Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Does My Head Look Big In This?

Abdel-Fattah, Randa. 2008. Does My Head Look Big In This? New York: Scholastic  ISBN 978-0439922333

Amal is your typical 11th grader in most ways.  She likes shopping and boys and her friends.  But when she decided to wear the hijab full time and further explore her Muslim faith she must deal with preconceived notions and prejudices. 

Amal is a wonderfully developed character.  Abdel-Fattah has done an excellent job of showing the dynamic between Amal and her family.  The characters interact with each other in a way that is positive and loving and a direct contrast to the issues which she faces from her school.  Further, Abdel-Fattah manages to give information about the Muslim faith without coming across as preachy or boring.  She also manages to point out differences in cultures and home life of Muslims who share a faith, but not everything. 

Amal is forced to examine her own belief system while interacting with the beliefs of others who do not fully understand what it means to her to wear the hijab.  Along the way she makes many typical teenage mistakes such as lying to her parents and unfairly judging others while not wanting to be judged herself.
School Library Journal- While the novel deals with a number of serious issues, it is extremely funny and entertaining, and never preachy or forced.
Booklist-*Starred Review* - Without heavy preaching, the issues of faith and culture are part of the story, from fasting at Ramadan to refusing sex before marriage. More than the usual story of the immigrant teen's conflict with her traditional parents, the funny, touching contemporary narrative will grab teens everywhere.
(starred) "Determined to prove she's strong enough to 'wear a badge of my faith,' Amal faces ostracism and ridicule as she dons her hijab with both good humor and trepidation. . . .
(starred) "Using a winning mix of humor and sensitivity, Abdel-Fattah ably demonstrates that her heroine is, at heart, a teen like any other. This debut should speak to anyone who has felt like an outsider for any reason." --PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Winner - Australian Book Industry Awards 2006 - Australian Book of the Year for Older Children
Notable Book - Selected as a Notable Book by the Children's Book Council 2006
Long listed for the UK Galaxy Book Awards 2006

Short listed for the Grampian Children’s Book Awards UK 2006

Visit the authors website:

Read other books by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Explore works by Arab Americans such as Naomi Shihab Nye

Learn about different kinds of head scarves worn by Muslim women at

Amal is Australian.  Explore Australia via the internet.  How might Amal's experience have been different if she was American?


10000 Dresses

Ewert, Marcus. 2008. 10,000 Dresses. Ill. Rex Ray. New York: Seven Stories Press.  ISBN 978-1-58322-850-0.
Bailey dreams about dresses every night.  10,000 dresses in all.  The only problem is that Bailey is a boy.  His parents don't understand but he finds a kindred spirit in a girl who loves to make dresses.

10,000 Dresses is a simple introduction to the concept of transgender.  Bailey, though technically a boy refers to himself as her and feels like a girl.  His parents and older brother tell him that these feelings are wrong or even gross, but he finds acceptance with Laurel who loves dresses as much as he does. 

While the story of ultimate acceptance is wonderful, the young audience for whom the book is intended will most likely be confused by the use of both he and she for Bailey.  Further, the artwork created for the book is very gender neutral which also complicates the issue.  Transgender is a complicated issue and this book could in fact cause more questions then answers.  However, the book is a wonderful starting point for children who are transgender or know someone who is transgender.

The first book of its kind, 10,000 Dresses has received wide critical acclaim, awards and honors from the American Library Association, and has become a staple of anti-bullying curricula throughout North America. It’s also been banned a few times!

"I had a graduate student come up to my reference desk the other day asking for picture books where the characters acted out non-traditional gender roles. When this happens (and it happens more than you would think) I tend to begin with the stories that can be interpreted multiple ways, like The Story of Ferdinand. Then I pluck out The Paper Bag Princess, Elena's Serenade, and William's Doll. The piece de resistance is our very special copy of X: A Fabulous Child's Story which you will not find circulating in just any library system, thank you very much. However, the book I most wanted to show off was 10,000 Dresses."—School Library Journal   "If you are a member of an LGBT family with young children, or the friend or ally of an LGBT family with young children, and want to expose your children to what the broad LGBT community looks like, you need to expose yourself and these children to the picture book 10,000 Dresses."—Pam's House Blend   "Bailey may continue to inspire families in new ways with her bravery and artistic vision."—Bay Windows, New England's Largest GLBT Newspaper   "Bailey is a wonderful creation, but then again so are the dresses she dreams up; the illustrations by Rex Ray have a sleek, artful look."—Edge Boston   "Marcus Ewert's 10,000 Dresses is a joyous book about self-acceptance and identity. It is also the only children's picture book that features an openly transgender protagonist, and does so with both sensitivity and celebration."—Philadelphia Gay News   "It is a wonderful story that lets you see the world through the eyes of a gender variant child."—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Newsletter   "Great for any kid who knows someone who is different or who may feel a little different themselves sometimes."—Rainbow Rumpus   "This charming book offers a subtle and touching approach to introducing kids to the maze of gender identity." —GT/Gaytimes(UK)

Read an interview with the author at
Read Be Who You Are by Jennifer Carr (information on the book is found here

The Pirate of Kindergarten

Lyon, George Ella. 2010. The Pirate of Kindergarten. Ill. Lynne Avril. New York: Antheneum Books for Young Readers  ISBN 978-1-4169-5024-0.
Ginny loved school.  She loved reading circle.  But sometimes Ginny had trouble.  Things she saw moved.  And sometimes things she saw weren't even there.  But when a nurse comes to school to test everyones vision everything changes and Ginny becomes....the pirate of kindergarten.
The Pirate of Kindergarten is a wonderful introduction to differences.  Ginny appears to be just like all of the other kids in kindergarten.  But Ginny sees doubles and seeing a rabbit with three ears causes all kinds of problems.  The solution is a simple eye patch.  Which turns Ginny into a Kindergarten Pirate.  Her eye patch, rather than causing more trouble eases her way and allows Ginny to be "normal".
The chalk, pencil, and acrylic drawings of Lynne Avril allow the reader to see things through Ginny's eyes.  With double lines around chairs and moving letter, the illustrator effectively translates Ginny's frustrations to the reader.  Further, lending to the pirate concept, Ginny is always seen wearing nautical inspired clothing adding an element of foreshadowing.

  • ALA Schneider Family Book Award,
  • Volunteer State Book Award Master List (TN)

  • School Library Journal—Lyon's short, descriptive sentences set up the situation deftly
    Booklist-Even children who have not experienced Ginny’s problem will understand her occasional frustration and find it intriguing that one person can literally see the world differently from another. 

    Read another book about a child with an eye patch:
    Julia Chen Headley's The Patch (Charlesbridge, 2006)
    Visit the authors website:
    Visit the illustrators website:
    Complete an activity from the following website:

    Monday, November 19, 2012

    The Year of the Dog

    Lin, Grace.2005. The Year of the Dog. New York: Little Brown. ISBN-5

    The Year of the Dog is a story of Pacy and her search to "find herself" during the year of the dog. Pacy struggles throughout the year, but manages to find friendship and luck all the same.
    Grace Lin moves away from picture books and tackles her first juvenile novel with The Year of the Dog.  Pacy, or Grace to her school friends, is determined to discover her talents.  The year of the dog is supposed to be for discovering new friends and yourself.  Written with a diary like quality, The Year of the Dog is an easy read that will allow children to connect to Grace on a friendly, personal level. 

    Scattered throughout the book are short family tales that help to share the Taiwanese culture.  Within these short stories are cultural gems that help the reader to understand the customs and mannerisms of the Taiwanese American way of life.  Although the stories sometimes feel as if they have caused a disjointedness within the story as a whole, their value culturally is worth the slight off feeling which occurs. 
    • 2006 Fall Publisher's Pick
    • Starred Booklist Review
    • 2006 ALA Children's Notable
    • 2006 Asian Pacific American Librarian Association Honor
    • 2006 National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) GOLD Winner
    • 2007-2008 Texas Bluebonnet Award Masterlist
    • 2007 Nene Awards Recommended List (Hawaii's Book Award Chosen by Children Grades 4-6)
    • 2007 Cochecho Readers' Award List (sponsored by the Children's Librarians of Dover, New Hampshire)
    • NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2006
    • Kirkus Best Early Chapter Books 2006
    •2006 Booklist Editors' Choice for Middle Readers
    •Cooperative Children's Book Center Choice 2007
    •Boston Authors Club Recommended Book
    •2007-2008 Great Lakes Great Books Award nominee
    •2007-2008 North Carolina Children's Book Award nominee
    •2007-2008 West Virginia Children's Book Award nominee
    •2009 Beverly Cleary Children's Choice Award (OR) nominee
    •2009 Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Award (WA, OR, ID)nominee

    Visit the authors website at
    What "year" were you born in?  Learn about the Chinese zodiac.
    What is the Chinese New Year?  Learn about it here:
    Read additional books about Chinese New Year:
    Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Chinese New Year: With Fireworks, Dragons, and Lanterns by Carolyn Otto (Jan 13, 2009)
    A New Year's Reunion: A Chinese Story by Li Qiong Yu and Zhu Chen Liang (Oct 31, 2011)
    Pacy is Tiawanese.  Learn more about Taiwan at
    Make a paper lantern to celebrate the new year.
    Make a snake craft to celebrate 2013 as the year of the snake (instructions at

    Tea with Milk

    Say, Allen. 1999. Tea with Milk. Ill. Allen Say.  New York: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 9780547237473

    Tea with Milk is the story of Masako, or May to her friends in San Francisco.  May was born and raised in America, but must return to Japan when her parents decide to return home.  May must learn to assimilate into a culture which is hers and yet feels strange and out of place.

    Tea with Milk is written in a linear format.  It is the story of one young woman's journey away from one home and to another.  Say pays wonderful tribute to his mother and tells the story of two people who feel like outsiders and how they made a home. 

    Cultural markers run throughout the work.  Say incorporates the differences between Japanese culture and American culture seamlessly through May's homesickness and acceptance of her new home.  The differences begin to be highlighted on the first page of text.  "At home she had rice and mi so soup and plain green tea for breakfast.  At her friends' houses she ate pancakes and muffins and drank tea with milk and sugar" (p.4).  Perhaps the most striking cultural difference which is depicted is the different role and expectation of women between the two cultures.  May had planned to attend college, work, and live on her own in San Francisco. However, in Japan she is expected to learn to serve tea and marry well.

    Say helps to depict the sadness of May with his illustrations.  The illustrations progress from shades of gray and muted pastels to a firmer, darker landscape as May finds her way in her new world and creates a home for herself.  Traditional kimonos and school uniforms help to define the landscape and provide identifying cultural markers even without the text. 

    Say's masterfully executed watercolors tell as much of this story about a young woman's challenging transition from America to Japan as his eloquent, economical prose.- Publishers Weekly
    This is a thoughtful and poignant book that will appeal to a wide range of readers, particularly our nation's many immigrants who grapple with some of the same challenges as May and Joseph, including feeling at home in a place that is not their own.- School Library Journal
    This perfect marriage of artwork and text offers readers a window into a different place and time.- Library Journal(May)
    Painted with characteristic control and restraint, Say's illustrations, largely portraits, begin with a sepia view of a sullen child in a kimono, gradually take on distinct, subdued color, and end with a formal shot of the smiling young couple in Western dress. - Kirkus Reviews
    "Continuing to explore place and home, Say tells the story of his mother, first introduced to readers in TREE OF CRANES. Born in California to Japanese immigrants, Masako is miserable when she moves to Japan with her parents after high school. The illustrations capture Masako's unhappiness and also her eventual contentment as she learns to combine two cultures." Horn Book


    Read more about author Allen Say at
    Read an interview with the author at
    Have a tea ceremony.
    Explore Japanese culture.  Compare Japan to America.  How are we the same?  How are we different?

    The Name Jar

    Choi, Yangsook. 2001. The Name Jar. Ill. Yangsook Choi.  New York: Dragonfly Books. ISBN 9780440417996

    The Name Jar tells the story of Unhei, a young girl who has come to America from Korea.  Unhei wants to make friends but worries that no one will be able to pronounce her name.  She decides to have a name jar and choose a new name from the suggestions in the jar.  But, what name should she choose?

    The Name Jar is written from the perspective of a young Korean girl who is trying to decide who she is in her new home.  Unhei does not want to be made fun of for her name which is difficult to pronounce for her new classmates.  She decides to pick a new American name and begins to collect suggestions in her name jar. 
    Yangsook Choi does a wonderful job of incorporating Korean culture into the short picture book.  Unhei is giver her name carved into a block of wood which can be used as her signature when she is in Korea.  Also, she and her mother visit Mr. Kim's market where they purchase groceries to make traditional Korean food.  Choi also includes information about Korean traditions such as the use of a name master when selecting the name for a new baby. 
    The illustrations which were also done by the author depict wonderful diversity within the children of Unhei's class.  Each child has varied skin tones as well as varied hair styles and textures.  Unhei and her family have several authentic physical features which are common among Korean Americans.  Unhei's hair is smooth, black and straight.  Her eyes have a slight tilt to them.  And her skin is a lovely creamy tan.  Anyone who has had Korean friends will recognize that Unhei is Korean from the illustrations.

    WINNER 2003 Arkansas Diamond Primary Book Master List
    NOMINEE 2005 Arizona Young Readers Award
    "Cultural details freshen the story"- New York Times Book Review
    "Choi draws from her own experience, interweaving several issues into this touching account and delicately addressing the challenges of assimilation"- Kirkus

    Visit the author's website at
    Read an interview with the author at
    Have children select a symbol that represents their name.  Create apple or potato stamps of their symbol and have each child stamp their "name"
    Create your own name jar.  If you could choose any name for yourself what would it be?
    Research the meaning and origin of students names.

    Other books by Yangsook Choi:
    Behind the Mask, Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2006 ISBN 0-374-30522-6
    Earthquake, Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2001 ISBN 0-374-39964-6
    Gai See, Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2007, ISBN 0-810-99337-6 7
    Good-bye, 382 Shin Dang Dong, National Geographic, 2002, ISBN 0-7922-7985-9
    Landed, Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2006 ISBN 0374343144
    New Cat, Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1999, ISBN 0-374-35512-6
    Nim and the War Effort, Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1997, ISBN 0-374-35523-1
    Peach Heaven, Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2005, ISBN 0-374-35761-7
    Rice Is Life, Henry Holt, 2000, ISBN 0-8050-5719-6
    The Sun Girl and the Moon Boy, Knopf, 1997, ISBN 0-679-88386-X
    This Next New Year, Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2000, ISBN 0-374-35503-7

    Tuesday, November 6, 2012

    Thirteen Moons

    Bruchac, Joseph, and London, Jonathan. 1997. Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back: A Native American Year of Moons. New York: Putnam Berkley Group. Ill. by Thomas Locker. ISBN 0-698-11584-8

    This picture book includes 13 poems reflecting the 13 moons of the calendar year.  Each poem is a retelling of a different tribes moon legend.
    Each poem in this collection represents a different tribe or nations legend about a moon cycle.  Told as if an adult is instructing a child the poems are presented as a complete lunar cycle. The turtle is used as a guide and reminder of the lunar cycle due to the 13 scales which always appear on the shell.

    While each poem is well written and a beautiful interpretation of a legend.  The book falls short of providing any signfigant details of tribal life.  The illustrations are beautiful by themselves.  However, they do not provide any additional insight into the poems.  Further the illustration placement within the book further distances the picture from the text.  Each poem is located on the left hand side of the page with the illustrations seperated onto the right 3/4 of each layout.
    Notable Children's Trade Book in the Language Arts
    IRA Teachers' Choice Book
    Notable Children's Trade Book in the field of Social Studies
    "This unusual and intelligent book is an exemplary introduction to Native American culture with its emphasis on the importance of nature."- Publishers Weekly
    "dignified retellings of Native American legends "- Kirkus
    Have students explore and research one of the Native American tribes or nations that contribute a legend to the book.

    Do all turtles have 13 scales on their backs.  Have students research different types of turtles.

    Create your own turtle time calendar (download available at

    Find out more information about lunar phases and the effects of the moon on our planet.

    Read more by Joseph Bruchac.  An index of published works can be found on the author's website

    Sees Behind Trees

    Dorris, Michael.1996. Sees Behind Trees. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 978-078681357-5

    Near sighted Walnut can't shoot or hunt, but he can see what isn't there due to his other senses.  This earns him the name Sees Behind Trees.  His new skills and "powers" will be put to the test as he helps Gray Fire find his way back to a magical place and his own way home.
    Sees Behind Trees is a simply written tale of a young Powhatan boy on the cusp of manhood.  The novel centers around Walnut who is renamed Sees Behind Trees after a special test of manhood where he demonstrates his ability to see what isn't there by using his heightened sense of hearing.  Sees Behind Trees takes on a test to help Grey Fire find a magical place of his youth.  The journey is a life altering experience for the young man and provides an insight into the transition from boy to man. 

    Author Michael Dorris paints an authentic picture of life among the Powhatan people.  Simple inclusions of information allow the reader to have a true idea of the looks, sounds, and smells of the village.  Everyday cooking smells of pemmican, venison, and fish are included giving the reader an entry into the home life of Sees Behind Trees and his village.  Interwoven into the simple text are aspects of village life such as descriptions of clothing, bows and arrows, bluebird feathers in headdresses, and belief systems that include superstition.
    starred review- Publishers weekly- "thrilling"
    starred review- Booklist- "Brilliant and deeply humane"
    Kirkus- "Dorris has captured the angst that is part of the invisible doorway between childhood and adulthood"

    School library journal best book 1996
    Publishers weekly best book of 1996
    Book Links best book of 1996
    Learn about the Powhatan Indians at
    Powhatan Indians are famous for their interaction with the Jamestown settlers.  Explore their village life at
    The Powhatan Indians are one of the First Peoples of Virginia.  They lived in log and birch houses and traveled by canoe.  Have children create a canoe out of construction paper.

    Monday, November 5, 2012

    Rain is not my Indain Name

    Smith, Cynthia Leitich. 2001. Rain is not my Indian Name. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-688-17397-5

    Depressed since the death of her best friend, Rain struggles to find her footing and happiness again by acting as the photographer for the local paper covering a Native American summer camp. 
    The story, told in nonlinear format, delves deep into the rediscovery of self from loss.  With the loss of her best friend Galen, Rain loses herself in grief.  Aunt Georgia's Indian Camp is not something that  Rain wants to do during the summer.  With only a few Native American families in town Rain often feels the burden of being different.  She rediscovers her identity and that of her culture through the lens of a camera and time with others who share her difference.

    Smith uses stereotypes within the novel to breach truths.  For example, when Rain things about Indian Camp she says it will probably be "a bunch of probably suburban, probably rich, probably white kids tromped around a woodsy park, calling themselves 'princess,' 'braves,' or 'guides'"(p. 12). 

    Journal excerpts scattered throughout the novel bring in an element of personal monologue to a character who is too distraught in her grief to share her feelings.  They allow an insight into who Rain is and who she is letting everyone see. 

    2001 Writers of the Year in Children's Prose by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

    RAIN was also a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award
    Featured at the Second National Book Festival, the Texas Book Festival, the St. Petersburg Times' "You Gotta Read This Book Club," 
    Included in GREAT BOOKS FOR GIRLS by Kathleen Odean.

    "A wonderful novel of a present-day teen and her 'patch-work tribe." (School Library Journal )

    “Rain's observations are appealingly wry, and readers …will find food for thought in this exploration of cultural identity. ” (The Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books )

    Kirkus Reviews: "Tender, funny, and full of sharp wordplay..."


    Students can check out an interview with the author and other items at

    Photography plays an important role in the novel.  Have students create a photo collage depicting who they are as a person.

    The children of the summer camp build a bridge.  Have students build toothpick bridges and see whose design is sturdier.

    Read other literature by author Cynthia Leitich Smith including:
    JINGLE DANCER by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000)(ages 4-up).
    INDIAN SHOES by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2002)(ages 7-up).
    SANTA KNOWS by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Björkman (Dutton, 2006)(ages 4-up).
    TANTALIZE by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2007, 2008)(ages 14-up).
    ETERNAL by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2009, 2010).
    HOLLER LOUDLY by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Dutton, 2010).

    Monday, October 15, 2012

    The Wild Book

    Engle, Margarita. (2012). The Wild Book. New York: Houghlin Milcourt. ISBN 978-0-547-58131-6
    A novel in verse about a young girl growing up in turn of the century Cuba who struggles to overcome her dyslexia or word blindness.
    Margarita Engle paints a picture of turn of the century Cuba and her granmothers life as a girl in this dangerous time in beautiful verse.  Fefa who struggles with dyslexia uses a blank book given to her by her mother and time and patience to slowly overcome her learning disability.  Scattered throughout the story of Fefa's frustrations with words is a history of violence and fear suffered by the people of Cuba.  Engle enbodies the love of verse from this time period with poems such as "Fly to the Truth of Dreams". 
    I don't understand
    the whole thrilling verse,
    but I love the way poetry
    turns ordinary words
    into winged things
    that rise up
    and soar (lines 11-17)

    "A beautiful tale of perseverance."—Kirkus, starred review
    "Readers will be enchanted."—VOYA
    "[A] lyrical glimpse of early twentieth-century Cuba."--Booklist

    "Engle’s writing is customarily lovely."--Publishers Weekly

    "The idea of a wild book on which to let her words sprout is one that should speak to those with reading difficulties and to aspiring poets as well."--School Library Journal

    "[A] remarkable, intimate depiction of Fefa's struggle with dyslexia; Engle is masterful at using words to evoke this difficulty, and even those readers unfamiliar with the condition will understand its meaning through her rich use of imagery and detail."--Bulletin


    Children can investigate the work Margarita Engle at her website:
    Read other wonderful books by M. Engle including The Poet Slave of Cuba and The Surrender Tree.
    Listen to the author read a sample of the book at

    History connection:
    Explore Cuban history, especially Race War of 1912 at

    English connection:
    Students can write a story in verse

    Geography connection:
    Make a map of Cuba.  Have students label elements from the book.


    Mora, Pat. (2007). Yum! MmMm! Que'Rico! New York: Lee & Low Books. Ills. by Rafael Lopez. ISBN 978-1-58430-271-1
    A collection of 14 haiku on native foods of the Americas.
    Pat Mora manages to combine many elements in this book of 14 haiku.  Each two page layout is comprised of one haiku about a specific food native to the Americas as well as a brief history of the food.  Further, she combines Spanish and English within the 17 syllables of several of the poems in a way that brings the native origin to the forefront.

    Adding to the whimsical feel of each poem is a brilliantly colored two page spread created by Rafael Lopez which perfectly accompanies both the selected food item.  The bright colors and pictures created in the style of traditional Mexican murals enchant readers of all ages.

    "This inventive stew of food haiku celebrates the indigenous foods of the Americas." --Booklist

    "Mora's descriptive poetry features wonderful word choices and gets it right to the essence of each food...Perfect for sharing as part of the curriculum or just for fun." --Book Links

    "Teachers will find this a welcome addition to their social-studies units, but it should also win a broad general audience for its inventive, fun-filled approach to an ever-popular topic: food." --School Library Journal

    "In this cross-curricular treat, imaginative...acrylic illustrations...are paired with playful haiku's and a paragraph of information to introduce 14 foods indigenous to the Americas..." --SLJ Curriculum Connections

    Amérias Award for Children’s Literature, 2008, Consortium of Latin American Programs

    Texas Bluebonnet Award (TBA) Master List, 2008-2009

    ALA Notable, 2008

    Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best Books, 2008

    Bank Street Best Children's Books of the Year, 2008

    Lasting Connections, Book Links, 2007

    Great Lakes Great Books Award master list, 2008/2009


    Children can investigate the work of Pat Mora and Rafael Lopez at their websites:

    Health Connections:
    Serve foods created from the native foods highlighted within the poetry of the book.

    Math Connections:
    Schedule a trip to the grocery store.  How much would it cost to buy one of each of the 14 foods in the book?

    Art Connection:
    Have students create a collage of their favorite foods.

    English Connection:
    Have students write their own haiku.

    The Afterlife

    Soto, Gary. (2005). The afterlife. Orlando, Fl: Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-15-205220-1

    Is death the end of everything?  After taking a knife in the ribs Chuy's life or rather afterlife begins to get interesting and complicated.

    Gary Soto 's novel The Afterlife is the story of the life, or rather the death, of Chuy.  Chuy was an ordinary young man who was stabbed to death in the bathroom of a club while combing his hair.  Soto manages to make Chuy' death appear to be the horrible crime that it is as well as allowing it to be a strong catalyst for a novel which tells the tale of a young Hispanic man who was just coming into his life when it was cut short.  Soto's tale if further enriched by the introduction of Crystal, a beautiful young woman who seemingly had it all but chose to end her own life.  Chuy's tale of his afterlife and the slow disintegration of his spirit take the reader on a journey through life's possibilities even through death. 

    The interweaving of Spanish throughout the text gives Chuy's voice a cultural authenticity as it reflects the speech patterns seen of many Hispanic youth. "At my parents house, there would be others to lament my death at such a young age.  Angel, mi carnal, would be there, with cement bags of guilt on his shoulders." (p. 14) Further enhancing the cultural authenticity of the novel is the different experiences of Chuy and Crystal during their lives.  This contrast of life and death help to place each within their cultural boundaries while allowing the reader to experience both in a way that is satisfying.


    Read an interview with the author about The Afterlife

    Geography connection:
    Have students create a map of Chuy's travels

    English connection:
    Have students create their own obituary.

    Social Studies connection:
    Different cultures view death differently.  Have students research how death is viewed in different parts of the world.

    Art connection:
    Have students create a Dia de los muertos display that represents Chuy or Crystal.

    Sunday, September 30, 2012

    We Are The Ship

    Nelson, Kadir. 2008. We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. Ill. Kadir Nelson. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 978-078680832-8

    We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball is a wonderful telling of a historic event in both African American and American history.  Kadir Nelson's text and illustrations provide a historical and emotional journey for the reader through the magic of Negro League Baseball.  This often overlooked league was pivotal in the furthering of Baseball as the nation's pasttime.

    We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball is written in the voice of an unnamed baseball player narrator giving the nonfiction text the element of having a conversation with an old timer of the league.  This narrative style allows the reader to assimilate knowledge in a non threatening environment on a personal level.  The book is divided into innings instead of chapters further pulling in the reader into a mythical game of baseball history. 

    Each two page spread contains at least one magnificent oil painting and one full page of text.  Each oil painting depicts Negro League giants who were pivitoal in the development of the game.  Intermittent two page illustrations are placed throughout the work lending power to the work without the interruption of words.  Kadir Nelson's text is magnified by the strength of the illustrations.  Even if the reader does not love the game of baseball, he or she will be able to connect through the power of Nelson's paintings. 

    Coretta Scott King Book Award
    Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award
    The Robert F. Sibert Medal

    L.A. Times Book Review- "ostensibly, a children's book. But author-illustrator Kadir Nelson's text is so engrossing -- and his oil paintings so evocative -- that the rubric is inadequate. Nelson's soulful work about this long-neglected brand of our national pastime deserves -- nay, demands -- an all-ages audience."

    Horn Book starred review-"His grand slam, though, is the art: Nelson’s oil paintings have a steely dignity, and his from-the-ground perspectives make the players look larger than life"

    Library media connection starred review- "One need not be a baseball fan to enjoy this book, because it's more than a sports story. It's a story of real people enduring more than many of us can imagine, playing a game they love."

    Kirkus starred review- "Along with being absolutely riveted by the art, readers will come away with a good picture of the Negro Leaguers' distinctive style of play, as well as an idea of how their excellence challenged the racial attitudes of both their sport and their times."

    School Library Journal starred review-"It is an engaging tribute that should resonate with a wide audience and delight baseball fans of all ages"

    Booklist starred review - "And while this large, square book (just a shade smaller than a regulation-size base) succeeds as coffee-table art, it soars as a tribute to the individuals"



    This is a wonderful book to use throughout an American History class. 
    Other books written by Kadir Nelson:
    Nelson, Kadir. 2005. He's Got the Whole World in his Hands. New York: Dial
    .....2011. Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. New York: Balzer and Bray

    The First Part Last

    Johnson, Angela. 2003. The First Part Last. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4424-0343-7
    Bobby is a single father to a beautiful baby girl.  Instead of shooting hoops with his friends he is sitting up at night with a newborn.  His life has changed forever.  How did he get here and where does he go from here?  He wants to do what's right.  But what is that? 

    Angela Johnson has a gift for giving voice to young African Americans.  Set in the inner city, Bobby and Nia face a choice that many young people will have to face before they are ready.  Do we keep the baby or give her up for adoption?  How do we know?  The reader is transported into Bobby's world of art, school, family, and diapers.  But where is Nia in all of this?  Told in both present tense and through the wonderfully well done use of flashbacks, Johnson manages to tell the story of two young people in love and the life they created. 

    Cultural markers used throughout the book provides for a wonderfully authentic experience.  Language choices reflect the education level, age, and location of the characters.  Family dynamics play out in real time with true to life interaction.  There are no false moments where the reader is sure everyone will live happily ever after.  Johnson manages to weave reality, hope, and uncertainty into each page.

    U.S. News and World Report Johnson has carved a niche writing realistically about young people's issues.
    SLJ, starred review Brief, poetic, and absolutely riveting.
    Publishers Weekly, starred review Readers will only clamor for more.
    Booklist, starred review Poetry

    ALA Michael L. Printz Award,
    Abraham Lincoln Book Award Master List (IL),
    ALA Best Books For Young Adults
    ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
    Alabama Author's Award
    Booklist Editors' Choice
    CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book
    Charlotte Award Suggested Reading List (NY)
    Coretta Scott King Award (ALA)
    Florida Teens Read Master List
    Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee (NJ)
    Gateway Readers Award Nominee (MO)
    Georgia Peach Book Award Master List
    Green Mountain Book Award Master List (VT)
    Gryphon Award for Children's Literature
    Iowa Teen Award Master List
    IRA Young Adults' Choices
    Rosie Award Nominee (IN)
    Sequoyah Young Adult Master List (OK)
    South Carolina Book Award Nominee
    Volunteer State Book Award Master List (TN)
    YARP Award Master List (SD)


    Look for these other books for young adults by Angels Johnson:
  • Songs of Faith (1998)
  • Heaven (1998)
  • The Other Side, The Shorter Poems (1998)
  • Toning the Sweep (1993)
  • Gone From Home: Short Takes (2001)
  • Humming Whispers (1995)
  • On The Fringe
  • Running Back to Ludie (2002)
  • A Cool Moonlight (2003)

  • Have students explore teen pregnancy statistics at

    Language Arts Connections:
    Everyone has goals.  How would these goals and life dreams change if you suddenly had to care for an infant?

    Health Education Connection:
    Use in conjunction with your states sex education curriculum.

    Art Connection:
    Bobby is an artist.  His preferred method is spray paint.  This is commonly called "tagging".  Have students create a "tag" design.

    Alvin Ailey

    Pinkney, Andrea Davis. 1995. Alvin Ailey. NewYork: Hyperion. Ill. by Brian Pinkney. ISBN 978-078681077-2

    This narrative biography tells the story of Alvin Ailey and his journey from small town Texas to one of the greatest dancers and choreographers of the 20th century.
    Andrea Davis Pinkney manages to tell the story of the development of Alvin Ailey as a dancer and person through her simple yet compelling narrative of his life.  Information taken from interviews is interwoven with created dialogue to provide readers with a sense of who Ailey was as well as how he became that person.  Pinkney creates a sense of African American culture from the beginning of the book through the use of church and music.  She continues the journey by providing the reader with a glimpse of the racism and segregation which existed during Ailey's childhood.

    Andrea Davis Pinkney receives a great deal of help in depicting the culture of Alvin Ailey with the wonderful illustrations of her husband Brian Pinkney.  Brian Pinkney's illustrations depict African American people of strength and dignity.  A strong sense of movement is created through the use of hash marks which present the illusion of dance from the flat pages of the book.  Further, Mr. Pinkney's use of period appropriate clothing within his illustrations help to place the reader in the proper mindset to properly appreciate the barriers faced by Alvin Ailey in his quest to become a dancer.



    Children can investigate the work and legacy of Alvin Ailey by visiting

    Visit youtube and watch the AAADT in action

    Look for these other books for young people about Alvin Ailey and dance:

    A Young Dancer: The Life of an Ailey Student by Gladstone
    Beautiful Ballerina by Marilyn Nelson
    Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen
    Alvin Ailey by Gitenstein

    Friday, September 14, 2012

    Feathers and Fools

    Fox, Mem.2000. Feathers and Fools. Orlando, FL: Harcourt. Ill. by Nicholas Wilton. ISBN 0-15-202365-8
    Set in a beautiful garden and on a clear blue lake, Feathers and Fools is the story of an ostentation of peacocks and a flock of swans who develop a fear of each other due to their differences.  The fear grows to a panic which eventually causes the birds to destroy one another. 

    Written by Australian author Mem Fox and illustrated by6 Nicholas Wilton, Feathers and Fools is an allegory about the foolishness of prejudice and war.   The symbolism presented through the use of two beautiful species of birds who have more in common than in their differences presents a poignant picture of how fear of the unknown can lead to disaster and destruction.  With each species creating a hoard of ever growing weapons the fear and distrust grows until war is inevitable.  Fox shows that peace can prevail with the birth of two chicks who have not been taught to fear the other and choose instead a path of friendship and togetherness.

    Intense acrylic illustrations lend to the beauty of both sets of birds while bringing forth a feeling of growing fear with strong brushstrokes and sharpening angles. 

    Due to the violent nature of the book, I would not recommend this book for very small children.  The material is better suited for older children in spite of the picture book format.

    "Turns Fox into a contemporary Aesop."—Kirkus Reviews
    "Powerful...The text's pointed poetry will sink directly into children's hearts."—Publishers Weekly
    "This allegory is alive with symbolic references and ideas....Vivid."—School Library Journal


    Look for these other books by Mem Fox:
    The Little Dragon April 2011                                                    Let’s Count Goats! October 2010
    A Giraffe in the Bath  April 2010                                              Hello Baby! 2009
    Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes 2008                             Where The Giant Sleeps 2007
    A Particular Cow 2006                                                              Hunwick’s Egg 2005
    Where Is The Green Sheep? 2004                                            The Magic Hat 2002
    Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild! 2000                                         Sleepy Bears 1999
    Whoever You Are 1998                                                             Boo to a Goose 1996
    Wombat Divine 1995                                                                Tough Boris 1994
    Sophie 1989                                                                              Shoes from Grandpa 1989
    Feathers and Fools 1989                                                          Night Noises 1989
    With Love, at Christmas 1988                                                  Koala Lou 1988
    Guess What? 1988                                                                   Goodnight Sleep Tight 1988
    A Bedtime Story 1987                                                               The Straight Line Wonder 1987
    Sail Away: The Ballad of Skip and Nell 1986                            Just Like That 1986
    Hattie and the Fox 1986                                                           Zoo-Looking 1986
    Arabella: The Smallest Girl in the World 1986                         Possum Magic 1983
    Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge 1984
    Check out the authors website:
    Civics connection:  Students can be introduced to the concept of war.  Have students list ways in which the birds were similar and different.  Compare and contrast the lists.  Are the differences more important than the similarities?  Are any of the perceived differences harmful or threatening to the other group?
    Have children read other fables. 
    Discuss the use of color throughout Feathers and Fools.  Do the colors change to reflect the thoughts and feelings of the birds?

    The Thief Lord

    Funke, Cornelia.2001. The Thief Lord. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0-439-40437-1
    Prosper and Bo have run to the magical city of Venice, Italy to escape the clutches of their cruel Aunt and Uncle who have hired Victor, a local private investigator to find them.  The brothers fall in with a group of child thieves who live in an abandoned theater and are led by the mysterious "Thief Lord".  Scipio (the Thief Lord) is hired by the Conte and his sister, Morosinato to steal a magical wing which belongs on a merry go round that can turn those who ride it either younger or older.  The boys must decide where their fate lies and whom to trust as the mysteries of the merry go round unfold. 

    Written by a German author and set in Italy, The Thief Lord fits the bill for international literature.  The Italian city of Venice serves as a fitting backdrop for the mystical nature of the story.  The twisting and turning streets of the city mimic the twists and turns of the plot of the novel.  Also interwoven through the story are snippets of the Italian language which helps to lead to the authenticity of the characters and setting. For readers not familiar with the language there is a glossary of terms at the back of the book.  

    Common customs are also included such as spitting in the canal for luck.  Scipio is often seen wearing a simple beaked carnivale' mask to help hide his identity.  These masks are for sale year around in all parts of the city.  

    Although the reader is aware of the modern setting of the novel by the use of such items as cellular phones, the feeling of the story is authentic due to cultural markers which reflect the day to day life of Venetians.  Throughout the novel the characters travel by foot through the streets and over the canals of the city.  If not traveling by foot they take a boat.  Pedestrian travel is the preferred mode for those who live in and visit Venice. 

    The characters within the novel are fairly well developed.  The love between Prosper and Bo is evident and their bond as brothers is exceptionally well written.  The story is realistic in nature with the exception of the magical merry-go-round, which has the feeling of being inserted into the story simply to enable a conclusion.

    Several universal themes run throughout the book.  The first is a sense of belonging to family.  This theme is explored within the relationship between Prosper and Bo and also through the interaction of the orphan children with each other and with Victor.  Also, the themes of trust and friendship are present through the relationships between the children and their growing relationship with certain adults. 

    Each chapter includes a pen and ink drawing done by the author of a place or item in the city of Venice.  The drawings help the reader to understand the layout and nature of the golden city on the water. 

    The Zurich Children's Book Award (2000);
    The Children's Book Award from the Vienna House of Literature (2001).
    2003 Mildred L. Batchelder Award
    2002 New York Times Notable Book
    Winner of the 2005 Young Readers Choice Award (Senior Division)

    "Harrowing and comical escapades abound....Funke delights readers in the feelings of childhood....Although the core of this tale is heartwarming, the merry-go-round...hints at darkness, leaving its riders and the novel's readers changed forever." Kirkus Reviews

    "There are shards of wonderful stories in this ambitious narrative....Funke beguiles young readers as she paints the city of Venice in exquisite strokes; the affection between the brothers is sweetly rendered." GraceAnne DeCandido, Booklist

    "Funke brings together a large but not indigestible array of adults and children....It's a compelling tale, rich in ingenious twists, with a setting and cast that will linger in readers' memories." School Library Journal


    Look for these other books by Cornelia Funke:
    Dragon Rider (2004)
    Igraine the Brave (2007)
    Saving Mississippi (2010)
    Ghost Knight (2012)
    Reckless (2010)
    Fearless (2012)
    Inkheart (2003)
    Inkspell (2006)
    Inkdeath (2008)
    Children can view a slide show of the Italian Carnival here:
    Have children explore the country of Italy through lessons in Geography and art. 
    Explore author Cornelia Funke's website:
    Check out Scholastic's page about the author and her work:

    Thursday, September 13, 2012


    Trottier, Maxine. 2011. Migrant. Berkeley, CA:
         Groundwood Books. Ill. by Isabelle Arsenault.
         ISBN 978-0-88899-975-7

    Every spring Anna and her family travel from Mexico to Canada searching for work on farms.  Anna feels like a bird flying north for the spring, or a kitten curled up with her sisters, and wonders what it would feel like to be a tree with deep roots. 

    Anna's story offers cultural markers which connect the plight of the migrant worker to stationary society. Use of imagery and metaphors conveys a child's perception of life and sense of longing for stability and continuity.  The author's comparison to of the life of a migrant child to animals and common plants brings the life of migrant farm workers into an understandable place which all can draw comparisons.  Language differences are addressed through the common experience of shopping for groceries and the sounds of raised voices are compared to a chorus of crickets chirping different songs.

    Illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault help to depict cultural differences.  The traditional clothing of the Mennonites are starkly different from those of the stationary citizens of the town to which Anna and her family travel.  And the colors and patterns of the landscape and animals mimic the traditional and old fashioned quality of Mennonite quilts. 

    The plight of the migrant farm worker is presented in a manner which allows others to correlate the experiences in a way that is meaningful to them on a personal level.  The presentation of feelings and questions throughout the text forces the reader to put themselves in the place of Anna and imagine the differences in lifestyle.

    D. REVIEW EXCERPTSGovernor General's Award: Illustration, 2011, Short-listed, Migrant.
    E. CONNECTIONSChildren can investigate the life of migrant farm workers through internet and government resources.

    Science connection:  students can learn about migratory patterns of birds.

    Art connection: Have students make a "flying geese" quilt

    Look for these other books for young people about migrant farmworkers:
    Atkin, S.B. (2000). Voices from the Fields : Children of Migrant Farmworkers Tell Their Stories.  ISBN 978-0316056205
    Dorros, A. (1997). Radio Man. ISBN-13: 978-0064434829

    Buirski, N. (1994). Earth Angels: Migrant Children in America. ISBN-13: 978-0876540732

    Look for this other books about Mennonites:
    Hiebert, C. (2003). Us Little People. ISBN 978-1550462722

    Friday, August 3, 2012

    Looking for Alaska

    Green, John. 2005. Looking for Alaska. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0-525-47506-0

    Miles is obsessed with famous last words and bored with life.  He goes out to find the "Great Perhaps".  Along the way he meets Alaska, who like her name is full of wild unknown.  How much can one person change another persons life?
    Looking for Alaska is divided into two parts: before and after.  The chapters are a countdown to and from Alaska's death and the questions it presents.  This book is definetely not for children and should be read by a more mature teen audience.  The novel contains acts of smoking, drinking, profanity and sexual content.  However, the characters are well developed even if Miles is reminiscent of Holden Caufield in The Catcher in the Rye.  Green presents the death/possible suicide of Alaska as an unanswered question that the other characters are left to unravel.  This is much how death occurs in life.  The living are left to sort out the reasons for death.  The fact that the answer is unkown and the characters that remain have to find meaning makes the novel a more satisfying and rewarding read.  The setting is ripe for the type of activities which the characters engage in as it presents minimal adult supervision.  Overall, a well written novel.
    Winner, 2006 Michael L. Printz Award
    Finalist, 2005 Los Angeles Times Book Prize
    2006 Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults
    2006 Teens’ Top 10 Award
    2006 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
    A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
    A Booklist Editor’s Choice Pick
    Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection
    Borders Original Voices Selection

    “Green…has a writer’s voice, so self-assured and honest that one is startled to learn that this novel is his first. The anticipated favorable comparisons to Holden Caufield are richly deserved in this highly recommended addition to young adult literature.”
    “Like Phineas in John Knowles’ “A Separate Peace,” Green draws Alaska so lovingly, in self-loathing darkness as well as energetic light, that readers mourn her loss along with her friends.”
    -School Library Journal, Starred Review
    “The spirit of Holden Caulfield lives on.”
    Other works by John Green:
    An Abundance of Katherines
    Paper Towns
    The Fault in Our Stars
    Will Grayson, Will Grayson

    visit the authors website:
    Investigate a famous person's last words
    Ask students to write their own obituary and include and explain their last words.