Monday, May 9, 2011

Muggie Maggie

by Beverly Cleary
Stubborn.  Defiant.  A mind of her own.  Meet  Maggie Schultz.   A third grade student that is anything but eager to write in cursive.  This Talented and Gifted student can’t understand why she should write in cursive when she can type on the computer.  She refuses to even try.  Her refusal gets a little out of control and she isn’t sure how she can stop.  When her mother asked her how long it was going to take her to learn cursive Maggie responds with, “Maybe forever.”  Her teacher works with other staff members to create an ingenious idea that motivates Maggie to learn cursive. 
Cleary’s idea to solve the problem works in this book.  It is a clever idea that doesn’t cause embarrassment or harm to Maggie or anger and frustration for Mrs.  Leeper, the third grade teacher.  However, in the real world I can’t imagine a child’s refusal to do work being solved in this manner at all.
This is a simple story with a simple plot.  There wasn’t a lot to this book.  I did like some of the vocabulary that was used such as nuisance, indignant, and dawdle.  Children will enjoy this book because of the character, Maggie.  Even though kids may not think of acting like she does they can relate to her not wanting to write in cursive.  Many children always question WHY they must do something.  They may not see the value in writing in cursive, just like Maggie.  In the end, I think they too will see the importance of learning cursive.  Even if it is to read what your teacher and principal are saying about you. 
After reading Dear Mr. Henshaw I was quite surprised by the difference between these two books.  Beverly Cleary has written many books and I was wondering where the majority of her books fell on the continuum of quality. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Almost Perfect

 by Brian Katcher
Imagine yourself as an eighteen year old senior falling for a beautiful new girl in town.  She seems to like you and all is going well, but she has some sort of secret.  You can’t imagine what it is, but regardless, you like her just the same.  Then…. You kiss….. And the secret is revealed.  The one you thought was a she is really a he…..
That is what happens to Logan Witherspoon.  At first, he doesn’t want anything to do with her, Sage Hendricks.  However, he realizes that he misses her.  He decides that he can be friends with her.  This is very difficult for Logan though.  Sage is a girl in every regard, well except for THAT.  Logan has never encountered a transgendered person before.  He has no idea how he is feeling or how he should be feeling.  He begins to have tremendous internal conflict.  Does this mean he is gay?  If someone else finds out about Sage will they think they are gay?  Will he be able to stand up for her?  Does he need to explain his relationship to his family of friends?  One of his biggest questions is, can he be there for a friend when she needs him the most? 
This book was the winner of the 2011 Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award.  I must admit that I wasn’t exactly excited to read a book in this category.  I was definitely censoring myself.  I am thankful that I was forced to step outside of my comfort zone.  This book was very well written and speaks clearly about the issues that many face when a child or friend is struggling with transgender issues.
The characters in this novel were well developed.  Katcher did a great job engaging me with a book that I was honestly resistant to reading.  The characters and the problems associated with them were real.  Quite honestly, many today would prefer to look away and pretend that these issues aren’t real and then we don’t have to deal with them.  Unfortunately, life isn’t always so simple.  This is a great read for a variety of audiences.  It is great for kids to know that their feelings are real, they are not alone, and there are places to turn for information.  It is also good for adults to read.  As parents, we can put our children on brink of suicide with our emotional threats as we may try to convince them otherwise.  Clearly, this is a very sensitive issue while in the real world would require therapy for many to cope with.  However, this book provides some insights and causes the reader to think about this issue from a variety of perspectives.  Without a doubt this book has controversial and sensitive issues, but it is worth the read and conversation for some, not all.
There is an author’s note in the back that speaks directly to those people who can identify with Sage.  Those that are struggling with their identity and don’t know where to turn.  While Katcher was researching for this book he found that a common feeling was that of being alone.  Katcher offers some resources for those that are not able to reach out to a parent, counselor, clergyperson or a family friend.  He suggests contacting Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).  This resource provides information for gay, bisexual, and transgender people, as well as those who just have questions. 
Katcher also includes a warning.  “The Internet is full of great resources for transgender people.  It is also full of creeps who would love to meet a sexually confused teenager and take advantage of him or her.  Please remember, if you contact anyone online, NEVER GIVE YOUR REAL NAME OR HOME STATE.  Things are not always as they seem.  No matter how sincere someone sounds online, do not give them the benefit of the doubt.”

Long Night Moon

written by Cynthia Rylant
illustrated by Mark Siegel

Serene.  Silent.   Still.  A mother stands in a gazebo bundled with her infant toddler.  The chill is in the air as she is looking out at the moon.   This is a beautifully written and illustrated book that takes a mother and her child through a year long journey of admiring the faithful moon that has become their friend.  A moon that will help them find their way home.  A moon that tells of promise and hope.
 “Long ago Native Americans gave names to the full moons they watched throughout the year.  Each month had a moon.  And each moon had its name….” Cynthia Rylant writes poetically to describe the moon each month.  Rylant personifies the moon as it misses its sister, the sun.  The Flower Moon is a smiling moon.  The Thunder Moon, listens to the clouds beat their drums.  The Acorn Moon says good-bye.  In November, it wants to sleep.  She brings a new perspective to the moon as it provides light for the many creatures active at night. 
Mark Siegel was inspired by Rylant’s poetic writing about the moon.  He took many long walks with the moon as his guide to help him reveal the perspective.   He chose charcoal to illustrate the full-bleed double page spreads throughout the book.  The colors change with each month to reveal the changes that occur in nature over each month.  The reader is drawn right in to the night, as if we are experiencing it as well. 
Rylant is able to write with breaks in the lines to make the reader pause.  It also puts emphasis on some of these lines.  She also uses cursive writing for this book.  I was wondering why this font was used.  Is it just because of the elegance that fits aesthetically with the book?  This limits the audience for children to read this book. 
I was curious about the names of these moons to see if they were accurate.  I was not able to validate all of these moons.  I am not sure that this book accurately reflects the Native American culture.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken

written by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by Henry Bliss
read by Barbara Rosenblat

Have you ever been sitting at home thinking….. If I don’t get out of here, I’m going to go crazy.  Have you ever imagined that a chicken would be feeling that way?  Well, that is exactly how Louise is feeling in Kate DiCamillo’s book Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken.
Yes, Louise is looking for adventure, but I would venture to say she likes extreme adventure.  In chapter one Louise decides to  ventures out to sea.  As she is standing on the deck, letting the wind “ruffle her feathers” she decides this adventure is not what she had imagined.  However, she can’t exactly change her plans because pirates are coming and she is almost fricasseed.  After this experience I think she is feeling like “there is no place like home.”  She made it home and “slept the deep and dreamless  sleep of the true adventurer.”
Again adventure calls and Louise joins the circus, walks a high wire, only to have a close encounter with a lion.  The family farm sounds good once again and Louise “slept the deep and dreamless sleep of the true adventurer.”  Louise continued to long for adventure.  In chapter three she heads East and visits a fortune-teller.  She is kidnapped and held captive with other chickens.  “Chickens do not belong in cages,” and Louise set them free.  Louise began to miss her sister hens and her henhouse, so she went back home.  In chapter four, Louise shares her adventures with her the other hens.  In the end, all of the chickens “slept the deep and dreamless and peaceful sleep of true adventurers.”
Harry Bliss’ illustrations are beautiful.  Each spread shows Louise’s bright white feathers and red cockscomb standing up straight.  The reader’s eye is drawn to her right away.  There are two pages in this book which remind me of the fold out spread in The Man who Walked between the Towers.  This is an oversized book and there are two vertical spreads that show Louise walking the high wire with the perspective from the audience on the crowd.  When you turn the page it shows the perspective of Louise falling down toward the lion’s mouth.  I found Louise’s placement on each page to be interesting.  She is often on the left side of the page suggesting that she is more secure and possibly confined.  Bliss does a nice job with distance.  There are times when Louise is quite large and the center of our attention.  We are drawn in to her feelings of wanting adventure.  There are also times when Louise is quite far away and we are distanced from the action, such as when she is walking the high wire. 
Barbara Rosenblat’s magnificent performance transforms this beautifully written story.  She is able to adjust her voice brilliantly for each character; from Louise and Monique to the pirates, the circus characters, and the fortuneteller.  There is background music and noises that add to this listening experience.  I felt like I was listening to a movie.  This read aloud version with accurate sound effects was most deserving of the Odyssey Award.
This book is seamless.  The writing, illustrations, and read aloud work masterfully together.  People young and old can appreciate this for what it is, a good story.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dear Mr. Henshaw

written by Beverly Cleary
illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

How do you deal with your parents getting a divorce?  Moving and going to a new school....  Never hearing from your father when he says he is going to call....  Learning your dad is spending his time with someone else’s son....  How can any child possibly cope with all of this?  Well, Beverly Cleary has figured it out with her Newberry winning book Dear Mr. Henshaw. 
Leigh Botts was living with his mother and was a new kid at school.  His teacher had given the class an assignment to write an author and ask him/her questions.  Naturally, Leigh had chosen Boyd Henshaw because he had been a fan of his since second grade.  Boyd Henshaw responds to his questions with humor but also sends Leigh a set of questions to answer.  As a result of the TV not working, Boyd decides to respond to the questions from Henshaw. 
The story begins with letters from Leigh to Mr. Henshaw over three years.  The letters show the increasing emotions and the growth of Leigh as a writer.  As the book progresses, the format changes from letters to Mr. Henshaw to diary entries.  There is the suggestion that Mr. Henshaw writes back to Leigh and encourages him to write in his journal every day.  Initially, Leigh writes “Dear Mr. Pretend Henshaw.”  He grows as a writer and moves toward journal entries without addressing them to someone. 
The diary exposes the loneliness that Leigh feels with his father not actively involved in his life, the trouble of someone stealing the “good stuff” from his lunch every day, and the fact that his parents will not be getting back together.  Leigh has to try to come to terms with the fact that even though his parents still care for each other, they are living different lives now and there isn’t a chance that it will go back to the way it used to be.
The issues that Leigh experiences are real and many children will be able to relate to this story.  There is a lot that children can identify with in this book.  So, how does Cleary help Leigh deal with all of his emotions?  By writing, which would be therapeutic for any child experiencing any difficulty in their life. 
I was thinking about reluctant readers and was thinking this might be a good book for some of them.  The short diary entries with larger font will be enticing to them.  It is also about divorce which many children are familiar with or curious about.   Not to mention the fact that this is a well written book. 
The illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky appear to be pencil or charcoal.  There is a great illustration on the title page as Leigh is writing in his journal.  He is sitting on his bed in his room and above his head are the many thoughts and issues that he is grappling with.  A tractor trailer, as his dad travels across the country and is never there for him.  The school custodian raising the flag, who has come to be friends with Leigh.  The lunchbox that someone keeps steeling his treats from.  His dog that now lives with his dad, the kids at school and the butterfly garden.  All of these thoughts in his head are presented at an angle suggesting the emotion or tension that he has attached to all of the people.  The dog is presented sitting upright and happy which suggests stability. 
Although the topic of divorce is a social issue, I feel this book is appropriate for children.  Not only can children identify with it, they can also learn how to cope with their own emotional issues.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham----- 1963

by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Watsons go to Birmingham ---1963 is a Newberry Honor book and the recipient of the Coretta Scott King award.  This book is a comical, tragic, and touching story about a family that lives in Flint, Michigan. 
Christopher Paul Curtis spends a large amount of time developing each character and the relationships within this family.  We learn that thirteen-year-old Byron is destined to be an “official juvenile delinquent.”  Six-year-old Joetta is as sweet as can be, but will do anything to protect her older brothers.  Kenny, the narrator, is ten years old.  He is smart and gets picked on at school.  Dad is fun loving and likes to make people laugh.  Mom is the disciplinarian with a loving heart. 
As a result of By’s activities, the parents decide that it is best to take him to Birmingham for the summer to live with his grandmother.  There is even the possibility that he stay for a year.  As they prepare to leave, the mother has planned and researched their every stop because she knows they will not always be welcome.   The children have new experiences such as a roadside outhouse and legalized segregation. 
They are heading south in the middle of one of the most tragic events in the civil rights era.  The story is set in a real time against the backdrop of real events.  On September 15, 1963 white racists threw a bomb into a black church, in Birmingham.  Four young girls were killed, and many others were injured.  Curtis uses this bombing in his novel as the family is visiting Grandma Sands. 
Joetta had gone to church that morning and Kenny didn’t go because he didn’t want to go.  The bomb went off and Kenny ran to find his sister.  He walked into the church just minutes after the explosion went off. 
“I walked past people lying around in little balls on the grass crying and twitching, I walked past people squeezing each other and shaking, I walked past people hugging trees and telephone poles, looking like they were afraid they might fly off the earth if they let go.  I walked past a million people with their mouths wide-opened and no sounds coming out.”
Curtis does an amazing job with helping the reader understand each character.  As events occur in the story the tone changes smoothly.  The emotions that are evoked in this story are strong from the fun loving events to the horrific tragedy with the bombing. 
Curtis presents this family within the context of a tragic time in American history.  Kenny is left to question WHY?  Byron responds with, “Kenny, things ain’t ever going to be fair.  How’s it fair that two grown men could hate Negroes so much that they’d kill some kids just to stop them from going to school?  How’s it fair that even though the cops down there might know who did it nothing will probably ever happen to those men?  It ain’t.  But you just gotta understand that that’s the way it is and keep on steppin’” p. 203.  This book lends itself well to great conversations.  
 How far have we come?  How much further do we need to go? 

Number the Stars

by Louis Lowry
A story about courage and bravery.  A story about the integrity of the people in Copenhagen, Denmark after the Nazis invaded their community.
This narrative is told through the eyes of ten-year –old Annemarie Johnson.  Initially, when the Germans took over Copenhagen in 1943, life continued as usual for Annemarie.  It wasn’t until the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people begins, when everything changes.  A rabbi told his congregation that the Nazis had taken the synagogue’s list of all the Jews to include their names and addresses.  Annemarie’s family agrees to take in a Jewish child who was a friend of Annemarie.  Thus, Annemarie’s family becomes involved in the Resistance effort.  Annemarie’s friend, Ellen Rosen, poses as Annemarie’s dead sister Lise. 
Annemarie begins to question the adults in her life as she learns that her mother and uncle are discussing the death of a relative that Annemarie is sure does not exist.  Her uncle explains to her that they are all trying to be brave. “It is much easier to be brave if you don’t know everything.” 
Annemarie has an opportunity to show tremendous bravery as she is running through the woods to bring her uncle an envelope.  She has no idea what is in the envelope, but she know it is crucial for the relocation effort to be a success.  She does it and is stopped by the German police.  The suspense and intensity is deeply felt, not knowing what would happen to Annemarie or the people on her uncle’s boat.  Annemarie was successful and she was able to act the role of the innocent child because she honestly didn’t know what was in the envelope.
 Lowry includes an afterword in her book to clarify questions the reader may have.  She explains that Annemarie Johnson is fictitious, although she has a friend Annelise Platt who lived in Copenhagen during the time of the German occupation.  After reading there was a handkerchief in the envelope I was wondering why?  What could that be symbolic of?  Why a handkerchief?  The handkerchief really was a part of history.  “After the Nazis began to use police dogs to sniff out hidden passengers on the fishing boats, Swedish scientists worked swiftly to prevent such detection.  They created a powerful powder composed of dried rabbit’s blood and cocaine; the blood attracted the dogs, and when they sniffed at it, the cocaine numbed their noses and destroyed, temporarily, their sense of smell.  Almost every boat captain used such a permeated handkerchief, and many lives were saved by the device.” 
Lowry does a great job creating the sense of realism.  There is an authentic setting and dialogue during this period in time.  The characters’ responses to the historical events were real.  There is such power behind her words.  One must reflect on that time period and the courage of the people.  Especially, a child.  If I was ten, would I have had the courage to do what Annemarie did?  Ellen was lucky to leave with her family.  There are others whose children left alone.  It is hard to imagine what it was like for the children and the parents.  Great literature like this brings these stories to life.  Children are able to have a better understanding of the past and hopefully an appreciation for their life as it is today. 
Lowry ends her afterword with a paragraph from a letter written by Kim Malthe-Bruun.  Kim was part of the Resistance.  He was captured and executed when he was twenty-one.  This was from a letter he had written to his mother the night before he was put to death.
….. and I want you all to remember--- that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one.  That is the great gift our country hungers for, something every little peasant boy can look forward to, and with pleasure feel he is a part of – something he can work and fight for.
I believe we still hunger for this today.  After reading this, one must reflect and think about how each one of us can make a difference.

The Hundred Dresses

written by Eleanor Estes
illustrated by Louis Slobodkin

There is something to be said about a book that has never been out of print since it was published in 1944.  A timeless classic that we can all learn from still to this day.  The Hundred Dresses was written by Eleanor Estes and was illustrated by Louis Slobodkin.  This book was a 1945 Newberry Honor winner. 
A story about an immigrant girl that didn’t fit in.  A story about the haves and the have- nots.  A story about remorse and the quest to find forgiveness.  This is a story about a girl who was picked on and a girl that didn’t have the courage to stand up and say it was wrong.
Wanda Patronski, her father, and brother were immigrants to the United States from Poland.  They lived in a small house in the country called, Boggins Heights.  “Boggins Heights was no place to live.”  Wanda didn’t have any friends.  She went to and from school each day by herself and she always wore the same faded blue dress that never quite hung on her properly. 
The kids in Wanda’s class were making fun on Wanda because she said she had one hundred dresses.  Clearly, she wore the same faded blue dress each day.  However, there was a drawing contest and Wanda submitted her one hundred dresses and won the contest.  She was not able to bask in the glory though because she had moved.  The principal brought the teacher a note and it read;
Dear Teacher:  My Wanda will not come to your school anymore.  Jake also.  Now we move away to big city. No more holler Polack.  No more ask why funny name.  Plenty of funny names in the big city..
                                                                                    Yours truly, Jan Petronski
Madeline is one of the girls who is part of the group that teases Wanda.  Although she struggles internally about what to do or say about the situation.  She recognizes that it is not nice, but she also realizes that if she speaks up, the taunting could turn to her.  Maddie tries to find Wanda before she moves to apologize but it is too late.  Maddie learned a difficult lesson and she was determined to find a way to apologize.  She writes her a letter to tell her about the contest and she apologizes.  In the end, she is forgiven. 
Helena Estes includes a letter to the readers in her mother’s book.  Many people want to know if this is a true story.  She says this book is based on both fact and fiction.  She also shared that her mother did know of a Polish girl in her school that wore the same dress each day and she was picked on.  Her mother “never forgot the little girl who had been so badly treated.  She herself knew what it was like to be poor as a child to always be cold in winter, to wear clothes passed down to her by her sister.”  Eleanor Estes always wondered how she could make things right.  This was how The Hundred Dresses came to be.  Eleanor’s feelings of guilt reign throughout the book.  “True, she had not enjoyed listening to Peggy ask Wanda how many dresses she had in her closet, but she had said nothing.  She had stood by silently, and that was just as bad as what Peggy had done.  Worse.  She was a coward.”
I enjoyed the illustrations by Louis Slobodkin.  They certainly are from the past, but they reminded me of the many books I looked at my grandparents’ house growing up.  It looks like they are water color. 
The language that Estes uses stands out in this book.  She is able to use a word or phrase to capture the emotions that go with the event.  “They saw Jack Beggles running to school, his necktie askew and his cap at a precarious tilt.”p6 “The girls laughed derisively, while Wanda moved over to the sunny place by the ivy-covered brick wall of the school building where she usually stood and waited for the bell to ring. P.13-14
This is a book we can all relate too.  One may be the person getting picked on, the one standing by saying nothing, or the one who is doing the teasing.  This is a heartfelt message felt by the reader.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Tiger Rising

by Kate DiCamillo

Katie DiCamillo is a Newberry Award winning author with her work in The Tale of Despereaux.  Because of Winn Dixie received the Newberry Honor.  The Tiger Rising is a National Book Award winner.   DiCamillo is a talented writer that offers us stories about loss, grief, abandonment, and hope.
The Tiger Rising is much like Because of Winn Dixie with the loss of a mother and the father uproots his child and moves to Lister, FL.  Unlike the uplifting dog that was the catalyst for change, this story has a caged tiger.  The tone is quite different between these two books.
Rob Horton is a twelve year old boy trying to mourn the loss of his mother, who just died from cancer. Rob was numb.  “Rob had a way of not-thinking about things.  He imagined himself as a suitcase that was too full, like the one that he had packed when they left Jacksonville after the funeral.”  Rob’s father hit him after the funeral because he was crying. Rob was determined never to cry again; not the bullies at his school, not the rash that covered his legs, not the void in his heart from the loss of his mother, and not the distant father who was wrapped up in his own grief.
Rob found a tiger deep in the woods behind the motel where he lived.  He meets a new friend, Sistine Bailey.  Sistine also has emotional issues because her parents recently separated. Her father was having an affair with his secretary.  Together, they decide to free the caged tiger that belongs to the motel owner, Mr. Beauchamp.
Rob identifies with the caged tiger.  His own emotions are trapped inside of himself.  After he frees the tiger, he is initially pleased with his decision.  In the end, it causes him to release all of the pent up anger and grief that had been buried deep down inside of him.  He opens his suitcase and expresses all of his deepest emotions to his father.  He too is finally free.  This book is filled with symbolism.
The descriptive language used in this book is rich.  DiCamillo uses economy poetry at times to avoid elaborate prose.  She chooses the perfect words to touch an emotion with great depth.  For example,
“You’re the liar,” said Sistine in a dark cold voice.  Her face was so white that it seemed to glow before him.  “And I hate you.” She said to him.  “Everybody at school hates you, too. Even the teachers.  You are a sissy.  I hope I never see you again.”
She turned and walked away, and Rob stood and considered her words.  He felt them on his skin like shards of broken glass.  He was afraid to move.  He was afraid of how deep they might go inside him.
DiCamillo has a unique way of writing about very difficult issues that are hard to cope with and accept. Grief, loss, and hope are the themes that seem to run through her books.  One might think they are depressing, but they actually are written with a sense of hope and they are a form of inspiration to the reader. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dateline: Troy by Paul Fleischman

I must admit that as a high school student or as an adult, I have not had any interest in the Trojan War.  Paul Fleischman shows his tremendous talent once again with Dateline: Troy.  He juxtaposes his retelling of the war with newspaper clippings of modern events.  He is able to illustrate the parallels of the world of Homer’s Iliad to our world today. 
After reading Weslandia, Seedfolks, Joyful Noise, and Bull Run I have come to appreciate the remarkable perspective Fleischman can portray through his work.  I couldn’t understand what would give him the idea to connect our modern events to the Trojan War.  Fleischman shares that he got the idea while reading the myth of Hercules to his children.  “When I came to the part in which he’s driven mad by a goddess and kills his wife and children, I was struck by how much the myth sounded like a contemporary newspaper headline.”  He also adds, “My best teachers in school were those who could take a seemingly remote topic and show its connection to my own life.  I’ve tried to do the same with Trojan Wars.”
I was amazed and shocked with the more current articles that he found that could parallel the events from 1200 B.C.  Right from the beginning, as Hecuba, queen of Troy had a nightmare.  Calchas was sent for and he reveals his interpretation of the dream.  “The child will bring fire and ruin upon Troy.  There’s but one action.”  On the opposite page there is a newspaper clipping from May of 1988 with headlines, Reagans use astrology, aides confirm.  There is without a doubt many controversial issues brought up through these newspaper clippings; Newborn Found in a Dumpster, Studies on Beauty Raise a Number of Ugly Findings, In Search of Daniel A mother finds the son she gave away, Attract the Opposite Sex with secret Signals, Bush declares this Sunday to be a day of Prayer, War Protester Burns Herself to Death Here, When a Homeboy Dies, Japan Admits WWII Use of Sex Slaves, No One Rests in Peace, & The Human Cost of War. The range of these clippings is from 1950-1992.  I cannot even imagine the amount of time it would take to do this research and collect the perfect article to parallel the event in history.
Without a doubt, after reading this book and the parallel articles or headlines, one must stop and think.  The collage format behind the articles adds to the articles.  I was struck by the photo of a grieving widow in a Denver cemetery on Memorial Day 1984 as she was grieving holding on to the tombstone.  There is a pressed dried flower in the top right corner and a pedal from the flower three-fourths of the way down bordering the right side.  The article reads, “The Glory and the Waste.”  The reader can feel this loss. 
Many informational books will provide the sources of where they get their information.  I did not see that information in this book.  However, I searched the Trojan War and found the same events. 
This book is certainly clever and without a doubt would engage those children that are reluctant to learn about the Trojan War.  However, one must be prepared to have some courageous conversations about the realities of our world. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Deaf Musicians

Story by Pete Seeger and Paul Dubois Jacobs
Illustrations by R. Gregory Christie

Imagine having a love and passion for music.   You are in a band and entertain people often.  Then all of a sudden you can’t hear the notes anymore.  What would you do with yourself after the band leader asked you to leave the band?  Give up! Right? Or not?  Who will listen to a deaf musician?
The Deaf Musicians written by Pete Seeger and Paul Dubois Jacobs, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie  is the winner of the Schneider Award.  Lee, a piano player, loses his hearing and is asked to leave his band.  As Lee travels home on the subway he notices an advertisement for a school for the deaf.  Lee decides to attend the school.  Of course he meets a friend by the name of Max who also plays the Sax.  Together they begin to rap about their favorite jazz tunes using sign language.  Eventually, the two form a quartet and they perform on the subway.  They begin to attract the attention of many.  “Lee, who once thought his jazz life was over, found himself playing for audiences larger than ever before.” 
Christie’s illustrations sing along with the words on the pages.  There are bright, vivid colors and expressions on the characters faces that reflect the love of music.  The mood changes as Lee is coping with the fact that he cannot hear.  After Lee attends the school for the deaf, makes friends, and learns how to overcome his challenge.  He is able to play music once again.  This is an uplifting story about overcoming challenges. 
The words on the page are rhythmic and this book lends itself well to be interactive with children.  There are phonemic gems such as “doodle-bop-bop,” “boo-bang-bing,” or “shish-shish- shoogle.” 
The arrangement of framed illustrations to the arrangement of the text on the page shows the passing of time to the rhythm of the music.  There are bold lines throughout the book that are used to focus our attention on the band and their music as they play in the subway.  Christie uses her own unique style to reflect the content and mood of this story. 
Pete Seeger includes an afterword in the book.  He is thanking interpreters who have joined him as he has played music at festivals.  Seeger states, “It is a reminder of the power of music even when it can’t be heard.”  “The real music is in people joining together.”

The Rough-Face Girl

written by Rafe Martin
illustrated by David Shannon
There are many versions of Cinderella from around the world.  This Cinderella story, The Rough – Face Girl is an Algonquin Indian version.  Just as one might expect, there are two domineering sisters who were cruel to their younger sister.  They made her sit by the fire and feed the flames.  As the branches burned and popped the embers would fall on her.  Over time her hands, arms, and face became burnt and scarred.  Her sisters would laugh at her and say, “Ha! You’re ugly, you Rough-Face Girl!”
The two are adamant that they will marry the rich, powerful, and handsome man, “Invisible Being.”  The only problem is no one can see him.  There is a father of the girls in this version who gives all he can to provide necklaces, buckskin dresses, and beaded moccasins to the girls, except for the Rough-Face Girl.  The Rough-Face Girl is given her father’s old slippers and some broken shells. In order to marry the “Invisible Being,” one would have to prove to his sister that they have seen him.  The two girls fail at their attempt.  The Rough-Face Girl, however, is able to see him in many different places.   After she bathes in the lake, magic ensues and she is transformed to the beautiful girl she had always been. 
Shannon uses framed acrylic paintings with earthly hues to reflect the mood.  On the back of the book jacket it states that Shannon frequented the Museum of the American Indian to continue his interest in Native American lore. His research is evident in the intricate details of the native dress and their tee-pees.   He has some profound illustrations as he depicts the characters in this story.  As the Rough-Face Girl is tending the fire, the girls look evil in the background as they taunt her.  On the following page the girls are beautiful as they walk proudly to meet the Invisible Being.  Shannon does a great job using the resources in the environment to illustrate this story.  He is keeping the theme between the Algonquin Indians and their love for the earth.
There is an author’s note at the beginning of the story.  According to Martin, “The Rough-Face Girl, an Algonquin Indian Cinderella, is, in its original form, actually part of a longer and more complex traditional story.”  I have tried to find evidence that this is true, but was unsuccessful. 
I appreciate the work of Martin and Shannon.   However, I don’t feel that this work compares to that of Yeh-Shen.  I was disappointed.


Devastation and Destruction.    
Earthquakes by Seymour Simon is a visually remarkable book with high quality, full-color photographs.  Each page throughout the book illustrates the magnitude and depth of destruction that can occur after an earthquake.  There are also diagrams included to depict the earthquake zones in the United States.  There is a map that shows the plates in the earth’s crust and red dots that shows where earthquakes have occurred around the world.   The photos alone tell a story about how devastating an earthquake can be.
Seymour Simon does a great job of explaining where earthquakes take place and how that impacts us.  He uses some scientific language, yet there is an analogy provided that a child would understand.  For example, “In one type of fault, called a strike-slip fault, the rocks on one side of the fault try to move past the rocks on the other side, causing energy to build up.  For years, friction will hold the rocks in place.  But finally, like a stretched rubber band, the rocks suddenly snap past each other.  The place where this happens is called the focus of an earthquake.” 
He includes facts about the Pacific Ring of Fire; faults, the San Andreas; strike and dip- slips; seismographs; the Richter and Mercali Intensity Scales; and sand boils.  With all of this terminology he does a fantastic job of describing these words so that a child is able to understand what he is talking about.  For example, “Sand, mud, and water sometimes bubble up during earthquakes, gushing water and soil like miniature mud volcanoes.  These “sand boils” are particularly dangerous to buildings.”
At the back of the book there is a glossary, an index, and a web address to read more about it at the Smithsonian Institute.
Simon’s descriptions and photos will give the reader a better understanding of the causes of earthquakes and their effects.   There will no doubt be a new appreciation for the force and magnitude behind an earthquake.  Some informational books can be intimidating, this book is inviting and non-threatening.

Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man

Who would think that reading a biography about the legendary Lou Gehrig’s life could move you to tears?  Well, author David Adler and illustrator Terry Widener were able to do just that.  This is a heartfelt tribute to one of the greatest sports figures in our history. 
The opening was interesting as it describes the year 1903.  It was a year with great beginnings with Ford’s first automobile and the Wright Brothers first successful flight in an airplane.  It was also the year Henry Louis Gehrig was born.  Lou’s family lived in Yorkville, New York after his family emigrated from Germany.  We learn of his love for sports at an early age.  His mother had great hopes and dreams for Lou to attend college and become an accountant or engineer.  He did make it to Columbia University, but he never finished college because he signed on to the Yankees baseball team.  Lou’s mother, Christina, was furious because she thought he was ruining his life.  Adler does a remarkable job of describing Lou’s character as a child to an adult.  “The boy who never missed a day of grade school became a man who never missed a game.” 
In 1938, Lou was not able to hit a ball anymore and there didn’t appear to be any reason.  Again, his character traits shine through as he took extra batting practice.  He tried to change his stance and watched his diet.  But the over time he progressively became worse.  He even fell down while he was getting dressed in the clubhouse.  Clearly something is wrong with him, but the Yankee manager Joe McCarthy refused to take Lou out of the game.  This just shows the tremendous respect McCarthy has for Gehri.  “On May 2, 1939, he told Joe McCarthy, “I’m benching myself…for the good of the team.”
Lou was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a deadly disease that affects the nervous system.  Lou was loved by his team and fans and they dedicated July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium.  Lou addresses the fans in appreciation of this day.  “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got.  Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” 
Terry Widener’s illustrations are deep and rich as he used Golden acrylics on Strathmore Bristol board.  The illustrations depict life of the 30’s from the clothes, the strap around the school books, the milk bottles on the steps, all the way to the uniform that changed over time.  I thought it was interesting that the eyes all appeared to be closed on each person.  Perhaps this was done to signify that he is a man in the past.  The most profound illustration for me was when Widener portrays Gehrig shedding a tear as he addresses his fans.  Widener depicts Gehrig in a spread that takes up about three –fourths of the page.  Gehrig is up close and center with a tear falling and the fans in the stadium appear so far away.   It is this illustration that moved me to tears as I was reading this book.  I could feel the sadness he had as he was no longer able to play the game that he so passionately loved, yet I knew he was sincere with being thankful for the opportunities he has had as he says, “I consider myself to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”  The darker colors add to the tone of this moment.  There are vertical and horizontal lines that suggest tranquility.
Just before the story ends there is a full bleed double page spread that depicts Yankee Stadium with people walking away from the stadium with black umbrellas, as the rain is falling down.  This illustration sets the tone for the last page as we learn that on Monday, June 2, 1941, Lou Gehrig died.  On June 4th the Yankee game was canceled because of the rain.  This was also the day of Lou Gehrig’s funeral.  The minister at the funeral said that there wouldn’t be any speeches.  “We need none, because you all knew him.”  After reading this book, I felt like I knew him as well.  A dedicated man with tremendous dignity and pride.
One might think that children today may not be interested in this book or relate to it because Gehrig is from the 1930's. I am sure many Yankee fans may own a copy of this book for their children.  Although, I think Red Sox or White Sox or any other family should own a copy as well.   Children today can learn a lot from his character.  They can also relate to the situation in which he had to choose college or professional baseball.  Many children today want to play professional ball as well and I am sure many of their parents are telling them to get an education first.  Even back in the 1930’s Gehrig’s mother wanted him to finish college too. 
This story also brings up immigration as well.  Some people are open to the diversity in our country while others are not.  I think it is important to reflect and remember what our country was founded on and to remember some of the legends who came from immigrants from other countries.
Dedicated.  Courageous.  Appreciative.  Lou Gehrig!

Martin's BIG Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

There are many books published about the honorable, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  However, none have had the emotional impact on me like this one.  Martin’s Big Words is an exceptional children’s biography about Dr. King.   It is a Caldecott Honor book and it received the Coretta Scott King Award.
This book is written and designed very well.  From the cover of the book there is a large photograph of Dr. King with a smile on his face.  The title, author and illustrator are on the back.  The end papers are beautiful stained glass windows with four distinct shades in each quad and a diamond in the center.  Bryan Collier uses these windows as a metaphor.  The multi-colors symbolize the multi- races.  These windows allow you to see through or look past where you are. 
Rapport is able to make a long story short which flows smoothly.  Each two page spread tells about King and his crusade for civil rights.  It also has a quote from King in bold, oversized font.  This book addresses some of the issues of that time; oppression, prejudice, racism, and overcoming violence in a non-violent way. 
The collage and watercolor by Bryan Collier add depth to the sometimes simple text on a page.  He does a wonderful job extending the story.  I was moved by the African American girl standing in front of an American flag.  There are shades of green and yellow on the girls face, head band, and on the flag.  It made me think about how this country was at war with race.  There is also a little bit of yellow. The yellow, green and red reminded me of an African flag.  The text on the page states, “He cared about people all over the world.”  Bryan includes an author’s note at the beginning of the book.  “I wanted to bring a fresh spin to a story that’s been told many times.  In some places, the imagery had to stay true to history.  In others, I tried to push to an emotional level that allows the reader to bring his or her own experience to it, without actually losing the intensity or the intention of the story.  Collage is a perfect medium for this; it allows me to piece together many different things that have no relationship to each other, until they’re put together to form a oneness.”   The last illustration in the book was moving and it showed perspective.  There is a picture of Dr. King in the center of the stain glass windows in a church.  There appears to be some distance and it looks like he is looking through a window with blinds.  There are horizontal lines going across his face.  These lines suggest order and tranquility for Dr. King.  At this point in the book, Dr. King has passed.  There are also four pillar candles illuminating the church.  According to Collier's author's note, the four candles in the last illustration represent the four girls who were killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist church.  Overall around the stain glass windows it is black.  This adds to the mood of the story.  The text on the page next to this illustration is powerful.  “His big words are alive for us today.”  Then there are oversized words that say, “Freedom,”  “PEACE,” “Together,” I have a dream,” and “LOVE.”
Rapport and Collier worked well together to tell about Dr. King’s courage, commitment, and sacrifice in a moving way.  There is also an author’s note and at the beginning of the book.  Rapport had been introduced to the philosophy of nonviolence as high school student.  As a teacher she saw the sit-ins of the 1960’s.  In preparation for this book, Rapport “reread his autobiography, speeches, sermons, and articles.”  Rapport is able to use poetic language to help the reader understand who Dr. King was and Collier’s illustrations added depth and he was able to extend the story to move the reader beyond the print of each page.
At the end of the book there is a timeline of important dates; from his birth to the holiday that we celebrate each year.  There are also additional books suggested and it even offers information to a child about how to use the Web to find research.  “To find Web sites, use the name Martin Luther King as your search word.” 
This is certainly a quality nonfiction piece of literature that is a work of art.  As we continue to be a diverse society our children can be left with some profound words by the late, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  “You are as good as anyone.”  “Everyone can be great.”  “Hate cannot drive out hate.  Only love can do that.”  “Love is the key to the problems of the world.”
 I have posted a link to a photo-story of this book that is on teachertube.  It is narrated by Michael Clark Duncan.   Martin's Big Words  This video does a great job of bringing this story to life.
“His big words are alive for us today.”