Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Watsons go to Birmingham - 1963

Author:  Christopher Paul Curtis
Published:  1995
Newbery Medal Winner
Coretta Scott King Award
My son had to read this book prior to entering the 6th grade.  I remember that he laughed during parts and asked me lots of questions.  He was affected by the story and interested in learning more about the history. 

This story starts in Flint, Michigan and ends in Flint, Michigan with a trip to Birmingham, Alabama in the middle.  It is the story of an African-American family with 3 children, Kenneth is the main character, Byron is his older brother, and Joetta (Joey) is the younger sister.  Wilona, the mother, was from Alabama originally, but soon after the boys were born she and her husband Daniel moved with the boys to Michigan.

The story starts with the family suffering in their cold house in the middle of winter and the parents reminiscing of their youth and warmer days in Alabama.  Joey and Kenneth laugh at their parents' antics, but Byron is too cool to react.  Byron is in the 6th grade and is friends with a "juvenile delinquent" named Buphead.  Byron and Buphead spend their time getting in trouble.  The way that Byron speaks does not seem to fit a 6th grade child, he seems older than he is, but then I realized that Byron had failed some grades in school.  He was in 5th grade at least two times.

Wilona and Daniel are at their wits' end and do not know what to do with Byron, so they agree to send him to Birmingham for the summer and if he doesn't straighten up during the summer, then he'll spend the school year there too.  Wilona's mom, Grandma Sands, is the one who lives in Birmingham.  The stories the children hear about Grandma Sands scares them and they know that she'll straighten Byron out, if anyone can.

Kenneth is in the 4th grade and very smart.  He is a very good reader and a good student.  The children at his school call him Poindexter and teachers always use him to represent the ideal student.  Kenneth has a lazy eye and he considers this to be one of the reasons he gets picked on in school.

Joetta is the angel in the family.  She defends Byron when he gets in trouble so his punishment isn't as severe and she keeps an eye out for Kenneth when he is about to get hurt.  She seems to be the only one in the family that everyone will do anything for.  That is, until we realize how close and loving the entire family is with each other.  Byron, Kenneth, and Joetta protect and love each other.

Now back to my son.  I thought it was wonderful that he had to read this book for several reasons.  First of all, he was really affected by the history in this story.  He read this book last summer after seeing The Butler at the movies.  Then, after he read this book, there was an article in the paper about the 50th anniversary of the bombing of the church in Birmingham that killed four little girls and blinded and wounded others.  We read articles together about the event and he printed articles out to share with his classmates at school.  I cannot find the article we read together, but here is a clip from PBS and an article from ABC.

Reading the article helped my son empathize with Kenneth and his family and their experience driving down to Alabama and the terror they experienced at the 16th Street Baptist Church.  Joetta went to the church that morning to attend Sunday school.  The Watsons had not yet acclimated to the hot weather in Alabama and she got up to cool off during her class.  Joetta thought she saw Kenny waving her out and she followed him home.  It was on her way home that the church was bombed and four girls lost their lives.  The rest of the family dressed quickly, ran to the church to search for Joey, but thankfully, Joey was safe at home. 

I have to admit that I kept falling asleep as I read the book.  It didn't move quickly enough for me, but that's just me.  My son who is in high school spoke up and said, "Oh yeah, I remember that book.  It had some good parts."  So, it has been about 4 years since he has read it, but he too remembered it.  So, it gets two thumbs up from the boys in the correct age group for this book.

I did enjoy the jokes the family played on each other, I enjoyed reading about the closeness of the family, and I enjoyed reading the mom's language with a southern accent.  I especially enjoyed the figurative language.  There were adults who were kneeling next to the girls who died at the bombing and "the adults' hands fluttered down toward the little girls, then, before they touched anything, fluttered back up, over and over.  Their hands looked like a little flock of brown sparrows that were too nervous to land."  The image of the sparrows is referred to again later in the book.  I did some research online about what the sparrow could represent and I found that the sparrow is a sign for freedom and loyalty.  The sparrow was an appropriate choice for this description considering this was set during the Civil Rights Movement.

Throughout the book there are also references to angels.  Kenneth describes Byron as "a god" of the school and that should make him a "strong angel," but he was just "another fourth-grade punk."  There are 22 more references to angels in the story.  The character most often described as an angel was Joey.  A neighbor gives Joey a doll that is an angel and reminds her of Joey and when Kenny is drowning, he sees an angel calling him to swim.  The angel was Joey and then Byron is able to drag Kenny back to the bank of the river.  I believe there is a reference to another angel as well.  I spent a lot of time thinking about when Joey left the church.  We, the readers, know that Kenny was at home when the bombing occurred, but Joey claimed to see Kenny at the church.  Kenny was laughing and asking Joey to follow him.   It seems that these children were each others' guardian angels.

I appreciate my sons' teachers having my children read this book.  6th grade is the appropriate age.  6th grade is such a big transitions year for children and for parents.  The kids go to a new school, they have multiple classes, start transitioning into young adults, have more concerns.  This book helped the children see how children might treat each other,  (Kenny was bullied at school for his eye and his smarts.) they are reminded that their parents love them even if we do seem goofy to them, and they learned about history in our country.  Middle school is a good time to remind children that we need to accept each other despite our differences.

Check this book out at your library!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Giver

*************Updated March 23, 2014*****************
Conversation with my son
Check this book out from your library.
Lois Lowry
Movie Trailer

Questions I have after rereading the story:
1.  Why is the mom okay with the father breaking the rules?  She just smiles when she learns that he has figured out the baby's name, Gabriel. 

2.  If Sameness is the goal, then why is it that when twins are born one of them is released?

3.  On page 43 Fiona says, "He's cute.  But I don't like his name very much."  Then Jonas is thinking, "It wasn't a great name Jonas, thought, like - well, like Gabriel, for example  But it was okay."  Doesn't sameness apply to names?

4.  If the children have not been exposed to warfare, how do they know how to play the war game?

*************January 24, 2014************************

Author:  Lois Lowry
Illustrator:  Bagram Ibatoulline
Published:  1993
Newbery Medal Winner
The Giver by Lois Lowry is about a boy who lives in a world where everything is the same.  There is no color, no love, no music, and no memories of the distant past.  The children all "celebrate" their birthdays on the same day in December and are presented with something each year to help keep the community the same and safe.  The children look forward to the 12th year because that is when they become adults and are assigned their jobs.  Anything that does not fit with the Sameness is released.  You'll have to read to figure out what it means to be released!

At his 12th year ceremony, Jonas does not get a job like everyone else, but is selected to be the The Receiver.  As The Receiver he will be given all of the memories from the distant past.  The focus throughout the book seems to be memories, but I don't think that is really what is important.  Yes, memories of love and even memories of dreams that could lead to relationships are taken from the people, but the memory of the life they are now living is not taken from the people.  As a matter of fact, the people celebrate those memories at the end of their lives with a celebration for the old right before they are released.  The really important idea in the book is choice.  The ability to choose which toys to play with, which job you'll get, which person you will marry, or even what clothes you will wear is taken from the community for the sake of Sameness and for the sake of avoiding problems in the community.  

The only person really given some choice in the community is The Receiver.  He has choice only because he knows there are other options, unlike everyone else in the community.  He realizes that there is color, he feels love and wants to feel love from others, and he realizes that differences are good.  The problem is that he lives in a place where he is the only one to realize it.  

This book reminded me of the quote - and sorry if I do not have it correct - "those that do not know history are destined to repeat it."  Well, whether or not you know history, you will repeat mistakes from the past, but whether or not you make the same mistake should be up to you.  The Elders in The Giver do not allow the mistakes from history to be made because everything is so controlled and if there is something that comes up from the past, then The Receiver can look back on history and help avoid the same mistakes.

The book also reminded me of the books from The Divergent series.  Everyone is grouped by their sameness and life as we know it today is unknown or Elsewhere.  Unlike the Divergent series though, this book ended with the possibility of something better.  

I will have my middle school son read this book.  I'm looking forward to discussing it with him and learning what the book makes him think/wonder.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Looking for Alaska

Author:  John Green
Published:  2005
Michael L. Printz Award
UPDATED 3/16/2014
This book was awarded the Michael L. Printz award.  This award "annually honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit." 

I read this book at the beginning of the semester, but I'm reviewing it again because we are discussing it in class this week.

Miles, the main character, is about to enter the 11th grade, but decides to leave his school to attend the same boarding school that his father attended.  Miles is a tall and slender boy who loves to memorize the last words people say on their deathbed.

In boarding school, his roommate is "The Colonel" who gives Miles the nickname of Pudge.  Pudge also becomes friends with Alaska, an unstable, but beautiful girl, and Takumi.  They are good students, but are trying to out-prank the previous year's class, and break some rules at school without getting caught.

Alaska lost her mother as a child.  Her mother suffered an aneurysm, but Alaska did not call 911 because she didn't understand what was going on.  Each year, Alaska visits her mom's grave on the anniversary of her death.  This year, she forgets, but is reminded after a night of drinking with The Colonel and Pudge.  She drives off quickly in her inebriated state and is in a fatal accident.

The Colonel, Pudge, and Takumi are left with the guilt of having let Alaska drive in her condition.  Eventually, Pudge forgives Alaska and believes that Alaska forgives him for letting her go.
Check this book out from your library.
Faq about Looking for Alaska

***************************************************************************** (January 2014)
I just finished Looking for Alaska.  This is another book on the class reading list.  I chose to read this one because a student and the professor specifically referred to this book on the first day of class.

This was an easy book to read and reminded me of my time in high school and my close relationships.  I was worried at the beginning of the book as to what the countdown on each chapter was about.  At first I thought it was a countdown to Pudge's first relationship with a girl, then I thought it was a countdown to a prank.  Luckily, it was neither.  Either one of those would have been disappointing.  The truth is sad.

This story made me think a lot about my own life.  I didn't like the idea of death being the actual death and also the loss of memories.  Pudge was haunted by his memories and they were slipping away, just as Alaska's memory of her mom slipped her mind.  The slipping away is unavoidable because of entropy.  "Entropy increases.  Things fall apart."

I want my son who is in high school to read this book.  I think I could have used this book in my youth. My favorite quote from this book was, "If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions.  But we can't know better until knowing better is useless."

I'm reminded of my grandfather who died last year, my friend who died right before Christmas, mistakes I've made, burdens I carry.

I need to think more on this.


Author: R. J. Palacio
Illustrator: R.J. Palacio
Published: 2012

Doctors have come from distant cities
Just to see me
Stand over my bed
Disbelieving what they're seeing 

They say I must be one of the wonders
Of god's own creation
And as far as they can see they can offer
No explanation 

Newspapers ask intimate questions
Want confessions
They reach into my head
To steal the glory of my story 

They say I must be one of the wonders
Of god's own creation
And as far as they can see they can offer
No explanation 

O, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith
She'll make her way 

People see me
I'm a challenge to your balance
I'm over your heads
How I confound you and astound you
To know I must be one of the wonders
Of god's own creation
And as far as you can see you can offer me
No explanation 

O, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as she came to my mother
Know this child will not suffer
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith
She'll make her way

August Pullman is a 10 year old boying entering the 5th grade.  He was born with a hereditary birth defect that affects his appearance.  Due to the number of surgeries he has had throughout his life, he has not attended a regular school.  This year, he is able to go.  He is nervous about going because he looks so different from everyone else.

August lives with his mom, his dad, his sister, Via, and his dog Daisy.  In school he befriends Summer and Jack Will.  Summer introduces herself to August on the first day of school and they become close friends.  The principal had paired Jack Will up with August to help him get through the first days of school.  Jack Will and August have some ups and downs at the beginning of the year, but they form a great friendship, not because Jack Will feels sorry for August, but because they both really like each other as people.

The story is about the struggles that August faces this year in school.  He has to face bullies from his school, other schools, and people who just do not know how to react to his appearance.  It takes almost the entire school year, but the students and teachers come to know August for who he is and not for his appearance.

Wonder is told from the point-of-view of several of the main characters.  I am reminded of Because of Mr. Terupt, a story written from the point-of-view of the students in a 5th grade class and their experiences and growth over the school year.We see how August's self-confidence grows over the year as he experiences the challenges of middle school, including insensitive students and parents.

We also hear from Summer and Jack Will.  We see how they feel about August and how after a few weeks, they really do not notice the physical differences in August.

I found the chapters from Via, August's sister and Miranda, Via's best friend from middle school, the most interesting.  Via feels like she is in a solar system revolving around August.  She accepts her role in this system, but is struggling now that she is in high school and needs her parents more invovled in her life.  Miranda has been close with Via most of her life, but their friendship is suffering.  Miranda feels closer to Via's family than to her own, but she has isolated herself from Via in high school.  Via and Miranda both love August.

The overall theme of the book is kindnes.  August learns that he needs to be more trusting of others because a lot of people are really kind and sometimes their kindness is even surprising.  It is the kindness of his friends that help him get through the year, but his kindness also helps others.  As August goes through the school year, he forms relationships with his classmates and they all get to know each other and see each other beyond their appearances.  August's family has always seen him as a wonder, but now his classmates see August as a wonder as well.

Check out the faq for this book.  This book is fiction, but based on an experience that R. J. Palacio had when she took her children out for ice cream.  She found herself sitting next to a child with a "craniofacial difference."  R.J. Palacio was not proud of the way she reacted and that night heard the song Wonder by Natalie Merchant.  Those two things inspired the writing of this book.  The lyrics to the song are included and really help summarize the book.  I hope that reading this type of book would help anyone think twice before reacting to someone that is different.

I like that this book was inspired by a real-life experience.  I always wonder where I could get my ideas for a story, and I realize that any experience can be turned into a story, I just have to realize it.  I think it's amazing that R.J. Palacio tied her experience to the song by Natalie Merchant.  They work perfectly together!

(There is another "chapter" to this book coming out in May!  
The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R. J. Palacio (May 13, 2014)
Julian was a boy in the school who really made life difficult for August.  Julian's parents did not want August at the school and even photoshopped August out of the class photo.  Julian is finishing off 5th grade at the school, but he is leaving the school for 6th grade.)  

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Tuck Everlasting

Author:  Natalie Babbitt
Published: 1975

The idea of everlasting life is definitely not a new idea.  It is a fascinating
thinking about the possibility of living forever, perhaps finding the sorcerer's stone or getting a bite from a vampire.  This story has the Tuck family finding the "fountain of youth."

The story starts in August, "August is motionless and hot."  You get the impression that time is standing still.  It really is standing still for all of the main characters.  Winnie, a child, feels stuck in her own home and yard.  She rarely ventures out of her fenced yard, not even into the woods that are right next to her home and owned by her family.  It is in those woods that time actually stops for the Tuck family. 87 years earlier, that family had been walking through those woods and drank water from a brook bubbling under a giant ash tree. All four members of the family and the horse drank from the brook.  The cat did not drink and eventually died.  That was when the family realized that the water was what kept them young.  Each family member views this situation differently.  The mom, Mae, sometimes is able to forget, Jesse, the 17 year old boy, is enjoying his time, the older brother, Miles, suffers because he had a wife who left him and his children are now older than he is, and the father longs for his own death.  The family is very loving toward each other and they live simple lives because they must hide themselves from others.

One day, Winnie decides to leave her home and walk into the woods.  It is there that she meets Jesse and spots him drinking from the brook.  She is thirsty and wants a drink too, but he will not let her drink.  Then, with the help of Mae and Miles, Winnie is kidnapped.  They do not intend on keeping Winnie for very long, only long enough to share their secret and explain to her that she should stay away from the brook.  Immortality is not all it is cracked up to be.

A stranger overhears Mae, Miles, and Jesse explaining the brook and everlasting life to Winnie.  He decides that he wants to own the woods and the brook and to become rich from the fountain of youth.  He visits Winnie's family and explains that he knows where she is and will save her if the family gives him the woods.  They agree. 

The Tuck's must find a way to keep their secret and to keep Winnie from drinking the water.  The Tucks are doomed to live forever, but they are compassionate and do not want others to suffer their same fate.

The descriptions in the story make it so easy to visualize.  I can easily imagine the Tuck's cottage, see the dust, smell the couch, and feel the love in their home.  I can understand how Winnie comes to love her captors because they are good people and only want what is best for others.

I would recommend this book for higher level readers in the 3rd grade or for a read-aloud in class.  The writing is not complicated and the main ideas are entertaining:  compassion, family, immortality. 

Check this book out from the library.
It Should Have Won a Newbery
Study Guide
Movie Trailer

The One and Only Ivan

Author:  Katherine Applegate
Illustrator: Patricia Castelao
Published: 2012
Newbery Medal Winner

 Katherin Applegate is like the Lorax, she speaks for animals!  This story is fiction, but some of the characters in her story are based on actual animals and their experiences.

Ivan is a silverback gorilla who has been on display at a mall for years.  He had been born in the wild, but one day he and his sister, Tag, were captured.  While holding Ivan and Tag, his mother was killed and then his father was also killed.  His parents had their hands, feet, and heads chopped off.  Ivan saw an ash tray sold at a shop next to his cage.  The ash tray was a gorilla hand.

Bob and Ivan's stuffed animal, No-Tag
Mack purchases Ivan and keeps him in his home.  Ivan is treated like a child, he is taken to McDonald's is dressed in clothes, and rides in a convertible. Ivan becomes too big eventually to keep in the house so he becomes an exhibit at the mall.  He becomes the Gorilla at Exit 8.

Ruby and Aunt Stella
Ivan lives at this zoo with a few other animals, including a dog named Bob and an elephant named Stella.  George cares for the animals at Mack's zoo and cleans their "domains" or cages.  Julia is George's daughter and she works on her homework and artwork while her father works at the mall zoo.

Business is not going well at the zoo so Mack decides to make a new purchase, a baby elephant named Ruby.  Ruby and Stella form a strong bond and Stella becomes Aunt Stella.  Unfortunately, Stella has an injury on her foot that Mack has refused to treat because it costs money and ends up costing Stella her life.  Before she dies, Ivan promises Stella that he will care for Ruby and give her a better life, a life that does not involve the mall zoo.

The rest of the story is about Ivan's struggle to keep his promise to Stella.

The pictures in the book are soft and rounded.  It is how I would describe the animal characters in this book - soft.  I didn't expect all of the animals to be so kind and caring towards each other.  Emotion is evident on the animals' faces and I felt for the animals.  I was not expecting to like a book with talking animals, but I did.  This is a book that needs to be in my classroom library.  My students will want to read this book.

I'm sorry that I read this book so quickly.  I'm rushing through books to make sure I read everything I need to read for class, but I'd like to read  through many of these more slowly and savor each one.  This is another one on my list for this summer!

The big push in our district now is project-based learning.  This book would be great for the beginnings of a project.  Children love animals and are always willing to help them.  We could read this book and then research animals that need our help, either locally or not and then design a project, like Julia from the book, to help an animal in need.

Check this book out from your library.
Watch a trailer for the book!
Watch Katherine Applegate answer questions.
The One and Only Ivan lesson plans 
NPR Interview:  Meet the Real Ivan 
Learn about another famous gorilla:  Koko

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Author:  William Joyce
Illustrator:  William Joyce and Joe Bluhm
Published:  2012

Inspired an Academy Award-winning short film

Watch the video of my class.  I am reading the book and the children are interacting with the story.
Class Video
I just watched the Monuments Men and it made me think of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.  There is a quotation that stuck with me from the movie.

"You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they'll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it's as if they never existed. That's what Hitler wants and that's exactly what we are fighting for."

The reason this quotation reminded me of this book is because the main character in the book, Morris Lessmore, loves books and records his joys and sorrows in a book until one day everything Morris knows is "scattered - even the words of his book."  Initially, the pictures in the book were in full color, but when Morris has his words scattered by a storm, reminiscent of the tornado in Kansas in the Wizard of Oz, Morris's life becomes black
and white.  Morris is lost and has lost his color.  He has lost everything he knew and "it's as if [he] never existed."

Fortunately, he decides to look up into the sky at one point and sees a lovely woman being pulled through the sky by a flock of books.  The woman is in full color and she sends Morris her favorite book.  There seems to be life around Morris, as his surroundings now have color, but Morris himself is still black and white.  His new book leads Morris to a room filled with thousands of different stories.  The books opened themselves up to him for him to read.  "The room rustled to life.  And so Morris's life among the books began."

Morris cares for the books and he is once again full of life as he cares for and organizes the books.  He shared his books with others because "Everyone's story matters."  As in the movie, Monuments Men, soldiers risk their lives to save the artwork taken by Hitler for the Fuhrer Museum because art, including books, belong to everyone.  Books have a way of bringing color, joy, sadness to our lives and so many people forget to read.  Just like Morris Lessmore, I enjoy getting lost in books and this book was a gift.

The pictures are mostly full-bleed.  The reader definitely gets pulled into the story.  To make the reader even more a part of this story, there is a companion app that can be used to read the book.  The app was only $0.99 and worth every penny!  I've never seen anything like it.  As Morris is blown from his home by the storm, the app helps the reader see and hear the storm.  Books flutter around your head and words tumble off the pages.  As Morris finds himself again, you transition with him from black and white to full color.  And when you enter the beautiful building with the books, you are transported to the building yourself and you can hear the books talk to you.

This book and app were an amazing experience unlike anything I've seen before!  It is like a trip to Disney World right in your hands.  The experience of reading a book has completely changed!

I can't wait to share this book with my students.  This is a book that will inspire the children to find more like this and to read and discover more books.  I want my students to learn that we bring life to books by writing them, but sometimes, books can bring us to life!

Check this book out from your library!
Learn more about the author, William Joyce and watch a video about this book!
Check out the app!
The character, Morris Lessmore is based on a real person, William C. Morris.  Learn about him.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Cat or, How I Lost Eternity

Author:  Jutta Richter
Illustrator: Rotraut Susanne Berner
Published: 2006
Batchelder Honor Book

I don't understand this book.  I'm sure there is more to it.  It reminds me of books I had to read in college and analyze and I just made things up hoping that I would get it right.  I have no idea what this book is really about!  I've read it twice to myself and once aloud to my husband. I hate this book.

So, here is what is in the book.  There is a 3rd grade girl, Christine, who talks to a cat.  The cat is not nice.  He calls her stupid and makes fun of people who are different.  Christine is late to school on account of the cat.  He stops and talks to her each day.  They discuss eternity.  Not sure about the eternity bit.  Eternity ends for her one day.  I'm not sure why.

Eventually, Christine realizes that the cat is mean and she does not want to be like the cat.  The end.

I don't get it.  There has to be more to it!?!  This book just makes me feel dumb!

This is not a children's book.  I'm sure there is some deep philosophical meaning or understanding that is beyond my grasp.  If you get it, let me know.

***UPDATE***3/4/2014   4:25 PM
I can't get this book out of my head.  What am I missing?  I went back again and noticed something new after chatting with my husband.  It seems that in this book there are two types of people - cat people and dog people.  The cat people are the ones that are not nice.  We make a decision to not be nice.  Christine's principal is a cat person.  He sits behind a huge desk with "claw feet [that] seemed threatening...but then they remind [Christine] of something I know well:  cat's feet."  The principal also hisses at Christine, just as the cat had previously hissed at her. 

Christine knows a boy in her class.  Interestingly enough, his nickname is Pug.  Pug, like a dog.  Pug is short, shuffles when he walks, has cracked knuckles, and reminds the cat and Christine of a pug.  As Christine describes Pug, it's as if she has a good angel and a bad devil sitting on her shoulders.  Her mean half thinks he is disgusting and that his hands are like claws.  Her nice side tells her to stop being mean, he can't help it that he has problems. 

The story actually has a real dog in it too.  The cat says the dog is stupid because the dog, Alf, whines and
"licks the hand that beats him instead of biting it."  The cat then explains that Alf is a victim, but "he wasn't born a victim.  No one is born like that.  Every animal is free and strong in the beginning."

So, again, the good and bad.  I think that there is something to the description of Alf and how he wasn't born a victim, but I'm not sure what I need to understand about that yet.  I do know that I  do not agree with the cat.  We are not either cats or dogs, good or bad, victims or not.  There is gray. 

Check this book out from your library and then explain it to me, please.

Mary Poppins

Author: P.L. Travers
Illustrator: Mary Shepard
Published: 1934

This book is SO much better than the movie.  I like this Mary Poppins more than the Julie Andrews version who always seemed so fake to me.  This Mary Poppins, although a bit vain, is interesting, strict with the children, but the children know where they stand with her.

There are some line drawings in the book so we do get to see Mary Poppins and the children.  I do not get the impression that Mary Poppins was as lovely as the character in the movie, but this Mary Poppins is overly concerned with her appearance.  She spends a lot of time looking at herself in mirrors and windows.  This characteristic of Mary Poppins is a bit confusing.  I do not see why it is mentioned so much or why it is even in the story.  I might need to read more of the books.

The book also does not deal with the parents as much as the movie does.  The movie has Mary Poppins entering the lives of the children because their parents aren't very attentive.  We do not hear enough about the parents in this book to get that same feeling - lack of attentiveness, but maybe not mentioning them as much should lead me to that same conclusion.  I don't know.

I only read the first book and I could definitely see bits and pieces of the book in the movie, but the book had much more exciting events.  Mary Poppins blows into the lives of Jane and Michael Banks.  Literally, she blows in with the East wind and plans on staying until the direction of the wind changes.  She is the children's nanny and takes them on a trip around the world, takes them to a magical bakery that has real stars on the packaging which Mary Poppins then glues back into the sky, she takes them to the zoo in the middle of the night to celebrate her birthday, and she introduces the children to Maia, one of the stars in the Pleiades group of stars.

I'm left wanting to learn more about Mary Poppins.  How does she know the women at the magical bakery?  Why can she speak to animals, the wind, and sunlight?  How can she be related to Mr. Wigg and to Hamadryad?  I'm not sure if any of these questions are answered in any of the other books, but I hope so.

I will read this book aloud to my students.  It is the type of book that the students will want to pick up and read too.  So, even if I don't get to the other books, I know that the students will read on and tell me more.  I'm looking forward to reading or learning about the next adventures and people the children encounter with Mary Poppins

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The Song of El Coqui and other tales of Puerto Rico

Author and Illustrator: 
Nocholasa Mohr and Antonio Martorell
Published: 1995

The title of this book appealed to me right away.  I cannot think of Puerto Rico without thinking about the sounds of Puerto Rico, the coqui that sings me to sleep at night and the rooster that wakes me each morning. I know that when I hear the coqui, I am in my most favorite place on the planet.

My parents had read the tales of Juan Bobo to me as a child, but I had not heard the stories in this book before.  This was not an easy book to find, but I'm glad I found it. The first page has a picture of the island with the beautiful clear, blue waters surrounding it.  I felt like I was flying in to paradise.

This book has 3 folktales with 3 different creatures that represent 3 different cultures in Puerto Rico.  There is the coqui, that represents that Taino Indians, the guinea, that represents Africans, and the mula, that represents slaves.

My favorite of the three stories was the story of the coqui.  The Taino Indians believed in a god, Huracan, (Hurricane in English) who was sad by the silence on the island.  He created a huge storm that lasted a million years.  After the storm, the island was still quiet, but Huracan was so tired from making the storm that he fell asleep.  He awoke to "a first like a raindrop."  Huracan finally discovered that the song, "coqui, coqui" was coming from the little frog.  We still hear the coqui's song along with all of the other animals on the island, but "none echoes as loud and as sweet as the song of the tiny coqui."

I read this and felt that it was so true!  I will not go to sleep until I have heard the song of the coqui.  I know
that my students will love to hear this story because I felt such a close tie to the story and we enjoy sharing stories about ourselves.  They'll be surprised at how such a small creature is able to make such a loud sound.  I will share the story of the guinea hens and bring in feathers from the hens on my grandfather's farm and show them a vejigante mask like the ones made by the guinea hen's owner.

This is a topic that will be easy for me to teach because I am passionate about Puerto Rico.  I've really enjoyed using folktales and fairy tales to teach my students about different cultures.  This is one more story to add to my collection.

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Listen to the coqui.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

This is that book.  I want to keep turning the pages and learn more, but when I get to the end, I'm sorry I'm there.  I did not want to finish this book, it was THAT good.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe reminds me of a lot of books I've been reading lately.  The topic is completely different, but it is about relationships.  I felt close to the main character, Aristotle.  Sometimes you just feel so alone and really it takes just one friendship or the understanding of another human being to help. 

Aristotle is a boy who does not have lots of friends, as a matter of fact, he doesn't seem to have any friends.  He has some people who talk to him at school and it seems some girls have a crush on him, but that is really it.  He feels like an only child because his siblings are so much older than him and his older brother is in prison.  Aristotle does not know why his brother is in prison and this causes a lot of turmoil in him.  He also finds the conversations of other boys his age as ridiculous and cannot imagine having similar conversations. 
Author:  Benjamin Alire Saenz
Published: 2012

Aristotle's mom is a teacher and his dad is a mailman who had fought in Vietnam.  Dad does not speak at all about what happened in Vietnam, and keeps his struggles inside.  Aristotle learns this skill from his father.  His family does not talk about Bernardo, the brother, they do not talk about Vietnam, and Aristotle does not talk about the feelings he has about being different.

One summer, he goes to the pool and meets Dante.  Dante is always happy and has parents who are very affectionate and show their emotions.  Dante and Aristotle become close friends and their parents become friends too.  The friendship between the families is strengthened when Aristotle saves Dante's life. Aristotle though, struggles with the reasons why he saved Dante's life.  He does not want to be a hero and he tries to pull away from Dante.  Dante has admitted that he loves Aristotle, but Aristotle cannot accept this, he is worried that it is wrong or that his parents will be disappointed.

Aristotle's mom and dad finally explain to him that Bernardo is in jail because he killed someone with his fists.  When Bernardo was 15, he picked up a prostitute that happened to be a guy.  Bernardo was so angry, he killed the guy.  To protect Aristotle during the trial and to keep him from seeing his mother's breakdown, Aristotle had been sent to live with an aunt for several months.  Aristotle's family, his mom and dad, were the only ones in the family who approved of the aunt, Ophelia, because she had a female lover, Franny.  This is when Aristotle learns that his parents loved Ophelia and that her love of Franny did not matter to them because Ophelia was a good person.

A door is opened to Aristotle, he is able to speak to his parents.  They help him realize that yes, Dante loves him, but he loves Dante too.  I don't know how the story ends.  Do Aristotle and Dante stay together forever?  I don't know, but I do know that Aristotle and Dante are good characters who are happy with who they are and are lucky to have so much love from their families.

There is so much more to this book than the bit I've written here.  I definitely recommend this to anyone.   I think that children in late middle school and older would find this book to be very interesting and a great story.  This is an example of another book to teach empathy and acceptance of others regardless of differences.  I will reread this book this summer!

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NPR Interview