Saturday, May 30, 2009

Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Twenty-Two

Almost done with finals!  Just a little more editing needed and a glance at a few more references than I'm declaring myself done.

Of course, there's still a lot of grading in my future...but that's the know, next week.

This week, my biggest struggle is trying to decide how many courses to take this summer.  There are a number of them that seem interesting, but I have to balance dying of over-work, needing a break, doing fun-reaidng, writing this blog and creative writing.  

So with such a huge decision, I obviously rested my summer future in a very wise and trusted selection process.  I texted a friend to choose between the numbers 1 and 2.  (I decided if she texted back '1' I would take the classes, and if she chose '2' I wouldn't)  She chose 1.  So that decision is made.  Glad I can stop worrying about it.

Friday, May 29, 2009

REVIEW: The Westing Game

Raskin, E.  (1978).  The Westing Game.  New York:  Scholastic Inc.




The new tenants of Sunset Towers become aware of a mystery when smoke rises from the Westing Mansion nearby, the owner of which was thought long gone.   A few days later, all of the building’s residents are called together and partnered up to compete for the deceased Samual W. Westing’s fortune.  Not everyone is who he or she seems.  And some will go to drastic measures to claim the what they want.


This classic mystery has been sparking interest in students for over thirty years now and is still regularly used or recommended in middle grade elementary schools.  It includes subtle themes of empowerment in terms of disability, gender and race, while incorporating a lot of humor and even more tension to keep the student reading.


There are only two potential hesitations that I would have over sharing this text.  First, the narrative does include a bomber who sets several small explosions with fireworks.  There are a few injuries due to the bombs, but nothing too serious and there’s no real damage to the building.  But nonetheless, in a post 9/11 world, that alone could give some teachers and parents some serious pause.  The other reason is the fact that the book jumps from perspective to perspective, including those of adults.  The adults would still manage to entertain most readers, but the repeated shifting in points of view may be more difficult for some.

Also, while the text still manages to feel very present, there are a few references that a teacher could take on as a "teaching moment."  One example is a mention of the Black Panthers.


After finishing this book, a teacher could recommend Agatha Christie herself as a comparative follow-up.



Activities to do with the book:


This is a wonderful book to encourage students to create charts to track characters,  their traits, their relationships and plot developments involving them.  But instead of presenting it as homework or an organization technique, a teacher can introduce the process as a detective’s tool.  That may spark some interest.


This is a fun and classic literature circle mystery or read aloud that does a good job of creating interest with most readers.  It could provoke discussions on race, disabilities, feminism, death and the classic sketch “Who’s on First," as well as lessons on how to play chess.



Favorite Quotes:


“The sun sets in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east.  Strange.

Sunset Towers faced east and had no towers” (p. 1).


“Who were these people, these specially selected tenants?  They were mothers and fathers and children.  A dressmaker, a secretary, an inventor, a doctor, a judge.  And, oh yes, one was a bookie, one was a burglar, one was a bomber, and one was a mistake.  Barney Northrup had rented one of the apartments to the wrong person” (p. 6).


“[Turtle Wexler] was pure of heart and deed; she only kicked shins in self-defense, so that couldn’t count against her” (p. 20).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Reading Posters Worthy of Mockery: Denzel Washington

He looks so happy!  I've seen many of Denzel's movies, but rarely seen such a nice smile from him.  Could that be the power of the great Dr. Seuss to cause such joy?

Perhaps it's because Denzel has set a record:  First grown man to enjoy reading Dr. Seuss from the comfort of an leather arm chair while wearing a suit and tie.  All that he's missing is a crackling fire and a pipe.  Maybe a glass of wine in one hand too.  Or would that be overkill?  I bet Dr. Seuss's writing would be especially fun for an adult who has had a glass of wine or two.

I'm sure Dr. Seuss would appreciate the gesture of dressing so nicely to read about refusing to eat green food--green food that has no business being green unless you're looking forward to dying from food poisoning.  (I know I would be.  Except I don't eat ham.  Damn, it feels good to be a vegetarian.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

REVIEW: Talkin' About Bessie

Grimes, N.  (2002).  Talkin’ About Bessie:  The story of aviator Elizabeth Coleman.  New York:  Orchard Books.





Bessie Coleman is quite the amazing historical figure.  The day she realized she wanted to become a pilot, she quit her job.  She then learned French so she could go to flight school in France.  After an accident that grounded her in a hospital, her first plan was to get back up in the air.  Bessie is a wonderful role model of dedication.

This Coretta Scott King Award winning biographical sketch has a unique frame of including the voices of the first African American female aviator’s family and friends’ voices describing her and the events of her life.  The premise is that 20 people in Bessie’s life have gathered for her funeral.  What follows are multiple accounts of Bessie as she aged in poetic form—her desire for education, to go North, to find the right career, to fly. 


The paintings of Talkin' About Bessie are realistic and wonderful.  E.B. Lewis included portraits of each person who is “speaking” about Coleman, which is a nice addition.


The book would probably need some added support from a teacher if it’s used with a child under third grade to remind the child among the speakers’ connections to Coleman and to explain the historical context.



Activities to do with the book:


This would be a wonderful recommendation for a student who is interested in black or female trailblazers or interested in aviation.  After doing a lesson on the Wright brothers or Amelia Earhart a teacher could easily transition to sharing Coleman’s story.


If a teacher were using the book Let It Shine, this would be a wonderful book to share as a shorter alternative with many same themes (achievement, education, service, literacy, etc).


On the creative side, students could take on the perspective of others and write poems of what they think those people would think of them.  Another option would be to write positive stories about other students’ achievements.  Students could also dramatize each eulogizer’s speech to turn the book into a speech project.



Favorite Quotes:


“The form of the following story is fictional,

But the story itself is based on fact.”


“When it came to knowledge, Bessie was a miser,

hoarding facts and figures like gold coins she was

saving up to spend on something special.”


“I haven’t made up my mind about being a pilot,

but Bessie made me believe I could be anything.”


Monday, May 25, 2009

REVIEW: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Carroll, L.  (2005).  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.   New York:  Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.




So, let’s start out with honesty.  I was never a big fan of Alice and her adventures as a child.  I found the cartoon tense and unnerving—too many “off with her head” declarations.  And now, reading it as an adult, I found it…trippy.  Too trippy for me.


It begins simply enough.  Bored, Alice notices a white rabbit and follows it through a rabbit-hole into a world where she can change her height with a taste of certain foods and drinks, cats smiles, caterpillars smoke from hookahs, babies turn to pigs and time is a person.


While the illustrations will help ease a reader into the text of this edition, there are still A LOT of text on each page, which may intimidate some (including me).  I did find that after I started reading, the story went quickly, with flashes of memory from the Disney cartoon helping me to visualize, surprisingly enough.  And I think connecting the book to other texts may be a way to ease some readers like me into the text.  A teacher could pair it to Sachar’s Wayside School series or the movie Labyrinth. 



Activities to do with the book:


A teacher could create a lesson on manners or consider British history and philosophies of the nineteenth century. 


If this book was used with high school students to draw out symbolisms, a teacher would probably have to address the implication of drug use among writers in the nineteenth century.


Since some students may have trouble engaging with the book, especially if they’re struggling readers, this book may be best as an individual recommendation. 


A teacher could connect this classic to other books (a few are mentioned above).



Favorite Quotes:


“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the band, and of having nothing to do” (p. 7).


“For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible” (p. 11).


“Well, then,” the Cat went on, “you see a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased.  Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry.  Therefore I’m mad.”

“I call it purring, not, not growling,” said Alice.

“Call it what you like,” said the Cat.“ (p. 58).

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Twenty-One

Ugh.  Has it been a week already?

I've been working on editing a story for a competition that is going to be judged by a children's author I used to love as a child.  The idea of a favorite author reading my work (even if it is anonymously) makes me jittery.

In the mean time I've submitted a couple of stories to magazines.  It's strange, I've gone through the children's literature guide to magazines so many I can't remember which magazines I've only considered submitting to and which I've actually sent work to.  Luckily, I keep a chart so I can check for sure.

On the school front, how about those final papers?  I should probably do something about those, huh?  Hmmm.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

REVIEW: Zorgamazoo

Weston, R.P.  (2008).  Zorgamazoo.  New York:  Razorbill.




Adventurous and imaginative, Katrina Katrell sees a creature in the subway system.  This flight of fancy proves to be the final take-off for Katrina’s guardian who promptly arranges for her charge to be lobotomized.  Overhearing said plan, Katrina escapes and is reunited with the creature she saw in the subway, a Zorgle named Morty, who has been chosen to find the missing Zorgles of Zorgamazoo.  Together they embark on a quest.  Oh, and the entire book is told in rhyming couplets.


From the opening couplets, it is obvious this fantastic book in verse is meant to be fun to read.  It has a Dr. Seuss-Alice in Wonderland-The Tale of Despereaux vibe, with elaborate and inventive rhymes and direct addresses to the readers.  A few of the rhymes do feel forced, but if you attempt to rhyme for 280 pages, there are bound to be a few moments of stumbling.


Since it’s often around fourth or fifth grade that students’ love for poetry tends to sputter and then die tragically never to be resurrected, this book could help keep the fire of poetic love a burnin’.  (Metaphor gone too far and too gross?)

While there (sadly) is no audio version of this book, a teacher could share a bit of Weston's self-recording of him doing a short read aloud of part of the book before taking over him or herself.  Even as a read aloud, students should still have access to look at the narrative, since portions of the text take on the form of a concrete poem.



Activities to do with the book:


While this book (as with most poetry) is a good read aloud, children will want to see the illustrations and the way some of the poetry is laid out on the pages, so it will probably be best if the students also have copies to look over as the teacher reads.


Students could create their own illustrations to accompany the text or their own poems in response.  A teacher could also trigger conversations on the nature of being a hero, being an outsider, being imaginative, having to live in the shadow of a parent, having to deal with parental pressure, etc.


Plus, since the couplets do make use of some ear and eye rhymes and similes, a teacher could mention some of the rules of poetry, but I personally wouldn’t be too forceful about it, what with wanting to maintain a fiery passion for poetry instead of kill said passion.


Also, since there are some large vocabulary words, the poetic form may help kids to sound out said words for themselves if a teacher pauses to focus on those words or if a student is reading the book on their own.  A teacher could encourage students to research many of the mythical creatures mentioned throughout the text.


When starting and finishing this book, it would be fun to allow students to bring in blankets and pillows to help make the read aloud comfortable.  A teacher could also prepare some hot chocolate to prepare the atmosphere.


Favorite Quotes:


“Here is a story that’s stranger than strange.

Before we begin you may want to arrange:

a blanket,

a cushion,

a comfortable seat,

and maybe some cocoa and something to eat” (p. 3).


“Morty!” he bellowed, “you dithering dupe!

You stink!  Like a heap of my goopiest poop!” (p. 28).


“He couldn’t just sit there, he couldn’t just wait.

He’d been poked…by the ficklest finger of fate!” (p. 56).


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

REVIEW: Five Children and It

Nesbit, E.  (2004).  Five Children and It.  New York:  Puffin Books.




Five children (thus the first part of the title of this book—although one of the five kids is a baby and is not involved in all of the events) leave their London home with their mother visit the countryside for a week.  Within hours of their arrival they discover an ancient sand fairy living in a gravel-pit.  The grumpy fairy grants the children one wish each day.  The catch?  The wishes only last one day and the kids never quite get what they expect.


While I liked the premise of the book, the actual execution was a little too preachy or didactic for me.  I like my lessons to be subtle and reached gradually, instead of shark-shaped and biting me.  Don’t get me wrong, I too believe the wee children of the Earth should enjoy being ugly, being aware that an abundance of coins are heavy, loving their whiney little baby brothers, planning ahead when they’re gifted with magical wings for the inevitable moment when those wings disappear, etc.  I just like to feel I’m realizing these important lessons myself.


I still liked the narrator, who occasionally interrupted the narrative to speak in the first person and refer to aspects of the story (mmmm, metafiction).


I struggled with the way this book defined class.  In similar fashion to Peter Pan, “poverty” means only having a few servants instead of many.  Poor nineteenth century British kids.  Life is pain.



Activities to do with the book:


If I were to use this book, it would probably be as a read aloud or individual recommendation.  It would be especially good for a child who is addicted to fantasy, along with this book they could also explore the works of Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien, L. Frank Baum and C.S. Lewis.

If a student needed to do a presentation or short paper based off of this book, they could research fairy lore.


Favorite Quotes:


“The house was three miles from the station, but before the dusty hired fly had rattled along for five minutes the children began to put their heads out of the carriage window and to say, ‘Aren’t we nearly there?’” (p. 1).


“For London is like prison for children, especially if their relations are not rich” (p. 2).


“I feel that I could go on and make this into a most interesting story about all the ordinary things you do yourself, you know—and you would believe every word of it; and when I told about the children’s being tiresome, as you are sometimes, your aunts would perhaps write in the margin of the story with a pencil, ‘How true!’ or ‘How like life!’ and you would see it and very likely be annoyed.  So I will only tell you the really astonishing things that happened, and you may leave the book about quite safely, for no aunts and uncles either are likely to write ‘How true!’ on the edge of the story.  Grown-up people find it very difficult to believe really wonderful things, unless they have what they call proof.  But children will believe almost anything, and grown-ups know this.  That is why they tell you that the earth is round like an orange, when you can see perfectly well that it is flat and lumpy; and why they say that the earth goes round the sun, when you can see for yourself any day that the sun gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night like a good sun as it is, and the earth knows its places, and lies as still as a mouse” (pp. 4-5).


“Almost everyone had Pterodactyl for breakfast in my time!  Pterodactyls were something like crocodiles and something like birds—I believe they were very good grilled” (p. 14).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

REVIEW: King Dork

Portman, F.  (2006).  King Dork.  New York:  Delacorte Press.




A self-described dork, Tom begins tenth grade girlfriend-less, with only one friend and still thinking about the car accident that killed his father several years previously.  After being assigned to read Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye again and leaving his own copy at school, Tom finds his father's old copy of that book and some others from the 1960s.  Interested in the marginalia (notes written in the margins), Tom begins to suspect a larger mystery is at work.


When I started this book, I was under its spell, laughing out loud and totally amused by all of Tom's insights and run-on sentences.  As I kept reading, the love subsided (but still managed not to completely die).  Many of the sections felt like rambling essays that didn’t add to the plot or tension.  There is no perfect conclusion to some of the mysteries, which I was fine with, since it felt realistic and managed to comment on the meanings we place upon the past.  


There are multiple sexual situations that probably takes this book out of the running for an actual class to read.  But it could still be a great recommendation for any teen that likes John Green, Susan Juby or Markus Zusak's books.


Activities to do with the book:


At the very least, King Dork is a wonderful personal recommendation to make to young adults, especially if that teacher does a unit on Catcher in the Rye or some of the other 1960s books referenced.  A complete list of the books and other fun stuff can be found through Portman's website.


If a teacher managed to find a context in which they could share this book in a school setting, the could have students read some of the novels from the 1960s and research that time period.  In groups, students could also research some of the bands also mentioned in the text and consider the history and social pressures that influenced the groups.  A more creative option would be to have students take on the role of graphic designers and create album art for bands they would create.




Favorite Quotes:


“It’s actually kind of a complicated story, involving at least half a dozen mysteries, plus dead people, naked people, fake people, teen sex, weird sex, drugs, ESP, Satanism, books, blood, Bubblegum, guitars, monks, faith, love, witchcraft, the Bible, girls, a war, a secret code, a head injury, the Crusades, some crimes, mispronunciation skills, a mystery woman, a devil-head, a blow job, and rock and roll.  It pretty much destroyed the world as I had known it up to that point.  And I’m not even exaggerating all that much.  I swear to God” (p. i).


“The call me King Dork.

Well, let me put it another way:  no one ever actually calls me King Dork.  It’s how I refer to myself in my head, a silent protest and an acknowledgement of reality at the same time.  I don’t command a nerd army, or preside over a realm of the socially ill-equipped” (p. 5).


“I should mention that The Catcher in the Rye is this book from the fifties.  It is every teacher’s favorite book.  The main guy is a kind of misfit kid superhero named Holden Caulfield.  For teachers, he is the ultimate guy, a read dreamboat.  They love him to pieces.  They all want to have sex with him, and with the book’s author, too, and they’d probably even try to do it with the book itself if they could figure out a way to go about it.  It changed their lives when they were young.  As kids, they carried it with them everywhere they went.  They solemnly resolved that, when they grew up, they would dedicate their lives to spreading The Word.

It’s kind of like a cult.

They live for making your read it” (p. 12).

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Twenty

I've been feeling a lot of pressure to write, that working on one of my books is exactly what I should be doing.  Unfortunately, I have two final papers, a presentation and another two research projects looming that prevent me from devoting any large chunks of time to serious creative work.  Very annoying.

Mood-wise, I am feeling a little less pained by all the rejections.  I just misplaced my turtle's shell of toughness and indifference for a few weeks there.  But I found it, (it'd found employment as a new age coffee table) and I won't lose it again.

Forward March!

Friday, May 15, 2009

REVIEW: Chanda's Secrets

Stratton, A.  (2008).  Chanda’s Secrets.  New York:  Annick Press.




 Set in an imaginary southern African country, Chanda manages preparing the funeral for her youngest sister, helping a best friend about whom rumors circulate, supporting a weakening mother, and watching many deal with a disease that affects many but remains stigmatized and unnamed.  Chanda juggles her secrets with a mix of fear, love and denial.  At the source of them all is AIDS, the unnamed killer.  

This well-written problem novel is penned by a Canadian author, but seems to realistically present the experience of living in southern Africa.  This book is emotional engaging and thought provoking.

Chanda's Secrets now has a sequel, Chanda's Wars.  Is it necessary?  Probably not.  But that hasn't stopped many other author from writing a continuation to a successful and award winning book.  


Activities to do with the book:


With young adult students, a teacher could emphasize the images and themes of being trapped or in a social prison. 

A teacher could supplement parts of this book (particularly chapter 12) with statistics about AIDS internationally.  You could start here, here or here. 



Favorite Quotes:


“I’m alone in the office of Bateman’s Eternal Light Funeral Services.  It’s early Monday morning and Mr. Bateman is busy with a new shipment of coffins” (p. 1).


“A shock?  Sara [Chanda’s little sister] was alive two hours ago.  She was cranky all night because of her rash.  Mama rocked her through dawn, till she stopped whining.  At first we thought she’d just fallen asleep.  (God, please forgive me for being angry with her last night.  I didn’t mean what I prayed.  Please let this not be my fault.)” (p. 3).


“Save your anger to fight injustice.  Forgive the rest” (p. 31).


“The real reason the dead are piling up is because of something else.  A disease too scary to name out loud.  If people say you have it, you can lose your job.  Your family can kick you out.  You can die on the street aloud.  So you live in silence, hiding behind the curtain.  Not just to protect yourself, but to protect the ones you love, and the good name of your ancestors.  Dying is awful.  But even worse is dying alone in fear and shame with a lie” (p. 35).

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

REVIEW: If Animals Kissed Good Night

So, after looking over Crocodaddy two days ago and examining Kim Norman's first book Jack of All Tails yesterday, I thought I'd examine some of the other books David Walker illustrated. I happened to get ahold of four of his books. If Animals Kissed Goodnight is below and three other of his picturebooks are below that.

Paul, A.W. (2008). If Animals Kissed Goodnight. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

If Animals Kissed Goodnight shares the way a number of animals kiss goodnight. While some strict adults may frown upon all the anthropomorphized animals, there is still a lot of fun vocabulary words that toddlers and other youngins can learn from this text. Most of the text is structured into rhyming couplets, which works well.

As the story progresses, the sun sets, brining nighttime to the animals in the illustrations and preparing the reader for bed. Following Walker's other books, these illustrations are light, pleasant and with a sense of humor that matches the text well.

Activities to do with the book:

This is a wonderful bedtime read, probably best left for parents or siblings to read to young kids. I suppose the book would also work for nap time, but I'd still recommend sharing it among family. A teacher reading about all this kissing could be a little...awkward.

If a teacher or parent is bent on turning this story into a lesson, they could focus on the rhyming couplets and have young students try to make their own rhymes and illustrations of animals or family members.

Favorite Quotes:

"If animals kissed like we kiss goodnight,..."

"Walrus calf and her papa would make whiskery swishes,

rubbing each other in scritch-scratchy kisses."

"If animals kissed like we kiss good night,

the sky would turn black, the moon would shine bright,"

For more information on David Walker's work as an illustrator or for information on his latest book, Crocodaddy, check out the other blogs on the tour below:

A Christian Worldview of Fiction, A Mom Speaks, A Pathcwork of Books, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama,Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings,, Looking Glass Reviews, Maw Books Blog, Never Jam Today, Olive Tree, Our Big Earth, Reading is My Superpower, SMS Book Reviews, The 160 Acrewoods, Through a Child’s Eyes

REVIEW: Little Monkey Says Good Night

Paula, A.W.  (2003).  Little Monkey Says Goodnight.  New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


Despite the sky being dark and the moon being high, Little Monkey manages to avoid going to bed a little longer by saying goodnight to...everybody at the the circus where he lives.  He does tricks to go from person to person and animal to animal, saying goodnight to them all and impressing the circus's audience.  

While this would be a good bedtime story, a parent would have to be careful when sharing it.  The illustrations remain light and active up until the last page.  This story may serve to rile-up some children instead of calm them down.

The illustrations incorporate a great amount of physical humor among the characters and do a good job of creating a circus atmosphere and showing the members of a circus troupe.  

Activities to do with the book:


 Yet another good bedtime story.  Of course, with some children who look for any possible reason to stay awake a few more minutes, Little Monkey's example may not be the best.

This is also a good story to share with young children going to the circus for the first time.  A parent, sibling or teacher can point out ringmasters, clowns, strongmen, elephants, jugglers etc.


Favorite Quotes:

"Come little Monkey," Papa Monkey says.  "The sky is dark.  The moon is high.  It's time for bed."


"But little Monkey Leaps


right into Mama's arms.

"Good night, Mama."


 To learn more about David Walker's illustrations and to read more about his most recent book, Crocodaddy, check out the links below:

 A Christian Worldview of Fiction, A Mom Speaks, A Pathcwork of Books, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama,Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings,, Looking Glass Reviews, Maw Books Blog, Never Jam Today, Olive Tree, Our Big Earth, Reading is My Superpower, SMS Book Reviews, The 160 Acrewoods, Through a Child’s Eyes

REVIEW: Puppies! Puppies! Puppies!

Meyers, S.  (2005).  Puppies!  Puppies!  Puppies!  New York:  Harry N. Abrams, Inc.


First off, let me tell you, when you type "Puppies!  Puppies!  Puppies!" over and over again the word starts to lose all meaning.  While "Kittens!  Kittens!  Kittens!" is by the same writing and illustrating team, I don't think I could handle reviewing that book too.  At least not this week.  Too much fun with words.

This light and fun poem serves as a good introductory to puppies and how they grow.  The illustrations are light and show puppies (there's that word again) at their cutest and most troublesome (but still adorable).  

What I found interesting is that this book also implies ways to help train dogs.  The idea of "going off to school" could also appeal to children going off to preschool or kindergarten for the first time.  The growth of the puppies, could provoke a conversation with a toddler about how they will grow and go to school too.

Activities to do with the book:


 This book would be great for any toddler or other young child who likes puppies or is about to get one as a pet.  They could gain a lot of wonderful adjectives to help them describe dogs and other animals in the future.

This would also be a great book for students that are learning English as their second language, since it also includes language pairs like here and there, small and tall, old and young, etc.

This book could also be paired with an introductory lesson on nutrition, a dog's growth process and the need for children to help obedience train their new dog.


In a preschool, this may be a good book to share before snack time.  After the reading, the children could pretend to be puppies and could do doggy tricks to "earn" their treats.

Favorite Quotes:


"Puppies big and puppies small,

Puppies short and puppies tall.

Spotty, wrinkly shaggy puppies,

Bouncy, wriggly, waggy puppies."


"Puppies going off to school,

Collars, leashes, that's the rule.

Learning how to sit and stay,

Getting treats when they obey."


To find out more about illustrator David Walker's most recent book, Crocodaddy, check out these other blogs:

A Christian Worldview of Fiction, A Mom Speaks, A Pathcwork of Books, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama,Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings,, Looking Glass Reviews, Maw Books Blog, Never Jam Today, Olive Tree, Our Big Earth, Reading is My Superpower, SMS Book Reviews, The 160 Acrewoods, Through a Child’s Eyes


REVIEW: Before You Were Mine

Boelts, M.  (2007).  Before You Were Mine.  New York:  G.P. Putnam's Sons.


In case you hadn't noticed, David Walker has a way with illustrating animals.

And let me tell ya, this picturebook packs an emotional punch.  A knock-out punch.

In Before You Were Mine, a boy contemplates where his dog had lived before becoming his pet.  The books shows the trouble that a puppy can cause, but also reinforces the fact that with the right family, a dog can feel loved.  The repetition of "Before you were mine..." reinforces a sense of belonging and happy ending for the dog and boy that allows the narrative to consider some of the less than ideal possibilities of what had happened to the dog previously--animal abuse or abandonment.  

The illustrations match the text well and, in the darker moments, manages to capture the sentiment of loneliness and pain without being controversial or startling.  For example, this is the illustration accompanying the the portion of the narrative implying abuse:

What's more, the text goes on to explore the fact that the boy's old dog had been put to sleep, but that the boy can have a new beginning with a shelter puppy.  So a teacher could also touch on issues of life and death.

Also, this is a book I recommend buying, because apparently the author, Maribeth Boelts will donate a portion of the profits to the Humane Society.

Activities to do with the book:


 This would be a wonderful book to share with children who have or are about to adopt a pet from an animal shelter.  It could trigger a discussion on the responsibilities and difficulties of having a young pet, as well as the fact that some animals are abused before being rescued and taken to a shelter.

Also, a teacher could gently enter into a discussion of physical or emotional abuse with children, using the dog as a metaphor for the experience.


This picturebook could also be an introduction or conclusion to the themes in Sharon Creech's Love that Dog.

Favorite Quotes:


"Before you were mine...Did you live in a warm house with warm smells, and a rug that was only yours?"

"Before you were mine, someone must have let you go..."

"Before you were mine...was someone mean to you?

Were you kept on a chain,

with a dusty bowl

and lonely sounds all around?

Did someone say, "Bad dog,"

even though it wasn't true?"

"Before you were mine...

they couldn't have known what they had

in a dog like you...

or they would have never let you go."


To find out more about illustrator David Walker's most recent book, Crocodaddy, visit the blogs listed below:

A Christian Worldview of Fiction, A Mom Speaks, A Pathcwork of Books, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama,Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings,, Looking Glass Reviews, Maw Books Blog, Never Jam Today, Olive Tree, Our Big Earth, Reading is My Superpower, SMS Book Reviews, The 160 Acrewoods, Through a Child’s Eyes



Tuesday, May 12, 2009

REVIEW: Jack of All Tails

Norman, K.  (2007).  Jack of All Tails.  New York:  Dutton Children's Books.


Jack of all Tails manages to capture the same sense of imagination as Norman's Crocodaddy, but for a slightly older audience.  Realizing that they're good with animals, Kristi and her family decide to start a business, pretending to be animals to help soon-to-be pet owners learn responsibility.  Kristi, eagerly researches various animals, but struggles to find the perfect animal job for her.

With fun illustrations and well-chosen adjectives, Jack of All Tails has a similar fun idea of that of Dog Day, (which I reviewed previously) readers may be entertained to watch human characters behave like animals.  This book can trigger discussion and students' stories about their own pets.

This was my favorite page of the book:

I think I feel this way because I've often caught my cats giving me a similar look.  I swear, I don't actually imitate them that often.

Activities to do with the book:


 This book lends itself to discussing the responsibilities that go with taking care of a pet.  Students could discuss their own pets and the trials of taking care of them and create illustrations to accompany their stories.  A teacher could also use this book to start a discussion on possible summer jobs for kids and how to advertise.

A teacher could also have students make lists of the various chores involved with caring for pets.  And, of course, a teacher or parent could always encourage students to pretend to be pets for a while.  


Favorite Quotes:


 "My family is a bunch of animals...for the right price.  We snuffle and snuggle and snort for a living."

"Mom played tug-of-war with an old sock.  Dad did tricks, like rolling over and begging."

"We can be people trainers--you know, teach them how to take care of their pets."


 To find out more about Jack of All Tails click here, to find out about Kim Norman's other book, Crocodaddy, click here or on the links below:

A Christian Worldview of Fiction, A Mom Speaks, A Pathcwork of Books, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama,Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings,, Looking Glass Reviews, Maw Books Blog, Never Jam Today, Olive Tree, Our Big Earth, Reading is My Superpower, SMS Book Reviews, The 160 Acrewoods, Through a Child’s Eyes

Monday, May 11, 2009

REVIEW: Crocodaddy

Norman, K.  (2009).  Crocodaddy.  New York:  Sterling.




Through rhyming couplets, Crocodaddy shares the story who, while visiting a pond hunts and plays with the huge Crocodaddy that lurks in the water.  This is a first-time partnership between author Kim Norman and illustrator David Walker.  They co-created this light and imaginative story well.


Because of the pleasant and happy expressions on both the young boy and Crocodaddy’s faces, readers know for certain that there is no danger involved.  The boy is safe and having fun tussling with the huge Crocodaddy.  The illustrations overall are light and fun with good use of color.  They also include subtle hints about the identity of the crocodaddy.


This picturebook could also be presented as a slight mystery.  Who is that Crocodaddy that the boy must wrestle?  But more than that, it’s a good father-son bonding book (although daughters would enjoy it too!) that shows the importance of imagination.



Activities to do with the book:


Crocodaddy would be wonderful for toddlers and as a read aloud for the youngest of children learning to read.


While I’m not certain I’d share this with young kids right before they dive into a pond, this book could be good to help encourage kids to get ready for bath time or a pool party.



Favorite Quotes:


“Down in the pond by a mossy rock,

something slithers past the dock.

Minnows dart with startled jerks—

This is where the Crocodaddy lurks!”


“Fearlessly, I step in front,

captain of the Crocodaddy hunt!”



Over the next two days, I will post reviews of author Kim Norman and illustrator David Walker’s other picturebooks.

To check out Crocodaddy, click here.  To check out Kim Norman, click here.  And to see the thoughts of other bloggers on this tour click one of the links below:  

A Christian Worldview of Fiction, A Mom Speaks, A Pathcwork of Books, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama,Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings,, Looking Glass Reviews, Maw Books Blog, Never Jam Today, Olive Tree, Our Big Earth, Reading is My Superpower, SMS Book Reviews, The 160 Acrewoods, Through a Child’s Eyes

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Nineteen

So, I'm still lacking motivation.

Nonetheless, I press on, despite the fact it feels like hours to find even one publisher/agent/contest that seems right to submit to.


I'm off to attend the Ohioana Book Festival.  R.L. Stine will be there.  Despite him introducing his TV series Goosebumps after I'd fallen in love with the books when I was a kid, I was always convinced that R.L. Stine HAD TO BE a woman.  Cause if SHE could write such fast-paced books then so could I.  I'll have to find a way to subtly double-check that Mr. Stine isn't, in fact, a woman.  Very subtly.

Friday, May 8, 2009

REVIEW: We Are the Ship

Nelson, K.  (2008).  We Are the Ship:  The story of the negro league baseball.  New York:  Jump at the Sun.




We Are the Ship uses a unique voice to share the experiences of African Americans who were unofficially not allowed to participate in the white baseball leagues and instead set out and formed their own league.  This award-winning book has been honored not only for the information it shares but also for the paintings that are featured throughout the book.  Many interesting facts are also included.  My favorite chapter, or inning as they’re called in this book, is the second inning, “A Different Brand of Baseball.” Which shares many of the quirky happenings that separated the negro league from others and made the games especially interesting.—one player caught balls while resting in a rocking chair, another would pretend to read the newspaper.  You get the idea.


This unusual fully-illustrated information book, includes a unique narrative voice that asserts having experienced the negro baseball leagues of the first part of the twentieth century.  It also assumes blackness on the part of the reader and draws comparisons between then and now when it comes to the way baseball is played.


A cross between a picture and chapter book, this book may especially appeal to reluctant readers who love baseball.  If the student declares him or herself “too old for picturebooks” a teacher could reinforce the fact that there are many interesting sports facts they won’t be able to find anywhere else.


While this book may be intended for boys, I still think the lack of women described is worthy of complaint.  (It does manage to incorporate information about some of the central American leagues, but is completely silent about women players).  The only woman mentioned at all is Effa Manley who owned the Newark Eagles with her husband.  There were, however, a few mentions of women in general:

1.     “Women have always loved ballplayers, you know” (p. 34).

2.     “Latin women sure were pleasing to the eye” (p. 53).

3.     In bigger cities “ladies’ night” games would include beauty or swimsuit contests (p. 66).

What about the women who were married to the league members?  The mothers?  Daughters?  Were they not worthy of a mention?  Ever?  

As a woman who has yet to love a baseball player, know any woman who has loved a baseball player (historically or presently) and who enjoys being a sex object more than ANYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD (it’s why I get up in the morning, dress professionally and conservatively and then go off and teach children’s literature), I’m vaguely offended by all of this.  The narrator, who consistently speaks of ‘us’ and ‘we’ in the voice of an old school black ballplayer, apparently meant 'not women' and 'not me' in that ‘us’.  As if women haven’t already been excluded from enough sports conversations and leagues historically.  You kinda dropped the ball there, Kadir Nelson.

Rant over, I promise.



Activities to do with the book:


This information book could be used to flesh out a lesson about the history of sports or a lesson about segregation, structural and personal.  The story could be used as an example of writing that has a strong voice and could be a model for students to create their own writing voices and narrators. 


A teacher could use the illustrations to do a study on creating portraits or how to show movement.  Seriously, look at some of these paintings, how they capture the details of the players and give them a sense of power:

I probably wouldn’t just hand this information book to most students.  Rather, I’d share small anecdotes from the book to help create interest.


And of course after reading this, students could play ball.



Favorite Quotes:


“We are the ship; all else the sea” (Rube Foster)


“Seems like we’ve been playing baseball for a mighty long time.  At least as long as we’ve been free.  Baseball’s the best game there ever was.  It’s a beautifully designed game that requires a quick wit, a strong body, and a cool head” (p. 1).


“Some guys would clown on the field.  Throw the ball behind their backs and get the guy out at first.  Or play shadow ball, where the infielders would whip an imaginary ball around the bases.  If you didn’t know any better, you’d have thought they had a real ball” (p. 17).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

REVIEW: Soccer Sabotage

O’Donnell, L.  (2009).  Soccer Sabotage:  A graphic guide adventure.  Custer, WA:  Orca Book Publishers.




Devin, the little brother to the team captain of the Lions soccer team tags along as an assistant coach to the Under-18 Canadian National Championships.  While at practice, their coach is seriously injured and Devin suspects a foul play. (Ha!  I’m hilarious)


While presenting a mystery, this graphic novel—one in a larger series—pauses the narrative occasionally to explain some of the proper techniques to play soccer, such as working as a team, being a good team captain, controlling the ball, defending, and scoring. 


I like that the story features a women’s soccer team, but is still predominantly following the events with a boy.  This should help both genders to engage with the text.   Devin’s presence stops the graphic novel from becoming a “girl book,” but also shows girls’ being athletic and strong.  It is also interesting to note, that there are multiple minority figures on the soccer team and all of the girls, except one, are shown to be skinny.  While it is possible to make the argument that these are characters who are among the best at their sport, so of course they should all be healthy.  An argument could also be made that there is “one token heavy girl.”  Pick your side.


The illustrations neither hinder nor improve upon the story.  The language and dialogue are neither painful nor poetic to read.  Together the art and words express the information and narrative well, without distracting from their lessons or overall story.  The mystery itself is fairly well crafted with multiple suspects.



Activities to do with the book:


This graphic novel would be great for a reluctant reader who is crazy about soccer, or for a little extra homework for middle grade members of a soccer team.

Students could also create their own panels of illustrations contributing their own knowledge about how to play soccer, or even make comics for other sports.


Students could also create a chart or poster of possible suspects and motives for hurting the Lions’ captain.  While this technique could help organize all stories, with this book students have the fun pretence of pretending to be a detective.


A soccer team could try to reenact some of the games to learn the lessons presented in the book.   Soccer Sabotage could also be used as a cautionary tale to encourage goodwill among team members.



Favorite Quotes:


“They call soccer the beautiful game.  Watch international stars like Ronaldo or Beckham play the game and you’d have to agree.  Watch my sister Nadia and you’d have your doubts.”


“I’m coach for less than a minute and I’ve already got a mutiny on my hands.”


“Maybe I’d read too many detective comics, but seeing Nate lying on the ground sent my stomach tumbling and that told me one thing:  This wasn’t an accident.  Nate was pushed.”


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