Thursday, April 30, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
On the off chance that you or a friend fell in love with Savvy, your love need not be suspended just because you've finished the book. You can always visit Ingrid Law's website or blog (also listed in my links, to the left and down).
Or if it's more fiction that you crave, you may want to check out some of the similarly themed books below.
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians Series by Brandon Sanderson.
It's all about family. And pesky superpowers that complicate life. Members of the Smedry family all have individual talents that they must learn to control in similar fashion to Mibs’s family. But while Mibs lives with her family from the beginning of her story, Alcatraz must discover his during one eventful day that takes him to the main library.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan.
Another supernatural fantasy with a mythic twist. The protagonist Percy, a struggling dyslexic student with few friends, learns that because of who his father is, he is in danger. He gains superpowers and a few friends to help him. Like Mibs, Percy must deal with teasing from a few classmates only to go on an incredible journey to be reunited with his father.
The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer. (For a more mature audience)
While I would only recommend this for older Savvy fans, we yet again have a supernatural family (granted, these ones are "vegetarian" vamps) who must keep their powers secret while living on the outskirts of town. And although not the focus of this series, these books too involve tense trips to other locations.
Anything X-Men (Cartoons, DVDs, Comics, Graphic Novels, books)
Yet again young teens struggle to control new powers while co-habituating and fearing persecution from the world.
The original cartoon series or the more recent X-Men Evolution may be more appropriate for young to middle grade kids than the movies or graphic novels.
If literacy is still the key goal and a teacher or parent would be willing to add “visual literacy” to fun learning, some of the X-men comics are appropriate. The Ultimate X-Men or collections of the original comics may be the most child-friendly starting point.
The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.
The idea of going on a journey and making friends along the way connects this book to Savvy. But instead of remaining in a world similar to our own, this story takes place in a fantastical land.
In fact, Savvy actually draws attention to this parallel on page 187.
This previous Newbery Winner features a journey as interesting as the one Mibs embarks upon.
If readers like the voice of Mibs as she narrates her story, they may also like the voice of Sal, which is equally quirky and engaging.
Plus, if this book were paired with Savvy, a teacher could play up the themes of feminism and family.
For more information click here or visit:
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Law, I. (2008). Savvy. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.
Just reading the description, I figured Savvy was my kind of book. Twelve-year-old Mibs’s family gain a special power, a savvy, when they turn thirteen. Mibs speculates about what her power will be, but once she learns that her father has been in a horrible traffic accident, she hopes to gain a power that can help heal him. And on her birthday she, along with two of her brothers and two other friends, sneaks away from her own birthday party on a Bible delivery van to try and reach him.
While drawing on some classic children’s fantasy narratives, this book shows both the magic in the extraordinary as well as in the ordinary. It also deals with themes of not letting others’ views of you get you down and maintaining faith in yourself.
While on her adventure, Mibs is faced with a potential romance and decides she is not ready. This is a situation a parent may want to emphasize if he or she wants to show that a teenager doesn’t have to enter into a relationship before he or she is ready.
Activities to do with the book:
This could be a fun read aloud to share with students. More than anything, the thing to encourage students is to enjoy the text as they listen. Of course, a teacher could also encourage the children to make connections to other popular narratives that include people with super powers.
You could also pair the book with science lessons on electricity and weather.
Since there’s all not too much text on each page, this can be a good book to have students gain confidence with their reading by completing such a big heavy book.
“When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he’d caused it” (p. 1).
“We Beaumonts are just like other people…we get born, and sometime later we die. And in between, we’re happy and sad, we feel love and we feel fear, we eat and we sleep and we hurt like everyone else” (p. 97-98).
“I didn’t think I liked being a teenager all that much” (p. 110).
“My poppa needs me…he needs me to get down there to Salina. He’s like Sleeping Beauty and I have to wake him up” (p. 140).
“Fish and I weren’t in Kansaska-Nebransas anymore and we didn’t have any yellow bricks to guide us, just a big pink bus and the yellow stripe-stripe-stripes of the highway” (p. 187).
“Maybe it’s like that for everyone, I thought. Maybe we all have other people’s voices running higgledy-piggledy through our heads all the time. I thought how often my poppa and momma were there inside my head with me, telling me right from wrong. Or how the voices of Ashley Bing and Emma Flint sometimes got stuck under my skin, taunting me and making me feel low, even when they weren’t around. I began to realize how hard it was to separate out all the voices to hear the single, strong one that came just from me” (p. 238).
Monday, April 27, 2009
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
It would seem Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging is being turned into a movie. For reals.
Webster, J. (1989). Daddy-Long-Legs. New York: Puffin Books.
Originally published in 1912, this classic shares the experiences of an orphan girl who is sent to college by an anonymous shareholder at her orphanage to become a writer. The one catch? Judy must send a letter to her benefactor each month, which she willingly does, while giving him the name Daddy-Long-Legs. As she wonders who the anonymous donor is, she adjusts to college, living outside of the orphanage and dealing with classmates who come from more privileged backgrounds than her own. She also struggles with deciding what to do as a career, her devotion to her benefactor and her relationships with one of her roommate’s brother and the other roommate’s uncle.
Readers, be warned, this is old-school chick lit. So, if a teacher wanted to incorporate it into their classroom, it would be best as an elective book or a book for literature circles. I’ll admit, I have assigned it to everyone in my undergrad classes, without warning them. But then, I’m cruel like that. And I think boys need to work on being able to take on female protagonists’ perspectives more often.
Also be warned, as the letters progress, Judy takes to calling her anonymous benefactor “Daddy,” a name that may feel slightly creepy under current cultural associations with the word. “Dear Daddy…” *Icky shiver*
This epistolary novel includes subtle references to early twentieth century culture, communism and the women’s movement that a teacher could latch onto and build lessons around. Also, since the book is built upon the assumption that given the opportunity, anyone can achieve, the book can be connected to the American dream or to biographies of real women how were economically successful at the time.
Also, Judy briefly considers how she engages with a novel and imagines herself in the role of a character (p. 84). A teacher could emphasize this moment and encourage students to do the same with the books they read.
Activities to do with the book:
Since the majority of the book is shared as letters, a teacher could share different types of letter writing (with technological allowance for learning how to write emails). A super-cool teacher, could also encourage a discussion on how texts, Facebook status updates and Twitter tweets could all be used to create ongoing narratives.
A teacher could also assign research paper or presentations on various aspects of the historical context or on real women who had biographies similar to Judy’s fictional narrative (Madam CJ Walker could be a starting point).
This is a good book to have students analyze for how relationships are influenced by power and how characters’ levels of power shift throughout the book.
“The first Wednesday in every month was a Perfectly Awful Day—a day to be awaited with dread, endured with courage, and forgotten with haste” (p. 1).
“Your board and tuition will be paid directly to the college, and you will receive in addition during the four years you are there, an allowance of thirty0five dollars a month. This will enable you to enter on the same standing as the other students. The money will be sent to you by the gentleman’s private secretary once a month, and in return, you will write a letter of acknowledgment once a month” (p. 8).
“Having somebody take an interest in me after all these years, makes me feel as though I had found a sort of family. It seems as thought I belonged to somebody now, and it’s a very comfortable sensation” (p. 14).
“It isn’t the big troubles in life that require character. Anybody can rise to a crisis and face a crushing tragedy with courage, but to meet the petty hazards of the day with a laugh—I really think that requires spirit” (p. 49).
“I put myself to sleep every night by pretending I’m the person (the most important person) in the book I’m reading at the moment” (p. 84).
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Lewis, J.P. (2009). First Dog. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press.
A dog in need of a home crosses oceans and searches the world until he finds the right place for him, a certain white house in Washington DC. The book even manages to cleverly incorporate the “Yes We Can” slogan. (I was wondering if because of this, Democrats would be more likely to buy the book than Republican teachers and parents. I still can’t decide. Thoughts?)
And also, since we can’t all be given a well-trained dog by a Kennedy, the book includes a note about adopting shelter dogs.
It was not by chance that this timely book was published. While Lewis had originally designed a different dog story involving an American mutt looking for its lineage, his editor volunteered him to write about the President’s family obtaining a dog.
The illustrations of young Dog, a Portuguese water dog look very similar to Bo, the actual First Dog. And no, the illustrator Tim Bowers is not psychic, as I had suspected. He began illustrating the background and putting in a general shape of a dog. When it was announced that the decision was down to a Portuguese water dog or a Labradoodle, he took a chance. He chose to paint a Labradoodle. He finished all of the art and had even scheduled a pick-up. There was a ‘stop the presses’ moment when a White House insider notified the publisher that the choice would be a Portuguese water dog. Bowers apparently altered all of the art in one night. (Of course, Bowers could still be psychic, but is attempting to remain on the down-low and therefore made up a the above story)
And yes, if you were wondering, autographed copies of the book are on the way to the First Family.
How do I know all this? I went to Cover to Cover, a children’s bookstore in Columbus, OH and got my own copy autographed.
(Illustrator, Tim Bowers is on the left and writer, J. Patrick Lewis is on the right)
Activities to do with the book:
Since Dog travels the world, meeting other dogs, First Dog lends itself to a geography lesson and a lecture on the history of different breeds of dogs. The book could also trigger a discussion of strays, adoption and proper dog care. A discussion about foster care or adoption for children, living in the White House or the job of the President could also follow. Plus, a teacher could also focus on the different modes of transportation that Dog must take to travel the world.
A teacher could encourage narratives on how students’ adopted their own pets or have students create adventures for animals. (As a side note, the first creative story I can remember writing was about a cat held prisoner by bigger cats. I was six)
Students could also create family portraits that included animals.
“Once upon a time there was a dog that was looking for the perfect place to live.”
“Daddy, Daddy, can we keep him?”
“Yes, we can!”
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Gaiman, N. (2008). The Graveyard Book. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
After his family is murdered, a nameless toddler finds himself safe in an old graveyard and protected by the ghosts. Given the name Bod, short for Nobody Owens (Nobody Owns, get it?), he is taught by the ghosts and encounters a possible friend, ghouls, a witch, a grey lady, bullies etc. But he eventually must face the man who killed his family to finally be safe and ready to live.
While Bod ages throughout of the book, when he is supposedly six, he hardly feels like a child that young. The plot is engaging enough that older children should be willing to read to the book until Bod is closer to their own age. While there are some illustrations, the long chapters could discourage many readers. Of course, fifth or sixth grade students probably won’t mind any of this if the story is read aloud to them. (I’d probably only consider sharing the book with individual students younger than that on rare occasions, for fear of the potential frights the book might include. (While the ghosts are kind. Some ghouls (especially the 33rd president of the United States) and a “wet knife” still have the potential to frighten some children)
A teacher could emphasize the sense of community that exists in the graveyard. Or the experience of dealing with bullies that Bod has some suggestions about once he begins attending school.
What’s also great about this book is that the reader gets to witness the process of Bod learning to read and becoming a reader who loves books. Plus , the book shares the inevitable truth that each teenage girl should have a cell phone of her very own.
On an only slightly related note, I have been at war with Neil Gaiman for a few years now. He just doesn’t know it. I want him to stop scaring the wee little children with wolves in the walls, button-eyes, etc. and he wants to write successful books and win awards.
I’m biding my time.
I may, however, have to call a truce for The Graveyard Book. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still murder and fiendish characters. But the ghosts are fun and give Bod a safe and supportive environment. And they make me laugh.
Activities to do with the book:
Given the fact that most of the ghosts who live in the graveyard had lived in different centuries, a teacher could guide students in research into the various time periods. Of course, a student may need to provide some extra support to American students, since this is set in England and assumes the geography and history of Europe. Students could also do research projects on subject such as the humors, once believed to have medical significance.
This is a good read aloud. Together, students could speculate about the significance of various supernatural characters. With younger students, a teacher would probably have to pause as characters previously introduced are reintroduced much later in the text.
“There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately” (pp. 2-5).
“It is going to take more than just a couple of good-hearted souls to raise this child. It will,” said Silas, “take a graveyard” (p. 23).
“It’s the first nice thing anyone’s done for me in five hundred years” (p. 131).
“For soon enough, tomorrow night comes. And how often can a man say that?”
“Every night,” said Bod. “tomorrow night always comes” (p. 147).
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Case, D. (1995). 92 Queens Road. New York: Rarrar, Straus and Giroux.
Set in the 1960s during apartheid, 92 Queens Road shows the experiences of young Kathy and her family under the system of laws. Throughout the text, six-year-old Kathy searches for her place in her young country and comes to grips with her lack of a father and status as a “coloured” person.
Due to the language usage and subtle humor, this book feels very much like a memoir and can easily be shared with an American audience.
It considers issues of shame. Kathy struggles with her skin color and her illegitimacy. By sympathizing with Kathy in the text, a teacher can help to encourage an atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance. There’s also a homosexual supporting character who is fairly represented.
When sharing this book, a teacher could emphasize the fact that categories are arbitrary. Some of Kathy’s relatives appeal and are reclassified as whites by the government, while other people with lighter skin still remain labeled as “coloured.” A teacher could draw out the complications of categorizing and attempting to organize citizens in such a way.
Activities to do with the book:
Since Kathy spends some time describing her excitement over South Africa’s new currency in the novel, a teacher could do a lesson on the different currencies of various countries. Students could research the various historical figures and symbols shown on the different countries’ bills and coins to get insights into each country’s history.
A teacher can also trigger discussions the history of South Africa, racism, discrimination and power relations. It would probably be helpful to place the story in its historic period in the 1960s. The text helps do this with its references to The Beatles, Elvis and other familiar figures.
Also a teacher could demonstrate how racism goes unchallenged by those who “are just doing their jobs.” After emphasizing one such scene from the text, a teacher could break up a class into small groups and they could dramatize the scene than consider alternate resolutions.
“Far beyond the cranes and the late-March misty haze, I knew that somewhere on that very sea the SA Vaal sailed forth with Uncle Reg aboard, playing the part he had to play in order for the ship to accomplish her mission. I felt as long as I could see the sea, Uncle Reg would be close to me” (p. 18).
“This is not our country. We have no say here. We don’t belong here. This is not our country” (p. 49).
Monday, April 13, 2009
Woodson, J. (2008). After Tupac & D Foster. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Woodson uses beautiful prose to share the experiences of the narrator, Neeka and their new friend D, who is in foster care. They maintain their friendships as they experience life in their neighborhood and have discussions about friends and family. The three girls feel a special connection to the famous rapper Tupac Shakur as they grow to become teenagers. Time flows as a backdrop and the various experiences of Tupac being shot, imprisoned and reemerging serve as some of the strongest markers of time.
The tensions of After Tupac & D Foster are subtle. Most of them are shared through conversations on the girls’ front stoops in Queens as they consider discrimination, boys, the justice system, their families, Neeka’s homosexual brother and their own futures.
The character voices are strong and thought provoking. Woodson manages to touch on a bit of the academic theory of Deconstruction (my fave!), with understandable descriptions. But I did feel that the characters’ search for their Big Purpose was lost throughout most of the story.
Activities to do with the book:
A teacher could take this book in several different directions. If a teacher were using this book with younger middle grade students, he or she could emphasize the girls’ search for their Big Purpose and connect it to other stories, like The Higher Power of Lucky, while still having discussions about race, gender, family and education. This would be a good book to show how a writer can say a lot with a few seemingly simple descriptions.
On the other hand, although the protagonists are only 13 at the end of the text, it deals with issues that are relevant to teens. If a teacher wanted to emphasize the treatment of African Americans by the justice system, the book could be paired with Myers’s Monster.
Other more general options include exploring Tupac’s life and poetry or the treatment of homosexuality, gender, deconstruction, having a friend leave, and family in the 1990s.
“D Foster showed up a few months before Tupac got shot that first time and left us the summer before he died. By the time her mama came and got her and she took one last walk on out of our lives, I felt like we’d grown up and grown old and lived a hundred lives in those few years that we knew her. But we hadn’t really. We’d just gone from being eleven to being thirteen. Three girls. Three the Hard Way. In the end, it was just me and Neeka again” (p. 2).
“Maybe, while he was in jail, Tupac started thinking about his Big Purpose. That’s what D called it—our Big Purpose. She said everybody’s got one and it’s just that we gotta figure out what it is and the go have it” (p. 7).
“Me and Neeka had bought matching jean jackets with white stitching on the pockets for when school started and we’d worn them that day with these brown velvet pants we had. We’d walk up and down the block thinking we were bad, but we were just hot in our fall gear” (p. 23).
“I watched her for a minute to see if she understood about gray areas. I’d just learned it myself and was trying it out” (p. 26).
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Friday, April 10, 2009
So, forever ago I began a new post about the ALA posters. I made one post of my love interest Alan Rickman. And never posted again.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Organized chronologically, these seven short stories explore different events and conditions of Apartheid through South African children’s perspectives. With varying degrees of hope, the protagonists face difficult choices and risk when deciding on what they believe about Apartheid depending on their various class and racial backgrounds. By remaining focused on issues among family members, friends and school all of the stories remain child-centric. Despite this, students may have some difficulty understanding the historical contexts of the stories (despite the presence of a timeline at the end) without the assistance of a teacher.
While Naidoo provides a complicated and emotionally striking view of apartheid, one perspective is missing—that of someone who supported the laws. While a few secondary characters in several of the stories are supporters, most of them are placed in the roles of villains. I think showing the justifications that those in power tend to make to maintain their power would have been a complicating view to trigger discussion and a challenge to Naidoo as a writer.
Activities to do with the book:
After going through the stories him or herself, a teacher could decide to read one or two aloud to children. (My personal recommendation is to start with “The Playground” since it is closest to the experience of school desegregation in the United States and could provoke more immediate conversation)
This book would be good to use alongside lessons on the history and evolution of Apartheid.
Students could also create drawings in response to some of the images and scenes described in the book, or could examine American art for comparable images. (A good starting point would be Norman Rockwell’s “A Problem We All Live With”)
“The oppressors opened their prison doors and sat down with those they had oppressed…people they had locked behind bars for years or driven out of the country. They exchanged words instead of bullets” (xiii, introduction).
“The year I turned ten, apartheid gripped me fully by the throat for the first time. Of course its fingers had been there all along, but I had been too busy to take much notice” (p. 18).
“When I was six, policemen snatched Daddy away in the middle of the night. They came to our house with banging, thumping, and shouting. Their flashlights swooped over the garden through the dark” (p. 50).
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Morales, Y. (2008). Just in Case: A trickster tale and Spanish alphabet book. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
While on his way to Grandma Beetle’s birthday party, a ghost informs Senor Calavera that he has forgotten her gift. What follows is a list of possible gifts listed alphabetically—by the Spanish alphabet, with each object being named in Spanish, but with illustrations and English descriptions.
The illustrations are beautiful. With wonderful use of color, they share Hispanic images and symbols. (Plus, there’s a blue butterfly for students to find on each page) All of the illustrations show great attention to detail and humor. (My favorite is at the beginning when Senor Calavera irons his tie while wearing it—totally something I would do…if I wore ties.)
For kids from a Hispanic background, this book can be very empowering to see in a classroom, especially since this is also the book that won an ALA Belpre award this year.
Activities to do with the book:
Beyond helping young readers with the alphabet (in which case this book would need to be a read aloud by an adult as it is text-heavy), it can also be used with older students learning Spanish to provide some fun and new vocabulary words (among them cosquillas (tickles), granizado (snow cone), titere (puppet) etc.).
This book could also be shared with children around birthdays and other gift giving occasions to help children think of ideas to give people of all ages.
The story could also be tied into a talk on El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead—November 1st and 2nd). But if used for this purpose, don’t present Just in Case as a book about the holiday. Rather, share it as an example of what talking about such a holiday could inspire students to write creatively.
“At last the day had arrived. It was Grandma Beetle’s birthday!”
“Oh , my. He had forgotten a present for Grandma Beetle!”
“You surely must know, the best present to give a friend is the thing she would love the most.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Friday, April 3, 2009
Hopkinson, D. (2008). Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A tall, thin tale. New York: Schwarts & Wade Books.
Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek is about just that, Abe Lincoln crossing a dangerous creek with his first friend, Austin. This fun telling shows how one individual can influence history. And how you should always listen to your mother. Truth.
This is a meta-narrative, which in case you haven’t realized yet, such self-aware stories always makes me feel happy and fuzzy. But this book as the added benefit of also being aware of the illustrations and the illustrator’s influence on how the story is shared. Double fuzzy happiness!
What’s especially fun about his book (beyond my happy fuz) is that it acknowledges that the stories of history are constructed and allows for multiple versions. The illustrations do a great job in supporting this too.
Activities to do with the book:
Students can construct their own meta-narratives or tall tales in response to the story. Or because of the questions and insights made throughout the books, students could co-construct their own versions, with some focusing on the narrative and others on the illustrations.
This would also be a good book to create dramatizations in small groups, trying to figure out how to cross the river and save young Abe.
Also, students could do research on the pre-civil war era or on Lincoln’s biography. While this book could be shared as a class, other biographies could be used as homework.
“Now here’s an old tale of two boys who got themselves into more trouble than bear cubs in a candy store.”
“It happened on the other side of yesterday.”
“We could end our tale here, two happy friends in the sunshine long ago. But I expect you want to know what happens next.”
“What we do matters, even if we don’t end up in history books.”
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
There's a rumor circulating among some blogs that there's a librarian petition to protest the selection of Gaiman's The Graveyard Book as this year's Newbery Winner, since a portion of it was published previously. The rules award rules do state that a winning or honored book may not have been previously published. To read more, click.