Monday, May 31, 2004

Rosie in New York City: Gotcha!

Matas, Carol. 2003. ROSIE IN NEW YORK CITY: GOTCHA! New York: Aladdin Paperbacks. ISBN 0689857144 [Suggested Grade Levels 3-6]

Eleven year old Rosie’s biggest worries are going to school and staying out of trouble. Her father loses the family’s savings, and her mother catches pneumonia. Rosie takes her mother’s place at a shirtwaist factory. The working conditions are horrible, and the girls can get fined for anything. Rosie wants to participate in the strike, but her family could go hungry. Just when life settles down, her father announces that they are moving to another city. Rosie wonders if the challenges will ever end.

The story is told from Rosie’s point of view, so the reader can watch her transition from carefree schoolgirl to oppressed factory worker. She grows up fast during the strike. At one point, she is assaulted, arrested, and put into jail. She wonders how she will survive in the cell for five days since her family does not have the money to bail her out. Rosie is a spirited young girl who views challenges as adventures. Even though she is sad about leaving her friends in New York, she looks forward to the new adventures she will have in Chicago. The book will show readers what workers had to go through in the early twentieth century.

The book can start a discussion about work conditions in the early twentieth century. They can read other books about this time period to educate themselves.

Kids can also talk about the various challenges that they face in life.

Other books about labor unions:

By Christine Cortez

The Wright Sister: Katharine Wright and Her Famous Brothers

Maurer, Richard. 2003. THE WRIGHT SISTER: KATHARINE WRIGHT AND HER FAMOUS BROTHERS. Brookfield, CT. Roaring Brook Press. ISBN 0761325646 [Suggested Grade Levels 6 and up]


Working from Katharine Wright's papers, correspondence, and family archives, Maurer chronicles the events surrounding Wilbur and Orville, while all along filling in the details of their younger sister's life and the relationship among the three.

Maurer’s work spotlights the life of Katharine Wright, the lesser known Wright family member whose contributions to her brothers’ inventions were invaluable. Clearly reflecting the societal rules of the time, the book eloquently portrays Katharine as an intelligent woman whose sense of obligation to her family often kept her from pursuing her own dreams. Initially, she ran the household for her older brothers and their father during the years when Orville and Wilbur were developing and promoting their airplane, then later took on an important role in the family company. Maurer’s use of primary source documents adds great value to the work; he includes quotations from diaries and selections from correspondence between family members. The layout is spacious and reader friendly; pages include well-chosen, black-and-white photos which help visualize the Wrights and their times. In addition, Maurer includes an extensive source list and bibliography.


After reading Katharine Wright’s biography, teens could write an “I Am” poem by analyzing information about her character from Maurer’s account. After completing the poem, they could illustrate the poem using details from the book.

Other stories about the Wright family:

By Rose Brock

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?

Martin, Bill Jr. 2003. PANDA BEAR, PANDA BEAR, WHAT DO YOU SEE? Ill. by Eric Carle. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Eric Carle. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0805017585
[Suggested Grade Levels 1-3]

This fun book talks about ten different endangered animals that range from the panda bear to the black panther. All the animals are shown in their natural environments. The book will end on a hopeful note that features a dreaming child seeing all the animals running free.

Bill Martin’s use of rhyme and repetition gives the book rhythm. For example the book says, “Panda bear, Panda Bear what do you see? A bald eagle flying by me.” The lilting language will delight readers. Children will catch on to the rhythm and join in the reading. The pictures consist of double page spreads that are vibrant. His use of light and dark colors and skewed proportions will catch the reader’s eye. The book provides an interesting way to learn about endangered animals. The dreaming child provides a clear message that can spark concern in older readers.

For older children, this book can start a discussion about endangered or threatened animal species around the world. They can talk about what is being done to help the animals and think up of other ways to safeguard them.

For younger children, they can draw pictures of their favorite animals from the book. They can also write down why they do not want the animal to become extinct.

Other stories about endangered animals:
Gibbons, Gail. GIANT PANDAS. ISBN 0823417611
Gill, Shelley. BIG BLUE. ISBN 1570913528

By Christine Cortez

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Paul Revere's Ride: The Landlord's Tale

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. 2003. PAUL REVERE’S RIDE: THE LANDLORD’S TALE. Ill. by Charles Santore. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0066237475 [Suggested Grade Levels 2 - 8]

Longfellow’s famous poem of the New England colonist’s struggle for independence from Britain is retold on a cold, dark evening to a group of early 19th century gentlemen listening. Sitting around a fire in a dimly lit parlor three younger men listen attentively as an older gentleman recalls the tale. There they are whisked away into the magic of Revere’s midnight adventure. The story explodes with excitement as Paul sees the lanterns hung in the church steeple across the bay indicating that the British are indeed going to attack. Like a bolt of lightning he dashes off on his valiant steed shouting the alarm to the people of every village and town in Middlesex. Ominous illustrations set in subdued tones of blue and green lend urgency to the words of the poem as Paul rides feverishly through the blackness of the night sounding the alarm.

These stunning illustrations by Charles Santore breathe new life into this famous American poem. Especially captivating is Santore’s depiction of the expression on Paul Revere’s face as the poem hums, “Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride, Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride, On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.” Santore also fabulously illustrates Revere’s crossing of the bridge at Concord where he wonders as he rides, “Who at the bridge would be first to fall?” The combination of Charles Santore’s anxious and forward moving art work and the words of the classic poem of Paul Revere’s Ride create a masterpiece of children’s imagination making the story virtually come alive to its readers. The power of the poem resonates today just as it did over a century ago. Children and adults alike will be swept away by the suspense and beauty of this refurbished timeless classic.

Lead a discussion about rhyme schemes and give the students an opportunity to write their own poetry in a similar form. Use the book to introduce children to the joys of poetry.

This book is also an excellent source for encouraging further reading on the Revolutionary War. It can be used to encourage an interest in history by having students write their own stories of what it would be like to be a character in the poem.

Other helpful informational texts about important people and events in history:
Chandra, Deborah. George Washington’s Teeth. ISBN 0374325340
Turner, Ann. ABE LINCOLN REMEMBERS. ISBN 0060275774

By Kristi Mays

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

How I Became a Pirate

Long, Melinda. 2003. HOW I BECAME A PIRATE. Ill. by David Shannon. San Diego: Harcourt. ISBN 0152018484 [Suggested Grade Levels PreK- 2nd grade]

Jeremy Jacob didn’t plan on becoming a pirate. In fact, during a trip to the beach with his family all that young Jeremy wanted to do was to spend his afternoon building a beautiful sandcastle. But everything changed when Captain Braid Beard and his crew showed up looking for a good digger to help them burry their treasure. Captivated by this band of marry men Jeremy happily accompanies these amusing fellows on a wonderful adventure. As Braid Beard and the boys begin to teach Jeremy the ins and outs of pirating he has a wonderful time. He learns to play like a pirate, sleep like a pirate and eat like a pirate (no vegetables!). Jeremy even learns to talk like a pirate and to say things like “Down the Hatch!”, and “Aye!” Jeremy learns all about what pirates do and the way they live, but as time goes by, he begins to see that being a pirate is not all that its cracked up to be. And even though Jeremy has to waive good buy to his new friends in order to make soccer practice on time, he will always be a pirate at heart.

Caldecott Honor illustrator, David Shannon makes the book come alive with his stunning acrylic on illustration board artwork. The humorous depiction of the pirates keeps the book light and fanciful. With swim trunks, a wooden sword, and black rubber goulashes, Jeremy Jacob makes a delightful character that can relate to any little boy. The excellent and humorous wording also aids in making the story personal and sentimental to anyone who has ever had a day-dream. The use of “pirate lingo” also adds an extra element of laughter and enjoyment and provides a great opportunity for a “read-along” for learners.

A reading of this creative tale can spur great creative writing and discussion with children about dreams and playing make-believe. This story could provide a great door opener to further conversation a reading about events in history.

The book also provides a great opportunity to practice responsive or choral reading in with its use of bold repeated phrases on each page.

Other imaginative fairy tale stories full of quirky, curious characters:
Cronin, Doreen. DIARY OF A WORM. ISBN 006000150X
DiCamillo, Kate. THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX. ISBN 0763617229
ISBN 0316833290

By Kristi Mays

Sunday, May 23, 2004

When the Fireflies Come

London, Jonathan. 2003. WHEN THE FIREFLIES COME. Illustrated by Terry Widener. New York: Dutton Children’s Books. ISBN 0525454047 [Suggested Grade Levels: K-4].

Mention the word “summer” and a myriad of images are conjured into the mind. Warm days and nights, freedom from school, spending time with friends playing games, eating ice cream, and staying outside until the sun has gone down it is necessary to come inside because you can no longer see. Summer is a time filled with fun and freedom like no other season of the year, and encompasses a multitude of memories that last a lifetime.

Through the use of descriptive language and richly detailed illustrations, the author and illustrator of this book work together to depict the joys of summertime. Baseball games, grass fights, and chasing fireflies are some of the experiences of the summer season that are highlighted in this book. It is through the connection of the text and illustrations that strong images of summertime fun are evoked in the mind of the reader. One cannot help but to smile as the story unfolds on each page, recalling to the mind of the individual reader personal memories of experiences had during the summer months.

Write poetry, such as diamonte, haiku, or free verse, related to summertime.
Create a personal memory book with each page containing an illustrated memory of each season.
Play a game of baseball.
Catch bugs and observe what they do and record observations on a chart or in a journal.

Other stories about summer:
Baxter, Nicola. SUMMER. ISBN 0516092758.

Other stories about baseball:
Thayer, Ernest Lawrence. CASEY AT THE BAT. Illustrated by Gerald Fitzgerald. ISBN 0879237228.

Other stories by London that could be compared to this one:
I SEE THE MOON AND THE MOON SEES BE. Illustrated by Peter M. Fiore. ISBN 0140554874.
SUN DANCE, WATER DANCE. Illustrated by Greg Couch. ISBN 0525466827.

Other stories illustrated by Widener that could be compared to this one:
Adler, David A. LOU GEHRIG: THE LUCKIEST MAN. ISBN 0152005234.
Adler, David A. THE BABE AND I. ISBN 0152013784.

By Kirsten Murphy

Friday, May 21, 2004

Room in the Heart

Levitin, Sonia. 2003. ROOM IN THE HEART. New York: Dutton Books. ISBN 0525468714 [Suggested Grade Levels 7 to 10]

This story follows the paths of two young Danish people in the years leading up to World War II. The young man, Niels, gets involved in the Resistance movement and learns the hard way how friendship can be tested when his best friend begins to side with the Nazi way of thinking. Niels’s view of the world begins to change as he is personally affected by the Nazi regime; he sees some friends from the Resistance escape, and others sent to death camps in Czechoslovakia.
The young woman, Julie, is Jewish, and as such she and her family experience persecution under the Nazi regime, as many families did at this time. The reader also accompanies Julie as she goes through the rigors of adolescence at a difficult and dangerous time in history. She matures quite a bit over the course of the story, particularly when her mother becomes ill; she becomes the caretaker (“Now Julie is looking after us all”) and must assume more adult responsibilities. Her world changes in multiple ways: not only must she adjust to a more grown-up role, but her whole country (indeed, the entire world) is changing dramatically around her.
The reader is given a broader perspective of the experiences of the time period through the two different main characters and also through letters written by Willi, a Nazi soldier, and the diary entries of Julie’s sister, Fredericka. The wartime events are also reflected through various characters such as Niels’s Resistance cronies and his Uncle Jens, who is a member of the secret police. The novel does not shy away from depicting the gruesome fates of many: friends sent to death camps, a piano teacher to Auschwitz, an employer arrested by the Gestapo. This exemplifies how no one was unaffected by these terrible events, even if their own family managed to survive.
The scenario is especially realistic, due to the fact that the author herself escaped from Nazi Germany as a child. Details about Jewish culture and holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Passover lend more insight to the characters and their way of life.

A class project could be to locate survivors of a Nazi concentration camp who would be willing to be interviewed (perhaps through a Jewish community center or local synagogue). The subsequent interviews could be arranged as a display for the library or published online.

Other books involving Nazis and the World War II era:
Anflick, Charles. Resistance: Teen Partisans and Resisters Who Fought Nazi Tyranny. ISBN 0823928470
Axelrod, Toby. In the Camps: Teens Who Survived the Nazi Concentration Camps. ISBN 0823928446
Oertelt, Henry. An Unbroken Chain: My Journey Through the Nazi Holocaust. ISBN 0822529521
Wiesel, Elie. Night. ISBN 0553272535

By Shannon McGregor

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Buddha Boy

Koja, Kathe. 2003. BUDDHA BOY. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0374309981 [Suggested Grade Levels 7 to 10]

This novel looks at the character of Jinsen, also known as Buddha Boy, who definitely takes first place at being “the weird kid” at Edward Rucher High School. He wears big tie-dye t-shirts, creates incredible artwork and begs like a Buddhist monk in the cafeteria at lunch hour, and not surprisingly gets picked on by the popular kids who shun those different from themselves. Jinsen remains amazingly unaffected by them; he understands their behavior since he was once like them, picking on others and getting expelled from school. This all changed when his mother died and an art teacher taught him not only about drawing and painting but about Buddhism; now he recognizes the hidden divine nature in others, even those who hassle him and destroy his artwork, saying simply, “We’re all gods.”
All this is filtered through the eyes of the narrator, Justin, who has his own problems with his divorced parents and the typical school woes but is able to learn from Jinsen’s example. Justin often fights for Jinsen’s cause more than Jinsen himself does, such as when the bullies destroy his sketchbook and a school banner he created; he rails against the unfairness of it all, only to realize that it’s all part of the cycle of life, as Jinsen has shown him. This may be a hard truth for young people to appreciate, but it could make them think about how their behavior affects others and what they can do about it.
This book presents a very real portrayal of the behavior of youth to one another in a school setting. It would definitely hit home with sensitive teens but could either draw them in (“Someone else understands”) or repel them (“I see enough of this every day at school, so why should I read about it, too?”)
There is also a focus on familial relationships: Justin’s relationship with his divorced parents, as well as Jinsen’s with his late mother and his old aunt who lives with him, forcing him to be the responsible one and not enjoy being a kid as much. Justin gains perspective on his somewhat distant relationship with his mom (or “Audrey”) when he sees Jinsen’s wistfulness at talking to her and realizes how fortunate he is; gladly this was not portrayed heavy-handedly. Also, Justin’s dad is an artist, so through him Justin has something he can relate to Jinsen about, and as he learns more from Jinsen about art he can also relate better to his dad.

This novel serves as an introduction to Buddhism for the younger seeker. It doesn’t focus on the religious aspects so much as presenting it as a way to be, through the idea of karma, the “be here now” elements and the “way of seeing” that influences Jinsen’s art (for example, “the way his drawing of a tree was a tree”). Students could read more about this philosophy and create a presentation or display to inform others.

Nonfiction books on Buddhism for teens:
Fischer, Norman. Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up. ISBN 0060505516
Metcalf, Franz. Buddha in Your Backpack. ISBN 1569753210
Winston, Diana and Noah Levine. Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens. ISBN 0399528970
By Shannon McGregor

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Shakespeare Bats Cleanup

Koertge, Ron. 2003. SHAKESPEARE BATS CLEANUP. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763621161 [Suggested Grade Levels 6 and up]


When fourteen-year-old Kevin Boland catches mononucleosis, he discovers that keeping a journal and experimenting with poetry not only helps fill the time, it also helps him deal with life, love, and loss.

Baseball is life for Kevin Boland, and mono has ended his game. Using a poetry collection he finds in his father’s study, Kevin begins experimenting with various forms of poetry out of sheer boredom. Though much of the verse novel is told in free verse, Koertge allows Kevin’s world to unfold through other forms such as sonnets, blank verse, and haiku. Overcoming loss is a key part of Kevin’s development, and it plays a crucial role. As he writes about his mother’s death, his relationship with his father, his love of the game, former girlfriends, friends and school, Koertge’s first person narration allows Kevin to become keenly aware of who he is. This funny and often poignant story allows Kevin to write from his heart; while some of the poems are polished, many reflect his struggle to learn to create poetry as a visceral experience. The collection of his poems not only tells a fine story but also offers an enjoyable journey for the reader. Initially, Kevin plans to end his poetry writing after his recovery but realizes he is hooked on this new way of expressing himself. While his return to baseball is slow, he soon realizes that this new relationship with poetry is one that will see him through whatever life throws his way. Eventually, he realizes that for him, poetry is "Almost as cool as baseball."

After reading SHAKESPEARE BATS CLEANUP, teens could use models from the novel to create various poems which share a significant event from their lives. After writing a number of poems, they could turn the collection into a verse novel of their own. As an extension activity, they could provide illustrations for their original work.

After reading the novel, teens could journal about a loss they have suffered. As a prewriting activity, they could discuss what losses Kevin suffers in the book (it would be important to point out other losses besides death). Using this as a springboard, they could then share their own experiences with loss and what they did to overcome it.

Other novels told in verse:
Grimes, Nikki. BRONX MASQUERADE. ISBN 0803725698
Koertge, Ron. THE BRIMSTONE JOURNALS. ISBN 0763613029
Sones, Sonya. WHAT MY MOTHER DOESN’T KNOW. ISBN 0689841140
Woodson, Jacqueline. LOCOMOTION. ISBN 0399231153

By Rose Brock

Monday, May 17, 2004

Arnie the Doughnut

Keller, Laurie. 2003. ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0805062831 [Suggested Grade Levels 2-5]

Stretching out on a plate in the kitchen of his “new home” with Mr. Bing, Arnie the doughnut is excited about his new life outside the bakery. Never suspecting himself of being merely snack food, Arnie is outraged that his purpose in life is to be consumed. Suddenly he realizes that his friends at the bakery are also in peril. When he finds out his fellow breakfast confections consider it a matter of pastry pride to be eaten for breakfast, Arnie resigns himself to his fate. Fortunately, Mr. Bing has a change of heart, and the two embark on a mission to find a new vocation for the doughnut. Hilarity ensues as Arnie’s career prospects are presented to him. A fitness trainer, a ballroom dancer, a bodyguard, a bowling ball, and a doorstop are just a few ideas he rejects. Just as Arnie is about to return to the bakery, Mr. Bing has a revelation: Arnie could be his pet. Arnie becomes a “doughnut-dog,” complete with leash and collar.

Keller’s colorful acrylic illustrations create a wacky world populated with anthropomorphized pastries with distinct personalities. The crullers have French accents, the bear claws growl like grizzlies, and the cinnamon twists dance to old time rock and roll music. The story itself is funny, but it is Keller’s side-stories within the illustrations and the painstaking attention to those details that will attract readers for repeat visits to this alternate reality where any doughnut with enough gumption can have a chance at a “normal” life. Readers will be attracted to the goofy and whimsical illustrations as much as the witty and outrageous text. By blending comical escapades of an unlikely heroic doughnut, with clever and intelligent details, Keller has created a winning recipe.

Encourage readers to scour the illustrations searching for Keller’s colorful use of language and humor. See if older students can find some of the more ironic references, and discuss the author’s use of irony to expand the story.

Younger children can discuss other possibilities for Arnie and create illustrations of Arnie in his new career.

Arnie saved himself by challenging the idea that doughnuts could only be eaten for breakfast. Discuss with readers how they can challenge preconceived notions and stereotypes they encounter in their lives.

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



By Lea Ann Gilbert

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Dreaming in Black and White

Jung, Reinhardt. DREAMING IN BLACK AND WHITE. Translated by Anthea Bell.
New York: Fogelman. ISBN 0803728115 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-8]

In history class, an unnamed, disabled German boy is studying about the Third Reich and the issues related to genetic testing. Much to his parents’ dismay, he begins to live more in his dream world than outside. Always dreaming in black and white, he becomes a boy named Hannes Keller living in Germany during the Holocaust. He witnesses the Gestapo’s injustices and the eventual disappearances of his Jewish math teacher and his new friend named Hilde Rosenbaum. To make matters worse, the replacement for the math teacher is a cruel man that watches as Hannes flails in front of the class to bullying and jeering. After the jeering subsides, the teacher poses a mathematical query for the class: “How much does it cost the Third Reich to house and care for those who are disabled, the unwanted…?” Hannes does the math in his head and the unbelievable anguish intensifies. Probing questions begin to haunt him about people with disabilities and how they were taken to psychiatric institutions and eventually killed under Operation T4…”elimination of lives not worth living…” His fretfulness is never resolved, especially when he begins to ponder that “genetic testing won’t let anyone but perfect human beings through…Back then I’d probably have been killed…I’m a living reproach…” In one of his dreams, he overhears his father agree to put him away. Waking fails to bring Hannes any relief. After all, he has known for many years that he is an embarrassment to his parents. He knows everyone in his household is suffering as a result of his “flaws.” He silently cries out “I don’t want to be loved all the same. And I don’t want to be loved in spite of it or although and most certainly not all the more because I’m the way I am.”

Jung’s use of language is explicit and striking. The voice of the young, tormented boy (e.g. My dream is a fantasy catching the truth. An invisible net, and I’m caught in it myself and struggling….”) is disturbing and compelling. Readers will respond to the chilling betrayal that Hannes endures and to his cry, “I may be disabled, but life is as dear to me as it is to the next person.” The challenging questions worth answering will intrigue young adults, especially those dealing with the parental attitudes toward Hannes.

Questions about community attitudes and the emotional consequences of prejudice could be discussed. Students can create a time line of the events during this period. They can create a map, letter, diary, or news article relating to the period as a supplement to Holocaust curriculum. Some students might have access to authentic memorabilia such as songs, clothes, or paintings.

Other books that deal with physical disabilities, prejudices, and the Holocaust:
Matas, Carol. GREATER THAN ANGELS. ISBN 0689813538
Slepian, Jan. THE ALFRED SUMMER. ISBN 039923747X

By Rita Pickett

Orphan Train

Kay, Verla. 2003. ORPHAN TRAIN. Ill. by Ken Stark. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ISBN 0399236139 [Suggested Grade Levels 2 - 5]

After their parents died, living on the city streets, stealing and begging for food was life for Lucy and her little brothers. How wonderful it was when an orphanage took them in and gave them food and clean clothes. But the orphanage was very crowded and one day Lucy, Harold and David were picked to go out west on an orphan train. They were among many other children who were being sent west on the long trip. The train ride was very exciting, but when David and Harold were taken away Lucy became very sad. Finally, Lucy gets to go to live with a farmer and his wife. Lucy enjoys her warm bed and good food. She also learns to work hard around the farm, but she just can’t stop thinking about her brothers. What a wonderful surprise when Lucy sees Harold at church on Sunday. Lucy and Harold are very excited and overjoyed to see each other. But they still pray for David and wonder if they will ever see him again.

Orphan Train provides a fantastic look into an oft forgotten early twentieth century American tragedy. Readers will find themselves captivated by this colorful tale filled with both sadness and joy. Vivid and emotion filled illustrations give deep insight into the thoughts and emotions of the main characters. Each of the beautifully painted illustrations captures the feeling and emotions of the children in each seen of the book. This enthralling story is told in the form of lyrical poetry that is quite attractive to the ear. Through both the pictures and words the reader is so drawn into the story of Lucy, Harold, and David that one would almost be able to feel themselves present in the story.

This book serves as a wonderful lesson in rhythm and rhyme. Children will greatly benefit from a discussion on poetry and from an opportunity to create their own.

This is a great book for introducing a discussion on, and further reading about the period of the early 1900’s. This book could also serve as a great way to teach children to openly discuss important emotions such as sadness and fear.

Other stories about children in this period of time in similar circumstances:
Bunting, Eve. TRAIN TO SOMEWHERE. ISBN 0618040315
Kay, Verla. HOMESPUN SARAH. ISBN 0399234179

By Kristi Mays

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Pigs Rock!

Jones, Melanie Davis. 2003. PIGS ROCK! Ill. By Bob Staarke. New York: Viking Children’s Books. ISBN 0670035815 [Suggested Grade Levels Preschool-2]


A pig rock band is on tour. They play all kinds of music from rock and roll to country. All the pigs wear wild outfits that make them hard to miss. Then, the pigs go to sleep. After they wake up, they hop onto their tour bus. Despite an accident on the way, the pigs make it to their gig on time with some help from an ice cream truck man. As usual, the pigs are a hit at their concert.

All the rhyming and repetition make the book fun to read. The rhythmic text has a fast beat that kids will have fun following. Ms. Jones uses some nice contrast when writing the text. If the text is on a dark background, it is white. The text is black if it is on a light background. Mr. Staarke created some eye-catching illustrations with his combination of geometric and bright colors. He also exaggerates the features for comic effect. For example, many of the characters have eyes that are big and round. Kids will enjoy hearing about these cool pigs.


The kids would have fun with a craft project where they could create their own pigs with pieces of paper, pencils, glue and Popsicle sticks. They could decide what kind of outfits their pigs would wear. A variety of colors would be provided, so kids can come up with different combinations.

This book can also be a fun way to teach kids about shapes. The librarian or parent can pull out a colorful geometric block and ask the child about the shape. Then, they can compare the shape to one in the book.

Other books about musical animals:
Gollub, Matthew. THE JAZZ FLY. ISBN 1889910171
London, Jonathan. HIP CAT. ISBN 0811814890
Pham, LeUyen. PIGGIES IN A POLKA. ISBN 0152164839

By Christine Cortez

ABC: A Child's First Alphabet Book

Jay, Alison. 2003. ABC: A CHILD’S FIRST ALPHABET BOOK. New York: Dutton Children’s Books. ISBN 0525469516 [Suggested Grade Levels Preschool-2]

This delightful book talks about the alphabet. Each page has the upper and lower case of letter. All the letters are accompanied by a large object and several smaller objects that start with the same letter. The pictures are followed by a simple sentence. At the end of the book, all the pictures are tied together in a large zoo. The back of the book contains the letters and the objects that go with them.

All the soft watercolor washes were painted onto a background that resembled cracked porcelain which gave the illustrations a folksy touch. The beautiful pictures a lot of detail which makes them look realistic. She also added some funny touches. For example, the owl wears a small pair of eyeglasses. Another example is when the panda ties a napkin around his neck before eating. She also uses different types of borders. For the letter k, the picture is shaped like a keyhole. With the letter s, the picture expands over two pages. The book makes learning the alphabet fun.

Children can play the I Spy game which will make easier for them to learn about the letters and their sounds.

Since kids learn through repetition, this is a good opportunity to get parents to participate. Parents can read this book to their kid which is also a good bonding experience for parents and children.


Other stories about the alphabet:
Sabuda, Robert. THE CHRISTMAS ALPHABET. ISBN 0531068579
Seuss, Dr. DR. SEUSS’S ABC: AN AMAZING BOOK. ISBN 0679882812
Wood, Audrey. ALPHABET MYSTERY. ISBN 0439443377

By Christine Cortez

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Hands Can

Hudson, Cheryl Willis. 2003. HANDS CAN. Photographs by John-Francis Bourke. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763616672 [Suggested Grade Levels: Pre K-K].

Have you ever stopped to think of all the things that human hands can do? Hands can: wave, throw, and clap. Hands can hold things and touch things. Hands can learn things, like how to tie a shoe. Hands can even sing and say, “I love you.” Through photographs and rhyming text, this book presents a small sampling of several exciting and adventurous activities in which human hands might be engaged throughout a day. Also depicted in this book is the joy that can be found as hands are used to explore the world. This joy is seen in the expressions and reactions of the young children who have been photographed doing just that: exploring the world in which they live.

Throughout this book, the richly detailed photographs depict young children engaged in a variety of hands-on activities. The young reader can easily relate to what is shown, for these are the types of activities in which human hands are regularly engaged, often on a daily basis. The rhyming text of this book describes the actions of each photograph in a simple, easily understood format, with a touch of repetition as each new activity is introduced by the phrase, “hands can.” This repetitive phrase encourages the reader to interact with the story, and while the actual words themselves may not be discernable as of yet, the relationship between the pictures and text is so concrete that by simply looking at the photographs, young children will be able to “read” this story for themselves.


Create additional pages for this book showing other things hands can do that were not mentioned by the author. Have students illustrate each page.
Create a sequel. What can feet do?
Take a “hands-on” field trip and explore the outdoors.
Use hands to create an art picture. Trace student hands onto white paper and let students turn their hand into another object like a tree or a turkey or anything else.

Other stories about hands:
Holzenthaler, Jean. MY HANDS CAN. ISBN 0525354905.
Moon, Nicola. LUCY’S PICTURES. ISBN 0805003282.

Other books by Hudson that could be compared to this one:
BRIGHT EYES, BROWN SKIN. Illustrated by George Cephas Ford. ISBN 0940975238.

By Kirsten Murphy

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The Canning Season

Horvath, Polly. 2003. THE CANNING SEASON. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0374399565 [Suggested Grade Levels 6-9]


With hopes of ridding herself of the burden of being a mother so she can focus on trying to gain acceptance into a country club, the status-seeking Henriette sends her thirteen-year-old daughter Ratchet away to spend a summer in the backwoods of Maine with her eccentric great-aunts Tilly and Penpen who fill the days with strange stories of the past.

Painting characters that are unpredictable and often hilarious is one of Horvath’s greatest gifts. While the plot provides much comical relief (a pair of abandoned girls living with a pair of ancient, eccentric women in a bear-infested part of Maine) the story is really a character study. Horvath places Ratchet in the care of the twin sisters so that their stories may unfold. Each tale is more ludicrous and shocking than the last, including Penpen’s experience of tripping over their depressed mother’s head after she had decapitated herself and their governess who referred to them as “you little fucks.” This bizarre and newly found family unit is rounded out when Harper, an outspoken teen who is abandoned at the home when it is mistakenly taken for an orphanage, arrives. While the stories move beyond bizarre, the characters are so multi-layered; readers will come to appreciate the idiosyncrasies of their world.


After a discussion of the story, readers could select their favorite scene from the book and illustrate it.

Readers could write a chapter to serve as a sequel of the book, taking the information contained in the epilogue to guide the story.

If you like THE CANNING SEASON, try:
Dahl, Roald. JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. ISBN 0679880909
Snicket, Lemony. THE BAD BEGINNING. ISBN 0060283122

Other works by Horvath:
THE TROLLS. ISBN 0374377871

By Rose Brock

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Keeper of the Night

Holt, Kimberly Willis. 2003. KEEPER OF THE NIGHT. New York: Henry Holt and Co. ISBN 0805063617 [Suggested Grade Levels: 5-8}.

On the island of present-day Guam, Isabel and her family are dealing with the recent death of her mother. As life continues to go on, Isabel grimly moves through each day scribbling in her notebook the experiences of daily life in her family. Isabel finds that life keeps interrupting her sorrow as her friendship with the best female cock-fighter Terecita grows stronger, her father’s fishing assistant flirts with her, and her aunt tries to teach her the skills to become a healer. It is Isabel who keeps the family together, the best that she can as a 13-year-old girl, while her father stops speaking and her brother begins to hurt himself out of anger. As events come to a climatic rise, each member of the family, including Isabel must come to terms with the loss of mother and work together to overcome the grief that has encompassed each of them.

Through the use of the main character’s notebook, this story comes to life in a very intimate and personal way. It is as if Isabel is allowing the reader to peek into her heart, her mind, and her soul through the glimpses that are provided into her notebook. The characters in this story come to life on the pages of the book as the reader is given a personal view of each family member through the eyes of Isabel. A story that deals with a tough topic, the death of a parent, Holt does an incredible job of forgoing sordid details and getting right to the focus of the story: how the family left behind moves beyond grief. It is not an easy journey, but the broken pieces left within this family are picked up one at a time and glued back together.


Learn about the island of Guam.
Keep a personal notebook recording events and experiences that happen each day.
Learn more about the author.
Compare the “healing” abilities of Aunt Bernadette to modern-day medicine.

Other books dealing with death and loss:
Paterson, Katherine. BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA. ISBN 0064401847.
Schweibert, Pat et al. TEAR SOUP. ISBN 0961519762.

Other books about family:
Horvath, Polly. EVERYTHING ON A WAFFLE. ISBN 0374322368.

Other books by Kimberly Willis Holt that could be compared to this one:

By Kirsten Murphy

Sunday, May 9, 2004

The Creek

Holm, Jennifer L. 2003. THE CREEK. New York: HarperCollins Juvenile Books. ISBN 0060001348 [Suggested Grade Levels: 8 and up].

Penny, the 12, almost 13-year-old female protagonist in this story, has grown up playing with the boys in her neighborhood. Summer days are filled with building forts in the woods at the end of their block, participating in 4th of July celebrations, and enjoying weekly trips to the dairy for ice cream, courtesy of the neighborhood “grandpa,” Mr. Schuyler. This summer, starting predictably like all others, takes a strange turn when Caleb Devlin, returns amidst rumors of the horrible things from his past that caused him to be sent away to a juvenile detention facility for several years. With Caleb’s arrival, disturbing things, similar to his crimes of the past, began again. Penny and her friends set out to investigate the things that are happening, convinced that it is Caleb who is committing the acts of violence that culminate in a young girl’s death. However, things are not as they seem, and while Caleb is indeed a shady character, the truth of who is terrorizing the town is not realized until it is almost too late for Penny.

This is definitely a mystery that pushes well beyond the typical plot found within stories where the child plays the detective. The storyline is well plotted, keeping readers on the edge of their seats as unexpected turns are made throughout the story. The level of suspense continues to heighten as the actions of the characters increase in intensity, leading to the culmination of a frightening situation that may or may not turn out well for the characters involved. As the main character, Penny, is dragged into the mysterious actions taken place around her, and as life as she knows it changes drastically, she undergoes her own struggles and must overcome the obstacles before her if she is to survive.


Learn about the elements needed in creating a well-written mystery story.
Investigate forensic science and how evidence is collected and processed to solve mysteries.
Learn about famous detectives, real and fictional, and compare their characteristics.

Other mystery books:
Cormier, Robert. THE RAG AND BONE SHOP. ISBN 0440229715.
Nickerson, Sara. HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY AND NEVER BE FOUND. Illustrated by Sally Worn Comport. ISBN 0064410277.

Other books by Jennifer L. Holmes that could be compared to this one:

By Kirsten Murphy

Friday, May 7, 2004

A Stir of Bones

Hoffman, Nina Kiriki. 2003. A STIR OF BONES. Viking Children’s Press. ISBN 0670035513 [Suggested Grade Levels: 7 and up].


Susan Backstrom, the main character of this story, appears to have everything: she’s smart and beautiful, her family is wealthy, and as the only child she has their undivided attention. However, beneath the fa├žade of the perfect family lies the secret of abuse. While Susan herself is never physically abused, her father is as emotionally abusive to Susan as he is physically abusive to his wife whenever he disapproves of Susan’s actions. In a single moment of freedom at the library, Susan happens to overhear a group of her peers talking about visiting a haunted house and convinces them to let her come with them. Reluctantly agreeing, Susan sets off on a journey that leads to her own self-awareness of who she is as she develops friendships with these peers, a ghost living in the house, and the house itself, which has a life of its own. These relationships strengthen Susan and help her to see that she has the power to make decisions for herself.

This is more than just another ghost story. Filled with complex relationships, supernatural powers, and suspense, the author does an incredible job of drawing the reader into a world filled with intrigue that invokes the desire to read more. Thankfully this is the prequel to two other books written by the author. As the reader comes to know Susan and is allowed into her private life, a connection is made, bringing the story to life and creating a support system for Susan and the other characters based on the emotions of the reader. So many emotions fill the reader of this book as it evokes anger, sadness, anxiety, relief, hope, fear, and so much more. While the situation in Susan’s family is not resolved in this book, the strength of Susan at the end fills the reader with hope that in the books to come, permanent changes will be made for the better.


Chart the changes in the characters from the beginning of the story to the end.
Compare and contrast to other books with themes of the supernatural or ghost stories.
Read all three books in the trilogy and note similarities, changes, differences of the author’s style and writing techniques.


Other supernatural/ghost stories:
Cabot, Meg. HAUNTED. ISBN 006029471X.
Carroll, Jenny. REUNION. ISBN 0671788124.

Other books in this trilogy by Nina Kiriki Hoffman:

By Kirsten Murphy

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

One Winter's Night

Herman, John. 2003. ONE WINTER’S NIGHT. Ill. by Leo and Diane Dillon. New York: Penguin Putnam. ISBN 0399234187 [Suggested Ages 4-7]

This simple and poignant story centers around two parallel wintry journeys. Martha, a lost and lonely cow and an expectant Mary, with Joseph are about to give birth and simultaneously seek shelter in a deserted barn. “Martha was lost. It was bitter cold, snow was beginning to fall. It was too late in the year for a young cow to be out alone, especially when she was pregnant. Martha pushed with her nose against the door of the shed. She smelled the familiar odor of warmth and hay. A light burned. A donkey stirred…Martha smelled the odor of humans…they would help her and her baby.” On that star-studded night, and as the donkey and three magnificent deer witness the happy events, both Martha and the couple experience the birth of their firstborns and the joy of sharing the experience together.

Beautifully told and illustrated, the full-page spreads in pastels of shadowy lilac, pink, and blue green watercolors with sepia toned vignettes in the upper left hand corner of the adjacent page illuminate the creativity of Leo and Diane Dillon. The choice of pastels creates a soothing and calming effect. This oversized book would be a great bedtime choice during the fall and winter months.


Children could discuss experiences of their own when siblings were born. They could talk about how it feels to be a big brother or sister. They could discuss where their siblings were born and how different being born in a barn or a car or a subway would be. The scenarios are endless.

Children can be invited to make the sounds the donkey, deer, cow, and calf might make. They can draw a picture of a scene or create their own version of the story. They might
rewrite the story from one of the animal’s perspective.

Other books that present a cozy, warm, and peaceful effect on children:
Carle, Eric. DREAM SNOW. ISBN 0399235795
Foreman, Michael. CAT IN THE MANGER. ISBN 0805066772
Tafuri, Nancy. THE DONKEY’S CHRISTMAS SONG. ISBN 0439273137
Yolen, Jane. OWL MOON. ISBN 0399214577

By Rita Pickett

Monday, May 3, 2004

Olive's Ocean

Henkes, Kevin. 2003. OLIVE’S OCEAN. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0060535431 [Suggested Grade Levels 4-7]

Kevin Henkes has scurried away from the mice that he normally writes about and tackles some tough issues that face a young girl. Martha, a twelve year old, has received a journal entry from one of her classmate’s mother. Olive, who has been killed by an automobile, has written in her journal that she would like to become friends with Martha. Martha only knows that Olive existed and died. She knows nothing else, but the two have something in common, both would like to be serious writers. Martha travels to Cape Cod with her family for the summer and hashes out many issues before returning. Martha learns a lesson in relationships and contemplates suicide when a boy betrays his true feelings and devastates her emotional well-being. It is at this time that Martha walks out into the ocean and allows the undertow to sweep her out towards the depths. But, before reaching a disastrous end, Martha comes to her senses, regains her strength, and emerges from death. It is at this time that she learns that the world does not revolve around her. She knows that Olive died and nothing else ceased to exist.

Martha’s beloved grandmother and sounding board is a comic relief that helps support the plot of the story. The remaining characters are there as a family base and a touch of humor to relieve the high-tension moments. This is a story filled with conflict between the characters and the conflict within themselves. The attempted resolutions are sometimes frightening, but ends on a compassionate and positive note.

Students will better understand the change a character goes through by examining how they are at the beginning of the story and at the end. Choose the central character that changes their personality when compared to how they are at the beginning of the book. After reading the book, ask students to examine the character at the beginning of the book. On half of a piece of paper, ask students to write the personality traits the character exhibits at the beginning of the book. When done, have the students examine the same character at the end of the book.

After reading the book, ask students to examine the central character and how that character act around at least one other character. Split a piece of paper into the number of situations that you want the students to examine. In each section, ask students to write down short descriptions of how the character acts, talks, and feels in each situation.


Other stories about growing up:
Hurwin, Davida. THE FARTHER YOU RUN. ISBN 0670036277
Hurwin, Davida. A TIME FOR DANCING. AISN 0316383511
McCafferty, Megan. SECOND HELPINGS. ISBN 0609807919
By Jill Howell

Saturday, May 1, 2004

I Call My Hand Gentle

Haan, Amanda. 2003. I CALL MY HAND GENTLE. Illustrated by Marina Sagona. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0670036218 [Suggested Grade Levels: Pre K-K].

Hands can hug or hit. Hands can break or tickle. Hands can write or steal. Hands can be used in productive or destructive actions, depending on what a person chooses. Hands have many abilities, but according to the text of the book, hands do “what I want” them to do. Using your hands correctly is a choice that must be made daily and in a variety of situations by the individual, and when that choice is made, to use your hands the right way, you can call your hand gentle.

This book approaches the idea of cooperation and kindness by looking at the good and bad things that can be done with one’s hands. Through bright colors and large-scale items these good and bad choices are seen clearly by the reader. Large text is integrated into each illustration, weaving the story into the pictures, and making clear the choices and consequences of using hands productively or destructively. Such clarity makes it easy for the young reader to understand the relationship between the text and the illustrations of this book.


Play “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down” by calling out good and bad actions and having children respond with a “thumbs up” if good, or a “thumbs down” if bad.
Discuss ways to be kind and cooperative.
Create a mural of good choices that can be made with hands. Create a border by tracing hands.


Other books about hands:
Agassi, Martine. HANDS ARE NOT FOR HITTING. Illustrated by Marieka Henlen. ISBN 1575420775.
Archambault, Joahn and Bill Martin, Jr. HERE ARE MY HANDS. Illustrated by Ted Rand. ISBN 0805059113.
Hudson, Cheryl Willis. HANDS CAN. ISBN 0763616672.

Other books about kindness/cooperation:
Gainer, Cindy. I’M LIKE YOU, YOU’RE LIKE ME. ISBN 1575420392.
Payne, Lauren Murphy. WE CAN GET ALONG. Illustrated by Claudia Rohling. ISBN 1575420139.

Other books about feelings:
Cain, Janan. THE WAY I FEEL. ISBN 1884734715.
Spelman, Cornelia Maude. WHEN I FEEL ANGRY. Illustrated by Nancy Cote. ISBN 0807588881.

By Kirsten Murphy