Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Misfits

As I cracked open the first page of this novel, I was immediately welcomed by the strong sense of voice that Bobby had in his narration. It is this voice that helped me understand and process the events of the book. James Howe did a wonderful job of writing from Bobby’s perspective, for his voice was unmistakable, so realistic that I often felt as though I were listening to a middle school student talk. This strong sense of voice was one of my favorite literary elements that were combined to create The Misfits. Because the voice helped the reader gain a strong understanding  of Bobby as a character, I felt as though I was able to really understand him. At the conclusion of the book, I knew who Bobby was as a person, what made him tick, and what drove him crazy. His unique voice really brought the story to life, capturing and propelling me forward.
There was no shortage of strong and personable characters in this book. Aside from Bobby, Addie, Skeezy, Joe, and Mr. Kellerman (Killer Man) brought the story to life. It was easy to create images of them in my mind, further drawing me into the story. I felt just as thought I were a fly on the wall, able to physically observe and experience all that the characters were experiencing. This sense of complete immersion in the story made it an interesting and worthwhile read. The Misfits evoked feelings similar to those that I experienced when I, myself was in middle school, creating a strong bond between myself as a reader and the characters in the book.
I was surprised by the articulation skills of these characters, including their ability to communicate as effectively as they did. Part of this effective communication was important to my experience, as a reader, for it helped me to better relate to the characters and become a fly on the wall in the action. Not only were the characters able to articulate their feelings and beliefs in regard to the student council third party, but even more important, their feelings, aspirations, and understandings of the world. Overall, I felt very connected with the characters, as I was pulled along through the entirety of the plot.
This book has several important messages that readers can take way at the completion of the reading experience. First of all, that it is important to fight for what you believe in. Even if you don’t “win” or get “your way” or “change the world” (or in this case the school), there are important consequences of fighting for what you believe in. In the process, the ultimate goal should be to make people more aware of issues that you feel are important. It is okay to speak your mind and fight for what you think is right. Not everyone is going to agree with you, and there will always be struggles and obstacles, but there is something to be said for those who stand up for what they believe. If anything, The Misfits showed that even small changes in attitudes and behavior can result from our efforts. While the No-Name Party didn’t win the student council election, there were many positive outcomes that resulted from their fight for “justice for all.” Possibly most important, was the pride and self-cofidence that Bobby felt at the conclusion of the story.
Another important lesson to be gleaned from this story is that name calling can be very hurtful. Furthermore, when students observe behaviors that are detrimental to the morale of the student body, with hard work and determination, improvements can be made. Often, the most important step is to bring as issue to everyone’s attention, just as the No-Name Party did with the name-calling. This is a powerful message to provide for students. In the end, the principal of the Paintbrush Falls school was able to initiate positive changes in the school based upon the No-Name Party’s platform, that “sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirit.” Along with this message is that which Bobby learned from Mr. Kellerman: it is important not to judge a book by its cover. As human beings, we are all dynamic individuals who are so much more than what the world, in an instant, observes. There is a lot more to each of us than that which meets the eye, which makes it important to get to know one another on a deeper and more meaningful level. This idea was represented not only in the interaction between Bobby and Mr. Kellerman, but also between the Gang of Five and "outsiders" such as DuShawn.
All in all, I found this to be a very powerful book and an enjoyable read. The literary elements combined beautifully to create and powerful and very moving story that the reader was completely immersed within. The themes that continually arose were ones that provide an opportunity to discuss important life lessons and goals that we should all strive to achieve. The strong narration by Bobby would make this a wonderful read for any student of his age, for he really embodies and discusses some crucial issues that children of his age face.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Jacqueline Woodson Experience

          After reading The Dear One and conversing with classmates who had read other novels by Jacqueline Woodson, several commonalities arose. Primarily, Woodson writes about deep and controversial issues, including sexuality, race, teenage pregnancy, death, alcoholism, divorce, socioeconomic status, crime, and abortion. All of these are have topics in and of themselves, but Woodson often combines them, incorporating more than one into each story. For many, these would be considered controversial literature, for the topics addressed are controversial. What I found through my experience with her work though, is that she incorporates them tastefully, without the controversy being on the forefront. While she may discuss “controversial issues,” when reading her work, it is easy to get lost in the story and forget that she is talking about such controversial issues.
            Her work is very successful in the way that she draws the reader in and creates a situation in which the reader cannot put down the book. I would not say that her books are suspenseful, but they are page-turners in which the reader becomes so immersed that he/she can’t put the book down. The characters are all interesting and very three-dimensional, making them very dynamic characters. It is these characters that work to propel the stories forward, in addition to the difficult topics that are addressed. The “controversial issues” create a certain mood in her books, again that draws the reader in. Since the moods are so strong and personal, as readers, we feel connected to the characters and the situations that they may face. Overall, Woodson’s use of the literary elements is very successful and creates wonderful stories that are interesting reads.
            I was unaware prior to class discussion that Woodson’s books all contain a bit about her own personal life, but knowing this makes the books seem even less controversial for some reason. To know that the stories are based upon an actual individual’s experience makes them more powerful and relatable. While controversy might be intertwined in Woodson’s novels, with a mature audience, they are definitely doable. I would strongly argue for the inclusion of some of her work in a classroom experience, for her writing is beautiful and her stories are of a length that is easy to handle. The controversial topics spark interesting and meaningful conversations that would be important to have with maturing students. While I would not suggest such novels for use in an elementary school, they would be very appropriate for a middle school English class. At that point in life, many students, if they have not already, will begin experiencing and hearing about some of the deep topics that Woodson’s books touch upon. Therefore, the classroom would be the best environment to begin discussions and sorting through such topics.
            Overall, I really enjoyed my “Woodson Experience” and feel as though she has a lot to contribute to the literary world. 

My Name is Yoon

Written by Helen Recorvits, Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
Multicultural Children’s Picture Book: K-3
Stars: 4.5 (out of 5)

Summary: This is a story of a Korean girl who moves to the United States and must begin attending American School. She struggles with having to give up her Korean name, and refuses to write her American name, Yoon, on any of her papers.

            In this story, Yoon struggles a lot with her move to America. She feels out of place in her new life and wishes that she could go back to Korea. Thus, the story depicts how challenging it can be to move to a new country and be expected to adopt that new country’s rules, traditions, and expectations. Yoon struggles with giving up her Korean name, for I believe that for her, it symbolizes her Korean roots. It is a struggle that many of today’s students face: how to assimilate into the American culture without losing your home culture at the same time. It takes time for Yoon to adjust to the American schools and eventually, she writes her name in English, after trying out several other English words such as cupcake and cat.
            This book has many places in the classroom. First, it would be a nice read if I were to have a class comprised of several new students, particularly from other countries and cultures. Yoon’s story might help them feel more at ease and comfortable in their new environment. Even if I do not have new students, it would still be a useful theme to explore, for my students to better understand what it might feel like to move to a new school or place.
            The story also incorporates information about the Korean culture. Thus, this book could be used not only to explore Korea, but could be the springboard to explore the various cultures that my students may occupy, including those that may not be represented in my classroom. With my students connecting with their own cultures and sharing those with the class, I could find similar multicultural stories to supplement their cultural explorations as well. My Name is Yoon could act as either a window book or a mirror boo, depending on the individual students in my class. I think that this book could be an appropriate one to use, for Yoon is a character that is around the same age of the students that I would share the book with, and thus, despite the cultural differences, they could relate to her.
            While there are many lessons that could come from this book through its use in the classroom, it is also simply an enjoyable read with entertaining illustrations that children would love to look at. Meanwhile, the students would be learning something about another culture and the struggles that such a student might face coming to an American school. 


Written & Illustrated by Allen Say
Multicultural Children’s Picture Book: K-3
Stars: 4 (out of 5)

Summary: This is the story of an adopted child, Allison, who looks nothing like her parents. Allison struggles with the fact that her mother and father aren’t her real parents. In the end, she finds a stray cat that does not have any parents, and decides to take him in, recognizing that this is just what her parents did for her.

            This book touches on several important components for children to explore in literature. First of all, this story talks about adoption. Included in this is how a young adopted girl feels, as she looks very different from her parents. When she watches the other kids in her preschool class get picked up by their parents, she recognizes that the children all look like their parents. In her case, she does not, and she struggles with the anger she feels because of this. What I particularly like about this story is that the reader is able to really connect with Allison and feel her pain and anger as she explores her adoption. For adopted children, Allison would be a great character to connect with. Regardless of her anger and sadness, in the end, Allison is able to work through these feelings and finally recognizes that her parents are her parents, even if they did not give birth to her.
            Another aspect of this story is that Allison is a young Japanese girl. She has her doll, Mei Mei, who is a Japanese doll herself and is the only person that Allison can find who looks like her. She struggles with her appearance and looking different from her parents. I think part of her difficulty is that she does not have a sense of her Japanese culture. As she was raised by Caucasian parents in the United States, Allison is not familiar with her Japanese roots. All that she has to remind her of Japan and the Japanese culture is her doll, Mei Mei, and a kimono that her grandmother sends her from Japan. I think that Allison would feel more secure in her own person if she had the opportunity to explore and experience some of her native culture. This being said, it also begs the question of whether or not her Japanese roots are part of her culture, considering that she has grown up in the United States. This all depends on how we define culture and what we consider to be the important aspects of culture.
            I think this would be a fun book to read to students, for the illustrations are very realistic and Allison is a character that is easily relatable. The book is focused on the outward appearance that makes Allison different from her parents. It would be a nice way to begin a lesson or discussion of how outward appearance is not as important as what is on the inside. We all might look different, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, or even friends. It is also a book that explores how family is deeper than what is on the outside. Just because we might not be living with our biological parents, or maybe we have an adopted sibling, or a cousin living at our house, doesn’t mean that we are not a family. In this sense, my class could also explore what it means to be a family.


Written & Illustrated by Kevin Henkes
Children’s Picture Book: K-2
Stars: 5 (out of 5)

Summary: Owen, a young boy who is about to start school, is absolutely attached to his blanket. His parents try everything to get him to part with the blanket, until finally, they have a brilliant idea that solves the “blanket issue.”

            This was by far one of my favorite children’s books when I was a child. What I particularly like about this book now, is that the message is one that I feel many children might be able to relate to. The main character, Owen, has a comfort object, his blanket, and is nervous about going to school without it. Many children have favorite stuffed animals, pillows, blankets, etcetera that they bring everywhere they go. This story could help teach children that they are not alone in this desire, for many others, including Owen, feel just the same.
            While I really enjoy this story, it probably wouldn’t be a great book to use in the classroom with students older than kindergarten. It’s a fun read, and I think many children would enjoy reading it or looking through the pictures on their own. Kevin Henkes does a great job incorporating his illustrations and using them to help tell the story. Even beginning readers could tackle Owen and likely enjoy the story. Therefore, I feel as though it would be an appropriate book to have in a classroom library for kids to read on their own, but I would shy away from using it with the whole class. There is not much that could be done with this book, other than simply listening to it and enjoying the story. Owen is a very relatable character that the reader can easily connect with on an emotional level. 

Monday, November 8, 2010


Written & Illustrated by Janell Cannon
Children’s Picture Book: 1-4
Stars: 5 (out of 5)

Summary: In this story a young bat is separated from her mother when she falls out of her tree and into a bird’s nest. Stellaluna is raised as a bird, although she finds herself very different from her bird brothers and sisters. In the end, Stellaluna is reunited with her mother, though she continues to spend time with her bird friends.

            I never read this book as a child, but had heard a lot about it, so I figured that it was time to give it a shot. What I really like about this book is the mix between fiction and nonfiction. Although this is a fictional story, there is a lot of nonfictional information about bats and birds incorporated into the story. Following the story, there is a few pages of information about bats as well, providing an additional learning experience. The story itself is very touching, for it is portrays the friendship between two animals that are so different, yet end up living together in the same nest. Though Stellaluna has difficulty with many of the bird activities and tastes, she does her best to appreciate them. She also does not hesitate to try all of them, suggesting that she is flexible and willing to make the most out of her situation. While some might sulk in such a situation, Stellaluna rises to the occasion and thus has a positive experience. This is an important message for children: no matter what, they should always face new challenges and activities with an open mind and a positive attitude. Additionally, they should be willing to learn from one another, even their classmates who might be very different from themselves.
            I would use this book in my classroom to talk about tolerance of one another’s cultures, habits, and lifestyles. While we may not all be accustomed to the things that our classmates might be, it is okay, and the best we can do is to learn from one another. The end of the story highlights this point, as Stellaluna has the opportunity to teach the birds how to eat and sleep like bats. Through our experiences, we are able to learn more about the world, helping us appreciate our own lives as well as those of others around us. This story would also be a means to discuss and share times when my students have been in situations where they feel out of place and like they might someplace unfamiliar and frightening. My guess is that many students have felt this way before, and by sharing with one another, my hope is that we could help create a strong and safe classroom environment. There are those universal themes throughout this story that I would bet many of my future students could relate to and bond over.
            Another application for this book would be during a lesson on bats or other animals. It would also be an appropriate way to begin introducing nonfiction to those students who make be reluctant to read nonfiction. Since this story incorporates a bit of both, it would help those reluctant students transition and recognize some of the features of nonfiction. 

Across the Alley

Written by Richard Michelson, Illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Multicultural Children’s Picture Book: 2-6 
Stars: 5 (out of 5)

Summary: This is the story of two young boys who live right next to one another, but are not allowed to play together. Once everyone in their houses have fallen asleep, the boys open up their windows and form a strong friendship across the alley.

            This book is likely one that many kids can relate to. Often, children are the victims of their parents’ stereotypes. Thus, such children are forbidden from interacting or playing with a child of a different race, religion, ethnicity, etcetera, but do not understand why. To children, this other child is just someone who is seen as a potential friend or playmate. Children are able to look past differences and play with one another, not yet clouded by society, judgment, and issues of power. Similarly, for these two boys, sharing between their windows is nothing more than a friendship. While the boys are forbidden by their parents and grandparents to interact with one another, the two share late at night when everyone else is asleep. This story is powerful in that it is a view of differences from the eyes of a child. To children, who are not yet jaded, difference in insignificant and often something that goes unnoticed. In the end, the boys are caught, but instead of being scolded for their actions, they are rewarded and provided an opportunity to show off their new talents. I particularly like the way that the ending is handled, for often, endings of similar stories result in upset parents, only furthering the animosity and differences.
            The two boys in the story share their talents and passions with one another. One child plays the violin, while the other is a baseball player. The violinist teaches his baseball friend how to play the violin, while the baseball player teaches the violinist to catch a baseball. This book would provide an opportunity for my students to explore their own talents, and to share those with the rest of the class. By giving each child an opportunity to share something that they are passionate about or particularly good at, all of the students could learn from one another. This would be a time for those who might be minority students, ethnically different, racially diverse, religious or nonreligious, female or male, etcetera, to share with one another. This experience would broaden students’ awareness of other cultures, hobbies, and important aspects of their classmate’s lives. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Giver

The Giver
Illustrated by Lewis Lowry
Chapter Book: 5-8
Stars: 5 (out of 5)

            Having read this book while I was in middle school, I assumed it would be a light read the second time. Maybe I just have a poor memory, or maybe I have grown and matured as both a reader and a person, but this second time around was a much more powerful experience. I’m not sure if I just noticed more of the subtle, yet powerful details this time around, or if my prior experience with the book had been shallower. Regardless, after this experience, I walked away from the book with a much greater appreciation of the wonderful writing that made this book such as enjoyable read.
            The setting of this book is so unique and interesting, that it immediately draws the reader in. As the reader, we are thrown into the story, learning bits and pieces of the time and place as we read further. Things are not explained in the beginning of the story but rather, unravel as we read deeper into the book. This technique that Lewis Lowry uses really draws the reader in. We want to keep reading to find out more information and help make sense of the information that we already have. Since the story takes place in such an unfamiliar place, we cannot fill in the blanks simply by relying upon our own life experiences. Instead, we must rely upon the story.
            Jonas, as a character, is very dynamic, experiencing tremendous growth over the course of the story. He begins as this young, sheltered boy, simply enjoying his youth. That all changes once he attends the committee of twelve and is assigned his role in the community as the receiver. As soon as his job training begins, his world is turned upside down, as he has to face hardships that threaten to destroy his idea of life in his community. As readers, we embark on this journey with Jonas, and thus, experience the pain and confusion that he experiences. At the end, we feel very close to Jonas and have developed a strong, emotional connection with him, hoping that he does not die in the final pages.
            One of my favorite aspects of this book was the focus on the power of words. Repeatedly during the story, characters are reminded to be careful with their words, as words have incredible power and should not be used haphazardly. I particularly liked this component, for I agree that words carry tremendous power and can largely influence those around us. At the same time, Lowry uses powerful and specific words to help tell Jonas’ story. His choice in language plays an important role in the telling of the story. Thus, I find it a bit ironic that the characters discuss the power of words in the context of the story.
            I can understand why this book might be considered to be controversial, as there is exploration of death, suicide, and euthanasia. At the same time though, there is a great deal that can be learned from this book. It is a strong story that could definitely find a place in a classroom. When faced with the opportunity to fight for controversial literature in my future classroom, this would definitely be a book that I would fight for. Death is as struggle that many students have to face, and this book provides the perfect springboard into discussing a topic. While death is talked about in The Giver, it is talked about in a very humbling manner, as something that naturally descends upon us all, and is not a weakness or something to fear. While suicide and euthanasia play a small part as well, they are aspects of the story that may not be clear to all readers, and a following discussion could be very enlightening and powerful for students. Overall, even with the controversy, this book is arguably one of my favorite pieces of literature, and I feel very strongly about its merits and strengths as a work of art.  

The Dear One

Written by Jacqueline Woodson
Chapter Book: 5-8
Stars: 4.5 (out of 5)

Summary: Feni, a dynamic twelve year old, struggles with the decision that her mother has made to take in Rebecca, a pregnant fifteen year old who is approaching her third trimester. What begins as a hostile relationship evolves into a powerful friendship between the two girls.

            As a mature, adult reader, I found this story to be very powerful. The two main characters, Feni and Rebecca, are both extremely dynamic characters. This book was somewhat of a coming of age story, as both Feni and Rebecca tackle some of life’s most difficult challenges. The way that they both grow through their living together under one roof is extraordinary. Because we, as readers, get to experience such struggles with the girls, in the end, we feel a very powerful connection with them. Emotionally, I felt sad at the end of the story, fearing that Rebecca and Feni had become too close to be separated. At the same time, I was proud of the ways in which they grew as characters, and was confident in their abilities to succeed.
            That all being said, this book could be interpreted as a very controversial piece of literature. The story is centered around the pregnancy of a fifteen year old girl. Rebecca is a teenager who had unprotected sex with her boyfriend, becoming pregnant. At first, she tries to hide her pregnancy from her mother, until her mother walks in on her in the bathroom. Due to her mothers’ fragile state, Rebecca goes to live at Feni’s house, Feni’s mother being a great college friend of her mother. Without this explicitly stated, it would seem as if Rebecca’s pregnancy is too much for her distraught mother to handle. Thus, the pregnancy of a fifteen-year-old child, while unfortunately common, is something that could be considered highly controversial, enough so to ban it from libraries and schools.
            To make matters even more complicated and controversial, Woodson has included a lesbian couple in the story. As one of the lesbians, Marion, is a close friend of both Rebecca’s mother and Feni’s mother, she spends a lot of time with Feni and Rebecca. Controversy over lesbianism exists within the story, as Rebecca struggles at first to accept Marion and her sexuality. Feni tries to help Rebecca understand the relationship, stressing that is it one of true love. Overall, I could see how this might add a layer of controversy to this novel.
            In general, I do not see myself using this book in my future classroom. There are two separate reasons for this. First of all, I hope to teach younger children in one of the primary grades, and such a story would not be appropriate for that age level. Developmentally, many of my potential students would be too young to truly understand the story and all of its depth. Thus, it would not make a good read-aloud. Secondly, I see this book as one that is very controversial, and thus, would be afraid to use it in my classroom. While I am able to see all of the good in this book, I’m not sure that it is one that I would fight to include in my curriculum.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ira Sleeps Over

Written & Illustrated by Bernard Waber
Children’s Picture Book: K-1
Stars: 5 (out of 5)

Summary: Ira, about to embark on his first sleepover at his friend Reggie’s house, struggles with whether or not to take his teddy bear along, afraid that Reggie will make fun of him, worried that he won’t be able to sleep without it.

            I vaguely recall reading this story when I was a young child. The story that I remember was much less complex than this story. This story deals with growing up and the fear that many children have of being seen as a “baby.” Young children, who are ready and excited to grow up, are often constrained by their fears and the routines that they are accustomed to. On one hand, they want to be like their older siblings, cousins, classmates, etc., but at the same time, they are not ready to give up the life that they know and are comfortable with. While young children can really relate to the internal struggle that Ira goes through, adults can relate as well. Even as adults, we face difficult decisions, yearning to move on to the next stage of life, but afraid of what we might need to leave behind, unsure of ourselves. What this book suggests, is that it is okay to hold onto things that we are comfortable with, and that these choices do not prevent us from maturing and growing as people. Ira is a character who is very relatable, for as readers, we get to see inside of his head and experience the back-and-forth turmoil that he faces. In the end, we really feel for him and are proud of his decisions. Ira and Reggie, as characters, are definitely the strongest literary element components of this story.
            I am not sure of whether or not this book would be one that I would use in my classroom. I really enjoy the book, and would like to have it available as a choice in my classroom library, but I’m not sure that I would do anything specific with the book. The only time I could see myself using it is in a kindergarten classroom. In kindergarten, the students take naps and I would assume that many might have stuffed animals, blankets, or other objects that they need to sleep. In this case, this book might be something that I would read to the students to help them understand that it is okay to have these comfort objects, and that they do not mean that the students are “babies.” It would be particularly useful if I was noticing some teasing or taunting occurring between students based on their reliance on such comfort objects. It would also convey the message that these students aren’t alone and that what they feel is very natural for kids of their own age to feel.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge

Written by Mem Fox, Illustrated by Julie Vivas
Children’s Picture Book: 1-4
Stars: 5 (out of 5)

Summary: This is a story of a young boy who helps an old woman find her memories again.

            I had heard of this story, but had never had a chance to read it up until this point. I’m glad I did, for I really enjoyed it. The illustrations are wonderful, adding the whimsical nature of the story. What I found to be most intriguing is that Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge’s understanding of what a memory was arose from his interactions with many different individuals. He did not learn to understand memory as we, as adults, understand it. Instead, the way that he understands it is much like a small child or student would understand it. He understood the separate components that his friends at the old people’s home had expressed to him, and yet in the end, the reader could argue that he didn’t understand a memory as a concept. Instead, he understood some examples of memories and the powerful nature of such memories. This being said, the way that Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge understood memory really worked, as he was able to use his knowledge to help his old friend regain her memories. The more interesting part is that one would have assumed that such a collection of objects, while sincere, wouldn’t help the old woman regain her memory. In the end, it did though, which just goes to show the impact that children can have, even when we, as adults, assume that they have incomplete understanding.
            I think that students would be able to relate to this story, for there are likely topics that they don’t fully understand, but can provide components that make up such an abstract idea. For example, when talking with students about love, they often provide concrete examples of what love looks like, rather than what it might mean as a concept. As a result of their developmental level, this is often just how they think. Thus, they could really relate to Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge and his understanding of what a memory is. It would provide a jumping point into talking with students about what a memory is, as well as introducing other abstract concepts. It could also be a means to explore the importance of providing multiple examples or details to help describe something. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge’s understanding of memory didn’t come from a single place or example, but instead from the compilation of many separate examples and ideas. This would be something that could be used to increase the level or detail in students’ writing. For younger children, it is simply a great read that I think children would love to listen to, especially since the names are so silly.

My Lucky Day

Written & illustrated by Keiko Kasza
Children’s Picture Book: K-3
Stars: 5 (out of 5)

Summary: One day a piglet knocks on the fox’s door “accidentally.” The fox makes preparations to cook the piglet, but the pig comes up with excuses to prolong the cooking, until finally, the fox passes out from exhaustion and the pig escapes.

            While this story could be related to that of the three little pigs, it is very different. The characters are the same, which could be helpful for beginning readers. This is a story about the ways in which a pig outsmarts a fox. It’s quite funny because originally the fox thinks that it is his “lucky day” when the piglet arrives on his front doorstep. In the end, things have drastically changed, as the piglet “escapes” from the fox, claiming that it must be his “lucky day.” Instead of the fox triumphing in the end, as is the case in the three little pigs, the piglet is the one who walks away having gained something from the fox. As the pattern of the piglet prolonging his roast continues to occur, students will want to keep reading to find out just how the piglet will outsmart the fox next.
            This would be a story to use in conjunction with several of the other various three little pig tales. It is just yet another perspective of the relationship between the fox and a pig that is not often told. Since students will have familiarity with the characters, pig and fox, they will have a strong sense of background knowledge from which to build upon. For younger students, this is simply a fun story to read, one that has very interesting characters and a story line or plot that moves fluidly. For older students, it might be a book to use as a springboard for their own writing, as the story ends with the pig visiting the bear’s house. Students could create their own story about that experience, modeled after this one.
            Overall, this is probably one of my favorite children’s books that I have read over the course of the semester, for I found it very interesting and well written. Even as an adult, I wanted to continue turning the pages to find out just how the piglet continued to outsmart the fox.

Hey, Al

Written by Arthur Yorinks, Illustrated by Richard Egielski
Children’s Picture Book: K-4
Stars: 3.5 (out of 5)

Summary: In this story, Al, a janitor, and his dog, Eddie, leave their difficult world behind and are transported into a life full of relaxation and enjoyment. In the end, they realize that this life of ecstasy comes with a price.

            This story has wonderful illustrations, as makes sense since it is a Caldecott winner. The illustrations add a great deal of depth to this story. Without such elaborate and informative illustrations, the story would be bare and minimal. In general, there is not a lot of text in this story. While a story is told through the presented text, a great deal of the wonder and enjoyment comes from the rich illustrations. I personally wish the story had more of a story line. I think it is a great idea for a story, but it felt incomplete to me, as the reader. There was a very positive overall message, that the grass always seems greener on the other side but in reality what we have might just be enough. I think that this message gets lost along the travels of Al and Eddie. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what about this story does not work, but something is off, for me, as a reader. I think that I was expecting more than I ended up getting from the story. The literary elements didn’t seem to work well together. They may have functioned independently, but the combination did not produce a story that I would want to read again.
            This story would be a great one to use when practicing predicting with students. A great stopping point would be before the bird arrives to take Al and Eddie on their journey. It would be a place to pause and reflect with the class, coming up with individual, group, or whole class predictions. It would provide an opportunity for students to use their imaginations as they create the places that Al and Eddie might be taken to. This predicting and creation of an ending location might be something that could also be explored through art. Students could use artistic mediums to create the place that they predict or infer Al and Eddied might be going. Another means to incorporate such an activity would be to have students use rich language and write about where they might be going. These would be various instructional means to use this text, and would vary depending on the age level. With younger children, an artistic representation might be best, while with older students, writing might be an interesting means to accomplish the predicting.

If You Take a Mouse to School

Written by Laura Numeroff, Illustrated by Felicia Bond
Children’s Picture Book: K-2
Stars: 3.5 (out of 5)

Summary: This story details the life of a mouse as he is taken to school and the crazy outcomes of such an act.

            Compared to some of the other books written by this author (If You Give a Moose a Muffin, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, etc.), this story does not make quite as much logical sense. While the story is very cute and entertaining, I had a difficult time finding the connection between the activities and pages. There was not the same kind of flow that exists in some of the sister stories. What I did find effective though, is the main character, the mouse. I found that the mouse was a very dynamic character, one that is funny and very easy to relate to. I think that in general, young children might be able to better relate to such a story, for the activities are constantly changing, as the thought process is based upon an overinclusive attention. The mouse is partaking in one activity, and suddenly, distracted by another, switches his focus very frequently. For many children in school, this experience is one that they can relate to.
            This would be a great story to read to children during a writing minilesson. The format of the story is unique, and is a style of writing that young children might want to pursue.  This would also be a time to introduce the other stories by Laura Numeroff, exposing the children to various stories that are formatted in the same manner. I could see young elementary students writing pieces that are formatted similarly to this one, with each activity connecting to the next. It would be an activity that would likely take some scaffolding and exploration, but is an idea that the students might enjoy. The illustrations are very dynamic and informative, and with little text, this would also be an interesting story for emergent readers. It is a book that might captivate their interest as they continue reading to find out just what this silly mouse might do next.  

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Higher Power of Lucky

While all of the literary elements worked in combination to create the captivating story of The Higher Power of Lucky, I find that several were most crucial to the success of the book. I find that I often relate best to characters when stories are told in first person. My favorite books are those that oscillate between different first-person perspectives. That always provides me with a strong sense of all the characters. Surprisingly, I enjoyed The Higher Power of Lucky even though the story is told from a third-person point of view. I felt like I connected much more with Lucky than I typically do in other third-person based stories. (Actually, in writing this, I had to go back and make sure that it was written in third-person, for when I think back to the story, my gut tells me that it was told in the first person.) I think that this is due to the strong and dynamic characters that Susan Patron creates. The sense of Lucky that we get through the third-person perspective is that of a dynamic character who is very relatable and brings the story to life. I can almost imagine myself as Lucky’s sidekick as she partakes in her desert adventures. The way that she speaks and acts really makes her come alive. The growth and change that Lucky undergoes throughout the story is remarkable, which only helps to bring her to life.

I also found the place or the setting of the story to be one of the most crucial aspects, for the plot would not be even remotely that same if the story took place in a different location. The way that Patron describes the setting, not only by telling her readers, but by showing them, really helps to bring the setting to life. I can almost feel the sand blown onto my own skin during the storm, or the heat of a hot desert afternoon. According to Tunnell and Jacobs, quality writing shows the reader.” (Tunnell & Jacobs, 2008)  In this particular book, the place really contributed to the overall mood of The Higher Power of Lucky. The dusty town helped to soften the edges of the characters and created a serene yet weary mood that sucks the reader in. It also brings us back to the characters and allows for a deeper understanding of those characters. The mood of the story was definitely influenced by the tension of both the characters and of the setting. This tension helped to draw the reader in and wonder about the outcomes of the characters.

Part of the reason that the place/setting and the characters are so effective in this story is a result of the language and wording that Patron uses. Her words draw us, as readers, in, and work to keep us coming back for more. According to Tunnell and Jacobs, “The words make the book by defining character, moving the plot along, identifying the setting, isolating the theme, creating the tone, identifying the point of view, developing the mood, establishing the pace, making the story believable, and reporting information accurately.” (Tunnell & Jacobs, 2008) The words that are presented and the ways in which they are utilized in the story make it a quality piece of literature.  The words help describe details of the characters, setting, and mood, propelling the story forwards. Patron does not necessarily use big words to make her point, but instead, can use basic words that are just right for the point she is trying to make. Thus, it is an easy read, yet a meaningful and deep one.
It’s interesting because when I fist picked up the book and read the first page, I was concerned that this was going to be another one of those books that I am required to read, but find no true please between the pages. What I found though, was a remarkably well-written story that was comprised of dynamic characters and rich language that helped to bring the story to life. It is important for me to mention as well that while I focused on characters, place/setting, and mood, that I do recognize that these are not the only necessary components. It is the ultimate combinations of these literary elements that makes the story work. I just found that the characters, setting, and mood in this story are the primary components that kept me going for more.

Mice Twice

Mice Twice
Written & Illustrated by Joseph Low
Children’s Picture Book: K-3
Stars: 2.5 (out of 5)

Summary: This is a story of a cat that tries to fool Mouse into coming over for dinner so that Cat can eat Mouse. In the end though, Mouse is prepared and arrives with Dog, who would like to eat Cat. The story continues as they try to outwit one another, until finally, mouse outwits Cat and Cat is chased away for good.

I found this story a bit confusing to follow. The idea is interesting, as the animals try to outwit one another. What I found though is that I got confused about who was attending whose house and which animals were attending with which animals. The plot was a bit confusing. I had to go back and reread pages often in order to re-orient myself with dinner guest pairs. I’m not sure that a young child might be able to keep the characters straight. The only characters that I was able to connect with were Cat and Mouse, for they were the only two who had a strong purpose and sense of character. The rest all acted as just fillers, even though there were subtle reasons for each of them. Those reasons were kind of lost in trying to navigate the plot.

What might be fun to do with such a story though is to “play the story.” In a small group of students, each student could play a character as the plot progresses. This would likely help students keep the characters and their interactions straight. It is also a really fun story to use when learning about predicting, because each night, we recognize that a new animal is going to show up, but we don’t know which one. It might be fun to try and predict which animals might become story characters and why. If the students were learning about animals it might be a particularly fun book to read, for they could apply knowledge they would be learning about animals to make predications. 

A Tree is Nice

A Tree is Nice
Written by Janice May Udry, Illustrated by Marc Simont
Children’s Picture Book: K-3
Stars: 4 (out of 5)

Summary: This book talks about trees and the various important uses for a tree.

While there is no definite story that is told in this book, it is definitely one that is informational. I would not necessarily consider it to be non-fiction, but it is a bit similar. The story focuses on the separate functions of trees, such as a place to lay in the shade on a hot and sunny day, something to hang a swing from, or something to shield your house from the wind in the winter. The illustrations are very unique, and I find it particularly interesting that one page is in color, the next is in black and white, the next is in color, and so on and so forth. The alternating is interesting. I kept rereading and trying to find a pattern in what was written based upon the illustration’s color or lack thereof, but I could find none. This book won a Caldecott medal for the illustrations.

I think that this book would be useful in a science lesson or unit about trees. It is a helpful book to help students think about some of the ways that trees are helpful in our everyday lives, as well as the many, many things that we can do with tress. It would be neat to have students model their own writing assignment on this book, either continuing to talk about trees and what they mean to them, or the style could be carried over into another content area. For example, students could talk about spiders instead, or flowers, or farms. The possibilities are endless. This book would be particularly effective to use in a lower elementary classroom. 

My Friend Rabbit

My Friend Rabbit
Written & Illustrated by Eric Rohmann
Children’s Picture Book: PreK-3
Stars: 4 (out of 5)

Summary: This story is about a mouse that has a friend rabbit. Wherever the rabbit goes, trouble follows.

This is a simple book that is not a wordless picture book, yet is very similar to one. There is a very simple story that is told with minimal words, and then the illustrations add to the understanding of the story and make it much more enjoyable. I say that it is similar to a wordless picture book because there are several pages that have no words at all, even though they tell a story. The story is told through those pictures. Thus, while the basis of the story is written, the author leaves a lot of the details for the reader to decide as the reader interprets the pages with just pictures and no words. Even with some words, the story in primarily told through the illustrations; the words just act as fillers to help us better understand the context of the story.

This would be a great book to use in the classroom when beginning to discuss and utilize wordless picture books. It gives emerging readers enough of an idea to “be able” to interpret the illustrations and create a cohesive story. It’s almost like a scaffolded wordless picture book. Thus, it would be a great means to help students understand how they can use wordless picture books. I would probably begin the lesson using this book to explore how important the illustrations can be in creating a story. If we were to only look at the text in this book, the story would be incomplete, and it is the pictures that really tell the story. I would help the students fill in or create the missing pieces of the story, then I would move onto a completely wordless book and model how I might read such a book. Ultimately, I would hope that my students could read wordless picture books and create a story of their own to go along. 

Smoky Night

By: Eve Bunting, Illustrated by David Diaz
Children’s Picture Book (Controversial): 2-6
Stars: 4 (out of 5)

Summary: This story follows the experience of a young boy who experiences the riots, theft, and fires that occur outside of his apartment. One day, his own apartment building catches on fire and he is unable to find his cat, whom he fears is caught in the fire. A neighbor, Mrs. Kim, who is disliked because she is different than the young boy and his mother, also cannot find her cat. In the end, both cats show up and mark the beginnings of a friendship between the little boy, his mother, and Mrs. Kim.

It makes complete sense why this book won a Caldecott Medal. The illustrations are bold, rich, and unique. I’m not sure of the technical term that describes the technique David Diaz used, but I would describe it as layers of texture behind sheets of text. He used some very interesting things to add texture, including cloth, thickened paint on canvas, crinkled paper, foil, bubble wrap, cereal, and dry cleaning bags with hangers. The illustrations on some pages are created using bright and rich colors, probably acrylics? Overall, the pages are a lot of fun to look at.

This book is considered one of the controversial literature books likely because of the way that rioting is portrayed. Many critics question why young children need to be aware of things such as riots, theft, and homelessness. The way that the thieves are portrayed as “laughing” and “smiling” might make the theft seem much more light-hearted than it really is. There is also some serious discrimination that is portrayed in this story. The little boy’s own mother refers to he “own people,” suggesting that there are definite and necessary distinctions between community members. Both the little boy and his mother refer to Mrs. Kim as someone who is very different, speaks a funny language, and someone who they would not choose to associate with, for she is not one of their “own people.” In the end though, the families are able to overcome their differences and be open to getting to know one another.

This to me, is the most important message. Even though we are all different, and might have different skin colors, speak different languages, eat different food, etc., we are all human beings and can have similar fears. Both the young boy and Mrs. Kim are terribly afraid that their cats will not make it out of the fire. The cats’ friendship and bonding over a terrible event is symbolic of what will happen with the mother and Mrs. Kim. The cats are able to share a bowl of milk, both drinking from the same dish, even though they are different. This ultimately symbolizes the women’s agreement to get to know one another and begin forming a friendship.

Even though there is difficult content to this story, the ending message is one that is very powerful and almost happy. There is finally hope. For that reason, I would consider using the story in my classroom to springboard a discussion on differences, discrimination, and “not judging a book by its cover.” It could definitely be used in conjunction with Rose Blanche to talk about the harmful effects of discrimination and set the stage for determining how to move past our differences. 

Rose Blanche

Written & Illustrated by Roberto Innocenti
Children’s Picture Book (Controversial): 3-6
Stars: 4 (out of 5)

Summary: This is a story that takes place during Nazi Germany. The main character, a young girl, begins sneaking food to starving children in a concentration camp. One day, she is caught, and shot by Nazi soldiers.

This story had absolutely wonderful illustrations that looked so realistic; I almost thought they could be snapshots. The illustrations added almost a second story to the one that was being told, as it was through the illustrations that the reader is able to figure out that the little girl is living in Nazi Germany and stealing food for children in the concentration camps. Since the story is told from the little girl’s point of view, she doesn’t have the knowledge to mention words such as “Nazi,” “Jews,” or “concentration camps.” Thus, it is through the illustrations that we understand the time and location that this story takes place. The characters have Swastikas or wear the Star of David, allowing the reader to better understand the context and the characters. Both of those literary elements, time and place, are only discussed through the illustrations’ conjunction with her words. Without the illustrations, the story would be incomplete and the reader would likely wind up confused and frustrated.

The story is particularly interesting because of the little girl’s lack of understanding of what is going on where she lives. When I say this, I don’t mean that she has no idea of the hardships that are going on around her, for she does. She just does not have the language to put her experience into words. I feel as though this might be a book that young students can relate to for that reason. They know what it is likely to recognize that something bad is going on around them, but may not have the words or the ability to put it into a concrete picture that others can understand. As a character, she is one that is very relatable and easy to develop an emotional connection with. Her behavior throughout the story really highlights young children’s willingness and desire to help humanity. Her innocence shines through as she is not caught up in political and religious differences that mark all of the adults in the story. Instead, she sees children who are in need, who are hungry, and she does what she can to help them. She doesn’t even consider the ways in which she might be different from them, particularly that they are Jews and she is not. She is not clouded with discrimination and hate, but instead, represents one human’s drive to help another. It is this non-judgmental character that can remind us all that we are all more similar than we are different and that we have a responsibility to help one another out and treat one another kindly.

I think where the controversy really enters this book is when the little girl is shot. The author doesn’t explicitly tell us that the little girl is shot and dies, but the other information surrounding points us in this direction. We assume, as readers, that the little girl has died, which is supported by the illustration of a gravestone. I think that there is fear in reading literature in which a young child dies, especially when she is doing something that stems from her human instinct. I must admit that even for me, as an adult reader, I was very saddened and distraught that the little girl dies at the end of the story. It seemed so unfair and frustrating. That being said, in a classroom, this might be a great jumping point into how many acts of discrimination can be potentially fatal or even just hurtful. It could help students explore how dangerous discrimination can be. What I particularly like is that they story allows a teacher to address discrimination without having to focus on race and ethnicity. I think that sometimes the topic of skin color can be difficult for young children to do in a meaningful and open manner, but I feel like discussing the issues of discrimination associated with political and religious affiliations might be easier for students. This story could also be used in a unit on Nazi Germany, to help the kids understand what it might have been like from the child’s perspective. 

The Shoemaker and The Elves

Written by The Brothers Grimm, Illustrated by Adrienne Adams
Children’s Picture Book (Fairytale): K-3
Stars: 3 (out of 5)

Summary: This is a story of a poor shoemaker who is visited each night by two elves that help him sew elaborate pairs of shoes that he then sells to make money. In the end, the shoemaker and his wife, whom are now well-off, reward the hard-working elves with outfits to show their appreciation.

The illustrations in this story, while simplistic, appearing to be created with simply colored pencils and a touch of watercolor, are very unique to this story alone. This story, while very interesting and an enjoyable read, seems to have several downfalls. First, there is a very stereotypical depiction of elves. This is not necessarily a negative aspect, but can be viewed as only confirming stereotypes. The way that the author describes the two elves is as “two little men with no clothes on.” The book also talks about Christmas and Christmas Eve, which is always something difficult to include in the curriculum. For me, anytime I see the mention of Christmas in a story, I tend to shy away from incorporating it into me classroom for obvious reasons.

While the story focuses on economic prosperity and a lack there of, I am a bit concerned about how the shoemaker comes to be seen as successful. Ultimately, the shoemaker begins as a poor man who has nothing but a single piece of leather, and through hard work, becomes wealthy. I think that this would be a great message for students, but my concern is that the shoemaker himself is not the one who creates success for himself. In the end, it is the elves that swoop in and make him a wealthy man, which I worry could be perceived by the students in a different way. Instead of being an uplifting story about how hard work pays off, the students might interpret it to mean that you won’t be successful unless you get some outside help. Instead of utilizing internal strength and perseverance, they might think that you need an excellent external influence to create success for you. In the end though, I do find it important and noble that the shoemaker and his wife show their appreciation and gratitude by sewing the elves clothing from Christmas.

My biggest concern with this story is the ways in which some of the events or messages could be misinterpreted. I also did not find the characters to be too relatable or interesting. Would I personally use this story in my classroom, probably not.