Friday, May 2, 2008
Title: Search for the Golden Moon Bear
Author: Sy Montgomery
Illustrator: Nic Bishop
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Publication Date: October 2002
This is the story of the search for a new bear species that takes place in Southeast Asia. Written in Montgomery's entertaining narrative style. However this book differs in that it is written from a first person point of view, unlike like her observational third person style of books like The Tarantula Scientist and The Snake Scientist. Montgomery participates not only in the writing process but also in the scientific one, including taking hair samples from existing captured bears to perform DNA analysis. Tantalizing the bears with marshmallows and sweetened condensed milk is just one of the adventures that Montgomery experiences in this experience of discovery and observation.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Title: Zoobooks: Lions
Author: John Bonnett Wexo
Illustrator: Richard Orr (paintings)
Publisher: Zoobooks/Wildlife Education, Ltd.
Publication Date: March 2008
Full of color photographs, paintings, and other graphic illustrations, this periodical walks the reader through the life and habitats of lions. Part of the popular Zoobooks! series that features various animals inspired by the author's trips to local zoological gardens, this issue highlights many access features including illustrations, photographs with captions, diagrams (cutaways and cross-sections), sidebars and inserts, author and illustrator notes, and photo credits. Each periodical includes an activities insert that focuses on vocabulary development, aristic and creative activities, parental involvement activities, facts, and questions. These periodicals also include teacher lesson guides and activities available at their thematic curriculum link.
Title: Give Me Liberty!: The Story of the Declaration of Independence
Author: Russell Freedman
Illustrator: Russell Freedman
Publisher: Holiday House, Inc.
Publication Date: November 2001
In this 96 page recounting of the creation of the Declaration of Independence, Freedman relates the various challenges and issues that arose within the birth of the American nation. Freedman uses quotations, contextual situations, and actions to define and describe the forefathers including Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and Washington. Additionally the book includes the full text of the Declaration, facsimiles of the first and final drafts, and a list of all its signers. This book is a sure winner for any teacher or student studying the origins of the United States.
Title: The Reason For a Flower
Author: Ruth Heller
Illustrator: Ruth Heller
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication Date: February 1999 (reissued)
Heller is known for informational books written in rhyme and this book is no different. Labeling the parts of a flower as well as its purpose in the ecosystem, Heller walks the reader through the botany and ecology in a simple story with an entertaining rhythm. The illustrations are beautifully done and include some flowers that don't appear to be flowers but really are. This is part of Ruth Heller's "World of Nature" series.
Title: Galaxies, Galaxies
Author: Gail Gibbons
Illustrator: Gail Gibbons
Publisher: Holiday House, Inc.
Publication Date: September 2006
Take a bite out of the Milky Way and explore our universe in this delightful book about our solar system (albeit now outdated due to recent astronomical redefinitions) and the galaxy in which we live. Learning about astronomy the science, the astronomers who make this science their livelihood, telescopes, and the types of galaxies that are classified makes this a great resource for a basic astronomy information in the classroom, with caveats regarding distortion of size and redefinition of planets.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Title: Alison Dare: Little Miss Adventures, Vol. 1
Author: J. Torres
Illustrator: J. Bone
Alison Dare is not your typical 12-year-old. The daughter of an archeologist/adventurer and the masked hero known as the Blue Scarab (and the niece of an international super-spy), Alison's life has always been different from other girls her age. A craving for danger is in her blood. Sent by her parents to the prestigious St. Joan of Arc Academy for Girls, hoping that this would lead to a more "normal" life for their daughter, Alison and her cohorts, Wendy and Dot, seem to have the adventures find them. Genies, bank robbers with super powers, and members of the peerage bent on world domination all cross Alison's path. A modern day, preteen combo of Lara Croft and Indiana Jones, these graphic novels are sure to be a hit with youngsters of both sexes.
Title: The River of Wind (Guardians of Ga'Hoole Series #13)
Author: Kathryn Lasky
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication Date: July 2007
The owls are seeking out a sixth kingdom in this thirteenth book of the series. Following the religious incident with the ember worship which nearly destroyed the colony, Coryn and the Chaw of Chaws have returned order. However the band must seek out the new kingdom when Bess, from the Palace of Mists, discovers the unknown sixth kingdom across the Unnamed Sea. The owls set out on a quest to discover the new land and also to rescue one of the triplets who has wandered astray and been sucked into the River of Wind, unbeknownst to the band. They discover a new group of monastic owls who differ than any others from the Five Kingdoms but the challenge comes from the race against the Purists and their desire to restore the ember. This low fantasy novel features talking owls and other creatures as well as foreign settings and is indicated to appeal to nine to twelve year olds. The owl language can be difficult to follow at times and this doesn't seem to be a good series to start at a midpoint as the previous story lines tie into the current one.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Title: Artemis Fowl : The Arctic Incident
Author: Eoin Colfer
Publisher: Hyperion/Miramax Kid
Pub. Date: May 2003
Artemis Fowl, the thirteen year old criminal genius and mastermind returns in this book to rescue his father from the clutches of the Russian Mafiya. However, Fowl's plans run afoul of the LEPrecon forces that seek him out based on curious goings-on in the Underworld. Forced to ally himself with Captain Holly Short and the other magical creatures of the LEPrecon regime, Fowl may not be able to ransom his father in time. This fantasy book transports the reader through the center of the earth and to the Artic Circle. Following traditional fantasy celebrating imagination and intellect this series engages readers both young and old.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Title: The Wizard of Oz
Author: L. Frank Baum
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Pub. Date: March 1995 (reprint)
The first, in a subsequent series of fourteen fantasy novels, takes Dorothy Gale from Kansas to the emerald land of Oz as a result of a cyclone. This novel has been noted for its political overtones and themes which were revelant to social issues of the day, such as the gold and silver standards, however the novel itself has withstood the test of time. Dealing with various children's fears regarding a lack of dedication (heart), lack of intelligence (brain), and childhood nightmares and worries (courage), the book takes a turn into each child's imagination and teaches them that their concerns can be overcome. This book makes an excellent read aloud and the film version starring Judy Garland, while not to be missed, is and inaccurate retelling of Baum's bedtime tale.
Title: The Black Cauldron (Chronicles of Prydain Series #2)
Author: Lloyd Alexander
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, Incorporated
Pub. Date: May 2006
In this third book of the Chronicles of Prydain series, Taran, the assistant pig keeper, goes in search of one of his charges Hen Wen who appears to have gone insane. Taran discovers that Hen Wen is in fact magical and possesses powers of premonition. Through Hen Wen's visions, Taran and guardian Dallben discover that the Horned King seeks the Black Cauldron, a vessel which contains the imprisoned soul of an evil king and that the Horned King plans to utilize Hen Wen for that purpose. Taran encounters Gurgi, a creature who wishes to befriend Taran, while traveling through the forest but must follow the dragon like creatures that capture Hen Wen and take her to the Horned King. Taran saves Hen Wen by pitching her into the moat but himself is captured and placed in the dungeon where he encounters Princess Eilonwy who is dismayed to discover that Taran is not a hero but instead an assistant pig keeper. Taran and Eilonwy encounter Fflewddur and it is at that point that Taran discovers his sword and its magical abilities. Later in the woods, the witches, now in the form of clouds, inform the heroes that the Black Cauldron can never be destroyed, but only its evil power can be stopped. A living being must climb into the cauldron of his own free will, however the good person shall never climb out alive. This novel is based loosely on Welsh mythologies however it deviates from Welsh lore and the geography and history are not Welsh in nature. This book follows the traditional hero tale as well as including elements of high fantasy: unusual creatures, quests and magic.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Title: Island of the Blue Dolphins
Author: Scott O'Dell
This is the 1960 Newbery Award winning tale of Karana, based on the real life individual Juana Maria a member of the Nicoleno tribe who was stranded on San Nicholas Island. Karana's small village of Ghalas-at is visited by Aleuts who wish to hunt sea otters on their island. The Aleuts attempt to leave before paying the villagers. A war breaks out and many of Karana's tribe are killed. When a village elder attempts to get a ship to take the remaining tribe to safety a storm breaks out and Karana jumps ship when she realizes her brother has been left on the island. Karana's brother is subsequently killed by the village dogs which have become feral and she takes on duties and responsibilities previously reserved only for the men in the tribe in order to assure her own survival. Avowing revenge on the dogs, Karana kills many of the feral pack but injures the leader whom she later befriends. The Aleuts return, this time with a young woman who eventually befriends Karana. Later a ship appears to rescue Karana. She dresses in her finest clothing, a skirt made of cormorant feathers and a sea otter pelt top. Her rescuers determine that Karana is unprepared for civilization, dress her appropriately, and take her to a mission in Santa Barbara. This book remains a popular choice because it discusses gender roles and responsibilities, offers an opportunity for youth to debate whether they would be able to step up as Karana did, and offers an opportunity to discuss various environmental concerns. Young adult readers may identify with Karana for her courage and nobility as well as her personal dedication.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Title: The Sign of the Beaver
Author: Elizabeth George Speare/ read by Greg Schaffert
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication Date: July 1984
Format: Audio Book CD 3 hours 10 mins (3 CDs)
This book about a twelve year old boy, Matt, is set in the wilderness of Maine during the late 1780s. Matt and his father establish a homestead for the family, including Matt's mother and siblings, however Matt's father must return to fetch the remainder of the family. Left to face the wilds alone with an heirloom family timepiece and a shot gun, Matt faces many challenges. Losing the gun to a drifter, the crops to local wildlife, and his rations to a bear, Matt takes opts to raid a bee hive in order to add honey to his diet. His failed attempt results only in multiple bee stings and during the attack, Matt sprains his ankle while diving into the river, only to be saved by the local savages, some Native Americans who offer him assistance. In return Matt offers his only book, Robinson Crusoe, but Attean, the young Penobscot native, does not know how to read English. In exchange for food, Matt offers to to teach Attean how to read. The two establish an unlikely friendship, which lasts several months. Forced to choose between his new found friends or waiting for his family, Matt must decide between guaranteed survival and his family. The book offers a very realistic view of the expectations for a young man in the late eighteenth century as well as an historically accurate portrayal of individuals in that part of the country at that time. The audio recording is entertaining; the reader truly puts enthusisasm into the book and encourages listening.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Title: Bud, Not Buddy
Author: Christopher Paul Curtis
Publisher: First Dell Laurel Leaf
Publication Date: September 2004
Bud is a foster child living in Depression era Flint, Michigan. His mother has passed away and Bud quickly discovers that the foster care system in which he has been placed is less than desirabel. Meeting up with a fellow foster child, Bud hops a train in search of the father that he has never known except through a newsprint advertisement. Bud narrates the story through life lessons or rules that he has learned, ways in which he copes with the uncertainty of his environment. Young adult readers will identify with the struggles that Bud faces daily, particularly those from lower income families or those from foster care situations. Additionally, Bud's insights into human and adult behavior offer a unique perspective of a youngster's mature view of the world and the way that it works. Young readers will identify with Bud's insights into the ignorance and general stupidity of the adult world and its workings.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
This is a sequel to Chasing Vermeer and features characters Calder and Petra and the addition of Calder's friend Tommy, who moved away a year before, and who is jealous of Calder and Petra as they received recognition for saving the Vermeer. Tommy feels that he deserves something, as he is the "expert finder." On Tommy's first day of class, their teacher announces that the world-famous Robie House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is scheduled for demolition. The class takes a field trip to the house, and both Calder and Petra discover that there are many secrets concerning the building that they were not aware of. The trio, who call themselves the Wright 3, work to save the house.. Tommy finds a fish talisman in the Robie House garden and realizes it was worth a lot of money. Finally, after saving their own lives, they manage to save that of the house. As in Chasing Vermeer, the illustrations in this book help to give young readers something to look for, in this case a fish. As with much contemporary realistic fiction, this book deals with peer situations that will appeal to young adult readers and who can connect with characters of Calder, Petra, and Tommy who are social outcasts.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Thursday, March 6, 2008
THIS LITTLE PIGGY WITH CD: LAP SONGS, FINGER PLAYS, CLAPPING GAMES, AND PANTOMIME RHYMES (Genre: Poetry/module 4)
Title: This Little Piggy with CD: Lap Songs, Finger Plays, Clapping Games and Pantomime Rhymes
Author: Jane Yolen (editor)
Illustrator: Will Hillenbrand
Publication Date: February 2006
Colorful and engaging illustrations accompanied by lyrics and sheet music set this anthology of sixty rhymes, finger plays, and songs for toddlers and their care givers apart. Familiar games and chants are accompanied by the not-so-familiar and the compact disc features thirteen of the various rhymes and finger plays in the anthology. Children will hop, dance, sing, and chant along with the bouncy rhythms and fun accompaniament of the CD. Yolen had previously featured some of these poems and rhymes in her collection Lap Time Song and Play published in 1989 but this collection is more comprehensive and cohesive, and the CD adds additional support for the preemergent reader. Parents will appreciate the small type instructions and children will enjoy the wonderfully entertaining illustrations.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
Title: Honey, I Love and Other Poems
Author: Eloise Greenfield
Illustrations: Diane and Leo Dillon
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: May 1986
This collection of poems written from the point of view of a child discuss the "loves" in her life and the daily activities. From her observations at school "Miss Allen smiled/and blinked her eyes/and plinked the piano/and pushed the pedal/And the pdeal said/SQUEEEEEEEAK!/and we laughed/But Miss Allen didn't" to her expressions of enjoyment at the manner of speech of her cousin from the south "'Cause every wod he says just kind of slides out his mouth." The illustrations of childlike chalk or pencil drawings interspersed with the beautiful charcoals of the young narrator add to the realistic and fantastical elements of the poems. These poems will touch the heart of any child.
Title: The Beauty of the Beast: Poems from the Animal Kingdom
Author: Jack Prelutsky (selected by)
Illustrator: Meilo So
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: March 2006
An anthology of various animal poems accompanied by beautiful watercolor illustrations discuss everything from insects to reptiles to fish to birds to mammals. Poems are written by a variety of authors including Margaret Wise Brown and Robert Frost as well as Marianne Moore and Jack Kerouac. The end pages are wonderful watercolors that evoke feathers and fur and the cover illustration predates the collection. Ideal for explanation as well as enjoyment, this collection is sure to grab the reader's attention for creatures great and small.
!PIO PEEP! RIMAS TRADICIONALES EN ESPAGNOL/TRADITIONAL SPANISH NURSERY RHYMES (Genre: Poetry/module 4)
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Title: Beautiful Blackbird
Author: Ashley Bryan
Illustrator: Ashley Bryan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Publication Date: December 2002
The illustrations in this fascinating "why" book explaining how birds were colored with black are mesmerizing. The author/illustrator, who used scissors to create the beautiful collages, creates images that assist with the telling of this rhythmic Zambian tale. Children will surely want to chant along with the rebus of the book "Black is beautiful, uh-huh." Blackbird, unlike other children's literature characters such as the Rainbow Fish, willingly shares as much of his black coloration with other birds as possible, however his focus remains on the beauty within each bird. This book's focus on one's inner beauty makes it a unique tale and a tale that stands out among folk literature. The ending is a bit abrupt and my leave younger readers wondering, but the overall effect of the book makes it a must read. Appropriate and engaging for readers of all ages, Blackbird reminds everyone that one cannot judge a bird by his feathers.
Title: The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring
Author: Ruth Sanderson
Illustrator: Ruth Sanderson
Publisher: Little Brown & Co
Publication Date: April 2001
A young man, Alexi, wishes to serve as a huntsman for a tsar of Russia. Upon entering the woods, Alexei encounters a golden mare whose life he spares. In return for sparing the animal's life, Alexei is offered the opportunity to gain his goal. The tsar wishes to keep the mare for himself, but the horse only allows Alexei to be her rider and so the tsar settles for Alexei's service to him as a huntsman. Because jealousy clouds his emotions the tsar sends Alexei on formidable tasks including capturing the Firebird and procuring Yelena the Fair, a beautiful young maiden. Despite these Herculean type tasks, Alexei succeeds with the assistance of the golden mare, and eventually tricks the tsar and becomes tsar himself.
The oil illustrations in this story are gorgeous. They assist in telling the tale which is appropriate for older elementary aged children and middle schoolers. Rich in color and detail, the illustrations truly bring a sense of wealth and age to the book.
The story of a Russian folk tale, similar to the northern European tale of Puss in Boots, offers an enchanting story in which a commoner achieves greatness with the assistance of a magical helpmate animal. The golden mare serves as Puss in Boots and Alexei is the miller's youngest son. Following the instructions of the mare, Alexei achieves reknown and struggles with his feelings regarding his insincerity toward Yelena the Fair.
This book is a bit too complicated and the story too intricate to interest younger readers/listeners. Older children will be enchanted by the rich color, double page spread illustrations and the story's intracacies, but younger children may lose interest. The text is longer and the story would certainly be appropriately broken into segments for a wonderful bedtime story reading.
This is another of Sanderson's attempts and The Crystal Mountain was critically acclaimed as a success.
Title: Horse Hooves and Chicken Feet: Mexican Folktales
Author: Neil Philip (selected by)
Illustrator: Jacqueline Mair
Publisher: Clarion Books
Publication Date: September 2003
This colorful Aesop award winning book contains folktales from the Mexican and Mexican American cultures. Filled with vibrant colors and authentic illustrations, the book offers insight into the religious and daily lives of the individuals who passed this one through oral tradition. Tales such as The Two Marias are reminiscent of the classic fairy tale Cinderella while The Story of the Sun and the Moon combines elements from Puss in Boots and Jack and the Beanstalk. Other tales seem to be more locally flavored such as Pedro the Trickster, a story of man who cheats Death itself. Religious icons and themes are prevalent in this collection with appearances by Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, God, the devil, and Death personified, however this is keeping with the strong Catholic ties that lie within the Hispanic culture and should be viewed in that manner. Stories like The Mule Drivers Who Lost Their Feet surely will make children laugh will glee at the lack of common sense that adults sometimes display. The end notes assist in locating original sources for the tales and the end papers, respendent with chilis, give the book its truly southwestern feel.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Title: Dim Sum For Everyone!
Author: Grace Lin
Illustrator: Grace Lin
Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 2003
In this charming story, a young girl and her family go to a local restaurant to sample the dim sum. Dim sum literally translated to English means "little heart" or a "touches the heart" but in this playful romp through the various dishes, it means tasty meal for a little girl and her family. Each member of the family has a different favorite dish and the reader is introduced to each character and his or her palate, culminating in the family feast to be shared by all. The illustrations and simple text make this book a wonderful read aloud. Lin's use of color as well as her nod to her native culture interest even the youngest of readers. The end of the book carries notes regarding the history of dim sum and traditions within Asian eating, but the endpapers are truly a masterpiece. Each set of endpapers includes illustrations and labels for the various dim sum dishes. And like most Chinese meals, this book once read will leave you satisfied but wanting to read it again in another hour!
Title: But Excuse Me That Is My Book
Author: Lauren Child
Illustrator: Lauren Child
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 2006
Brother and sister, Charlie and Lola of the Disney Playhouse series of the same name, are heading to the library to check out books. Lola has decided that her favorite book Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflies is the only text that she can check out. However Lola discovers her book missing from the shelves when she arrives at the library. Charlie attempts to introduce Lola to books of various types, styles, and topics until he determines what she wants in a book. Lola spies another patron with Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflies and promptly wants to give up on Cheetahs and Chimpanzees - the alternate book that Charlie has recommended based on Lola's descriptions. Lola learns that there can be more than one favorite book.
My children, ages 4, 6, and 8, all enjoy the Charlie and Lola series featured on Playhouse Disney. Charlie, the older brother, frequently tries to assist Lola in various situations. In this book, Charlie is trying to help Lola to find another book to read since her text has been checked out by another patron. As is common with many young readers, Lola has repeatedly requisitioned the same text and she doesn't wish to change to another.
While I like the collage style of the illustrations and I appreciate the overall message (that there are many good books in the library to be found on a variety of topics) I really don't care for the premature adult position in which Charlie has been placed. Charlie, although Lola's older brother, is forced to help Lola circumnavigate the options until he determines what her specific requirements in a book are: lots of pictures, a story, no big words, and animals to make her laugh. I think that it's wonderful that the older brother is helping Lola, but the fact that he is acting as a surrogate father (in this story the father takes them to the library but makes no appearance in any of the illustrations) for Lola is distasteful to me.
Further, I think for younger readers, the type face and the collage in the text is confusing and is certainly grammatically incorrect. I wouldn't want to use this book to demonstrate the proper grammatical presentation for book titles, which are not italicized but appear more as cutout letters from newsprint or magazines.
Overall the theme of the book is strong - check out the options available to patrons at the library as one might find other topics that he or she likes, but the underlying concepts left a bad taste in my mouth.
Title: I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato
Author: Lauren Child
Illustrator: Lauren Child
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: September 2003
Brother and sister, Charlie and Lola of the Disney Playhouse series of the same name, return in another book. This time Charlie is trying to convince picky eater, aka Lola, to try foods that she would normally reject. At the beginning of this text Lola lists quite a long set of dislikes and won't eats in order to reject the meal being set before her. However in his mature and charming manner, Charlie convinces Lola that the various food items are merely alien foodstuffs and Lola gobbles them up rather than allow such delicacies to go untouched.
As I have said before in the But Excuse Me That Is My Book review, while I find these books to be appealing to the children for whom they are written, ages three to eight approximately, this book even more so than But Excuse Me puts Charlie in the role of the absentee parent. In fact the text states, "Sometimes Mom and Dad ask me to give Lola her dinner." (p. 1) I'm not entirely certain how old Charlie is, but I don't ask my eight-year-old son to convince my four-year-old son to eat his veggies.
That having been said, this text certainly is creative in its nomenclature of the various foodstuffs that Lola would normally reject. The carrots are not carrots but instead are "twiglets from Jupiter." (p. 10) The green peas are "green drops from Greenland" (p. 12) which are "so incredibly rare" (p.14) as Charlie offers to remove Lola's serving and consume it himself. I particularly enjoy when Lola turns the tables on Charlie and requests the dreaded tomatoes, which are not tomatoes but instead "moonsquirters." (p. 28)
Certainly every parent of a picky or fussy eater could use this book as a resource for encouraging varied and healthy eating.
Title: Move Over, Rover!
Author: Karen Beaumont
Illustrator: Jane Dyer
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
Publication Date: September 2006
Rover the dog is quietly napping in his doghouse when a rainstorm threatens his peaceful existence. Joined by a cat, a raccoon, a squirrel, a bluejay, a snake, a mouse, and one other unwelcome guest, Rover waits out the storm. All of the critters scatter to the four winds when they discover a skunk in their midst, but the storm ends and finds Rover back at home safely ensconsced in his doghouse.
First, the illustrations are fantastic! Colorful, vivid and highly entertaining, these watercolors and liquid acrylics enchanted the reader. Hiding the skunk in the initial frames makes a "search and find" activity in the second, third, and fourth read throughs a must for young readers!
Second, this is a wonderful book to act out in reader's theater or to assign parts during a read aloud. The easy rebus makes chanting various parts simple even for the preemergent reader and the youngest of children laugh at the doghouse's capacity crowd. Additionally, creating a storyboard, overhead, or flannel board story for this book would be very simple and would add to the listener's participation activity as young readers place the various animals into the doghouse.
Finally, simple text, easy typeface and font, limited sentences per page, and predictable story make this an ideal early reading book. Even struggling readers will chime in and read chorally or echo previously read portions and this book being an ideal text for developing specific rhyming lessons or listening for beginning sounds lessons.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Title: Elijah of Buxton
Author: Christopher Paul Curtis
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication Date: August 2007
Elijah is the first generation of free-born members of his family. Escaping the oppression of the pre-Emancipation Proclamation and pre-Civil War torn United States, Elijah's family escaped to an established free-black community in Canada. The book focuses on events in Elijah's life - attending school, doing chores, fishing, and playing with his friends. Elijah experiences growing up free in a settlement of former and escaped slaves and he is just beginning to understand what that means when the local "preacher" steals money that is being saved to purchase the freedom of others trapped in the U.S. Elijah embarks on a mission to return the funds to their rightful owners and crosses into the prejudice ridden United States.
From the author of Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 comes another award winning novel describing the trials and tribulations of young Elijah, a freed slave who lives in a free-black community in Canada in 1859. Elijah is known as the baby who threw up on famous African American and former slave, Frederick Douglass, and he carries with him throughout the novel a view of the importance of himself and his people.
In this pre-Emancipation era, freedom is cherished. Every slave who makes it to Buxton is greeted by the tolling of the Liberty Bell atop the schoolhouse, repeated 20 times. Buxton, Ontario, Canada was an actual stop along the Underground Railroad and was founded as a community for freed or runaway slaves by an abolitionist.
This book takes a candid, yet fictitious, look at the every day life and events of a twelve year old child. Elijah attends school but his teacher is also the Sunday school teacher so in the words of Elijah, "the man is on you like a tick." (p. 78) Elijah struggles with growing up; his mother claims he is fra-gile but as Elijah has experiences including revealing the death of another member of the community's husband, Elijah believes he is growing up and becoming less fra-gile; his mother acknowledges his maturation, "What you done was real growned, son!" (p. 200)
However Elijah is also young and he makes the mistakes of youth. When describing a situation in which the schoolteacher attempted to explain the saying familiarity breeds contempt, Elijah slips into the vernacular of the day and calls himself and his classmates "little nigg-"
(p.96) although his parents have taught him that it is a word of hatred and a sign of ignorance. Although the lesson didn't stick when the schoolteacher attempted to teach the students about respecting one's elders, when Elijah uses this term around Mr. Leroy, Elijah learns the lesson and it sticks. Mr. Leroy belts Elijah and then explains, "You think it ain't choke up with the same kind of hate and disrespect it has when they say it? You caint see it be even worst when you call it out?" (p. 99) I found this particular chapter to be very interesting especially in light of recent events regarding this same word and local schools. I think that the author would argue that Mr. Leroy's argument is his own - the word that is derogatory is even more hateful than when another says it. I am very tempted to read aloud this chapter and the previous to demonstrate just that fact to students or patrons.
Finally Elijah is faced with a coming of age issue when Mr. Leroy kidnaps him, taking him to Detroit in an attempt to catch up with the Preacher who has stolen several thousand dollars earmarked for the purchase of Mr. Leroy's family's freedom. The Preacher shoots the accompanying Buxton man who is supposed to protect the money and gambles it, but Mr. Leroy and Elijah track the Preacher down. Mr. Leroy dies of a heart attack and Elijah is faced with continuing on and finding the Preacher. Elijah does find Preacher, but he also discovers a family of chained, escaped slaves, one named Mrs. Chloe who laughs upon discovering she is but one hour from freedom in Canada. Elijah leaves Mrs. Chloe, her husband, Kamau, their daughter Hope, and two other slaves and attempts to get help from others but there is none. Elijah almost returns to Buxton alone, but he feels compelled to attempt to help Mrs. Chloe and he returns to her and the others in the barn. At that moment, Elijah tries to read the situation as an adult would, "I took anotehr deep breath so there waren't gonna be no backing off from talking growned, which when you look at it seems to be a powerful lot like lying." (p. 331)
At the end of the book appears a two page summary of information about Buxton and the site that the author visited. He encourages readers to visit this location, with its hidden Liberty bell (that was enclosed in a bell tower when the Buxton church was sold) and it history and to open a discussion about these events. If I ever get the chance, I believe I will visit Buxton and see history come to life!
From Barnes & Noble
As a first-generation freeborn black, 11-year-old Elijah Buxton had no direct experience with slavery. That changes, however, when a thief steals money set aside for freeing a friend's enslaved family. Elijah sets off rapidly in pursuit, leaving behind his Canadian home and crossing into dangerous American territory, where he encounters terrifying evidence of the grievous human cost of slavery. History is made palpable in this novel by Newbery Medal winner Christopher Paul Curtis.
The New York Times - Bruno Navasky
Floating up like a bubble through layers of history, buoyed with hope and comic energy…Elijah of Buxton tells the story of Elijah Freeman, the first freeborn child in the historic Elgin Settlement, a village of escaped slaves in Canada…As in his previous novels, Curtis is a master at balancing the serious and the lighthearted: as Langston Hughes said of the blues, "not softened with tears, but hardened with laughter." He has already received a Newbery medal and an honor for two novels rooted in the experience of black Americans: "The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 and Bud, Not Buddy. His latest book is another natural award candidate and makes an excellent case, in a story positively brimming with both truth and sense, for the ability of historical fiction to bring history to life.
Elijah Freeman, 11, has two claims to fame. He was the first child "born free" to former slaves in Buxton, a (real) haven established in 1849 in Canada by an American abolitionist. The rest of his celebrity, Elijah reports in his folksy vernacular, stems from a "tragical" event. When Frederick Douglass, the "famousest, smartest man who ever escaped from slavery," visited Buxton, he held baby Elijah aloft, declaring him a "shining bacon of light and hope," tossing him up and down until the jostled baby threw up-on Douglass. The arresting historical setting and physical comedy signal classic Curtis (Bud, Not Buddy), but while Elijah's boyish voice represents the Newbery Medalist at his finest, the story unspools at so leisurely a pace that kids might easily lose interest. Readers meet Buxton's citizens, people who have known great cruelty and yet are uncommonly polite and welcoming to strangers. Humor abounds: Elijah's best friend puzzles over the phrase "familiarity breeds contempt" and decides it's about sexual reproduction. There's a rapscallion of a villain in the Right Reverend Deacon Doctor Zephariah Connerly the Third, a smart-talking preacher no one trusts, and, after 200 pages, a riveting plot: Zephariah makes off with a fortune meant to buy a family of slaves their freedom. Curtis brings the story full-circle, demonstrating how Elijah the "fra-gile" child has become sturdy, capable of stealing across the border in pursuit of the crooked preacher, and strong enough to withstand a confrontation with the horrors of slavery. The powerful ending is violent and unsettling, yet also manages to be uplifting. Ages 9-12. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Christopher Paul Curtis knows how to write characters so engaging and believable you want to meet them in person. In fact, after reading his books, you feel like you have. From the author of award winners, The Watsons go to Birmingham 1963 and Bud, not Buddy, comes another novel with heart and meaning wrapped in rollicking humor. Readers will slip into the story as they, along with eleven-year-old Elijah, assume a life of freedom, but this is the 1850's and slavery still exists in America, alarmingly close to the freed slave community of Buxton, Canada. Helping people escape from slavery is a deadly business, hardly a task for the fragile Elijah. His claim to fame is being the nervous baby who threw up on Frederick Douglas. He is scared to death of snakes and is taken in by a colorful con-artist called the Preacher, but the kid has heart, a sense of responsibility, and a feeling of what is right and wrong. He witnesses death and learns grisly truths, including the idea that giving up a child for the sake of freedom may well be the greatest gift. Elijah's heroism is believable, growing from almost accidental, to faltering, to determined, albeit limited, saving one tiny soul rather than a whole group, which is all that can be expected of a child. Indeed, giving a child the opportunity to learn the horrors of the past but understand the hope of the future is the most we can ask of a character—and of an author.
Eleven-year-old Elijah Freeman is known for two things: being the first child born free in Buxton, Canada, and throwing up on the great Frederick Douglass. It's 1859, in Buxton, a settlement for slaves making it to freedom in Canada, a setting so thoroughly evoked, with characters so real, that readers will live the story, not just read it. This is not a zip-ahead-and-see-what-happens-next novel. It's for settling into and savoring the rich, masterful storytelling, for getting to know Elijah, Cooter and the Preacher, for laughing at stories of hoop snakes, toady-frogs and fish-head chunking and crying when Leroy finally gets money to buy back his wife and children, but has the money stolen. Then Elijah journeys to America and risks his life to do what's right. This is Curtis's best novel yet, and no doubt many readers, young and old, will finish and say, "This is one of the best books I have ever read." (author's note) (Fiction. 9+)
-Read the chapters 6 and 7 aloud and have students discuss what "familiarity breeds contempt" means to them and to the characters in the novel. Also discuss the power of words.
- Use this novel in conjunction with other Underground Railroad stories to discuss the motivation and accomplishment that occurred in assisting slaves to escape.
Title: Where the Sidewalk Ends
Author: Shel Silverstein
Illustrator: Shel Silverstein
Publication Date: November 1974
A collection of silly, humorous, and thought-provoking poems for the young and the young at heart. These poems include every day problems such as "Sick" which features a young child who suffers from nearly every malady known to man until she discovers that it is Saturday and there is no school - suddenly cured, the young lady informs her mother she is going outside to play; "Ma and God" in which a child bemoans the gifts of God that are thwarted by a mother; visual poetry including a poem written on the neck of a giraffe; "For Sale" in which an older brother tries to sell his younger sister; and "Dreadful" which tells the unfortunate tale of a baby who has been consumed by some unknown individual.
I admit it. I am a Shel Silverstein addict. I own all of his children's poetry books, and I have an extensive collection of Silverstein reading his own poetry. Heck, I even own the lesser known, more adult musical selections as well. Warning: to those who would do an author study on Shel Silverstein - he wrote songs for Johnny Cash (A Boy Named Sue), Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show (Don't Give a Dose to the One You Love Most, I Got Stoned and I Missed It, and Freakin' at the Freaker's Ball among others), and has often been featured for some of his more electic works on the Dr. Demento Show; make sure that websites that you are visiting with students have been previewed for content and material and listen to any audio files - don't trust that because it says "Shel Silverstein" that it is appropriate for younger audiences.
I love Silverstein's twisted look at the world through the eyes of a child. His poems brought me joy as a youngster and I have used them in the classroom to teach a variety of lessons. For example, Silverstein's take on experimentation is discussed in his poem "Stone Telling" (p. 147):
I particularly love the audio of Silverstein reading this poem (click here to listen) because you can hear the joy and laughter as he thinks about the idea of throwing a rock at a window to see if it is open.
Silverstein's point of view on personal hygiene is another example of how adults can speak to children and how children can twist the lesson into someting else entirely. "Warning" is a poem that directly speaks to the taboo of nose picking. Silverstein uses the common adult threat that something will bite a finger if a child sticks it in his nose and creates a whole new animal, both literally and figuratively:
BfK (Books for Keeps No. 144, January 2004)
- Use "Sick" as part of a lesson identifying the various parts of the body
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Title: Library Lion
Author: Michelle Knudsen
Illustrator: Kevin Hawkes
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: July 25, 2006
A lion wanders into a library and listens to story hour. When it ends, the lion expresses his displeasure by roaring loudly only to be reminded that library users must be quiet in the library. Upon promising to keep his voice low, the lion returns each day to story hour, assisting librarians and patrons with general tasks. However, one day, the head librarian falls and sends the library lion for help. The poor lion is faced with the choice of breaking the rules or saving his friend.
I absolutely loved this book. First the story is enchanting. My four year old son asked for it be read aloud multiple times. The concept of a lion wandering into the library (rather than just sitting as a statue outside) was appealing. Additionally, I appreciated that the text accepts this unusual event and incorporates a different individual into its every day processes - despite the protests of Mr. McBee.
Second, I was completely entranced (as was my four year old) by the acrylic and pen illustrations. While I initially thought that these had been done in watercolors, I made certain to read the Library of Congress information which explained the process choice for these wonderful and engaging pictures. I was even inspired to go to Kevin Hawkes website to determine if he offered more information on his medium choices. (He doesn't but he does take emails; if he responds to mine, I will post the response here.)
The story is simple, yet entertaining and it offers in a very comprehensible manner what rules are and why they should be followed. Additionally, it allows children the time to consider when breaking a rule or policy might be allowed (such as an emergency) and it would open up a dicussion for that topic even with the youngest of children.
From School Library Journal
Starred Review. PreSchool-Grade 2–Miss Merriweather, head librarian and decorum-keeper, first meets Lion when he saunters past his stone counterparts and into the stacks. Scowling circulation assistant Mr. McBee seems intent on having the enormous cat ejected, but his boss declares that as long as he breaks no rules, he is welcome. The beast does misbehave though, roaring loud displeasure when storytime ends. At Miss Merriweather's reprimand, the contrite-looking lion promises to reform. In fact, he becomes something of a fixture in the building, dusting with his tail, licking envelopes, and serving as a stepstool for small patrons. Everyone appreciates him–except Mr. McBee. When Lion lets out another tremendous RAAAHHHRRR!, the man bursts into Miss Merriweather's office to snitch–and there he finds her in distress, having fallen from a stool and broken her arm. Lion, à la Lassie, has saved the day, but he is so chagrined by his own rule-breaking behavior that he doesn't return to the library. People miss him. Even Mr. McBee. A feel-good ending and a reminder that Sometimes, there is a good reason to break the rules bring the story to its most-satisfactory conclusion. Hawkes's deft acrylic-and-pencil pictures have appeal for generations of library lovers. They are rich with expression, movement, and detail. The lordly, lovable lion is a masterful mix–regal beast and furry friend–and the many human characters are drawn with animation and emotion. This winsome pairing of text and illustration is a natural for storytime and a first purchase for every collection.–Kathy Krasniewicz, Perrot Library, Old Greenwich, CT Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
PreS-Gr. 2. This story's appealing premise is clear in the first sentence: "One day, a lion came to the library." There's the expected uproar as the lion pads through the stacks, but librarian Miss Merriweather only asks: "Is he breaking any rules?" The lion is not, and so he is allowed to stay. He makes himself useful and enjoys story hour until Miss Merriweather falls and breaks her arm. The lion roars for help, but his noise prompts a scolding from an uptight, oblivious staff member. The story falters a bit as it explores messages about rules and exceptions in a way that feels both purposeful and a bit convoluted. The warm friendships will easily draw interest, though, as will the handsome, nostalgic pencil-and-acrylic illustrations. Children will easily see themselves in the wild lion, which yearns to explore and enjoy the library but worries about the constraining rules. A fine partner for other library tales, such as Judy Sierra's Wild about Books (2004) and Lauren Child's But Excuse Me That Is My Book (2006). Gillian Engberg
- Use in a lesson on appropriate library or classroom behavior at the beginning of the year.
- Use in a lesson for when it is "okay" to break the rules.
- Use in a lesson on acceptance of different individuals.