Sunday, April 27, 2008

"A mouse with a lioness's voice"

Title: Becoming Naomi León
Author: Pam Muñoz Ryan
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc, 2004
Genre: Multicultural, realistic fiction novel
Age Range: 3-5

Summary: Naomi lives with her brother Owen and great-grandmother Gram in California. Owen has many physical disabilities and Naomi is very shy, and loves soap carvings. One day, their mother, Skyla reappears wanting to get to know her children. She buys many gifts for them, but shows a greater interest in Naomi. She has struggled with drinking, and has been in and out of rehab and half-way houses for years. She and her boyfriend Clive want to take Naomi to Las Vegas with them, so she can be a babysitter for Clive's daughter Sapphire, and they can collect the government money for the girls. Gram, along with their neighbors Bernardo and Fabiola take their trailer and leave for Mexico. This is to avoid Skyla taking Naomi, and they hope to find the children's father, so that Gram can receive full custody of the kids. While in Mexico, Naomi learns a lot about the Mexican culture, and begins to love it. She helps the men with their carvings in for the Night of the Radishes, where they receive 2nd place. Their father is there, and they get to spend some time with him, as he tries all he can to help them in their fight to be with Gram. When they return home, they go to court against Skyla and Clive. Skyla wants only Naomi, and when Naomi finally speaks out against living with them, the judge grants Gram custody. Naomi is now able to be with Owen and Gram, as well as spend time in Mexico with her father.

Response: Naomi and Owen are not the typical characters in a novel. They do have to deal with certain things such as bullies at school, making friends, and trying to fit in, which all young children deal with. However, they have to deal with that in the extreme. They also face the issues of a broken family, with a mother who struggles with addiction. Gram is their saving grace, and continues to provide and fight for them no matter what obstacles may be in their way. Skyla is an appropriate name for her because she is often up in the clouds. She flies around, not thinking about anything, and is certainly never grounded. She is selfish and rude, hitting her children because she can not control her addictions.

Owen provides a great lesson for children. Not only does he struggle with physical disabilities, but it is obvious he struggles mentally and emotionally. His tape is like a security blanket, and without it he is not himself. It is so hard to see Skyla deal with Owen because she is so ignorant. She thinks that he can not hear what she says about him, including when she talks to the doctors about his condition. When the doctors refer to him as a "Funny Looking Kid," Skyla blows up and gets angry. She is so superficial; if she could see that Owen is the smartest student in his class, and his mood is always so cheerful and happy, their relationship could progress. All she sees is the physical appearance, what is on the outside. And if you look at her, then you think she is completely put together. Her hair color and lipstick always match, and she is always changing them. But if you look at her inside, her character, you see how terrible she is. This woman abandoned her children, and only wants one of them back so she can collect money on her. She is destroying her body and mind with alcohol, and she takes it out on her children, even slapping Naomi at one point in the story.

Naomi is a young girl who does not know what to do with herself. She speaks at a whisper, and is afraid to stand up for herself and Owen. She is a worrier and a list maker, two things I can identify with. But when you have lived your life not knowing what is going to happen to you, worrying only can come naturally. Throughout the course of the story, she learns about herself, and the culture of her background, and embraces her "inner lion" (her last name of León means lion). That is why I chose my title "a mouse with a lioness's voice" because that is truly what she becomes. She stands up for herself and it helps her to be able to stay with Gram and Owen. The father is just a compassionate wonderful man, who got entangled in the trap of their mother. He does all he can to help his children, and Naomi seems to be a lot like him.

This book is a great way to teach, and learn about the Mexican culture. The entire second half of the story talks about the rich and beautiful traditions and people involved. It is completely told from an insider's perspective because the author, Pam Muñoz Ryan, has a Mexican heritage. We are learning about the culture from her, someone who has lived and experience it first-hand. Each tradition, whether it is food, celebrations, clothing, Naomi embraces because it is a part of her. There is no stereotyping involved, and I think that by reading it from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about the culture either, helps the reader to embrace and accept the culture as well. I love the relationship that Owen has with Ruben. Neither of them speaks the other's language, so they must rely on other interaction. They are best friends, playing and spending all their time together. It shows the great barriers that can be broken with understanding and acceptance of one another.

There is great use of the Spanish language, but it is simple enough so that even young readers can pick up what they are saying to each other. Words such as el mercado and quesillo represent a basic vocabulary that provides an insight into a foreign language.

There are several other cultural markers: food (mole, tortillas, pan dulce), La Noche de Los Rábanos, Posada, and the great importance of the family. All these things were introduced and fit well into the flow of the story. A wide variety of characters are introduced during their time in Oaxaca, and not all of them necessarily believe or act the same, but all bring a different spirit of the culture with them. Posada is perhaps my favorite tradition that I learned about. It is a great way to celebrate Christmas, and it shows a little difference in the way that their culture looks at the birth of Christ. Everyone walks around, knocking on all the doors in the neighborhood, looking for someone to let them in. At the end, everyone gets great goodies and Naomi leaves with sense of understanding about how humble Christ's birth was. It is in Mexico that Naomi makes a connection with herself and her real family.

This book's title says "Becoming" because it is a story that shows the journey of a young girl who finally embraces her heritage, and defines who she is. I think it is an essential multicultural book because it deals with so many different issues that students can relate to, or need to understand.

Teaching Ideas: This book is a great way to introduce the Mexican culture. The great language, traditions, and food that are presented in this novel can be a great starting point for children to learn about Mexico. There is a great idea for doing soap carvings with them at the end of the novel, and I think students would enjoy that.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"The Little Ships"

Title: The Little Ships: The Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk in World War II
Author: Louise Borden
Illustrator: Michael Foreman
Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1997
Genre: Picture Book, Historical Fiction
Age Range: 2-5

Summary: In the beginning of WWII, there were about half a million soldiers stranded in Dunkirk. They had been trapped on three sides by the German military. The only way to save them was by the sea. A little girl and her father own a small boat called the Lucy. They decide to sign up, she has to make herself look like a boy, and join the efforts to go and save the soldiers. They are a part of 861 boats that go and save men. When they arrive they see men who are hurt and dying, as well as their animals. They took thousands of men from the shore to the larger ships, each time she was looking for her brother John. As they were leaving, stray bullets were hitting their ship, and the city of Dunkirk was going up in flames. When they arrived home, the learned that a man traveling with them had died, so they took his dog in as their own. Soon she heard news that her brother was safe. They listened to the words of the Prime Minister, and heard that they had helped to save over 338,000 men in Dunkirk.
Response: I have not heard very much about Dunkirk in my studies, other than it was a massive rescue attempt. It was interesting to read in the author's note about all the animals that were rescued, along with the men. She also adds in some of the speech from the Prime Minister who talks about fighting the war with Germany until the end. He said that the rescue at Dunkirk was not necessarily a victory, but a miracle that they were able to save so many men. These are great tools of information, and the foreword in the front from the captain of a ship also adds to the authenticity of the story. There is nothing but bravery and courage spoken from the little girl who travels with her father. The story seems to be written in almost a free verse poem, as it is written in stanzas on the pages. Her words are very realistic and the vocabulary seems to match that of a young child. She is very descriptive in talking about the soldiers, and their very desperate condition. I think it is very interesting to note that she would be able to help pull these men into the ship, being very young. She says that her hands were raw inside the gloves she wore. She saw things that many people would not dare to speak of. Soldiers in Dunkirk were hurt and had no help. Thousands of men owe their lives to this massive armada of ships that came to help them. The illustrations in the book are done with water color. There is no real bold colors until you see Dunkirk and the fires and things in it. The pictures of the boats traveling are very dark and gray. There is a hazy sort of feel, as if they are about to approach a major storm. Some of the details are a bit blurred, showing just how much was going on at the time. I think it shows that details were forgotten by those there because they were so focused on the rescue at hand. The most important picture, in my opinion, shows a man being pulled on to the sip, after he has fallen into the water. he is hanging onto one side of the boat, with his dog paddling beside him. They are all reaching out for him, to save his life. But at the same time, the water is enveloping him, and the white crests are almost like weapons coming after him. Both he and the little girl are wearing blue, which brings them both together. Also, the dog in this picture is the dog she ends up taking home with her. She is their rescuer. She also talks about not showing her fear of the war. Of course, it was the beginning, but this war was perhaps one of the greatest tragedies in history. The holocaust killed well over 6 million people. Stories like this give hope because at this time the world was consumed with so much hate and violence.
Teaching Ideas: This follows with a study of WWII, or even talking about heroes. This little girl is a hero, well, she was fictitious but perhaps young people helped out at this time. Children can talk about how it would be to go through something like this in war. I would use this book in part with other books, such as Milkweed, Aleutian Sparrow, and Weedflower that give students a wide array of things that were going on at this point in time.

"The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963"

Title: The Watson's Go to Birmingham--1963
Author: Christopher Paul Curtis
Publisher: Yearling, 1995
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age Range: 3-6

Newbery Honor Book
Coretta Scott King Honor Book

Summary: The Watsons are an African American family living in Flint, Michigan, where the weather is freezing. There is a mother named Wilona, a father named Daniel, an older juvenile delinquent brother named Byron, the storyteller named Kenny, and a little sister named Joetta. The family struggles trying to keep Byron in line. Kenny is really intelligent, and Joey is a bit of a whiner and tattle-tale. Kenny talks a lot about his family, and making a new friend named Rufus. Byron continually gets into trouble, and his parents finally decide that they are going to take him to Alabama to stay with their grandmother. The family is going to drive together and stay for a few weeks, and then leave Byron there. Their mother has everything planned out, and their father even bought a portable record player for their car. On the way, their father decides he is going to drive straight to Alabama, much to their mother's dismay. Once arriving there, it seems like Kenny and By switch places because Kenny is in a bad mood and hot, while Byron is enjoying everything. Kenny goes against the warning signs into Collier's Landing, where a whirlpool killed a young boy. Kenny begins being pulled in by the "Wool Pooh" and it is Byron who saves him. On Sunday, Kenny is still shaken by the events, and he sees his little sister go to Sunday School. A little while later a huge noise shakes everyone, and it is soon realized that someone has bombed the church. Kenny runs over there finding a shoe, and seeing many terrible things in the church. He thinks it belongs to his sister, and that she is dead. When he gets home, she comes into his room, and he acts like she is a ghost. What had happened was Joey had gotten too hot in the church and came home on her own. The family left that day and went home. Kenny has a hard time with the whole thing because he believes it was the "Wool Pooh" who was in the church pulling Joey away from him, and he let go. He eventually has a breakdown with By in the bathroom, and realizes that he is okay, and to finally let go of the things that happened because they were not his fault.

Response: This novel displays a wide variety of emotions, and allows for the reader to really get inside the characters’ personalities. The first half of the book gives the reader an idea as to where the family lives, their experiences, and a good description of each character.

The father of the family is goofy and fun loving; he spends most of his time cracking jokes, and trying to get their mother to laugh. He is head over heels in love with her. He is also a very proud man, driving straight through to Alabama just to prove he is still young enough to do it. The mother is a stern woman, who is definitely the head of the household. She has those looks that let everyone know what she is thinking; she is much more serious than her husband. A strong southern woman at heart, she plans every detail of the trip, and can not wait to show her family her great southern roots. Byron is thee typical rebellious teenager. He spends most of his time skipping school, bullying children, and getting into any and every kind of trouble. His juvenile record is what sets the family on their trip. He will have to stay with their grandmother down there all summer because of his continuous trouble. Kenny is the storyteller. The novel is told from his young perspective. He is very intelligent; one of the best readers in the school. He does his best to stay out of the way of his older brother, and other school bullies. He has one friend, a new boy who moved up from the south. Joetta, or Joey, is the youngest. She is very caring and never wants for her brothers to get in trouble; however, there are times that she can be a tattle-tale. She loves church, and attends Sunday school each and every week. The family is known as the “Weird Watsons” because they are often doing things a little out of the ordinary. For example, when their father comes home with the portable record player in the car, they sit out there for hours listening to all their favorite records.

There are three events that take place in the novel that I feel like made a great impression on me, and really helped to make this book a great read.

The first event takes place when the family arrives in Alabama. It is hot, and this makes Kenny very grouchy. He decides that he is going to venture to Collier’s Landing, disregarding the warnings and a cautionary tale about a young boy who was killed. Not even Byron will go with him. After arriving in Alabama he made a 180, perhaps he changed, or maybe he was just afraid of having to stay there all summer. Kenny gets in the water, and at first, he feels great. He feels free. However, he starts to realize he is being pulled further and further out into the water, and he wants to get back to land. There is a whirl pool, and Kenny thinks it is a “wool pooh”, an actually person trying to get you. It starts sucking him under the water, and pulling him further away from the shore. As hard as he swims, he can not seem to shake the “wool pooh” from grabbing his leg. I think this is symbolic of the entire Civil Rights Movement. They waded into it wanting freedom, which they deserved. Their evil “wool pooh” were those who opposed them in their efforts. They would try to keep them from it by bombing churches, killing people, and discouraging them in any way possible. As for Kenny, he continues to think about his little sister, and soon he is pulled to safety by his big brother, Byron. The two decide not to tell anyone about it, and it weighs heavy on Kenny’s chest.

The second event takes place the next Sunday afternoon. Kenny tells his sister she looks beautiful before she leaves to go to Sunday school, which should be a forewarning that something is not right with the day because he has never told her that before. Not too much later, there is a huge crashing sound, like thunder. No one really knows what is going on until Kenny hears his mother scream. He learns that the church that Joey has gone to has been bombed. He is in a daze as he rushes over there. He finds a shoe in the rubble that looks just like Joey’s. He starts to pull at it, and he starts to think that the “wool pooh” has got a hold of her, and he is too scared to continue. He sees little girls hurt, and rushes home. He gets back and sees Joetta coming into his room, and he thinks she is a ghost. What had happened was she was hot and went outside, and apparently followed him home. She was safe, but Kenny could not shake the fact that he was not brave enough to take on the “wool pooh.” This again is symbolic of the entire Civil Rights Movement. Unfortunately, bombings like this took place often during this time. Little girls and other innocent people were hurt and killed for no reason. Those who opposed the advancing movement did this to try and stop who they could; the “wool pooh” that scared Kenny also scared many others because they knew the resistance was willing to do whatever it took to keep them from continuing in their efforts.

The last event takes place weeks after the Watsons return home from Alabama. Kenny, having been through what he had the past few weeks, was not himself. He was carrying a heavy load, as many would having dealt with near death experiences. He and Byron lay in the bathroom and Kenny sobs and talks about his guilt for not fighting the “wool pooh” or Joey. He has this unnecessary guilt built up inside of him, and Byron tells him that he must let it go. On page 203, Byron gives a profound and poignant statement. He says, “Kenny, things ain’t ever going to be fair. How’s it fair that two grown men hate Negroes so much that they’d kill some kids just to stop them from going to school? How’s it fair that even though the cops down there might know who did it nothing will probably ever happen to those men? It ain’t. But you gotta understand that that’s the way it is and keep on steppin’.” This statement pretty much sums up the entire point of the book, and how those involved in the Civil Rights Movement ever found the strength to continue on their journey.

Teaching Ideas: This novel is a perfect way to talk about the Civil Rights Movement. Being from North Carolina it is important to talk about all the great events that took place here. The Greensboro sit ins are perhaps the most famous. Also, discussing the bus boycotts and church bombings that took place all over is a vital part of the movement. Using the book Rosa, and talking about influential people will help them to understand how important this time period was. Children must understand that this was a peaceful movement, but the resistance to it was what brought violence. Movies such as Remember the Titans and Glory Road are a great supplemental to this.


Title: Milkweed
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Publisher: Laurel Leaf, 2003
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age Range: 4-6

Summary: A young boy lives on the streets in Warsaw Poland, before WWII. He remembers nothing of a family or even his name. He is adopted into a group of young thieves, where a boy named Uri takes him under his wing. They live in lavish conditions for a short amount of time, but are soon forced onto the streets after the Jack boots begin taking over. The little boy is given the name Misha by Uri, and a whole story about his upbringing. It is known that the little boy is a Gypsy, and all the other boys are Jews. Misha becomes fascinated by the Jackboots, claiming he wants to be one, and also with the lives of the Jews. He becomes friends with a young girl named Janina, and they often leave presents for each other on her back porch. Soon the Jews are forced into the Ghetto, and Misha follows Janina's family there, which they do not approve of. When the wall is built around it, there is a hole where Misha is able to travel back and forth. Soon he and all the other boys are put in the ghetto, with the exception of Uri. Misha begins smuggling in goods at night through the small hole in the wall. Janina begins following him on these adventures, and her father adopts Misha into their family, even giving him a Jewish armband. Death and starvation follow, as many are killed, even one of their friends who got caught smuggling. Soon it is time for the trains to take the Jewish people to different camps. Janina's father tells Misha that they should go through the hole and run away; however, Janina is fascinated by the trains, and gets caught up in the masses. Uri actually attempts to shoot Misha, it seems he has been hiding his identity and pretended to be a Jackboot, but misses, and Misha is spared from the trains. He wants to find Janina, but a farmer spots him and takes him home so he can heal. Soon, he has the boy working as a slave for him, but after the war is over, young Misha takes a ticket to America. He lives his life trying to tell his story on the streets. He gets married, but his wife soon realizes he is too much for her. In the end, his daughter and granddaughter find him and he is able to spend the rest of his life with them.

Response: Milkweed was not what I was expecting at all. For a children’s book I found it to be very deep, detailed, and a little dark. It speaks of the Holocaust, and there is no positive or bright side to focus on, but the little bits of humor used did help. The young boy, later named Mischa, is just a complete mystery to the read. Since the story is written through his perspective, and he really knows nothing, neither does the reader. You really have to infer and figure it out on your own. Without the background knowledge of WWII, one would probably be a bit lost. But it is great that the perspective is that of a young, innocent child because it really adds to the atmosphere of the story. It simplifies the actions that were being taken on the Jewish people during that time, but also adds a great deal to it because you see just how inhumane it really was. I never knew about the smuggling and things that went on in the ghetto until now, and young Mischa lives for this. In history class, I learned a lot about the disease and death that swept through these ghettos because that was what the Germans wanted, to kill the Jews naturally, as to say it was not their fault.

Mischa and the other orphan boys show great strength and courage to live and survive alone. Uri plays a fatherly role to Mischa, even at the end, when he pretends to shoot him so that he is not taken to the concentration camps with the others. He is abusive and very tough on the little boy at times, but the things he does to him are nothing compared to what is being done to the other 6 million Jews around Europe. Mischa is a gypsy, from what is said in the story, and that made him just as much of a target as the Jews. He never really knows this because no on tells him. He often says, “I’m glad I’m not a Jew,” and people look at him like he is crazy because he, too is considered inferior. When he becomes obsessed with the merry-go-round, it really shows how young and innocent he is. Sure he steals to eat, and live on the streets, but he is still a young child at heart. He is truly happy when he is accepted into Janina’s family, and given a Jewish armband to ear. He works so hard to help bring food for her family, and only her and her father are accepting of the boy. His relationship with the orphanage is strange because I would think they might take him in; however, he is not Jewish like the other children. They do give him a bath one night and fresh clothes. He brings them food as well.

There are several disturbing and eye-opening scenes described in the book. When a horse’s leg is cut off at the merry-go-round, a Jewish man is blamed for it. They strip his clothes down, tying him up so he does not move. Then, they proceed to spray freezing cold water on the man, in the dead of winter, until his body is completely blue. This is the first time that Mischa sees death, but he really does not understand it or take it in. Death becomes a part of everyday life while he is in the ghetto. His friend Gray John dies, after suffering a long time, probably from starvation. When people died in the ghetto, they were covered up with newspaper, and people would steal their socks and shoes. Another friend is hung because he is caught smuggling. Mischa is exposed to more in his life than anyone deserves to be.

Janina, a young girl Mischa becomes friends with, and then lives with in the ghetto, is an interesting character. She seems very innocent and sweet at first, and Mischa really loves her. But living in the ghetto really takes its toll on her, especially when her mother dies. She begins smuggling with Mischa, and he gets very annoyed with her greedy and selfish ways. Her father takes the time to celebrate Hanukkah with the family for the two years they live there. He goes through all the motions and all the things that would normally be done. Even when the menorah is stolen, he continues. He even buys Mischa and Janina combs as presents. This is a small glimmer of hope in a dark and desperate time. Her father holds on to his beliefs as a dedicated Jew, even though he is suffering, and eventually will be killed. While, the mother is sick, Janina is not interested in doing it, and the uncle that lives with them claims he is now a Lutheran. It is amazing to me how someone could still hold strong to their faith when everything has been taken from them.

The milkweed is a great symbol for the entire novel. It is found in the ghetto one day, and Janina blows the pods open, spreading their seeds. It is a small little weed growing in a terrible and barren ghetto. I think that Mischa is much like the milkweed in the story. Sure he is a little weed, not something spectacular. However, he does bring a little bit of happiness and hope to those he is around. He provides people with food, and his forever positive attitude really does seem to take its effect on people.

The story follows Mischa’s life. It takes him until the last days of his life. This is important because it not only talks about the war, and the time he was involved with it. But it shows that the things he went through during this time impacted the rest of his life.

Teaching Ideas: This book is a great addition to a unit on the Holocaust and WWII. Students will really be able to relate to Mischa or Janina as they read.

I think I would have students to write or even discuss a reaction to the book because it is so dark at times.

Having them to go online, there are great resources about the Holocaust.

Teaching the Holocaust provides great lesson plans. It is mentioned that they are probably to be used in grade 5 or higher, but if necessary, can be adapted.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I'm going to dunk this basketball,
I'll soar above the rim.
I'll fly so high that everyone
Will cry out, "Look at him!"

My dunk will be spectacular ---
The greatest of them all.
When I grow three feet taller,
I will dunk this basketball.

Taken from good sports: rhymes about running, jumping, throwing, and more by Jack Prelutsky.

I chose to read this particular anthology because it is about sports. Poetry is probably one of my least favorite genres, but if I can find a subject I enjoy, then it is not so bad. This was a great collection of poems. They are written at a very simple level that children can understand, as well as imitate. They are short and give a great description of an event during a game or match. It encompasses a wide variety of sports. I can see this book working well with boys because they can be very passionate about sports, and this can get them involved with poetry as well. The poem I chose to share is about basketball, my favorite sport. It makes me think of my brother when he was little. He would always tell us he was going to grow and be able to dunk a ball. He is now eighteen, and he is an outstanding ball player; he can also dunk the ball. The picture that goes with the poem is a little boy with a ball trying to dunk, and there are several pictures of him getting larger and larger as he reaches the goal. All the pictures are done with watercolor and ink, and the colors are bright and bold. They grab the attention of the reader. The white space all around draws attention to the bold black text, and the great illustrations. Certain elements of poetry are present even in these simple short poems. I think the first element that stands out is the rhyme. In this poem, not every line rhymes. It goes in a pattern of abcb dede. The same letters represent a rhyme, so the second and fourth lines in the first stanza rhyme (rim, him). In the second stanza, the first and third rhyme, and so do the second and fourth (spectacular/taller, all/basketball). According to Temple text, rhyming adds a musical quality to poetry, and it builds repetition. If I was teaching children about poetry, I would probably start with simple rhyming poems because they are easier to grasp. The end rhymes in the poem help pull a reader in, and they become more involved. The imagery produced by some of the words in this poem is really incredible. For example, the young ball player says, “I’ll soar above the rim…fly so high…” these give the reader a great illustration of someone jumping really high because being able to dunk a basketball means you can get yourself up to the ten-foot rim. Another word I love in this poem is “spectacular” describing the dunk. This makes me think of Michael Jordan and other great athletes who could leap and do great tricks when dunking the ball. There is a very simple form to this poem, two stanzas of four lines each. This helps with understanding, and logic of the poem. There are commas or an ending punctuation at almost every line, so students can easily break it down. The insight given by this poem is obvious, as it is stated at the end. The ball player must “grow three feet taller” in order to dunk the basketball. I think readers will enjoy this ending because they can relate to it, especially if they are short. This entire anthology is a must for my classroom because I think that every student can find a poem in here that inspires them to get up and move around.

Monday, April 14, 2008

"Junie B., First Grader:Boss of Lunch"

Title: Junie B., First Grader: Boss of Lunch
Author: Barbara Park
Illustrator: Denise Brunkus
Publisher: Random House, 2002
Genre: Fiction, Chapter Book
Age Range: 1-2

Summary: Junie B. Jones is very excited about her new bird lunchbox. She keeps looking at it during class, sparking a debate over whether it is better to bring your lunch or buy it. In the cafeteria, she realizes that she and another boy are the only ones who do not buy their lunch. Her friend Jose lets her have a bite of his cookie, and she talks about Mrs. Gutzman, who used to bring cookies to her class last year. Junie B. runs to the kitchen when she hears that Mrs. Gutzman is working there. Her teacher gets mad at her for running back there, but Mrs. Gutzman asks Junie B. if she would like to be the lunch helper the next day. She gets permission, and the next day she goes to help. She dresses like a lunch lady and has three jobs to do. Junie B. gets excited when her class comes, and she lets it known to them that the food for the day is gross, which makes everyone lose their appetites. Junie B. is very embarrassed. Later that day, Mrs. Gutzman comes to the classroom and Junie B. is able to help her pass out cookies to her class.

Response: Junie B. Jones is quite a character. She is full of energy and life. You can see that she is a typical first-grader who repeats everything she hears from adults, and sometimes does so at inappropriate times. She seems to be a little distracted in the classroom, perhaps ADHD, and her teachers get upset with her quite often. Her fascination with a lunch box is quite hilarious, and she is so proud of it. Her big dilemma in the story is that she brings her lunch to school, thinking it is the greatest, but almost all the other students in the classroom buy school lunch. She gets a little jealous about it, as another girl makes her feel bad. Junie B. gets super excited when she gets permission to work in the lunchroom. Her parents try to tell her that just because she is helping, does not mean that she is the boss. Junie B. seems to have a hard time with this because the next day she does not really fulfill the jobs that Mrs. Gutzman gives her. She keeps having to wash her hands and change her gloves because she will mess with her hair or touch something with germs on it. Her three jobs are: greet students coming into the cafeteria, wipe down the counter, and keep the napkins filled. Junie B. tries to do these jobs the best she can. She gets nervous greeting older students, and they pick on her. When her class comes in Junie B. gets really excited and tells them that "I'M KEEPING HAIR AND GERMS OUT OF THE TUNA NOODLE STINKLE!"(p. 64) Her trying to show up May makes all the students disgusted with the food, and they refuse to eat. Obviously this is bad for the cafeteria as they have to make sandwiches for all the kids. Junie B. is humiliated the rest of the day, and when Mrs. Gutzman comes in to the room later, she thinks she is in big trouble. However, Mrs. Gutzman gives Junie B. a second chance at helping her, by passing out cookies. This story teaches children about responsibility and the duties of being a helper. Also, there are smaller lessons about not bullying and picking on others. Junie B. is very applicable to young readers because she is such a real character that they can learn from

Teaching Ideas: There is a great Teacher's Guide that can help with using the book in classroom. It is great for teaching responsibility, using with science for birds, and building character. For students there is a great website where they can do activities and learn more about Junie B. Jones books. More Junie B!

Mirror of Erised

The Mirror of Erised shows you what your heart most desires. I know that if I was to walk up and look inside, it would show me my family. I am very close to all of them, and they are the most important thing in the world to me. My parents and younger sister are moving to Hernando, Mississippi, right outside of Memphis, TN this summer because my Dad recently earned a promotion. My younger brother will be graduating from high school and going to play basketball in college. He has not made a decision as to where yet, but none of his top choices are anywhere near Boone. I think that my heart's greatest desire would be to have them closer to me. I feel very safe and lucky knowing that I can see them in an hour. After this summer, it will be a 12 hour drive to see my parents. Besides this, I desire to one day have a family of my own. I hope that my future family will be able to be as strong and supportive as the family I am a part of right now.

"Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone"

Title: Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone
Author: J. K. Rowling
Illustrator: J. K. Rowling
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 1997
Genre: Fantasy, Novel, Fiction
Age Range: 4-6

Summary: Harry Potter is sent to life with his Aunt and Uncle when his parents die. He is raised by them, and treated very poorly. Strange things always seem to happen to Harry. When Harry reaches the age of eleven, mysterious letters start appearing for him. His Aunt and Uncle hide them from him. Eventually Harry learns he is a wizard and goes to attend Hogwarts, a school for witches and wizards. He also learns that his parents were killed by an evil wizard, Voldemort, and that he was able to survive and cripple the wizard. He is placed into the Gryffindor house, and makes friends with Ron and Hermoine. Harry joins the Quidditch team where he is the seeker, and nearly dies in his first match. A troll appears in the castle, and other strange things. The three find a three-headed dog guarding a trap door. Harry stumbles across a mirror that shows one's greatest desire, and he sees his parents. They learn that there is a Sorcerer's Stone that can give the Elixir of life to whoever drinks it. Harry is hated by a professor named Snape, who seems to be the prime candidate for wanting the elixir. Harry and his friends sneak around at night trying to find clues, and eventually decide to find the stone. They get past all the different traps, and Harry must face, not Snape, but Professor Quirrell, who is sharing his body with Voldemort. Harry is able to survive because of the love his mother had for him, and because he only wanted to protect the stone, he can see it in the mirror and it remains safe.

Response: I first read this book when I was in middle school, and have since read every one in the series. I loved being able to go back and read about the beginning of this great journey that Harry Potter has through seven amazing books. I was able to pay more attention to details, and now knowing the rest of the story, it is neat to see how things are pieced together. J.K. Rowling wastes no time getting the reader right into the middle of the story. While reading, I feel like I am the fourth member of Harry, Ron, and Hermoine's group. The great description and imagery that she uses paints a great picture, and also allows the reader to smell, touch, and taste every detail of the story. When the Troll comes, the smell is described as, "a foul stench reached his nostrils, a mixture of old socks and the kind of public toilet no one seems to clean." (p. 174) The twists and turns of the plot never stop because everyone thinks that Snape is the bad guy, a regular occurrence in every book, but in fact it is stuttering Quirrell, who has become obsessed and entangled with Voldemort, perhaps even brainwashed. The story provides great themes that students and all people can use. The first, and perhaps the most important is bravery. On J.K. Rowling's website she says that bravery is a very important part of the book, and a great characteristic to possess. Harry exemplifies bravery his whole life, being able to put up with the Dursley's. The house of Gryffindor is symbolized as a lion, a universal symbol of courage and bravery. He stands up for his friends throughout the story. When Neville's rememberall is taken, Harry gets on his broomstick and chases after it. This actually lands him a spot on the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Harry and his friends show bravery in the face of pure evil as they attempt to get past each spell to find the Sorcerer's Stone. Hermoine uses her great intelligence to help them through the plants. Harry gets on the broom and finds the hidden key. My favorite examples of bravery come from Ron and Neville. Ron leads the trio on the life size chess board, giving himself up so that they can continue on. He says, "That's Chess! snapped Ron. You've got to make some sacrifices! I take one step forward and she'll take me -- that leaves you free to checkmate the king, Harry!" (p. 283) He literally gets knocked out by the Queen, but it permits his friends to continue. Neville shows great courage when he stands up to Ron, Hermoine, and Harry. He tells them not to sneak out and stands up for himself. He says, "Don't you call me an idiot! said Neville. I don't think you should be breaking any more rules! And you were the one who told me to stand up to people!." (p. 272) Bravery against evil is a constant theme, as Harry and his friends constantly battle the dark arts. Another important theme is the power of love. Harry's mother is the greatest example of this because it is her love that saved his life, not once, but twice. He was able to survive as a baby because her love for him was so strong, so good, that nothing even as evil and Voldemort could overcome that. In the end, when Quirrell is trying to kill Harry, he continually is burned by touching Harry's skin. This again is the result of Lily Potter's love for her son. It protects him from what is evil. Harry and his friends break rules out of necessity it seems. They do these things to help protect themselves, and the school from the evils of the dark arts. The friendship that these three develop over the course of a school year is so strong and real. They are loyal to each other, no matter what the others are going through. They stand by each other when Harry and Hermoine lose 100 points for Gryffindor. In the end, they are all together going against the traps because they want to protect each other, and help Harry to triumph over evil. The truest form of their loyalty comes in the sacrifices they make. Ron sacrifices his body during the chess game, and this shows how loyal he is not only to his friends, but to the cause for good. Harry Potter presents many themes, some of which bring about great debates about censorship. To me, it is a story that shows great imagination, and can spark great creativity in young children. The lessons they learn in these novels far outweigh the "dark magic" that is also present. I feel like this story is nothing more than a story, full of great imagination and creativity.

Teaching Ideas: This novel is full of great imagery and description which students can use to develop their writings. The owls in the story provide a great connection to science. I remember we dissected owl pellets, and that is an activity that can be done with students. I think discussing elements of fantasy with them is very important so that they realize what is true and what is false.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

"Revolutionary War on Wednesday"

Title: Magic Tree House #22: Revolutionary War on Wednesday
Author: Mary Pope Osborne
Illustrator: Sal Murdocca
Publisher: Random House, 2000
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Age Range: 2-3

Summary: Jack and Annie are taken back to colonial times, during the Revolutionary War. They arrive during a great snow storm on Christmas Eve. They come upon a camp of soldiers, and they tell the children they need to go home. One of the soldiers asks the children if they can take a letter home to their family, if the attack goes wrong. This letter is the piece they need to help Morgan; it is the something to send. They follow the men, and are lead to many boats awaiting to cross a great river, the Delaware River. A man is debating on whether or not to continue the mission because the weather is terrible. This man is George Washington. Jack and Annie cross the river with the first group of men, and George Washington is not happy they followed. They tell him that he must press on because this attack will be successful. The children go back across, and Washington does lead his troops. Jack and Annie are able to help Morgan and George Washington.

Response: Jack and Annie once again save the day! They are able to travel back into the early period of American history, the Revolutionary War. The night they arrive is Christmas Eve; the night that Washington and his troops cross the Delaware in one of the most unexpected attacks of the war. It really was a turning point that gave the Patriots a great momentum swing that helped them to eventually win the war. Jack and Annie are able to learn about the war, as well as the hardships. They learn about how difficult it is for families to be separated during the holidays, and that the men are not always in the best of spirits about fighting. The weather during this time was horrendous. It was a great blizzard, and Washington debates on whether or not they should continue. Jack teaches a great lesson when he talks to Washington. He says, "Even if things look impossible, you should keep going, sir...The harder things seem, the greater the triumph, right?" (p.59) He helps to reiterate the words of Thomas Paine, that George Washington quoted to his troops to keep them motivated. Paine's words said, "The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph...What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only that gives everything its value." (p.30) This book gives great information about the Revolutionary War. The facts are printed in bold print, so the reader can see that they are important historical facts. It talks about Red Coats and Patriots. The facts about George Washington, and his great cross of the Delaware River. In the back of the book there is more information about the War and Thomas Paine. This story provides students with a simple look into one important event that helped America become an independent country.

Teaching Ideas: The Magic Tree House website has a great section about the book. It provides students an opportunity to search the site, and other links, to learn more about the Revolutionary War. Revolutionary War
There is a research guide that goes along with the Magic Tree House story. It gives more information about the Revolutionary War.

Another activity would be for students to write their own story of meeting someone from the Revolutionary War or being a part of a significant event during that time.

"Civil War on Sunday"

Title: Magic Tree House #21: Civil War on Sunday
Author: Mary Pope Osborne
Illustrator: Sal Murdocca
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc., 2000
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Age Range: 2-3 Grade

Summary: Jack and Annie are trying to find "something to follow" from the Civil War. They are taken to a battlefield where many soldiers are wounded and Annie helps them. They end up at a field hospital, where soldiers are taken care of and then sent back out to fight. Annie and Jack help at the field hospital. They are given a list to follow in taking care of the men, exactly what they needed. Jack wants to leave, but Annie insists on staying. The two end up using all the tactics on the list to help take care of patients. They meet Clara Barton, a great Civil War Nurse, who has them help her get soldiers off the battlefield. They find a drummer boy, who looks like Jack, who is dehydrated. They take him back and take care of him. The two arrive back home, and find out that their great great great grandfather served as a drummer boy in the Civil War, and he lived.

Response: This was one of my favorite books in the Magic Tree House Series. I love learning about history, and this book is full of wonderful facts about the Civil War. Like always, they are in bold print, with many more in the back of the book so that readers can learn more. Jack quickly learns that war is not some kind of "game" he thought it was before arriving there. I think this is true for many people. We see video games and movies that glorify war, but it is a necessary evil that plagues the world. The list that Jack and Annie get is important because they literally must follow it, and as they do, they learn great lessons. The first on the list is "Be Cheerful." They take water into tents for the soldiers, and at first, Jack is not very happy to do it. He has a hard time being cheerful when he sees these men hurt and sick. A man thanks Jack for giving him water, and Jack responds by telling him that he will be able to see his family again. However, Jack is not aware that this man is fighting in the war to earn his freedom from slavery, and his family has been sold a long time ago. The second thing on the list says 'Lessen sorrow and give hope", and Jack does this by telling the man that one day his great grandchildren will be able to hold whatever career they desire. This really lifts the spirits of the man. Jack and Annie "Put aside their own feelings" when they are helping the Drummer Boy. He wants to go back out there and fight, but Jack and Annie wish he would stay and go home when he feels better. They realize how important this is for the young boy, and tell him that once he is feeling better he should go back to the battlefield. "Don't give up" was the last thing on the list, and they learned this lesson from Clara Barton. She was determined in her cause to help every soldier, Confederate or Union. She told them, "When someone is hurt, you give them a helping hand, no matter who they are...I have seen courage and kindness on both sides of this
war. Sometimes things are not as simple as they seem" (p.47-48) She helped everyone and never gave up on the soldiers. I think her quote is very significant. Both sides of this war were fighting for what they believed was right. It divided the United States, causing more deaths than all wars combined. It was a great and terrible time for the country, and people like Clara Barton were important in realizing and seeing the good in all people. Jack and Annie help to show students that the Civil War was one of the most important events in our nation's history.

Teaching Ideas: I think that students could write a story about being in the Civil War, or writing about an important person in the war.

There is great information and websites listed on the Magic Tree House site about the Civil War

Sunday, April 6, 2008

My Impressions of Non-Fiction Literature

I think I have always grown up thinking that non-fiction literature is boring. However, I think that idea comes from associating non-fiction with text books. I remember that when I was in fourth grade I read a biography about Grant Hill, a professional basketball player. After reading that book I started becoming interested in reading about people, especially athletes. I think my love of history has also lead me to some great non-fiction readings. Students can find passion for non-fiction and informative books if they start reading about what they are interested in. I think that there are a lot of really fun and interesting non-fiction books that children will really enjoy. It is important to really be positive and excited about reading these books because students do listen to what teachers say. The non-fiction/informative books really have an important place in the classroom because they can really compliment text books, which can be boring, and allow for children to learn and enjoy what they study.

"Actual Size"

Title: Actual Size
Author: Steve Jenkins
Illustrator: Steve Jenkins
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004
Genre: Non-Fiction Informative Picture Book
Age Range: K-2 Grade

Summary: This is a book that depicts different animals around the world. Many of them are not well-known. The most important thing is that each animal, or a part of that animal, is illustrated in its actual size. It gives the size of each animal, and at the end of the book there is more information given about each animal that is in the book.

Response: Steve Jenkins does an amazing job with animal books. Earlier, I read What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? which gives students a chance to guess different animals by looking at a section of their bodies. This book takes different animals and shows the actual sizes of a part of their bodies. I kept comparing myself to the parts that were shown. For example, a gorilla's hand is on a page, and you can literally put yours on top of it and see how much bigger the gorilla's hands are. Something I noticed is that I had not heard of many of these animals. Like the smallest fish in the world is the dwarf goby, and it is only 1/3 inch in length. I feel like I learned a lot from this story because it gave information about animals I was not familiar with. I kept wanting to take out a ruler and really measure the animals' wingspan or length. I was really surprised to read some of the facts. Like, the eye of a giant squid is approximately 12 inches across, and they can be up to 59 feet long. While the facts and text are very simple and straightforward, the illustrations are really what make this book amazing. Despite the fact that each one is done in actual size, they are created using cut paper and collage. They give amazing texture and definition to the animals. You can't help but want to touch each picture because they look so real. There is great texture, particularly on the teeth of the shark, each one given a lining of sharp ridges. The colors are bright and bold. Some pictures are small, with a lot of white space in the background that helps it to stand out. Others, such as the bear, shark, and lion, take up both pages. They are large, bold, bright, and they are able to stand out because of their great size. The colors that are used are real to life as well, many being bold and rich. Each animal is given so much detail and attention, they begin to look like photographs, not collages. This book gives so much interesting information, as well as beautiful pictures that can allow for a very interactive read.

Teaching Ideas: This is a great book for children studying animals. Having kids to measure the animals in the book, really see that they are actual to size. This will be a great way to introduce measurement. Also, you can have them to do a report about one of their favorite animals. Or, let them create their own Actual Size book using different objects and presenting different facts about them. This website provides students with interesting animal facts that they can use.

"Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man"

Title: Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man
Author: David A. Adler
Illustrator: Terry Widener
Publisher: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1997
Genre: Biography picture book
Age Range: 1-3 Grade

Summary: Lou Gehrig was born in 1903, and his parents always encouraged him to do his schoolwork. He never missed a day; however, his passion was sports. He played baseball in high school, then at Columbia University. He was signed by the New York Yankees where he became one of the greatest players in the history of baseball. He played in 2,130 consecutive games, but soon he began having problems hitting and fielding. Lou took himself off the starting roster. He soon found out he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He continued being a part of the team, until he could no longer do anything but stay in bed. He passed away being an MVP and a member of the Hall of Fame.

Response: I have heard of Lou Gehrig's Disease, and that it was named for a famous baseball player who contracted it; however, I never realized the great impact Lou Gehrig had on the world. He played the same time as Babe Ruth, one of the most well-known players of all time, but it was Gehrig who received the MVP awards. He never missed a day of school or a baseball game, playing in 2,130 consecutive games. I am amazed at his tenacity and strength as a person and a ball player. He accomplished a great deal in his short thirty-seven years. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame and was a part of one of the best Yankee teams of all time. I like that the beginning of the book sets up a little background of what is going on in the world when Lou is born. I find it fitting that the same year he was born was also the inaugural year of the World Series. Like so many people at the time, his family had immigrated to New York in order to find a better life. His mother really was passionate about his schooling, just as much as he was passionate about baseball. He not only played baseball, but also attended college. His nickname Iron Horse really is fitting because he was so strong and resilient to every ail and ache in order to keep playing. One of the most intriguing things to me is the fact that he was so very shy and modest about his athleticism. Unlike many of the players of today, he really just played the game. He did not care about fame and money; he just wanted to play the game. Lou's slump came not because he was struggling in his talent, but rather his body was trying to tell him that something was not right. Many teams would pull a player if they continued in a slump, but Lou literally had to put himself on the bench. I loved that he continued to come to the games and be a part of the team. He was soon diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that affects the central nervous system, which is very traumatic and fatal. The disease is known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, which shows the great fame he really held. I found some very interesting information about the disease on this web site A day was named for him at the stadium, and he was the first player to give a farewell speech, as well as the first to have his jersey to retire. He lived the rest of his life positive, although he could barely get out of bed. It was also very fitting that the Yankees did not play on the day of his funeral because of rain. He often said he was a lucky man, even if he was slowly dying. The text of this book gives so much detail, including specific names and dates, that really help the reader to understand the timeline of Lou's short life, and his many accomplishments. The illustrations are done in Golden acrylics on Strathmore Bristol board. The colors are very rich and special attention is paid to shadows and the size of objects. The objects that were most noteworthy to me were the depiction of Lou and the other baseball players. They had enormous bodies, showing large muscles and great physique. The people drawn in the story did not have very detailed faces, and it was only the number on Lou's uniform, 4, that separated him from the other players. This shows just how humble and real that he was. He did not try and separate himself from others. There are pictures on each page; however their sizes vary. There is plenty of white space around each picture; they are almost given a border, and this draws the reader's attention to what is going on in them. They are very simple drawings, usually coinciding with the text on the page. This is an amazing story about an ordinary man who touched the lives of the many, and made himself the symbol of hope for a terrible disease.

Teaching Ideas: I can see this as a great way to get students, particularly those interested in baseball, excited about non-fiction and biographies. Children may not know the story of Lou Gehrig because he lived in the early 1900's; however, they can gain great insight into what is going on in the world at that time, which can help with an American History Unit. They also show great characterization of Lou Gehrig. Children can research Lou Gehrig's Disease, and really get an idea into what he dealt with. I think that this is a great way to have children write a biography about his life. If they can read this and do some researching on the computer or in other books.


Courageous, Humble, Strong, Resilient

Friend of Yankee Fans Everywhere

Lover of Baseball, Family, Life

Who feels Grateful, Lucky, Blessed

Who finds happiness in playing baseball

Who needs nothing but a day in Yankee Stadium

Who gives his heart, body, and soul to the game

Who fears letting his family and fans down

Who would like to see a cure for his disease

Who enjoys living each day to the fullest

Who like to wear his pin striped uniform when hitting another home run

Resident of New York City



Title: Rosa
Author: Nikki Giovanni
Illustrator: Bryan Collier
Publisher: Scholastic, 2005
Genre: Biography picture book
Age Range: 2-3 Grade

2006 Caldecott Honor Book

Summary: Rosa Parks is a seamstress living in Alabama. She, her husband, and her mother live together in their house. It is the beginning of December, and Rosa is allowed to leave work early one day. She gets on the bus, sitting in the neutral section. Soon, the driver approaches her and yells at her to get up and move to the colored section because white passengers have gotten on the bus. Rosa begins to think about all the others who have stood up to prejudice and racism, and refuses to move. She is arrested, and the news spreads quickly. Jo Ann Robinson and a few other women decide to make posters asking others to boycott the bus system in support of Rosa Parks. For over a year the entire colored population boycotts riding the buses. Dr. Martin Luther King tells them to do so. Eventually, this and other events led to the Supreme Court ruling that Segregation was wrong; the Civil Rights Movement was underway.

Response: The story of Rosa Parks is inspirational to everyone. The quote at the end of the story gives a great theme. It says, "The integrity, the dignity, the quiet strength of Rosa Parks turned her no into a YES for change." It makes this universal to everyone; we all can be a source of change for good. Rosa was a great example of integrity. To me, integrity means making actions consistent with beliefs of what is right and wrong, and she did this. The fact that colored people had to get on the bus to pay, and then get off and walk to the back door to get on and ride is sickening to me. In a country that claims freedom for all, we really have a hard time sticking to it. Slavery, Internment Camps of WWII, and refusing equal rights for different groups has really made me think twice about how "free" this country really is. Rosa held her strength and took what was in fact hers, a seat on the bus. She was not sitting in the white section, she was in the neutral section of the bus, and therefore should not have had to get up and move. The fact that she was arrested was ludicrous, but at the time that is how people were. I love that the story brings about issues of the time, such as Brown V. Board of Education, and the brutal death of young Emmett Till. Rosa Parks sparked the bus boycott, that eventually lead to the Supreme Court ruling Segregation to be unconstitutional. She, and many others, came together to stand up for the rights that they should have held all along. The text of this story is moving, but I think the illustrations really tell a story of their own. They are made using watercolor as well as collage. They are remarkable. For the most part, everything is made using collage, except for the faces and certain main background items are done using watercolor. We see this beautiful rich color on the face of Rosa and the other people depicted in the story. Her features are well defined and dignified. The collage patterns are very textured, giving the sky and trees very rigid outlines. The clothing and other patterns really allow for the faces of the people to stand out as well. Rosa is always given this glow outlining her, which the illustrator says he did because she was a light shining to illuminate our pathways. He also talks about how the hue of many of the pictures are yellow and darker to really depict the heat and humidity in Alabama. Also, this heat shows the building contention and problems that Rosa will experience in the story. At one point, the story has pictures that fold open. They show people of all ages walking and coming together to boycott the buses. It is beautiful because each one is so different. There are children in the foreground, and older people who are not even given faces in the background. I think this is symbolic. Those who participated are doing it for those who were held down in the past, and also for their posterity. Even though the participants in the Civil Rights Movement were very peaceful, they dealt with a great deal of violence and brutality by those who opposed it.

Teaching Ideas: This story goes great with any study of the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks was a spark that helped to ignite the United States into realizing that Segregation is very wrong, and that everyone deserves equal treatment. Students who are studying this movement will get an idea of the history at this time. The story about Brown V. Board of Education, several brutal attacks on African American people, Dr. Martin Luther King, and the great boycott of the buses. Students can take these things and really start to learn about the movement. Scholastic provides teachers with great ideas about Rosa Parks that can be used in the classroom.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Response to making an I Poem for Two Voices

I recently completed an I Poem for Two Voices. The two voices were both Cinderella characters, one being the traditional Cinderella from Perrault's version; the other voice was the Cinderella from the Egyptian version. Given a template was very helpful; however, I felt like this was a very challenging assignment. It is really important to have some background information about the culture the Cinderella's come from, especially if it is unfamiliar to you. I found myself really trying to get inside the heads' of my characters, and it was not easy to do. The book only gives so much characterization, so the rest really has to come from the inferences and research you do. I think that children will love this assignment because it will help them to see the differences in cultures, as well as teach them about characterization. I think that using a creative Venn diagram before completing the poem will also help them to get an idea of the differences and similarities they can use in their poem.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Egyptian Cinderella

Title: The Egyptian Cinderella
Author: Shirley Climo
Illustrator: Ruth Heller
Publisher: Harpor Collins Publishers, 1989
Genre: Picture book, fairy tale, historical fiction
Age Range: Grades 1-3

Summary: A young Grecian girl is sold into Egyptian slavery. She has blond hair and rose-colored skin, earning her the name of Rhodopis. She is ordered around by the servant girls of the house. She bonds with the animals, and her master loves her dancing. He buys her beautiful rose-gold slippers. When the Pharaoh holds court, she is left behind. A falcon comes and steals one of her slippers, taking it to the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh believes that the gods are telling him to marry the girl whose foot fits this slipper. He travels all over Egypt, and finally finds Rhodopis' home. She hides from him as the other servant girls attempt to try on the slipper. He sees her hiding and asks her to try it on. She does so, and he claims that she will be his queen.

Response: This story is intriguing to me because it is partly true. Rhodopis was an actual Grecian slave, who was made queen by Amasis during Dynasty XXVI, 570-526 B.C. This is provided in the Author's note at the end of the story. Rhodopis differs from the traditional Cinderella in that she is not mistreated by her stepmother or stepsisters. She is sold into slavery when she is almost full grown. The servant girls in the story take the place of stepsisters because they are always ordering Rhodpis around. Her master, on the other hand, sees her as a very "nimble goddess" because he sees her dancing one day. He buys her beautiful rose-gold slippers, which makes the other girls even more jealous of Rhodpis. They tell her she is not allowed to go to Memphis, where the Pharaoh is holding court. The Pharaoh does not want to hold court, he wishes he could be free and drive his chariot. He is similar to Rhodopis because he is bound to uphold his duties as Pharaoh, just as she is bound to slavery. The story says that Rhodopis is very friendly with the animals. We see pictures of a monkey, birds, and a hippopotamus. In reading about Egypt, the hippopotamus was dangerous and known to attack people. It shows how pure and sweet she was, that this dangerous animal would befriend her. The falcon steals her slipper, which is a representation of Horus, who is the deity of the living pharaohs. He takes the slipper to the Pharaoh, who sees this as a sign. This shows the great belief and commitment the Egyptians had towards their gods. Ra, the sun god, is also mentioned in the story. When the Pharaoh Amasis discovers that the slipper belongs to Rhodopis, he exclaims "In all this land there is none so fit to be queen." The servant girls are upset because technically, Rhodopis is not Egyptian. However, the Pharaoh tells them that "her eyes are as green as the Nile, her hair as feathery as papyrus, and her skin the pink of a lotus flower." Even though she may not be Egyptian, she embraces the culture through her looks and her behavior. The illustrations in this book are beautiful and full of color. They are most likely done in water colors. The beautiful bold colors show how important it is to Egyptian. The characters are drawn very similar to actual cultural fashions of the time. The women wear cloth dresses, mostly white, but can be died into light colors of green, yellow,etc. Also, the wear charcoal around the eyes, and green pigmented eye shadow. Their black hair is usually a wig, and for special occasions, headdresses are also worn. Another important thing in the illustrations is that nature is represented in nearly every page, whether it is flowers, animals, or palm trees in the court.

Teaching Ideas: This is a great story to use in a study of Egypt. The story shares so many great aspects of Egyptian culture, including: religion, fashion, social class, and many more. The fact that Rhodopis was a slave who was made into a queen of Egypt is also a great classroom connection. As a tale of Cinderella, it can also fit into a fairy tale unit. The following link is a great resource about Egyptian culture that students will find helpful.


Title: Cinderella
Author/Translator: Marcia Brown
Illustrator: Marcia Brown
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1954
Genre: Picture book, fairy tale
Age Range: Grades 1-3

1962 Caldecott Medal Winner

Summary: A free translation from Charles Perrault. A young girl is forced into living as a servant to her stepmother and stepsisters. She is always near the fire and is given the nickname Cinderella. When the prince has a ball, the stepsisters are invited. Cinderella's godmother appears, turning ordinary items into magic, but only until midnight. Cinderella is the most beautiful mysterious princess for both nights. On the second night she does not heed her godmother's warning about time, and runs out of the castle as the clock strikes midnight. She leaves her glass slipper, and the prince is determined to find the woman who wears the slipper and make her his wife. Finally, he arrives at their home, and the two sisters try on the slipper, which does not fit. Cinderella asks if she may be allowed to try it on, and it is a perfect fit. She is immediately married to the prince. She allows her stepsisters to live in the palace and marry lords.

Response: This version of Cinderella is perhaps the closest to the Disney tale that I am most familiar with. The plot makes a few changes, such as there are two nights in the ball. Also, Cinderella's father is alive in this story, but in the Disney tale he passes away. The cruelty of the stepmother is left out of this story, and the stepsisters are not quite so mean to her; however, still treating her as a servant is bad enough. Cinderella is perfect. She is so kind to everyone and everything despite how they treat her. Even after she tries on the glass slipper, and her sisters know that she will one day be queen, she is so quick to forgive them, and even gives them homes and husbands in the palace. I think that this is the story of Cinderella in the ideal world, meaning no one gets hurt or in trouble throughout the story. Cinderella is a perfect example of the golden rule, and her beauty shines regardless of being in rags or riches. The element of fantasy is also presented in this story. The godmother waves her magic wand and turns a pumpkin, mice, rats, and lizards into a golden coach with a driver, horses, and footmen to escort the young girl to the ball. Her gowns are made of gold, silver, rubies, and diamonds. But what is also important in this story is not that she was beautiful because she wore these things to the ball, but her inner beauty was present the entire time. Yes dressing up brought her much attention, but even at the end of the story, the man allows Cinderella to try on the slipper because he can see her beauty even in the rags she is wearing. The illustrations in this story are very different than what I have seen in other Cinderella stories. The images are first drawn with ink, and then they are colored in, but not colored perfectly, almost blurred a little, and white spaces are prevalent where color would normally be found. Cinderella always has this white outline around her body, giving her this glow, almost like a goddess of some sort. She has blond hair in the story, while everyone else has dark hair, which sets her apart from them once more. The colors used in the illustrations are very light colors, and they are most likely colored with oil pastels because of the smudging that the illustrator does in many of the images. There is no structure as to how they appear on the pages. There are some illustrations that are small on each page, some that take up the whole page, and even those that have several pictures one page. My favorite illustration is drawn when the sisters return from the ball on the second night and Cinderella is holding her glass slipper in the corner. Her entire body is colored with brown and a bit of orange and turquoise coming through. The background is white and her sisters are drawn normal. It is just a great depiction of the sadness she is feeling, and wishing that she could go back to being the princess at the ball. She is almost camouflaged in the corner, which is how her life is. She blends in, and no one notices how beautiful and wonderful she is.

Teaching Ideas: This is the traditional story of Cinderella. Children in the classroom will relate to it, especially if they have seen the Disney movie. It fits great as a read a loud in a fairy tale unit. A great idea is using this story with another Cinderella tale from another culture, and completing a creative Venn Diagram, or writing a contrasting piece of literature, such as an "I Poem for Two Voices." The format for this can be found at:

Friday, March 7, 2008

Creative Venn Diagram

I created a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast different elements in Lon Po Po and Petite Rouge. These are both variations of the story "Little Red Riding Hood." By making the circles into the different faces of the villains, it adds a little creativity fir children. I attached all the pieces with Velcro. This will allow for an interactive way for students to discern the similarities and differences in the stories. Also, other creative Venn Diagrams can be created and used on the same surface. I think it would be a fun project to have my kids do the same thing with variations of different traditional tales.

"Swamp Angel"

Title: Swamp Angel
Author: Anne Isaacs
Illustrator: Paul O. Zelinsky
Publisher: Puffin Books, 1994
Genre: Traditional Stories, Tall Tale
Age Range: K-3

1995 Caldecott Honor Book

Summary: Angelica Longrider was born as tall as her mother. She was a giant who helped Tennessee by building log cabins, like they were toothpicks. She picked up wagons stuck in the swamp and earned the nickname Swamp Angel. There was a bear roaming around eating everyone’s food. Thundering Tarnation was such a problem that there was a competition held to see who could kill him. After several men failed to kill the bear, Swamp Angel decided to try. She and the bear met one morning and began to wrestle. She threw him up in the sky, and they stirred up dust all over the mountains, making them known as the Smoky Mountains. They fell asleep wrestling and knocked down some of the forest. Finally, the bear was killed when Swamp Angel snored down a huge tree. The entire state of Tennessee fed off of the bear, and Swamp Angel took his pelt to Montana, which is now called Shortgrass Prairie. The bear left his impression against the stars when she threw him into the sky.

Response: I enjoyed reading this tall tale because it was one that I had never heard of before. The southern setting and vocabulary adds another dimension to the story. The most noteworthy aspect of the book is the incredible illustrations. They are done using oils on birch, cherry, and maple veneers. The wooden backgrounds coincide with the time period in which the story was written. Homes were built of logs, and portraits were drawn at that time on wood. The illustrations are drawn on wood, with the picture painted in a carved-out oval. The colors that are used in the illustrations are rich and warm. Angelica, very similar to her nickname “Angel”, is drawn like a giant, as she makes log cabins and wagons look like miniature toys. She is very interested in working outdoors, even wrestling Thundering Tarnation, but wears a dress and a bonnet. This shows the toughness of the southern woman. I love that when she is born, her mother is holding Angelica and the baby’s head is three times the size of the mother’s. The only thing that is remotely the same size as Swamp Angel is Thundering Tarnation. This giant bear and Swamp Angel engage in an epic battle across the mountains and plains of Tennessee. They kick up so much dust that it makes the mountains become smoky, thus creating the Smoky Mountains of today. They sling each other around, drink a lake dry, and snore down trees, which ends up being the downfall of Thundering Tarnation. She uses his skin as a rug out in Montana, creating the Shortgrass Prairie. When she throws the bear into the sky, Tarnation crashes into stars leaving an imprint. All these things are examples of how early settlers used to explain the creation of places and things that they really didn’t know about. Also, storytelling was a great source of entertainment. The more exaggerated the stories were told, the better the audience liked them.

Teaching Ideas: This story goes great in a unit of Tall Tales. It is important for students to realize that they are extreme and exaggerated stories about life. When talking about Tennessee and the early southern settlers, this would be a great story to show different aspects of life. The building of log cabins, cooking and storing food, the need for everyone to work together in a small town in order to survive. If I was to have a Tall Tale unit, I would have my children to create their own stories.

"Petite Rouge"

Title: Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood
Author: Mike Artell
Illustrator: Jim Harris
Publisher: Puffin Books, 2001
Genre: Traditional Stories
Age Range: 2-3

Summary: This is the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” with a Cajun twist. Petite Rouge’s mother tells her that she needs to take gumbo to her sick grandmother. She has to cross the swamp, but her mother warns her to beware of the alligators. She comes across Claude, the gator, who wants some food for lunch. Petite gets a stick and bats him away. He is angry, and sneaks into the grandmother’s house. The scared grandmother hides in the closet, as Claude disguises himself as grandmother in order to obtain Petite’s food. Petite and her cat arrive and question the false grandmother. Claude jumps up at chases Petite, hoping to catch her and eat her. Her cat takes a piece of boudin and soaked it in hot sauce. Petite throws it into Claude’s mouth, and he jumps into the swamp because it is so hot in his mouth. Grandmother and Petite eat the food and laugh at Claude, who never goes near people again.

Response: The most crucial part of the entire story is the distinct Cajun dialect that is used by the narrator. There is a glossary in the front that helps with some unfamiliar words, and shows how to pronounce them. It took me quite a while to really get the hang of it, and I had to read and re-read passages several times. I think it worked best when I was able to read aloud. I love the title Petite Rouge, meaning little red in French. The author’s note at the beginning of the book explains a little bit about the Cajun people, and how they earned their name. This is interesting information that I never knew. The dialect is a mixture of the French and English spoken down in Louisiana. The villain was of course an alligator, who are well known in the swamps down south. I thought it was great how he was given a very common French name, Claude. Something that set this particular version apart was that Petite Rouge was given a sidekick. She had a cat named TeJean who helped her every step of the way. This Little Red actually wore a red jacket with a patched hood, like the girl in the story I remember from my childhood. As Little Red departs through the swamp she meets Claude, and is so brave fending him off with a stick. The illustrations in this book are some of my favorite. The artistic media used are watercolor and pencil on Stathmore rag bristol. The water color is used in different degrees of darkness. For example, a lot of the background pictures of the swamp are done in a very watery based water color because they are light, but you can still make out the trees that seem to extend on forever. The nature and characters seem to be done in much more rich water colors. The nature in the book is also very realistic, while the characters are much more cartoon-like. There are both single and double-page spreads. The text and illustrations coincide with one another, and because the dialect that is used is difficult, the pictures really help readers to see what is taking place in the story. There is a little mouse that is found on every picture except for the one where TeJean is handing Petite Rouge the hot sauce. Food is a very large part of the story. Petite Rouge sets out on her journey because she is supposed to be going to take gumbo and other traditional Cajun foods to her sick grandmother. Claude is simply hungry for food, and that is his motivation for disguising as the grandmother. Food is also what saves Petite because they douse Claude’s food in hot sauce, forcing him back into the swamp to cool down. Another interesting thing I noticed with the pictures was that there are famous paintings in the grandmother’s house, just painted with animals instead of humans. For example, there is a picture of the Mona Lisa in the background. The illustrations show extreme emotions, and the story is told with great exaggeration. I think this also goes back to the Cajun culture, as it is known for being extreme. This story spices up “Little Red Riding Hood” by adding a few extra things, including hot sauce to save the day.

Teaching Ideas: This story can be incorporated into the teaching idea about Lon Po Po, by comparing and contrasting the two tales. I think this can also be used when studying the French colonization, and talking about the Cajun culture down in Louisiana. It is a great way to talk about dialect because it is so distinct and different from a typical text. Because of the intricate dialect that is used, I would probably wait until first or second grade to incorporate this story so that the children could enjoy it and understand it.

"Lon Po Po"

Title: Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story From China
Author: Ed Young
Illustrator: Ed Young
Publisher: Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 1989
Genre: Traditional Stories, Multicultural
Age Range: K-3

1990 Caldecott Medal

Summary: This story is the Chinese version of “Little Red Riding Hood”. Three young Chinese girls are left at home alone, while their mother goes to visit their Po Po, grandmother. When she leaves, a wolf disguised as their grandmother tries to come into their house. They are tricked at first and let her in. Soon, they realize that she is really a wolf. They go outside and climb a tree, telling the wolf that there are gingko nuts that will give everlasting life. The children tell the wolf they will pull it up in a basket; however, they keep dropping the wolf, and eventually he breaks his heart and dies. They stay safely in their home until their mother returns with their grandmother.

Response: “Little Red Riding Hood” was one of the stories I listened to many times growing up. There are a few differences between the version I grew up with, and this Chinese tale. The story I grew up with had one little girl going to visit her grandmother, wearing a red coat. This story has three little girls who are left home by their mother, and there is no mention of anything red in the entire story. The wolf is already disguised as the grandmother when the girl arrives, in the tale I recall, and she is able to outsmart the wolf by stuffing its stomach with cotton balls. This story is very interesting because it shows the different interpretation of another country. I think it is amazing that these tales can be universal, just altered a bit to fit a certain culture. The dedication on the first page was very eerie to me because the author says that the wolf is considered to be a symbol for human darkness. So, perhaps the wolf in the story is actually a human who has a dark heart and soul. The picture next to this dedication shows a wolf and a human intermingled. The illustrations in this book are very mysterious and abstract. They are drawn using watercolors and pastels. You can not see much of what is going on, especially with the wolf. He is dark and dangerous. His pictures are a lot larger than those of the children. The smudging of the artwork really gives a surreal and scary atmosphere to the book. Some of the pictures are a little difficult to discern, but they all give a very mysterious vibe. The wolf was overpowering, but the girls were able to outsmart him because his hunger was getting in the way. I think that this version of “Little Red Riding Hood” is a little darker because you see the children actually getting close with the wolf, as they all climb in the bed. Also, they kill the wolf by breaking his heart. He is pulled up and dropped three times, dying the last time. His desire to get these nuts that give everlasting life, and perhaps eat the children, clouds his judgment and it costs him his life. I think that this story is told with a much darker tone because the Chinese culture is trying to emphasize a few points. First, for children, is to be obedient to their parents. The young girls disobey their mother’s orders and open the door for the wolf because they think it is their grandmother. They put their lives at risk, and although it may be a bit extreme, it shows children the dangers of not being obedient. The second lesson is to not be greedy and selfish. The wolf’s motive for all his action was to fulfill his desire at the moment. He wanted to eat the children, so he disguised himself as their grandmother. He wanted to get up in the tree to eat the nuts, so he trusted the children to pull him up. What confused me a bit was the fact that he was out in broad daylight under the tree with no disguise on. Obviously the children already knew he was a wolf before this time, but he did not know they had caught on. He was still pretending to be the grandmother without any sort of disguise. This was not the typical “Little Red Riding Hood” tale for me. I felt like it was a darker, scarier version of the story.

Teaching Ideas: This is a great story to incorporate while reading traditional tales. I think a great idea would be to read this, as well as a few other versions of “Little Red Riding Hood.” Then perhaps create a Venn-Diagram (example shown on Blog) displaying the similarities and differences in the stories. Talk about how different cultures interpret stories, and how they may alter them to fit their lifestyle.