Sunday, May 29, 2005

Technically, It's Not My Fault: Concrete Poems

Grandits, John. 2004. Technically, It’s Not My Fault: concrete poems. NewYork: Clarion. ISBN 061842833X [Suggested Grade Levels 3-6]

In his first book of poetry, Grandits has produced a clever, witty, and engaging group of poems surrounding the character, Robert, a fun-loving, creative kid who loves, sports, computer games, and just about everything else except his sister and school. Linked together, the poems tell Robert’s madcap story.

The illustrations and type fonts that Grandits use to enhance his poems are kid-friendly and dynamic. Reading the poems requires the reader to turn the book in all directions increasing the actual fun of reading. The family squabbles and the sibling rivalry ring true and young people will relate. In a poem titled “How We Ended Up with a Plain Pizza,” shows type running along the outside circle of the pizza with the line, “All right, all right! We’ll order pizza. We have a coupon for one extra-large pie. But every body has to agree on what toppings to get” (Grandits, 2004). Each piece of pizza is one person’s opinion about what kind of pizza to order, which because there is no agreement, links back to the title of why they ended up with a plain pizza – very clever word play. The baseball, basketball, and skateboarding poems are right on.

The design of the book is definitely a strong point. The clever story that leads into the title is very funny. Robert decides to test Galileo’s theory of gravity with a concrete block and a tomato. He rationalizes the mistake as a scientific experiment gone wrong: “But in my opinion, the experiment was totally worth doing. There was just a slight mix-up, one tiny detail that went wrong, so even though the car has a concrete block sticking out of the roof, technically, it’s not my fault” (Grandits, 2004). Sharing Grandits’s concrete poetry with children will be a fun and stress-free way to enjoy poetry together.

Invite children to compose and design their own concrete poems about sports or families. Display poems in the library.

George, Kristine O’Connell. Swimming Upstream: Middle school poems. ISBN 0618152504
Janeczko, Paul B. A Poke in the I. ISBN 0763606618

By Cay Geisler

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Truth About Poop

Goodman, Susan E. 2004. THE TRUTH ABOUT POOP. New York: Viking. ISBN 0670036749 [Suggested Grade Levels 1-5]


Who knew that the tiny skipper caterpillar could shoot its poop six feet? Or that jellyfish and sea anemones eat and poop from the same opening? Or that ancient Romans used pigeon poop to bleach their hair? These are but a few of the slightly gross and fascinating facts in The Truth About Poop. Susan Goodman presents the inescapable truth that although we don’t discuss it much, poop happens, and happens big. In fact, a horse can unload ten pounds of poop without breaking stride. Scientists have found fossilized tyrannosaurus rex dung that weighed in at a whopping 16 pounds. Poop can be dangerous. Pig manure is so potent that some of its gases can eat through metal. Don’t stand behind a goose, they poop every 12 seconds. Or poop can be just plain gross. Turkey vultures poop all over their legs to keep cool. After wolverines finish feeding on a dead animal, they poop all over it to save the rest for later. Leftovers take on a whole new meaning. Information about how much, how often and how big provides fascinating facts that will be gross enough to amuse without pandering to what will surely be a slightly snickering audience.

The ABCs of elimination covers the basics of the digestive process, the 100 billion bacteria we poop out every day, and gives a weight to poop ratio so every kid can estimate their daily output. The history of the toilet brings us to the Japanese model that can take your temperature and blood pressure while you are taking care of other business. The history of toilet paper has obviously come a long way from the days of everything from leaves and moss, to old anchor cables, coconut husks, or corncobs, which were used in America for centuries. When asked what would be more important if stranded on a desert island, almost half of the people picked toilet paper over food. The muted color cartoon illustrations are humorous, and just edgy enough to resonate with an elementary aged reader.

Children may enjoy exploring other related aspects of the topic, looking up information about the animals mentioned in the book, or hearing from a local water treatment plant worker.

Other books by Susan Goodman:

By Tammy Korns

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Toad Rage

Gleitzman, Morris. 2004. TOAD RAGE. New York: Random House. ISBN 0375827625 [Suggested Grade Levels 3-6]

“Limpy reached forward and gently prodded Uncle Roly. He was dry and stiff. The hot Queensland sun had done its job.” Limpy the cane toad is tired of pulling his squashed relatives, or “rellies” as one says down under, off the road, flattened like placemats. He doesn’t understand why humans hate cane toads so much, and his determination grows stronger each time he sees the weaving headlights of a car then the distant pop as another relative gets flattened. Limpy, accompanied by his cousin Goliath, who, according to Limpy, swapped his brains for warts, sets off on a quest to convince humans that cane toads should not be used as targets for road kill, and ends up at the 2000 Games in Sydney, trying to become the newest Olympic mascot.

Limpy, whose warts glow with anger, prickle with exasperation, or tighten with nerves, is a sympathetic character that will have readers cheering him while he deals with life threatening obstacles. Humans, especially teenagers, are a constant threat, “Limpy felt himself being lowered, bottom first, toward the air valve on the tire.” Limpy and Goliath are eventually befriended by one of the Olympic athletes, and although they do not get signed on as mascots, they learn the life saving skill of pole vaulting, which enables them to stare down the biggest of vehicles, then vault off the road just in time to stay alive. Filled with Aussie slang like stack me, squiz, and rack off, this is a fast-paced hilarious look at life from the absurd perspective of the much maligned cane toad.

Focus on different aspects of Australia (native animals, climate, topography), and use the slang used in the book to discuss how different countries and cultures have different colloquialisms and what this means when you communicate cross-culturally.

Children could create their own story about a less-than-loved creature, and determine which event that animal would be best suited for in an Olympic games. They could create an illustration of the creature competing in an Olympic event.

Other books about toads:
Coville, Bruce. JENNIFER MURDLEY’S TOAD. ISBN 0152046135
Horwood, William. TOAD TRIUMPHANT. ISBN 0312148216

By Tammy Korns

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Secrets of the Sphinx

Giblin, James Cross. 2004. SECRETS OF THE SPHINX. Ill. Bagram Ibatoulline. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0590098470 [Suggested Grade Levels 4-6]

Once again, Giblin produces a quality work of nonfiction that will interest and entertain young readers even as it informs them. He begins by setting the Sphinx up as a mystery, a strategy that will immediately grab the reader’s attention. His first sentences set the stage, “before dawn, the giant creature is almost invisible. It sits in shadow on its rocky, horseshoe-shaped hollow. Then, as the sun slowly rises in the east, the creature’s body is gradually revealed.” He then focuses the remainder of the book on the questions of who built the Sphinx, how, and why. This exploration takes the reader back to the earliest days of Egypt in the Stone Age and progresses through to the present explaining Egyptian culture and beliefs along the way. Giblin also touches on the Rosetta Stone and how that find has made it possible to understand the Ancient Egyptian language. Readers will be interested to discover controversial theories about the Sphinx, including the fact that some people believe that it was built by the lost civilization of Atlantis. Giblin ends on a current note, detailing how the Sphinx’s status today and how it can be protected for future generations.

In addition to Giblin’s text, Ibatoulline adds colored illustrations that compliment the given information. Half and full-page illustrations keep the book from becoming too text heavy and enable the reader to visualize Giblin’s words. Source notes and a bibliography are included at the end of the work and are followed by a helpful index. Well-researched, written and illustrated, this is a fascinating look at an ancient wonder that will undoubtedly be well-received.

After reading the book, continue to talk about Ancient Egypt by utilizing other nonfiction books on the topic.
Using clay, allow children to sculpt their own Sphinx.

Other books about Egypt:
Macaulay, David. PYRAMID. ISBN 0395321212

By Erin Miklauz

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Dragon Rider

Funke, Cornelia. 2004. DRAGON RIDER. Trans. by Anthea Bell. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0439456959 [Suggested Grade Levels 4-8]

Humans and their machines are developing land so close to the peaceful valley where a group of dragons live, that fear of discovery spurs Firedrake and his brownie friend Sorrel, to go in search of the legendary ancient dragon home known as the Rim of Heaven. Firedrake is a silver dragon energized by moonlight. Knowing that they must fly half-way around the world, Firedrake and Sorrel enlist the help of a friendly young orphan named Ben who could be the dragon rider foretold in prophetic lore. Along the way they encounter many fantastic creatures including mountain dwarfs, fairies, a thousand-eyed djinn, a basilisk, and a sea serpent. This arduous journey becomes extremely dangerous when Nettlebrand, a golden dragon created for the sole purpose of hunting and killing silver dragons, pursues Firedrake in the hopes of finding the elusive Rim of Heaven and its silver inhabitants.

The energy, action, adventure and intrigue in this amazing story will capture the reader’s interest. There are spies and counterspies, loyal friends and treacherous traitors. The strong plot and subplots are balanced perfectly with humor and clever dialogue. For example, Sorrel is an ill-tempered, sarcastic, pessimistic creature, yet her witty banter and loyalty to Firedrake make her a lovable character. Lola Graytail, a skilled and intelligent rat, never addresses Twigleg, the homunculus properly. She innocently refers to him as a “humpleklumpus,” “humblecuss,” “homuncupus,” “hinclecompulsus,” and so on. Funke’s vivid imagination is clearly at work in this novel. Readers can escape into a world of fantastic creatures while remaining grounded in a classic story of good versus evil.

Readers can investigate the origins (folklore, mythology, etc.) of the various creatures mentioned in the story.
Brief mention is made of a small photograph that Ben carries in a bag around his neck. Readers can elaborate on the significance of this photograph (e.g. Could it help explain how he came to be an orphan?).

Other novels about dragons:
Downer, Ann. HATCHING MAGIC. ISBN 0689834004
Rupp, Rebecca. THE DRAGON OF LONELY ISLAND. ISBN 0763604089

By S. Zulema Silva Bewley

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights

Freedman, Russell. 2004. THE VOICE THAT CHALLENGED A NATION: MARIAN ANDERSON AND THE STRUGGLE FOR EQUAL RIGHTS. New York: Clarion. ISBN 0618159762 [Suggested Grade Levels 6 and up]


Reflecting on the Daughters of the American Revolution decision to deny Marian Anderson access to Constitutional Hall for a concert because of her race, Eleanor Roosevelt remarked, “I regret extremely that Washington is to be deprived of hearing Marian Anderson, a great artist.” Roosevelt’s outrage over the treatment received by one of the nation’s most accomplished vocal performers is one of many reflections included in Russell Freedman’s outstanding and landmark work. By eloquently sharing her story, Freedman provides an opportunity for today’s generation to better understand how this American legend broke down racial barriers and came to serve as a champion for all people.

Freedman’s offering is a shining example of the very best nonfiction has to offer; he quickly whets the reader’s appetite for the narrative photo-biography in the opening pages by capturing the anticipation and excitement of the gathered crowd awaiting Anderson’s performance at her historic Easter concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. From here, he chronicles the life of Anderson, beginning with her childhood in Philadelphia, her dedication to her craft exhibited through rigorous training, her success as a performer world-wide, and her discomfort with being thrust into the role of activist. The strengths of Freedman’s work are many; using his signature style, the narrative quality of language flows and quickly draws readers into the events of Anderson’s life. Embedded black-and-white photographs include images such as her concert appearances while also focusing on the more personal aspects of her life. Throughout the volume, images of artifacts (such as concert programs) serve to offer readers both a personal connection to Anderson’s triumphant life and her struggle as well document her place in civil rights history.

Teens could write an “I Am” poem by analyzing information about her character from Freedman’s account. After completing the poem, they could research photos available on the web.

Other related works by Russell Freedman: ELEANOR ROOSEVELT: A LIFE OF DISCOVERY. ISBN 0899198627
By Rose Brock

Saturday, May 7, 2005

Sidewalk Circus

Fleischman, Paul and Kevin Hawkes. 2004. SIDEWALK CIRCUS. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763611077 [Suggested Grade Levels K-2]

A wordless picture book, SIDEWALK CIRCUS is a magnificent mingling of the ordinary with the exciting. The scene is set when a young girl sits down on a bus bench and sees a sign advertising “World-Renowned Garibaldi Circus Coming Soon!” To her delight, a circus of another kind is enacted right before her eager eyes as a construction worker balances across an iron cross-beam, a cook juggles pancakes in her skillet, a painter’s ladder becomes a pair of awkward stilts. Each action is juxtaposed with a sign advertising the same tricks performed by the actual circus, but as the events unfold it is clear that the real circus is taking place on the city sidewalk. Eventually, the girl’s bus arrives and she leaves the impromptu circus behind, but a young boy quickly fills her place on the bench, a squirrel on a wire takes over the construction worker’s role as tight-rope walker, and the circus begins again.

The beautiful acrylic illustrations take the reader through several amazing circus acts as Fleischman and Hawkes utilize full page spreads for each of the performances. Alternating pages contain cutaways to the girl in the “audience” whose face shows her varying emotions from awe to fear to hilarity and keeps the reader feeling the same. In addition to the signs that advertise the acts being performed, shadows are also used in the background. During the flying trapeze, for example, two unbalanced window washer attempt to grab hold of one another as their cart falls from beneath them. Their shadows depict a trapeze artist gracefully catching his partner in midair. The subtlety and visual richness of each page will easily make this a favorite.

Brainstorm everyday events that could become circus acts. Let every child choose an event and draw a picture of it occurring.

After showing the book once, go through it again and invite the children to tell the story as it unfolds on each page.

Other books about the circus:
Ehlert, Lois. CIRCUS. ISBN 0060202521
Falconer, Ian. OLIVIA SAVES THE CIRCUS. ISBN 068982954X

By Erin Miklauz

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Watch Out!

Fearnley, Jan. 2004. WATCH OUT! Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763623180 [Suggested Grade Levels Pre-K – 3]

With sensitivity and sweetness, Jan Fearnly tells the charming tale of Wilf, an energetic little field mouse whose innocent but disastrous antics keep landing him in need of his gentle and quietly exasperated mother’s comfort and care. He gets so excited about running, climbing and bouncing that he forgets to listen to his mother’s words of caution and, “CRASH, BANG, WALLOP!” he’s fallen down and made a mess again, usually bigger than the one before. After a long, busy day, Wilf realizes he’s made his mother sad and plans a surprise to cheer her up. The surprise that they both get creates a sweet moment between mother and son that is heartfelt and true to life. Fearnley’s endearing watercolor illustrations are full of life, innocence and whimsy and her tale of a mother’s love for her frustratingly rambunctious son is a reminder to children that they should listen to their parents and to parents that they should be patient with their children. As is so often the case in children’s literature, this simple tale of everyday events has more to say about the special relationship between parent and child than most people could fit in a much longer book. Watch out! This one's too sweet for words!

Children can plan a surprise for their own mothers. The children can plan the surprise by drawing what they will do on paper.

The “telephone” whispering game can be utilized. This simple fun game is when there is a large group of children, and you whisper a phrase in one child’s ear, and then that child whispers in the neighboring child’s ear until it travels around the room and the last child will speak the phrase out loud – usually wrong, and sometimes hilarious. This teaches children the importance of listening carefully.

Other books by Jan Fearnley that could be compared to this one:
JUST LIKE YOU. ISBN 0763622079

By Melissa Neece