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.