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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review: Socks

Socks by Beverly Cleary
Illustrated by Tracy Dockray

This is the story of Socks. He is a little grey kitten with white feet. He gets adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Bricker and they love him so much. Socks gets so much attention and he always gets to sit on all of Mrs. Bricker's lap. Socks starts to notice that he is getting less and less of her lap though... because Mrs. Bricker is pregnant! They bring their new baby home and Socks is jealous of all the attention this "new pet" gets. Will Socks be able to handle having a new baby in the house?

I thought this book had some really funny parts since it was from a cat's perspective.
The Brickers would have to work harder before Socks would forgive them. Owners must be disciplined. If they really wanted to be forgiven, they would have to tempt him with a snack from the refrigerator (p. 27). 
That is so funny! Cats are just like that. They have that exact attitude and I love how Socks thinks about that!

I also found it so funny when cousin Mike was at the house and he was making meowing and barking noises. Socks was so afraid! I used to do this to my cats and it was so much fun to see them look around for where the other kitty was. I always wished I knew what I was actually saying to them though. If you have kitties at home, check out the video below and see what they do when they hear strange meowing!

Bobber and me in FL
Socks was first published in 1973. That was almost 40 years ago! Check out some of the different book covers Socks has had over the years. When I was in elementary school, I created my own book cover for this book and I entered it into a contest at our school library. Somehow I won and they put the book cover I made on the book and displayed it in the library! (I'm not sure how that would ever happen because I'm a terrible artist now and I don't think I would have been any better back then....) I based my book cover on my kitty at the time, Bobber (the super cute kitty to the left!!!!). He was a tuxedo kitten, so he looked like he had socks on too. I also put a little sock on top of his head. I wish I had a picture of it now!


I just found out about Socks Clinton, the first cat when Bill Clinton was President. And wasn't he just a cutie! (Socks, not Bill!). He looks similar to my first kitty. :) AND there is a book about him... Socks Goes to Washington: The Diary of America's First Cat by Michael O'Donoghue. Also, Hilary wrote a book called Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids' Letters to the First Pets which looks like it would be cute. I definitely had no idea there were all these books out there though!
Socks Clinton, First Cat - 1993-2001

This is getting a little ridiculous, but here is a book about Obama's dog, Bo, America's Commander in Leash by Naren Aryal. One reviewer said: "I love the picture of Bo riding with his head out the window of the helicopter." (I don't specifically support any of these books, I've never read them, but they do look cute!)


Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: The Fairy Tales

The Fairy Tales by Jan Pienkowski

This book is a collection of four classic fairy tales by The Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault. It contains Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Hansel and Gretel as told by The Brothers Grimm and Cinderella as told by Charles Perrault.

The Brothers Grimm versions were creepier than I remember and they were full of long, run-on sentences. For example, in Snow White, the Queen wanted Snow White dead and her lungs and liver as proof. I thought this story had elements of Goldilocks and the Three Bears in it that I don't remember being there before. When Snow White goes to the dwarfs' house, she tries all the beds, but none of them are good until the last one that "was just right." I don't remember Snow White being portrayed as so helpless and stupid. The dwarfs were constantly reminding her not to open the door because it was always the Queen there to kill her but she falls for her tricks every time. I liked the red-hot iron shoes that the Queen had to dance in until she died at the end, I don't remember that from the stories either.

Charles Perrault's version of Cinderella was very similar to the story that I remember as a child, the one Disney created the movie from. I would have been very interested in reading the Brothers Grimm version though.

Charles Perrault
I liked that the author provided background information on the storytellers, Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, who were Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm and Wilhelm Carl Grimm. They "are two of the most famous names in the world of fairy tale" (p. V). Perrault's first collection of stories went on to be known as Tales from Mother Goose. The Grimm Brothers collected over 200 stories from Germany and were always looking for more to add to their collection. The younger Grimm later made the stories softer for a new generation of children.

The illustrations in this book are mainly black and white. The background is white and the figures are drawn as silhouettes. All of the stories have the same style of illustrations. I think that helps to connect all the stories together. It is especially effective in the first three stories because they are the creepier stories from the Brothers Grimm and the pictures are all dark. Some pages do have color on them however. In most cases, it is just one or two colors. I think this helps make the illustration pop and lets the reader know this section is significant.

This was a great collection of children's stories. I would be cautious about sharing them with young children though because some elements in the story might be scary, but I do think reading this book would be a good way to talk about how different the versions of the stories are. I appreciate the author providing background information on where the storytellers got their stories and how they have adapted over the years to the stories that we now know.

Check out the Brothers Grimm's website to find out more information about them! Apparently there is also a movie that came out in 2005 called The Brothers Grimm about Will and Jake. (And Heath Ledger is in it!) National Geographic has an awesome and interactive website where you can chose from 12 different Grimm stories to hear "the REAL story of ___ (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, etc...)." It's pretty cool and you should definitely check it out.


Here you can find more information about Jan Pienkowski. You can find all of the books he has written and illustrated. His website also has a Fun & Games page that has fun activities for children.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Review: E. B. White Beyond Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little

E. B. White: Beyond Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little by Laura Baskes Litwin

This is the biography of Elwyn Brooks White, American writer and author of many famous children's books including Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan. This book is an interesting read about a writer's struggle to do what he loves. He starts out writing for newspapers but longs for the freedom to write what he wants. He travels cross country just for something to do, hopefully to find inspiration. White lives between New York City and Maine. He marries Katharine Angell, an editor with him at The New Yorker. He finally gets to write his first children's book, Stuart Little, with much opposition from Anne Carroll Moore, the head librarian of children's books at the New York Public Library, at the time, she was one of the most influential people in the country in the field of children's books.

There are many great quotes in this book that I think influenced White's writings. After he did his cross country travel, White wrote:
there is a period near the beginning of every man's life when he has little to cling to except his unmanageable dream, little to support him except good health, and nowhere to go but all over the place (p. 50).
Trumpeter Swans
As White researched spiders for a whole year prior to writing Charlotte's Web, he also tried to research trumpeter swans prior to writing The Trumpet of the Swan. He said of writing about the swans, which I thought was pretty funny,
I am greatly handicapped by being unfamiliar with some of the terrain the story unhappily takes me into. I think it was extremely inconsiderate of my characters to lead me, an old man, into unfamiliar territory (p. 92).
The last quote I will include from this biography, I think sums up White's work.
In a review of Charlotte's Web, writer Eudora Welty remarked that the book was about "friendship on earth, affection and protection, adventure and miracle, life and death, trust and treachery, pleasure and pain, and the passing of time." In fact, almost everything White ever wrote was based on these same universal themes, which goes a long way toward explaining why his writing has endured (p. 96-97).
This quote goes along with a quote from my children's literature textbook where Lois Lowry is writing about how her son's rabbit was killed by the neighbor's dog but he stayed with the rabbit because he remembered that no one was with Charlotte when she died in Charlotte's Web. Lois Lowry says,
There is something profoundly moving about a man, a gifted writer, E. B. White, who was able to put down on a page eight words "No one was with her when she died" ... that went to the heart of a little boy and taught him something about lonliness and loss." (p. 153 in The Joy of Children's Literature
The author shows that a lot of research went into writing this book. It is full of Chapter Notes where readers can look in the back to find the source of that information. I also liked the timeline of E. B. White's life in the back of the book as well. There are Further Reading materials at the back of the book for readers who are interested in getting more information about him.

I was really interested in reading more about E. B. White because I don't remember reading any of his books except The Trumpet of the Swan, which I read one summer for school when I was eight or nine. I don't remember much of the book though except that my stepmom was so excited for me to read it.
Rockport Boat Club Burgee
Another reason I chose E. B. White for my second biography is that my boyfriend is good friends with his great grandson, Nick White. They used to teach sailing together in Rockport Harbor, Maine, where they both grew up. I've met him a few times, so I wanted to know more about this author!

Well now I need to go out and read Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little... I know, I know, How have I not read either of them before?!

Check out NPR's audio How E. B. White Spun 'Charlotte's Web' if you're interested in hearing about the #1 children's book of all time, which has inspired a new book, The Story of Charlotte's Web.

Review: Welcome to Afghanistan

Welcome to Afghanistan by Deborah Fordyce

This informational book gives a great in-depth description of the history, government, people, language, and culture of Afghanistan. The text in the book is written to be easily understood by children. Many words are written in bold and the definitions for those words can be found in the back of the book in the Glossary. After all of the information filled pages, there is a map of the country with all of the provinces drawn out and all of the surrounding countries labeled. There is a smaller map at the bottom of the page that shows where Afghanistan is on the whole world map. I think that is important for children to see. Many people, adults included could not tell you where all of the countries of the world are, so it's good to have a reference. After that is a "Quick Facts" page with fun facts about Afghanistan including the fact that the official languages are Dari and Pashto, the 2002 population estimate is 27,755,775, and the currency is called Afghani. $1 in 2003 equals 42.69 AFA (Afghani). The last page is the Index.

The pictures in this book are also authentic images of the country. This book is set up similar to the Eyewitness Books: Islam in that it provides a topic on each page, writes a paragraph about it and then has pictures. However, this book has far less artifacts and images on each page. Each picture has a few sentences of caption that explains the image and adds some additional facts.

One thing that I am surprised about in this book is that they discuss the Taliban and conflict with the Taliban but they do not mention the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In the conflict section it says:
In 2001, American, British, and Afghan fighters banded together to overthrow the Taliban government (p. 14).
I just find it strange that the book mentions that the United States joined the fight without mentioned one of the main causes of the war. I had a couple of reasons for choosing a book on Afghanistan for my fourth informational book and one of them was to show that not everyone in Afghanistan is Taliban and part of the Sept. 11th attacks. I'm personally very interested in the Middle East as well. I've been enjoying quite a few historical fiction and realistic fiction books that take place in the Middle East over the last few years. I find the culture very fascinating and I love reading books about it. A third reason I chose this book would be to provide more multicultural information for students. If they are interested in this book, maybe they will become interested in historical fiction books about the Middle East as well! I have found some great children's books that I hope to read and review soon. Stay tuned!
Update: Here's one of them, One Green Apple by Eve Bunting.

This book is part of the Welcome to my Country series published by Gareth Stevens Publishing. There are many other titles including: Ukraine, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Morocco,  Bosnia Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Columbia, Jordan, Singapore, Taiwan, Syria, Hungary, Jamaica, and Myanmar, to only name a few. I tried to find a website with information about the publisher and the series, but I didn't find any of the series books on Gareth Stevens' website.. I'm not sure why. Check out even more of the countries represented in the image below.

France, Peru, Sri Lanka, Haiti, New Zealand, USA, South Africa, Iran, Ethiopia, India
There are no listed resources for the writing of this book, but the author does include a section called "More Books to Read", "Videos", and "Web Sites" with lists of resources readers may be interested in for more information. I think it is great that under the "Web Sites" heading, the author mentions that some sites don't stay current for as long as others so they provide a list of keywords to use when searching for information on Afghanistan. Their suggested keywords are: Amu Darya, buzkashi, Dari, Hindu Kush, Kabul, Pashtun, Taliban.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Review: Eyewitness Books Islam

Eyewitness Books: Islam by Philip Wilkinson

This informational book provides an in-depth view at Islam and the traditions, values, faith, culture, and history that have shaped the modern Islamic world. There are many real artifacts in this book. Each page provides a paragraph on information about Islam and then the rest of the two page spread has artifacts with a little caption about how it relates to the main topic of that page.

The book starts with a Table of Contents that overviews the topics on the two page spreads. There are pages about Islam in different countries as well. The author worked with Batul Salazar, the Editorial consultant. There are no listed sources of where the author got the information for this book, but I think the collaboration with an authority on the topic gave the author credibility. The last text page has the Index and Acknowledgments.
The author would like to thank:
Batul Salazar for correcting errors and mistakes of judgment, and for sharing knowledge and sources of information with such generosity and good humor. (p. 64)
All of the images in the book are pictures rather than illustrations. I think that is very important to show authenticity. The end pages in this book are full of pictures of all of the other Eyewitness Books. At the time of the publishing of this book there were only 122 books.

Eyewitness Books is a very influential series of nonfiction books for children and teenagers. They have published over 175 titles on a wide variety of topics from World War II to fish and photography to epidemic.

Booklist reviewed the Eyewitness Book series with the following:
What DK did—with almost revolutionary panache—was essentially to reinvent nonfiction books by breaking up the solid pages of gray type that had previously been their hallmark, reducing the text to bite-size, nonlinear nuggets that were then surrounded by pictures that did more than adorn—they also conveyed information. Usually full color, they were so crisply reproduced they "seemed to leap off the page."
Religion is often a topic that parents do not want their child learning about in school, but I think it's important to provide children with information. As long as the teacher is not prescribing a specific religion to the children, it's okay to provide background information. It's also important to include books about all different religions, not just Islam. Informational books on religion are a great way to introduce multicultural education into the classroom.

PBS has created a movie called Islam: Empire of Faith for more information about the history of Islam.

Review: All About Alligators

All About Alligators by Jim Arnosky

This book is part of the "All About..." series by Jim Arnosky. The focus is on alligators and the habitat they live in. Readers will learn all about what alligators eat, what they look like, how they hunt, and how big they are. There is a lot of great information in this book for young readers.

The alligator pictures in this book were all done by Arnosky. He made them with watercolors which is appropriate for an animal that lives in the water! It makes the illustrations very fluid looking. The end pages in the front and back show an alligator in different positions underwater. This sets the stage for what readers are going to learn about. The title page starts out with the back portion of an alligator and when you turn the page to the dedication page, the middle section of the alligator is drawn. The head and mouth are on the third two page spread. This is a great way to help explain just how big an alligator is! The illustration took up three two-page spreads. The shape of the book is short and wide, to depict an alligator's shape.

Arnosky's illustrations are very detailed and help explain more details about alligators (such as in the picture below.) I can't help but think that real life pictures of alligators could also be helpful in this book.

Arnosky writes at the end of the book that although alligators do not usually eat humans, children and adults need to stay away from alligators and their babies because alligators can move VERY fast when they want to! I looked online how fast an alligator runs and it says they run about 11mph but they can't maintain that speed for a long time and generally don't chase humans on dry land. But regardless, be careful when you're in alligator country. You can read the article by How Stuff Works here.
For All About Alligators, Jim Arnosky traveled to the Everglades in Florida. He videotaped, sketched, and made many notes in his journal about the alligators there. (back flap of book)
I believe that information about the author gives Arnosky enough experience and research on alligators to write about them accurately. You can find many other animals in Arnosky's "All About..." series including, deer, frogs, lizards, manatee, owls, rattlesnakes, sharks, turkeys, and turtles.
Check out Jim Arnosky's website for more information on his many other books about science and nature as well as other fun facts about him. Arnosky received the Key Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Science Books from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Subaru.


Review: Ocelots

Ocelots: Cats of the Wild by Henry Randall

This is a great little informational picturebook about ocelots. It uses simple sentences and words to give information to children. There is a simple Table of Contents in the front. The book is full of vivid pictures of these beautiful creatures. Ocelots live in the rain forest and forests of North and South America. The book contains information about what the ocelot looks like, what it eats, what the babies look like, and other fun facts.

Words that might be new to children are typed in bold and then defined in the back of the book with a picture in the Words to Know section. There is a short index as well as a website where children who are interested can get further information on ocelots.There are no sources for the information that is included in this book, but if you check out the website link above, there are links to websites that the author used when creating this book.
Ocelots are good swimmers. They hunt for fish, iguanas, and snakes in the water. (p. 18)
For my curriculum, instruction, and assessment class, I am preparing a resource unit on habitats. Students will choose an animal to research and then use my pre-selected books for their research. This ocelot book will be available for them.

I chose this book off the shelf because in high school I did a project on ocelots and they are adorable! Who doesn't want one of these cute little babies?!

This is a great book for early readers who are interested in wild cats. The Cats of the Wild series also has books on Bobcats, Cheetahs, Cougars, Lynxes, and Wildcats.

Find out more about these beautiful creatures on National Geographic's website.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: Wangari's Trees of Peace

Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter

This is the story of Wangari Maathai. She was born in 1940 and grew up in the shadow of Mount Kenya in Africa. She received a Kennedy Scholarship to study in America. Maathai received her bachelor's and master's degrees in biological sciences. She returned to Kenya to become the first woman from East Africa to earn a Ph.D. at the University of Narobi. When she arrived, all of the beautiful trees that were once there had been cut down. She was worried Kenya would turn into a desert. Maathai started with nine little seedlings in a row and tried to restore all the trees that had been cut down. She got women in the community and other villages to realize the worth of trees in their communities and they began to plant seedlings too. This was called the Green Belt Movement because all the little trees looked like a green belt stretching over the land. Men laughed at the women trying to bring back the trees, but the women kept planting. When the cutting down of trees wasn't stopped, Maathai protested and stood in front of the tree to protect them. She was beaten and arrested. But the women kept planting. Eventually the canopy had returned back to Kenya. Wangari Maathai won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to world peace through the Green Belt Movement. Maathai died last year on September 25, 2011 (which was not mentioned in the book because it was published prior to that).
Accepting her Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
The earth was naked. 
For me the mission was to try 
to cover it with green.
        -Wangari Maathai
This is a great partial biography for kids to read about Wangari Maathai and see that you can make a difference in the world. Maathai faced many obstacles and much opposition to bringing the green back to Kenya, but she persevered and was successful.

I think this book was very accurate. At the end of the book, the Author's Notes give more detail about Maathai and her Green Belt Movement. There are no sources for where she found the information she used though. When I did a little research on Maathai I found similar information about her that the book had.

The illustrations in this book were beautiful and very colorful. I think it was very important to use bright colors because that depicts part of African culture. The illustrations were created using acrylics on Arches watercolor paper. Every picture was framed but the background color of the page is either orange, pink, green or blue. The end pages are both green to represent the green that Maathai was trying to bring back to her community.
Wangari in Kenya before she left for America.

One illustration I was surprised about was when the government hit her with clubs. She is shown with a bloody head. When she's standing in jail on the following page, the reader can still see the blood on her forehead. I was surprised that this was included in the book because it was violent.

Follow this link to learn more about the Green Belt Movement and Wangari Maathai. You can find books, her speeches, and ways to get involved.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: Changes for Samantha

This is the cover of the book when I had it!
Changes for Samantha: A Winter Story by Valerie Tripp

This is the sixth book in the Samantha Parkington series of the American Girl books. In this book, Samantha, a wealthy orphan, has just moved in with her Aunt Cornelia and Uncle Gard in New York City because her grandmother, whom she had been living with before, had recently gotten married. She received a letter from her best friend Nellie, who used to work for her family, saying that her mother and father had died and she and her sisters were now orphans and moving to New York City to live with their uncle. They end up in an orphanage and when the headmistress of the orphanage selects Nellie to go on the orphan train out west, Samantha convinces her to run away and live in Aunt Cornelia and Uncle Gard's attic. They end up taking the girls in and making them family.

Samantha grew up at the turn of the century. All of her books are written about the time period in which she was living. At the end of this book, there is a chapter called "Looking Back - Changes for America in 1904" which gives facts about life during this time. The book is completely fictitious and it doesn't take place around any specific historical event, but this last chapter helps to show how the book was accurately portraying what life would have been like for Samantha and Nellie.

When I was a little girl, I loved American Girls! Samantha was the first American Girl doll I had. My grandma got her for me for Christmas in 1995 when I was 6 years old. I just found out while researching this book that Samantha and Nellie were discontinued in 2009. :( But Samantha will always be my favorite American Girl!

I think American Girl is an awesome collection of dolls and books. Each doll is set around a different time period or historical event. Each girl has six books directly related to her and some of them have dolls and book collections for their best friend in the book, like Nellie for Samantha. The six books follow the same pattern. For example, Meet Samantha is first, followed by Samantha Learns A Lesson, about school, Samantha's Surprise, relating to Christmas holidays, Happy Birthday Samantha!, Samantha Saves the Day, a summer "action" book, and finally Changes for Samantha, in which the girl faces profound changes in their life. I think this is great so that readers can see what each time period was like, how school was set up, birthday parties, etc. and then compare with the other time period books.

From the American Girl wiki page on the creator's inspiration:
Pleasant Rowland gave two reasons for creating the line. One was to provide a doll the same age as the child who would be playing with it and present it as a friend rather than a baby to take care of or an adult to be like in the future. The other was to teach history to children with a personal focus from characters their age whom they could relate to.
When I read these books, there were only seven dolls that I remember. They were Felicity (who grew up in Williamsburg!!) in 1774, Josefina in 1824, Kirsten in 1854, Addy in 1864 during the Civil War, Samantha in 1904, Kit in 1934 during the Great Depression, and Molly in 1944 during World War II. But now there are so many! I've never even heard of half of them! I also just found out Felicity and Kirsten have also been retired. It's so sad that two of the three original American Girls (Samantha, Molly, and Kirsten) have been retired!!

Below is a picture of all of the girls as of 2011 in time period order. Some of the girls look a little creepy though.. (2, 6, & 8 from the left have been retired and are no longer available for purchase)

The American Girl website also has a section for parents and teachers which has links to learning guides for each girl. I think it's really great that these books have been created for girls to read and learn about different historical times. The stories are fun and readers can connect with the characters and get a feel of what that time period was like. Another great thing is that the book comes from a female child's perspective. I don't think many historical books would have that kind of perspective for children to relate to. I'm a big fan!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Review: Civil War on Sunday

Civil War on Sunday by Mary Pope Osborne

This book is the 21st book in the Magic Tree House Series. In the series, Jack and Annie go on many adventures through time through the magic tree house. There are four or five books in a set and in that set, the kids have different missions for their trips. In this book, Jack and Annie must go on a mission to find a special kind of writing that you can follow. They travel back to the American Civil War. The kids meet wounded soldiers and find Clara Barton's hospital where they volunteer to help out.

The story is clearly fiction, but Jack carries around a book on the Civil War as well as his own notebook. Throughout the story, whenever he has a question about something that is going on, there is a passage from the book included. He also writes notes in his notebook. He writes the important things, so I think that would help emphasize to students what is important to remember about the Civil War.

In the picture above you can see that he read a passage about the Civil War on the top of page 12. And below it is an excerpt from his notebook where he wrote the years of the Civil War as well as the color of uniforms each side wore.

At the end of the book, there is a "Facts for You and Jack" page which provides more details about the Civil War. There is a paragraph about Clara Barton and how she established the Red Cross as well as about the Drummer Boys that were mentioned in the book.

I think this book is a great resource for teachers to use when they are teaching about the Civil War. In the year after I graduated college, I was a substitute IA in Fairfax County Public Schools (only because they already had too many substitute teachers!). So that meant that I got to work in kindergarten classrooms and special education classrooms. I worked with students with autism, asperger's syndrome, physical handicaps, emotional disabilities, learning disabilities, and I also spent some time working with a reading specialist. Usually a substitute is only with a class for one day, but the three days before Thanksgiving Break, I worked with a fourth grade class and I got to take students out of class to read this book as a group. I think it was really effective for them and they loved reading them!

There are a lot of fun activities, games, and information about the series on the Magic Tree House website. On the website, you can find an awesome passport for students. They can take a short quiz about the book they just read and get a stamp for their passport!

The book mentions the song Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground written in 1861 by Walter Kittredge. Check it out below! (This version is a little different than the lyrics that are included in the book, but it's still interesting to hear.)

Review: The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

This is the story of ten-year-old Kenny Watson and his family, known as the "Weird Watsons" as he grows up in Flint, Michigan. He lives with his dad, his momma, his older brother, Byron, and his little sister, Joetta, or "Joey." He's used to being picked on at school because he has a lazy eye, but when two new students from the South come to live in Flint, the bullies have a new target. However, Kenny and Rufus soon become good friends. Byron is a little trouble-maker because he has just turned thirteen and is too cool for school. Mr. & Mrs. Watson decide that Byron is going to spend the summer with Grandma Sands in Birmingham, Alabama, maybe longer if he doesn't get his act together. The family makes the long eighteen hour drive from Michigan to Alabama. They get to Birmingham right before the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing on Sunday, September 15, 1963 where four little girls in Sunday School were killed and many more injured. The final chapters of the book are about Kenny's reaction to the bombing.

I've read this book before in school sometime, I'm not sure what year. But I had a really hard time getting into it this time. The beginning is entertaining and funny. Kenny talks about his life in Flint, but I was frustrated that I thought this book would go into more detail about the Civil Rights Movement. The trip to Birmingham wasn't even discussed until after the 100th page and the church bombing didn't happen until the 14th chapter. It's still a good book though, I would just prefer more historical information about what happened and how people dealt with it.

However, once the church bombings took place, it was really interesting to see Kenny's reaction and how he tried to process what happened. I was really worried at first that Joey would have been one of the little girls who had died because Kenny couldn't find her but then I didn't think they would write the story from one of the little girl's brother's perspective.

I liked that the Epilogue was full of historical information so that the reader could get more details on what was happening during this time period. It also let the reader know that the author was historically accurate in his portrayal.

I thought this quote was so funny when I read it:
Now, your mother and I made a deal when we first got married that if either one of us ever watched the 'wunnerful, wunnerful' Lawrence Welk Show or listened to country music the other one got to get a free divorce. I'm kind of used to your mother and I don't want to have her dump me, so instead of taking the chance I would get hooked on hillbilly music I thought it would be wise to bring our own sounds along with us. (p. 126)
This book has won quite a few awards. One specific award that hasn't been mentioned in my blog yet, is the Coretta Scott King Award. "The Coretta Scott King Book Awards are given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.  The award commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood."

Scholastic.com has a Reading Guide written by Amy Griffin for the book to use with students. It gives information about Christopher Paul Curtis and how the story came to be. There are a lot of guiding questions and information to help students dissect the plot, characters, and themes.

Christopher Paul Curtis is also the author of the Newbery Award winning & Coretta Scott King Award winning book, Bud, Not Buddy. I've never read this book before but it also takes place in Flint, Michigan. And of course, it won so many awards, so it is definitely worth your time to read as well (this just adds another book to my list now!)

Check out this Flocabulary Hip Hop History to Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream Speech during the Civil Rights Movement. It's pretty catchy!! (Click on Listen to a Song on the right side)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Review: Toasting Marshmallows Camping Poems

Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems by Kristine O'Connell George
Illustrated by Kate Kiesler

First and foremost, I want to say I chose this book for my other poetry book because the author has a great name!! Until the last few years, I never ever saw people who spelled their name the same as mine. So that was exciting for me!

This book consists of thirty poems all about camping. The author shapes her words in some of the poems. In the first poem, called Tent (p. 4) the author writes in the shape of a tent and uses many onomatopoeias to express what it is like to set up a tent. I think this is a great way for readers to create their own image of what it is like to set up a tent. Even readers who may have not gone camping before can have an idea of what it's like.
                                   First,
                             smooth dirt.
                      No rocks or roots.
               Next, sharp stakes, poles,
         strong nylon rope. Shake, snap.
    Billow, whoof, settle. Tug. Pull taut.
Our tent is up! Blooming, bright orange.
The poem Mosquito Song (p. 21) is pretty funny. I always get bit by mosquitoes. It's ridiculous. You can read this article, on Eyes on Malaria Online about mosquitoes and some of the possible reasons why some people get bit more than others! It's pretty interesting.
It's meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
              Mosqueeeeeeeeeeeeeeto!
                          Is that you, Dinner?
                                         Greeeeeeeeeetings!
The author uses similes to create imagery in the reader's mind. "I'm a caterpillar in a cozy cloth cocoon that zips." (p. 10). She also varies the types and styles of poetry she writes. Some of the poems are written in a specific shape, like Tent and others have rhyme. Many of them utilize white space to create an effect. In the poem, Storm (p. 19), the author writes the poem so it looks like rain coming down the page.
The illustrations in this book are by Kate Kiesler. She used acrylic paint for her work. The images are very pretty. They are generally greens and blues because the book takes place outside. Since she used paint, it seemed like it was hard to put small details in the pictures. In some of the illustrations, the people don't have faces. Most of the pages are full bleed pictures on one side and the poem on the other page.

I think this is a great poetry book for children. The author and illustrator work together to create a beautiful story that children can see in their minds. They can relate the experiences in the book to the their own camping experiences. Even if they have never gone camping before, the book provides them with such a vivid story, they might feel like they actually went on the trip!

When I think of camping, I think of going with my Girl Scout troops. We did a lot of things that the family in the book did. I was able to easily relate to this book and it was fun to think about my camping experiences. It also made me want to go camping again! Their trip was fun!

Kristine O'Connell George and Kate Kiesler have also authored and illustrated two other poetry books together including The Great Frog Race and Other Poems, which won The Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award (an award to an American poet or anthologist for the most outstanding new book of children's poetry), and Old Elm Speaks: Tree Poems.

One of Kristine's newest books, Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems has a book trailer you can check out!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review: Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night

Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Rick Allen

There are twelve poems in this book. Each poem is focused on a different animal that comes out at night. They are sequenced so that they read like a story. It starts out with a welcome to the night and ends with the bat, specifically, finding a place to hide for the day time. The poem is on the left page and on the far right, there is more information about the animal that the poem is talking about. It provides details and facts about each animal and what it does at night. It is a great source of information for the reader.
To all of you who crawl and creep,
who buzz and chirp and hoot and peep,
who wake at dusk and throw off sleep:
Welcome to the night. (p. 6)
I thought this part of the first poem, Welcome to the Night was funny because it reminded me of the summer before my senior year of high school. I used to wake up super late (like 4pm!), go to work, then stay up all night, and go to sleep really late and repeat. I don’t even know what I was doing all that time… probably playing The Sims. :)

I liked the way the author used white space when writing the poem, Dark Emperor (p. 12). I think the wording was meant to be in the shape of the great horned owl, which it is talking about.

The author uses a lot of language that appeals to the sense and creates imagery for the reader. “Rough bark and leathered leaves” (p. 6), “tiny sandpaper tongue” (p. 8), and “they [mushrooms] spread their damp umbrella tops” (p. 22) all are creative uses of words to describe something with about these animals (or mushrooms!) and they let the reader relate them to something they already know about.

I liked how the author mixed up the type of poems used in the book. Some poems were two rhyming lines and some were three rhyming lines with the same line written in each stanza. Some poems were in shapes and some didn’t seem to have any pattern. I think the variety is good for children to see because one way to evaluate poetry is on the form used. Children would see that there is not only one way to write poetry and they could find a poem in this book to use as an example for their own writing.

I thought it was cool that the eft, an animal like newts and salamanders, was drawn on every page. Each picture of the eft corresponds with the animal that the poem is talking about, which I thought was a creative way to tie the pages together. It also helps illustrate the Ballad of the Wandering Eft (p. 24).

The illustrations in this book are beautiful. They were done by Rick Allen with a method called relief printing. The book talks about the details of relief printing, “A drawing or sketch is transferred onto a block of wood or, in this instance, a sheet of linoleum mounted on wood, and the drawing is then cut and carved away using a variety of tools. The areas left uncut are covered with ink and printed on paper by hand or on a press; a number of blocks can be cut and then successively printed in different colors, with the different blocks being “registered” or aligned to create a multicolored print. The prints for Dark Emperor were printed from at least three blocks (and in some instances as many as six) and then hand-colored with a strongly pigmented watercolor called gouache. There are definitely faster methods of making a picture, but few more enjoyable in a backwards sort of way.”

So this method is very time consuming, but creates beautiful images that are extremely detailed and colorful. Most of the illustrations are dark, but this is a poem about night, so that makes sense. All of the images, except the first and last pages’ full bleed two page spreads, are framed, but they all have some part of the picture coming outside of the frame. I think that invites the reader into the picture or to show how big the night time really is, that it can’t all fit in this one framed picture.

The endpapers were different colors. The front endpapers were dark and purple to show that we were coming into the story and night. The last endpapers were light and salmon colored to show the sun was rising and the day was about to start.

At the end of the book there is a glossary of terms that were used in the book. Words like antennae, echolocation, nocturnal, spinnerets, and stridulation that are used in the poems. This would help the reader understand the meaning of each poem because not everyone knows the definitions of these words.

I’m not a big fan of poetry and from reading my children’s literature textbook, I found out that only 14% of adults in the United States read or listen to poetry. I think this may be because as children we had to evaluate poetry so much that we don’t enjoy it anymore. I did find this book to be an interesting story and I think it would be a good way for a teacher to talk about nocturnal animals.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: The Magic School Bus Hops Home

The Magic School Bus Hops Home: A Book About Animal Habitats by Joanna Cole
Illustrated by Bruce Degen

Ms. Frizzle is teaching her class about animal habitats. Wanda brings her pet bullfrog, Bella, to class and he escapes out the window! The students all take a field trip (and shrink down really small!) to different kinds of habitats to try and find Bella.

In my curriculum, instruction, and assessment class, I am creating a resource unit for 2nd graders on animal habitats. I am going to use this book in my unit as a way to introduce water habitats. If this were a real lesson, the students would create their own earthworm habitat with a mason jar, some dirt, and a worm after the story.

I used to watch The Magic School Bus on TV when I was little and you would really be surprised how many times this book/episode has been referenced in the last few years! And I'll never forget the theme song either! I always thought the episodes were so fun and entertaining, but I was also learning. The show had 4 seasons and 52 episodes and I'm pretty sure I saw most of them. Check out the episode below if you want a reminder of how fun it is. :)


While these books are educational and are fun ways to introduce topics to children, teachers must also remember that they have to supplement this with much more information for their students. Since it is completely unrealistic that the school bus and the students shrink, it's also important to make note to your students that this book has some elements of fantasy mixed in with the science. That's why I like on the second to last page of the book, there are "Letters from Our Readers (Editor's note: They will help you tell what is real and what is make-believe in this story.)" These are just funny little letters that also introduce more facts.
Dear Editor:
       Didn't you know that blue herons do not eat people? However, they do eat frogs, fish, salamanders, snakes, lizards, and shrimp.
                 Your Friend,
            You Can't Fool Me!
To Whom it May Concern:
       My school bus never shrinks to frog size, sprouts legs, and then hops through the woods!
                 From,
            No Excitement in My Life
P.S. Now that I think of it, people can't shrink, either. For safety reasons, please tell your readers not to try sitting on a lily pad unless they are wearing approved flotation devices!

The illustrations in this book were done by Bruce Degen. The pages are full of color, edge to edge. Each illustration has so much detail as well. I think this is important when it is a book that is introducing science topics. The illustrations help depict what is going on in the text. The inclusion of speech bubbles helps as well. Characters talk to each other in the pictures or express emotions.

I thought it was great that the class is so diverse. There are students of all races represented in Ms. Frizzle's class. A multicultural classroom is very important for students to see. While I was looking at pictures of the book, I came across the French version of the book. I did some research and found out that as of the 25th Anniversary of the books, last year, there were 58 million Magic School Bus books in print and they have been translated into 10 different languages! While on the topic of numbers, the author of this article from USA Today mentions that "Zero Students lost by Ms. Frizzle on a field trip, giving new meaning to 'No Child Left Behind.'" -- Ba dum CH!


There is also an interactive website full of parent and teacher resources and games for students to play and learn about. The Traveling Magic School Bus is a cool resource that teachers can get to come to their school (for a fee, of course!).