Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Animal Heroes: True Rescue Stories

Animal Heroes: True Rescue Stories was written by Sandra Markle.  It was published by Millbrook Press in 2009.

Animal Heroes: True Rescue Stories is an inspiring and engaging nonfiction text.  It has something for many readers with different interests. It initially grabbed my attention because of the brightly colored hard-cover front.  It has an eye catching bright teal cover with photos of gorillas, sharks, cats and dogs.  Throughout the book, the photographs are appealing and graphic. They show, in good detail, what the text is about.

As expected, Animal Heroes: True Rescue Stories is a book about different animals and how they rescued their owner, or another human.  There are nine stories, ranging from a guide dog leading his owner out of the North Tower on 9/11, to a gorilla saving a young boy who fell into the gorillas environment at a zoo, to a cat that woke his family up when there was a carbon monoxide leak in the house.  Each of these animals are the reason why someone is still living.

With each story, Markle appeals to our sense of humanity by telling the trying story of the family and what the animal did.  She then goes into facts expanding on the story.  For example, after telling the story of Roselle and David -- the dog who helped his owner out of the North Tower -- Markle went on to explain how a guide dog is trained.  She explains that dogs are chosen as puppies but don't really get into their training until they are about eighteen months old.  Once fully trained, they must go through their final exam. Unfortunately, about 35% of trained dogs don't pass the final exam and cannot be guide dogs.  They are then adopted out to families.

After telling the story of Binta Jua, the gorilla who saved a young boy who had fallen into her space at the zoo, Markle gave more information about how zoos help gorillas.  She explains that western Iowland gorillas are almost extinct and they are being raised in zoos to help their survival.  They breed the gorillas in multiple zoos to help raise the number of gorillas living in our world.

I was impressed with the setup as this book, as I thought it would appeal to many people.  Some are interested in the human story while others are fact based and enjoy learning about the different topics infused into the book.  With the appealing colors, graphic pictures and interesting information, this is a book I would keep around for my students and children.

If you would like to find Animal Heroes: True Rescue Stories, you can look at Worldcat for the closest copy.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Out of Iraq: Refugees' Stories in Words, Paintings and Music

Out of Iraq: Refugees' Stories in Words, Paintings and Music was written by Sybella Wilkes, with the foreword by Angelina Jolie, who is an UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. It was published by Evans in 2010.

Out of Iraq: Refugees' Stories in Words, Paintings and Music is one of the most beautifully written and engaging nonfiction books I have ever read.  It begins with the story of Saddam Hussein and his reign of power.  It explains how he came to power, the people he executed along the way and the model he was to his sons, who were evil beings themselves who enjoyed killing and torturing other people, including family members.  The story of Suddam needed to be introduced at the beginning of this book so readers would clearly understand where the refugees were coming from and why they needed to leave. After reading this, I have realized how similar all wars are. The most famous was is WWII, due to the millions of Jewish murders, but all wars have had this happen. The killings are not to the extent of the millions Hitler executed, but the reasoning is the same -- they don't believe a certain group of people is good enough to live.

The remainder of the book is stories of different refugees -- from children to musicians to artists to regular people.  Each person described their hardships and what was going on in the country near them.  The first young boy, Hussam (his name was changed for the book), has only known a life of war.  He was born in 1991 when the war was approaching his city of Baghdad, so his country has been at war his entire life.  He states, "Despite the hardship, my first six years in school were happy.  I was surrounded by friends and we were able to be children.  The invasion of 2003 changed everything.  On 20 March we were all at school.  By the evening the bombing had begun.  I stayed at home, as did all my friends.  On 9 April, Baghdad fell to the Americans."  After this happened, his schooling was severely interrupted. His parents were adamant about him continuing school, but he had to often switch schools as each one became increasingly dangerous. His family finally moved to Syria where they could stay safe.

Another refugee, Waleed, is an Iraqui artist.  He had to leave Iraq and went to Turkey after the bombing at Samarra.  At this time, Saddam Hussein had been eliminated, but the new war he was living through was worse than what Saddam had led while he was in power.  Waleed didn't know who to look out for and who to avoid, as there were so many religious and political groups that were fighting each other.  He was unable to continue in Baghdad when you started to need to change your identify daily to survive.  He states, "In order to live in Baghdad you had to change  your identify or ethnic affiliation all the time.  One day you were Sunni.  The next Shiite  why? Because fake checkpoints would stop your car and ask about the identify and faith of the passengers.  All my friends hold two identify cards: Sunni and Shiite!  His spirit was exhausted by the war and he needed to leave.  Waleed's greatest wish is to go back to Iraq and live his life as before the war.

These are just two of the many examples of stories given within this book. The straightforward, easily read book, with personal stories makes you want to continue reading without putting the book down. The photographs are also just beautiful. They pull out so much emotion from the people in them and you can see the struggle they have had to go through.  There is one photograph of a row of homes. These homes have no walls. They have no floors.  They have no real ceiling.  They are barely tents, yet they are where thousands of people make a home.  To see this, compared to the luxury we live in, is an eye opener.  I feel as though the photographs would pull our students in. Many of our students do not live in the best of neighborhoods, none of them have had the life of a young child in Iraq, or any other war torn country, and I believe these photographs would help give some perspective to their lives. 

I suggest you read this book. You can find it at Worldcat.  Once you have read it, visit the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Program to find out more information about Iraqi refugees, as well as ways you can help.

Audiobook: Dooby Dooby Moo

Dooby, Dooby Moo was written by Doreen Cronin. The audio book was read by Randy Travis.  It was published by Weston Woods in 2007.

I’ll admit it: I was an audio book virgin.  Until today, I had never heard a book on tape/cd/digital download.  When I wanted to read a book, I read it.  I have never been much of a fan of the idea of audio books, which is one of the reasons I chose a picture book to listen to.  When I read, there are many times I need to reread because my mind wanders and I don’t stay focused on what I am doing.  This is the main reason I’ve stayed away from audio books.  I knew my mind would wander, which it did.  I had to listen to the audio book three times. 

Dooby, Dooby, Moo is an award winning audio book.  It has won the AudioFile Earphones Award, ALA Notable Children’s Book, AlSC Notable Children’s Recording and the Odyssey Honor.  “The Odyssey  award is given to the producer of the best audio book produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States.”

Dooby, Dooby Moo was a great first choice.  It was a lot of fun listening to this book.  The story is part of a series of books about Farmer Brown and his farm animals.  In this book, the animals have heard of a talent show at a fair and want to be part of it.  They spend their days practicing for their roles as the farmer spies on them.  I have always enjoyed reading the book to my children, changing my voice and trying the animal sounds the best I could, but it was much more of an experience listening to it on the audio recording. The audio started out with some country music playing, setting up the farm setting.  Randy Travis read the narration, but when it was time for one of the animals to read, there were addition voices giving the sounds of each animal.  The duck sounded like Donald Duck throughout the book.  The levels of voice when the animals performed was unique, as I could not do that myself when I read it aloud.

I think this is something students would enjoy since there is so much expression and fun incorporated into the reading, and I could see myself enjoying more short books, but still don’t think audio books are for me.  Like I said, my mind wanders and it was hard enough for me to listen to this fourteen minute audio.  I don’t think I would comprehend what was happening in a novel by listening to it.  If audio books are for you, there are many award winners out there.  Find a good one at The Association for Library Services for Children

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 was written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 is the story of Clara Lemlich.  She immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s with the rest of her family.  After settling in, they realized no one would hire her father, but would hire her, so she got a job as a shirt maker. 

Clara was very smart and she was not going to allow the fact that she had to work get in the way of her education.  She read as often as possible and went to school at night, but soon realized the other women working with her were forced to give up their schooling because of the hard conditions of their job.  They didn't have the time or energy to do both. 

Clara organizes a strike within her company several times, but "Each time Clara leads a walkout, the bosses fire here.  Each time she pickets, her life is in danger.  The bosses hire men to beat her and other strikers. The police arrest her 17 times.  They break six of her ribs, but they can't break her spirit. It's shatterproof." Although this is happening, Clara does not give up.  She organizes a strike of all the factory workers and "starts the largest walkout of women workers in US history."

Clara's strike worked.  It took several months, but the factory owners allowed for unions to be created, shortened the work week and gave raises to all of the girls.  Clara's story inspired other walkouts in garment factories in Chicago and Philadelphia. 

Markel gives the reader more insight about the garment industry in his notes at the back of the book.  She tells us, "Between 1880 and 1920, two million Jews immigrated to America, fleeing persecution, pogroms and poverty in Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and other parts of Eastern Europe.  Many of the immigrants found work in the booming garment industry. Abuses were rampant throughout the industry.  Mnay bosses shaved time off lunch hours, set clocks back at the end of the day to fool workers, made them work long hours -- including illegal evening work -- for little money, forced them to pay for cloth soiled with blood or spilled food and fired them at will."  Clara had been able to change these conditions for the women of the time, and is hailed a hero to those she helped.

This is a picture book and I think the illustrations matched the story well.  The illustrations were muted colors, which made it look like the time it was set in.  Many of the illustrations that depicted trouble were on the left, such as when she is talking to the other girls about starting the strike and where she is pacing back and forth, worrying about her schooling.  There is also the use of diagonal lines -- her eyes meet with the males from her work at a diagonal, showing her anger about the issues she is dealing with.

This would be a good book to give students information about unions, women workers and immigration. You can find a local copy of this book by visiting WorldCat.

The Kids' Money Book

The Kids' Money Book was written by Jamie Kyle McGillian and illustrated by Ian Phillips.  It was published by Sterling Publishing in 2003.

The Kids' Money Book is an informational book about teaching kids how to earn, save, spend, invest and donate money.  It is separated into six chapters -- Moments in Money, Money Matters, Making It, Using Your Money Smarts, Growing It, and You're in Control. 

I chose this book because I am all about Dave Ramsey and his budgeting advice and guidance he gives adults for financial planning, so I thought it would be interesting to see what financial advice McGillian gives to kids.  Not surprisingly, it is very similar to what Dave gives to adults.  In the introduction, McGillian writes, "Some parents say the only thing their kids know about money is how to spend it.  Is that true about you? If it is, unless your guardian angel has deep pockets, you are in for trouble -- because money makes the world go 'round!" He uses the rest of the book to teach the best ways to earn, save, and use your money.

The first chapter, Moments in Money, is about the history of our money. This could be a little dull and boring for our kids, so he presented it in more of an interesting way. Instead of wordy paragraphs, he used a quick timeline, highlighting important dates and information about how money was made or used around that time.  There are also fun stories incorporated in, such as the Yap people literally making money out of large boulders.  They used rocks as money as a deterrent to people stealing the money.

Chapter two, Money Matters, McGillian starts off with a money quiz, asking what we would do in certain financial situations, such as finding money in a old coat, getting cash for a birthday and wanting something that is out of your price range. He is trying to determine the importance of spending money wisely. Depending on your answers, you get a certain score, and he gives advice for each score range, suggesting how to use your money in a different way or save until you have what you need to buy what was out of your price range.

The rest of the chapters go through suggestions on how to make  money (allowance, car wash, lemonade stand, after school jobs), and how to spend, save and invest money.  His chapters are broken up with lists, stories, quizzes and illustrations, which makes it a quick read and something kids could attend to.  Many of the headings are asking the reader a question, which makes you want to read on to see how the question was answered.  He has suggestions for kids of all ages and progresses through the book with the understanding that many readers will have many different experiences with money and gives different advice for different levels of experience. 

The one part of the book I wasn't thrilled with was the illustrations.  This book is intended for kids at an age where making money is plausible, but many of the illustrations were of young kids, or even babies, and I didn't care for that.  There were also some illustrations using adults. I feel as though the illustrations should reflect the people this book was written for -- school age kids and teenagers.  Illustrations aside, this is definitely something I would want to share with my children to help explain why we mandate that a third of their allowance goes into savings. 

After reading, if you'd like to have some fun and give more information to kids, you can go to The Mint, which has fun games and good suggestions on how to help kids be financially literate.

Friday, April 18, 2014

We are Witnesses: Five Diaries of Teenagers Who Died in the Holocaust

We Are Witnesses: Five Diaries of Teenagers Who Died in the Holocaust was written by Jacob Boas (foreword by Patricia C. McKissack).  It was published by Henry Holt and Company in 1995.

 For my second biography, I chose to read We are Witnesses: Five Diaries of Teenagers Who Died in the Holocaust because I had never realized there had been diaries other than Anne Frank’s.  These diaries are written by kids between the age of 13 – 17, and although their lives were shortened, their words deserve to continue on.  The book is separated into seven sections: Foreword, Introduction, David Rubinowicz – “The End of the World Will Soon Be Here”, Yitzhak Rudashevsky – “Long Live Youth!”, Moshe Flinker – “My Name is Harry”, Eva Heyman – I Want To Live!”, and Anne Frank – “I Must Uphold My Ideals.”  With each teenager, there is a different perspective on the war, but each writes about what is most important to them.

David Rubinowicz was thirteen year old boy from Krajno, a small village south of Warsaw, when he started his journal.  He was able to write in it for two years before he was sent to his death.  David’s diary focused on the militiamen and what they did the Jewish people.  He was constantly concerned with the fate of his father because he felt as though every time his father walked outside the militiamen would get him and he would never see him again. There are several pages in a row with excerpts of what he sees the militiamen do to the Jews in his town.  In his January 15, 1942 entry of his diary, he writes, “I learned that they’d manacled a Jew and taken him to the local police…They’d tied him to their sleigh and he’d been forced to run after it.  Perhaps they’ll shoot him – who knows? We sat there the whole evening, very sad and thoughtful.  How many enemies are on the prowl after such a poor defenseless creature! While he was tied to the sleigh, he couldn’t run anymore, and they’d dragged him along behind the sleigh and then shot him – such an unhappy fate he’d had to suffer!” David and his family were forced on a train to Treblinka in July of 1942.  Within a little over a year, David died with 850,000 other people in Treblinka.

Victor Rudashevski was a fifteen year old boy living in Vilnius, which was the capital of Lithuania.  Victor’s diary revolved around the rules set up against the Jews and the mass number of people that were murdered in the ghettos.  It started with the notice that all Jewish people would need to stay in their homes from 3 pm to 10 am every day.  While everyone was home, the police would come through and force whole neighborhoods out of their homes, take them to Ponar and shoot them.  Once they were sent to the ghettos, rules for work would change every few months.  It was said that anyone with a certain color certificate was eligible to work.  At first, they were white certificates, and David’s father had one.  The family was safe.  A few months later, the police decided that only people with yellow certificates could work.  They passed out 12,000 yellow certificates and said anyone who didn’t have one would be moved out of the ghetto (which they all knew meant murdered).  David’s grandmother went crazy in the months after the certificate was changed.  Finally, David’s mother was able to get a yellow certificate, but at the sake of another family.  The police took over 15,000 people without certificates and they were never heard from again.

Moshe Flinker was the third teenager in We are Witnesses.   Moshe was thirteen when he began his diary.  He was incredibly smart and good with words, and had planned on following his father’s footsteps into the world of business.  Moshe’s diary revolved around religion.  He was, by far, the most religious of the group and he often wondered in his writing how God would allow this, and then answered his own questions with things such as, “Maybe God was waiting to save the Jews because countries like the United States and England had ‘not committed enough sins to blacken their names completely.’” Until the end of his life, he truly believed that God would save them and never lost his faith.  On May 25, 1943, he wrote, “faith is indestructible, an inexhaustible source of strength, an inner sacred belief in comparison to which all external reality is negligible, the holiest thing in the world; faith explains and defines all we ought to be, how we ought to conduct ourselves, and that we ought to believe.” Unfortunately, he was not saved in time.  Moshe and his family were arrested on April 7, 1944 and sent to Auschwitz.  Moshe and his parents were murdered, although his brother and five sisters were spared.

Eva Heyman was a thirteen year old girl when she started her dairy.  She had it for least amount of time – only four months – before she was sent away and murdered.  Eva’s diary revolved around the relationships in her family.  Eva wrote a lot about her mother, Agi, and her step father, Bela.  Agi seemed to care more about Bela than her own daughter, going after him over and over when he was in danger.  Agi and Bela moved away from Eva when she was thirteen.  They lived about 150 miles from her until she was forced home by the Germans.  When Bela was forced to a working camp, Agi protested for his release daily.  It took her over a month, but she was able to get him back to their city, only to be locked up in jail. It took another couple of weeks before she was able to get him out of jail.  In Eva’s chapter, Boas included letters from Eva’s housekeeper to Agi after the war.  In the letters, her housekeeper blames Agi for Eva’s death. She wrote, “If there is one thing for which I must blame you, it isn’t for having stayed alive while the girl is dead…but for not having fought to have Eva with you, even in more modest circumstances.  You, who fought so hard for your man when everybody said it was hopeless; you, who in the end succeeded in rescuing him from that horror in which you found yourselves in Varad; and in the end you, who understand people so well, you have an instinct about this sort of thing, you, my Agike, in this matter, you failed!”  You see, Agi faked an illness in Bela and the two of them were able to stay in the ghetto when everyone else was forced on the train.  She lived when her daughter, Eva, died.

The last diary was that of Anne Frank.  Anne’s diary is the most famous diary from the war.  It is translated into over 30 languages and studied around the world. She is known as “the most famous child.”  Anne’s story is much different than the other four teenagers.  She didn’t suffer through the ghettos, watch people she loved die, or suffer through years of hunger.  Although she was in hiding, she was well taken care of, in respect to the others.  She had family and friends around, and even though they were in a small space, she knew she was lucky to have them.  In the excerpt of the diary included in We Are Witnesses, Anne’s focus was on her relationship with her family and herself.  She was very close to her father, but felt as though he was treating her as a child.  She was very self-reflective, and knew how much she had grown in the years she was in hiding. She wanted him to treat her as an adult, as she had to endure this just as they did.  Anne held out hope throughout the war.  On July 15, 1944 she wrote, “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out.  Yet, I believe that people are really good at heart.” Unfortunately, everyone was not good, and her murders came for her in August, 1944.  Since she was strong and healthy, she lived over a year at Auschwitz, but died in the winter of 1945 from Typhus and starvation.

I have always been interested in WWII and the horrors the people went through, and what interested me so much about this book was how many different perspectives and unique situations the teenagers were in.  Each of them lived in different areas and had different experiences within this war.  Some of them had more lenient police and could wander through the streets longer, while some of them were in fear of being shot if they stepped out of their house.  They continued going to school, playing with friends and enjoying each other’s company at clubs and meetings within the ghettos. They all had dreams – to be a lawyer, a business man, to marry and become an artist – yet all of their dreams were shattered because of the hatred of so many.  It also astounded me that Moshe’s family was the only ones who had been truly religious.  The rest of them, which I suspect were like many others, weren’t all that strict with their religion, if they followed it at all.  I am saddened to know so many died for something that wasn’t even an integral part of their lives. 
Boas took extensive notes on the families and listed where he got her information at the end of the book, which makes me believe her facts are correct and this is a true depiction of what these teenagers, families, and people around them went through.   

If you would like to read We Are Witnesses, you can find the book at Worldcat.

To learn more about the Holocaust and find read about others' experiences, you can go to The United States Memorial Holocaust Museum.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Locomotion was written by Jacqueline Woodson.  It was published by Speak in 2003.
Locomotion is an award winning collection of poems.  It was a National Book Award Finalist, Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book and an ALA Notable Book.  The collection of poems told from the perspective of eleven year old Lonnie.  When he was seven years old, his parents died in a house fire, leaving him and his sister, Lili, as orphans. His sister was adopted by a wealthy woman, but her new mother didn’t want any boys, so Lonnie has been fostered by Ms. Edna for the last four years.  His teacher, Ms. Marcus encouraged Lonnie to get his feelings about the past four years out using poetry.
On the back of the book, there is a picture of a young African-American boy, with his back facing the reader.  There is also a summary of the book, finishing with, “Nothing’s the same after you see it through Lonnie’s eyes – and hear it through his words.”  This was definitely true for me.  Lonnie’s poems range from a couple of lines to a couple of pages long, and he writes in several different poetry forms, including haiku, occasional poems, and poem letters.  His title of the poem tells exactly what his topic will be. For example:

Parents Poem

When people as how, I say

a fire took them.

And then they look at me like

I’m the most pitiful thing in the world.

So sometimes I just shrug and say

They just died, that’s all.

A fire took their bodies.

That’s all.

 I can still feel their voices and hugs and laughing.


Sometimes I can hear my daddy

calling my name.

Lonnie sometimes.

And sometimes Locomotion

come on over her a minute.

I want to show you something.

And then I see his big hands

holding something out to me.

It used to be the four of us.

At night we went to sleep

In the morning we work up and ate breakfast

Daddy worked for Con Edison.

You ever saw him?

Climbing out of a manhole?

Yellow tape keeping the cars from coming down the block.

An orange sign that said Men Working.

I still got his hat.  It’s light blue

with CON EDISON in white letters.

Mama was a receptionist.

When you called the office where she worked,

she answered the phone like this

Graftman Paper Products, how may I help you?
It was her work voice

And when you said something like

Ma, its me.

Her voice went back to normal. To our mama’s voice

Hey Sugar. You behaving? Is the door locked?

That stupid fire couldn’t take all of them.

Nothing could do that.


This poem got me into his head.  You can tell what a strong, mature boy he is for his age.  He knows that his parents are dead, but also knows no one can take away their memory.

All of Lonnie’s poems are written about himself or the people around him.  Some are describing other people while others are a feeling he is having or talking about a place that gives him comfort.  As I read, I imagined that these were poems being read at a slam poetry night. The feeling Lonnie portrays in them makes me want to see him perform them.  I was so invested in the way he wrote that I started to question whether this was really a little boy’s writing.
It isn’t.
I was disappointed to realize that the author, Jacqueline Woodson, made up Lonnie’s character and the events that he wrote about. I honestly felt a little deceived.  The voice she wrote in was so much like to voices of the kids I teach, it was hard to believe it wasn’t someone like them writing this, sharing their pain, making it real from a person who experienced the things Lonnie experienced.  I guess that is what makes the book so good.  It draws you and makes you feel for this character, the poet, Lonnie Motion.

Jacqueline Woodson has authored many other books and is a three time Newbery Honor winner.  To get more information about her and the other books she has written, click here.

You can find her book near you.  To find out where, click here.