Saturday, June 25, 2005

How to Catch a Star

Jeffers, Oliver. 2004. HOW TO CATCH A STAR. New York: Philomel. ISBN 0399242864 [Suggested Grade Levels Pre K-1]

Oliver Jeffers’ first book for children is an endearing look at friendship and dreams. In HOW TO CATCH A STAR, a little boy wishes for a star to be his friend. Jeffers uses such simple words and illustrations, yet the story is so fanciful in nature that readers will be captivated by the boy’s determination. The boy tries many inventive and intelligent ways to capture his star from the sky. At first he decides to wait for the star, “He thought that getting up early in the morning would be best, because then the star would be tired from being up in the sky all night.” Once he finally sees a star, he tries jumping, using a life preserver and a rocket ship made of paper to grasp the star but to no avail. Just as the boy is about to give up, he realizes that the best things come to those who wait! He finds a starfish on the beach and is happy to finally have a star of his own.

The relaxing pace of the story is continued with the book’s illustrations. The illustrations are very simplistic; drawings of the boy are almost reminiscent of stick figures. However the bright colors, basic shapes with exaggerated features used give the drawings an abstract feel. The drawings are almost suggestive of a futuristic feel, which fits in nicely with the star fantasy idea.

The little boy in the story rejoiced when he found his starfish. Let children celebrate their own friendships by making a personal photo album with photographs of fellow participating children. Children can also decorate their own starfish cut out of paper to remind them that friends come in all shapes and sizes.

List as a group what personality traits make a good friend exceptional. Write the friendship descriptions on butcher-block paper for display. Students may trace each other’s hands to decorate the remaining paper.


Other stories about friendship:
Carle, Eric. DO YOU WANT TO BE MY FRIEND? ISBN 0399215980
Pfister, Marcus J. THE RAINBOW FISH. ISBN 1558580093
Thompson, Lauren. POLAR BEAR NIGHT. ISBN 0439495245

By Lisa Erickson

Monday, June 20, 2005

Worlds Afire

Janeczko, Paul. 2004. WORLDS AFIRE. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763622354. [Suggested Grade Levels 6-12]

In a haunting collection of poems, Janeczko tells the disturbing story of the Hartford Circus Fire where 167 people died and over 500 more were injured when the big top tent inexplicably caught fire. The book is divided into three parts which provides for a sense of continuity. The first section includes poems representing the viewpoints of people before the fire began. There is an air of anticipation and excitement as the circus prepares for its performance. However, some feel an uneasy sense of foreboding. David Hancock, a seatman says: “But I knew/ something bad would happen/ when we pulled into the siding/ so late we had blow the evening show. Everybody knows blowing a show’s/ bad luck.” The last words of a young girl as she watches her friends leave for the circus are: “Don’t go.” The second section is full of horror and desperation as children are separated from their parents, and circus people are helpless to stop the chaos. The voices here are especially poignant. A mother who perished along with her daughter says: “Then the fire started. I never doubted we’d get out/ all of us and have a story to tell Roy. Now/he’ll have to hear about us/ from strangers.” Finally, the third section depicts the aftermath. The voices of the police and other rescue workers, the survivors and spectators, all have a heartbreaking story to tell. This is obvious in the evocative words of Sam Tuttle, a camera operator: “I watched it once. Enough to sicken me again. But when I reversed the film/ killing smoke vanished/ flames flickered to nothing/ people backed out of the big top and boys screeched with joy/ jabbered in excitement/ girls skipped and twirled in their summer dresses/ mothers smiled to see their children joyous/ all in silence, none knowing/ they would be this happy/ for the last time/ in their lives.” Although an unlikely subject for a prose poem story, this moving book will leave a haunting impression for a long time to come.

Readers may wish to find books about other devastating fires and compare the events that led up to them and how they might have been prevented. Readers might also look for other examples of poems depicting tragedies to study how words and styles are used.

Other books about the circus fire and other disastrous fires.
Murphy, Jim. THE GREAT FIRE. ISBN 0590472674
O’Nan, Stewart. THE CIRCUS FIRE. ISBN 0385496850

By Ellen Reed

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Peek! A Thai Hide-and-Seek

Ho, Minfong. 2004. Peek! A Thai Hide-and-Seek. Ill. by Holly Meade. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763620416 [Suggested Grade Levels PreK – 1]

A Thai father is playing hide and seek with his baby daughter in the playful new picture book by award-winning author Minfong Ho, lavishly illustrated by Holly Meade. The father asks each animal that he comes across whether or not it has seen his daughter and the animals of Thailand emerge, as we play peek-a-boo with the father and his baby. Each animal is presented in a two-page spread, with the sound that it makes and rhyming text. For example, the rooster says: “Eechy-eechy-egg, / eechy-eechy-egg” while the father asks “Jut-Ay, peek-a-boo, / Red-tailed rooster, so it’s you! / Flap your wings in the cold dawn air / Is my baby somewhere near?” My kindergarten classes were fascinated to learn that different cultures hear and write animal sounds differently. Minfong Ho uses rhythm to go along with her rhyme to provide delightfully the sounds of her language: when playing this game in Thailand, the phrase, “Jut-Ay” (pronounced shut-A), precedes the phrase, “peek-a-boo.” The repetition of the line, “Jut-Ay, peek-a-boo” provides continuity throughout the book as well as enhancing the authentic feel.

Holly Meade has illustrated the book with lush, vibrant colors that evoke a real feel for Thailand. She uses watercolors and paper collage to brilliantly suggest the atmosphere of the jungle and to lavishly support the text. As we search for the little girl while she hides in various locales, we get a feel for the flora and fauna of Thailand. The end papers are bright orange with Thai script in red, providing an exotic feel to the book. Peek! is a charming story-in-rhyme read-aloud, with the rhythm of the language beautifully depicting the love of a father for his child.

Read this picture book to preschool children who will enjoy it on various levels: some will be more interested in finding the child in the pictures and some will be more interested in mimicking the animal sounds.

Other participatory picture books:
Conrad, Pam. 1995. Animal lingo. ISBN 0060234016
Laden, Nina. 2000. Peek-a-Who? ISBN 0811826023
Ho, Minfong. 1996. Hush! A thai lullaby. ISBN 0531095002

By Cay Geisler

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Cats in Krasinski Square

Hesse, Karen. 2004. THE CATS IN KRASINSKI SQUARE. Ill. Wendy Watson. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0439435404 [Suggested Grade Levels 3-6]

A haunting and vivid depiction of a young girl’s efforts to secure food for the inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto, Hesse’s historical picture book works on several levels. Narrated by an unnamed Jewish girl who has herself escaped from the Ghetto, the action revolves around a plan conducted by the Jewish Resistance to smuggle food into the Ghetto. Complications arise when the Gestapo learns of the plan and comes with dogs to sniff out the food and arrest those involved. The narrator comes to the rescue with a plan to release the city’s stray cats at the train station to distract the dogs and allow the food to reach the Ghetto. The exciting plot works well enough for the book to succeed in its own right, but its historical accuracy also lends it as an excellent piece of historical fiction on the Jewish Resistance in Poland during World War II. An Author’s Note and a Historical Note follow the story to explain that it was based on an actual event and also to put the events into the proper historical context.

Hesse’s poetic text raises this historical picture book to brilliance. Speaking of herself as a Jewish girl who has escaped from the Ghetto, the narrator says, “I wear my Polish look, / I walk my Polish walk, / Polish words float from my lips / and I am almost safe, / almost invisible, / moving through Krasinski Square / past the dizzy girls riding the merry-go-round.” Complementing Hesse’s text are Watson’s beautiful watercolor illustrations that immediately capture both the impermanence and grayness of life in war-time Poland as well as the light and hope that the members of the Resistance maintain. Together, the text and illustrations work seamlessly to bring to life a memorable period in history.

Talk to the children about what life was like for Jewish people, especially children, during World War II. Use nonfiction sources to show pictures of real children during this time in history. To put the events mentioned in the story into context, create a time-line for the Holocaust.

Other stories about the Holocaust:
Spinelli, Jerry. MILKWEED. ISBN 0375813748
Matas, Carol. DANIEL’S STORY. ISBN 0590465880

By Erin Miklauz

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Kitten's First Full Moon

Henkes, Kevin. 2004. KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON. New York: Greenwillow. ISBN 0060588284 [Suggested Grade Levels PreK-1]

Simple and spare, this lighthearted offering is a stylistic departure for writer/illustrator Kevin Henkes. Instead of his usual colorful palette, he is working here instead in simple black and white telling the charming tale of Kitten, who is certain that the first full moon she sees is really a bowl of milk in the sky. She tries desperately to lap it up, but to no avail, even falling into the water trying to paw at its reflection. She reaches up to the sky, hoping to attain the alluring snack, only to fall tumbling to the ground. Kitten is an endearing character that children will immediately relate to and Henkes’ language is as his art, simple and careful. His gentle verse and sympathetic refrain (“Poor Kitten!”) are accessible and memorable. This is a warm, inviting tale that gives a story and a thought process to the peculiar antics of kittens everywhere who seem ready to paw at or pounce on anything. An excellent bedtime book, KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON is gracefully penned with sweetness and sincerity, bringing Kitten finally back home to her own real bowl of milk and children to the understanding that it is good to be home.


An art project of a diorama of a lake, the moon, a tree, etc. with aluminum foil or mirrors might show children how things are reflected in shiny objects.

Another type of art project would be an actual drawing lesson to show how to draw reflections in water puddles or lakes.

Children can also discuss and tell their own stories about their cats at home. They could make playdough figures of cats and discuss all the different types of cats.


Other books about animals portrayed in unique illustrations:
Gag, Wanda. MILLIONS OF CATS. ISBN 0698113632
Thompson, Lauren. POLAR BEAR NIGHT. ISBN 0439495245
Waddell, Martin. TINY’S BIG ADVENTURE. ISBN 0763621706
Other books by Kevin Henkes that could be compared to this one:
OWEN. ISBN 0688114490

By Melissa Neece

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Ida B

Hannigan, Katherine. 2004. IDA B. New York: Greenwillow. ISBN 0060730250 [Suggested Grade Levels 4-7]


Katherine Hannigan has written a delightful book for upper elementary aged children. IDA B. is one of those enjoyable books that will make its audience laugh and cry in the same sentence. Ida B, not to be confused with her mother named Ida, is a charming fourth grader who is being sent to school after being home schooled on her apple farm most of her life. Ida B has a vivid imagination. She even refers to one of the meaner trees on her farm as a punk! She also has a deep love and understanding of nature. She considers her animals and trees members of the family. Her sensitivity is tested though, when she must not only return to public school, but also learn to deal with changes that are happening in her home. With the help of the true love of the people around her, Ida B learns to trust again.

Hannigan’s straightforward language does not undermine her audience’s intelligence. She allows her protagonist to have real and sometimes hurtful feelings, “Apologizing,” Ida B proclaims, “is like spring cleaning. First of all, you don’t want to do it. But there’s something inside you, or somebody outside you who’s standing there with her hands on her hips saying, ‘it’s time to make things right around here,’ and there’s no getting out of it.” Hannigan gives readers a fresh and realistic look at childhood. She gives her characters grace and dignity and creates an excellent role model in Ida B.

Ida B has an extraordinary imagination. Ask children to be amateur inventors. Have children think of a problem that could be solved with an invention, such as Ida B’s need to wash her face less, thus producing The Mask.

Ida B finds comfort in reading out loud to others in her class. Let children pick a book and ask volunteers to read aloud to each other.

Other stories about imagination and perseverance:
Ryan, Pam Munoz. BECOMING NAOMI LEON. ISBN 0439269695
L’Engle, Madeleine. A WRINKLE IN TIME. ISBN 0374386137
Levine, Gail Carson. ELLA ENCHANTED. ISBN 0060275111
By Lisa Erickson

Friday, June 3, 2005

Enna Burning

Hale, Shannon. 2004. ENNA BURNING. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 1582348898 [Suggested Grade Levels 6 and up]

Hale's re-imagining of THE GOOSE GIRL (2003) will enjoy this sequel, as Enna the forest girl (once the closest friend to Isi, formerly the Goose Girl and now queen) watches over her brother as he learns to control fire. His extraordinary powers engulf Enna into taking his gift of power. This unusual tale shares images of fire and heat that only he has the control. When he chooses to consume himself in battle, she takes on his gift. Extraordinary images of fire, heat, and fill this engaged tale. Enna's fire can be mistaken as the need for power, a teen fad, or simply a gift. Hale's tale hints at some innocent romanticism and deep lessons of friendship and limitations.

Invite young teens to talk about the importance of devoted friendships between women, and taking risks for people we love.
Also encourage teens to talk about the appeal of running with the “bad” group. Encourage them to write about any good or bad decisions they made and the consequences of their actions.

Lowry, Louis. MESSENGER. ISBN 0618404414 Pierce, Tamara. TRICKSTER’S QUEEN. ISBN 0375813671

By Kim Southwell