Saturday, February 26, 2005


Cowley, Joy. 2004. HUNTER. New York: Philomel. ISBN 0399242279 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-7]

HUNTER tells a dual story: one of a nameless Maori slave in 1805, just at the beginning of New Zealand’s contact with Western civilization; the other of three modern-day (“2005”) children stranded in the same area. The escaping slave is able to psychically bridge the two centuries to show the oldest child how to survive until help comes. Tension is exquisitely tightened through the stories as the slave is hunted but feels he can’t abandon these shadow children, and the injuries of the youngest child grow potentially gangrenous.

The blunt realities of survival, however, are leavened with plenty of humor, as when Jordan, the eldest sibling, says in frustration, “You know, I hated that book about the Swiss Family Robinson. When they got wrecked, they found everything they needed. Stink! I mean everything! They even had animals and—and sugar!” Part survival story, part introduction to Maori culture and New Zealand history, HUNTER is, all-in-all, a great read for middle school students.

Hunter sends Jordan visions of how to survive on the New Zealand coast. If they were stranded in the desert, the mountains, or under a highway overpass in a wrecked car, what would the students need to know? How can they use library/internet resources to develop this knowledge?
Invite readers to imagine a fictional ancestor, and write a letter as that person to their family today. How would the writing differ in syntax and vocabulary? What subjects would that person find important to write about? What would s/he want to know about his/her descendants’ lives today?

Other books about survival:
George, Jean Craighead. MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN. ISBN 0141312424
Paulsen, Gary. HATCHET. ISBN 0689826990
A related book about time-slip:
Pearce, Phillippa. TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN. ISBN 0064404455
A related book (and/or movie) about the Maori culture:
Ihimaera, Witi. WHALE RIDER. ISBN 0152050167

By Julie Brinker

Friday, February 25, 2005

Good Night Pillow Fight

Cook, Sally. 2004. GOOD NIGHT PILLOW FIGHT. Illus. by Laura Cornell.
New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0062051903 [Suggested Grade Levels Pre-K-1]

Most young children hate going to bed. They want to stay up and have fun. However, their frantic parents will do almost anything to get their boisterous offspring to sleep. This humorous picture book by first time author, Sally Cook, depicts the on-going battles between kids and their parents at bedtime. The reader is introduced to an apartment building full of young children and their parents. Each window in the building allows us to see the amusing methods desperate parents resort to in order to get their child to bed. The children will have none of it! After enduring pillow fights, games of hide and seek, additional drinks and stories, the exhausted parents finally get the kids to sleep!

This is an amusing book with wonderfully absurd illustrations. The brightly colored watercolors are very detailed, encouraging young children to examine them closely to see what the children are up to. The story begins with lots of action and excitement but gradually winds down as the children become sleepy. The dialog between the parents (written in blue) and the children (written in red), clearly shows how frustrated the parents are and how gleeful the children. The simple rhyming text is written different styles and sizes to give a sense of excitement and playfulness. When the parents say: “Good night”, the children respond with “Pillow fight!” When the parents cry: “Go to bed!”, the children counter with “You haven’t read!” and on it goes. At the end, the apartment building is all dark and the parents wearily say: “Off with the light. Good night.” Not to be outdone however, on the final page, one little holdout whispers: “Pillow fight?” Young children will be able to relate to the antics of the children and parents will commiserate with their literary counterparts.

Adults may encourage counting skills by having the children count along with the children in the book as they count sheep. Young children may also enjoy activities related to bedtime, such as singing songs like “Rockabye Baby” or “Ten in the Bed” and fingerplays such as “Five Little Monkeys.”

Other books about bedtime:
Root, Phyllis. TEN SLEEPY SHEEP. ISBN 0763615455
Wood, Audrey. THE NAPPING HOUSE. ISBN 0152567089

By Ellen Reed

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I Am Too Absolutely Small for School

Child, Lauren. 2004. I AM TOO ABSOLUTELY SMALL FOR SCHOOL. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763624039 [Suggested Grade Levels Pre-K-1]

Lauren Child’s vivacious characters Lola and Charlie return for their third adventure together in I AM TOO ABSOLUTELY SMALL FOR SCHOOL. Lola is convinced that she is too small to start going to school. Besides that, she is “too extremely busy doing important things at home” to bother with school. Yet through Charlie’s persuasive encouragement, Lola soon embraces the concept of starting school where she’ll learn to read, write, count, and have the opportunity to make new friends. For each excuse Lola has to not go to school, Charlie is there to give her a good reason why school is important—and most importantly not that scary. I AM TOO ABSOLUTELY SMALL FOR SCHOOL is a humorous and reassuring look at the common fears many children have about starting school. Child’s text and illustrations are unique and charming. Lola definitely has a voice all her own!

Lola has an imaginary friend named Soren Lorensen (illustrated in the last few pages of the book). Ask readers to take turns sharing stories about any imaginary friends they have or used to have.

Ask children to talk about any fears they have or might have had when they started school.

Lola is very lucky to have such a great big brother. Ask children to share what they love about their big brothers or big sisters.

Other books by Lauren Child featuring Lola and Charlie:
Child, Lauren. I AM NOT SLEEPY AND I WILL NOT GO TO BED. ISBN 0763615706
Child, Lauren. I WILL NEVER NOT EVER EAT A TOMATO. ISBN 0763611883

Other books about starting school:
Henkes, Kevin. CHRYSANTHEMUM. ISBN 0688147321
Wells, Rosemary. MY KINDERGARTEN. ISBN 0786808330

By Becky Laney

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Mister Seahorse

Carle, Eric. 2004. MISTER SEAHORSE. New York: Philomel. ISBN 0399242694 [Suggested Grade Levels Pre-K -1]

It is time for Mrs. Seahorse to lay her eggs and what better place than in the safety of Mr. Seahorse’s pouch. Mr. Seahorse then encounters several other fishy fathers busy caring for their eggs or hatchlings. When Mr. Seahorse’s eggs finally hatch, he watches them swim away and tell them: “I do love you, but now you are ready to be on your own.”

A charming tale that introduces young children to the unusual parenting styles of some sea life. The beautiful collage illustrations done in bright shades of greens, blues, yellows, oranges and reds, create a fantastic undersea world. The different layers of paper create a multi-dimensional effect and Mr. Seahorse is often in different positions from one page to the next creating the illusion of movement. Children will also learn about camouflage as several overlays are used to hide various forms of fish. The text is straightforward and presents the facts in a way simple enough for preschoolers to grasp. Each fish explains to Mr. Seahorse what he is doing. For example, the fish Mr. Kurtus says: “Mrs. Kurtus laid her eggs and I have stuck them on my head. Now I am taking good care of them until they hatch.” Each encounter ends with a phrase such as: “ ‘You are doing a good job,’ said Mr. Seahorse and swam on his way.” This is then followed by him swimming by some hidden sea creature. This pattern is repeated throughout the story, so children can anticipate what comes next. This colorful visit to the ocean is sure to be a hit with children and parents alike.

Children can discuss how other animals parent their offspring (including their own parents). Then can learn about some of the other kinds of fish mentioned in the book such as the lion fish and the pipe fish. Children can discuss camouflage in the wild and perhaps be shown of real life examples.

Children can try making their own collages using tissue paper and paint or create undersea scenes using other materials.

Another picture book about seahorses.
Blackstone, Stella. SECRET SEAHORSE. ISBN 184148704X
Other books by Carle that could be related to this one:

By Ellen Reed

Monday, February 21, 2005

Little Loon and Papa

Buzzeo, Toni. 2004. LITTLE LOON AND PAPA. Ill. by Margaret Spengler. New York: Dial Books. ISBN 0803729588 [Suggested Grade Levels K-3]

Papa Loon wants to give Little Loon diving lessons, but Little Loon is too scared. Papa tries to dip Little Loon beneath the surface of the water but that doesn’t work. Papa even shows Little Loon how to dive by going through the motions himself. In spite of Papa’s patience, Little Loon refused to even try and splashes away. On his own now, he encounters several noisy creatures that make him wish for Papa’s protection. He finally hears a noise that forces him to plunge under a log. He dives into the water just like Papa showed him. Not only does he master this difficult skill, but when he reemerges he is thrilled to see Papa who had been calling out to him.

Young readers will delight in the repetitive and rhythmic text. The contrast in the diminutive size of Little Loon and the wildlife he encounters is effective (e.g. “Little Loon spots great, bony legs and a wide antler rack…” and “Little Loon spots a great, shaggy face and a wide brown snout…”). Spengler’s bold pastels in rich hues of blue, green and brown are a beautiful complement to the text. Her expressive artwork is a treat! With every turn of the page it is easy to see how frantic Little Loon feels at not finding Papa. Children will identify with this story about the trepidation of trying something new. They will also be encouraged by Papa’s patience, guidance, and love for his little loon.

Children can discover facts about loons such as where they live, what they eat, and what habits they exhibit.
Children can trace and cut out pictures of loons. They can then choose a favorite action verb associated with Little Loon (e.g. “zigzags,” “squeezes,” “tucks,” “wiggles,” “waggles,” etc.) and copy it unto their picture. Finally they can display their pictures with verbs on a poster.

Other books about baby animals separated and reunited with their parents:
Love, Pamela. A LOON ALONE. ISBN 0892725710
Wood, A. J. THE LITTLE PENGUIN. ISBN 0525470239
Other book by Buzzeo that could be paired with this one:

By S. Zulema Silva Bewley

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Trial

Bryant, Jen. 2004. THE TRIAL. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0375827528 [Suggested Grade Level 7-10]

In this day of televised courtroom drama and much reported murder trials, this book chronicles the trial once deemed the trial of the century in a refreshing look at how law affects people in different ways. Through the eyes of 12 year old observer, Katie Leigh Flynn, the audience is given an inside look at the Lindbergh Baby Trial in the 1930s. Katie is ecstatic to learn that the murder trial for the baby of famed pilot Charles Lindbergh will be held in her New Jersey town. She is even more excited to participate as a reporter’s aide for her uncle who recently broke his arm and will need Katie’s help to take notes during the trial. Bryant brings to life the historical characters from this trial from Colonel Lindbergh to Edward Reilly the defense attorney. The poems are thoughtful and discuss the points of views of all involved. For example, Katie wonders about the defendant,

“What does he think about?
Is he cold? Is he hungry? Or tired, or afraid?
Does he miss his house? His friends? His own baby son?
If he’s guilty, is he sorry?
If innocent, filled with rage?”

The end of the book leaves the audience with the feeling that things may not always be as clear or defined as they seem. Bryant uses the historical look at the 1930s and relates it to real life, making it an excellent starting point for the relevance of history studies. The book ends with historical notes, as well as an author’s note about her childhood in the same New Jersey town.

Encourage children to research what it was like to live in the 1930s. Implement some of the things you have learned into a “time travel” activity. For example, listen to music that was popular in 1935 or dress in clothes similar to those worn in the 1930s. Journal or discuss thoughts about what it was like to live in 1935.

Other similar historical fiction books:
Janeczko, Paul B. WORLDS AFIRE. ISBN 0763622354
Peck, Richard. A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO. ISBN 0141303522

By Lisa Erickson

Friday, February 18, 2005

Jim Thorpe's Bright Path

Bruchac, Joseph. 2004. JIM THORPE’S BRIGHT PATH. Ill. by S.D. Nelson. New York: Lee & Low Books. ISBN 158430166X [Suggested Grade Levels 2-5]

The heartaches and heroism of Jim Thorpe have been told throughout the decades. This book is complete with heartache as it focuses on the early life of the famous Indian athlete. The unrelated deaths of his twin brother, his mother, and eventually his father indicate that Jim’s life was not short on adversity. A gifted runner, Jim did not like school, because it “made him feel like a fox caught in an iron trap.” At his father’s continued urging he decided to attend Carlisle Indian School where he could play football, his favorite sport, and study electricity, his greatest interest. The lessons he learned from his family and his experiences at Carlisle helped Jim to realize that he needed to “show what an Indian could do,” obtain an education, and use his athleticism to become a success.

The story ends with no mention of the Olympic scandals that later plagued Jim’s life, however an extensive author’s note and timeline provide that information. The hazy feature of the illustrations lends to the nostalgia of the story, while actual photographs in the final pages provide the proof of the story’s authenticity. Jim’s story is both motivational and thought-provoking as it leads the reader to explore his triumphs over personal and cultural hardships.

If possible, obtain old footage of Thorpe’s Olympic performances, and then discuss whether or not Thorpe’s medals should have been stripped.

Provide information about the Carlisle Indian School (see RELATED BOOKS). Ask children to make a list of the pros and cons of having such an assimilating school.

Other biographies by Joseph Bruchac:

Other books about famous Olympiads:
Krull, Kathleen. WILMA UNLIMITED. ISBN 0152020985

By Rebecca S. McKee

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Into the Forest

Browne, Anthony. 2004. INTO THE FOREST. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763625446 [Suggested Grade Levels 3 and up]

This story is unlike any routine fairy tale. An unnamed boy wakes up in bed and finds out that his dad has disappeared. The sparse but minutely drawn illustrations show a mother who has told her son Dad will come back but she looks so depressed and so powerless her words are not easily believable. Meanwhile the mother asks the child to visit a sick Grandma in order to take her a bit of cake. Mom of course expects him to go the long way but the child decides to take a short cut. The forest is straight out of a Dadaesque dream. It is populated with large, vaguely projectile looking tree trunks. They have protuberances on them that look monstrous. Along the way the lad meets a creepy quartet of children also drawn in black and white who seem vaguely connected to folktales of their own. There is a menacing quality about them. The first child he meets claims to be sick but the possibility of a ruse to entrap this naive youth into something dangerous. Even the last two children met seem to have stepped out of a contemporary Hansel and Gretel story. These two children have been abandoned by their parents and like the anonymous boy at the beginning are told complacently that they will return soon.

The further along the boy travels the more foreboding this nearly deserted forest appears. While he is drawn in color virtually nothing he encounters save a coat that mysteriously appears in the forest is in color. There is an underbelly of anxiety and a sense of hidden agendas in this bizarre tale. While the format is a picture book, the psychological underpinnings that hover along the edges of the story make this a good example of picture books not for little ones.

Use Browne’s illustrated children’s books for older readers with a focus on literary devices. Such literary concepts as poetic justice, satire, foreshadowing, inference, point of view, connotation, and stereotypes are demonstrated in his works.

Selected titles that reflect a postmodern style in text and illustrative perspective.
Goldin, Barbara. A MOUNTAIN OF BLINTZES. ISBN 0152019022
Lindenbaum, Pija. BOODIL, MY DOG. ISBN 0805039406

By Andrea L. Williams

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Mama Loves Me From Away

Brisson, Pat. 2004. MAMA LOVES ME FROM AWAY. Ill. By Laurie Caple. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press. ISBN 1563979667 [Suggested Grade Levels Pre-K – 3]

Sometimes children experience heartbreakingly difficult circumstances in their lives and few children's authors have the courage and the understanding to approach those subjects. Pat Brisson has constructed a beautiful and moving tale about a young girl and her mother who share the same birthday, but not the same house as her mother serves a prison sentence. We often decide that people in prison are just lowlifes, forgetting that everyone makes mistakes, even big ones. MAMA LOVES ME FROM AWAY is a poignant reminder that these are real people who often have families at home that they love and miss. Brisson wisely focuses less on the circumstances and more on what the girl and her mother do to try to maintain a sense of connectedness while they are apart. The book deals honestly with feelings of loneliness and separation, while maintaining a positive outlook, focusing on good memories and the hope that this difficult time will be over soon. Laurie Caple’s decidedly realistic illustrations are warm, beautiful and emotive, capturing private moments of sadness and joy with a gentle hand and loving attention to detail. While most people might view this book as something intended only to console children in similar situations, it can be a good tool for helping children understand the hardships that others face and serves as a beautiful picture of the love shared by mothers and daughters, no matter their circumstances.

An adult can discuss with children how people feel inside the prisons.
Children can draw and write their favorite stories that they share with their mommies.
They then can put those drawings and stories in a card and wrap it up in homemade wrapping paper for a nice Mother’s Day gift.
Children can also write their favorite stories as well as cards and letters and then the adult can mail them to the local women’s prison.

Other books by Pat Brisson that could be compared to this one:

By Melissa Neece

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Crow-Girl

Bredsdorff, Bodil. 2004. THE CROW GIRL. Farrar. Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0374312478 [Suggested Grade Levels 4-7]

This Danish novel has a timeless appeal. Set in the distant past, this is a moving story of a young girl who lives with her grandmother in a small, isolated weathered house on the coast of Denmark. The two survive by their various collections of driftwood and treasures of the sea. Knowing that the grandmother is dying, she offers her wisdom to the nameless girl, sharing her aspiring thoughts on hope and dreams—for they will come true if one holds true to them. After her grandmother's death, faced with being wholly alone in the world, the girl begins her many struggles while attempting to make sense of her new life. Through her despair she packs up a few treasured pieces and her little personal belongings and sets off on her journey to create a new life for herself. Lost in her search for a new life, she follows a pair of crows as they fly along the shore. She quickly struggles to make sense of her lonely life and meets up with an old woman who tries to befriend her and gives her the name of Crow Girl, but she quickly learns of the old woman’s greed and wicked ways. By the end of the novel, the Crow Girl has returned home with a new name and family. The symbolic story will take readers to a place of long ago, with life lessons that will stay with the reader throughout their lives.

Read stories about crows. Discuss how the crows were symbolic to the story.
Display sea treasures you could find along the seashore, (e.g., sea shells, weathered sea rocks, branches, pictures of starfish, sea crows).
Invite children to talk about other treasures you could find along the seashore.

Other books about personal journeys:
Snicket, Lemony. THE SLIPPERY SLOPE. ISBN 0064410137
Weeks, Sarah. SO B. IT. ISBN 0066236223
Creech, Sharon. HEARTBEAT. ISBN 0060540222

By Kim Southwell

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

The Greatest Skating Race: A WWII Story from the Netherlands

Borden, Louise. 2004. THE GREATEST SKATING RACE. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books. ISBN 0689845022 [Suggested Grade Levels 3-6]

In the snowy winter of 1941 in Holland, young Piet dreams of one day skating in the famous Elfstedentocht race. His dreams of skating are put aside when his grandfather has a most important task for him. Piet’s father is off in England, serving with the Allied armies, and Holland is occupied by German soldiers. When a schoolmate’s father is arrested by the Germans for sending messages to England, Piet is called upon to lead the girl and her brother across the border to safety with an aunt in Belgium. The plan is for the three children to skate along the canals to Brugge under the guise of visiting relatives. When they are stopped by the German border guards and questioned, Piet remembers his mother’s words, “This is what it means to be Dutch. I knew that I must show no fear. And that I must be brave in my heart.”

Piet’s narrative of their tense journey is written verse style and has the reader skating along with them with the rich detail. “We glided under the bridge and heard the echo of our skates in the dusk of this old, historic town.” Piet’s concern for Johanna and young Joop is apparent as he overcomes his own fear and skates them to safety. Niki Daly’s somber illustrations are done in darker, muted reds and browns that convey the feeling that World War II is ever present in the story. An excellent picture book for older elementary ages to introduce the concept of WWII and what it meant to children like themselves.

Have children pick a long distance race, like the Iditirod in Alaska, or one from another country, and make a map showing the race route, and discuss what their strategy would be if they were in the race.

Other books by Louise Borden:

Other books set in the Netherlands during World War II:
Fleming, Candace. BOXES FOR KATJE. ISBN 037430922
Polacco, Patricia. THE BUTTERFLY. ISBN 0399231706

By Tammy Korns

Friday, February 4, 2005

Wake Up Our Souls: A Celebration of Black American Artists

Bolden, Tonya. 2004. WAKE UP OUR SOULS: A CELEBRATION OF BLACK AMERICAN ARTISTS. New York: Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 0810945274 [Suggested Grade Levels 6 and above]

This work is a visually stunning survey of the history of African American artists in the United States. It covers from the late 18th century to the late 20 the century. Most painters are covered, but some attention to sculptor, photographers and other visual artists is included as well. Three main chapters include color reproductions of 45 works with photographs of artists. Detailed captions provide biographical information. While older readers may get more out of the text, the wonderful reproductions are so great they may stimulate the imagination of old and young alike. The end information includes a glossary, a selected bibliography, a reading list and an index. Artists include the very prominent such as Gordon Parks, Romare Bearden and lesser known public figures.

Highlights of this book include eclectic artists as varied as quilt makers, photographers, and outsider artists all get at least some billing in this book. The result may be this work creates curiosity and encouragement to would be artists who assume artistic merit must fit a certain hide bound template.

Students could create a photo essay book by taking or finding photographs associated with life in their school, their community, or some personal setting. They in turn write poems, or stories associated with what is taking place in the photographs.

Other books about art appreciation and the connection between art and literature:

By Andrea L. Williams