Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Woodson, Jacqueline. 2003. LOCOMOTION. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ISBN 0399231153 [Suggested Grade Levels 4-7]

In a foster home and separated from his sister, Lonnie Collins Motion discovers the power of poetry through an understanding teacher who urges him to write down his thoughts and feelings as fast as they come. As he works through the various assignments of different kinds of poems, Lonnie gradually reveals the source of all his anguish. His parents’ deaths, the separation from his sister, and the desire to once again be a part of a family provide a wealth of inspiration for Lonnie’s emerging talent as a poet. As the story progresses, the poetry transforms from simply an outpouring of overwhelming emotion to carefully crafted works of self-expression.

Using both free verse and formal poetry, Woodson develops a story not soon to be forgotten. By addressing the poetry directly through Lonnie’s assignments, the reader learns and begins to appreciate along with him. The secondary characters develop to just the right degree to validate their importance in Lonnie’s life, but do not distract from the intensity of his revelations. Lonnie’s poetry is both heartbreaking and endearing, leaving the reader hoping desperately that everything will work out in the end.

Recommend this book to students who are struggling, due to lack of interest, to complete required poetry assignments. Point it out as an excellent example of non-stereotypical free verse and formal forms of poetry that might surprise a reluctant reader.

For children dealing with grief or anger issues, this book makes an “easy-to-relate-to” choice. Encourage them to follow Lonnie’s example by writing and getting their feelings out.

Other poetry books about expressing feelings:
Grimes, Nikki. BRONX MASQUERADE. ISBN 0803725698
Smith, Hope Anita. THE WAY A DOOR CLOSES. ISBN 080506477X
WritersCorps. PAINT ME LIKE I AM. ISBN 0064472647

Other books by Jacqueline Woodson:
HUSH. ISBN 0399231145

By Amy D. Picard

Sunday, August 15, 2004

The Blood-Hungry Spleen and Other Poems About Our Parts

Wolf, Allan. 2003. THE BLOOD-HUNGRY SPLEEN AND OTHER POEMS ABOUT OUR PARTS. Ill. by Greg Clark. Cambridge: Candlewick Press. ISBN 076361565X [Suggested Grade Levels 1-5]

This collection of poetry answers questions for readers curious about their kidneys or suspicious about their spleen. This poetry collection capitalizes on the notion that body parts and bodily functions are funny for young readers. Each poem examines a body part or system. Poetic grace is sometimes sacrificed for the sake of scientific explanation, but the poems are entertaining. The illustrations are cartoon-like and organs sometimes appear with their own eyes, arms and legs. However, some illustrations have charts providing further information, such as the opening illustration of the body or the chambers of the heart. The illustrations are no substitute for a reference text, but they provide a comical approach to organs and body systems to budding biology buffs and reluctant science scholars alike.

Written by a former junior high school science teacher, this collection of poems will ring true with that audience. The catchy poems will provide reinforcement for complex scientific concepts. The droll writing style provides simple and accurate information for readers. The author’s notes provide detailed definitions as well as resources for additional reading for students, teachers, parents, and even “the serious anatomist.”


Encourage readers to do further research on the body part that was the most interesting to them. Have readers write their own poems about a body part and illustrate it. The readers can then reassemble a body using the body parts they wrote about and illustrated.


Other books that use poetry or humor to explain or demystify concepts:
Leedy, Loreen. THERE’S A FROG IN MY THROAT. ISBN 0823417743
Scieszka, Jon. MATH CURSE. ISBN 0670861994

By Lea Ann Gilbert

Friday, August 13, 2004

Avalanche Annie: A Not-So-Tall Tale

Wheeler, Lisa. 2003. AVALANCHE ANNIE: A NOT-SO-TALL TALE. Ill. by Kurt Cyrus. New York: Harcourt. ISBN 0152167358 [Suggested Grade Levels PreK-2]

Annie Halfpint’s exploits wrangling a runaway avalanche are nothing short of legendary. As she leads the participants of the annual snowshoe race up the mountain, Annie’s sweet but booming voice sets off a powerful snow slide. As the angry avalanche roars to life, Annie comes to the rescue in true Paul Bunyan style. She attacks the monster from all sides, finally lassoing it into submission. The townsfolk cheer for their new hero and give her a new nickname.

Wheeler keeps the excitement high in this rhyming story through excellent use of rich verbs. For example, the ferocity of the avalanche is dramatically clear. “It bucked her like a bronco! It mauled her like a bear! It flipped her like a spatula – she flapjacked through the air!” Cyrus’s bright illustrations keep the story in perpetual motion through swirling lines and whirling colors. With its female hero and thrilling action, this adventure will appeal to a wide range of readers.


A minor twist at the end is that the narrator is actually Annie Halfpint’s husband. He is depicted as a minor character in almost every illustrated scene. Young children will enjoy going back to reexamine all the pictures and discovering his role in the story.

Have children read and compare this story to other tall tales and legends with female heroes.

Other stories by Lisa Wheeler that rhyme:

Other tall-tales with female heroes:
Isaacs, Anne. SWAMP ANGEL. ISBN 0525452710
Williams, Suzanne. LIBRARY LIL. ISBN 0803716982

By Amy D. Picard

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Grow Up

Turner, S. 2003. GROW UP. New York: Joanna Cotler Books. ISBN 0060009543. [Suggested Grade Levels PreK-2]

The story begins with an adult asking a young boy a “simple” question. “What are you going to be when you grow up?” The boy cannot give just one response. Instead, the youngster describes a variety of occupations he may want to explore when he grows up. Moreover, he may want to be a nurse, a cowboy, an undertaker, and the list goes delightfully on.

The occupation topic has been done before. However, Ms. Turner handles it extremely well. The hero of the story describes many occupations he may want to consider. The text matches the occupation the child discusses. For example, the text goes from bottom to top when the mountain climbing occupation is described. In addition, the text comes out wiggly and tall when the little boy talks about becoming a professional saxophone player. The boy briefly thinks about being a chef. He goes on to envision himself as the fireman putting out the flames of his own cooking. The illustrations are child-like. The art looks like a sketchbook that a child could have the ability to create. Moreover, Ms. Turner’s depiction of what children want to be when they grow up is clever. The readers are engaged as soon as they pick up the book. That is, readers are enthralled from dustcover to end matter. The text and child-like illustrations make this the kind of book that children and adults can enjoy together.

Children could make new dustcovers to go with their favorite books. As discussed, Ms. Turner includes the dustcover as part of the reading material. Children could take old favorites and make new dustcovers that go with and add to the story.

Children could pantomime a career highlighted in the text. The children could choose independently which one to do, or the children could draw the occupation out of a hat.


Other books that can prompt career discussion:
Falconer, Ian. OLIVIA. ISBN 0689829531

Other books that can prompt dustcover discussion:

By Laura K. Davis

Monday, August 9, 2004

Inside Out

Trueman, Terry. 2003. INSIDE OUT. New York: HarperTempest. ISBN 006623962 [Suggested Grade Levels 7-10]


A sixteen year old boy named Zach Wahhsted goes to a coffee shop to get a maple bar. While he is there, two boys come in to rob the place and end up holding everyone hostage. What the robbers do not know is that Zach suffers from schizophrenia. Throughout the ordeal, Zach is tormented by the voices that no one else can hear. The robbers have a surprising motive for their crime. At the end, there is a twist that will make the book unforgettable.

The book is told from Zach’s point of view, and he has a lot of trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy. The readers will cringe when they read about what Zach goes through without his medication. Mr. Trueman covers a difficult topic well. He challenges stereotypes by making Zach the hero rather than the criminal. He also mentions stereotypes when one of the robbers thinks Zach is retarded. At the beginning, the voices torment him so much that he wants to take his life. Luckily, his mother and psychiatrist intervene. The book’s sad topic and dark tone are not for everybody.


This book can jump start a discussion about mental illness. Teens can talk about the different kinds of illnesses and how they affect people. They can also discuss stereotypes and other misconceptions about the mentally ill.

Teens can read books to learn more about schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. By educating themselves, they can fight the stereotypes and stigmas that add to the pain of the mentally ill.


Other books about schizophrenia:
Phillips, Jane E. SCHIZOPHRENIA. ISBN 0766018962

Other books by Trueman that could be compared to this one:

By Christine Cortez

Saturday, August 7, 2004

When Everybody Wore a Hat

Steig, William. 2003. WHEN EVERYBODY WORE A HAT. New York: Joanna Cotler Books. ISBN 0060097000 [Suggested Grade Levels 1 and Up]


This picture book takes a nostalgic and generalized look at the year 1916, when 96-year-old author and illustrator William Steig was eight years old. In this book, he crafts brief lines of text, which offer up interesting tidbits about his life and the ways of the world at the time. Whimsical watercolor cartoons illustrate the people and events that still live in his memory.

Children will get a glimpse at a world gone by, where “boys never played with girls,” the doctor came to the patient, and a nickel made a fine birthday present. Steig’s casual mentions of ephemera of the past such as by-gone women’s fashions, hand-cranked phonographs and old-style cameras will pique the interest of inquisitive children and make them want to learn more about this era.

This book isn’t entirely lighthearted however, with mentions (albeit brief and rather detached ones) and illustrations depicting World War I and events such as getting sad news from the Old Country. Sensitive children may ask “Why is his mom crying?” or “Why is that man bleeding?” For more mature children, this could provide an entrĂ©e for a history lesson. The absence of explanation in the text could prompt a dialogue between a child and an older person (ex: “Why do you think his mom is crying? When have you cried like that?”).

The glimpses that are provided into a variety of events of 1916 will intrigue readers of all ages and make them want to learn more about the era when everybody wore a hat.


Children can discuss the elements, innovations and events of their own time period that they feel will be interesting to children of the future as they reflect back. They can use Steig’s art as a guideline for illustrating the descriptions they come up with, or as a group project these illustrations could be done on a mural.


Picture books featuring autobiographical or biographical aspects of an author’s life:
Lester, Helen. AUTHOR! A TRUE STORY. ISBN 0395827442

By Shannon McGregor

Thursday, August 5, 2004

The Green Dog: A Mostly True Story

Staples, Suzanne Fisher. 2003. THE GREEN DOG: A MOSTLY TRUE STORY. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0374327793 [Suggested Grade Levels 2-4]

Written by the author of Newberry award winning SHABANU, Suzanne Fisher Staples writes a beautiful, sentimental tale of a little girl’s dreams. This heart warming and humorous story is taken from Suzanne’s own childhood. Swimsuits, sun and long lazy days by the lake are ahead of the first day of summer after forth grade, and this lonely little tomboy longs for the companionship of a loyal dog. She spends her time daydreaming about what she and her dog, she would call him Jeff, would do together, filling each moment of the long summer days. Through an amazing turn of events, the dog she has been dreaming of becomes her very own. It requires some maneuvering and convincing though, for her parents to permit Jeff to stay. And, the question becomes, will she be able to keep him out of trouble long enough so he will not be taken to the farm?

This story eloquently examines a little girl’s feelings as to how she relates to friends and peers as well as the various members of her family, such as siblings, parents and her Grandmother, affectionately referred to as Mema. Also noteworthy is the relationship between the mother and the father. An incident occurs in which the mother, though she does not agree with the action of her husband, does not disagree with him in front of the children. The parent’s unified front is exemplified throughout the story. These details and many more work together to add to the magical feeling combined to create the heartwarming sentimentality of this delightful story.

Lead a discussion and challenge the children to think of the themes throughout the book, such as man verses man, or man verse nature as relationships are forged and transformed. Ask the students for support from the story for their responses.

This is also a great book to initiate creative writing as the students consider their own hopes and dreams which they currently hold or have held. They might then consider how they would respond to various outcomes to their dreams. Then the students can share and discuss their stories with each other and or the class.


Other stories about love and hope:
Creech, Sharon. GRANNY TORRELLI MAKES SOUP. ISBN 0060292903

By Kristi Mays

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Three Pebbles and a Song

Spinelli, E. 2003. THREE PEBBLES AND A SONG. Ill. by S.D. Schindler. New York: Dial Books. ISBN 0803725280 [Suggested Grade Levels K-2]


Precocious Moses the mouse is supposed to be out gathering food and materials for winter’s arrival. Poor Moses is caught dancing, singing, and collecting pebbles. His family members all tell him that gathering is best to prepare for the cold season. Yet, Moses cannot help enjoying the little things in his environment. When he returns home, the family members share what they have gathered for the winter. Papa mouse brings soft rags. Sister mouse brings raisins, and Mama has a collection of crumbs to eat. Moses laments the fact that he brought nothing useful back. Thanks to the other family members, the family is well-fed and warm. However, they all become bored as winter proceeds because they are confined to their winter dwelling. When Moses shares his pebbles, song, and dance, he provides much needed entertainment.

Spinelli’s book is a refreshing look at what is truly important in life. Too often, play gets a bad name. People forget that the little things in life are what truly matter in retrospect. Play becomes just as important as work in the text. Readers will enjoy the flowing story and the rich message. In addition, readers will pore over the gorgeous illustrations made with pastels and watercolors. Each mouse is drawn with careful detail. The mice have tender expressions that exude warmth and compassion. The art work has the kind of detail in which individual splinters can be identified on pieces of wood. In truth, this is the kind of book that will be appreciated in terms of its poignant message as well as its quality illustrations.

Children could discuss three items they would bring with them from the outside environment if they were confined to their homes for the winter.

Children could rewrite the ending to THREE PEBBLES AND A SONG. How would the story have ended if Moses had not shared what he gathered for winter?

Other books or tales that can prompt discussion about the value of play:
Lionni, Leo. FREDERICK. ISBN 0394826140
Ottolenghi, Carol. JACK AND THE BEANSTOCK. ISBN 1577683773
Stevens, Janet. THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE. ISBN 0823405648

Other books by Spinelli that could be compared to this one in terms of spirit and drive:

By Laura K. Davis

Sunday, August 1, 2004

Aesop's Fables

Sneed, Brad. 2003. AESOP’S FABLES. New York: Dial. ISBN 0802727518 [Suggested Grade Levels Preschool-2]


Brad Sneed retells and illustrates fifteen of Aesop’s fables. The book includes classic fables such as “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse” and lesser known works such as “The Caged Bird and the Bat.” At the end of each story is a one sentence moral. The book also includes a special treat for sharp-eyed readers which consists of an extra story told only in pictures.

Basically, Sneed updated all these fables because he wanted to give the stories a fresh new look. Children will laugh when they read about the animals that possess some human traits such as cunning, laziness, and foolishness. His use of puns is quite amusing. For example, the fox asks the crow, “Hey good looking! What’s a beautiful chick like you doing all alone in this forest?” The crow wonders why the fox thinks she is a chicken. The book is a simple, non-preachy way to teach children lessons. They will notice that the characters’ actions have consequences. Sneed also uses rich, delicate watercolors to create his pictures. He often exaggerates an animal’s features for humorous purposes. Kids will laugh when they see the country mouse’s expression when she see the grand feast before her. Overall, it is a classic with a fresh new twist.


Afterwards, the kids can search for the sixteenth tale in the book. Unlike the other stories, this one is told only in pictures. Nevertheless, the pictures have no trouble telling the story on their own. Look for the tale of The Tortoise and the Hare.

The kids can also dramatize the fables.


Lynch, Tom. FABLES OF AESOP. ISBN 0670889482

By Christine Cortez

Friday, July 30, 2004

The Hard-Times Jar

Smothers, Ethel Footman. 2003. THE HARD-TIMES JAR. Ill. By John Holyfield. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0374328528 [Suggested Grade Levels 1-3]

Being the daughter of migrant workers isn’t easy. Emma and her family moves around a lot. And when they aren’t moving around they are always working hard picking crops to make enough money to survive. Emma knows that there is barely enough money to cover the basic needs of her family of five, much less to buy a store-bought book. But Emma still dreams of owning her own store bought book, and in the mean time she decides to make her own books from scraps of paper. Emma devises a plan to be able to afford a book, but quickly realizes with sadness that her plan will not work. Emma then feels hopeless as she wonders if she will ever be able to own her own store-bought book.

Beautifully created pictures that have the appearance of canvas paintings, along with wonderfully stylistic wording will be quick to draw anyone in to this fictional tale of a migrant family. Illustrations created by John Holyfield will really make the story come alive to readers of all ages. Amazing analogies compare scarcity of money to "hen’s teeth" and describe “string beans that hung like long green fingers.” This is a fantastic book that reminds it’s readers to appreciate the blessing of the simple things. Smothers has produced an eye-opening book into a way of life with which many many readers may not be familiar.

This book would be a great discussion starter about what people know about migrant workers as a tool in a in a social studies unit about migrant workers. This could also be an exercise in creative writing. After reading this book the children could create their own books using paper bags for paper and other remnants and write about what life would be like as migrant worker.

Use this in an English lesson and do an exercise with children picking out and discussing all the analogies they can find such as “Scarcer than hen’s teeth,” “Rusty red pennies. Thin dimes. And … a fat quarter.” And “String beans hung like long green fingers.”

Other stories about using the imagination to change the surroundings:
Gray, Libba Moore. MY MAMA HAD A DANCING HEART. ISBN 0531071421
Rylant, Cynthia. THE OLD WOMAN WHO NAMED THINGS. ISBN 0152021027

Other books by Smothers that could be compared to this one:
AUNTEE EDNA. ISBN 0802851541

By Kristi Mays

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Clever Lollipop

Smith-King, Dick. 2003. CLEVER LOLLIPOP. Ill. By Jill Barton. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763621749 [Suggested Grade Levels 3-5]


Princess Penelope enjoys a series of adventures with her friend Johnny, their pet pig Lady Lollipop, and their teacher Collie Cob, the Conjuror. Adventures include fertilizing the queen’s garden, restoring the king’s appetite, and Penelope getting a surprise present from her pet pig, Lady Lollipop.

Penelope also goes through a transformation. At the beginning of the book, she is rude, selfish, and stubborn. She becomes a nicer person thanks to Collie Cob and Johnny. Occasionally, she has a rude moment, but Collie Cob knows how to handle her. For example, Penelope wants to try a potion that Collie Cob made for her father. When he says no, she shouts at him. He quietly tells not to shout at him like that. When the king is feeling better, she apologizes for her behavior. The pictures are pencil drawings with some shading that enhance the text. She does a good job of capturing the characters’ emotions. This delightful book will make children laugh.


Kids can write their own stories about a bratty person that makes a transformation. This is a good way for them to work their creative muscles. Illustrations can be included.


Other books about clever pigs:
Brooks, Walter R. FREDDY AND THE SPACESHIP. ISBN 0142300896
Moller, Linda. THE GREAT PIG ESCAPE. ISBN 0862786673

Other books by Smith-King that could be compared to this one:

By Christine Cortez

Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Happy Hocky Family Moves to the Country

Smith, Lane. 2003. THE HAPPY HOCKY FAMILY MOVES TO THE COUNTRY. Ill. by Lane Smith. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0670035947 [Suggested Grade Levels 1-5]

Lane Smith has created a funny easy reader with wit and humor. The Hocky Family has decided to move to the country where they find things are not always simple. Squirrels invade the bird a feeder, poison ivy attacks the children, Henry’s prize tomato looses at the fair, and the house leaks when it rains. But, despite the set backs, the Hocky’s decide life in the country will be okay! At the end of the story, the Hockys give tribute to the Waltons by wishing each family member good night.

Lane Smith has brought the Hocky Family back to life. The brown paper background laden with red plaid gives the book its country appeal. The visual elements and the Dick and Jane writing style gives the book its retro appeal to adult readers. The illustrations are filled with multiple simplistic geometric shapes. The book is divided into sections, each telling a brief story about the Hocky family. These pictures are page-turners. A succession of one-page illustrations shows Henry’s astonishment at the county fair, but turn the page and see his disappointment. The art is accessible and interesting to children and adults. The text and the pictures work brilliantly together to clarify, enhance, and extend the story. Children will enjoy the Hocky Family for years to come.


The short chapters of understatement would be great for a pair or trio of children to read and act out as skits.

The multitude of geometric shapes can be identified in a math lesson. Students can design their own pictures using only geometric shapes. Students cut out geometric shapes from a sheet of construction paper. Students are to create another shape with their cutouts. Encourage them to tie their shape awareness with what they see in their environment; for example, a child might make a boat using a trapezoid and 3 triangles. After students have glued the shapes on the construction paper, they can create a background with markers or crayons.

Other stories about families:
Clement, Rod. JUST ANOTHER ORDINARY DAY. ASIN 0060276673
Denim, Sue. MAKE WAY FOR DUMB BUNNIES. ISBN 0590582887
Smith, Lane. THE HAPPY HOCKY FAMILY. ISBN 0670852066

By Jill Howell

Friday, July 23, 2004

The Way a Door Closes

Smith, H. 2003. THE WAY A DOOR CLOSES. Ill. by Shane Evans. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 080506477X [Suggested Grade Levels 5-8]

Anita Smith wrote a beautifully poetic verse novel. Through a sequential series of poems, Smith weaves an engaging tale of a young African American boy. The first poem begins by describing the family as “golden.” As the string of poems continue, the boy’s father loses his job and serious troubles begin. The father becomes deeply discouraged, so he leaves home. The boy struggles to be the man of the house after his father abandons them. The poems are deep and tell a rich story about overcoming adversity. The tale ends with hope. The boy triumphs as a member of the family, and the proud, lost father ultimately returns home.

The story of a boy’s sorrow after losing his father is not a new one. Yet, Ms. Smith portrays the subject in a fresh, new light. Her words create sharp visions in the reader’s mind. For example, the hero of the poems reports that he knew his father was not coming back after he left one fateful evening. He says, “I can tell a lot by the way a door closes.” Simple words continue to create sharp images throughout the text. As the boy enjoys a joyous winter snow, he says that his father was wrong. “There are good white things.” Anita Smith has an uncanny ability to use a few words to evoke powerful thoughts and emotions. The text and illustrations work well to tell the difficult story. Mr. Evans’ rich, painted illustrations effectively show the pain the family feels after the true man of the house leaves. The poetic verse novel will leave readers contemplating its rich contents long after the book is put down.


Children can come up with their own poems illustrating personal conflicts they have endured. The children may or may not choose to share the poems with the group.

Children can select a poem from THE WAY A DOOR CLOSES to read for the class. Props such as posters and clothing may be used. However, it is important to emphasize the fact that the actual reading of the poem is the most important part of the activity.


Other texts that deal with youth succeeding despite difficult personal hardships.
Wolff, Virginia. MAKE LEMONADE. ISBN 0805022287
Wolff, Virginia. TRUE BELIEVER. ISBN 0689828276
Myers, Walter. THE DREAM BEARER. ISBN 0060295228

By Laura K. Davis

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo

Smith, Greg Leitich. 2003. NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0316778540 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-8]


Elias Brandenburg is the go-between, juggling his feelings in Honoria and Honoria’s romantic interest in Shohei. Shohei’s Irish American adoptive parents feel he should embrace his Asian heritage. Honoria is bombarded with anonymous romantic e-mails that she thinks are from either Shohei or class counsel rival Goliath Reed, never suspecting her true paramour is Elias. The trio is also saddled with the burden of creating memorable science fair projects. Such distractions are par for the course while attending “That Which Is The Peshtigo School.” Honoria takes the science fair seriously (will piranhas eat bananas?), but her compatriots are less enthusiastic. Elias rummages through the family files and finds an experiment conducted by his older brother years earlier. In a poorly veiled attempt to continue his brother’s work with the effects of classical music on the growth of plants, Elias recruits Shohei, himself looking for the easiest experiment possible. As his work progresses, Elias discovers music may not be the key to healthy plants. However, he has no evidence to back up this theory because Shohei’s younger brother Tim, (proclaiming himself an Irish ninja), killed the plants. Shohei faked his results by studying video of the plants. Facing Galileo’s dilemma of “recant and apologize,” Elias must declare that his own experiment is wrong or receive a two-week suspension for changing the music playing for the plants.

Peshtigo is peopled with students from privileged families who emphasize academics, so the threesome’s accomplishments and intellects are not unique. Steering clear of dramatic teen angst and dysfunction, the story does not mire the kids in stereotypical problems such as drugs or teen pregnancy. The story revolves around the friendship they have and how the trio connects with the others. They are humorous, intelligent, authentic, with convincing and genuine emotions. These three are not prep school snobs as their attendance at Peshtigo might imply, rather they are friends facing these challenges with wit, hilarity, and warmth.


Encourage readers to listen to some of the classical compositions mentioned, as well as explore the lives of classical composers. Starting with the information in the Author’s note, encourage readers to learn more about Galileo’s contributions and the challenges he faced.


Other stories about friendships:
Koningsburg, E.L. THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY. ISBN 068980993X
Tolan, Stephanie S. SURVIVING THE APPLEWHITES. ISBN 0066236029

By Lea Ann Gilbert

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin, Naturalist, Geologist, and Thinker

Sis, Peter. 2003. THE TREE OF LIFE: A BOOK DEPICTING THE LIFE OF CHARLES DARWIN, NATURALIST, GEOLOGIST& THINKER. New York: Farrar, Straus Giroux. ISBN 0374456283 [Suggested Grade Levels 4 and up]

Sis presents the life of the famous nineteenth-century naturalist using information gathered to create illustrations to accompany Darwin's writings. The book begins with a focus on Darwin’s early work as a naturalist (with detailed pages capturing his five year expedition on the H.M.S. Beagle). Much attention is also given to his personal life including his strife with his father, the deaths of many of his children, and his struggle to gain support for his theories.

In this captivating picture book biography, Sis breathes life into Darwin’s work by offering an insightful perspective on his life and times. Using Darwin’s extensive body of notes, letters, journals, and diary entries, Sis masterfully narrates the scientist’s work through illustrations and text. Told chronologically, the main body of the text falls below the framed illustrations. Using this format, the account of Darwin’s life is divided into three parts: public life, private life, and secret life. Font size is manipulated so that his most private experiences appear somewhat faint on the page. This is achieved through the use of a small scaled text, which allows the reader to experience the sensation of sharing Darwin’s secrets. With no detail is overlooked, the true beauty of the book is Sis’s art—he gives great attention to every visual element. Stunning images fill every page which incorporates a palette of muted tones of blue, tan, and green. Portraits, maps, graphs, and vivid end sheets all work together with text to create a striking picture book biography that offers readers an opportunity to discover Darwin and his contributions to the natural sciences as well as an introduction to his theories.

Readers beginning a study of the natural sciences could use Sis’s book as an introduction to Darwin and his theories. After reading, they could create their own timeline of the major events in Darwin’s life, ranking them by importance.

Other resources about the Charles Darwin:
Nardo, Don. CHARLES DARWIN. ISBN 0737700815

Other works by Sis:

By Rose Brock

Monday, July 19, 2004


Simon, Seymour. 2003. SPIDERS. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0060283912 [Suggested Grade Levels K – 4]

Have you ever looked a spider in the eye? Looking at the pictures in Seymour Simon’s new book SPIDERS brings you up close and friendly with these fussy eight-legged creatures. This book will cause the arachnophobia to appreciate these scary looking creatures. If the book were compiled of pictures alone it would still remain effective. The photographs are vibrant, up close, and show the arachnid at its best. Turn the page and the tarantula looks as if he’s going to leap from the page and land in your hand.

The book is well organized. Even though the extraordinary photography could carry the entire book, the information is accurately and entertainingly written. Seymour introduces the reader to a variety of spiders that crawl across our carpets and hang from the corners of our ceilings. He explains and gives examples of how and why spiders spin webs, what a spider is, when a spider mates, and the longevity of the eight-legged creature. Seymour Simon has produced numerous books with intriguing and informative data, but this book goes far beyond intriguing.

For younger students, have them make a spider from Styrofoam balls and pipe cleaners.

Students further their understanding of arachnids by choosing a spider and researching its characteristics and abilities.

Build character and make a web: Sit the class in a circle. Hold a ball of white yarn. Hang on to the end and toss the yarn to a child. State something nice about the child. The child with the yarn holds onto a section and repeats until everyone has had a turn. When you are finished, you will have a spider web.


Other books about spiders:
Berger, Melvin. SPINNING SPIDERS. ISBN 0064452007
Gibbons, Gail. SPIDERS. ISBN 0823410811
Glaser, Linda. SPECTACULAR SPIDERS. ISBN 0761303863

By Jill Howell

Saturday, July 17, 2004


Simon, Seymour. 2003. HURRICANES. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0688162924 [Suggested Grade Levels: all]


Seymour Simon brings to reality the power of a hurricane in his unique style. In Hurricanes, Simon expresses the power of the devastating winds exemplified in the notable storms, such as Andrew, Camille, and Floyd. Satellite photos in brilliant color aid in the explanation of the progress of the technology used to predict hurricanes. He also provides accurate accounts of the history of some of the worst storms in US history and the damaging effects of these storms. In the conclusion of the book the author provides wonderful information about what people should do in preparation for one of these monstrous storms.

Dramatic photographs of the deadly storms during the devastation, as well as of the wreckage left behind, drive home the points made by Seymour Simon and really work to catch the eye of any audience in this brilliant picture book. In this book, Simon well acquaints his young readers to the amazing phenomena of the hurricane. He also presents the type of practical information that audiences of all ages can enjoy. With such a thorough and interesting presentation Simon practically dares anyone to not learn something from a reading of the wonderfully orchestrated pages of this book.

Used in conjunction with other related books by Simon, Hurricanes opens a wonderful discussion about storms and the science behind the power encased therein.

Questions sparked through a reading of this text would prove to be a great foundation for further research about any of the plethora of topics ranging from development in weather forecasting to creation of satellite photographs or even the history of weather phenomena.

Students can look up some old newspaper reports on the internet to examine more closely some of the effects of the storms mentioned in this book and share them with their classmates. They could compare the information stated in the book with what they find in the reports.

Students could also be encouraged to create their own satellite photographs along with other pictures that come to mind following the conclusion of this book.

Other books about the weather by Simon:
Simon, Seymour. EARTHQUAKES. ISBN 068814022X
Simon, Seymour. LIGHTENING. ISBN 0688167063
Simon, Seymour. VOLCANOES. ISBN 0688140297

By Kristi Mays

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Almost Late to School: And More School Poems

Shields, Carol Diggory. 2003. ALMOST LATE TO SCHOOL: AND MORE SCHOOL POEMS. Ill. by Paul Meisel. New York: Dutton Children’s Books. ISBN 0525457437 [Suggested Grade Levels Pre K - 5]

Recess, jumping rope, catching the bus, passing notes, in all there are twenty-two poems of school life encompassing many favorite school activities. From the woes of the first day of school through presenting oral reports, show and tell, broken friendships and even a band teacher who needs to wear earplugs, these poems are delightful. There is the science fair project which clearly gives the steps of the scientific method in a creative way and will instruct one on the project of making a brother disappear. There are children solving math problems, and those needing to use the restroom, just waiting and praying for the end of class to come. There is the little boy sitting in detention just knowing that he was framed, while the after school bake sale fundraiser is going on outside. The closing poem is of two friends and would be performed best with two voices sharing the joys of this beautiful friendship.

Crafty, playful and very appealing to children, the illustrations aid in making this a very attractive and marketable book to children. Due to the child appeal, with its beautiful pictures and playful, easily identifiable child perspective poems, this book will do a great job at peaking a child’s interest in poetry and engaging the student. The rhyme patterns make it an enjoyable book to read out loud to a class, silently to oneself, or as a parent just before bedtime. The book is crafted in such a way that reading one or two poems at a time or reading the whole book is just as appealing. Each poem provides a great introduction or “ice-breaker” for a new activity in school life. These are also great tools for young readers to begin reading stanzas and rhyme patterns. There is humor included which will engage the older reader, as well. Whomever the audience, this book will accomplish its goal of introducing children to the wonderful world of poetry.


Filled with great poems to teach memorization tricks to young children, have the children pick a poem to memorize and perform for the class or at a language arts festival. These catchy poems are also quite useful as a transition tool.

This is a great book to use to introduce and teach rhyming words to young children with words like “me and be” or quiet and riot within the poems. The poems also make writing poetry more approachable for young wirters and are a great tool to use to introduce children to the opportunity to write their own poems.


Other books about school days:
Danneburg, Julie. FIRST DAY JITTERS. ISBN 1580890547
Poydar, Nancy. FIRST DAY HOORAY. ISBN 0823416305
By Kristi Mays

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Millions to Measure

Schwartz, David M. 2003. MILLIONS TO MEASURE. Ill. by Steven Kellogg. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 006623784X [Suggested Grade Levels 1-4]


Not the typical dry and drab nonfiction offering, MILLIONS sheds light on the confusing concepts of measuring systems. Mathematics, measurements, and the metric system sparkle in the latest adventure of Marvelosissimo the Mathematical Magician. This time he tackles measuring systems. A brief history of measuring systems and the need for standardization is presented. Linear, volume, and weight measurements are compared. The origin of the American “customary system” of measurement is explained. Details of the metric system are also included.

Colorful illustrations and an entertaining supporting cast add to Marvelosissimo’s explanations and examples. Actual examples of a standard 12-inch ruler and a fold-out meter stick are included to provide readers with tangible examples of the lengths discussed, rather than Explanations of metric prefixes accompany to-scale illustrations to provide concrete visual samples to help readers compare the measurements. MILLIONS takes the fear and intimidation out of math. It provides simple examples that make these concepts accessible. Readers will be fascinated by the arbitrary standards upon which previous measuring systems were based. The history lesson is concise, and the math lessons are understandable. Readers can utilize this user-friendly reference to refresh their skills or to inspire new exploration.

Readers can use this book as a quick reference or supplemental resource for measurements, especially the metric system. Encourage children to compare their own feet to emphasize the discrepancies between measuring systems based on body parts discussed in the book. Have children use the rulers in the book to measure and record sizes and distances of items in the library and record them on a chart for display. Using the information presented in the author’s note, encourage readers to do further research into the lost Mars orbiter.

Other books by Schwartz that could be compared to this one:

By Lea Ann Gilbert

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Rowling, J.K. 2003. HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN 043935806X [Suggested Grade Levels 4-8]


Harry Potter is now in his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Now that Lord Voldemort is back, he must remain vigilant at all times, adding a considerable amount of stress to Harry’s life. At the age of fifteen, Harry must already deal with the everyday pressures of balancing friends, homework, and even a girlfriend. The Order of the Phoenix reassembles in order to protect Harry, but many of the dangers are right inside Harry’s mind. In the end, though, Harry’s heart prevails, and the forces of good will overpower evil.

Rowling works more than imaginary magic with this book. Woven in subtly and with excellent context, a wealth of vocabulary comes to life. Rowling’s attention to detail presents fantasy with such intimate reality that the imagination has no difficulty drawing pictures in the reader’s mind. The exciting plot stays true to the first four books in the series and pulls readers out of their chairs and right into the thick of things. The complex maze of characters grows immensely through the dialogue and through the thoughts of the characters, especially Harry’s. In fact, the reader discovers a whole new dimension to (and perhaps even a little sympathy for) the sneering Professor Snape when Harry actually borrows Snape’s memories for a while. Children especially will love the out of the ordinary possibilities found in the story. This is fantasy with just enough realism to make children wish they could live in Harry’s world too.


Many kids would be much more enthusiastic about their homework if they had to write a “three foot” essay on a scroll with a feather quill and inkwell rather than a three page essay on notebook paper with a pencil. Have children write their own “Harry Potter” story on rolled up paper and tie it closed with string.

Encourage children to use their imaginations by having them draw pictures of the various creatures featured in the book.

Other fantasy books that might appeal to Harry Potter fans:
Colfer, Eoin. ARTEMIS FOWL. ISBN 0786808012
Jacques, Brian. REDWALL. ISBN 0399214240
Tolkien, J.R.R. THE HOBBIT. ISBN 0618162216

Other Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling:

By Amy D. Picard

Friday, July 9, 2004

Big Momma Makes the World

Root, Phyllis. 2003. BIG MOMMA MAKES THE WORLD. Ill. by Helen Oxenbury. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763611328 [Suggested Grade Levels PreK-2]


For a fun twist of the creation myth, Root has given us Big Momma. As mommas are known for their ability to handle everything at once, such as a baby on one hip and the dirty dishes piling up, Big Momma decides it is time to make a world to live in. And when Big Momma says to do something, “something” gets done. From lightness and darkness to crawling critters and friendly neighbors, Big Momma thinks of everything. She’s even efficient enough to finish it all off in one “Big Bang”. Each night, she takes a moment to reflect on the day’s accomplishments, looks down at that little baby of hers, and says, “That’s good. That’s real good.”

Root endears her readers to Big Momma through the familiarity of the love between mother and child, also applying it, in this case, to the love of a creator for her creation. Oxenbury’s paintings dramatize the depth of this story to its fullest potential. In the beginning, although the work is vibrant, she uses monochromatics to emphasize the newness of everything. Then, as the days progress, and more and more features are added to the new world, a full rainbow of color marks Big Momma’s accomplishments. In the end, all is well, and Big Momma has given her baby the ultimate gift – the entire world.


This book would be an excellent inclusion in a study of the wide variety of creation stories found in different cultures all around the world. It opens up for discussion the aspect of interpretation and symbolism.

Younger children, especially, will be full of questions after listening to this book. Use the opportunity to encourage dialogue about personal beliefs, comparing and contrasting this version with the child’s own.

Other picture books about Creation:
Johnson, James Weldon. THE CREATION. ISBN 0823410692
Lester, Julius. WHAT A TRULY COOL WORLD. ISBN 0590864688

Another biblically based story by Phyllis Root:

By Amy D. Picard

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

To Spoil the Sun

Rockwood, Joyce. 2003. TO SPOIL THE SUN. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0805073728 [Suggested Grade Levels Young Adult]


It is the early sixteenth century in a town called Mulberry in the southern hills of the Appalachian Mountains before the Spaniards or “Immortals” arrive bearing their “invisible fire.” A young Cherokee girl named Rain Dove is dreaming of marrying a young warrior and having children. Soon her heart is struck with anxiety as she listens to the wise men of the Seven Clans discuss the meaning of the four omens. After all, four omens signal death and complete “the circle.” The first two came in the dead of winter: a rattler strikes down a hawk and an ominous thunderstorm threatened to destroy the town. By spring, the “Ancient Fire” had become a “charred heap,” but the last and most disturbing omen was the arrival of the “Immortals.” Rain Dove’s discernment and interest in the affairs of the council bring her to the attention of one of the council’s most prominent and older men named Mink. He enjoys her wisdom and sensibility and asks her grandfather if she might become his second wife. After a short period of time, Mink dissolves the marriage and frees Rain Dove to marry his young nephew, a brave and popular warrior named Trotting Wolf. They have twin boys and a daughter. While Trotting Wolf is away leading a war party, the ghastly “invisible fire” known as smallpox begins its horrifying rampage. Their firstborn son and little daughter are among the thousands that are left dead by its unrelenting force. Upon Trotting Wolf’s return, Rain Dove and their son, Traveler work to rebuild their lives. Because of her heroism, wisdom, and bravery, she becomes the first woman to be granted the honor of serving on the council of the Seven Clans.

Rockwood’s profound use of words and visual imagery is extraordinary (e.g.” You cannot imagine what it is like…it falls on everyone and soon there is no one left…It is like a fire that sweeps through, an invisible fire. People begin to fall, blisters rise…and turn to running sores…there is no way to give them comfort…I reeled at the force of it, horror-struck…”). In the “Afterword” there is an interesting timeline and a moving comment by Rockwood. “These events…are obscure sentences…the Indians…affected by these ‘minor’ events are never glimpsed by us…This book, then, is about a people who lived and died on the other side of history, just beyond our view.”


Readers can research the recurrent epidemics that swept through the eastern section of North America during this period. They could discuss the difference in the inevitability of smallpox opposed to diseases like malaria and yellow fever. They can enlarge their understanding of the interesting and different “pox viruses” that exist today via the Web.

Other books that deal with struggle, perseverance, and the will to survive:
Borland, Hal. WHEN THE LEGENDS DIE. ISBN 0553257382
Creech, Sharon. WALK TWO MOONS. ISBN 0064405176
By Rita Pickett

The Dot

Reynolds, Peter. 2003. THE DOT. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763619612 [Suggested Grade Levels K-5]

Vashti is convinced she is not an artist until her art teacher says, “Just make a mark.” Vashti makes her attitudinized mark on her paper, signs it, and turns it in to her teacher. When Vashti enters the art room for the next lesson, she discovers that her art teacher has framed and displayed her masterpiece. This kind spirited act encourages Vashti to explore her artistic abilities. She paints a rainbow of dots, makes little dots into a large dot, and even makes a dot by not painting a dot. With her new found ability, she is able to encourage others to make their mark.

This is a book for all those children who say, “I can’t,” or “I wish I could.” This is a fallaciously simple picture book that delves deep into the psyche to encourage what is already inside. The dot is illustrated with ink and watercolors to continue with the simplistic structure of the book. The change of colors change along with Vashti’s moods. As she sits irritably in front of the blank page, the gray and blue hues create a sad blanket over the page. And when she finally decides to make a mark, the red-orange colors slam down vertically with her pen. As her attitude changes so do the colors and hues. The colors and hues become bright and light as does Vashti’s disposition. This book may be a child’s first step to taking a chance or trying something new and challenging.


Read the story to students to show them that they can do things that they think they cannot.

Students make their own mark and create a picture using only that mark.

Students can cut out 4 to 5 different shapes out of colored construction paper. These shapes are their own creations. Using only these 4 or 5 shapes, have students design a picture on white construction paper. Students can then explain why they chose these shapes. There is no set design students have to follow. It if free form!


Other stories about the value of an inspiration:
Browne, Anthony. WILLY THE DREAMER. AISN 0763618837
Cohen, Miriam. NO GOOD IN ART. ISBN 0688842348
Moss, Marissa. REGINA’S BIG MISTAKE. ISBN 039555330X

By Jill Howell

Monday, July 5, 2004

My Name is Yoon

Recorvits, Helen. 2003. MY NAME IS YOON. Ill. by Gabi Swiatkowska. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0374351147 [Suggested Grade Levels K – 2]


Yoon is a young Korean girl who has immigrated with her family to the United States. She yearns to return to her homeland where her name, meaning “Shining Wisdom,” dances together as symbols instead of the ugly circles and lines that appear in English. Yoon learns how to spell “cat” and substitutes “CAT” for her own name. Yoon’s teacher encourages her to use her own name but Yoon, who is certain her teacher and classmates dislike her, writes “CAT” on every line trying to conceal her inner feelings. It is an encounter with a classmate on the playground that Yoon imagines she is “CUPCAKE” and wins the affection of her classmates. In the end, Yoon accepts her new home and English name knowing she is still “Shining Wisdom.”

Swiatkowsha creates vibrant pictures laden with surprising vistas and dreamscapes. Her paintings border on surrealistic. They support the feeling and emotions of Yoon. The reader is drawn in to feel for Yoon as her face reveals the range of feelings from sadness, confusion, irritation, playfulness, and finally pride. Children will identify with Yoon and her feelings of insecurity and lack of acceptance. This is a sensitive look at how a young girl learns to adopt her new country, accepts the changes in her life, and thrives in her new circumstances. This is a great book to share with young ones beginning a new school year.

Yoon’s name means “Shining Wisdom.” Have students predict what the meanings of their names are. Students can base their predictions on appearance, personality traits, etc. Then students will look up the real meanings using www.thebaby.net.com. Students can interview their parents and find out where their names came from.

Children can create an individual name shield. In the center of the shield, students write their names and the meanings. In the sections around the center, students will write and draw a picture of their favorite food, hobby, television show, etc. Students can share their shields with their classmates.

Other books about dealing with change and finding acceptance:
Choi, Yangsook. THE NAME JAR. ISBN 0395616263
Hartung, Susan Kathleen. DEAR JUNO. ISBN 0670882526
Park, Frances. Good-Bye, 382 SHIN DANG DONG. ISBN: 0395616263

By Jill Howell

Saturday, July 3, 2004


Prose, Francine. 2003. AFTER. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 0060080825 [Suggested Grade Levels 8-12]


Combining conspiracy theory and, part mystery, AFTER presents life at Central High School for Tom Bishop and his friends after a shooting incident takes place at nearby Pleasant Valley High School. In reaction to the shootings psychologist Mr. Willner steps in to ensure that a similar event will not happen at Central. Willner brings with him a totalitarian hand, armed guards, metal detectors, and an increased feeling of paranoia. The world of Central High School is turned upside down- classrooms are bugged, parents are brainwashed by e-mails, the principal disappears, the students can no longer wear red, lockers are searched, books and CDs are confiscated, and students die mysteriously after being sent to rehabilitation camps. Teachers are in danger as well. A popular history teacher disappears after letting a contraband cell phone ring in class. The basketball coach is forced to conduct random drug tests on his players. Everyone feels the vice-like grip of Mr. Willner’s scrutiny. Creativity is stifled and deviation from the rules is not tolerated. Eventually most of the students fall into line. Tom begins to suspect that Willner is manipulating the student body, not counsel bereaved students. His minor incursions put him in constant conflict with the nefarious Mr. Willner.

As formula dictates, Tom finally convinces his parents of the brainwashing going on at Central. The Bishops leave with a few of Tom’s friends just as Willner’s trap starts to close in around them. Tom is a likeable hero, and because he is neither the typical “perfect kid,” nor the “rebellious youth,” he is easy for readers to relate to. He is loyal to his friends and family, but he is not perfect. He does not save the day, but he does try to save his loved ones. AFTER is suspenseful, dramatic, and fast-paced. Readers will appreciate the opportunity to scrutinize the authoritarian nature of school rules without having to follow such a stringent system or live under the extreme oppression depicted at Central High School. It also allows readers to think about the consequences of violence in schools without being didactic or condescending.


Encourage readers to investigate how different leaders throughout history have been able to persuade groups of people to follow or obey them. Discuss how various historical figures were able to take advantage of a tragic or chaotic event to come into power and affect change.

Other stories about violence at school and surviving the aftermath:
Koertge, Ron. THE BRIMSTONE JOURNALS. ISBN 0763613029
Strasser, Todd. GIVE A BOY A GUN. ISBN 0689848935

By Lea Ann Gilbert

Thursday, July 1, 2004


Pressler, M. 2003. MALKA. New York: Philomel Books. ISBN 0399239847
[Suggested Grade Levels 7-10]

MALKA is the true story of a young Jewish girl living in Poland during the World War II
era. Her mother delays leaving Poland because she mistakenly believes her skills as a doctor save her from military cruelty. Eventually, Malka's mother escapes hastily with her two daughters. The family is ill-prepared for the journey across the mountains that divide Hungary and Poland. As a result, Malka becomes gravely ill midway through the journey to freedom. Malka's mother chooses to continue on with her older daughter and send for Malka later. The decision haunts Malka and her mother for the rest of tale. Malka is sent to the streets because the family hiding her is literally scared to death for their own safety. Malka must find her own food and shelter to survive the horrible times. She stares death in the face on a daily basis as a seven-year-old child. Ultimately, Malka's mother returns for her, and the two are reunited. This cannot be too happy of an ending when readers ponder the damage that has been done to the poor, abandoned daughter.

Ms. Pressler tells an unforgettable true story about Malka and her journey to
freedom. The time period is portrayed with haunting accuracy. Readers feel the
fear of the people hunted down with unbelievable cruelty. Readers also empathize
with those who hid the Jewish families. The reality of being scared to death to help
others is depicted well through rich descriptions and dialogue. Perhaps, the most
compelling issue in the tale deals with the mother's choice to leave her youngest child
behind. This is the issue that meets Malka and her mother at night in their dreams.
This remarkable story is an unforgettable one about prejudice, survival, and


Young adults can discuss the mother's choice to leave her youngest daughter
behind during their escape from persecution.

Young adults can role-play different characters portrayed in the story. Malka, the mother,
the sister, church members, and Jewish sympathizers are just a few suggestions of
characters that may be used for role-play situations.

Other books by Pressler that can be compared with this one in terms of the Jewish plight during the World War II era:
HALINKA. ISBN 0805058613

By Laura K. Davis

Thursday, June 24, 2004

The She

Plum-Ucci, Carol. 2003. THE SHE. New York: Harcourt Children’s Books. ISBN 0152168192
[Suggested Grade Levels: 8 and up].


At the age of nine, Evan Barratt’s parents disappeared into the ocean, leaving Evan and his older brother orphans. Now Evan is 17 and has blocked out of his mind the terrible things he heard as a child as his mother called mistakenly called in the mayday over the ship-to-shore radio right before the disappearance of their ship. However, Evan’s mind has been unlocked through a prank played on him when a classmate slipped one single tablet of LSD into his drink, opening up his memories of the violent storm, the frantic mayday, and the hopelessness that he and his older brother could do nothing to stop the tragedy. Evan must face the tragedy of his past, confront his fears of the ocean and the legendary sea-hag known as The She who as legend tells eats ships off the New Jersey coast, and find out the truth about his parents disappearance.

Well-researched details of seafaring lore provide a strong thread of intrigue in this story filled with twists and turns, failure and success, friendship and family ties, and speculation of all sorts. In this mystery-laden story, the characters are well developed and real to the reader. The trials and tribulations that each character faces in his or her own life, and the steps each character takes to handle these experiences, create characters that are individual and unique, while intertwined by the events of the story. The reader is drawn in to the story and finds himself sitting on pins and needles as the story unfolds, unable to put the book down even for momentarily relief from the levels of anxiety felt as each action quickly builds into a climax. As the story finishes, the reader finds himself filled with relief that things have been resolved and hope that there will be future resolutions to come for the characters involved.


Research other legends and myths.
Learn about ocean-related careers.
Learn about historical tragedies that have occurred at sea, i.e. the sinking of the Titanic.
Discuss the elements that make these characters so real and create a character profile of each.

Other stories of the sea:
Rylant, Cynthia. THE ISLANDER. 0789424908.
Other stories dealing with a parent’s death:
Holt, Kimberly Willis. KEEPER OF THE NIGHT. ISBN 0805063617.

Other books by Carol Plum-Ucci that could be compared to this one:

By Kirsten Murphy

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Earthshake: Poems From the Ground Up

Peters, Lisa Westberg. 2003. EARTHSHAKE: POEMS FROM THE GROUND UP.
Ill. by Cathie Felstead. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 0060292660 [Suggested Grade Levels 3-6]

This book presents the reader with a group of scientific poems about such topics as plate tectonics, meteors and underwater currents. The surprising part is that it takes a subject that some may feel to be as dull as a rock; cracks it open, and makes it come alive with the sparkle of lively language. This collection of fun and witty poems crosses the boundary between earth science and language arts. There is an example of haiku describing a hill in Japan that provides clay for bowls and a concrete poem shaped as a quartz crystal. Other poems take less traditional forms as the “fiery death” of a meteor is told as a news blurb.

Teachers and children will chuckle over Lisa Westberg Peters’ clever use of language as the verses discuss the proper loading of continental “plates” into the dishwasher. The “pun” continues when the strata of earth are served up on a platter like layer cake, complete with candles. The illustrations, done by Cathie Felstead, are a great accompaniment and as individual as the poems themselves. All of these factors come together with great text layouts to add further meaning. Words take on direction in the poem “Dizzy Wind” and follow the arcs of the globe in “Polar Confusion.” Great endnotes further explaining the scientific topics covered are the perfect ending to this unique and imaginative collection. EARTHSHAKE is a great way to convey to students the message that there is poetry everywhere and that science is interesting and fun.

This could be great as a reinforcement or discussion starting point for an earth science lesson. The poems can be brought out individually as the lessons they pertain to are presented, or used as a whole.

Children can re-illustrate the poems using some of the substances described here. Paint can be blown around the paper through a straw, for “Dizzy Wind” and sand can be used to resist paint for “Michigan Sahara,” exploring language and science through art.


Poetry collections that cross (subject) boundaries:
Franco, Betsy. MATHMATICKLES. ISBN 0689843577

By Marianne Follis

Monday, June 21, 2004

The River Between Us

Peck, Richard. 2003. THE RIVER BETWEEN US. New York: Dial Books. ISBN 0803727356 [Suggested Grade Levels 6 and up]


“Imagine a time when there were still people around who’d seen U.S. Grant with their own eyes and men who had voted for Lincoln.” In a journey that will change his life forever, fifteen-year-old Howard Leland Hutchings visits his father’s family in Grand Tower, Illinois in 1916 and meets the four people who raised his father. Looking at the peeling wallpaper in the old family home, the boy wonders “how many layers you’d have to scrape away until you came to the time when these old people were young. If they ever were.”

In this rich and masterfully told Civil War tale, Peck creates a story that never stops surprising the reader. With multiple plot twists and characters that mesmerize, the greatest strength of the novel is Peck’s ability to create characters that appear larger than life, yet are quite believable. The narration of the story is mostly handled by Grandma Tilly, who relates the events of 1861 when families and the townspeople are divided both geographically and by party lines. When a steamboat from New Orleans brings two Southern strangers into town (who end up invited to stay with Tilly’s family), their lives are forever changed. Whether learning about a family member’s visions, or the true parentage of Howard’s father, Peck crafts a story which is both surprising and engaging.

Teens could interview family members and construct a narrative story which details how a historical event changed their family. They should attempt to interview as many family members as possible to be able to understand the importance of multiple perspectives. After compiling the interviews, their story could allow for multiple narrators to tell the family tale.


Other stories about the American Civil War:
Hansen, Joyce. WHICH WAY FREEDOM?. ISBN 0380714086
Rinaldi, Ann. NUMBERING ALL THE BONES. ISBN 0786805331

Other historical novels by Peck:

By Rose Brock

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Who Was the Woman Who Wore the Hat?

York: Penguin Putnam. ISBN 0525463330 [Suggested Grade Levels 3-6]


WHO WAS THE WOMAN WHO WORE THE HAT? by Patz is a deep, reflective meditation about a woman’s hat on display in the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. Patz unites a melancholy prose poem with strikingly, arresting illustrations in collage artwork that enliven probing and poetic questions: “Did she put cream in her coffee?” “Did she like the way she looked with her hat down over one eye?” “…I wonder if she wore it the day she left home the last time, that cold, cruel day…when the Jews were herded together and arrested in the Square?” “Or did they even bother with photographs in Amsterdam—in their fierce, efficient rush to get the Jews on the trains…?”

In the author’s note at the back of the book, Patz states that she wishes to “convey a sense of loss,” which she does brilliantly with her sepia-toned drawings and old photographs pasted into her sketchbook. The double spread pages in black with sparse white text in the middle of the book leave the reader with a poignant sense with only these words: “It might have been my mother’s hat. It could have been my hat. Or yours.” The book is tastefully and delicately presented as a solemn moment in time. Readers will enjoy the “Author’s Note” at the end, and the fact that she revisited the museum ten years later and the hat was gone. The why’s and where’s were never answered for her, which simply adds to the fragmentary feeling of the tragic details.

Children could discuss experiences of their own when they felt sad or lonely or when they experienced cruel prejudices for some reason. They can draw sketches from the book that interested them: the lady in the hat, the hat itself, the train, or the poignant pictures of the faces aboard the train. The teacher or librarian can find German/Jewish
names or show the children how to find the information and allow the children to choose names to go with the faces. The book could be used to discuss social history and as a supplement to Holocaust curriculum.

Other books that deal with prejudices, “a sense of loss,” and the struggle for freedom:
Holms, Anne. I AM DAVID. ISBN 1850899207
Levine, Karen. HANA’S SUITCASE. ISBN 0807531480
Lowry, Lois. NUMBER THE STARS. ISBN 0395510600
McSwigan, Marie. SNOW TREASURE. ISBN 0590425374

By Rita Pickett

Friday, June 18, 2004


Paolini, Christopher. 2003. ERAGON. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0375826688 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-9]

As Eragon hunts in the mystical mountains, he finds a polished blue stone. He hopes his discovery on the Spine will bring much needed money so he can provide meat for himself and his bullheaded uncle, Garrow. Eragon cannot find anyone who will take the stone, thinking it might be cursed because of where it was found. But when the stone brings about a baby dragon, Eragon realizes he has stumbled upon the legacy of the dragon riders. Eragon falls in love with the creature that takes the name Saphira. Overnight Eragon is banished from his simple life and placed into a perilous journey. Eragon’s uncle and home have been destroyed so he joins with a storyteller Brom in order to search out his revenge. The young protagonist learns about exile, magic, love, and his own destiny as he endures battles, wounds, captures, and escapes.

Eragon is a must for fantasy lovers. When the story begins it is grounded firmly in reality, but when a blue stone is found and hatches into a dragon, the story makes a smooth transition to a secondary world. The story contains all the classic elements of fantasy: an event at the beginning starts a series of situations and adventures, love, magic, good verses evil, and coming of age. The plot moves along through the hardships Eragon must endure while he is on his quest to avenge the death of his uncle and save the last of a species. The journey Eragon takes leads him through lands that are unfamiliar but are so vividly described that the reader can see, hear, and feel the setting. This is a book you need a weekend for because it cannot be put away until it is finished.


Each student selects a modern fantasy to read and then writes a synopsis of the story. Working in peer editing groups, they revise their synopsis. Students then select a traditional fantasy story and rewrite the story with a modern twist. Demonstrating effective verbal and nonverbal communication, students read their stories to the class.

When studying fantasy, students can experiment with the different medium (e.g., collage montage, and mosaics) to create their own illustrations.

Students could use a graphic organizer to compare two fantasy stories focusing on characteristics and categories of modern fantasy.


Other stories about dragons and magical powers:
Funke, Cornelia. INKHEART. ISBN 0439531640
McCaffrey, Anne and Todd McCaffrey. DRAGON’S KIN. ISBN 0345461983
By Jill Howell

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Unseen Companion

Orenstein, Denise Gosliner. 2003. UNSEEN COMPANION. New York: HArperTempest. ISBN 0060520566 [Suggested Grade Levels 9-12]


The common denominator in the lives of four Alaskan teens is Dove Alexie, a sixteen-year-old “mixed-breed” boy who is arrested because he struck a white teacher. While he is the tragic glue that binds these four stories together, he is a peripheral figure in this tale. There is not one central figure in UNSEEN COMPANION, but four. Lorraine, who brings meals and notes to the prisoners and has an opinion on just about everything; Annette, the downtrodden daughter of the local minister, who struggles to fill the void in her family’s life created by their mother’s abandonment; and Thelma and Edgar, two Yup’ik teens abandoned to the frozen world that is white.

The change in narratives may seem confusing at first, but these are such distinctive characters that we soon get to know the nuance of their voices so well we can tell whose chapter it is by the time we are finished reading the first sentence. Denise Gosliner Orenstien’s use of regional vocabulary adds color to this chilly and bleak landscape. A glossary of terms is included in the endnotes. A tightly woven tale with colorful and memorable characters, UNSEEN COMPANION offers readers a story they will not soon forget.

This story could be a good place to begin a discussion on perceptions of self and others.

UNSEEN COMPANION could be used to talk about prejudices.


Other books about troubled teens:
Lisle, Janet Taylor. THE CRYING ROCKS. ISBN 068985319X
Randle, Kristen D. SLUMMING. ISBN 0060010223
Spinelli, Jerry. MANIAC MAGEE. ISBN 0316809063

By Marianne Follis

Monday, June 14, 2004

The Sound of Day, The Sound of Night

O’Neill, Mary. 2003. THE SOUND OF DAY, THE SOUND OF NIGHT. Ill. by Cynthia Jabar. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0374371350
[Suggested Grade Levels 0-1]


This lovely picture book contains a poem written by Mary O’Neill, accompanied by illustrations from Cynthia Jabar, where a contrast is made between the different sounds and activities of day and night. The sounds of day include the sounds of breakfast and school and children playing. “Day sound is a muddle/of talking and yelling,/Turning of pages and/Uttering spelling,…” And so the story opens on the hustle and bustle of a busy day. After all the excitement and noise, the sounds of night bring a calmer and quieter pace to this story. “Cricket’s chirp,/family snores,/Squeakings in the/Walls and doors.”

The rhythm and beat of the words of the day poem are much more pronounced than that of the night, making the difference that much more noticeable. The illustrations of Cynthia Jabar, further emphasize the differences, as the bright and vivid colors of the day, make way for the softer more subtle tones of the night. The illustrations give another gift to this story; in fact, they add a second story line. The daytime activities show, not tell, of the preparations this family is making for their new addition: a baby is coming home! The nighttime illustrations show the warmth and togetherness this family shares on their first night home together. THE SOUND OF DAY, THE SOUND OF NIGHT is a sweet book to read anytime, day or night!

A listening exercise can be based on this book, where a teacher can record the sounds of various activities that occur during the day and at night. The children can listen and try to identify the noises.

This book can be used to discuss the different activities that children participate in during the day as opposed to those done during night, and the various sounds that can accompany them.

Other books about Night and Day:
Carr, Jan. DARK DAY, LIGHT NIGHT. ISBN 0786820144
Edens, Cooper. DAY AND NIGHT AND OTHER DREAMS. ISBN 0671749064
Pandell, Karen. BY DAY AND BY NIGHT. ISBN 091581126X
Tyers, Jenny. WHEN IT IS NIGHT AND WHEN IT IS DAY. ISBN 0395725466

By Marianne Follis

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Baby Radar

Nye, Naomi Shihab. 2003. BABY RADAR. Ill. by Nancy Carpenter. China: Greenwillow Books. ISBN 0688159486 [Suggested Ages 3– 8]

An exuberant toddler ventures out with mom for a walk through town. With her radar tuned, the little girl’s stream-of-consciousness allows us to see the world from a child’s perspective. She wishes to pinch noses, untie shoes, pet fury faces, and feed the fish. When her mother unstraps the little girl’s seat belt she is free to cause calamity. And after a brief romp, she snuggles back into her stroller. The day ends with a peaceful nap.

The large pen and ink drawings painted with watercolors are soft washes to create a world in which the toddler blends in with the rest of the world. The illustrations could stand alone without text to convey the message, but the brief statements made by the toddler make the adventure realistic (“Hot dog dropped.” “Mooshy mess.”). The relationship between the text and pictures create a unified whole.


Examine point of view. While reading the book have students think about point of view. After reading the book, have students write about their point of view on a given topic. When the writings are completed, students can read their stories to the class to show how everyone’s perspective is different.

Follow around a small buddy and record his/her reactions to everything.

Have children examine the illustrations without reading the text and try to tell the story as they see it. Then read the text, and discuss how the story is similar to or different from the story they interpreted through illustration alone. Go back through the illustrations and check whether they see things differently or see additional ways of interpreting the story after hearing the text.

Other stories about babies on the go:
Appelt, Kathi. BUBBA AND BEAU. ISBN 0152020608
Appelt, Kathi. BUBBA AND BEAU GO NIGHT-NIGHT. ISBN 0152045937
Ashman, Linda. BABIES ON THE GO. ISBN 0152018948

By Jill Howell