everything is intertwined and thus influenced by one another.

     Because Darwin’s theory of evolution states that everything is ever changing (albeit very slowly) and is dependent on the elements surrounding it, “Who am I?” is the perfect poem to introduce this book to students.

Who am I?

The trees ask me,

And the sky,

And the sea asks me,

                    Who am I?

The grass asks me,

And the sand,

And the rocks ask me

                    Who I am.

The wind tells me

At Nightfall,

And the rain tells me.

                    Someone small.

Someone small

Someone small

                    But a piece



                                All” (p. 167).

     Before students can understand how nature and man connect, they must first realize they are a part of the tree of life. Once they do, the poems will resonate more deeply with them. This poem can be used as a prompt for journal writing, class discussion, or self-reflection. After the students see a connection, many of the poems can be used during science lessons throughout the year. When learning about genetics, “Heredity” by Thomas Hardy can spark a discussion. Life cycles can be studied through the poems “Cocoon” by David McCord and “Butterfly” by D. H. Lawrence. Although few students may pick out this book to read since it is long and lacks colorful pictures, it is an excellent resource for science teachers who would like to add a bit of poetry to spark thinking and self-reflection as students learn about life and how people are connected to nature and to animals.

M4 Lady Liberty-A Biography (A LS5663 Review)

Rappaport, Doreen. 2008. Lady Liberty A Biography. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press. ISBN 978-0-7636-2539-6.

     In this collection of poems, Rappaport chronologically tells the story of the creation of Lady Liberty, from the idea’s conception to the final unveiling in New York City. Using the comments and experiences of the people involved in the making of Lady Liberty as an inspiration and starting point, Rappaport not only conveys the factual information about the history of Lady Liberty but also the emotional aspect of people who valued the liberty she symbolizes. Each poem is titled with a person’s name, a person who somehow influenced the making of the Statue of Liberty, ranging from Charles P. Stone, the construction supervisor, to Florence De Foreest, a ten year old girl in New Jersey who mailed her roosters to support the construction efforts. Underneath the title the location and the date of the particular part of Lady Liberty’s story is listed. These added details support the idea that Lady Liberty and her symbolism spans time and place.

     Told in free verse poetry, the poems are not fancy or risky. Instead of using the style or rhythm to make an impact, the author simply uses the words and the feelings liberty invokes to make a point with readers. Sometimes simple is better and more powerful. The pictures are a wonderful addition to the book. Most moving is the illustration for the poem “Jose Marti”, which is dark and gray, with the blue and the red of the American flag the only bright colors shining through.

     Although the critics recommend this book for grades 3-8, it can be used in older grades as well. With revolutions happening in Egypt and Libya, the idea of liberty and its worth is current and relevant. The last poem of the book, which tells the story of the unveiling of the statue, embodies the idea of freedom. This poem could be used in a high school history class or even government class to spark a discussion about the current events in the world. A United States history class can use the poems in the book when learning about the American Revolution. Although the statue was made much later, it is a symbol of what the colonists were willing to risk their lives for. Sometimes students focus on the facts they need to learn for the test and forget the emotions and feelings of the people who lived during those events.

“Liberty! The most important word in the world.

I know that all too well.

I was deported from my country, Cuba

for fighting to free my people from Spanish rule” (Rappaport 26).

This section of a poem is a great warm-up question to get students thinking about exactly what Lady Liberty means not only to Americans but to people around the world.

Lady Liberty is one of my favorite places I have ever visited. I love what she symbolizes, and I think she's beautiful! Here's a picture of me with Lady Liberty.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Springtime of the Spirit by Maureen Lang

     At the end of World War I, Germans were caught between two conflicting political parties: one that wanted freedom and one that wanted communism to rule the land. Caught in the battle is Annaliese, a young and fearless woman who is willing to sacrifice herself for the good of her country. As she campaigns for women’s rights in Munich, Annaliese joins a cause to give the working class a voice in the government, completely unaware the leaders of the group are pushing towards a communistic takeover of the country. When Christophe, her girlhood crush, comes to take her home for her own safety, Annaliese must confront her own feelings about herself, for Christophe, and for the beliefs she holds dear. Will she have to give up her dreams for working towards social justice for a chance at true love?

     Springtime of the Spirit is the first book I’ve read by Maureen Lang, and I will definitely read more. I love history, and this book was a great mix of historical information about the clashes between the political groups in Germany after WWI with a love story that includes family and honor. The main characters were likeable, and growth in both characters was evident throughout the novel. At a few points, the dialogue about the differing views on the government grew weary. Instead of focusing on the different ideas and arguing back and forth, more time could have been spent with Annaliese as she visits her friend Meika. Annaliese’s visit with Meika was a turning point for her spiritually, but it was glossed over in the book.

     Overall, I enjoyed this book and will check out the other books in the Great War Series. I recommend this novel to Christian fiction readers, especially those fond of historical fiction.

I received this complimentary book from Tyndale Publishing for the purpose of reviewing.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Leaving by Karen Kingsbury

It was Thursday, March 3rd, that I received an email from Karen Kingsbury's office, informing me that I was chosen to receive an advanced copy of the book Leaving to review and to help promote. I had been looking forward to this new series about Bailey, who has for many series been one of my favorite characters in fiction. I feel like I’ve watched her grow up.

Later that night, I stood by my father's bedside, with my mom and sister beside me, and watched and prayed as my father traded in his earthly home for his heavenly one after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Although I my heart broke as he left us behind, my soul rejoiced that he was with Jesus and finally free from suffering!

I received my book in the mail a couple days later and began reading it the day after the funeral. It was fitting that this book about characters I've loved for so many years was about leaving and saying goodbye. Bailey leaving for New York. Cody leaving for a new job. Cole leaving his sandlot days behind. (Thank you, Karen, for not having my favorite hero Landon leave!)

Leaving is one of the hardest parts of life, whether it be leaving a childhood behind like Bailey is or leaving a frail human body behind like my dad did. The beauty of the Christian faith is that that leaving doesn't ever mean forever when we have a hope in Jesus. Leaving just means saying goodbye until Jesus brings us back together again either in this life time or in the one to come.Karen writes about difficult life situations, but the hope of Jesus is woven through each storyline.

Thanks for picking me to receive this advanced copy. God knew I would need to read it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Love that Dog (A LS 5663 Review)

Creech, Sharon. 2001. Love that Dog. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN: 0-06-029287-3.
     Many students are leery of poetry. They often don't "get" the meaning the teacher thinks is obvious. They don't understand why it doesn't all rhyme. They are unsure of how to read it and struggle to find the cadence of the poem. Jack, the narrator of Love that Dog, feels all of these emotions and relates them to the reader in a way only straight-shooting boys can do. He begins the novel by writing “I don’t want to/ because boys/ don’t write poetry./ Girls do.” (Creech 1) in what appears to be a reading/writing journal for class. Through the book, Jack grows as a reader and a write, often sharing insightful reflection to the poems his teacher Miss. Stretchberry reads to the class.

     The beauty of this capturing tale of free verse is the honest, reflective voice of a boy who is hurting from the loss of his dog, Sky. From the first page, the reader feels for Jack, who is reluctant to even attempt to write a poem. His honesty epitomizes how many students feel about writing poetry when he says, “Then any words/ can be a poem./ You’ve just got to/ make/ short/ lines” (Creech 3). Jack’s simple words at the beginning grow to elaborate poems, including one shaped to look like his dog, that the teacher is able to share with the class. (Jack insists that they be kept anonymous.) By the middle of the of the book, the boy who at first thought he couldn’t write a poem and that poems didn’t make sense later shares that his brain was “pop-pop-popping” (Creech 35) as he read poems and began to write his own. At the end of the book, Jack shares what he couldn’t before: the story of his own dog’s death. Poetry opened a world up for Jack, and it can for other students.

     This gripping tale shares a lesson for many people. For students, it shows how poetry should be written to the beat of the writer’s heart, no matter what form that may be. For teachers, it shows how poetry should be shared and celebrated as Jack’s teacher hung up poems by her students and encouraged Jack to write Walter Dean Myers. (Also, the book is set up as an interactive journal that the teacher read regularly, which fosters a sense of security for the students to write openly.) And for the pleasure reader, it is a heartwarming reminder of the loss of a pet and those emotions that come with it.

     The first poem (quoted above) is a terrific way to start this book although I believe the whole book is one to be shared with students. This book would serve well as a book club book or a literature circle book. It’s a book to be shared, discussed, and used as a springboard for writing. One poem taken and read alone doesn’t do this wonderful book justice.

     Although I read this book with the intention of reviewing it for class, this book gripped my heart. As I type this review, I am sitting near my father as he fights his last battle with cancer. This book reminds us of the loss of ones we love. The poem by Walter Dean Myers and then by Jack make me think of my dad, and I could replace it with “Love that Dad.”

"Love that Boy"

By Walter Dean Myers

Love that Boy,

like a rabbit loves to run

I said I love that boy

like a rabbit loves to run

Love to call him in the morning

love to call him

“Hey there, son!”

"Love that Dog"

Inspired by Walter Dean Myers

By Jack

Love that dog,

like a bird loves to fly

I said I love that dog

like a bird loves to fly

Love to call him in the morning

love to call him

“Hey there, Sky!”

"Love that Dad"

Inspired by Walter Dean Myers and Jack
By Laura Jackson

Love that Dad,

like a book loves words

I said I love that Dad

like a book loves words

Love to call him in the morning

love to call him

“Hey there, Dad!”

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Cuckoo's Haiku (A LS 5663 Review)

Rosen, Michael J. 2009. The Cuckoo’s Haiku and Other Birding Poems. Somerville: Candlewick. ISBN: 978-07636-3049-2.

     Research on children’s poetry preferences shows that haikus are one of the least favorite forms of poetry and that children prefer humorous poetry or poetry written about familiar situations (Vardell 75). With that research in mind, it is understandable that a book of haikus about birds may not interest young children. This collection of poems, marketed on Amazon as a book for children ages 4-8, did not break the mold that research found. The book is divided by the four seasons, and each haiku is devoted to one bird. In addition to the poem, there is side information about the bird. The side information is in a beautiful scroll type, which is difficult for young children, many of which do not know how to read or write cursive, to decipher. Struggling readers will not invest the time to read the small scroll. So, while the script adds to the whimsical pictures, it does not help students who are curious about the birds. While the pictures in the book are beautiful, vivid watercolors of unique birds and their surroundings, they lack appeal for young children.

     March brings the beginning of spring for those in Texas (April for the rest of the country), and for many, it’s the first chance in a long time to get outside and feel the warmth of the sun. The haiku entitled “Eastern Bluebird” reminds the reader that the birds are spring’s first song.

“On a staff of wires

Blue notes inked from April skies

Truly, spring’s first song” (Rosen 3).

     When spring brings those beautiful crisp afternoons, these poems make for a great break from the classroom. After reading this haiku, the students can take a break outside, enjoying spring’s first song, writing about the birds and sounds they hear. Seeing and hearing the birds can spark interest in writing about them, and although most kids do not enjoy haikus, maybe the same beautiful birds that inspired the author will inspire them as well.

Vardell, Sylvia. 2006. Poetry Aloud Here. Chicago: American Library Association. ISBN: 0-8389-0916-7.

At the Sea Floor Cafe (A LS5663 Review)

Bulion, Leslie. 2011. At the Sea Floor Café Odd Ocean Critter Poems. Atlanta: Peachtree. ISBN: 978-1- 56145-5652.

     The ocean and its creatures have always been a fascination for humans. Explorers have only investigated about five percent of the oceans, and man’s curiosity begs for more information. This compilation of poems by Leslie Bulion takes a look at the odd creatures that live under the sea. The eighteen poems explore fish, octopus, squid and other animals, focusing on the obscure and the different like the sea spiders and the coconut octopus. Next to each poem, there is a paragraph or two giving interesting information about the creature in the poem. Some of the paragraphs include the pronunciation of the more scientific words, which is helpful. The glossary in the back also helps readers understand words they may not have read before. The illustrations support the theme of ocean life, but they do little to reinforce the idea of the odd creatures. The typical drawings do support the idea of the critters described as being different or unique.

     What makes this book special is its eclectic style. Each poem is told in a different way: a triolet (eight-lined poem with just two rhyming sounds), free verse, lyrics, and a cinquain. The different rhythms and designs give the reader a broad range of poetry in which to read and, in the case of beginner writers, to imitate. In the back of the book, each poem’s style is explained, which gives a young writer an idea of how to write a similar poem.

     One of the poems that embodies the idea of the book (odd critters) with diverse poetry is “Dolphin Fashion,” a limerick.

A bottlenose counseled her daughter:

“Put this sponge on your beak underwater.

You can scare out more fish,

Poke sharp stones as you wish,

And your skin’ll stay smooth like it oughter” (Bulion 19).

     The additional paragraph explains how some dolphins near Australia have sponges on their noses. Researchers believe one mother started using the sponge to protect her nose while feeding on the ocean floor. Her babies imitated her, and a tradition began. The unique behavior of these dolphins is told lightheartedly in this limerick while exposing children to a new format for a poem.

     To demonstrate how poetry can be fun, a teacher or librarian can use the poem “Upside Down and All-Around,” which is about a snail. The words curve around in a circle, creating the image of a snail. After reading the poem and discussing how the set-up adds to the feel of the poem, students can pair up to write a poem about a favorite animal, twisting the words into the shape of the animal. Students who may not enjoy poetry may like putting the words into a shape, thus engaging them in poetry.