Saturday, August 27, 2005

Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales

Noyes, Deborah ed. 2004. GOTHIC! TEN ORIGINAL DARK TALES. Cambridge. MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763622435 [Suggested Grade Levels 7-12]

Ten well-known young adult authors unite their creative talents to compile unique stories of gothic fiction tailored to teen readers. The strength of this compilation revolves around its broad interpretation of the gothic genre and the variety stories that the authors are able to concoct within this parameter. Vivian Vande Velde, M.T. Anderson and Gregory Maguire offer tales most like contemporary horror stories while Joan Aiken and Celia Rees write tales with a more classic feel. Barry Yourgrau’s and Neil Gaiman’s offerings are humorous and Garth Nix, Janni Lee Simer, and Caitlin Kiernan all incorporate a strong dose of fantasy into the mix. Each tale has a distinctly original feel while the common gothic theme runs throughout to make the work a cohesive whole.

An “About the Authors” section follows the stories and allows the reader a glimpse into not only the lives of the authors, but also their inspiration for the tales shared in this book. With stories ranging from adolescent vampires and werewolves to haunted house horrors, Noyes has assembled a collection that has something for every gothic fan.


Split the young adults into groups and give each group a story. Allow them enough time to rehearse and then ask each group to present their story to everyone -- they may choose to act it out, or simply read it aloud.

After sharing the stories in the collection, ask the young adults to try writing their own gothic stories. Be sure to have shared a variety of the stories, if not the whole book, so that they are aware that their stories can be contemporary or classic, humorous or frightening, realistic or fantastic. When finished, the stories can be combined to create a new book of gothic tales. Also, allow volunteers to share their stories if they wish.

Other horror story anthologies:
Pepper, Dennis. THE OXFORD BOOK OF SCARY TALES. ISBN 0192781103
Pines, Tonya. THIRTEEN. ISBN 0590452568

By Erin Miklauz

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Hana in the Time of the Tulips

Noyes, Deborah. 2004. HANA IN THE TIME OF THE TULIPS. Ill. by Bagram Ibatoulline. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763618756 [Suggested Grade Levels 2-5]

HANA IN THE TIME OF THE TULIPS is the story of a little Dutch girl whose father is caught up in the tulip craze of 1634-7 and her attempts to help console and comfort him. Ibatoulline’s incredible illustrations in the style of Rembrandt, with amazing control and use of color and light, and full color paintings on every facing page (with additional “sketches”) truly paint the picture of the times. Even the background of the text is faux parchment colored. One particularly stunning example shows Hana and her nursemaid looking at a firefly cupped in the nurse’s hands; the only light source is the glow from the trapped insect, which throws perfectly Rembrandt-like highlights onto the faces of Hana and Nurse.

This is a great introduction to the culture, the time, and the art of Rembrandt. The SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL review of October 1, 2004, expands on the stunning illustrations: “The illustrations are a haunting homage to Rembrandt, who has a peripheral role in the story and whose art typifies the day. Ibatoulline’s paintings demonstrate the flexibility of his acrylic-gouache work, which so perfectly mimics Rembrandt’s oils, inks, and bistre washes, and which deftly incorporate the chiaroscuro that was central to the master’s work.”


Research the Tulip Craze, and watch the video of CONFESSIONS OF AN UGLY STEPSISTER (the book by Gregory Maguire will be too advanced except for extremely gifted readers), which takes place during this time and also features a great painter. Discuss the different presentations of the historical facts of the time.

Rembrandt is noted for his use of light in painting, and Ibatoulline’s illustrations are carefully composed to mimic this technique. Compare several of Rembrandt’s paintings with the Ibatoulline illustrations, looking especially at night scenes and those where the light source is out of the picture frame but reflecting onto the faces included.

Another historical fiction book for this age group:
Paterson, Katherine. BLUEBERRIES FOR THE QUEEN. ISBN 0066239427

By Julie Brinker

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices

Myers, Walter Dean. 2004. HERE IN HARLEM: POEMS IN MANY WORKS. New York: Holiday House. ISBN 0823418537 [Suggested Grade Levels 7-12]

HERE IN HARLEM is reminiscent of SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY. That work recreated through story poems a mythical Midwestern community. The book is divided into five sections each “introduced” by a Harlem woman named Clara Brown. Her sections are called “testimony” and have the feeling of her being interviewed by some non-native reporter who is trying to get a sense of why Harlem casts such a huge shadow in the hearts of Black America. The poems that follow either complement her words or provide a counterpoint to them. Section one’s testimony has Clara saying “I love the people … all of them. Because one by one they may not be that much…. All together, they’re Harlem, and you can’t ask for more than that.” There is a wickedly funny story told by a Nanny named Eleanor who works without seeming relief from her Miss Ann employer. The riff of misery ends with her happily chortling how she hopes Little Miss Ann never lets her mom know the places in Harlem they visit. Eleanor’s alibi is “I’m going to say she got it from the television.”

Throughout all these sections there are black and white photographs mainly from the 1930s-1940s of people, places, and events in Harlem. Some shots are of the famous such as Duke Ellington and a young teenage Dorothy Dandridge. Others are more anonymous such as a dandily dressed young man next to a poem called “Sam DuPree, hustler.” Both the variety of people’s lives and the photos have a sense of showing that because this area is so concentrated with Black people in this section of New York City the good and the bad stand out so strongly. There is a one page people, places, and terms defined list to put a context to the lives mentioned that may be unfamiliar to young adults.

Provide photographs from a local history collection. Students could try to imagine the story behind those photos or individuals with their own “Here in” poems.

Other fiction and nonfiction titles about growing up in Harlem:

By Andrea L. Williams

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Antarctica: Journeys to the South Pole

Myers, Walter Dean. 2004. ANTARCTICA: JOURNEYS TO THE SOUTH POLE. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0439220017 [Suggested Grade Levels 5 and up]

After reading ANTARCTICA the lengths to which men will go to explore geographic wildernesses becomes apparent. Antarctica is in part a history of the exploration of a foreboding place and what drives men to explore. Myers begins with his remembrance of himself as a young sailor traveling all the way to a base within the Arctic Circle. The first explorer described is James Cole in the 18th century and the book ends with post World War II explorations. Throughout this work is one page or less subject summarizations which cover subjects relevant to survival in the Arctic. Examples include scurvy, latitude and longitude among others. One of the most interesting chapters concerns a bullying naval officer named Charles Weeks.

Myers story telling ability is most interesting when the human beings portrayed appear to be warts and all vs. a relatively dry recitation of linear events. Concluding sections are a timeline from 1773 to 1959 and a bibliography of sources used in the writing of this book. An index ends this work. While this work may not appeal to a wide audience, those readers curious about why physical danger appeals to some people throughout various times may find this book interesting.

Post a bulletin board with newspaper and magazine articles on real world survival stories in a number of settings. Have children read a variety of survival tales and then discuss do they now believe these stories have a strong basis in reality and could actually take place. Discuss whether characters who survive in one fictional setting could survive in another? Create posters with survival tips covering a variety of situations.

Fiction and nonfiction titles on how to survive in hostile environments:
Hobbs, Will. WILD MAN ISLAND. ISBN 0688174736
Mayhar, Ardath. MEDICINE WALK. ISBN 0395618258
Weaver, Will. MEMORY BOY: A NOVEL. ISBN 006440854X

By Andrea L. Williams

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Year of Secret Assignments

Moriarty, Jaclyn. 2004. THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS. 2004. Scholastic. ISBN 0439498813 [Suggested Grade Levels 7 and up]

Girls in an Australian privileged school for girls enjoy their self-absorbed, comforts of life until their English teacher assigns a mandatory pen pal program with more rough and tough students at the nearby public school. The girls reluctantly begin their ongoing writing assignments quickly revealing to these strangers and socially unacceptable ‘bad boys’ their private thoughts and fears. The enduring pen pal program soon leads to romantic crushes with secret dates and assignments. The story develops into some twisted schemes resulting in consequences for characters that encourage pushing the limits. This lively novel informs the reader of the reality of teen dynamics and the many social temptations that await them. A good book for teaching readers the lessons of good character and the consequences for actions. Moriarty's story will please readers who are craving suspense and teen fun.

Invite groups of young teens to talk about social differences and the dynamics of private school students versus public school students. Encourage the group to share their experiences with being social different than their peers. Encourage writing journal entries for their thoughts and feelings of why one should possess good character and be acceptable to all different social groups.

Other books about young teen love:
Cohn, Rachael. POP PRINCESS. ISBN: 0689852053
McCafferty, Megan. SLOPPY FIRSTS: A NOVEL. ISBN: 0609807900
Moriarty, Jaclyn. FEELING SORRY FOR CELIA. ISBN: 0312287364

By Kim Southwell

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Tarantula Scientist

Montgomery, Sy. 2004. THE TARANTULA SCIENTIST. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0618147993 [Suggested Grade Levels 2-6]

“Sam Marshall is lying on his belly in the rainforest, his freckled face just inches from a fist-sized hole in the dirt. He turns on his headlamp. He gently pokes a twig into the tunnel and wiggles it. “Come out! “ he says into the hole. “I want to meet you!” Marshall coaxes spider after spider out of their burrows and introduces the reader to some of the biggest and hairiest ones – tarantulas. Sy Montgomery and photographer Nic Bishop follow arachnologist Sam Marshall from his laboratory in Ohio to the steamy rainforest of French Guiana in South America on the hunt for spiders to study, in The Tarantula Scientist.

Although the text is lengthy and set in small print, it is written in an easy-to-read, conversational tone, and Montgomery uses terms that will resonate with children, “the Goliath bird eater tarantula, with outstretched legs, could cover your whole face.” She describes the spider’s eating habits, “First the spider bites and paralyzes the prey with venom. Then it pumps fluid from its stomach into the victim. In a few moments, the inside of the prey has turned to liquid. Yum! The spider slurps out the juice and then tosses the skin away like an empty juice box.” Bishop’s close-up photographs of hairy legs and fangs seem ready to leap off the page. Montgomery includes “Spider Stats” that detail surprising spider statistics, “Spider Speak” that gives term definitions so the reader, as Montgomery puts it, “doesn’t need a decoder ring.” She includes spider web sites, a bibliography, notes on visiting French Guiana where the research was done, and on buying a tarantula as a pet. This is an excellent choice to expose readers not only to the eight-legged creatures themselves, but also to the scientists who study them.

Younger children could use spider hand puppets to act out different spider behaviors. Older children could observe a spider or tarantula in a terrarium, either in the classroom, or at a nature center, and write about different characteristics.

Other books about tarantulas:
LaBonte, Gail. THE TARANTULA. ISBN 0875184529
McGinty, Alice B. TARANTULA. ISBN 0823955664

By Tammy Korns

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

I Spy Shapes in Art

Micklethwait, Lucy. 2004. I SPY SHAPES IN ART. New York: Greenwillow. ISBN 0060731931 [Suggested Grade Levels PreK-2]

Fourteen shapes are explored through artworks in this book for very young children. Most are modern, some are abstract, but all are interesting and appropriate choices. Some of the shapes are complex for the intended age group—oval, diamond, cylinder, cube—but the art is well chosen to provide challenge without undue frustration. The artwork, by fourteen different great artists ranging from Winslow Homer to David Hockney, is interesting in itself, and all are less well-known works. The I Spy game format lends itself to deeper discussions of the elements of art, well beyond the “I like it/I don’t” response.

Full art credits and copyright permissions are included. The August 1, 2004 BOOKLIST review concludes, “A handsome offering with appeal to a wide age group.”

Use the artworks as prompts for a circle (or round robin) story.

Ask the children to choose one artwork and tell/write a story about it.

Use the shapes in the book to create collages.

Other books like this by Lucy Micklethwait:
I SPY. ISBN 0688116795

Another art book for this age group:
Metropolitan Museum of Art. MUSEUM ABC. ISBN 0316071706

By Julie Brinker

Saturday, August 6, 2005

The Dream on Blanca's Wall: Poems in English and Spanish

Medina, Jane. 2004. THE DREAM ON BLANCA’S WALL. Ill. by Robert Casilla. Honesdale, PA: Boyd’s Mills Press. ISBN 1563977400. [Suggested Grade Levels 4-8]

When Blanca’s second-grade teacher asks her to “draw her dream,” Blanca sketches a crude drawing of herself as a teacher surrounded by children. She keeps this dream on her bedroom wall for encouragement. But, as an immigrant from Mexico, she often feels her dreams are unattainable. She strives to break through cultural and language barriers, but she so often feels inept. When her sixth grade teacher recognizes her talent for instructing younger children, he rekindles and encourages her forgotten dream.

Through a series of poems written throughout her elementary school years, Blanca gives the reader a glimpse of her struggles in an American school. The collection of poems provides insightful observations of family and neighbors through the eyes of a girl who strives for a respectable place in the world. The pencil drawings that accompany each poem are vivid and detailed, and enhance the story’s characterization. At first glance, readers may assume that the bilingual format of the book will appeal only to Spanish-speakers, however, the well-developed story told through the poetry is a hidden prize for all.


Teachers of immigrant students will find this story to be an interesting springboard to discussing or writing about the American dream. With so many of our children coming to our schools from other countries, this story should find empathy among its readers.

Younger readers can draw the dream they want to hang on their walls.

Readers can write a paragraph about an admired teacher, family member, or neighbor. Using line breaks, they then transpose the paragraph into a poem and illustrate.

Other bilingual poetry books:
Argueta, Jorge. A MOVIE IN MY PILLOW, ISBN 0892391650
Carlson, Lori. COOL SALSA. ISBN 044970436X
Nye, Naomi Shihab. THE TREE IS OLDER THAN YOU ARE. ISBN 0689820879

By Rebecca S. McKee

Wednesday, August 3, 2005


Matthews, L.S. 2004. FISH. New York: Random House. ISBN 1400085217 [Suggested Grade Levels 4-8]

An absolutely amazing, beautiful, outstanding novel, FISH is the story of Tiger, the child of aid workers in an unnamed country beset with war and drought and useless flooding, and his/her escape through dust storms, sucking mud flats, mountainous terrain, armed insurgents, and just plain exhaustion, to safe territory. The family is led by the Guide, and Tiger is kept going by the effort to protect the small fish found in a mud puddle which s/he carries carefully, in a pot, a water bottle, and finally in his/her mouth, to safety. Matthews’ simple, clear prose is straight out of Pinter or Beckett—more questions are raised than are answered—and the images are astonishing and unforgettable. When Tiger goes to catch the fish, “The water was almost mud, and it felt like putting your hands into cold soup.”

None of the characters, except Tiger, has a name; the country might be Afghanistan or the Sudan or anywhere war and weather have forced the population to flee; the Guide may be man or ghost or angel or more; and the Fish—the Fish may be Hope or Life or the Soul or the promise of Christ. Matthews leaves it entirely up to the reader, and it’s impossible not to think strongly and deeply about difficult journeys, sanctuary, and the behavior of mankind for and against itself, during and after reading this astonishing book.

Discuss the changing shape of the fish: the reactions of the insurgents to the Guide; and why none of the characters except Tiger has a name.

Research with readers current conflicts involving refugees, and brainstorm ways to help with financial or material donations.

Other books about refugees and children during war:

By Julie Brinker

Monday, August 1, 2005

Saving Francesca

Marchetta, Melina. 2004. SAVING FRANCESCA. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0375929827 [Suggested Grade Levels 8 and up]

Attempting to find her way and a make a place for herself, Marchetta’s poignant coming-of-age story tells the tale of Francesca, a teen struggling to come to terms with the many changes in her life. After being forced by her mother to attend a new school, the formerly all-boys institution, Saint Sebastian's, Francesca believes that her life can’t get any worse. Obviously, it can and does. Relieved one day that she has not been awakened by the stereo, blasting her mother’s chosen inspirational songs and wake-up calls (such as Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”), she quickly realizes something is amiss. Her outspoken mother, typically consumed with trying to empower her teen daughter, can’t seem to get out of bed, and no one understands why. As days pass and realization of the severity of her mother’s depression slowly sinks in, she remarks, “God’s not listening. It’s been six days. The door is still closed.” Trying to come to terms with the severity of her mother’s illness, as she helplessly watches her family crumble, Francesca learns that she must save herself before she can help those she loves most.

One of the greatest strengths of SAVING FRANCESCA is Marchetta’s ability to create characters which are fully realized. Told in first person, Francesca is a winner narrator, and despite her problems, she offers her story with candor and humor. The secondary characters are also effectively painted so they are not merely diversions from the story; their growth is recognizable and important. From her father’s unwillingness to accept his wife’s illness and the breakdown of his family to the self-destructive behavior of her friend, Siobhan, those who surround Francesca are also on an honest journey of self-discovery. In addition, witty dialogue, with an Australian flavor, adds additional spice to the story, allowing this international tale to have universal appeal.

Readers could use the novel to create a novel guidebook/dictionary to highlight the colloquial, yet hip Aussie language used throughout the book.

If you like SAVING FRANCESCA, try:
Moriarty, Jaclyn. FEELING SORRY FOR CELIA. ISBN 0312287364
Moriarty, Jaclyn. THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS. ISBN 0439498813

By Rose Brock