Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Pirate of Kindergarten

by George Ella Lyon
illustrated by Lynne Avril
Lyon, George Ella. The Pirate of Kindergarten. Ill. by Lynne Avril. New York: NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010. ISBN 9781416950240

Plot Summary
Ginny is a kindergarten student who has double vision. The problem is she doesn't know it. She is constantly tripping over and bumping into things, and therefore gets made fun of. It isn't until the clinic performs vision tests, that her double vision becomes apparent to the adults and herself. Ginny believed that everyone saw things the way she did, so she never said anything. After going to the eye doctor she finds out she needs to wear a patch and later glasses to see clearly. She embraces the patch and does everything she couldn't do great before.

Critical Analysis
The combination of Lyon's text and Avril's illustrations make this a wonderful teachable moment book. While creating a story on a character with a vision disability, Lyon completed a cute, humorous and informational book. The text is simple yet detailed. The story is told through narration and includes quotes from the characters. 

Avril's illustrations make this book come to life. She used chalk pastels mixed with acrylic medium and prismacolor pencils to create the colorful drawings. Readers may get dizzy when looking at some of the illustrations because they are drawn the way Ginny sees. She has double vision, so images of chairs and people are drawn as doubles. Once Ginny learns of her vision problem and starts wearing the patch, the illustrations are all clear. This is an amazing way to put the reader in the characters shoes, or eyes for this book. 

This a great read aloud for ages 4 to 8. Some students my even be able to relate to the story through similar vision problems or other impairments. There is also a great lesson in overcoming and embracing your problems.

Review Excerpts
  • Lyon's short, descriptive sentences set up the situation deftly, and Avril's astute chalk, pencil, and acrylic drawings of 'two of everything' provide a vivid window into Ginny's pre-treatment world." -School Library Journal
  • "Based on Lyon's own experience, the sensitively written story radiates empathy and good humor." -Booklist

Similar books.
  • The Patch by Justina Chen Headley
  • Jacob's Eye Patch by Beth Kobliner Shaw and Jacob Shaw

Ask Me No Questions

by Marina Budhos
Budhos, Marina. Ask Me No Questions. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006. ISBN 9781416949206

Plot Summary
This is a story about fourteen- year-old Nadira and her family who emigrated from Bangladesh. They are living in New York City and hoping to become legal U.S. citizens soon. Currently they are living in the states on expired visas. Their lives turn upside down after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In their attempt to cross the Canadian border, Nadira's father is arrested. It is now Nadira and her older sister, Aisha's job to carry on like normal without both their parents. When her sister falls apart, Nadira has to step up and be the strong one to bring her family back together.

Critical Analysis
This moving story consists of finding one's identity, patriotism, family, and what it meant to be Muslim in America after 9/11. Budhos' does an excellent in describing Nadira's feelings and emotions throughout the story. While readers will feel sympathy for the characters, the settings throughout the story could be more detailed. I couldn't really visualize the settings while reading. To me that was the only down fall of the book. In chapter five, Budhos makes the connection to the title, "Ask me no questions. Tell me no lies." This is the policy at the girl's school. At the end of the story there is an "Endnote" from the author. This is where Budhos describes the actual events that led to her inspiration for this work of fiction.

The culture of the characters in the story is apparent throughout. From names, food, and vocabulary readers can experience the Muslim American culture. Budhos does not provide a glossary, so readers may need to look up some words to know their meaning. Most of the non-English words are italicized Nadira never mentions her father's name but calls him Abba. One can assume that this name means father, but I had to look it up to find out for sure. In Arabic, Abba means father. Nadira's family is described as modern thinking Muslim Americans. Nadira, Aisha, and Ma do not wear scares on their heads.

I would definitely recommend this book for all middle school libraries and public libraries. Readers will gain insight and understanding into the struggles Muslims faced after the 9/11 terrorists attacks. 

Review Excerpts
  • "...this is an important facet of the American immigrant experience, worthy of wider attention." -School Library Journal
  • "...the events of the novel are powerful enough to engage readers' attention and will make them pause to consider the effects of a legal practice that preys on prejudice and fear." -Publisher's Weekly
  • "The teen voice is wonderfully immediate, revealing Nadira's mixed-up feelings as well as the diversity in her family and in the Muslim community." -Booklist
More books with similar stories and hardships.
  • Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
  • Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye
  • Lost Boy, Lost Girl: Escaping Civil War in Sudan by John Bul Dau and Martha Arual Akech with Michael S. Sweeney and K.M. Kostyal

Mommy, Mama, and Me

by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Carol Thompson
Newman, Lesléa. Mommy, Mama, and Me. Ill. by Carol Thompson. Berkeley: Tricycle Press, 2009. ISBN 9781582462639

Plot Summary
This is a simple story of a day in the life of a young toddler. The toddler describes what his/her mommy and mama does with them.

Critical Analysis
Lesléa Newman's easy text consists of one sentence per page. One every left page of the book is a sentence about what the toddler's mommy, while every right page is about the toddler's mama. This is the main point in the story where the LGBTQ culture is expressed. The story has a nice flow with the end rhyme on facing pages. The story shows readers that happy families come in all varieties, including having two mommies.

Carol Thompson's illustrations are colorful and bright and definitely enhance the impact of the book. In all the drawings the toddler's mommy has short, curly, dark brown hair with earrings, and it's mama has red hair that is pinned up. The toddler has short curly brown hair. I haven't mentioned the toddler's gender because I am actually not sure. Newman does not mention a gender in her text, and Thompson's illustrations lean toward boy but it could be a girl. I see this as another cultural marker, no matter how subtle it may be.

Review Excerpts & Awards
  • "The soft, realistic illustrations expand the simple texts." -School Library Journal
  • "The bright colors (a green claw-foot tub has froglike feet) and pleasing verse offer a simple lesson about love that same-sex parents should embrace." -Publisher's Weekly
  • 2010 Stonewall Honor Book Award
Read aloud Daddy, Papa, and Me created by Newman and Thompson

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Year of the Dog

A novel by Grace Lin

Lin, Grace. The Year of the Dog. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. ISBN 9780316060004

Plot Summary
Grace, aka Pacy, is a Taiwanese American girl living through the Year of the Dog, the Chinese New Year tradition. For Grace this means that this is the year for family, friends, and to find herself. She is determined to decide what she wants to be while discovering new talents this year. Throughout the school year Grace gains friends and participates in school activities, like the science fair and the school play. In her quest, Grace overcomes stereotypes, obstacles, and learns more about herself.

Critical Analysis
In this novel, Grace Lin presents a beautifully written humorous and touching story. Her inspiration for writing her first novel comes from wishing there was a book like this when she was a young girl. The Taiwanese American culture that Lin writes about helps educate others on this culture that many people may not be familiar with. It also gives Taiwanese American children a glimpse into a life that may be similar to theirs.

The text flows nicely which makes for an easy read that is very descriptive. Readers will be able to sympathize and/or empathize with the characters' emotions, especially Grace's. I was able to feel Grace's frustration, disappointment, excitement, and hope through Lin's words. The main character is a Taiwanese American girl who has two names. Her name is Pacy, but everyone except her family calls her by her American name, Grace. This story has many cultural connections with names and traditions. One experience Grace has with her culture is when her grandma paints Chinese symbols on her neck to help with her neck pain. In the story, Lin provides readers with the actual Chinese symbols for tiger and pig. The tiger is believed to chase the pig which will massage the neck muscles. Grace is amazed when it actually works. There is a section of the book where Grace and her friends go to the library to search for a Chinese book. To their disappointment, they come across The Seven Chinese Brothers, which is not a true representation of Chinese people. Grace also gets told that she can't be Dorothy in the school play because "Dorothy's not Chinese." Even though she is dealing with prejudicial people and situations, Grace shows strength in her will to keep on pushing and trying.

Throughout the story, Lin has cute little sketches and drawings that provide visual entertainment for readers. Each chapter starts with a title arced over a sketch to represent the content in the chapter. In the back of the book there is an Author's Note from Grace Lin, a Reader's Guide, and a sneak peek at the book sequel, The Year of the Rat.

Children will be able to relate to this light-hearted story. I highly recommend this book for public and school libraries to enhance their collections through multicultural literature.

Review Excerpts
  • "A lighthearted coming-of-age novel with a cultural twist." -School Library Journal 
  • "Lin does a remarkable job capturing the soul and the spirit of books like those of Hayward or Maud Hart Lovelace, reimagining them through the lens of her own story, and transforming their special qualities into something new for today's young readers." -Booklist (starred review)
  • "This comfortable first-person story will be a treat for Asian-American girls looking to see themselves in their reading, but also for any reader who enjoys stories of friendship and family life." -Kirkus
More books with Chinese and Chinese American culture for elementary school age children.
  • Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look
  • The Year of the Rat by Grace Lin
  • The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng

The Favorite Daughter

Written & illustrated by Allen Say
Say, Allen. The Favorite Daughter. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013. ISBN 9780545176620

Plot Summary
After bringing a photo of herself to class of when she was young, Yuriko has decided she does not like her name anymore. The students and even the new art teacher are calling her "Eureka." She is a beautiful half Japanese half American girl who has blond hair. She doesn't want to be different, she wants to be a normal girl with a normal name like Michelle. Fortunately, Yuriko has a kind and understanding father who uses gentle ways of reminding her who she is and how to appreciate her Japanese American culture.

Critical Analysis
This is an autobiographical book about Allen Say's daughter growing up as a bi-cultural child in America. The text does not describe the physical attributes of the characters, so the illustrations and photographs are very important to the visual aspects of the story. Say does incorporate the Japanese culture with character's names and the descriptions of areas at the Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park. The main character's name is Yuriko, and when her and her father go to a Japanese sushi restaurant the chef addresses her as "Yuriko-chan." While Yuriko and her father are in the Japanese Garden they watch the sumi-e demonstration. Say has to clarify this word for his daughter and explain that it means "Japanese ink painting." The story exemplifies modern Japanese American culture. Readers may not understand the different ways Yuriko is addressed. At the sushi restaurant she is addressed as Yuriko-chan and the Japanese artist addresses her as Yuriko-san. Say does not explain the differences in these two names, but this can lead to good discovery in a classroom.

Say's illustrations drawn with watercolors, ink, and pencil are beautifully executed. He has also incorporated two real photographs of his daughter. The first photo of his daughter when she was young shows Yuriko's Japanese eyes that are really her only visual Japanese feature. The last page of the story has a photo of Yuriko when she actually visited Japan with her father years later. The majority of the Japanese men in the book, including Say, have dark or gray hair with mustaches. There is only one illustration that shows Yuriko's eyes looking like slits or slanted, but she seems to be looking down. There are only a few places in the story were traditional Japanese attire is worn. One is when Yuriko is wearing her red Kimono, another where a worker at the tea house is dressed up, and the last one is the photo of Yuriko in Japan at the end.

As a whole, this is a heartfelt story of modern family cultures, family values, self identity, and fitting in. I would definitely recommend this book for school and public libraries. It would make a great addition to any library's multicultural books.

Review Excerpts
  • "Say's command of watercolor, ink, and pencil develops the visual narrative through a combination of uncluttered interiors; peaceful, restorative gardens; and emotionally complex portraits." -School Library Journal
  • "Still, the genuine warmth and nontrivializing look at childhood troubles should endear this to a young audience. And the emphasis on celebrating one’s culture while finding common ground with others is universally handy." -Booklist
  • "As the story of a young artist's coming of age, Say's account is complex, poignant, and unfailingly honest. Say's fans--and those who also feel the pull of the artist's life--will be captivated." -Publishers Weekly
More books by Allen Say for Preschool to 3rd grade children.
  • Grandfather's Journey (9780547076805)
  • Tea with Milk (9780547237473)
  • The Bicycle Man (9780395506523)

Apple Pie 4th of July

By Janet S. Wong
Pictures by Margaret Chodos-Irvine

Wong, Janet S. Apple Pie 4th of July. Ill. by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc., 2002. ISBN 9780152025434

Plot Summary
"No one wants Chinese food on the Fourth of July, I say." A Chinese American girl is not happy that her parents are making Chinese food on the 4th of July. Neither of her parents were born in America, but she is trying to educate them on how things really are. As the day goes on, she watches the parade go by her parent's store, and she soon changes her tune on thinking people do not want Chinese food on an American holiday.

Critical Analysis
Margaret Chodos-Irvine's artwork for this book was created with a "variety of printmaking techniques on Lana printmaking paper" (Harcourt, 2000). An interesting element to Chodos-Irvine's illustrations is her inspiration. To gain inspiration she visited family-owned markets in Seattle, Washington where she lives, and she also attended parades near by. A variety of skin tones are represented in this story. The main character is Chinese American with tan skin, black hair, and dark eyes. Customers that come into her parents store range from brown skin with dark eyes and hair to tan/peach skin tone with light brown eyes and hair. There is even one customer with light skin and gray hair. There is no cultural reference in the clothes of the people in the illustrations.

Janet Wong has created a simple, fun, and multicultural story told from a young girl's perspective. Wong never reveals the main character's name in the book. There is only one name that is mentioned, Laura, who is not ever seen in the book. The food the young girl's parents are cooking is Chinese food; egg rolls, chow mein, and sweet and sour pork. Wong's words combined with Chodos-Irvine's illustrations present the disappointment of the young girl when she realizes she can't blame her parents for not knowing how to celebrate an American holiday, like the fourth of July. Wong's simple text exhibits some rhyming that makes the story fun to read aloud. This story with the artwork provides a great multicultural connection for young elementary classrooms.

Review Excerpts
  • "This excellent read-aloud will partner well with books that emphasize American patriotism..." -Booklist (starred review)
  • "This second successful collaboration by the creators of Buzz (Harcourt, 2000) is one you won't want to miss." -School Library Journal
  • "The art resembles cut-paper collage. Chodos-Irvine deploys sharply defined objects in a range of colors and patterns to construct harmonious, forthright compositions that will likely prove inviting to readers of many backgrounds." -Publishers Weekly
More Asian American children's books about celebrations, American and Asian.
  • Bringing in the New Year (Read to a Child) by Grace Lin
  • Uncle Peter's Amazing Chinese Wedding by Lenore Look
  • Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival by Grace Lin
Have students share some of their own traditions and celebrations. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Between Earth & Sky

Legends of Native American Sacred Places
Written by Joseph Bruchac
Illustrated by Thomas Locker
Bruchac, Joseph. Between Earth & Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places. Ill. by Thomas Locker. San Diego, CA: Harcout Brace & Company, 1996. ISBN 0152000429

Plot Summary
This inspiring book consists of ten Native American legends spoken through poems. The majestic illustrations tell the story of sacred lands that the Native American cultures cherish. 

Critical Analysis
Bruchac provides readers with important background information about the book at the very beginning. It stresses the importance of the North American landscape that the Native American culture hold sacred. He also teaches readers that Native American cultures recognize seven directions, North, South, East, West, Earth (Above), Sky (Below), and the direction within all of us. In the back of the book is a map of North America with tribe names, separation of the continent, and symbols of some of the sacred places the Native Americans hold dear, like the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. There is also a guide for pronunciations of words used throughout the book. At the end of each poem the direction it represents and the tribe are listed. This book screams authenticity for Native American culture. Bruchac's Abenaki-Native American ancestry plays a major role in the true essence and true meanings of his culture.
Locker's quiet yet magnificent illustrations of the lands were created with oils on canvas. He uses such detail that readers can view the markings and reflections of the trees, mist from the waterfalls, and sun rays through cloudy skies. The few illustrations with people have them dressed in a more traditional buck-skin with bows in their hands.

Review Excerpts
  • "Each tale is a model of economy, gracefully distilling its message, while Locker's landscapes capture the mysticism inherent in each setting." -Horn Book
  • "It is difficult to convey the beliefs of an entire people in one brief legend divorced from the rest of their tradition, yet these selections point to the richness possible in looking at the sky in a spiritual way." -School Library Journal
  • "Here, short, easy-to-understand legends are accompanied by full-page oil paintings in Locker's dramatic signature style." -Booklist
More books by Joseph Bruchac
  • Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back [9780698115842]
  • The Earth Under Sky Bear's Feet [9780698116474]
  • The First Strawberries [9780140564099]

The Christmas Coat

Memories of My Sioux Childhood
by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
illustrated by Ellen Beier
Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk. The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood. Ill. by Ellen Beier. New York, NY: Holiday House, 2011. ISBN 9780823421343

Plot Summary
It is extremely cold, snowy, and rainy in the South Dakota prairie as the Sioux children walk to school. Most of them have coats, gloves, and boots, but they are either too small or too big in size. As Virginia attempts to cover her arms and wrists, she daydreams of a red coat that has a hood, is warm, and fits. All the families are waiting for the "Theast boxes" full of clothing, shoes, and other necessary items that are sent by church congregations of New England. Being the daughter of the Episcopal priest of the village, Virginia and her family never receive first pick. It has been instilled in them that "The others need it more than we do." This is a heartfelt story that shows how thinking of others before yourself can bring rewards.

Critical Analysis
This story is written and illustrated with authenticity of the Native American culture. Sneve uses her own Sioux name, Driving Hawk for the main character's last name. While the characters first names are not unique to the culture, last names like "Brokenleg," "Buffalo," "Little Money," and "High Bear" represent Native American culture. Sneve uses the term "gumbo" several times throughout the story. This may confuse some readers, but if they use the context clues they will realize that "gumbo" is a description for the squishy sludge that the snow, rain, and dirt make. Another important term used in the story is "Theast." Sneve explains this word as meaning "The East." The Theast boxes are what the village anxiously awaits for their new hand me down clothes. Sneve's text accurately describes the characters feelings and emotions. 
This book is beautifully illustrated with watercolor and gouache. Bier uses every part of the page for her scenes. She provides excellent detail in the characters skin color, dress, and hairstyles. All the girls wear dresses or skirts and the boys wear overalls or pants with suspenders. The clothing and cracks in the school walls display the poverty of the village. The only time readers will see characters wearing a headdress is during the Christmas pageant to represent wise leaders and elders for the tribe.
This story is a wonderful addition of diversity to all school and public libraries. 

Review Excerpts
  • "Virginia's personality shines through in this poignant story that entertains and informs without recourse to stereotypes." -Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
  • "With its authentic portrait of a Sioux childhood and Christmas traditions (captured in watercolor and gouache illustrations) and its eventual happy ending, this is a quiet but affecting picture book." -Horn Book
  • "Based on the author's 1940s childhood on a Sioux reservation in South Dakota, this richly descriptive narrative is well matched by detailed and expressive watercolors." -School Library Journal 
  • 2011 winner of the Youth Literature Award from the American Indian Library Association
More picture books about Native American culture.
  • A Boy Called Slow by Joseph Bruchac
  • Circle of Wonder: A Native American Christmas Story by N. Scott Momaday
  • The Good Luck Cat by Joy Harjo

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

A Novel by Sherman Alexie
Art by Ellen Forney
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Ill. by Ellen Forney. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. ISBN 9780316013680

Plot Summary
This novel tells a fictional story of Junior, a teenage Native American growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He was born with many health issues and has therefore been picked on his entire life. He is determined to change his fate and receive a good education, so he leaves the reservation school and starts attending a predominantly white school in a neighboring farm town. Junior's story is about his desire to be better and achieve more, even though he has more than enough obstacles to deal with. Viewed as a traitor among his tribe, Junior tackles life with wit, humor, and perseverance.

Critical Analysis
This coming of age story will bring laughter and tears. Alexie has written this story from Junior's perspective, therefore causing readers to see things through his eyes. The text references Native American culture with words and phrases like "powwow," "deer-hide tepees," "half-breed Indian warrior," and "rez." Readers will take away the implication that many if not all Indian reservations are in poverty. This plays a major role of the story in the differences between Junior's two schools. While this is a fictional story, it brings to light the suffering and issues Native Americans around the US face in a modern world. Alexie writes about some of the discrimination of Native Americans in this book. For example, Junior recalls his dad being stopped three times in one week for "DWI: Driving While Indian." 
Ellen Forney's illustrations are simple pencil cartoons that are humorous and entertaining. Junior is a budding cartoonist, so Forney's illustrations are essential drawn by Junior. In one illustration, Junior is split in half, half "white" and half "Indian" with descriptions of each person he has to be. Some illustrations look like notebook paper that has been torn out of a journal and pasted in the book. One of these is a drawing of Junior's dad drawn with long dark hair to represent the culture of some Native American tribes. All illustrations represent modern dress and living of the Spokane tribe. The only exaggerations are drawn that way to represent the stereotype of Native Americans.
This is a great story of staying true to yourself and not letting people, culture, or society get in your way of your dreams. This is definitely a YA book with some questionable situations of going up as a boy. 

Review Excerpts & Awards
  • "The teen's determination to both improve himself and overcome poverty, despite the handicaps of birth, circumstances, and race, delivers a positive message in a low-key manner." -School Library Journal
  • "Alexie's humor and prose are easygoing and well suited to his young audience..." -Booklist
  • "The line between dramatic monologue, verse novel, and standup comedy gets unequivocally-and hilariously and triumphantly-bent in this novel." -Horn Book (starred review)
  • Winner of the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature

More Native American novels for young adults.
  • Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway Narrative by Ignatia Broker
  • Waterlily by Ella C. Deloria
  • The Night Wanderer by Drew Hayden Taylor
Have students write about times when they did not fit in and how they overcame their challenges. Does it relate to Junior's story?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Yum! ¡MmMm! ¡Qué rico!

Americas' Sproutings
Haiku by Pat Mora
Pictures by Rafael López
Mora, Pat. Yum! ¡MmMm! ¡Qué rico!. Ill. by Rafael López. New York, NY: Lee & Low Books Inc., 2007. ISBN 9781584302711

Plot Summary
This book is a delicious collection of haiku that celebrates fourteen foods. The fourteen special foods highlighted in this book are all native to the Americas. 

Critical Analysis
Each haiku has a paragraph that describes where the food originated and how it was and is used mirrored on the left page. Did you know that peanuts are from South America, March is National Peanut Month, and they are not really nuts? That is just a piece of the interesting facts Pat Mora includes in this book. Readers will also learn that pineapples are called piña which means pinecone in Spanish.The title page includes a mini glossary of Spanish terms, acknowledgements, and the author's sources. 

Rafael López does not leave any piece of the page without color or illustration. His use of acrylic on wood panels creates a background texture that is unlike anything else. His illustrations cover two pages for each food and definitely enhance the impact of the haiku by representing a snapshot of where the food originates. Since the foods are from different parts of the Americas, each representation of the people is different. Not one person has the same skin color or eye shape. This is how the illustrator portrays the physical differences in people from Wisconsin, Texas, Maine, Mexico, Central American countries, and South American countries.

Review Excerpts
  • Teachers will find this a welcome addition to their social-studies units, but it should also win a broad general audience for its inventive fun-filled approach to an ever-popular topic: food." -School Library Journal
  • "This inventive stew of food haiku celebrates the indigenous foods of the Americas." -Booklist

More books by Pat Mora.
  • Book Fiesta!Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day; Celebremos El dia de los ninos/El dia de los libros (9780061288777)
  • A Birthday Basket for Tia (9780689813283)

The Lightning Dreamer

Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist
by Margarita Engle
Engle, Margarita. The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist. New York, NY: Harcourt, 2013. ISBN 9780547807430

Plot Summary
This historical fiction novel is written in verse and takes place in the 19th century. The story is a fictionalized biography about Cuban abolitionist poet Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, known as Tula. Tula lives during a time of slavery and arranged marriages. Her mother has forbidden her access to books because she does not believe books and knowledge are an attractive quality for women. During her struggles with her mom trying to marry her off, Tula escapes to a nearby convent where she engrosses herself in the library with poems written by José María de Heredia.

Critical Anaylsis
Engle's verses in this book are wealthy in smiles and metaphors, and bring about the emotions of the characters. Each verse is titled with the name of the character speaking in the text. The majority of are spoken by Tula, the main protagonist. This book will definitely enlighten readers on Cuban history, and how education and freedom for women and slaves was prohibited.

One theme of the story is fear. Fear for going against the rules and voicing opinions. Tula's brother, Manuel voices his fear for his sister wanting to stand up and speak the truth for women and slaves. By the end of hte book Manuel becomes inspired by his sister. "I'm shocked by my sister's/ independence, but also inspired./ If a woman can shed all the whims/ of tradition, then so can a man."

Engle does her novel justice by providing a plethora of historical background and notes before and after the story. She also has actual writings by Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda after the story along with references and acknowledgments. The story itself is split up into five parts: Suns and Rays, The Orphan Theater, The Marriage Market, See Me as I Am, and The Hotel of Peace.

The only mention of skin color is when Tula talks about a newborn infant who is left at the orphanage, abandoned by it's mother. "When I gaze down at his black eyes/ and warm cinnamon-hued skin." This book is extremely powerful and shows how privilege comes from battles of all different types of underprivileged people throughout history.

Review Excerpts & Awards
  • "This is the context for a splendid novel that celebrates one brave woman who rejected a constrained existence with enduring words that continue to sing of freedom." -Booklist starred review
  • "Engle adds another superb title to her lengthening list of historical novels in verse...This is a must-have for collections where Engle's other works are known and loved or for anyone in need of a comparative study to our own country's struggle with slavery." -School Library Journal
  • "An inspiring fictionalized verse biography of one of Cuba's most influential writers...Fiery and engaging, a powerful portrait of the liberating power of art." -Kirkus
  • Winner of the Pura Belpre Honor Award
  • VOYA Top Shelf for Middle School Readers 2013 list 

More books by Margarita Engle and Cuba.

  • The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom (9780805086744)
  • The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba (9780805090826)
  • Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba (9780805089363)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Mice and Beans

By Pam Muñoz Ryan
Illustrated by Joe Cepeda
Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Mice and Beans. Ill. by Joe Cepeda. New York, NY: Scholastic Press, 2001. 
ISBN 0439183030

Plot Summary
This is a charming story about Rosa María's week preparing for her granddaughter's seventh birthday. She has made her list and started working, but things keep disappearing, like napkins, piñata feathers, her favorite wooden spoon, and mousetraps. "No importa" she says, finds a solution and persists on. Rosa María has her mind set on one thing, a great birthday for her Little Catalina. What she doesn't know is that there is another party being planned in her house, and the missing mousetraps are involved.

Critical Analysis
Pam Muñoz Ryan and Joe Cepeda have created a delightful story with authenticity from the Hispanic culture. The cultural markers are displayed through the text and the colorful illustrations. Ryan sprinkles in Spanish words during the course of the story in words and phrases. "No importa" is the phrase that is repeated through the story, but she includes many other Spanish words like bolsa, pasteleria, frijoles, and fiesta.  To assist readers in translating the Spanish words, Ryan provided a glossary with pronunciation guide in the back of the book. The text does not seem to be stereotypical but rather authentic in the cultural aspects. Rosa María loves to cook for her big family and for the birthday party she is cooking enchiladas with rice and beans "no dinner was complete without rice and beans!" 

Cepeda's illustrations play a big roll in the joyful nature of this book. He uses a lot of bright colors and his depiction of Rosa María is unforgettable. Her character wears big red glasses, heels, and her hair looks like a blonde bee hive. The skin color of the characters are all slightly different, but they are nicely blended to create a tan look for the authenticity of the story. Hispanic culture consists of big families and the author and illustrator provide the reader with that experience in this book.

Readers get a little extra with this book because the back cover contains recipes for Rosa María's Rice and Beans. The book jacket was also very appealing with the blue and purple checkered background and several mice holding candy (from the piñata). On the inside is another recipe, but this one is for a Festive Story time. This book is very playful, fun, and a must read for lower elementary grade levels.

Review Excerpts
  • "Readers of this clever story will chuckle at the skillful collaboration between author and artist." -Horn Book Guide 
  • "The story is charming, but what makes it special is the quiet authenticity of the Hispanic characterizations. Cepeda's pictures are as good as the story, with bright, funny scenes depicted from human (looking down) and mouse (looking up) points of view." -Booklist
  • "Cepeda wraps up this festive volume by showing how the well-meaning vandals have put their loot to use by throwing a mouse party of their own." -Publisher's Weekly

More picture books by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
  • Nacho and Lolita (9780439269681)
  • When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson (9780439269674)
More picture books to celebrate the Hispanic culture.
  • Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match/ Marisol McDonald no combina by Monica Brown (9780892392353)
  • Napí by Antonio Ramirez (9780888996107)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Blues Journey

by Walter Dean Myers
illustrated by Christopher Myers
Myers, Walter Dean. Blues Journey. Ill. by Christopher Myers. NY: Holiday House, 2003. 
ISBN 0823416135

Plot Summary
Just like the title, this book is a telling of the blues journey through collage and poetry. While most of the poems/lyrics and even illustrations seem sad, they are telling a story and you may have to look a little deeper to find the love within.

Critical Analysis
This book was created by a father (author) and son (illustrator) team. Walter D. Myers starts off the book with an informational page on the history of the blues and how it has developed. The "call and response" element of the singing form of blues is explained in on this page which is very helpful to the reader because a good majority of the poems use "call and response."

Christopher Myers' original illustrations were created with blue ink, white paint, and brown paper bags. The illustrations are authentic to the African American culture and complement the emotions of the text. Readers can feel the powerful emotions of the blues prose through the illustrations as well as the text. 

The back of the book provides more helpful information with a timeline of the history of the blues from 1865 to the 1960s. There is also a glossary of blues terms used in throughout the book. I found this to be extremely helpful in understanding the significance of the words with the blues era. Teachers, librarians, and parents will also find this helpful when using the book as an instructional tool. 
Review Excerpts
  • "Although this title will provides a wonderful introduction to blues music, it will be appreciated by those who have thoroughly studies the subject as well. The illustrations and text, sometimes paired with a hauntingly lonely harmonica, explore such subjects as poverty, lynching, slavery, and injustice." -School Library Journal
  • "Much of Myers' poetry here is terrific, by turn, sweet, sharp, ironic, but it's the memorable collage artwork, executed in the bluest of blue ink and brown paper, that will draw readers first. Once inside the book, some children will immediately hear the songs the poetry sings; other will have to listen more closely." -Booklist

Introduce students to other books by Walter Dean Myers
  • Jazz (9780823421732)
  • Looking Like Me (9781606840016)
  • Harlem (9780590543408)
After reading the book as a class, and learning about the call and response technique have the students try to create their own blues poetry.


How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down
By Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Pinkney, Andrea Davis. Sit-In: how four friends stoop up by sitting down. Ill. by Brian Pinkney. NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2010. ISBN 9780316070164

Plot Summary
"A doughnut and coffee with cream on the side" is all David, Joseph, Franklin, and Ezell wanted when they went and sat at the Woolworth's lunch counter on February 1, 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina. These four black college students had Martin Luther King Jr.'s words in their heads and a plan in there hearts. When the employees ignore them and refuse to take their order, they do not get angry or violent. They simple sit and wait quietly day after day until more students black and white and in different states and cities start joining the sit-in movement. This act of peace and determination made a great contribution to stopping the injustice of segregation in the United States.

Critical Analysis
This book is a wonderfully executed non-fiction book created by a wife (author) and husband (illustrator) team. Andrea tells the story using a poetic element and really brings in the era with quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. sprinkled throughout the story. Those quotes offer up the encouragement and passion to end segregation. Her characters are true to the time and culture and when the white student join in the movement the reader experiences the amazing interaction with the different cultures.

Brian Pinkney uses bright watercolors and Indian ink for his beautiful illustrations. The ink really emphasizes the detail of the pictures. He does an excellent job of displaying the story line while being accurate to the time period. The illustrations greatly complement the text and story.

Not only do the Pinkney's provide a great re-telling of the sit-in's, they also offer a Civil Right timeline and "A Final Helping" by Andrea Pinkney in the back of the book. I definitely recommend having this book in all public and school libraries. This is a great book to teach about the 1960s and the segregation of blacks and whites. This book is an wonderful example of how a story should celebrate the diversity of cultures.
Review Excerpts
  • "Through effectively chosen words, Andrea Pinkney brings understanding and meaning to what four black college students accomplished on February 1, 1960, by sitting down at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, NC." -School Library Journal
  • "This compelling picture book is based on the historic sit-in 50 years ago by four college students who tried to integrate a Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. ... Even young children will grasp the powerful, elemental, and historic story of those who stood up to oppressive authority and changed the world." -Booklist starred review

Introduce other books related to freedom and equality for blacks.
  • Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford
  • Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles
  • If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks by Faith Ringgold
Have a discussion with the students about how they would feel if they were treated like the four college boys were.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


by Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson, Jacqueline. Feathers. New York, NY: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2007. 
ISBN 9780399239892

Plot Summary
"Hope is the thing with feathers," Frannie, a fifth grader at Price can not seem to stop thinking about that part of the Emily Dickinson poem they are studying in school. It's 1971 and Frannie lives on the black side of the tracks with her parents and deaf brother, when a white boy arrives at school one day. This boy, while being the only white kid at Price has an affect on people and their beliefs in a positive way. Through difficult experiences with segregation, bullying, racism, and family issues, Frannie questions her faith and hope, but never seems to give up.

Critical Analysis
In this Newberry Honor Book, Jacqueline Woodson expertly merges historical events and music during the course of the story. She also brings up difficult life issues about segregation, questions about God, and matters surrounding deafness.

The African American culture is very apparent in Woodson's writing with dialect, language patterns, descriptions of skin color, and other cultural references. "Don't no pale-faces go to this school. You need to get you white butt back across the highway" (Woodson 2007). That quote by Trevor, a character in the story spotlights a few of the cultural markers through dialect presented throughout the book. The dialect of the text back up the setting which takes place in the 1970s.

The overall quality of this story is excellent. The theme of hope along with the tough issues of segregation, racism, God, bullying, and deafness will lead to some deep and profound discussions.

Review Excerpts
  • "The story ends with hope and thoughtfulness while speaking to those adolescents who struggle with race, faith, and prejudice. They will appreciate its wisdom and positive connections." - School Library Journal
  • "Maybe there is something magical about the Jesus Boy or perhaps the magic lies within the young people whom he encounters. Either way, this book is dynamic as it speaks to real issues that teens face." - Voice of Youth Advocate
  • "There's a lot going on in this small, fast-moving novel that introduces big issues--faith, class, color, prejudice, family, disability, and friendship." - Booklist

Suggest other books by Jacqueline Woodson.
  • Last Summer with Maizon (9780698119291)
  • Brown Girl Dreaming (9780399252518)
Have discussions with students about how the story made them feel. Open up the discussion to the tough topics of segregation and racism.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Table That Ran Away to the Woods

by Stefan Themerso
Illustrated by Franciszka Themerson
Themerson, Stefan. The Table That Ran Away to the Woods. Ill. by Franciszka Themerson. English ed. London: Tate Pub., 2012. ISBN 9781849760577

Plot Summary
The Table That Ran Away to the Woods is a story about a writing table that grabs two pairs of shoes and runs into the streets and out of town to the woods. The owner of the table and his wife take off running barefoot after the table since the table stole their shoes. They follow it into the woods where the table finds some tress and takes root. You will have to read the book to find out what the table does after it takes root in the woods.

Critical Analysis
This book is the first English translation of this children's classic that was conceived in the 1930's and it was first published in Polish in 1963. In the back of this book there is a note that tells the story of the author and illustrator, Stefan and Franciszka Themerson, who were prominent Polish film makers in Warsaw in the 1930s. The theme of the story is about escaping the man-made world and returning to your roots. Readers will enjoy the end rhyme and free spirit nature of the story. There is no real connection between the culture and the book until you read the summary and note for the book. That is where readers will lean the back story of the Polish culture of the author and illustrator.
The collage illustrations are original and display many textures. The little color in the book runs with a pattern, one page is black and white and the next two have color. It then repeats with two pages of black and white and two pages of color. This is a fun story that will be great for elementary students.

Review Excerpts
  • "This is a book that has the potential to spark a conversation about the impact of humans on nature, and about the power of collage to convey the artist's message." -School Library Journal
  • "Readers needn't be familiar with the back story to appreciate the collage-like images of the table scampering over hills and reclaiming its existence." -Publishers Weekly
  • Have students create there own illustrations through collage.
  • Read another book with Franciszka Themerson illustrations, My First Nursery Book (9780810979789)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Soldier Bear

Written by Bibi Dumon Tak
Illustrated by Philip Hopman
Tak, Bibi. Soldier Bear. Ill. by Philip Hopman. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2011.  ISBN 9780802853752

Plot Summary
Soldier Bear is the 2012 Batchelder Award winning story of basis on real events during World War II. This is a story about an orphaned bear cub who is suddenly adopted by a group of Polish soldiers. As Voytek grows, he gets himself into a lot of mischief, but the soldiers end up enlisting him as a soldier to allow him to stay with company. Voytek is considered a fellow soldier and friend to the Polish soldiers. In the adventures from Iran to Italy Voytek provides help by carrying bombs and unexpectedly saving the camp from a spy, Voytek shows his importance in the war. This little piece of history is surprising and heartwarming.

Critical Analysis
This is a great historical fiction novel that provides insight into some soldiers lives during WWII. Students might stumble over some words and names like Voytek, but the story as a whole is a nice easy read. Important themes of the story are: not talking anything for granted, love of friends and pets, and family. The soldiers and their animals like Voytek become a family through the story. The detail of Tak's writing allows the reader to envision the settings described. Readers will experience humor, happiness, sadness, and appreciation. There is not a direct connection between the author's culture and the story, but readers will experience some polish culture and interesting pieces of history about WWII.
The subtle pencil illustrations by Philip Hopman add a great visual aspect to the story. They help students make connections to the text. Hopman allows provides a few maps to show the travels of the polish soldiers throughout the book.
The afterword of the book is an excellent addition because it tells of the true facts and story for Voytek, the Soldier Bear. Readers will also enjoy the real life pictures of Voytek during the time period of the story.

Review Excerpts
  • "An afterword featuring archival photographs of the real Voytek closes this uplifting, welcome addition to WWII studies." -Booklist
  • "First published in Holland in 2008, this fictionalized account of one of World War II's happier oddities includes appealing drawing and clear historical maps." -Horn Book
  • "This fictionalized account is an unusual and humorous perspective on wartime experiences." -School Library Journal

  • This book can be a great resource when teaching students about World War II.  
  • Other books about WWII
    • Frank, Anne. Diary of A Young Girl, The. (9780553296983)
    • Zusak, Markus. Book Thief, The. (9780375831003)
    • Lowry, Lois. Number the Stars. (9780395510605)

Koala Lou

Written by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Pamela Lofts
Fox, Mem. Koala Lou. Ill. by Pamela Lofts. San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 1989.
ISBN 0152005021

Plot Summary
This charming story is about a koala mother's love of her children. Koala Lou is the first born joey who now has to learn how to share his mother's love with her new brothers and sisters. When Koala Lou was an only child her mother would tell her a hundred times of day, "Koala Lou, I DO love you!" With her mother being busy Koala Lou became sad and longed for her mother to say she loved her again. This story tells of Koala Lou's plan to win her mother's love back.

Critical Analysis
The Australian culture is represented in the text, characters, and illustrations. The characters are animals found in Australia, including koalas, kookaburras, and emus. When Fox describes settings of the book she mentions gum trees and the Bush which symbolize the Australian culture of the story. Fox even incorporates native dialect when Koala Lou's mother says "How're ya goin', blossom?" to Koala Lou. 
The colored pencil illustrations by Pamela Lofts are beautiful, detailed, and culturally accurate. The expressions Lofts draws on the animals represent human emotions and feelings. The feel of Australian culture is in every animal, plant, and tree of this book.
Children of all ages will love the cute cuddly animals and the precious story line. This is a must have in libraries who serve elementary age children.

Review Excerpts
  • "Koala Lou is appealing and truly believable...Fox brings out the best in her characteristics, and also conveys and important message about competition." -School Library Journal
  • "A first-rate choice for bedtime, story hour, or reading aloud." -Horn Book
  • This satisfying reworking of a familiar and ever-  important bright colors, soft-edged sculptural forms, precise detail, dozens of expressive animals. Another winning import from on of Australia's favorite authors." -Kirkus Reviews
  • "A perfect example of why the Australian writer has become one of today's top authors of children's book." -Publishers Weekly
More books by Mem Fox.