Thursday, December 31, 2009

Give Books, Give Smiles

Give Books, Give Smiles has the goal of providing books for Indian youth.

If you would like to learn more or would like to take the pledge to help, follow this link.

It's also worth noting, that often when organizations or people try to give books to people in other cultures, they give books that reflect their own cultures.  While nice, often what children need is to see their own experiences and language in at least a portion of the books they read.  It helps young readers to feel empowered and to keep reading.

Click here to lend your support to: Give Books Give Smiles and make a donation at !

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Literary Feast Discussion: Boneshaker (Part 2)

Boneshaker (Sci Fi Essential Books)Let me tell all ya alls, Boneshaker is just the perfect holiday read.  Am I right or am I right?

Below is our discussion for chapters six to eleven.  Feel free to share your thoughts as well.  We always want to hear more from you, internetz.

Shel:  My what a conveniently timed earthquake (or INconveniently, as the case may be).  It's almost as if it knew just when it'd be the worst time to cave in that tunnel.

Monica:  Yes, how shocking!  How terribly unlikely/tragic that a tunnel which apparently has held up for years under “frequent” earthquakes would choose that exact moment to cave in!  It’s as though the plot required a reason for Briar to go Over The Wall Via Some Sort Of Flying Airship!  (I was thinking, just now, if the entire book counts as an example of deus ex machina, since technically everything was caused by the Boneshaker….)

Shel:  I like that Andan Cly (such a name!) turned out to have helped Briar's dad.  I love it when things come back around like that.  I really wanted to learn more about him and his merry (or silent) men, though.

Monica:  I’m hoping that we’ll learn more in later chapters.  He’s another one that I was super fond of right off the bat (like Hale!) that I felt we didn’t get enough information about.  So fingers crossed for page 158 and on!  I wouldn’t be sad if the other captains showed up either.  Perhaps in some sort of festive bar scene, featuring bawdy tavern wenches and off-key, pirate-like singing.

Shel:  I have a new favorite line!  "He waved his hand at Briar, urging her to come out, come out, come out.  Come out of the hole where the dead birds gather" (p. 114).  I love the rhythm!

Monica:  Mine is definitely “I don’t care if it’s no place for a dog or a rat, it’s going to have a woman in it before sundown, so help me God.  Or Maynard” (p. 85).  Briar and I were pretty  much meant to be besties, I think.  She’s so terrified but so unwilling to show it… loves her!  I’m determined that she get out of this book in one piece, Zeke in hand.  Potentially also after falling in love with Cly.  This doesn’t seem like a rom-com sort of novel, but I live in hope.

Shel:  I'll hope for that too.  Just for you, Monica.  I on the other hand am excited for the rotter attack.  I was hoping they'd make an early appearance.  ...oh, skin...not on a face...ick...Make the rotters go away!!!!!!!!!!!

Monica:  They’re pretty darn awesome.  The part where they’re ricocheting off of buildings and bursting through wooden walls and generally acting like they want to eat some brains?  I had to read that twice, it was so cool.  To confirm, though… it’s the Blight that turns you into a rotter, right?  That is, if you get bitten by a rotter you’re just going to get gross rotter germs on you, rather than actually become one yourself?  Not that getting torn apart by the animated undead isn’t horrid enough, but I wanted to be sure that I didn’t also need to worry about Briar turning all zombified on me.  I don’t think I can handle that sort of stress.

Shel:  Yeah, in this world, it's all about not inhaling the gase.

Monica:  In other news, after looking at the rotter section again, I’ve realized that this… this is really a pretty depressing book you picked out for us.  Next time, let’s do one with unicorns?  *Happy* unicorns?

Shel:  Hey now, take some responsibility there missy.  I was all, "Would you prefer to read Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld or Boneshaker by Cherie Priest"  You're the one that was the one that was all "BONESHAKER!!!!!!!!!"  Also, you want unicorns?  Does this mean you're on the unicorn side of the great zombies vs. unicorns debate?

Monica:  Okay, in my defense, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to consistently pronounce “Leviathan” correctly.  So I went with the one with an easier title, without actually reading the summaries of either one.  Foolish Monica.  Foolish foolish.  (It’s zombies vs. vampires, obviously, due to the way they’re both members of the Walking Undead.  Mummies might be in there somewhere too.  And I think it’s unicorns vs. narwhals?)

Shel:  I can see your point about the title, LEVIATHAN!!!  I showed the book to my students and while I know I said the title a few times, at one point I do think I went with "This, ah, new book by, umm, Scott Westerfeld..."

We'll resume our discussion of Boneshaker on Tuesday.  Then chapters twelve through nineteen will be on our platter.  Hope to type to you then!

REVIEW: Precious and the Boo Hag

Precious and the Boo Hag (Anne Schwartz Books)

McKissack, P.C., & Moss, O.J.  (2005).  Precious and the Boo Hag.  New York:  Anne Schwartz Book.


Appetizer:  Young Precious is home sick with a stomachache while the rest of her family must leave to work on the crops.  Before leaving, Precious's brother warns her about Pruella the Boo Hag who will come and try to make Precious disobey their mother.

While I did like most of the illustrations and the expressions on the characters faces.  I wasn't too fond of the way Pruella was initially depicted:

I guess she didn't seem threatening enough to me.  But then, I realized, that's part of the point.  ANYONE could have been the scary, threatening, monstrous beastie that Precious had to protect herself against.

Dinner Conversation:

Precious had been up al night with a stomachache.  Since it was corn planing time, every hand was needed in the fields.  "got no choice but to leave you here," Mama said.  "Now remember, don't let nothing and nobody in this house--not even me, 'cause I got a key."

"Before he left, Brother pulled Precious to the side.  "Be sure to mind Mama, now.  'Cause if you let somebody in, you never know.  It just might be Pruella the Boo Hag."

"Precious looked out the kitchen window.  Didn't see nothing.  She peered out the side windows.  Didn't see nothing neither.  but when she went to the front window, there it was, riding on the back of a storm--the biggest, meanest something Precious had ever seen."

"Pruella is a Boo Hag--
she was right outside my window.
She's tricky and she's scary,
but I didn't let her in!"

To Go with the Meal:

While sharing a classic tale of folklore with young readers, this story has modern appeal since when many children are ill, it may be impossible for a parent to stay home to care for them.

A teacher could also focus on this story as being a folktale and could discuss how the boo hag makes appearances in many folk stories from blacks who have lived in the South.  From there, a teacher could have students ask their family to tell them other folktales about their town or region or tell stories about their families.

Yet another option would be to go the historical route and discuss farming and sharecropping and the injustices the many black farmers had to endure.

This retelling would be excellent to discuss with middle grade children how sometimes adults tell children certain stories in the hope of influencing the way kids will behave.
(Say, scaring the bah-jeebies out of a kid so they won't go near the hot oven, for example.)  In the case of Precious and the Boo Hag, the danger is strangers.  The teacher could also make a tangent into how sometimes a sibling will have fun at your expense and how sometimes a child needs to be suspicious of the stories their siblings tell them.

This can be a good book (one of many, hopefully!) for a teacher to include in their class library to share historical black culture and language

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

REVIEW: Venomous

Krovatin, C. (3008) Venomous New York: Atheneum Books.


323 pages.

Appetizer: Locke, plagued by uncontrollable anger he has named the Venom, must struggle for a normal life after meeting Renée, the goth girl of his dreams.

I will level with you, friends, because Shel and I have taken a sacred vow to be honest in our reviews. I almost did not read this book. I picked it up. I put it down. I picked it up. I said, “Wow, this looks like a bad Spider-Man ripoff.” I put it down. But eventually, I wound up at my baby sister’s graduation with four hours to fill and nothing to distract me from the endless train of robe-bedecked grads but my copy of Venomous, which was still in my purse from the last time I told myself, “That’s it, I’m returning this dumb thing to the library.”

So I read it.

And thank goodness, because it actually turned out to be a lot of fun to read. I had to keep muffling my laughter into my scarf as parents wielding threatening-looking video cameras turned around to scowl at me for ruining the solemnity of the graduation moment.

I did have a few issues with the book. To be honest, portions of Venomous seemed *too* clichéd. While Krovatin is well aware of this, and even occasionally remarks that one scene or another is like something out of a nineties teen flick, it occasionally gets to be too much. For example? For example, Renée’s description reads like every stereotypical goth girl. Honestly, “Her lips are flawless shining black with a single ring piercing her lower lip down the middle. She's wearing a corsetlike top that pushes her breasts up and outward, vinyl pants, massive death-boots, and a spiked collar. From the bottom of her right eye, an upside-down cross curves down her cheekbone, as though she's crying evil.” sounds like just about every Hot Topic frequenter, alas.

The same is true for Tollevin, Randall, and Casey. It’s a group of friends everyone wishes they could have had, but almost no one actually managed to obtain. (You’ll have to let me know, Mr. Krovatin, which group you fall into.) For a book that does focus on real issues such as bullying, parental separation, homosexuality and clinical depression, the magical group of perfectly eccentric friends is noticeably unlikely – although enjoyable from the reader’s standpoint.

To make matters somewhat worse, absolutely everything is fraught with the kind of angst and drama which would seem normal in Twilight but occasionally becomes grating here, because you *know* the book is better than that. By the time Renée finally snaps at Locke to get over himself, you’ll be so happy you’ll want to rock out to Bauhaus in celebration.

However. For all that the group of friends drove me a little nuts, I loved reading about them. (I have never wanted so much in my life to attend a Weimar party as I did after finishing this book.) It deals candidly with Renée's struggle with depression and her brother’s anger-management problems, which seem somehow more real since he has no Venom to fall back on, as well as Locke's own issues with his family. I also really enjoyed watching Locke's group of friends (esoteric and perfect as they may be) topple slowly to the ground after one misplaced comment. I imagine it would have been a tricky balancing act to keep so many high-strung and emotionally fragile teens together in one cohesive group, and it’s nice of the author to recognize that when you add new people to an established crowd, there are bound to be issues.

Venomous also features brilliant graphic novel illustrations from the side story (Locke as the superhero Blacklight). Again, there’s a little bit of Venom-from-Spider-Man being channeled, but since the majority of comic books lap up against one another, I wasn’t too bothered. We’ll just hope David Michelinie and/or Todd McFarlane don't mind either.

While you never find out *exactly* whether or not Locke is possessed by an alien menace or if he simply has a temper problem (my vote -- temper), in the end it doesn’t even matter. It's Locke as a person that is important, and his journey from Loner With Issues to a stable boyfriend, brother and son is feat worthy of any superhero.

Dinner Conversation:

I throw open the door and there's Randall, all spiky blond hair and vintage suit. He has his acoustic slung over his back and a big Cheshire cat smile on his face. He's shabby but stylish, awkward yet handsome--the kind of boy most skater girls dream of. He could be playing either the owner of a casino or a punk rock troubadour. I envy the whole dichotomy of it all. (P. 33)

"Whoever is inside this monster, please step out," I barked, raising a hand in defense and praying that whoever was behind this mass of twisting fury could hear me. "You are more powerful than this, this thing that has a hold over you. I know you can break free of its hold. Please." (P. 138)

"How have you been?"
"Well!" she chimes, whipping toward me with a maniacal smile on her face. "I flushed all my medication down the toilet. I haven't slept in two days, which is weird, 'cause I've been drinking like a fiend. How do you think I've been?" With the last sentence, she tosses a third-full bottle of gin at me. (P. 302)

If You Thought This Was Delicious, Try:

Spider-Man: The Venom Factor by Diane Duane.

Check out the original Venom in this ridiculously fun book, featuring one of my favorite lines of all time:

"It's always nice to have a purpose," Spider-Man said, "besides eating people's spleens."

Tasty Rating: !!!

REVIEW: Goddess Boot Camp

Goddess Boot Camp (Oh. My. Gods.)*Spoiler Alert*  The Premise of Goddess Boot Camp includes spoilers for by reading any of the review below, you'll be forever spoiled with some of the knowledge of how Oh.My.Gods ends.  Kay?  Do you feel warned, cause, you have been.

Childs, T.L.  (2009).  Goddess Boot Camp.  New York:  Dutton Books.


264 pages

Appetizer:  Set about nine months after the events of Oh.My.Gods, summer has arrived and Phoebe is still having trouble controlling her new-found goddess powers and it would seem the Greek gods have taken notice.  Phoebe has two weeks to learn how to control her powers before the gods will test her.  To help her, her step-dad has enrolled her in a goddess boot camp, which is tortuous in ways different from most boot camps, since all the other campers are about ten-years-old.  On top of that, Phoebe needs to train for the Pythian Games trials, but her running partner and boyfriend, Griffin, may be lying and keeping secrets involving his ex-girlfriend.

So, it's official.  I declare Tera Lynn Childs to be evil.  Pure evil, in fact.  Granted, I've only read two of the young adult novels she's written so far, but she is amazingly skilled at creating horrifying situations for her characters.  Horrifying and embarrassing (and FUNNY!).  Ms. Childs, please promise to never make me one of your characters.  I shudder to think of what hells you would put me through.  *shudders*

But having said that, I feel like poor Phoebe may actually have too much to deal with in this book.  She's getting mysterious messages from someone who has knowledge of the circumstances of her dad's death, she has a race to prepare for, a lying-boyfriend to deal with, a mean step-sister who's suddenly decided to play nice, a test doled out by the gods to prepare for, a boot camp to attend...wowzers, that's a lot.

But having said that too (I'm in to saying things, it's kinda what I do) most of the various stressors in Phoebe's life are connected.   So, while I was reading, it felt like a lot of balls to juggle, but with so many balls, it was easy to get a small sense of the pressure the character was under.  You follow?

Moving on, I felt that Childs's prose were clear and occasionally humorous.  I really felt that the Greek gods were more of a presence in this book than in the last.  That served to give me the feeling that Phoebe's story really is a "Percy Jackson for teenage girls."

Oh. My. Gods.
On another note, I'm very excited that they changed the cover of Oh.My.Gods to this....

Not that there's anything specifically wrong with a nude statue of a man and pink lettering.  I thought the original cover was fitting.  That is, until I was reading the book on the bus and I realized other people could see the fitting cover too.

That was a wee bit embarrassing.

Dinner Conversation:

An honest-to-goodness goddess.
With superpowers and everything.
Okay, so I'm just a minor, minor, minor goddess.  Technically, I'm supposed to say hematheos, which means godly blood, or part god, but goddess sounds much more impressive (to the like ten people I'm allowed to tell)" (p. 3).

"Since we discovered your heritage, the gods have been closely monitoring your dynamotheos progress."
"My dyno-what?"
"Dynamotheos," he repeats.  "The official term for the powers derived from the gods.  They've been observing you--"
"Observing me?"  My teeth clench.  "Like how?"
I imagine the sneaky gods spying on me in the shower or the locker room or when I'm "studying" with Griffin.
"Circumspectly, I assure you."

"I have already arranged for an alternative training program."
I silently hope that means even more private lessons from Griffin, but I know I'm not that lucky.  and Damian's not that considerate of my love life.
"No, not private lessons," he says, proving again that he can read minds.  "I have enrolled you in Dynamotheos Development Camp.  You begin in the morning" (pp. 12-13).

"But what about the next time?  Or the time after that?  Or the time after that?  If I don't get my powers under control, there's always the chance someone might get hurt."
And I might get smoted for it" (p. 38).

"My first clue that something is very, very wrong is the giggling.  It hits me like a wave of endorphins as I pull open the door to the Academy courtyard.  Girls giggling.  Lots of girls giggling.  Lots of young girls giggling.
When I step into the open, I see them huddled in a little giggling mass around a bench in the far corner.  There are at least a dozen of them.  And they are all, like, ten.
I look desperately around the courtyard for signs of anyone who has successfully survived puberty.  No.  There is only me and the ten-year-olds" (p. 51).

To Go with the Meal:

While probably best as an individual recommendation, young adult readers can contemplate how Oh.My.Gods and Goddess Boot Camp show Phoebe as a powerful and determined young woman who won't backdown in the face of discrimination or embarrassment.

Also, after reading this book, a young adult may be more willing to admit that sometimes, like Phoebe, they may not know everything and sometimes that means having to take classes with little ten year olds who think French kissing is the grossest thing ever.

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

REVIEW: Pale Male

Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York CitySchulman, J.  (2008).  Pale Male:  Citizen Hawk of New York City.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf.

Appetizer:  This picture book shares the true story of Pale Male, the red-tailed hawk who made his home in New York City and struggled to survive as more and more bird watchers cheered him on.

The watercolor illustrations (done by Meilo So) are beautiful, capturing the beauty of New York City well, and adding in some humorous caricatures of people for contrast.  While most of the paintings are done in pale colors, the splashes of bright colors draw the reader's eye to them.

What impressed me the most about this book was how the author, Janet Shulman, managed to slide in a lot of information in a very causal and graceful way.  There's a lot of information in Pale Male for the reader to take away, and it's very possible they won't even realize that they're learning it.

Dinner Conversation:

"One crisp autumn day in 1991, a red-tailed hawk flew across the Hudson River from New Jersey.  He flew over smokestacks, skyscrapers, and ant-like traffic to a rectangular oasis smack in the center of New York City.  The hawk soared above Central Park."

"Pale Male hung around the park the way a teenager hangs out at a mall.  He dive-bombed tasty pigeons and rats at their litter-can snack bars.  He chased after ducks and was spotted terrorizing squirrels, seemingly just for the fun of it.  As red-tailed hawks go, he was a teenager."

"Bird experts had never heard of a red-tailed hawk with its nest on a building in the center of a bustling city.  Maybe Pale Male wasn't too smart.
But soon they saw that this bird was actually very smart.  Metal spikes had been embedded in the ledge above the window to keep pigeons away.  By forcing sticks and branches between these spikes, the hawks made a nest that could withstand hurricane winds."

To Go with the Meal:

There are many ways this picture book could be used, including to discuss the layout of New York city and of Central Park, the behavior and growth cycle of birds and more specifically red-tailed hawks, the hobby of bird watching, the way nature can thrive in urban environments, laws that protect animals, the connection people feel toward some animals, those who choose to go against the norm, etc.

(Note--when addressing environmental laws, the text does include a vague critique of the Bush administration's policies)

Since this book is rather text-heavy, it'd probably have to be used as a read aloud with early elementary students, before encouraging students to flip through the book by themselves.

HookI think this would be a good book to pair with the picturebook Hook, by Ed Young.  It also shares the way a hawk grows in an environment and interacts with a person.  There are a lot of differences between the texts, including the amount of works on a page, the setting and focus (Hook is not an information text and shows chickens communicating with Hook the hawk).  A teacher could read Pale Male aloud and then help students to read Hook on their own.  A teacher can focus upon the fact that in both books, hawks learn how to fly and don't give up despite their failures or the risks they face.

To go a completely different direction, after reading Pale Male, a teacher could assign students to research other celebrity animals, sharing not only why that beastie is famous but also some information about that type of animal.

Another option would be to share Pale Male before going on a class bird watching trip.  Did anybody else's school have that kind of field trip or was I alone in having that childhood experience?

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Monday, December 28, 2009

REVIEW: Grump, Groan, Growl

hooks, b.  (2008).  Grump, Groan, Growl.  New York:  Hyperion Books for Children.


Appetizer:  A boy is in a bad mood that turns him into a prowling lion until he can deal with his emotions.

With very few words, this picture book strikes at the heart of a key emotion for young readers:  Anger, a sensation that can turn toddlers (and many 40-year-olds) into a wild animal of tantrum-throwing, roaring, prowling proportions.

I like that this metaphor for anger is shown through the child appearing lion-like (although, some parents and teachers might argue that the change is less metaphorical and more a literal transformation into an animal).

If one accepts the metaphorical implications, this is a great early way to expose young children to the idea of metaphor and representation (without necessarily using those terms, of course).

The book also attempts to share some ways of dealing with anger, including to "go inside"  and to "let those feelings be."

Chris Raschka's illustrations were done in is his usual style, with rough lines that make the pictures look as though they could have been completed by a child.  (And a few times I had to stare at the images for a few moments to try to make out what they were.)

Dinner Conversation:


"Bad mood on the prowl"

"Just let them pass"

To Go with the Meal:

This is a good book to use to discuss emotions and methods for children to calm down when they're struggling to control a tantrum.  Although some kids may have trouble initially understanding what it means to "go inside, let it slide, let them pass," a teacher could guide students to use these words or similar ones as a mantra when they're upset and could also introduce calming flowing hand gestures to accompany the phrases.

Since part of the fun of this book is the sounds of "grump," "groan" and "growl" a teacher could encourage a student to read a loud those words.  A teacher might also ask students what else lions might do when they're upset.  (I'd fully expect students to give the answer, "Roar") so a teacher could encourage students to work on their own roars and they can also learn to make that sound when they're frustrated or angry.

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

REVIEW: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, The
Okay, so, this is a good young adult novel to pair with Eleanor, Quiet No More.  Just so you know, I'm now laughing like a super villain, impressed by my own ability to pair books intended for very different ages that nonetheless explore issues of gender and power.

Lockhart, E.  (2008).  The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.  New York:  Hyperion.


345 pages.

Appetizer:  Frankie Landau-Banks went from a gawky freshman, to a striking sophomore dating the most popular and handsome guy at her elite boarding school to a criminal mastermind by her junior year.  Told in the aloof voice of a researcher, this book shares the dates, the pranks and insights into the secret organization as Frankie progresses from her parents' "bunny rabbit" to a mastermind of unsanctioned boarding school activity who is hungry for power.

This is one of the Printz honors for 2008 and I've been hearing good things about this YA novel and about E. Lockhart all year.

And I have to say, all the good whispers and mentions are justified.  I found The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks to be a wonderful and fun read.

I love Frankie's sense of humor and the way she banters with other characters.  Lockhart does an excellent job of portraying her intelligence as well.  I liked that Frankie, as a woman, felt that she was capable of doing all the same things that the male students felt only they were entitled to do.  I thought that by showing how gender discrimination can still exist (particularly in underground organizations like a pranking secret society--pesky clandestine societies.  Would you please start paying attention to equal rights).  As students' read on, they can contemplate whether they like Frankie's methods of trying to gain access and can consider if any other methods would be possible.

I liked that the conflicts and interactions are analyzed through the lens of power dynamics.  (It really would bring forward that interpretation for students to discuss)  But I did feel, that at least at some points, I would encourage students to think about other ways of interpreting the events and interactions.  I'm a firm believer that the best way to gain understanding is to take into account multiple perspectives or analytic lenses.

Initially, I was a little put off by the fact that this story focused upon the interactions of rich, white kids at the elitist Alabaster Boarding School.  And Frankie was one in their number.  Although, Lockhart doesn't push too hard with confronting the race or class issues, she does directly address and challenge the sense of entitlement many of the characters feel.  And she does so with a lot of humor.

If you wanted to think about the television equivalent of a lot of the content of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, I'd have to say it's definitely Gilmore Girls, although less family focused.

Dinner Conversation:

"I, Frankie Landau-Banks, hereby confess that I was the sole mastermind behind the mal-doings of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds.  I take full responsibility for the disruptions caused by the Order--including the Library Lady, the Doggies in the Window, the Night of a Thousand Dogs, the Canned Beet Rebellion, and the abduction of the Guppy" (p. 1).

"Though not, in hindsight, so startling as the misdeeds she would perpetrate when she returned to boarding school as a sophomore, what happened to Frankie Landau-Banks the summer after her freshman year was a shock.  Certainly upsetting enough to disturb Frankie's conservative mother, Ruth, and to rile several boys in Frankie's New Jersey neighborhood to thought (and even actions) they'd never before contemplated.
Frankie herself was unsettled as well.
Between May and September, she gained four inches and twenty pounds, all in the right places" (p. 4).

"Intellectually, Frankie was not at all the near-criminal mastermind who created the Fish Liberation Society, and who will, as an adult, probably go on to head the CIA, direct action movies, design rocket ships, or possibly (if she goes astray_, preside over a unit of organized criminals.  At the start of sophomore year, Frankie Landau-Banks was none of these things.  She was a girl who liked to read, had only ever had one boyfriend, enjoyed the debate team, and still kept gerbils in a Habitrail.  She was highly intelligent, but there was nothing unusually ambitious or odd about her mental functioning" (pp. 6-7).

"The problem was that to them--to Uncle Ben and her mother, and maybe even to Uncle Paul--Frankie was Bunny Rabbit.
Not a person with intelligence, a sense of direction, and the ability to use a cell phone.  Not a person would could solve a problem.
Not even a person would could walk fifteen blocks all by herself without getting run over by a car.
To them, she was Bunny Rabbit.
In need of protection.
Inconsequential" (pp. 12-13).

To Go with the Meal:

An excellent book recommendation, I would seriously consider using The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks in a high school classroom.  There are a lot of teaching moments that could turn into extensive classroom discussions.  For example, on pages 53-56, the narrator describes a few of the essays and arguments Frankie is learning about in one of her classes, that of the panopticon and Michel Foucault's understanding of the prison in which the inmates would always fear they were being watched.  The narrative explains the experience of being watched by comparing it to the paranoia you might feel if you think someone might have seen you pick your nose.  It is wonderful; not only because the passage is so hilarious, but also because I have a friend who has spent the entire last quarter taking a course that focused solely upon the works of Foucault.  She is working on her Ph.D.  (I of course had to call her and read the entire passage aloud to her, whether she liked it or not.  And she did like.  I mean, she laughed a few times.  But, of course, she may also have been paranoid that I was secretly watching her and would punish her for not enjoying the excerpt.  I will never know!)
But, I love it when a book helps a teacher to present complicated theoretical arguments in a practical and humorous way.  It makes me want to dance.  And harass grad students  into listening to read alouds.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is also just ASKING to be the subject of high school papers that examine the power dynamics and gender expectations throughout the book.  Students could also get into a healthy debate over whether they agree with some of the choices Frankie made.

To go a creative route, students could also write a short story about what they expect Frankie to be doing ten years after the events shared in her disreputable history.

This book could also be a good choice for sisters or a mother and daughter to read together and discuss their own feelings about what a girl should expect from a romantic relationship and whether or not they would want to be the kind of person who gets lost in their significant other or whether they want a more fair balance in a relationship or whether they expect their significant other to get lost in them.  I found the fact that Lockhart included a relationship in which a guy expected the girl to accommodate his friends and interests, without him bothering to take an interest in the girl's life to be wonderful for discussion.

Speaking as a person who, during my teenage years, has lost several friends to "I didn't exist until I met him" type of obsessive romantic relationships, I feel like this needs to be addressed more.  I found myself wishing I could have had Frankie's history to read while I was in high school.  It could have provided some perspective.  (Although, admittedly, I don't think the friends I've lost touch with were masterminding a way to get their love interests to reveal their secrets or attempting to score an invite into a secret society.  But that would have been cooler.)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!!

REVIEW: Eleanor, Quiet No More

Rappaport, D.  (2009).  Eleanor, Quiet No More:  The life of Eleanor Roosevelt.  New York:  Hyperion Books.


Appetizer:  This information picturebook shares the life of Eleanor Roosevelt, beginning with her childhood.  While Eleanor was taught to think for herself, she often was too afraid to speak up.  That, however, as the title implies, would change.

As with Pinkney's The Lion and the Mouse, this was another picturebook where no text is used on the front cover.  In this case, I kinda have to wonder why.  While this draws attention to the portrait, at the same time Eleanor, apparently, is quiet no more.  So...shouldn't there be words on her cover?  Should there be lots of words...cause she's staying stuff...and isn't being quiet anymore....

Am I crazy here?

Whether you agree or disagree with my thoughts on the title, there's no need to worry about it too much, since all the standard title information is still on the back cover.  Plus, this picturebook is FILLED with Eleanor Roosevelt's words.  I especially like that the end pages share IN GIANT LETTERS two of her more famous quotes.  Other Eleanor quotes relevant to the experiences Rappaport describes are included throughout the story.

Rappaport's biography of the first lady is structured as poetry, with Eleanor's own words in bold.  Every now and then, I did feel Rappaport needed to create a better introduction to flow into the quotes.

I liked the realistic illustrations done by Gary Kelley.  They included a lot of neutral colors and dark shading that I think matched the time period he was trying to portray.  The paintings of Eleanor--even as a child--were easily recognizable as their model as well.

Dinner Conversation:

"Eleanor's father adored his "Little Golden-Hair."
They talked.
She danced for him.
He hugged her and threw her into the air.
He made her feel important and loved.
But he drank a lot and wasn't home much."

"She worked with other wealthy women
who thought it unfair that
they lived so wee while
some American had so little."

"A rich distant cousin named
Franklin Delano Roosevelt loved Eleanor.
He thought she was smart and honest
and caring."

"As unhappy as Eleanor was,
she was too afraid to speak up."

"She reminded women,
who had recently won the vote,
that they had important things to do."

To Go with the Meal:

I really liked how honest and forward Rappaport was about the fact that Eleanor had a less that stellar home-life  in her childhood.  I feel like that would be a wonderful entry point for a teacher to discuss some of the more serious issues that may be surrounding young readers (like having a family member who is an alcoholic).  A teacher can encourage students to take note of Eleanor's successes to help children talk and learn that they can overcome the negativity in their own home-lives and this can begin by speaking-up.

Other discussions Eleanor, Quiet No More can trigger include issues of class, child labor laws, historical gender roles, women's suffrage, the history and treatment of polio, *Pauses to gasp for air* World War I and the sometimes unfair treatment that returning veterans and wounded soldiers received, the Great Depression, the duties of the first lady, race and segregation, the Japanese internment camps...
...Wow, that's quite a list there.  History and social studies teachers, take note of this one!

For some activities, students can start assembling some quotes of Eleanor Roosevelt (or of other people interested in some of her causes or of other figures of her generation) and create collages to go on the classroom walls.

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Literary Feast Discussion: Boneshaker

Boneshaker (Sci Fi Essential Books)Here are our thoughts about the first five chapters of Boneshaker...
(Brace for it, guys -- it's epic.)

Shel: Okay, so when I first heard zombies + steampunk + air pirates, I figured there would have to be some humor...but given the start, I'm guessing not so much. Yes? Am I alone in this feeling? Me thinks there be some dark rainy nights ahead.

Monica: No. You are most definitely *not* alone. And don’t forget, it’s not just raining, it’s *acid* raining! This has pretty much negated any plans I had of moving to Seattle, let me tell you.

Shel: I still like the thought of living in Seattle. Zombies, air pirates, and acid rain, I can take them! The lack of potential jobs for me there...may stop me though.

Back to the book, I like the poetic language of the opening...all those gold-winged rumors and the way humanity goes from a trickle to a flow. Very nice. I also like the dark and cold setting Priest creates. Nice and creepy.

Monica: Really, I like her entire writing style. I haven’t checked out anything else she’s done, but depending on how Boneshaker goes I may have to. She sounds like she’s… reciting a story to us, as an audience.

Shel: I was kinda hoping the book would follow Zeke's point of view a little more. I know this is a crossover novel, but I think it has more of an adult leaning. Not that Briar isn't bitter and angsty enough to carry her own story. She certainly is.

Monica: Don’t worry! I think there’s still time! We’re only seventy pages in, after all. I’m personally hoping Hale comes back; I feel like he has more potential than just as an Introduction To The Main Characters Through Another Character character. Plus, he’s geeky. I do love me my geeks. (PS, speaking of Briar, I’m not going to lie -- I totally cheered when she got out the goggles. NOW it’s steampunk. (NOW we can cosplay….)

Shel: I've been amused by many of the secondary characters, especially some of the air pirates. I really hope they come back, cause I wants to know me more!

Monica: Shhh, Shel! We're not *up* to the air pirates yet! ;)

Shel: Wowzers how about that description of what the drug lemon sap does to a person: "Sap didn't just damage the mind; it turned the body necrotic. Gangrene would catch and sprawl, creeping out from the corners of mouths and eating away cheeks and noses. Fingers and toes would fall away, and in time, the body might fully transform into a parody of the undead "rotters" who no doubt still shambled hopelessly through the walled-up quarters" (pp. 52-53). Ugh. Glad we don't have any lemon sap in this reality. That'd suck.

Monica: Great, thanks Shel. I’m pretty sure you just jinxed us. I’m going to start building barricades and prepping for an onslaught of rotters.

Shel: Kay, you do that. I'm going to sit back and do nothing. When the bad shiz goes down, just expect me to knock on your day. Sound fair? It totally does, right?

Monica: So, was I the only one who started quietly humming the “Court of Miracles” song when Zeke hit the tunnels? I sense he’s going to be meeting some fun-yet-dangerous folks pretty soon. Hopefully, at least one of them can juggle. And perhaps we’ll get some acerbic humor, since heaven knows there’s been nothing so far.

Shel: I think you might have been alone with the song. I do like the thought of a juggler though. At the very least, we could break out the Wii Fit Plus and take a break from reading to do the juggling exercise.

What do you think so far, our few but dear readers?

We'll continue our discussion on Wednesday (this time pages 69-157). See you then!

REVIEW: The Sound of Kwanzaa

Happy Kwanzaa!  To celebrate the kick-off of the holiday, I thought I'd review a new picturebook...

Tokunbo, D.  (2009).  The Sound of Kwanzaa.  New York:  Scholastic Press.


Appetizer:  The Sound of Kwanzaa uses repetition and poetry to share the lighting of each Kwanzaa candle and the meaning of the seven guiding principles.

I like that this picture book does not assume that the reader will already have knowledge of Kwanzaa, but at the same time, the writing doesn't feel "teachy" so the book could still appeal to people who take the significance of the holiday for granted.

I liked the paintings done by Lisa Cohen.  All of them show the African American characters in a positive light and as a united family.  The paintings are very colorful.  I especially liked the page that explained Nia, or purpose in Swahili.  It features a black girl receiving her diploma.  I like the implication of connecting purpose with education.

I also liked the author's note, in which Dimitrea Tokunbo shares some of her childhood memories.  After reading the author's not aloud, a teacher could have students write about their first memories of Kwanzaa (or another holiday or landmark experience--like losing a first tooth).

On that note, if a teacher is in a class where there are only a few African American students, I think it's important for that teacher to not put those students on the spot to explain to everyone the significance of Kwanzaa.  Rather, I believe a teacher should be the one on the spot, ready to provide explanations and to provide a space where students will feel comfortable to VOLUNTEER information about their personal experiences.  That's my opinion for any and all topics.  Does that make sense?  What are your thoughts, internetz?

Ranting over.

Dinner Conversation:

"Come close, gather 'round.
Listen to the sound of Kwanzaa.
Loving words and greeting family,
we stand together for UMOJA.
UMOJA means "unity."

"Working hands and ancient stories,
we learn our traditions for KUJICHANGULIA.
KUJICHAGULIA means "self-determination."

"Sharing dreams and setting goals,
we plan our future for Nia."

To Go with the Meal:

After sharing this book a teacher could discuss how all students can try to embody the seven guiding principles (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith) in their daily life.  Students can brainstorm their own goals and think of ways they can help their community.

Depending on the class and how comfortable students feel, a teacher could also trigger a discussion on why Dr. Maulana Karenga would start having this celebration in 1966.  The reason I think a teacher may need to be cautious with this discussion is because I could see an honest conversation easily descending into a battle of who has been treated worst historically.  There's also the potential that the conversation could result in some students thinking that African Americans somehow need to follow the principles more than other groups (but at the same time, as I teacher, I personally would not want to detract from the fact that this is a holiday to celebrate blackness).  
There are A LOT of things to balance there.  But it is possible.  And I think it's better to try and learn than to avoid a complicated discussion.

At the end of the book, an Tokunbo also includes a recipe for "no-cook Kwanzaa brownie bites" that a teacher could have small groups of students take turn preparing for a feast or school party.

When actually sharing The Sound of Kwanzaa students could help sing the narration as a song, using, "Come close, gather 'round.  Listen to the sound of Kwanzaa" as a chorus.  Students could also add in instruments...why, this could be a part of a school pageant.

Tasty Rating:  !!!


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