Monday, August 3, 2009

Reaching for Sun

A. Bibliography
Zimmer, Tracie Vaughn. 2007. Reaching for Sun. New York: Bloomsburg U.S.A. Children's Books. ISBN 1599900378.

B. Plot Summary
Reaching for Sun tells the story of seventh grader Josie who has cerebral palsy. Written in first person free-verse poems, Josie gives the reader a year-long glimpse into her life as a 12-year-old with a disability and how difficult life can be with students at school who ignore her, a demanding mother, a do-it-all grandmother, and finally a true, close friend who doesn't see Josie's disabilities at all.

C. Critical Analysis
Reaching for Sun chose to not dwell on Josie's disabilities. How her cerebral palsy affects her physically is mentioned very little "with my odd walk and slow speech..." "the new occupational therapist" "But my thumb will always be pasted to my palm, and my left wrist and shoulder connected by an invisible rubber band called cerebral palsy".
Once the physical limitations are mentioned, Reaching for Sun focuses on Josie's feelings letting the reader know how it feels to be ridiculed or ignored by other "perfect" students as they do on Christmas Eve, "Kids from school who usually pretend I'm invisible wish me Merry Christmas and say hello in front of their parents".
A hint to the emotional family angst a disability can cause was mentioned to explain why the near 1,000 acres of her grandmother's farm had been reduced to 5 acres: " medical bills stacked up on the dining room table, Gran resigned herself to sell it to her friend..." Gran herself makes only one comment to the loss of the acreage, "My momma would understand what I had to do, but I'll have to answer to Daddy one day."
True friendship finally comes to Josie with a boy named Jordan, who, in his own way, has handicaps of his own with a mother who died when he was young and a father who copes with her death by being a workaholic. However, Josie says "...I've learned this fact for myself: Days spin faster than a whirligig in a spring storm by the side of my new friend."
Reaching for Sun will provide for much discussion on how students with disabilities feel and how student who are not in special ed classes should treat them. The novel would lend itself well to a class read aloud with students responding with journaling to each daily read.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal—Josie, a girl with cerebral palsy, lives on the shrinking farmland owned by her family for generations and now being sold to developers. Her mother works and attends college and her grandmother tends her diminished patch of land. The story is told in the seventh-grader's voice in a series of free-verse poems. She is a bright and wry narrator, acutely aware of her limitations and her strengths. When Jordan, wealthy but neglected by his widowed father, moves into a mansion behind her farmhouse, they discover a common love of nature and science, and Josie finally has a real friend. She and her grandmother are both passionate about plants and gardening, and Zimmer does a nice job integrating botanical images throughout the novel. Josie feels like a "dandelion in a purple petunia patch" and thinks, "I must be a real disappointment—/stunted foliage,/no yield." Through growing maturity and Granny's wisdom, she gains confidence in herself. Reaching for Sun will have wide appeal for readers of diverse ability. Reluctant readers will be attracted to the seeming simplicity of the text, with short chapters and lots of white space on the page. They may not even realize that they are reading poetry. More sophisticated readers will find added enjoyment as they begin to appreciate the poetic structure and imagery. Readers of all levels will enjoy spending time with Josie and may gain an increased awareness of what it's like to live with a disability.

Booklist As if seventh grade weren't enough of a challenge for anyone, Josie also struggles with cerebral palsy, social isolation, a mom she needs more time and support from, and monster bulldozers that are carving up the countryside to build huge homes around her family's old farmhouse. Enter new neighbor Jordan, a sensitive kid whose geeky, science-loving ways bring a fun spirit of discovery into Josie's days. He melds with her and her family, especially the warm and wise Gram, and the friends create a kind of magic as they conduct all kinds of plant and pond experiments. Further challenges face Josie when Gram becomes ill and Jordan goes off to camp. Then, risking her mom's wrath, Josie secretly ditches her hated therapy sessions; when mother and daughter eventually reconcile, Josie emerges from her rough patch in a believable and transforming way. Written in verse, this quick-reading, appealing story will capture readers' hearts with its winsome heroine and affecting situations.

E. Connections
Encourage students to conduct research into disabilities like cerebral palsy.
Research the American Disability Act.
Invite the school's special ed teacher to come to the classroom to describe teaching students with disabilities and how to accommodate for them.

RaInbow Road

A. Bibliography
Sanchez, Alex. 2005. Rainbow Road. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689865651.

B. Plot Summary
Rainbow Road is the sharing of a cross-country trip three friends make after high school graduation. With each chapter focusing on the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of each boy, readers are allowed inside each character to understand his feelings on being gay in today's society.

C. Critical Analysis
Rainbow Road reads well and easily, but is definitely for the older teen as it has many scenes of sexual activity or characters thinking about sex.
The novel is exemplary in that it focuses on three very different young men, all of whom are gay, and the myriad of emotions involved in being gay in today's world. Flashbacks of how family members accepted the boys' "coming out" are woven into the story, along with experiences with other gay communities and bisexuals or those who call themselves "heteroflexible".
The boys' memories of how life was like when they were young comes out when, at one camp ground, they meet a little boy, age seven, who exhibits the same characteristics as the bigger boys, along with the same overbearing, abusive, narrow-minded father.
Mixed in to the story of examining emotions, feelings, and relationships are all the ups and downs of a 2,700 mile road trip, packed into a small car, characters getting on one another's nerves, ergo- a typical "family" road trip. A vacation of disasters many teens will be able to relate to.
Rainbow Road allows teens who are gay or lesbian to have a book they can relate to, that is written for them, and about them, that lets them know they are not alone on their life's journey.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal–The final installment of this trilogy is a true winner. Even though coming out publicly resulted in Virginia high school basketball star Jason Carrillo's losing his college athletic scholarship, it turned him into an important role model for gay and lesbian teens. And so, when a new GLBT high school in Los Angeles is searching for a keynote speaker for its opening ceremony, it is not surprising that Jason is given an all-expenses-paid invitation. His boyfriend, Kyle, definitely wants to be there, too. And Kyle's best friend–pink-haired, boy-hungry Nelson–has a car and thinks that this would be the perfect opportunity for a post-senior-year road trip. Virginia to L.A. by car: 3000 miles and plenty of time to gain an understanding of what being gay in America is all about. These boys are distinct personalities and genuine teens, searching for clarity and identity and acceptance, trying to make sense of themselves and a world that can be equally bright and dark. Sanchez writes with humor and compassion. Some mature romance scenes, occasional frank language, and an inclusion of transgender/transsexual/bisexual story lines translate into a tender book that will likely be appreciated and embraced by young adult readers.

E. Connections
Encourage students to read other books in the Rainbow series, Rainbow Boys and Rainbow High.
If allowed, offer students access to LGBT websites mentioned at the end of Rainbow Road in the appendix.

Ask Me No Questions

A. Bibliography
Budhos, Marina. 2006. Ask Me No Questions. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 1416903518.

B. Plot Summary
Nadira and her family are illegal aliens from Bangladesh living on expired tourist visas in New York City. After the horrific events of September 11, being Muslim changes everything. The family tries to leave the US for Canada only to be turned away at the border. When Nadira's father is arrested and detained at the border, Nadira and her sister Aisha are sent back to Queens to try to carry on life as usual- but noting in their lives will ever be the same again.

C. Critical Analysis
Ask Me No Questions is set in modern New York City where the family lives in modern apartments with modern amenities. Nadira and her sister attend school and wear blue jeans, tennis shoes, and carry backpacks, like every other American school kid.
Culture markers occur in the novel through food like tea, fish, lamb, and rice, prepared especially for Nadira's father when he is allowed to go free after being detained.
Clothing is mentioned, especially the shalwar kameezs and saris and dupattas of the older women. Personal customs like bathing twice a day and using hair oil are spoken of.
Cultural names are used, 'Abba' for father and the girls use the term 'Ma' for their mother. The names of the uncles are used before the term 'uncle', ie, Ali-Uncle or Naseem-Uncle.
Religion is briefly noted but is not a major part of the story's plot. the Koran and Ramadan and praying at the mosque are not a major part of Nadira's family now that they live in the US. Nadira mentions, "Abba and Ma, they do some of the holidays, like they fast for Ramadan, but it's been a long time since I've seen Abba pull out the prayer rug from the closet."
The main reason for the cultural markers mentioned in the story is to explain why the story exists: that a family like Nadira's would be looked at suspiciously in the days immediately following 9/11.
A class of students whose family are not immigrants would benefit from hearing or reading a story that describes an immigrant family's desire to remain and fit in the US.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal -As part of a U.S. government crackdown on illegal immigration after 9/11, Muslim men were required to register with the government and many were arrested because their visas had long-since expired. Families who had lived and worked in this country were suddenly and forcibly reminded of their illegal status without any likelihood of changing it. For 18-year-old Aisha Hossain, this means the end of her dream of going to college to become a doctor. For 14-year-old Nadira, her younger sister and the story's narrator, it means coming out from behind the shadow of her perfect older sister to reveal her own strength and find a way to reunite her nearly shattered family. Immigrants from Bangladesh, the Hossains have lived illegally in New York for years, their visa requests handled by a series of dishonest or incompetent lawyers and mired in the tortuous process of bureaucratic red tape. Following their father's arrest and detention, the teens put together the documentation and make a case that requires the judges to see them as individuals rather than terror suspects. The author explains their situation well, but the effect is more informational than fiction. Nadira and Aisha are clearly drawn characters, but they don't quite come alive, and their Bangladeshi-American background is more a backdrop than a way of life. Still, this is an important facet of the American immigrant experience, worthy of wider attention.

E. Connections
Encourage students to research the Patriot Act. Discuss why the Act was put into place and the effect it has had on Americans of Middle Eastern descent. How is this Act both good and bad?

Monday, July 27, 2009


A. Bibliography
Namioka, Lensey. 2006. Mismatch. New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN 0385731833.

B. Plot Summary
Family and national history play a vital role when two Asian-American teenagers, one Japanese-American, the other Chinese-American meet and begin dating.

C. Critical Analysis
Mismatch is definitely a modern teens' novel, set in modern times, complete with today's teen thought patterns: "He had a slim build but wide shoulders, and he moved in a relaxed, sexy way."
While the teens in the novel are securely modern American teens, the parents of the two main characters represent customs from the original homeland. Sue mentions that her grandmother, "...would have been insulted if an elaborate meal had not been prepared for her."
Mismatch's cultural markers are found in the description of the characters' physical characteristics, and are especially noted when the orchestra Sue and Andy belong to make a trip to Tokyo. Descriptions of Japan, the food, traditional clothing, and family home life are given. Forms of address are used, and especially noticeable are the polite exchanges between Andy and his host family in Tokyo, when Andy says, "It's very kind of you to drive me...Thank you very much for going to so much trouble."
Mismatch brings out a young person's argument about why one cannot date whomever they wish due to their family's nationality and history. Modern American teens will be able to relate to the family discussions in the novel about which cultural groups are acceptable to the elders in the families in the story.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal When her Chinese-American parents move to an affluent suburb of Seattle, 15-year-old Sue Hua, a viola player, joins the school orchestra in hopes of finding a niche among her mostly white classmates. Although Sue wants them to consider her an American, she is frustrated that many think all Asians are members of a single ethnic group, without distinct cultural differences. She is attracted to Andy Suzuki, a talented violinist with disarming friendliness and concern, but she is wary of his Japanese ancestry. Her grandmother survived the Japanese invasion of China during World War II and has frightening memories of her abusive oppressors. Conversely, Andy's father dislikes the Chinese because he was treated disrespectfully on a business trip to Beijing. When the orchestra makes a trip to Tokyo, the teens must adjust to their host families and confront issues of heritage, bigotry, and stereotypes. These are mature, sensitive teenagers whose mutual attraction fortifies them to question and move beyond the historical prejudice of their families. And yet, they respect their separate backgrounds and want their parents approval. Although occasionally didactic, this story tackles issues of assimilation into American society, preserving and respecting different cultures, and accepting the past. The theme of cultural vs. personal identity drives the plot, provides the conflict, and defines the characters. Sue and Andy experience believable adolescent bouts of insecurity, anticipation, jealousy, and affection as their mutual understanding grows. A story that is current, relevant, and upbeat.
Booklist When Suzanne Hua, a Chinese American, and Andy Suzuki, a Japanese American, meet in their high-school orchestra, their white classmates see them as a good match (Aren't all Asians the same?). But at home, things are different: Suzanne's beloved grandmother can't forget the brutality of the Japanese who invaded China, and Andy's father is prejudiced about the "dirty, backward" Chinese. Still, the personal conflicts bring the diversity issues close. Andy's dad hopes his son will find his roots when he visits Japan; instead, Andy discovers he's more American than he realized. Then comes the question, Does Andy want to shake off his cultural heritage? It's a question Suzanne must face as well.

E. Connections
If older students wish to, allow them to share stories of how they coped with family discrimination against someone they liked.
Encourage students to read more novels of this theme: mixed-culture dating.

The Earth Dragon Awakes: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

A. Bibliography
Yep, Laurence. 2006. The Earth Dragon Awakes: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0060275243.

B. Plot Summary
On Wednesday, April 18, 1906, a catastrophic earthquake hit San Francisco. Two boys, one a prominent banker's son and one the son of the Chinese house boy, discover real life heroes who emerge from the rubble of the quake.

C. Critical Analysis
The Earth Dragon Awakes is not a picture book, but photos of the aftermath of the quake are included at the end of the book along with an afterword by the author discussing more history of San Francisco's recovery. Additional books are also suggested with two websites for readers to explore.
Since the novel is about a major historical disaster, cultural markers are revealed through characters' behaviors and conversations. Ah Sing is a grown man, but is employed as a "house boy" who cleans cooks, and helps around the house for the Travis's family, a prominent family in the community. Attitudes of Americans in early 1900s San Francisco are revealed when Chin, Ah Sing's son reflects that "The Americans make is difficult for Chinese man to bring his family to America." Chin remembered how when he immigrated to America, the "...immigration officials spent a week asking him questions. If he had made a mistake, they would have assumed he was lying. They would have sent him back to China."
Other cultural markers are the description of Chinatown in San Francisco where Ah Sing and Chin live. Chin says he and his father could live with the Travis family, but Chin said they live in Chinatown because his father "...doesn't want Chin to forget he's Chinese."
Skin color, facial features, and language are not brought out in the novel; it is more the lifestyle of the Chinese and the American attitudes of the time that are mentioned, though Chin and Henry, The Travis's son, are good friends.
One final slap of discrimination towards the Chinese is the refusal to allow the Chinese quake survivors to stay in Golden Gate Park with the American survivors.
The Earth Dragon Awakes will be an exciting novel for reluctant readers to explore. Chapters are short but maintain interest. The novel lends itself well to encouraging further research of earthquakes or other natural disasters.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal Yep looks at the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 from two points of view. Chin is a young Chinese immigrant whose father is a houseboy for a prominent banker and his family. He has become friendly with young Henry Travis, the banker's son, through their interest in low-brow but exciting penny dreadfuls. The stories depict heroic people doing heroic things and, while both boys appreciate their fathers, they certainly do not regard them as heroes. Not, that is, until the Earth Dragon roars into consciousness one spring morning, tearing the city asunder and making heroes out of otherwise ordinary men. Yep's research is exhaustive. He covers all the most significant repercussions of the event, its aftershocks, and days of devastating fires, and peppers the story with interesting true-to-life anecdotes. The format is a little tedious one chapter visits Henry's affluent neighborhood, the next ventures to Chin's home in Chinatown, and back again and the ordinary heroes theme is presented a bit heavy-handedly. Throughout the text, the boys compare their fathers to Wyatt Earp. But the story as a whole should appeal to reluctant readers. Its natural disaster subject is both timely and topical, and Yep weaves snippets of information on plate tectonics and more very neatly around his prose.
Booklist On the evening of April 17, 1906, neither eight-year-old Henry nor his friend Chin is aware that the earth beneath their San Francisco homes is shifting. Devotees of "penny dreadfuls," both boys long for excitement, not their fathers' ordinary routine lives. When the earthquake shakes the city and a firestorm breaks out, Henry and his parents scramble in the chaos and battle the fire, but must ultimately evacuate their home. Chin and his father survive the collapse of their Chinatown tenement, and flee to the ferry through the debris and turmoil. In the midst of catastrophe, the boys realize that their fathers are real-life heroes. Henry and Chin's stories are told in alternating chapters with a few interruptions for the insertion of earthquake information. Told in the present tense, the narration provides a "you are there" sense of immediacy and will appeal to readers who enjoy action-packed survival stories.

E. Connections
Match this fiction novel with non-fiction books on earthquakes. Compare this earthquake to the one that hit nearby San Francisco in 1989.

Grandfather's Journey

A. Bibliography
Say, Allen. 1993. Grandfather's Journey. Ill. by Allen Say. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. ISBN 0395570352.

B. Plot Summary
A Japanese-American man tell the story of his grandfather's journey to America at the start of the 20th century, and how he returns to Japan only to dream of someday returning to the second land he loves: America.

C. Critical Analysis
Much of Grandfather's Journey takes place in early 1900s America, illustrating that time period's style of living. The Japanese characters are given authentic representation in the illustrations through the hair styles, facial features, and skin tones. What could possibly be construed as a stereotype is shown by none of the Japanese characters ever smiling, except one picture of the grandfather smiling as he plays with his grandson. When the Grandfather returns to Japan, Japanese culture is illustrated through clothes, building architecture, and the environment, but names are never mentioned, nor is an direct Japanese language.
The overall impression is one of a quiet narrative in the oral tradition. One feels as if one is sitting by the fire while another individual is quietly retelling a story heard long ago from the beloved grandfather.
Grandfather's Journey would be appropriate to read to a class on a dark, rainy day, allowing time for reflection by either writing in a journal or drawing a picture.

D. Review Excerpts Home becomes elusive in this story about immigration and acculturation, pieced together through old pictures and salvaged family tales. Both the narrator and his grandfather long to return to Japan, but when they do, they feel anonymous and confused: "The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other." Allen Say's prose is succinct and controlled, to the effect of surprise when monumental events are scaled down to a few words: "The young woman fell in love, married, and sometime later I was born." The book also has large, formal paintings in delicate, faded colors that portray a cherished and well-preserved family album.

E. Connections
Encourage students to ask older relatives for stories of how their family came to America, and if able, bring a photo of the relative to show when sharing the story.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rain Is Not My Indian Name

A. Bibliography

Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Rain Is Not My Indian Name. NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

ISBN 0688173977.

B. Plot Summary

Losing your best friend to a fatal accident is bad at any age, but when combined with the angst of becoming a teen, the emotional turmoil is enough to cause one to hide from the world for at least six months, and that is just what Cassidy Rain Berghoff did. But after six months of near seclusion, Rain has to decide how involved she will be when a politically correct controversy in her town regarding "Indian Camp" run by her own aunt clashes with her desire to remain neutral despite her own American-Indian heritage.

C. Critical Analysis
While Rain Is Not My Indian Name was written by an author who is a "mixed-blood" member of the Muskogee Nation, the novel does not provide many "traditional" Native American elements. The setting of the story is in the fictitious town of Hannesburg, Kansas in today's modern times, complete with laptop computers, fast food, and lemon-fresh furniture polish.
However, what is noticeably brought out are the conversations between Rain and the college student with whom she works on the newspaper assignment covering the Indian Camp. The conversation includes The Flash's asking Rain why the kids at Indian Camp were building bridges. He thought the bridge must have been some kind of tradition or symbol of Indian beliefs or culture.
Rain had a hard time explaining that the bridges had nothing to do with Indians, that it was just a team work assignment given by the sponsor, her aunt.
Parallelisms were shown when The Flash confessed that he was Jewish and Rain begins to respond with, "But you don't seem..." then realized that she was about to slip into the same attitude that she herself had been subjected to by people telling her that she "didn't seem" like a Native American.
Cultural names are not used unless a Native American group name was mentioned, and no other cultural markers were used save the discussion on what it was like to be American-Indian or Jewish in Hannesburg, Kansas.
Rain Is Not My Indian Name is not so much a novel about being Native American in modern middle America as it is a novel about rediscovering oneself in the midst of all life throws at you. Many tees will be able to understand Rain's need to redefine herself after the untimely death of her best friend.

D. Review Excerpts
Publishers Weekly Multiple plot lines and nonlinear storytelling may make it difficult to enter Smith's (Jingle Dancer) complex novel, but the warmth and texture of the writing eventually serve as ample reward for readers. The sensitive yet witty narrator, 14-year-old Cassidy Rain Berghoff, grows up in a small Kansas town as one of the few people with some Native American heritage. That experience alone might challenge Rain, but Smith creates a welter of conflicts. Rain's mother is dead (she was struck by lightning), and as the novel opens, her best friend is killed in a car accident just after he and Rain realize their friendship has grown into romance. Six months later, her older brother urges her to go to her great-aunt's Indian Camp. At first she shrugs it off, but later volunteers to photograph the camp for the town paper and begins to share her Aunt Georgia's commitment to it. When public funding for the camp becomes a contested issue in the city council, Rain decides to enroll. Some of Smith's devices such as opening each chapter with a snippet from Rain's journal add depth and clarify Rain's relationships for readers, although other elements (the detailing of song lyrics playing in the background, for instance) seem stilted. Even so, readers will feel the affection of Rain's loose-knit family and admire the way that they, like the author with the audience, allow Rain to draw her own conclusions about who she is and what her heritage means to her.
School Library Journal Rain and Galen have been friends forever, but for Rain's 14th birthday, the thrill of finding that her burgeoning romantic feelings are being reciprocated puts the evening into a special-memory category. The next morning, she learns that Galen was killed in an accident on the way home. Plunged into despair, Rain refuses to attend the funeral and cuts herself off from her friends. Skipping to six months later, the main portion of the story takes place as she thinks about Galen's upcoming birthday and summer plans are complicated by the girl's Aunt Georgia's Indian Camp and political efforts to cut its funding. Rain participates in nothing and her family members, loving though they are, seem preoccupied with their own needs and concerns. Gradually, Rain's love of photography resurfaces and lands her an assignment with the local newspaper. She becomes involved in examining her own heritage, the stereotypical reactions to it, and her own small-town limitations. There is a surprising amount of humor in this tender novel. It is one of the best portrayals around of kids whose heritage is mixed but still very important in their lives. As feelings about the public funding of Indian Camp heat up, the emotions and values of the characters remain crystal clear and completely in focus. It's Rain's story and she cannot be reduced to simple labels. A wonderful novel of a present-day teen and her "patchwork tribe."

E. Connections
If students are willing, allow them to role-play various situations which demonstrate conversations between individuals of different ethnic groups and the way in which to answer questions about them and their nationality.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sees Behind Trees

A. Bibliography
Dorris, Michael. 1996. Sees Behind Trees. New York: Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN 0786802243.

B. Plot Summary
Sees Behind Trees is the name given to a young Indian boy when he passes the test for young men. He was given the name due to his not being able to see as well as the rest of his tribe. Sees Behind uses his heightened sense of hearing to help an elder member of the tribe to find a mysterious land of water, proving to himself that he is truly worthy of his new name and becoming a man.

C. Critical Analysis
No illustrations are provided for the novel so readers must use their own imaginations to draw the story. Sees Behind Trees is historical fiction, set in sixteenth century America, during a time when North America was being explored by Anglo explorers.
Author Michael Dorris adds a note at the beginning of the book recommending a work by Helen C. Rountree called The Powhatan Indians of Virginia (University of Oklahoma Press, 1989) for readers "...who wish to learn more about the people imagined in these pages."
From that note I would assume that the cultural markers used within the novel are as accurate and authentic as Mr. Dorris could write them along with some poetic license for the story's plot.
Moccasins are mentioned in the story along with a food called pemmican. A style of cooking is spoken of when the character's mother says to, "Imagine it is a corn cake, hot from the ashes...".
Walnut, who later is named Sees Behind Trees, is practicing with a bow and arrow, typical "Indian" elements, the character 'weorance' is introduced, as "Our most important person, the expert on hunting..." and a custom of serving an important person their food after the old ones is explained after Sees Behind Trees passes the ceremony to become a young man.
Sees Behind Trees is an interesting novel portraying life as an American Indian boy living in early America. Focus is on the main character and his thoughts and feelings about his vision handicap and how he overcomes this to prove his worth to his people and earn his young man's name. Modern students will be able to understand the need to prove oneself as a young adult.

D. Review Excerpts
Publishers Weekly Dorris's eloquent, beautifully crafted coming-of-age tale centers on Walnut, a near-sighted Native American boy whose uncanny ability to use his other senses earns him the adult name Sees Behind Trees. Set in the distant, pre-colonial past, the story finds the boy moving hesitantly into adulthood, gradually gaining confidence in himself and his perceptions; learning humility when he prizes his talents too highly; earning the respect of his tribe when he escorts an elderly wise man on a dangerous journey. Both sharply and lyrically observed, fraught with emotion, the first-person narrative should connect strongly with a young audience, who will quickly learn that, no matter the century or the culture, the fundamentals of growing up remain very much the same. The authenticity of the characterizations and setting will ease readers toward acceptance of the quasi-mystical adventure that crowns the story. It's a thrilling read, with the pleasures compounding at every turn of the page.

E. Connections
Discuss with students their own families' "tests" that prove the student is a young adult. i.e. staying home alone with no baby sitter.

The Dark Pond

A. Bibliography
Bruchac, Joseph. 2004. The Dark Pond. Ill. by Sally Wern Comport. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0060529954.

B. Plot Summary\
Armin Katchatorian, a young teen who is half Shawnee, half Armenian, transfers to North Mountains School. Once there he immediately senses an evil presence calling to him, pulling him to a dark pond. Armie relies on the tales of his Shawnee ancestors to help him discover what lurks beneath the still dark waters and to eliminate the evil for good.

C. Critical Analysis
Joseph Bruchac admits that The Dark Pond was inspired by traditional tales told by the Senecas, Shawnees, and other North-Eastern American Indian nations. However, this story simply hints that American Indians tell stories of creatures hiding underwater and does not say The Dark Pond is a retelling of an actual tale. Therefore, while the main character Armie reveals his Shawnee heritage, the story does not try to be linked to any particular American Indian group.
Since The Dark Pond is set in modern times, the only cultural markers used in the narrative are skin color, hair, and the use of American Indian names. Customs are not observed, nor are any religious beliefs, save the one argument regarding the length of Armie's hair presented each time he enrolls in school. Armie's mother is a lawyer who also cites the Native American Freedom of Religion Act and writes a letter to the school stating, "My son is Shawnee. It is part of our tradition that a young man be allowed to grow his hair long...It is a sacred thing. Regardless of your school policies, you cannot require him to cut his hair."
One reference to American Indian beliefs is mentioned when Armie and Mitch exchange names. Mitch uses his Indian name of Sabattis and Arnie reflect that "A name is a powerful thing. Giving someone your name means that you trust them with something precious to you."
Illustrations are few and do not try to portray any American Indian lives or customs. Drawings are black and white and only serve to highlight a few points in the story and the beginnings of each chapter.
The Dark Pond reads well and quickly and would appeal to younger teen boys with the adventurous activities Armie goes through to solve the mystery of The Dark Pond.

D. Review Excerpts

School Library Journal –With its almost unbearably creepy prologue, Bruchac's contemporary novel combining Native American lore and horror will immediately grab readers. Armin Katchatorian, part Shawnee, part Armenian, narrates this tale set at the North Mountains School. He is such a loner that his best communications are with animals, who are naturally drawn to this young man who "feels" things. Armie becomes aware that an ominous pond off established hiking trails is trying to draw him near to it via nightmarish visions and an actual physical pull. After being rescued from entering it by a fox, he notices that although many animal tracks lead into the pond, none return. With an economy of words, Bruchac conveys an atmosphere of increasing tension and fear of this unknown evil. Armie discovers that both the Iroquois and Abenakis spoke often about underwater monsters, and meets Mitch Sabattis, who is working at the school. Recognizing a fellow shaman, the young man warns Armie to stay away from the pond. The novel loses a little steam when the conflict between Mitch's scientific approach meets Armie's more visceral one, but ultimately the two discover just what type of horror lives in the pond. Effectively illustrated by Comport, this eerie story skillfully entwines Native American lore, suspense, and the realization that people and things are not always what they seem to be on the surface, all through the perspective of a resourceful yet insecure young man who learns to value his talents. A perfect choice for reluctant readers.

Booklist As he did in The Skeleton Man (2001), Bruchac transfers the elements of an Indian legend to a modern setting. Armie Katchatorian attends a private boarding school. Partly because of his half-Indian ancestry, he feels alienated from his fellow students. Fortunately, he is able to escape to the woods, where he comes across a mysterious dark pond, which he senses hides something sinister and dangerous. With the help of an Indian named Mitch, Armie discovers the secret of the pond--a giant carnivorous creature from which Armie must rescue Mitch and himself. Bruchac slowly builds the suspense and provides a genuinely creepy tale, told by a winning central character.

E. Connections

Encourage students to research for other tales of underwater creatures shared by American Indian tribes.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia

A. Bibliography
Alarez, Julia. 2005. A Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia. Ill. by Beatriz Vidal. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0375824521.

B. Plot Summary
A Gift of Gracias is a retelling of the Dominican legend of Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia, or Our Lady of Thanks. When Maria's family's olive crop fails, the family is worried about losing their farm. Maria dreams of Our Lady of Thanks who tells her in a dream to grow oranges in place of the olives. The dream becomes reality and the family's farm and livelihood are saved. Maria and her family never forget to say 'thank you' to Our Lady of Thanks.

C. Critical Analysis
A Gift of Gracias is a lovely story telling how Our Lady of Thanks helped Maria and her family save their farm. Set in the 1500s when the Dominican Republic was still a colony of Spain, the family's religion is portrayed in their faith in The Lady.
Beautiful illustrations fill every page with full colors depicting the Dominican countryside and the village marketplace. Skin tone and hair colors are authentic. Cultural authenticity is apparent in the names, illustrations, and religion. The story is told in basic narrative form, easily read by any culture. A note from the author explaining more of the history of the story is included at the end of the book.
A Gift of Gracias is an enchanting story that presents the message about the importance of giving thanks that will transcend all cultures.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal After the failure of her father's olive crop, María fears that her family will have to leave their farm in the New World. Then one night, inspiration comes when she dreams of planting the seeds from the oranges that came from her parents' homeland of Valencia, Spain. A beautiful and mysterious woman–Our Lady of Thanks–enters the dream, foretelling a bountiful harvest. The next day, María convinces her family to begin planting the seeds, and soon their land is transformed into a fertile orange grove. Rich in cultural authenticity and brimming with the magical realism that is characteristic of Hispanic literature, this elegantly woven tale introduces the legend of Our Lady of Altagracia, the patron saint of the Dominican Republic. Children of all backgrounds will be drawn in by the universal themes of home and family, but the story will have particular relevance for those raised in Hispanic or Catholic cultures. With an exquisite use of watercolor and gouache, Vidal has painted colorful, yet warm illustrations that add depth to the story. An author's note offers a detailed account of the legend, personalized by actual events from the author's youth.

Booklist The Virgin Mary takes many names around the world, and in the Dominican Republic, the author's birthplace, she is Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia. This magical story, based on a legend of Altagracia, begins as Papa returns home from a trip to the city with an overflowing basket of oranges, like those he used to eat in his native Spain. That night, after Papa warns the family that they may have to abandon their failing olive farm, young Maria dreams of planting orange seeds, and a beautiful lady with a crown of stars, Altagracia, materializes in an orange-laden grove. The next morning, the family plants orange seeds and gives thanks to Our Lady--and sure enough, a bountiful orange crop is born. Argentina-born illustrator Vidal uses small brushes and gouache to create lovely, stylized folk-art-style paintings of the hard-working family and tropical landscapes. The tale unravels rather slowly, but this talented team evokes an enchanted, sun-kissed world where dreams, and gratitude, bear fruit. An author's note tells more about Altagracia.

E. Connections
Read this story at a time other than November, the traditional month for Thanksgiving. Discuss with students that to say thank you is an important part of everyone's daily lives.
Challenge students to become Thank You Detectives: have students keep a tally page of how many times they hear people say 'thank you' or when they themselves say thank you.

Baseball in April and other Stories

A. Bibliography
Soto, Gary. 1990. Baseball in April and Other Stories. New York: Harcourt, Inc. ISBN 0152025731.

B. Plot Summary
Baseball in April is a collection of short stories by Gary Soto that focus on the daily lives of young Latino teens and all their dreams, wishes, heartaches, and successes.

C. Critical Analysis
Baseball in April is eleven stories each focusing on a different protagonist who is experiencing one of many of Life's Difficulties that only teens can have. As there are no illustrations, cultural authenticity is revealed through names, food, and customs. the stories all appear to be set in the US and are of modern times, so influences from American styles and ideas are prevalent as the main characters work his/her way through their personal crisis.
Old customs occasionally conflict with modern Mexican-American teens. IN the story "Growing Up", Maria argues with her father about whether or not she should go on the annual family vacation. Her father disagreed and, "...his thoughts were on Mexico, where a father was respected and his word, right or wrong, was final...her was the man of the house and no daughter of his was going to tell him what to do."
Cultural language is often used within each story as many of the characters have older family members, parents, grandparents, who once lived in the family's original country. Not all Spanish phrases are re-stated in English within the text of the story. Instead, a Spanish glossary is provided at the end of the book.
Baseball in April is an entertaining collection of stories displaying the universal themes of friendship, love, and even embarrassment. Young teens of all cultures will find many characters with whom to relate.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal -- Insightful about the characteristics of early adolescents, Soto tells 11 short stories about everyday problems of growing up. Latinos in central California are the focus of the stories, but the events are typical of young teens anywhere in the United States. The main characters try out for Little League teams, take karate lessons, try to get the attention of the opposite sex, and are embarrassed by their grandparents' behavior. These day-to-day events reveal the sensitivity, humor, and vulnerability of today's young people. The descriptions and dialogue are used to advantage, helping to create and sustain the mood. A glossary of Spanish terms is included. Young readers should easily identify with the situations, emotions, and outcomes presented in these fine short stories.

E. Connections
Read each story aloud on different days. Allow students to discuss different ways the story's protagonist could solve his/her problem.
Encourage students to write their own short stories of times they went through a problem and solved it on their own.

A Birthday Basket for Tia

A. Bibliography
Mora, Pat. 1992. A Birthday Basket for Tia. Ill. by Cecily Lang. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0027674002.

B. Plot Summary
Little Cecilia has happy memories of her great aunt, her Tia. On the occasion of her ninetieth birthday, Cecilia wonders what to give her Tia as a gift. With the help of her cat Chica, Cecilia puts together the perfect present: a basket of memories of all the love she has shared with her Tia.

C. Critical Analysis
A Birthday Basket for Tia is perfect for younger children in that the gift Cecilia presents to her Tia is representative of all Cecilia's memories of their times together. Younger children will be able to relate to an aunt or other older relative reading a book to them, making cookies together, growing flowers together, and playing outside.
Pat Mora has created warmth in the relationship between Cecilia and her aunt by describing how Cecilia helps to prepare for the surprise birthday party for Tia.
Language plays an important part in the story in that the name Tia is used for the great aunt and many terms for food are used. there is a little bit of "double-speak" used when some English is translated into Spanish when Cecilia says, "Ninety years old! Noventa anos!" or when Tia says," Que' pasa? What is this?" or when the guests all shout, "Feliz Cumpleanos! Happy Birthday!".
The illustrations demonstrate the Mexican-American family. All characters have darker skin tones and dark hair and eyes. A ;pinata is in the party and bright colors are used within the home.
Through it all the love and caring for family fill the story and is an emotion any small child can understand, Spanish or English.

D. Review Excerpts Review Little Cecilia and her cat Chica plan for a surprise party to celebrate her great-aunt's 90th birthday. While Mama cooks beans and cuts up mangoes and watermelon, Cecilia and Chica put together a birthday basket containing a favorite book, a mixing bowl, a flowerpot, and other objects that represent activities the little girl and her great-aunt like to share. After final preparations, including flowers and a piñata, the musicians arrive; finally Cecilia and her great-aunt dance together. Drawing on the author's experiences in the Mexican American community of El Paso, Texas, this fine story is illustrated by Cecily Lang in a series of simple but striking scenes. A touching story about a very special relationship.
Publishers Weekly The young narrator of this poignant picture book discovers that the best gifts are not always store-bought. Cecilia is stumped when it comes to getting a present for her great aunt's 90th birthday. She finally settles on filling a basket with reminders of all the good times Tia and she have shared. A mixing bowl recalls days spent baking cookies; a teacup holds memories of the special brew Tia prepares when Cecilia is sick. The thoughtful present is a hit when Tia unveils it at her surprise party. Mora's text flows smoothly from one event to the next, and clearly presents the careful planning behind Cecilia's gift-gathering mission. Repetition of the items inside the basket and the occasional use of Spanish words are helpful reinforcements for young readers. Two cavils: Mora's text tends to go on a bit too long, and the many asides Cecilia addresses to her cat Chica become somewhat intrusive as the story progresses. Lang's cut-paper illustrations provide a vivid picture of a diverse and dynamic Mexican American family. Warm brown skin tones contrast nicely with bold reds, blues and oranges to lend additional Latin flavor.

E. Connections

For a writing activity have students write a paragraph about what items they would put into a surprise birthday basket for a favorite relative. Illustrate stories with baskets and items.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

If You Come Softly

A. Bibliography
Woodson, Jacqueline. 1998. If You Come Softly. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 0399231129

B. Plot Summary
Fifteen-year-old Jeremiah and Ellie meet at their exclusive, private high school in New York and all in love. they must convince the rest of the world that their love is real despite the differences: Jeremiah is black, Ellie is white.

C. Critical Analysis
If You Come Softly is a modern novel in that it is set in the late 1990s New York. High rise apartment, subways, Central Park, private schools are mentioned, along with the stereotypical love of basketball for young black men. Jeremiah even mentions this when thinking about playing for his new, exclusive private school, "It seemed wrong- cliche' somehow...He hated that he was gonna be playing ball for Percy Academy. No, it wasn't the game he hated, he loved that, had always loved that..."
While Woodson gives nods to cultural authenticity by describing Jeremiah's "locks" and skin color of his friends had him, "Some light-skinned, some dark-skinned..." and hair, "...nappy-headed, curly-headed, even a couple of bald-headed brothers...", but most of the novel's authenticity comes from characters' attitudes, actions, and inner voices. Jeremiah comments that in "...Fort Greene, Brooklyn- where everyone seemed to be some shade of black- he felt good walking through the neighborhood. But one step outside. Just one step and somehow the weight of his skin seemed to change. It got heavier."
The discussion when Ellie tells her sister about Jeremiah shows family values when Anne says, "I just think to have a boyfriend or a girlfriend from a different race is really hard."
Jacqueline Woodson offers opportunities for discussion with her novel. Most teens will find many instances to relate to when they read If You Come Softly.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal -Two 15 year olds, Jeremiah (Miah) who is black, and Elisha (Ellie) who is white, meet during their first year at an exclusive New York prep school and fall in love. Both teens are also dealing with difficult family situations. Miah's father has left his mother for another woman, and Ellie is trying to fight through her feelings about her mother, who twice abandoned her family for extended periods. The teenagers must also deal with the subtle and not-so-subtle bigotry that they are subject to as a mixed-race couple. Miah and Ellie go about working through their problems, both individually and together, and their relationship continues to blossom, giving readers a shared sense of contentment. Thus, the tragic climax will leave them stunned. Woodson's lyrical narrative tells the story through alternating voices, Ellie's in the first person and Miah's in the third. This fine author once again shows her gift for penning a novel that will ring true with young adults as it makes subtle comments on social situations.Tom S. Hurlburt, La Crosse Public Library, WI

E. Connections
Older teens may discuss the pros and cons of interracial dating.

Other books to research:
Jayd's Legacy by L. Devine ISBN 9780758216373
Lives of Our Own by Lorrie Hewett ISBN 9780525459590

Goin' Someplace Special

A. Bibliography
McKissak, Patricia C. 2001. Goin' Someplace Special. Ill. by Jerry Pinkney. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0689808858

B. Plot Summary
It is the 1950s and segregation is still in place in many areas of the US. Still, that doesn't deter 'Tricia Ann form making a trip, alone for the first time, braving the ignorance of segregation, to the town's only non-segregated building: the public library.

C. Critical Analysis
Only after reading the book does the reader see a note at the end from the author explaining that the story is based upon an event in the author's own life. The story does portray painfully accurate events and attitudes of people in the 50s in the southern states. Jim Crow laws are evidenced in the story when 'Tricia Ann has to sit in the back of the bus, not sit on a bench in the town's park, or enter the front door of the movie theater. What is most disheartening is how the white girl tells her little brother that "Colored people can't come in the front door. They got to go 'round back and sit up in the Buzzard's Roost." The younger brother, only six years old, was the white person to speak kindly to 'Tricia Ann.
Cultural attitudes of the time are also voiced by the other Black characters in the book. Mama Frances tells 'Tricia Ann "...hold yo' head up and act like you b'long to somebody." Mrs. Grannell from the back of the bus told her to "Carry yo'self proud." Jimmy Lee told her "Don't let those signs steal yo' happiness."
Jerry Pinkney illustrates each page with rich colors filled with details of the 1950s. Clothing and cars are period as is 'Tricia Ann's straw hat she wears because she is going "out." African-American culture is not depicted in the illustrations beyond skin tone as most of the setting is the town's streets, transportation, and places of business.

D. Review Excerpts
Publishers Weekly McKissack draws from her childhood in Nashville for this instructive picture book. "I don't know if I'm ready to turn you loose in the world," Mama Frances tells her granddaughter when she asks if she can go by herself to "Someplace Special" (the destination remains unidentified until the end of the story). 'Tricia Ann does obtain permission, and begins a bittersweet journey downtown, her pride battered by the indignities of Jim Crow laws. She's ejected from a hotel lobby and snubbed as she walks by a movie theater ("Colored people can't come in the front door," she hears a girl explaining to her brother. "They got to go 'round back and sit up in the Buzzard's Roost"). She almost gives up, but, buoyed by the encouragement of adult acquaintances ("Carry yo'self proud," one of her grandmother's friends tells her from the Colored section on the bus), she finally arrives at Someplace Special a place Mama Frances calls "a doorway to freedom" the public library. An afterword explains McKissack's connection to the tale, and by putting such a personal face on segregation she makes its injustices painfully real for her audience. Pinkney's (previously paired with McKissack for Mirandy and Brother Wind) luminescent watercolors evoke the '50s, from fashions to finned cars, and he captures every ounce of 'Tricia Ann's eagerness, humiliation and quiet triumph at the end.

E. Connections
Old teens can research the Jim Crow laws to determine when they came into effect and when they were abolished. Research to see how many laws there were and what they restricted Afro-Americans from doing.

Flower Girl Butterflies

A. Bibliography
Howard, Elizabeth Fitzgerald. 2004. Flower Girl Butterflies. Ill. by Christiane Kromer. New York: Greenwillow Books. ISBN 068817809X

B. Plot Summary
Little Sarah's Aunt Robin is getting married, and she has asked Sarah to be her flower girl! Sarah has never been a flower girl and is both excited and a little scared that she might mess up. However, Sarah gets all caught up in the excitement and has a much fun at the wedding as the bride and groom.

C. Critical Analysis
Mrs. Howard has written a delightful story from a young flower girls' point of view. While the illustrations depict an African-American family, no where in the story are there any true cultural markers. The story focuses on Sarah, the newly chosen flower girl and her observations about the upcoming wedding from choosing the perfect flower girl dress, to relatives coming to stay the weekend, to the " in the brown truck..." who delivers wedding presents, to the rehearsal where the little boy who is to be the ring bearer pitches a fit and refuses to perform in the ceremony, to the big day itself complete with a successful trip down the aisle for the nervous flower girl, and finally a fun-filled reception at the end.
The story is every little girls' dream of being a flower girl. The details given transcends all cultures: it is a lovely story of a little girl who gets to be her aunt's flower girl.
The illustrations by Christiane Kromer give the only hint of any culture in the book. Every page is covered with depictions of the wedding activities~only then is any culture evident in the characters hair, hair styles, facial features, and skin color.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal All of the excitement and anxiety of a wedding day are captured in this charming picture book. When young Sarah is asked to be a flower girl in her Aunt Robin's wedding, the child is consumed with doubts. She worries that she will forget to throw her flowers. She's nervous about tripping in front of everyone, getting sick, or ruining her new dress. With the loving reassurance of her African-American family, she calms her fears enough to walk down the aisle. After all, she has to be a "big girl" role model for the little ring bearer. This book is a wonderful celebration of family as the grandmothers and several uncles and cousins come to spend the night before the wedding at Sarah's house. Sarah's big moment is a perfect splash of pink background and scattered pink petals with the child's dark skin gleaming against her white flower-girl dress. The lovely bride, in a frothy white gown, follows. The collage textures added to the watercolor and colored-pencil illustrations give the book a tactile look. A warm, family-oriented story that children will love.-Janet M. Bair, Trumbull Library, CT

E. Connections
Younger readers can share stories of weddings they have attended or if they have ever been in as a flower girl or bride's maid.
Compare this text's traditional American wedding with stories of weddings in other countries.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I Am A Taxi

A. Bibliography
Ellis, Deborah. 2006. I Am A Taxi. Toronto, Ontario: Groundwood Books. ISBN 9780888997357.

B. Plot Summary
San Sebastian Woman's Prison in Cochabamba, Bolivia is not the ideal home, but it is where Diego Juarez must live after his parents are falsely accused of smuggling drugs. To help support his family, Diego works as a 'taxi', running errands for other prisoners to the outside of the prison. When an opportunity comes for a different life, Diego takes the challenge which changes his life for the worse.

C. Critical Analysis
I Am A Taxi gives descriptions of two frightening worlds. The women's prison is aptly described with its noise, bare walls, dingy light bulbs, and no fresh air. The description of the Bolivian jungle with its thick growth of trees and scary animals and insects is distinctly uncomfortable, especially when one character tells Diego, "Remember, lad, there's nothing in this jungle that you can't eat, or that won't eat you."
Authenticity is given with the language and description of various foods and common elements of daily life. Ellis provides a glossary at the end of the novel even while giving descriptions of some words within the writing. Chupe is described as "...thick with grains and tomatoes...[and] bits of meat among the potatoes..."
Bolivian traditions are not explained in the novel as it focuses on life in the prison and life in the jungle creating cocaine.
I Am A Taxi is an unsettling and unnerving novel in how it shows a young boy whose life has been destroyed by an illegal substance highly prized for its ability to make one forget.
Ellis adds an author's note at the end of the novel explaining the drug trafficking trade in Bolivia and attempts to put an end to it.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal: Ellis's novel attempts to expose the strains that cocaine production and trade and the U.S War on Drugs have placed on Bolivians. Diego's parents have been wrongfully incarcerated for drug smuggling. While they serve their 16-year sentences, the 12-year-old, who would otherwise be homeless, lives in the women's prison with his mother and younger sister. He earns money as a taxi, running errands in the city for the prisoners. One day his friend convinces him that they can make easier money working for men who turn out to be involved in cocaine manufacturing. The boys are enslaved in the jungle, Diego's friend dies, and Diego barely escapes with his life. This harrowing part of the narrative is somewhat rushed and is less convincing than the rest. Nonetheless, because of its unusual setting and subject matter, and Ellis's efforts to explicate complex social, political, and economic issues, this book should find a place in larger collections.–Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY.

Booklist: Diego, 12, lives in prison in the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, stuck there with his parents, who have been falsely arrested for smuggling drugs. He attends school and works as a "taxi," running errands for the inmates in the great street market. Then his friend, Mando, persuades him to make big money, and the boys find themselves stomping coca leaves in cocaine pits in the jungle, with local gangsters and a smooth boss who supplies "hungry noses" in America. Readers will be caught up by the nonstop action in the prison, and also in the jungle survival adventure, where escape is tempered by the specter of death. The connection between medicinal coca leaves, sacred to the indigenous people, and their exploitation by the global drug runners is not entirely clear, but, as in The Breadwinner (2001) and many of her previous books, Ellis tells a bold story of contemporary kids in crisis and brutally exploited far away. Hazel Rochman.

E. Connections
Older teens could research cocaine and its consequences and investigate US government programs to stop the trafficking of illegal drugs and the abuse of children being made to create the drugs.

A sequel from Deborah Ellis might interest students who found Diego's story moving: Sacred Leaf ISBN 9780888997517.

A Particular Cow

A. Bibliography
Fox, Mem. 2006. A Particular Cow. Ill. by Terry Denton. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc. ISBN 9780152002503.

B. Plot Summary
One particular Saturday morning a particular cow goes for walk as is her habit. But on this particular morning, several things happen that are particularly unusual.

C. Critical Analysis
Mem Fox has given children's literature another enjoyable story sure to delight the younger set. Illustrator Terry Denton has drawn this particular cow and other characters with perpetual smiles even while becoming entangled in several mishaps with the particular cow. Children will appreciate the cartoon-like drawings with each page full of color.
In addition to the story's text are the extra comments spoken by each character in a cartoon dialog "balloon". Mem Fox's Australian language surfaces a little here with underwear being called "bloomers", but most phrases are easily understood as Australia's chief language is English. "Blimey!" spoken by the sailors could be left open to interpretation.
Children of all cultures can enjoy the antics of Fox's clumsy bovine.

D. Review Excerpts

School Library Journal –When a cow decides to take her usual Saturday constitutional, she accidentally steps through a clothesline and ends up with a pair of bloomers covering her head. Unable to see and running off in a panic, the poor bovine wreaks havoc as she falls into a postman's cart that heads down a long hill, followed by all the characters whose lives shes disrupted: the underwear's owner, the postman, some children, and a few yapping dogs. The chaos reaches a spectacularly hilarious conclusion when she crashes (literally) a wedding and flies off the end of a dock, landing in a passing boat, and the underwear blows back into its owners hands. The cow calmly steps ashore and goes about her usual business. The story is told with a dry wit and an economy of words, and the illustrations interpret the action with panache. Denton uses the spreads to distinct advantage as his bovine heroine careens and caroms from one potential disaster to the next. The cartoon illustrations bounce with energy and are suffused with warm colors. Udders and undies combine to make this funny read-aloud a sure hit.–Marge Loch-Wouters, Menasha Public Library, WI.

E. Connections

Compare Terry Denton's illustrations with photos of real cows.

Read Mem Fox's book Koala Lou to compare how another book by this Australian author describes another animal from Australia.

Other children's picture books about cows:

Weis, Carol: When the Cows Got Loose ISBN 0689851669

McNaughton, Colin: What Now, Cushie Butterfield? ISBN 0007154682

Korchek, Lori: Adventures of Cow ISBN 1582461392

The Shadows of Ghadames

A. Bibliography
Stolz, Joelle. 1999. The Shadows of Ghadames. New York: Delacourt Press. ISBN 0385731043.

B. Plot Summary
The Shadows of Ghadames illuminates the lives of women in late 1800s Libya, demonstrating the customs of the harem and the man-dominated world. Coming of age in this culture is eleven-year-old Malika, who, with the help of a stranger, begins to dream of a possible life loosened from the centuries-old constraints on women.

C. Critical Analysis
The Shadows of Ghadames was written by the French author Joelle Stolz, who traveled to this ancient city to research for her novel. From the knowledge gained, Stolz gives a realistic account of late 19th century life for women in the harems of Ghadames.
Traditional names are used, language depicting everyday life and activities is used, such as the description of a kerna, "...the wide, hard base of a palm tree branch..." used to beat "...the stalks to separate the grain..." or the malafa, "...the rectangle of embroidered wool tied under the chin with laces that girls wear on their heads until marriage."
Many traditions are brought out in the novel along with vivid descriptions of how women live out their lives on the rooftops of the city, visiting only other women, a world where men do not enter.
All the characters in the novel are authentic. The men and women all follow the traditions, yet changes are being discerned by the protagonist Malika and is actually encouraged by her father's second wife to think beyond the walls of her home.
The Shadows of Ghadames is well-written and thought provoking. It allows one into the secret world of Libya's Muslim women while also portraying universal themes of jealousy, anger, and rebellion as Malika prepares to enter adolescence.

D. Review Excerpt
School Library Journal: In Libya at the end of the 19th century, upper-class women were confined to their homes and rooftops, leading a quiet life filled with household tasks. Nearly 12, Malika is about to enter that world, although not without regret for the loss of freedom and the education her brother has. Her father's two wives offer her good models: her upper-class mother, the "wife from home," who calmly runs the household, and her brother's mother, the "wife from the journey," who moves more freely about the city, still veiled and hiding in dark alleys when a man appears. In spite of their upbringing and their husband's departure on business, the two women rescue a man injured outside their home. Abdelkarim remains hidden with them while they nurse his wounds, and as he recovers, he and Malika come to see that the world of women is richer than they thought. He teaches Malika her alphabet before he is smuggled away, and her mother, admitting that times are changing, finally agrees to let her learn to read.
Booklist: In the Libyan city of Ghadames at the end of the nineteenth century, Malika is dreading her twelfth birthday. That is the time when, according to her family's Berber customs, she will be close to marriageable age and confined to the world of women. In Ghadames that means restriction to the rooftops, "a city above the city, an open sunny town for women only, where . . . they never talk to men." Malika longs to live beyond the segregated city and travel, like her father, a trader. But the wider world comes to Malika after her father's two wives agree to harbor, in secret, a wounded stranger. The story of an outsider who unsettles a household and helps a young person to grow is certainly nothing new, and some of the lessons here are purposeful. But Stolz invigorates her tale with elegant prose and a deft portrayal of a girl verging on adolescence. The vivid backdrop is intoxicating, but the story's universal concerns will touch readers most: sibling jealously, confusion about adult customs, and a growing interest in a world beyond family.

E. Connections
This novel could be useful in comparing and contrasting other ancient cultures' expectations for women.
Debate could be utilized to discuss the merits of a world dominated by men vs. one where women are more equal.

Multicultural Literature

I will be posting several book reviews for my Multicultural Literature class through Texas Woman's University during the summer.

This blog is a work in progress.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Poetry Breaks and Poetry Book Reviews Bibliography List for Poetry Class at TWU

Good Books, Good Times, anthology compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Harvey Stevenson, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1990.

Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems by Eloise Greenfield, illustrations by Diane and Leo Dillon, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1978.

Confetti: Poems for Children by Pat Mora, illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez, Lee & Low Books, Inc. New York, 1996.

Bing Bang Bong, poems and drawings by Douglas Florian, Harcourt Brace and Company, San Diego, 1994.

The Geography of Girlhood: A Novel by Kristen Smith, Little, Brown, and Company, New York, 2006.

The Random House Book of Poetry for Children: A Treasury of 572 Poems for Today's Child, selected by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Arnold Lobel, Random House, Inc. New York, 1983.

Blackbeard: The Pirate King, by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrations by various artists based on stories, myths, documents, and their own imaginations; National Geographic Society, Washington D.C. 2006.

Marvelous Math: A Book of Poems, selected by Lee Bennet Hopkins, illustrated by Karen Barbour, Aladdin Paperbacks, New York, 2001.

A Pizza the Size of the Sun, by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by James Stevenson, Greenwillow Books, New York, 1996.

The Blacker the Berry by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2008.

Texas Mother Goose, by David Davis, illustrated by Sue Marshall Ward, Pelican Publishing Co., Inc, Gretna, LA, 2006.

This Place I Know: Poems of Comfort, poems selected by Georgia Heard, illustrations by Eighteen Renowned Picture Book Artists, Candlewick Press, Cambridge, MA, 2002.

The Earth is Painted Green: A Garden of Poems About Our Planet, edited by Barbara Brenner, illustrated by S. O. Schindler, Scholastic Inc, New York, 1994.

That Sweet Diamond: Baseball Poems, by Paul. B. Janeczko, illustrated by Carole Katchen, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, 1998.

Friday, April 24, 2009

That Sweet Diamond: Baseball Poems

That Sweet Diamond: Baseball Poems by Paul B. Janeczko, illlustrated by Carole Katchen, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, 1998.

That Sweet Diamond, sweet as only a baseball fan could know~Paul Janeczko has created a poetic memorial for America's favorite past time: Baseball!
Fans reading this collection will immediately smell the hot dogs, hear the crack of the bat, feel the smack! in their hands of a foul ball flown up in the stands. Memories and first impressions will awaken: first ball game, first MLB game, first win, first pennant...Paul Janeczko has given us poems to cover the beginning of the game with the purchases of pennants, scorecards, and hot dogs, to "A Curse Upon the Pitcher", to a double play, to the clean up after the game.

Especially poignant is the poem celebrating the "little old baseball lady" which every team seems to have, a fan for life, through good seasons and bad, who says, "Leaving before the last like dying before your time."

Artist Carol Katchen has used softly muted pastels to illustrate the poems in a manner that reminds one of a dream. Each poem has an illustration on its facing page, bringing to life the words and rhythm of the verse.

That Sweet Diamond is a collection of poems commemorating the nostalgic feel of baseball that both fans and non-fans of any age can enjoy. That Sweet Diamond is a definite home run.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"The Deep Green Forest" by Tanya Dreskin, age 7

"The Deep Green Forest" by Tanya Dreskin, age 7, from The Earth is Painted Green: A Garden of Poems About Our Planet, edited by Barbara Brenner, illustrated by S.O. Schindler, Scholastic Inc, New York. 1994.

If possible, try to do this poetry break around April 22, Earth Day.

Introduction: Display pictures of various rain forests and show a map of locations around the world. Discuss rain forests and write down students comments onto butcher paper to build schema.

"The Deep Green Forest"

The deep green forest is dark and quiet;
Ferns grow all along the trail.

Extension: Give out blue and green construction paper bookmarks. Have students either copy the poem onto their bookmark or create a poem of their own. Allow students time to decorate their bookmarks.

Lullaby by Georgia Heard

"Lullaby" by Georgia Heard from This Place I Know: Poems of Comfort, poems selected by Georgia Heard, illustrations by Eighteen Renowned Picture Book Artists, Candlewick Press, Cambridge, MA, 2002.
Note: This collection of poems was selected to comfort school children after the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001.

Introduction: Ask students what they like to do when they need comforting, i.e. cuddle on a parent's or grandparent's lap, curl up with a favorite stuffed animal, etc. Some students may wish to share some times when they have needed comforting.
Explain to students that the featured poem comes from a book of poems collected to comfort school children after the events on September 11, 2001. If students are young, a brief explanation might be needed, or this does not need to be discussed at all.


Will you hold me in your lap?
Will you cuddle me so tight?
Will you kiss my fearful brow,
And not turn off the light?

Will you soothe away my worry?
Will you sing the sweetest song?
Will you chase my fears away,
And rock me all night long?

Extension: On large butcher paper, write "Will you _______?" Give students colorful note cards and a marker for them to write a word or phrase to fill in the blank, showing how they would like to be comforted. Tape onto paper surrounding the blank. Expect repetitions as many students may be comforted in the same way, and that's OK.