Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Olivia Kidney by Ellen Potter

Twelve year old Olivia Kidney has moved, yet again. This time the apartment building she has moved into in New York City isn't quite what it appears to be on the outside. Olivia finds that within confines of different apartments that this high-rise building is more than meets the eye. She enters into a magical fantasy world - one apartment being made of glass and another a tropical rain forest. The residents are quite peculiar as well, one being a ghost, while another wears a lizard boa! Each of the apartment buildings as well as the residents who live in them have their own stories to tell, and Olivia begins to feel comfortable with the people she meets. She reveals to the reader and her new friends that her brother had just died of cancer and that her mother left almost two years ago, conveying strong feelings of loneliness and unhappiness in her life. Her father, the building superintendent, has a difficult time reconnecting with Olivia at first in the novel, but the two reconnect as he expresses his feelings to her about wanting their relationship to get "back to normal." It is at this point that Olivia begins to feel not so alone. Olivia is able to connect with her brother's spirit through the static that she hears on her radio while she is lying in bed to go to sleep. His message to her lets her know that he is always looking over her, and to be sure to take care of thier father. As the reader, you can tell by Olivia's thoughts and flashbacks throughout the story that her older brother was a huge part of her life, and that she missed him dearly. Knowing this, I empathized with Olivia and her life of loneliness and despair. I felt comforted when her brother revealed his message to her through the static in the radio. This brought Olivia the closure that she needed to move on and the security to know that her brother was still with her in spirit.
Author Ellen Potter created a fantasy chapter book that keeps the reader on the edge of his seat. Many children around Olivia's age with connect with the desire to fit in with peers and to fit into a society that can be rather cruel and judgemental at times. According to Publisher's Weekly, Potter "achieved a delicate balance between fantasy and stark reality, the author leaves it to the readers to form their own interpretations of Olivia's experiences."

Illustrator Peter Reynolds consulted with author Ellen Potter about the front cover illustration of the book. He questioned her about what kind of apartment building she had in mind when she was writing the story. Potter said that the building was based on the one she grew up in, a high-rise in NYC. She asked her parents to snap some pictures and then she e-mailed them to me to help inspire me. "I was intrigued by how it must feel to be little in such a big building. I played with the idea of the size on the cover - making Olivia 15 stories high - peering out of the top of the building. I added spotlights criss-crossing the sky to give a feeling of drama and spectacle." (totally confirmed in the text!)

Just the fact that both Reynolds and Potter worked together to create the cover illustration says it all - I wish all authors and illustrators had the ability to do this. I believe that Reynolds was able to make such a statement in his cover illustration, demonstrating Olivia "opening" the door to this fantasy world, and being able to conquer her fears and issues through new friendships made with residents. It is also interesting to note that the 1st edition of Olivia Kidney was published in 2003, and the 2nd edition in 2004. The 2004 edition has a totally different cover illustration, showing smaller pictures of the characters in the story. I do feel that this cover does not send the same powerful message as in the 1st edition, but does give the reader the opportunity to "meet" the characters before reading the story. After finishing Olivia Kidney and moving on to her latest book, Slob, I am beginning to understand Potter's exemplary ability to write engaging and entertaining stories that readers can relate to in some way. I can't wait to read more - and of course, meet her with my class during our "skype" interview!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tales Our Abuelitas Told: A Hispanic Folktale Collection by F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada

Tales Our Abuelitas Told, is a mixture of twelve popular tales celebrating the Hispanic culture and is many roots-Indigenous, African, Arab, Hebrew, and Spanish. Authors F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada retold each of these stories that capture the heritage, emotions, and spirit of Latino people around the world. An introduction or "welcome" provides background information to the reader about folktales, their origin, and the influences that each have had on their lives. The authors also include the opening and ending lines of how these tales traditionally begin in the Spanish language, while writing the Spanish version and English-language equivalents in the sections, "To Begin a Story" and "To End a Story."

Beginning: Habia una vez... Once upon a time..

Ending: ...y se acabo lo que se daba (and that is the end of all that has been told)

After each tale, the authors give background information about how the tale was derived and any other variations of the story that exist, along with any connections that they have to the story itself. Subject matter includes magical bandpipes, flying horses, talking ants, etc. In some cases, like many folktales, a moral is emphasized.

The authors note throughout the book that most of these stories were heard by them as children from their own grandmothers or "abuelitas." For example, "The Bird of One Thousand Colors" is a story that was told to Ada when she was a little girl, but she had never found the original source. She credits her grandmother, Dolores Salvador Mendez, who passed it on to her. Other stories were merely discovered throughout their research in writing the collection. Variations and changes in stories are also a result of transformations in oral retellings that occur between different cultures and areas of the world. Campoy and Ada note in their welcome that "many of the stories originated from in Spain, a land that has been a cultural crossroad throughout history. Since Spain is geographically close to Africa, it has served as a bridge between the continents of Europe and Africa, receiving influences from both and generating its own unique cultures." For example, in the story, "Dear Deer! Said the Turtle" (reminscent to "The Tortoise and the Hare) Campoy notes that this well-known story has gone through numerous transformations in its travels back and forth across the Atlantic. In the version found in Cuentos populares de Espana, the race was between a rabbit and a hedgehog, who, with the help of his wife, outwits the rabbit. The version told in The Tales Our Abuelitas Told comes from the Cuban oral tradition, with African elements. "The Castle of Chuchurume" is a story, similar to the English folktale "The House That Jack Built" and the African folktale, "The Great Rain on Kapiti Plain," with their cumulative verse. Instead of using the elements of a house, which is found in most versions, the authors substituted it with a castle, following the lead of the title given to this Mexican version of a nursery rhyme.

Sporadic, colorful illustrations by Felipe Davalos, Vivi Escriva, Susan Guevara, and Leyla Torres depict the humor and wit within the text of each folktale. Torres notes at the back of the book that she was inspired by the memory of the mountains, growing up in Bogota, Colombia, and the colorful clothes that women wear in the village markets. Guevara stated, " in this book I wanted to paint the giant threat of an angry, lazy wolf and the fiesty dance of a wily she-fox. I wanted to paint the flat, unreal appearance of color in the moonlight. I think these images have their roots in the magical realistm born out of Latino writing." It is clear that even the illustrators have brought in their own perspectives and experiences into their paintings, while creating their pieces of artwork for each folktale.
Tales Our Abuelitas Told demonstrates the power of storytelling and how folktales have evolved over time. Many are unknown of origin or have been simply passed down from word of mouth. Ada and Campoy captured the essence of tradition, heritage, and remembrance of the stories their abuelitas told them as young girls. I feel that this collection will make a great addition to my classroom library, as well as serving as a comparison for my students in the nursery rhymes and folktales that were passed on by our own ancestors.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Nandi Tale: Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema

The great Kapiti Plain, once flourishing with a "sea of grass" enough for giraffes to browse on and herdsmen to pasture their cows on, is devastated by the lack of African rains. The sea of green grass soon becomes brown and dead, "needing the rain from the cloud overhead" as the larger animals begin to migrate. The big, black cloud, all heavy with rain, that shadowed the ground on Kapiti Plain. But Ki-Pat, a herdsman, ingeniously brings the rain down to the plain with a bow and arrow that pierces into the dark rain cloud above. In the end, the grass grew green again, and Ki-Pat got a wife, and a little Ki-Pat who tends the cows now, shoots down the rain, when black clouds shadow Kapiti Plain.

In the note at the back of the book, I discovered that author Verna Aardema is a highly acclaimed storyteller and the author of many books of African folktales. "This tale was discovered in Kenya, Africa more than seventy years ago by Sir Claud Hollis, a famous anthropologist. He camped near the Nandi village and learned the native language from two boys. He learned riddles and proverbs from the Nandi children, and most of the folktales form the Chief Medicine Man. This tale reminded Sir Claud of a cumulative nursery rhyme that he loved as a boy in England, "The House That Jack Built." So he decided to call the story "The Nandi House That Jack Built" and included it in his book "The Nandi: Their Language and Folklore, published in 1909. Verna Aardema has brought the originial story closer to the English nursery rhyme by putting in a cumulative refrain and giving the tale the rhythm of "The House That Jack Built."

Aardema's repetitive phrase "that needed the rain from the cloud overhead--the big, black cloud all heavy with rain, that shadowed the ground on Kapiti plain" is found throughout each of the story's rhythmic plot. Each event occurs, the text builds upon one another, similarly in The House That Jack Built. The rhyming scheme and predictability allow for readers to closely follow the adventure and challenge that awaits Ki-Pat throughout the duration of the drought. The illustrations by Beatriz Vidal demonstrate the types of diverse animals that live in Africa, such as cows, giraffes, lions, rhinos, zebras, antelope, buffalo, cheetahs, leopards, etc. The culture, appearance, and tradition of the Nandi people are also touched on in this story, and can provide the opportunity for further research into this part of Kenya.

Reading Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain allowed for me to further evaluate lack of exposure to multicultural literature, especially folktales. Having read The House That Jack Built, this African folktale gave an interesting and unique twist to the English nursery rhyme, while also keeping true the Nandi traditions. Despite differences in folktales within the world, these oral traditions continue to be passed down from one generation to the next, while readers remain entertained and take away a valuable lesson or morale from the story. And just as little Ki-Pat did, too, tends the cows on Kapiti Plain, after being guided by his father by his own experiences and stories.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant

What do you do if you outlive all of your friends? Well, the old woman in this story sets out to combat her loneliness by naming all of the inanimate things in in her life: Roxanne, her bed; her old chair, Fred; her reliable car, Betsy. What do all of these objects have in common for this clever, old woman? She gives them these names because she knows she can't outlive them. This plan seems to work for the old woman, until a small puppy appears at her gate. The old woman feeds the puppy, but then sends him away, due to her past experiences of hurt in losing friends. Time goes by and the puppy grows into a dog and continually visits the old woman by the gate of her house. But one day, the dog doesn't show up. The old woman becomes extremeley concerned about the dog's well being. She decides to search for the dog and name him, realizing that finding her new companion is worth more than her insecurities of losing him as she did with her friends. In the end, she finds the dog and names him Lucky, as he becomes a new member of her family, while filling the void of those she had lost through friendship and love. And although we never learn the old woman's name, we find out the dog's name in the end, along with all of the inanimate objects in her house.

Kathryn Brown's watercolor illustrations aid in the quirkiness and somewhat peculiar thought process of the old woman. In a review by Publisher's Weekly, "the unlikely protagonist of this quirky and tenderhearted story is a litte old lady with cat glasses and a beehive who might have stepped out into the Far Side." The Far Side, I couldn't agree more.

The Old Woman Who Named Things creates the opportunity to teach students on how to identify thoughtshots that authors use in stories. Rylant uses this writing concept of thoughtshots effectively in TOWWNT. In the lesson plan, "Thoughtshots Bring Your Characters to Life," ( instructional plans identify three different types of thoughtshots used in TWOWNT.

  1. Internal dialogue/flash-ahead: It was a very pretty puppy, she thought. But it couldn't stay.

  2. Internal dialogue: The old woman sat and thought about the shy brown dog who had no collar with a name...

  3. Flashback: The old woman thought a moment. She thought of the old, dear friends with the names whom she had outlived.

It is through these thoughtshots that Rylant is able to communicate just how believable and real the character of the old woman truly is, while making the story much more interesting to her readers. The instructional plans also use the story An Angel for Solomon Singer, as Rylant uses the same concept of thoughtshots throughout this story. Isn't it interesting that both of these characters longed for some kind of companionship, and found it in the end!?

The Old Woman Who Named Things is a story that will allow you to empathize with the old woman's need for companionship, although her quirky naming of her house, car, chair are quite creative. In the end, she realizes that taking the risk is well worth gaining the company of Lucky. I believe that readers both young and old will be fully satisfied with the story's happy ending knowing that the old woman will never feel alone again.

The Journey, Stories of Migration by Cynthia Rylant

Author Cynthia Rylant creates clear and vivid descriptions of the migratory habits of six different species in The Journey: Stories of Migration. Rylant's poetic language, as exhibited throughout many of her books is carried throughout this narrative story. These descriptions are perfectly matched with Davis's colorful and vibrant illustrations that are presented as full-page bleeds, as well as smaller pictures noted below each of the species introductions.

Rylant also starts the story with an introduction and ends the story with a conclusion page. In the introduction Rylant states, "These are the creatures who migrate. Their lives will be spent moving from one place to another. Some will migrate to survive. Some will migrate to create a new life. All will be remarkable. Here are the stories of some of these remarkable travelers. The locust, the whale, the eel, the butterfly, the caribou, the tern -- so different from each other but so alike in one profound way: Each must move." The introduction gives a broad definition of migration to children, as well as identifies the species that they will be learning about in the pages to come. The conclusion, somewhat reiterates the introduction, but more of in a profound and meaningful way: Tiny birds, great whales, fragile butterflies, persistent eels, humming locusts, and brave caribou: These are all miracles in motion. Travelers on a remarkable road." Although each of the six species are separated by different "sections" by titles, Rylant conveys the strong bond that all of these creatures share: the necessity to travel in order to survive. But how is it that understand when to travel, where to go, and how to get there? This continues to be one of nature's mysteries of animal instinct that is truly remarkable and fascinating.

The only slight disappointment that I had with this book was that there was no additional information about these animals and descriptions. This story, however, would lead into an excellent question and seek information session in order to gain further knowledge about these species, as well as learning about other migratory animals. In addition, even though I thought Davis's illustrations were beautifully done, I think that the non-realistic form of the creatures. I think actual photographs would be much more suitable in order to support the text of the story, while also creating a more realistic appearance of the species included in the story. The Journey Stories of Migration would be an excellent read aloud for students to introduce the process of migration. It creates the opportunity for children to take a closer look into the animal world and the journeys they embark on in order to survive.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Long Night Moon by Cynthia Rylant

The tradition of Native American moon-naming is beautifully portrayed in Rylant's Long Night Moon. Rylant's tribute to the naming of the moons was accurately and poetically versed on each page, with complementing illustrations of each month's phase. It seems as though both author and illustrator were clearly in tune with one another. Each written line, font color, and illustration worked so well together that it made the storyline flow very smoothly and rhymically. Rylant and Siegel's use of a circular plot is also found in Long Night Moon, while moving through each of the moon phases and seasons and demonstrating the growth of the mother and baby one year later.
An interesting resource that I found on students creating stories that contain circular plots is from It is an excellent resource in instructing students to use the craft of a circular plot structure, while recommending books like Long Night Moon to incoporate in reading/writing workshop lessons. Here is a complete list of books that contain circular plots
As I tried to determine just exactly what type of medium illustrator Mark Siegel chose, I found a
note the end of the book, surprisingly not from the author, but from Siegel himself. He states, "finding the right medium proved to be a challenge. I tried acrylics and then oils, but nothing came close to rendering the magic of Cynthia's words. Then I went outside. Over several months, I took many long walks by moonlight in the beautiful Rockefeller Farms, near Sleepy Hollow, New York. In my busy crowded life, I'd never given so much attention to moonlight: What is it like? How does it feel? What makes it so special? Eventually - and almost accidentally - charcoal revealed itself as the medium of choice. It returned me to that velvety mysterious light that softens everything, bathing nature in a dreamy luminosity. This dreamy luminosity appears in each full-page spread of dark blues, grays, black, and browns. His first-hand account of studying nature in this manner deeply impacted his ability to understand the moon phases, while gaining a further appreciation for what happens when the sun goes down.

Rylant's ability to capture the essence of the moon phases in such a way is breathtaking. Her words coupled with Siegels charcoal illustrations alter my perspective about nature and the magic that happens throughout the nighttime. Siegel states at the end of his note, "May the words and images of Long Night Moon offer a safe invitation to savor the night and celebrate its otherwise hidden wonders." I believe that although this story tells about the nighttime, children will find warmth, security, and beauty in the surroundings of moonlight.

Weslandia by Paul Fleischman

"He sticks out," says his mother. "Like a nose," replies his father. Wesley. A boy whose imagination, way of thinking, and physical appearance are not the norm. He's no ordinary boy, and he knows it, but it does not bother him a bit. After hearing his parents' conversation about his noncoforming habits, Wesley decides to spend his summer vacation building his own civilization through a garden that produces a crop of plants that provide him with shelter, food, and drink. Meanwhile, as Wesley's peers and neighbors become more and more intrigued by what he is doing during his vacation time. In the end, they begin to see Wesley's differences and gain a better understanding of his talents, dedication, and intelligence - while being intrigued by his creation of Weslandia.

In a biography of Paul Fleischman on, there is a statement that compares the author to the character of Wesley in the story. "Fleischman, like Wesley, constructed his own alternate world during his school years. "My friends and I invented our own sports, ran an underground newspaper, and created our own school culture." Illustrator Kevin Hawkes added, "Wesley lives in this place where everything is the same, yet he has created something unique and is living self-sufficently, on his own island, in a way." Hawkes compared Wesley's world to Robinson Crusoe, one of his favorite books as a young boy. Hawkes illustrations from the cover, endpapers, and full-page images aid in the creation of Weslandia. Readers gain a firm perspective on Wesley's world and its surroundings. Similar to Sidewalk Circus, Hawkes differentiation of sizes and perspectives allow for the reader to get a true feel for what is happening page after page.
What I find so inspiring from Wesley, as well as Fleischman, is that despite the environments of constant social pressures surrounding them, they do what they want and are not swayed by the appearances and opinions of others. I believe that Weslandia teaches an important lesson to young readers about the importance appreciating each other's differences and staying true to yourself. Wesley, like many children, encounter bullies growing up - but Wesley doesn't give into them despite their constant commenting and tormenting. This story also goes to show that children can find safety and security in their own discoveries as Wesley found in Weslandia. Fleischman and Hawkes created the opportunity for readers to embark on an adventure into another world far away from their own, while encouraging all the "Wesleys" that it's okay to stick out amongst everyone else.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant

I read Cynthia Rylant's Caldecott Honor book, When I Was Young in the Mountains, after reading Waiting to Waltz, A Childhood. After reviewing reader's responses online, I was interested in seeing the similarities and differences between both books that captured Rylant's experiences in living in West Virginia as a young girl. When I Was Young in the Mountains has an entirely different feel to it than Waiting to Waltz. When reading this story, her words were inviting, welcoming, and warm. The experiences told in this story explain the events in living with her younger brother and loving grandparents in the mountains. Rylant's somewhat autobiographical story reflects how her life was simplistic yet pleasing living in Cool Ridge. She reminisces about the simplistic yet satisfying pleasures such as visiting the general store, pumping water from the well, and floating in the local swimming hole. She even remembers the smell of the sweet milk bought from that general store and how awful she felt after eating too many of her grandmother's okra. The vivid details and descriptions prompt you to question, how can she remember these events as if they just happened yesterday? In a Q&A interview with Harcourt Publishers, Rylant states, "I long to put what I have lived, how my heart and mind have changed over time into beautiful, meaningful language."
Illustrations by Diane Goode fully compliment the text in displaying Rylant's recollection of her experiences in Cool Ridge as if they happened yesterday. The warm colors comfirm the happiest feelings expressed by Rylant as she details her fondest childhood events that happened in the mountains. While I have not lived in this setting, I have a clearer picture of what life would be like living in this type of rural environment. Life doesn't seem as busy and complicated in the past as it does today. I feel somewhat envious of the fact that I haven't experienced the smell of fresh, clean air in the mountains - you can't smell that growing up in a heavily populated city!

Comparing this autobiography to Waiting to Waltz, both pieces are similiar in how Rylant depicts her childhood experiences of growing up in West Virginia. However, Waiting to Waltz contains experiences that were not the warm, fuzzy feelings portrayed in When I Was Young in the Mountains. The poems told more about the moments that challenged her, as well as moments that she experienced grief, sadness, and tragedy (with a few poems that showed times of happiness and certainty). Both stories tell of different times in Rylant's life; When I Was Young in the Mountains demonstrates Rylant's transformation of her childhood into becoming a young woman, while When I Was Young in the Mountains strictly details her experiences and feelings as a young, carefree girl living with her grandparents. I found myself questioning a few things: where was her mother during this time? Why did she leave her son and daughter in the care of grandparents? I found in an article about Rylant's life when trying to find answers to my questions on the web. In the article, it stated that her parents were separated when she was four years old, and her mother wanted to pursue a nursing degree. So young Cynthia and brother were left with their grandparents in Cool Ridge. Four years later, Rylant's mother reunited with her children and moved to Beaver, West Virginia - the setting for her childhood poems, Waiting to Waltz. She once called this new location "without a doubt a small, sparkling universe that gave me a lifetime worth of material for my writing."

It is evident that Rylant's past truly impacted her success as a writer today. Her experiences I can describe somewhat like a rollercoaster ride - there are many ups, downs, twists, and turns. Sometimes you feel safe, happy, and secure. Other times you feel terribly frightened. I truly admire her as an author as well as a young woman. She inspires me to hold onto memories, both good and bad, as they are all a part of life and make us who we are today.

The Alligator Boy by Cynthia Rylant

Cynthia Rylant's Alligator Boy tells the story of a young boy decides that he wants to be an alligator, after visiting a natural history museum with his class. After discussing this with his aunt, she sends him an alligator head and tail, in which the young boy wears to school as Rylant states on the book covers endpapers and first lines of the story, "A boy was tired of being a boy. He hoped to be somebody new." Parents of the alligator boy are mixed in response, as he dad goes along with his son's new disguise and his mother is curious and worried about her son's imaginative spirit. Once at school, he even is able to scare off a bully, spell with his long green snout, and enjoyed life to its fullest extent.

Rylant's use of a rhyming scheme in Alligator Boy add to the rhythm and flow in celebrating this young boy's creative imagination. The text is simple, yet the illustrations by Diane Goode are eye catching and play up the words stated page after page. According to a review by Children's Literature, "Goode requires only the minimum of props to produce a delightfully imaginative sequence of drawings "in line" with watercolors and gouache providing the particulars that the very succinct rhymes ignore." There was only one time in which I felt that Rylant's words did not flow as in previous lines, but were somewhat awkward in composition: "She asked a good doctor to come and to see/this boy who could not a boy now be."

What I found most interesting and confirming about this book was its ending - the alligator boy did not turn back into the boy seen before he inherited his green head and tail, but the final picture and text displayed the certainty of "what a good life for an alligator boy" as he sits comfortably on his mother's lap. I believe that when children and adults read this story, they will embrace it for Rylant's witty humor and powerful message of self-expression. I had a lot of fun watching the boys transformation into an alligator and joyfully living his life with a smile on his face moment after moment, while rescuing a puppy from a dog catcher and fending off a school bully.

I believe that Rylant's message in this story is for readers is to do what makes you happy, and do not worry about what others think of you. Even as an adult, the young alligator boy's creative spirit and confidence inspires me to evaluate myself in times when I am self-conscious. Rylant and Goode's written and illustratives styles complemented each other well in this story as readers of all ages will enjoy watching the boy be an alligator-boy, while imagining themselves in his place. I also believe that the story firmly opposes Kermit the Frog's famous opinion, "It's not easy being green." Alligator Boy shows readers that it is okay to be whatever you want to be and to never let others let you think otherwise.

Friday, April 16, 2010

What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Come and explore the fascinating ways that animals can use their tails, ears, eyes, mouths, noses, and feet through the interactive and colorfully illustrated book titled What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? Illustrator Steve Jenkins and wife Robin Page create a fun and interactive guessing game throughout the entire story. Jenkins cut-paper art is shown on a one-page spread, while allowing only for the specific animals' tails, ears, eyes, mouths, etc. to be shown - accompanied by the text asking (i.e. What Do You Do With a Nose Like This?). The pages following present the reader with a full-page bleed of illustrations that show full bodies of animals, coupled with the answers to the questions asked on the previous pages. "If you're a scorpian, your tail can give a nasty sting," "If you're a lizard, you break off your tail to get away."

While researching what medium Jenkins utilized, I found a Q&A review regarding how he creates his cut-paper collages. "Once he knows what he wants to illustrate, he collects his references. He may visit many zoos, or the aquarium. He takes photographs and looks at a lot of books. "I don't do the actual studies there, but I do find it useful to get an appreciation of how beautiful and subtle they really are. I do an outline drawing based on the references and how I want them to look on the page. Then I do a quick color setting to figure out what paper I'm going to use in the collage. Finally I cut and tear." The Q&A also mentioned that Jenkins is continually collecting all different kinds of paper, most of them being from other countries that have a tradition of hand made paper, such as Japan.( Still after knowing this, it truly amazes me how he creates these illustrations just from cut-paper collages. How can he create such life-like fur, skin, and feathers with just paper? QUITE FASCINATING YET UNBELIEVABLE! His cover illustration is a full page bleed of the lizard, showing only his tail on the front cover, while the text wraps itself around the coiling, long, green tail. The back cover, once opened up, shows the entire body of the lizard. Later in the book, it is revealed that, "If you're a lizard, you break off your tail to get away." OUCH!

As most characters in the book will most likely be familiar to children, such as the elephant, chimpanzee, or the hippo - strange creatures such as a four-eyed fish and a blue-footed booby will surely capture children's eyes and ears. The pages at the very end of the book also provide further information and facts about the creatures mentioned in the book and allow for the opportunity to learn more about the animals that they've met in the story. According to a review by Children's Literature, What Do You Do With a Tail Like This "is a perfect choice for talking with preschoolers about similarities and differences and an essential introduction to any second through fourth grade animal units because it teaches readers to be sharper observers of any animal's features and how the animal can use that feature." And I completely agree. I even learned quite a bit from this story - like the blue-footed booby?!?! That will get quite the laugh from students!

After reading this story, I am interested in reading more stories by Jenkins and Page. The illustrative and writing styles presented in this story continually kept me guessing, wondering, learning, and still I had questions after reading. Isn't this just what we want from our students??
My Questions: Where did blue-footed boobies get their name? Why do they have blue feet? I found some info regarding these questions here on National Geographic for Kids. "Booby" means "bobo" or clumsy (stupid in Spanish) because these birds are somewhat clumsy and slow on land. The males feet are strikingly blue when they are ready to mate with females (yes, they have blue feet, too!) The males do all they can to make sure females notice their feet. How romantic!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Waiting to Waltz-A Childhood, Poems by Cynthia Rylant

Cynthia Rylant vividly captures her childhood memories and experiences of living in Beaver, West Virginia. The details of each poem create a personal viewpoint of Rylant's feelings and recollections of the past growing up in this small, rural town. While some poems in the collection have a positive tone, most reveal sentiments of moments that spoke of sadness, tragedy, and loss. Little Short Legs tells the sad story of how when Rylant's mother was late for work, she ran over a dog while driving fast down a dirt road - "never knew a grown up could make such a mistake. Never knew one could make it and say it was so and felt sorry. But she did." Rylant also conveys the realistic truth of how people cope with deal and how adults can still make mistakes even after "growing up," while relaying the importance of a person feeling remorse for her mistake.

PTA exhibits a feeling of disappointment (at first) then changing to Rylant's specific moment of being proud of her mom. "Seemed like everybody's mother went to PTA but mine." Because my mom was a nurse and they knew it, and she might never pop popcorn at halftime but she could sure save lives, boy." The transfer of feelings from being upset with her mother's inactivity in the parent program at school suddenly grows into Rylant's discovery of her mother's career and the impact that she makes on every day lives. The Brain Surgeon tells the story of a tragic loss of man that people know as one of the "town drunks." Later she comes to find that he is a brain surgeon whose wife died on their honeymoon night. "And now he sat beside Beaver Creek and would never leave it." Rylant also gives other accounts of individuals living in Beaver Falls and expresses them through each of her poems. This just goes to show how small of a town Beaver truly was and how everyone knew what was going on with one another.

While she comments about others, she also gives personal experiences and accounts of events that happen to her in her chidhood. In her poem, The Great Beyond, Rylant expresses how she nearly drowned in her friend Karen's swimming pool, "never telling anyone I didn't know how except in a hole not too deep...And no one ever knew, not even Karen, how close I'd come to the great beyond." This poem shows her as a child who took risks, not thinking about the consequences and moreso trying to be accepted by her friends and peers. The Spelling Bee also gives a personal perspective into Rylant's 3rd grade spelling contest. At first, Rylant is confident and secure in her success at the bee; until, she details the moment when she lost in the competition. I felt empathetic towards her at this point, knowing that she was truly hurting and disappointed in how she did not win the bee. In contrast, the poem Band Practice, expressed Rylant's persistence in effort leads to success. This can also be similar to how she found her identity as a writer, knowing that it will take practice in order to come up with a product that you are ultimately ready to share with others.

Illustrator Stephen Gammell adds to the realism portrayed in each poem. His pencil sketches are simple, yet reveal the simplistic, remote, quiet, yet natural setting of Beaver. The black and white coloring support the themes of tragedy, loss, disappointment, and seldom moments of happiness that Rylant recalls in her childhood. The images of people compliment the text, while seldomly revealing their facial expressions.

As I continue to read more books by Rylant, I am seeing certain consistencies in her writing. She has the inherit ability to express the sentiments, feelings, and experiences she's recalled from her past. Rylant commented in a recorded interview to the people of West Virginia, "If you're a serious writer, you write about things you are deeply moved by. And I think people are deeply moved by the same things I'm moved by. I just happen to be the one who was given the ability to put that swelling of the heart-that sweet reverence that you have those things around you or those people you live with-into some kind of language. And that seems to be my particular gift in this world." And what a gift she has - I feel after reading this poetry collection that I have visited the small, rural town of Beaver, West Virginia - and I clearly understand how much of an impact her childhood experiences impacted success as a writer.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Joyful Noise-Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman

Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman is a collection of poems that beautifully articulate the noises, actions, and appearances of the insects around us. While the poems are intended to be read aloud by two voices - recitors can speak simultaneously or alternate lines while bringing each poem to life with a musical tone. While reading this independently, I wondered whether his writing style for poetry consistently contains paired poetry recitations.
After reading, I found in a Q&A inteview session on his website. Fleischman was asked, "Why do you write poems with more than one voice? Fleischman's response: "If I could, I'd write music rather than books. Alas, I don't have that talent--but writing multi-voice poetry at least gives me a taste. Playing in a recorder consort in college led me toward those poems as well. I loved being part of a group. I've tried to bring that feeling of interplay and joyful collaboration into the poetry."

The emotions resonating throughout each poem in Joyful Noise vary - some sad, loud, quiet; however, each share a common characteristic as they make "booming, boisterous, joyful noise." Before reading the poetry collection, I thought to myself - Yuck! Poems about insects. However, as you read poem after poem the insects take on more of a human-like persona as you get to know their distinct personalities, habits, practices, and functions in our environment. This is constructed through personification and imagery. In the poem Fireflies, Fleischman describes them as "insect calligraphers, practicing penmanship, copying sentences." He also uses alliteration - "fireflies, flickering, flitting, flashing...glimmering, gleaming, glowing." A comparison using a similie, for example, is also demonstrated in the line, "Signing the June nights, as if they were paintings." All of these literary techniques aid in the overall rhythm, flow, and clarity in the content of the poem that also allows for the reader to visualize what is happening line by line.

One thing is for sure - you cannot get the same effect of reading this independently as you would with a partner, reciting it from beginning to end. So, I decided to listen to Joyful Noise on audio. And what a difference it made!! Narrators Melissa Hughes and Scott Snively recite each poem and with such energy and enthusiasm that bring these creepy, crawly creatures to life!

Illustrator Eric Beddows aids to the realistic adventure that the reader travels through while reading each poem. Each insect's composition, line, and shape add to its realistic form, while also creating a sense of movement on each page. Beddows also added a comical sense to the poems - for example, in the poem Honeybees, the queen bee is lounging on what looks like a chaise lounge, complementing the lines, "I'm up at dawn guarding, the hive's narrow entrance..."then I put in an hour making wax without two minutes' time to sit and still relax." This also compliments Fleischman's technique of personification.

Poetry is type of writing that expresses feelings. I believe that Fleischman did it an outstanding job in being able to capture the essence of each insect, while allowing for readers to explore and learn about their individual characteristics, purposes, and states of being. I gained a greater apprecitation for the subject matter as well as for the author. His literary techniques kept me interested and invested in his poems; in addition to the fluctuation of first to third-person narration without, you keep wondering what will happen next! Similar to Bull Run and Seedfolks, Fleischman interconnects his characters by giving their perspective, thoughts, and feelings.
I also feel that students would be highly interested in engaging in these poems as a reader's theatre or poem recitations, while also providing content area facts for science. The level of engagement provides a greater opportunity for students to maintain motivation and attention, while the rhythm and musicality make it a fun learning experience!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Bull Run by Paul Fleischman

Bull Run depicts a glimpse into the lives of men and women in the first battle of the Civil War. Each account varies between Northerners and Southerners, detailing their individual feelings ranging from excitement, anger, sadness, and uncertainty of what the future is to hold. The individual story allows for each character to claim his or her position in the war, while describing how their lives are affected by the actions taken through the chain of events before and after the battle at Bull Run. Through the use of multiple perspectives, the historical event of Bull Run comes to life in each chapter. Dramatic scenes filled with descriptive details and imagery allow readers to closely follow each perspective of every day men and women, some soldiers, leaders, children, mothers, or observers in a war divided amongst the North and the South. Fleischman also alternates between each account between Northeners and Southerners, while allowing the reader to follow the action on either side. The maps illustrated in the few pages before the beginning of the story allow for the reader to also follow the action of the soldiers of both the Union and Conferederate armies. As most are fictional characters with the exception of General McDowell, the story of Bull Run would be an engaging and appropriate introductory piece of literature to complement the teaching of the Civil War in the middle school or high school level.

As Fleischman states at the end of the book, Bull Run can be used in class as a Readers Theatre, while allowing students to closely examine each of the roles and deciding on how to best effectively express each of their accounts based on what is happening in the story. This also allows for students to think critically about their character's involvement and take their own stance about what occurred at Bull Run. A review by Children's Literature states, "This unforgettable lesson encourages youngsters to approach a situation with the knowledge that there are more than two sides to each story; there are as many accounts as there are witnesses. This book will provide insight as well as fine material for student drama."

My only setback in this story was that I found myself rereading frequently throughout the story as Fleischman jumped back and forth in action from character to character. On my post it, I wrote down each character's names and jotted a few notes beside it - N for Northerner, S for Southerner, and a small detail that could help me recall what had last happened. I could see this being frustrating to children as they read the story, as I felt lost at times because by the time you get back to a certain character, the previous events were easily forgotten. If completing this in a guided reading setting, I would create a chart of the characters and make notes next to each of the names in order for us to recall what happened previously in the story. I found many kids who reviewed this book to be confused by this fluctuation in characters and this being a repeated opinion amongst many of them.

When beginning the story, I thought Fleischman's writing style would be similar to how it was represented in Seedfolks and how each character had one chapter each; however, Bull Run was deceptively different. It just goes to show that Fleischman's writing style is not a one size fits all approach; perhaps this is why he is is such an outstanding children's author!

Friday, April 2, 2010

I Had Seen Castles by Cynthia Rylant

John Dante grew up playing with toy soldiers as a young boy– never knowing he’d grow up to be a soldier fighting in a war for his country. From the very start, I felt as if I were right there with John, waiting for him to turn 18 and enlist in the war, wondering, would he return to his family safely? Would he reunite with Ginny and marry as they promised? Would he be able to move on with his life after returning to the United States from war?

In an end of the book interview, Rylant claims, "I do try to imagine what someone might feel. I needed a lot of empathy to write a war story--empathy for fear and pain." My emotions were instantly invested in the story, as I sympahized with the ordeals of all of the characters as we see the world through their own eyes. John's written account 50 years after his return from war, reflect the heartbreak and suffering that he experienced as if it had happened yesterday. The use of descriptive details and imagery allow you to feel as if you are right there on the front lines of war with John and his infantry unit. "Numbed by the horror of what he sees and does, John realizes that he is fighting only to keep himself and his fellow soldiers alive. "We were the ghosts of boys and we had come to believe in nothing but each other."

Four years after enlisting, John finally returns home. He realizes that he has very little in common with other people who did not fight in the war. Would there be anyone who could possibly understand what he went through over there? Ultimately, I thought John would tell of how he was reunited with Ginny, yet he didn't go to find her. Was he afraid that the man he'd become would not be able to give Ginny the life that they dreamed of years ago? I wanted to shout at him and tell him he was a fool for not going after her. But his experiences on the front lines changed his life forever, stealing his youth, creating a distance between himself and his loved ones, and forever altering his perception of the world in which he lived. The message at the end of the book to Ginny states, "I want you to know that I am really alive. And I still love you." It truly hurts to know that they will never reunite, but shows just how powerful their love for one another once was and that even the war had not changed his feelings towards Ginny.

I thought Rylant did a remarkable job in detailing the harsh realities of war and how it affected the lives of soldiers, like John Dante, for the rest of their lives. These were such young boys who hadn't experienced the smallest things that we take for granted today. Were they ready to take on such an important role? They were just kids when they left, but many returned men who were unable to fit into the place that they once called home.

Throughout the year, my class writes letters to World War II lveterans that live in Virginia. We write back and forth to one another. My students look forward to their letters as I know that the veterans enjoy the company of a pen-pal writing. They are very proud of their accomplishments and have sent pictures of themselves in uniform, in the past and present. I know that our letters give these men the company and support that they deserve, and just knowing how much we appreciate their sacrifices must mean the world to them. And we will never be able to truly describe how much that means to us and our nation.