Sunday, January 31, 2010

REVIEW: The Listeners

The Listeners (Tales of Young Americans)Whelan, G.  (2009).  The Listeners.  Chelsea, MI:  Sleeping Bear Press.


Appetizer:  This historical picturebook shows the experience of slavery through the eyes of children who, after a long day of labor in the cotton fields, were tasked with listening to the plantation owners.

As you can probably imagine with a picturebook about slavery, this book is very emotionally stirring.  The page where the children overhear that the master is considering selling William, the narrator (Ella May's) father was what got me.  But others may be struck by how the blacks and whites were separated in the church on Sunday, but they'd still sing "Amazing Grace" together.  Or how slaves were cheaper to buy and keep than horses.  And on.  And on.

I liked how many sensory details Whelan included to capture the time and the space of the story.  I also loved how accessible she made this story by showing a group of children's role in resisting and dealing with slavery.  (With such an important topic, it can be very difficult to find that balance between having children refuse to consider that young people like them experienced this type of suffering and traumatizing them)

Henry's Freedom Box (Caldecott Honor Book)Benny's illustrations are vibrant.  I was vaguely reminded of the paintings done by Kadir Nelson in Henry's Freedom Box and some of his other works.  I think the reason their art seems similar is because of the amount of space the characters are given in the paintings.  They often dominate the space of each page.

Dinner Conversation:

"We come home tired.  We come home hungry, but Bobby, Sue and me, Ella May, got more work to do after supper.  We got to listen."

"We children listen and carry back the news to our folks."

"Listening is a job for us children.  We make ourselves small as cotton seeds and quiet as shadows.
The breezes puff the curtains out the open windows.  Sand flies bite use and mosquitoes stick pins in us but we don't slap at them.  We're here to listen."

To Go with the Meal:

The Listeners would be a good read aloud for second and third graders to help share the emotional realities of slavery--the way even children were expected to work, the fact that families were often torn apart, the fact that slaves legally could not be educated.

The strength of this book is that it shows young slaves in the powerful role of providing information to their family members.  So, even though the slaves are still in the position of being the victim, they're still trying their best to maintain the best life possible under the harsh situation.

It'd be wise for a teacher to situate The Listeners within the context of history, since there is a mention of Abraham Lincoln and the approaching Civil War.  In fact, as a teacher shares the events of the civil war, children can imagine a second chapter to The Listeners, researching how the children and their families may have made it to freedom.

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

REVIEW: The Strange Case of the Missing Sheep

The Strange Case of the Missing SheepCatusanu, M.  (2009).  The Strange Case of the Missing Sheep.  New York:  Viking.


Appetizer:  "Inspired by TRUE events," this "thriller"shares the story of how a wolf tempted ten sheep to his house in the dark forest.  It's up to the sheep dog to find the sheep and bring them home.

What a fun picturebook!  I love how this story has a lot of fun with a wolf trying to catch the sheep.

There's a lot of activity on each page, with signs, arrows, the occasional definition, not to mention all the different activities the sheep get up to.  Kids will want to spend some time staring at the stylized (predominately orange) illustrations.

I especially like the endpages of this thriller picturebook, since they show a pair of hands with the one of the ten sheep above each finger, it would be the PERFECT page to pause over with a toddler to reaffirm how to count to ten.

Dinner Conversation:

"In a place called Happy Valley, there lived ten sheep...and one Super Sheep Dog named Doug."

"Next to the Happy Valley was the Dark Forest.  Wolf lived here.  And he had a problem...."

"I need sheep..."

"Sheep, get in line!  I...2...3..."

To Go with the Meal:

This fun book can be used as a bedtime read, with a teacher or parent discussing some of the routines necessary to get ready for sleep and encouraging wee little ones to count sheep as they drift off.  And in general, this book can be used to help with counting.

This could also be a fun read.  Kids will like that it plays with expectations over why the wolf wants the sheep.

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Friday, January 29, 2010

REVIEW: Pharaoh's Boat

Pharaoh's BoatWeitzman, D.  (2009).  Pharaoh's Boat.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

Appetizer:  The pharaoh Cheops had died and must be properly sent into the afterlife to the sun god, Re.  Weitzman shares the process that the Ancient Egyptians went through to prepare Cheops's boat.  Contrasting this, Weitzman also shares how the space where the ancient Egyptians stored the boats was discovered in the 1950s and how Ahmed Youssef Moustafa worked to restore the boat.

Wietzman is very thorough, showing each step of the boat building process, the tools used and the reasons why the boats were designed the way they were.

I liked how he showed the parallels of the Egyptian workers building the boat and how Moustafa and his staff reconstructed it.  I do wish that these scenes had been shown back and forth instead of telling one story and then the later one.  I think it would have been more powerful to go back and forth for regularly (Although, there is one page where Moustafa works on one end and an Ancient Egyptian worker does his thing on the other side).

While thorough, I have to admit, I kinda-sorta lost interest in reading the text as it went on.  While part of my problem was how text-heavy this picturebook was, my main issue was the fact that the story didn't follow any specific or well-developed character.
Instead, the narrative consisted of "The shipbuilders did this...Then the shipbuilders did that...."  And although important, Moustafa wasn't really a character that children will relate to immediately.  I did, however, like that there were foldout pages and a lot of direct quotes by Moustafa (That guy was eloquent!).

The illustrations are striking, because they're done in the style of the Egyptian hieroglyphs.  There's also a clear distinction to those that were done to represent the 1950s (and on) when Moustafa was doing his work.

Dinner Conversation:

"In 1954, workmen began clearing away tongs of windblown sand and rubble that had piled up against the south face of the Great Pyramid at Giza.  As they dug, there suddenly appeared an old stone boundary wall.  Strange.  They weren't expecting to find a wall here."

"The ancient shipwrights fashioned huge, sleek ships from the trunks and branches with a few simple bronze tools."

"Cheops would soon be making his last journey in the world, from his palace at Thebes down the Nile to his pyramid tomb at Giza, where his boats would be waiting for him."

"Ahmed Youssef Moustafa, chief of the Restoration Department of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, was chosen to direct the recovery, preservation and reconstruction of the huge ancient ship--an almost impossible task that no one had ever undertaken before."

To Go with the Meal:

This book can trigger deeper discussions of Ancient Egyptian culture, religion, geography, the flow of the Nile, and the work of archaeologists and restorationists.  The book can also trigger a fair number of research projects--whether into subjects like Egyptian archaeology, mummification, religion or the process of different types of boat construction.

A teacher could also focus on the way the past is still alive and influencing the present.

This is a good book to honestly show the work of Archaeologists without, you know, mummies coming alive and interrupting them.

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

REVIEW: Robot Zot!

Robot Zot!Scieszka, J.  (2009).  Robot Zot!  New York:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.


Appetizer:  Warlord Robot Zot has arrived on Earth to conquer the Earthlings.  As his battles begin, it turns out he's after different Earthlings than the reader would expect.  As Robot Zot seeks to conquer foe after foe, he finds someone worth fighting for.

So very imaginative and fun!

Jon Scieszka uses onomatopoeia, rhymes, repetition and a fun rhythm to tell Robot Zot's adventure.  It's hard not to be energized by this story.  For reals, I was reading silently to myself, but I found that I HAD to read this book out loud.  And you know, maybe pump my fist up in the air a couple of time.  Luckily, nobody saw this.  Cause, the last thing I need is people knowing I'm crazy.

A teacher could easily have students chant some of the repeated lines throughout the story, like Robot Zot's battle cry:

"Robot Zot--Never fall.
Robot Zot--conquer all!"

...that's quite a phrase to have students repeat to themselves.  Kind of The Little Engine That Could's "I think I can.  I think I can," for a new and even more determined generation.

With a lot of humor, David Shannon's illustrations do an excellent job of showing readers a new perspective into some very ordinary objects.

I more than kinda-sorta could have done without the last page though.  Someone is blamed for all of Zot's distraction and I felt very bad for the poor character.  Wah.

Dinner Conversation:

"Robot Zot--
Wham Bot!
Robot Zot--
Bam Bot!"

"No one stop Robot Zot.
Robot Zot crush lot!"

"Zot was not joking.
Zot is never joking."

"Zot blasts into another
bunker.  And there he sees
her.  The most amazing Earth
Zot knows that she is the
Queen of all Earth."

To Go with the Meal:

While probably best to entertain, energize and encourage students, a teacher could in theory bring this book in to share with even middle grade or young adult students to show the destruction Robot Zot leaves in his wake.  Some teachers may also object to having this book in the classroom because Zot is a very violent figure.  Even though his attacks are aimed at objects instead of living creatures, some still may not like the underlying aggression.  (And this is understandable, it's not too unusual to do a superhero read aloud and have one young listener turn to his or her neighbor and pretend to or actually punch another kid.)

With kids of all ages, an art teacher could focus on the way the the book shows different perspectives on ordinary objects, and students could do their own sketches or paintings reflecting that style.  (Other books that play with perspective this way include Too Many Toys or Chris Van Allsburg's The Sweetest Fig.

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Blog Tour: Sand and Stone and Back Again

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to send Nancy Bo Flood some questions.  You'll find our conversation below.

Q.  Have you spent a lot of time in Monument Valley?  Do you have any funny stories from your time there? 

Monument Valley is actually a sacred area of the Reservation, it is a part of Navajo Tribal lands kept as a monument open to visitors.  The sandstone buttes, chimneys, and spires are truly stunning.  Every time I do visit the area it looks different depending on the time of year, weather, time of day, etc.   Monument Valley is about a 2-hour drive from where I live at Chinle, next to Canyon deChelly.

Q.  How did it feel when you first saw the photos Tony Kuyper had taken for your book?

I had seen Tony’s photographs the first time my husband and I visited his studio at his home at Inscription House near Shonto, Arizona.  Tony is a pharmacist working at one of the Indian Health sites, an excellent pharmacist who works as precisely with medications as he does with a camera.  I was in awe.  Tony works hours and hours to capture the right focus, the right light, the right contrast.  Tony invites anyone intereted along on his photo expeditions and each time I would see the landscape in a new way.  Over several years he took more photographs and I revised more drafts.  Eventually we found the storyline that brought the two together.

Q.  The picture book is an incredible mix of poetry and information.  Did you intend to have that combination of form and information early on or did it come out through the writing?

Thank you. My goal was to create story through images and words.  The idea of rock changing needed to be understandable to a young reader as well as meaningful.  Finally I found the connection.  Then it took many tries to weave information into story without diminishing either aspect.  It is exciting to understand something. Information is fun. I wanted the words to sing with that excitement.

Q.  What's your typical writing day like?

I teach so even though I try to have a routine, it seldom works, routine falls apart as students’ papers need reviewing, lectures and projects need preparing, and the dishes need washing.  But I try each morning to ‘clear my desk and computer of the business aspects of writing and publishing,”  go for a long walk in the desert with my dog (thinking or writing in my head as I walk), and then once I return home, ignore the rest of life and write.  For several hours if possible.  In the afternoon when my brain is tired, I walk again, then work on teaching projects.  Of course there is always supper to fix, cookies to bake, oh, yes, books to read.

Q.  Many of your books seem to have an international emphasis or pay attention to the myths and legends of various cultures.  

Yes, I think they hold for us universal truths.  

Q. Do you travel often? 

I love to travel, if possible to work wherever I travel.  To learn from the people.

Q. Are you interested in folklore?

Two favorite quotes:  “There is more truth in legend than in truth.”

  “To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.”     Blake

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Blog Tour Review: Sand and Stone and Back Again

Flood, N.B.  (2009).  Sand to Stone and Back Again.  Golden, CO:  Fulcrum Publishing.


30-Second Plot Summary:  Through poetic lines Flood and photographer, Tony Kuyper, share the story of the Monument Valley rocks of Utah and Arizona, how the rocks shift and change over eras and the way people change as well.  The story draws attention to the impact seeing the natural formations can have on tourists and also the Anasazi tribe which inhabits the area.

Kuyper's photos are well-composed and show many different perspectives and formations of the rocks which will most likely make readers pause to take in the beauty.

Flood's prose are wonderfully poetic, making sure to try to connect the reader to the history of the Monument Valley.

The book does assume a scientific explanation of how man and the formations were created, so some teachers looking for religious explanations should look elsewhere or should take on a natural design argument.  And seeing some of the beauty of the rocks, it wouldn't be a hard argument to take on.


Sand to Stone lends itself to discussions of natural science at large and erosion.  A teacher could also focus on the Anasazi tribe, encouraging students to research the tribe, their tales, their beliefs.

Since flood uses poetry to describe natural phenomenon, students can do the same.  Beyond just writing poems about their local environment, students can incorporate research into their poems and can even take a few photos to go along with the lines they create.

Quotes of Note:

"I am a goblin hiding in moon shadows.
Or a hoodoo
standing atop a white shale shelf."

"I am sandstone.
I am always changing,
just like you."

"From one tiny cell, you became a person.
From on grain of sand, I became a mountain."

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Blog Tour: Sand and Stone and Back Again

For the first half of this week, we'll be participating in a blog tour of Nancy Bo Flood's Sand to Stone and Back Again.  I'll be posting my review of the picturebook tomorrow.

But today, I thought I'd introduce you, my few beloved readers, to a conversation she has contributed to.  At Through the Tollbooth, Nancy Bo Flood any many others have having a conversation about race (and particularly the portrayal of Native Americans) in children's literature.  Some of the issues raised have related to who can share the perspective of Native Americans.  Can someone who is not a member of a culture or race still represent that experience authentically?

Another track the conversation took was to focus on the need for all kids and their experiences to be represented in the literature.  Flood notes, "We need books that celebrate the experiences, the imaginations, the history of all children. As individuals, without stereotypes, without clich├ęs."

I'm very glad she said that.  And I would like to focus on the fact that she typed the word "all."  When I teach my education students, one of the central lessons I try to have them take away is this idea that when they are in the classroom, they will need to have literature present that will represent as many of the students' backgrounds, experiences and histories as the classroom can possibly fit.  And when the room is full of ideas and voices, take the kids to find more in the library.

While most students take in comments like these silently, one will occasionally express concern about having the resources to get all those books.  Others will just disagree with the experiences depicted in some children's literature.  As a teacher, I firmly believe that every child has a right to hear their own voices reflected in literature.  I consider it to be part of my job to put those books in my students' hands.  And if there are no books they can relate to.  Then I will help those students write their own stories.

Ranting over.  


The experiences of the Navajos is of particular interest to Flood and she has written about their Calendar (the New Year begins in October) in her picturebook The Navajo Year, Walk Through Many Seasons.

For more information on Nancy Bo Flood and on Sand to Stone and Back Again check out Nancy's website or the other blogs on the tour:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

REVIEW: Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy

Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee BoySoman, D., & Davis, J.  (2009).  Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy.  New York:  Dial Books for Young Readers.


Appetizer:  Dressed as a ladybug, Lulu heads to the park with her dog, Bingo and her mom.  She looks for a friend and finds Sam, but the two have trouble deciding on a game they both want to play.

I absolutely love the sense of imagination of this picturebook.  Normal kids imaging that they are superheroes and that the playground is full of villains they must conquer is very realistic.  I also liked that pretending to be superheroes was shown as an empowering role for Lulu to take on and by doing so she was able to resolve conflicts with other kids.

In terms of the illustrations...I liked them fine.  The eyes of the human characters had an anime vibe going.  Also, with a lot of the settings in the illustrations weren't completely filled in, so character would walk across white spaces that was a little off putting.

A red flag did fly up when Sam becomes Bumblebee Boy and picks up a stick to be his stinger.  While it's a very realistic depiction of what a child would do, a teacher may want to pause to remind kids that sticks can be dangerous.  The illustrations never show him pointing the stick at anyone and the things he attempts to sting are all inanimate objects, but it a warning flag went up.  It was a small, little, itty-bitty flag, but a flag, nonetheless.

Of course, the other issue with the stinger is that it's such an obvious phallic symbol.  Obviously the kindergartners won't pick up on that.  But still....

Dinner Conversation:

"Ladybug Girl is ready to play!" says Lulu.
She has been waiting forever to go to her favorite playground--the one with the twisty slide and bouncy dinosaurs."

"When she sees Mrs. Robbins carrying her groceries, Ladybug Girl swoops over to help. The bag is as heavy as a boulder, but it isn't a problem for Ladybug Girl."

"When they get to the playground, it is full of kids.  While Bingo settles into his spot under a bench, Lulu looks around for someone to play with."

"You don't want to do anything I want to do!"
"And you don't want to do what I want!" Sam grumbled.
Lulu's cheeks are getting hot.
She is very frustrated!  Why doesn't Sam want to play?  She definitely didn't have this problem on the way to the playground, when she was Ladybug Girl!"

To Go with the Meal:

This would be an excellent book to share with young readers to discuss rules for the playground and to encourage kids to include one another in imaginative play and to accommodate the different games that each child wanted to play.

This story also focuses on superheroes in a purely positive way that encourages children to be empowered.  Of course, there are still references to battling villains (which are all inanimate objects in the story), but some parents might interpret that as encouragement of violence.

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Saturday, January 23, 2010


UFO DiaryKitamura, S.  (1989).  UFO Diary.  New York:  Farrar Straus Giroux


Appetizer:  An alien shares his story (a diary entry?) of how he/she/it took a wrong turn and landed on Earth where he/she/it made a new friend.

I put the diary entry part as a question above because there is no actual mention (or showing) of a diary throughout the story.  Instead, this is a first person account in an alien's childlike voice.  This makes me wonder if Kitamura and the publisher had trouble picking a name for the book.

I liked the illustrations of this book.  The dark blues that capture space are beautiful.  The faces the human boy makes when he sees the narrator are humorous and cute (although, the boy is so pale, he looks kinda like a particularly expressive zombie).

The strengths of these illustrations is how completely they're given from the perspective of the alien.  The visitor's body is never shown and the reader is always seeing from his/her/its perspective so they can see the familiar world in a new light.

The final illustration--I won't give away what it is of--reminded me strongly of one of the sketches in de Saint-Exupery's classic, The Little Prince.  I'd be willing to bet money this was done intentionally.  Let's say, two dollars, maybe?  (I never said I'd bet a lot of money.)

Dinner Conversation:

"On Monday, I took a wrong turn in the Milky Way."

"There in front of me was a strange blue planet, bright as a glass ball."

"...until I saw a creature.  It stared at me as I landed."

"What an odd-looking thing!
It spoke and I could not understand'
but I smiled.  It smiled back.
Then I knew he was going to be my friend."

To Go with the Meal:

This book presents a fun perspective.  It shares the relatable tensions of going to a new place and wanting to make friends (even when the potential friends don't speak the same language).

Since a white bunny and several other animals are shown in a number of the illustrations, students can seek out and find the bunny.

Also, after having read (or heard aloud) this book, kids could write their own diary entries from the perspective of someone or something that has had different experiences from their own.  To help present an activity like this one, a teacher could also share some of Doreen Cronin's picturebooks, including Diary of a Worm, Diary of a Spider, Diary of a Fly, and on and on.

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Friday, January 22, 2010

REVIEW: A River of Words

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams

Bryant, J.  (2008).  A River of Words:  The story of William Carlos Williams.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

*Takes a brief moment to wave at Eerdmans Books*  I know somebody whoooooooo wooooooooorks there!  *waves again*


Appetizer:  This picturebook biography focuses on the younger years of Willie Williams's (1883-1963) life as a poet--His childhood nature walks, his enjoyment of listening to his teacher read poetry, experimenting with writing his own poetry to deciding to become a doctor.

A poet herself, Jen Bryant uses lyrical language to share Williams's story.   I especially liked that she called Williams "Willie" throughout the narrative, which helps him to seem more childlike and relatable than DR. WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS.  I also liked that she kept referring back to his mother and how she'd tell her neighbors about Willy's successes.  That also should (hopefully!) be a relatable experience for young readers.

I thought it was a very nice touch to include several of Williams's poems on the end papers as well as in the narrative.  Bryant's lyrical language worked well around Williams's poetry.

Bryant's writing also worked exceptionally well with Melissa Sweet's illustrations.  On one page in particular, Bryant describes Willie  listening to the perfect turn of the river's music while on a walk.  Sweet's illustration of that page incorporates words such as "gurgle" and "hush" into the waves and flow of the river.  I thought that was a very nice touch.  (And, you know, it plays into the title of the book....)

And that's not the only place where things like that happen.  Sweet includes many poems in a child's handwriting throughout the illustration, which shares the wonderful message that kids can write their own poems.  She also used old book covers and end pages as the basis for her collages throughout the book.  I can see why A River of Words received a Caldecott Honor.  (BTW, 6 days until the new winners and honors are announced!!!!!!!!!)

Dinner Conversation:

"Like the other boys in Rutherford, New Jersey,
Willie Williams loved to play baseball
and to race his friends up and down the street."

"But when Mr. Abbot read poetry to Willie's English class,
Willie did not feel hurried.  The gentle sounds and
shifting rhythms of the poems were like the music
of the river.  As the teacher read each line, Willie
closed his eyes and let them make pictures in his mind."

"One night, alone in his room, Willie began to write
his own poems.  At first, he imitated the famous
English writers he had learned about in school."

"He had pictures in his mind that didn't fit exactly
into steady rhythms or rhymes.
"I have never seen a swan or an archer," Willie thought.
"I want to write about ordinary things--"

To Go with the Meal:

Not only can A River of Words be used to provide background when studying the poetry of William Carlos Williams, but the picturebook could be used to start conversations and writings on nature, the ordinary or writing in free verse.  A teacher could mention how if a student finds something they love (like poetry!) they can still make time to work on it even as they are assigned to do other things in school or to take on other jobs later on (as Williams did).

A teacher could also use the artwork to encourage students to make their own collages from found objects.

As one of the poets discussed in Sharon Creech's Love That Dog, a teacher could bring in this picturebook biography to give middle grade readers more background about the poet.

This book also has the side benefit of sharing the typical work of a doctor.  It may capture some readers' attention as being an enjoyable job.

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

REVIEW: The Frog Prince Continued

The Frog Prince, Continued (Picture Puffin)

Scieszka, J.  (1991).  The Frog Prince Continued.  New York:  Viking.


Appetizer:  The story of the Princess and the Frog Prince continues!  It turns out the passion has faded for the royal couple and they're not happily ever after...after all.  So, the Frog Prince decides to return to his frog form by asking several witches for help.

The poor Frog Prince--who only vaguely looks like a frog despite his name--has trouble finding a witch that will help him, since the witches don't want him interrupting their plans for Sleeping Beauty, Snow White or any other princesses they mean to harm.  (Ugh, why does a witch always have to have it out for a princess?  You'd imagine princesses would have done a better job of guarding against the curses of witches....  Don't steal that idea.  It's mine!)

Steve Johnson's illustrations are great, dark and humorous.  I especially like that, as a human, the prince still looks vaguely frog-like.  I thought it was a nice touch.  And I know a few weeks ago, I went on and on about how great it was that Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith could work together so well, but could also complete independent projects that were of equal quality.  But, I have to admit, it was strange actually reading one of Scieszka's books that wasn't illustrated by Lane Smith.  It was kinda like cheating a little....

Dinner Conversation:

"Well, let's just say they lived sort of happily for a long time.
Okay, so they weren't happy.
In fact, they were miserable.
"Stop sticking your tongue out like that," nagged the princess."

"But then he reread his book.  And it said right there at the end of his story:  "They lived happily ever after.  The End."  So he stayed in the castle and drove the Princess crazy."

"I can't believe I actually kissed your slimy frog lips.  Sometimes I think we would both be better off if you were still a frog."

"I'm the Frog Prince."
"That's funny.  You don't look like a frog.
Well, no matter.  If you're a prince, you're a prince.  And I'll have to cast a nasty spell on you."

To Go with the Meal:

Before sharing The Frog Prince Continued, it is necessary that young readers be familiar with the original story (and several other fairy tales--including Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, etc.) .  In the U.S. we tend to assume kids will know it, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with doing two read alouds instead of one.  Nothing wrong at all. It's even less wrong to share this book before or after seeing Disney's The Princess and the Frog.

After sharing this picture book a teacher could prompt students to write their own continuation of other fairy tales.

On a larger scale, a teacher could use this book to discuss having a sense of belonging in a place or with people.  Also, since the Frog Prince and the Princess consider breaking up at the beginning, a teacher could take that initial tension in many different directions, discussion-wise.   For example, a teacher could mention how friends should talk out their problems or how sometimes parents just may not belong together anymore or sometimes it's only through everyone making a few sacrifices that they can find a way to work things out.  And on and on.

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

REVIEW: Horse Song

Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia
Lewin, T., & Lewin, B.  (2008).  Horse Song:  The Naadam of Mongolia.  New York:  Lee & Low Books.


Appetizer:  Following their own trip to Mongolia as tourists the Lewins share about the preparation and events of a Naadam festival.  They begin by

As can be expected from previous Caldecott honor winners (Betsy for Click, Clack Moo:  Cows That Type) the illustrations in Horse Song are A-MA-ziiiiiiiing!  They use a lot of wonderful color and manage (I'm guessing here, since I have yet to find the funding to travel to Mongolia) to capture a bit of the landscape and culture of the places they visited.  The illustrations of the horses running (and there were several) were the most striking.

Intermixed among the more stunning illustrated pages, are other pages that include multiple simpler sketches.

I do like that the Lewins frame this book as their own personal trip to experience another culture instead of trying to use some annoying omniscient voice to share about Naadam in an authoritative voice..."All Mongolian people...blah, blah, blah."  *Cringes at the thought*

Rather, this is two people sharing their personal experiences, allowing space for others to see the events differently.  (On that note, a teacher could make use of this book as an example of how to write a travel log for middle grade students).  It is clear that the Lewins did some research and made an effort to include some words of the Khalkha Mongolian language, but they in no way claim to be experts.  Which I appreciate.  Greatly.

Also, here's a video of the Lewins talking about their love of travel.  They mainly talk about their time in India here, but it's still wonderful to hear the author/illustrators speak and see where they work.

In other news, when I start a google search for "Mongolia..." the first suggestion that always comes up is Mongolian BBQ.  Just thought I'd share that.

Dinner Conversation:

"Every summer Naadam festivals are held all around Mongolia to celebrate the country's most popular sports:  wrestling, archery, and horse racing.  The Naadam brings isolated nomads together to take part in the events, see friends and relatives, feast and celebrate life.  It's a time for Mongolians to remember centuries of tradition and keep their cultural heritage alive."

"Are you Betsy and Ted?" asks a young woman as she steps from the crowd at the Ulaanbaatar airport.  "I'm your guide.  My name is Batsuren."

"It is early morning on the steppe.  We are awakened by mooing cows and bleating goats. As we crawl out of our little tent by the river, Amraa is fetching water and Batsuren is cooking breakfast.  Suddenly we are surrounded by a large herd of horses that has come to the river to drink."

"Like boys and girls everywhere in Mongolia, Tamir dreams of bringing honor, glory, and prizes to his family by winning the big race, now only one week away."

"The race has begun.  Pandemonium!"

To Go with the Meal:

While probably best for middle grade students, this book could also be used with children who are still transitioning to chapter books since the picture book is text-heavy and sectioned off into different sections as the Lewins experienced different parts of their journey.

After reading this story, students could write their own accounts of their own travels or could research Mongolia in more depth.

This is a wonderful book that can really spark the imagination for some young readers.  A teacher should be ready to encourage students to participate in make-believe horse races.  To incorporate other cultures, a teacher could also show excerpts from the movie, Hidalgo or share books about distance races within the historical American West as well.

Tasty Rating:  !!!


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