Monthly Archives: April 2013

Module 15: Lush

Lush

Book Summary:

Samantha’s life is always uncertain; that’s because her father is an alcoholic and her mother is in denial.  With a four-year-old brother around, Sam is frequently the one who has to watch out for him and keep him safe from their father’s negligence.

Life is also not easy because Sam is thirteen, in eighth grade, and trying to deal with all the social pressures that come with being at the beginning of high school.  As a way to cope and to seek help, Sam begins a correspondence with who she thinks is a girl she sees studying at the library.  (They leave each other notes in a particular book in the library.)

Slowly Sam begins to see a way out of her troubles at school and in her personal life; that is until one fateful evening when she loses control at a party.  Her world begins to crash in around her and Sam realizes she and her father both need more help than an anonymous pen pal can give.

 Friend, N. (2006). Lush. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

Impressions:

I liked this book more than I expected to.  I read it because I thought this might be a book to recommend to our students who like realistic or “sad” books.  (Many of our female readers fall into this category.)  After reading it, I think I can safely recommend it to that group.

I felt this was a realistic portrayal of what it might be like to have an alcoholic parent, but I think it’s pretty much a fairly mild version of that storyline.  In the end, Sam’s dad is willing to get help and wants to get better.  I think for many teens, this is not the case with their mom or dad.

The other story line is Sam’s school life.  I think this was fairly portrayed and poses challenges for her, but again, I don’t think it was a worst case scenario; I know for a fact things could have been worse, but they were bad enough.

Overall, I think this is a book that will keep many teen’s attention and deals with several touchy topics with sensitivity and insight.  I liked it and will look for more from this author.

Professional Review:

Thirteen-year-old Samantha’s father is an alcoholic. When he is sober, he is a great guy, but when he is drunk, he is scary and abusive. With her mother in denial and a four-year-old brother to protect, Sam writes a note asking for advice and leaves it in the library, hoping an older girl she admires will write back to her. So begins a correspondence in which Sam opens up about her father’s alcoholism as well as her crush on an older boy. In return, the letter writer, who goes only by initials, reveals some hard truths. As she did in Perfect (2005), Friend adeptly takes a teen problem and turns it into a believable, sensitive, character-driven story, with realistic dialogue. The cautiously optimistic ending works because Friend has convinced readers that Sam can handle whatever happens. Friend, who clearly understands and empathizes with young teens, is a writer to watch.

Carton, D. (2006, November 1). [Review of the book Lush, by N. Friend].  Booklist 103(5), 41. Retrieved from http://www.booklistonline.com

Library Uses:

I think this should be displayed with other “problem” books or on a list of realistic fiction for teens.  I think this might also be a candidate for bibliotherapy.  Some counselors will have their patients read books that can help them with their issues- in fact, Sam is given a stack of self-help books for teens with alcoholic parents (or other family members) towards the end of the book.  (To be clear, it is not a counselor who gives them to her, but the purpose is the same.)  I think this is a book that gives a positive example of how these problems arise and how they may be dealt with.  I am not offering this as a substitute to counseling or other professional help, but am thinking a little towards the future. 

**In the UK and Australia some libraries partner with counselors and doctors to create lists of books that may be “prescribed” for patients.  The doctor or counselor will give the patient a prescription for a book or books and the patient may come to the library to have it filled.

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Module 14: A Kick in the Head

A kick in the head

Book Summary:

This is a collection of poems illustrating different forms of poetry.  An introduction explains that it is best to read the poem first, then read the brief description of the rules that the poet must follow for that particular type of poem, and then re-read the poems after reading the further information about the forms of poetry at the back of the book.  Colorful illustrations accompany each poem making this a fun visual book as well as giving cues about the rules of the poems.

Janeczko, P.B. (2005). A Kick in the Head: An everyday guide to poetic forms. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press

Impressions:

First let me say, I had no clue that this many types of poems existed in the world!!  Not to mention, this is not all, according to the author.  Whew!  That being said, I loved this book!  I am not a huge poetry fan, but do have a few favorites: Robert Frost, Shel Silverstein, Emily Dickinson, Wendall Berry, and Jane Kenyon to name a few.

Mr. Janeczko picked some memorable poetry from famous and not-so-famous poets to represent the various poetry forms.  The rules were succinctly cited below the work and a light-hearted and colorful illustration accompanied each poem.  This book would be appropriate for an adult who wants an overview of what is out there and what are the basic rules; an elementary teacher who would like to expose his or her students to new forms of poetry; and it could be used in a creative writing class for teens or adults as a fun way to cover the basics or even as a reference tool to quickly learn or review the rules of various poetry forms.  I would recommend this book for any poetry collection.

Professional Review:

*Starred Review* Gr. 4-6. The creators of A Poke in the I (2001) offer another winning, picture-book poetry collaboration. Here, each poem represents a different poetic form, from the familiar to the more obscure. The excellent selection easily mixes works by Shakespeare and William Blake with entries from contemporary poets for youth, including Janeczko. Once again, Raschka’s high-spirited, spare torn-paper-and-paint collages ingeniously broaden the poems’ wide-ranging emotional tones. A playful, animal-shaped quilt of patterned paper illustrates Ogden Nash’s silly couplet “The Mule,” while an elegant flurry of torn paper pieces makes a powerful accompaniment to Georgia Heard’s heartbreaking poem, “The Paper Trail,” about lives lost on 9/11. Clear, very brief explanations of poetic forms (in puzzlingly tiny print) accompany each entry; a fine introduction and appended notes offer further information, as do Raschka’s whimsical visual clues, such as the rows of tulips representing the syllables in a haiku. Look elsewhere for lengthy explanations of meter and rhyme. This is the introduction that will ignite enthusiasm. The airy spaces between the words and images will invite readers to find their own responses to the poems and encourage their interest in the underlying rules, which, Janeczko says, “make poetry–like sports–more fun.”

Enberg, G. (2005, March 15). [Review of the book A kick in the head: An everyday guide to poetic forms, by P. Janeczko].  Booklist, 101(14), 1291. Retrieved from http://www.booklistonline.com

 Library Uses:

This would be a great book to use with any sort of poetry lesson or program.  The entire book could be read aloud and different poems read along with the one given in the book as an example or one or two poetic forms could be chosen and a writing program or class planned around that particular poem or poems.

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Module 13: Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty

Yummy

Book Summary:

This is the tragic story of a young man caught in a cycle of violence and neglect from which he cannot escape.  The true story of Robert “Yummy” Sandifer is told from the viewpoint of a fictional classmate Roger.  He is being raised by his grandmother- his parents pretty much out of the picture, but in his mind, his true family is the gang he desperately wants to join- the Black Disciples.  He begins to take on assignments for them as a young boy; being used to rob and hurt people because unlike the older boys in the gang, Yummy will not be sent to jail for the crimes he is committing.  But then one night he makes a horrible mistake with a real gun and an innocent girl is killed.  Yummy is then on the run and the gang is not out to help him.  In the end, the gang is his undoing and Roger is left to wonder at Yummy’s funeral where is it went wrong and what could have happened to change the sad ending to Yummy’s life.

Neri, G. (2010).  Yummy: The last days of a southside shorty. New York, NY: Lee and Low Books, Inc.

Impressions:

I felt very sad and helpless after reading this graphic novel.  I know that many of the students at the school where I work probably are growing up in an environment similar to that of Yummy’s.  I really am flummoxed as to the answer for the problem of kids growing up with no one to care for them; no one to love them.

Yummy’s grandmother did care for and love him, but she set no limits and indulged him. His mother apparently loved no one but herself and Yummy’s father seems never to come into the picture.  The way the story is written, it almost seems like what happened was inevitable.

I believe the author meant this as a cautionary story and as fodder for discussion.  I think that this is an issue that should stay in the spotlight and never dismissed until we as a society figure out some solutions.  However, as Neri says at the end of his author’s note- that is easier said than done.

One further note about the illustrations- they are rendered in stark black and white- reflecting, I think, the harshness of Yummy’s reality.  The shading in the photos is used to great effectiveness; some of the darker scenes are almost completely black with a very sinister overtone.  They also create a very bleak feel again mirroring Yummy’s life.

Professional Review:

*Starred Review* Robert Sandifer—called “Yummy” thanks to his sweet tooth—was born in 1984 on the South Side of Chicago. By age 11 he had become a hardened gangbanger, a killer, and, finally, a corpse. In 1994, he was a poster child for the hopeless existence of kids who grow up on urban streets, both victims and victimizers, shaped by the gang life that gives them a sense of power. Neri’s graphic-novel account, taken from several sources and embellished with the narration of a fictional classmate of Yummy’s, is a harrowing portrait that is no less effective given its tragic familiarity. The facts are laid out, the suppositions plausible, and Yummy will earn both the reader’s livid rage and deep sympathy, even as the social structure that created him is cast, once again, as America’s undeniable shame. Tightly researched and sharply written, if sometimes heavy-handed, the not-quite-reportage is brought to another level by DuBurke’s stark black-and-white art, which possesses a realism that grounds the nightmare in uncompromising reality and an emotional expressiveness that strikes right to the heart. Like Joe Sacco’s work (Footnotes in Gaza, 2010), this is a graphic novel that pushes an unsightly but hard to ignore sociopolitical truth out into the open. Grades 8-12

Karp, J. (2010, August 1). [Review of the book Yummy: The last days of a southside shorty, by G. Neri].  Booklist, 106(22), 55. Retrieved from http://www.booklistonline.com

Library Uses:

For this book, I think the demographics of the patron base would probably need to be considered in order to develop appropriate programming. I think that it could be part of a program exploring the American teen experience through graphic novels.  Maybe highlight books like this one, American Born Chinese, Stitches, The Silence of our Friends, etc.  Perhaps host book talks and discussions around these novels.  Maybe even allow teens to tell there own story by providing paper, pens, pencils, and letting them create their own graphic novels.

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Module 12: Julia Morgan Built a Castle

Julia Morgan built a castle

 

Book Summary:

Julia Morgan was the first woman to graduate from the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Art in Paris, France in 1902 and the first woman in California to be issued a license to practice architecture in 1904.  She was a driven, talented woman who broke barriers and followed her dreams even when they seemed out of reach.

Celeste Davidson Mannis tells the story of Julia from the time she was a young girl, through her education, and the establishment of her career.  She concludes the story with what many consider Morgan’s greatest and most certainly well-know project- the HearstCastle; a project which would span more than half of her 50-year career and earn her wealth and fame.

Mannis, C.D. (2006).  Julia Morgan built a castle. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Impressions:

I enjoyed reading this inspiring story about a woman achieving so much at a time when the odds were stacked against her.  Mannis does a good job of relaying a story in a way that is interesting and engaging but not too complicated for the reader.  Julia Morgan becomes someone we want to root for and see succeed.  I also think this will be an eye-opener for today’s young girl to see what women struggled through not that long ago.

The illustrations are muted, but also suffused with light; a reflection perhaps of “The Golden State.”  The pictures are a good match for the story and support the text with interesting visuals that should keep the reader entertained and engaged.

I do agree with the reviewer (below) that it would have been nice to end the story with an actual photograph of the HearstCastle and even one of Julia as a girl and a woman.  I think that would have closed things out nicely.  Although, I did enjoy the author’s note about how she discovered Julia and her favorite structures that Julia constructed.  I hope someday to visit them in person.

Professional Review:

“The fruits of architects’ labors–from pyramids to skyscrapers–have been celebrated more frequently in picture books than architects themselves. Mannis’ choice of subject, the first female graduate of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, fills this void nicely, as the “little something” Morgan built for William Randolph Hearst on a California hilltop anchors the life story in a lavish project that will snare children’s imaginations. The lively narrative crystallizes the struggles against the gender bias Morgan encountered and brings the details of a large-scale building site to a child’s level, such as the movie screenings that entertained the castle’s live-in construction crew. The book’s large format and Hyman’s full-bleed paintings capture the grandeur of both Morgan’s aspirations and the dramatic landscapes in which she worked. A concluding photo of the finished structure would have been nice, as would notes about the provenance of material in quotations, but the unsung heroine and the handsome, engaging presentation counterbalance these missteps.”

Mattson, J. (2006, November 15).  [Review of the book Julia Morgan built a castle by C. Mannis]. Booklist, 103(6), 51.  Retrieved from http://www.booklistonline.com/

Library Uses:

I think this could be used in a model-building project, read along with some other architect or engineering books and then after have model building materials for kids to construct their own structures.

This could also be used in conjunction with Women’s History Month to showcase a real woman pioneer in the field of architecture.  There could be a subject focus over the course of the month- maybe one a week- and projects could be planned around that subject.

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Module 11: An Egg Is Quiet

An egg is quiet

 

Book Summary:

This is a beautiful picture book/field guide about eggs.  It is intended for young children, but adults will also appreciate the exquisite artwork and the quiet simplicity of the text.  From the front cover to the back, including the end pages, there is information about eggs of all sorts: bird, insect, fish, amphibians, reptiles, even dinosaurs!  The artwork is so realistic, it makes you want to pick up one of the eggs in your hands and study it up close.  Ultimately, the book gives the reader a thorough description of the many varieties of eggs in the world.

Aston, D. (2006). An egg is quiet.  San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books LLC

Impressions:

I love this book!  It is so beautifully illustrated; I know my words will not do the pictures justice.  The text is simple, clear, and interesting- pointing out all sorts of ways to consider eggs; from the viewpoint of shape, size, texture, hardness, softness, etc.  Throughout the book all eggs are carefully labeled and if size is not correct, labeled to inform the reader of the change.  Many interesting facts appear on these pages about who lays eggs, how eggs are laid, even the changes during the gestation period of several types of eggs.  All in all, a well-done, interesting book about a subject that most people probably give little thought.

Professional Review:

“PreS-Gr. 2. This beautifully illustrated introduction to eggs resembles pages drawn from a naturalist’s diary. The text, scrolled out in elegant brown ink, works on two levels. Larger print makes simple observations that, read together, sound almost like poetry: “An egg is quiet. . . . An egg is colorful. An egg is shapely.” On each spread, words in smaller print match up with illustrations to offer more facts about bird and fish eggs across the animal spectrum. The illustrations are too detailed for read-alouds, but there’s a great deal here to engage children up close. The succinct text will draw young fact hounds, particularly fans of Steve Jenkins’ Biggest, Strongest, Fastest (1995) and his similar titles. Long’s illustrations are elegant and simple, and the gallery of eggs, as brilliantly colored and polished as gems, will inspire kids to marvel at animals’ variety and beauty. A spread showing X-ray views of young embryos growing into animal young makes this a good choice for reinforcing concepts about life cycles.”

Engberg, G. (2006, April 15).  Aston, Dianna. An egg is quiet [Review of the book An egg is quiet, by D. Aston]. Booklist, 102(16), 48.  Retrieved from http://www.booklistonline.com/

Library Uses:

This would be a great book to use when studying creatures that lay eggs, the life cycle, or even just eggs themselves.  I think the best age groups are younger children maybe age 4 to 8.  Different activities should be paired with the book depending on the age of the children.  Using plain chicken (hard-boiled) eggs to decorate could be a fun activity for the younger kids.  Or even egg b owing for the older children to have a more permanent piece of art.

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Module 10: The Greatest Skating Race

The greatest skating race

Book Summary:

This book tells the story of a young boy Piet in the Netherlands during the winter of 1941.  It is war time and the Netherlands have been occupied by the Germans.  The father of Piet’s neighbors has been arrested by the Germans for owning an illegal radio which they have accused him of sending secret messages to Allied forces.  Now the children need to get to an aunt’s house in neighboring Belgium and Piet is asked to escort the two younger children as they navigate the frozen canals on skates.  It is a 16 kilometer trip from one town to the other and must be finished before dark.

Woven along side this tale of bravery and danger, is a history of a famous skating race in the Netherlands called the Elfstentocht- or Eleven Towns Race.  Attempted only during the coldest winters with conditions harsh enough to ensure that all the canals will be frozen, this is a time-honored tradition taken on by only the hardiest of skaters.  Piet uses the inspiration of the National Hero and first person to officially skate the race, Pim Mulier, to keep him going when he is most scared and tired.  Luckily the children make it to the aunt’s house arriving safe if a little tired and cold.

Borden, L. (2004).  The greatest skating race: A World War II story from the Netherlands.New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

 

Impressions:

The most disappointing thing about this book for me is in not knowing if the story told is true or not.  I looked in various places, including the author’s website, but could not find confirmation or denial of the existence of Piet Janssen, his family and the family they helped.  Considering the book has an epilogue, you would think it was a true story, but I’m thinking it is not.

Other than the above mentioned conundrum, I really was moved by this story.  I liked the format of the text; I believe it makes a long story more readable for the intended age range.  The illustrations are perfectly matched to the time frame and the story.  Even though the colors used are muted and stark fitting the winter time and the riskiness of the children’s situation, they also manage to be cheerful and quaint.

I also enjoyed learning about a race that I had never heard of before.  As I read the story, the immensity of taking on a challenge like that became clearer and clearer as we traveled with the children and watched them as they grew more and more weary; they were only traveling 16 kilometers!  Great story!

 

Professional Review:

“Grade 2-5–This slice of historical fiction celebrates the bravery and resourcefulness of children. In the winter of 1941, 10-year-old Piet, a strong skater, is enlisted to lead his two young neighbors from Holland to safety over the ice to relatives in Belgium after their father is arrested for sending messages to the allied forces. The three children leave their home in Sluis and bravely skate 16 kilometers on the canals to Brugge. They outwit and hide from German soldiers and make it to their destination in one long, difficult day. Told with immediacy and suspense from Piet’s point of view, the engaging narrative is arranged in columns, which is an ideal structure to relate the action in short sentences. Readers learn about the Elfstedentocht, a 200-kilometer skating race, and the boy’s hero, skater Pim Mulier. The gorgeously detailed watercolor illustrations capture a sense of the time. The subdued, winter hues of brown and smoky gray are those often found in the oil paintings of Dutch and Flemish masters and match the quiet tone of the text. The book’s format maximizes the drama and expanse of the landscape. Use this picture book to introduce curricular units and to give youngsters a vivid child’s-eye view of the past.”

Brommer, S. (2005, Spring). [Review of the book The greatest skating race: A World War II story from the Netherlands, by L. Borden].  School library journal 51(Supplement), 26.  Retrieved from http://www.slj.com

 

Library Uses:

This could be used in some sort of race day at the library.  I’m sure there are other books about different kinds of races and these could be read before and after the event.  Then the library could sponsor all sorts of races outside of the library (maybe in a roped off section of the parking lot if there is not a convenient space adjacent to the library) and have prizes along with refreshments.  I think this would be a great way to promote physical fitness as well as reading.  Exercising the body helps keep the brain healthy!

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Module 9: 49 Old Cemetery Road- Dying to Meet You

49 old cemetery
Book Summary:

Best-selling, and crotchety, old children’s book author Ignatius B Grumply moves into the old Victorian at 43 Old Cemetery Road to get some solitary time to write his latest book.  Unfortunately, the house is occupied by Seymour the eleven-year-old son of the owners of the house and Seymour’s friend Olive.  Oh- Olive happens to be a ghost!  Needless to say, things do not start our well.  But sometimes friendship finds you in unexpected places and in unexpected ways.

Klise, K. (2009). 49 old cemetery road: Dying to meet you. Orlando, FL: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Impressions:

This is kind of a quirky book with some things that don’t really make sense.  (I mean what parents would agree to leave their 11-year-old son in the custody of a tenant they had never met?)  However, I doubt the intended audience of this story would have a hard time suspending their disbelief in order to go along with the story.

I really enjoyed the epistolary format of the book itself and the individuality shown through the differing typefaces, fonts, etc.  The front cover is also engaging and attractive- well maybe spooky is a better description.

Finally, even though the events that take place in the book are, if not impossible, then surely unlikely, it’s still a fun story.  I enjoyed watching the relationships between Ignatius, Seymour, and Olive develop.  I was a little worried that the ending might not be as satisfactory as I wanted, but the Klise sisters did not disappoint!

Professional Review:

“This epistolary graphic mystery may take genre-bending into the realm of genre-pretzeling, but it still delivers an unlikely story with a great deal of likability. The famed children’s author (who despises kids, naturally) Ignatius B. Grumply moves into an old Victorian mansion to finish his latest book. Turns out a young boy abandoned by his parents lives upstairs, and a ghost named Olive lives in the cupola, making for an uncomfortably full house. The entire interaction between the three (and a handful of supporting cast members) takes place in their written communiqués, a conceit that falls apart under close scrutiny but if taken at face value allows for a surprisingly jaunty read. Given that a bulk of the physical space is taken up by letterheads, this thin book can be read in a flash, and even though it is the first in the 43 Old Cemetery Road series, it stands on its own and features a touching conclusion. Maps of the house, portraits of the characters, and the boy’s drawings add a nice layer to the mildly self-referential whole. Grades 3-6.”

Chipman, I. (2009, April 1).  Dying to meet you [Review of the book 49 old cemetery road: Ding to meet you, by K. Klise].  Booklist, 105(15), 36.  Retrieved from http://www.booklistonline.com

Library Uses:

I think this would be a great example to use in a “Write your own book” program.  It could be checked out to interested patrons and then two weeks later (to give them all a chance to read the book) the group could get together and spend time creating their own book.  Paper, pens, pencils, colors, markers, etc. could be provided by the library for the prospective authors to use.  Kids could even pair up as the Klise sisters do with one coming up with the story and one illustrating the book.

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