Sunday, July 27, 2008

Genre #6: Fiction, Fantasy, and Young Adult - THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES, BOOK 1

Bibliographic Data:

DiTerlizzi, Tony and Holly Black. 2003. The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 1: The Field Guide. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0689859368

Plot Summary:

After moving into an old Victorian home, three siblings – Jared, Simon, and Mallory Grace – start hearing and seeing strange things in the rooms and in the walls. While they initially brush it off as animals, they eventually discover a hidden room and the book “Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You” which is full of details about faeries. As the book continues, more and more strange things begin happening around the house. While everyone wants to blame the kids, especially Jared, he is the one who recognizes that these strange things are not occurring by human hands. This first book in the series ends with the three siblings thinking more about the book and the implications of its contents.

Critical Analysis:

This book captures the reader’s attention by centering the faerie adventures in the lives of three siblings. Jared, Simon, and Mallory connect with readers of all walks of life, especially kids. The story opens up with discussion of what they might be when they grow up, thus helping the reader develop an interest in the lives of the characters and what happens to them.

Additionally, the plot is credible from the beginning, as the story begins with the simple idea of a family moving into a creaky, old house. This simple move, however, turns out to be more complicated as the plot develops. With small details such as hearing animals in the wall or discovering strange poems in a room reached by the old dumbwaiter chute, the plot advances and moves into the magical realm of strange creatures and faeries.

The authors did a great job establishing the setting of the old Victorian home as the characters echo the descriptions of its poor state. From Mallory’s observation that “it’s a shack” (p. 2) to the detailed description of “doors…worn with age” (p. 4), the reader gets the sense that the foreboding old house into which the family is moving will be an important part of the plot.

As this is just the first book in The Spiderwick Chronicles series, the theme is just beginning to be established. However, with the siblings’ adventures through the house and the discovery of the old book full of ideas and details about faeries, readers can appreciate the way in which each generation can learn something from those who have gone before them. It is worth continuing to read this series, however, to see how exactly the Grace siblings continue their adventures with Arthur Spiderwick’s history as their guide.

Lastly, the authors have an engaging style that keeps the reader in the story and in the details surrounding the Grace siblings. With beautiful black and white sketches that mirror the descriptive language of the text, the book is vivid in its storytelling and fosters the reader’s interest in learning more and more about the little magical characters that emerge throughout the story.

Review excerpts:

Kirkus Reviews – “…these have just the right amount of menace laced with appealing humor … crisp pacing and …enticingly Gothic illustrations.”

VOYA – “The real magic of this series, however, is in the illustrations…nearly every second page is embellished with the ink drawings of DiTerlizzi, evoking a delicious classical sense in this modern fantasy.”

Publishers Weekly – “Appealing characters, well-measured suspense and an inviting package…”

Personal Reaction:

This was an interesting and fun read, as the characters were easy to get to know. The combination of reality with fantasy and magic was interesting, as it made me want to know more. The authors did a good job avoiding childish pursuits of faeries, instead weaving a story that is credible and engaging for readers of all ages.



· Brainstorm ways in which you and your friends would try to prove that magical creatures are in your home.

· Write a letter to Jared, Simon, or Mallory telling them how you feel about their adventures in their new home.

· Look at one of the sketches in the book and create a new story for it.

· Watch the movie The Spiderwick Chronicles and hold a discussion to decide which was better – the book or the movie.

Related Readings

Other books in the series
The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 2: The Seeing Stone

The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 3: Lucinda’s Secret

The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 4: The Ironwood Tree

The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 5: The Wrath of Mulgrath

Other series
The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper

Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage

The Edge Chronicles series by Paul Stewart

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Genre #6: Fiction, Fantasy, and Young Adult - MONSTER

Bibliographic Data:

Myers, Walter Dean. 1999. Monster. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0064407314

Plot Summary:

This book tells the story of 16 year old Steve Harmon and his experience on trial for murder. Called a monster by the prosecutor, Steve and another defendant James King are on trial for the death of a drugstore owner who was killed during a robbery. The plot focuses on Steve’s feelings about being in jail and on trial, incorporating his interest in film making by telling his story through a film script. As the trial goes on, the story is told from both the defense and prosecution sides of the story, as well as through flashbacks that introduce Steve’s family, friends, and the neighborhood into the story. Ultimately, the jury finds Steve not guilty. However, the details that are presented through the trial and in Steve’s notes in the journal leave the reader to make up his/her own mind about what really happened that day in the drugstore.

Critical Analysis:

Written in a mix of genres including a film script and a journal, the book follows the realistic character of Steve Harmon. With his poignant journal entries, the reader gets a deeper glimpse at the inner conflict and confusion faced by an adolescent thrust into adult situations. His questioning of himself and his actions, along with his shock and horror at the events and sounds that occur in prison make the reader recognize the reality that this character is facing.

As the details of the robbery in the drugstore emerge during the novel, the plot becomes even more believable and realistic. The inner workings of the justice system – from police questioning to prison visits – move the plot along as we are given bits and pieces of the crime and the defendant’s current status through courtroom scenes and flashbacks. While the plot covers a great deal of information, the manner in which we learn these details allows us to process it and connect with the characters on a deeper, more real level.

The setting in this novel makes it realistic and unique, as it takes place in various locations. From flashbacks in the neighborhood to the courtroom and the prison, the details in each setting transport the reader to that place. The journal notes Steve makes from prison are especially touching, as we recognize this as a setting that he no longer wants to be in.

More than anything, this novel illuminates the theme of guilt versus innocence and how one’s actions can result in consequences that are often unexpected. Steve’s journey through the criminal justice system brings the reader into a situation that may be unfamiliar to him/her. However, upon reading this book, it is a situation that they will likely never forget. It is through our journey with Steve that we recognize our own fears of the places that we hope to never visit.

Walter Dean Myers’s style stands out above many others because of his multigenre approach to this novel. With handwritten font for Steve’s journal entries and typewritten font for the film script that covers the trial, the reader is drawn into the uniqueness of the text and the manner in which this approach conveys such details and emotion. His mix of a conversational tone with Steve’s thoughts and the formal tone of the defense and prosecution arguments create an interesting style. Ultimately, it is through the meshing of these two styles that the reader has to decide Steve’s guilt or innocence for him or herself.

Review excerpts:

School Library Journal – “Many elements of this story are familiar, but Myers keeps it fresh and alive by telling it from an unusual perspective…It’s an emotionally charged story that readers will find compelling and disturbing.”

Booklist – “The tense drama of the courtroom scenes will enthrall readers, but it is the thorny moral questions raised in Steve’s journal that will endure in readers’ memories.”

Kirkus – “The format of this taut and moving drama forcefully regulates the pacing…”

AudioFile – “The youth and innocence of Jeron Alston’s voice, as Steve, summons the listener into his limited reality and serves as a counterpoint to the authenticity of the courtroom drama, presented through the voices of the prosecutor, the D.A., the defendants, and the witnesses.”

Personal Reaction:

I love this book not only for its unique format, but also for the way in which it draws the reader into the story by compiling different perspectives on Steve and his life as told perceived by a variety of people. I especially enjoyed the audiobook because the different voices brought the text to life and allowed me to visualize the situation even more clearly, with suspense and action that is expected of a book set during a murder trial.



· Keep a reader’s journal as you read the book. Gather text evidence in two columns: Guilty and Not Guilty. After finishing the book, decide whether you think the evidence shows that Steve was really guilty or not guilty.

· Try filming a part of the film script that Steve writes while on trial.

· Write your definition of ‘justice.’ After reading the book, do you think that definition fits with Steve’s case and the verdict given by the jury?

Related Readings

Other Books by Walter Dean Myers



Street Love


Bad Boy: A Memoir

Other Books about Crime and Juvenile Justice
Nothing to Lose by Alex Flinn

The Rag and Bone Shop by Robert Cormier

Degrees of Guilt series

Genre #6: Fiction, Fantasy, and Young Adult - JOEY PIGZA LOSES CONTROL

Bibliographic Data:

Gantos, Jack. 2000. Joey Pigza Loses Control. New York: HarperTrophy. ISBN 0064410226

Plot Summary:

This book presents Joey Pigza and his summer adventure with his father. With his parents divorced, Joey has not seen his father in several years. However, this summer, his mother is driving him to his father’s home, where he will stay for a while. So, Joey and his dog Pablo move in with his father and his grandmother, who also lives there. As they start learning more about one another, Joey realizes that his father has a drinking problem and is quite selfish, always talking and never listening. Nonetheless, they try to bond through baseball, as Joey becomes a star pitcher for the local little league team. If that was not enough drama, Joey’s father also decides that Joey can be brave and mature and manage his ADHD without medication. While this is a ridiculous approach to parenting, Joey wants to be a good son and wants to have that closeness with his father. As a result, he faces many adventures as he tries to avoid losing control of himself while not on his medicine. In the end, Joey reconciles how his father really is and returns home with his mom, glad for the experience of seeing his father for himself.

Critical Analysis:

This book is a wonderful look at the antics and energy of a young boy with ADHD. As a character, Joey Pigza not only warms the readers’ hearts, but also touches on their soul as we see him struggle internally with his feelings about his father and himself. His dialogue and inner thoughts like “I got that spastic feeling all over my skin like when you slowly walk into an ice-cold swimming pool and your gooseflesh skin just wants to climb up your bones and hunch up on your shoulders” (p. 119) give the reader great insight into the comical perspective of a youngster trying to make sense of the world around him.

The plot in this book was quite representative of life in modern times, as Joey is involved with little league, enjoys pizza, and explores the usual doubts associated with a parent who is distanced because of divorce. With all of the normalcy associated with a book set in modern times, however, this book is not boring. Gantos brings a fresh look at the world of Joey Pigza by putting him in often humorous situations with his dog Pablo and his cigarette-addicted grandmother, thus allowing the plot to develop on multiple levels with a mix of humor and reality.

The setting of a new town is engaging for this book, as it allows Joey to be more adventuresome, especially when he is off of his medication. Moving back and forth between the house and the baseball field, the reader is able to get additional insight into the characters being developed in Joey and his father, as well as the relationship between them. The baseball field and the little league games offer a new way of looking at the characters’ relationships as this is where Joey’s father is most proud of his son.

Despite being in a new town with a father he does not know very well, Joey manages to learn several things. Primarily, this book highlights the importance of knowing and understanding yourself and not giving up on that no matter what you are told by other people. Also, this book serves as a reminder of the unconditional love of parents, as Joey is consistently able to turn to his mother in times of trouble.

This book incorporates engaging dialogue and humor as Gantos puts his unique style into the writing and the story being told. The comical situations shed light on a not-so-comical family situation in a way that only Gantos is able to do well. His balance of dialogue with Joey’s private thoughts allows us to get a glimpse of a young boy who is searching for himself in the midst of a crazy situation.

Review excerpts:

Starred review from Publishers Weekly – “…this high-voltage, honest novel mixes humor, pain, fear and courage with deceptive ease.”

Starred review from Kirkus Reviews – “Sad, scary, blackly funny.”

Booklist – “Ganto’s skillful pacing, sly humor, and in-depth characterization make it a truly memorable read.”

Personal Reaction:

This book was comical and heartwarming as Joey Pigza is an endearing character full of energy and life. I thought it was a well-constructed read as it provided me with an engaging story, as well as informative details and insight into ADHD and the behaviors that accompany it.


· From Joey’s point-of-view, write a letter to his mom telling about his summer adventures.

· Act out one of the comical scenes between Joey and his dad.

· Research your local community and compile a list of resources and organizations that are there to help people with addictions such as cigarette smoking and alcohol.

Related Readings

Other books with Joey Pigza
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

What Would Joey Do?

I Am Not Joey Pigza

Other books about Issues facing Kids (ADHD, divorce)
Zipper: The Kid with ADHD by Caroline Janover

Pay Attention, Slosh! by Mark Smith

The Divorce Express by Paula Danziger

Dear Mr. Crenshaw by Beverly Cleary

Monday, July 14, 2008

Genre #5: Historical Fiction - NUMBER THE STARS

Bibliographic Data:

Lowry, Lois. 1989. Number the Stars. New York: Dell Publishing. ISBN 0440403278

Plot Summary:

In this book, two young girls come face to face with the horrors and destruction of Nazism as they endure the Nazi occupation of their home in Copenhagen, Denmark. Set in 1943, Annemarie Johansen and her friend Ellen Rosen try to live a normal life, though the German soldiers in the streets and the closing of Jewish businesses make them realize that life is not normal.

While Ellen is staying with Annemarie one night, the soldiers come searching for Danish Jews. Annemarie is determined to spare her friend, a Jew, so the family convinces the soldiers that Ellen is one of their daughters. After this tense situation, the family recognizes even more the importance of getting the family out of Copenhagen. To do this, Annemarie takes a perilous journey traveling to her Uncle Henrik’s boat, carrying with her a package containing a handkerchief that helps keep the soldiers and their dogs from discovering the true plan of this family and others involved in the resistance movement – to evacuate Jews from Denmark to safety in nearby Sweden.

Critical Analysis:

This book presents a detailed and moving account of what life was like in Denmark in 1943 as the Nazi occupation spread. The characters of Annemarie and Ellen and those of their family members bring this historical time period to life as the reader is able to feel what it would have been like to have grown up in such terrifying circumstances. While in the midst of so many unknowns, Annemarie and Ellen continue their friendship and try to do regular activities, thus allowing the reader to get a glimpse of these young girls’ friendship. The initial childhood innocence of these two characters paves the way for the almost unexpected dramatic events of the book, reflecting the ways in which life under the Nazis could change so dramatically and quickly.

The plot moves along simply, despite the deep and complex subject matter it is covering. Lowry’s incorporation of dialogue and details add to the depth of the characters and the setting, allowing the plot to move without hesitation or questioning. Also, the subject matter and the development of suspense and intrigue through Annemarie and her parents’ actions as they work at getting people to Uncle Henrik’s boat keeps the plot moving as the reader is aware of the seriousness and the complexity of the situation at hand.

With references to specific places in Denmark (i.e. public square at Ryvangen, the corner of Osterbrogade), the setting of the novel is emphasized and becomes a crucial part of the story. Annemarie’s observations of the houses, apartments, and even the path to the coast reiterate what life was like in Denmark in the 1940s.

Like many other historical fiction works set during the time of the Holocaust, Number the Stars has a timeless message that reflects the goodness of many people and their selfless acts during times of horrible circumstances. While the details of the novel focus on two fictional girls and their friendship in the midst of an awful time in history, the dialogue and the actions taken by the characters highlight the importance of standing up for what you believe in and staying true to your friends.

At the end of the book, Lowry includes an Afterword that discusses how she embraced the facts of this time in history and meshed them with her craft as a fiction writer. She alludes to specific events that occured in history and highlights the characters and details that she created to expand upon these historical events. Ultimately, Lowry balances historical information about the Nazi resistance in Denmark with engaging characters that embody friendship and family life during wartime. These things create a work of authentic historical fiction that invites readers to understand more deeply the events of this time period.

Review excerpts:

Newbery Award Medal Winner

Starred review from Booklist – “Lowry tells her story well, fashioning a tense climax…”

Starred review from School Library Journal – “[A story of] Denmark and the Danish people, whose Resistance was so effective in saving their Jews.”

Horn Book – “The whole work is seamless, compelling, and memorable – impossible to put down; difficult to forget.”

Personal Reaction:

This book was inspiring as it painted another picture of the hundreds of people who risked their own lives and safety to further the safety of those who were persecuted by the Nazis. Annemarie’s story and her dedication to her friendship with Ellen is an emotional one, as it is so difficult to imagine what these two girls had to endure during their childhood.


· Discuss Annemarie and Ellen’s friendship. Would you have been able to risk that much for a friend? Why or why not?

· Read more about the Danish resistance at

· Watch the film “Miracle at Midnight” to explore more about the resistance movement in Denmark.

· Research other countries that fell to Nazi occupation and discover other resistance movements that saved people’s lives.

Related Readings

The Holocaust

Anne Frank: Beyond the Diary by Ruud van der Rol

Darkness Over Denmark: The Danish Resistance and the Rescue of the Jews by Ellen Levine

Children in the Holocaust and World War II: Their Secret Diaries by Laurel Holliday

Children of the Resistance by Lore Cowan

Genre #5: Historical Fiction - THE MIDWIFE'S APPRENTICE

Bibliographic Data:

Cushman, Karen. 1995. The Midwife’s Apprentice. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN 0395692296

Plot Summary:

This book follows the down and out life of a homeless girl who finds herself becoming a helper and apprentice to Jane, the local midwife. The main character, Brat, has no other place to go, so she spends her time doing chores and unsavory tasks for the midwife, from dusting and sweeping to packing jars with miscellaneous ointments and jellies that the midwife uses during her birthing calls. As the plot continues, Brat’s name changes to Beetle, then Alyce, reflecting the personal growth and knowledge that she develops through the many events in the book.

Alyce’s growth occurs not only in her work with the midwife, but also in her adventures in the village. She learns how to outwit the boys who bully her; she befriends another young child who is homeless and hungry; she becomes a helper at a local inn. Eventually, Alyce finds a stronger sense of self. She recognizes her own worth and knowledge and is finally able to stand up for herself when she returns to Jane and is persistent in being welcomed back to learn more about midwifery.

Critical Analysis:

Cushman creates a vibrant and memorable character when she creates Brat/Beetle/Alyce as a midwife’s apprentice in 14th century England. Brat’s choice of language such as “By cock and pie, cat, I would have you live” (p. 9) emphasizes the historical setting of the novel and adds character to this character who is homeless and on the lowest rung of society’s ladder. Additionally, the minor characters included in the novel add a depth to the reader’s understanding of the villagers that existed in the 14th century. From the miller to the bailiff to the baker, each character contributes to the picture of society that Cushman is creating for the reader.

Furthermore, the novel incorporates numerous details that highlight the setting in which the story takes place. With discussion of things such as a ‘manor,’ ‘peasant,’ and ‘lord,’ the reader is reminded that Alyce is exploring the world of England in a century far removed from the present day. Also, the details of Alyce’s progression from homeless girl in a dung heap to midwife’s apprentice allows the reader to explore different areas of the village setting as she moves from place to place and interacts with different characters at different times.

Both Alyce and Jane’s dialogue allows Cushman to showcase her unique voice while building on the language of Medieval England. For example, phrases such as “redheaded lout” (p. 50) and “bottle of rat’s blood and viper’s flesh” (p. 55) highlight the author’s presentation of Alyce as a strong-willed character in the context of the time in which she lived in history.

Though the book focuses on midwifery and Alyce’s observations of Jane’s practices as a midwife, the novel is able to extend well beyond the 14th century due to Cushman’s well-developed characters. As Alyce changes her name throughout the book and becomes more observant of the people and places around her, we see her grow into a woman with greater self-assurance and confidence. The path she takes to reach this is one that can speak to people of all ages, no matter their time in history.

Through the unique perspective of a young apprentice starting from nothing, Cushman's novel is an authentic look at the life and times of a woman in 14th century England as a midwife. At the end of the book, she includes an Author's Note in which she discusses the history of midwifery and details about its incorporation into Medieval life. This added section helps the reader see the research that went into Cushman's writing and allows for the novel to stand on its own as a wonderful piece of historical fiction.

Review excerpts:

School Library Journal – “Earthy humor, the foibles of humans both high and low, and a fascinating mix of superstition and genuinely helpful herbal remedies attached to childbirth make this a truly delightful introduction to a world seldom seen in children’s literature.”

Booklist – “Cushman writes with a sharp simplicity and a pulsing beat…the characters are drawn with zest and affection but no false reverence…”

AudioFile – “The text is read at a lively pace with careful attention to the disdainful attitude of Jane Sharp, the midwife, and the innocent wonder of Beetle.”

Personal Reaction:

This book was entertaining and humorous, as it shed light on a time period with which I am less familiar. Cushman’s development of such a strong character and her details related to the medieval times helped me get a clearer sense of what life was like during the 14th century for those who were not of a noble class.


· Explore more superstitions by reading about them at Have a discussion and debate whether or not you believe in superstitions or not.

· Make a list of words from the book that relate to the 14th century and its society. Try to brainstorm today’s equivalents of those words.

· Write a short story highlighting what Alyce’s life ended up being like after she returned to Jane the midwife’s home.

Related Readings

Other Books by Karen Cushman
Catherine, Called Birdy

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple

Matilda Bone

Other Books about Medieval England
You Wouldn’t Want to be a Medieval Knight: Armor You’d Rather Not Wear by Fiona MacDonald and David Salariya

Archers, Alchemists, and 98 Other Medieval Jobs You Might Have Loved or Loathed by Priscilla Galloway and Martha Newbigging

Life in a Medieval Village by Gwyneth Morgan

Genre #5: Historical Fiction - WORTH

Bibliographic Data:

LaFaye, A. 2004. Worth. New York: Scholastic, Inc. ISBN 043991342X

Plot Summary:

In this book, two boys who come from very different worlds find themselves trying to prove their worth for the same man. Set in Nebraska during the time in which families ran their own farms for a living, Nathaniel (“Nate”) Peale is a sturdy boy who helps his father around the farm. However, one evening during a storm, lightning and thunder spook the horses, causing the wagon to fall on top of Nate, crushing his leg. This injury leaves him unable to help on the farm at the same level as before and forces his father to look for help in other ways.

Pa, Nate’s father, finds another young man to help out on the farm. John Worth, an orphan, comes to live with the family, though his rank in the family is quite low. He is treated more like a servant than a member of the family. Despite this, he and Nate have something in common. They both are experiencing difficult times in their lives and have to adjust to new situations – Nate has to return to school since he cannot help out on the farm and John has to learn how to do the manual labor required on the farm since he can no longer attend school.

The family finally sees eye-to-eye and works together in cooperation when trouble escalates between cattle ranchers and farmers. As fence-cutters do damage to the Peale’s property, Nate and John come together to warn other members of the town, in turn both earning Pa’s pride and admiration.

Critical Analysis:

From the beginning, this book establishes strong characters that mesh with the historical setting in which the novel takes place. With character names such as ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa,’ the reader is transported to older times and a setting that calls to mind open fields and plains. Also, from the opening interaction between Ma and Nate to the climatic ending with Nate and John against the fence cutters, the characters draw attention to the events and lifestyles that were important during the 1800s in the Midwestern United States.

Additionally, the book’s plot presents a truthful look at the life of farmers and ranchers in the 1800s as it incorporates realistic conflicts between farmers and ranchers and even bankers, as well as a realistic portrayal of the amount of work it takes to maintain a farm and its crops. When Nate is injured and Pa has to find someone else to help out on the farm, the plot develops further because the reader is able to see exactly how important the farm and its upkeep is to the family’s way of life. Also, with the contrast between John and Nate, LaFaye allows the plot to highlight societal differences that existed in the 1800s in areas such as schooling and city versus country life.

The rural setting of the novel contributes to the time and place of the story in that many details paint a picture of farming and the life that people lived during this time of history. Specific details to things and places such as ‘watering hole,’ ‘field of hay,’ and the horse wagon give the reader visual cues to the lay of the land and the transportation that allowed them to take care of the property on which they lived.

The author’s style incorporates dialogue and detailed descriptions to present a deep look at the situations that bring people together and tear people apart. The characters’ interactions with one another are natural and help the author portray the 1800s in an authentic and personal way. By bringing attention to multiple layers of relationships (i.e. Pa and Nate, Ma and John, Nate and John), the author helps today’s readers understand the relevancy of this novel and how it transcends the rural life of the 1800s. While it does allude to the difficulties that farmers face in every generation, even more important is the message that the book presents about accepting people from different walks of life. While each of us has a certain life to live, we should be open to embracing the differences that others can bring into our lives, just as Nate, Pa, and Ma eventually embrace John into their life.

Review excerpts:

Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction

School Library Journal – “The author convincingly conveys the boys’ gradual realization of the value of one another’s friendship….A satisfying piece of historical fiction.”

Starred review from Booklist – “The short, spare novel…tells its own story of darkness and courage…A great choice for American history classes.”

Personal Reaction:

This was an intriguing book because it introduced so many important issues of the time – from orphans to farming and ranching and the conflicts that existed in that lifestyle. I felt the book was quite deep, though, as LaFaye takes the reader beyond these historical issues and hits home with a story about people and how they relate to one another.


· Explore life on a pioneer farm by reading excerpts from a farm letter at

· Role play a situation that might have occurred between Nate and John early in John’s stay with the Peale family. What tensions and emotions are expressed in this situation? Do you think you would have been able to welcome John into your family?

· Write a letter from John’s perspective, highlighting your experiences moving from a city to a farm.

· Read a description of life in Nebraska during the 1880s at Would you have been able to live back then? Why or why not?

Related Readings

Other Books by A. LaFaye
Stella Stands Alone

Nissa’s Place

The Strength of Saints

The Year of the Sawdust Man


The Orphan Train and Life in the 1800s
Walker’s Crossing by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

In the Face of Danger by Joan Lowery Nixon

Pioneer Life from A to Z by Bobbie Kalman

Orphan Train Rider: One Boy’s True Story by Andrea Warren

Children of the Orphan Trains by Holly Littlefield

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Bibliographic Data:

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. 2005. Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0439862736

Plot Summary:

In this book, Bartoletti presents a unique perspective on Hitler’s rise to power, focusing on the youth who involved themselves with the Nazi party through different levels of loyalty and participation. The book includes the stories of twelve youth and explores the roles they played in supporting Hitler or eventually working against him.

The opening introduction discusses Herbert Norkus, a member of Hitler Youth, whose murder by a Communist gang provided a way for the Nazi Party to draw attention and honor to their organization for youth. Bartoletti’s subsequent chapters look at twelve individual youth and their involvement with this organization. Their stories are as unique as they themselves were, with some joining the Hitler Youth despite their parents’ wishes and others joining eagerly before ultimately launching their own organization against Hitler and the Nazis. From seemingly innocent events such as athletic events or camping trips to more Nazi-focused efforts such as propaganda meetings, the stories of these youth and their roles in the Nazi regime are chronicled. While stories about life as a Hitler Youth are told, Bartoletti also includes notable moments in the growth of Hitler’s power, from his appointment as chancellor of Germany to his suicide in 1945.

Bartoletti leaves few details uncovered as she covers the youth’s involvement with the Hitler Youth from beginning to end. In the conclusion, she offers details about what happened to many of the youth when the war was over. She reminds the reader of these young people’s story in history and poses a question worth considering further: “Could another despot like Hitler rise to power on the shoulders of young people?” (p. 157).

Critical Analysis:

Bartoletti’s book presents a highly accurate look at the Nazis from the perspective of some of its youngest members. In her note at the end, the author discusses her research in which she explored the Third Reich through magazines and newspaper articles that were published during that time in history. She followed this inquiry up with travels to Germany and interviews and discussions with former Hitler Youth members. Her level of dedication to accuracy throughout her research shows in the book, as it compiles such a wealth of information that is woven into the stories that the youth tell.

Additionally, she incorporates throughout the book historical photographs of youth and of scenery relevant to the Nazi Party, many of which came from museums, archives, or even family photo albums. Her inclusion of so many photographs supplements her attempt to accurately portray the lives of the youth that became such a part of Germany and the Nazis.

Another layer of this book involves the numerous quotations that Bartoletti weaves into the individual stories that are told by the different Hitler Youth. To assure the reader of the accuracy of these quotations, there is a listed of quote sources at the back of the book. Looking at these sources, the reader can feel secure knowing that the author has taken great care in researching and presenting a thorough account of such a dark part of history.

The organization of this book also adds to its depth as each chapter presents individuals who participated in the Hitler Youth, while still presenting relevant events from history to accompany the individuals in chronological order. Thus, Bartoletti’s beginning introduction with Norkus’s murder and her ending conclusion with the end of the war facilitates the reader’s understanding of the progression of historical events while exploring the deeper personal side of such events. Furthermore, the beginning summaries of the young people included in the book help prepare the reader for the stories that they are about to encounter.

The design and style of this book is exceptionally thought-out as the author has interspersed photographs and quotations throughout every chapter. The photographs and accompanying captions allow the reader to visually transport themselves even more into the story that they are following while also providing another layer of understanding of the history behind Hitler, the youth, and the Nazi regime.

Review excerpts:

Starred Review from School Library Journal – “Bartoletti lets many of the subjects’ words, emotions, and deeds speak for themselves, bringing them together clearly to tell this story unlike anyone else has.”

Starred Review from Booklist – “The handsome book design, with stirring black-and-white historical photos on every double-page spread, will bring in readers…spark discussion…”

Starred Review from Kirkus Reviews – “Case studies…root the work…, and clear prose, thorough documentation and an attractive format…make this nonfiction writing at its best.”

Personal Reaction:

This nonfiction work was absolutely fascinating to me as I never realized children’s’ level of involvement with Hitler and the Nazi movement. The mix of photographs and details from this time period brought such a difficult issue to life, making the truth of it so much more authentic and heartbreaking.


· Read more about the Hitler Youth and their activities at

· Listen to Hitler speak about his youth through the links and sound clips at

· Create a graphic that highlights the statistics on Hitler Youth as presented at

· Explore the German Propaganda Archive at to see how the Nazis tried to recruit children.

· Watch the documentary entitled “The Hitler Youth,” published in 1999.

Related Readings

Other Books by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Boy Who Dared

Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850

Growing Up in Coal Country

Kids on Strike!

Other Books about the Holocaust and the Nazis
Sophie Scholl and the White Rose by Jud Newborn and Annette Dumbach

Hans and Sophie Scholl: German Resisters of the White Rose by Toby Axelrod

Ten Thousand Children: True Stories Told by Children Who Escaped the Holocaust on the Kindertransport by Anne Fox and Eva Abraham-Podietz


Bibliographic Data:

Freedman, Russell. 2004. The Voice that Changed a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle For Equal Rights. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN 0618159762

Plot Summary:

In this biography, Freedman looks closely at the life and times of Marian Anderson, an amazing African-American vocalist who used her music as a way to impact the social inequities of society during the Civil Rights Movement. With her immense talent, Marian Anderson performed concerts in the most amazing venues. Nonetheless, she was not allowed to sing at Constitution Hall because of her race. With the help of many, including well-known citizens such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Anderson performed a concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial, showing everyone that race should not play a role the arts. This concert drew thousands of people and became a symbol of the “struggle for equal rights” (p. 71).

While a focus of Freedman’s book was on this concert specifically, he also includes much background and many details about Anderson’s life prior to and after this concert. He interweaves her personal experiences with the details framing the social and political events of the day, allowing the reader to get a full glimpse of Marian Anderson and the impact she had as an African-American artist who paved the way for greater equality in future generations.

Critical Analysis:

Freedman’s coverage of Anderson’s life is complete, covering not only her performance at the Lincoln Memorial, but also her struggles and successes before and after. By looking at all aspects of her life – from her childhood beginnings as a singer to her final performance – Freedman gives a more accurate portrayal of Anderson and impact that she has had on society as a performer and as an advocate for equality.

Freedman includes numerous sources for the many quotations that are included in the book, dedicating an entire chapter to notes that are indicated in each individual chapter. Additionally, he follows up his own story of Marian Anderson’s life with a bibliography that includes not only sources that he has used in writing the book, but also further resources (including websites) that the reader can use to explore her life even more. Also, since Marian Anderson impacted society through song, it is most appropriate that Freedman include a selected discography of some of her works, allowing the reader the opportunity to explore the artist and her craft in more detail. Furthermore, there are a multitude of photographs included in this book, giving the reader a more accurate sense of the historical and societal times discussed throughout the book. By including captions to the photographs, Freedman adds another layer of understanding and accuracy to the story he is telling.

The book opens with a chapter that highlights Anderson’s performance in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. By choosing this event to open the book, Freedman emphasizes the importance of this event and organizes the rest of the book in relation to this milestone. After this brief opening chapter, Freedman returns to an earlier part of Anderson’s life and tells her fascinating journey as a singer from there. The photographs align chronologically with the details presented in each chapter, thereby providing the reader with an additional way to follow along with the story and dates.

This book is designed quite well, with the cover highlighting Anderson’s performance in front of the Lincoln Memorial. In addition to photographs, the incorporation of song lyrics, program replicas, and copies of newspaper clippings helps make the story being told more relevant and engaging for the reader. These details help tell the story of Marian Anderson and her struggles in a more efficient manner.

Freedman’s style comes across in this book loud and clear, as he has a knack for telling Anderson’s story in a familiar, yet historically accurate manner. He interweaves historical facts along with poignant quotations about Anderson’s personal life to present a clear story that leaves the reader engaged and awed by Anderson and her life.

Review excerpts:

VOYA – “A masterful biography…the prose is sharp and clean with generous use of quotations…a superb choice.”

School Library Journal – “This inspiring work once again demonstrates Freedman’s talent for showing how a person’s life is molded by its historical and cultural context.”

Booklist – “In his signature prose, plain yet eloquent, Freedman tells Anderson’s triumphant story…”

Personal Reaction:

History really came alive through this book, as it touched on a critical era in America while building on the rich musical heritage of our country. Marian Anderson’s life was presented in such a fascinating way that I felt like I was a part of that time in history.


· Listen to one of Marian Anderson’s cds. Write a review about the music and her strengths as an artist.

· Choose one Marian Anderson’s concerts to research. Do additional research to learn about the venue, the songs, etc., so you can create a program that represents that concert specifically.

· Write a letter of support to Marian Anderson, explaining what part of her life intrigued you the most.

· Imagine you were in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939. Write a personal narrative about what you might have seen and heard that day.

· Research the Daughters of the American Revolution and create a presentation that explains the role they played in American society in the early 20th century, including their policies and practices that impacted the civil rights of minorities.

Related Readings

Other Books by Russell Freedman
Lincoln: A Photobiography

Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery

Children of the Great Depression

The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane

Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott

The Civil Rights Movement and Marian Anderson
When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson by Pam Munoz Ryan

What I Had Was Singing: The Story of Marian Anderson by Jeri Ferris

One More River to Cross: An African American Photograph Album by Walter Dean Myers


Bibliographic Data:

Jenkins, Steve. 1997. What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0395825148

Plot Summary:

In this nonfiction picture book, fourteen animals are presented on front and back pages, with the front page highlighting the specific animal and the back page highlighting the ways in which it defends itself from predators. From an octopus to the blue-tongued skink, the animals presented are as unique as their defense mechanisms, thereby presenting the reader with a fun and engaging look at the natural abilities of animals all over the globe.

Critical Analysis:

This picture book presents great scientific and accurate information about animals in a fun and informative manner. Jenkins incorporates a wide variety of animals in the book, highlighting his efforts to make this book a worthwhile read for readers of all ages. He does not change the names of the animals to make it an easier read, so names such as “pangolin” and “Javanese leaf insect” reflect the accuracy of the book’s information on a wide assortment of animals in their natural habitats. Additionally, the discussion of each animal’s defense adaptation is presented in a straightforward and clear manner, reinforcing the scientific information that Jenkins is presenting in the text. While there is no bibliography or source citation listing included in the book, much of this information can be found in an encyclopedia, thus reinforcing Jenkins’s aim to educate the reader in an engaging and colorful manner.

Each animal and its defense adaptation is presented in a unique manner in that the animal is presented on one page, with its adaptation presented on the next page. This method of organization allows the reader to get more involved with the book through guessing of what they feel will be the animal’s reaction to a predator. Additionally, the incorporation of collage-like illustrations of both the animal and its defensive adaptation emphasize the textual information and help the book flow from beginning to end.

With various colors, collage-like illustrations, and even textured-looking pages, this book is inviting to readers of all ages. The illustrations take up entire pages and for the most part, the text is clearly visible, making this a book that is accessible and engaging on many levels. Jenkins’s passion for animals and scientific information related to animals is clear through the style of his book. He invites the reader to enjoy their learning about animals and their adaptations through his brief descriptions of the animals and his bright color scheme. In the end, his whimsy and fun for learning about this topic comes through when he asks “What would you do if something wanted to eat you?”

Review excerpts:

Booklist – “Thrilling, beautiful…dramatic.”

Kirkus Reviews – “Jenkins cleverly conceals a factual compendium of 14 animal and insect defenses as a colorful picture book.”

Horn Book – “Jenkins has produced another marvel….Young children will delight in first guessing, then seeing, how each of fourteen unusual animals avoids becoming someone else’s dinner.”

Personal Reaction:

This picture book was quite unique and inviting, as it opened up a world of animals and science in such a creative way. I enjoyed exploring the animals’ unique defense mechanisms while enjoying the beautiful collages and textures that accompany and illustrate the text.


· Create a diorama in which you show one of the animals from the book and the manner in which it defends itself.

· Make a list of five additional animals that you would like to learn about. Research them and find out how they defend themselves.

· Complete the web quest at to explore more animals and their adaptations.

· Write a paragraph about the animal and its defense mechanism that most surprised you. Why were you surprised by this adapatation?

Related Readings

Animal Defenses: How Animals Protect Themselves by Etta Kaner

Extremely Weird Animal Defenses by Sarah Lovett

Nature’s Tricksters: Animals and Plants that Aren’t What They Seem by Mary Batten

Animals in Disguise by Anita Ganeri

Other Books by Steve Jenkins
Living Color

Almost Gone

Actual Size

What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?

Animals in Flight

Biggest, Strongest, Fastest

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Genre #3: Poetry - BEHIND THE WHEEL

Bibliographic Data:

Wong, Janet S. 1999. Behind the Wheel: Poems About Driving. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books. ISBN 0689825315

Plot Summary:

In this collection of poems, Janet Wong presents thirty-five poems that relate in some way to driving and the events that can occur when driving. From crashes to insurance coverage to being stopped by the police, Wong presents poems on driving with realism and humor. She uses ordinary language to approach the topic of driving, making it clear how this topic relates to life in general. One such example is “You Have Got To”:

I don’t go to church.
I can’t say for sure
I believe in much.
But you’ve got to believe,
when you drive like crazy,
spin in the rain
in front of a bus and
straighten out
no harm done.

you’ve got to believe

there’s a place for you
in this amazing world –

and you owe it to yourself,
you have got to
keep on going until
you arrive.

Critical Analysis:

This poetry collection as a whole provides an engaging look at the genre through a popular activity and a major milestone for teenagers – driving. Wong’s look at life through the lens of driving makes this book an appealing choice for readers (and drivers!) of all ages.

The rhythm of the poetry in this collection varies, as Wong incorporates poems of different lengths and different meters to create a well-balanced selection. In some poems, lines are clearly set apart from others, whereas in other poems, there are few line breaks. This helps draw the reader’s attention to the topic of driving, while also drawing attention to the life events or circumstances that Wong is paralleling in the poetry itself.

While there is little rhyme scheme employed consistently throughout the collection of poetry, Wong definitely embraces sound in creative ways. For example, one poem includes possible license plates, creating words and sounds out of only a few letter combinations. Additionally, her use of alliteration (“crazy cars” and “buckle his back”) establishes a good poetic rhythm through the sounds of the words used.

Since the focus of this poetry collection is on driving, there are numerous examples of language that relates to drivers and driving situations, but that is used in unique ways. For example, ’11 o’clock and 1 o’clock’ call to mind the placement of hands on a steering wheel, not the time of day. Wong’s use of ordinary language to associate with the topic of her poems creates an engaging read through the poetry.

These poems are full of great imagery and emotion, as readers imagine their own experiences driving and learning the rules of the road. With images such as “white knuckles clutch the wheel” and “You can stuff the glove compartment the way your mother stuffs you on Thanksgiving…,” the reader is able to connect with this powerful language and create their own connections with Wong’s poetry.

Review excerpts:

VOYA – “After reading this slim volume, teens will not look at driving or poetry in the same way again…”

Horn Book – “…reflective…conversational and unfussy…”

Booklist – “readers of all ages will be moved by the intersection of poignancy and humor as she describes the thrilling freedom of the car…”

Personal Reaction:

This collection of poetry was unique and engaging for me as I enjoyed exploring the ways in which Wong connected such a common experience – driving – to other events in life. The coverage of the poems was quite expansive, too, allowing me to venture down the many situations that can occur when driving.


· Brainstorm a list of memories that you associate with driving or with your first car; write a poem about one of these memories.

· Choose one of the poems and create a collage that reflects the images presented in it.

· Re-read all of the poems that involve family members (i.e. “Daddy and Shin,” “Grandmother’s Car”). Write a response or a poem that is similar in form to honor someone in your family.

· Listen to the audio version of some of the poems, including “Daddy and Shin” and “When a Cop Stops You” at

Related Readings

Other Poetry Collections by Janet Wong
Twist: Yoga Poems

A Suitcase of Seaweed and Other Poems

The Rainbow Hand: Poems about Mothers and Children

Good Luck Gold and Other Poems

Knock on Wood: Poems about Superstitions

Genre #3: Poetry - THE BOOKWORM'S FEAST

Bibliographic Data:

Lewis, J. Patrick. 1999. The Bookworm’s Feast: A Potluck of Poems. Ill. by John O’Brien. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0803716923

Plot Summary:

This collection of poetry on a wide range of topics is categorized like a menu with selections under the headings “Appetizers,” “Sherbets,” “Entrees,” “Sumptuous Side Dishes,” and “Delectable Desserts.” Lewis presents poems that mention books (i.e. Charlotte’s Web and Where the Wild Things Are), poems that play with rhyming (“Hunky-Dunky Donkey”), poems that build on word play (“Her-I-Cane”), poems that invite two voices (“The Framboise Fair”), and poems that invite fun with letters and reading. The references to literature, language, and words throughout all the poems remind the reader that this is, after all, a feast for bookworms and all who love the written word.

Critical Analysis:

J. Patrick Lewis’s poetry collection includes ample evidence of the elements of poetry, including rhythm, rhyme, sound, language, imagery, and emotion. From the beginning poem’s first stanza, Lewis sets for a rhythmic tone in which the story-like quality of the poem rolls off the tongue. His mix of short lines interspersed with longer lines allows the reader to get a real sense of rhythm going when they read the poems aloud.

Lewis also incorporates varied rhyme schemes throughout the entire book, with each poem displaying its own unique characteristics. In some poems, lines back-to-back rhyme, and in other poems, a rhyme scheme of ABBA is followed, with the first and last lines rhyming together and the middle lines rhyming together. Lewis’s variations keep the reader on his/her toes and allow each poem to stand on its own in terms of the rhyme scheme.

With Lewis’s somewhat silly approach to poetry and his love of wordplay, this poetry collection embraces the sound of words and the unique language presented in each poem. In poems such as “Heavy Metal Fellow,” Lewis plays on a similar sound throughout the entire poem, thus facilitating a nice rhythm as it is read. Also, the incorporation of words such as ‘soufflĂ©’ and ‘Waterford glasses,’ as well as homophones such as ‘wear’ and ‘where’ make the poems more lively and engaging no matter the topic.

Both the poet and the illustrator in this collection contribute to great images that help further the imagery presented in the poems. From colorful bookworms to dancing silverware, the illustrations match the comical language of the poems, leaving the reader with a complete sense of Lewis’s poetry gift.

Review excerpts:

School Library Journal – “A smorgasbord of poetic forms and moods…the book contains poems for nearly any taste.”

Publishers Weekly – “With an irreverence suggestive of Ogden Nash and the silliness of Jack Prelutsky, Lewis and O'Brien whip up a whimsical confection of poems and drawings in a format just as enjoyable as the poems themselves.”

Personal Reaction:

This collection of poetry was silly, yet inventive. Lewis’s ability to bring multiple characters and words to life was amazing. His creativity and craftiness with language is quite apparent in all of the poems he has included in this collection.


· Choose a word that you really like. Then brainstorm as many words as possible that rhyme with the word you chose. Try to write a rhyming poem with the words.

· Write a poem for each part of the menu – from appetizer to dessert.

· Write a poem in which an object is personified (similar to “The Tablespoon Gallops Away”).

· Take the first five or six letters of the alphabet and try to create a poem in which the first words of all the lines match the letters of the alphabet.

Related Readings

Other Poetry Collections by J. Patrick Lewis
Doodle Dandies: Poems that Take Shape

Please Bury Me in the Library

Wing Nuts: Screwy Haiku (with Paul B. Janeczko)

Once Upon a Tomb: Gravely Humorous Verses

A Hippopotamustn’t and Other Animal Poems

Genre #3: Poetry - KEESHA'S HOUSE

Bibliographic Data:

Frost, Helen. 2003. Keesha’s House. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0374400121

Plot Summary:

In this story told through verse, Frost presents seven teenagers facing a wide range of problems in their lives. Stephie is pregnant; Jason is Stephie’s boyfriend, but faces pressure to choose his all-star role on the basketball team over his girlfriend and her pregnancy; Keesha’s mom has died and her dad drinks too much; Dontay’s parents are in jail, so he lives in a foster home that is a world of difference from his other life; Carmen is put in juvenile hall for another DUI; Harris tells his father that he is gay, resulting in him being kicked out of the house; and Katie leaves her house because her stepfather is visiting her bedroom at night and her mother refuses to believe her or do anything to stop it.

As the teens tell their stories and the backgrounds that have led to their current predicaments, references are made to Keesha’s House, a home that takes in teenagers, no questions asked. This place of refuge is a constant throughout the book as all the characters consider it when they feel they have no other place to go. Each character’s feelings and weighing of the decision on whether or not to go to Keesha’s House highlights their unique emotions and the realistic approach that Frost uses in writing this book.

While the focus is on the seven teenagers, Frost also includes a section in which the adults in the teens’ lives speak and give insight into their feelings about the situations. The reader hears from Jason’s basketball coach, Dontay’s caseworker, Stephie’s mom, Carmen’s grandmother, Katie’s English teacher, the Assistant Principal at the school, and Joe, the owner of Keesha’s House. With these perspectives added, Keesha’s House conveys the heart-wrenching stories of adolescent difficulties and the ways that such troubles affect all involved.

Critical Analysis:

This novel in verse combines wonderful elements of storytelling with those of poetry. Frost’s use of sestinas and sonnets with varying line lengths adds familiarity to each chapter as each character tells his/her story, yet allows each poem to be unique.

The format of the sestina itself allows for a rhythm to develop through the repetition of certain words. Frost breaks many thoughts mid-sentence, allowing for the shorter lines to establish a rhythm as it relates to the story that the character is telling. There are some instances of rhyme and matching sounds, but those do not occur as would be expected in a rhyming poem. The uniqueness of the frequency of the rhyming words contributes to the individual nature of each poem and the character who is telling it.

Frost incorporates deliberate sounds and language to bring the reader into the characters’ lives through the poems. Word choices such as ‘nothin’,’ ‘playin’,’ and ‘you don’t hafta…’ remind the reader that these are teenagers’ lives, making the poems even more authentic and real because they build on the language that reflects the age of the characters.

This novel in verse leaves a strong emotional impact on the reader because of the short poetic glimpses into the characters’ lives. The alternating viewpoints, the free verse of short lines mixed with longer lines, and the use of stream-of-consciousness all help Frost put a voice to the difficulties that these teenagers face.

Frost wraps up the novel succinctly by providing notes on the two poetry forms that she uses in the novel itself – the sestina and the sonnet. She offers instructions and details on these poetic forms, offering the reader a glimpse into the world of creating poetry.

Review excerpts:

A Michael L. Printz Honor Book

Booklist – “This moving first novel tells the story in a series of dramatic monologues that are personal, poetic, and immediate."

Starred review from School Library Journal – “Frost has taken the poem-story to a new level with well-crafted sestinas and sonnets, leading readers into the souls and psyches of her teen protagonists...engaging…”

VOYA – “Spare, eloquent, and elegantly concise."

Personal Reaction:

I absolutely loved this book because it presented such heartbreaking stories through verse, yet presented a glimmer of hope through Keesha’s House and the safe haven that the characters found there. Frost did a wonderful job illuminating the inner thoughts and conflicts that teenagers often face during adolescence, furthering my interest in following these characters through their ups and downs.


· Choose one of the characters and write him/her a letter offering advice for his/her situation.

· Write a poem in either the sestina or sonnet format, using the description found in the back of the book.

· Compile a list of resources in your local community that are available to teenagers who are in trouble or who have run away.

· Write a skit based on one of the character’s situations and poems. Act out the skit with other students.

Related Readings

Growing Up and Teen Issues
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff

The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Other Books by Helen Frost
The Braid

Spinning Through the Universe

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Genre #2: Traditional Literature - THE EGYPTIAN CINDERELLA

Bibliographic Data:

Climo, Shirley. 1989. The Egyptian Cinderella. Ill. by Ruth Heller. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell. ISBN 0690048246

Plot Summary:

In this variant version of Cinderella, Rhodopis, a Greek maiden, is stolen by pirates and sold as a slave in Egypt. She is quite different in appearance from the other Egyptian servant girls next to whom she has to work, and they spent a great deal of time teasing her and giving her orders. Because Rhodopis is a slave, she is a level below the servants, so she must comply with their orders. With no friends among the servants, Rhodopis finds camaraderie and friendship with the animals, entertaining and dancing for them. After her master sees her dancing with bare feet, he has made for her slippers, made of leather and rose-red gold. These slippers make Rhodopis even more different than the servant girls around her.

One evening, the servant girls make plans to visit the Pharaoh, leaving Rhodopis behind to do chores. After one of her slippers gets dirty, Rhodopis washes them in the river and sets them on the bank to dry, where one is taken by a falcon. The falcon takes the slipper to Amasis, the Pharaoh, who views it as a sign from the god Horus. The Pharaoh begins a search of all of Egypt, seeking the woman whose foot fits the slipper. After much searching, the Pharaoh sees Rhodopis hiding near the banks of the river. She tries on the slipper and when the Pharaoh sees that it is a perfect fit, he declares that she will be queen.

Critical Analysis:

This variant of the Cinderella tale does a good job incorporating the traditional canon of characters associated with this fairy tale and traditional tales in general. With the Egyptian servant girls, we get characters that represent wickedness and conniving behavior; with Rhodopis, we get a character that represents innocence and virtuous behavior. The plot is simple, deviating little from the focus of the main characters and their behaviors. Once Rhodopis receives the rose-red slippers, the plot develops fairly quickly in a predictable manner.

The setting of this Cinderella story is unique, allowing for the reader to get an understanding of Egypt and its culture. Climo’s retelling of this traditional tale allows her to infuse the story with cultural aspects specific to Egypt. For example, when the servants complain to the Pharaoh that Rhodopis is not Egyptian, he declares “her eyes are as green as the Nile, her hair as feathery as papyrus,…her skin the pink of a lotus flower…” (p. 28). At the close of the story, Climo includes an author’s note in which she tells more about the real Rhodopis, offering the reader information about the fiction and nonfiction parts of the tale. These details add validity to the cultural aspect of this story, reinforcing the setting of the traditional tale.

The illustrations in the book add to the setting in which this Cinderella tale takes place and the cultural traditions that are brought forth in the story. The inclusion of animals important to Egyptian culture, as well as Egyptian dress and ornamentation make the pictures a bigger part of the story being told. Heller’s use of vibrant colors and detailed pictures of characters and environments transport the reader to Egypt, further extending the story through this attention to visual detail.

Review excerpts:

School Library Journal – “Climo has woven this ancient tale, a mixture of fact and myth, with clarity and eloquence…”

Publishers Weekly – “In mellifluous prose and majestic illustrations…an inventive twist on the classic tale.”

One of the Notable Children's Trade Books in Social Studies (NCSS/CBC) for 1989

Personal Reaction:

I enjoyed reading this tale of Cinderella as it was entertaining and informative. With the story based in Egypt, I was pleased to learn more about Egyptian culture and beliefs (i.e. that Horus was an Egyptian god who soared as a falcon on earth). The drawings add a great deal to the story being told and the author’s concluding note was helpful as well.



· Compare and contrast this version of Cinderella with other versions you have heard or read.

· Discuss with a small group what you have learned about Egypt and its culture from this book.

· Create a dramatic reading of this book by assigning parts and drafting a Reader’s Theatre script to follow.

Related Readings

Other versions of Cinderella by the same author
The Irish Cinderlad

The Persian Cinderella

The Korean Cinderella

Humorous versions of Cinderella
Cinderella Bigfoot by Mike Thaler

Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson

Dinorella: A Prehistoric Fairy Tale by Pamela Duncan Edwards

Cinder-Elly by Frances Minters

Folk versions of Cinderella


Bibliographic Data:

Schwartz, Alvin. 1992. And the Green Grass Grew All Around: Folk Poetry From Everywhere. Ill. by Sue Truesdell. New York: Harper Trophy/HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0064462145

Plot Summary:

In this compilation of folk songs, rhymes, and poems, Schwartz covers everything from people and their relationships to trees, animals, and insects, with everything in between – nonsense and all. Over 250 entries cover both familiar and unfamiliar verses, with an index of first lines included at the end of the book. The inclusion of familiar tunes and sheet music scores for poems and rhymes add to the fun of singing and rhyming with the verses. Additionally, the majority of the entries have comical illustrations alongside them, highlighting the humorous nature of the rhymes and poems included in the book. Schwartz includes additional reference material in the book, providing notes on folk rhymes, folk poetry, nursery rhymes, and parodies, as well as source notes about the poems he has included in this book.

Critical Analysis:

This anthology of folk poetry represents a wide range of rhymes and songs that span generations. Many of the songs and rhymes such as “Liar, liar, pants on fire…” (p. 34) or “Do your ears hang low….” (p. 6) would be familiar to many children today, reinforcing the value of this anthology as a means for getting children involved with language and poetry. The anthology also has appeal for older readers, possibly even adults, as the entries include a variety of songs and rhymes from many decades and traditions.

The grouping of the entries into categories such as people, food, school, teases and taunts, love and marriage, work, stories, riddles, and fun and games helps magnify the variety of selections in the anthology, as well as they variety of age groups to which this book might appeal.

Schwartz does a good job providing background information on the selections included in this text, as he provides relevant background on many parts of the text including nursery rhymes, nonsense, counting rhymes, and jumping rope rhymes. Schwartz supplements this background information with additional source information, helping the reader understand more about the folk poetry included in this anthology and possible variations of the same entries.

Truesdell’s illustrations are simple, yet comical. Penned in black and white, the illustrations bring the characters and events to life, underscoring the humorous situations that are presented in the folk poems. The illustrations provide a greater depth to the poems, adding to the storytelling quality of each entry in the text.

Review excerpts:

Kirkus Reviews – “…a grand compilation of familiar … rhymes and chants from the children’s own tradition…”

School Library Journal – “a marvelous book…[with a] silly, energized tone….[and illustrations] in ideal tandem with the poetry…”

Starred review from The Horn Book – “Move over your copies of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky…strongly recommended.”

An American Library Association (ALA) Notable Children’s Book of 1993

A National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Notable Trade Book in the Language Arts in 1993

A 1992 Book for Youth Editors’ Choice for Booklist

Personal Reaction:

This book was a joy to read and play around with as it reminded me of my days on the playground singing chants and rhymes with my friends. I could envision taking students of all ages through a mental journey as we explored the rhymes, poems, and riddles in this book. What a treat to be able to enjoy these staples of childhood with future generations!


· Put the songs, chants, and rhymes to music with the musical scores provided in the book.

· Add hand claps and other physical movements to the poems, chants, songs, and rhymes in the book as you share them with friends.

· Create additional verses to your favorite rhymes.

· Interview people of other generations about their memories of childhood songs, poems, and rhymes. How many of their responses are included in the book? Which ones were their favorites from childhood?

Related Readings

If You’re Happy and You Know It: Eighteen Story Songs Set to Pictures by Nicki Weiss

I Saw You in the Bathtub and Other Folk Rhymes by Alvin Schwartz

From Sea to Shining Sea: A Treasury of American Folklore and Folk Songs edited by Amy Cohn

Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar? by Bonnie Lass and Philemon Sturges

She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain by Philemon Sturges

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Simms Taback

Genre #2: Traditional Literature - THE THREE PRINCES

Bibliographic Data:

Kimmel, Eric A. 1994. The Three Princes: A Tale from the Middle East. Ill. by Leonard Everett Fisher. New York: Holiday House. ISBN 082341115X

Plot Summary:

This story tells the tale of a beautiful and wise princess. Though many liked her, she had her heart set on three cousins who were princes. She was in love with Prince Mohsen, the one with “flashing eyes,” yet he had no money. To determine in a more equitable fashion the one she should marry, the princess sends the three princes out into the world to find and bring back a rare wonder. The princess plans to decide whom to marry based upon the treasures the princes return to her with. Prince Fahad finds a flying carpet; Prince Muhammed finds a crystal ball; and Prince Mohsen finds an orange.

Before the princes return to the princess to show her their finds, the princes use the crystal ball and find that the princess is dying. So they hop onto the flying carpet and rush to the princess, giving her the orange that cures any sickness. The princess decides to marry the prince who saved her life, yet all three contributed to the plan to save her. In the end, she chooses Prince Mohsen because he gave up his valuable orange to save her life and was left with nothing else.

Critical Analysis:

This retelling of a Middle Eastern story is refreshing in that it includes many elements of a traditional tale, namely a heroine (the princess) and interested suitors (the three princes). In Kimmel’s version, we learn immediately the names of the three princes, but never learn the name of the princess. This is an interesting detail as it is different than other familiar tales in which the princesses are named; however, this detail perhaps reflects accuracy associated with the Middle East and its culture and the ways in which men and women interact in society.

The story’s plot and theme has broad appeal making Kimmel’s retelling an engaging story for readers of all backgrounds and age groups. The straightforward plot with little conflict among the three princes themselves, takes the reader through the journey of this Middle Eastern princess and her quest to get the prince she loves. The notion of being selfless and sacrificing everything for the love of someone else is an idea that can be seen across cultures in a variety of traditional tales.

While the location of this specific tale is not given, the names, cultural references, and illustrations included by Kimmel and Fisher help situate the story in the Middle East. The illustrations have dark backgrounds upon which the vibrant colors of the princess’s and princes’ clothing are presented, transporting the reader to visions of the tales of the Arabian nights.

Brief notes provided by Kimmel and Fisher illuminate some of the history behind the original tale, though little specificity regarding this tale in particular is provided. Nonetheless, even without more detailed notes on the authenticity of the original tale, this story and its illustrations draw the reader in to the characters and the decisions they face.

Review excerpts:

Booklist – “Kimmel uses the familiar fairy-tale construct, but his telling has precision and a buoyancy that gives the story wonderful life.”

School Library Journal – “Kimmel’s tale provides a satisfying conclusion….a welcome addition that deserves to become a read-aloud standard.”

Kirkus Reviews – “A smooth, accessible adaptation, much enhanced by the spare powerful art.”

Personal Reaction:

I enjoyed this traditional tale, especially since I am largely unfamiliar with tales of The Arabian Nights. The journey that the characters take through the story was refreshing and insightful, reminding me of the power of a good story that is shared among all generations.


· Write a letter to the princess explaining which prince you would marry and why you would choose him over the others.

· Which object is the most valuable in your opinion – the crystal ball, the magic carpet, or the orange? Why?

· Read another version of “The Three Princes” story and compare them to this one using a Venn diagram. (

Related Readings

Zorah’s Magic Carpet by Stefan Czernecki

Abu Ali Counts His Donkeys: A Folktale from the Middle East by Dorothy Van Woerkom

The Legend of the Persian Carpet by Tomie dePaola

Folk Tales & Fables of the Middle East and Africa by Barbara Hayes

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Genre #1: Picture Books - A CALDECOTT CELEBRATION

Bibliographic Data:

Marcus, Leonard S. 1998. A Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal. New York: Walker and Company. ISBN 0802786561

Plot Summary:

Touching on books from the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Leonard Marcus explores the history of the Caldecott Medal, focusing on the craft of children’s book illustration and the authors/illustrators who have received the award. Stories behind Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, Marcia Brown’s Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji, and David Wiesner’s Tuesday present a wide view of these award-winning books, the illustration media used, and the ups and downs that accompany such creative work.

Critical Analysis:

Marcus effectively weaves elements of history and biography together to create a vibrant portrait of six Caldecott award-winning books and their authors. He intersperses the discussions of each author and book with quotations, anecdotal statements, and one-of-a-kind sketches and drawings, further reflecting the depth and uniqueness of each author’s craft. Marcus’s journey covers the time range inclusive of each author’s planning stages for the book to their recognition as Caldecott Medal winners, thereby giving the reader a comprehensive look at each author and the writing and illustrating process in depth.

Despite the depth of coverage provided in the book, Marcus’s writing remains simple and easy-to-follow. The vocabulary is accessible to readers of all ages and the illustrations and drawings add another dimension to the information provided in text. The incorporation of details about the authors’ own journeys as children’s book writers establishes a more personal feel to the book, making it a welcome read for those interested in varied aspects of the writing or publication industry.

Review excerpts:

Starred review from Booklist – “a beautifully made book, this will serve as a fine resource for children interested in illustration and for teachers researching author/illustrator studies”

School Library Journal – “the large, attractive pages invite readers to savor the multitude of illustrations”

Publishers Weekly – “He [Marcus] fills the volume with the kinds of details children relish…”

Personal Reaction:

I was surprised by the wealth of information available in this book. The detailed stories behind the authors and their works allowed for refreshing insight into the world of children’s books and their creation. I especially liked the coverage of books from earlier decades, as it is a great way to introduce the reader to books that may have been popular prior to their own childhood. Lastly, the personal stories included in each chapter made the facts more appealing, as they were presented in an almost-conversational manner.



· Research the life of Randolph Caldecott

· Look at different Caldecott award-winning books. Explore the different illustration media used in the different books. Do you have a preferred illustration medium?

· Read other books by the authors discussed in Marcus’s book

· Watch an interview with Chris Van Allsburg, one of the authors portrayed in Marcus’s book (

Related Readings

Randolph Caldecott and the Caldecott Medal
Yours Pictorially: Illustrated Letters of Randolph Caldecott by Randolph Caldecott

A Caldecott Celebration: Seven Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal by Leonard S. Marcus

Randolph Caldecott: His Books and Illustrations for Young Readers by Robert J. Desmarais

Children’s Literature and Illustrations
Show and Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children’s Book Illustration by Dilys Evans

Under the Spell of the Moon edited by Patricia Aldana

Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang