Saturday, February 28, 2004

The Key Collection

Cheng, Andrea. 2003. THE KEY COLLECTION. Ill. by Yangsook Choi. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0805071539 [Suggested Grade Levels 2-6]

Revealing the warm and attractive relationship of a Chinese family living in Cincinnati, Ohio, striving to maintain their Chinese heritage is a heartwarming story told of a little boy who loves and admires his grandmother, lovingly referred to as Ni Ni. In this story the reader sees this charming relationship unfold as they spend enjoyable time together cooking and eating authentic Chinese Jiao Zi, learning Chinese characters, or passing the time by sharing stories spurred on by Ni Ni’s key collection. Then the day comes when it is time for Ni Ni to move across the country to California to be near her daughter, who is a doctor, and better suited to help now that she is growing older. Xiao Jimmy deals with the sadness of loosing his beloved grandmother, friend, and next-door neighbor as they prepare for her move. He will miss waking up in the middle of the night and seeing her light on next door, and he wonders when he will get to see her again.

Delightfully introducing and discussing wonderful aspects of Chinese Culture and poignant racial issues, this book is a must have for all. It also wonderfully encases the beauty of the Asian accent. Such an example is when Ni Ni is sharing a story about her son in China and says, “Ming cannot until I find key under the rug and set him free… What he think, we leave him starve in there?” Much of the story and the relationships in it seem very familiar to circumstances in many families. One will enjoy comparing the relationships described here to those of their own family.

This is a great story exemplifying foreshadowing as well as for teaching students to predict the plot. Open a discussion on foreshadowing and teach skills using illustrations and key words to predict what will happen. One example is the picture opposite the title page, an illustration of a little boy looking into a mailbox.

Lead a discussion about the way we, as a society, treat foreigners and use examples from the story such as Jason’s interaction with Ni Ni on page 38 and 39.The text is very informative giving students understanding about such terms as leap year, the Chinese calendar and Chinese culture. Examples of Chinese culture are mentioned all through the book and could be a great source for further investigation on the internet, possibly on the Great Wall of China or the Chinese characters.

Other multicultural books related to this one:
Park, Linda Sue. THE KITE FIGHTERS. ISBN 0395940419

By Kristi Mays

Saturday, February 21, 2004

George Washington's Teeth

Chandra, Deborah and Madeleine Comora. 2003. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. ISBN 0374325340 [Suggested Grade Levels 1-3]

This unusual picture book intertwines the history of George Washington’s military and presidential exploits with the loss of his teeth. It gives center stage to an aspect of history that isn’t usually addressed in textbooks: it focuses on one of the more “everyday” problems of a man famous for his military and political careers.

Readers will learn about the troubles the first president had with teeth being pulled and his ill-fitting dentures, made from hippopotamus ivory. This should help children see that the President had typical problems just like they do, which humanizes a great man who is usually depicted in books with much reverence and honor but is infrequently portrayed as just an ordinary guy who had a lot of toothaches.

Style-wise, this book takes a light-hearted approach to a rather painful subject and manages to incorporate some historical facts along the way. A timeline at the end lends the text more credence as a history book; children can follow along and learn about the state of Washington’s troops or teeth during any given year of his life.
The rhyming text is light and amusing, not falling into the trap of being heavy-handed or choppy. The watercolor artwork blends well with the text and shows the progression of George’s plight in not-too-gory dental detail.

This story, aside from providing some historical information, is also a cautionary tale about what can happen without proper dental care. Children can write stories about when they went to the dentist and what might have been different for George if he had had access to a good dentist. The librarian could also present how medicine was different in the past and how much this has changed since George’s day.

This story could be a jumping-off point for children to learn more about other founding fathers, and perhaps to have a class “Colonial Day” where children dress and do activities related to the Revolutionary War period. Older children could write about their favorite heroes from this era or do reports on aspects of daily life.

Other stories about famous figures from this period:
Fritz, Jean. WHY DON’T YOU GET A HORSE, SAM ADAMS? ISBN 0399234012

By Shannon McGregor

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

One Child, One Seed

Cave, K. 2003. ONE CHILD, ONE SEED. Ill. by Gisele Wulfsohn. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0805072047

ONE CHILD, ONE SEED is a nonfiction book depicting the life cycle of a pumpkin seed. The text works on three levels. On its most basic level, it is a counting book working with the numbers one through ten. On the second level, the text works as a simple reading book giving more specific information about the family harvesting the pumpkins. On the third level, the book provides extremely specific information about the district the family is a part of in South Africa. Information is given about their homes, animals, and work industry. Every full page spread is divided into these three levels of difficulty and interest.

The text is a rarity in its format. The three levels of difficulty provided within the text make it so much easier to provide readers with text they can understand and interpret. The nonfiction text is a quality text that gives specific information concerning the location of the district in South Africa harvesting pumpkins. A map is even provided to give readers a more visual understanding of the location. Photographs are taken to depict the pumpkins in each stage of the life cycle. Hard working families are shown digging in the hot sun to make food to feed the family. Teachers and librarians can report South African pumpkin harvesting traditions. However, seeing it through photographs is a much more compelling way to portray a different way of life. This is the kind of rare, quality nonfiction book that truly meets the needs of its audience.

Children can grow something of their own such as potatoes, tomatoes, or beans. They can chart the life cycle of the produce grown. Photographs should be taken as well. After the cycle has been completed, the youngsters can make a nonfiction text of their own.

Children can discuss whether they have grown something of their own. Did their experiences mirror ONE CHILD, ONE SEED? How were the experiences similar or different?

Other books that detail the life cycle and purposes of products grown:
Aliki. CORN IS MAIZE. ISBN 0064450260
Gibbons, Gail. THE PUMPKIN BOOK. ISBN 0823416364
Gibbons, Gail. FROM SEED TO PLANT. ISBN 0823416364

By Laura K. Davis

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Necessary Noise

Cart, Michael. 2003. NECESSARY NOISE. New York: HarperCollins.
ISBN 0060275006 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-12]

This collection of short stories, edited by Michael Cart, tells the stories of modern day families. They represent the reality of how families have changed, and how they are still the same. It shows that traditional families can be dysfunctional and so-called dysfunctional families can work just fine. Told by some of today’s well know Young Adult authors, the wide range of styles and formats mirror this eclectic grouping of tales.

Sonya Sones tells the story of a young girl living with an abusive older sister and family that can’t or won’t, see the situation for what it is, in: “Dr Jekyl and Sister Hyde.” Told in verse form, it ends in a cynically optimistic tone: “So I’m finally going to do something/that I should have done/as soon as I was old enough to walk: /I’m signing up for karate.” In “A Woman’s Touch” by Rita Williams-Garcia, a boy on the brink of manhood deals with his mother’s lesbian relationship and the growing role this other woman has in his life. The story, “ A Family Illness,” by Joyce Carol Thomas shows us the way a family member’s mental illness changes both the son that suffers from schizophrenia, as well as his mother who seeks to understand and help him through this illness. No matter what shape or make-up your family may come in, NECESSARY NOISE contains truths that are universal.

Short stories can be a great way to introduce readers to new authors. All of the authors includes in this book have other works. I would display the author’s independent pieces so that the students could discover a new author.

This collection would be a great way to discuss what makes a family.

Other short story collections edited by Michael Cart for young adults:
911:THE BOOK OF HELP. ISBN 0812626591
LOVE AND SEX. ISBN 0689856687

Other short story collections made just for young adults:
Gallo, Donald. NO EASY ANSWERS. ISBN 0440413052
Soto, Gary. LOCAL NEWS. ISBN 015204695X

By Marianne Follis

Friday, February 13, 2004


Cameron, A. 2003. COLIBRI. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0374315191
[Suggested Grade Levels 7-10]

Colibri, which means Hummingbird in Spanish, is kidnapped at the tender age of four. She had been riding on a crowded bus in Guatemala City when the horrible kidnapping took place. As the story opens, the young girl has been living with her "Uncle" for eight years. The child, renamed Rose, unwillingly helps her provider earn his wages as a con-artist and petty thief. Rose knows a dishonest way of life is not a good one, but she is afraid to make changes. Moreover, she fears the unknown. The heroine uses her visions and intuition to guide her to leave her "Uncle." Once she stands up to him, she learns truths about herself and her provider that open a whole new world of opportunity for her.

The young heroine is the kind of character readers fall in love with immediately. Her
honesty and integrity are qualities that make her a heroine readers root for from the
beginning until the end. This is a story about trusting in oneself. Colibri was taken
from her family when she was four. Yet, the lessons of truth, honesty, and goodness
stay with the girl through eight difficult years. Ms. Cameron uses rich, beautiful language to tell her story. For example, the heroine says, "A person can't live without something beautiful. Even if it was just something another person would have put in the trash, I had my cup, and to me it was beautiful." The tale is composed of poignant points such as the one quoted. This is a book readers will carry in their hearts.

Young adults may pick one of Rose's visions detailed in the text and share its
meaning to the group.

Rose believes in signs. For example, she believes a cup shattering means that
she has a divided heart. Have readers think about signs they believe in or have
heard about and discuss them with the group.

Other books that can provide more insight into the significance of the name Colibri:
Palacios. THE HUMMINGBIRD KING. ISBN 0816730520

Other books that can provide more insight into Guatemalan culture:
Vecchiato, Gianni. GUATEMALA RAINBOW. ISBN 0876544448

Other books that can prompt discussion about the topic of abandonment:
Pressler, Mirjam. MALKA. ISBN 039923984

By Laura K. Davis

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

White Midnight

Calhoun, D. 2003. WHITE MIDNIGHT. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN
0374383898 [Suggested Grade Levels 9-12]

Ms. Calhoun weaves a compelling, fantastical tale about the coming of age of a young fifteen-year-old girl named Rose. Rose grew up in a pre-industrial age when there were no phones, cars, or electricity. The heroine is a bondgirl bound to the land through love and responsibility. The young lady must overcome her fears of darkness and monsters in order to persevere through the troubles she faces throughout the novel. Rose's parents force their daughter to marry the "Thing" that lives in the attic of the landowner's home. She does so to free her family members as well as to protect the land she so dearly loves. Rose has visions that guide her to overcome her fears and work through her prejudices. Moreover, this is an involved novel that deals with war, prejudice, and survival.

WHITE MIDNIGHT is a beautiful, believable light fantasy novel. The author uses rich language and dialogue to tell the story of the plain, courageous Rose. Misconceptions and prejudices cause heartache and tragedy throughout the book. Rose learns she must resolve her inner, personal conflicts before she can save the land she so dearly loves. Societal issues are skillfully woven throughout the novel as well. War between her people and the Dalriadas breaks out because of deeply ingrained prejudices. The young heroine uses her visions to solve major problems in her small community. This is the kind of
book that has the rich, thought provoking themes that readers seek.

Young adults can pick a theme portrayed in the novel to discuss with the group. Inner conflict, prejudice, and nature are just some examples of themes that may be selected for discussion.

Young adults may pick a chapter and portray it on video with group members. Discussion of the portrayal would follow the video presentation.

Other books that can be compared to this one in terms of the love of land:
Mitchell, Margaret. GONE WITH THE WIND. ISBN 068483068X

Other books by Calhoun that can be compared to this one in terms of prejudice:
FIREGOLD. ISBN 1890817287

By Laura K. Davis

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer

Byrd, Robert. 2003. LEONARDO: BEAUTIFUL DREAMER. New York: Dutton Children’s Books. ISBN 0525470336 [Suggested Grade Levels 3 through 8]

This book is stuffed with fascinating information on Leonardo da Vinci, a true “Renaissance Man” among many men of the Renaissance. The introduction intrigues the reader and makes him want to learn more about this extraordinary thinker who thrived on the learning and understanding of complicated concepts such as how birds fly, how blood moves through the human body and how to make a painting “alive with emotion, reality, mystery.”
Beginning in the Italian countryside where Leonardo grew up as an inquisitive young man, the tale progresses to the city of Florence, where his artistic training began and his other interests began to blossom. Readers will be amazed at the scope of Leonardo’s curiosity, especially as depicted in the section about his “Fantastic Notebooks”: over 13,000 pages (more than half now lost, tragically) of notes and drawings on subjects as diverse as physics, theater, military, botany, anatomy, philology, music, astronomy and architecture. This clearly illustrates the breadth and depth of Leonardo’s intelligence and interests.
This work is crammed with details, such as the numerous sidebars, which contain anecdotes and information to further flesh out Leonardo’s story and time period for readers who want to know more. The timeline at the end of the book is extremely detailed and would be a very good research tool for a student writing a biography paper. Overall, this book is a bounty of information, overflowing with facts and almost overwhelming in its scope. It is complimented by rich, detailed artwork, which reflects Leonardo’s time period and his own work.

In conjunction with reading this book, children could look at books of Leonardo’s art as well as that of his contemporaries, including his great rival Michaelangelo. A video or slide show of these works could be procured for a multimedia presentation.

Corrain, Lucia. THE ART OF THE RENAISSANCE. ISBN 0872265269

By Shannon McGregor

Sunday, February 8, 2004

Pig Enough

Bynum, Janie. 2003. PIG ENOUGH. New York: Harcourt. ISBN 0152165827
[Suggested Ages 3-7]

Willy, the engaging little guinea pig, is having difficulty finding his niche. He wants to play the trumpet but he is “completely tone deaf.” He wants to be in a play, but he is unable to memorize his lines. One day Willy is overwhelmed with excitement and anticipation when he sees a sign that says, “Be all a pig can be! Join Pig Scouts!” That is until the “real pigs” begin to snicker and become mean spirited toward him, especially a pig called Peyton who leads the others in chanting, “Willy, Willy, don’t be silly! You’ll never be a pig!” Every time they join in chanting, Willy returns with “B-b-but, I’m a guinea pig…and I’m pig enough!” Shortly after joining the Pig Scouts, Willy and Peyton are paired for maneuvers and soon Willy is using his ability to see in the dark to rescue a frightened Peyton from a deep and dark hole. By the end of the tale, the Pig Scouts are chanting the sweetest words, “Willy, Willy, not-so-silly, you’re really pig enough!”

This playful, energetic, and chatty story with remarkably expressive watercolors will convey a comical, yet gentle message about the frustrations of being a guinea pig in a pig’s world and eventually finding acceptance. Bold illustrations capture the strong personality of Willy and the building anticipation of this clever, yet boisterous frolic. In spite of the pat ending of the underdog saving the day, Bynum splendidly garners compassion for this pleasing little rodent.

Children could discuss experiences when they felt different and unaccepted. They could discuss what it feels like to be the “underdog” in some given setting. They could talk about the differences in rodents and pigs and their similarities (e.g., both pig and guinea pig males are called boars and females are called sows). After creating the appropriate tail, children can play a game called “Pin the tail on the rodent or the pig.”

Other books that deal with respecting and accepting others who might be different:
Goble, Paul. BUFFALO WOMAN. ISBN 0027377202
Henkes, Kevin. CHRYSANTHEMUM. ISBN 0688147321
Smith, Dick-King. I LOVE GUINEA PIGS. ISBN 0786811358

By Rita Pickett

Friday, February 6, 2004

Turtle's Race With Beaver

Bruchac, Joseph and James Bruchac. 2003. TURTLE’S RACE WITH BEAVER. Ill. by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey. New York: Penguin Putnam. ISBN 0803728522 [Suggested Ages 4-8]

Winsome Turtle is challenged to a race by Beaver, a disgruntled and selfish Beaver who has built a “wonderful dam and a splendid lodge” on her beloved pond as she slept in her muddy bed below. Even though Turtle graciously offers to share her pond, Beaver indignantly refuses to consider such an idiotic suggestion and insists on a showdown. Braggingly, Beaver announces to the other animals that he has challenged Turtle for possession of her domain, and one by one the animals congregate for the predictable romp. Soon the moment arrives and the animals begin to cheer “Turtle! Beaver! Turtle! Beaver!” Finally Bear lifts his paw and says “On your mark. Get set…GO!” Just as Beaver lunges from the starting line, little does anyone realize that Turtle has a few tricks up her sleeve? Much to everyone’s delight, Turtle outwits Beaver and triumphs as the sole possessor of her lovely pond.

Joseph and James Bruchac’s use of playful language is engaging and thrilling (“YEEE-OWWWW! Weeee! KA-THUNK! Chomp! Chomp!…Whack! Whack!”). Aruego and Dewey’s colorful and engaging illustrations add to the authors’ humorous and polished style. One of the most brilliant and distinctive features is the quizzical aura expressed through the eyes of the animals as they anticipate the race. Children will sense that things might not end the way Beaver assumes. Again, the Bruchacs have brought a fresh and lively perspective to a Senecan folktale that will excite children and leave them with the idea that sharing has its rewards.

Children could discuss the need for everyone to strive to cooperate, persevere, and to act with humility. The related books by Joseph Bruchac, especially the ‘MOUSE BRAGGING SONG’ in THE EARTH UNDER SKY’S FEET could be read and discussed to show the similarities. Children can be encouraged to recreate the way Turtle chooses to outdo Beaver and role play their ideas.

Students can be invited to draw their own ponds and study the different animals that live in ponds. If possible, pond water, rainwater, and tap water can be collected and analyzed under a microscope to show that different varmints reside in each. Fostering creative thinking in relation to wildlife, ecology, and environmental issues can also be used in conjunction with the curriculum.

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

By Rita Pickett

Thursday, February 5, 2004

The Shape Game

Browne, Anthony. 2003. THE SHAPE GAME. New York: Farrar Strauss Giroux. ISBN 0374367647 [Suggested Grade Levels: 2-4].

The shape game: a game that can be played by anyone, anytime, often played very well by children, a game that can change your life forever, according to the author. A trip to the art museum for mother’s birthday, reluctantly made by dad, George, and Anthony, turns into an incredible experience for the entire family as connections are made between themselves and the paintings on display. Throughout the family’s visit to the museum, discussions occur that center around the art found at the museum and all of the family leaves with a greater appreciation for fine art. On the way home, the family stops at the gift shop, and purchase a notebook and two colored markers, and fill their time on the train ride home playing “the shape game,” a game where anyone can be an artist.

In this particular story, the realms of fiction and autobiography are woven together to give the reader some insight into an experience in the author’s childhood that truly impacted his life and his pursuits as an artist. Told from a first person narrative, the reader is drawn into the story as if a personal friend was relating an experience one on one. What began as a forced experience of culture, put upon the family by mom, turned into an experience that not only drew the family together, but also influenced the author to put his own mark on the world of art, through illustration. Throughout the book are facsimiles of real paintings, which the family takes time to discuss and analyze. The use of these real paintings allows the reader the opportunity to appreciate art, as well as impacting the focus of the story where the family comes to appreciate art as well.

Visit an art museum and discuss similarities between paintings and real life.
Follow the directions at the end of the story and play the shape game.
Use to introduce a unit on art, and then work to create several different types of artwork. When the unit is complete, have an art show.

Other books about art:
Cressy, Judith. CAN YOU FIND IT? ISBN 0810935792.

Other books about shapes:
Serfozo, Mary. THERE’S A SQUARE: A BOOK ABOUT SHAPES. Illustrated by David Carter. ISBN 0590544268.

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

By Kirsten Murphy

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Favorite Things

Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. 2003. FAVORITE THINGS. Ill. by Laura Huliska-Beith. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc. ISBN 0803725973 [Suggested Grade Levels 0-3]

A mother and son’s goodnight ritual spins itself into a tall tale rendering of the events of the day. “What was your favorite thing today?” a mother asks her young son and is treated to some wildly exaggerated and colorful occurrences. From the parade of elephants that woke him to the intergalactic battle to save the planet from his sister, or rather, the “rude invaders,” Matthew recounts some of his favorite happenings. But no matter how fun and colorful Matthew’s day was, his favorite thing is the time spent with his mother, talking about his day.

An attention getting action packed story, readers will chuckle along with Matthew’s wild tales. The clever language and subtle wit will have adults laughing as well. At one point the spacemen defend the “planet Wisconsin…That’s where all the race car drivers live…and one of the elephants…and Spencer’s grandma…The rest of the elephants come from Ireland.” The brightly colored and wildly patterned illustrations, done by Laura Huliska-Beith, are eye catching and lend themselves to the humor of the story. There are loads of interesting visual details like the tyrannosaurus squirrel, Rex, with his spiked collar and the elephants’ plaid ears. FAVORITE THINGS is a fun and sweet story that would be a great way to end any day.

Children can participate in a writing exercise where they expand their daily activities to include some outlandish embellishments.

This book can be used to discuss and share bedtime rituals.

Other books that say “Good Night:”
Brown, Margaret Wise. GOODNIGHT MOON. ISBN 0758700156
ISBN 015201795X
Fox, Mem. TIME FOR BED. ISBN 0758738137

By Marianne Follis

Sunday, February 1, 2004

Shakespeare's Spy

Blackwood, Gary. 2003. SHAKESPEARE’S SPY. New York: Dutton’s Children’s Books. ISBN 0525471456 [Suggested Grade Levels 6-8]

Orphaned Widge’s adventures continue in Elizabethan England with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men play company. Set against the backdrop of religious instability on the eve of Queen Elizabeth’s death, the company is facing internal struggles as well. Money is tight, costumes and plays are missing, and plays are being edited for religious content. Anyone not in church is fined. Everyone in the company is on edge as their future with the new monarch is in doubt. The performers have enjoyed the patronage of Queen Elizabeth. How will the Stuart king feel about actors and the theater? Widge is battling the prophecy of a fortune-teller claiming he will be the reason for someone’s death as well as a crush he has developed on Mr. Shakespeare’s petulant daughter, Judith. In order to win her favor, Widge claims to be writing a play of his own, but finds that he is better as the performer rather than the writer. Widge does eventually indirectly cause the death of one of his friends, but he also regains good friend Julia who returns to London from France.

Combined with the continuing Catholic and Protestant conflicts and the immergence of the Jesuits, Widge has grown and matured since his last adventure. He is perpetually curious about his past and learns few more valuable fragments about his parents. The story itself mixes history with mystery, and fact with fiction. The novel includes vivid details about London at the end of Elizabeth’s rule. The dialogue is peppered with expressions indicative of the time. The novel provides insights into the history of the times without bludgeoning readers with a dry history lesson. The story is as engaging and compelling as the previous installments.

Encourage children to read Shakespeare or adaptations of Shakespeare’s works. Have children compare Shakespeare’s stories and characters to modern day literature. Readers can also research Elizabethan England, the Globe Theater, and Shakespeare himself. Although Queen Elizabeth is one of England’s most

Have readers find as many Elizabethan English phrases and expressions in the text as they can. They can then create a glossary of these terms for future readers.

Encourage children to write their own play, as Widge attempted to do in the story. Or have readers adapt a chapter of the novel for the stage.

Other books by Blackwood featuring the same characters:

By Lea Ann Gilbert