Friday, December 23, 2005


Wright, Randall. 2004. HUNCHBACK. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0805072322 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-8]

There was a time when Castle Marlby served as a “seasonal retreat” for the royal family. It was a glorious time then when the royal guard heralded the arrival of kings and princes, a time when the cooks prepared lavish feasts and jugglers and acrobats entertained workers and guests. But those times are long gone. Hodge, a young hunchbacked orphan who lives and works at Castle Marlby, has heard about those days of old and wishes for their return. And, Hodge has another wish. He dreams of someday serving a prince. The fact that he performs the most menial tasks at the castle, including cleaning out the pit beneath the latrines, does not tarnish this hope. When rumors begin to surface that the castle will host a royal visit, no one is more excited than Hodge. The rumors are true and Prince Leo arrives quietly without fanfare. Everyone is suspicious of the prince and people wonder if he is a visitor or a prisoner. Hodge, however, has complete faith in Prince Leo, especially after Prince Leo befriends him. Hodge becomes his faithful servant, but is he just an innocent pawn? When Prince Leo mysteriously disappears, adventure and political intrigue ensue. Hodge tumbles into a world outside the castle walls where he proves to be a hero amid battles and danger.

Wright has done a marvelous job of keeping the story authentic to its setting. Descriptions of medieval life are exceptional. Even the dialect used by Tom, the chandler’s boy, as he insults Hodge is amusing: “‘Where’s my breakfast, ye dolt-headed serving wench?’” With memorable characters and an engaging plot, this evenly paced adventure novel raises questions about loyalty and inner convictions. Readers will root for Hodge as this simple, poor underling battles to do right.

Readers can research medieval times and discover how people lived and worked in a castle. Readers can choose a type of worker (e.g. knight, chandler, kitchen maid, scurry, porter, etc.) and illustrate his/her attire and describe his/her duties.

Books about orphans in the middle ages:
Morris, Gerald. THE SQUIRE’S TALE. ISBN 0395869595

By S. Zulema Silva Bewley

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Behind You

Woodson, Jacqueline. 2004. BEHIND YOU. New York: Putnam. ISBN 039923988X [Suggested Grade Levels 8-12]

In this follow-up to the novel IF YOU COME SOFTLY, friends and family members grieve the loss of Jeremiah, a teen mistakenly shot by New York City police officers. Jeremiah’s death has impacted everyone close to him: his mother has become a hermit, his girlfriend becomes aloof, his best friend struggles with his own sexual identity, and his basketball team can’t win again. Even Jeremiah’s spirit struggles to move onward in the after-life because of his unfinished business on earth. When happenstance connects these individuals, they begin to help each other emerge from death’s darkness. Jeremiah’s dead grandmother urges him to “leave the living alone,” but he wants to connect, to “look behind” on the ones he has left.

Woodson expertly combines the viewpoints of the living and the deceased in order to thoroughly examine the grief process. Powerful thoughts are related through the teens and adults in the story, and these are sure to promote profound thoughts about relationships. Young adult readers will appreciate the frankness with which Woodson intertwines interracial dating, homosexuality, divorce, and prejudice into the story. This is an extremely perceptive novel that could have a lasting impact on its readers.

Ask readers to assume they have passed away by some violent circumstance. Where would their spirits linger? To whom would they send spiritual signals? Instruct them to include their thoughts in a poem or essay.

Ask readers to write a persuasive essay about their opinion on interracial dating and marriage.

Assign one character from the book to each student. Ask the student to draw a portrait of that character, based upon what they have read.

Other books about death and grief:
DiCamillo, Kate. TIGER RISING. ISBN 0763618985
Draper, Sharon Mills. TEARS OF A TIGER. ISBN 0689806981
Hoffman, Alice. GREEN ANGEL. ISBN 0439443857
McDaniel, Lurlene. TELLING CHRISTINA GOODBYE. ISBN 0553570870

By Rebecca S. McKee

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

September Roses

Winter, Jeanette. 2004. SEPTEMBER ROSES. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0374367361 [Suggested Grade Levels 1-5]


This beautiful, terrible memory of Sept. 11, 2001, is simple enough for young children, but powerful enough for adults to appreciate even more. Winter tracked down the story of the two South African sisters who created a tribute to the fallen World Trade Towers in the roses they had brought across the Atlantic to display at a cancelled flower show. Illustrated with simple, cartoon-like drawings, the middle third, which plunges into black and white chaos, is especially evocative of that time in our history.

Winter’s text is spare, and completely integrated with the illustrations: “High in the air/ the two sisters sat dreaming/ of their roses” (the illustration surrounding the text shows a plane full of people flying among clouds and roses, while a very small sketch of the Manhattan skyline in the bottom right corner includes the two planes aimed at the Twin Towers); the page turns to “Then the sky turned black” (as huge clouds of gray and black smoke engulf obscure the buildings over the full two-page spread); and, after another page turn, “Their airplane landed” (a frantic and expressionistic view in black and white of people, including the two sisters, at the airport with three TV monitors carrying the events and banks of information monitors reading “cancelled” over and over). (n.p.) The SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL review of 9/01/04 states in part: “The spare and poetic text, small-sized format, and simple drawings give these painful days a direct and personal resonance. . . Winter’s offering captures the intensity of emotion that was felt that day and the healing human connections that soon followed.”

For older readers, the most important connection will be to their own memories of September 11, 2001. Sharing, writing, and drawing about their experiences will be most meaningful to them.

Other books about the World Trade Towers:
Gerstein, Mordecai. THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS. ISBN 0761317910

Other books about the September 11, 2001 attacks, and its aftermath:
Stern, Peggy. 2003. STANDING TALL. ISBN 1572953934 (Video)

By Julie Brinker

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Knuffle Bunny

Willems, Mo. 2004. KNUFFLE BUNNY. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 0786818700 [Suggested Grade Levels Pre-K – 3]

Mo Willems is one of the real geniuses working in children’s literature today. After an Emmy-winning career writing for SESAME STREET, Willems is forging what should be a Caldecott-winning career in kids’ books (he already has one honor for DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS). The simple, engaging tale of little Trixie’s trip to the Laundromat with her Daddy and the harrowing rescue of her lost Knuffle Bunny, who was accidentally left behind, is spunky and adorable at every turn. Blending photographs of a real city with his own masterfully simple and expressively drawn characters, Willems creates a unique look for a small story that is an enormous event in the life of a girl who hasn’t yet said her first words. Trixie’s exasperated attempts at verbal communication are hilariously cute as she desperately cries, “Aggle flabble klabble!” and heartbreakingly adorable as she sniffs, “snurp.” In the end, this is a story of the enormous joy and sorrow experienced by children in the seemingly small things in life and the swashbuckling, heroic courage of a Daddy who won’t let his little girl down. KNUFFLE BUNNY is what the very best children’s books are; an unabashed slice of simple childhood joy that’s fun to read with something special on every page and the under-girding theme of love and a strong family bond. This is the kind of book awards are made for.

Children can discuss the animals or blankets they were or are attached to and the times when those animals or blankets were lost.

Children can draw a picture of their favorite stuffed animal, or draw a picture of the time that animal was lost.

With quilt pieces and a pattern, an adult can lead a child in creating their own special animal, their own special “knuffle bunny.”

Other books about lost toys or blankets:
Bourgeois, Paulette. FRANKLIN’S BLANKET. ISBN 1550741543
Falconer, Ian. OLIVIA …AND THE MISSING TOY. ISBN 0689852916

Other books by Mo Willems that could be compared to this one:

By Melissa Neece

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Double Helix

Werlin, Nancy. 2004. DOUBLE HELIX. New York: Dial Books. ISBN 0803726066 [Suggested Grade Levels 9-12]

When Eli, a recent high school graduate, decides to forego his first year of college in order to take a high-paying job at Wyatt Transgenics, his father is more than displeased. He’s worried about Eli’s involvement with the company’s owner, legendary molecular biologist Quincy Wyatt. Eli knows that his father, his terminally-ill mother, and Quincy have a connected past, but he doesn’t know the details. His father’s refusal to explain his contempt for Quincy is only one of the mysteries Eli must confront and conquer in this new-age novel about genetic engineering.

Werlin has expertly woven sophisticated science, debilitating disease, teenage romance, and strained parent-child relationships into an intriguing modern mystery. Readers will certainly connect with the conflicts between Eli and his father, as well as those between Eli and his girlfriend. The esoteric conflict concerning gene manipulation in humans as a means of preventing disease and deformities is an ever-present underlying theme of the story. “I don’t trust us,” Eli analyzes. “Even with the best of intentions – we might think we’re eradicating suffering, but are we?” The social implications of the science presented in this story give the reader critical thoughts to ponder, while providing the background for a conventional tale of a young man’s struggle for identity and love.

Provide additional information about genetic engineering (see RELATED BOOKS). Then, hold a debate about the ethics of this new science.

Research Huntington’s Disease or other genetic diseases, identifying symptoms, debilitations, life expectancy, etc.

Other novels involving genetic science:
Card, Orson Scott. ENDER’S GAME. ISBN 0765342294
Patterson, James. WHEN THE WIND BLOWS. ISBN 0316693324

Nonfiction books about genetic engineering:
Chesterton, G.K. EUGENICS AND OTHER EVILS. ISBN 1587420023
Judson, Karen. GENETIC ENGINEERING. ISBN 0766015874

By Rebecca S. McKee

Monday, December 12, 2005

So B. It

Weeks, Sarah. 2004. SO B. IT. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0066236223 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-8]

Love speaks in many languages or in some cases almost none at all. So is the case in Sarah Weeks’ touching and heartfelt novel, SO B. IT. Heidi, the twelve-year-old protagonist and daughter of a So B. It, a severely mentally disabled woman, makes her way through life with a strong case of good fortune and the daily help of her agoraphobic neighbor, Bernadette. Heidi and her mother have lived next door and under her care since they appeared on her doorstep when Heidi was an infant, and no other information about their identity exists. When Heidi finds a roll of film pushed back in a kitchen drawer, she commits herself to learning the answers to the mystery contained in the photographs. Since her mother’s vocabulary is limited to an utterance of only twenty-three words, she can offer no insight to the family’s past, and Heidi sets out on a cross country journey to try to learn who she really is.

Weeks paints the pages of SO B. IT with characters that are unusual, remarkable, and memorable. Each character is fully-developed and carefully rendered, leaving readers to be drawn fully into their world. Heidi’s narration and voice is authentic; while life may be difficult, she remains true to herself and her family. Though her frustration with life as she has always known it is evident as she shares, “A person isn’t supposed to have to guess who they are, they are supposed to know.” she remains committed to her family. Her innocence and naiveté are portrayed appropriately, and Weeks’ story never becomes too heavy-handed with sentiment—rather is remains a beautiful testament to the power of love.

After reading SO B. IT, teens could use U.S. travel guides to create an original map charting Heidi’s journey across the country in search of her past.

Readers could research ways in which mentally challenged parents care for their children and programs offering assistance for those families.

If you liked SO B. IT, try: Holt, Kimberly Willis. MY LOUISIANA SKY. ISBN 0805052518

By Rose Brock

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Escape from Saigon: How a Vietnam War Orphan Became an American Boy

Warren, Andrea. 2004. ESCAPE FROM SAIGON. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 037432244 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-8]

ESCAPE FROM SAIGON: HOW A VIETNAM WAR ORPHAN BECAME AN AMERICAN BOY tells the story of how a Vietnamese boy, Long, became Matt Steiner. Born in a war-torn country, Long had a difficult childhood. He was a biracial child of a Vietnamese mother and an American father. His father abandoned him and his mother; his mother committed suicide leaving him in the care of his grandmother. Because of the poverty and increasing danger of the war, his grandmother had little choice but to leave Long with one of the orphanages in Saigon. Luckily, Long was chosen for adoption by an American family. Soon he was told that he would soon have a new home and a new name. ESCAPE FROM SAIGON shares his experiences in Southern Vietnam, his time at the orphanage, his recollections of being one of the orphans rescued by Operation Babylift in 1975, and his memories of his American childhood.

Warren tells a heartwarming story of one boy’s experiences which in many ways represent the thousands of war orphans rescued from Southern Vietnam in the mid-seventies. Her text is based on her many interviews with Matt Steiner as well as her interview with others. She also provides a thorough bibliography and index. The black and white photographs complement the text and help the reader understand the context of Matt’s story.

Have readers choose a photograph from ESCAPE FROM SAIGON. Have them write creatively about the photograph. (Poem, diary/journal entry, etc) What emotions does the photograph capture?

Follow up with a reading of THE STORY OF THE SAIGON AIRLIFT by Zachary Kent.

Other books about Vietnam:
Huynh, Quang Nhuong. THE LAND I LOST. ISBN 0812449274
Seah, Audrey. VIETNAM. ISBN 1854355848
Uschan, Michael V. THE FALL OF SAIGON. ISBN 1588105555

By Becky Laney

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Revenge and Forgiveness: An Anthology of Poems

Vecchione, Patrice. 2004. REVENGE AND FORGIVENESS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0805073760 [Suggested Grade Levels 7 and up]

Vecchione has compiled a powerful selection of poems to explore the themes of revenge and forgiveness. People respond to being wronged by either revenge or forgiveness, she explains, and by reading these poems as an examination of the emotions involved, we will be able to understand our own responses – how it feels to get revenge or to be forgiven. The introduction is a thoughtful analysis of some of the poets’ responses as well as those of representative students of hers.

The poets chosen for this anthology range from the ancient Romans, Edmund Spencer, and Shakespeare to more modern poets like Naomi Shihab Nye, Louise Gluck, and Sandra Cisneros – altogether a very wide representation of poets for the 60 poems. The poems are about war, hate, slavery, rape, random violence, terrorism, and love. Some of the poems are more accessible than others, like Kate Mead’s prose poem, “Dogs,” and Toni Mirosevich’s “Hygiene.” “Why People Murder” by Ellen Bass is a strong poem about a woman who has been chopping onions in the kitchen after a fight with her partner, and then the next thing she knows she is in the living room with her knife: “When he sees me, he’s startled, doesn’t / know if he should be scared. / I’m emanating like a rod of uranium” (Vecchione, 2004, p. 65).

After the poems, Vecchione has included a section of biographical notes about the poets with comments about their thoughts, where possible, on revenge and forgiveness. Next come indexes by author, by title, and by first line. The book is well researched, planned, and presented. Both young adults and adults will find many poems to provoke thoughts, emotions, and conflicts about the topics of revenge and forgiveness.

Use the book as a forum to discuss the nature of evil as displayed by the September 11 attacks and the two ways of responding presented in these poems. Which feels better – revenge or forgiveness?

Other books by Patrice Vecchione to compare to this one:
The body Electic: an anthology of poems. Isbn 0805069356
Truth and lies: an anthology of poems. Isbn 0805064796

By Cay Geisler

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?

Updale, Eleanor. 2004. MONTMORENCY: THIEF, LIAR, GENTLEMAN? New York: Orchard. ISBN 0439580358 [Suggested Grade Levels 6-8]

During his arrest, petty thief Montmorency is critically injured in a fall. A dedicated doctor makes his career by saving Montmorency’s life, then displaying him at medical conferences. At once such conference, Montmorency learns of the new sewer system that has just been completed in London and he soon develops a plan. Once he is released from prison, he begins to use the tunnels to enter posh London neighborhoods, rob the houses, then mysteriously vanish. The police are baffled. Montmorency then decides to create for himself two personas – the rich, sophisticated Montmorency and the crude but cunning burglar, Scarper. As time goes on, Montmorency finds living two separate lives increasingly difficult. Who is he really? When an acquaintance asks Montmorency to break into the Mauramanian embassy to find out if they are about to declare war, Montmorency must make a decision. Is he a thief and a liar? Or is he now a gentleman?

Although not about teens, this is an intriguing story of a man willing to go to great lengths to get what he wants. Montmorency is an interesting and complex character. Even he does not always know who he is. When he thinks he might be discovered, both Scarper and Montmorency have ideas: “Scarper had briefly toyed with the notion of putting a permanent end to the risk by killing Mr. Rigby, but back in the Marimion, Montmorency knew that such behavior was out of the question and he despised Scarper for even entertaining the idea.” Updale does an excellent job of portraying each of Montmorency’s different lives and the length to which he goes to maintain them. The plot moves quickly with many near-misses which maintain the tension. A fascinating story of intrigue, adventure, and survival in Victorian England.

Readers might be interested in researching maps of the London sewer system. They may also want to investigate a gentleman’s rules of etiquette in Victorian England. How was a gentleman expected to behave?

Other books about unlikely thieves:
Funke, Cornelia . THE THIEF LORD. ISBN 043942089X
Turner, Megan Whalen. THE THIEF. ISBN 0140388346

By Ellen Reed

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog

Turner, Pamela. 2004. HACHIKO: THE TRUE STORY OF A LOYAL DOG. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0618140948 [Suggested Grade Levels 1-4]

This story is simply told from a boy’s point of view, one whose life is changed forever by his friendship with a very special dog. In 1932, a real dog who lived in Tokyo, faithfully waited for his owner every afternoon. Hachiko would wait daily at the train station for Dr. Ueno. After the man died suddenly in 1925, the animal returned to the station every day to wait for him until he too suddenly died at the train station in 1935. This amazing dog became famous for his loyalty and was adored by the people of Tokyo. A bronze statue was placed at Shibuya Station to honor this incredible dog and an annual April festival celebrating this amazing creature was begun. Illustrated with Yan Nascimbene"s rich watercolors, the legend of Hachiko will touch your heart and inspire you as it has inspired thousands all over the world.

Invite children to talk about amazing animals and the joys they bring to people’s lives.

Bring other heroic dog stories to the book discussion. Discuss with young children how some dogs are trained especially for aiding the handicapped.

Encourage children to draw a picture of their dog (or other animal) hero.

Newman, Leslea. HACHIKO WAITS. ISBN 0805073361
Stoecklein, David. COW DOGS: THE COWBOY’S BEST FRIEND. ISBN1931153205

By Kim Southwell

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Polar Bear Night

Thompson, Lauren. 2004. POLAR BEAR NIGHT. Ill. by Stephen Savage. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0439495245 [Suggested Grade Levels Pre K – 2]

POLAR BEAR NIGHT is an engaging bedtime story about family and love. The story follows a polar bear cub that is curious about the world around her. The cub is awakened during the night and wanders about, seeing the walruses, seals and whales, as well as the magical night sky that she lives about. In the following passage, the stars she sees amuse the bear:

“They light up everything/The little bear loves.
And the little bear shines bright/With light, too.”

There is no particular formula to Thompson’s language, but the sentiment is clear that the bear loves, is loved and has a deep understanding of family. Once the bear is satisfied that everything in her world is at peace, she is ready for sleep and goes home to her mother. The story is told effortlessly and readers, both children and adults, will take pleasure in it.

As beautiful as Thompson’s story is, Stephen Savages’ pictures are equally moving. The polar bear’s world is conveyed in simple, undemanding shapes but each page evokes strong emotion. Cool colors are used to portray the cold arctic night, but in all pages the sky shines welcomingly and the animal’s faces are all given kind and soothing facial features. The book’s calming nature is sure to ease children into bed with guaranteed sweet dreams.

Bedtime stories have long been a favorite of children. Develop a personal bedtime story based on the children, their families or make believe animals. Illustrate the story with ink drawings or cut out simple shapes that are similar to the illustrations in POLAR BEAR NIGHT.
The polar bear was not ready to sleep at the beginning of the story, so she decided to take a walk. Invite children to share what activities help them get ready for bed.

Other bedtime stories:
Brown, Margaret Wise. GOODNIGHT MOON. ISBN 0064430170
McBratney, Sam. GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU? ISBN 076360013X

By Lisa Erickson

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Red Blanket

Thomas, Eliza. 2004. THE RED BLANKET. Ill. by Joe Cepeda. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0439322537 [Suggested Grade Levels K-3]

This is the poignant story of a single woman who longs to adopt a child. She contacts an adoption agency and eventually receives a photograph of a baby girl named PanPan who lives in an orphanage in China. The woman travels to China and adopts PanPan, but the first day together is very difficult. PanPan cries all day. Nothing quiets her until her mother remembers a red blanket she had brought to China. Under the blanket, PanPan is comforted and the bonding between mother and daughter begins. Many years later, PanPan still cherishes the now faded but special blanket.

Narrated by the mother as she addresses her daughter, this story is beautifully told in simple language. For example, in describing her life prior to adopting PanPan, the mother narrates, “The house was filled with pictures to look at and books to read and even a beautiful piano I played every day. But still, it felt empty.” Thomas also cleverly describes the passage of time in a way that young children can understand. She writes, “Deep snows fell, then melted into a muddy spring…. Summer came and went, and the mornings grew crisp and cool.” Perhaps the greatest strength of the text is that it avoids romanticism. The story is touching, yet honest. In describing the first day together, the mother says, “You cried and cried until I felt like weeping, too, and by evening time, we were both very tired. I laid you down and bent to kiss you. You just turned your face away.” Cepeda’s vibrant illustrations are a perfect complement. The joy the young woman feels upon receiving PanPan’s photograph is obvious—she is jumping in the yard as the neighbors standby smiling. Children will enjoy the colorful, expressive art. Young readers will connect with the familial theme while adopted children are likely to identify more acutely with the story.

Children can identify an item that has special significance for them (e.g. stuffed animal, toy, blanket, book, etc.). They can discuss why it is important to them.

Other books about international adoption (China):
Lewis, Rose A. I LOVE YOU LIKE CRAZY CAKES. ISBN 0316525383
Peacock, Carol Antoinette. MOMMY FAR, MOMMY NEAR. ISBN 0807552348

By S. Zulema Silva Bewley

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Sweet Music in Harlem

Taylor, Debbie A. 2004. SWEET MUSIC IN HARLEM. Ill. by Frank Morrison. New York: Lee & Low Books. ISBN 1584301651 [Suggested Grade Levels 2-6]

In 1958, a photojournalist snapped a picture of fifty-seven of the greatest jazz artists standing in front of a brownstone in Harlem. The photo inspired the author to create this story of C.J., an aspiring clarinetist, and his Uncle Click, a once-famous jazz musician, preparing for a photo shoot. Uncle Click wants his signature hat for the picture, because “it’s not everyday a Harlem trumpet player gets his picture taken.” So, C.J. must help his forgetful uncle find the misplaced hat before the photographer arrives. While retracing his uncle’s steps, C.J. learns that his uncle is very absentminded but also quite popular. Indeed, many neighbors are anxious to lend themselves for the photograph, too!

The graffiti style of the acrylic paintings effectively conveys the setting of the story. The expressions on the faces of the characters work well with the authentic dialogue of the story. The reader truly enjoys the montage of men, women and children that wind up in the photograph. The subjects of the actual inspirational photo are identified in a fascinating author’s note that follows the story and should definitely be included as part of a read-aloud. This picture book debut for both Taylor and Morrison proves that a black and white snapshot can arouse a vivid imagination.

Display antique black and white photos with the caption, “What story do these pictures tell?” Invite readers to imagine about the details of the photos and to compose a short story that could accompany one of the pictures.

Choose one or more of the famous musicians from the actual photo in the author’s note. Conduct research to determine what instrument they played and what songs they recorded. If possible obtain a copy of one or more of the songs to play aloud.


Other books about jazz:
Isadora, Rachel. BEN’S TRUMPET, VOL. 1. ISBN 0688109888

By Rebecca S. McKee

Friday, November 18, 2005

Going for the Record

Swanson, Julie. 2004. GOING FOR THE RECORD. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. ISBN 0802852734 [Suggested Grade Levels 6 and up]

Leah is a hard working determined teenager and a talented soccer player who finally earns a spot on the Midwest Regional Team in hopes a making the National Team. As she’s feeling on top of the world, she’s hit with the shocking news of her dad’s recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and he is given three months to live. Leah is faced with the tough decision to continue pursuing her dream that she has sacrificed so much for or take the time off to help her family care for her dying father. This narrative story is incredibly truthful about the pains of relationships and the many challenges dealing with a less than perfect family along with life and death lessons. Her relationship with her school friends and boyfriend are threatened when her dad’s illness begins to consume her life. Her now limited social life forces her to make some challenging and unpopular decisions, but she knows the right thing to do. This book offers the reader the chance to explore the importance of making a difference in the world and in people’s lives. This is a true-to-life spiritual story that will win over the hearts of readers.

Invite children to talk about their families. Also express the importance of getting along with your family even if they are less than perfect.

Invite the group to share if they have ever had a sick family member. Prompt questions on how to pull together as a family when someone is sick. Encourage the children to create get well cards for anyone they know is ill.

Cleary, Beverly. DEAR MR. HENSHAW. ISBN 0380709589
Newman, Leslea. HACHIKO WAITS. ISBN 0805073361

By Kim Southwell

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Milestones Project: Celebrating Childhood Around the World

Steckel, Richard, et al. 2004. THE MILESTONES PROJECT: CELEBRATING CHILDHOOD AROUND THE WORLD. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press. ISBN 1582431325 [Suggested Grade Levels 3-8]

Are we really more different than we are alike? This is the question posed by the creators of THE MILESTONES PROJECT as they set out to document children from all over the world. The book is designed to promote peace by stressing our sameness through common experiences: loose teeth, siblings, good friends, doctor visits, first days of school, birthdays. Each chapter of the book notes one of these many milestones with beautiful color photos of kids in actual every-day circumstances atop bold squares of color. The accompanying text is made up of essays and thoughts from world-renowned writers and ordinary youngsters alike.

Readers will enjoy the recollections from beloved authors, who are nicely highlighted in biographical section at the end of the book. For instance, Eric Carle’s first day of school in Germany brought him swift raps on the palms with a bamboo stick, and Kathy Eldon recounts the familiar horrors of a bad hair permanent. By far, though, the appeal of this piece is the fantastic close-up photography of children in the far corners of the world who look just like the kids next door.

Visit the project’s website at Print off a copy of the project’s pledge for peace and recite it together.
Provide disposable cameras for children to use in creating a photographic essay. Write short paragraphs or find famous quotes to include with the pictures.

Other photojournalistic books:

By Rebecca S. McKee

Friday, November 11, 2005

Something to Tell the Grandcows

Spinelli, Eileen. 2004. SOMETHING TO TELL THE GRANDCOWS. Ill. By Bill Slavin. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. ISBN 080285236 [Suggested Grade Levels K-3]

Emmadine longs for some exciting stories to tell her grandcows. Farmer Brown’s tale of wrestling an alligator at the Virginia State Fair, and Georgetta the pig’s story of hot-air-ballooning across New Mexico, have Emmadine looking for a little adventure of her own. So when Admiral Richard E. Byrd posts his “WANTED: A few good cows” sign for his expedition to the South Pole, Emmadine packs her warmest woolen socks, a scarf, and the uddermuff knitted by Georgetta the pig, and sets sail for the coldest place on earth. Spinelli uses descriptive language to transport the reader to the arctic, “Emmadine’s breath turned to ice crystals. Her teeth chattered like spoons.” The artic scene unfolds in rich detail, “…she saw velvety seals basking on ice cakes, the whales’ foggy spouts echoed from the snow cliffs.” The reader is treated to each new experience with Emmadine, followed by her repeated retrain, “Oh, wouldn’t the grandcows be amazed!” This comforting line reassures the reader that indeed Emmadine will get to go home eventually. Bill Slavin’s bold acrylic illustrations capture the many moods of Emmadine, seasick and longing for home, startled by the smack of a feisty penguin, lulled to sleep by the strains of the cowherd’s ukulele lullaby, and wondrous at the sight of the northern lights glowing blue, green, red and yellow. Inspired by Admiral Byrd’s real exploration to the South Pole, Eileen Spinelli shows readers that the only way to quench one’s thirst for adventure is just to set sail.

Children could create a “future passport” book of places they would like to visit, or adventures they would like to experience, and enhance it with drawings.

Discuss what makes things funny in stories; like farm animals with uddermuffs in the Antarctic, or pigs that hot air balloon, and have them create a story about an animal protagonist doing something totally silly.

Other stories about animals that realize their dreams for adventure:
Arnold, Marsha Diane. PRANCING, DANCING, LILY. ISBN 0803728239
Kirby, David. THE COWS ARE GOING TO PARIS. ISBN 1878093118
Wheeler, Lisa. SAILOR MOO. ISBN 0689842198

By Tammy Korns

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies

Sones, Sonya. 2004. ONE OF THOSE HIDEOUS BOOKS WHERE THE MOTHER DIES. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689858205 [Suggested Grade Levels 6-10]


When Ruby’s mother dies, she must move across the country, from the east coast to the west, to live with her movie star father, Whip Logan, a man she has never met and who has been notably absent in her life. Her grief, bitterness, and teenage cynicism is played out poignantly in this verse novel by master poet, Sonya Sones. Equal parts poignant and funny, this novel moves quickly in a series of free verse poems that pulse with rhythm and irony. Poem titles even hook the reader and forecast Ruby’s shifting attitudes.
Teen readers fascinated with the Hollywood film scene will be intrigued by the mock “behind the scenes” view of life in Los Angeles where Ruby moves into a movie star mansion and attends a private Hollywood high school. But they will also be drawn into her struggles with leaving a best friend and boyfriend behind, making new friends in a new place and forging a relationship with a dad who has his own surprises to reveal. Her slow thaw and believable healing are movingly portrayed.

Teens may enjoy contrasting Sones’ book with the movie star magazines that reflect celebrity lives mentioned in the book—like Cameron Diaz, Eminem, etc. What might it be like to grow up as the child of a famous parent?

Sones also excels at conveying the complex experience of grieving the loss of a loved one. Share resources with readers that provide support through the grieving process, such as 800 phone helplines, local counselors, therapists and clergy, teen support groups, and related books.

Other novels with characters grieving:
SPEAK. ISBN 014131088X

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

By Sylvia M. Vardell

Friday, November 4, 2005

An Elephant in the Backyard

Sobol, Richard. 2004. AN ELEPHANT IN THE BACKYARD. New York: Dutton. ISBN 0525472886. [Suggested Grade Levels K-3]

Set in Tha Klang, Thailand, AN ELEPHANT IN THE BACKYARD is the latest photo essay picture book by Richard Sobol. Engaging text and photos invite children to explore a unique Thailand village where elephants play an active role in the human community. “Like most villages in Thailand, Tha Klang is filled with all kinds of people…But what makes Tha Klang different from other villages is that it has elephants, too. For the children of Tha Klang, elephants are part of their families.” The heroine of AN ELEPHANT IN THE BACKYARD is the village’s most famous elephant, Wan Pen. This special elephant is introduced as the four-legged sister of Jak and Muay. “She is friendly and gentle, happy to walk through the neighborhood with the children riding on her back, stopping to pick up friends who run alongside, eager for a ride.” Full of factual trivia about elephants and Thailand, Sobol shows readers a whole new world where elephants walk on balance beams, play soccer with the local kids, and attend school—elephant school that is! “Her lessons look more like gymnastics class. Even though she weighs as much as a car and has a big fat belly, she learns to balance and walk on narrow boards and steps. She can bow and kneel, dance and shake her butt, and even raise her trunk to say hello or ask for food or drink.”

Combining interesting facts with engaging—almost unbelievable—photos, AN ELEPHANT IN THE BACKYARD is an enjoyable book for kids of all ages. Sobol also provides his readers with additional facts about elephants in his afterward.

Have readers take turns sharing what wild or exotic animals they’d want to have as family pets.

Have readers participate in making a list or chart of all the new facts they learned about elephants.

Other nonfiction books about elephants:
Arnold, Caroline. ELEPHANT. ISBN 0688113451
Da Silva, Maggie. WORKING ELEPHANTS. ISBN 0717290727
Pringle, Laurence. ELEPHANT WOMAN. ISBN 0689801424
Redmond, Ian. EYEWITNESS: ELEPHANT. ISBN 0789465914

By Becky Laney

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Train of States

Sis, Peter. 2004. TRAIN OF STATES. New York: Greenwillow. ISBN 0060578386 [Suggested Grade Levels 2-5]

Arranged chronologically from the time each state entered the Union, Sis’s informative picture book presents the United States’ fifty states, as well as Washington D.C., in a fun and creative way, by featuring each on an individual train car. In addition to the state capitol, tree, flower, bird, motto, date of statehood, and interesting fact that is included for each state, the train cars also include a visual array of other fun information. Pennsylvania, for example, features a miniature of Betsy Ross sewing the flag, Marian Anderson singing, busts of Ben Franklin and James Buchanan and giant Crayola crayons flanking the sides of the car.

Every train car contains so many tiny of Sis’s intricate illustrations that each page can be pored over at length. Also, a key to the symbols used in the book as well as a note on the book’s illustrations can be found at the end of the book to aid in identifying items contained in the pictures that could easily be missed. Packed with a glorious combination of lovely illustrations and factual tidbits, this book will serve a wide audience and be a useful addition to both nonfiction and picture book collections.

Let each child select a train car and investigate that state with more depth using additional nonfiction books. Also, invite children to look more closely at the illustrations to find interesting facts about the states that they might have missed. The crayons in the Pennsylvania car, for example, might lead someone to investigate why that picture was included.

Use the train car idea for another subject or theme such as history, nature, etc. Let each child choose a topic within the theme (e.g. Civil War in history) and draw a train car filled with details taken from the topic.

Other books about the United States:
Bockenhauer, Mark H. and Stephen F Cunha. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: OUR FIFTY STATES. ISBN 0792264029
Cleveland, Will, Mark Alvarez and Tate Nation. YO! SACRAMENTO. ISBN 0761302379
Shearer, Benjamin F. and Barbara Smith Shearer. STATE NAMES, SEALS, FLAGS AND SYMBOLS. ISBN 0313245592

By Erin Miklauz

Monday, October 24, 2005

Wild About Books

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

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

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

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

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

By Melissa Neece

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Blue Jasmine

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Julie Brinker

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

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

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

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

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

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

Other novels by Gary D. Schmidt:

By Rose Brock

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Becoming Naomi Leon

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

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

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

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

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

By S. Zulema Silva Bewley

Saturday, October 8, 2005

The Burn Journals

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

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

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

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

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

By Rose Brock

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

How I Live Now

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

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

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

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

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

By Rose Brock

Sunday, October 2, 2005

Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Julie Brinker

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Come to My Party and Other Shape Poems

Roemer, Heidi. 2004. COME TO MY PARTY AND OTHER SHAPE POEMS. Ill. by Hideko Takahashi. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0805066209 [Suggested Grade Levels PreK-2]

“She jumps barefoot, I wear socks; Spring’s the new kid on the block!” The opening line of the poem “Jump-Rope Jingle” sets the tone for this collection of energetic concrete poems. Organized by seasons, these poems celebrate the wonders of nature and common events in children’s lives. Some selections are written in simple rhyming nonsensical verse (e.g. “Rumple dimple dumplin’ pumpkin patch! / Buy a perfect pumpkin—mix and match.”), while others use more complex descriptive language (e.g. “We reach up to snatch waltzing leaves as they flutter.”).

The text of each poem is so descriptive and rhythmic that it could stand alone and still be enjoyed as a read aloud. However, in combination with the clever and colorful illustrations, the selections become a double treat. Consider for example the poem titled “Evening View” where the lines of the text for a giant V to illustrate geese in flight. In addition, the letter “V” found in some words of the poem (“voices,” “overhead,” “valiant,” “vanish”) is accentuated to represent individual birds. The color combinations used are appropriate to each poem. In “Dandelions,” the text used to form the flower is white while the words that form the stem are green. This is a collection of poems that will stimulate both sight and sound. Young readers will respond to this imaginative collection.

Some poems lend themselves beautifully to audience participation. Invite children to participate in reading aloud poems such as “The Happy Gardener” and “Special Delivery.”

Children can choose a favorite season and illustrate an activity they enjoy doing during that season.

Other collections of concrete poems:
Janeczko, Paul (Ed.). A POKE IN THE I. ISBN 0763606618

By S. Zulema Silva Bewley

Friday, September 23, 2005

Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America

Robinson, Sharon. 2004. PROMISES TO KEEP: HOW JACKIE ROBINSON CHANGED AMERICA. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0439425921 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-9]

This photobiography by Jackie Robinson’s daughter makes the personal history of her father also an informative look at how racial attitudes were evolving in twentieth century America. There are many personal family photographs from the Robinson family which end up telling how America came to be two very separate worlds for whites and blacks. Even for nonreaders the charts and boxed texts with information will be very informative. Robinson’s career as a star athlete did not mean he automatically was treated differently than many other African Americans. Incident after incident of how racism was so entrenched throughout the nation will be discussion generating to young readers. This fact should be eye opening to young people who have grown up in a post civil rights era. The book ends with the description of the Robinson Foundation whose mission is to develop the talents and leadership of young adult racial and ethnic minorities. The website for that foundation should have been included in the text.


Using the Robinson book readers can create a time line with two levels. One can note separate events in Robinson’s personal life while the other highlights national events which paralleled the emergence of a 20th century civil rights movement in the United States.

Interview someone who grew up in the era of the civil rights movement (i.e. late 1950s-1960s). Use the background information from the Robinson book or other books about growing up in that era to come up with appropriate questions. Watch sections of the PBS documentary “Eyes on the Price.”

Books on growing up black during an era of segregation in America:

By Andrea L. Williams

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Flower Hunter: William Bartram, America's First Naturalist

Ray, Deborah Kogan. 2004. The Flower Hunter: William Bartram, America’s First Naturalist. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0374345899 [Suggested Grade Levels 3-6]


Billy Bartram was America’s first botanical artist. This picture book biography is told in first person journal entries, beginning when he is just eight years old. We are treated to his interest in plants and drawing, as well as the world of colonial America. The entries are told from his personal viewpoint making the story immediately accessible to the audience and assist in establishing the intimate tone of a diary. Not only does Billy love natural plants of all kinds, but birds and animals as well. Billy’s passion for his subject is obvious in his writings and results in the reader sharing his interest. The journal entries continue until he returns home from his travels to share his findings with his beloved father, John.

Reading Billy’s journal is also enjoyable from an historical view. His father’s best friend is Benjamin Franklin who explains electricity to him. His father is appointed Royal Botanist to King George III. Billy becomes a great friend of the native peoples and they nickname him “Puc Puggy,” which means “flower hunter”. He also witnesses the war of independence, but only from afar when he is exploring Florida.

The illustrations are gorgeous watercolor, gouache, and colored pencils mostly in a warm earth-toned pallette. Not only do we get the feel of days gone by, we also feel the warmth and beauty of the natural world that Billy and his father, John, loved so well. The text blocks are depicted with a darker edge giving the feeling of an actual, old journal. The endpapers are elegant maps of the United States and show where the Bartrams traveled.

Take a nature walk around your school or neighborhood to gather plants and flowers. Press the leaves in a flower press or between heavy books. Try sketching the leaves that are found. Look up the names of the plants in a field guide and label them with their common name and/or their Latin name.

Other books about naturalists: Armentrout, David. JOHN MUIR. ISBN 1589520556
Burleigh, Robert. Into the woods: John AUDUBON. ISBN 0689830408

By Cay Geisler

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Circle Unbroken

Raven, Margot Theis. 2004. CIRCLE UNBROKEN. Illustrated by E.B. Lewis. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 03743122893 [Suggested Grade Levels K – 2]

“Now you’ve asked me, child, how I come to sew. Well put yourself in Grandma’s arms and listen to a circle tale from long, long ago…” With these words, a young girl begins to learn about her African heritage as her grandmother teaches her how to weave the sweetgrass or Gullah basket. This is a charming story of love and heritage. With poetry and grace, the aged grandmother describes the different generations of the family, beginning with the “Old-timey grandfather” who learned to weave the baskets in Africa before being captured by slavers. She continues through the Civil War, the World Wars and finally to present day where she is passing on the knowledge to her granddaughter.

The text is lyrical and although it only rhymes sporadically, it still flows nicely. For example: “‘The basket starts here,’ they said/and taught his fingers to talk,/to make a knot first. A coil./A circle unbroken.” The watercolor illustrations reflect the mood of the text. When the people are happy and content, the colors are strong and bright. When things are not going well, such as when the slavers come, the colors are muted and dull. The illustrator uses many shades of greens and browns to depict life on the Sea Islands with one striking exception of a page almost entirely of blue when the Yankees come during the Civil War. A book designed for slightly older children, this can provide children with a taste of life in the Gullah culture of the south. Raven provides historical notes and a bibliography at the end. This is a cultural book to be enjoyed by all.

Children may want to discuss the importance of the baskets in the African cultures and how traditions are passed from one generation to the next. They can discuss traditions passed down within their own families.
Children can learn how to weave their own baskets using different kinds of materials such as paper or straw. Having an expert come in to demonstrate and teach them would be especially meaningful.

Other books about baskets and culture:
Belton, Sandra. BEAUTY, HER BASKET. ISBN 0688178219
Ray, Mary Lyn. A BASKET MOON. ISBN 0316735213

By Ellen Reed

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Impudent Rooster

Rascol, Sabina, Trans. 2004. THE IMPUDENT ROOSTER. Ill. by Holly Berry. New York: Dutton. ISBN 0525471790 [Suggested Grade Levels 1-3]

THE IMPUDENT ROOSTER is a retelling of a Romanian folktale. In this version an old woman and an old man are neighbors. The woman has prospered while the old man has just enough to get by, but does have a devoted pet rooster. The old man in a pique of exasperation tells the rooster he wishes he were a hen and could lay eggs. The rooster in turn decides to ease on down the road and find a way to help his master. He finds a little money which attracts the bad attention of a greedy nobleman who is determined to get it no matter how small. This meeting sets up a battle of wits between the bird and the greedy man. The bird throughout these battles keeps telling the noble,”Cucurigu, my greatest lord! Give back the pennies you stole.” The nobleman tries to kill the bird by drowning, by burying, by burning it, etc.. to no avail. The rooster finds a way to not merely escape but to prosper in the bargain. By the story’s end the rooster not only has had the purse of coins returned, but has found a way to ensure his master wealth and good fortune.

This story has dramatic qualities inherent in it as the rooster, and the nobleman have definite personalities. Repeated phrases such as Cucurigu as well as “What could the rooster do” add to the freshness of the material. The illustrations showcase Romanian folkart in style with a bold cocky little bird showcased throughout. Shades of yellow and orange in the bird as well as the various gold coins the nobleman will not let go of help the drawings parallel the text.


This story would be an excellent reader’s theater event where children with a bit of costuming such as head gear act out the main characters’ repeated phrases with an adult or older child setting forth the major narration.

Other stories where roosters are the stars:
Conrad, Pam. THE ROOSTER'S GIFT. ISBN 0060236043
Dallas-Conté, Juliet. COCK-A-MOO-MOO. ISBN 0316605050
Pearson, Tracey Campbell. BOB. ISBN 0374399573
Stevens, Janet. COOK-A-DOODLE-DOO! ISBN 0152019243
Wormell, Mary. BERNARD THE ANGRY ROOSTER. ISBN 0374306702

By Andrea L. Williams

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Imagine That! Activities and Adventures in Surrealism

Raimondo, Joyce. 2004. IMAGINE THAT! ACTIVITIES AND ADVENTURES IN SURREALISM. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications. ISBN 0823025020 [Suggested Grade Levels 1-6]

In the first of a new series meant to inspire artistic impression, Raimondo tackles perhaps the most difficult of artistic concepts – surrealism. Youngsters are exposed to surrealism by examining art from five different artists. One famous piece from each artist is shown and highlighted with intriguing, interactive questions for the reader to ponder. Activities designed to re-create the style of the artist follow, along with photographs of children’s completed projects.

Large easy-to-read text on pages of various colors entices the reader to have confidence to try the techniques and enables understanding of the artistic concepts. Explicit photographs help explain the processes involved. A succinct biography on each of the artists at the end of the book provides additional information for the true art-lover. Together, the book is a stimulating interactive piece that begs to be read and “played with” again and again. Even adults will want to experiment with creating a “Dali-style” collage or an “Ernst-inspired” frottage! Fun, fun.

Create an illustrated glossary of the new terms discovered in the book.

Decide on a theme. Invite children to create one theme-based piece using a technique from the book. Display in gallery style throughout the library.

Use the “Me and My World” activity as a means of introductions at the beginning of a school year.

Other interactive books about art:
Boutan, Mila, ed. ART ACTIVITY PACKS: MONET. ISBN 0811813355

By Rebecca S. McKee

Saturday, September 10, 2005

If Not for the Cat

Prelutsky, Jack. 2004. IF NOT FOR THE CAT. Ill. Ted Rand. New York: Greenwillow. ISBN 0060596775 [Suggested Grade Levels 1-5]


“If not for the cat, / And the scarcity of cheese, / I could be content.” So opens, and provides the title, for a haiku picture book that captures the simplicity and grace of the poetic form. Each two-page spread pairs the spare 5-7-5 syllable haiku format with an exquisite full-color illustration to perfectly capture the essence of a different animal, seventeen in all. The jellyfish, for example, are depicted as, “Boneless, translucent, / We undulate, undulate, / Gelatinously.” In six words, Prelutsky manages to expertly capture both the image of a jellyfish and its motion through the water. Rand augments this with an illustration of an underwater jellyfish that itself appears to undulate in shades of blue.

Each haiku acts as a riddle, asking children to guess the animal described by using the verse and illustration. A “Who is Who” list at the end of the text lets children confirm their guesses. While the text is simple enough to appeal to children as young as the first grade, this collection of haiku will also attract older readers who can further appreciate the skill with which Prelutsky crafts his deceptively simple verses.


Read the book first without showing the illustrations and let the children guess which animal is being described. Then, give a second reading while showing the illustrations and compare the mental images that the children have conjured with Rand’s interpretation.

Discuss the 5-7-5 syllable format of haiku and the way in which Prelutsky uses this format to describe different animals. Children can then write haiku poems about animals of their choice and illustrate their poetry. When the children are finished, their poetry can be collected and made into a book to be displayed in the classroom or library.

Other haiku books:
Gollub, Matthew and Kazuko G. Stone. COOL MELONS -- TURN TO FROGS!: THE LIFE AND POEMS OF ISSA. ISBN 1880000717

By Erin Miklauz

Wednesday, September 7, 2005


Pennac, Daniel. 2004. DOG. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763624217 [Suggested Grade Levels 3-6]

DOG is a really warm and tender dog’s point of view book about a canine named Dog and how he tames a human girl child. He eventually learns to trust life with those hard to understand humans. Dog’s early canine history is full of much mistreatment. He manages to have two dog friends named Black Nose and Woolly who influence him as a puppy and who give him the courage to keep looking for a place where he can thrive as a pet. Short chapters make the journey of Dog as homeless abandoned pup to lap dog a story that makes you want to finish this book. Dog’s mistress, Plum, is also in need of learning a few life lessons along the way. In her own opposite fashion she has been coddled, pampered and indulged and alternately ignored by two hapless parents. How the girl child and the canine help each other learn about treating other creatures makes this book both funny and touching.

The only section that does not quite ring true is when Dog travels with Hyena to a place called the Dog Cemetery. He encounters a “secret” kingdom where dearly departed pets are memorialized. Since Dog throughout this book encounters one grueling experience after the other with the fickle state of humanity, the cemetery is supposed to be a counterweight but to what effect is unclear. The chapters devoted to the cemetery seem clumped together. What works better is how Plum’s love for him forces her to be something not so erratic, so headstrong and so self-possessed. After Dog escapes from her fickle clutches, the scene where she pleads for a second chance is both melodramatic and very moving to the reader.

Discuss with readers if they think dogs dream. Compare and contrast several books with dog heroes. How do they stack up in behavior with their human owners? Have children who have pets of any kind bring in photographs of their animals and discuss why they do or do not agree that their pet is like a member of the family.


Some books that have a dog as hero:
Gardiner, John Reynolds. STONE FOX. ISBN 0064401324
Morgan, Clay. THE BOY WHO SPOKE DOG. ISBN 0525471596
Wallace, Bill. GOOSED! ISBN 068986681X

By Andrea L. Williams

Sunday, September 4, 2005

Moo Who?

Palatini, Margie. 2004. MOO WHO? Ill. by Keith Graves. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0060001062 [Suggested Grade Levels PreK-3]

Due to a brief case of temporary amnesia, Hilda Mae Heifer, cow extraordinaire, tries to rediscover her identity. An unlucky hit in the head has resulted in her losing her soulful, sing song quality “moo,” consequently starting the fun for Hilda Mae as she quests to find herself again. With the encouragement of friendly animals, she tries to mimic all the animal sounds in the barnyard until she finds the one moo sound that feels just right.

The concept of this book is simple, but the humor and illustrations are modern and quirky and will keep the interest of older readers. MOO WHO? is written well with patterned language and structure. When Hilda Mae tries out the series of different animal sounds, each animal steps up tell Hilda Mae why she is not that particular animal. For example, when Hilda Mae tries to honk like a goose, the goose and the cow go through a question and answer session discussing why Hilda Mae is not a goose. He asks such questions as, “do you have webbed feet?, do you have two feet?, do you fly to Canada every year?” Hilda Mae always thoughtfully answers no. Children will have a blast making the animal noises along with the characters in the book. Readers will also enjoy the slightly rhythmic and sing song quality of the book, reminiscent of Hilda Mae’s moo.

Hilda Mae Heifer and friends are portrayed as colorful, cartoon characters. Create a fun barnyard of your own by having each child draw or create an exaggerated barnyard animal. Draw on paper or make paper sack puppets of each animal. Discuss what sounds each animal in the barnyard makes.

Older children will enjoy the simple story of Hilda Mae Heifer that is told in an advanced and humorous way. Let students chose a simple topic and write their own amusing stories, complete with illustrations. Include rhyming or other patterned language such as words with the “ow” sound.

Other stories about cows:
Crebbin, June. COWS IN THE KITCHEN. ISBN 0763621293
Most, Bernard. COCK-A-DOODLE-MOO. ISBN 0152012524
Speed, Toby. TWO COOL COWS. ISBN 0698115996
Wheeler, Lisa. SAILOR MOO: COW AT SEA. ISBN 0689842198

By Lisa Erickson

Friday, September 2, 2005

Skateboard Mom

Odanaka, Barbara. 2004. SKATEBOARD MOM. Ill. by JoAnn Adinolfi. New York: Putnam. ISBN 0399238670 [Suggested Grade Levels K-5]

“You better ask your mom what surprises she has up her sleeve….” So states a cat on the back cover of this surprisingly energetic book about a mother who can’t contain her hidden talent any longer. Written by the founder of the International Society of Skateboarding Moms, this is the story of a boy who receives a skateboard for his birthday, only to have it confiscated by his mom. She’s not angry about it – she’s skateboard crazed! She was a champion skateboarder in her younger years, and she can’t resist the temptation to hop aboard and skate away from the birthday party. The son realizes how good his mom is on a skateboard, but he wants his board back. A surprise ending finds the family is full of awesome skateboarders!

The rhyming and rhythmic verse makes this title an enjoyable read-aloud. Bold colors and topsy-turvy perspectives of the full-spread illustrations enhance the feel of a skateboarder whizzing by. This is a charming piece that encourages kids to discover the interesting lives their parents may have led when they were younger.

Readers can draw connections to the family in the story by interviewing their own older family members about extraordinary things they may have accomplished earlier in life.
Gather informative materials about skateboarding. Create a group montage of skateboarding pictures and facts.
Create a 3-D skateboarding mom. Don a large stuffed body form with a helmet, knee pads, tennis shoes, shorts, and a t-shirt. Pose the body atop an actual skateboard for a fun display in the library.

Another book by Barbara Odanaka:
Books about skateboarding:
Werner, Doug. SKATEBOARDER’S START-UP. ISBN 0689820879
Eckart, Edana. I CAN SKATEBOARD. ISBN 0516243705

By Rebecca S. McKee

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales

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

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

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


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

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

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

By Erin Miklauz

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Hana in the Time of the Tulips

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

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

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


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

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

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

By Julie Brinker