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