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.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices was written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Eric Beddows.  It was published by Harper Trophy in 1988.

I. Loved. This. Book. And I am so upset with myself that I just found out about it.  I feel as though my third grade students would have had so much fun with this poetry, working in pairs to express the poems in their own unique ways.  One thing I have realized through this class and blogging is that I didn't expand my students' worlds enough.  I was so bogged down in my first few years of teaching, ensuring that I covered everything that would be on the test, I didn't always have time to expose them to all of the other jewels out there.  I would have loved for them to read this, and so many other gems I have found this semester, but always felt fear that if someone walked into my room and I wasn't teaching something they would be tested on, I was going to get into trouble.  I can guarantee that when I go back to the classroom, there will be more time spent on books like Joyful Noise.

Joyful Noise, a Newbery Medal winner (1989), is a collection of poems, all written by Paul Fleischman.  All of his poems are from the perspective of a particular insect, and as it is supposed to be read by two readers at once, sometimes reading simultaneously and sometimes reading independently of each other, with each reader reading from top to bottom in their own column. As I read, it felt like the insects were having conversations with each other. I read some of the poems with my husband and some of them with two voices in my head.  It was definitely more fun to read them aloud with my husband and you could hear the back and forth of the conversation much better that way. 

The way Fleischman wrote each poem was very representational of the insect he was writing about.  I had two favorite poems -- Honeybees and Whiligig Beetles.  I felt that these two, in particular, made you get in to the mind frame of that insect.  In Honeybees, the first person is speaking from the perspective of a worker bee and the second from the perspective of a queen bee. What they have to say and the experience they are describing are completely different, and as someone listening to the poem, you would have to follow the back and forth of each reader to keep track of which bee was speaking.  In the poem, Whiligig Beetles, I felt as though it was a whirlwind experience.  With reader two repeating exactly what reader one read just ahead, it sounds a moving fan or a lot of bugs constantly moving around.  This poem reminded me of when I was a child and would sing songs in rounds on family trips with my mother and sister. 

 As I stated in one of my other posts, I like rhyming poetry the best, but these poems were very fun and purposeful for me. I am always looking at things through the eyes of a teacher, and the poems in Joyful Noise would have so many uses within the classroom. I would love to see groups of students acting the poems out, creating illustrations to go with each poem, writing their own two-voice poems, and using their problem solving and cooperation skills to ensure the poem is spoken in the correct way without getting mixed up with the two columns. I found a video of two girls from Pine City High School interpreting some of the poems from Joyful Noise.  They did both of my favorites, and it sounded exactly as I imagined! To check out their video, click Joyful Noise Youtube.  You won't regret it!


Stitches was written and illustrated by David Small.  It was published in 2009 by W.W. Norton and Company.

What a powerful book.  When I picked up the book, Stitches, and realized it was a graphic novel, my initial thought was, "This book can't be all that engaging, it's a graphic novel."  My experience with graphic novels is pretty much limited to Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  I didn't think anything too serious or thought provoking was going to come from a book of many pictures and few words.    Oh, how I was wrong.

I read the front and back end covers to get a little background about David Small.  There, it explains that he came from a family that didn't express emotion and kept the fact that he had cancer a secret from him.  Although it was surprising to read that, I don't think it was necessary to have that preview on the inside front and back covers.  I say that because the graphic novel was so well written that you can immediately feel the disance his parents put between themselves and the children. "Mama had her little cough. Once or twice, some quiet sobbing, out of sight.  Or the slamming of doors. WHAP! That was her language. Dad, home from work, went down to the basement and thumped a punching bag.  That was his language." We didn't need a prelude to know that these parents were neglectful and mean to David and his brother, Ted.  The illustrations of David's parents show them with harsh lines and scoweled faces the majority of the time. Whenever they interacted with him, it was to scold him about the amount of money he was wasting on one thing or the other. At the beginning of the book, when David was six, he still held on to some hope.  He loved his parents and wanted them to be there for him.  He sat during his x-rays, had a vivid imagination with his brother when they went to pick his father up from the hospital, enjoyed playing as a typical little boy, such as when he went sock skating down the hallways of the hospital, and still thought of his dad as a superhero.  "To me, dad and his colleauges seemed like the heroic men featured in the ads in Life magazine.  Marching braely into the bright and shining future.  They were soldiers of science, and their weapon was the x-ray.  X-rays could see through clothes, sking, even metal.  They were miracuous wonder rays that would cure anything."  It's a shame they didn't realize what it was doing to David. 

David held on to his childhood the best he could, but when he turned eleven, everything changed. A family friend, Mrs. Diller, saw a growth under David's skin on his neck. It took over three years for his parents to take David into surgery to determine what the growth was, as "they didn't have the money for it."  Although, the selfish parents they were, they had the money for boat trips, new furniture, new clothes, and whatever else David's mother wanted at the time . When his neck was checked, the doctors realized it was cancer.  The surgery to cut the tumor out left David without his thyroid and  vocal cords.  He was fourteen years old and could no longer speak when he needed to. The worst part was, his parents didn't tell him it was cancer.  This was yet another example of how disconnected from reality and how selfish his parents were.  They seemed to only care about themselves and making themselves look good in front of the doctor's Mr. Small worked with, and did not attend to their chidrens' needs at all.

One aspect David made obvious through his story was the mental illness that ran through his mother's side of the family. At age eleven, David and his mother went to Indiana to visit his grandmother.  His grandmother was very harsh, and you can see where his mother learned to push down her emotions, but his grandmother was also abusive.  She burned David's hands in scalding water in retaliation of David saying "mother says saying ain't makes you stupid."  Her grandmother aslo attempted to kill her husband by lockig him in the basement and setting fire to the house. At the end of the book, David had an eerie dream, which supports the mental illness conclusion.  He sees a building across from his home and realizes it is the insane asylum his grandmother was sent to.  In it, his mother (after she had died) sweeping the path into the asylum, clearing the way for David.  His last statement -- "I didn't."

The illustrations match the tone of the story perfectly.  David's childhood story is sad and tragic, with parents who don't care about him, lies about his heath and abuse from his grandmother, and the illustrations are dark and forboding.  Typical to graphic novels, the pictures show the sequence of events. The first series of pictures drew me in.  The first one being a shot of what looks like a coal plant in Detroit. After reading the front inside cover, my initial thought was the location of the home, close to the coal plant, is what may have caused David's cancer.  The illustrations then moved closer and closer to the house, then inside the house, and then into the room David was playing by himself.  It shows us from the beginning how lonely David was and how estranged he was from his own parents.

David Small grew up to be an incredibly successful author and illustrator.  He is a prime example of moving beyond your circumstances.  He would be a fantastic example to teach our students about, to show them that no matter what, they can become who they want to be.  To learn more about David Small and the books he has written and/or illustrated, you can read about him at DavidSmallBooks.

My Teacher Dances on the Desk

My Teacher Dances on the Desk was written by Eugene Gagliano and illustrate by Tatjana Mai-wyss.  It was published by Sleeping Bear Press in 2009.

When I was looking through the poetry section of my local library, I found many great choices, but I knew I wanted to read something fun and silly; something I would like to share with my children and students. I found that in My Teacher Dances on the Desk.  The book caught my eye because of the title.  Being a teacher, I thought, "Well, this looks like it would be something kids would enjoy. How often do they get to read about teachers being silly?"  When I opened it, it did not disappoint.

My Teacher Dances on the Desk is a collection of 46 poems, all written by former teacher, Eugene Gagliano.  When I read that he had been a teacher, the first question that entered my mind was, "I wonder if any of the poems are from true events that happened in his teaching career?" According to the synopsis written on Amazon.com, the poems were taken from personal experiences of Gagliano and his students.  "Former teacher Eugene Gagliano had a front-row seat to the everyday trials of school life. In honor of all students who have ever grappled with show-and-tell missteps and problematic classmates, he's penned a clever poetry collection, My Teacher Dances on the Desk. Episodes from every aspect of school life, from visiting the school nurse to sitting next to the wrong student, are told through humorous verse."

As I read each poem, I could picture a former student of my own or a colleagues that fit that poem perfectly, but my favorite poem in his collection is the one that reminded me most of my older son, Teacher Never Calls on Me.

Teacher Never Calls on Me
"I know! I know! I know!"
I raise my hand to say,
But teacher never calls on me.
It happens every day.

"Ooo! Ooo! Ooo!"
I stretch my hand up high,
But teacher never calls on me
No matter how I try.

I strain my face and grit my teeth.
I twist and turn and sigh,
But teacher just ignores me.
I often wonder why.

When I don't know the answer,
And hide by being still,
It's my luck she'll call on me.
I know she surely will.

This reminds me of my older son because there have been so many days he comes home from school complaining that the teacher didn't let him answer a question all day long (much exaggeration, I'm sure!).  He loves to talk in class and explain things to other people, so he doesn't quite get that he isn't the only one in class that should be called on! 

This poem book has much simpler poems than the other books I have read, but it was my favorite so far.  I like poems that rhyme.  Teaching younger students, and struggling readers, I like poems that will get students laughing and want to read several times, which will help build their fluency and word knowledge.  My Teacher Dances on the Desk also reminds me a bit of Shel Sylverstein's work.  Most pages have their own poem, with a black and white illustration next to it.  The illustrator, Tatjana Mai-wyss does her black and white illustrations using India ink and a dip pen.  I think the simplicity of the illustrations fit the poems perfectly.  There was no need for detailed drawings when the poetry allowed for you to envision what was happening within the class at the time.  You can find more about Mai-wyss at her blog, http://tatjanawyss.blogspot.com

To find a copy of My Teacher Dances on the Desk near you, check out Worldcat

ellington was not a street

ellington was not a street was written by Ntozake Shange and illustarted by Kadir Nelson.  It was published in 1983 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.

ellington was not a street has a captivating cover, which makes you just want to pick it up.  It is just of a little African American girl holding a record, but the illustration is so beautiful with the glow in her face to the bold color of her dress, that it makes you wonder what story she has to tell. It is a book written by Ntozake Shange which portrays the poem, Mood Indigo, as a picture book.  It is from the perspective of a young girl, reflecting on the inspirational men of her time.  These men, such as W.E.B Dubois, Duke Ellington, Ray Barretto and Virgil "Honey Bear" Akins.  Written about a time where black men and women were not allowed to make daily choices, such as where to sit on a bus or go to eat, this poem shows the strengths that many black men of the time period had.  You can read the poem (exactly as written) below.

Mood Indigo

it hasnt always been this way
ellington as not a street
robeson no mere memory
du bois walked up my father's stairs
hummed some tun over me
sleeping the the company of men
who changed the world

it wasnt always like this
why ray barretto used to be a side-man
& dizzy's hair was not always grey
i remember         i was there
i listened in the company of men
politics as necessary as collards
music even in our dreams

our house was filled with all kinda folks
our windows were not cement or steel
our doors opened like our daddy's arms
held us safe & loved
children growing in the company of men
old southern men & young slick ones
sonny til was not a boy
the clovers no rag-tag orphans
our crooners/ we belonged to a whole world
nkrumah was no foreigner
virgil akins was not the only fighter

it hasn't always been this way
ellington was not a street

I didn't care for the poem written out in the picture book, but I got a lot more out of it when it was in its stanzas. When reading it as a picture book, it just felt like a story. I felt as though it lost some of its significance, as it was not read as fluidly.  The pictures within the book are stunning, winning the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award in 2005.  They make the men in the book come alive and pop off the page, which was the best thing about the book.  At the end of the book, you can read Mood Indigo as it was originally written.  I felt more power coming from it as a poem.  The breaks in the lines make you stop and think about what you just read and you feel the importance of the repeated line -- it hasn't always been this way -- more strongly. I feel as though it sounds more significant and profound as the poem.

If you would like to read ellington was not a street, you can find it on WorldCat.  There are many other reviews of this book on Goodreads.

What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings

What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings was written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski.  It was published in 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

I have to admit that What the Heart Wants is the first book of poems I have picked up in years.  The only other collection of poems I can even remember off the top of my head are Shel Silverstein's books.  I loved those as a child and often referred to them when I was teaching in the classroom, but haven't read a new set of poems for a very long time.  I say that because, after reading What the Heart Wants, I realize what I have been missing.  Did all of the poems strike me as wonderful? No. But there were several that hit home and made me think of personal things within my own life. 

I was engaged from the front end cover.  "For centuries, we have believed in the power of words to change our lives.  Why else wold we pray, sing or write?"  Isn't that the truth.  I'm not always an open person.  Even with my family growing up, I didn't like to talk about problems or anything that was bothering me, but I would write my feelings down.  Written words always had a special place in my heart and was my first choice in communication. Reading this reminded me of the poems I wrote as a teenager.  The way to understand me had been through my writing.  It's sad to say I've let that go.

 What the Heart Wants is separated into four categories of poems -- Chants and Charms, Spells and Invocations, Laments and Remembrances, and Praise Songs and Blessings.  This was weird to me, as I never though of most of these things as poetry.  I've always though of songs as a type of poetry, but thinking of chants, charms and spells as poetry was new to me.  I read the poems as I would expect someone who was chanting to do.  It gave me a fun twist on the poems. The two chants I found most interesting were Come, Happiness and Chant Against the Dark.

Come Happiness                                                                                   
you're not what everyone says:
some flashy friend
who shows up with fireworks,
trailing fame and glory.

You are more like a raindrop,
governed by mysterious principles.
You fall from the sky
and hit -- plop! -- with
a cool kiss of surprise.

Or maybe you're a heartbeat,
always there,
speaking in your low, soft voice,
pumping, warming, strengthening
under the surface of things,
just doing your work.

Happiness, you're like a breeze
sucked in by eager lungs.
You fill and feed us,
and yet somehow, in the exhale,
you are shared.

So come,
come to us, Happiness
Bathe us with your cool spray.
Fill us with your splendid breath.
Help us do your work. 

Chant Against the Dark
Don't come close, dark.
Don't brush my face with your sticky hands.
Stay as cool and distant as a train whistle.
Don't single me out,
don't make me answer your questions.
Let me curl here, safe in my circle of light.

Don't come close, dark.
Don't speak to me in your crooked tongue.
I don' want to hear your stories.
I have stories of my own
to tell myself all night.

Don't come close, dark.
Don't breathe on me.
When the lamp clicks off,
don't creak and shift
like some wild-eyed horse
waiting for its rider.

Oh, dark,
don't call my name.

I'm not sure if it was because they were back to back, but these two poems made me think of the ups and downs we have in life.  I interpreted Come Happiness to be about the good things in life.  Being full of light and living the life you want, whereas I interpreted Chant Against the Dark to be about sadness or depression.  About not allowing yourself to give in to the dark feelings. 

There was one spell and one lament I really enjoyed. They hit home with me and I could connect to what the author was writing. Gift Spell made me laugh while Where is My Body made me nostalgic.

Gift Spell
Whatever is inside
that large, flat box:

Leti t not be made of wool -- snowflake
pattern -- one arm slightly longer
than the other, knit in my formerly
favorite shade of green.
Let is not be square and thick
with stiff covers,
full of wit and wisdom.
Let it not be the hope of a new hobby.
Let it not be anything
to keep me neat, or clean, or safe.

Whatever it is,
let it shrink down
small and hard and cold.
Let it have metal teeth
and a whiff of speed.
Let it slip with a sweet jingle
into my battered jeans
as I run for the garage.

That box: It looks like something else.
But let it be freedom.

This is how I felt when I was sixteen.  I told everyone at camp that I was going to come home to a car in my driveway. I was so sure of it and wanted nothing less.  School was going to start in a week and I wanted my own car to drive there.  I only hope that the author got her wish in her gift as I did.

Where is My Body?
Where is my body?
The one I'm used to,
slim and ordinary as a twig?
What happened to the scabby knees,
forgettable front,
hips that were not really
hips at all?

Where is the hair
that shed clips like needles,
its part of a soft pathway
through shining woods?
And my face --
where are the bright, fearless eyes
and elastic mouth,
the nose that sat like a gumdrop
on smooth gingerbread skin?

Where is the body
that housed an
Olympic gymnast,
sumo wrestler,
all waiting, poised
in endless possibility?
When did I grow
awkward, lumpish,
a stranger in my own skin --
each day revealing
some fresh freakishness?

Where is my body -- the one I loved,
the one that was really me?

The last line of this poem gets to me.  I think that all of the time.  What happened to the person I was? The athlete? The young face in the photos of only 6-7 years ago?  And when did I change to what I am today?
I enjoyed reading What the Heart Knows.  It reminded me of how great it is to put your thoughts, feelings and life into words.  I look forward to reading more poems over the next couple of weeks.

If you would like to learn more about the Newberry Honor nominee, Joyce Sidman, you can find information on her website

Tales From Old Ireland

Tales from Old Ireland was retold by Malachi Doyle and illustrated by Niamh Sharkey.  It was published in 2000 by Barefoot Books.

When looking for a collection of traditional tales, Tales from Old Ireland caught my eye because it is stories from Ireland  I have ancestors from Ireland and it is on my bucket list to visit Ireland, so I thought it would be interesting to read some traditional tales from my ancestors since I have never heard any from my family.

Doyle tells us in her introduction, "The Irish oral tradition is one of the richest in the world -- stories have been told around our firesides for thousands of years and tradition has never died.  Some of the myths and legends, folk and fairy tales told now are the same ones that were heard in the times of the early Celts, long before Christianity came to Ireland.  Others were written down by monks as early as the seventh century, but most were passed on solely by word of mouth.  In the nineteenth century, people began to collect and published the songs and stories that had survived, gathering them from the country people, mainly in the Irish language. When the Irish Folklore Commission was set up in the1930s, one of the ways it went about its job was to encourage schoolchildren to ask the oldest people in their area to tell them their stories.  The greatest collection of folklore in the word was thus assembled, and it is now held at University College, Dublin."

This book has a collection of seven stories -- (1) The Children of Lir, (2) Fair, Brown, and Trembling, (3) The Twelve Wild Geese, (4) Lusmore and the Fairies, (5) Son of an Otter, Son of a Wolf, (6) The Soul Cages, and (7) Oisin in Tir na nOg. 

The first two stories reminded me of Cinderella -- The Children of Lir because it has a jealous stepmother who hates her stepchildren.  There are four children; three boys and a girl, and their new step mother hates them from the second she sets her eyes on them. She tries to have someone kill them, but is refused, so instead she turns them into swans, cursing them with 900 years of confinement to the lakes.  They are able to speak and think, but cannot change back to their human form.  When their father finds out what his new wife has done, he curses her to be ugly for the rest of her life and visits his children at the lake as often as possible.  At the end of their 900 years, they are able to turn back into humans, "but they are 900 years old, so they die."  I didn't really get the message of this tale.  They never succeeded in trumping their stepmother or moving beyond their curse.

Fair, Brown and Trembling was more like Cinderella than The Children of Lir.  It was about three sisters -- the older two, Fair and Brown, are snobby and selfish, while the youngest, Trembling is caring and selfless.  Trembling cleans the house and makes all of the meals for her sisters and mother while the others demean her and take her for granted.  While the others go to church, Trembling has to stay home in her clothing of rags.  Her henwife came into the home and asked what Trembling would like to wear. When she described her perfect dress -- "a dress as white as the winter snow with emerald shoes for my feet" -- the henwife produces it and sent Trembling to church with the warning to not enter the church and not allow any of the men to catch up with her.  This was repeated three times, with three different outfits, until a man did catch up with her.  He knocked her shoe off and had to scour the town to find Trembling and marry her. 

Although the first two stories were my favorite, I did also like Lusmore and the Fairies.  This tale had an actual message, as it shows what happens to those who are kind versus those who are mean and rude.  Lusmore is a hunchbacked man who could hear the fairies singing -- "Monday, Tuesday, Monday Tuesday, Monday Tuesday, pause.  Monday, Tuesday,  Monday, Tuesday, Monday, Tuesday, pause." He  started to get annoyed with the fairies only singing the two days, so on their pause, he said, "Wednesday." The fairies were so grateful for his kind word and gentle demeanor that they brought him back to their home and magically took off his hump.  He was able to stand tall for the first time in his life.  When word got out, another man tried the same thing.  Now the fairies were singing "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday" and the man gruffly yelled "Thursday Friday!"  They were so upset with him for the way he spoke to them that they took him back to their home and added another hump to his back.  I feel as thought this tale teaches others that tone is also important.  What you say is not always as important as how you say it and it can change what people think of you.

I had never heard versions of many of these tales.  I found several of them weird, as they had people mating with animals and fish being more wise than people.  If you would like to read all of the tales, you can find the book at Worldcat

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees was written by Sue Monk Kidd.  It was published in 2002 by Penguin Books.

The Secret Life of Bees is a historical fiction book set in the time of the Civil Rights Movement.  It began soon after Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law.  I feel as though it is a loosely defined historical fiction, as it was really a story of Lily and her anguish over her life circumstances. The only reason it would be classified as historical fiction is because of the time it is set in. There are events that happen that make the reader realize it is not current times, but more on that later.

The main character, Lily, is a young white girl living with her father, T. Ray.  We find out early in the book that her mother is dead, and it is hinted that Lily is the one who accidentally killed her mother with her father's gun when she was four years old. The only thing she had of her mother's was a picture of Black Mary with the words Tiburon, South Carolina written on the back.  Since that time, she has been raised by Rosaleen, a black peach picker on her father's peach farm.  T. Ray was around, but her was an awful father.  He made Lily kneel on grits when she misbehaved.  The grits tore her knees up to the point she could barely walk.  He also hit her and showed her very little love. On Lily's 14th birthday, everything changes.  Lily had always been captivated by bees. She caught some in her jar, and realized it had taken them all day to leave the jar when she let them go.  That's when she heard a voice. "Lily Melissa Owens, your jar is open.  In a matter of seconds I knew exactly what I had to do -- leave.  I had to get away from T. Ray, who was probably on his way back this minute to do Lord-knows-what to me.  Not to mention I had to get Roseleen out of jail."  You see -- Rosaleen had dumped her snuff on white men when they tormented her about wanting to register to vote.  After she was arrested, the same men went to the jail and beat her. The police took her to the hospital to get stitches.  Lily ran away, stopping at the hospital to help Rosaleen escape.  They went to the only place she knew may get her close to her mother -- Tiburon, South Carolina.

Once in Tiburon, Lily saw another picture of the Black Mary. It was the label for a jar of honey. She found that a woman named August made the honey and found her way to August's house.  She lied her way into staying there with August and her sister's, May and June (their mother loved spring and summer).  She knew her mother had once been at this house, but couldn't bring herself to tell them why she was there. She stayed for almost two months before finally coming clean.  She loved August and her sisters, as did Rosaleen. They had become family.  She also fell in love with August's worker, Zach. "The whole time we worked, I marveled at how mixed up people got when it came to love. I myself, for instance. It seemed like I was thinking of Zach forty minutes out of every hour, Zach, who was an impossibility."  He also knew they couldn't be together. "Lily, I like you better than any girl I've ever known, but you have to understand, there are people who would kill boys like me for even looking at girls like you." 

Once Lily felt close enough to August, she told her the truth of why she was there.  I will not ruin the book by spoiling everything that happened, but just say that Kidd did a magnificent job of showing how people love each other, family or not.

Like I stated earlier, this book was much more a story of Lily's coming of age than a story of the Civil Rights Movement, but it was such a great story of Lily's coming of age that I'm willing to excuse the fact that it is slightly deceiving as a historical fiction.  Kidd wrote the characters with many dimensions.  Augusts' sister, June, started off hating Lily.  She didn't want to allow her in to the house and tried to convince August to kick her out.  "You know she is lying.  She doesn't belong her." When August continues to allow Lily to stay, June responds with, "But she's white!" June was bitter towards white people, as she never thought it was right the way whites treated blacks and hated that August worked for a white family when she was younger.  By the end of the book, June and Lily were family.  During a religious ceremony, June tells Lily, "I'm sorry for the way I treated you when you first got here" and kisses the top of her head. 

Lily also changed a lot throughout the book.  She started off as a mousy girl who only worried about what others thought of her.  She wasn't well-liked at school, and always hoped to grow into someone beautiful.  She hadn't felt love for or by anyone since her mother had died.  By the end of the book, she was a hard-working, confident young lady who stood up to T.Ray and knew she had a family surrounding her.

If you would like to read more about The Secret Life of Bees, you can find more information and watch the movie trailer at its official website.  Once you are hooked and want to read the book, you can find a local copy at Worldcat.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fever 1793

Fever 1793 was written by Laurie Anderson.  It was published by Aladdin Paperbacks in 2000.

Fever 1793 follows the story of young Mattie Cook and her friends and family during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia.  Mattie worked in her widowed mother's coffee shop with another young girl, Polly.  The day Polly didn't show up for work was when they realized something was wrong in the city.  Mattie's mother went to check on Polly to find out she had died.  This was in late August, 1793.  By October, thousands of people had died of yellow fever. 

Mattie's mother was the first of their family to get sick.  When she fell ill, she allowed their employee, Eliza, to stay with her, but sent Mattie and her father-in-law, away.  After leaving, Mattie also fell ill.  She was able to be nursed back to health, and by the time she made it back to Philadelphia, her mother was missing.  Mattie didn't know if her mother had died or if she had gone after Mattie.

Mattie and her grandfather moved back into the coffeehouse, where her grandfather was killed by intruders. Mattie then went to look for Eliza, finally finding someone she could stay with and help through the epidemic.  On her way to find Eliza, she met a young girl, Nell, who had just lost her mother.  She allowed Nell to join her and took care of her. She worked with Eliza for weeks, tending to those who fell ill from yellow fever.  The epidemic finally ended in late October, after the first frost came.  It was then that Mattie's mother came back.  They were reunited at the family coffeehouse and continued their lives in the wake of the epidemic. 

Laurie Anderson wove real people into her story. Mattie had a young suitor, Nathanial, who lived with and worked with the Peale family.  Although Nathanial was fictional, the Peales were a real family who endured the tragedy in 1793.  According to Anderson's notes, they were "the first family of American art."  Anderson also wrote about Dr. Rush and the French doctors and their argument over which treatment was better for yellow fever.  Dr. Rush believed in herbs, medicines and "bleeding" the sick, while the French doctors believed in fresh air, rest and fluids.  In Anderson's notes, she states that it is believed that Rush's medical practices most likely killed more people than he helped and it was the advice of the French that should have been taken. 

At the beginning of the book, Mattie was a bratty daughter.  "Children did what was asked of them. And mother n ever complained. Oh, no, never.  Good children were seen and not heard. How utterly unlike me."  Mattie always thought she was better than her plight in life.  She believed her mother was old-fashioned and didn't understand the grand ideas Mattie had -- wanting to go to France, adding on to the business, dating Nathanial, and they fought over her work ethic constantly.  Anderson showed great development in Mattie, as by the end of the book, she was a loving daughter, and quasi-mother (to Nell), a business owner and a grown child who could make her own decisions.

I feel as though this book is authentic to the time and Anderson did a very good job of incorporating true history into this story.  There was constant mentioning of Jefferson and Washington, as well as her use of real families and doctors.  She had pages of notes at the back of the book, explaining her research on the epidemic, the doctors, the Peales, food markets, famous people affected by the fever and reactions of those who were able to flee from Philadelphia. 

Watch the trailer below and find the book at Worldcat.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The War Within These Walls

The War Within These Walls was written by Aline Sax and illustrated by Caryl Strzelecki.  It was translated by Laura Watkinson. In  2011, it was published by Eerdans Books for Young Readers.

The War Within These Walls is one of the most captivating, yet sad stories I have ever read.  I read through it twice to ensure I got everything I could out of it, as the first time through I was in such shock and full of emotion. I've read the history on WWII and the years leading up to it, but I've never read something that made me feel so angry and so outraged for the people who suffered through it as The War Within These Walls did.

This award winning book (2014 Batchelder Honor book, 2013 National Jewish Book Award for Children and Young Adults) follows the story of Misha, a young boy who is forced into the Jewish ghetto with thousands of other people.  "Possessions, houses, women were requisitioned.  I had to wear an armband, too.  I was no longer allowed to go out with my friends. I was not permitted to sit with them on a bench or to play soccer in the park.  I had never felt so Jewish before." This quote reminded me of Max from The Book Thief when he stated that he was now German -- but he had always been German.

Sax's description and Strzelecki's illustrations depict the horror Misha and the others must endure daily.  When they first arrived in the Warsaw ghetto, there was food and jobs for most people.  As time went on and people from all over the country were also brought there, food ran out quickly.  With everyone just trying to survive, they would trade off their belongings for minuscule amounts of food.  Finally, there was just no food left. "It was astonishing how quickly you got used to the smell of starvation and the sight of naked corpses."  This is when Misha rebelled for the first time.  He found a way out of the ghetto, through the sewers.  He was able to make it to a bakery and would bring food back for his family nightly. That is, until, the German soldiers caught on.  They vowed to kill anyone they found smuggling food into the ghetto. "People who slipped through the gates were shot.  Children who crawled through holes in the walls were beaten to death. Every day more corpses dangled from the lampposts.  With signs around their necks. Schmuggler -- Smuggler." This quote made me feel so sad for humanity.  I cannot understand how anyone would not just stand around and watch them be tortured by hunger, but kill them for trying to survive that hunger.  It was after this that Misha no longer had the courage to get more food. 

After another year, the people of the Warsaw ghetto had another fear. The signs explaining that they are to be resettled began to show up.  Misha's family was able to stay because his father was a doctor at the hospital and part of the Jewish Council.  This was when Misha realized something even worse happened when you left.  He saw thousands of people leaving, and none of them ever returned.  He heard the rumors of the death camps and couldn't believe resettlement was a positive thing, as many of the other people did.

It was in this time that he met Mordechai Anielewicz. Anielewicz was a real man and according to the notes Sax wrote at the end of the book, "Anielewicz was only 23 years old when he took command of Jewish resistance forces in the Warsaw ghetto.  Under his leadership, fighters made their first stand against the Nazis in January, 1943."  Aneilewicz had lead Misha and hundreds of others in their rebellion.  He knew they would most likely not make it out, but felt as though they should as least die an honorable death.  They fought for over a month, but in the end, the ghetto was destroyed.  Almost everyone in it had been killed. In The War Within These Walls, only Misha and one other woman survived.  They escaped the ghetto to tell the story of the cruelty to the word.

Sax's honest description of the horrific deeds done by the German Nazis made this book what it was.  There was scene after scene that made me tear up, but the most memorable for me was the following:

"A German soldier raced back into my field of vision. He gestured at the woman.  Her eyes staring down at her feet, she handed him a piece of paper. The soldier didn't read it.  He threw it on the ground and spat on it.  The woman kneeled, but didn't dare to pick up the paper. Then everything happened so quickly.  The soldier kicked over the baby carriage. A bundle of blankets fell onto the ground and started to wail.  The woman reached for the baby. The soldier grabbed the child by one leg. The child shrieked. The mother screamed. The soldier slammed the child against the wall. I closed my eyes. But I couldn't close my ears. The woman's scream was stopped by a shot.  Somewhere in the distance I heard a truck start up again and drive on."

As in all good historical fiction, this book makes you feel for the human element. It goes beyond the facts of the time and pulls at your heart and makes you angry.  This book would hook students learning about WWII.  It would make them want to learn more about what happened and why. How could it not? It is from the view of a teenage boy. A teenage boy that could have been any one of them, had they been born in a different time. 

You can find additional information on the Warsaw ghetto uprising by visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

To watch the trailer for this book, click here.