Friday, December 11, 2009

Final Summary

This class has been such a gift to me this semester.
  • It gave me the chance to read for pleasure.
  • Going to the CRL every week to pick out books was often the highlight of my day.
  • I got to look at children's literature in a critical way.
  • I was given all sorts of good ideas for my future classroom.
  • I got the opportunity to reconnect with some of my favorite children's books.
  • I got to discover a lot of new, wonderful books.
I would for sure take this class again if I could, and I truly feel inspired to use books in my future classroom.

Skeleton Hiccups by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by S.D. Schindler

Okay I am very sorry, but I did not like this book at all and I do not know why! Or maybe that's not even it. I liked the book, I just don't know what to say about it. It was a likable, silly story, but that was it. There was not a lot of substance to it really- which is funny because it is about a skeleton haha! I really think that students would like this book as a read aloud because on every page it says "hic hic hic" and I could see students wanting to read along with that. This book would be very good to use in a series around the Halloween season. The ending would also be very amusing to students. "Then ghost got smart. Hic, hic, hic. Found a mirror. Hic, hic, hic. Held it up. Hic, hic, hic. Skeleton screamed! The hiccups left. They jumped away. Hurray!"

I would recommend this book be on a shelf in your classroom for students to enjoy. Ages 3 to 6.

Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyui Choi

I really do not know where to start with this book. It is probably important to point out that I read So Far From the Bamboo Grove first so I am partial to it. That does not mean that I did not like this book. For sure it was just as heart wrenching at times as the other book in this paired text set, but it had just as much hope mixed in. One thing about this book that was not as strong for me was that it was not a true story, though it could have easily been the story of any child in Korea at the time. One thing that I really did like about this book though, was that it did not end when Japan surrendered. It goes on to talk about how the Russians came into Korea next. It is almost as if the nightmare just kept going for this family. What I liked about that though is, I had no idea that that happened. I am a little ashamed to admit that I learned about a major world history event in a fictional children's novel, but it is true none the less. This is why these kind of text sets are such a good idea in the classroom! You learn about history in a way that you never really thought you could. Plus, this would be far more interesting for students than simply reading about all this in a textbook. Even the best textbooks cant rival the novel for the human spirit and the connection the reader needs to feel something for the topic in question. This is why these kinds of text sets are such a good idea. I would absolutely use this kind of thing in my classroom.

Moi and Marie Antoinette by Lynn Cullen and illustrated by Amy Young

This book made me realize that I would really like to know more about Marie Antoinette. She is such a famous historical character, but I feel like everything that I know about her is hearsay. Like that whole, "let them eat cake" thing, totally false, but that is what people know about her. Perhaps I will have to look into some more literature on her. At any rate, I liked this book for several reasons. The first being that it is told from the point of view of her puppy- and I love puppies ( a shocking revelation I know.) The other reason is because of the historical content. It is about history and a famous historical character, but it is told in a way that is easy to relate to. As I have said before, animals are such a good way to relate things to children. In this case, we see the life of Marie Antoinette through the eyes of her beloved pet Pug, who the author named Sebastian. Interestingly, Marie was only aloud to bring a few personal possessions with her into her new life in France, and her Pug was one of them. I feel like this fact would make this figure relatable to students because many students will have dogs and many more will have some kind of pet. The other thing that is kind of nice here is that because it is from the puppy's point of view, it is pretty simple even though very complicated things were going on in actuality. One thing that I did not like about this book was that it was actually pretty sad. Fitting I guess because her life wasn't exactly happy, but I was sad for Sebastian. In the story as Marie became more of a queen she quit having time for her puppy so he became lonely. Silly? Maybe. My boyfriend laughed at me when he looked over at me reading this book and found me very distraught. Still though, to me, every dog anywhere could by my Louie so I relate to them maybe a little more than I should. Anyway, the ending is happy, because Marie's daughter finds Sebastian and adopts him as her own and he is happy and loved again. At the very end of the book, the author has an actual short biography of Marie Antoinette, who was actually called Antonia or Antoinette by her family. I liked this because some of the facts from the book were not quite true. For example, her marriage was not happy at all, and in the story it seems like it was pretty okay.

This book would be wonderful of course for introducing genre to students. This is historical, it is a biography, and a fiction book all rolled into one. I think that students would enjoy learning about Marie Antoinette this way. Ages 4 to 8.

The Pillow War by Matt Novak

First of all, I just want to say that these tiny little images make me sad :-( This one however makes me particularly sad because now you cant see the detail that I can on the cover art. The first thing that I noticed while reading this book were the illustrations and I don't necessarily mean that in a good way. They were awesome as far as details go, but at the same time, the kids look downright creepy! What it is I think is that they look like little adults with these big, round, shiny faces. I dunno. They were a little bit distracting for me while I was reading actually. That having been said though, I do appreciate Matt Novak's obvious attention for details in the illustrations. Some of the scenes he probably could have gotten away with not quite as much, but he went for it anyway. I really like that in the illustrations of all the children everywhere having one giant pillow fight, no two children look the same and they all have different pajamas on.

The story was really only okay for me, though it was entertaining. A brother and sister are getting ready for bed and they begin to argue over who their dog will sleep with. This starts a pillow fight that escalates to encompass the neighborhood and then pretty soon, the whole world is engaged in one massive pillow war (hence the title). It goes on and on until the little brother gets hurt, and his big sister calls off the whole thing. She carries him home and tells him that they will take turns with the dog. Funny thing is though, in the end they cant find the dog because, preferring to sleep alone, he is curled up on a pillow in the closet. I suppose that the lesson here is not as hidden as some of the other books that I have reviewed lately. It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Okay, this isn't really a lesson, but it is in there. The lesson here is about taking care of your siblings and it is also about being able to admit you are sorry. It is also about learning to share. In fact, this would be a good book to read to your students about sharing always an important thing to learn about.

This book is ages 3 to 6 :-)

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett

I honestly can't believe that it has taken me this long to talk about his book! It was one of my absolute favorites when I was younger. Did I see the movie though, you say? Absolutely not. Why? Because they totally ruined it! i could tell just from the trailer that only a few things were kept the same from the original telling, which is highly disappointing because it was fine just on its own. When I was little I always thought about how cool it would be to live in a place where food rained from the sky. Then when I got a little bit older, but not quite old enough to outgrow the book, I realized that if it truly rained food it would not be suitable to eat because of all the nasty things in the atmosphere. Another fanciful idea struck down by knowledge and science for that matter. I still enjoyed the book though. I think that the illustrations were one of the best parts. It is funny because what I enjoyed so much about those illustrations is still what I hold as the gold standard for a good illustration today, and that is attention to detail. Each illustration in this book was done with a careful eye, and nothing was left out. Not to be too general here, but my other favorite part of this book was the story. Not only is it amusing, but there are lessons to be learned. This is the story of a town where the weather does not consist of rain and snow, but of hot dogs and hamburgers and other foods. Life was good in the obviously fictional town of Chewandswallow until there is the hurricane equivalent of food dumped on the city. The residents are forced to flee for their lives, lest they be squished by a giant pancake or run over by an enormous rolling doughnut. What lesson can be learned from this silly story? There are two actually. The first is this: too much of a good thing is a bad thing. The townspeople had been glad to get their food for free from the sky, but when the weather spins out of control they are forced to leave, ergo too much=bad. The other lesson comes from a part of the book that I did not mention. The story begins by a grandfather telling his grandchildren this story of the town Chewandswallow. This celebrates not only the entertainment value of books and the importance of reading and sharing them together, but it also highlights the tradition of the oral story.

Even if you don't choose to look deep enough for that, you will still enjoy this book. I suggest this book for all ages.

You can watch the trailer for Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs here:
It is totally different, but it could still be entertaining.

Mouse TV by Matt Novak

I chose this book because I thought that it was going to be cute and I was right. This was a very cute book! It was another that after I read it once I thought it was just for entertainment's sake, but after thinking about it I discovered that there was more value to it than that. The story starts with a large mouse family who likes to watch TV. The problem is that they can never agree on what it is that they should watch. The dad mouse wants to watch action, mama wants to watch a comedy and so on. It goes through all the different genres of TV show that you could possibly want to watch. Than one day, the TV is broken and the mouse family is a little lost at first. Then they start to entertain themselves in other ways. I liked this because, even though I do enjoy turning on the tube at the end of a long day, I feel like there is too much emphasis on it these day, especially with our youth. This book could be used for a bunch of different things. It could be a topic starter to get to know students. You could have them talk about what kind of TV they like to watch and then maybe they could get into groups and put together a skit that would show what their genre was. This would be good for planning and writing skills, as well as using imaginations to come up with props and everything. this book could also be used as the jumping off point to talk about what we could do with our time besides watch TV. Two of my favorite things about this book though? One, the mouse family was all together when they were deciding how to spend their time and two, they decide to read a book. One thing though about the book that was interesting to me. We know from the beginning of the book that the dad mouse likes action/adventure, and what kind of story finally gets read at the end of the book? An action/adventure story is read by the dad. I don't know what this means really but it felt significant to me that the dad is the only one whose genre was addressed.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and more than that, it could truly be useful in the classroom. Ages 3 to 6.

An Edward Lear Alphabet by Vladimir Radunsky

This was an odd book and I cant really decide if I liked it or not. On one hand I am certain that students would like it given the nonsensical rhymes. On the other though is that the rhymes are just that, nonsense. I think I would have liked it better if the words were all real. For example, "N was once a little needle, Needly, Tweedly, Threedly, Needly Wisky wheedly little needle." Now to be fair, tweed is a word, but tweedly is not. I guess what I am trying to say is that this book would have been more successful for me personally if he had used it to teach students about the alphabet and rhyming words. It would have been more meaningful. The other thing that bothered me a little about this book were some of the letter examples. Some of them students would not know, though they could figure it out from the illustration- one possible upside to this book could be that it would help teach students to look at illustrations for text clues. One letter though that they probably wouldn't know or couldn't get unless they already knew it, would be U. "U was once a little urn, urny, burny, turny, urny, bubbly burny little urn." Okay so not only would you have to explain to students that an urn holds the remains of a person who was cremated after they died, you would have to explain cremation. No thank you. The idea of cremation is a little disturbing to me know as an adult, I really don't know how I would have felt about it elementary school, but it would have been similar. Also, could we look at the rhyming words here? "Bubbly burny?" Gross! So as far as alphabet books go, you could do better for sure.

Still, it would not be all bad to have in a classroom. As I mentioned above, students could use this book to learn about checking illustrations to figure out text meanings. In addition, students would probably enjoy the rhymes in a read aloud setting. Plus, even though the rhyming words aren't really words, they could still be used for pronunciation of letters.

The ages for this are tricky because on one hand, ages 3 to 6 is a range in which students could be learning the alphabet, but on the other hand, some of the words are uncommon at best and there is the whole urn debacle. Use your best judgement on this one I guess.

Titanicat by Marty Crisp and illustrated by Robert Papp

The first thing I want to talk about with this book are the illustrations. Each one appears to have been hand painted on canvas before it was made into an illustration for the book. One word. Wow. I can't even imagine how long it would have taken to do all of these paintings. They really add something to the book as well, they set a mood. The fact that they are done in such a realistic fashion helps to make the reader feel that this story could have actually happened. In addition the quality of the illustrations make it easy to envision yourself in the book. The illustrations also set a more serious tone to the book, which is fitting considering the topic is the Titanic. Really though, I just cant say enough good things about them, they are beautiful and very realistic. It just occurred to me too that they were a very good choice on the author's part. Just think of how ridiculous this book would have been and how different the tone if the illustrations had been cartoons instead.

In addition to having fabulous illustrations, this book had a wonderful story. One of my favorite things about it was that it was a point of view I have never seen before in a story about the Titanic. In fact, the actual ship's name isn't even used until the very end- though you knew they were talking about the Titanic the whole time because of the title of the book, and the views that you get in the illustrations. I almost wish they had titled the book something else so that when you got to the end and they told you that the ship was the Titanic you could actually be surprised. At any rate, the story is based around the old sea myth that every ship must have a cat and it is bad luck not to. At first, the ship does have a resident cat, and four kittens. It is Jim's job to take care of them. He carries the kittens around in a box everywhere he goes and the cat follows. Then on the day that the Titanic is supposed to set sail, Jim sees the cat carrying her kittens off the ship one by one. As they are pulling up the gangplanks, Jim realizes that she forgot one kitten and he jumps on to the dock to return it to her. In doing so, Jim misses his ride to America. Days later, Jim realizes that the cat saved his life, after hearing news of the Titanic sinking.

I feel like animals are a good way to help relate hard topics to children, and the Titanic is certainly a hard topic to discuss given that it was such a tragedy. If you wanted to have this as part of a history unit, this book might be a good way to start it out. There are also many other books out there that have animals and the Titanic as their theme. Even if you don't have a unit on the Titanic, this would still be a good book for your classroom shelf because the story is a good one and it introduces history. Ages 5 to 9.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox by Erin Dealey and illustrated by Hanako Wakiyama

I loved this book! It was so cute, and it even had a moral in it. Okay, so it took me a little thinking to get to it, but I did and here it is: do unto others as you would have them do unto you! This is the lesson that Goldie's brother must learn as he torments his older sister while she is sick and in doing so ends up with the chicken pox himself. One of my favorite things about this book was how it incorporated different fairytales and different fairytale characters into this story. For example, the three bears from Goldie Locks and the Three Bears are mentioned and little red riding hood. More than that though, there are characters from rhymes. "Jack be nimble! Jack be quick! Come and see! My sister's sick!" It reminded me of the Shrek movies and how they managed to squeeze nearly every fairytale and folktale in to it, and they did it in such a clever way! One of the other things that I liked about this book was that the illustrations look vintage. They look like they belong in a book with cardboard covers and a shiny gold binding. Even the furniture and the dress looks like this book was written in the forties. Last thing that I really liked about this book is that it flowed so nicely. This is due in part to the fact that the words all rhyme, but still it was nice to read, like the verbal equivalent of looking at an aesthetically pleasing painting.

This book could come in useful in the classroom in a number of ways. The first having to do with the lesson that I mentioned above. It makes for an important life lesson as well as an important thing for students to remember in the classroom. It could also be used when talking about siblings and how we should be nice to them. This book could be used to help explain the chicken pox to students, perhaps when a peer is out with them. In addition, it could be used to begin a genre discussion. You could read this book to your students first and then begin talking about different fairytales and folktales. Or it could be read half way through your genre unit and you could make a game of seeing how many different stories within this story the students can identify. Useful and entertaining- I would have this in my classroom.

Ages 5 to 6 :-)

Lucy Dove written by Janice Del Negro and illustrated by Leonid Gore

I chose this book off the shelf because of the title mostly, which turns out to be a name. Anyway, as odd as it seems for a reason to choose a book, I liked the name. The actual book itself though, I have mixed feelings about. It started off well enough, talking about a superstitious laird. I thought to myself that this was going to be a sort of legend, and it was. The only problem though was that every time the author started to get some lyricism going, the whole thing would fall apart. There were parts that seemed like they were going to rhyme and then the author decided at the last minute that she didn't want a rhyming book after all. This left me feeling unsatisfied after reading most pages. The other thing that I didn't like about it as far as a children's book is concerned is that it included some phrases like, "When wishes were horses and beggars could ride, in stone castle by the sea there lived a rich laird." Now you could certainly use this book in a mini-lesson to introduce something like abstract thought and detail into student writing. However, this is a concept that some college students out there do not understand, so expecting it out of an elementary student seems like a little much. Maybe I am underestimating the depth of the young child's mind, but I know that if someone had asked me in elementary school to discern meaning from that statement I would have drawn a complete blank. I feel that most other students would to, and that is too bad really because, even though it might be meaningless to some, it is beautiful writing. Maybe it is not that I didn't like this book, it is that I feel it should be read as a read aloud so that parts of it could be deconstructed and explained, bigger words could be given definition and explained.

One thing that I did like about this book was that the heroine was a little old woman. This rarely happens in stories. Stereotypically and more often than not in stories the one who saves the day or the one who has enough courage and gumption to do what needs to be done ends up being a man. It isn't that I am sexist against men or anything like that, but I am a fan of the male in a story being the silly one and the woman being the one who gets to stand up and do what needs to be done- even if it is just sewing a pair of supposed "lucky" pants.

This book was recommended for students 8 to 11 and I think that sounds about right. Again though, a read aloud might be the best option here. Also, keep in mind your audience because some of the illustrations are a little creepy.

Don't Mention Pirates by Sarah McConnell

The first time reading this book through I thought that it was just a cute book about a little girl and her family. Upon looking deeper though I saw some things below the surface. For example, Scarlet, the main character, knows that she and her family are pirates, even though no one will admit it. She also knows in her heart that she is a pirate and she wont let anyone ruin that for her. This definitely speaks to listening to your heart and holding on to what you know to be true, even when people are telling you that you're wrong about it. This could almost be about a gay child coming out to his or her parents and having them accept their child in the end for who they are. The lesson here would be: be who you are, even if people think it is wrong. The other lesson that I saw here was that this is a very different family. They live in a house that is shaped like a pirate ship for starters. I feel like the family in this book could be used as an example for students who have different kinds of families or live in other kinds of houses. The lesson being that everyone comes from different kinds of families and everyone has different backgrounds that they need to be proud of.

Other than that, I would say that this was a fun book about being together as a family and coming to accept what you are. In this case, it was pirates. I picked this book because I just love reading stories about pirates to children. Why? Because they love pirates! This has always been my experience at any rate, and when you read a book to a child that you know they are going to love, it makes the experience that much more meaningful.

The library and I contend that this book would be appropriate for pre-school through second grade.