Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tsunamis and Other Natural Disasters (A Nonfiction Companion to High Tide in Hawaii)

Author:  Mary Pope Osborne
Natalie Pope Boyce
Illustrator:  Sal Murdocca
Published:  2007
My students love Magic Tree House books.  I used to read them to my children when they were younger and they loved the books too.  Perhaps it is because I've read so many of them and have read the same ones multiple times that I find it amazing that my children search these books out in my class library. 

I decided to take a look at an informational one that I have in my class library, but I have not taken the time to read it before.  The first thing that I notice is the cover.  I find the blue and green colors soothing even though the topic is of something I hope to never experience, a tsunami.

Right off the bat, I liked this book.  We are introduced to Tilly Smith, a student who is on vacation with her family in Indonesia right before the tsunami that hit there in 2004.  Tilly remembered what her teacher had taught her about tsunamis and she ran along the beach warning people.  She saved many lives thanks to the information she learned in school!  Education that had a real-world application!  I love it!

The next part of the book reminds me of 5th grade science.  I
Chang Hen's Urn
During an earthquake a ball would fall into a frog's mouth. 
The more balls that fall in, the greater the earthquake.
could see 5th graders using this as a tool to learn about plate tectonics and earthquakes.  Scientific vocabulary is also throughout the book and explained in a way a student would understand.  Learning about science and history in books is more fun when you learn extra information too.  I learned that there are earthquakes (moonquakes) on the moon and that in ancient China a man had invented an urn that would help determine when, where, and the strength of an earthquake.

The true stories about survivors of the tsunamis are exciting and surprising.  I wonder as I read if I could survive like the woman who was found 4 days after the tsunami, clinging to a palm tree, hundreds of miles from shore. 

Visiting Yellowstone Park is something I really want to do.  There is a giant volcano under the park, that is what causes the geysers that I long to see.  The only thing is scientists predict there will be another eruption.  I don't want to be there when it does!

Showing children experiencing these disasters and as heroes makes the book interesting.  I think that I can understand the interest in the Magic Tree House nonfiction books.  There are also additional resources for children who find that they want to learn more.  A timeline of major disasters is included, books, parks, and websites with additional information for children are included as well.


Internet Resources listed in the back of the book:
http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learning/kids.php
http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/tsunami/major/shtml

Check this book out from the library.
Read about Mary Pope Osborne



Underwear: What we Wear Under There

Author:  Ruth Freeman Swain
Illustrator:  John O'Brien
Published:  2008
I have to review for the SOLs with my 3rd graders.  One of the things we have to discuss is how our community and lives have changed over time.  I have found that to get my students to listen sometimes just catching their attention is enough to get them to focus.  Imagine the wide eyes when I pulled out this book - Underwear:  What We Wear Under There.  Yes, it is about underwear and the kids loved it!

The book is about the history of underwear or lack of it and how underwear has changed over time.  It really is quite interesting. The book begins with the breechcloth and loincloths.  There are references to learning how to weave and how Mahatma Gandhi wore a dhotis, loincloths worn by Indian men. 

Of course there has to be some gross information
too!  "Don't air your dirty linen in public" is a saying that was related to underwear in 16th century England.  Back then people wore underwear because baths were rare.  To help protect their clothes, people wore underwear which were infested with fleas, ticks, and mites!  YUCK!

With women's right came pants!  Actually, women wore bloomers, pajama-style pants that they could wear with bathing suits and to ride a bicycle.  We have come a long way!

"Can you say it in a whisper?  Can you say it out loud?  Can you say it without a smile?
      'I see London,
       I see France,
       I see Laura's underpants!'" (p. 29)

A timeline of underwear is included in the back of the book starting with ancient times through the 1960s when disposable diapers became available and even into the future when one day bacteria might be used to eat used underwear!


Check this book out from the library.
Ruth Freeman Swain's Website


Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the Neighbors Thought)

Author:  Kathleen Krull
Illustrator:  Kathryn Hewitt
Published:  2000
 Lives of Extraordinary Women is about the lives of women in history and includes information on the good, the bad, and the ugly.  All of the stories are not glamorous and don't always make the person seem amazing, but they are really interesting.  The pictures in the book are water color and seem to be caricatures of the women.  They are colorful and detailed with very large-headed women. 

Each woman discussed in the book has her own chapter.  The women are:  Cleopatra, Eleanor of Aquitane, Joan of Arc, Isabella I, Elizabeth I, Nzingha, Catherine the Great, Marie Antoinette, Victoria, Harriet Tubman Tz'u-hs, Gertrude Bell, Jeanette Fankin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Glda meir, Indira Gandhi, Eva Peron, Wilma Mankiller, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Rigoberta Menchu.  I liked that these aren't women that we might all be familiar with so we are going to learn.  The stories are well written and the pictures are so detailed that reading more and learning was quite easy.

I read about women who I thought I knew about.  I realized that my knowledge is very superficial of many of these women.  I did not know that Cleopatra had been married to her 10 year old brother.  The family wanted to keep the royalty in the family.  The story of Cleopatra implies that she killed her brother.  Cleopatra was her father's favorite and was well educated.  She knew 8 languages!

I didn't realize that Franklin Roosevelt had an affair with Eleanor's secretary!  I'm not sure how much of that a 3rd grade child needs to know, but I know I was surprised! Mrs. Roosevelt's daily routines were twice as long as her husband's and she had a great impact on his presidency.  Mrs. Roosevelt was both loved and hated for her power in the government.  It sounds like today actually, strong women are harshly judged and treated unkindly for being in positions of power.

I did not know that Eva Peron was loved by the poor.  I had thought that she was hated for her extravagance.  It turns out that she helped bathe lice-ridden children, helped people with cash, and jobs.  She focused so much on others that she did not realize that she herself was sick.  She died of cancer at the age of 33.

The book includes a section named, "For Further Reading."  It includes the author's most useful resources and is a good reference for additional reading in the future.

Check this book out from the library.
Discussion and Activity Guides
Author's Facebook Page

Monday, April 21, 2014

Rubia and the Three Osos

Author:  Susan Middleton Elya
Illustrator:  Melissa Sweet
Published:  2010
This cute and colorful version of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears is perfect for teaching context clues.  I discovered this book at our book fair recently and picked it up for my class.  I love using Spanish to teach context clues because it forces the children to read on in a sentence or go back and reread or even pay attention to the pictures.  Usually, I write sentences on the board in English with Spanish words thrown in and then the children try to figure out the words.  This book does it for me.

"There once were three osos who lived by themselves.

They stored their three platos for soup on the shelves.

But one night at supper - la sopa prepared,
the soup platos ladled,
the chairs derriere'd -

Mama said, 'Let's go for a walk before dinner.'"

The children are convinced they are Spanish speakers by the end of the lesson and they are pretty good at applying context clues too.  This is a great book to learn context clues in this way because students already know the story and are able to follow the patterns in the story.  If the first word is "too hard," then they know automatically that the second is "too soft." 

This story also has a nicer message than the usual Goldilocks books.  Usually Goldilocks makes a run for it and leaves the bears with broken furniture and no food.  This Goldilocks returns to the bears with a bowl of soup, some glue to fix the chairs, and an apology!  Rubia and the osos become friends and share their time together.

Overall, fun book that the kids enjoy reading with me in class.  Quick and easy lesson too!

Check this book out from your library.
More reviews of this book.
Summary from Scholastic

Who was Harriet Tubman?

Author:  Yona Zeldis McDonough
Illustrated:  Nancy Harrison
Published:  2002
In elementary school we had to learn about Harriet Tubman.  I grew up in Maryland and this was part of the curriculum.  Although Harriet Tubman is not part of the curriculum here in Virginia, I feel that our children should definitely learn about her.  I remember being inspired by her story and her fight for something good even when facing the possibility of death.
This book includes the history of Harriet Tubman's life, but also includes information on the history of slavery, and other famous abolitionists like Frederick Douglass.  Two views of a slave ship showing how the slaves were stacked in a small space to cross the Atlantic Ocean are included.  The exposure to this type of information should make students more aware of the sufferings of others and more empathetic to the sufferings endured by others. Students are also taught that families were torn apart by slave owners who sold family members.  I think students would be able to relate to this because our families are so important to us and even though we have to be apart from our families at times, most of us are able to reunite with them eventually.

Harriet Tubman
I remember being shocked by the reason we always see Harriet Tubman with a head covering.  An overseer was chasing another slave and Harriet got between the overseer and the slave.  Even as a young girl Harriet was very brave.  The overseer threw a 2 pound weight that hit Harriet on the head leaving her unconscious, bleeding, and with a large scar on her forehead.  This books shows how Harriet's mom tenderly cared for her and helped her recover.

Harriet learned how to escape to freedom and became a conductor in the Underground Railroad.  She learned about rivers, when to travel, and who she could trust.  She helped slaves escape from the south to the north, all the way to Canada.  She lead over 300 slaves to freedom.

I like to use the opportunity to teach about Harriet Tubman when I am teaching about biographies.  We mostly learn about men when we learn history so this is one of the few opportunities where we can teach the children about a heroic woman who put others first and had a great impact on the history of many slaves.

Frederick Douglass
The book is straightforward.  It includes additional information so that the reader is aware of other heroes and events from the same time period.  Information is included on slave ships, the buying and selling of slaves, the impact of slavery on cotton and tobacco, the role of Quakers in the Underground Railroad, Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Frederick Douglass.  In addition, a timeline is included to show additional events in history during Harriet Tubman's life. 

The illustrations in the book are simple and they seem to be pencil drawings.  The role of the pictures was to visually represent the text, the pictures did not really add to the biography.  I wish the pictures were more detailed or life-like so that students could better understand how horrible this time was for the slaves.  Despite the pictures, a student unfamiliar with Harriet Tubman would find her story inspirational and fascinating.

This book is written for girls and boys and is definitely at the 3rd grade level.  It is appropriate for providing information about a specific time in history and about the history of an amazing woman.  I believe that third graders, especially third grade girls, would be interested in learning more about this topic after reading this book as an introduction to Harriet Tubman. 

Check this book out from the library.
Underground Railroad
Visit Frederick Douglass's home!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Stitches: A Memoir

Author:  David Small
Illustrator:  David Small
Published:  2009
National Book Award Finalist
Stitches: A Memoir is a graphic novel depicting the life of the author, David Small. The story is extremely disturbing. Mr. Small's family is dysfunctional and is emotional and physically abusive to him. I wonder why Mr. Small wrote this book. I suppose he had to find a way to express what he suffered as a child. He didn't have a voice as a child. The first set of pictures shows David, a child, sinking headfirst into a piece of paper, the pictures that he uses to explain his childhood.
The drawings help capture David's experiences and his imagination.  The pictures that depict his imagination have blurred edges.  He imagines a medical specimen chasing after him in the halls of the hospital or that he has to enter a tiny door in a church that leads to a chaotic room.  The edges on thses pictures are thick, but soft. 




 His final dream is different.  The edges of the dream are missing, I suppose it is because he is not letting others control him, he now has control to determine his own fate. In this dream he is in a house, but he needs to leave the safety of the house.  Then he hears his mother sweeping a path to an asylum for him.  He makes the decision to not go there.


David Small was born sick, but his father was a doctor who felt he could cure his son by x-raying him.  His mother was angry and did not speak, she just slammed the doors on the cupboards.  His brother dealt with his frustrations by playing his drums.  David only had his imagination to fall into.  He had fallen in love with Alice from Alice in Wonderland and would put a towel on his head to represent her long blond hair.  The neighbors thought he was weird.






It turns out that the x-raying led to cancer in David, but his family kept that from him.  He awoke one day not being able to speak because he had surgery for the cancer in his throat.  David had part of his vocal cord removed.  He is angry with his family for not telling him that he had cancer and his voice is very weak.


The person who helps David find his voice is the psychologist, the White Rabbit.  I suppose this is another link to his love for Alice in Wonderland.  The White Rabbit helps him realize that his mother does not love him.  As I read the book, I remembered that Alice followed the rabbit into the hole.  I'm wondering if this rabbit showed David the hole, the way to escape his abusive mother and grandmother and the father who didn't understand him or know how to treat David.  David moves out of his home at the age of 16 and becomes an artist.


 Writing this book had to be therapeutic.  That is the only reason I could think of for writing this book.  It was strange, it was disturbing, but I couldn't put it down.  It was really good.  I need to go back and reread Alice in Wonderland becuase there are so many allusions to that story.  I'm sure I missed a lot of the symbolism because I do not remember much about it. This was the first graphic novel I had ever read and I was really entertained and I am looking forward to reading more.  I read this book a few months ago and then reread it this past week because I found it very difficult to write about.  After I read Alice in Wonderland, I will reread this book and I'm sure I'll get even more out of it.

This is a book for older children.  I've been handing all of my books over to my youngest son to read (6th grade) and he was affected by it.  He too enjoyed it and he was then led to read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.  I was searching for other graphic novels and was surprised to see A Wrinkle in Time.  I'm looking forward to reading the graphic novel interpretation of that book.

Check this book out from your library.
 http://stitches.davidsmallbooks.com/

Out of the Dust

Author:  Karen Hesse
Published: 1997
Newbery Medal Winner
 
I am really enjoying these poetry novels in free verse.  I'm noticing things I've never noticed before and the language is just beautiful.  I give too much information in my reviews, so I'm really going to not over do it this time because you MUST read this book.  The language is beautiful and sometimes it sounds like music or looks like music.

The book is Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse.  This is a story of a young girl, Billie Jo, who lives in Oklahoma with her mother and father in the early 1930s.  The family lives in Oklahoma during the time of the Dust Bowl.  I read about the Dust Bowl when I taught 6th grade science, but I did not help my students understand the hard work and suffering the people endured.  I just didn't understand it.  I imagined it was dusty and people would stay inside, like I stay inside if it is too hot and I enjoy the air conditioner.  I was wrong.  This is so different.  There was no escape from the dust.  Windows had to be covered and sealed to keep the dust out.  Children wore masks to protect themselves from the dust on their way to school.  People died from dust pneumonia. (Read more about the Dust Bowl.)  Billie Jo describes a meal with her family:

We shake out our napkins,
spread them on our laps,
and flip over our glasses and plates,
exposing neat circles,
round comments
on what life would be without dust.

Daddy says,
"The potatoes are peppered plenty tonight, Polly,"
and
"Chocolate milk for dinner, aren't we in clover!"
when really all our pepper and chocolate,
it's nothing but dust.

Billie Jo's father, Bay, is just like Billie Jo.  Both of them have red hair, long legs, and wipe their mouths in the same way.  Billie Jo has her mother's hands and plays the piano like her mother.  Billie Jo loves the apples her mother, Polly, grows on the two trees in the yard.  She has, "a fondness for apples and a hunger for playing fierce piano."

The story is about their struggles on the land until their is an awful tragedy that changes their lives.  They have to come to term with these changes and fix relationships.

Playing the piano brings peace to Billie Jo and she sees it as a way to escape the land which brings so much difficulty.  The chapter, On Stage, captures how she loves the piano and is actually written like a piano piece.  There is work for the right hand and the left hand.  The writing is split on the page.

When I point my fingers at the keys,
                          the music
springs straight out of me.
                           Right hand
playing notes sharp as tongues,
telling stories while the
                          smooth
buttery rhythms back me up
                          on the left.

Throughout the book, Billie Jo dreams about leaving this land.  Interestingly, she always describes herself and her family as the land and she personifies nature.   Polly is pregnant and like her apple trees, "will bring forth fruit into our home."  On the day it rains, Polly goes out into the yard, naked, to let the rain wash over her.  Billie Jo describes her like a piece of fruit.  "She was bare as a pear, raindrops sliding down her skin...My dazzling ma, round and ripe and striped like a melon."   When it finally snows and the dust stops, the wetness clinging to the earth is described like a person recovering from a fever and the reader feels a bit hopeful, things should start looking up for Billie Jo.  "Dreamy Christmas snow, gentle, nothing blowing, such calm, like after a fever, wet, clinging to the earth."  Rain, missing for so long, is described as a stranger.  "I hear the first drops.  Like the tapping of a stranger at the door of a dream."

The reference of the earth being like a human and the humans like the earth shows us that Billie Jo is the land.  This land is in her.  It takes her the few years of struggle and attempts to escape the land to realize that she loves the land and loves her home.

The science teacher is teaching about the Dust Bowl in science.  I feel that if we share some of the chapters in this book with the children, they will really get a better understanding of this event.  As we prepare for the SOLs, the chapter Tested by Dust would teach and help the children connect to the story.

While we sat
taking our six-weeks test,
the wind rose
and the sand blew
right through the cracks in the schoolhouse wall,
right through the gaps around the window glass,
and by the time the tests were done,
each and every one of us
was coughing pretty good and we all
needed a bath.

I hope we get bonus points
for testing in a dust storm.

I highly recommend this book.  I've told you a lot, but I promise I didn't give too much away!  An amazing story!

Check this book out from your library!
Discussion Guide
About Karen Hesse

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Really Short History of Nearly Everything


Author:  Bill Bryson
Illustrator:  Yuliya Somina, Martin Sanders
Published:  2008
When I was little I remember getting a book a big book about answers to interesting questions.  I cried when I got the book because what I really wanted was a pinball machine, but once I got over it, I read the book.  It was fun and I still have the book.  I probably got the book in 1978, but I still pull it out to share the information with my family.  This book is like that one.  It is just filled with lots of fun facts.  As a matter of fact, I can't stop thinking about some of the things I've learned. They are amazing and confusing and interesting all in one.

This book takes us from the creation of the universe up to almost present day.  I have to admit, I'm still confused about the creation of the universe.  It's just not something I cannot fathom, but I appreciate that someone has tried to explain this to me in simple language.

Here are some interesting facts I learned:
Did you know that if you dropped a brick down to the center of the Earth, it would take it 45 minutes to get there?  (I still want to know what happens if we had a hole that went from one end of the Earth to the other. Would the brick start falling back after it got to the center?   Does it just float in the center?  These are probably embarassing questions for me to be asking, but I don't know any better!)
Did you know that Isaac Newton was a bit strange?  He inserted a long needle in his eye socket to see what would happen.  Amazingly or maybe luckily, nothing happened.
Did you know that an iguanadon skeleton had one of his nails placed in his nose, like a spike, because people didn't know how its bones really went together?
Did you know that Madam Curie's paperwork is still so radioactive that you have to wear special clothes to read them?

These are the types of interesting facts listed in this book.  It would be a good tool for a student who is learning about a new topic.  Getting these fun tidbits might be the inspiration a child needs to want to learn more.  These bits of info could also be used as hooks by teachers to introduce a new lesson.

There are photographs and drawing in the book.  The photos and drawings both serve their purpose, they help reinforce the information and they are entertaining.

This book is supposed to be a "short" history, and I suppose it is, but it is a fairly large sized book with 161 pages.  I was able to sit down and read it in a few hours though.  If you are not into history, but want to be inspired, check this book out.

Check it out from the library.
Author Notes

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children * The Graphic Novel *

Author:  Ransom Riggs
Illustrator:  Cassandra Jean
Published:  2013
Do you remember those shows in the 70s that ended with:  "To be continued...?"  That was how this book ended, so it left me pretty confused.  I went out and bought the 2nd book, but it isn't a graphic novel, it's going to take me a bit longer to read, so I probably won't get to it until this summer. (Or at least I'll get to it after I finish the class I'm taking!)

I bought the 2nd book though because my son had finished the first book before I even had a chance to look at it and then wanted the 2nd book.  This is definitely a book that middle school boys and girls will like.  It is VERY strange.

I'll explain what I understand so far.

The book is a graphic novel and it switches from black and white to color throughout the book.  The book also switches back and forth between the present and 1940.  Mostly, the colors are black and white in the present and go to color in the past.  The best parts are the photographs from the 40s.  You have to really look at the pictures and you'll notice that there is something weird there.  You can't help but go back and look at them.  On Rason Riggs's blog he says that he found these photographs. It seems that his family collected some and then he found boxes of these strange photos at a flea market.  That is the only explanation I can find about them.

The story is about a boy, Jacob, who discovers that his grandfather has been killed by a monster.  The grandfather had always talked about the monsters, but since he fought in WWII, I think everyone thought he was referring to Nazis.  He wasn't.

The grandfather had a special gift.  He could see these monsters.  As a child, because he had this gift, he was peculiar, he was sent to Miss Peregrine's home.  All of the children and Miss Peregrine are peculiar, but in different ways.  You can see the children in the photos.

 After the grandfather dies, Jacob goes to the home where his grandfather grew up and befriends Miss Peregrine and the peculiar children.  Miss Peregrine has trapped all of them on September 3, 1940 so that they do not die because on that day the home had been bombed and all of the children would have died.

They have also trapped themselves there to protect themselves from the monsters.  The monsters had once been peculiar too, but they were interested in immortality.  The monsters are hungry for the flesh of peculiars and for the power of Miss Peregrine to control time.

The children's home is destroyed, Miss Peregrine is injured, and all of them are now searching for a new place to go.

The story is interesting, but really the pictures are what I wanted to keep looking at while I read.  I will probably get the novel.  I'm hoping there are more photographs because when I search the web, I see many that are not included in the graphic novel.

Read about Ranson Riggs's creepy photos
Check this book out from the library.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night


Author:  Joyce Sidman
Illustrator:  Rick Allen
Published:  2010
Newbery Honor Book
This book of poems takes us from evening through the night all of the way to dawn.  Even the end papers are a signal of the passage of time.  The pages in the front are dark like night and the ones in the back are a light orange/pink like the sunrise.  The first and last pictures in the book are also closely related.  Looking at the first picture closely, you notice that the moon is rising and night life is awakening.  The owl is flying while the lights are on in the house.  In the last picture, the owl is resting on a branch, ready to rest for the day as the sun rises.  The lights are off in the house and the windows are open with a breeze blowing the curtains on the 2nd floor.

The writing in this book is in two parts.  One part is the poem and the second part is the information about the animals of the night.  The poem is on the page to the left with a picture of a wandering eft and sometimes of another creature as well.  The page on the right is primarily the picture of the life being described along with the factual information.  The pictures are framed, but the plants and animals tend to break through the border of the frame. 

The prints were made "by the process of relief printing."  A sketch "was transferred onto a sheet of linoleum mounted on wood, and the drawing is then cut and carved away...The areas left uncut are covered with ink and printed on paper by had or on a press." As I look at the pictures I notice lots of texture, colors, and shading - just like nature.  The artwork in this book is beautiful and I found myself searching through the picture for the creatures hidden in the foliage.

The first poem welcomes all of the animals of the night and then the poems progress with each waking critter as it travels through the trees, grass, the pond, or the air. There are some poems about trees and mushrooms too. The poem that stands out to me is Dark Emperor.  The Dark Emperor is the great horned owl.  This poem stands out because the words are laid out to resemble an owl.  The poem is told from the point of view of a small mouse who does not want to be found by the owl. 

The last three poems get us closer to dawn.  The wandering eft is a newt that is active both in day and night and lives in both water and on land at some point in its life.  The animals are falling asleep as the bat wraps himself off to hang on a branch at dawn.  Finally, the moon cries, "Where has everyone gone?"  The picture that accompanies the Moon's Lament shows the moon setting, the raccoon heading back to its tree, and the flowers closing their buds. 

The book has a glossary to help explain the different terms used on the pages with the facts.  Teachers could use this book along with Joyful Noise to teach about habitats and adaptations in science, parts of a book in language arts, and reading for comprehension of the poetry based on the facts that are provided.  I was not looking forward to reading this book, but thoroughly enjoyed the poetry and the pictures.  It is a beautiful book that I will use to teach.

By the way, Ms. Sidman's dog has a blogsite, so how could I not like her?  Visit Watson!

Check this book out from the library.
Joyce Sidman's website

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices

Author:  Paul Fleischman
Illustrator:  Eric Beddows
Published:  1988
John Newbery Medal
The Moth's Serenade
The Moth's Serenade (Brian Holmes)

Joyful Noise  reminds me of those books, You Read to Me, I'll Read to You.  Students are able to practice reading fluently with a partner.  Children are able to read poems together and have to work together to read the poems smoothly.  I love using this tool to help with my reading lessons.


Joyful Noise is a book of poems told by different types of bugs.  You actually learn about the bugs and their lives.  It's fun to read and to imagine the bugs saying the poems. 

I included links from Paul Fleischman's website of two different versions of the poem, Moth's Serenade.  I especially like the Peninsula Girls Chorus because they make the poem sound romantic, as if the moth is in love with a porch light.  The parts that are different, but said simultaneously, remind me of the way moths flitter around a light - quickly and in circles.  I can hear the frantic flying in that part of the poem.  (Frantic moth!)

circling                    seeking
sighing                     circling
lovesick                   sighing
Don't touch                                
                                 I must
Porch light               Porch light
Let's clasp                Let's kiss
Let's kiss                  Let's clasp

I also enjoyed Whirligig Beetles.  These seem to be beetles that go around in circles.  I found that as I read this poem, I read more and more quickly.  I felt dizzy from the swirling of the words even though the bugs themselves never seem to get dizzy.  (See a real Whirligig Beetle in motion!)

Book Lice was a love story of two book lice.  I tried to get my husband to read it with me, but he wasn't going for it.  The lice are opposite in their love of books, but they are attracted to each other.  I also read about house crickets and their disregard for the outdoors, they only know of changes in seasons based on the crumbs that fall on the floor.  I also read about the loneliness experienced by a butterfly as it transforms in its chrysalis.  There were many more too and they were all wonderful.

These stories would be fun to use as we learn in science and practice reading.  The children will enjoy reading this book and all of the poems.  It might be fun to also try to figure out which bugs are talking based on their experiences. 

Check this book out from your library.

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom

Author:  Margarita Engle
Published:  2008
Newbery Honor Book
Pura Belpre Award
 
Another great poetry book.  I think I'm liking free verse.  I picked this book only because I saw the gold coins on the front.  One for the Newbery Honor Book and the other for the Pura Belpre Award

This story is about Rosa, a former slave in Cuba.  She has knowledge to heal those that are injured by using the plants that are in her surroundings.  Rosa helps anyone regardless of their views.  Since she is open to helping anyone, she is able to get many that are fighting against Cuba's freedom to join her side. 

From the time that Rosa is a child, she is a healer.  The Spanish fear her and consider her to be a witch.  Once she is freed, she is hunted.  She is hunted because she is feared and because she heals everyone.  The story is told from Rosa's point-of-view primarily at the beginning, but there are other characters who also share their insights.  There is Lieutenant Death, who has known Rosa since they were both children.  He and his father would bring captured slaves back to Rosa so she could heal them and they could go back to work.  It becomes his life mission to capture Rosa even after she heals him of his injuries.  Jose, Rosa's husband also shares his struggles.  He fights to keep Rosa safe as the price for her life increases.  He protects the patients in her hospitals that are hidden throughout Cuba.  Silvia is another character in the story.  Her grandmother had been healed by Rosa in her youth.  Silvia has lost her family in reconcentration camps and is desperate to find Rosa to learn from her and to help her heal.  Finally, there are also poems from General Weyler.  Weyler wants to win Cuba back from Spain, but the number of innocent civilians that die in his reconcentration camps because they are not well cared for makes his command in Cuba a failure.

The United States becomes involved in the war when the USS Maine is destroyed in Havana Harbor.  There is no explanation for the explosion and Rosa thinks that maybe the US bombed its own ship so it could get involved in the war.  "Just to have an excuse for fighting in Cuba so close to the end of our three wars for independence." 

Jose wants to tell his wife that they have won this war for independence, but all he can tell her is that the war is over, but the Americans have taken over.  Rosa feels betrayed, she thought the Americans were there to help the Cubans.  The Cubans are not even allowed to participate in the surrender.  "Our Cuban flag is still forbidden."  Rosa is grateful for the peace and hope.  Silvia realizes that this is not the peace that she imagined, but she is still hopeful as well.

This story is based on fact.  There really was a Rosa who cared for people and her husband, Jose, who helped with the hospitals.  There really was a Lieutenant Death, but his role in the story is very fictionalized.  Unfortunately, we don't really know what happens to Lieutenant Death at the end of the story.  His last entry says that he is "lost and alone."  I could not find anything about his history and death in my searches on the Internet.

I was interested in knowing why Margarita Engle, the author, wrote in free verse.  This is history and she could have given us so much more information if this was written as a historical fiction novel.  She wrote:

 “When I wrote The Poet Slave of Cuba and The Surrender Tree as historical novels in free verse, I hoped that the form would appeal to young adult readers who want a full-length book with mature topics, but may be intimidated by the more crowded pages of traditional prose. Personally, I am in love with the novel in verse form. Poetry allows me to distill a complex story down to its emotional essence. I think students focus on the challenges characters face. The one comment I consistently get when teenagers write to me is: “I thought my own life was hard, but now I really appreciate all that I have.” (http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6640331.html)

I think Engle made a good choice.  As I read, I felt like I was in the minds of the characters and I could understand their experiences.  Children who read this book could easily begin to understand the experiences of Rosa and her fight to free Cuba.

I am a new fan of poetry.  I will search more books written in this way.  Poetry was always something so vague and scary in high school.  I think my teacher chose poems that were extremely difficult to understand to intimidate as opposed to inspire.  As I read about this book on the Internet, I find that I'm not alone in my fear of poetry. Exposure to this book and others like it (Inside Out & Back Again) might help change the minds of terrified high school students who despise poetry and history!

More books by Margartia Engle
Check this book out from your library.

Inside Out & Back Again

Author:  Thanhha Lai
Published: 2011
Newbery Honor Book
National Book Award Winner
 
I'm not a big reader of poetry.  As a child I remember learning about poetry and I thought it was just a way for people to write without regard to the rules of writing.  I don't really understand poetry and why things are lined up like they are, why things are not capitalized, or why punctuation seems to be missing.  I understood poetry with rules, limericks, sonnets, and if they rhymed then even better, but that's about it.  I was always embarrassed when teachers had us write poetry and then I had to read it aloud.  I felt like a fraud. 

The book I picked to read related to poetry is Inside Out & Back Again.  This is free verse.  I had to look that up to understand what that meant.  I'm not sure if I could teach about free verse, but here are some sites that helped me learn about it:

http://www.poetry4kids.com/blog/news/how-to-write-a-free-verse-poem/

http://www.edu.pe.ca/stjean/playing%20with%20poetry/Hickey/Free%20Verse.htm

I liked the description I read on one site and it is what we say to our children all of the time as they write, "Show me, don't tell me!"  Since it's Poetry Month maybe I'll have to give it a try even though it scares me A LOT!  Here is an excerpt from the book that helped me see what Ha was experiencing when she boarded the ship to escape from Vietnam.  This is such a visual description of her experience. 

Everyone knows the ship
could sink,
unable to hold
the piles of bodies
that keep crawling on
like raging ants
from a disrupted nest.


I looked up information on the author, Thanhha Lai, because I wanted to understand why she wrote in free verse.  I found it interesting that one of her favorite books is Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night, one of the books we have to read for our class.  Was she inspired to write because of the poetry she had read?

Vietnamese flag
I struck gold, I found a recording of Thanhha Lai explaining why she chose to write a poem.  It turns out that the Vietnamese language is based on Chinese and that the Chinese language is based on pictures.  Ms. Lai found the English language too long and complicated to express her own language.  Writing the story as a poem let her write the pictures.  Here is the clip where she explains all of this.  She also reads a poem from the book.  http://www.teachingbooks.net/book_reading.cgi?id=7256&a=1

This story is based on Thanhha Lai's life.  She bases the story on her own experiences. 


I have to tell you, this book helped me love poetry.  I liked that it was a story and taught me about history and that it was very easy to read. 

This is the story of Ha, a young girl born in Vietnam and living with her mother and three brothers.  Her father left for a job in the navy nine years earlier and never returned.  It is now 1975 and North Vietnam has conquered South Vietnam so it is now entirely communist.  The family decides that it is best to escape even if they are still waiting for father.  They will find a way to communicate with the family and reconnect if he is still alive.

The story is divided into four different parts.  The first part is Saigon.  In Saigon Ha is smart, has
friends, and enjoys growing plants.  She is especially fond of papaya.  Ha's mother finally decides to leave when President Thieu announces that he is retiring, but he will never leave his people or country.  Ha's mother knows that he is lying.  I found an article in The New York Times from the death of President Thieu in 2001.  Soon after leaving Vietnam, he moved to London and then Boston where he lived and eventually died.  http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/01/us/nguyen-van-thieu-is-dead-at-76-last-president-of-south-vietnam.html

Part II Of the book is At Sea.  This is the voyage to escape Vietnam and when Ha says good-bye to Vietnam and her old life.  Her brother says good-bye to his baby chick, she says goody-bye to her old doll, and the yellow flag with red stripes is lowered.  Americans discover the ship with these families and they are then taken to Guam.  It is in Guam that they learn English and choose where they want to go from there.  Mother chooses America.  The family is transported to Florida until it is sponsored by a "cowboy" in Alabama. 

Part III of the book is Alabama.  In order to leave the camp in Florida, Vietnamese families had to be sponsored by an American.  The American who sponsors Ha's family takes her and her family to Alabama.  Life is difficult in Alabama because no one has seen anyone like this family before.  Also, Ha feels dumb because she is learning a new language and the teacher has the children clap for her whenever she does something correctly.  They don't know that she knows multiple digit multiplication and that she really is smart.  Eventually, she shows them and to make things better she makes friends.  Things start looking up. 

Part IV is From Now On.  It is a new year, Tet, and luck starts on the New Year.  The family has accepted that father is gone, Ha is doing well in school, and her brothers are going to school and getting jobs.  Everyone is hopeful.

After I finished reading this book I met a woman from Vietnam, Trini.  I told her about the book and then she told me her story.  Trini was born in 1975 and her mom tried to escape many times.  Once she was even able to board a helicopter to escape, but one of her siblings could not board, so they could not leave.  It was not until the 80s that Trini and her family were able to leave.  She said that they were lucky.  They lived in a small farming village between the north and the south and it was so poor that no one paid any attention to them.  Their village was left alone.  She didn't have electricity and she and her family grew their own food.  She was raised as a vegetarian so they ate a lot of rice mixed with fruits.  She was also raised Buddhist and respects all life and faiths. 

Her family finally escaped and went to the Philippines.  They had to wait for an American sponsor to leave and their sponsor eventually took them all to Texas.  Eventually, she left Texas, went to California, and is now here in Virginia.  She and her family are American citizens and she said to me, "We live in the best country." 

Trini's story helped validate the information I read in Inside Out & Back Again.  I am grateful that I was exposed to this story and was then able to share with Trini. 

Thanhha Lai blog entry
Check this book out from the library.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Summer of My German Soldier

Author;  Bette Greene
Published:  1973
ALA Notable Book
National Book Award Finalist
NY Times Outstanding Book of the Year
I read Summer of My German Soldier when I was a young girl, but I could not remember it.  I do remember loving the book and loving Anton, the German soldier, but I couldn't remember why.  I know why now, he loved Patty, the main character in the book.

I was reminded of the book as I read Lily's Crossing, but I couldn't tell how or even if the two stories were related, but they definitely are related.  Let me tell you about the book first and then I'll tie the two books together.

Patty lived in Arkansas during WWII.  This book is historical fiction, and it really helps the reader get a sense of the feeling toward anyone who is different.  There is prejudice against Nazis, Jews, blacks, Japanese, Chinese, and the poor.  The book starts at the train depot as everyone is waiting for POWs from Germany to arrive because there is a camp for the POWs in Jenkinsville, Arkansas.  Everyone is excited because no one has ever seen a "real Nazi" before.  "Even Chester, the only Negro, was now standing in arm-touching contact with whites."  The hatred toward Nazis is not the only hatred in this book.  I could tell right away that race relations were a problem in this town where Mr. Lee and his family are run out of town because they are Chinese.  The townspeople are very ignorant and say, "Our boys at Pearl Harbor would have got a lot of laughs at the farewell party we gave the Chink." 

The main character is Patty.  She is a very open-minded 12-year old girl.  She cannot understand why Mr. Lee is run out of town.  She says, "All I know is that if Mr. Lee had been Japanese, then it might have made more sense.  Anyway, there's probably a simple logical explanation.  It couldn't be what I think."  Patty is always trying to find the best in everyone.  Patty has a beautiful little sister named Sharon, her father owns a shop in town, and her mother is the most beautiful woman in the town and works with her husband at the store.  The people in the town consider this family peculiar because they are Jewish, but they seem to be working out in the town because of the shop and the mom's beauty.  Patty and Sharon are home for the summer and Ruth, the black housekeeper, is taking care of them. 

The reader learns that the ugliness in the community is not only in the community, but also right in Patty's home.  Her parents hate her.  They don't like that she asks questions, that she has frizzy hair, that she is always trying to help, that she doesn't seem to care about frilly clothing, and that she has friends that are poor.  Patty is so lucky to have Ruth.  Right at the beginning of the book we wonder about Patty and her relationship with her parents.  "Sometimes I hear my mother tell [Ruth] to lose weight.  'It's not healthy to be fat.' But she isn't actually fat; it's just that she has to wear large sizes.  I mean, it wouldn't be Ruth if she were like my mother.  And another thing, a little extra weight keeps a person warm inside."  These statements made me wonder if Patty's mother was cold inside.  Throughout the book Patty fantasizes about receiving love from her parents. She fantasizes that her parents will come to appreciate her and "tell me how much they love me - how much they have always loved me."  Right afterward, Patty's mom is talking to a customer and tells the customer, "you'd expect two sisters to be something alike, but Patricia doesn't care how she looks while Sharon is just like me."  Patty thinks, "Didn't Mother know I was still standing there? ... Oh, mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the homeliest of them all?"

Patty is desperate for love and affection.  When the POWs visit her father's store, Patty helps one with his purchases.  He is very sweet to Patty and so she prays to God, "Oh, God, would it be at all possible for Frederick Anton Reiker to become my friend?... but if this is something you can't arrange then could you please keep him safe...?"  It is no wonder that a few days later, when Anton escapes from the prison camp and Patty sees him fleeing that she protects him and houses him in a room over the garage that is not used.

Anton and Patty form a very close relationship in the few days he is in the garage and they love each other.  They share dreams with each other, communicate, and protect each other.  Anton sees how Patty's family treats her and witnesses the abuse from her father first hand.  He leaves the security of his hiding place to save Patty, but she begs him to not interfere for his own safety.  "Using my arm as a shield, I looked up.  I saw the hate that gnarled and snarled [father's] face like a dog gone rabid... I gave myself to the sidewalk.  Between blows I knew I could withstand anything he could give out, but once they came, I knew I couldn't."  "Anton was dazed with horror and ran back to the garage." 

Eventually, Anton realizes that he is putting Patty in danger by letting her hide him and he leaves.  He is wearing one of Patty's father's shirts so when he is finally captured and killed, the FBI puts the story together and finds Patty.  Patty has to deal with her parents, the community, the legal system, and the loss of Anton.  When she goes to reformatory school, the only person who visits her is Ruth.  She realizes that she was lucky to have Anton's and Ruth's friendship and love.  Patty also realizes that Ruth was "her life raft," but she had to save herself.  She finally knows that her parents do not love and never will.  She will have to rely on herself.

I think that this book came to mind as I read Lily's Crossing because they are both set during the same time period, but they both really have nothing to do with WWII.  Both books are about the importance of kindness, love, friendship, and family.  Lily and Patty are both in desperate need of love.  Lily finds love and friendship in Albert who is also in need of a friend.  Patty finds love and friendship in Anton, a very good person, who needs Patty to survive just as much as she needs him. 

I fell in love with this book again.  The friendships are so necessary in such an ugly time in our history.  Even though I love this book, this is not a book I will put in my class library.  The language is strong and I'm okay with my students reading strong language, but understanding the hatred behind the language is something the children might not understand.  The ages for the book are listed as 10 and up, but I think this is a book meant for middle school and older.  The description of the abuse that Patty suffers, both physically and emotionally, is very intense.  This book would be emotionally difficult for a 3rd grader to read and understand.  On the other hand, Lily's Crossing has a similar theme, and is at a level that the 3rd graders can understand.

Check this book out from the library.
Bette Greene
Independent Reading Guide

Monday, April 7, 2014

Poptropica Mythology

Author:  Tracey West
Published:  2007
Play the game if you must.
I purchased this book because at the end of the year, after SOLs, my team thought it would be fun to have the children learn about mythology.  We want to create a museum to teach other students about mythology and Greek history.

This was not the book to buy.  I read it and it had so little information that it is actually difficult to remember what I read.  Information on each of the 12 Olympians is limited to 2 pages each.  There are no stories to go along with each Olympian to help me learn about them, just a brief overview.  I should have looked through the book a bit better when I purchased it, but it looked like something my students would enjoy looking through.  The pictures are fun, but it is difficult to distinguish one god from another because they all look so much alike as these Poptropica characters.

I loved mythology growing up and read books filled with the stories of the gods.  This book is just an overview and would help you find out a bit about a particular god, but it is not going to inspire anyone to read more about them.  Children that only have this book as a resource will not continue reading about mythology. 

I will use this book as a quick reference for me and perhaps point out a few pages for my low-level readers, but I will find another resource that will be more inspiring.

The most disappointing feature in the book was the reference to the website and the mythology game that can be played.  The book is more of an advertisement for that website.  So, I went to the website to play the game.  Maybe I'm just old, but it was awful.  I met Hercules and could get my picture taken with him for 10 drachmas.  I didn't learn one thing about Hercules in the game.  Would a child wonder what a drachma was and research it?  I doubt it.  I've seen my kids play video games.  There is no reading happening.  They are running through the game as quickly as possible to win without regard for anything else.

I may be the completely wrong audience for this book, so please take that into account with my opinion.  I'm looking at the book as someone who wants to learn more about mythology and someone who is considering a book to share with a third grade class. 

I am now on a search for a better book.  I know I read a good one when I was a child and I was motivated to read more.  I doubt this book will do that for anyone.

If you feel that you just must check this book out from the library, click here. 
Learn about Greek Mythology (The Online World of Rick Riordan)


Lily's Crossing

Author:  Patricia Reilly Giff
Published:  1997
Newbery Honor Book
Had this book been written when I was a child, I would have read it and loved it.  I played out in the "woods" in our backyard at Andrews Air Force Base.  I spent my summers jumping over the creek, climbing trees, and pretending with my friends that we were in a fantasy world.  Lily, the main character, is that kind of girl.  She made up stories about her aunt being a spy and the neighbor was a Nazi spy, she pretended to be an author, she snuck into movie theaters to watch movies without having to pay, she swam out in the ocean and paddled around in a boat.  I liked reading about her life.

Lily has an exciting life with a father, Poppy, who loves her, and a grandmother who cares for her, but she cannot remember her mother who died because she "had something wrong with her heart.  It was too big.  She died right in Poppy's bedroom on a sunny day."

Lily does not really have friends until the summer that she meets Albert.  She had another summer friend, Margaret, but Lily considered her perfect because Margaret didn't really know Lily.  Margaret didn't know that Lily was terrible in school, told lies, and didn't have any other friends.  Lily and Margaret start the summer off together, but Margaret must leave because her father is going to work on bombers in Detroit.  Soon after D-Day, Margaret's brother Eddie, who is fighting in France, cannot be accounted for.  The family cannot bear to return to the summer house, but Lily has managed to make another friend, a true friend, Albert.

Albert had been Hungary and had to escape at the last minute because his parents had been writing a newspaper that was against Hitler.  He and his sister, Ruth escape to France.  Ruth becomes ill and is taken to a convent to live while she recovers, but Albert continues his escape to Canada and then the United States.  Albert worries for Ruth and wants to find a way back to France to be with her.

Lily's father is an engineer and he agrees to enlist so that he can help with the rebuilding process.  Lily must spend the summer with her grandmother at the summer house.

During the summer, Lily and Albert form a strong relationship.  Lily agrees to teach Albert to swim so that he is able to swim to one of the boats that passes by on its way to France for the war.  Albert wants to get on a ship and find his way to Ruth.  Lily promises to teach Albert to swim and then she will go with him so she can find her father in France too.  Lily knows she is lying to Albert, but she cannot help herself.  She loves to lie, or really just make-up exciting stories. 

At the end of the summer Lily returns to her home and to school.  She is no longer the bad student because she has a teacher who supports her amazing imagination.  "Sister Benedicta had told he that all writers did that [day-dreamed] and that as long as you knew the difference between lies and daydreams you were in good shape." 

During the school year Poppy returns.  While he was in France he had the opportunity to meet Ruth because Lily had written about her.  Ruth was waiting for the war to end to go to Canada and be with Albert again. 

Once school is over, Poppy, Lily, and her grandmother return to the summer house.  Margaret is still not there, but Albert has returned and this time he is with someone else, Ruth.

This book is very different from Prisoner B-3087 because it is told from a different point-of-view.  This is the point-of-view of a girl who misses her father because he is at war and it is about how she grows and matures because of her experiences and new friendships.  There is a daily fear of losing a loved one and not knowing whether the loved one is safe.  I used to teach at a school made up of all military children.  It reminded me of all of the deployed parents and how my children struggled through the school year without mom or dad to tuck them in, watch the grade-level shows, or even just help with homework.  I think military children (around 5th grade) would relate to Lily and enjoy reading about someone in a similar situation.  Lily's Crossing ends with a note from the author.  She writes, "I wanted to tell my readers that even though the times are different now, people have always worried about the same things...loss and separation, the future, and sometimes war.  I want readers to know that love and friendship make a difference."   This book is similar to  Prisoner B-3087 because we encounter the same themes.  Yanek lost everything because of war, he missed his parents, and had to figure out what to do with his future after the war.  I worried about my dad in the military as a child, I worry about my own boys and their future, and my students still suffer and struggle with missing parents because of deployments, separations, divorce, ... These are things that we all can relate to because they are things we all struggle with regardless of age or culture.

As I read this book, something seemed so familiar.  This book was published in 1997, so I know it wasn't that I had read this book as a child.  I know that as I child I had read something similar.  I did some research and found another book, The Summer of My German Soldier.  I cannot remember exactly what this book was about.  I remember that a girl hid a German soldier in her attic.  She was keeping a secret from those around her.  Like Lily, helping keep the secret that she and Albert were going to escape to France.  I ordered the book and should get it tomorrow.  I seem to remember enjoying the book.  I'm looking forward to reading it and seeing if there are any ties to the two stories.  I'll let you know.

Check this book out from your library.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Prisoner B-3087

Author:  Alan Gratz
Published:  2013
Timeline of WWII
 (*this is where this story begins)
 This story begins in Poland in 1939, when Jakob is 10 years old.  Jakob is called by his Polish name, Yanek.  Yanek is with his family enjoying a meal and showing his family a movie he has made.  This is a happy start to a terrifying story from WWII and what this boy endures for 6 years.

He says, "If I had known what the next six years of my life were going to be like, I would have eaten more.  I wouldn't have complained about brushing my teeth, or taking a bath, or going to bed at eight o'clock every night.  I would have played more.  Laughed more.  I would have hugged my parents and told them I loved them."  These are all of the things he misses throughout the next six years.  That very night, the night he is with his family, Germany reaches Krakow.  Yanek's father is always hopeful and Yanek believes him.  Yanek's father, says, the war will be over in 6 months, the war will be over in the winter, the war will be over by spring.  Yanek's mother and father do not live to see the end of the war, 6 years later.  By then, Yanek is a man.  He only has memories of laughter, of brushing his teeth, of sleeping and not being hungry, of his family.

"German soldiers filled the streets of Krakow. 
They marched in their smart gray uniforms with
their legs locked straight and thrown out in from
 of them the way ducks walk.  It was silly, but
 eerie at the same time." (p. 7)
Yanek is a smart young man who loves his family, American movies, and to read.  Soon after the Germans arrive in Krakow Jews are no longer allowed to go to school, the movies, or even the library.  The Polish boys would no longer play with him.  Wasn't he Polish too?  A wall is built around their city and all of the Jews are forced to live in the homes - sometimes four to five families in one small home.  He is no longer considered Polish, he is no longer even considered a human.  He is considered a Jew which is considered less than human, less than even animals.  "I was an animal to them, a pack mule...Working animals were expensive.  They had value.  I was a Jew" (p. 108). The vocabulary in the story refers to the Germans as their "masters."  I thought of my dog.  The Jews are herded from camp to camp, travel in cattle cars, and are fed warm water and old bread with maggots.  In the 6 years this book covers, Yanek works in 10 different camps and miraculously, his life is spared.  There were so many times that he should have died.  These 6 years were like a roller coaster ride I have never ridden on and hope to never ride.  He is hopeful and defeated and hopeful again within minutes.  "I vowed not to be killed without a fight.  My father, Uncle Moshe, the Jewish elders, they were all wrong.  We shouldn't be trying to survive, we should be trying to win.  Instead of waiting for the British or the Americans or the Russians to save us, we should be saving ourselves" (p. 109).

This story reminded me of The Book Thief in parts because Death seems to be a character in this book as well.  Yanek is surrounded by death and murder.  There is no reason for the deaths he sees and he becomes numb to the horrors.  "Death and I had become old acquaintances.  We knew each other when we passed on the street.  This man was dead, I was sure" (p. 155).  Yanek has a will to not just survive, but to win against the Nazis.  He faces death throughout his 6 years, but Death listens to his pleas and leaves him alone."  As Allies bomb the Germans, Yanek along with the other prisoners keep their heads down and wait.  Yanek was "whispering to death, pleading for it to pass me by yet again."  This is his 10th camp.  He walks out because in addition to Death fleeing, the Nazis fled and the Americans arrive.  Finally, an American soldier tells Yanek that everything is going to be all right and for the first time in a long time, Yanek believes that everything will be all right.

I have been noticing a lot of references to books not just in this book, but in other books we've had to read lately.  I don't think I had ever noticed before the importance of books and words.  I know books and words are important, but I had not noticed that books just flat out tell me.  Books and words are what save people.  The sticks and stones saying is so wrong.  Words can hurt and words can save.  Luckily, for Yanek he loved reading, "any and all books.  But especially books about America, and books about doctors and medicine" (p. 9).  He knew what he needed to eat to survive.  He knew what to trade so that he was eating what his body needed so he could avoid the Nazi clinics.  No one that went to a clinic ever returned. 

On the night he becomes a man (bar mitzvah) he must read from the Torah.  Yanek realizes that being caught with a book, especially the Torah, "he would never become a man, he would be shot dead on sight" (p.45).  A book is how Yanek describes his life.  His life is a chapter of a bigger book and he does not want the pages of the book to not include his life.  "We cannot let these monsters tear us from the pages of the world."  Yanek fights to survive and his words are not torn from the pages of the world.  His story is secure in the pages of this book, Prisoner B-3087

I do not like reading about people suffering and definitely not about history.  This story was about suffering and history, but it was definitely worth my time to read.  The suffering endured by Yanek, his family, and all of the prisoners during WWII is horrifying, but I was able to read about it in this book because Yanek was so hopeful.  He fought to survive and I cheered him on throughout the book.  He was a compassionate person even when those around him were not compassionate.  He tries to save his friend Fred when he cannot get up because Yanek knows he will be killed.  Yanek helps a young boy walk from one camp to another even though he himself does not have enough food to sustain himself or energy to carry himself.  Yanek even feels compassion towards animals who are mistreated by the Nazis.  At a time when he is seen as less than even an animal, he has compassion towards all life.  His compassion, his desire to live and to love others makes this book easy for me to read even though I fear these types of stories and the sadness they make me feel.  There is a lot of loss and death, but the will to go on is inspiring.

As I read I looked up words that were unfamiliar to me and times and places that were unfamiliar.  I learned that WWII didn't start with just Hitler and Germany, but Japan attacking China, Italy attacking Africa years before Germany starts its invasions.  I learned about the different concentrations camps and never realized that people could have struggled in camps for years upon years or that people were shuffled between camps for no reason at all except for physical and psychological abuse.  I knew that people suffered, but seeing it from Yanek's point of view, I can only begin to understand the terror, sadness, and the numbness he felt by having to witness his family taken and family and strangers killed.  I am amazed at how little reference there is to anger.  Yanek experiences the anger of the Nazis, but I do not hear about his anger.  We are so quick to anger and to react without thinking.  Yanek had six years to think, but he if he was angry, he had to control it or he would die and others would die too. 

I look forward to sharing this book with my boys.  This is definitely a book for middle school and high school children.  Children exposed to this type of literature would love learning about history and would also learn about compassion and empathy.

The Afterword in this book tells us that Yanek was a real person and his story is true, but this is historical fiction.  The story was written with Jack Greuner's (Yanek's American name) blessing. 

Video of Jack and Ruth Gruener