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