Monday, October 24, 2005

Wild About Books

Sierra, Judy. WILD ABOUT BOOKS. Ill. by Marc Brown. New York: Knopf. ISBN 037582538X [Suggested Grade Levels Pre-K – 2]

In this lively and entertaining picture book, Judy Sierra tells the winding, rhyming and wonderful tale of a chance encounter between zoo animals and a librarian’s bookmobile that becomes a reading explosion of zoological proportions! Creatively combining a wide variety of animals with their fitting literary counterparts, Sierra’s wacky wit is at once accessible, educational and disarmingly funny. WILD ABOUT BOOKS is packed with memorable lines (“llamas read dramas while eating their llunches”) and ingenious turns of phrase (“Zoolitzer Prize”). As if that weren’t enough, classic Children’s illustrator Marc Brown provides a veritable pictorial fiesta, including not only the zoo’s many unusual inhabitants (such as lynxes and Tasmanian devils), but an unending string of sight gags and visual jokes.

This is a lively, entertaining and thoughtfully constructed book that will be a delight to children and adults alike. Sierra shows a deft mastery of rhyme and creative consideration of the varied possibilities latent in her subject matter. From the giraffe to the dung beetle, the lion to the zebra, the animals’ joy at their discovery of books is made infectious in this brilliantly composed romp through the wonderful world of reading. WILD ABOUT BOOKS deserves to find a place as an enduring classic of children’s literature. For parents, librarians, teachers and especially children, I can hardly think of a book I could recommend more highly this year. WILD ABOUT BOOKS doesn’t “make reading fun.” It celebrates the joy we often miss that reading brings. It motivates children to pick up a book and join in the fun and reminds those of us who have read for years why we fell in love with it in the first place. This book is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Seuss and I have no doubt he would be proud.

Have other zoo books and materials on hand to expand their knowledge base of animals mentioned in the book.

Other stories about reading:
Dr. Seuss. I CAN READ WITH MY EYES SHUT. ISBN 0394939123

By Melissa Neece

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Blue Jasmine

Sheth, Kashmira. 2004. BLUE JASMINE. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 0786818557 [Suggested Grade Levels 4-8]

While the descriptions of Iowa City, the Trivedi’s new home in this stranger-in-a-strange-land novel, are generic, the descriptions of their family home in Vishanagar, India are beautifully detailed. The dialogue, even when Sheth isn’t trying to reproduce less than fluent English, is stilted, but the view of America through foreign eyes is stunning: “America was everything I’d heard it would be, and yet nothing could have prepared me for America. What struck me the most was that everything was big. Not only were the roads four lanes wide, but the gas pumps had eight stations. The city was dressed like an elegant lady, and the buildings seemed to have conversations with clouds. Stores were so large that they were never crowded. I remembered Vishanagar’s bazaar, where people brushed against my shoulder as they walked past me. Here, there was space and no people to fill it. Where were they all?”

The situations, based on the author’s own immigrant experiences, are absolutely believable, and range from heart-breaking to joyous. The BOOKLIST review of August 1, 2004, concludes, “Filled with details that document an immigrant’s observations and experiences, Seema’s story, which articulates the ache for distant home and family, will resonate with fellow immigrants and enlighten their classmates.”

Take something uniquely American, like a football game or Thanksgiving dinner, and try to describe it in a letter to a pen pal in a foreign country who knows nothing about it. Which components are the most typical descriptions for our culture?

Carrie makes fun of Seema’s appearance, English, and lunch food. Why? How does Seema react? Is this the best strategy for dealing with bullies? Have you ever seen or experienced anything like this? Encourage discussion.

Other books about Indians in England or America:
Dhami, Narinder. BINDI BABES. ISBN 0385731779
Perkins, Mitali. MONSOON SUMMER. ISBN 038573123X

By Julie Brinker

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Schmidt, Gary. 2004. LIZZIE BRIGHT AND THE BUCKMINSTER BOY. New York: Clarion. ISBN 0618439293 [Suggested Grade Levels 6-10]

After his father accepts a ministry position in the rural town of Phippsburg, Maine and moves the family from suburban Boston, Turner Buckminster III is thrust into a world vastly different from what he has known. He learns that he just doesn’t fit in here—even baseball is played differently, and his misery quickly becomes great. As Turner yearns to find his place, it is his budding friendship with Lizzie Bright Griffin, the granddaughter of an African American minister, which offers him salvation. When her home on Malaga Island is threatened by townspeople hoping to clear the land of the impoverished community so that it can be developed as tourist property, Turner struggles to right the many wrongs committed by the community leaders, including his father.

Schmidt sets this ambitious coming-of-age historical novel in Phippsburg, Maine in 1911 and chooses as a backdrop a story which includes the tragic removal of the inhabitants of Malaga Island, most of which were the descendents of freed or runaway slaves who settled the island. This compelling and a rich tale offers unforgettable and unique characters which are multifaceted yet believable. Schmidt misses no details as he crafts all the players in this powerful story—even the quirky secondary characters are fully realized and embellish the already rich tale. Even the land functions as more than just the story’s setting; through rich and vivid descriptions, its personification allows it become a major player in the work as well as being the catalyst of change for Turner as he discovers who he is and what he is willing to fight for. Universal themes such as justice and honor are treated with care and unfold seamlessly for the reader.

Teens could use the Internet to research the history of Malaga Island and create a graphic compare/contrast chart highlighting similarities and differences between their findings and the details in the novel.

Teens could create original art (using a variety of media) which illustrates a favorite scene from the novel.

Other novels by Gary D. Schmidt:

By Rose Brock

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Becoming Naomi Leon

Ryan, Pam Munoz. 2004. BECOMING NAOMI LEON. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0439269695 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-8]

There are three things that 11-year-old Naomi Soledad Leon Outlaw is good at. One is soap carving, a hobby she took up shortly after going to live with Gram, her great-grandmother. The second is making lists. Among her many lists are “Splendid Words” and “Unusual Names.” And the third thing Naomi is good at is worrying. She worries about Gram dying because she is so old, and she worries that Owen, her younger brother, will “never be right.” Owen was born with his head tilted to one side and with one leg shorter than the other. Owen also has a strange way of coping with distress. He sticks clear tape to his clothes to calm himself. More stress simply means more tape on his shirt. In spite of her worries, Naomi is happy living at Avocado Acres Trailer Rancho with Gram and Owen. She is secure in the knowledge that Gram loves them more than anything in the world. Gram, Owen, and Naomi “were knitted together snug as a new mitten.” That is, until that fateful evening when Naomi’s mother shows up after a seven-year absence and turns their world upside down. Her arrival sends Naomi on a journey (literal and figurative) of discovery for personal and cultural identity.

Pam Munoz Ryan has created unforgettable characters that readers will embrace. Told in the first person, Naomi’s story is sad, yet comical and incredible, yet believable. Ryan’s use of language is rich and her comparisons are intriguing (e.g. “Dripping wet, Gram didn’t weigh a hundred pounds….Now, sitting down with her skinny neck drooping over the table, she looked like a swan peering into a lake.”). The story’s plot is riveting. Readers will find themselves cheering for Naomi, Gram, and Owen as they go on the run and fight to keep the family together.
Children can discover the origins of La Noche de los Rabanos, an event unique to Oaxaca. They can discuss traditions that are unique to their cultures or to their families.

Create sculptures using a bar of soap. Instructions for this activity can be found at

Peck, Richard. A YEAR DOWN YONDER. ISBN 0613579348
Ryan, Pam Munoz. ESPERANZA RISING. ISBN 0439120411

By S. Zulema Silva Bewley

Saturday, October 8, 2005

The Burn Journals

Runyon, Brent. 2004. THE BURN JOURNALS. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0375826211 [Suggested Grade Levels 8 and up]

At the age of fourteen, Brent Runyon came home from school one day, had a snack, went into the garage for a can of gasoline, took it into his bathroom, doused himself with it, and set himself on fire. As a result of this act, he sustained burns over 80% of his body. THE BURN JOURNALS is Runyon’s painful, yet poignant memoir in which he shares the true story of his suicide attempt; this offering shares and vividly describes both his physical and mental rehabilitation, as he attempts to come to terms with his illness and later put his life back together.

Without sensationalizing the events, Runyon’s nonfiction account is clearly unique, original, and fresh in many ways. He shares his experiences with candor, and readers are immersed in the events as they unfold. His voice, the strongest element in the work, remains authentic and honest throughout the story. Told in present tense, in a stream of conscious style, readers become almost hypnotized watching the events unfold while feeling powerless to change the outcome. This technique allows readers to journey with him from a path of self-destruction along a torturous and lengthy road of recovery. Runyon unflinchingly offers his gripping story with honesty and frankness as he shares his typical teen fears-- getting an erection while being massaged by an attractive physical therapist or wondering how he will ever be able to live life “normally” again--his strikingly painful story will be one that speaks volumes to teens battling their own inner demons

After reading THE BURN JOURNALS, teens could write in their own journals about a painful or personal experience. As an extension on this reflective writing, they could choose to create some kind of art which offers the experience in a visual way.

If you liked THE BURN JOURNALS, try: Anderson, Laurie Halse. SPEAK. ISBN 0374371520
McCormick, Patricia. CUT. ISBN 1886910618

By Rose Brock

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

How I Live Now

Rosoff, Meg. 2004. HOW I LIVE NOW. New York: Random House. ISBN 0385746776 [Suggested Grade Levels 8 and up]

In Rosoff’s hauntingly apocalyptic tale, fifteen-year-old Daisy goes to stay with her aunt and cousins on their farm in rural England to escape from her father and pregnant stepmother in New York. Though she and her cousins instantly bond upon her arrival, the family is quickly torn apart as war breaks out and they are scattered throughout the country.

HOW I LIVE NOW is both a powerfully written and compelling YA novel. In the beginning of the story, Daisy could serve as the poster child for angst-ridden teens. She is self-absorbed and self-destructive, an anorexic who finds great pleasure in watching herself shrink away because it offers her power in a world she can’t control. It isn’t until she forced to flee for her life with her younger cousin in tow that she begins her transformation as she becomes someone who loves greatly and generously. As she shares her story (offered in a painful, yet captivating first-person account), readers are drawn into her world of confusion, and because of the frankness in which Daisy shares these experiences, they are given an inside look into her private world. The candid and intelligent narrative highlights her growth, and in Rosoff’s skillful hands, readers are left feeling raw from Daisy’s experience, though emotionally satisfied as they too begin to consider the question of “how I live now.”

After reading HOW I LIVE NOW, teens could prepare a collage (using a variety of materials) depicting changes to the central characters before and after the war.

If you liked, HOW I LIVE NOW, try: Marsden, John. BURNING FOR REVENGE ISBN 0395960541
Marsden, John. A KILLING FROST ISBN 0395837359
Marsden, John. TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN ISBN 0395706734

By Rose Brock

Sunday, October 2, 2005

Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet

Rosen, Michael. 2004. SHAKESPEARE’S ROMEO & JULIET. Ill. by Jane Ray. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763622583 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-10]

This incredibly beautiful book introduces not only Shakespeare’s play but Shakespeare’s theater and times. The story is alternately paraphrased in narration and quoted (in bold face) for particularly important or beautiful passages. This exchange, from the party where Romeo and Juliet have just met, is typical: “By now, though, Romeo was thinking of kissing her mouth. Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too? he asked. Ay, pilgrim, she said, lips that they must use in prayer. But Romeo wasn’t put off. O then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do, he begged.” Sidebars include act and scene numbers and definitions of difficult or archaic vocabulary.

This is meant for older readers: the sexual attraction of Romeo and Juliet is frankly presented. But the captivating illustrations on half of every double page spread and the lyrical borders which offset the text are inviting to even reluctant readers, and are as much of a jewel as the retelling. SHAKESPEARE’S ROMEO & JULIET has been extensively reviewed and unanimously acclaimed. This excerpt from THE VOICE OF YOUTH ADVOCATES review of Aug. 1, 2004, is typical: “The volume is a great choice for reading aloud or private enjoyment. It would be a wonderful tool for introducing middle and younger junior high students to the study of a Shakespearean play and motivating them to view a play or enact the parts.”

Create a fast reader’s theater version of the play by assigning one or more narrators for the text, and asking the cast to read the lines in bold.

Discuss the illustrations and the way they augment and extend the story. One area to focus on is the skin-tone difference between Romeo and Juliet, which suggests that they may be of differing ethnic backgrounds.

Shakespeare’s plays retold by Bruce Coville:
MACBETH. ISBN 0803718993
Another excellent introduction to Shakespeare’s theater, with an accompanying CD of performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company:

By Julie Brinker