Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cendrillon, A Caribbean Cinderella by Robert D. San Souci

Cendrillon, A Caribbean Cinderella, written by Robert. D. San Souci, is a story that is "loosely" based on the French Creole tale. Told from the perspective of the grandmother's point of view, the story is told of a young woman who wishes to attend the ball of Monsieur Thibault. The plot contains the typical elements of magic that many Cinderella tales include, and as predicted, Cendrillon was reunited with her Prince, married, and lived happily ever after.

Cendrillon incoporates words and phrases from the French Creole language. For example, the carriage was made from a fruit a pain, a breadfruit, and the carriage attendants were magically transformed from manicous, opposums. The author included a glossary at the end of the book which was helpful, however the colorful and detailed illustrations of Brian Pickney aided in the comprehension of the French Creole language.

San Souci did note, to my surprise, that that in island Creole, "Cinderella" would be written out "Sandriyon" through pronounced the same as Cendrillon;" and "Monseieur" would be "Missie." It made me wonder just exactly why if this was the Mer des Antilles (Martinique)version, that the author would not use the spellings known to this particular language of this Caribbean island. This makes it all the more important to investigate other Caribbean folkates to note the similarities and differences, and form conclusions based on a variety of literature.

Pickney's illustrations of oil pants contain colors bold and vibrant of the Caribbean culture. The full page bleeds include one larger illustration and blends into the next page with the text and bordering images, creating a flow of events from one page to the next.

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal, A Worldwide Cinderella by Paul Fleischman

Author Paul Fleischman's Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal, created a text that embraced the varying"versions" of the classic fairy tale, Cinderella. Fleishman's tale keeps the sequence of the tale to be similar to the original version, while allowing for comparision and differentiation between cultures and traditions throughout the world. The themes that have resonated throughout this classic remain to be conquering evil with love.

Illustrator Julie Paschkis use of bright watercolor paintings demonstrate vibrant-colored individuals in the traditional dress of their native country. When looking closely at these figures, it is almost giving the sense of folk art images. I connected these illustrations with local painter Nancy Thomas, and her use of contemporary art that show wonderful color and warmth. Paschkis full page-bleeds of the illustrations depict images and people within the specific culture or area of the world, while providing a color scheme that sets the text and illustrations apart. Her use of color in the frames of the text, illustrations, and page give an overall warm and welcoming feeling to the reader, almost created a quilt-like image that shows the relationships between the countries. Along with the illustrations, Fleishman's placement of the text allows readers to follow in sequence of the story and reveal the similarities and differences in the story.

Fleishman and Paschkis Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal provided the opportunity for readers to explore this well-known tale, and how different parts of the world interpreted and conformed it to become a story that told of their customs, traditions, and values. The last page, a full page bleed, shows Cinderella's wedding to her King, bringing together all of the images of people depicted throughout the book - demonstrating an overall feeling of celebration in unity and and diversity throughout the world.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DeCamillo

Despereaux Tilling is a very small mouse with a very large ears and a strong desire for adventure within the Kingdom of Dor. This little mouse stands out in ways that the entire mouse community, even his family, cannot understand. The daily life of mice activities in scurrying, cowering, and munching on books isn't quite what this young mouse yearns for ... and finds his true passion within the pages of a book. Chivalry, honor, and bravery are among the qualities that Despereaux wishes to fulfill - as he vows to "honor" Princess Pea upon their meeting. Due to his inconceivable interests, he is banished to the dungeon with the rats.

As the story of Despereaux unfolds, Miggery Sow, who was once traded by her father, desires to be a real Princess. Roscuro, a rat who comes from a species that feeds of darkness and dread, longs for light and goodness - until, he falls into the Queen's soup and kills her instantly. From ths point, soup is banned from being made in the Kingdom of Dor, which was once a cusinary delight and represents goodness to all. The King, has also lost all hope and spirit as his world begins to crumble. As Roscuro seeks forgiveness from Pea, he is treated as a "typical" rat and turns against the Princess and returns to the darkness. What was once Miggery's wish to become princess, becomes more of a reality as Roscuro tricks her into kidnapping the princess to the dungeon with the rats, with the help of Botticelli Remorsos and his "coaching" in seeking revenge. And what Roscuro thought would make him feel better, ultimately, only made him feel worse and realize that he had to learn to forgive, as well as the Princess Pea had to forgive him for his mother's unexpected passing.

Despereaux, with the valor of a knight, comes to the rescue to his Pea as Miggery Sow reunites with her father, while learning to forgive and love someone in return. Roscuro, the so-called "villian" of this fairy tale learns to see the light and comes out of the darkness, while proving that rats do have a heart, even though they are taught to be deceitful beings.

The Tale of Despereaux is unlike a typical fairy tale, and the hero, is truly unlike any hero who saves the day. The four separate books within the novel, although presented as separate stories, all find a way to feed into one another as Kate DeCamillo introduces each of the characters and their perspectives. Throughout the book, DeCamillo leads the reader into questioning the personalities of each character and how their actions contribute to the page-turning events. While reading, her words and questions to the reader allow you to feel as though you are having a conversation within adventure. With the unpredictable twists and turns in plot, DeCamillo keeps the reader in suspense, with the hope that all involved will find their own version of happily ever after. The Tale of Despereaux teaches us that while there is darkness, there is always a way to reconcile or forgive others if seek it.
After reading this story, I became interested in finding out how author Kate DeCamillo came up with the idea for The Tale of Despereaux, as the fairy tale was unlike the usual "knight in shining armor that defeated the dragon and saved the princess." What gave her the idea to create this protagonist in the story?
Matthew Peterson: What gave you the idea for The Tale of Despereaux?
Kate DiCamillo: It was actually my best friend’s son, who was eight years old at the time and Winn Dixie had just come out and he’s a reader. And so he was kind of impressed with me. And he said that he had an idea for a book about an unlikely hero with exceptionally large ears and I said, “What happens to the hero?” And he said, “I don’t know, that’s why I want you to write the book.” So that’s kind of where I started.

And I think that is why so many are influenced by this story of this unusually small mouse with big, floppy ears - he is truly like any other hero in a typical fairy tale. DeCamillo demonstrated the ability to deviate from the "typical" and transform it into something that is an extraordinary piece of literature that can capture the audience of both children and adults.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Thy Friend, Obadiah by Brinton Turkle

Thy Friend, Obadiah details a unique friendship that forms between a young boy, Obadiah, and a sea gull. Obadiah, a young Quaker living in colonial Nantucket, gets very frustrated when a sea gull continually follows him around town and throughout his errands. In fact, he wishes at one point that he would just go away. And it does.

Until, one day, the Obadiah sets out to do some errands for his Mother and gets caught in a snowstorm. He wishes for the sea gull to be there in order to help him home, but the gull is nowhere to be found. Obadiah searches for days and days and still cannot find his faithful "friend," then he finds a group of gulls by the wharf. One of them was his friend, but had a wish hook wrapped around his beak. Obadiah unwrapped the hook and line and the gull flew out to the lighthouse. From that point on, Obadiah's friend visited his window at home and watched over him while he traveled around town. Finally, at the end of the story, Obadiah realizes that the sea gull was a true friend.

Thy Friend Obadiah demonstrates the idea that friendships can form between even those who do not seem to have much in common, whether it be on the inside or outside. The book uses language such as "thee" and "thy", which can be somewhat confusing, and I used this book to support a class to instroduce a novel that I am reading with my class, Who Comes With Cannons? The Quaker religion and and use of language is also used within this story, and can be somewhat confusing to students had I not supplemented with other texts prior to this novel. The novel focuses on the Civil War and its main characters are Quakers who run a station in the Underground Railroad. Stay tuned for more as I will blog about this book in the near future!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine

Henry's Freedom Box details the heart-wrenching story of a slave named Henry Brown living in Virginia in the 1840's, when, tragically, his wife and children are sold and his world is completely destroyed. Henry asks a friend to help mail himself in a crate to Philadelphia to four anti-slavery men. While this would prove to be very dangerous and life-threatening, his friend agrees to assist him. Henry makes it to Philadelphia from Richmond in 1849, on the day of his birthday March 30th! This day also represents his first day of freedom!

At the end of the story, I thought, did Henry ever reunite with his wife and children again? How could he find them, even if he wanted to? Was he ever found and sent back to the south? What did he do in Philadelphia once he gained his freedom?

I found that upon Henry's arrival to Philadelphia, he wrote an autobiography titled, The Narrative of Henry Box Brown, with the help of Charles Stearns. He also created a panorama titled Mirror of Slavery that involved a series of scences detailing his life as a slave and his escape in the crate.

The author's note at the back of the story states that he never found his wife and children, and it is believed that he remarried in England in 1850.

I admire Henry for his valor and commitment to his family. He risked his life and used his experiences to teach the world about slavery and cruel realities that he and his wife and children endured. So many slaves throughout this time period were separated from their families and faced harsh living conditions that are unimaginable - and it's important to remember these families and how their accomplishments inspired others to follow in their footsteps of attaining independence and equal rights.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Okay, so, I knew going into this that there would be some differences in story elements from the book and the movie - but "some" turned into "a whole lot!" While I did not dislike the movie, (in fact it did entertain me many times!), it just wasn't the book that I grew to entirely enjoy. In fact while I was viewing it midway, I thought to myself, "If I was Rick Riordan, I would be outraged!" What were his feelings toward something that created an entirely different interpretation on his novel? And what were writer Craig Titley's thoughts about how to create movies based on such a popular young fiction series?

As I came up with these questions, I found a blog by Riordan and an interview with Titley.

In Riordan's blog on Scholastic's website. Riordan states, "Will the movie be exactly like the book? Well to start with, I have never seen a movie that was exactly like the book it came from, so I think it's safe to say no. Movies are a totally different medium. What you'll be seeing is not The Lightning Thief book copied page for page onto the screen. What you'll be seeing is Chris Columbus' interpretation of The Lightning Thief story. . . Let the movie be the movie, and the books be the books, and try to enjoy the story without getting too worked up about any differences.

And that's what I did - I got too worked up about the differences. While there are way too many differences to list, I understand what Riordan is saying here - the movie isn't meant to emulate the book, and vice versa.

While in an interview with writer Craig Titley, he states,
" it is sort of walking that fine line of…you know, you get two hours to make a movie, and if you put everything that is in the book into the movie, you would have a 4 ½ hour movie. So it’s the age old problem that goes all the way back to, you know, the Wizard of Oz up through Lord of the Rings. It’s: What do you keep? What do you take out? How do you make it feel like the book even though it is its own thing and you are going to have to… you know, when you start pulling things out because of the constraints of a two hour movie, there are sort of holes that have to be filled with original material. And it is sort of like half a creative challenge and half a logistical challenge of trying to keep sort of the spirit and the characters true to the source material as much as possible so that it still feels like the source material. You don’t want to, like reinvent the wheel and invent new characters at the sake of other changes and personalities or anything like that.
So it is quite challenging. And it is more challenging with a book like this that has such a huge fan page. You can start imagining all the hate mail that is going to come, like, “Why did you take out this scene?” But there is no way around it. Somebody’s favorite scene is probably not going to be in the movie

Both Riordan and Titley created two different versions about what they envisioned for Percy Jackson and his adventure; while I can state so many differences between the elements in characters, main events, problems, point of view, setting, etc.. between both, I feel that what's most important of what I learned from this experience is that a book and a movie should be treated as completely different entities. Let's face it - both the author and the movie writers want to make money, and they are going to do their best to sell both of their products. Their products, as I learned with Percy Jackson, can even be geared to different audiences based on character development, content, and dialogue.

I will still uphold the standard to read a book before viewing the movie and I will try to take Riordan's advice from now on and not be so sensitive when comparing books and their movies - and just let the books be the books, and the movies be the movies!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

As a troubled New York City teen who continually is failing to perform in school, Percy Jackson, finds that his insecurities, dyslexia, and ADHD are are contributions that ultimately reveal himself as a child of the Greek god Poseidon. After this revelation, while training at Camp Half-Blood, Percy is given the challenge to stop the war between the gods and retrieve Zeus' thunderbolt, along with the help of Grover and Annabeth, to Los Angeles and bring it back to Olympus. Percy is given ten days until the summer solstice (before the war begins) to find out what really happened to the bolt, and is told he must travel to see Hades, lord of the underworld, who is believed to have taken the bolt - which in the end, proves to be not true. Surprisingly, Luke, Percy's friend and fellow sword trainer, is the one who set him up and is the real Lightning Thief. This then leads into Percy deciding to leave Camp Half-Blood and return home with his mom for the year to test out his newfound abilities; yet, he warns that Cronos will seek his revenge with the gods, as the battle and adventures with Percy seem to lead into the next book in the series.

As the challenges Percy and his friends face prove to be life-threatening, the three of them form a bond of trust as they protect each other along the way. Percy's character evolves from a doubtful young man to a brave goldling and hero. At first, his reading disability and ADHD held him back from getting good grades at Yancy Academy; however, it proved to be helpful in deciphering ancient Greek and being able to be aware of all of his surrounding during the battles he fought.

While not knowing much Greek mythology myself, readers are able to gain knowledge and tidbits about each mythical being and creature in order to understand their involvement in the story - and peak their interest in finding out more using other resources. When you are reading The Lightning Thief, Riordan's use vivid descrptions in characters, setting, and chain of events assist in creating clear mental images of Percy's trials and tribulations as if we are right there helping him along the way. Excitment, momentum, and suspense is continued from page to page with the hope that Percy can and will be able to make his mother and father proud of him. Percy, as many middle school children, yearn to be accepted and fit in among their peers. He is a protagonist in a story that a lot of kids connect with in some way. With that being said, I can understand why so many adolescent readers take part in the exploration of the Percy Jackson series. The Lightning Thief is jam-packed with thrilling details that allow children to escape their every day challenges and travel into an existence where fantasy and reality coexist.

The Lightning Thief can also serve as a springboard for researching Greek mythology and various reading and writing connections can be incorporated throughout the story. Rick Riordan's website includes a teacher's guide for each book that includes literature circle discussion questions, project ideas, author video interviews, etc.

Riordan's website also includes recommendations for "reluctant readers" and/or those who finish the Percy Jackson series and want more books of this type. Included in this link are a list of books that I have used in assisting students of my own in making future book selections.

I will be reading The Sea Of Monsters as soon as my February Scholastic book order comes in (below is the link for the Arrow order form) - I've ordered the entire series for those who are interested in borrowing!! I just have to know how Percy is going to get back at Luke and whether Cronos will be coming to seek his revenge!! Will Annabelle and Grover join Percy on his next adventure? Is Poseidon going to form more of a closer relationship with his son? How did Percy and Annabelle do while living at home for the year? So many questions...I hope they will be answered in the next book!!

Looking forward to seeing the movie on Tuesday!

So You Want to Be President? by Judith St. George

In honor of President's Day, I sat down with my students this past week and read Judith St. Georges witty yet informative story, So You Want To Be President? Both St. George and illustrator, David Small, created a story that informed readers of past Presidents of the United States with an underlying message that it is true that anyone can be President. My class experienced a variety of reactions from the text based on the facts and humorous details about each President.
It is true that a lot of my students had learned about past presidents based on their involvement in history and content lessons they have learned; such as with George Washington - he was an important leader and general in the American Revolution, but did he attend college, NOPE! This lead into a discussion about the time period and how the importance of education has changed greatly since Washington's presidency.

One of the most hilarious illustrations and descriptions was that of William Howard Taft, when they learned he had to get a special tub put into his bathroom in the White House because of the fact that he was over 300 pounds! The political cartoon-like illustrations of Taft coupled with these specific details gave quite the reason for uncontrollable laughter in our classroom!!

Readers of all ages, yes even adults, would enjoy this book. It shows readers that even though these individuals hold an important role in our country, that they are human and live some-what normal lives like us. After reading this story, students began ask me questions about details that were not in the book about a President. This book does not give an in-depth description and bio about each of the 41 Presidents profiled, but gives a glimpse into each of their lives and overall importance in our country. Therefore, while giving only a snapshot, students become inquisitive and pursue a fascination that sparked their interest within the story. This story can lead into possible writing exercises for students to create an extension of the story based on the Presidents we've had since the book was published in 2000. Students can illustrate and write about research information while giving trivial and humorous information about their President.

Sidewalk Circus by Paul Fleischman

Paul Fleishman and Kevin Hawkes created a worldless masterpiece in Sidewalk Circus. The story includes illustrations that portray the Garibaldi Circus, coming soon - but the young girl who watches on at the bus stop watches "performers" nearby, although they are not in the ring.

Hawkes' use of comparasions in illustrations between performers and people working inside and outside of the building allow readers to find similarities between both groups of people, while they sit back and watch a circus peformance before their very eyes. The use of bright and dark coloring on the children and adults shows how young ones see the world in a different perspective, and can create a story within their own minds.

I was suprised but glad that Fleishman took the words out of Sidewalk Circus as it initially contained; with the absence of words, the illustrations allow readers to make their own interpretations and, combined with the pictures, enhance their creativity and individual understanding of the story.

Before reading Sidewalk Circus, I had the opinion that these books can only be used for young readers in the preschool to primary grades; however, I found after researching a bit that they can be beneficial in middle and high school levels. According to the Journal for Adolescent and Adult Literacy, "wordless books enhance creativity, vocabulary, and language development, and in all content areas. Along with teacher guidance, wordless books can especially benefit linguistically and cultural different readers and writers, as well as the more experienced ones in middle and high school years," (Cassidy, 1998).
Wordless books allow all readers of varying levels and experiences to find the words that are just right for them, while instilling a sense of enouragement and confidence in their abilities as sucessful readers in the classroom.

Wordless Books: No-Risk Tools for Inclusive Middle-Grade Classrooms
Judith K. Cassady
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, Vol. 41, No. 6 (Mar., 1998), pp. 428-432 (article consists of 5 pages)
Published by: International Reading Association
Stable URL:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Man Who Walked Between The Towers by Mordicai Gerstein

After reading this book independently, I decided to share it with my 4th graders...
Going into the read aloud, I knew that some of them had read this book already this year; however, the majority of the class had not. While reading the story, we discussed specific parts of the text and how the author's words about Phillipe Petit's life made this an entertaning and informative book to read. Once Petit accomplished his life goal of crossing the wire between the towers, the feeling of amazement, suspense, and surprise quickly switched to sentiments of confusion and sorrow that left my students speechless...

"And now the towers are gone."

As a group of 9 and 10 year old children, it became clear to me that most of them (including hte ones who had read this book already) did not know what happened on September 11, 2001. Why would they know about this tragedy? They were babies when it happened! Some of them that had an idea of what happened were told by their parents and/or family, friends that were affected in some way on that tragic day. I explained briefly to them that there was a terrorist attack on the United States and we cannot imagine why anyone would want to harm others.

Our discussion evolved into, as a class, a search on our online school library catalog and World Book Online. Students wanted to know more specifics about this event, Phillipe Petit, New York City, view actual pictures of the towers before and after 9/11...

I found that a lot of the books about 9/11 are simplified so the event and details lose their meaning and leave students still questioning; a lot of the literature caters to the middle and high school age population. These are three books that I found that would cater to the K-3, 3-6 grades.

I would be interested in finding other resources - books, videos, etc. that would provide more information to students in an age-appropriate manner. Anyone have any suggestions on this topic? I did find a few after researching in my school library -these tiltes and authors are noted below.

The Man Who Walked Between The Towers provided my students the opportunity to discuss the career aspirations and courage of Phillipe Petit, the twin towers and September 11th, and the powerful messages that Mordicai Gerstein had for his readers. My students responded in their journals to this book to what they felt his purpose was for reading this book. For the most part, students felt entertained by Gersteins words, illustrations, and "keeping you on the edge of your seat" chain of events leading up to Petit's walking on the wire. On the other hand, they also felt that the author wanted to inform us of Petit's dream of walking between the towers, but to also prompt us in finding out about what happened to the towers in New York City.

What a powerful and moving piece of literature - this one will definitely become a part of my classroom library!

September Roses, J. Winter
The Little Chapel That Stood, A.B. Curtiss
Fireboat, M. Kahlman
September 11 (We the People: Modern America Series), M. Englar

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Polacco Interview: family and multicultural literature

Reading Rockets: A video interview with Patricia Polacco

Attached is a video interview with Patricia Polacco from Reading Rockets. What I found particulary interesting were two specific clips. First, the "Family Stories" clip supports a lot of what I've read about Polacco and that all of her stories are based on family experiences.

The clip on "Multicultural Citizens" really caught my eye, or more like my ear! Polacco grew up in a multicultural household and the diverse city of Oakland. Based on her childhood experiences, and moving into rural America, she sees that not all children growing up today had the opportunity to be surrounded by these children of different races, religions, ethnic backgrounds, etc. It is important as a teacher to develop a library that embraces all forms of literature and includes stories that develops the understanding of how and why people are different, but also help them acknowledge the fact that despite these differences, we are still alike in many ways on the inside.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

Pink and Say details a friendship that ends shortly after two young boys who meet after a battle in the Civil War. Pink, a young white farmer, and Say, an African American soldier, take refuge in the home of Say's mother. Both boys have different views of returning to war - Pink is determined to return to his unit while Say only agrees to return in order to keep Say's mother out of harm's way. Tragically, Say's mother is killed by marauders and both boys are captured by confederates. Pink is hung and Say survives after being confined in a jail in very harsh conditions. Say survives the story and memory of Pink lives on in his words after being passed down form generation to generation, all the way down to Patricia Polacco, who is Say's great-granddaughter.

This story completely caught me by surprise at the end but I knew going into this book that there would be a personal connection to Polacco's life. Unlike Polacco's great-grandfather, Pink, Say did not have living relatives to pass his life story down generation to generation. Each time this story is read, his story is told and his memory is kept alive. The powerful message at the end of the book gave me goosebumps and caused my eyes to fill with tears:

"This book serves as a written memory of Pinkus Aylee since there are no living descendents to do this for him. When you read this, before you put this book down, say his name out loud and vow to remember him always."

And I responded, "Pinkus I will remember you."