Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Penderwicks A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and A Very Interesting Boy

The Penderwicks

By Jeanne Birdsall
Published by:  Yearling 2005

Finally a fill good novel with as everyone said "old fashioned charm."  This was just my type of book and if you enjoy books with happy endings, children that get into innocent trouble but are not bad then this is your type of book.   The Penderwicks are a family of girls, four girls to be exact, that are being cared for by their father because their mother passed away of cancer.  Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and "Batty" are out for adventure when their father rents a cottage for three weeks in the summer.  The cottage is attached to Arundel, a large mansion house with a grumpy owner, Mrs. Tifton.  Mrs. Tifton has a son named Jeffery that is the same age as the Penderwick sisters.  Together they spend the summer getting into mischief, making Mrs. Tifton angry at every turn, and saving Jeffery from a life of growing up at a military academy.  

This book gets many reviews for being old fashioned however it didn't feel old fashioned in it's setting.  The children are in modern times but what makes it old fashioned is the fact that the children do not use things such as cell phones, Ipads,  television, or texting.  Instead they are left to use their imaginations and find fun with every day outside playing.  Rosalind, the oldest Penderwick, even talks about constantly writing and sending her friend Anna letters about Cagney, the teenage gardener that she has a crush on..   In one point in the book Batty, the youngest Penderwick and her sister Rosalind are catching fireflies and putting them into jars.  This is something that I myself did with my younger brother all summer when we were little.  I think this type of nostalgia is what makes the book feel old fashioned,.  How many times have you heard someone say well when I was little we played all day and night OUTSIDE.  We didn't spend all day playing video games and Facebooking.  I don't consider myself that old and I can say that that was my childhood and probably something that would come out of my mouth, which is why I can identify with the book and love it so, it took me back to that innocent time.  

With that being said, I wonder how much today's young children could relate to this.  Of course many children play soccer, which Jane, Skye, and Jeffery do everyday, but they are probably not used to writing stories in their notebooks and going on adventures part of their everyday routines.  I still think that many children, especially young girls would love the book for the well developed characters and even can probably find something to connect in one of them because they are all so different.  

Rosalind who is the oldest at the age of 12, is the caretaker in this story.  She is the true oldest sister and in many ways as the oldest sister in my family can really relate to her.  My youngest brother who I might add is 10 years younger than me once told my own mom that it was okay if she died one day because he knew that his sissy could take care of him for her.  This story kept making me think of my relationships with my brother and how I too was a mother hen to them.  Rosalind does this and Birdsall lets us know this all throughout the book.  She gives away the best room in the house to Skye, because she "wanted to be near Batty."  We see her tuck her sister in and gives her bedtime stories, she takes care of Jane when she is sick, she helps smooth out problems and listens to her sisters when they need her, and she bakes the brownies for others.  She has essential taken over for her mother who is no longer there.  She has a lot on her shoulders and sometimes I feel bad for her, especially when Batty goes missing.  Rosalind is crying saying " Oh this is all my fault!  I promised I promised Mommy I would take care of her."  She has a lot of responsibility but she handles it well.  
We also see her "fall in love"  with Cagney and she get's "that hit by a truck feeling" that I think many girls can identify with when they think about their first love and the heartbreak when it didn't work out.  

Skye, the 11 year old sister, has a different personality and is somewhat of a fireball.  She looks different than her sisters having blond hair and blue eyes and wants to be a mathematician when she gets older.  She only agreed to wear a dress to the birthday party "after a long debate" and "because Churchie found a slim black one that reminded Skye of a dress her mother used to wear."  The other sisters were excited to wear their dresses.  Skye says how she feels and is constantly putting her foot in her mouth.  She also makes it known that she does not like Batty tagging along and does not seem to have the patience for things such as baking.  She is what some would call the "tomboy" of the group of sisters.  

Jane, the author, is 10.  She creates fantastic stories about Sabrina Star and she is working on one throughout the entire book.  She is also great at soccer and often lives in a fantasy world.  She is amazed by Jeffery's house and the antiques in it.  She is the mediator a lot of times and the more level headed one but is also the emotional one.  Then there is little Batty.  Batty who did not know her mother because she died of cancer right after she was born is shy and lovable.  She hides behind her sisters and love animals.  She talks to her "hound" and even falls in love with Cagney's bunnies.  She also wear wings and is constantly asking about stories about her mother.  I can't help but get a mother daughter feel from her and Rosalind.  

There is so much to this book that it is impossible to get to it all and they are just four of the characters in the book.  They are lovable, you care for them, but are also proud of them because they stick up for themselves and are taking care of themselves and sometimes even their father.  The bond they share is a fresh new look on how children should love their brothers and sisters.  They even have a club called MOPS.  Meeting of the Penderwick Sisters and their own oath and hand gestures.  They have innocent fun together which is something that I wish more of our own children in today's society had but I feel technology has taken some of that away.  I can't wait to see how the sisters grow and change in the next few books because yes this is a series and the next two are already out.  I will be getting those as well and hopefully reading them to my own daughter as great wholesome books one day that she will hopefully love.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014



By:  David Small

I have never read something that is so dark before from the story itself to the black and white sketch drawings that remind me of something like a bad dream.   David's Small's graphic novel is a memoir of his life,  a life that was not exactly full of happiness. I always find it hard to review a memoir or biography because it is someone's life and how do you critique someone's life.  It is what it was.  With that being said, although this was a dark book and not one that I would have picked up and enjoyed reading, I think it was presented beautifully.  Small tells his story in a way that is appealing and new, in a graphic novel format.  It is easy to read and does so much like a dark comic.  He takes hard topics and turns them into something that young adults can read and will be interested in.  

Small's family was far from the story book type.  They all had their own language, none of which talked much.  His mother had "furious, silent withdrawals that could last for days, even weeks at a time."  His brother, "Ted, beat on his drum."  His father, "home from work, went down to the basement and thumped a punching bag."  He also had his own language, "a way of expressing" himself "wordlessly"...."getting sick," that was his language.  Small paints us a picture of how lonely his life was even in his family, where we should all feel love and wanted.  They all just existed with each other.  

He shows us what is was like through a child's eyes.  How scary and fun the hospital, where his dad worked and gave him x-rays to fix him.  One minute he is riding the elevators and then sliding through the halls on his socks to the next minute seeing strange things in jars that came to life in front of him.  He also shows us how exaggerated children can be such as when he was riding in the car and "with the windows up, the car was a furnace, windows down, it was a wind tunnel."  You can relate to him as a child and it makes you believe that it is his real life not a "story."

Small had many experiences such as spending some time with his crazy grandmother, his mother's mom.  He also go to go on boats with fancy doctors.  But these were not all happy fun memories that you and I might have with our grandmother or riding on boats.  Each of these memories had something negative attached to it.  

His parents were also not very caring.  They buy new cars and throw parties and go on shopping sprees more than they care about their sons health even after a doctors wife at one of their parties spots a growth on David's neck they whine  about how much money it will be to get it looked at instead of worrying about what is wrong with him.  All his mother says is "doctors cost money and money is something that is in short supply in this house!"   

Finally 3 1/2 years later he goes in for surgery, he was 14.  He ends up having two surgeries and we see his mother finally have a glimpse of care for him after the first.  She came in to see if she could get him anything.  "Anything you might need....or want."  Small of course doesn't trust her or understand and smarts off back to her not understanding what is wrong with him.  After the second surgery, his "silence was no longer a matter of choice."  He was missing his growth and his thyroid gland and one of his vocal cords.  He was left with "a crusted black track of stitches, his smooth young throat slashed and laced back up like a bloody boot."  

David did not understand and it was only after he found a letter his mother had written that told him he had had cancer.  His family never said anything to him but "suddenly things began making sense."  The two surgeries, his "dad's unnatural bonhomie and mother's strange burst of generosity." We see that they were scared they thought he was not going to make it....but he did.  

David started to spiral down hill after this he skipped school, screaming in his head, and strange dreams.  He was sent to an all-boys school and ran away several times.  He was send home with the advice to seek psychiatric help.  He finally confronts his parents about having cancer and they get defensive.  I think this was probably because they felt bad about letting his cancer get so bad before taking care of it.  I couldn't help but think that they felt guilty for a minute they didn't want him to have cancer so by ignoring it and saying that it was gone was their way of dealing with that guilt.  They didn't need to talk about it and if they didn't talk about it, it hadn't happened.  We see this guilt even more when his father tells him it was his fault, all the x-rays when he was young, that he gave his son cancer.  

They sent him to a psychiatrists and David finally got to talk.  "after life in a house where silence reigned and free speech was forbidden."  I think this was the  turning point for David, he got to get all of those pent up feelings out and I can't help but wonder if this had never happened for him how differently his life might have turned out.  We really see this in the end when his mother had died and he has a dream.  In the dream he was young and his mother was sweeping a path from his house to another.  

"Suddenly I realized the building was the one where grandma had been locked away.  The old central state asylum.  The figure was my mother.  Sweeping the path, clearing the way for me to follow.  

I didn't.

He could have easily ended up with all his troubles pent up inside much like his mother and grandmother and followed them into that crazy life but he decided he was going to be different.  He got his feelings and and made a life for himself that was different that theirs.  He goes out on his own and tries to change his life and even thought it was hard he finds an outlet, art.  "Art became my home. not only did it give me back my voice, But art has given me everything I have wanted or needed since."  I think this shows anyone reading this that you can find something that will help you and be your niche.  Everyone goes through hard times, maybe not necessarily like David, maybe something easier such as self confidence, bullying, lack of feeling like you belong.  But everyone can find something that makes them shine if you have the will and want to do better.   I think this is why David told us his story even though it was dark and sad.  He became something even through his beginnings would have been enough to keep anyone down.  This book was written to teach us that you can overcome as well as written to be therapeutic for David himself, which is why I think it is a great book, even if it was dark and sad for me to read.   

Monday, April 21, 2014



By:  Karen Cushman 

I love history.  It was the one subject that I was excited about during school so I am not why I was surprised to find out that historical fiction is my favorite genre after reading so many different books this semester.  I recently read and reviewed a non-fiction book about an Orphan Train rider and my interest was peeked.  I did a search in the library for a fiction novel about them and there were several to choose from.  I decided on Rodzina because I knew that Karen Cushman had written several other books that were recognized as Newbery Winners and I am so glad I did because this is one of my favorite books this semester.

Rodzina Clara Jadwiga Anastazya Brodski is a 12 year old Polish orphan in Chicago.  One cold March morning in 1881 she and some other orphans, "with stiff new clothes and little cardboard suitcases boarded a special railway car at the station near the Chicago River."  This train was taking them out West to find new homes.  Along the way Rodzina makes friends, learns about herself, and realizes that she is not a good match for anyone.  She also spends some time with her memories.   Memories of her papa, mama, and two younger brothers all that died untimely deaths. Rodzina had not wanted to leave on the orphan train.

"Once up the steps, I looked back.  this was the last I'd ever see of Chicago, this view of soot and ice and metal tracks.  On such a cold, gray, blustery morning, it looked like a dead place, but at least it was familiar.  Chicago had always meant Mama and Papa and the boys.  Now Mama and Papa and the boys were gone, home was gone, and soon Chicago would be gone.  I felt like I was jumping out a seventh-story window, not at all sure someone was down below to catch me."

The language of this paragraph really resonated with me.  I felt so bad for Rodzina even thought this meant she could have a home and family.  She had no idea what her future could hold but her memories were located in Chicago and she did not want to leave those.  I could see the way she felt in this paragraph and how I imagine many other Orphans felt when they were leaving their homes.  It is hard to leave something that is familiar even if it is not great for you.  I wanted Rodzina to find a great home and I couldn't stop reading to find out if she did.

 Rodzina  gets picked by two different sets of families and I cringed and both of them because they were not the families I wanted for her.  One just wanted her to clean up and take care of older people.  She tricks them into taking her back to the train by tell her Polish people are very different.   The other is the Mr. Clench and he takes her in saying he needs someone to help watch after the other children and they wanted another daughter even though they already had 14. I was immediately suspicious of this for poor Rodzina and it didn't take her long to feel that too.

"Too Many kids?  No neighbors, No school.  What a pickle I was in", she says.

This is the only part in the story that I think could be controversial but also something important to bring up because it is what some of the orphans had to face.  Rodzina, even at 12 was taken in by this man with many children that lived in an underground house in the middle of now where.  His wife, who is obviously ill, as the children who don't help her at all said "Pa says she's apt to up and die on us anytime now."  The next few pages, Rodzina helps to take care of their sickly mother, the children, and eating things such as snake stew.  Rodzina acts as though she is an adult by taking care of everyone but she still shows her innocence as a 12 year old girl because even as one of the children snuggled up to her on the floor and said "I want to sleep right close to you.  I won't get to when you move to the bed."  (there one only one bed that Mr. and Mrs. Clench slept in the others slept outside or on the floor.)  Rodzina even after hearing this wondered why she would get to sleep in the bed.  "Maybe the children all took turns."  she thought.  An adult reading the story could easily guess what the little girl meant but again Cushman  paints us a picture of how how she is a strong girl but still just a girl with this innocent thinking.  Finally Mr. Clench starts watching her and one day grabbed her and told her to go for a walk with him.  Rodzina "gave him the stink face" and fought him back, but she only got free when Mrs. Clench even being sick shouted at Mr. Clench and said she was just a girl and to take her back and find a women old enough to "be  a mama" to her children."  I felt so happy and relieved for Rodzina when she was returned back to Miss Doctor at the hotel.  This was a very hard situation in the book and the one that like I said could be controversial to some.

Rodzina continues on the train but that would be her last offer of a home until the end of the line in California.  The rest of the orphans finally find homes but Rodzina is left with the cold non-caring lady doctor that was in charge of them.  Through the journey, even though they are both so different, they learn to see each other and care for each other.  Rodzina ends up finding a home with her in California.

The characters in this story were wonderful and carefully written.  Rodzina and Miss Doctor both evolve through the journey on the Orphan Train.  Rodzina started out not trusting anyone or wanting to connect with anyone, even Lacey, another Orphan that was drawn to Ro as she called Rodzina.    But Rodzina called her an "intruder" when she sat next to her, and "gave her the mean look"  she called the "stink face, hoping it would discourage her."  She even stated that she hated her because she was so pretty and Rodzina did not see herself as that.  But Rodzina has a soft spot, the children and even Lacey, whom she cares for so much she doesn't want to leave when Lacey finds a good Mama and Papa.  Rodzina is put in charge of the children being the oldest on the train.  She doesn't like it but she tells them stories, cleans their faces, and calms them down.  She goes back and forth being child-like and recalling memories to being adult like and taking care of others.  She wants a mama and a papa someone to "boil eggs for her at Easter, someone to tell her when to go to bed, and she worried that she would be unwanted" thinking how terrible that would be if she put herself out there only to be turned down.  Cushman reminds us many times that she is just a young girl wanting to be loved.
Crying at one point Rodzina whom had decided in California that she could find someone to marry her if she couldn't find a new family finally broke down

"I started to blubber again."
Quit acting like a child, I said to myself.
I am a child, I said right back.
I could not get off the train a marry a stranger.
I had to grow up first."

This is when we see the conflict that has continued throughout the whole book change.  Rodzina realizes that she needs someone and wants someone to take care of her and in the end she let herself trust Miss Doctor and the family the two of them could make together.

Miss Doctor who was a lady doctor that clearly did not want to be a "nurse maid" to the children.  She started out mean and cruel.  Not caring for the children.  But we see something change in her as well.  Rodzina always feels like she can go back and ask her questions and as the story goes on even though Miss Doctor acts annoyed with her she still talks to her and gives her honest answers.  She shows that she cares in the end by feeling for the children in her care.  She takes care of Lacey and feels for her when they fear she is gone.  She also sticks up for the orphans and tries to do right by them.  She confides in Rodzina telling her that she "is doing the best she knows how."  In the end she looks at Rodzina and said "I would miss you if you were not here.  And I have been having serious doubts about leaving you in a training school."  This is when we realize that the conflict and story between them will continue because Miss Doctor has also decided she wants Rodzina and even though they are both "difficult and ornery"  they could try to be a family.

Rodzina leaves dreary cold Chicago and has a hard unhappy outlook on her life, much like the city she is leaving and the weather on that day but in the end, she steps "off the train into blazing California sunshine." This not only serves to show us hope but shows us how Rodzina's outlook on life and herself has changed as well and we all wish the best for Rodzina because she has been through so much in her 12 short years.

I really believed this story and felt that it was pretty accurate with the little information I have read about the Orphan Trains.  I think that Cushman really did her research and shows us not only what it was like on the Orphan Train but how many of the Orphans themselves felt.  I liked how she included a pronunciation guide for the Polish words in the story as well as a detailed authors note on the history behind the Orphan Trains. She also included history on the idea of "placing out" saying that it started in 1618 with the English boys send to the south to work on plantations.  There is also a note about how this type of thing was used to "civilize" the Native Americans, which are also mentioned in the book several times as victims of the "white people."  She continues to discuss how during WWII this idea saved many children by sending them on a "Kindertransport."  With her author's note you can really see the research and how familiar Cushman has made herself with the history of the United States' Orphan Trains and others like it throughout history.  She also includes a long list of things to read about Orphan Trains.

I think this would be a great book to use in a history classroom as a fictional story to discuss the Orphan Trains.  Paired with nonfiction text such as the one I read called Orphan Train Rider this could really be effective in the classroom.

I will leave you with this last quote from Cushman's authors note that I loved and I think she showed us through a wonderful story full of history and lovable characters.

"Today there is much debate about what makes a family.  Children do not seem to care about definitions; they just want to belong to someone."

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Bill Martin Jr. BIG BOOK of Poetry

The Bill Martin Jr. BIG BOOK of Poetry

Edited by Bill Martin Jr. with Michael Sampson
Published:  Simon &Schuster Books 2008

Sampson, tells us in the story behind he Big Book of Poetry that Bill Martin Jr. accredits poetry to saving his life. He writes.....

 "Bill was a non-reader in elementary and high school.  He survived in the academic world only because of his excellent ear--what he could hear he could remember.  And teachers were willing to allow him to do tests orally.  But that would not be the case in college.  But there was a saving grace--Bill really liked poetry and signed up for a poetry class at Emporia State Teachers College (Kansas).  Bill loved the dramatic readings the professor gave, with such poets as Walt Whitman, Marion Monroe, and Robert Frost.  And when he looked at a printed copy of the poems the teacher read, he discovered he could read them!  That's how Bill Martin Jr became a reader."

I think this is a great story to share with students especially before reading poems from this book.  This can show them that even a struggling reader can become an author and that poetry can be powerful.  You can also read this in the front of the book in the Foreword by Eric Carle one of the man illustrators that collaborated on the book.   Carle also tells us that Bill had trouble reading because of fear and by "discovering the rhythms underlying in the written words" he was able to "eventually joy in reading."

The Big Book of Poetry is an anthology of 122 poems picked and studied for months by Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson.  I personally think this is one of the best books of poetry I have seen.  It covers topics such as Animals, World of Nature, Around the Year, People and Places, School Time, Me and My Feelings, Family and Home, Food for Me, Nonsense and Mother Goose.  The book is arranged by these topics.  There is also a variety of different types of poems.  Poems that rhyme such as The Woodpecker with lines such as "The Woodpecker pecked out a little round hole.  And made him a house in the telephone pole."  And poems that don't such as Metaphor that says "Morning is a new sheet of paper for you to write one.  Whatever you want to say, all day, until night folds it up and files it away."

There are famous authors such as Margaret Wise Brown, with So Many Nights, Jack Prelutsky with I've Got An Itch, Langston Hughes with Grandpa's Stories, and even poems by Robert Frost with Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and Emily Dickinson with A Bird Came Down the Walk.  These are just a few of the author names that you will notice as you read through the poems.  There is so much in this book that it is impossible to really do it justice on here.  The variety of authors gives us a variety of different styles and helps us to get a very broad picture of poems.  The way I see it is there is something for everyone.  Even I, who is not such a fan of poetry found several poems that I thought were fun and engaging and thoroughly enjoyed.  I found myself reading and re-reading and also comparing poems by some of the same authors to look for their style.  This was fun for me.

Some of them are just fun to read such as this one called Beans, Beans, Beans by Lucia and James L. Hymes Jr. (p. 140-141)
Baked beans,
Butter beans,
Big fat lima beans,
Long thin string beans,
Those are just a few.
Green beans,
Black beans,
Big fat kidney beans,
Red hot chili beans,
Jumping beans too.
Pea beans,
Pinto beans,
Don't forget the shelly beans.
Last of all, best of all,
I like jelly beans!

The double page spread illustrated by Derek Anderson surrounds the poem and is also bright and funny  with a bunch of big cowboys eating different types of beans and one little cowboy child eating jelly beans the faces on the grown-ups are priceless.

Some of them were thought provoking and create feeling such as Dreamer by Langston Hughes p.119
I take my dreams
And make of them a bronze vase,
and a wide round fountain
With a beautiful statue in its center,
And a song with a broken hear,
And I ask you"
Do you understand my dreams?
Sometimes you say you do
And sometimes you say you don't
Either way
It doesn't matter.
I continue to dream.

The illustrations for this poem by David Gordon are much different.  They reflect a feeling of dreaming with blurred lines and colors and little detail.  The illustrations in the book are also what makes it a special collection of poetry.  They are all done by several different people and I quickly realized that most of my favorite picture book illustrators were included in the mix.  I found myself again trying to see if I could guess the styles of the artists and match them up as I went through.  I felt like this really sealed some of the work we have done in this class this semester on illustrations.  I could really see distinct styles that resonated with me through the book and in other books I had read by the artists. Some of the easiest ones to match with their artists were The Pasture illustrated by Steven Kellogg, Ten Little Caterpillars by Lois Ehlert, Papa Says by Aliki, Eat-It-All Elaine by Henry Cole and Manhattan Lullaby by Chris Raschka.  These again only touch on a few of the wonderful artist included in the book.

The variety that you get in one book makes this one stand out above all others that I have read.  The one criticism that I have is that there is not a whole lot of cultural diversity in the book.  Some of the illustrations include racial diversities but the poems themselves do not reflect many different cultures. In a book that has such great variety this part did upset me a little but I still feel like it is a great collection for any classroom or home library to help children be exposed to many different poems that are easy to read and understand.

                                                 Read more about Bill Martin Jr.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Orphan Train Rider One Boy's True Story

Orphan Train Rider:  One Boy's True Story

By:  Andrea Warren

"More than 200,000 children rode "orphan trains" in this country between 1854-1930." 

Andrea Warren has created a book that not only tells us about Lee Nailling, an orphan train rider, but also about the children of this time period and the "placing out" program started by "a minister named Charles Loring Brace."

Charles Loring Brace "had worked in the slums of New York City and was very worried about the homeless children."  In 1853, he started the Children's Aid Society.  "Brace asked wealthy people to help support the Society.  He also wrote articles and gave speeches for pay.  He used all the money he raised to start programs to "help the children help themselves."

Lee Nailling was born Alton Lou Clement and he was one of those children.  When he was just 7 years old his mother died giving birth to his youngest brother.  He was one of seven children and after a few months his father said he could not care for them.  He gave the two youngest of Lee's brothers to different family friends, sent Lee and his brother Leo to an orphanage, and sent the oldest three of his siblings to fend for themselves in the world.  

Lee said in the book that " we went from being part of a close family to feeling like outcasts.  Nobody visited us.  We were just two more homeless kids in a country that already had too many."

Warren goes back and forth between telling Nailling's story to giving us information and the background not only behind the Orphan Trains but the vast amount of orphan's in the big cities during the late 1800's.  She also tells us how children during this time period lived.  Stating that "children as young as five or six often labored long hours in factories to earn a few pennies a day.  Others sold matches, shined shoes, peddled newspapers, picked coal, or ran errands -- anything to make a little money.  Children barely old enough to walk begged in the streets."  Because she goes back and forth she really helps us to not only understand Nailling but what it was like for children and orphans.

Lee describes life in the orphanages and how bad it was for him and his brother and how he would fight a lot and lost all trust in adults.  He paints a picture that it was not much better living in their than it was on the streets.  He also talks about how he defended his brother and thought about running away but he stayed because his brother was too young to go with him.  In 1926, two years after life in the orphanage, he and his brother were told they were going to ride a train.  Lee said he "remembers clearly what happened when he, Leo, and ten other children from the orphanage went to the train station to get on the orphan train."

He said everyone got new clothes, he never had new clothes before, and they "wondered if they were going to meet the governor or something."  They had no idea what was going on.  He felt excited for the train until suddently his father showed up with one of his younger brothers that was three, Gerald.  He said he was going with them and he gave Lee a pink envelop with his address on it to write him when they got their new home.  Lee felt some hope now the lady on the train told him that "this was an opportunity for him" and he was "very lucky to be on it."  Lee did not believe her and hated her after she took his pink envelope and told him to "forget about it."  He describes this as a "bitter moment for him."

The trains would stop at different places along the way out west and the children were lined up and observed, questioned by those that had signed up to receive a new child.  Warren who did research on the subject according to her bibliography in the back also had several other Orphan Train Riders who told their story during this part.  They told about parents that treated them badly, like a servant, abused them, and made them do hard labor.  This was not what Charles Brace had in mind and sometimes children lived with several families before finding one they could stay with.  He also believed that "it was best for children to
break with the past and start a new life, so once a child left on a train, neither parent nor child knew how to find each other."  The book does say that most placements were successful though and the program grew.

Finding the new children a home sounded very harsh.  Warren even states that it was like buying cattle.  Children lined up and poked and questioned.  She said that "one rider later compared it to picking out puppies at the dog pound."

When the train that Lee Nailling was on stopped in Texas, him and his brothers finally found homes.  His youngest brother Gerald was taken first and cried once he knew what was going on.  Leo was picked next, and asked if his brother, Lee could go with him.  The couple had not planned on having two but decided to take them both.  Lee, however, unable to forget his experience at the orphanage, had a hard time connecting to the couple.  He was picked up by the train matron the next day and taken to a new family.  That one would not work out either.

Finally he was taken to the Naillings house.  They had no other children and treated him like the child they always wanted.  He eventually grew to love them and found his home.  They even got together with the other couples that took his brothers and let them spend time together.

"A 1910 Children's Aid Society report said that 87 percent of the orphan train riders had "done well."  Lee was one of those success stories.  I would be interested in hearing other stories that might not have been success'.  There are a few snippets of riders with pieces of their stories but nothing more.  I would be curious to read other riders stories.  This book does tend to make the Orphan Trains out to be great with Naillings story and this comment but it also tells some truths such as how the children were looked over, how some did not get great homes, and some children were just taken from their parents without ever seeing them again or knowing where they were.  These are only few little pieces in the whole book and mostly it paints a picture that this was the best life for all of these children.  I wonder if this is true.....

Warren tells us that there were many important people that developed out of orphan train riders.  She also discuss how the program stopped due to laws and welfare being developed.
Lee Nailling had a family of his own and when he was 67 found his brothers that did not ride the orphan train.  Four of his siblings were still alive and they all got together to catch up on the last 60 years.

This was a very enlightening book on something that I had no idea about before reading it.  It is very interesting to hear not only Nallings story but also about the Orphan Train itself.  Warren definitely completed her research and has a long list of references in the back.  I think this made me feel very confident in her book and the facts behind it.  I also think making it more than a biography and including this research make it a great book to include in the classroom to get a good picture of how children lived during the early 1900's.  She also includes real photographs of Nailling and other Orphan Train Riders.  Those photographs along with along with copies of fliers announcing the Orphan Trains coming and advertising the children gives us an authentic look at how the Orphan Trains were ran.

This is a very easy read and I believe could be easily used in an upper elementary classroom and in a high school classroom to discuss this time period.  Used with other books and historical fiction novels about the subject you could really get a good picture of what it was like for the Orphan Train Riders.  I know my interest is peaked and I hope to find more books about them myself.

Read more about The Orphan Train Riders 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

From Pictures to Words A Book About Making A Book

From Pictures to Words A Book About Making A Book

Written and Illustrated by:  Janet Stevens 
Published:  Holiday House 1995

Going with my last book I decided to look about a nonfiction book to help with the writing process.  I stumbled upon this book at the library and thought it brought a fun look at how an author would make a book.  

Janet Stevens a familiar artist that you might recognize from other children's books such as To Market To Market and Tops and Bottoms  puts herself in a story and uses her characters to show us how to create a book.  She goes through the beginning process of deciding characters and setting.  She uses speech bubbles from the characters to add humor to the story.  She also discuss' plot and problem.  When she is finished with her creative process she sends her book to her editor that makes her change some things and then send it back.  She then creates "a dummy" or practice book and she discuss' how she could use different mediums.  After her final art work has been sent to the editor she makes the final finished piece for it to be published.  She even ends the book by saying there are other ways to develop a story 

"Maybe you'd like to take one of my other characters and write a story.  Or maybe you can create your own."  

This book is a little more complex and wordy than others I have read about writing but I think that is what makes it a non-fiction book.  Janet still uses her characters voices in a fun way to make it appealing to children.  For example the cat in the story really wants aliens in the book and keeps pipping up with "Great, but no aliens."  or "I still think aliens should come."  

The illustrations in the book are a mix between color and black and white.  She draws the characters in color and herself in black and white.  She even draws the speech bubbles in color and hers in black and white.  I think this helps to distinguish between the real and the fantasy part of the story.  She also uses small pictures on one page and frames to create movement and draw our eye down the page.

I think this book would be a great addition to an upper elementary writing lesson or unit on writing a book.  It could also be read in lower grades but may be a little harder to follow.  I also think it is great to spark some interest in creating books and could show children what an author's life is like in a fun way and that even they have to edit and revise their work before they have a final draft.  

Read more about Janet Stevens at her website. 

Rocket Writes a Story

Pictures from

Rocket Writes a Story

Written and illustrated by Tad Hills
Published by: Schwartz & Wade Books 2012 

I purchased this book last year at the Scholastic Warehouse sale because of its Title.  As a Kindergarten teacher I was always looking for books to help teach my children about the writing process and the front cover looked adorable so I bought it and like so many of my other books put it on the bookshelf thinking I would get around to reading it soon.  As it was I did not use this book because I had my little girl and have not been back to teaching yet so I just got around to reading  the book and I love it!  I will definitely be using to start writing in the future when I go back to teaching.  
Meet the Real Rocket

Tad Hill whom you may notice for writing the Duck and Goose books has created a new series based on Rocket, a lovable dog.  Rocket, who is actually inspired by Hill's own dog Rocket loves words. 
"Rocket loved books.  He loved to read them to himself or to sit quietly by his teacher, the little yellow bird, as she read them aloud."  Rocket even liked the way books smelled."  

One day Rocket while Rocket was out collecting words he decided he wanted to write his own story with all the "splendid words" he had collected.  I immediately stopped and admired the words that Rocket collects and then hung on his word tree which reminds me of so many word lists, charts, and walls that my own Kindergartners made through the years and I loved it!  I also thought how exciting it would be for the children to create their own word trees and the teacher in me came out in full force.   I had to stop and went to Google and Pinterest and just as I had imaged there are tons of pictures of these created in classrooms and different variations.  Already in love with the book and the ideas for the classroom I kept reading.  

"Rocket left school that day with a very waggy tail. (Clearly excited) "I'm going to write a story!" he declared to Fred and Emma."  He tells everyone he sees and the next day at school he starts out trying to write a story but he struggles.  I feel like many young writers could identify with Rocket at this point.  His teacher helps
him with some ideas and he went for a walk to look for inspiration.  He found that inspiration in a tree with a small shy owl at the top.  He writes a story about the owl.  He worked for days, "He wrote words down and crossed words out."  He sometimes got frustrated by his teacher, the Little Yellow Bird encouraged him, "remember, stories take time."  She also asked him questions to further his writing.  (Did Tad Hill sit in my classroom at one time because I am sure I have asked those same questions to my beginning writers.)  He visited the owl every day and read the story to her.  "The owl was captivated" and although shy started coming down the tree with each visit.  Finally Rocket was finished and he read it to Owl, "she was right beside Rocket."  Owl even added the last sentence, that she"liked the story very much."  Rocket thought it was perfect and they became good friends.

I am not sure I can express into words how much the writing of this story is so fabulous.  It really captures what children go through and the process they take to becoming writers.  I wish I had this book back when I started reading because I am sure my students and myself would have worn out the pages every year.  Rocket struggles and he doesn't give up.  He gets inspiration from his everyday life and he works very hard to create something he is so proud of.  

The illustrations in this story are also wonderful.  They start on the end pages with a double page spread of a word tree covered in word cards.  Immediately you see how important words are going to be in this story.  The colors are bright and are done in oil paint and colored pencil.  They are perfect for a children's book.  They are inviting and yet have a child like feel to them.  The little illustrations on the word cards are also done much like a child would do when trying to remember a new word. Tad Hill creates movement by breaking up the page at times into different sequenced pictures with one of the best being owl coming down the tree each day intrigued by Rocket's story branch by branch.  

I loved this story so much I was interested to see what other people thought.  It got great reviews.  This Kirkus review  also has an interview with Tad Hill about the book.  My favorite part of the interview is when Tad Hill described his thoughts on the Little Yellow Bird...

"I have had some truly wonderful teachers in my life. Of course, teachers come in all flavors and are not always found in schools. I guess the Little Yellow Bird is a combination of the many teachers and people who have inspired me and made me feel that I was capable and had some talent. She is patient and wise and just gently forceful enough to make you listen and think."

We could all take something from this book.  Although I immediately think what my students can learn from it after reading this I thought as teachers we can learn something to.  We should all aspire to be a great teacher that inspires children just like The Little Yellow Bird!  

Other Interesting Sites 
Another Interview with Tad Hill 
Here is a great classroom video with children discussing the book. _ They even talk about the end papers.  I was really impressed!  
Random House has some great resources as does Tad Hill's own website. 
Rocket also as an IPad App that helps teach children to read and looks fabulous. 

Apparently Rocket is a big hit and I am a little ashamed that I am just now learning about Rocket, he even has a doll! There are so many resources for Rocket that I think he will become a class pet for me in the future to help inspire my children in literacy.  

And I can't wait to add  Rocket Learns to Read to my library, which was the first Rocket book that some how I missed!