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. 


Written by Robert San Souci, Illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Children’s Picture Book (Fairy Tale): K-5
Stars: 4.5 (out of 5)

Summary: This story is similar to the tale that many of us know as “Cinderella,” the primary difference being that this is a Caribbean tale. The story begins with a bit more background, but continues on to tell of not-so-nice step sisters, a godmother who transforms Cendrillon into a beautiful woman so that she can attend the ball, and ultimately, a lost shoe and a handsome prince.

I absolutely loved this story. One of my favorite parts was the “forward” that the story began with. While it did not call itself a “forward,” it functioned similar to one. On the page before the story starts, there was a brief passage that says the following: “You may think you know this story I am going to tell you, but you have not heard it for true. I was there. So I will tell you the truth of it. Here. Now.” I found this to be a very powerful introduction to the story. Unfortunately, if a child was simply looking for the first page of the story, they might brush right by this important message. In my own classroom, I would use this story to aid in a unit or lesson on critical literacy. I hope to focus on reading not only for meaning, but to also help my students detect the subtleties such as who is crafting the message, why are they crafting it, who is the target audience, and how do all of these components play a role in how we process information that we read. This will make them much more critical processors of information. I would use this book in conjunction with such a lesson to explore how the same story can be told from different viewpoints, and even go one step further to consider why that may be. Using this version of the more common “Cinderella,” might help my students recognize that there are different versions to all stories and all writing. It would be interesting to explore the differences and similarities between Cinderella and Cendrillon and discuss how these might have arisen.

There are several other components of the book that I really enjoyed, including the illustrations. The illustrations appeared to be almost etched, with vibrant color and much detail. I also enjoyed some of the other plot components, such as where the godmother’s wand came from. When the godmother was a child, her mother died, and all she was left with was a mahogany wand that was magic. The magic could only be used to help someone she loves. I thought this was a subtle way to encourage helping those we love. There were also some French Creole words incorporated in the story, which added to its interest. The characters were different than those in the traditional story. First of all, the characters were all dark-skinned, wore Caribbean-style clothing and did different chores such as washing clothing. There was no fairy godmother in this story, just simply a godmother, which again makes it a story centered around family and those we love.

A younger group of students might really enjoy just listening to this story and looking at the pictures, while an older class could interpret some of the underlying messages and compare it to a traditional version of “Cinderella.