Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Voyage of the Frog by Gary Paulsen

Gary Paulsen, the three-time Newbery Honor book author, takes his readers on the adventure of their life! 

David Alspeth, a fourteen-year old kid, just suffered a tramatic loss.  Owen, his uncle, died from cancer.  Right before dieing Owen asked to see David alone.  His parents had already had their alone time with Owen, and now it was David's turn.  Thinking he only had two weeks of life left, Owen made a last request to David.  It was to spread his ashes in the ocean someplace where you could no longer see land.  So, David decides that he will do everything in his power to see that Owen's wish gets fulfilled. On May 15th, Owen died. 

By himself, David takes Owen's sailboat, the Frog, out into the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of California.

After a time at sea, the swells began to look strange.  David had never seem anything like it.  What was happening?  He discovered the answer quick enough, wind!  "A wild wind- a wind stronger thatn anything he'd ever seen or heard of, a wind without warning out of the northeast."  David tried everything in his power to get the sail down, get the hatch open, but the wind kept picking up and thrashing him about.  The full force of the wind hit the Frog like a giant sledgehammer.  The rail slammed across the boat like a sweeping saber and caught David full on in the center of the top of his head. 

When David realized he wasn't dead, although he felt like it, he saw that the boat was in shambles.  David and the Frog must have traveled hundreds of miles off the coast, and now he was stranded.  Food everywhere, fear the Frog was going to sink, David was scared.  At one time he even tried to was down a tanker, but noone saw him.  He felt defeated.  Days passed.

David did not give up.  He made a makeshift sail and finally wind began to pick up. 

David was finally found about halfway down the coast of Baja.  Maybe two hundread and fifty miles south of San Diego.  Captain Henry Pierce asked David to come aboard his vessel.  But, David wandered about the Frog.  Could they tow it?  The captain told him it would never work, but David did not want to leave the thing that he became apart of....the Frog.  David decided he would instead sail 'er home himself.

Gary Paulsen had me on the edge of my seat.  Easy read because you couldn't put it down!

Publishers Weekly: "Three-time Newbery Honor author Paulsen provides another action-filled survival story, as a storm strands 14-year-old David when he attempts to fulfill his late uncle's last wish by piloting his sailboat. Ages 10-14."
School Library Journal: "Paulsen's spare prose offers an affecting blend of the boy's inner thoughts and keen observations of the power of nature to destroy and to heal."
I agree!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Clarice Bean: Guess Who's Babysitting by Lauren Child

Clairce Bean Guess Who's Babysitting was written for children in grades 1 - 4 (Candlewick Press, 2001).  I read this book to students in the 6th grade.  I thought the subject of the book, the creative way in which the author arranged the words over the pages (in circles, in ladder format , in a variety of fonts), the dialogue between the characters, and the illustrations that combined sketchy drawings with collages of pictures were all effective and appropriate for 6th grade students (ages 9 - 11).     
This book definitely appeals to children.  The fun pictures, the silly little conversations set in the background between Clarice and her little brother as her older sister Marcie chats on the phone to her friends (her conversations depict that of a true teenager) is something that children relate to and find amusing.  This story definitely falls under the category of “Guidelines for Selecting Children’s Literature” (Johnson, 2009, p. 7) “The target audience should be able to identify with the protagonist, who may share similar characteristics such as age.” (Johnson, 2009, p. 7) “Books for younger children include engaging pictures, fast-paced action that is presented in a straight forward manner, a single setting, and a satisfying ending.” (Johnson, 2009, p. 7)  This book incorporates all of these characteristics.  The more I read this book the more I enjoyed it.  Each time I read it I found something new (a picture, an amusing quote from Clarice Bean, or a subtle picture the author/illustrator placed on the page to enhance the meaning of the story.  This book was written for children, but adults can enjoy it as well.
The story takes place in Clarice Bean’s house, at the emergency room (her brother was knocked out by a soccer ball), and in the back yard of her home (as they looked for Albert, the guinea pig).  The story opens with Clarice Bean’s mom talking on the telephone.  She is in her pajama’s and slippers.  The next page is a full-bleed page filled with Clarice’s family sitting at the dining table during breakfast.   A coffee cup is on the table, toast and orange juice were placed on the table for someone to eat, and Clarice’s dad is dressed for work.  The setting moves to the emergency room and the author adds a picture of Clarice’s brother, Minal, stretched out on a gurney as a nurse takes notes on his status.  And then, the story moves to Clarice’s backyard as the Clarice, Minal, and Uncle Ted search for Albert.  The author/illustrator provides a great visual of Minal getting his head caught in the fence and of the entire fire department in the backyard as her mother tries to relax.
The characters are well developed.  Clarice’s brother, Minal, was described by the author on the inside cover as being “pesky.” (Child, 2000)  The author immediately brings this to light by showing him standing on a chair at the breakfast table trying to join the conversation.  Clarice is often bothered by her brother as the author shows how she lassoed her brother (and how Clarice’s imagines that she really lassoed him to a cactus).  Another depiction of Minal’s character illustrates him getting knocked out by a soccer ball and getting his head caught in the fence. 
Clarice’s older sister is a typical teenage girl who is constantly on the telephone chatting with her friends.  The author/illustrator defines this character on the first couple of pages as Clarice’s mother lays down Rule Number 5 to Uncle Ted, “Don’t let Marcie take the phone into her bedroom.” (Child, 2000, p. 10)  The picture that the author provides to the reader is Marcie lying on her bed talking on the phone, with the words “Chat, Chat, Chat, Chat,….” (Child, 2000, p. 13) written many times, and again when Uncle Ted looks for the telephone so that he can call the fire station, but he can’t find the phone.  A great illustration shows Marcie sitting on her bed continuing her conversation on the telephone.  In addition, the author builds the character of the older sister, who most definitely is bothered by her younger sister and brother, Clarice, as she exclaims, “I would rather look after newts from Neptune than be left with Clarice Bean and Minal Cricket.”  (Child, 2000, p. 6) And this was written in bold letters. 
The author/illustrator creates Kurt, Clarice’s brother, a teenage boy who prefers to be by himself instead around others.  For instance, as Clarice’s mom attempts to find a babysitter Kurt remarks, “Don’t look at me, I’m going to my room and probably won’t be down for supper.” (Child, 2000, p. 6)  Once again, as Clarice’s mom goes over the rules for Uncle Ted, she says, “Make sure Kurt sees daylight a least once every 24 hours (Rule Number 4).” (Child, p. 6) Kurt says the sunlight is too bright.
Grandfather is depicted in illustration as an older gentleman who may not be thinking clearly in his old age.  As he is sitting at the breakfast table with his family he comments outloud in response to the information about Clarice’s Uncle Ernie’s unfortunate accident with a donut, “I haven’t had a doughnut since I was a boy.” (Child, 2000, p. 6)  The illustration shows him with a bird sitting on his head (maybe this means “bird brain”).  His eyes glasses are crooked, he appears to be a little scruffy, and it also seems as if no one in his family is paying much attention to him.  In fact, mom’s Rule Number 6 is “Keep an eye on granddad.  He tends to wander off.” (Child, 2000, p. 11) Futhermore, granddad comes up missing and ends up being found in a neighbor’s house (Mrs. Stampney’s house – Rule Number 3 – Don’t drive Mrs. Stampney at Number 9 wacko), comfortably watching television.  Granddad’s only comment was, “All houses look the same when you get to my age.” (Child, p. 11)
Clarice’s mom’s character was developed just as the reader opened the first page.  She was the one on the phone with the nurse finding out what had happened to her brother, Ernie.  She was the one to find a babysitter.  She was the one who sits Uncle Ted down to go over all of the house rules.  And as the story develops, you see how in-tune she is with her family’s needs and shortcomings.  Some of the looks that she gives to Uncle Ted (because she knows he’s a carefree spirit that can’t truly be trusted 100% with her children) are priceless.  And finally, the last page illustrating her sitting in her backyard while chaos is all around her, she just looks at her brother, Uncle Ted, as if to say….”This is par for the course.”
Clarice’s character is also developed over the course of the story.  She is just a young girl who adores her Uncle Ted, and although the reason behind him babysitting was a serious matter, she only cares that her strong, fun-loving, and adventurous Uncle is coming to have take care of her.  She is illustrated as a free spirit, too…much like Uncle Ted.  She likes the westerns on television and she has a great imagination (as she lassoes her brother and pictures him lassoed to a cactus).  She is aware of her family’s craziness as she appreciates how well things went for the first two days under the care of her Uncle Ted.  She has spunk and can take care of herself, as she addresses the neighbor friend, Robert Granger, when Robert found Clarice’s guinea pig and tries to pull it off as his own, “That’s not your guinea pig.  You better give him back.  That’s school property and you will be in big trouble with the police.” (Child, 2000, p. 21) Robert lets it go.  Clarice is also shown on the last page looking up at a firefighter with a smile on her face.  With all that had happened, she had a wonderful time.
Race and gender was avoided in this story, but stereotypes were not avoided.  The family stereotypical attributes were related throughout the story.  The older teenage sister on the telephone all the time, a pesky younger brother, and a grumpy neighbor (most people can relate to).  I believe the author purposively created such characters for children to immediately relate to instead of coming up with out-of-the-ordinary characters and circumstances.
The quality of the language is evident in the author’s choice of words and meaning throughout the book.  The use of personification is used frequently providing the reader with a number of ways to learn about language development.  For instance, Clarice’s father says (when he is talking on the phone), “I’ll be with you in two shakes.” (Childs, 2000, p. 7)  example is when the nurse asks if Clarice’s mom could “get out to New York City on the double.” (Childs, 2000, p. 5)  Or when Uncle Ted is listening to Clarice’s mom, the author states, “Uncle Ted looked sheepish.” (Childs, 2000, p. 9) Another example is when Clarice says, “I am beside myself.” (Childs, 2000)  What better way to teach children the beauty of writing and reading than through this visual style of writing.
The theme is developed beginning on the first page with an accident (Uncle Ernie slipped on a donut) and Clarice’s mom receives a phone call from the nurse stating that she needed to fly to New York City in order to help.  The mother is faced with who will take care of the family in her absence.  This problem is similar to problems that many families (and children) have faced from time to time.   From rules being broken (of the six that Clarice’s mom had left for the babysitter, Uncle Ted, to follow), to the ends in and outs of getting along with your siblings, to the everyday happenings of a family, children can relate and be entertained all at the same time.  Since “Blame” is such a large word in a child’s vocabulary it makes sense that this word be one of the themes of the book.  In fact, every time the word is used it is in bold type font.  When mom couldn’t initially find a babysitter, dad says, “Who can BLAME them?” (Childs, 2000, p. 7) and when Uncle Ted says to Clarice’s mom, “Don’t Blame me,” as the entire fire department shows up in her backyard are two examples of this common word we all hate to have placed on us when trouble arises. (Child, 2000, p. 27)
The illustrations captured the movement of the story.  The full page illustrations, the colors used (pastel yellows, blues, greens, and orange), the saturation of these colors were bright reflecting the mood of happy, light, and fun.  Not only are there words placed on the page vertically, but they are also horizontal, in circles (around donuts), zigzags (as if in a thought process (when mom is receiving the information about her hurt brother and probably trying to think about what to do about her family), and words written in pretty cursive (used when mom is speaking) probably to depict the persons beauty.  It seems that every picture and every word has been thoughtfully placed on each page to develop and enhance the story.
As stated above, the illustrations help to create the meaning of the text in so many ways.  Clarice’s Uncle Ted is the apple in her eye.  He is bigger than life and very cool, and the author/illustrator portrays this “superman” by illustrating him on a page as a very tall strong man.  He has two children (Clarice and Minal) draped over him like they weigh next to nothing.  The author also shows Uncle Ted beside these large skyscrapers (which are on fire and slanting to the right), but again the mere size that the illustrator portrays Uncle Ted shows that it is no job for him to easily put these fires out.  The illustrations also represent Clarice’s mother as a serious individual juggling many balls (her children, her brothers, her household, her aging father, and the everyday happenings of each day).  She has a serious look on her face, her arms are crossed, and she stands very straight as if to possess strength.  The author/illustrator, Lauren Child, arranges random pictures, photography, and cartoon-like characters throughout the entire story.  Lauren Child uses this illustration style in many of her stories, “I get inspiration for my artwork from all kinds of things – fabrics, architecture, photography.  I began to work in collage partly because I found it difficult to plan my illustrations.” () This is true for this picture book, too. Clarice is here and she’s there and she’s running and she’s watching television and she’s lassoing her little brother and she is searching for her guinea pig, and she is questioning authority.  The illustrations help create this energy.  There is the suggestion of movement on every single page. The pages are either full-bleed or the pages go from one scene to the next (always intersecting with words or the next thought).  For instance, the breakfast table stretches across the two pages showing how large the family is and how many things are going on at one time.  This full-bleed affect takes one’s eyes across the entirety of the two pages. Another example is of another full-bleed picture of Clarice sitting on a couch beside her Uncle Ted watching television (westerns) eating eggs and beans.  The backdrop is of the desert, maybe a canyon, and your eye takes you to the right where Minal is lassoed to a cactus.  Such a great effect because you can actually see into Clarice’s imagination.  Out of the fifteen pages that make up this story eight of them are full-bleed. 
The pictures are an integral part of the story because half of the story is told through the characters eyes.  Clarice’s mom always has a serious squint and her mouth is perched.  You can tell, without words, that she is in charge and constantly thinking about each situation.  Clarice’s mood and thoughts are evident in her face.  She becomes wide-eyed when she looks up to her Uncle in pure awe (he is her idol).  Clarice’s dad is dressed in a business suit with his hand in the air (as he talks on the phone) as if to say, “Shhhhhh. I’m having a business call.”  (Child, 2000, p. 7) Without the illustration, you wouldn’t be able to tell that he is “all business” and no play.  The pictures bring life to the story and the action associated with the story.  The illustrations help you become Clarice for the moment.  You understand when she talks about how her family was for the first two days her parents were gone, “One of those families on television who always say things like please and thank you and sorry….” (Child, 2000, p. 12)  The full-bleed page is of a television with her family playing the part of the characters.  Everything about the illustrations is bigger than life.  Sometimes you only see arms (you know they are her Uncle Ted’s), and sometimes you only see a foot after it kicked the soccer ball and it hit Minal in the head (again, it’s her Uncle Ted’s).  Uncle Ted is the “beloved” babysitter, but he is not the main character so he is usually shown only part way.  I believe the author used this to show his on-going presence but the attention is still on the kids.
The illustrations extend the text by adding more meaning to the actual words.  For instance, Clarice is at the emergency room looking up at the nurse.  She mentions that her brother should have stitches.  She mentions that “unfortunately the nurse doesn’t agree.” The nurse is looking down at Clarice, crossly.  The illustration adds to the text that the nurse not only doesn’t agree, but that she is also becoming bothered by Clarice’s attempts to assist.  Other examples of this include Clarice’s teenage sister’s obsession with the telephone.  Without the author showing Clarice’s sister in many scenes chatting nonstop the reader would forget about her character all together.  And another example is when Clarice’s mom provides Uncle Ted with six rules he needed to see didn’t get broken.  Illustrations of each rule was provide (#1 No breakages – a picture of a broken lamp is given; #2 No lassoing – a picture of a lassoe;), and these pictures provide clues to the action of the story by foreshadowing the upcoming events.  It gives the reader something to anticipate as the action begins.  The reader begins to wonder, “Is something going to be broken?, Will Clarice lassoe her brother again? Who is going to bother Mrs. Stampney?”
Medium and Style of Illustrations
The author has chosen to use both Painterly Media and Graphic Media in this picture book.  The use of montage was used on all of the pages by cutting out pieces of paper that have been water-colored to create a translucent image and outlined with ink to create the actual shape before cutting. The author also included photography throughout the book to provide another variable to the illustrations. The author seems to use this style in many of her books, “I began to work in collage partly because I found it difficult to plan my illustrations.  Cutting things out means I can move things around and change my mind.  It also means I could incorporate different textures, photographs and fabric.” (web ) “Lauren Child’s humorous illustrations contain many different mediums including magazine cuttings, collage, material and photography as well as traditional watercolors.” (O’Reilly, 2007)
Lauren Child has used straight lines that are dark and rough.  She also uses vertical lines and curves.  The lines that separate scenes are vertical.  In most of those scenes the chaos has stopped and the calm has begun.  For example, mom returns home and the scenes on the page showed mom returning and what did to fix a few matters at home (getting Minal’s head out of the fence and sitting in the backyard with a cup of tea).  In this book she uses bright colors (blues, greens, oranges, and yellows) to capture the high spirit and fun this book brings to the reader.  The whole book is full of fun, light-hearted shapes.  From the size and shape of the television that extends through two pages (showing the family resembling a sweet television family), to the shapes that encapsulate the rules that the mother provided to Uncle Ted (even these strict rules made you laugh because they are so typical of a mother’s request). 
The style of the illustrations is fun and energy-provoking, and they have a strong comic element.  The textures of the illustrations are that of a layering effect.  I keep trying to feel the seams because they look like they are really protruding off the page.  The style is perfect for the story because it captures the intended audience (children).
Lauren Child uses this style of illustration in many of her stories.  Clarice Bean, Charlie and Lola, Hubert Horatio, Who Wants to Be a Poodle, I Don’t, and many more are illustrated in her zany comic fun-loving, texturous depictions of characters that come alive on the pages.  “The endearing quality of the illustrations is enhanced by Child’s perceptive detail, particularly with regard to facial expressions. The result – a juxtaposition of traditional children’s illustrations and contemporary artistic styles.” (O’Reilly, 2007).
To create the rhythm and movement of the illustrations, Lauren Child uses a lot of scratchy pen and translucent watercolors.  The material used for the cutouts isn’t done to perfection giving the reader a sense of flow.  Because the author/illustrator uses so many forms of art in her illustrations the reader is constantly looking at the pages searching for more meaning (Why are the socks on the ground? Why is there a photograph of a real guinea pig? Why is there a cartoon picture of grandpa watching a real photograph of a horse race?).  This coupled with the text enables the reader to read this book many times over and get something new out of it each time.
Lauren Child has created balance in composition by staying true to the color scheme, ensuring that backgrounds (using the full-bleed effect) are throughout the book and not just on one page, and the character’s size always stays true to one another from page to page (no one is bigger than life).  The book stays constant from the time you open to the first page to the time you finish the story.
Overall Evaluation
The author has created many books that are similar in style and mediums (as mentioned above).  All of Lauren Child’s books have that fun loving, mix media flare (varying collages, watercolor, pen/ink, and material).  Even her Charlie and Lola book series, that is a children’s television show, is televised in this style.
 Reviewers love this book. 
“Lauren Child’s wacky, wonderful book is full of boisterous color and scattered text.” (Amazon.Com) 
“Bright and braxy, this youngster will win over readers in a split second and will leave them hopin for more of her trials and tribulations.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Readers won’t forget Lauren Child’s unusual and tremendously appealing cut-paper and photographic collages.  Her text wends its way around the illustrations, spiraling if need be, and growing or shrinking as appropriate.” (Amazon.com)
“The crazy antics throughout the book will keep the children entertained.  This is simply a hilarious book.” (Plach, para.4)
“The illustrations are a unique combination of cartoons and real photographs, adding more quirkiness to complement Clarice Bean’s character.” (Belanger, 2010, para.1)

I definitely agree with the reviews.  I had fun reading this book to myself and then again to students.  I knew it was a hit when they asked if I’d pass it around so they could see the pages.

The Tiger and the Rabbit told by Pura Belpre

The Tiger and the Rabbit, by Pura Belpre, is a collection of 18 folktales from the Island of Puerto Rico.  The Tiger and the Rabbit was first published in 1946, and now being published again with illustrations.  In Puerto Rico, it is told that no one ever went to bed without being told bedtime stories.

"The stories in The Tiger and the Rabbit were first told by a library storyteller, Pura Belpre, and many children were introduced to Spanish-American culture through Senor Rabbit, Senor Tiger, as well as Juan Bobo.  They laughed as they recognized the similarities between the African story, "How Mr. Elephant Got a New Hind End" and the Puerto Rican story, "The  Dance of the Animals."

A few of my favorite fables in this book were The Bed and The Gluttonous Wife.  The Bed was about a woman who brought her little boy up under a bed.  But the bed squeeked.  Each time the bed squeeked the little boy cried, "Booh, Booh."  The old woman would say, "Don't cry little boy. It is only the sound fo this old-fashioned bed." When each time the bed squeeked the dog bark, the cat Miaowed, the pig screamed, and the mouse squeaked.  And each time the old woman would say, "Don't cry, it's just an old fashioned bed."  Until the old man came home and laid across the bed.  It squeeked and then broke to the floor.  The woman just sat on the floor and laughed until she shook.

The Gluttonous Wife was about a woman who was hungry all the time.  The husband would go off to work, and she would stay at home and eat.  By the time her husband got home she was again hungry and after she made salad for her husband for dinner she was still hungry.  Finally, the husband said he was going to go to work.  Instead, he snuck under the house and watched his very fat wife eat all day long.  When it was time for him to go home he walked in the door.  The wife said she was very hungry and the husband made her feel guilty about all of the food she had eaten throughout the day.  She swore to never eat without him again.  The two got fat together.

Kay Peterson Parker, the illustrator, used pen and ink to create the few illustrations this book offered.


I read this book back in high school, but reading it again in my later years (under much less stress) was a little more insightful.  Following the fall of Troy, Odysseu, is on his way home.

Odysseus is the only Greek survivor of the Trojan War.  He was captured and held by the bewitching nymph.  The Poseidon, god of the sea has blinded his son Polyphemus the Cyclops.  Athena convinces her father, Zeus, to let Odysseus go. 

Reputation is a on-going theme in this book.  Odysseus is always look to as holding good morals and character by the gods.

Athena continues to stop war throughout the epic.  She succeeds for the most part.

The Odyssey is a major part of ancient history.  "The "Odyssey" is a magnificient piece of literature that we find absolutely spectacular in the fact of its potential for helping us understand pre-history of many ancient cultures, and because of the fact that it is so well written and perhaps one of the first "books" (epics) ever written down." http://library.thinkquest.org/19300/data/homer.htm

Homer is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and he is known as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. His stories have had a significance influence on American Literature.  These stories date back to the 8th century BC.  The Iliad is the oldest work of Western literature.

Life's Little Fable by Patricia Cornwell

Patricia Cornwell, a well-know author of many adult literature detective books, writes Life's Little Fable for children.  Just with a glance I never would have guessed that the entire book rhymed.  I loved that feature.  It didn't look like poetry, but the words flowed as if it were.

Jarrod enjoys running, climbling trees, swinging from branches and being daring.  But he has been told not to go to the pond because his father was entranced by the pond and was taken from his family.  As most children can resist the temptation of going near something that they are told not to, Jarrod defied his mother's request and leans over the pond.  He hears a mystical voice drawing him closer and closer.  The birds are all singing about the beauty of the pond and what wonders it will share.  All of a sudden an alligator jumps out after Jarrod.  Jarrod is lucky enough to have a stick in his had that he prys the beast's mouth open in an effort to get away.  The beast retreats and Jarrod is no longer fooled.

This fable is one that we've heard.  Beautiful lands reminds the reader of a Garden of Eden and all of the temptations it has to offer.  But, we all know the drawbacks to all temptations

 In Patricia Cornwell's Own Words:"I wanted to write something for children, so we (my company) produced this book ourselves, at my expense. I used to write stories for children when I was a babysitter. Fable is also my gift to literacy. So far, every penny it has earned has gone to the Virginia Literacy Foundation and Reading Is Fundamental. The book is meant to be read to children. Hopefully, it will lead to meaningful conversations about good and evil and the truths and values the Scarpetta books are meant to instill in us. I learned about values and to care about reading because my mother read to me and told me stories when I was a child. In fact, Fable is dedicated to her." http://www.digitalmedia1.com/pc/lifes_little_fable.html

The illustrator, Barbara Leonard Gibson, used pen and ink to create her colorful depictions of Jarrod and his adventurous life.  She has illustrated more than three dozen books.  She specializes in horse, wildlife and nature illustrations.

Miss Maggie by Cynthia Rylant

Cynthia Rylant does it again with her book Miss Maggie.  Miss Maggie is an old lady living in an old log house close to the property of Nat, on the edge of  Crawford Pasture.  Nat's grandmother would send Nat over to deliver a jug of buttermilk or a kettle of beans to Miss Maggie.  Nat would try to get a glimpse inside Miss Maggie's house by peeking in the window.  He wanted to see the old black snake that people spoke about which hung from the rafters of Miss Maggie's house.  The snake was said to eat the mice that came inside.  Nat would usually kick the bottom of the old screen door to get Miss Maggie's attention.  Miss Maggie would always come to the door to accept her delivery. 

One day Nat looked over the snow covered field that lay between his home and Miss Maggie's and realized that her chimney wasn't smoking.  Although his feet didn't want to go, his heart told him to see if she was okay.  He kicked the door as he usually did but didn't get a response.  He let himself in her house only to see that she was sitting on the cold floor.  Nat walked up to her and called her name.  She did not responed.  He did it again, this time bending down and Miss Maggie turned to him and handed him a cloth.  She responded, "Henry."  Nat corrected her and said, "It's Nat, not Henry."  Then he realized that whatever was in the cloth must be named Henry.  He thought of the snake.  But, when he unwrapped it he discovered a dead bird.  Poor Miss Maggie, thought Nat.  Nat ended up taking Miss Maggie back to his home so that his parents could tend to her.

From that day one Nat and Miss Maggie became close.  She always saved her coffee cans for him to collect bugs and such, and he even decorated one for her (so that she had a proper place to spit her tobacco).

The illustrator, Thomas DiGrazia, captures the sadness of the story by using black and white and giving the idea of a dream (because the illustrations a kinda fussy).  However, this provided just enough imagination to change your mind about the relationship between the two.  The illustrations appeared to be charcoal and blotted out.

What a perfect book for children to learn empathy.  This is one of the character traits that is so difficult to teach children, and books with these lessons make it much more enjoyable to learn rather than listening to adults give a lecture.

But Excuse Me That is My Book by Lauren Child

Lauren Child, the author, illustrator, and creator of Charlie and Lola, has found a way to children's heart by opening up to the way children think and play.  Her creative illustrations contain many different media including magazine cutting, collage, material and photography, and watercolors.  Along with the storyline, no one can resist the eye candy that her books contain.

Charlie and Lola, But excuse me that is my book, is about their trip to the library.  All Lola can do is think about getting her favorite book Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflys "it is the best book in the whole world," says Lola.  Charlie tries to explain to her that there are a ton of other books in the library to choose from and that she doesn't have to choose the same book everytime they go.  But, Lola is determined to get the book about Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflys and she is almost as determined to convince Charlie that it is infact the best book in the world.  Unfortunately, she looks up and and see's another girl about to check out her book.  What is she to do?  Finally, Charlie shows her a book about cheetas and chimpanzees.  She loves it!  She exclaims that "the chimpanzees are very cheeky."

I love the english accent that is even portrayed in the book.....cheeky. 

Lawn Boy Returns by Gary Paulsen

Lawn Boy Return's picks up with the narrator's prize fighter, Joey Pow, wins a big fight and a television interview makes him famous.  But now, more people want to get in with the action.  More people get hired for his lawn care business and all of the other arms of his businesses, his parents take a vacation, and now he has tax problems.  He becomes surrounded by lawyers and accountants and the mob is still chasing him down to get what they think they rightfully deserve.  Although Lawn Boy is still 12 years old he continues to blow us away with his childlike, boy-like behaviors that are still believable even though the content is that of which is not usually felt by this age group.  It is believable.

The book is hard to put down because of it's quick details and fast-paced action, making it an easy read for students in grades 6-9. 

Gary Paulsen's second book to the Lawn Boy series was a success.  He continued to entertain the reader without becoming repetitive.  This book continues to get great reviews.http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7556643-lawn-boy-returns

Due to Gary Paulsen's broad broad knowledge of subjects (which I thought was only of the wilderness) he captures the readers interests and won't let go.

Tulip See's America by Cynthia Rylant

Cynthia Rylant's, Tulip See's America, is a children's book focusing on colorful scenic images, using repetitive oral dialuge as the narrator drives in his little green Beetle with his dog Tulip throughout the mid-west states.

"There are no farms like Iowa's
There are no sky's like Nebraska's
There is no wind like Wyoming
There are no mountains like Colorado's
There is no deserts like Nevada's
There is no ocean like Oregon's."

Each of these images are expertly crafted through the illustrating works of Lisa Desimini.  Lisa Desimini's characters are critized as looking too young to be driving cross country.  Also, "Tulip See's America" only really see's six states, another critisizm from Publishers Weekly http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-590-84744-5 . 

Westlandia by Paul Fleischman

Paul Fleischman creates another fascinating reading experience in this story of a young boy who has not fit in with his peers.  His parents know, he knows, just about everyone knows.  He has been teased because of his eccentric ways.  One day when Wesley was reading outloud his school lessons his father prompted him, in a teasing way, to start his own garden and this is where the whole idea of creating a garden of his own was created.

Wesley grew all sorts of exotic fruit-bearing plants that taste of "peach, strawberry, pumkin pie, and flavors he had no name for."  He eventually used these fruits to make juice.  He then uses a flower stalk as a sundial to tell time (he no longer uses a watch) and he invented a new language based on a 80-letter alphabet.  Now he had the classmates that once tormented him curious about all the new inventions he was creating.  Wesley's parents noticed that he was now happy and when he returned to school in September he had no shortage of friends (they all learned to appreciate his talents).

Paul Fleischman dove deep into an area that the "not-so-cool" kid falls into.  Fortunately, like Bill Gates and other such entreprenors kids can now explore there needs to be essentric because those are the children that conquer the world.

The illustrator, Hawk, uses acrylic paints to capture the organic feeling this book gives you as Wesley makes hats out of the plant stawks and grows these vibrant fruit-bearing plants.  "It's difficult to imagin a better pairing than Fleischman and Hawk to bring this a one-of-a-kind kid and his universe vividly to life." (Publishers Weekly).
Kevin Hawk, the illustrator, says, "It seems that all of my characters come from places whre the lampposts are never straight, the hills impossibly steep, and the skies impossibly blue." I can't imagine a better illustrator to team up with Fleischman because that is exactly how he writes.

Boris by Cynthia Rylant

Cynthia Rylant's, Boris, is one of those books that if your an animal lover (even just a cat lover) you can relate by the time you get through the first chapter. 

The narrator begins by explaining why she swore up and down she would never own another cat again.  She is very happy with her dogs because they don't howl and hiss all night long, and they don't spray and spit up hair balls.  The author "Promises" no more cats.   But........, now that a shelter opened just doors down from where she worked it was difficult not to look at the two cat that occupied the window space.  She'd give it a try, even after all the promises!

Boris is the name she gave one of the two cats she brought home to her new house.  Boris wasn't the cat's original name, which was Hunter, it was the name the she felt fit her new cat best.  Until.......mice, birds, feathers, and different animals began showing up on the porch.  Hunter was fitting, but she liked Boris. 

The narrator talked about the video's Boris enjoyed watching (cat video) in front of the television, Boris enjoyed staying out multiple evenings prowling around, and Boris capped fingernails (but still can climb a tree). 

One day the narrator moved, and so did each and everyone of her five animals (two cats and three dogs).  And she comments, "Every place is worth trying."

Cynthia Rylant charms the reader with this soft, well-written piece.  There was anything exciting occuring, but you wanted to know what Boris was doing (as seen through her eyes).  Cats are so complicated.  If you've owned one you know that your life revolves around theirs.  Dogs want your company every second.  Cats will ignore you one minute and the next minute they are jumping out at you to play a game or maybe just to steal a pet.

Reviews on this book were top-notch.  Is it a children's book?  The School Library Journal says it is for students in grades 8 and up.  I would say that this book is for ages 20 and up.  I can picture people giving this book as a gift for a friend when their cat passed away or when they own a cat that is dear to their heart.  Either way, it was a good read.

Night in the Barn by Faye Gibbons illustrated by Erick Ingraham

IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT.......That's the first thing that came to mind when I opened up to the first page of the book Night in the Barn by Faye Gibbons.  "Bet your afraid," says Willie to the narrator and his cousins, Julius and Dan.  This was the night the four boys planned to spend the night in the barn.  Leaving their dog behind in the house, the four guys packed up what they needed.....sleeping bags, snacks, and coats.  Off to the barn they went. 

I remembered back to the times that we had sleep over parties outside in tents.  Not only would just the nightime elements scare us, but for some reason neighbors (other kids) would find out what we were doing and would try to scare us, too.  We were all exhausted from staying up all night long, afraid to fall asleep.

Shadows, the pillars and planks of the barn squeeking, the idea that there maybe ghost lurking behind corners just finding the right moment to pounce was weighing heavy on the boys.  Just as the boys got settled in there sleeping bags, a rustle was heard getting closer and closer.  To their relief, it was their faithful K9.  Sleep was next.

Varnished watercolor illustrations were used to create a dark and mysterious mood.  Perfect!  The illustrator, Erick Ingraham, published his first children's book in 1977.  His talent for drawing won many awards to include the American Book Award and BIB for Porcupine Stew in 1983 and a Boston/Horn Award for Cross-Country Cat.

Faye Gibbons, the author, was born in the mountains of north Georgia.  No running water, indoor toilets, and electric lights.  It's not wonder why she wrote a great story about the outdoors.  She remembers riding in wagons pulled by mules and playing out in the woods.  Her stories start with a picture in mind.  From there a main character is developed and the setting unfolds. She comments that most of her stories are about family because family was so important to her.

The Great Big Enormous Turnip by Alexei Tolstoy

The Great Big Enormous Turnip is a picture book written by Alexei Tolstoy.  It is a simple book about an old man growing a turnip.  It was time to pull it up but he wasn't strong enough.  He pulled and pulled but needed to get help.  He ended up getting his wife, granddaughter, the dog, the cat, and finally the mouse to assist.  The turnip finally came up and they put it on the table.  That's it!  But....., the illustrations were so good.  As the reader, you could have looked at the pictures and figured out the meaning even without the text.

The author, Alexei Tolstoy, was a Russian author.  He was also a deputy to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and a member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.  His books, Peter I (1940), Road to Calvary (1943), and the play Ivan Grozny (1946) were awarded Stalin Prizes.

The illustrator, Helen Oxenbury, was highlighted on the cover of this book.  Her name was in bold and was placed directly under the title of the book, where the author was listed much smaller.  I wondered about this, in fact, I thought that there wasn't an author at first until I looked more closely.  She is the illustrator of many classic picture books including We're Going on a Bear Hunt and The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig.  Today, Helen Oxenbury is among the most popular and critically acclaimed illustrators of her time.  The colored pencil and pen & ink illustrations along with the great (bright) colors on full bleed pages make the story come alive.

Buffalo Before Breakfast by Mary Pope Osborne

Another Magic Tree House Series book #18, Buffalo Before Breakfast by Mary Pope Osborne takes Jack and Annie on another exciting adventure.

Arf! Arf! Arf!  A Small dog was outside of the house when Jack looked out his bedroom window.  "Teddy's back, it's time," Annie exclaimed to Jack.  Another adventure was about to begin.  This time, after heading to the Magic Tree House, they were heading to the Great Plains.  When the tree house swirled and swirled around and finally stopped, Jack looked out amongst the grassey land.  He opened his Great Plains Reference book and read:
                    The Great Plains are in the middle of the United States.
                    Before the 20th century, this vast prairie covered nearly a fifth of America's land.
                    Some called it "an ocean of grass."
Annie was ready and already pulling Jack outside.  They saw tepees, busy people dressed in buckskins, and horses and ponies grazing nearby.  Jack, of course, looked up tepees in his research book.  He read about the Lakota tribe that inhabited mostly in the areas we now North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota in the early 1800's. 

The two explorers introduced themselves to a warrior that was riding close to them.  The kids made him a peanut butter sandwich and they enjoyed it together with their new warrior friend.  All of a sudden a stampede occurred as large bison began to run in all different directions.  The kids were mortified!  Little Teddy ran off and Annie ran after him.  She put her hands up and just like that the stampede calmed!  Everyone was relieved!

Jack and Annie were taken back to the warrior's village were they learned about the culture and ways of the tribe. 

This fun pact small book is so kid friendly.  It's easy to read, it's short, and the chapters are "kid friendly."  It is no wonder that this book is so popular.  The series involving Jack and Annie's adventures consists of 28 books.  Mary Pope Osborne started a second series called the Magic Tree House "Merlin Missions."  Jack and Annie still run the show but they are now taken to places of fantasy.  There are 46 books combined to complete the Magic Tree House collection.

The illustrations are black and white pencil and watercolor.  I enjoyed these illustrations, but I wish there were more.  I thought this about the first book as well!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Very Scary Almanac by Eric Elfman

How can you not pick up this book?  I couldn't resist!  People have feared the ideas of monsters, demons, witches, curses, and ghosts for billions of years.  This book (Almanac) was created to explain why ancient peoples invented these creatures as a way to deal with fears that they didn't understand in the first place. 

This book explains where The Blob came from (1958 film) and Frankenstein's (written in 1818) existance.  Ghouls can now be explained knowing that they came from the people of western Europe thinking that ghouls ate corpes.  Yuck!

Now Godzilla, Vampires, The Mummy, Zombies, Werewolves, are defined and explained. 

The scariest books ever written are analyzed and top "grosser" movies are rated to include how much they made at the box office!

I would think that this book is a young boy's best seller, but interesting (even to me) for everyone. 

Eric Elfman, the author, is an American writer who has always been interested in the supernatural, sci-fi, and paranormal events.  Researching this author I found one thing to be true, he enjoys scary things too!  Reviews were good in that each said they this book was enjoyable and became a fascinating reference book.

The illustrator, Will Suckow, did a wonderful job capturing the mood of this book!  His letters appeared to be written in blood (using paint and pen and ink) his black and white cross-sketching provided just the essence of chilly visualization to put the reader in the frame of mind to read the facts by Eric Elfman.

Peter and the North Wind retold by Freya Littledale

Peter and the North Wind is a retelling of an old Norse tale.  Norse mythology are the religious beliefs of Norse pagans dating back from the 11th to the 18th century.

Peter, a young boy, and his mother are poor.  One day he went to the barn to get flour but the North Wind began blowing and blew the flour away.  Determined to get flour he tried again and again but the North Wind continued to blow it away.  So, Peter decided to seek out the North Wind and recover the flour.  He found the North Wind but when he asked for the flour back the North Wind told him that all he had was a magic cloth.  The North Wind told Peter to ask the magic cloth anytime for food and the magic cloth would provide it.  When Peter arrived home he asked the cloth for food.  The cloth magically provided food, but the innkeeper saw this happening and stole it in the middle of the night.  Peter set off again looking for the North Wind.  Again he found it and the North Wind provided a magic goat that would make gold.  Peter took it home and again the innkeeper saw the goat make gold.  The innkeeper stole the goat.  Peter set off again to find the North Wind.  This time the North Wind gave him a magic stick.  Peter took the stick home.  This time when he went to bed he kept an eye open and saw the innkeeper trying to steal his stick.  Peter had the stick beat the innkeeper until he returned the items he stole.

From that day on Peter and his mother were happy because they always had what they wanted.

The illustrations (by Troy Howell) showed little emotion on Peter's face throughout the story.  He was pictured as a poor little soul from start to finish.  This same illustrator provided the illustrations to Pinocchio, Heidi, The Secret Garden, The Ugly Duckling, and other classics.  He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia with his wife and son.

This book was very simple and sweet.  The reviews were not great on this version of the story.  "The story has inherent charm, but his version does little to enhance it." (The School Library Journal)

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal by Paul Fleischman

I've read the story to my daughter 100 times, but never looked deeper into the meaning of Cinderella. Looking the name up (Cinderella) I found that it means "one whose attributes are unrecognized, or one who achieves recognition or success after a period of neglect." Who would have thought??

This particular randition begins with the front cover of the book. It has this deep red color that definitely sets the book off from the rest. The title is written in black bold letters with the note "A worldwide Cinderella" which I now understand the meaning.

Each page that the author, Paul Fleishman, writes a bit of the story on has an illustration that is depicted in the country written in the corner of the page. For instance, the words "Mexico" is written on the first page, left corner. The story is told in a similar variation that we've heard before, but the illustration is of the couple from Mexico (as if Cinderella is a Mexican princess). On each page the author moved through the story as that we've heard, but the illustration depicts many different cultures such as those in Zimabwe, Appalachia, Indonesia, Japan, West Indies, Iraq, Poland, Ireland, China, France, Iraq, and Korea. In fact, when you open the cover of the book a map of all of these places is labeled. Now I know why this map was placed in this book. This is definitely different than the typical story of Cinderella I've read in the past.

I like this story because it opened up my mind to the idea that the United States isn't the only place in the world to tell this story to their children. It shows you how closed mind you can be even over the simpliest things such as the story of Cinderella. I'm assuming it is true for the rest of the Disney stories like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc...

I enjoyed the colors and illustrations throughout the book. Lots of deep reds, oranges, yellows, and greens are used throughout the book. I think the use of these colors really set off the pictures. The pages are covered with illustrations of the various countries as if the author wanted you to believe that the background is part of your "idea" of the country depicted in the main picture.

Now I'm excited to find other variations of this story.

The Seven Chinese Brothers by Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy, the author, a well-known New Zealand author of children's and young adult books wrote many books providing her characters with strong supernatural elements.  She has written more than 100 picture books, 40 novels and 20 collection of short stories.  Among her children's books, The Seven Chinese Brothers has been considered a national classic.

Publishers Weekly stated that this book was different in that she elaborated it by spicing it with more action and adding ironic humor.  The moral of the story, Working together, will be swept up by the readers.

The Seven Chinese Brothers is about courage, strength, and working together.  Seven identical brothers, that looked so much alike the it was hard to tell them apart, lived together.  Each one of the brothers had an unusual gift.  First brother could hear "a fly sneeze form a hundred miles away," second brother could see just as far as first brother could hear, third brother could lift mountains if they got in his way, fourth brother  had bones of iron, fifth brother had legs that could grow as tall and thick as tree trunks, sixth brother never got hot, and seventh brother cried but each tear could flood a village.

One day the emperor felt that if someone was that powerful they should be put to death, the only problem was that he didn't know seven brothers existed.  He thought there was only one.  The emperor had a  brother captured.  Just as he was about to be put to death another brother was switched out so that the method of death was overcome by the brother's gift.  This happened until at last the emperor has going to kill by arrows.  There was no one who could overcome this, until seventh brother began to cry and this caused the emperor and his men to be swooped up by the flood of tears. 

The moral of the story is that working together can conquer anything.

The illustrators, Jean and Mou-sien Tseng, did a fabulous job intertwining ancient pictures paintings with the story by the author.  Simple watercolors provided just the right feeling of softness in the clothing and shading to complement the swords.

It turns out that there are similar stories like this of the ancient Seven Chinese Brothers tale.  The Wizard of Oz gave powers to the tin man and the lion and the scarecrow.  This story is often compared to Mein Kampf, five identical Chinese brothers having similar supernatural abilities.  A story that dates back to 259-210 simply has to be copied to today's times for our enjoyment.

Misoso retold by Verna Aardema

A great collection of Folktales originating from south of the Sahara Desert along the coast....."from the Temmes of Sierra Leone, down the west coast to the Khoikhoi of Southwest Africa; then up the east coast, beginning with the Zulus of south Africa, north to the Swahilis of the eastern African Coast; then westward overland to the Emo-Yo-Quaim of Nigeria," as the author describes in the Introduction of this book.  A map is provided so that the readers can visually make their way down to each region as the stories are told.

Misoso means Once upon a Time.  It comes from the Mbundu tribe of Angola and it is told that these stories are told for entertainment purposes but if they teach a lesson that is just a plus.  The book encapsulates 12 folktales.  LeeLee Goro is a Temne Tale, Anansi and the Phantom Food is a tale from Liberia, The Boogey Man's Wife is a Mano Tale, Half-A-Ball-Of-Kenki is an Ashanti Tale and The Hen and the Dove is an Ashanti Fable, The Sloogey Dog and the Stolen Aroma is a Fang Tale, The Cock and the Jackel is a Khoikhoi Fable, No, Boconono is a Zulu Tale, Toad's Trick is a Kanuri Fable, Goso the teacher is a Swahili narrative Poem, the Hapendeki and Binit the Bibi is a Swahili Tale, and finally Kindai and the Ape is A Tale of the Emo-Yo-Quaim.

LeeLee Goro was a bit curious to me because it was about a little girl that fought.  Animals in a neara by village needed fire.  They knew where to go but in order to get it they would have to ask Mammy for it.  Mammy was somewhat of a witch doctor.  She told each animal that if they could beat up her young daughter they would get what they wanted.  Each animal thought this was an easy task but instead got beat themselves.  Elephant, spider, antelope, and lion were all not strong or crafty enough for this task.  Along came snail.  Snail had an idea to rub slippery spit all over so that the little girl would slip.  Sure enough it worked.  The consequences were that the animals got back their fire and Mammy and baby cried because of what occurred which brought crying back into the world.

One fable that is simple yet one we try to teach children everyday was the Toad's Trick.  One day a toad and a rat were talking.  The toad told the rat that he could do something that the toad could not.  The rat thought this was purpostuous!  Toad made a bet with rat that he could go right through some men who were sitting under a ficus tree without being harmed.  So, the toad did.  He went right through the men only to hear by them that frogs were good because they ate frogs.  When the rat tried to do the same the men ran after it to the woods trying to hit it all the way.  The moral of the story was that there are some things that each and everyone of us can only do and no one else can.

Reviews by Booklist and The School Library Journal gave this book high marks stating that the lighthearted stories combined with a good lesson is just right for children ages 5 - 10 years old.  I agree.  These short little stories make the reader more likely to stay focus to the lesson while enjoying each word.

The illustrator, Reynold Ruffins, stayed with dark colors giving the book an African appeal (maroons, black and white, orange, and pastels were used throughout. Full-color illustrations using pencil and acrylic complemented each story and the characters in each.

The author, Verna Aardema, has been writing traditional tales and folklore since 1960 (when she published her first set of stories, Tales from the Story Hat).  Many of her stories about Africa came from her love of reading herself.  She has retold many of the tales she read.

Lions at Lunchtime by Mary Pope Osborne

Lions at Lunchtime is #11 is the Magic Tree House Series.  This children's Science Fiction sequel takes Jack and Annie on an African Safari after being lured back up to the Magic Tree House by their mystical friend, Morgan le Fay.  "She looked ancient and lovely," as ever (p. 2, Osborne).

Jack and Annie have shown interest in being Master Librarians, and Morgan le Fay is helping them get there by her wonderful inside world to research.  This time she handed over the book The Plains of Africa.  Just then, as all of there great adventures to other lands start, the wind started to blow and the tree house started to spin.  The next thing Jack and Annie knew they were looking out of the window at Zebra's, Giraffe, tons of birds, and tiny gazellas.

Jack and Annie use the book provided to look up random animals along the way.  The first entry read was,   
                                "Every year, in late spring, thousands
                                 of zebras and gazelles and millions
                                 of wildebeests (will-duh-beest)
                                 migrate from the dry plains of
                                 Tanzania to Kenya."

As the two discover new animals, they look them up and read some interesting facts that would appeal to children (even adults).  The author, Mary Pope Osbourne, also throws in some crazy adventures and twist and turns before the kids get back to their tree house with a riddle (that Morgan le Fray gave Jack and Annie in the form of an ancient scroll) answered.  This time the riddle was:
                                   I'm the color of gold
                                   and as sweet as can be.
                                   But beware of the danger
                                   that's all around me.
                                   What am I?
This time Annie got stuck in some mud that felt like quick sand.  Jack was able to get her out just in time, but he got pretty muddy in the challenge (which he apparently does not to do).

Mary Pope Osborne came up with a fantastic children's book that leaves the reader with a bit more than he/she started with before they picked up the book.  The stories are short and energy packed!

The author has written over 80 books mostly of the adventurous type.  She loves to travel and a lot of her inspiration comes from her own imaginative adventures in the places that she investigates.  She is also a huge theater buff (acting in plays in her spare time).  Take a look at her web page and you can see how she likes to tie theater into her everyday works...http://www.magictreehouse.com/#home


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Anansi and the Talking Melon retold by Eric A Kimmel

Anansi the Spider is back (after two other books Anansi and the Moss Covered Rock and Anansi goes Fishing).  This African Fable is targeted for students in grades kindergarden through second grade.  This time Anansi borrows a hole in a melon.  Anansi eats so much he can't make his way out!  So he decides to have a little fun until his stomach goes down.  Elephant is tricked first.  Anansi begins speaking from inside of the melon.  Elephant can't believe it so he decides he must show King Monkey.  But, on his way to King Monkey he runs into a Hippo, a Warthog, an Ostrich, a Rhino, and a Turtle.  Each on totally being tricked by Anansi into thinking a melon was actually talking.  Elephant finally makes it to the King Monkey.  King Monkey can't believe it so he wants to see/hear for himself.  King Monkey asks the melon to talk but of course it doesn't....Anansi stays quite.  King Monkey demands the melon to speak, but now Anansi is enjoying the King getting irrated so Anansi stays quite.  The King has a fit and kicks the melon until it onpens up.  Anansi basically insults everyone by suggesting that who possibly believe that a melon can talk.  Thankfully he finds himself on top of a banana bunch now.

This book would be great for reading to children.  It is repeative and talking animals are a hit. 

The illustrations, by Janet Stephens, are creative, bright, and children alluring.  As a review from Booklist stated, "The setting is vaguely tropical, and Stevens' double-page comic illustrations show the furious animals in all their ridicuous contortions." http://www.amazon.com/Anansi-Talking-Melon-Eric-Kimmel/dp/0823411672

Janet Stephens is the author and illustrator of many award-winning books including the Caldecott Honor Book Tops & Bottoms, the Texas Bluebonnet winner Cook-a-Doodle-Doo!, and the Texas Bluebonnet nominee And The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon.

No Way Out by Peggy Kern

No Way Out by Peggy Kern is the third book of the Bluford Series.  The Bully and Someone to Love me were the first two where you met Harold, a high school freshman.

Harold was a bit overweight, his grandmother had just taken a horrible fall that put her in the hospital for a few days, and his fear of having to move due to the state taking over the situation is just a little bit too much for this high school student to endure.  Thankfully, Mr. Harris (a neighbor who lived in the same apartment complex) stepped in to help.  Mr. Harris allowed Harold to live with him a few days while his grandmother was seeking medical attention.

His grandmother comes home from the hospital but Harold is left to care for her.  He had to change her bandages, make dinner now (as his grandmother tried to assist from her chair), and continue to go to school and do the homework. 

One day Harold caught a glimpse of the bills that were stacking up, and unfortunately he got a glimpse of the notice from the state saying that unless his grandmother acknowledged a next-of-kin on the papers that they sent, Harold would have to be placed in a foster home by the state.  He knew he had to do something to help, but he also knew that his grandmother would not agree on him getting a job.  He took a chance anyway and got a job at the Supermarket. 

Harold's first check came in and when he opened it he realized that even with his help he could not make a dent in the bills that continued to come in the mail.  He decided to take Londell James, the local drug deal who had been in and out of jail, up on his offer to run drugs for him.  He knew this was wrong, but he convinced himself that he had to do this for his grandmother. 

One day, while delivering, he saw a family who was involved.  Harold just couldn't believe what had come of him, and he wanted out.  He realized he was so caught up in the business, that now there was NO WAY OUT.

Thankfully, Mr. Harris came to his rescue.  He was able to call the police just in time, and Londell was taken away again. 

The book was entertaining.  It kept me interested, but it was a little too basic for me.  However, many of my middle and high school students enjoy it.  They actually gave me the recommendation.

The author Peggy Kern was born and raised in Westbury, New York.  She was one of the few white students in a predominately black and Latino community.  She attended LaSalle University where she discovered literature and writing.  No Way Out was her first Bluford book.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen

Lawn Boy, published on June 20, 2007, is narrated by a twelve-year old boy who was given a lawn mower by his grandmother for his birthday.  The lawn mower belonged to his late grandfather.  “I looked at the mower.  Very old, low, small.  It looked like it only cut about a two-foot-wide area, it was nothing like the new machines.” (Paulsen, 2007, p.5)  The narrator, who remains unnamed, starred at his present and began thinking back to a time when his grandmother was talking about his grandfather saying that he used to be a, “tinkerer”.  He was always puttering with things, taking them apart, putting them back together.  When he was around nothing ever broke.  Nothing ever dared to break.”  The narrator looked at it differently.  So, he sat on it and felt as though he and the mower were connected somehow.  He was determined to get this piece of machinery moving.  Once he got the old mower turned on, which wasn’t easy, it leaped forward and he started mowing the lawn.  Because his family had a small lawn, the job didn’t take long, and he got very good at maneuvering the mower around shrubs and flowers.  While he was in action, a neighbor came to the fence and asked, “How much?” and that is how this young man’s story of learning about Business, Capitalism, Increasing Product Demand, Capital Growth, Labor Acquisition, Portfolio Diversification, and Team Management. His business grew as neighbors (and friends of neighbors) continued to request his lawn mowing services.  However, the time came when he was mowing more lawns than there was daylight.  He needed help.  Thankfully, he met Arnold, a stay-at-home stockbroker.  Arnold looked as though he had just stepped out of the seventies, “…he looked like someone who flunked clown school.” (Paulsen, 2007, p. 17)  Arnold inquired about the narrator’s lawn service, and the narrator learned for the first time about negotiations and bartering.  Arnold made a deal with him where he would invest money in a stock in lieu of giving him cash.  The narrator agreed because he was carrying around too much cash in his pocket already.  The narrator did not like to leave the cash at home because he didn’t want his family to see how much money he made not because he was sneaking, but because he didn’t want his family--who didn’t make that much money--to feel bad that he made so much in so little time.  The narrator and Arnold became business partners.  Arnold helped him find employees in order to meet the needs of his growing lawn business.  Arnold helped him learn about the stock market and split funds, he helped him learn about treating employees with dignity, and he helped him learn the dirty business of dealing with angry competition. 
Fortunately, Arnold also made the narrator a one-hundred-percent interest sponsor in a heavyweight boxer who lived in the same area.  His name was Joseph Powdermilk, Jr., nicknamed for boxing purposes, Joey Pow.  When the Lawn Boy’s (the narrator) business became so lucrative, the competition became restless and dangerous. 
One crucial problem the Lawn Boy kept contemplating throughout the book was that he never told his parents anything regarding his lawn mowing enterprise (the increasing stocks that he owned illegally because he was underage, the ever-growing business that he created with fifteen people working for him, the partnership he had with Arnold, and the boxer he now sponsored).  These secrets became more and more problematic when the competition became restless and things got out of control.  Rock (the competitor) and his workers threatened to harm Arnold if the Lawn Boy didn’t pay him what he wanted.  The Lawn Boy was finally forced to confide in his parents.  He knew his parents would be supportive when he told them.  Although they were shocked, his parents and grandmother knew exactly what to do.  Utilizing a major resource, Joey Pow, they were able to get Arnold out of harms way without getting the police involved. 
The biggest shock came when Arnold told everyone how much money was now sitting in stocks, four
hundred and eighty thousand dollars!  As his father faints (just as Lawn Boy did when he first found out the amount of money he was making from his business and stocks) his grandmother states, “You know, dear, Grandpa always said, take care of your tools and they’ll take care of you.” (Paulsen, 2007, p. 88)

In relation to other books within the Realistic Fiction genre, it is excellent.  It is funny, it is interesting, and it is down-to-earth.  As the reader, you feel that you are thinking for the narrator and trying to come up with ideas to make his venture successful.  You feel for the reader when he has to finally tell his parents and the author has made this character so alike many other twelve-year-old boys that you believe this truly happened to someone.  “Readers will find this madcap story a wise investment of their time.” (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Lawn-Boy-Returns/Gary-Paulsen/e/9780385746625)  “When it comes to telling funny stories about boys, no one surpasses Paulsen, and here he is in top form.” (John Peters, Amazon)  But, again, this book is so different from the books he received awards for and sits on so many library shelves.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dare to Dream: 25 Extraordinary Lives by Sandra McLeod Humphrey

Dare to Dream: 25 Extraordinary Lives provides the reader with not just one biography but 25 biographies of people. Each individual person chosen for this book contributed to our American History is their own way. From Abraham Lincoln to Helen Keller, to Jackie Robinson to Maya Angelou, to Martin Luther King Jr. to Arthur Ashe, to Michael Jordan, and so many more. Each of these individuals provided us (American People) with not only role models but people that changed the thinking of people forever..."You will see that no one individual excelled at everything but that each had his own unique gifts and talents." There was a common theme to this book and the people that were highlighted. Each had obsticles to overcome (Martin Luther King Jr. fought for civil rights and equality in a time of unrest and much prejudice, Abraham Lincoln walked nine miles to school each day and he was considered an outcast to his family and peers, Helen Keller was blind, Ben Carson did extremely poor in school but turned out to be the director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins..) and each overcame these obsticles after much time and passion and endurance and fortitude.

This book was amazing! So many comparisons can be made by children as they see the extraordinary events and stories that Sandra McLeod Humphrey provided. The author found a way to write for the reader instead of writing for the purpose not leaving anything out. The author focused on the things that the individuals did that changed history. She kept things brief but concise and personal.

This book would be perfect for all ages groups!

Datelline: Troy by Paul Fleischman

The story has been told thousands of times (the first book was printed in English in 1475 recounting the Trojan War). But for author, Paul Fleischman, it seemed that telling a story over again and relating it to today's happenings throughout the world just isn't so different after all. Paul Fleischman creates collages using newspaper articles that describe current wars, stories of inhumane acts, and the effects of beauty on the world and relates each of these themes to a particular event leading up to the Trojan War.

I was captivated by the comparisons that Paul Fleishman was able to connect for the reader. A war that could have happened so many years ago to events that happened in our lifetime makes the reader appreciate the relevance of the events that led to the war (as well as the events that led to the upheaveal in our own world today.

What can we do with these facts? What would we do differently today? Are we doing anything differently today? Children can relate so well to the great parallelisms that the author made which makes for great remembering tools.