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.

Coretta Scott King

Born on April 27, 1927, Coretta Scott King grew to become an important player in the civil rights movement as an activist fighting for peace and equity around the world. This energy and drive was no surprise to her parents. She was fiesty, could run faster, and she was stronger than other children she grew up with.

Although becoming educated as an African American during this time was difficult (due to racism) Coretta worked hard in her studies (taking her mother's advice) and graduated sixth grade at the head of her class.

In high school she graduated as valedictorian and she decided to follow her sister to Antioch College (where she won a scholarship). Thoughout her studies she was racially discriminated against in many ways. She would talk to those people in authority, but they would ignore her. She decided to take action and join the NAACP. Coretta became very active in the local branch of the NAACP and graduated with a teaching degree. She took the words of Horace Mann, the founder of Antioch College, to heart: "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity."

After graduating from college, Coretta applied to the New England Conservatory of Music and moved to Boston. Things changed in the year 1952. Her friend gave her number a young man who wanted to meet her (who was attending Boston University). On June 18, 1953, Coretta decided to marry this man. This man was Martin Luther King, Jr.. By 1964 they had four children. But this did not slow her down from the passion to fight for civil rights. She raised thousands of dollars for organizations to continue the the quests. She ended up traveling all over the world to help influence change and promote nonviolence. In 1968, whe won the Woman of the Year Award given by the National Association of Radio and Television Announcers.

After her husband's death she vowed to keep his memory alive. The need to fight against inequality and discrimination was her quest. She changed the world for the good of humankind.

This pictures provided a life story to go along with the books message. Photographs of Coretta as a young girl, when she was married, her children, and the marches that she was involved in were captured on the pages.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman

"Welcome to the Night," reads the first page. "Creepy crawlers, flutters,dip and dodge, cool and shadowed breeze, rough bark, dappled dark, wild and enchanted park. Welcome to the Night." Joyce Sidman, the author of Dark Emperor, won the Newberry Honor Award for this book. Like many other books she has written, the author uses the poems with a definition of each nocturnal animal or "thing" in the found in the forest. The poem is located on one page and the defined animal is on the other side of the full bleed page. Instead of looking at one page and then the next, the reader flips the page and see's one large portayal of an animal/object.

Twelve poems about....Snails unhooking themselves from the earth, Primrose Moth's unfolding in the evening, hooked-faced Dark Emperor, Oak (tree) stretching its roots in the ground, Night-Spider's eating triumphs and mistakes, Porcupette (baby porcupine) raising its quills if necessary, Crickets (napping, gnawing, and singing), Mushrooms spreading their damp umbrella tops, Efts crawling over roots, Bats swooping up bugs then flipping upside down on a branch to rest, and the Moon brightly lighting up the sky.

The reader reads a fun poem about the above animals and such and then can read a definition and additional information about each one. Another fantastic way for children to learn and have fun doing it. Science and literature collide!

The illustrations, provided by Rick Allen, are detailed and dark - which is perfect for this nocturnal reference book/poem book. Rick Allen is a wildlife artist.
The illustrations for this book are all relief prints made from
linoleum blocks. Relief prints can be made from a wide variety of
materials, but all are created by removing material from the block and
leaving an inkable surface behind for printing.

I was somewhat surprised to read this book and find out that Dark Emperor was just one of the many animals in this book. Maybe one of the biggest threats in the food chain could be the reason the owl was chosen for the title.

Waiting to Waltz A Childhood by Cynthia Rylant

Creative as always! Cynthia Rylant, the author of Waiting to Waltz - A Childhood, created a book of poems with 30 titles all tied together by one them....a story of a girl named Veronica growing up in a town called Beaver. Veronica is telling about the people she encounters each day, her feelings about life, her first kiss, her friends (and their dogs), stores around Beaver, her experiences in love, in church, and leaving as she became older.

Each poem I kept thinking to myself, "This one is my favorite," until I read them all and they all became "my favorite." Although Cynthia Rylant writes about real life themes, and sometimes these themes seem a bit dark, they always have an essence of humor attached. For instance, in The Kool-Kup, Veronica talks about in the summer she has no one looking after her so she ends of eatting chili dog, chips, and shakes everyday. She comments that she prefers it this way instead of having a "fat old babysitter who ate rm candy while she watched the soaps." Funny! But, she also talks about serious things like her mother who she learned to appreciate. She was embarrassed that her mother didn't take part in the PTA like other girl's mothers did. But, one day someone took sick, and they asked Veronica what to do (because her mother was a nurse). Veronica realized the importance of her job.

Great collection. The illustrations, by Stephen Gammell, added to the story. I thought that the pictures stayed to the seriousness of some of the ideas, but the comical side of the words still shined through. The illustrator fine pencil drawings. He also was the same illustrator for Cynthia Rylant's The Relatives Came. And when I reseached his works I noticed that he relishes in scary, spooky images. This was definitely portrayed in Waiting to Waltz.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

NIGHTJOHN by Gary Paulsen

"Late he come walking and nobody else knows, nobody from the big house or the other big houses know but we do. Late he come walking and it be Nightjohn and he bringing us the way to know."

Sarny, a young slave girl, lives on a plantation with many other slaves. This young girl is an observer. She doesn't say much therefore she sometimes is mistaken for being slow, but that's not the case. Her mother was taken from her at birth, just like all of the other babies born on this plantation. "Breeders" did just that. They were chosen to have children and then they were usually sold to other land owners. The babies were nursed and kept by a chosen lady who worked on the lands. Sarney called this woman Mammy. Mammy was the children's mother, she was the one who cooked and served, and she was the one who nursed those individual slaves that were physically tortured needed medical attention.

One day Sarny saw a man being brought in in ropes. He was naked and she could see that he was beaten many times from the scars that he bared. He didn't speak, but he was immediately taken to the fields, naked, and forced to work until dark.

When he came in to the quarters where many of the slaves, including Sarny and Mammy, lived he fell to the floor in exhaustion. But, as the night came, he spoke. He asked anyone for tabacco. Sarny had some tied to the inside of her clothing, but she knew better than to just give something to someone with getting something in return. Sure enough that is what happened. The man offered to trade something, and Sarny agreed to the trade. She would give him tabacco if he taught her a letter each day.

Sarney and the man developed a relationship. He told her his name and he taught here a letter each night that he wasn't too exhausted from the days work. Unfortunately, Sarny did not heed her Mammy's warning about learning how to read and write. Mammy told her that anyone caught learning or teaching would be severely punished! Accidently, Sarny wrote a word in the dirt...Bag. The owner, Clel, caught her doing this. After kicking and punching her in the stomach and head many times, Sarny was asked who taught her. She refused to tell him by saying she saw this word on a bag of feed. He didn't believe her. He ended up taking Mammy and putting her in shackles all day before tieing her to a cart and making her pull it as he beat her. John witnessed this and spoke up saying that he was the one who taught Sarney the letters. John was immediately taken and tied. He was held down and his big toe was chopped off both feet.

After being nursed back to health he decided to run. Mammy asked him if he had ever run before and he told her yes. He got away, too, but he wanted to go back each time so that he could continue to teach slaves how to read. He told her that that was the only was that people would eventually know their story and it needed to be recorded. Mammy understood, and John did end up running. But, one night Sarny was woken up by John. John took her through the woods to a place that he called a school. Sarny saw other children from other plantations that John brought to learn. This is how John got his name "Nightjohn."

Gary Paulson blew me away with this book. Unfortunately, I read reviews by a few people stating that such a tale of slavery coming from a white man could be considered offensive. I will review more on this subject so that I can make my own mind up to the validity of the alligations.

I highly recommend this book!

Joyful Noise Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman

Who would have thought that insects had so many feelings? Grasshoppers, water striders, mayflies, and so many more insects having finally been able to find their voice through Paul Fleischman. This author created a story for each of the fourteen insects in the poetry book. Lovely phrases like, "Insect Calligraphers practicing penmanship," describes the firefly. I only remember these particular insects as smelling like peanut butter if they landed in your hand. But these, "Six-legged scribblers of vanishing messages, fleeting graffiti, Fine artists in flight," will definitely get more respect from me next time a warm night takes me outside.

Paul Fleischman was truely creative in the development of this book. He gives instructions on reading the poems on the note page located on the first few pages. Two people should be reading this book together. Lines are located on each page in two columns. One reader takes the left column and the other reader takes the right. Lines that are on the same line should be read simultaneously (sometimes the words are different so you can imagine the fun). And everything is read aloud.

Students would find this type of book so much fun to read. The material is light enough for all readers to enjoy (from young to old).

The illustrator, Eric Beddows, also played an integral part in this books understanding. Each chapter was titled the name of the insect being described. The illustration show the characteristics of the insect and the behaviors being explored. His black and white pencil drawings provided excellent detail to the insects delicate characteristics.

It turns out that Eric Beddows is really Ken Nutt. Eric Beddow is the combination of Ken Nutt's mom's middle name and last name.

My favorite depiction was the honeybee. The illustration showed the queen bee layed out on a Cleopatra Chaise lounge chair. The working bee's account of life is so exhausting compared to that of the spoiled queen. This poem would be the most fun to read with someone, it almost reminded me of a play.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Song of the Swallows by Leo Politi

This multicultural book is a great book for young children getting introduced to Spanish Culture. Although the author and illustrator, Leo Politi, predominately grew up in Italy but at the age of 22 he left for California. On his way he stopped by the Panama Canal and was exposed to Central America. He began drawing at a very young age, he attended the National Arts Institute on a six-year scholarship, and then used this knowledged to begin sketching what he saw in Central America. This is where is began coming up with his stories.

Leo Politi took a real tradition, St Joseph's Day - March 19th, and created a story for children to enjoy.

Juan is a young boy who lives in in the small village of Capistrano, located in California at the foot of the low and soft hills near the sea. Juan had a good friend, an older gentlemen, named Julian. Julian was in charge of ringing the bell for the Mission. Julian told Juan the story of the Mission many times, but Juan listened like it was the first each time he heard it.
"Long, long ago the good brothers of Saint Francis came to this country from across the sea. Father Junipero Serra and the brothers walked along the wild trail through the wilderness. With the help of the Indians they built many mission churches. The Missions were like villages. There the Indians learned to make shoes and harness, blankets and hats, tools and pottery - many of the things they needed in their daily life."

Juan loved watching the birds throughout the Mission but was especially interested in the swallows. Julian told Juan of how and when the swallows come and when they leave each year. He told them that they come each spring on Saint Joseph's Day and they leave each summer. Each time they arrived Juan loved to watch the birds lay their eggs, hatch them, and then teach them to fly. And each time they left he was so sad that he had to wait till the following year to see them again. He thought that if he made a little place at his own home where the swallows could come that was comfortable for the Whole year than they wouldn't leave and he could enjoy them year round.

So, that is what he did! The celebration of Saint Joseph's Day came and Juan anxiously awaited the swallows arrival. They came! And when he went home he discovered that a few had made themselves a new home right where Juan could watch them each day.

I was excited to learn that Saint Joseph's Day was an actual event. And then there is an actual event when they leave called "Jewel of All Missions," on October 23rd.

My father had Purple Martin houses in the backyard when I was growing up. We watched these birds nest each year, much like the swallows. I understood Juan's interest in the birds because we were just as excited year after year watching the bird homes fill up each year.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Special Gifts by Cynthia Rylant

Three weeks off from school is a long time for children, especially Lily, Tess, and Rosie. But their Aunt Lucy knows exactly what they can do this Winter Vacation.

Lily, Tess and Rosie are all nine years old. Lily and Rosie were sisters and Tess was their cousin. Their parents all danced for a touring ballet company and they would be gone for a year! Aunt Lucy was in charge of the girls for the entire year. The girls were wondering what they would do for the three weeks they were to be out for Winter Vacation from school and they decided on learning to sew (even though Tess had to be talked into it a little). They also decided that Mrs. White would be the perfect sewing teacher.

They met Mrs. White, a very elderly woman, over the summer when they went to her house to sell cookies to her. Mrs. White was then just turning 90 years old.

The girls ran the idea by their Aunt Lucy, and sure enough...Aunt Lucy loved the idea. She suggested bringing Mrs. White some tea cakes and oranges from the French Market.

After the girls began to sewing (Rosie wanted to make cotton dolls with dresses, Tess wanted to make a vest with sequins, and Lily wanted to make little pillows and decorated with words like, "Wish."), the girls took a break to help Mrs. White sort through a trunk full of photos, letters, and small mementos. One of the most fascinating things they discovered were letters from Mrs. White's friend Elenor Roosevelt. It turned out that Mrs. White saved letters from two people....her late husband and her dear friend Elenor Roosevelt, "That's why I've kept Elenor's letters. No matter here place in history, she was my friend, and I love having her voice in my trunk." This sentiment inspired the three girls to do the same. The girls picked up some stationary and began writing that very night before they went to bed. They decided they would write a diary together.

The girls adventures ranged from learning to sew, creating a diary, learning about Winter Solstice (the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year), and being together.

This book was like no other that I've read from Cynthia Rylant. You can read the rest of her collection of The Cobble Street Cousins by clicking on the link.

The reviews I read on this collection was all the same "warm and fuzzy." Everyone seemed to enjoy the nostalgia and the knowing that nothing bad was going to occur in the books.

The illustrations are light and cheerful. Wendy Anderson Halperin, the illustrator, used pencil illustrations. This made kept the story warm and friendly.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm

One of my favorite places to vacation in the world is Key West, so obviously I had good time reading about some of the setting points this book offered in the storyline. Ernest Hemingway (he makes a cameo appearance), Pepe's Cafe, and just the whole sense of the community and movement made me so attached to the story.

Turtle, an eleven-year-old girl, is sent to live with her relatives (during the Depression, 1935) when her mother gets a job as a housekeeper and the owners do not prefer children. Her Aunt Minnie has provided nice accomodations for Turtle and she settles in well to the pace and lifestyle of her friends and family in Key West.

As much as this book had me captivated, I still don't know for sure about the ending....hmmmmmm.... This reminds me of another book I recently read called The Giver. It left me hanging. I'm sure I can guess, but it was open ended.

Again, another great read about an historical period in American History. Another fantastic way to captures children's interest an provide geographical and time period setting to a specific era. Since I always vacationed in Key West, I never thought about this area suffering like the rest of the country. It's a vacation spot, right? Wrong. It goes to show you how much you disconnect different areas to reality.

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

The Great Depression, a father's love for his daughter, an untimely (indefinite) trip to Manifest, Kansas, and young girl who is apprehensive - so say the least about her new living arrangements.

Abilene must go to live with her father's friend, Shady. Her father had to take a job with the railroad because he felt that he needed to be able to provide for his daughter better. Abilene gets to know two girls and their adventures begin (as they try to solve the mystery of The Rattler). But, Abilene also is introduced to an Hungarian women named Miss Sadie. This relationship is the one that Abilene gets to know about her father's past.

I liked how the story went back and forth in time (from 1918 to 1936). I also liked how the beginning of the story started out like a play...each character was listed and given a description based on how they related, in time, to the story.

It's no wonder this book won the Newbery Medal. The idea for the book was as interesting to me as the book itself...Moon Over Manifest.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Another fabulous way to take a period in time and add a great storyline about three girls growing up to help children learn about the history of America.

Delphine (the oldest who's eleven-years-old), and her sisters younger sisters Vonetta and Fern begin their summer adventure when they board a plane destined to reach their mother in Brooklyn, New York. The girls were abandoned by their mother as infants and the plan was for them to get to know each other, but things didn't go as planned.

The girls learned so much more.....The Black Panther movement, devotion of sisters, and new ideas about motherhood. Delphine begins to understand why her mother is who she is and did what she did. Delphine begins to understand the complications of people. Delphine and her sisters see that their mother, with all of her shortcomings, has a place in their heart.

Rita Williams-Garcia blew me away with this story. No wonder she won so many awards (see link). Again, I can't think of a better way for children to learn about history than to read historical fiction like this. It brings history to life. Makes children want more.....I makes me say, "What happened next?" I immediately went in search of more information about The Black Panther Movement. There is so much more to learn this way.