Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars

Author:  John Green
Published:  2011

I listened to this book because I had read Looking for Alaska and I wanted to read something else by John Green.  The Fault in Our Stars won The Odyssey Award.  "This annual award is given to the producer of the best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States."  I wish I had read the book instead.

I found the reader's voice annoying, but that is not the only reason I wish I had read the book.  I love going back into the book and rereading sections and trying to find how different parts are related.  I can't do that with the CDs and I know that I've forgotten so much already because I cannot quickly go back to refer to the book.

So, I will read the book.  I've been listening to it in the car.  I have to keep replaying it because my children have been listening to it with me.  Of course, now we are all on different parts so I've reheard certain parts a few times.  My middle schooler, Mikey, and my high schooler, Will, both have enjoyed listening to it and are disappointed that I have finished it before them.

This book is about Hazel, a girl with cancer, and the relationship she forms with other cancer patients, survivors, and non-cancer characters.  The focus is primarily on her relationship with Augustus Waters, a hot guy, who attends the support group session one day.  Augustus had a type of cancer where 80% of the people survive.  Augustus had lost his leg to the cancer, but we think he is going to survive as well.  He falls in love with Hazel because she is funny, sweet, and reminds him of Natalie Portman in V is for Vendetta.

It could be because I listened to the book, but I didn't find Hazel to be very nice.  She does not want to be judged by others because of her illness, but she is very judgmental herself.  There is a girl in support group with appendix cancer and I feel Hazel judges her because it's cancer in the appendix.  I suppose that isn't such a big deal?  Hazel also is tough on people who respond differently than she wants them to respond.  For example, Augustus's sisters are annoying when they speak to Augustus while on his deathbed, but that is what they know.  Everyone has a right to respond to things as they know.  Hazel seems to stop being friends with her healthy friend from high school.  This girl has a British accent, even though she isn't British.  So, that is a bit annoying, but her friend is trying to be a friend and Hazel does not seem to make an effort with that friendship.  I may have heard this wrong, but it was my interpretation based on the reader of the book.

I remember best when Augustus and Hazel are heading to Amsterdam and they are waiting in the airport.  Augustus leaves to get a hamburger and leaves Hazel and her mom sitting alone at the terminal.  Augustus finally returns right before they are to board the airplane.  We find out that he didn't leave just because he was hungry, but because it was obvious that the three of them together were suffering.  He didn't want people looking at him with pity.  I think this story sticks with me because I'm reminded of my mom going through cancer.  She bought a wig, always wore hats, fought to walk like she wasn't in pain even though she was.  I just wonder why we always tend to act like everything is okay.  Isn't it okay to not be okay?  Maybe the people aren't feeling sorry for you, but maybe they are compassionate because they too have experienced something like this.  I think that we need to realize that people are basically good.  Looks might not be anger or pity, they could be understanding.

The ending was great.  Hazel finally talks with her parents and they talk with her.  They have an understanding and no matter when Hazel dies, Hazel can feel good because her parents will live on.  Hazel can accept that she will die and that her parents will continue living; they will miss her, but they are going to make a difference in the lives of others.  (Mom is taking classes to become a counselor for cancer patients.)

This book is too intense for 3rd grade.  The CD case says 14+.  So, I won't share it with my own class, but I will share it with my own children and make sure they hear the entire thing.  I will read it on my own and probably modify my views on the book.  This story would be good for the family and friends of cancer patients to have a better idea of what the cancer patient is going through. 

Check this book out from the library!


Author:  Cynthia Lord
Published:   2006

I sat down to read this book from beginning to end.  I chose this book for two reasons:  it is a Newberry Honor book and it has also won the Schneider Family Book Award.  I was killing two birds with one stone.  I had seen this book before, but the cover did not draw me in.  Now that I know what the cover is, I love it.  I have to stop letting covers dictate what I read.

I asked my husband to look at the cover and to predict what the book was about.  I wanted to see if what he thought would be enough to make me want to read the book.  Ummm no.  He said, "It looks like a game at a carnival.  I bet you have to pick up the duck and check what's written on the bottom to see if you win the goldfish."  So I asked, "Why is the duck saying "RULES"?"  He responded, "Carnival games have rules!"  Okay, no wonder I didn't want to read the book before.  I'm glad I did though.

There is nothing about carnivals in this book.  This story is told by Catherine, a young girl who wants to enjoy her summer and meet a new friend, Kristi, who will swim with her and send Morse code messages back and forth with flashlights.  The only problem is that Catherine has a brother, David, and David has autism.  Catherine loves her brother and has come up with a list of rules for him.  At first you think she has rules so that he doesn't embarrass her, but really, Catherine does not want others to treat David differently. (Examples of rules are:  no toys in the aquarium (see the cover of the book) and don't take your pants off in front of others.) She wants everything and everyone to be "normal."  Interestingly, Catherine learns that normal is not what she thinks.  She befriends a boy, Jason, a paraplegic, at David's occupation therapy sessions.  I see Jason as Catherine's closest friend, but Catherine doesn't see it like that.  She wants to treat Jason like he is "normal," but really she does not and comes to realize that she is doing to him what she does not want others doing to her own brother.  Catherine tries to hide her brother's autism and Jason's handicap from Kristi, and ends up isolating her friends.  Catherine eventually learns to open up and speak up about her feelings to her parents, Kristi, and Jason.  She also realizes that accepting each others' differences is okay, and it is not her problem if others cannot accept the differences.

I read this book and thought of autistic students I have taught.  I want so badly to know what is in their heads. I want them to understand that I may not always understand them and may understand things the wrong way, but I really want to.  What I have always been amazed with is that my students have always been so understanding of my students with autism.  I'm amazed at how supportive they are of each other.  I hope it's like this everywhere.  I know it isn't.  A few years ago I was at a museum and I saw a child with a sticker on his shirt.  The sticker had written on it, "Be patient with me, I have autism."  I felt sorry for the parents and for the child.  I didn't feel like that parent had to explain anything to me, but they felt like they did, so the sticker. I felt sorry for the child, he had probably not always been given nice looks because of the way he behaved.  The only way he knew or was able to express himself.  Everyone needs to read this book and needs to learn compassion and understanding.  People need to learn that before coming to a conclusion they should think there might a reason for the way someone is behaving and it is not for us to judge.

Check this book out from the library!
Learn about Cynthia Lord.

The Dangerous Days of Daniel X: 1

Author:  James Patterson
Illustrator: Juliana Neufeld
Published:  2008

Mikey told me that since I made him read The Giver, I had to read The Dangerous Days of Daniel X or what we call it at our home:  Daniel X.  "Ugh," I thought. "Isn't that by that guy who does the goofy middle school book commercials on t.v.?"  "Yes, it is."  I started reading the book and I thought that would be enough.  I could sneak in a game of Words With Friends and he would still think I was reading.  After a while I started feeling guilty.  I broke down and read the book.

I learned a few things.  Number one:  there is a part two to this book and I do intend on reading it.  The first book was fun to read.  Just up my alley - science fiction, triumph of the good over the evil, triumph over adversity, and lots of good alien butt-kicking.  Number two:  this one is a bit deeper, I think I've discovered that I mostly enjoy reading books written in the first person.  Is that normal?  I think it's that I like knowing what the person thinks.  I feel like I form a relationship with the characters.  (I remember reading the Harry Potter books years ago and thinking that I needed to get the house ready for Christmas.  I got so into the book, I blew off getting ready.  I could just pull out my wand and set everything up!  I'll write about that another time.)

I didn't get as wrapped up in this book as I did in the Harry Potter books, but it was fun.  My son kept asking me, "What part are you on?"  "Did you get to the part...?"  I think the most fun is having book discussions with my kids.

This book is about a boy, Daniel, who is an Alien Hunter.  He doesn't know much about his past because his parents were killed by an alien when he was 3.  Luckily, Daniel and his family were aliens too, but they are good aliens who are trying to save Earth from the  Outer Ones.  Here is how one of the aliens he battles is described, "part man, part jellyfish, part chain saw."  Yes, this book is not deep, but what elementary or middle school boy is not going to love that?

Daniel has special powers that help him battle the aliens.  He is trying to destroy a list of aliens his parents had compiled before they died.  The number one alien is Prayer, he is the one who killed his mom, his dad, and his unborn sister, Pork Chop.  He is learning about his strengths and is currently in pursuit of the number 6 alien, Ergent Seth.  Ergent Seth can change his look, but when he is in his alien form, he has a horse head and a big claw.  His purpose is to depopulate Earth and he kidnaps children for child labor on his spaceship, slavery, and even to use them as pets.

Ergent Seth is able to deceive Daniel and kidnap him.  He actually takes Daniel back to Daniel's original planet where he gets to meet his extended family and Ergent Seth finally meets his match!  I don't want to give it away.  As you can tell, I like things that are a bit gross and I can tell you the death of Seth is gross, but actually funny.

If you have free time, this book definitely beats out any romance book you might want to read on the beach this summer.  It was fun to read and there is nothing really earth-shaking - except for Seth's death.  I will read the next one and discuss it with Mikey.  I know he wants to read it.

I will have this book in my class for my students.  I have to say, this book wouldn't be for all of my students.  I definitely need to pick and choose who would be exposed to this.  I don't think there is anything wrong in the book and it's not even overly scary.  I have kids who read The Hunger Games, this is child's play compared to that.  I do, however, have some immature ( I don't mean that meanly) children who might be scared just because they are too young.  This will be for my more mature readers who complain that they do not have anything good to read.  The descriptions are enjoyable and the pictures of the aliens that I imagine make me want to learn:  What will Daniel X face next!?!

Check this out from your library!
James Patterson's Official Website

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella

Author:  Robert D. San Souci
Illustrator: Brian Pinkney
Published 1998

We have been reading folktales and fairy tales in my class over the last two weeks and I've read several versions of Cinderella.  I saved this one to read and write about because being from Puerto Rico, I thought it would be good for me to know the Caribbean version.  I had never heard of this before.

The story itself is not so different from the Cinderella stories we have all heard before.  There are a few difference though.  This story is told from the point of view of the godmother.  This is a real godmother, not the fairy kind.  I'm sure that being a godmother in this story is as important as being a godmother in Puerto Rico.  My god-daughter knows that I am here for her if anything happens, just as this godmother is for Cendrillon.  Unlike me, this godmother has a magic stick that her own mother gave to her right before she died.  The godmother was to use this stick to do good for others.

The godmother uses her stick to change breadfuit into a coach, mice, lizards, and an opposum into the horses, coachmen, and the driver.  She also dresses Cendrillon in a beautiful blue velvet gown.  Unlike other Cinderella stories, the godmother goes to the ball with Cendrillon.  Like other Cinderella's, the prince falls in love with Cendrillon, the prince finds Cendrillon because the slipper fits her, and they get married.

It is not the story of Cendrillon that I enjoyed, but the pictures.  It was pretty much the same story.  The pictures filled the page with vibrant colors.  The colors captured the beauty of the island.  This Cinderella is dark skinned, as is her prince.  The setting is the Caribbean with its beautiful blue-green water and palm trees on the beaches.  I felt that the story captured the colors, the feeling of the breezes, and the delicious fruits of Cendrillon's island.  I also enjoyed that the story was told from the godmother's point-of-view and that the prince wasn't amazing because he was handsome, but because he was good.  He loves Cendrillon even though she is poor.

I wish there was more about the culture in the book.  I may have built this book up in my own mind before reading it - I wanted to feel a tie to the story because of the origin of this story.  I think it will be interesting to read other versions of Cendrillon to see how they impact me.

In class we are reading many different folktales to learn how they are different based on their origins.  We are then going to write our own modern-day versions that appeal to us and teach us a modern lesson.  This will be another example of a Cinderella different than the Cinderellas we usually read and see in movies.

Check it out from the library.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Walt Disney's Cinderella

Author:  Cynthia Rylant, Illustrator:  Mary Blair; Published:  2007

Walt Disney's Cinderella, retold by Cynthia Rylant, is very romantic.  "This is a story about darkness and light, about sorrow and joy, about something lost and something found.  This is a story about Love."  Cinderella's life at her dead father's house is cold and dark, but Cinderella has not given up on love, unlike her evil stepsisters, who would not recognize love.

One day, the king decides that his son must find a wife.  I found it interesting that Ms. Rylant referred to the prince as having "every quality anyone could ask of a man who would some day be king," but the king is in search of a girl, "the prince...had not fallen in love...all of the girls he had ever known or seen, not one had touched his heart."  Since the pictures are based on the old Disney pictures, I suppose that type of language fits.  I'm not offended by the language, perhaps I would have been in my college days, but now I see that it matches the older pictures.  As I had previously mentioned, the story is very romantic.  I want to be this Cinderella who is discovered by her prince.

Cinderella is left by her stepsisters and mother on the night of the ball, but Cinderella knows that love is waiting for her at the ball.  She could not bear the dark house, so she goes outside and cries.  The picture of Cinderella outside does not give me a warm feeling, I feel that she is isolated, scared, and cold.  Her tears created a miracle, however, her fairy godmother, who created the carriage, the coachmen, the beautiful dress, and the glass slippers.

As we leave the outside of Cinderella's dark house, the colors change and the sky is now green and blue, there are golds, and finally Prince Charming sees Cinderella and there is pink.  Love at first sight.  "How does a young man find his maiden?  His heart leads him.  He finds her in a room.  He asks her to dance.  And when he touches her, he knows."  Oh my goodness, this is a dream!  I'm going to have to ask my husband if this is how he felt the first time he saw me!  It really is like a dream, the light blue/green colors seem so quiet and relaxing and they fall in love.

At midnight, Cinderella rushes home, loses her glass slipper, and once again Cinderella is in the dark.  We see Cinderella at the top of the stairs.  She is in a dark stairwell, but the light around her is the blue that reminds me of the prince.  The duke is searching for the owner of the tiny glass slipper and discovers Cinderella.  Unfortunately, it is the duke searching for Cinderella.  I wish that the prince had been motivated enough to search for his love, but Cinderella returns to the castle, as do the pink pages, and the prince takes "her in his arms."  Sigh. 

I cannot wait to share this book with my students.  I want to compare it to Yeh-Shen.  I'd like the children to
notice the differences and similarities.  I want them to notice the fish, the fairy godmother, the tears, the princes, the dresses, the colors.  I know my students will really enjoy it and will find doing a Venn Diagram fun.  Fun and learning, I can't ask for more!

Find this book at your library!

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella

Author:  Paul Fleischman
Illustrator:  Julie Paschkis
Published:  2007
Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal is the story of Cinderella from all over the world.  The author has created one Cinderella story by combining the stories from multiple countries.  The illustrator incorporates colorful artwork that represents the culture and folktale from each of the those countries.  We realize that all of these stories have common elements, a girl who is mistreated by her own family and with help is able to attend the ball where the prince falls in love with her.

Each page is full of color.  I shared this book with my students and they were amazed at the beautiful colors and we tried to figure out what all of the pictures surrounding the main picture on each page represented.  We were familiar with the Chinese, Appalachian, and Korean versions of the Cinderella story, but realized we still have a lot more to read!

Check this out from your library!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Becoming Naomi Leon

Author:  Pam Munoz Ryan
Published:  2004
"One of [grandma's] favorite sayings was that the good and the bad of any situation were sometimes the same."  That was how she felt when Naomi and Owen's mother returned after seven years.  Skyla, mom, had dropped Owen and Naomi off seven years ago and had not written, called, or visited.  Owen was one year old and Naomi was four years old at the time.  The first few years of their lives had been traumatic and led each child to carry emotional scars.  Owen had troubles that required surgeries and constant visits to the children's hospital to help straighten out his head that was always turned sideways on his shoulder.  These were just physical problems and didn't seem to bother him.  Owen, however, always wore tape on his shirt.  The tape seemed to help hold him together.  The more he struggled with something, the more tape he needed.  Naomi on the other hand, refused to talk until she was six years old.  She still did not talk much and when she did, it was a whisper.  She did not match her name, Leon, or lion.

The children do not know much about their own history and Grams doesn't like to "dig up old bones," so she doesn't tell them much until Skyla returns and then wants to take Naomi away with her.  Naomi and Owen were born to Skyla, originally from Oklahoma, and Santiago, a sweet and handsome man, from Oaxaca in Mexico.  Owen looks like his mother with fair skin, blond hair, and brown eyes, but Naomi looks like her father.  Naomi has dark skin, dark eyes, and dark hair.  The story takes us from the trailer park where Naomi is living with Owen and Gram to Mexico where Naomi learns more about her Mexican history and finds her father.  They are searching for Santiago so he will help convince a judge that the children are better off together and with Gram.  They do not want to be split up and have Naomi go with Skylar to Vegas with her new boyfriend.  Naomi realizes that her mother does not love her, she is only wanted to help collect money from the government because they are poor.  

Naomi meets her father in Mexico and he reminds her that she is Naomi Leon, Naomi Lion.  Does she find her roar and stand up to her mother?  Can she convince the judge that her family is with her brother and her Gram?  Read the book to learn how Naomi becomes Naomi Leon!

Beoming Naomi Leon is a Pura Belpre Award Honor Book from 2006.  The Belpre " is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth."  This book also was awarded the ALA's Schnieder Family Book Award.

I don't think that most 3rd graders would read this book on their own and enjoy it.  I would definitely read this book to my third graders, though. They would enjoy the triumph of the children.  This is the type of book I would have enjoyed reading when I was in fifth grade.  I would have related to the main character and would have been anxious for Naomi to be successful.  Reading it now, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough - I was so worried about Naomi and Owen.  I wanted Naomi to find her father, I wanted Naomi to stay with Grams and Owen, I wanted Owen to feel loved by his family.  The book is positive and the qualities of the children that makes them different from the children around them, makes the reader love them.  It's difficult to understand how the mother, Skyla, is the way she is to them.  

Saturday, February 8, 2014


Maya Ajmera
Magda Nakassis
Cynthia Pon
Published:  2009
I was worried as I read this book.  There is so much I don't know about my own faith, how I could I talk about the faith of others!?!  The pictures raise so many questions in me.  The Buddhist novice is so young!  Was he chosen?  Did he choose this for himself?  How does he really feel?  How do you prepare for prayer at the mosque?  Why is that boy washing his hands?  Is he washing his hands?  What does that mask in Guatemala symbolize?  Why do some Jewish boys wait until they are three to get their first haircuts?  ...  I have more, too.

I could see this being a conversation in my class that would be tied to the conversation on race (Let's Talk About Race), ethnicity, culture, our similarities, and our differences.  This would be a great opportunity to do research on a specific country and the beliefs of the people there.  The back of the book also includes much information.  This information is a start at answering my questions.  However, I wish there was more information.

I am interested in having my students research people that they would like to help.  They could use these photographs to find what interests them, what they want to learn more about, what they relate to, what they don't understand, and then use that to start researching.  I can definitely see my 3rd graders using this book as an introduction to a unit.  This book would be difficult for a child in 3rd grade to read alone, though.  This book would be difficult not because the words are difficult, but because there needs to be conversation with this book.  Explanation of the different faiths and countries would definitely be required.  Yes, a lot of information is in the back of the book, but I know that many of my 3rd graders would not turn back there for a reference.  A discussion of this book would require many more books and websites for the children to continue learning.

As I look at this book, most of my questions were about Buddhism.  I read Siddhartha in high school and loved it, but I didn't learn about the role of children in Buddhism.  Now, I want to learn more.  Another book that makes me ask questions and makes me keep reading.

Check this book out from the library!

Let's Talk About Race

Author:  Julius Lester
Illustrator:  Karen Barbour
Published:  2005
Let's Talk About Race is a book that will make my students talk.  I know that we would discuss this book, get to know each other better, build relationships, and understand ourselves better. 

Julius Lester has children think about how we would look without our skin.  We would all look the same, so saying that one of us is better than the other because of our race is wrong.  This is such an important conversation to have with children.  Children might not be aware of how they can offend or hurt someone by making fun of someone's race or ethnicity. 

The pages of the book are so bold and colorful.  There are people of many different colors on the pages and even some colors that do not make sense - purple people.  This is showing us that the color does not matter.  There are also pictures of butterflies throughout the book.  I'm not sure what the butterfly symbolizes.  I've come up with two ideas. ( I would love to hear ideas that other people have on this!)  My first thought is that the wings of the butterfly are pretty much symmetrical.  So, what is on one side is also on the other.  They are two different things, but they are the same - they look the same.  We are different people, but we look the same on the inside.  My second thought is that a butterfly goes through a metamorphosis.  We all start out the same, hard bones under the skin, or larvae that changes to a colorful butterfly.  I think that if we like all of the colors, Mr. Lester likes red, green, orange, purple, he just likes all of them, then we would have a colorful world.  Everyone would be the same on the inside, but colorful on the outside.

I would like to use this story to discuss our own stories and then share them.  I think the students would find our differences very interesting and our similarities amazing. 

Check this book out from the library!


Author & Illustrator:
Aaron Becker
Published:  2013
Take your time as you read Journey and discover everything in it!  I keep discovering new favorite books each time I pick up a new one.  This book reminded me of Harold and the Purple Crayon as well as Where the Wild Things Are.  A crayon and imagination help a girl escape to a world of color and adventure. 

The endpapers are red with pictures of different forms of transportation.  Things that we use to escape the world we live and travel to other places from a local beach, to another country, or even the moon!  The little girl has not discovered her escape yet, but she will.  The first two pages are dark and dreary.  A little girl is sitting on her stoop, bored.  Her father is busy working on the computer, her sister is playing on her game system, mom is cooking and talking on the phone.  The girl has a scooter, that is colored red, her escape, but she doesn't use it.  On this page, there are only two colors.  One of the colors is red, the color to stop, wait, not go.  There is also a little boy, he too is alone, away from the other children, but he has a purple crayon.  (Maybe it's Harold!  (-: )  In the distance a purple bird is also soaring above the buildings. 

The girl tries to get her family to interact with her, but they are too busy.  So, she goes to her room.  The picture of the room is in a frame right in the middle of the page, you can tell the girl is lonely.  Even the cat wants nothing to do with her and walks out of the room.  Luckily, the cat had been sitting on a red crayon which she uses to unlock the door to another world.  The new world is colorful and there is freedom.  When she experiences isolation in this new world, it too becomes dark and dreary, like the world she lives in, but she is able to find a colorful escape with the help of a purple bird drawn by a boy with a purple crayon, who becomes a new friend.

This is a wonderful adventure that will inspire children to write.  I am finding that my struggling readers are also enjoying reading the picture books I'm sharing with them in class.  They are able to interpret more in the pictures than many of my other children because they depend on the pictures to translate the words.  These books put no pressure on them since there are no words, they just have to notice the pictures.  They are noticing the endpapers, the colors, and lines.  It's so much fun discussing these books with them. 

Check this book out from the library!
Like Aaron Becker on Facebook!

Mr. Wuffles!

Author & Illustrator:
David Wiesner
Published:  2013
On January 26, 2014, NPR posted the article, "8 Picture Books that Make Us Wish We Were Kids Again."  I saw the pictures for Mr. Wuffles! and found it so strange that aliens were walking around a cat and then communicating with bugs, that I had to read the book.

The lines on the cover draw your eyes down to the cat, but take a moment and look around!  All of the characters are hidden right there on the cover.  A bug is flying in the upper left corner of the page and the aliens are in the spaceship hidden behind the plant and in front of the toy mouse. 

Mr. Wuffles is aloof.  I think most cats are like this, I'm not a cat person, so I can't be sure, but it's how I imagine them and it is how Mr. Wuffles comes across to me.  He is walking around piles of toys with price tags still on them and yet none of them interest him.  The only thing that interests him is the spaceship with 5 little green aliens.  The aliens believe they are done for and their supplies are destroyed with the cat's shenanigans.  When the cat finally falls asleep, the aliens think they can make a run for it, but the cat awakens.  The aliens are about to be pounced upon, but a heroic little ladybug saves the day.  The aliens have time to run behind a wall and discover new friends, a ladybug and some ants.  The ants help the aliens fix their supplies and escape the from the cat. 

The pictures in Mr. Wuffles! are fun because you are right there with the aliens as they try to survive the cat attack and you are eye-level with the cat.  I can imagine my students writing the words to this story.  I wonder what kind of amazing things are happening behind my walls?  I don't have a cat, but next time I see my dog staring at a corner, I'll be sure to check for aliens!

Check this book out from the library!
Check out David Wiesner talking about Mr. Wuffles!  ***See the REAL Mr. Wuffles!***

Back to Front and Upside Down!

Schneider Family Book Award MedalBack to Front and Upside Down! was awarded the Schneider Family Book Award.  This award " honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. "

Right away I wanted to read this book.  The cover is so colorful and the animals are so cute.  Stan, the main character is on the cover, sticking his tongue out to show he is intently concentrating on his writing.  He
struggles with his writing, but learns that he can get help.
Author:  Claire Alexander
Illustrator:  Claire Alexander
Published:  2012

I took pictures of the endpapers so I could compare them.  Both pictures look very similar, they are colorful and include the happy animals that are running to school in the first picture and leaving for the day in the second picture.  There is a difference though.  In the first picture, Stan, the little dog, is behind the group.  He is running to catch up and his friend, the little pig, is waiting for him.  In the second picture, Stan is right in the middle of the pack, he is surrounded by his friends. 

Stan's class is visited by the principal, Mr. Slippers, who announces that he will be celebrating his birthday that afternoon.  Miss Catnip, the teacher, then decides that they should all make birthday cards for Mr. Slippers.  Stan has great ideas for pictures to draw on his card, but Miss Catnip tells the students that they must include words.  All of the students quickly get to work and start writing with the exception of poor Stan.  He feels alone and dark.  Everyone else is working independently and the time is just ticking for Stan, he's worried that everyone will notice that the words do not look right to him.

Each student is in his or her own colorful frame, showing that they are independently working.  Stan, on the other hand, is in his own black frame and he's looking over at his classmates in defeat. 

At recess, Jack, the pig, notices that Stan is sad and tells Stan that he should speak up and let Miss Catnip know that he is struggling.  As it turns out, Stan was feeling alone, but he shouldn't have.  He had the support of Jack, his teacher, and Mimi, the cat, speaks up that she is struggling too.  At the end of the day, Stan realizes that he can ask for help, that he can learn to read, and that he has the support of his friends.  He is right in the middle of the pack, surrounded by Jack and Mimi as he runs home for the day.

This story would give children who are struggling hope and hopefully the confidence to realize that they can ask for help if they need it.  I have a small family member who is struggling to read and she is upset that her older sister and her younger sister can read, but she cannot translate the letters.  I will definitely be sharing this book as well as Patricia Polacco's book, Thank You, Mr. Falker with her.  I hope she is inspired and realizes that we can help her in her struggle.

Check this book out from the library!
Watch the trailer for this book! ****WOW****

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Mama One, Mama Two

Author:  Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrator:  Ruth Lercher Bornstein
Published:  1982
I just finished a beautiful book!  It's not one I would have usually chosen because the cover did not appeal to me at first.  The title seemed interesting though.  Mama One, Mama Two is set in the fall or winter and in the bedroom of a little girl.  The girl, Maudie, has gone to see a baby that is crying and a woman enters with a bottle of milk.  They decide to take the baby to the bedroom and feed it while the woman tells the girl a story.  Maudie asks the woman to tell her about the story of Mama One and Mama Two. 

The colors in the story are soft so I noticed that as I read the book the sounds I heard seemed soft and quiet.  The girl and woman are talking late at night, a soft and quiet time.  The girl and the woman decide to tell the story of Mama One and Mama Two together. 

The story is of the girl, Maudie, and her mom, Mama One.  They are poor, but love each other and seem to have color and happiness in their lives. Mama One paints beautiful pictures of nature and sunsets.  One day Mama One becomes very unhappy and is no longer able to paint and care for the girl - she just sits in a dark room.  The pictures are gray and dark.  The little girl is forced to care for herself until a man comes, "Tom, who listens."  He is a social worker and talks to Mama One and Maudie about getting help.  I noticed that Mama One is sitting in front of a painting with a sunrise - this is a new day for both Maudie and Mama One.  That scene helped me realize that what is to come in the story will be positive.  (I was worried about a sad ending.) 

Mama One is taken to a place to get help and should be back by spring.  We then learn that the woman story-telling with Maudie is Mama Two, the foster Mom.  Maudie asks Mama Two, "When is spring?" and Mama Two responds, "Whenever Mama One comes home will be spring."  The picture in that scene is the same one that is on the cover.  The girl is sitting in a tree and is surrounded by flowers.  The flowers are like the ones her mother painted.  In front of Maudie, is a woman who is holding Maudie on the branch - supporting her so she doesn't fall.  It is impossible to tell if the woman supporting Maudie is Mama One or Mama Two, but either way you know that Maudie's life is supported by a caring adult and that color has returned to her life.  The story is hopeful and beautiful!

Check this book out from the library!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Falker

Author and Illustrator:  Patricia Polacco
Published:  1998
Trisha is a little girl who wants the gift of reading.  She goes to school and impresses the children with her artwork, but all she wants to do is read.  Some of the kids learn in kindergarten, but she knows that 1st grade is when she will learn.  Trisha struggles to read and when it seems like everyone else can already read, she is still sounding everything out.  The children in the school taunt her and call her names and with time, Trisha believes what the kids say.  She thinks she is dumb.  In 5th grade, a new teacher, Mr. Falker, understands Trisha and realizes that she has dyslexia.  He helps her after school every day for 3 or 4 months.  It is after the few months that she is finally able to read a paragraph and understand what she has read.  Mr. Falker was the one person who didn't just look away, but worked to find a way to help Trisha.

This is a true story of Patricia Polacco, the author.  As a teacher, this is the type of impact I hope I can have on even one of my students.  I think this book helps express what all teachers want for their students, especially the struggling readers.  I want to find a way to help my students and make sure they are readers throughout their lives.

This book could teach students about compassion.  The pictures show the pain Trisha felt from not being able to read and from being teased by her classmates.  You can feel her struggling and suffer with her.  Struggling readers, just like the teachers of struggling readers, might also be inspired by this book.  Realizing that a student who really couldn't read until 5th grade is now a famous author and illustrator is inspiring!

Find this book in the library!
Visit Mrs. Polacco's Facebook page.
Listen to Jane Kaczmarek read the book.

exclamation mark

Exclamation mark
Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrator:  Tim Lichtenheld
Published 2013
This book is about the exclamation mark.  The exclamation mark feels left out and different from the punctuation it knows, the period.  No matter how hard the exclamation mark tries, it doesn't fit in.  The exclamation mark finds this upsetting until one day he meets the question mark.  The question asks question after question and forces the exclamation mark to yell, "STOP!"  This is when the exclamation mark realizes how good it feels to be himself.  He keeps practicing exclaiming and realizes that it just feels right.  "It was like he broke free from a life sentence."  I loved that sentence from the book!  He then realized that when he was himself others accepted him, even if he was different.

The pages in the book look like handwriting paper.  The pictures and the pages are simple.  There is only punctuation.  This book is very simple and I think, that for that reason, children can understand what is taught.  We should accept ourselves and others as we are.

This book can be used to teach the lesson mentioned above, but it can also be used to teach punctuation.  The exclamation mark, when it finally speaks, only exclaims.  The question mark asks endless questions and the periods on make statements.  This is an easy book to read and can be enjoyed by all ages, even the very young elementary student.

Find this book in your library.
Learn more about Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
Learn more about Tom Lichtenheld.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sidewalk Circus

Sidewalk circus
Author:  Paul Fleischman
Illustrator:  Kevin Hawkes
Published:  2004
Start by opening the book and looking at the back and front cover.  I had to take a second look.  At first I only noticed a yellow wall and people walking with their shadows behind them.  But wait, those shadows don't match the people exactly.  I wonder, why?

Open up to the inside cover and you get a clue.  "This book can be grouped with...books about imagination..."  

I decided to take my time reading this book.  I wanted to see what I could figure out just by looking at the pictures one page at a time and taking my time.  On the first page of the story I see a street with people walking on the sidewalks, pigeons on the street, and a man in overalls who seems to be welcoming the sun.  Looking behind him, I see his shadow, yet it is not his shadow, it is the shadow of the Ring Master.  There is another character who also stands out on this page.  On the left side of the page there is a girl.  Her shirt is bright, like she is in the sun, but she is in the shadows.  Everyone else seems dark compared to her.

Turn the page and you realize that she is the one we needed to notice.  She is now sitting on a bench, in the shadows, but she is bright and staring across the street.  She is leaning forward as if she is anxious for something to start.  

The pages that follow alternate between 2 full pages of the circus that she sees in her imagination and then 2 pages that include her reactions to what she sees and the people across the street performing in the circus.  The little girl escapes into her imagination and she sees the workers who become tight rope walkers, strong men who lift heavy weights, clowns performing acrobatics, jugglers, sword swallowers, and a lion with his lion tamer. Eventually, the girl rides off on an elephant, the city bus.  Then a boy shows up, also colorful even though he is in the shadows and he sees the circus around him.

I think the children are bright compared to the adults around them because they are awake.  They are using their imaginations to see the wonder around them, unlike the adults who are preoccupied doing their work and just focusing on getting from one place to the next.  The man on the cover and on the first page who seems to be welcoming the sun, might be calling us to wake up and see the world around us, see the wonders, and use our imagination!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Diary of a wimpy kid : Greg Heffley's journal
Author:  Jeff Kinney
Illustrator:  Jeff Kinney
Published: 2007 
Well, I broke down and read Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  My youngest son has begged me to read it for years. Parts of this book made me laugh out loud.  This book definitely captures the life of a middle school boy!  It makes me think of all of the embarassing situations you end up in while in middle school and I cringed - but mostly I laughed.  As a mom of a middle school boy and a high school boy that knows how to push my buttons, I loved reading about how the mom tortured the kids.  Showing up as the substitute!  Forcing Greg to take his little brother trick-or-treating!  Mixing up the gifts and giving Greg a sweater for Christmas!  What could be worse than clothes for Christmas!?  HA!  That's not the focus of the book, just some special moments for moms!

So, this book is supposedly Greg Heffley's journal.  He journals about his days
in middle school, his relationship with his brothers, and his relationships with his friends.  I have to admit, I did watch this movie with my son and enjoyed reading the book more than watching the movie, but with one exception.  The scene where Greg goes to spend the night at Fregley's house is priceless!    I laughed in the book at this part, but the movie made me laugh and grossed me out all at the same time.  This is definitely a book for boys to enjoy!

The character of Greg Heffley is not one that I like.  He is so self-centered and everything is everyone else's fault.  (This should sound familiar to all moms out there!)  He is a middle school boy though and he is struggling to fit in.  He is scrawny, he has an older brother that picks on him, and a younger brother that gets everything he wants.  Even so, I don't feel sorry for Greg!  He's just learning how to survive in middle school and growing up.  

The pictures look like they are stick figures made by a middle school boy.  As I read, I could imagine that a middle schooler wrote this book and drew the pictures.  They are perfect and help make the story even funnier.  I noticed that I laughed the most when I read the story and saw the pictures associated with the text. On page 13, Greg explains that he did not want to be in the gifted reading group, but he's glad he didn't end up in the Easy group because the kids in that group didn't even know how to hold the book.  So, the books drawn on this page are, Einstein as a Child and Bink Says Boo.  Guess which book was the Easy book.  Another example is page 90.  You see a picture of a barbell that Greg has made to help him get into shape so he isn't picked on during the wrestling unit in PE.  Of course, he invites his sweet friend, Rowley, to work out with him.  (The barbell is made of a brookmstick and two jugs filled with sand.)  This sentence captures the essence of Greg perfectly, "I made Rowley use the bench press first, mostly because I wanted to see if the broomstick was going to hold up."  

If you have a child who does not want to pick up a book, this is a good one to get him or her interested in reading.  My sons and students in school breeze through these books and enjoy them.  They can't wait to get their hands on the next one.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Mitten

The mitten
Author:  Jan Brett
Illustrator:  Jan Brett
Published:  1989
A few years ago I attended a reading conference in Roanoke, Virginia.  There I had the opportunity to listen to Ms. Jan Brett discuss her book, The Easter Egg, her art, and her writing.  She drew the most beautiful picture of a bunny.  It was inspiring and such an honor to get to listen to someone so passionate and to watch her draw.  The most inspiring part of her presentation however, was the story she shared with us about The Easter Egg.  She told us that she had been at an event, I believe she was signing books, when a mother came up to her.  The mother explained to Ms. Brett that her son was autistic and that the only thing that he responded to was the pictures in Ms. Brett's books.  Ms. Brett then wrote The Easter Egg for this particular child and for all children to know that we all have our own gift, we just have to figure out what it is.  In The Easter Egg, a bunny wants to make a beautiful egg for the Easter Bunny.  The bunny who has his or her egg chosen by the Easter Bunny gets to deliver the Easter eggs with the Easter Bunny.  The bunny visits many gifted bunnies who are making beautiful eggs. Eventually, the bunny discovers his gift, the gift of caring about others, and is chosen by the Easter Bunny.  As you can imagine, this story brought tears to my eyes and I instantly became a huge fan of Ms. Brett because she writes children's books for children.  I always share this story with my students and have them think about their own gifts. 

Since I had already read The Easter Egg, I decided to read another book by Ms. Brett that I had not read before, but I still had to share my story with you and explain why I chose the book.

The Mitten is about a little boy, Nicki, who asks his grandmother, Baba, to make his mittens as white as snow.  Baba tells him that it's a bad idea because if he drops a white mitten, he probably won't be able to find it again.  Baba does make the white mittens for Nicki, and luckily, Baba is a great knitter because once Nicki drops the mitten, several different creatures decide to make a home in the mitten.  If you have read a book by Jan Brett before, you will notice that the pictures are framed so that you can see several things going on at the same time.  Inside the frame is where the major events are occurring.  It is inside the frame that we see a mole, a rabbit, a hedgehog, an owl, a badger, a fox, a bear, and finally a mouse move in to the mitten.  In the frame, there are two mittens that are windows to other activities that move the story along.  In the small mitten frame to the left, you see Nicki playing in the snow, not realizing that he has lost his mitten, but also disturbing the animals who make their way into the mitten.  In the mitten frame on the right page, you see the animals as they make their way to the mitten.

The mouse, that approached the mitten after the bear, tickled the bear's nose, causing the bear to sneeze.  When he sneezes all of the animals fly out of the mitten and Nicki finds his mitten flying through the air.  So, although Baba was right, he would lose the mitten, Nicki makes it home with his mitten intact, although extremely stretched out!  Paying attention to the pictures and seeing what is coming next was fun, but also wondering how all of the animals would get in to the mitten, made me want to keep reading. 

I would definitely have the students use this story to help them notice the vocabulary and the wondrous words used by Ms. Brett.  The mole is "tunneling along," the rabbit "admires his winter coat," the hedgehog "came snuffling along."  It would be a good time for students to revise their work and find words that make their own stories more interesting and easier to visualize. 

The Old Woman Who Named Things

The old woman who named things
Author:  Cynthia Rylant
Illustrator:  Kathryn Brown
Published 1996
The Old Woman Who Named Things is about a woman who has outlived all of her friends.  She doesn't want to be lonely so she names everything that she knows will outlive her.   She has named her chair, her car, her bed, and her house.  She doesn't name the gate because it's not going to make it much longer.  Then one day, a stray puppy visits her house.  She feeds him, but sends him off because she does not want to name him.  What if she outlives him?  She feeds the puppy, who grows to be a dog, for months and sends him on his way until one day the dog does not show up.  The woman becomes sad that the dog does not visit so she jumps into her car, Betsy, and heads out in search of the unnamed dog.

*Spoiler Alert*  :-)
She finds the dog at the dogcatcher's kennel.  It is then that she remembers all of her lovely friends and remembers how lucky she had been to know them.  So, she decides to the name the dog...Lucky. 

This story reminds me of a cliché, "it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."  This is what the old woman remembers as she is searching for the dog.  She is lucky to find the dog, she is lucky to have his love, and he is lucky to have her to care for him. 

The illustrations in this book were done in watercolor.  The pictures are light and beautiful.  I especially notice the colors in the old lady's garden and the wind blowing through the dog's fur as the old woman, Betsey, and Lucky ride back to their home from the kennel together. 

Learn more about this book and check it out from your library.

When I was Young in the Mountains

Author:  Cynthia Rylant
Illustrator:  Dianne Goode
Published:  1982
When I was Young in the Mountains was written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Diane Goode. This is a story of a young girl growing up with her brother and grandparents in the Appalachian mountains.  The story, like the pictures, are simple and left me wanting to visit that quiet, peaceful, loving place.  The book shows the love of the family and even the love in the community.  You can feel the warmth of the home and you feel safe. 

Mrs. Rylant starts each new memory with, "When I was young in the mountains."  The repetition of this sentence reminds me that this story is a memory of a simpler time.  Ms. Rylant is very descriptive in her writing and when I read the book without regard for the pictures, I was taken back to loving and safe  memories of my own childhood.  Visualizing the story is very easy.  The grandfather covered in dust from work, but kissing the girl on the head reminds me of my own grandfather hugging me and laughing after coming in from working on his farm.  The smell of the food on the table reminds me of special meals with my own family too.  Even when she goes to the swimming hole with her brother you feel safe.  The hole is out in the woods, no adults are around, and there are even snakes, but there is no fear.  The life is simple.  I wonder if children of today relate in the same way to this story.  I see my own children who read a book on a Kindle, play the Xbox in the evenings, and have access to a tv for entertainment.  If we go swimming, I'm watching them like a hawk at a beach or a public pool with life guards. 

I will use this book to teach my children about writing a memoir.   I tell my students that to really understand the memoir, you need to find a way to relate.  Although they might not understand the simple way of life, they will understand love from a family member and for someone else, taking care of others, the memories that come with certain smells, times when they had to be brave, and times when they had someone take care of them.