Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Misfits by James Howe

The Misfits by James Howe surprised me and was not at all what I expected the book to be like. For being such a controversial book, I thought it would be something I was wary of while reading. However, I liked this book. I'm not sure if I would want to read this book to students, but I think it could really benefit some students who read it.
Bullying, name-calling specifically, is what The Misfits takes a new approach in discussing. The story focuses on a group of students, four friends, who are going to run for student council. They must recruit other students to run with them, decide a platform on which to run, and convince the school that they should be eligible to run. There are numerous complications, and that keeps things exciting. Each of the main characters (Bobby, Addie, Joe,and Skeezie) has been bullied, and they are sick of it. There is an unexpected hero who saves the day and makes many aspects of the book possible.
Each of the main students (along with others) have been called many names. However, they are called names for different reasons. Because of this aspect, I think this book is great for helping readers identify with the book. Bobby is quiet and overweight, and he is often overlooked. His mom passed away when he was younger, and his life has been a little rough since. Addie is a very tall, opinionated, and many students have issues with her "know-it-all" attitude. It is her idea to push for a third party and she is in charge of organizing the campaign and being president. Joe is bright, confident, and very creative. He is also gay. Skeezie is the kid everyone thinks is trouble. He looks as though he is up to no good, but he has a kind heart. Because there was such a variety of characters, I think readers will be able to identify with one themselves or with someone they know. The most controversial character, in my opinion, is Joe. Because he is gay, that may make some people uncomfortable. This is one aspect of the book that I really liked, but it also made me a little unsure about whether or not I would read it to students. I think it is absolutely fantastic how the author described this and discussed this element of Joe's life. It did not portray him as weird or say anything offensive. His family and friends were accepting. I can see how some people who be uncomfortable with the author being so frank about Joe liking a boy and wanting to hold hands. I can also see that this would be a little controversial when he and Colin both like each other. However, I found this refreshing. Here was a middle school boy who accepted himself and did not feel ashamed.
I think I would suggest this book to individuals who may be bullied or feel as though they are "different" from others. I don't know if this would be a book I would have in my classroom, but I would not be opposed to having it there if the school district allowed it. I was surprised with my own reaction to this book. If someone would have told me they discussed gay relationships in middle school, I would have immediately said "not a book I think would be appropriate". However, there were so many great aspects of this book. After reading I felt as though it would be a book that is appropriate for some (not all) students. The author sends out a positive message surrounding individual differences, friendships, bullying, and various life experiences. I found the speech in the end to be very inspiring. It was great, and I think that was a great way to end the book. Even though they didn't win the election, they made a difference in their school.
There were so many elements of this book that I found interesting. As I previously said, the characters themselves and the story line were unique. The Misfits is a book that should be available to any student who wants to read it. It should not be banned because it offers numerous positive aspects and has a lot to offer readers.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and illustrated by Henry Cole

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and illustrated by Henry Cole was not what I expected. I had heard it was extremely controversial, and I think it was a little exaggerated. Although I had just read King and King, which was also about a gay relationship, this book seemed so different to me. It was much more kid friendly in my opinion. I found myself wanting the penguins to be happy and realized they were just trying to have what the other penguins had. They were best friends, and they loved each other. After reading this book I thought a little more on the subject of gay relationships. The penguins, Silo and Roy, were not treated differently by other penguins. They raised their child, Tango, just like the other parents. The only difference was their sexual orientation. Being an adult, this got me thinking that children could really benefit from reading this book. By using animals to show this relationship in a new way, it made me much more open to this book than I would have been if the book was with humans I think. I think children would feel the same way. It covers the issue of gay relationships in a way that children can understand in a new way. I think that is great. I would be much, much more comfortable reading this book to students. I'm not sure if it is because it was animals, the way the authors phrased the book, or the fact that this was a true story. I loved how the authors said that it was true in the back! Anyway, the authors did an excellent job of leading up to telling readers Silo and Roy were in love. It showed how similar they were to other penguins and explored their relationship. I think this is key. It made me see how similar they truly were to others, and there was only one small difference.
The illustrations in this book were light, bright, and done well. The simpleness of the illustrations was what I liked the best. They were descriptive, but not distracting. Even the penguins had facial expressions that I liked.
It is up to the distric whether gay and lesbian relationships should be discussed in the classroom. However, if I was to teach this subject, I would really considering using this controversial book.

King &King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland

King & King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland is a book about a prince who is told he must marry. His mother, the Queen, introduces her son to many princesses. However, the prince is not interested in these women. In fact, he falls in love with a prince who came with his sister. It was love at first sight, so they end up getting married.
I can see how this would be controversial. In fact, I'm not sure how I feel about it exactly. The relationship between he and the other prince was not discussed, his mother accepted it, and there seemed to be no problems with the prince wanting to marry another prince. Some adults may feel this is unrealistic and sending the wrong message. I like how this book is written. Although I wish it would have showed the reaction of others (like the queen), I think it was appropriate to leave out for a children's book. I can see why the author would have chosen to do this. The prince was in love, therefore, he married who he loved. The person he fell in love with just happened to be a male instead of a female. It was accepted. This book is preaching acceptance, but I don't know if it would be appropriate in the classroom because it could bring up issues that didn't need to be discussed with such young children. If I was to talk about untraditional relationships in my future classroom, I think I would pick a different book that explained it more and was a little more realistic. I think this book is controversial, but I can see the benefits of reading it. However, I think I would leave this up to the parents to decide if they want to expose their child to this book specifically.
The first thing I noticed about this book was the bright, colorful, and detailed pictures. The illustrator put forth a lot of effort when laying out the pages. The text was often staggared, enlarged, bolded, and positioned around objects. It was great! The pictures look like they were drawn in and almost has a crayon-like look on some pages. One illustration I found controversial was the very last page. It showed the princes kissing. However, there was a heart over where their lips would touch, so it was implying they were going to kiss/were kissing.
Like I said before, I have mixed emotions about this book. Parts of it I liked, but I don't know how comfortable I would be reading this book to students. Because of the subject topic, I would be a little hesitant. However, if the distric I taught for wanted me to broach this subject, I would want to use another book I believe that would be more realistic.

Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray and illustrated by Audrey Colman

Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray and illustrated by Audrey Colman was unlike any book I have ever encountered. It was about dog farts. Personally, I was a little shocked anyone chose to write a children's book about this. I hate to admit it, but I found it entertaining. Although passing gas is gross, this story put a fun spin on the dog who had problems with this issue.
I didn't think I would like this book at all when I picked it off the shelf. I assumed it would be gross. However, if a book about farting can be done in a tasteful way, the authors achieved this. As far as being controversial, I assume it is regarding the topic of passing gas. Really? I can see people thinking "ew" or "why" but to actually refuse to read this book of be offended by it I think is extreme. I believe most children would love this book. In fact, I found myself smiling. The dog was kind, and he didnt' want to be sent back to the pound because he loved his family. Therefore, he tried to stop by holding it it. Well, he did until he could hold it no more. The night this happened, the family was being robbed! The burgulars tied his snout so he couldn't bark, but he was still able to pass gas. This led to the capture of the criminals and kept the family's items safe. The parents simply could not get rid of Walter now! I was relieved and happy about this ending.
The illustrations in this book were great! They were done in a way that was not really proportionate, and some of the elements looked almost life-like. The cartoons truly looked as though they were alive. The text was untraditional and fairly large. I also liked how the picture would often have texts within them that added to the picture as a whole.
I liked this book. I can see children thinking this book was hilarious. If this book offends some, don't read it. However, I think it is important to allow some humor (even if a little gross) to be available to children.

Smoky Night by Eve Bunting Illustrated by David Diaz

Smoky Night by Eve Bunting and illustrated by David Diaz is a controversial book,but I'm not sure why. I realize the prejudice and rioting are not light subjects, but this book did not portray it offensively. In fact, there were elements of this book that promoted acceptance and the importance of getting to know others. In times of need, it often becomes clear that certain biases are wrong and are disproven.
In this book, a little boy and his mother live in an apartment building in a town where riots (I assume racial) are taking place outside their window. One interesting aspect of the book to me was that while these people were outside, the little boy explained that he and his mother won't go to a certain store because it is owned by a woman who does not look like them. This got me thinking. Even people who are being treated unfairly often have their own stereotypes of others who are not like them. Therefore, this book did a good job pointing that out. Later on, this was stereotype was eliminated. When the apartment begins to burn down, the boy realizes he has lost his cat. His neighbor, who owns the store, has also lost her cat. The cats have never gotten along, but once the fire has been stopped, a fire fighter brings the two cats to their owners. He explains that the cats were suffering together and had joined forces to help the other. If these cats could get along, the owners should be able to as well. The boy's mother extends an invitation to Ms. Kim (the other woman) to come over once they return. The book ends preaching a message about accepting others for who they are and appreciating them.
The illustrations in this book were unlike anything I had seen before. Part of the picture was a cartoon (typical), but surrounding the cartoon, there were real looking objects from everyday life that often related to what was being discussed in the text. I thought this was a neat element of this book.
I would recommend this book to others, but it was not my favorite. I could see how it could be controversial (rioting/prejudice), but it was nothing that really struck me as alarming or too detailed. I think there are other books out there that present this message but could do so in a more effective way.

The Un-Wedding by Babette Cole

The Un-Wedding byBabette Cole was a lighthearted book that took a unique approach when discussing divorce. I thought it was creative and witty. While some parts were funny, there were some more serious undertones to the book that focused on divorce not being the children's fault. I can see why this would be controversial to some (a light hearted divorce book), but I thought it was great. Although I am not a child of divorce, I enjoyed reading this book. I think children who have/had parents who aruge a lot often wonder if it is because of something they had done, and this book makes it clear that it is not related to the children.
Babette Cole's unique approach to this book was spread throughout the book. In the beginning, she discussed the actions of the parents towards each other. Basically, they were pulling rude pranks on the other. She also conveyed the very different personalities, likes, and dislikes of the adults. It showed that they were not very compatible, and that had nothing to do with their children. The process of getting unmarried was different than divorce. It resembled the process of getting married. There was planning (notifying family/friends), a ceremony (to announce they did not want to be married), and a honeymoon (which each parent went on alone). After this was done, the author showed how life had improved for all involved. There was no fighting, the children were happier, and things were going well for the family.
The illustrations in this book were also done in a semi-unique way. The text would be on each page, but sometimes there would be blurbs from the characters or little side notes that would grab my attention that gave the book a little something extra.
I would recommend this book. Although some may see it as controversial, I see it as a unconventional approach to divorce. It sends the message that divorce is not a child's fault (like most divoce books do), but this one adds humor. It was great! Some may see it as a little unsensitive, but I think that for some children, this would be a nice way for them to relate to the book.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver by Lois Lowry was a book I was excited to have the chance to reread. I had previously read The Giver in middle school, and I absolutely loved it. Although it has been years since I read the book, I still loved it. The content of it really sparked my curiosity throughout the entire book. Because of it's unique plot, I found myself constantly wanting to keep reading and to learn more about the society Jonas, the main character, lives in.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this book to me is the actual society the characters live in. To put it simply, it seems "perfect" at times, but it is also terrible. It makes readers try to think about their own priorities. What would you give up to live in a society where crime, hunger, conflict, and other social problems don't exist? What price would be too high? The ability to choose mates, have children, love, and control your future? Although I think this society's cons outweigh the pros, I found myself thinking about what it would be like if this was how the world was.
Another aspect of this book I loved was the relationship between the Giver and the Receiver and their interactions. The author did an excellent job of painting a picture of the memories that were transmitted through the Giver to Jonas. As a reader, I felt as though I knew exactly what Jonas was going through and what he was "seeing". The descriptions were done so well with strong adjectives and verbs.
There are many controversial topics in this book. One issue I could see some readers becoming upset is releasing (killing) individuals who are old of "unfit". It made me cringe because I knew what was happening before Jonas did this time around when I read the book. Of all the extreme actions taken in the community to prevent grief, sickness, and differences between the people, this seems the most bizarre. I would not recommend this book for middle elementary students because it could upset some students. However, I feel as though it is completely appropriate for grades 6+. In fact, I think it is a great book for students that age to be exposed to.
What would the world be like without some of the difficulties faced in society today? Well, The Giver gives a little insight to how it could be if the world went to "sameness". It would be a great conversation topic for the students to imagine their own "perfect world" and to think of the consequences.
If I could change one thing about this book, I would want the ending to give more information as to what happens. It would be a great sequel, but even a few more details about Jonas finding "Elsewhere" would have left me with more closure. I kept wanting to know what was next for he and Gabriel. When a reader doesn't want a book to end, that is a great book. The Giver is one of them.
I am pleased I was given the chance to read this book again. I am curious to how others reacted to this book because it is so unusual. I love it, but I would be interested to see if that was how the majority of the class feels about this novel. Either way, I would definitely include this book in my curriculum if I was teaching the appropriate grade levels.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day Dolores by Barbara Samuels

I selected Happy Valentine's Day Dolores by Barbara Samuels because of the recent holiday. I was pleasantly surprised with this book because it was not solely about Valentine's Day. There were a lot of other elements in this book.
Dolores has an older sister, and sometimes Dolores can't help but sneaking into her sister's room and borrowing her things. Well, the week before Valentine's Day, she did just that. She found a beautiful frog necklace that she simply had to borrow and show her friends. She ends up having trouble getting it off, so she decides that is a sign that she must wear it another day. Finally, when she feels bad about stealing her sisters necklace, she realizes she has lost it! Oh no! Quickly, she rushes to replace the necklace at a local store. However, her sister realizes she took it because she found the "lost" necklace. Dolore's sister wanted to give her the necklace for Valentine's Day. Instead of getting mad at her, she smiles. Dolores and her sister both have a frog necklace now.
I really liked how the author showed the relationship between Dolores and her sister. Also, the plot is very plausible. As a younger sister, I would often try to "borrow" my sister's things without her noticing. However, she usually found out. This helped me relate to the book. Although this book revolved around Valentine's Day, there seemed to be a lot more elements going on.
The illustrations in the book were full of details. The pictures were vibrant and filled with color. I really liked the way the text was laid out. It was not always in the same place, and it was often staggered.
I would recommend this book to others to read around Valentine's Day because it is a seasonal book with a relatable story line. I was pleasantly surprised.

Shrek! By William Steig

Shrek! by William Steig is a book that reminded me of the beloved character from the movie Shrek, but he did not become the lovable character like the movie Shrek did. However, this was okay with me. There were plenty of moments in the book that made me think of the movie, and I loved that. I could definitely tell where aspects of the book had been used to make the movie.
Most people are individual with Shrek, so I will not summarize it. This book was full of great elements. The adjectives and verbs were so strong, and I think it would be really effective in explaining this aspect of writing to students. Although parts of the book were gross, I think most children would appreciate this. I know when I was younger I would have been entertained by this story because it is completely different then the typical book I was exposed to. Shrek was a monster in search of his equally ugly future wife. It is not romantic. In fact, it is the opposite. This is exactly what made me really like it. Although parts of it seemed a little crude, I think that is what the author was going for. It had some shock value. Another aspect I really liked was the dialogue between Shrek and the other characters, especially his bride-to-be. The flirtatious banter between them is unlike typical exchanges between individuals. It was a little sing-songy.
The pictures in this book are pretty good. Shrek looked repulsive (of course), the other characters were detailed, and the scenery looked great. The pictures did not leave a lot of white space typically, and I liked that. When there was white space, it was used well because it was visually appealing.
I loved this movie Shrek, and the book was a great inspiration for the movie. It is unlike the typical fairy-tale. It is one of a kind, and I really appreciated that. It was a little gross (descriptions were detailed and not very visually appealing haha), but I think there needs to be a little of that in children's literature once in a while. It keeps things entertaining.

Tess's Tree by Jess M. Brallier and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Tess's Tree by Jess M. Brallier and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds is another book that is new to the curriculum lab. It is geared towards younger readers. I liked this book, but I wouldn't go as far to say I loved it.
Tess is a little girl who has grown up loving a big tree that is in her yard. One day, the tree loses some branches in a storm. This leads her mother to deem it a safety hazard, so the tree had to go. Tess is very upset, and she decides to hold a funeral for her tree. She invites many neighbors to come, and there are some surprise guests. I found this a little far fetched, but it was a cute aspect of the story. The story was touching at parts, but it was missing excitement. I guess I was looking for a little more, but I think young children would appreciate this book much more than I would simply because of the content. Also, this book would be one that inexperienced readers could read without too much difficulty. One element I really liked about the story was the way she prepared for the trees funeral. Tess dressed up the tree's "children" (small trees/plants) in ribbon for the ceremony, set up chairs, placed flowers on the stump, and invited many guests. It was a nice way to show she cared and set up the plot.
The pictures in this book were done very well. There was a lot of white space, but it was used effectively. It made the pictures stand out. Also, there were often multiple pictures per page that had text that went along with them. To demonstrate the storm, the illustration took up two pages and was darker. Small design elements really made this illustrations pop.
I would recommend this book to others, especially individuals looking for books that young children can read themselves. Although it wasn't my favorite new book, I enjoyed it because it was unique and that was refreshing.

The Great Fuzz Frenzy by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel

The Great Fuzz Frenzy by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel is a book that I used for another class in a mini-lesson. There were really good elements of this book. For example, the strong verbs and extremely descriptive adjectives were very good. It is a great example of showing and not telling in text.
This book revolves around prairie dogs discovering a tennis ball (which they never find out what exactly it is) is dropped into their hole. The dogs are curious, and this leads them to pulling all the fuzz off the ball. However, conflict breaks out because not everyone had fuzz. One big barking prairie dog takes matters into his own hands and steals all the fuzz, but then he is captured by an eagle. The dogs must work together to help save him. This book throws in a little lesson in a very discrete way. The dogs were about to turn their back on another one, but then they realized it was not a nice thing to do. Although I liked the story line, it was not my favorite element of the text. As I previously stated, the words in this book are amazing. The dogs have many conversations, and this would be a fabulous read aloud opportunity. Also, there are many sounds represented in the text which are identified by enlarged text and different colors. The word choice for describing the dogs and the fuzz were really good. For example, regarding the fuzz, they swirled it, twirled it, pulled it, plucked it, etc. LOTS of good verbs that show the reader what is going on.
The illustrations in this book were also very strong. Some of the pages unfolded to make a larger picture, and I thought that was a neat feature. Also, the ball of fuzz (tennis ball) was never referred to as a tennis ball even though it clearly is. The pictures looked realistic down to the little whiskers for the the dogs and the crumbling dirt.
I would recommend this book to others because it is a fun read with lots of great literature elements. Like I said before, I think this book needs to be read aloud with lots of voice in order to fulfill its potential. It was great!

Ruby and Bubbles by Rosie Winstead

Ruby and Bubbles by Rosie Winstead follows the story of Ruby and her best friend bubbles, who happens to be a bird. Although their friendship is not traditional, the story is lighthearted and fun. It was from the new section of the curriculum lab, and once again, I was impressed.
Ruby is a little girl who likes to play pretend, and some of the ways in which she does this were what most children pretend when they are young. She is a mother of twins, TV talk show host, and not-so-nice neighbors (who happen to be two classmates of hers). Once day while she is pretending, she sees something absolutely perfect for her. A bird! Bubbles, the bird, quickly becomes Ruby's best friend. They do absolutely everything together. All things seem to be going great until she has a bird-day party for bubbles and the mean girls from her class make fun of her because Bubbles can't fly. This stems off into the core of the story. Ruby tries desperately to teach Bubbles to fly, but then she learns that some birds can't fly. Bubbles happens to be one of them. However, this does not make her love Bubbles any less, and the girls are eventually taught a lesson of their own.
The illustrations in this book were very good. The colors popped off the pages, and the descriptions were elaborate but not overwhelming. One of my favorite illustrations was one in which Ruby was reading a book, and the text is illustrated so readers can see what she sees (it's pretty funny). I think this was my favorite element of Ruby and Bubbles.
I enjoyed reading this book, and I think it would be an easy read for many students. Another aspect of the writing I really liked was how she referred to the characters. The mean girls were named Bratty Hatty and Mean Maureen. A nice boy was called Sweet Pete. I thought this would help young readers keep the characters straight in their minds and intertwined their attributes with their name which I think it a nice touch.
I would recommend this book to others, and it is one that I think most young girls (and some boys) would enjoy. I plan to bring this to my methods student, and I think it will go over really well with her. Once again, I was exposed to a new book, and it was great.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon

The 9/11 Report by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon was not what I expected. First of all, I have had very little exposure to graphic novels and was not aware of what this reading experience would be like. Before I go into my review of the novel, I would like to let you know how I feel about graphic novels. I think they are hard to read, and they are not the type of book I would select for myself or recommend to most others. I would only do so if I thought it would truly be beneficial to a student. I found myself going out of order and getting distracted because the text was not in the conventional form so that made me uncomfortable, and I would imagine others feel the same way. Anyways, now that I have said my personal opinion of graphic novels, I will segue into the book.
If someone enjoyed this style of novel, this book would be a great read. From the title, The 9/11 Report, you can gather that this novel explores the events of September 11, 2001. It was very, very informative. I learned a lot from reading this book, and I didn't feel as though information was being forced upon me. It was interesting. Although I would have been able to learn more if it was in a different style (my personal preference), this would be a great way for students who like graphic novels to learn about such an important event. This book covered the events of September 11, 2001 and also focused on the events leading up to it in the decade before and some of the aftermath. It was great. I had no idea about most of the information that was covered ever even happened. The authors explored the government administration of President Clinton as well as President Bush and their methods of relating to terrorism. It was eye-opening. The way the text was presented was in a way that upper elementary students could understand. Clearly, the events of September 11th are emotional, and the book covered this well. The graphics were not overly graphic (violent), but they did not sugar coat it.
The graphics in this novel were found everywhere and there were numerous per page. At times, I found this overwhelming, but I can understand that individuals reading this type of literature may really like that many graphics.
Even though this type of literature is not one I would typically pick for myself, I can see the benefits of it. This book was so informative and appropriate for upper elementary students and up. I learned a lot of new things, and it was done in a way that seemed like it was not pushing information at me. I really appreciated this, and I would recommend this book to others.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Mom is Trying to Ruin My Life by Kate Feiffer and illustrated by Diane Goode

My Mom is Trying to Ruin My Life by Kate Feiffer and illustrated by Diane Goode was a story that all children can relate to easily. Although this book is geared to young girls, boys could also relate to it as well.
The little girl in the book is convinced her mother is trying to ruin her life. The book starts off with her saying many positive things about her mother: she's nice, makes people smile, helps people, and many more. The little girl does not understand how her nice mom would try to ruin her life, and she states five ways that she does. These reasons include: kissing her in front of her friends, talking loudly, stopping by her school, not letting her eat junk food, and worries too much. All of these things seem pretty typical of most mothers, right? Right. Well, this little girl thinks of a plan to help escape her mother, but her plan leads to her mother being thrown in jail because the police realize she is trying to ruin her life! Her dad is also trying to ruin her life too, so they would throw him in jail! He makes her do her homework, turn off her light at 8PM, and clean her room. CRAZY! Typical parents. Well, once she imagines her life without her parents, she realizes that she would miss them and can't imagine what she would do without them. The story ends with her realizing this and telling her parents she loves them. Happy ending. I really liked this because I can remember being so embarrassed at times of my parents, but I would not trade them for anything. I think a lot of kids think this way at least at some point. I loved this story line for these simple things. Also, when she imagines how she would get away from her parents, it is pretty comical. In fact, she even needs her mom's help!
The illustrations in this book are bright and simple. There are multiple scenes on certain pages, and that adds visual interest. The way she lists the ways her parents ruin her life are made to stand out. This is done by bolding and enlarging "Way #__" above the text stating the reason. Also, certain text features are enlarged to emphasize her emotions.
Once again, I was happy with what I had pulled from the new section of the curriculum lab. I feel as though this was a good resource because it shows me what type of books are created today with children in mind. Although I love the classics, I feel much more open to pursuing new books in the future for my blogs.

Quick as a Cricket by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Don Wood

Quick as a Cricket by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Don Wood is fabulous for young children. The pictures alone could grab their attention, and the text is very simple. I remember this book from childhood and I love all of the Wood's work that I have been exposed to.
Quick as a Cricket, the title, gives a clue as to what this book is about. When combined with the cover illustration, it makes it obvious. This book shows this child with an animal in every photo and the specific animals trait. Crickets are known to be quick, snails slow, ants small, and whales large. Those are just a few examples. The text follows the pattern "I am as ____ as a ____." I really liked this because young children can identify the pattern. This type of structure also allows children to link animals traits to an animal. Mean as a shark, happy as a lark, and strong as an ox are all examples. I loved this. It is so simple but presented in a unique way that children can recognize and learn these traits.
My absolute favorite part of this book, no question, was the illustrations. They are the best. The child's face shows the emotion so well, and the pictures cover the page and are loaded with color. Every aspect of the illustrations are done so well. The size and angle of the illustrations changes as well, so the pictures look different. The child is never in the same position or with the same expression throughout the book.
This book is clearly geared towards young children, and I think that is very appropriate. For children learning to read, this book would be a nice resource because the words are not too difficult and there is a clear theme. However, even as an adult, I was still entertained reading this book because there were plenty of things I enjoyed about it. I think this book would be great to activate with students. I took a class called "Drama in the Classroom" in the fall, and I think this would be a great read aloud book for young kids because they could be kept engaged throughout. If anyone has not read this book or heard of Don and Audrey Wood, I strongly suggest they become familiar with their work. I have been unable to find my favorite book of all time, Heckedy Peg, a the curriculum lab yet. Quick as a Cricket is wonderful. I have nothing negative to say about it. If I had to, I would suggest illustrating other books like this that are geared toward older readers. :)

When Stella Was Very, Very Small by Marie-Louise Gay

When Stella was Very, Very Small by Marie-Louise Gay is another new book to the curriculum lab that I decided to read for this week. It was a nice book, and there were some things I really liked. I had higher expectations for this book, and they were met.
When Stella was small, her whole world was an adventure. Her bath tub was a pool, her backyard was a jungle and dessert, the animals were huge, and she thought she was a goldfish and a turtle. However, once she got older, this was not the case. She realized that the ants in a book were really words that told stories, the bugs in her backyard was tiny, and she can teach her little brother new things. This story line made me smile frequently. When I was younger, I used to pretend the same things that Stella did when she was small. I also really liked how the ordinary things in her life were made extraordinary by her imagination and her age.
The pictures representing Stella's views of her life were fantastic. The colors and details on some pages were fantastic. However, some pages had a little more white space than I would like. The pictures in this book are necessary because they complete the story. "But she could race against her rubber ducks in the enormous Olympic-sized pool" is one example. Without the picture, readers may not know that her "pool" is really a bathtub. This is the case for numerous pictures in the book.
When Stella Was Very, Very Small is a book that I really liked. It was very creative and captured the way that many small children feel when they are younger. The little things seem so huge and imaginations can make anything possible. The pictures really kept the readers involved because they were key in understand the story. I have been pleasantly surprised with the new books I have read this week, and I am looking forward to doing that more often.

Crocodiles are the Best Animals of All by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Hannah Shaw

Crocodiles are the Best Animals of All by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Hannah Shaw is a book that was new to the curriculum lab that I was anxious to read. The cover grabbed my attention and the title was intriguing because I dislike crocodiles. Anyway, after finishing this book I had a smile on my face. This book used rhyme, but it was not overwhelming because not all the lines rhymed. This combined with a quirky story and the extremely colorful pictures that filled the pages make this book one that I would recommend to others.
This book is about a crocodile who believes that crocodiles are the best animals of all, and he is willing to prove it. When the donkey doubts him, other animals challenge him to do the things they are good at. The crocodile can swing like a monkey, nibble grass like rabbits, climb like a mountain goat, hop like a kangaroo, but there is one thing he cannot do. He cannot wiggle his ears like a donkey because crocodiles have no ears! This overly confident crocodile thinks that crocodiles are the best animal of all, but all the other animals think they are the best animal of all. The book ends with the donkey stating, "My ears may wiggle and my teeth may be wonky, but nothing is better than being a donkey!" This makes me think this could become a book with the donkey as the main character in the future.
The illustrations in this book are wonderful. They are more cartoon-like than I typically like, but the colorful pictures and attention to detail was great. It shows that the illustrator, Hannah Shaw, paid great attention to her work. I would be interested to see other books she illustrated.
Crocodiles are the Best Animals of All is a great book that is a fun read. The story is original and pictures are an excellent bonus. I was very impressed with this new book, and I am looking forward to reading more new books to the curriculum lab.

Sheila Rae, The Brave by Kevin Henkes

Sheila Rae, The Brave by Kevin Henkes follows Sheila and her brave actions. However, one day she is not very careful and ends up getting lost when trying to take a new route home. I believe there are many great aspects of this book, but there were also a couple parts I had small issues with.
Sheila Rae is a very brave girl, and that is a great characteristic to attach to a female character. There needs to be more children's literature where female characters are represented in this way. She is creative, takes chances, and has no fears. Henkes provides readers with examples of her doing all of these things. However, I believe it is healthy that children be a little fearful or at least skeptical of certain situations. Sheila Rae decided to take a new route home from school that was unfamiliar because she was "brave". Bad idea. She ends up getting lost, but luckily her little sister followed her and can lead them both home safely. Sheila Rae acknowledges that her sister is now fearless and brave. This gives the book the happy ending most readers (such as myself) desire. Although this is a book, having a character choosing to do something risky is not something I really think is a good idea. There would not always be someone following to lead a child back to safety. This was my slight issue. However, this could be taken as an opportunity to teach children that this is a dangerous behavior and that "they know better, right?".
The illustrations in this book are similar to Kevin Henke's other books, and I enjoyed them. They are detailed and colorful. My favorite aspect of his illustrations are the dialogue within the pictures. It gives the book a little something extra in my opinion. In this book, there were far less than in the other books I have read though. I also really liked how the illustrations often had multiple scenes represented on one page with sentences below each.
I would recommend this book to others, and I am glad I read it. It was a fun story with developed characters. Although I did not really like the ending, it could be used to help children understand that taking an unfamiliar route is generally not a good idea. The pictures kept me entertained as well as the story.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Donuthead by Sue Stauffacher

Donuthead by Sue Stauffacher is a contemporary realistic fiction novel that left me with mixed feelings once I finished reading. There are some aspects I really like about this book, but other parts make me a little skeptical about recommending it to others.
Donuthead is a novel about a boy, Franklin, and his life after a new girl joins his class. Franklin is a 5th grader who worries about absolutely everything and knows the likelihood of any foods, situations, or activities that could impair his health. It is too the point I believed there could be something truly wrong with him, but I am not sure if that was the author's intention. Sarah, the new girl, is the complete opposite. She does not feel the need to avoid conflict or certain foods such as Oreos. In fact, Franklin believes she is lacks proper hygiene judging by the tangled nest of hair and hand warts she has when they first meet. The book revolves around the dynamics of their relationship, and how they both seem to become unlikely friends. Sarah's life has been far from ideal, and Franklin's mother takes a special interest in helping her without it seeming as though it is charity. There are highs and lows in this book, and I found myself wanting to know what would happen next. In the end, both children learn a lot about life and each other.
I really liked the character development in this novel because it was very descriptive. I found myself being annoyed at some of Franklin's odd tendencies and beliefs as well as frustrated with Sarah and her rude and often violent behavior. However, these traits made the characters who they were. Also, their lives were unlike "typical" children. In fact, they were different from most children you would expect to read about in a story. Sarah only lives with her father in a trailer and does not know how to read very well. They are poor and this makes her uncomfortable because she wants to fit in. She wants to be like other kids in regards to dress, hygiene, and behaviors. Her traits seem to reflect the environment she grew up in. Franklin has only ever known his mother because she was artificially inseminated. This was the first book I have ever read where that was the family structure. He fears everything, and it makes me wonder why because his mother only tries to push him to take risks and be a "normal" kid. That was a theme in this book "normal". Who decides what normal is? Another aspect I really liked is that I was not able to predict what would happen until the last second when I would have an "aha!" moment. This book was completely new to me, and that made it exciting. There were various plot twists and turns, so the book did not seem to get too repetitive or focus too long on a certain situation.
Although I really liked this book, there were parts I was unsure about. For example, Sarah seems to solve her conflicts with violence. Although teachers and parents see this negatively in the book, it seems to happen so frequently that it almost becomes appropriate and acceptable. It also made me a little wary when the fights she would get in typically revolved around a bully picking on Franklin, and Sarah would respond with bullying the bully. Two wrongs don't make a right even if it does seem justified. If a student read this, I would make sure to discuss this. However, I don't think this detail would be enough to stop me from suggesting it. Another issue I had also related to bullying. I was a little hesitant when Franklin desribed bullying in schools. It was more realistic I believe, but it could send the wrong message. He has a theory about the playground and refers to the child who gets picked on as the weakest gazelle (himself) and the bully (Marvin) as the lion,
"In fact, it is a strong evolutionary trait to want to avoid people like Marvin Howerton. Take those nature programs on TV--the ones where the lioness goes off to find dinner--and you'll know what I mean. She slinks along, tracking a herd of innocent gazelles who are just minding their own business on the Serengeti Plain. Crouching, she finds a victim: a baby or a weakling or maybe just a highly intelligent yet slightly handicapped gazelle. And off she goes. What do the poor gazelle's lifelong companions do? Do they rally the troops? Do they shout 'Safety in numbers!' and smother that lioness before she can harm one of their own? Of course they don't. They run as fast as they can away from the scene of the crime, not even pausing to nod a fond farewell. After all, they don't want to be dessert. And that's the way it is at school."

I find this to be very negative and, if a child being bullied read this, they may find themselves agreeing and that would be terrible. Of course, it is just a book. It is not that I disagree with this completely. I just think the message being sent is that bullying is wrong and people should help others and not turn their backs. However, later on in the book, Sarah shows this principle and Franklin appreciates it.
Overall, I think this book shows children of not-so-typical families and characteristics. I find this to be my favorite part. The author does not shy away from this, and it is very realistic and possibly issue that students could face today (hence the genre..contemporary realistic fiction).

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My Parents are Divorced, My Elbows Have Nicknames, and Other Facts About Me by Bill Cochran and illustrated by Steve Bjorkman

I was pleasantly surprised when I read My Parents are Divorced, My Elbows Have Nicknames, and Other Facts About Me by Bill Cochran and illustrated by Steve Bjorkman. I think it is an excellent book that focuses on a child of divorce. However, I think it is appropriate for children who have divorced parents, who have parents going through a divorce, and for children who have parents who are married/single parent/other. It is for all children. While it may be more beneficial to some, all children would be able to take away the same message "but that doesn't mean I'm weird" regarding their differences.
This book follows a boy who has parents who are divorced. He discusses aspects of his life other than divorce that may be unique to him or different from other people, but he stresses "but that doesn't mean I'm weird". There are parts of comic relief where he says "thats a little weird". For example, he nicknamed his elbows. This adds some light hearted parts that accompany the possibly more difficult to discuss ideas. His parents are divorced, he spends time with both of them, he likes his stepmother, BUT--that doesn't make him weird.
If it is unclear, I really liked this book. I found myself realizing that these are some things that kids may say to children who have divorced parents such as, "that's weird" when they learn this detail about their family life. I have spent time shadowing elementary school counselors, and there were a few children who have faced divorce. They had these same thoughts. However, others thought it was weird simply because they didn't know anyone like them. This would be a helpful tool to help them realize they are not alone. Although it is just one book, it could really help them.
The illustrations in this book were bright and cartoon-like. The scenes had lots of detail, but it was not overwhelming. My favorite part of the illustrations was how the illustrator chose to display the catch phrase "but that doesn't mean I'm weird" in large, colorful letters.
If I could make any suggestions, I would possibly like to see holidays mentioned or other issues that may be faced by children in divorced families that others may see as "weird". I would recommend this book to others, and I really liked it.

First Grade Stinks! by Mary Ann Rodman and illustrated by Beth Spiegel

First Grade Stinks! by Mary Ann Rodman and illustrated by Beth Spiegel is a book that focuses on the challenges of adjusting to a new classroom and a new teacher. The story is narrated by a little girl named Haley and is about her first day of first grade.
One of the main things I liked about this book is that is it something that all children go through: the transition from kindergarten to first grade. It may be scary as well as exciting. The perspective of Haley really shines through, and I think this was the best aspect of the book. It seemed as though a real first grader wrote the book. The concerns she had the reasons for being uneasy were all things many children face, and I think this book has a lot to offer young students. The descriptions of certain things such as colors and items and their relation to each other was nice. For example, "Ms. Lacy's shirt is the color of daffodils. Her sneakers match." Truly a small detail, but I appreciated this. I also really liked the illustrations. They were cartoon-like and bright. The illustrator uses white space to their advantage. Also, when the author wanted to emphasize something the text was enlarged and different colors. It was a small but fun detail. Overall, I really enjoyed this book.
If I could change anything about this book, I would include more positive things that Haley likes once she gets more familiar with her classroom and her teacher. Although she did mention various things, I think this could have been emphasized more.
I think this would be an excellent book to read to first graders either on their first day before first grade or before the begin the school year. I would also recommend this when trying to discuss change and coping.

My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits and illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska

My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits and illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska is a book that had things I really liked as well as things I was not a fan of.
The main aspect of this book, the story, was something I really liked. It was unique and I could see children identifying with Yoon, the little girl who had just moved from Korea, and her experiences. She struggled adjusting to life in the United States when it came to school and making friends. She loved writing her name in Korean, but she did not like it at all in English. The story line follows her journey to accepting her name and her school experiences which led to making friends. In the end, she learns to like living in the United States, accepts how her name appears in print, and makes friends. I think children who may feel similarly to how Yoon did at her arrival to the United States would like to read this book.
My main issue with this book, and I found it very distracting, were the illustrations. They either really impressed me or reminded me of a scary movie. The pictures often looked haunted and disproportionate. I was caught off guard when I saw the first illustration that made me think of the movie "The Omen". I know this is a little harsh. However, the illustrations that were not close up of faces I really liked.
Although I really liked the story line, the illustrations were distracting. I think I would recommend this story for others to read. It had a lot to offer to readers who could identify with Yoon.

Every Year on Your Birthday by Rose Lewis and illustrated by Jane Dyer

Every Year on Your Birthday by Rose Lewis and illustrated by Jane Dyer is a book that adopted children (especially from China) could really relate to. The story is narrated by the child's adopted mother. She explains how she felt and what she and her daughter did for each one of her daughter's birthdays. In addition to this, she briefly mentions how her daughters life was before she was adopted. She also mentions the biological parents as well, which I thought was nice.
Some aspects of this book I really liked revolved around the way the author incorporated aspects of China in addition to the United States. The author mentioned celebrating the Chinese New Year, and in the back there was the Chinese character for family. However, she portrayed her daughter as an American since she was now a United States citizen. With the help of the illustrator, there was one specific page where the little girl was dressed in blue and white holding a mini-flag and there was a cake decorated as an American flag. This brings me to another great feature of the book: the illustrations. They looked as though they were photographs taken that captured little moments. The facial expressions were very realistic, and I think the illustrator did a great job of portraying the emotions.
If I could change any part of this book, it would be the adding more substance to the story. There seems like the author left a lot out that could have been included. I wish she would have included more about the relationship between the woman and her daughter. Also, it would have been nice to have the perspective of the daughter as well as the mother. All in all, I would recommend this book. However, I think there may be other books that carry more meaning and have a little easier for readers to relate to.

Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami and illustrated by Jamel Akib

For this weeks blogs, I will be blogging about realistic contemporary fiction. It is the genre my group chose to research, and the books I found fit the category perfectly.
Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami and illustrated by Jamal Akib is a book that follows a little boy and his family and their anxious wait for the arrival of his new baby sister. However, their wait is not the typical nine months followed by a trip to the hospital. His parents chose to adopt a little girl named Asha who is from India, and they must wait a very long time before she can join their family.
There were several things I really enjoyed about this book. First, I think that the story line was exceptional. It followed the boy, Arun, and his frustrations and excitement regarding the long wait for Asha. He wanted a little sister, and the author chose to mention an Indian tradition that brothers and sisters do called Rakhi. In the back of the book, the author elaborates on the holiday. By doing this as well as portraying a racially mixed family, the author is really displaying diversity which I think is great. Another aspect I observed and thought was well done was that the author carried certain elements through from the beginning to the end. For example, the little boy made airplanes throughout the book for his sister as gifts and because he kept wondering about how/when she would arrive. In the end, he ends up making her a beautiful airplane that his father takes with him when he goes to India to pick her up. Another element I really like was the fact that the author had a note at the end which talked about adoption. The illustrations in the book are detailed and look as though they are lifelike, and I really thought the illustrator did an excellent job. However, they are done in a way that makes the pictures look a little blurred.
If I could change anything about this book, it would have to be adding more to the story regarding the wait and what Arun did to prepare for his sister. I liked the repeating theme of paper airplanes, but I think there could have been less referencing to that. In its place, I would suggest making mention of more emotions and activities Arun did to prepare.
I think this book is a nice choice for all children, especially children who have adopted siblings or are adopted. It also shows diversity, so all children could benefit from that. True to the genre, this book clearly represents contemporary realistic fiction.