Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I havent really thought about The Giver since I first read it in middle school. That is through no fault of the book though. I really didnt like the book back then simply because I hated every book I was made to read in school. I do remember though that it was very touching, I may have cried at the end when he decided to take Gabe with him and escape. That having been said, I am sure thinking about it now. I had no idea really what I was missing out on while I was just going through the motions back in fifth grade and I am really glad that I have been given the opportunity to go back and revisit this book. That having been said, I have to say that despite not being awake the first time through, I am so much more disturbed this time around that I was last time and a little creeped out to be honest. Really I do not remember having it ever occur to me that being "released" meant dying. Actually, it seems a little silly, but even as I read it this time I guess that I figured people who were released got to go off into the real world. That is until we really talked about it in class, and of course when Jonas begins to suspect what it means. The idea of this though, that because you do not fit into their perfect world, you must not be worthy of living. It reminds of the holocaust actually. Think about it, Hitler thought that anyone who did not fit into his view of what a perfect society was, they shouldn't be allowed to exist. It wasn't just Jewish people either, it was homosexuals and gypsies and a whole bunch of other people who were persecuted just because they didn't fit into his view. Something else that I thought about was just what it must be like to live in a world without color. I don't just think its because I have an art specialization that I simply cant picture this, it is as a person that the thought depresses me. Very much like in the move Pleasentville, before it was turned up side down, it was boring. Think about experiencing it for the first time like Jonas did with the apple. On another semi-related note, why an apple in the first place? I think I smell a Biblical reference here. Apples are the forbidden fruit, just as seeing things in color is forbidden in Jonas' world. I don't think it is any wonder the first forbidden object and the first flash of taboo color is the original forbidden fruit.

There is just so much to talk about with this book that I don't even know what else to say about it. It makes my head spin. To sum up though, would I read this in my classroom? Absolutely. There is just so much to discuss here and so much to understand that I don't know how I could not.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ruined by Paula Morris

Interesting thing, the copy of the book that I have doesn't say "a ghost story", instead it just says "a novel". I feel like this is more fitting because when I think of a ghost story, I think of something scary, but this was not scary. Which was okay because I wasn't really looking for a scary story when I picked this up. So if that is what you are going for here, guess again. I think that one of the most interesting parts about this book was hearing the main character's descriptions of things that I have seen in New Orleans. Granted it was a very long time ago, but hearing her discuss Lafayette Cemetery and the French Quarter brought back foggy memories. It even dug up memories of Mardi Gras beads and king's cake (I do miss that cake). It was also an interesting history lesson in a way, not all of it was true of course. If anything though really, it made me want to learn more about the area that I frequented when I was very little. This having been said, I was a little disappointed with this book. I feel like the only character that got any dimension to her was the ghost. I would have also really appreciated the love story developing up a little bit, but every time Anton comes up, Rebeca becomes distracted by the ghost. I almost got tired of hearing about her. I also feel like she didn't respond normally to the ghost. I know if I figured out I had met a ghost, I would probably stay away from her, but she decides to go back into the cemetery in the dead of night and find her again. Pure insanity. That is just me though. In the end, it was plenty entertaining and after it got going, it was a very quick read that kept you curious until the end. It also had a twist in the end that I enjoyed, even though I really should have seen it coming.

This book would be enjoyed by a fifth or sixth grade girl probably, maybe younger. It was very entertaining and its content was not elicit in any way as it can be when you get up into the teen books. I would recommend this book to students.

Daddy, Papa and Me by Leslea Newman and illustrated by carol Thompson

Just as in Leslea Newman's other book, Mommy, Mama and Me, it is a short easy read aimed at younger students. The message there is the same here and that is that even though this family has two daddies it is still a good family. One thing that I noticed here that I didn't so much in the other book though is that it messes with gender perceptions a little. For example, there is a scene where the little boy's daddy is showing him how to sew. On another page daddy brews a pot of tea and papa sets up a tea party for the little boy and his bear. I just have to point this out because it seemed a little odd to me. Meaning that I had to wonder if this book were about a family with a mom and a dad, would the dad have been brewing tea, or would it have been the mom? Or are those pictures there because we have a preconceived notion that gay men all sew and brew tea? Or is it me that has the preconceived notion of a man in a heterosexual marriage? The only thing I really know is that in every other book I have read with families in it, the dad was an average lawn mowing, sports watching Joe. Just something to think about.

Again ages 2 to 3 and I feel like it is an appropriate age.

Molly's Family by Nancy Garden and pictures by Sharon Wooding

Along with Gloria Goes to Gay Pride, this is probably the most informative of the books, and also one of the most helpful. This book could not only be read for discussion but to help students understand a classmate's family. It also shows an example of discrimination and how it could be dealt with in the classroom. Or I should say, it gives an example of discrimination in the classroom. I was actually a little upset with how the teacher handled or didn't handle it when Tommy teased Molly about having two mommies. The teacher didn't chastise Tommy for it, she didn't tell him that it was okay to have two mommies, just like its okay to have only a mommy or only a daddy. I fee like I would have turned this into a teachable moment for the whole class. If there wouldn't have been time just then, I would have taken time out to explain to the students that families come in all different shapes and sizes. No one family is right or wrong they are just different, and different is okay. I did like the pictures however. They added to the story by making a visualization of what was going on. I liked how it showed Molly's family and her life with her two mommies so that students could make the connection that it looked like their room, or hey they have puppy. Also, I like how it takes place in a classroom. Another way that it is relatable for children.

Ages 4 to 8 sound good, and do I even need to say it? Yes it could get complicated to have a book like this in your classroom, but it will be worth it in the end.

Gloria Goes To Gay Pride by Leslea Newman and Illustrated by Russell Crocker

I feel like this is the most straight forward book that I have read so far. It didn't shy away from the word gay, which many of the books have. I like that it actually said it because I think it is important to use the words, lest students think that words like gay and lesbian are bad words. Also, if you are going to discuss something you should know what you are talking about, you should know the vocabulary. Another thing that I liked about this book in particular is that it dealt briefly with negative feelings towards gay people. During the parade, Gloria and her family are confronted with people holding signs that say "gays go away". I pull at Mama Grace's sleeve. "Why do they want us to go away?" I ask. "Some people think that Mama Rose and i shouldn't love each other," Mama Grace says. I don't understand. "But you always tell me that love is the most important thing of all." Mama Rose picks me up. "Love is the most important thing of all," she says. "Some women love women, some men love men, and some women and men love each other. That's why we march in the parade- so everyone can have a choice." Not only does this sentence have a message that is loud and clear, it can lead to a meaningful class discussion. I think that the thing that bothered me about this book are the illustrations. They are a bit stereotypical. For example, the pictures of Mama Rose and Mama Grace both show women with very short hair that makes them look rather man-ish. It is a preconceived notion that we have that all women with short hair must be gay.(Personal side note here. A year ago, I got a pixie cut (very very short hair) and I noticed that people looked at me differently, they stared at me in public.) In addition, the pictures in general leave something to be desired. They are very plain, and with no color whatsoever. They don't help the book at all, they are just simply there. It would have been better if there had at least been color.

Again, could be hairy, but is it worth it? You bet. Ages 3 to 7? Absolutely.

One dad, Two Dads, Brown Dads, Blue Dads by Johnny Valentinr and Illustrated by Melody Sarecky

I have to say, I spent this entire book trying to decide whether or not being "blue" was a metaphor for being gay. I have to say, I am still not sure but I think that it might be. I think this because there are two dads, if it weren't about a gay family I think that there would have been a husband and wife and just the husband would have been blue. Going with this, it is interesting that they chose to put it that way, in a metaphor. Perhaps they thought that it would be easier for children to understand it this way. I don't know if I really agree with that, but this would open things up for a lot of conversation and discussion. For example, "Why would are there two dads? Why do you think they are blue?" I would be interested in fact to know what children would respond with. The reason why I don't agree with it is that being blue is something very strange that you really don't see in the real world, but a gay family is something that you do see. I know that in the book the son, Lou, is explaining that just because the dads are blue/gay doesn't mean they aren't normal. However I just feel that it is too odd, and children might not be able to see around it. I don't know, maybe that doesn't make sense, maybe I am cancelling out my earlier points. I just think that it is good to be straight forward with kids. I am about to start talking in circles I think, so I will move on. I like how on the cover of this book and in the title, it covers more than just a gay family. It shows one dad, which could be a single parent home and brown dads, which could be seen as an African American family(?). Another interesting thing is that one of the dads is holding a plate of cookies which it seems he just baked. It is interesting because when dads are depicted generally they are playing sports or grilling, not baking. I like that this book challenges assumed gender roles.

This book could be seen as provocative, but I don't think that is a reason to keep it away from children. It is suggested for ages 2 to 6 and I agree. As I mentioned before, it is good to teach children about acceptance and that there is nothing abnormal about a gay family. Yet again, there could be trouble with some parents if you want to have this book in your classroom. However, I feel like I would at the very least show and read this book to students and discuss it.

Mommy, Mama and Me by Leslea Newman and illustrated by Carol Thompson

This is my very first book with a controversial issue at the heart of it, so I really didn't know what to expect. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. This first book is about a lesbian family, and it was wonderful. Not wonderful in a sense that it was imaginative and particularly creative, but wonderful because of what it is. It shows a lesbian family as any other family out there would be shown. I really liked that because thats how it should be shown because that kind of family is like every other family. It sends a message to the reader that, "Hey! This family is just like mine!". There are examples that children can easily relate to their own life and what is normal for them, for example, the mothers and the child are playing in the park, reading and getting ready for bed. Hopefully the students would make the connection that their heterosexual parent home really isn't that different from a homosexual home. I feel like it is important for children to learn that being gay doesn't make you weird in some way, its a normal thing. It is essential to start this education young with books like this so that we can combat things like homophobia. If children are taught at a young age to accept people with no exceptions, we can help end things like racism, sexism and homophobia- all of which hurt our communities in and outside of school. Books like this are essential to ending hate crimes too, because it promotes understanding and acceptance.

All that having been said, I do understand that there are those who, for whatever reason, have different feelings toward the homosexual community. As such, having a book like this in your classroom could be hairy. I have heard instances in which parents came together to ban books like this in classrooms. I suppose that it is important to keep parent's views in mind, but I would ask one question, do you need parental consent to teach about racism? Or to celebrate Black History Month?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Fabulous Flying Fandinis by Ingrid Slyder

Of all the books that I have read so far, I think the illustrations here were my favorites. Why? They are awesomely detailed starting with the title page and going all the way through. Also, there all pictures on both sides of the pages, the main one is on the right with an ornate border and there is another on the left that is less formal and compliments the other illustration. Excellent show of fore-shortening and perspective, a lot of them are looking down from above which isn't a perspective you see a lot, its unique. There is wonderful movement and rhythm throughout also. The text is written in such a way that the paragraphs are mostly split up and on different parts of the page. Really, I feel like the illustrations are really the star of the show here just because there isn't a whole lot of text. However, there really didn't need to be because the message was heard loud and clear. There are really three morals at work here. First of all, the Fandini family is different and the rest of the neighborhood is content to judge them and not ask questions. The Brown family though has a different view, all they see is a friendly family and they encourage their son, Bobby, to play with their kids. Despite thinking that this new family might have cooties, Bobby goes to play with them. Enter the second lesson. Bobby refuses to take part in any of the family activities stating that "I could catch a cold, belly flop, or much, much worse" or "I might get queasy, lose a tooth or much worse." Finally, the Fandinis ask Bobby why he doesn't want to join in with them and he says because he might look stupid. To this the Fandinis say not if he holds their hands and asks how its done, so he does and Bobby doesn't look stupid after all. So what have we learned here? Don't judge a book by its cover, don't be afraid to try new things, and with your friends you cant fail.

This book recommended for students aged 4 to 8. There would be so much good stuff in here to share with students. There are plenty of pictures to look at and discuss, a good word set and several good morals to focus on. All in all I would recommend this book.

Uncle Lester's Hat by Howie Schneider

Once again, not the cover of this book, but as I mentioned before, there must be a picture. This was a very amusing book. It is all about a seemingly lazy old man who never goes anywhere or does anything. Then he finds an old hat that once belonged to his uncle Lester, the adventurer. He decides to take a walk with the hat and he ends up chasing it all over the world. The best part of this, is that the illustrations show the old man running all over the world, through the desert and Paris and Russia etc. Meanwhile, the text is the old man's family talking about how he never goes anywhere, and how he says that travel is a waste of time. The contradiction is where the humor comes in. I know that this is a popular technique in theater, where the audience knows something that the actors do not, but I have never seen it in a book. I must say it was very effective and I like that it would be a great conversation starter for students; asking them about the apparent contradiction. The illustrations themselves were simple yet detailed. Simple perhaps in their application, colored pencil with pen and ink. They were detailed in that they are busy at times, showing bricks on the buildings and shingles on roofs. That having been said, there were some issues too.

There is one thing that almost ruined this book for me, and it is due I think, to the fact that it was published in the early 90's. Here it is though. There is a picture where the old man is flying over the desert looking for his runaway hat, and he finds it perched on the end of a rifle. The person carrying it appears to be of Middle Eastern decent and is wearing the traditional Muslim red and white head scarf. I was disturbed to find this image here. I do not have a problem with the presence of the Middle Eastern man, what isn't right here though is the way that he is depicted. Not only does he have the rifle, but he looks mean as he scowls straight ahead. I have to wonder if this has anything to do with feelings left over from the Gulf War or general feelings of bias or dislike. It was published in 1993, so it wouldn't have been that long after the conflict. I am really not sure, I suppose I would ask that of the author/illustrator. Yet another disturbing image in this book is of Russia. Rows and rows of soldiers are depicted marching through the streets of Moscow (I know because the Red Square is shown in the background) with rifles on their shoulders. Behind them appears to be a tank and several missiles. In the background, five people stand above them on top of a wall or building perhaps. Now the Cold War had been over a while when this book was published, but since this author was alive during that time I suppose this image could have been inspired by it. Again, it seems political. I am not crazy about putting your own political thoughts into children's books, even though it would raise questions and conversation. It is giving students the wrong idea about other citizens of the world that aren't good. I'm also not crazy about the depiction of so many weapons.

So in the end I have very mixed feelings about this book. It is recommended for students between 4 and 8 and I suppose that sounds about right. I just worry still about students getting the wrong idea, so you would have to allow time to talk about it.

The Night I Followed the Dog by Nina Laden

I really enjoyed this book! It seems to be a theme, I know, but I don't think that I have picked a book yet that I didn't like. Just lucky I guess! Anywho, this book didn't feel as long as some of the others, mostly I think because the writing was so big and only on one side, while the pictures were all on the other. Aside from being super humorous, the text was written in a very imaginative way. Every now and again there would be a word that was written to express or represent the word. For example, the word 'limousine' was written inside a drawing of a limousine. Or the word 'cold' had icicles hanging off of it. This really made the book special, I have never actually seen a book that had something like that before. The illustrations on the opposite page are equally as interesting. They are very detailed and look handmade- which of course I love. The icing on this cake was the story itself. This little boy's seemingly boring dog has a secret night life as a club owner. Who among us hasn't wondered what our dogs do when we aren't around to watch them? I know I have.

I suppose it would be good to mention that this book seems to be another of those that shows how a "normal" life should look. Clearly this little boy lives in the suburbs with a nice fenced in backyard, grassy lawn and a news paper being delivered every morning. Since our discussion last week of what a child is, I just have to look at it and wonder about the disconnect some students might have. Not that this takes anything away from the story necessarily or the imagination of the book, it is just something to keep in mind.

This book is suggested for students between the ages of 4 and 10, and absolutely. The print of this book was quite large and I feel like that might be good for students of younger ages. The different fonts will be entertaining to children of all ages and give them plenty to talk about. The picture details and the story itself will allow for discussion as well. All in all, I would have this book in my class.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Elephant Wish by Lou Berger and illustrated by Ana Juan

This book was at once beautiful and sad. To understand, you will need an overview. The story is about a girl named Eliza, and it starts on her eighth birthday with a wish. Eliza wishes that an elephant will come and take her away from her home. It doesn't explicitly say this but from the rest of the book you come to understand this. So, an elephant named Cousin Floyd does come and it takes Eliza away to the jungle and she is happy for a time. Then her very old neighbor Adelle comes with her very old bulldog named Potato and tells her to go home. At first Eliza is stubborn and wont go, but then Adelle explains to Eliza that when she was a little girl she was rescued by Cousin Floyd and now she has come back to stay. Since both girls couldn't stay, and Eliza understood that Adelle needed to stay, she decided that she should go home after all. All the while, her busy busy parents are lamenting that they have lost their daughter. When Eliza gets home, they promise that they will spend more time with her. The pictures however, do not suggest that her parents followed through with this but it is okay because Eliza remembers something else that Adelle told her. The old lady had said that she would have plenty of adventures and friends to make still because she had her whole life ahead of her. This leads to my favorite part of the whole book, "sixty-three days, five hours and twenty-seven minutes later, Eliza found a friend who made her laugh like no one else, and together they created a secret language. Six years, five months, nine days and sixteen minutes from the time she returned home, she met a boy who sang to her, only to her." Okay okay I know, I am a romantic, right? I feel though that this was the author's own way of saying that she lived happily ever after. A very interesting thing about this book is that there is an adult theme rolled up into a more palatable form here. The theme is death, at least I feel that it is. When Adelle decided that she must go and find Cousin Floyd again and stay there forever, I think that really she was dying and going to her Heaven. I am not sure if this is what the author intended but I think that it is a plausible interpretation of the text.

That having been said, I really enjoyed this book. The story was told in a clever way, and it was unique. A lot of the pictures have elephants hidden in them somewhere, which I really liked. So there is plenty in the illustrations and the text to discuss with students. Also, I enjoy a story with a moral and here there are two very different ones. One I feel is for everyone, giving a message of sacrifice when Eliza gives up her wish for Adelle's. The second, whether it is intentional or not, is aimed at adults, more specifically parents. Simply put, it is that you should spend time with your children (or an elephant named Cousin Floyd will come and take them away...).

This book is prescribed ages 4 to 8 and though I think this is dead on, it could also be enjoyed by students that are a little older too. This is a book that I would surely have in my classroom. It had a moral, it had plenty to observe and dig in to and the illustrations were detailed and lovely.

Moose in the garden by Nancy White Carlstrom

Okay, this is not the cover of the book, but I couldn't find a picture of it to save my life! So, I put this picture of a smiling moose here instead, mostly because the picture is my favorite part of the blog and I was determined to have something. It is a silly thing, but what I actually noticed first about this book is that the pages are numbered (32 in all). This is the first picture book that I have come across that has numbered pages. I have to wonder why this is, and why other books don't bother with it. Anywho, this book wasn't nearly as entertaining as I imagined it would be, but that doesn't mean that it isn't valuable. What I mean by this is that when I picked this book off the shelf and looked at the title I suppose I imagined a story of mischief and humor, but that isn't really whats going on here. Like I said, that is okay because this book has another purpose than entertaining alone. It was written with a lot of repetitive language, for example "These are the seeds we put in the dirt of our garden. These are the seed we put in the dirt of our garden, warmed by the sun". Every other page or so, it switches to a new topic. After focusing on the garden, it focuses on the moose walking in the woods to the garden, all in the same repetitive way. When I said that this book had another agenda, I was referring to things like this. The way of writing used here is conducive to learning new words, learning to recognize words by sight and becoming fluent in reading. That makes this book worth while. In addition, the illustrations seem to have been painted using an opaque paint like acrylic, and they are very well done.

One issue that I thought of while reading this is that after the moose eats nearly all of the vegetables in the garden, the parents are very upset. I guess part of me wondered if they were upset because they put all that work into the garden or for a more desperate reason. Perhaps, they were counting on those veggies to bring them money at a market or that was going to be stored for the winter months so they could eat greens. I don't have an answer for this, I was just thinking about the text and wondering about the people in it who aren't really developed beyond their emotional response to the moose. One amusing thing is that the little boy, unlike his parents, is delighted that the moose ate almost all the veggies and I am guessing that is because he doesn't particularly care for his greens.

The library suggests this book for students between the ages of 3 and 7. Once again I must yield to the experts and say that that sounds about right. It would be easily understood by all students in that age group and most of them could probably even read it with minimal assistance.

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs by Giles Andreae and Russell Ayto

Absolutely loved this book, it was full of bright illustrations and imagination and I cant wait to read this to a student. I feel like it takes two of the biggest wonders of childhood and slaps them together into one silly book. One interesting thing about this book is that the story starts on the same page as the dedication and the copyright information. I liked how it was all incorporated and allowed the story to start right away. Another thing that I liked about this book was that it didn't necessarily follow the traditional pattern of writing. By this I mean that, although some of it was in paragraphs, a lot of it wasn't. There were words that were bigger than others, words in different fonts, words that stuck out at different angles and sometimes you had to look for the words. The illustrations here were very entertaining and full of detail, and they too weren't traditional. Sometimes they were set up like a comic book, with boxes around the action. Other times the picture covered the whole page with no horizon line and sometimes there were pictures within the illustrations. In addition to the actual story, they provide a lot to look at and talk about with students. It may sound kind of busy and I suppose that it could be, but it really didn't bother me. For me, as a reader, it excited and interested me and I think that that is what it will do for students.

The story was a good one as well; even though it was silly there were some great points being made. For example, the story is about friendship and teamwork, two very important themes for children to learn. So if you read it for no other reason, there is always that. Now after our last couple of class discussions I have been thinking about stereotypes and things of the like. With that in mind, I noticed several things, some good and some bad. First of all, I noticed that the teacher was a woman and the ship captain was a man. Those are two very stereotypical roles for men and women. I also noticed that even though a girl came along on the adventure, which was good, it was the little boy who ended up saving the day. I did really like how there was a little girl though, and she actually had a part to play in the book. Those things didn't really take away from the story or anything else, it was just interesting to me to think about. One last thing on the text, is that because there are actual scientific dinosaur names, this book could be good for introducing a unit on dinosaurs and getting students comfortable with the words.

The library suggests this book for students ages 3 to 6 and I think that sounds about right. Even though a three-year-old couldn't read this on their own, they would enjoy the imagination and bright illustrations in the book. Older ages would find this interesting too just because it may speak to specific interests that they have. Personally, I would have this book in my classroom and I would recommend it to other teachers as well.

ALSO! Good news! There are other books about the Captain Flinn out there too!

Beowulf by Gareth Hinds

This assignment was my very first experience with graphic novels, so I wanted to choose something that was a little bit familiar to me. Having heard of the movie and the long standing poetic tradition of Beowulf, I chose it to read. The first thing that surprised me here was that it only took about ten minutes to read all the words in it. I was pleasantly surprised by this, because although I have never read any, I have flipped through some Manga before and found the all the text and pictures to be chaotic and overwhelming. In Beowulf I was able to read the text and then spend longer studying the pictures- not that the text wasn't rich and thought provoking. I guess what I am trying to say is that the text added to the pictures, it didn't take away, they complimented each other nicely. The other thing that came to mind for this graphic novel in particular seemed to me to be a sort of Beowulf spark notes. I say this because it seems to me that the author took the highlights and most important parts from the poem and put them together, adapted them if you will. The other reason I say this is because, I don't know if you have ever read or looked at the epic poem of Beowulf, but it really is epic. The actual poem is broken into 42 episodes that are each lengthy, and this graphic novel, is well pretty short by comparison. Another thought on this though, is that what isn't said in words or was left out, very often gets described in the pictures instead of the words.

Having an art focus and being someone who is very connected with art, I could really appreciate the illustrations. In fact, I appreciate them so much that calling them illustrations doesn't feel right to me. It feels at though there should be a new word for all the detail and the epic, sweeping nature of the drawings in this graphic novel. Okay, this is going to sound gruesome, but actually one of my favorite things that the author/illustrator did was that when there were fight scenes and blood needed to be conveyed, there is a huge ink smudge. It looks like someone took a fountain pen and shook it all over the page. I couldn't tell you really why this appealed to me for sure, but I feel that it has a lot to do with the movement that it creates through the battle scenes. Also, it adds to the emotion of the scene. Actually seeing this big, chaotic blotch on the page makes you feel a little chaotic. It's a little like how in a slasher flick, when the masked creeper with the axe chops someones head off there is way more blood than there ought to be. It isn't realistic but it creates a mood. On to a lighter note...I loved the detail of the drawings and how they were lyrical in their movement. Possibly one of my favorite things about the book in general though, was how in a fight scene, there are no words except for SMASH or CRUNCH or PLOP. It really amused me to have these seemingly light words in the midst of all that gore and it reminded me a little of old Batman cartoons which were a bit silly.

As for an audience for this book, I would be careful. The suggestion on the inside cover says ages ten and up, but I am not sure. I might suggest this for students 12 and up just because there are a lot of images that might be scary. The image of the monster Grendel kinda creeped me out and I am twenty years old. In addition, the pictures are a bit gory and grotesque at times. Another way that I looked at this was that the movie Beowulf, which also follows the poem, is rated pg-13 for intense sequences of violence including disturbing images. I feel like if your students wouldn't be allowed to see that movie, maybe they shouldn't be reading this book. Another thought that I had is that the language is a little strange. It wasn't foreign to me because I have read things like Lord of the Rings and Shakespeare, but to a younger reader without the experience it could be frustrating. For example, "Surely the ale-can has wrought with thee, friend Unferth, that thou hast said such things about Breca". They also might lose the meaning of things while struggling with word meanings, and really there is a lot to catch. In addition to all those other things, this graphic novel, like the poem, tells a story about honesty, bravery, valor, duty and pride. All those things are important for students to have knowledge of. It is difficult in the end to pass judgement on this novel, because there are so many factors of good things and bad things. I suppose whether or not you would allow this read in your classroom is a personal call, depending on the age of my students I am not sure that I would. That is not to say though that I wouldn't allow graphic novels to be read, just perhaps this one is a bit violent.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (390 pages)

This is your typical girl meets wolf, wolf turns into boy, and girl falls in love with boy kinda story that makes you cry at the ending :-). I just can't say enough good things about this book, and thats not just because I am a hopeless romantic in the Twilight tradition. One of the first things that I noticed when I first opened this book is that the print is dark blue which is something I had never seen before. Even though this seems like a minimal thing, really it added to the feeling of the book because a major theme is the cold. Another way that cold plays into the book is that at the beginning of each chapter it gives you the temprature (if I told you why temprature was so important, it would ruin the book so no, you cant know). Something that I didn't think I would like at first was that it is written from two points of view, Grace and Sam -the two main characters. Usually I dont really like books that do this because it always turns out that I like one character more than the other, but here it wasn't the case. Maggie Stiefvater developed both characters equally and made them both interesting and loveable. Plus since I mentioned I am a romantic, it always makes me smile to read the guys version of a love story. I suppose that is something else interesting here, most teen romances take place solely from the girl's point of view, but here it is also from the boy's, it makes the read more dynamic. Yet another thing that I enjoyed about this book is that even though it is a love story, the love isn't perfect. Each character brings something different, and even though Sam and Grace clash sometimes, they work through it. It wouldn't have been the same if there had been no conflict and every page was hearts and rainbows; it wouldn't have seemed real.

I would recommend this to any student who read and enjoyed Twilight, partly because of the content, which is romantic, dramatic and deals with the super natural. I would also suggest it to that group because the reading level and semi-adult themes match up well. By semi-adult I mean there is kissing, some violence and a tidge of sexual content, though its nothing particularly graphic. Just make sure I guess that as a teacher, you are aware of it and perhaps make yourself available for questions.

I saw him again after that, always in the cold. He stood at the edge of the woods in our backyard, his yellow eyes steady on me as I filled the bird feeder or took out the trash, but he never came close.

Just so you know, Maggie Stiefvater has several other books that should also be checked out because they are every bit as lyrical and lovely as Shiver.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney #2 (217 pages)

When I read on the syllabus that we were supposed to pick a chapter book in a series, I thought of this one immediately. Not because I have read it before, but because I have seen it around a lot and always wondered about it. Mostly I wondered why the author of the diary considers himself a "wimpy kid". This is why I chose this book, even though it is technically the second one in the series and I haven't read the first. This, by the way, turned out not to matter too much as the references to the first book were minimal and didn't impact the plot.

I think that my favorite part about this book is that it isn't set up like a traditional book. First of all, all the pages are lined like a composition notebook might be. Next the type face that was used looks like a a child's handwriting. Then, lastly, there are drawings that were drawn by Greg, the main character. Everything about this book, looks hand-written which is just awesome. It really brought me in and made me feel like Greg was a real third grade boy and I was reading his diary. It was funny, witty, thoroughly entertaining and I would highly recommend it to anyone. There is so much that you could do with this book, mostly because there would be so much for students to relate to. You could talk with students about the pictures and the different events that Greg writes about. It would bring up questions too that you ask students, for example about their siblings or their friends at school or their parents. It would be a good way to get to know students.

Remember how I said that id some jerk caught me carrying around a book with "diary" on the cover they were gonna get the wrong idea? Well that's exactly what happened today.

Just a reminder! This is a series so read the whole set!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon by Jules Bass and Debbie Harter

The title of this book was probably one of my favorite parts, its just an amusing contradiction because when you think dragon, you think of sharp teeth and fire, not veggies. The end pages are covered in vegetables in the front and the back. Also, there is a half title page in addition to a full title page. I must say, I am not entirely sure why publishers do this, it seems to me that one title page would be enough. At any rate, the illustrations in this book are very boldly colored and detailed. There is a lot to look at with them which would be good for students because that means there would be plenty to talk about. Another nice thing about the pictures is that they are amusing. In particular the facial expressions of the dragons and the knights.

Once again the important thing here is the moral of the story, even though I feel just a little like I was beaten over the head with it. Herb the vegetarian is offered a chance to change who he is to save his life, but he doesn't take it because he wants to remain true to himself. This is a good lesson to teach young kids and it is as old as Shakespeare's "to thine own self be true". Everyone should know this because as Malcolm X put it, "If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything". Another moral that comes out is through a secondary character named Nicole who stands up for her friend Herb and ultimately saves his life. Proving that you should stand up for what you know is right even if you stand alone.

Okay, this might be one of the strangest books that I have read up to now. This is basically because it was a bit violent and the story itself flows strangely. Now this isn't to say that I didn't like this book, because I did, it was just surprising I suppose. It is also not to say that the students wouldn't like it, I think that they probably would too though I think you would need to choose your audience wisely. The story starts by describing a dragon named Meathook, part of his description reads, "He particularly liked the sweet taste of royal princesses, and the crispy crunch of brave knights in armor was almost as delicious." This book is recommended for students ages 6 to 10 and I would have to say that I would go for the upper end of that range.

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

I have a confession to make. I never read Rainbow Fish when I was little, and I am told by my roommates that I had a truly deprived childhood :-) Not to worry though, I have read it now and apparently redeemed my youth. Here is the sad part though, I think I was missing out!
There is no dust jacket on this book, but the endpapers are very well incorporated in the story. On it is a scene with the rainbow fish swimming along in a sea of blues and violets. While investigating the title page I discovered one of the most interesting things about this book, aside from the added iridescent fish scales. This book was originally printed in Switzerland in a different language. It wasn't translated into English until 1992. Aside from the story itself, my favorite part of this book are the illustrations. More specifically the fact that they look like they were originally done in water color. Again they are simple, which is good because they do not take away from the story rather they add to it. They help you to visualize being under the sea and what the rainbow fish might look like. Also, I think that the addition of the special "rainbow" scales will appeal to the students- they attracted my eye and I am a few years past elementary school!

Really though, the important thing here is the story. I really liked how the moral was easy to detect so that younger students could discern it by themselves. I feel this is good because it seems as though something is lost when the moral of a story must be explained to you. In addition, the moral is a good one. It tells of discovering friendship and when you give of yourself, you gain the most. Once again I feel that I must yield to the experts on the age recommendation. The librarians suggest this book for students ages 4 to 8 and I agree.

This book is not only part of a series, it is an Abby Winner!

The Runaway Dinner by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman

After Paula Brandt's presentation last Wednesday I have decided that I should really be paying more attention to the dust jackets, end covers and general design of books. That having been said, one of the first things that I noticed about this book, aside from the amusing title, was that it was unusually long horizontally. I liked this because it seemed unusual. The end papers have silly drawings on them of food playing and a dog chasing a cat up a tree. Both of these are involved in the story, but you wouldn't really know that until you read the story. Something interesting thing about the book itself is that the story begins before the title page and continues just after it. Another interesting thing about the book is that the actual story is organized as a poem rather than in a regular paragraph. Also, the font size changes. The illustrations themselves are simplistic yet detailed, one of my favorite parts about them is that they look as though they were hand painted.

The story itself was very humorous and I believe that was probably the point of it. Meaning that I think this story was just for entertainment's sake rather than having a specific moral. That isn't a bad thing though, sometimes its nice to just read a book for reading's sake. The library recommends this book for kids of ages 4 to 8 and I think that sounds pretty reasonable. I think that elementary students will find this story amusing. This would also be a good book for students who are still learning to read because there are a lot of repeating words, "Well then, of course, as you might expect, the fork ran after the sausage, the knife ran after the fork, the plate ran after the knife, the little table and the little chair ran after the plate, and Banjo, that hungry little boy, ran after all of them." More than that though, this is just a really fun story about a little boy named Banjo whose dinner ran away so he had to go and chase it and the adventure that ensues.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Silly Tilly by Eileen Spinelli and Illustrated by David Slonim

To be perfectly honest, the reason that I chose this book was because my mom recently got a Yorkie puppy that they named Matilda. One of the nicknames that they have for her is Silly Tilly. That is why I chose it but it isn't necessarily why I ended up liking it so much. It was so cute! The book is 29 pages long and it tells the story of a goose named Tilly and the silly things that she does. " She wore a pancake as a hat. She tried to ride the farmer's cat. She kissed a fish. Imagine that!" One day the other animals on the farm confront Tilly and tell her that she is too silly and she needs to stop her crazy antics. So she does. Time passes and the animals begin to realize that they miss the old Tilly because she made them laugh. They realize that they really did love Tilly for who she was and they all go and apologize to poor Tilly. It isn't long before she is back to her old self. "She glues blue glitter on the plow and turns six cartwheels on the cow. And all the farm is happy now!" The sentences in this book were short and to the point, it was descriptive but not wordy. The thing that I really liked about this book beside the fact that it was so amusing was that it rhymed. Rhyming books are nice because it helps kids with word sounds by providing like sounds-plus they are just fun to read and the stories flow nicely! The pictures were also very nice. I particularly liked that they all looked like they were hand painted and very animated.

Since this was such a simple book, I would say that it is probably more appropriate for a younger reading audience. Students in kindergarten through second grade would probably enjoy this book the most because the humor is aimed more at little ones. Another good thing about this book is that there is a lesson to be learned here. You should be open to accepting people for who they are because everyone has something special to give.

Also! Look for other books about Silly Tilly :-)