Saturday, February 22, 2014

Lily Brown's Paintings

Lily Brown's Paintings was written by Angela Johnson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. It was published by Orchard Books in 2007.

In this book, Lily is a young African American child who enjoys her family and loves creating worlds of her own while painting.

All of the illustrations are painted as they would look if a child painted them. I believe it was a good choice, as the illustrator is representing Lily's imagination and they are painted as if they came from Lily's hand. There is a mix of styles throughout the book, starting with a typical child's painting, to some that have a Van Gogh quality to them.  She used bold colors to engage the reader and often has inanimate objects or animals acting in a silly, fantastic way. She allows us in to her imagination, showing her painting of trees bowing down to her with hats on and people walking upside down, under the sidewalk.  She shows us how she flies through outer space and how the fruits talk and dance around her. 

This is a very simple book, with no real story-line throughout it.  Each page is a description of the painting it is showing.  For example, "When Lily Brown paints fruit at the corner market, it is striped and polka-dotted.  It speaks to people then laughs out loud.  When people put the fruit in bags to take home, the apples sing all the way there."  And then, on the next page, "In Lily Brown's paintings the path to the park becomes a wild-animal living room with antelopes lounging and alligators on the phone.  Lily always remembers to draw them a treat."  The is no continuity throughout the book, with each page being its own little story.  The only time something is referenced more than once is at the beginning and end of the book, Johnson writes about Lily's love for her family that although they come first, she also loves painting.

When I chose this book, I thought I would like it more than I did.  It was a fun book to read, but I am drawn to books with a little more substance.  Because of its simplistic nature, this would not be a good read aloud story book for deep conversation or to help children with comprehension.  This would be a good book to share to boost creativity in children, or allow for students to practice their visualization. 

dream BOATS

dream BOATS was written by Dan Bar-el and illustrated by Kirsti Anne Wakelin.  It was published in 2013 by Simply Read Books.

dream BOATS caught my eye because on the front cover, it has a beautifully designed origami boat sailing on a yellow see, with the reflection of a different boat and the stars from the sky reflected in the water below.  It is an attention grabbing cover I thought that the origami boat was going to be an interesting addition to the book. 

dream BOATS opens up to a young boy falling asleep.  He is surrounded by white sheets and white origami.  He begins the story by telling us, “I don’t have naps.  I have adventures.  I don’t sleep in a bed. I ride in a Dream Boat.” This automatically allows the reader to start thinking about their dream boat and their secret imagination that works while they are dreaming. Throughout the book, the young boy and many other young children share their dreams with us.  They are sailing through many parts of the world – Maiqui in the Andes Mountains at night, Aljuu floating towards the Haida Gwaii shore, Parvati riding towards Mumai and Ivan “sails into St. Petersburg upon a mighty Russian frigate.”  With each child, the setting, destination and type of boat each change.  They use a Dream Boat that represents the culture that they come from.  All of the dreams are full of adventure, but end with the child meeting up with family.  They speak about wondering what the others are dreaming about and passing each other in their boats, touching hands as they go.  While reading, I thought that they just pictured different kids within their dreams, but at the end it shows all of the kids together, awake, telling each other about the adventures that they had in their dreams.  It appears that the kids are together in a daycare or similar setting. 

There is a phrase used several times within the book – “Water is memory; water is dreams.  Sometimes storm clouds gather. Sometimes it rains and rains. Dream Boats rock. Dram Boats sway. But Dream Boats find safe harbor.”  I think that this quote is very powerful, as it represents life.  Life changes.  Sometimes it is hard and you have to handle the winds and rain storms.  Sometimes you sail through and have no trouble getting to your next port.  Taking the good with the bad is how we can continue on to that safe harbor.

The illustrations within the text are detailed, and drawn with great imagination.  Each setting has a touch of realism and fantasy mixed in. You see the child sleeping in his dream boat, and animals, and others sailing their boats, and others flying their boats within the sky. You see children meeting up with family and going through adventures with animals. In one such illustration, Ivan is watching as bear spirits fight in the clouds.  All of the illustrations have dark, rich colors.  The pages are full bleed, with so much going on within it.  Each child’s dream has a different color pallet, so the pages change from dark oranges to purples to yellows. Some are a deep gray with red undertones and some have a beautiful mix of deep blues with brighter, lighter purples and greens.  The illustrations pull you in to each page, wanting to ensure you see all of the detail she has put in there.  Although there are many dark colors, the book isn’t sad or full of turmoil.  The dark color shows the richness of the dream and allows for the reader to understand that what is happening is not real. 

Although this book is full of young children, I believe that it is best suited for older children.  There are some deep thoughts within the book, and settings that many young children would have never heard of.  The author also touches on many different folktales, such as the Bear Spirits from Russia and Crossing Three Bridges in China on the Chinese New Year, and I think an older child would be able to connect to folktale easier. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Golden Sandal: A Middle Eastern Cinderella Story

A Golden Sandal: A Middle Eastern Cinderella Story is by Rebecca Hickox and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand.  It was published by Holiday House in 1998.

There were several similarities between A Golden Sandal and the Disney version of Cinderella that I have grown up hearing.  Both girls were motherless and ended up with a selfish, hateful stepmother and stepsister, both were beautiful from the inside out and both went to a party where a shoe was lost. That is where the similarities end. 

The Middle Eastern version had quite a few twists to it.  The first thing that I noticed was that Maha's father never passed away.  In most of the Cinderella stories that I have read, the daughter gets stuck with the stepmother because there is no longer a father.  I found it interesting that in this version, the father was alive and well, although after about the fifth page opening, they didn't mention him anymore. Another difference is that Maha received all of her help from a fish. When she was a young girl. she had saved the fish from dying, and it, in turn, told her that she could come to him for anything she needed help with throughout her life.  She did go to him several times, including asking him for help the night that all of the townspeople were invited to  meet the new bride of the master merchant. The fish gave her fine clothes and golden sandals to wear. Where she traveled to was also different in this book.  She was not going to meet the prince of her dreams, but the bride of the master merchant.  She never met a man at the party, but her sandal did slip off at the end of the  night. The brother of the master merchant found the sandal, and, never seeing or meeting Maha before, he knew he had to marry her. His mother went to each of the houses in the village until she found Maha. 

A Golden Sandal has many of the characteristics of a traditional tale.  Although it doesn't begin, "Once upon a time...," it does begin with the problem stated immediately.  You learn right away that she does not have a mother and she wants her father to marry the neighbor down the road.  There are many more details throughout this story than in some of the other Cinderella tales. It follows the pattern of the problem being stated, a solution given and a quick resolution.  The 'evil' ones do not get what they want, as in this story, Maha's stepsister ends up losing all of her hair, has a head covered with blisters and smells foul so that no one will end up marrying her.

I found that the pictures matched well with the text in the story.  Maha, as the kind, loving person she was, is illustrated in bright colors, while the evil stepmother and sister are often shown in shadows or darkness.  The illustrations are full bleed, which allow for the reader to be immersed in the story the illustrations tell. The people are dressed to show traditional Middle Eastern clothing, which shows that the illustrator did some research to ensure authenticity.  The illustrator tells us, "The artwork for this book was done on vellum - a translucent paper.  Fore each picture, a copy of the final pencil drawing was placed in reverse on the underside of the vellum. Some underpainting was then done with oil paint or pastel to give the picture a color field..."  It amazes me that there are so many different and difficult ways to illustrate a book.  I had not realized thMaha.

at there was so many instances of a transfer of color instead of just drawing it.  He chose wisely, as the soft tones and muted colors work well with the kind nature of

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Sandwich Swap

The Sandwich Swap was written by Her Majesty Queen Rania Alabdullah with Kelly DiPucchio and illustarted by Tricia Tusa.  It was published in 2010 by Hyperion Books (Disney).

The Sandwich Swap is one of my all time favorite books.  I've read it to my classes, I've read it to my children and I've read it to myself so often that I feel as though I could have it memorized by now. Although I know this story well and I have read it many times, I wanted to write about it so that I could share it with you.

The Sandwich Swap starts out as a simple story with few words on each page.  There are two girls, Lily and Salma who enjoy spending time together.  They draw, climb, play and eat together daily. The only difference is what they eat --  one loves peanut butter and jelly and the other enjoys hummus. Most days, they go about eating their own food, not telling the other that they think their food sounds disgusting.  One day, though, the truth comes out. Lily tells Salma that she doesn't think her hummus looks very good, which hurts Salma's feelings.  She imagined her mother working hard to make her lunch daily and took offense to what Lily said.  To get even, Salma tells Lily that she thinks her sandwich looks gross.  Lily imagines her father making her sandwich perfect daily, and also gets upset.  The girls stop talking to each other and no longer play.  As word gets out to the rest of the school, they start to take sides.  Those who support Lily and the peanut butter sandwich start making fun of the Salma and her supports and vice versa.  Eventually, it moves to calling each other names and hurting each other's feelings about a lot more than just the sandwiches they like, and a food fight erupts.

Lily and Salma watch as the other students take part in the food fight. They wonder how this started from the two of them not liking the other's sandwich.  They end up making up and becoming friends again, and, with the help of their principal, organized a day where all of the students could bring food from their homeland. 

I think I love this book so much because I am so about letting everyone be themselves.  I think it's incredibly important to live and let live.  We should be learning from each other and not judging each other for their decisions, no matter how significant that decision might be. 

I'm so wrapped up in how much I love the theme of this book, I haven't even mentioned the illustrations.  The colors are soft and muted throughout the book.  The second and third page openings have full bleed illustrations of the girls playing together.  There are no sharp lines or harsh colors throughout the book, but there are many shadows throughout the book.  The illustrator draws light and inviting pictures to draw the reader in.

I highly recommend this book as a great lesson in diversity and acceptance within the classroom.  Students will learn that small differences don't mean that you cannot be friends with one another and that there is no need to make fun of others.


Cinderella was retold by Cynthia Rylant and the pictures were by Mary Blair.  It was published by  Disney Press in 2007.

As of this post, Cinderella has been my favorite book that I have ready by Cynthia Rylant.  Not because it was a familiar story, but because she retold it with such beauty in the words and the pictures were illustrated to match.

This book did not have the typical "Once upon a time..." beginning. Instead, it begins, "This is a story about darkness and light, about sorrow and joy, about something lost and something found. This is a story about Love."  I believe this introduction set the tone for the entire book.  This version was much longer than most other versions of Cinderella that I have read.  She does not stick to the bare minimums of explaining the problem and how it was going to be solved.  Each page went in to great detail about what is happening in Cinderella's life, from when she was a little girl, to her step-mother moving in with her cold-hearted daughters, to the fairy showing up with the magic of Cinderella's tears, to Cinderella showing the glass slipper she kept, which allowed for her to finally find Love. 

I thought it was so important that Love was a capitalized word throughout the book. It allows for the reader to focus on the fact that Love is the most important thing.  No matter the relationship you are in, Love is needed, or it will fail. 

The illustrations in this version of Cinderella were just beautiful. The soft blur within the illustrations made it so that you could just fall into the story and pretend for just a few minutes, that your life could end in such a way, as long as you had Love in your life.  Most of the pictures had darkness in them, which was to symbolize the hardship that Cinderella had to go through.  Later in the book, afters she goes to the ball, I think that the dark shadows within the illustrations are there to remind the reader of Cinderella's past and that she overcame troubling times. The full bleed pages let the reader soak up the imagery  and detail within the illustration, and for me, allowed me to visit my childhood for a few minutes.  The pictures were so similar to the movie that I could imagine sitting in my mother's lap, watching the movie for the first time as a child. 

Many times, the colors of the illustration matched that of the page background on the page of text.  This allowed for my eyes to travel over both pages and connect the text with the illustrations. On the page opening where Prince Charming sees Cinderella for the first time, there was a perfect balance of detail and color to darkness. I could make out the prince and Cinderella, but the others were faceless.  The whiteness of the majority of the page was in bright contrast to the darkness behind Cinderella.  It allowed her to stand out for this new time in her life. 

I wish I had known about this version of Cinderella when I was in the classroom.  With the greater detail and full pictures, it would have been a great asset in the classroom to allow the students to compare this version with the fairy tales we were able to read. 

The Three Armadillies Tuff

The Three Armadillies Tuff was written by Jackie Mims Hopkins and illustrated by S.G Brooks.  It was published by Peachtree in 2002.

After reading this book, it took a few days for me to write about it.  I have rarely chosen a book that I don't care for, but, I have to put this one on that list.

I originally picked up The Three Armadillies Tuff because I thought it was going to be a cute twist on The Three Billy Goats Gruff.  It is another version of the story, where the three armadillies need to travel through a city to get to the dance club.  As they scritch, scratch, scritch, scratch their way through the pipe, they come across a hungry coyote.   He tells her that she will be his armadillo stew, but she convinces him to wait for her older, bigger sister.  When the second sister comes through, he tells her that she will be his stew and hit boots.  Again, she convinces him to wait for her older, much bigger sister.  When the third sister comes through, he tells her that she will be his stew, boots and handbag.  The last sister convinces the coyote that she needs a make over and a night out with the girls, so they all leave the drain pipe and go out dancing at the club.

 It is obvious that this book is set in the south, as the armadillies have a southern twang when they speak.  "Let's go to that new dance hall on the other side of the highway," suggested Lilly. I have a hankerin' to learn some new steps and kick up my claws" is one example of their southern twang.  Also, ""Go on, then," they coyote barked finally. "Git!"

They way that it was written gave a cue for the expression that should be used when reading aloud, and it was fun to try out a southern accent. 

Most of the illustrations in the book are framed, with parts of the armadillos sometimes coming out of the frame.  It appears that the author wanted them to look as if they were larger than what the frame could hold (they had very big personalities).  I didn't find anything about the illustrations to be spectacular.  Most of the pages had pictures of the armadillies working their way through the drain pipe.  I didn't notice the use of lines within the illustrations.  The colors are typical to a city night, with the animals a realistic color.  They are all drawn with exaggerated features and somewhat human, as they wear lipstick and wear shoes and handbags. 

I feel like when I do not like the book, it may be because it doesn't evoke any emotion from me.  I didn't enjoy the purple background on the pages and  I didn't enjoy the way the characters acted. I would not recommend this book, but would love to hear your thoughts on it if you have read it.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers was written by Gloria Whelan and illustrated by Yan Nascimbene.  It was published in 2008 by Sleeping Bear Press.

I chose to pick up Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers because I was looking for multicultural books that were about a culture other than the African American culture.  When I picked it up, I knew that I had to read it because it has haiku in it.  I didn't know anything else about the book yet, but I knew I would enjoy reading it due to the haiku because it reminds me of my uncle. My uncle is a runner.  A 20-25 miles a day type of runner. Throughout his daily journey, he stops, takes a picture of something he sees on his way and writes a haiku about it. It's usually something to do with nature and the beauty he comes across while running.  That is what I thought of when I picked this book up, so I knew I wanted to read it.

Yuki is also about a journey.  On the inside of the book jacket, it states, "In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Japanese provincial governors had to travel between the cities of Kyoto and Edo (modern day Tokyo).  This 300 mile journey on the historic Tokaido Road required the presence of anywhere from  one to three thousand attendants (carriers) setting the stage for a grand event."  This grand event is recorded through the reluctant traveler, Yuki.  She did not want to go on this voyage with her parents.  She was going to miss school and miss her friends, and she had never been outside of her city.  When she spoke to her teacher about the voyage, her teacher told her to write a haiku about her experience daily. 

The illustrations within the book are generally on the lower half of each page, encompassing the complete right side, but only a little less than half of the left side.  The text on each page is on the other part of the left side, always on a white background.  Yuki tells her story of each part of the journey, and then summarizes that part of her journey with a haiku.  For example, on the first day of her journey, she writes about what she has packed, her animal, getting into her box to travel to the new city, leaving her home, and her haiku states,

"Once outside the gate
how will I find my way back?
Will home disappear?"
Each of the photos depicts the journey she is describing.  There are many muted colors through the daytime, and dark shadows through the night.  There are pictures that show the travel through her eyes, within her box.  She describes one sigh as,
"Willows lean over
the river's edge like women
washing their long hair."
In the illustration, you see people in a lake washing their hair, surrounded by willow trees.
My favorite illustration is where a fox is following the carriers through the snow. It looks as though it is a blanket of white, and the illustrator used grays to make holes within the snow, which looks like trees to me. The picture jumps out at me, with so much stark white on the page.  You are drawn to the fox, trying to sneak his way through all of the snow.
As I said before, all of the illustrations are on the right of the page, which helps with the understanding that she is upset about this journey.  There are many long, diagonally cut roads, showing a long, hard journey, and many times where she is shown alone with her puppy, which could represent her loneliness throughout the journey.  She uses the haiku's to feel less lonely; to feel a connection to home and her teacher.
When Yuki gets to the new land, there is a gray and white illustration of her destination.  The city is huge, while Yuki and her father stand alone, very small, at the front of the illustration. They are ready to start this new journey.   Yuki writes,
"Everywhere I see
something to delight my eyes
I stop looking back."

Freedom Summer

Freedom Summer was written by Deborah Wiles and illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue.  It was published in 2001 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

I've recently realized how limited my knowledge of children's books was.  I had often read the same books to my class, only sometimes broadening my horizons to find something new.  I thought I'd had good books. I thought they were doing the job. When we sat in class and Freedom Summer had been brought up, and I saw the excitement in some of the others' voices, I knew I had to read it.  I knew I had to find out what the excitement was about, so that I could start to add more books to my knowledge of good books.  I was not deceived with this one.

Freedom Summer is an Ezra Jack Keats Award winner and a Coretta Scott King Award winner.  It is about two young boys, one white and one black, who were friends at a time that the world did not accept their friendship. The black boy, John Henry Waddell, would come over to his friend's house everyday with his mother, as his mother worked at their house.  They enjoyed spending time together -- helping to clean and get food prepared, swimming at the creek and going into town for a Popsicle -- but couldn't be friends in public.  John was not allowed to go to the swimming pool and couldn't go into the store to buy a Popsicle.  One day, it was announced that the laws were being changed.  From there on out, anybody, regardless of race, would be able to go anywhere public.  The boys were ecstatic about this, as they could not wait to swim in the pool together.  Sadly, when they got there, the pool was closed and was being filled in. Rather than allow blacks to swim in the pool, it was shut down.  This angered the boys, as they couldn't understand why their world was like this. 

Although I cannot even pretend to know how they must have felt, I found this to be a heartbreakingly true depiction of how it must have been for people before and during the Civil Rights Movement.  I believe this book would go further than any book I have read in showing students the struggles people from earlier generations had to go through, and the changes that have happened since then.  Most of them have heard stories about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., but don't realize the every day, every person that was effected.  In the book, Wiles writes, "'Let's go back to Fiddler's Creek," I say. 'I didn't want to go to this old pool anyway." John Henry's eyes fill up with angry tears. 'I did,' he says. 'I wanted to swim in this pool. I want to do everything you can do."  This part of the book stirred many emotions within me.  It made me wonder why people had to act as though people were different back then.  It made me wonder if things have really changed all that much since then.  It made me wonder what I would have done if I had lived back then.  I made me angry that people could be so cruel, then and now.  I loved how the color of their skin was described as "the color of browned butter" and "the color of pale moths that dance around the porch at night." The children's race was never mentioned because to them, it wasn't important in their friendship.

The text was not the only part of the book the evoked emotion . The illustrations were beautiful and represented the feelings of the people and the times.  All of the illustrations were blurred.  I feel as though part of the reason was to blur the lines between white and black.  To put the importance on what they were doing and not necessarily who was doing it.   I also feel as though it was blurred to blur the lines between now and then.  To show that in reality, it is no longer like this. At least, not to this extent.  Although there is still some racism, people can go where they please and befriend who they please.  The illustrations went back and forth between full bleed and more of a framed picture. The framed pictures showed the heartache of the boys.  It shows them as they realize the pool is closed.  It shows them stuck at the pool, unable to move away from the dream that they'd had that morning.  It shows them together, at the end, ready to walk into the store together for the first time.  I feel as though these scenes were framed to pull the reader in -- to make them really feel for the kids and the people who struggled through those times in reality.

This would be a book I would use to open a discussion about the Civil Rights Movement and the importance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.  Students need to know about the leaders, but they also need to know about the everyday people who struggled through this and fought for their rights on a smaller scale.

The Whales

The Whales was written and illustrated by Cynthia Rylant. It was published by The Blue Sky Press in 1996.

I had never known that the illustrations on the inside front cover and endpapers were there as the start of the story.  I took notice to that when opening Cynthia Rylant's The Whales, and believe she started this book with the inside front cover as well.  There are pictures, which look as though they were painted by sponge, of the whales swimming through the sea. (After reading the text, I saw that on the back end paper it explains that all of the illustrations throughout the book have been painted with acrylic paint, using natural sea sponges.) The mix of light and dark blue, as well as the white, allows the reader to envision the whales in their natural environment, and to get ready to read about these magnificent creatures. The illustrations throughout didn't disappoint.  I was worried when choosing this book because I have not cared for her illustrations other books I have read, but I did enjoy these.  The second opening has a beautiful mix of colors on a black background.  The curve in the lines allows a feeling a serenity and made me think of the ocean waves and the quiet it brings to you when you just sit and watch the waves come in. Within the rest of the book, the background on most of the pages had a bold color, with the bright illustrations of the whales and their surroundings.  They are full bleed pictures, allowing the reader to fully immerse themselves into the scene and feel the presence of the whale that is pictured.

As I read the book, I felt as though it was a metaphor for people. It starts off, "In the blackness of the Black Sea, the whales are thinking today. Thinking of those things that matter most to them: friends, family, supper.  A song they used to know."  This makes me feel as though she is drawing a comparison between the whales and people, as we are always thinking about what is important to us, or what is happening in our lives.  Further into the book, she states, "The blues are humble. The largest life God ever made is a blue whale.  Yet blues are neither pushy or boastful...."  I feel as though she is describing different types of people through her description of whales.  She hints to the changes we go through when writing about the humpback whale -- "Each humpback has a little song to sing, one all his own, and as he grows older and changes, so does the song," -- and acknowledges our triumph over weaknesses or disabilities -- "But a rose is lost on them, for they haven't any sense of smell. No matter. They love songs and touching and can court without flowers."

Others might not agree with my interpretation of The Whales, but that is how I read the book.  I couldn't help but think about memories of my own or certain people as I read different parts of the book. If you decide to read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal -- A Worldwide Cinderella was written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Julie Paschkis.

   I had to read this book several times to soak in the beauty of the pages and look closely at the significance of the change in the illustrations.  The first time I read Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal, I was about half way through the book before I realized that the setting was changing throughout the book.  I was reading it at a surface level and had not absorbed all of the fine details yet.  Once I realized that it stated what part of the world the section of text had come from, I paid closer attention to the illustrations. The second time I read it through, I slowed down, matched the country to the illustrations and saw how the people and dress and food changed depending on what country's tale the author was pulling from at the time. What a wonderful way to tell a story. The story was still clear, with no confusion when Paul Fleischman jumped from country to country.  I enjoyed seeing the change in how the people looked, what they ate and how they dressed. I think that it was smart to have put the map on the front and back inside covers. It gives an awareness to where the countries were and how far this tale had traveled. It would be a wonderful asset to have in the classroom when discussing diversity.  One book shows so many cultures within it and the students would love to see the beauty that comes from the other cultures.

Thinking about a traditional tales characteristics, Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal, was very accurate.  It started off as "Once upon a time...." and went through the story with simple sentences and structures.  The problem was stated right at the beginning, the book quickly moved through the steps to solve the problem, hit the climax of the stepmother trying to stop her stepdaughter from coming to the party, and the problem was solved with the prince finding her at her house and taking her away so that she did not have to live with her evil stepmother and stepsisters anymore.  It was easy to follow and most students would be able to recognize the story line since they are familiar with our version of Cinderella. 

The illustrations were beautiful.  The change in color for each country helps the reader determine when Fleischman has switched the story to a different culture.  The swirls and twirls throughout all of the pages makes me feel at peace while reading, even though there is some turmoil within the story.  The framed pictures allowed me to focus on the differences between each page and see how Paschkis changed the look of the characters when the country was changed.  I noticed though, that you could always tell who the step daughter was throughout the book, as she kept her long, black hair.

Before realizing the changes within the book, I was thinking about how familiar the tale is.  Obviously, I knew that it was a version of Cinderella, but the familiarity led me to think about how important the setting in a story is.  Knowing where the woman is from helps us understand why she is wearing a particular outfit, eating particular foods or speaking in a particular way.  This book could be used as a great introduction to the importance of setting and what we can learn from it in the classroom.  Students need to understand how the setting can change a story, or how a setting can bring several stories together and this book would lend itself to starting a discussion about it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I dream of trains

I dream of trains was written by Angela Johnson and illustrated by Loren Long.  It was published in Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2003. 

I had to read this book several times.  I didn't quite get it the first time.  The opening page starts out, "Papa tells me Casey Jones started dreaming ab out trains when he was littler than me.  I think of that -- big ol' Casey being littler than me -- and smile." I felt as though I had started the book midway through and that I missed the introduction of Casey Jones in the book.

I didn't know who Casey Jones was, so when I first read the book, I kept asking myself, "Why does he keep referencing Casey Jones?  Why is he important to this young, black boy on the cotton fields?"  It wasn't until I read "A Note on This Book" on the back of the last page that I figured out the significance.  Casey Jones was an Irish train conductor who "worked side by side with black Sim Webb" going back and forth through his route from Canton, Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee. The people in the cotton fields looked at Casey's train as a symbol of hope.  That they could possibly find something that was better for themselves and their family.  They looked up to Casey and believed him to be a good man because, in the deep south, at the beginning of the twentieth century, he had no qualms about working side by side with a black man.  Unfortunately, on a run that he had volunteered to cover, there was a train crash and Casey died, while saving Sim Webb by telling him to jump off of the train.

After reading the note, I reread the book.  I understood its meaning much better the second time.  I understood that he referenced Casey Jones so many times because he saw him as a hero; as someone to look at for hope in his future.  If Casey could do his job, spending hours upon hours with Sim, maybe someday, the rest of the world would follow suit, and white people would be able to work with black people without any problems or tension.

I read the book a third time -- out loud to my children -- which gave me an even deeper understanding of the book.  When I read silently to myself, I don't give the characters as much of a voice.  I don't change my tone and become as expressive as I am when I read aloud.  Because of this third reading, I could really feel the emotions of the young boy.  When the book first started, and he spoke of Casey as a hero and wanting to be like him as he get older, to the end of the book, where he shares his sadness about Casey's death and wonders if there is still hope.  Realizing that I didn't get as much out of the book was pretty eye-opening.  I feel as though I need to go read all of the books I have read aloud to see what emotions they convey in me.

I believe the illustrations were matched perfectly with the text. Each page was full bleed, really allowing the readers to feel as though they are right there with the young boy.  The dark tones showed his feelings throughout the book.  There are many pages where the lines are vertical or diagonal, showing the turbulence within the book. 

I feel a little sheepish, having to have read the book three times to really feel anything for the book.  I think that this would be a book better suited for upper elementary or lower middle school students, as my children weren't really moved by it.  I think it was too deep for them to understand.

Let's Talk About Race

Let's Talk about Race is written by Julius Lester and illustrated by Karen Barbour.  It was published in 2005 by Amistad, which is part of HarperCollinsPublishers.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but have mixed feelings about who the book would be best suited for.    The information and insight within the book is incredibly valuable, especially in today's society.  In a world where everyone is trying so hard to not be racist, yet so many events turn into "being about race" this book could open the eyes of many, and help people understand that, although there are often cultural differences between people of different races, in the end, we are all pretty similar.  That being said, children rarely have a problem with someone because of race.  Children are seen holding hands, hugging, talking with, laughing with and playing with other children of other races all of the time.  It isn't until they get older, and are exposed to the thoughts and ideas of older children and adults that things start to change.  So, although I loved the book and loved the message within the book, I feel as though it would be appropriate for upper grade level students.  It would be appropriate for people who have forgotten what it was like to enjoy someone else for who they are, and not for the color of their skin.

I thought the way the author "spoke" right to the reader was brilliant.  He told the reader about himself, and asked the reader questions.  It made me feel as though I was having a conversation with the author, and not just reading his book.  When he wrote, "Some stories are true. Some are not. Those who say 'My race is better than your race' are telling a story that is not true", he hit the nail on the head as far as pointing out why we have problems with race to begin with. The preconceived notions that are passed down are troublesome for our country and society.  Thinking about that, this book could be appropriate for younger students, as hopefully a discussion can happen to help them think for themselves and not believe what a parent or older friend is saying about people of other races.

I don't feel as though this is a typical multicultural book, as they were discussed in our chapter and in class.  When I think of a multicultural book, or a diverse population book, I think about a picture book with characters that are from a culture outside of the Anglo-Saxon characters that are usually depicted in our storybooks.  This was more of a book about helping people understand our similarities, and not about one particular group of people.

I was drawn to the illustrations no the first page of text. The children and adults interwoven throughout the tree was a beautiful image to me.  There were many curves within the branches, and horizontal lines, which made me feel at peace when I first began the story.  I thought the blue butterfly was a nice touch.  It is the only color on in the illustration, but it's a muted color, which allows for a feeling of calmness.  Beyond the first page, I wasn't reeled in by the illustrations.  It appears that he has an expressionistic style of drawing, which I have realized, it not to my liking.  There were warm colors throughout most of the book, which was probably done to ensure a sense of peace while reading a book that could make you angry, since not everyone will agree with the message in the book. There is a page near the middle of the book that is bright pink.  It states, "Why would some people say their race is better than another? Because they feel bad about themselves. Because they are afraid. Because."  I think the bright pink is perfect for this, as it awakens the reader and makes them think about what is written here.  It makes them realize that what is said on these pages is part of the problem, and maybe, just maybe, if you feel some stirring within you on these pages, you will start to help solve the problem.

I could see myself reading this book with my children and my students.  It is important for them to understand that we should choose our friends because of the way we are treated, or the characteristics we find valuable, and not the race of the other person.


faith is written by Maya Ajmere, Nagda Nakassia and Cynthia Pon. It's photographs are submitted many photographers around the world.  It was published  by Charlesbridge in 2009.

What a beautifully constructed, enjoyable book.

 faith is a nonfiction book that looks at religions around the world through beautiful photographs. This book is part of the Global Fund for Children Books, ( which is a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. It's purpose is to "advance the dignity of children and youth around the world" and "teach young people to value diversity and help them become productive and caring citizens of the world." (back endpaper)

I am not much of a religious person.  I have my beliefs and raise my children in a way that any questions that they have are answered. If I cannot answer them because of my lack of religious background, I find someone who can.

Because of my personal background and beliefs about religion, it gave me great happiness to see this book focusing on the similarities between us all, and not the differences.  I thought they way that the text explained how all religions were similar -- "We show our faiths through what we wear...We celebrate with festivals...We visit holy places" -- was smart.  First bringing the attention to how our religions make us similar, and then going to the pictures to explain the differences allows the reader to relate to the text, no matter the beliefs.  My favorite picture is where the Buddhist monk is sitting with a class of young Christian children at Sunday School in Sri Lanka.  This draws me in because it is the first photograph of people of different religions enjoying each other's company.  The accompanying text says, "We listen to and learn from others."  I feel as though this should be the basis in life, no matter what we are talking about.  Everyone has a difference of opinion on practically every topic out there, but if we could listen and learn from others, it would make the world a much more peaceful place.

Each page had photographs that were on a background of bright color.  The photographs show people happy in their religion, enjoying the traditions that are sacred within their beliefs.  This allows for the reader to have positive feelings towards what they see in the photographs, whether they also follow that religion or not.

I think this would be a good book to share with students in the classroom.  Students want to bring up religion often, and talk to you about what they believe.  Although teaching a specific religion in public school is not acceptable, this book would be a fantastic catalyst to broaden students' knowledge about all of the religions available.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth was written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney. It was published in 2010 by Amulet Books.

Over the years, I have seen this books from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series being carried by students in the upper elementary school grades.  They have talked about how much they liked the books, how funny they were, and how goofy they thought Greg was, but I never really got it.  There was nothing like this series when I was a kid and my personal children aren't old enough to read this series yet, so I never really looked into it. Sadly, I think I was a book snob when it came to this series.  I like chapter books. Regular chapter books. I didn't think this had a place in the classroom. Now I wish I had.  I would have had more of these in my classroom.  I would have been shoving them into the hands of my avid readers and my reluctant readers, because I believe that everyone in the classroom, in some way or another, would be able to relate to this book. It is such an easy read, that even the students who have reading difficulties could find success with this book. Half of the page is taken by simple pictures, depicting the antics Greg and his family and friends are doing, while the other half is a 'handwritten' journal entry. Kids would be able to fly through this book, and realize, that they do have the power to read a lot in one day. They have the power to realize that Greg is not so different than they are and that they can relate to the challenges he has, the stunts that he pulls and the fights that he has with his family and friends.  

Greg is a typical middle-school boy.  He is not too popular, not the best student, not all that athletic. He doesn't have many friends, although he thinks he is better than the friends he does have.  He has an older brother that picks on him and makes him do his chores, and a younger brother that is babied, and annoys him on a regular basis. In Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth Greg begins by telling us that he is no longer friends with his long time best friend, Rowley. He talked about how Rowley wasn't good enough for him anymore and needed to find a replacement best friend.  This made me think that "The Ugly Truth" of this book was showing how awful Greg had treated Rowley.  I was not correct about that -- "The Ugly Truth" was just the truth of a middle child middle-schooler who was struggling to figure out how to get through life on easy street. Although there are many, many events he discusses in the diary, there is a logical time sequence and he references several events many times throughout the book.

One of my favorite stories that he goes back to in his diary is worrying about having "the talk" with Grandma at his uncle's wedding.  He knows he has gotten to the age of "the talk" and is completely embarrassed that this older woman is going to sit him down and talk about so many personal things.  In the end, it wasn't quite as embarrassing as it could have been, and he got out if it unscathed.  It reminded me of when I was a kid and had to have any type of talk with a parent or other family member.  I'm a pretty closed off person, so I never liked to have the big talks with people.  I understood his embarrassment, and possible fear of sitting down with his grandma. Like him, I knew the talks weren't the end of the world, but it was definitely not something I was looking forward to!

At the end of the book, Greg does makes with Rowley.  Greg says that he  might as well be friends with Rowley, at least until high school, because he looks like he is going to be pretty big and he can stick up for Greg if someone bullies him.  I'm not a huge fan of the reasons behind Greg's friendship with Rowley.  I think that he is a bad friend, and I realize this is a fiction story, but I feel as though it can give students who read it the idea that treating a friend like this is okay.  That part of the book is my only complaint about this book.  I want to make sure that the students in my class, and my school, are good to each other, and I don't like that it shows Greg as a selfish friend who is only out to help himself.  When I talk to kids who read this book, that is something I would definitely talk about and see how they feel about Greg's friendship with Rowley and if they agree with the way Greg acts. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Oliver's Tantrums
Oliver's Tantrums is by Boriana and Vladimir Todorov. It was published in 2011 by Simply Read Books.

I. Loved. This. Book. 

When I saw Oliver's Tantrums sitting on the top shelf at the library, I thought to myself, "I need to read that book." Although it is a picture book, it looks as though they took photographs of the people in the book and created the pictures around the photo.  The photo of the little boy looks similar to my oldest son, so I was drawn to the book.

This book is about a young boy, Oliver, who is upset because his mother is giving the new baby, Penny, more attention and is not spending time with him. At the beginning, he asks her several times to play with him and she can't because of something going on with Polly. He has a few tears, but it isn't until he found the "tantrum balls" in the attic that he was able to change anything.  There were three balls -- water, food and toys.  When he got upset, he would throw a tantrum ball at his mother to get his way.  At first, it was the water ball (tears), which worked for awhile and then his mother was able to figure out how to stop those tantrums.  After that he used the food ball (throwing food).  Again, this worked for several weeks before mom was able to stop the tantrums.  Finally, he threw the toy tantrum ball (when his toys got broken by Polly).  It didn't take long for mom to get rid of this tantrum as well.  Finally, at the end, he tried throwing all of the tantrum balls at once, when mom explained he would have to go to school.  He yelled and screamed, worried that she didn't love him anymore and only wanted to get him out of the way so that she had more time with Penny.  Mom was able to diffuse this tantrum by telling him how much she loved and missed him and that she would soon not be as busy with Polly.

Throughout Oliver's Tantrums, the illustrations were very dark.  They show the upsetting nature that it is for everyone when a child throws a tantrum, for any reason.  Illustrations, such as the spaghetti monster and floating food, jump out at the reader.  Many of the pictures appear real, with some drawing finished around them, so I looked into the illustrator.  He has a background in cinema animation, which is clearly shown in his work in this book. 

I thought that this would be a good book that any older child, but especially imaginative young boy, who feels as though he is left out because of a new sibling.  This could connect at any age, but I think would be appreciated (with discussion) by a kindergartner who is feeling as though his mom has sent him away to be able to be alone with the baby.  Many young kindergartners don't understand why, all of the sudden, they don't get to spend time at home, and this could be a real fear of theirs.  In this book, Todorov showed how the relationship between child and mother can change when another child is born, how an older child might feel about it, and how to deal with it.  She leaves Oliver with an understanding of how much his mother does love him at the end, so he is able to get rid of the tantrum balls for good.

Until, of course, Polly finds them a few years later...

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sidewalk Circus
Sidewalk Circus is presented by Paul Fleischman and Keven Hawkes. It was published in 2004 by Candlewick Press.

Sidewalk Circus is an eye-catching wordless book about how the world around us can mirror the circus. 

When I first picked this book up and read the title, I thought it was going to be about someone, or several people, performing on the sidewalk.  I hadn't realized until I got home that it was a wordless book and that the pictures would tell the story of the performance.

The first thing I noticed when opening the book is that on the left side of the page, there are several people sitting at a bus stop, waiting to be picked up for their daily commute. Only one of the bus riders is a child.  She is who I focused on when 'reading' this book.  I tried to put myself into her shoes and experience it the way that she would.  Across from the bus stop was a theatre which announced the show and the acts that would be seen at the show.  There were also several shops and people walking through the street.
Each picture in the book depicted the people on the street acting in a similar way as an act that would be seen at the circus. The little girl watched from across the street, mesmerized by the characters on the street.  I caught myself really studying the pictures before I read what they were supposed to be on the theatre board, so I could try to figure out what the girl was seeing. I could feel the joy that she had as she watched each part of the 'show' on the sidewalk. It was fun to think back to the times I have been to the circus, and try to imagine the real circus performers doing what the people on the street were representing.
The fact that the little girl is the only one enjoying the show, or even attending to it, speaks to the loss of creativity and fun in adults.  They are so wrapped up in being late, meeting others, or just being too unhappy to enjoy what is going on around them. The child's facial expressions change from wonder when the show first begins, to excitement when the woman is 'juggling' pancakes, to fear when the boys almost fall off of the 'trapeze' , to longing when she has to get on the bus and drive away.  I believe  they caught the emotions that run through us at a real circus perfectly.

After the bus took the people on to their next destination, new people sat at the bus stop.  Among them, was another child -- a boy who will now get to experience the adventure of the Sidewalk Circus.

Cat Heaven
Cat Heaven is a book written and illustrated by Cynthia Rylant.  It was published in 1997 by The
Blue Sky Press.

If you haven't read my post about Cynthia Rylant's book, The Dreamer, you can read it here. I give you this link because it was a much more positive review of that book, and some of the thoughts I write about Cat Heaven may be better understood after reading the post about The Dreamer

As you may  know, I wasn't well acquainted with Cynthia Rylant before reading a couple of her books today.  I feel as though I am getting to know her better through her books, or at least one aspect of her life. What I have noticed in the few books I have read, is that she writes a lot about God and Heaven, although they are not explicitly about a Christian life. I had wondered if Rylant had a theme to her books, and it appears, from what I have read so far, that she does. She writes about religion and God within kid friendly books.

In the book, Cat Heaven, it goes through the thoughts of a cat when he enters Heaven and spends his day there. Rylant describes cat heaven as "a field of sweet grass where crickets and butterflies play." It sets up the reader to think about what cats would like in Heaven, and in turn, what people would like in Heaven. She continues to explain that all of the cat problems have gone away -- cats don't get stuck in trees because they can fly, there are toys and cotton mice all around, angels always waiting around to pet the cats, and whatever food the cat prefers is available whenever he is hungry.  The cat is content, needing, while it watches his old family, and then at the end of the day, can curl up with God. 

As I think about this book, I can't determine whether its purpose is to help children who have lost a pet, particularly a cat, or if it is supposed to help children who have lost a family member or a friend.  It parallels what is said about when humans go to Heaven -- there is no pain, you can do what you please and be at peace.  Although I understand her want in giving children a book that could help them through a difficult time, whether it is with an animal or human, this book did not particularly grab me. The illustrations were incredibly different than in the The Dreamer and they didn't hold my attention as well. They were more simplistic and silly, which may have been done to lighten the mood of the topic of the book. The illustrations in this book were done by Rylant, and as I looked through some of her other books, this appears to be her style of illustration.  I may not have liked it because I am an adult, and I don't appreciate the painted, simple pictures, like a child might. The illustrations match the text and are specific to what she has written. Although this book could be beneficial for a child who has lost a loved one (furry or not), I think that it would be difficult for a child who is not growing up in a religious household to understand the implications of the story. 

Overall, this was not my favorite book that I have read so far.  I may be someone who enjoys children's text with a little more complexity and story and someone who likes to see detailed illustrations which go along with the plot of a book.  Maybe I am too surface level and can't or don't think deeply enough about what has been written.  I'd love to hear your thoughts about this book, if you have read it.

Either way, I look forward to moving on to other books. 

The Dreamer

The Dreamer is a book written by Cynthia Rlyant and illustrated by Barry Moser. It was published in 1993 by The Blue Sky Press.

In the past, when I read a book, I wasn't too preoccupied with who the author was. There have been books that I have loved forever, and books that are new to me, and I always thought it was a happy coincidence when I happened to love two or more books by the same author. (No offense to the books or authors -- I do the same thing will music and movies as well.) This is the first thing I thought about when reading Cynthia Rylant's The Dreamer. I knew of Cynthia Rylant but couldn't put my finger on what her books were. I didn't know if she had a theme to her picture books or if all of her books were about something completely different. I had to look them up to realize that, yes, I had read a few of her books throughout the years. The Dreamer was new to me.

The Dreamer is a book about a young artist who grew confidence in himself with each passing work of art he created. He started out creating a star, and we see the hand of a man cutting start out in the illustrations. He continues to dream, and as the artist he is, needs somewhere to place the stars, so he creates the sky. In my opinion, the illustrations look as though he has painted the sky on the walls and ceiling of a bedroom. At this point in the book, I started thinking about how this is how all kids feel. They want to try to do something, create something, share something, and they found success with what they did, so they try again. This time, what they try is a little more difficult, yet the succeed because they were willing to put themselves out there. In my mind, as I read, I thought about how this could lead to a discussion about creating in small steps, and continuing to move forward with the more you learn.
But then I turned the page. On the next page, Ryant writes, "By morning he had made an earth. Round and sturdy, full of bumps and chunks and ridges. It borrowed the light of the heavens and sat full of form and grace. The young artist, shyly pleased with himself, rested his back against a smooth ridge and gently closed his eyes." This is when I knew that The Dreamer was not about a child at all. Throughout the rest of the story, she tells of all the beautiful things that the young artist creates, first in his mind, and then in reality. With each turning page, I think my prediction of who the artist is has a greater chance of being true. On the last several pages, she writes, "The first young artist, still a dreamer, has always called them his children. And they, in turn, have always called him God.

With the prior knowledge I have, it only took me three pages to realize that the artist in this book was God. Her eloquent words to describe His dream made me picture Him in my head, imagining Him sitting back, thinking through how he would actually create our world. I believe it is a eye-catching, child friendly way to discuss God and how he created Earth.

Although I thought that this book was a good piece of writing, and it made me feel at peace with the beauty in our world, I do not know if it is appropriate for school, in isolation, and may be more appropriate for families to read together at home. When it was published, in 1993, it would probably not have been a big deal to read it within the classrom, but without getting into my own spiritual and religious beliefs, I have to say, that it could anger some parents if this were to be read at school, and books about other religions were not read as well. I do believe that all children can relate to what the artist is doing -- visualizing what He wants and taking the steps to create it, and I believe that is where I would take the discussion if I read this within the classroom. While I read it, the words and illustrations made me feel as though I could dream and have my dreams be fulfilled. It made me feel as though goals I have set could be accomplished and problems I had could be solved, and that is a feeling I would love to bring to a child's heart and mind.