Tuesday, June 30, 2009

REVIEW: The BIG Sleep Book

Van Genechten, G. (2008). The BIG Sleep Book. New York: Clavis Publishing Inc.


Originally published abroad in Dutch in 2005, The BIG Sleep Book was first published in English in 2008.

This board book is just what the title would imply—a book all about sleep. It begins with it being time for bed for young Josh and goes on to share the locations and ways various animals sleep. The illustrations are pleasant and humorous, showing the animals sleeping with smiles on their faces in some funny positions.

The story includes one sentence of dialogue, so a parent or teacher could encourage a young child to repeat or “read” the spoken portions of the text after they’ve heard the story many times.

The story also lends itself to having an early reader name the various animals showed (they are never actually named by the text) or in one case to count the sheep present in the illustration:

Personally, I feel like it may be a slight problem to imply “everybody” sleeps at night as the first sentence of the book does. While it provides an argument for having troublesome toddlers go to sleep “because the book says so,” it also shows a bat sleeping at night, which kids will later learn is not the case. Another flaw of this is that as a child, I can remember fighting with my parents in the summer months over not wanting to go to bed because it wasn’t dark outside yet. If only I’d had this book to show my parents and say, “See…I don’t have to go to bed until it’s night and dark out.” Of course, any parent could point at the clock on the wall in the illustration and argue 7 PM, no matter the time of year, is bedtime. But in my head, this argumentative toddler version of myself would not have been able to read a clock yet and so would have found this counter-argument suspect.

Activities to Do with the Book:

A great book for bedtime. It’s less ideal for naptime, since it reinforces the idea of sleeping when it’s dark. It presents the idea that it’s okay to sleep in different places or positions depending on what is comfortable for the individual.

This can be an excellent book to share with young children who are anxious about going to sleep since the book shows each of the animals smiling as they snooze.

Favorite Quotes:

“Everybody goes to sleep at night.”

“Some sleep on their tummies in the mud.”

“Others sleep on their backs in the grass.”

Monday, June 29, 2009

REVIEW: Betsy and the Boys

Haywood, C.  (1945)Betsy and the Boys.  Orlando:  Harcourt Books.




Don’t judge a book by the cover.  This cover is an update.  The content of this book and the illustrations are authentic 1940s fluff.  Betsy and the Boys follows the daily lives of Betsy and her best friend Billy as they cook, attend school, enjoy Valentine's Day, prepare for a play, wash dogs and play football. 


With all of the ‘gees’, ‘gollies’, ‘jimminies’ and ‘you betchas,’ it’s easy to think the book is stereotypical of the time it’s describing.  That is of course, until you think about the plot.  Billy bakes along side Betsy.  And Betsy searches for a way to play football with the boys.  (Don’t get me wrong, this book doesn’t completely deconstruct gender stereotypes—the parents seem to embody traditional gender roles and Betsy *SPOILER* is subtly directed away from playing football)

Betsy and the Boys shares the experiences of everyday middle class (white!) suburban experience.  Most of the children in the narrative are good and well-intentioned.  The chapters feel episodic (which would lend itself to being read aloud) with an overarching plot that fades in and out.

This is one book in a larger Betsy series by Haywood.



Activities to do with the book:


While I wouldn’t say that Betsy and the Boys is the most tense or fast-paced book in the history of the world, it can still manage to be engrossing as a read aloud to eight or nine-year-olds or as a social studies read into life in the U.S. during the 1940s (without that pesky second World War to bring anyone down).

Older students could use this book to examine how both gender and childhood are constructed.  Since Valentine's Day is celebrated in a certain way in the book, students could "write back" with their own experiences of the holiday.



Favorite Quotes:


“Betsy, Billy, and Ellen had met in the first grade.  They had become fast friends as they worked and played together” (p. 1).


“After the pancake and cream puff experience, Billy began calling Betsy “Pancake” and Betsy called Billy “Cream Puff.”

At first, Billy didn’t mind.  He just thought it was funny.  But when the Wilson boys, who lived around the corner from Billy, heard Betsy call Billy Cream Puff, they screamed with laughter” (p. 16).


“Who ever heard of a girl on a football team?

“Girls can do anything,” said Betsy.  “Girls can fly airplanes and drive taxicabs and run streetcars.  Why can’t they play football?”

“Cause they can’t,” said Rudy.

“Well, I betcha I’ll be on the team,” said Betsy” (p. 20).





Saturday, June 27, 2009

Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Twenty-Six

So, I think I must still be exhausted from last week's intensive class, because I had trouble focusing long enough to do any of my work no matter how often I tried to catch up on my sleep (read:  I took a lot of naps).

I did, however, complete the first draft of TWEETS FROM THE DEEP!!!!!!!!  I think I'm going to have to delay actually posting it on twitter for a little while though.  I want to incorporate a lot of pictures for this story and unless anyone has a plastic (or real) shark they want to loan me, I'm going to have to take a trip to a toy store in the future.  Then, I'll have to find a way to either make my bathtub look more ocean-ey or dye the river I live nearby blue.  So it may be a few weeks before I figure out the details what with also needing to prepare for these pesky candidacy exams in the fall.  

Friday, June 26, 2009

REVIEW: The Composer Is Dead

Snicket, L.  (2009).  The Composer is Dead.  New York:  HarperCollins Publishers.




Music teachers!  Pay attention!  This book is wonderful for you (and for others, but especially for you).


The composer is dead (just in case you couldn’t tell be the title).  Since the death is suspicious, an investigator is called in to solve the mystery.  He questions the various instruments that make up an orchestra, searching for the most likely suspect.  What follows is an introduction to the orchestra and all the instruments that it includes.


This picturebook includes fun definitions and twisted humor many fans of A Series of Unfortunate Events will recognize.  It would be an ideal read to share before beginning book one of the series as a read aloud or as a fun recommendation to a child who enjoyed the 2004 film.  Overall, the story is on the longer side (but that won’t be a problem if a student is already a fan of Snicket’s other books).  But for some readers, it may be intimidating.  But do not fear, the book comes with its own solution:  A CD that includes Snicket narrating the story as well as original orchestral accompaniment by Nathaniel Stookey.



Activities to Do with the Book:


A wonderful read aloud, a teacher could choose between reading the book him or herself with musical accompaniment in the background or having students listen to Snicket’s narration which allows students to hear the author’s voice, but also includes breaks to share samples of the type of music.  (The narrative on the CD would take about 30 minutes) and students could also be allowed to create movements or interpretive dances that reflect the tones of the different styles of classical music incorporated into the narrative.


Another option would be to have students listen while drawing how they see the music or one of the scenes.  To incorporate poetry, students could research one instrument and decide what animal or action the instrument most sounds like and right a poem incorporating metaphors.


This would also be a wonderful introduction to music lessons or to prepare students for a field trip to watch an orchestra perform.  It includes a lot of important vocabulary, for example the different orchestral sections and instruments and a list of various composers that students could research individually or in small groups.



Favorite Quotes:


“The Composer is dead.

“Composer” is a word which here means “a person who sits in a room, muttering and humming and figuring out what notes the orchestra is going to play.”  This is called composing.  But last night, the Composer was not muttering.  He was not humming.  He was not moving, or even breathing.”


“The Inspector was a very handsome and intelligent person, not unlike myself.”


“I will solve this terrible crime against humanity and/or classical music.”


“…we suspect the murder was committed by a foreigner.”

“A foreigner,” the Inspector repeated.  “What say you, French Horns?  You have a strange accident.”

The French Horns did not understand the question, and began murmuring a story about the Old Country.”


Thursday, June 25, 2009

REVIEW: Tears of a Tiger

Draper, S.M. (1994). Tears of a Tiger. New York: Simon Pulse.


This very real drama begins with a newspaper article reporting that a high school senior basketball player, Rob, has died in a fiery car crash. There were three other boys who survived the crash, including Andy, who was driving.

What follows are the conversations, prayers, letters and homework assignments of some of those teens most closely affected by the accident. At the center is Andy’s voice: He struggles with taking Rob’s place on the basketball team, his distant relationship with his parents and his own guilt over the accident. While the conversation format of most of the text may be difficult to follow at first, it becomes easier as the reader continues on to encounter discussions of race, class, suicide, loss, discrimination, familial expectations, etc.

This dark but real work of YA kicked off Draper’s Hazelwood High Trilogy.

Activities to do with the book:

This book would lend itself to having journal entries made in reaction to the text. Students could also write their own dialogues based on events or issues that have occurred in their own high schools and record them or act them out.

This book can serve as a first step for students to discover many of Draper's other young adult novels. Many of which evoke emotional responses.

Favorite Quotes:

“And I’ve just been glad that I had such good friends. Now one of them is gone and I feel responsible” (p. 17).

“Last week I learned that kids my age could die. That was the most frightening experience I ever had. A boy that I knew real well, that sat next to me in study hall, died in a car crash” (p. 18).

“The inside of me is hurtin’. You know what I mean?” (p. 23).

“Well, if you really wanted to know, I wanted to die right after the accident. I wanted it to be me that was dead instead of Rob. He had so much goin’ for himself” (p. 24).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Leaving Darkwood

Breen's Darkwood introduces readers to a new scary beastie, the kinderstalk.

The kinderstalk is described as "twice the size of a sheepdog, but rangier, with long legs and a compact body.  Rusty black fur grew shaggy around its neck and shoulders.  The head was large in proportion to the body, with a narrow muzzle and close-set gold-colored eyes" (p. 31).

The blurry image below is the only evidence that has been captured of this dangerous creature.

So, with these wild beasts roaming the dark wood, the question become, how do children stay safe?  So, I would like to present...

The Top Nine Ways to Avoid Being Eaten Slowly by Kinderstalk 

(because I couldn't think of ten ways)

1.  Don't be a child
2.  Don't go out at night
3.  Don't go in the forest
4.  Don't steal wood from the forest
5.  Don't get lost in the forest
6.  Don't have a drunken uncle named Jock
7.  Don't shoot a rifle into the woods
8.  Don't have relatives willing to sell you for cheap
9.  Avoid the friggin' forest

For more information, on Darkwood click here, or to find out more about M.E. Breen from other bloggers, check out the following links:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

REVIEW: Darkwood

Breen, M.E.  (2009).  Darkwood.  New York:  Bloomsbury Children's Literature.


An orphan named Annie (no relation to the musical Annie) lives with her uncle and aunt who are far from wonderful caregivers.  Annie misses her dead sister as well as her lost friend, Gregor, who along with many other children in the area has been taken by the beastly and hungry Kinderstalk.

Annie overhears her uncle planning to sell her into service at the Drop, a place that Annie is certain will lead to hear death.  Instead, she chooses to run away, an effort that will take her into the woods and on to many dangerous places with her two cats by her side.  Within her first hours of running, Annie encounters the kinderstalk as well as a strange scarred man who is looking for her and a child that is "marked."  What does this have to do with Annie and her new found ability to see in the dark (and, I would argue, her magic ability to overhear many important conversations at just the right time)?  Will she find her way to safety?    And will she be able to help other lost children?

This fantasy feels like a fairy tale, incorporating many of the same themes, tensions and relationships often present in such stories.  The forest described could easily be the Black Forest incorporated into many of the folktales the Grimm brothers collected.  But what is interesting is the fact that the main protagonist and the majority of helpful supporting characters are all female, something the Grimms never really managed.

While the writing is good, I found it easy as a reader to accidentally miss some plot points that could have been emphasized more.  Several time I asked myself, "Wait, how'd we get here?" or "What did I miss?"  Overall, this story never truly managed to completely capture my attention the way I would have liked it to.

Activities to do with the book:


Darkwood has a decidedly German fairytale vibe to it.  It could easily be paired with some of the Grimm's tales for comparison. 

In response to reading this book, students could write their own stories, create illustrations of the kinderstalk or their own invented beasts.  As they learn more about the kinderstalk, they could create new illustrations to show how their perceptions of the creatures have changed.

Since child labor is presented in the novel, a teacher could take this on as a moment to describe the history of child labor in the U.S., the laws preventing it, and how it continues to be an issue worldwide.  


Favorite Quotes:


 "The sun sets so quickly in Howland that the people who live there have no word for evening.  One minute the sky is blue or cloud gray, the next minute it is black, as though someone has thrown a heavy blanket over the earth" (p. 1).

"After seven centuries, you think the moon is going to show its face for you?  Come away from there now and set the table."

Annie Trewitt took a small step back from the window.  She had seen pictures of the moon in books, copied from older pictures in older books, copied from the oldest books of all" (p. 1).


"The Drop.  They were sending her to the Drop, and she would die there" (p. 8).

"Darling, what do you wish for?  The dark is drawing near" (p. 72).

"I have a message for the king, and I'm going to the palace to give it to him" (p. 88).

For more information, on Darkwood click here, or to find out more about M.E. Breen from other bloggers, check out the following links:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Introducing M.E. Breen

Tomorrow I will be reviewing the first book published by M.E. Breen, Darkwood.

A graduate of Yale University, Breen lives in San Francisco and has taught creative writing at Yale and Stanford.  As a child, she grew up with many animals, including rats, newts, cats and rabbits.

To find out more about M.E. Breen you can become her fan on Facebook or visit her website here.

In the mean time, the first chapter of Darkwood is available on M.E. Breen's website.

For more information, on Darkwood click here, or to find out more about M.E. Breen from other bloggers, check out the following links:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Send Us Your Sinspirations!

While looking for children's magazines to send a short story to, I happened upon the submission guidelines for a religious magazine in the 2009 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market that is "looking for sinspirational biographies."

SIN-spirational biographies.


I'm sure I could come up with something.

Too hilarious.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Twenty-Five

What a week!

After an intense, week-long, class that focused on ways to incorporate pop-culture into the classroom, it feels good to return to my regularly scheduled program of preparing for my general exams, preparing submissions, reading, writing reviews, starting on an independent study or two and avoiding cleaning.

Okay, maybe I could use a break from my planned program.  But since I start another five-week course on Monday and I start teaching on Tuesday, I don't foresee much of a break anytime soon.

What do you think the chances are I could write a complete novel in the next day and a half?  Anyone willing to take that bet?  Anyone?

In other news, Jelly Bucket will be published sometime in November.  I'll keep you posted.

Friday, June 19, 2009

REVIEW: Peace, Locomotion

Woodson, J.  (2009).  Peace, Locomotion.  New York:  G.P. Putnam’s Sons.




This sequel to Locomotion continues Lonnie’s story in the form of letters to his little sister (instead of as poems—although these letters certainly have a poetic feel, and a few poems are included throughout the narrative).  Lonnie is about to turn twelve.  He is still living with his foster mother Miss Edna and separated from his sister, Lili.  He hopes to someday be reunited with his sister, but in the mean time, he’ll keep writing letters so he can share the stories of their time apart. 


Lonnie is dealing with some new tensions.  The year before, he had a teacher who supported his writing this year’s teacher isn’t nearly as kind.  While Lonnie attempts to maintain confidence in his writing, he must also deal with his low math scores.

Plus, one of Miss Edna’s biological sons is missing in the war.  Through this, Peace, Locomotion indirectly shares many of the consequences of war.

As with Locomotion (which I reviewed here), Lonnie is still struggling with the way his family has changed since that awful night in December a few years ago.  With the help of one of his friends from school, he begins to realize there are many types of family.

Reading this book, I was even more impressed with Lonnie as a character than I had been with Locomotion.  He feels very authentic and loving.  I can't think of many other characters that I have felt as much compassion for.



Activities to do with the book:


After sharing Peace, Locomotion with students, a teacher could encourage students to make journal entries in an epistolary format or actually form friendships with pen pals in another school, state or country.


The book could open up discussion on foster homes, the loss of parents, sickle cell anemia, the Iraq war (or other wars), funding for education, etc.



Favorite Quotes:


“As you know, in a few days I’m going to be twelve.  That means two things:

1.     In six weeks, you’ll be nine.

2.     In nine more years, I’ll be twenty-one and then I’ll be old enough to take care of you by myself.  And when I’m twenty-one and you’re eighteen, I’ll still be your big brother and kind of like the boss of you.  But I won’t be mean.  And if you want, we can keep living in Brooklyn” (p. 3).


“Every day, the memories get a little bit more faded out of my head and I try to pull them back.  It’s like they used to be all colorful and loud and everything.  They’re getting grayer though.  And sometimes even the ones that used to be loud get real, real quiet.

Lili, do you remember?  There was a time when all of us were together.  There was a time before the fire and before nobody wanted to be my foster mama until Miss Edna came along.  There was a time before your foster mama came and said, “I’ll take the little girl but I don’t want no boys.”  You were the little girl, Lili.  And you didn’t want to go” (p. 7).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

REVIEW: Fish Notes and Star Songs

Hofmeyr, D.  (2005).  Fish Notes and Star Songs.  London:  Simon and Schuster.




In South Africa, the daughter of an anthropologist, Fish is imaginative and loves to paint.  When she meets three strange children she is led on a magical quest to deal with her past and to help her new potential friends deal with theirs.  Characters explore who they are as individuals, develop friendships and encounter some unexpected twists.


With some references to some African history and wildlife, Fish Notes and Star Songs explores themes of loss, empowerment, spirituality and of language and names, their significance and power.

While some people would argue that this story is a fantasy, others will see it as realistic with dimensions of spirituality.

It is worth noting, multiple characters are dealing with overcoming loss and abuse.  The characters deal with their pain in multiple ways, one of which is considering the way language is used.


In terms of its themes and even plot, Fish Notes and Star Songs could easily be paired with Printz winner, Kit's Wilderness by David Almond.  In literature circles, groups of students could read one or the other and discuss or an entire class could read the books one after another and compare how the books consider time, language, their setting and bullies.


Activities to do with the book:


Explore more about Sara Baartman’s story as research papers or in lecture.  A talk could extend out into a general discussion of the treatment of those who are viewed as exotic or the historic exploitation of parts of Africa and other locations.


This book could also lead to some exploration of perspective-taking and a lesson on African wildlife.


For older, young adult students, this book could also be paired with Laurie Halse Anderson’s, Speak because both include issues involving trauma, giving voice to those experiences and natural figures that are featured as metaphors.



Favorite Quotes:


“Her delicate skeleton was lifted from the stand on which it had hung for longer than anyone could remember.  The leg and arm bones made hollow, musical sounds as they knocked against each other gently.  Like bamboo wind chimes in the breeze.  For a moment she seemed to be dancing.  Her legs moving, her arms lifting and her body swaying to some strange music only she could hear.

She was dancing again after being still for so long.  At least, that’s how I imagined it had happened, even though the photograph showed nothing of this” (p. 1).


“In the cave things happened—mysterious, marvellous things—which will disappear from the earth, if no one tells of them.  And, once gone, they will be lost for ever.

So I’ve written it all down in a book, from the very beginning.  And across the cover I’ve written:  Fish Notes” (p. 4).


“I don’t speak not because I can’t speak, but because I don’t want to. 

All the words I want to say will not help.

So I don’t say them.

If words can’t help you what’s the use of saying them>  I don’t need words any more.

All the words I’ve ever known have flown away.  Up, up up into the trees.  Like birds.  They’ve disappeared into the silent leaves” (p. 49).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Presenting Tweets from Space!

In TWO minutes the twittering of Tweets from Space will begin from my twitter page.

Feel free to read as the dramas unfold.

REVIEW: The Little Prince

De Saint-Exupery, A.  (2007).  The Little Prince.  New Delhi:  Heritage Publishers.




After he has to make an unscheduled stop to repair his airplane in the Sahara Desert, an unnamed narrator encounters a lonely Little Prince who is visiting the planet.  Over the time that it takes the narrator, who is both child-like and has similar experiences to the author, to fix his plane he and the Little Prince talk and the narrator eventually learns of the prince’s journeys.


Throughout much of the text there is a sense of “us vs. them” between children and adults.  This is an aspect that many children will latch onto as being humorous.  I, myself, (perhaps as an adult *gasp*) grew tired of critique after critique of various adult jobs.   But this part of the text (roughly chapters 10 to 15) could be a way to jump into having students write their own (hopefully more positive) descriptions of their family members’ jobs.


This book includes a lot of quotable language and has illustrations that are recognizable to this book.  It explores issues of perspective, innocence, friendship, individuality, loneliness, etc.



Activities to do with the book:


Students could create their own drawings of asteroids, planets and animals (or even hats) in response to the text.  And a teacher could give a lesson on astronomy and the Earth's rotation.


Also, since the narrator was discouraged by grown-ups responses to his art when he was six-years-old, a teacher could have a tentative discussion about hopes for the future and never giving up, despite what others say.  (A teacher could even bring in Langston Hughes’s “Dreams” poem.


Since The Little Prince feels lonely and friendless throughout much of the story, a teacher could also begin a discussion on how to handle feelings of loneliness or how to make new friends.


For older middle-grade students, a teacher could also consider the way that the different adults living on the various asteroids the Little Prince visits are portrayed and why.  It is worth noting, one of the adults featured is an alcoholic, so a teacher could discuss substance abuse as an illness to help create a sense of sympathy and understanding instead of immediate judgements.


Also, students could listen to an audio track of a portion of the book in French to trigger young readers to take an interest in learning a second language.



Favorite Quotes:


“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them” (p. 3).


“But on your tiny planet, my little prince, all you need do is move your chair a few steps.  You can see the day end and the twilight falling whenever you like…” (p. 24).


“Is the warfare between the sheep and the flowers not important?  Is this not of more consequence than a fat red-faced gentleman’s sums?  And if I know—I, myself—one flower which is unique in the world, which grows nowhere but on my planet, but which one little sheep can destroy in a single bite some morning, without even noticing what he is doing—Oh!  You think that is not important!” (pp. 28-29).


Don't miss TWEETS FROM SPACE! going down tonight on my twitter page @SJKessel.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Short But Happy Announcement

Just got an email this afternoon that a short creative nonfiction piece I wrote during my senior year of undergrad is going to be included in the inaugural issue of Jelly Bucket.  "When?" you may be asking.  I don't know.  But when I do know, so will you.

So, dance of joy for being published.

Also, to my mom, Kyra and Holly--you three may also want to do a dance of joy (or perhaps a dance of awkwardness), since all three of you are all featured in said story. 


REVIEW: The Way Back Home

Jeffers, O.  (2007).  The Way Back Home.  New York:  Philomel Books.




Irish author Oliver Jeffers shares the imaginative story of a young boy who discovers an airplane in his closet.  The boy flies to the moon, but runs out of gas while he’s up in the sky.  Stuck on the moon, the boy meets a Martian who is having spaceship problems.


This is a wonderful book to help children with fears of the dark, being alone or the unknown while also sharing the importance of friendship to help children through tough times.  It also shows one way in which it is possible to maintain friendships from a long distance.


The illustrations are fun and could be used to encourage students to draw their own pictures of airplanes or characters in different locations around (or off) the world.  Chances are good, students will want to spend a few minutes staring at some of the pages taking note of the details and expressions.



Activities to Do with the Book:


A good read aloud, a teacher could follow up by using the idea of an airplane that could take a child anywhere and have imaginative adventures to destinations.


Another option would be to focus on the idea of a friendly Martian.  Students could come up with ideas of what the Martian would eat, what it’s home would look like, etc.  This could then lead to an introductory lesson on what Mars is actually like.


This is also a good book to use to trigger ideas about teamwork and maintaining friendships even if one of the young friends lives far away.  Students could brainstorm on the various ways that people can remain in contact or design their own ideas for the technology of the future.



Favorite Quotes:


“Once there was a boy, and one day, as he was putting his things back in the closet, he found an airplane.”


“The boy heard noises.  The Martian heard noises.  Both feared the worst.  But as their eyes got used to the dark, both the boy and the Martian realized they’d met someone else in trouble.”


“The boy showed the Martian his empty fuel tank and the Martian showed the boy his broken engine.”


Monday, June 15, 2009

REVIEW: The Battle of Jericho

Draper, S.M. (2003). The Battle of Jericho. New York: Simon Pulse.


Jericho is chosen, along with fourteen other boys, to pledge for the Warriors of Distinction, a school service organization that does a lot more than distribute toys to children. An accomplished musician, Jericho will have to choose between pledging and performing before a Julliard professor.

While told from Jericho’s point of view, readers also may relate to Kofi, a pledge with a heart murmur, Jericho’s humorous cousin Josh, or Dana the first girl to become a pledge for the Warriors of Distinction. The pledges must decide together whether they want to continue forward with the pledging process that is becoming more and more like hazing under the watch of the senior members, one of whom seems bent on torturing Dana.

It would be easy for young adult students to become immersed in this novel due to the emotional and difficult choices some of the students face. For those who hate to see characters faced with injustice, their reactions will be particularly strong.

November Blues is the sequel to this book and provides different perspectives of the same group students after the events of The Battle of Jericho are completed.

Activities to do with the book:

This would be a good book to provoke moral and ethical discussions among students. It could also provoke conversations over peer pressure, hazing, disabilities and loss. This is also a good book to show as an example of contemporary realistic fiction.

If a student has read some of Draper’s other young adult novels, this is a natural recommendation to have them continue their reading.

Also, since most of Draper's novels are set in Ohio, they tend to have special meaning for those of us who have lived in the state.

Favorite Quotes:

“The pledge masters marched the fifteen pledges to the middle of the soggy yard. The ground was muddy and squished as they walked, and the frigid air whipped across the pledges’ wet T-shirts. Sharp needles of rain stung them as they stood there silently waiting for instructions.

“Kneel!” Rick Sharp shouted to Jericho.

Jericho wanted to disobey, but instead he knelt immediately. Cold mud soaked through his jeans in seconds” (p. 1).

“He thought of the prestige of having one of these black silk jackets, the admiring glances in the halls at school, but mostly he thought of Arielle. He tried not to think of the rain and the mud and the stink of Rick’s feet.

“Are you willing to do anything to be a Warrior of Distinction?” Rick demanded” (p. 3).

“Since everyone talked about the Warriors all the time, it was hard to tell what was real and what was made up. Not all the whispers about the warriors were good” (p. 15).

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Twenty-Four

This week I've been devoting my time to write a new project:


For the final project in the class I'm attending next week, I'll be posting my short middle grade, science-fiction story in real time tweets from my twitter account.

The story will be posted on Wednesday night between starting around 9 PM.  So stop by to check it out.

Friday, June 12, 2009

REVIEW: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Dahl, R.  (1964).  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  New York:  Puffin Books.




This classic has a special place in my heart.  By reading this book, I first learned how to spell chocolate.  True story.


Reading it this time around, I was more inclined to eat chocolate while reading.  Also a true story.


I was also struck by how economically relevant this story is in the current recession.  Charlie Bucket and his family are poor.  His father loses his job at the toothpaste factory and the entire family is close to starving, that is of course, until Charlie is one of the five children to find a golden ticket in his Wonka candybar and wins a tour of the mysterious candy factory.


This classic story is pretty much the original form of Survivor.  In the end, there can be only one!  But along the way, the way various children are sent away from the factory serve as didactic moments.  Of course, these lessons seem mainly geared toward parents:  Don’t spoil children, don’t allow children to watch so much television, discourage gluttony, etc. 

There is however a lesson for kids as well—be good, poor and willing to starve.  Good things will happen.



Activities to do with the book:


Since much of the plot is actually dealing with marketing techniques, a teacher could assign students to research contests sponsored by companies (especially those in the food industry).  They could make posters and do presentations about various contests and discuss which techniques seem effective and why.


A brave teacher could also address the treatment of the oompa-loompas and place them in the historical context of a tribe being forced to relocate.  A teacher could discuss colonialism, equality, whether or not it’s acceptable to keep people in a factory as workers and test subjects….


An elementary school could organize gym teams according to the various factory guests’ names.  Nothing appeals like the sound of Team Gloop.


The book lends itself to creating illustrations or dioramas of how they envision the factory to look.  They could also write more songs in response as well.



Favorite Quotes:


“This is Charlie.

How d’you do?  And how d’you do?  And how d’you do again?  He is pleased to meet you.

The whole of the family—the six grownups (count them) and little Charlie Bucket—live together in a small wooden house on the edge of a great town” (pp. 3-4).


“He’s brilliant!” cried Grandpa Joe.  “He’s a magician!  Just imagine what will happen now!  The whole world will be searching for those Golden Tickets!  Everyone will be buying Wonka’s candy bars in the hope of finding one!  He’ll sell more than ever before!  Oh, how exciting it would be to find one” (p. 20).


“…however small the chance might be of striking lucky, the chance was there.

The chance had to be there.

This particular candy bar had as much chance as any other of having a Golden Ticket” (p. 28).


“So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,

Go throw your TV set away,

And in its place you can install

A lovely bookshelf on the wall.

Then fill the shelves with lots of books,

Ignoring all the dirty looks,

The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,

And children hitting you with sticks—

Fear not, because we promise you

That, in about a week or two

Of having nothing else to do,

They’ll now begin to feel the need

Of having something good to read” (p. 141).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

REVIEW: Let It Shine

Pinkney, A.D.  (2000).  Let It Shine:  Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters.  New York:  Harcourt, Inc.




Oh, that Pinkney family.  One after another, successful children’s authors and illustrators.


A Coretta Scott King Honor book, Let It Shine chronologically shares the stories of ten black woman who have fought for freedom and civil rights throughout American history.  The stories are not so much complete biographical accounts of the women, but rather use child-friendly language to share relevant aspects of their lives.  While the accounts are organized chronologically, but do incorporate some overlap in time and even interaction.


Let It Shine does include some well-known freedom fighters, but it also incorporates many lesser-known women whose stories are important to know.  One of the ways to make this book particularly relevant to current events, is through the account of Shirley Chisholm’s political experiences and run for the Presidency.  Pinkney was wise (lucky?) enough to feature Chisholm’s quote “Someday, somewhere, somehow, someone other than a white male could be President” (p. 95).  Pinkney goes on to include in her conclusion to Chisholm “It proved to everyone else that a little girl from Brooklyn , whose parents could not afford to buy a home, could dare to dream of becoming the number-one tenant of the White House.  Shirley had been right:  America was changing” (p. 104).  Hahaha.  And America kept on changing…preparing for Obama to step into that White House.  Wonderful conversation starter.


Each account shares only a few if any historical dates or events beyond the dates of birth and death, so a teacher would have to provide support over the setting and significant influences of the time (or have students research them in groups).


The illustrations are bright, colorful and often metaphorical.  And while there are not pictures present on every page, enough are distributed throughout the chapters to provide students with breaks and keep them motivated.



Activities to do with the book:


If students were assigned to do reports or presentations on these women, the relevant chapter for that student could be invaluable.  A teacher could also incorporate facts from this book into their history lessons. 


A teacher could draw out the fact that several of these women had to drop out of school as young children and work to help keep their families together (Fannie Lou Hamer is one example).  This fact could help get students to contemplate the evolving expectations and treatments of children throughout history.


Students could examine this book (or Nelson’s We Are the Ship, reviewed previously) for personalized language that helps make information books like these ones seem more engaging and familiar.


This is a great resource to keep on the shelf as a reference book or to assign to students on a chapter-by-chapter basis or as recommended reading.



Favorite Quotes:


“On August 28, 1963, one month before I was born, my father stood on Washington D.C.’s great lawn and listened with rapt attention to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his unforgettable “I Have a Dream” speech.  Just blocks away, in my parents’ tiny apartment in southeast Washington, my pregnant mother watched the history-making even on television.  Mom says I kicked and squirmed inside her belly throughout Dr. King’s powerful speech.  And though I was yet to be born, the March on Washington became my earliest experience with the civil rights movement.  But there would be countless others” (p. ix).


“[Soujourner Truth]’s voice to a fiery boom of truth—her truth…”You say Jesus was a man, so that means God favors men over women.  Where did your Christ come from?” she asked.  Then she summoned her father’s backbone strength and stood tall to answer her own question.  “Jesus came from God and a woman.  Man had nothing to do with him” (pp. 6-7).


“By this time America had slipped into what was called the Great Depression.  Times were hard; there weren’t many jobs.  Formerly rich folks and poor folks, black folks and white folks, stood together in the same unemployment lines” (p. 49).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

REVIEW: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Kinney, J.  (2007).  Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  New York:  Amulet Books.



Instead of getting him a notebook that says “Journal” on the cover, Greg’s mom gets him a diary for him to record his daily life.  And despite the wrong name on the cover, Greg does write and draw—about his brothers, his best friend, Rowley, and the various plans and pranks he makes and pulls.


For being a bestseller and being supposedly loved by children everywhere, I wasn’t that impressed with Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Don’t get me wrong, I like it structurally.  It pushes the definition of a picturebook, which I'm all about.  Plus, having cartoons with the text on every page can ease reluctant readers into engaging with a longer book.  The cartoons add a lot of humor.  My problem is with the character of Greg, himself.  He’s kind of a jerk for most of the book, a funny jerk, but still a jerk, a jerk that many kids will love.  And that’s the last time I’ll type “jerk”…for now.


Having said that, Greg’s voice and the experiences he narrates do feel very authentic.  My one critique of this aspect is the fact that the text assumes white middleclass male attitudes.  One attempt at challenging this is the fact that Greg does express some interest in a toy that is typically considered “more appropriate” for girls.


Overall, it is a fun quirky read that many kids can relate and enjoy.  Plus, since it's a fast-growing series, a student can be inspired to keep reading.



Activities to do with the book:


Sharing this book (or the rest of the series) with a class could kick-off a plan to have students keep journals throughout the school year.  They could follow Kinney’s example and include illustrations.


Also, inspired by this book, students could plan and make their own haunted house (or haunted gym, as the case may be) and host it for the younger students or families in the community. 


A teacher could also try to provoke a conversation on whether or not students like Greg as a character and why.  Do they think he’s really wimpy?



Favorite Quotes:


“First of all, let me get something straight:  This is a JOURNAL, not a diary.  I know what it says on the cover, but when Mom went out to buy this thing I SPECICIALLY told her to get one that didn’t say “dairy” on it” (p. 1).


“The best I can figure is that I’m somewhere around 52nd or 53rd most popular this year.  But the good news is that I’m about to move up one spot because Charlie Davies is above me, and he’s getting his braces next week” (p. 7).


“I knew Rowley’s dad wouldn’t be crazy about the idea, either, so we decided to build the haunted house in his basement and just not mention it to his parents” (p. 53).


Related Posts with Thumbnails