Friday, March 28, 2014

Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror

By:  Marilyn Singer 
Illustrated by:  Josee Masse 
Published by:  Dutton Children's Books 2010

Mirror Mirror is a magical collection of poems about fairy tales completed in reverso, which I had never heard of before. The topic alone makes it magical but the poems which are told one way and then reversed and told the other way gives it even more appeal.  Singer takes 14 poems about different tales and writes a short poem about each.  Then she reverses the poem and using the same words but by changing punctuation and the grouping of the words she writes a completely new poem showing a different side or point of view of the tale. There are most of the well known tales including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, Snow White, as well as others such as The Ugly Duckling, Jack and the Beanstalk, and The Frog Prince.   

This example of Little Red Riding Hood tells the perspective of Little Red herself and then flips it and when read upside down sounds like the wolf talking.  It is brilliant if you ask me and I would think very hard to create one poem much less 14 in this manner.  Some of the poems make more sense than others but all of them are fun to read.  My favorite was called Bear in the News, which also looks at two perspectives.  Part of the first one states, "Asleep in cub's bed blond startled by bears" and the flipped version reads "Bears startled by blond asleep in cub's bed."  Both are seen as headlines for a newspaper and they both make perfect sense to me and I am amazed at how one could do that with words.  

Singer also includes a page in the back about Reverso and challenges others to try it for themselves because she says it is so much fun.  I would love to read this to a group of students because I think they would get excited about the poems and be intrigued to write their own.  It is a new type of poetry that I believe would entice children to be excited about poetry because I know it did for me.  

The illustrations in the story also add to the concept of the Reverso style by drawing a line down the middle to show the distinction between two but at the same time she has weaved the two into one picture for they are one story.  This one shows snow white and illustrates the first point of view and then the next but they complement each other in a symmetrical way.  This adds to the poem by matching exactly what Singer has done with words and helps you to understand the voice in each side of the poem.   They are very colorful and full page illustrations that are very eye catching and just as whimsical as the poems.  

A wonderful interview with Marilyn Singer can be found at Reading Rockets!  I strongly suggest if you use this in your classroom to allow your children to explore her biography and interview!  
Meet the Author:  A video from You Tube

There is also a companion to this book that I have not read but 
plan on finding it and adding it to my collection as well. 
It is called Follow Follow.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Balloons Over Broadway

Balloons Over Broadway

Written and Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Published Houghton Mifflin Books 2011
A Caldecott Honor Winner

Balloons Over Broadway is a nonfiction book about the designer of the Macy's Day Parade balloons, Tony Sarg.  "Tony Sarg loved to figure out how to  make things move.  He once said he became a marionette man when he was only six years old."  Tony started out by making a pulley system that could open and feed the chicken coop from his bed when he was young.  He succeeded and when he grew up he went to London and began to make puppets.  After London he moved to New York City and performed with his Marionettes on Broadway.

Macy's heard about Tony and "asked him to design a "puppet parade" for the store's holiday windows.  This lead them into asking Tony to help Macy's put on a parade for their employees that were immigrants for the holidays.  Tony, who was an immigrant himself, decided to help make a street carnival like parade so that the employees did not miss their own traditions so much.  The first one included costumes, horse drawn floats, and animals from the zoo on Thanksgiving Day in 1924.  It was a success and Macy's decided to have it every year but soon the lions and tigers that were added scared the children so again Tony was called on to "think of something SPECTACULAR" to replace the animals.  He thought of his puppets and had heavy blimp type material made of rubber.  He decided to put them on sticks to move them down the street.  These were a success but Tony realized that they would be seen by more if they floated in the air.  He worked on a new design that would be an upside down puppet.

He worked with the company out of Ohio that made blimps to make a rubberized silk and the balloons would be filled with Helium.  They were a huge success and have been seen every year since!
Balloon 1927 with pole
1937 with Helium the "sky marionette"

Photos from National Museum of American History 

Melissa presented this book in a way that would be very interesting to children.  She used gouache, collage, and mixed media and include a small piece about the art in the back of the book.  She states that she "used paper from old books to make papier-mache puppets, found objects, and fabrics to create fun colleges to illustrate what it may have felt like to be in Sarg's world."  She used great proportion and double pages spreads to show just how big the balloons were compared to the other pieces of the parade.  Some of the colors that she used gave an antique feel that starts on the end pages giving you the feel that you are going back in time to see something very special.  She also starts out with a photograph of Tony Sarg and a quote from him done in college.  Everything was perfectly planned and placed on the page.  For example there is one page that you have to turn the book to read and the illustrations are vertical.  This is done to show the new and improved "upside down marionette".  There is also one page that is done with a silhouette of Tony when he was trying to come up with an idea to get his balloons to work.  This shift in illustration helps the page to stand out and it helps the reader to realize that this was an important moment.  Sweet discusses why she used this for dramatic effect in an interview about the book.  The illustrations in this book are what make it such a good informational book.  The story itself is easy to read and tell a great story about Sarg and his development of the balloons but the illustrations bring the history of it to life.
This is a great book that gives some history to something that most people in America are familiar with.  I remember watching the Thanksgiving Parade every morning as my mom and grandma worked to prepare Thanksgiving lunch and dinner.  It was a very special time for me and something that I will continue with my daughter.  I loved reading about the history behind Sarg and the balloons and I think that Sweet did it in a way that is very intriguing and easy to understand for children.  I can't wait to add this book to my classroom library and use it when Thanksgiving rolls around and we discuss traditions.  

watch a reading of the book from You Tube

Check out these sites!
An Interview with Melissa Sweet
Article In Publisher's Weekly about Balloons Over Broadway
Here is a free activity kit to do with the book!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Helen Keller

Helen Keller 

By: Margaret Davidson

Helen Keller was a remarkable women and this is an easy to read biography about her life.  When she was 18 months old she developed a high fever that left her blind and deaf.  Her parents did not know what to do for a long time until Annie Sullivan came to live and teach her when she was young.  Helen was a terrible student at first, throwing temper tantrums out of anger and not understanding what was going on around her.   Annie finally got Helen to trust her and started teaching her to sign in her hand and understand that everything had a name.  From that moment on Helen was an excellent student and had a desire to learn including going to college.  She studied hard with Annie and received her college diploma from Radcliffe College.  

After her diploma she traveled speaking of her struggles and her triumphs. Annie traveled with her until her own death.  Helen did not know how she was going to go on without her but she got the help of another women named Polly Thomson, and although she could not replace what Annie did for her she helped her continue her lectures all over the world.  She even helped and visited soldiers wounded in WWII.  

Helen was remarkable because she did not let her disability stop her from doing anything.  In the book it is quoted that Helen said "Life is an adventure or it is nothing."  She died on June 1, 1968 at the age of 87.  She had lived an adventurous life full of travels, fun, and new things.  

I can not imagine what it would be like to be blind or deaf and Helen overcame both of those learning to live life to it's fullest.  She did not let anything stop her and I believe her story is one that should be read by all children.  Children that are struggling with disabilities or not can learn a valuable lesson from Helen Keller.  I enjoyed reading about her and her life and it amazed me.  In a world where so many children give  an excuse for not learning, Helen can show them that there are no excuses if you want something bad enough.  Nothing can keep you from your dreams if you have determination.  Davidson does a great job of keeping Helen's life simple enough for others to understand and intriguing to children.  

Read about Helen Keller 

A Child friendly video from You Tube.  


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Amelia Bedelia Means Business

Amelia Bedelia Means Business

By:  Herman Parish 
Illustrated by Lynne Avril 
Published:  Greenwillow Books 2013 

I grew up reading Amelia Bedelia books and loved them all.  They were so funny and reminded me of some of the sarcastic humor that my family has.  I was excited when I stumbled upon the new Amelia Bedelia and that there were chapter books with one of my favorite childhood characters.  I had no idea there was a change and I have to say I love the new change.

Amelia Bedelia is a very literal girl.  You can not be sarcastic or use fun things such as "Step on it" when your in a hurry.  Because whatever it is she will step on it.  She just doesn't understand those type things or why people don't just say what they mean.  In this book she is a young girl and a classmate of her's Suzanne comes to school with a brand new bike.  Amelia Bedelia looks at her bike and immediately decides she eneds a new one too.  Her parents tell her they can't buy a bike for her but will "meet her half-way."  Which of course takes a while for them to explain to her means they will pay for half the cost of the new bike but Amelia has to come up with the other half.  They decide she needs to get a new job.  She tries to be a waitress and to run a lemonade stand but of course her literal way of understanding things turns those into disasters for her and the people around her.  

She finally uses all her left over lemons from the stand to make lemon tart tarts with extra lemons as an apology to all.  When passing them out she learns how good they are and the diner owner that she previously worked for a few hours for tells her he will buy two dozen of the tart tarts everyday to sell to his customers and she will make $12 a day.   She finally has a business that will work for her. On the way back home she runs into Suzanne,literally, and her bike gets broken so they take it together to the bike shop where she learns there will be an original design bike parade and the winner of the most original decoration will win a new bike.  

She goes home and tells her family and they talk her into not trying to win the new bike but instead advertising her Tart Tarts Business so she makes her bike look like a lemon and plans to hand out tarts to the people while she is in the parade.  This of course is also a disaster for Amelia but in the end turns out well for her as she wins the bike and people learn about her tasty Lemon Tart Tarts.  

 I have to say while reading this I thought that there were way too many sayings that children would not get and often wondered if it was geared more for adult humor, but at the same time I remember reading it and still finding it funny.  For example she makes a sign for her Lemonade stand and it said Lots Of Lemons.  She decides to sell her Lemonade at the car lot she visited because a lot of people go there and she remembers going there and it being so hot.  She attaches her sign to the car salesman sign.  It reads Lots of Lemons and causes the salesman to get very angry.  Now as an adult I got that right away because bad cards are called lemons but Amelia and the children reading it would probably not know that.  That is just one example of how the humor is more related to adults.  

I still think children will find the book very entertaining but for different reasons.  They might not understand the sayings, but they will definitely laugh at the way Amelia Bedelia translates those for kids in a hilarious way.  As I read this I also pictured my kindergarten class and some of the things they would say or take things I was reminded of one time when I told the children we were going to do handwriting next.  It was the first week of school and a little boy took out his paper and pencil and proceeded to trace his hand.  He held it up and said he was done with his handwriting.  My TA and I had a good laugh about that one for years to come.  Children just don't understand things sometimes and they think they do.  That is exactly what happens to Amelia Bedelia all the time.  This is why I think she is a much better character as a young girl and more believable than when I read the older one and she was an adult.  I love the fact that Herman has shown us her as a child and I think it makes it all that more relate-able to children.  I also love that we have chapter books now that can develop into even more of a plot and story line.  

There are black and white illustrations throughout the story.  I have to say that Lynne Avril is becoming one of my favorite children's book illustrators.  Her illustrations add so much to the story.  Even though these are in black and white gouache, they are so friendly and inviting to children.  They just plain look fun and they bring Amelia Bedelia to life.  I love how even though this is a beginning chapter book for children they still have illustrations to help them understand the story even more.  

The 50th Anniversary of Amelia Bedelia was 2013 and with that brought a new series of chapter books focused on Amelia Bedelia when she was young.  This book is the first in the set.  It was written by the original writer's nephew Herman after she passed away.  He took over the legacy and it evolved into something great.  You can read more about him, the original creator Peggy Parish, and the 50th anniversary in this article in Publisher's Weekly.  I especially like the part where is says Peggy Parish used the children in her classroom to help create her stories for Amelia Bedelia.  I can see that and what makes the books so funny for children to read.  I also love the last paragraph of the article where Herman Parrish said “My aunt felt that if kids don’t discover the joy of reading within a certain window of time, they won’t develop a habit of reading for enjoyment,” he says. “That was her impetus for becoming a writer and for creating the Amelia Bedelia books.”  This is exactly what Amelia Bedelia does, she makes reading fun and this new series of chapter book with a younger Amelia continues to do that!

Monday, March 24, 2014

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan 

by:  Katherine Applegate 

I am Ivan.  I am a gorilla. 
It's not as easy as it looks." 

The One and Only Ivan is a fictional book about based on a true event.  Ivan, a gorilla was captured when he was an infant and lived as a human until he got too big to do so and then was put in a cage at a mall in Washington State.  Read more about Ivan here.   

This book will touch your heart, make you mad, and cry all in one sitting.  Ivan is caged in a mall and has no companions except for an elephant,Stella, in the cage next to him and a dog, Bob.His domain is taken care of by George and Mack is his owner.  Julia, George's daughter also visits him and draws and talk with him.

The story goes through how Ivan lives.  He watches westerns on his T.V. and remembers very little about his past.  (or so he says.)  Then along came a baby elephant, Ruby, brought in to bring more attraction to the Big Top Mall.  When Ruby arrives things start to change.  She does not want to perform and Mack does not treat her well.  Stella also gets ill and makes Ivan promise to take care of her and get her out of the life that she has had to lead.  Ivan does and when Stella does not survive he starts to paint.  

He paints and paints until Julia discovers what he has painted and puts the pieces together she declares they say HOME and have Ruby in a zoo.  There is also the local zoo logo painted on it.  Julia and her dad decide it is billboard big and put in on the billboard for the Big Top Mall, covering Mack's display.  

Change is what Ivan wanted and change is what he gets.  The display catches a lot of attention.  Soon the Big Top Mall gets a lot of attention but not necessarily the kind that Mack wants.  People come in to inspect the area and finally Ivan and Ruby are taken to the zoo.  A thought that terrifies Ivan because it is so different than what he knows.

He finally has his memories, his freedom (from the cage atleast), and a new family in the zoo. Bob even gets a family when he goes to live with Julia.  The ending is a feel good happy ending and you can't help but putting the book down feeling proud of Ivan and excited that he gets a family all his own.  It also made me feel a little sad for Stella and wished she could have lived long enough to also get her freedom.

I couldn't help but feel bad for Ivan and Ruby when they did not want to get in the containers to be transported to the zoo.  I almost felt bad for them because they were being forced to do something that scared them but I knew in the end they would be much better off.

I also started out feeling very mad at Mack and thinking why on earth did he start this with Ivan, but after hearing a little bit of his and Ivan's history it changed me to feeling a little bit sorry for him because he seemed to love Ivan at first like his own child.  This made me think about how we are parents and we raise children and have to let them go.  Mack should have let Ivan go a long time ago but he got greedy and or needed the money.

Applegate does a wonderful job of writing in short sentences and it gives us the illusion that Ivan is really telling us his story.  It shows us Ivan's thoughts and makes the story believable.  It also makes the story very easy to read.  There is also humor throughout the story that takes a sad story and gives it some lightheartedness.  We feel sad for Ivan for many reasons.  One page he discusses how "sadly I cannot read, although I wish I could." "Once, however, I was able to enjoy a book left in my domain by one of my keepers."  You think oh he looked at it but on the next page.  "It tasted like termite."  You remember after all he is a gorilla.

I really enjoyed this book and I thought it was a great way to get awareness about a situation and about animals in captivity along with creating a story that is interesting and creates hope in the human race to do the right thing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Brave Year of Firsts Tries, Sighs, and High Fives

My Brave Year of Firsts  Tries Sighs, and High Fives

Written By:  Jamie Lee Curtis 
Illustrated by:  Laura Cornell 

"The FIRST time I rode a two-wheeler alone, I crashed and my mom filmed it on her iPhone."

Jamie Lee Curtis is probably known for her acting but how many people have read her books!  I have several of them and love the ones I own but this one was new for me and I can say it did not disappoint.

This is a story about a little girl going to first grade and her trials and triumphs over many firsts that children all encounter in their lives both in school and out.  Curtis tells how first can be scary, exciting, make us laugh, and cry.  This book is not only about first activities such as riding your bike for the first time, the first day of school, and checking out your first library book.  It also talks about first lessons such as when she learned that it is okay to "stand up and say I did something wrong"  and it "starts to make it OK."

Curtis uses a poetic short sentence writing to create a picture that it is okay to make mistakes and life will be hard but its worth it.  She also has created a book with the theme that if you step out on a limb (or in our girls case a rock) and you "jump without fear" then you might just succeed and feel good about yourself for trying.

The last two pages of the book are my favorite because I think they give the message to children that there are going to be many firsts in their life and they should be brave and strong when they encounter them or else they might miss out on life.

"Some firsts just happen.
Some come when I try.
Some firsts make me smile.
Some firsts make me cry.
But I knew at that moment- though I've known all along -
That first things first happen when I'm brave, true, and strong."

 She also tells children that all firsts might not be great but they are apart of their life and important all the same. I think this book is good for children as well as adult because it will get them thinking about the firsts they had in their life and reminisce about their life.  It might even strike up a conversation between them and their children about their brave firsts.

The illustrations in this story match the daring and exciting life of the little first grade girl.  They start on the end papers with her trying and trying to ride her bike.  The accurate drawings while being colorful drawing could almost be pictures of a little girl and the different things that one does when trying to learn their "two-wheeler."  The full bleed pages allow us to feel like we are apart of the story and really help us to jump into the story.  I loved when she was talking about learning to first tie her shoes and Cornell has illustrated many different shoes with ways to try them around a small picture of the girl and her Auntie Cookie trying to tie shoes.  I also loved the quirkiness and the humor behind her illustrations such as when she started first grade.  The children in the story are doing many different things including some rocking huddled up under the table. Which, although was very grown up humor was very telling to how some children feel about starting something new.

Curtis and Cornell are a great team and together they have worked on 10 books about children and growing up and life.  You can check out these books at

Check out this interesting interview with Jamie about what she did to write this book and why "stepping out of our comfort zone" is something children adults both need a push to do.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

Juliet Dove Queen of Love

Juliet Dove, Queen of Love 

By:  Bruce Coville

I was attracted to this book because as a young girl/early teen I was very interested in books about girls and falling in love.  While looking for something that my young self would have wanted to read I stumbled upon Juliet Dove, Queen of Love.  After reading the back of the book I realized this was a fantasy book as it included magic and a "pair of wisecracking rats" that "help Juliet solve the puzzle of the powerful bauble."  Since fantasy books are not usually my most favorite genre I decided to give this one a read.  Maybe mixing a young love type story with fantasy would make the genre more likable for me....

Juliet Dove is a very shy girl in the sixth grade (right away I can identify with her as I was so painfully shy in school.)  She is so shy that her words sometimes come out angry and have earned her the title "Killer." She lives in a little town called Venus Harbor.  Her father known as Prof. to the neighbors holds a Poetry Jam on Valentines day and wants all his children to recite a poem.  This is not in Juliet's plans as she is shy and tried in the year before only to fail.  

Juliet is at school one day when she hurts the feelings of a girl and instead of apologizing she decides to take off and avoid them.  She starts running away and ends up in a mysterious magic shop.  In the shop are an owl and a lady.  The lady has a beautiful amulet that Juliet for some weird reason starts to "need" upon touching it.  The lady gives her the amulet and tells her to speak of it to know one and leave.  

After putting the amulet on Juliet starts noticing weird things.  All the boys in her class seem to be fighting over her attention, she sees weird fog appear, and a lady in the night, and two talking mice show up at her house.  Roxanne and Jerome were sent to Juliet from the magic shop she visited.  Mr. Elives, the old man shop owner sent them because he was worried after his owl told him a strange women gave a little girl an amulet.  He fears there is danger around the amulet and does not know how the women got in his shop while he was gone.  We also learn that the shop moves around and does not stay in one place, although the mice don't tell us how that happens.  

Juliet agrees to take the amulet off, but it won't come off.  It is stuck on Juliet and Mr. Elives decides to let Roxanne and Jerome stay with her until they figure out why.  The story takes a turn when he sends her to the librarian storyteller visiting.   The story starts to bring in the Greek Gods as the storyteller thinks this necklace once belonged to Helen of Troy and caused the war.  

Juliet starts getting even more worried and sets out with her brother and the rats to find out what the amulet is for and how to get it off. Coville takes us to different worlds, where the Gods and Goddess' live and on an adventure to find the key to the amulet.  

When the key is found, however, that is not the end of Juliet's adventure.  But instead we get another twist because the amulet holds cupid himself.  Once it is open things really start to heat up and cupid's powers get transferred to Roxanne and Jerome (the rats).  She also learns that Eris, Goddess, of discord, is the one that gave her the amulet and in turn has caused all the problems.  She also learns Eris has big plans for her at the Poetry Jam.  

Eris tries to ruin the poetry jam but Juliet actually gets on stage and tells a great poem about love.  This broke the spell on Juliet, but did not release Cupid from his prison.  Juliet travels once more to the other realm and with Aphrodite's touch the full spell is broken and Cupid is released to find his one true love.  

This book had many twists and turns and kept you guessing about what was really going on.  One minute we were in another dimension talking to goddess' and the next she was at the house.  This fast pace made it a little unbelievable for me as it felt very rushed but I think it also added to the mystery of the story.    It was an easy read and would be very cute for young girls to read.  I also liked how it included some mythology, which i did not know it would prior to reading it.  Mythology has always fascinated me and I think after this book young readers would be interested as well.  I have read Percy Jackson and I think this book makes mythology exciting for girls as it centers on the Goddess' and their stories.  

The talking rats surprised me at how big of a part they played in the story and I did not like when they took over Cupid's qualities and sported a bow and arrow of love.  This part alone made me stop reading and think what why did that happen and that is not believable.  They even saved the day when Juliet was almost captured by Eris by shooting her with arrows and at that point I realized why they had to become like Cupid but I didn't believe it very much.  They are also very bossy.  When meeting the rats for the first time they yelled at Juliet, stating, "and if you know what's good for you, you'd better, talk to us."  In the end though they become lovable and it was almost sad for Juliet to let them go back.  

The story has a great mystery to but I am not sure it was that believable to me.  The concept of talking rats and the quick  I think it is a good book and I would be interested to read other Magic Shop Books by Coville as there are several.  

Check out Coville's website he writes many books that would be very interesting for a young fantasy reader.  

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Watson's Go To Birmingham - 1963

The Watson's Go to Birmingham - 1963

By:  Christopher Paul Curtis 

This is a story about the weird Watson's.  The weird Watson's are a family consisting of Kenny- the middle child, Byron, the older brother,  Joetta - the younger sister, and of course their momma, and dad.  The Watson's are called the Weird Watson's but they seem like a normal loving family to me.  There is of course an older brother Byron who thinks he is "too cool for school."  He gets into a lot of trouble and causes a lot of mischief.  Byron finally pushes his parents enough that they decide to send him to stay with his Grandma in Alabama for the summer and possibly the whole next year. So the Weird Watson's set out on their journey in their Brown Bomber equipped with an Ultra Glide and set out for the south.

When they get to Alabama they find a different world than they are used to and the HEAT really gets to them.  They seem to have fun and Byron acts like a completely different person. When Kenny confronts him about his change of tune he just responds with "What you expect.?"  "You seen her. That bird's as old as dirt.  She's so old I bet she used to step over dinosaur turds.  I ain't gonna have her death on my hands."  Kenny realized all the "fight was out of Byron and they's only been in Birmingham for a couple of minutes."  Kenny, however, starts to act out and even almost drowns and gets taken by the "wool pooh"  when he goes swimming in a place he was not supposed to be.  But Byron saves him.

The turn of events in the story happens when Joetta goes off to a church in Alabama and a bombing happens.  Kenny runs to the church and goes inside witnessing the death of several girls and the destruction.  His sister is safe though Kenny is affected by what he saw.  The Weird Watson's leave Alabama that night.  Kenny doesn't understand why someone would do this and instead of understanding his emotions and talking about them takes up to hiding behind the couch in the World Famous Watson Pet Hospital.  His family worries about him and in the end Byron is the one that helps him work through his feelings and gets him to come out from behind the couch.  

This is a great novel with not only a great story line but a good piece of history embedded in with the events.  The epilogue in the back really sums up and brings to light the historical piece.  Curtis brings light to an important topic while creating a story that is fun and engaging that will want readers to continue reading.

I really liked how you did not get the historical aspects thrown in your face it was developed and went along with the story.  It was also the great climax of the story.  The book is almost in to two parts the Watson's before the bombing and the Watson's after.  Kenny, who's voice tells the story, really grows from a small child that is somewhat naive and playful to a young man all in the time of the book.  He has the roller coaster of emotions that a young boy would have and is a character, that although set back in 1963, is very easy to relate to for children.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Pirate of Kindergarten

The Pirate of Kindergarten 

By:  George Ella Lyon
Illustrated by :  Lynne Avril 
Published 2010
Schneider Award Book 

The Pirate of Kindergarten is about a young girl named Ginny.  Ginny loves reading and enjoys kindergarten but has many difficulties.  She sees two of everything, which makes kindergarten hard.  Ginny does not give up though and she tries many things to help herself.  She closes one eye, puts her face close in the book, and "ties her mind tight."  All of these things do not fix her problem of seeing double.  Vision screening day comes and a nurse checks Ginny's eyes.  He finally notices when she can not read the chart well that she has double vision.  Ginny visits the eye doctor and in turn learns that she has to wear a patch and glasses.  Ginny embraces her patch and declares herself the pirate of Kindergarten.  She can now read well, run fast, and complete all her kindergarten tasks well.  

This is a great story about never giving up and persevering even when things seem difficult. Ginny is a loving character that makes you pull for her and feel for her right until the very end.  But then you also feel so proud of her and how she deals with her situation that you can not feel sorry for her.  Children of all ages can relate to Ginny, even if they do not have a disability.  They have all seen something as hard at one time or another in their short lives.  Everything is new to a 5 year old and this book has a great message to keep trying to and to do your best no matter what.  Lyon, writes in short sentences but tells a powerful story.  She captures what it is like in a kindergarten classroom right down to Ginny getting "so mad, she stuck the scissors in the paste."  

The illustrations in the book are vivid and colorful.  They are what attracted me to the story to start with and I think add something extra to the story.  They really extend the story and show us exactly what it would be like to be in Ginny's shoes.  By doubling the chairs, words in books, and pictures to cut out we see just how hard Ginny has it.  Avril uses chalk pastels mixed with acrylic medium and color pencils to give us that young child feel and create pictures that draw the reader in.  She also uses diagonal lines and great movement to show Ginny's journey and to move the story along.  

This story is much more than about a girl Kindergarten pirate.  It sheds light on an issue that people do not think about often.  It creates a great conversation starter for children and helps them to empathize with those around them that may have difficulty in seeing or other abilities.  

Check out this great interview with the artist of this story!

George Ella Lyons webpage has some great information!

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian 

Author:  Sherman Alexie
Art By:  Ellen Forney
National Book Award and Odyssey Award Winner  
Published:  2007, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers  

"I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms. And the tribe of cartoonists.  And the tribe of teenage boys. And the tribe of small-town kids. And the tribe of Pacific Northwesterners. And the tribe of tortilla chips-and-salsa lovers. And the tribe of poverty. And the tribe of funeral-goers. And the tribe of beloved sons. And the tribe of boys who really missed their best friends. It was a huge realization. And that's when I knew that I was going to be okay. ” 
― Sherman AlexieThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

I have never listened to an audio book that was not a picture book and used for my Kindergarten listening center.  So listening to this Odyssey Award book on CD was challenging for me at first.  The voice at first was difficult for me to get used to and not something that I thought I was going to like but in the end I found I was sad when it was over.  The book made me laugh out loud and feel sorrow for not only the main character but the Spokane Indians living on the reservation.  The book which is said to be partially autobiographical is written in first person and it makes you feel like you are right there along with the protagonist Arnold Junior Spirit living his life with him. It is also interesting because it is narrated by the author Sherman Alexie himself.

Arnold Junior Spirit is a 14 year Spokane Indian that lives on the reservation.  He was born with "water on the brain" and had surgery when he was just a baby that he was not expected to live from.  He was left with many difficulties as a result including some brain damage.  This leads him to being made fun of and beaten up on a regular basis by his fellow classmates and reservation Indians.  The only people that do not treat him badly are his family and his best friend Rowdy.  With encouragement from one of his reservation teachers he decides to leave the reservation and go to an all white small country school in the town nearby.  This makes him not only an outsider in his new school but also hated by those on the reservation for leaving them behind, including Rowdy. This hatred is brought about greatly in the book including when Arnold's new basketball team goes to play his old reservation school.  All the reservation people old and new treat Arnold bad and he leaves the game early in an ambulance with a concussion and a few stitches to his head.
He starts his new school and at first feels like it was a mistake.  No one notices him and they make fun of him here too.  Arnold, however, sticks up for himself and the new white students start to respect him because he stood up to them and also because he makes friends with a popular girl and in the end become his friends.  He even gets a somewhat girlfriend with a popular girl named Penelope.   They see that he is a genuine person and stop judging him by his ethnicity.  Alexie's story takes you through Arnold's ups and downs on the reservation and off. Arnold struggles with the death of several family members all at the hands of alcohol.  He sees the amount of drinking that goes on with everyone around him on the reservation and he doesn't understand it.  He overcomes and crushes his friends spirits as he beats them in a basketball game, which he thought he wanted but after seeing their disappointment he is ashamed of taking something away from them.  In the end he is happy with his decision and is proud of himself  even though people call him white on the inside.  He and his friend Rowdy also reconcile and Rowdy says that he thinks Arnold is a nomadic Indian like the old days.  He is set to go where ever he needs to go to live but Rowdy is not.  They decide to stay in touch no matter where their lives take them.

I really enjoyed this book and like it even more after I watched a video with author Sherman Alexie detailing how much was real in his life and how he overcame it to be what he is today.  I think Alexie takes does a great job of showing the struggles that Indians go through to make their life about more than just the reservation but in a way that is interesting.  It also touches on topics such as poverty, alcoholism, violence, death and young sexual thoughts.  The book has many funny parts though and Alexie's humor shows through even through the tough subjects that are addressed.  It is also a great story over overcoming the life that has been one has been given and making your life your own.  The story made me think about the discrimination and hatred that happens with Indians but also about how they stick together and how they have reverse discrimination.  The Indian people are very strong willed, I know this as I have a grandfather who is Indian, but they are also very stuck in their ways.   It also made me sad that so many reservation Indians still to this day do not see that they can better themselves and feel stuck on the reservation.  Because Alexie writes about his own struggle and what he actually experienced growing up, I think it makes it more real and brings light the truth around reservation life.

Because I listened to the audio version, I did not get to experience the pictures in the book.  I did however check out a paperback copy to look at and I think the comic type illustrations add to the plot.  Especially since Arnold talked about loving to draw in the book.

I think this would be controversial for some schools to use because of some of the profanity and discussions in the book.  I do think it is a good story and should be looked at carefully before being shared with students.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems

Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems

By: Francisco X. Alarcon
Illustrated by:  Maya Christina Gonzalez
Published:  1997 Children's Book Press 
1998 Pura Belpre Author Honor Book 

This is a poetry book in English and Spanish.  There are 20 poems included about spring ranging in topics such as Ode To Corn, Chile, Words are Birds, and more.  The poems are short and span the pages in small columns. They are fun and exhibit a lot about life and different times in that life.  The English version and Spanish version in separate columns.   A sample of one of my favorite poems ....
Dream                                                           Sueno
I dreamed                                                      sone que habia
a garden                                                         un jardin
in every home                                                 en cada casa

tomatoes                                                       en las ventanas
grew in                                                          de las oficinas
office windows                                              crecian jitomates

pepole greeted                                              la gente
each other                                                     se saludaba
 with flowers                                                  con flores

Some of the poems were hard to understand or did not seem to make much sense to me but some others where very powerful such as the one on Cinco de Mayo or a Tree for Cesar Chavez.  There were also very fine print to include information about these two topics.

The author is noted in the book as an award winning Chicano poet and educator who is considered a leader of the Chicano literary movement.  You can read more about him at the poetry foundation.  I do not speak Spanish myself so I have no way of knowing if the translations are accurate but I do know that Alarcon grew up in Mexico and was inspired to write his poetry by the songs his grandmother used to sing.  I feel like this would make them more authentic in nature.

The illustrations are vibrant and span the full bleed page.  Some of them are double page spread and illustrate a whole scene.  The illustrations really made the poems easier to understand to me.  They match the words on the page well.  My favorite was the illustrators take on the Cinco de Mayo poem.  There is a lively party like atmosphere created with the painting that Gonzalez gives us.  It also shows us a little about the culture down do the food illustrated on the table.  On the back of the book it says Gonzalez dreamed up the characters for Laughing Tomatoes from her own life and imagination.  You can definitely tell from her illustrations that there is a mix of both.
This illustration for example has something that is real and an imaginary piece as well.  A mother and her daughter with flowers, gardens and flowers at every house.  But then as her imagination shows her translation of "and cars were a thing of the past," shows a flying car in the background.  

I think this book would be great to use in the classroom, especially for bilingual students.  You could have students read the poems in both language and have them draw their own interpretation of the poems as an extension.  

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

By:  John Boyne
Published:  2006

"If you do start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a 9 year old boy called Bruno.  (Though this isn't a book for nine-year-olds.)  And sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence.  Fences like this exist all over the world.  We hope you never have to encounter such a fence."  

This is the only description on the book cover so I was immediately intrigued to read the book when I stumbled upon it while searching for a historical fiction novel on the Holocaust at the library.  The jacket cover says:  "the story of  The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is very difficulty to describe.  Usually we give some clues about the book on the jacket, but in this case we think that would spoil the reading of the book.  We think it is important that you start to read without knowing what it is about."

I couldn't help but thinking I shouldn't summarize the book but then how would I discuss it.  Bruno is the main character and the story is told from his perspective.  Bruno is a young German boy, whose father is a commander in the military.  He starts off like any normal little boy.  He goes to school, has three best friends, and enjoys sliding down his great banister in his house.  He comes home one day and finds his house being packed up so that his family can move because of his father's job.  I immediately stopped and thought about my own daughter and her having to move due to her father being in the military.  I know that it is no where near the same situation because it is not war time and my husband is not doing horrible things but I imagine she would be just as hurt to leave her house, friends, school, and simple things children get attached to such as a stair banister.  Reading about his reaction to him having to move made the book feel very real to me.   

Suddenly Bruno's family has to move because the "Fury" (führer or Hilter I had to look this up because I was not sure what it meant at first)  came to his house and has a new position for him.  Bruno does not understand any thing about this except that "his father was a man to watch and that the Fury had big things in mind for him.  Oh and that he had a fantastic uniform too."  His mother tells him that "It's a very important job..... a job that needs a very special man to do it."  Bruno protests a lot but it does not change anything and he finds himself on a train and arriving at a house that is much less extravagant than his house in Berlin with the name of "Out-with" (Auschwitz)  There are no other friends around or houses, just woods and a large fence.  On the other side of the fence are a bunch of people with the same pajamas and that all live together in huts.  It amazes me that he does not ask his mother or father more about the people on the other side of the fence but almost seems to ignore the fact that they are there for some time.  I don't think that would be the case for many 9 year old boys I know.  They would surely have many questions about it.  

The first half of the story goes through Bruno missing home and hating his new home.  There is very little excitement and I was actually a little bored.  Bruno seems to not understand anything that is going on around him and definitely does not seem to understand or know about the war or even who the Jews were.  He is oblivious to what is going on around him and I have to wonder if that was the case for young children during the time.  

One day because "he no longer had any friends to play with and it wasn't as if Gretel (his sister) would ever play with him" he decided to go out and do "the one thing that he was able to do on his own and that he had done all the time back in Berlin, and that was exploring."  He grabbed his coat and boots and went out walking and as he was walking he wondered far away from his house and along the great fence.  He thought to himself that it was "funny that I've never wondered about those people" and why "that none of them had ever been invited back to the house."  He went out exploring even though his mother and father had not allowed him "anywhere near the fence or the camp, and most particularly that exploration was banned at Out-With."  

He goes anyway.

He walked and walked and was almost about to turn around without finding much when he saw a "dot in the distance."  He walked closer to it and found that it was a boy.  The boy was on the other side of the fence and he immediately starts to talk to him.  The boy's name was Shmuel and they learn that they are exactly the same age with the same birthday and that they were both brought from their homes to "Out-With" by very different ways.  They become fast friends and Bruno decides to come and talk to him the next day.  They meet and talk together for the next year.  Through their discussion we learn little about how the Jews were treated in the camp.  Bruno still does not seem to understand much of it though and the severity of the situation.  Bruno sneaks Shmuel food out when he visits and no one notices that Bruno explores to talk to Shmuel everyday or that Shmuel is sitting far off by the fence. I found this a little unbelievable.  Shmuel gets away from his hut and just sits by the fence and from what I have read about Auschwitz I do not know if that would happen.  

The two even stay friends when Shmuel is brought to the house by a very harsh young solider named Lieutenant Kotler.  Shmuel is brought to clean glasses for a big party.  Bruno sneaks him some food but Kotler notices and blames Shmuel for stealing the food.  Bruno does not stick up for Shmuel because he is scared of Kotler.  Shmuel obviously gets beaten for this as he shows up several days later at the fence with many bruises.  Bruno apologizes and Shmuel forgives him.  

The boys continue to be friends and talk until one day after Bruno's mother gets into an argument with her father telling him how unhappy she is there.  She convinces him they need to go back to Berlin.  When Bruno hears this he realizes he likes his friendship so much that he does not want to go.  He makes a trip to Shmuel to tell him the news and Shmuel is sad.  Sad because his father has gone missing.  They decide together to make one last adventure. before he goes.  This adventure happens on the last 15 pages of the book and was a shock to me.  I did not see it coming.  I will leave it at that as to not tell the ending......

I found this book different than others I had read that featured the Holocausts.  Many are from the experience of the Jewish people in the camps.  This one did have some of that from Shmuel's accounts but was more about Bruno and how his life was affected.  This story was one that was simple.  It was simply written, which I think makes it seem more real of the way a 9 year old would say it.  It is not a history book in that it does not contain a lot of facts and things about the time period.  It also is rather slow moving at the beginning but the turning point is when Bruno meets Shmuel.  You are sitting on the edge of your seat and turning the pages faster because you wonder what is going to happen.  This unlikely friendship would not be tolerated if anyone found out and I was just waiting for the moment when someone discovered it but instead it ended in a totally different way than I was picturing.  

I kept coming back to this thought as I read the book that children are not born with hate for others but instead it is learned through their experiences and family influence.  I think that is the moral of this story.  That underlying theme kept coming up as Bruno would find bits and pieces about the Jewish people.  He was very naive to their differences and even when he found them he did not understand why that was bad.  When Shmuel was in his house they look at their hands together and notice that other than the fact that Bruno's were much fatter they were the same.  Bruno also has to shave his head at one point because of a bout of lice and him and Shmuel also comment that they look the same again except for Bruno being bigger.  It makes me sad that the world corrupts these naive and loving children with their thinking and hatred for others.  It also made me think of the times in my own classroom that the children were kind to each other or did not seem to notice any differences of their own and instead of children learning from adults, I thought we should take a step back and watch and learn from them when it comes to humanity and loving each other.  

The two page author's note in the back is a great addition adding that he thought "the only respectufl way for me to deal with this subject was through the eyes of a child, and particularly through the eyes of a rather native child who couldn't possibly understand the terrible things that were taking place around him.  After all only the victims and survivors can truely comprehend the awfulness of that time and place; the rest of us live on the otehr side of the fence, starting through from our own comfortable place, tryin in our own clumsy way to make sense of it all."  I thought this was an insightful way to look at writing a book on the Holocaust.  

Check out Boyne's website for more information on him and his books. 

This book was also turned into a movie.  I have never seen it but would be interested to watch it to see how it compares to what Boyne wrote.  Watch the movie trailer here and read more about the movie version.