Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. (Children's Literature Novel)

Paterson, Katherine. Bridge to Terabithia. Illustrated by Donna Diamond. Scholastic Inc., 1977. (128 pages) 
This book is a tear-jerker, and very memorable for anyone who read it as a child. Paterson does a great job developing the characters in this realistic fiction based in a rural community close to a wild woods where the two main characters run off and imagine up an entire world for themselves - Terabithia. I will just admit right now that when I read the last page I totally cried even though I have read it before and seen the movie. It's not the sadly surprising events of the story that made me tear up, but the relationship between one of the main characters and his younger sister - and how it evolves after serious hardships (I won't spoil the book for those who haven't read it).

Peter and Wendy by J.M. Berrie (Children's Literature Novel)

 Berrie, J. M. Peter and Wendy. Charlie Scribner’s Sons. 1911. Illustrated by F. D. Bedford. (267 pages, and 122 pages for the online version)
     This classic tale is a story about Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up and never wanted to grow up. He brings Wendy and her two younger brothers to Neverland, an island full of fairies, pirates, animals, and more. Neverland is a dreamland – a place for adventure, but the lost boys on this island still long for the structure and nurturing that a mother can give. Wendy is commissioned for the task, and does well until the day when she and her brothers return home with the lost boys in tow. Only Peter Pan refuses to stay and grow up, although he visits an aging Wendy and her descendants.
     Peter and Wendy is a story with some vocabulary and content that may offend modern sensibilities. The portrayal and name of “redskins” seems a bit unflattering, and at one point the fairies are described as “some unsteady fairies had to climb over him on their way home from an orgy” (p. 104) Some modern readers may even be put off by the strict gender role assignment that the author engages in throughout the book. However, none of these things bother me personally. If there is value in the story, one can see past the controversial sections and even use them to foster healthy discussion. “Children have the strangest adventures without being troubled by them.” (p.14).

The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda by Tom Angelberger (Children's Literature Novel)

Angelberger, Tom. The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda. Abrams. 2010. (150 pages)
An eccentric boy named Dwight folds an origami Yoda finger puppet, which he uses to dispense wisdom to his fellow 6th graders. Tommy, the main narrator of the book, creates a case file to investigate what impact this figure has made. Students offer testimonials and opinions in this unique and engaging book.
There was a lot to absorb in this book. There are many narrators, many doodle illustrations, many styles of writing (from a sample text message to transcribed words from a tape recorder and more), and even many different fonts! It’s interesting that I read this on the same day that we read Make Way for Ducklings in class, because both books may represent opposite sides of a spectrum: styles which people dub “modern” or “old-fashioned”. This book seemed very modern to me – the speed, stimulation, and information from many sources almost mimicked a smart phone internet browser.
When I was finished with the book, I gave it to my 6th grade son to read. He read it in one sitting! I asked him what he thought about it, and he said he loved it. When I asked why, he said, “I liked the comments at the end. Also it’s quirky. And original. And I liked the little pictures on the sides.” I believe that most kids would feel this way, and I think it would be a great book to use as a language arts teacher. It’s interesting to see the interplay between the abstract thinking of Tommy and the concrete, or “black-and-white” thinking of his friend Harvey. I think that this could be a great source of classroom discussion in a 5th or 6th grade classroom.

Sahara Special by Esme Raji Codell. (Children's Literature novel)

Codell, Esme Raji. Sahara Special. Scholastic, Inc., 2004. (175 pages)
This book is narrated by the title character, Sahara. Kids at her school call her “Sahara Special” because she spent time in the special education program. Her story is one of overcoming stigma and educational struggles with the help of a very unconventional teacher.
The style and language in this book are very urban and modern. The school described could be any public school. While readers are never given a clinical description of what Sahara’s special needs are (I kind of like that it was left unexplained), they can clearly see what other children think about her as a student who is pulled out from regular classes to get individualized attention. Readers can also see what it feels like to be a student like Sahara with a big file in the office and adults arguing about what to do with you.
Sahara is won over to literature by reading Aesop’s fables, poetry, and Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. She decides that she will become a writer. Literature and education are both colossal themes in this book. One reading it would understand the message very clearly = give children in special education a chance to fall in love with literature and it will improve their lives.
Overall, it was nice, but not earth-shattering. It was somewhat predictable and didactic, which can create boredom in a book’s readership. It reminded me of the section in the C.S. Lewis' On Stories where Lewis talks about how overly-didactic books can be condescending. 

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson (Children's Literature Novel)

 Paterson, Katherine. The Great Gilly Hopkins. Harper & Row, Publishers. 1978. 1978. (148 pages)
This book chronicles the life of Galadriel (Gilly for short) who has been through several foster homes before ending up in the home of Maime Trotter. At first Gilly is very angry and judgmental toward Maime, her foster brother W.E., her new neighbor Mr. Randolph, and her new teacher Miss Harris. But as her schemes result in unexpected changes, she is surprised to learn how much she grew to love all those people she was pushing away.
The language in this book was somewhat gritty and even racist at times – which is why it was on the banned book list. However, while some of those things may be jarring at first it’s pretty clear that this is the portrait of someone who is hurting. I think there is an opportunity for educators to use Gilly as a universal example to illustrate what it means to be disappointed, self-protective, and someone in pain who lashes out at others. Life is disappointing sometimes. However, this book also illustrates the positive side of life as we see that caring for others makes life better.
The characters in this book are very round and complex. The main character, Gilly, experiences a lot of character change. We see many facets in her true-to-life personality. For anyone who has known a hurting child, this characterization hits home realistically. The themes of disappointment, self-protection, and belonging are all universal to the human experience and would provide great educational value. On a side note, I love that she references Tolkein several times! All in all, I really enjoyed the book and the reminder that hatefulness can mean hurt, and that this is a feature which can change as a result of kindness.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Children's Literature Novel)

Lin, Grace. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition, 2011. (304 pages)
In this mythical fantasy, Chinese folktales come to life as young Minli leaves her poverty-stricken village to find a better fortune from the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s father loves to tell stories about the evil Magistrate Tiger and the powerful Old Man of the Moon who ties people to their destinies with pieces of red string. Minli, tired of her mother’s careworn face and constant sighs, leaves her home to find out how to change her family’s destiny.
This story has all the elements of an epic journey: Minli has help from interesting friends including a flightless dragon, she has moments of self-doubt and moments of resolve, she faces danger in the form of a giant green tiger spirit, and she has to make sacrifices and learn lessons. Many elements of Chinese culture are also included in the story: dragons, paintings, tea, gifts, goldfish, gardens, silk, porcelain, and ancient folktales. There are porquoi tales explaining how the moon came to exist and how “Fruitless Mountain” lost its greenery. There are magical tales about how to become a dragon. There are moral tales teaching that one should not be jealous or forceful. Each time a folktale is relayed in the novel, it is indented and bordered by illustrations of the classic Chinese coins. In the end, Minli and her mother discover what true fortune is and how they already had it the whole time.
Lexi and I read this together, and I have to say that I think I loved it as much as she did. Every night I was like, "Come on, Lexi! Let's go read!" That has to be a sign of a successful children's novel.

Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (Children's Literature Novel)

Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows. Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908. (259 pages)
This classic tale of friendship was a pleasure to read. I actually laughed out loud a few times at some of Toad’s exploits. The characterization was amazingly well done; each of the main characters mirrored aspects of people we meet every day. There are sweet and stodgy Mole, poetic hospitable Rat, grim powerful Badger, and outrageous Toad. The concepts of home and friendship were drawn out beautifully.
Wind in the Willows is classed as a children’s modern fantasy, but it seems to me much more of a book adults would appreciate. While there is some action (jailbreak and chase, fight with weasels, car crashes) it is slow moving as Grahame gives sprawling descriptions of setting and nostalgic explanations of home and nature. Adults will appreciate these passages as they are very well done, but I could imagine some children finding them boring.
I realized after starting this book that I had never read the actual novel before. I had certainly read shorter versions of it targeted to younger readers, and saw the Disney short animated film. But there were minor characters and descriptive sections in Grahame’s novel that are excluded in subsequent versions. One of the most poignant excluded sections, in my opinion, is the section from which the book derives its name. Rat explains and interprets the song he hears in the air as the wind blows through the willows:
“Lest the awe should dwell
And turn your frolic to fret
You shall look on my power at the helping hour
But then you shall forget!
Lest limbs be reddened and rent
I spring the trap that is set
As I loose the snare you may glimpse me there
For surely you shall forget!
Helper and healer, I cheer
Small waifs in the woodland wet
Strays I find in it, wound I bind in it
Bidding them all forget!” (p. 141 italics only)

Children's Literature - Picture Books

Here are a few descriptions of some of the picture books I've read this semester in my children's literature class. For anyone who is looking for a new picture book to pick up for a special little one in your life.

1.      Meng, Cece. I Will Not Read This Book. Clarion Books, 2011. Illustrated by Joy Ang. (32 pages)
This book is about a boy who will do anything to avoid reading, from menial tasks to hanging upside-down from his toe as dangerous things surround him. This book was a page turner and beautifully illustrated, I liked how the illustrator used different points of view (such as looking up at the boy from underwater through a swarm of circling sharks).
2.      Cannon, Janell Verdi. Harcourt Brace & Co., 1997. (56 pages)
This book is about a young python named Verdi who tries his best not to grow up. When he is injured and has to slow down for a time, he ends up as an adult but discovers that he can be an adult who is still fun. I think this book is gorgeous: one of the prettiest picture books I’ve seen. The story is wonderful, there is an information section at the back about snakes, and the paintings which are featured on the cover and pages are stunning.
3.      Long, Ethan. Chamelia. Little, Brown, and Co., 2011. (40 pages)
Chameleons are known for blending in, but the hero in this book likes to stand out. In the end she learns how to work well with a group while retaining her unique personality and style. This is a great book to read with a creative, unconventional, stylish little girl. The illustrations are bright and colorful, patterned after Alexander Henry fabrics.
4.      Brown, Margaret Wise. The Sleepy Book. Western Publishing Co., Inc., 1948. Illustrated by Garth Williams. (48 pages)
All the different animals need their sleep in this book, whether it’s a rabbit that has swallowed a bumblebee, a hibernating bear, or a child tucked into bed listening to this book. Margaret Wise Brown uses story, poem, song, and a chant to lull the reader to sleep in this vintage book. A great variety of literary styles and classic illustrations make this book a nostalgic favorite.
5.      Joyce, William. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, 2012. (56 pages)
Books are alive in this story about a man who struggles to write a book until he goes to live with some books for a period of years. I think children would really like this book because they tend to ascribe feelings and thoughts to inanimate objects, and the personification of the books would be really fun for them. It’s a book that communicates a love of reading.
6.      Scarry, Richard. Richard Scarry’s Busiest Fire Fighters Ever! Western Publishing Co., Inc., 1993. (23 pages)
The firefighters do a lot of things to help the people of the town; but they make a few funny mistakes. However, in the end they cook a barbeque for everyone and show the difference between safe and unsafe fires. This book is a lot of fun – I think especially young boys would be attracted to all of the pictures of vehicles. It also is a nice teaching tool for talking about what firefighters do and fire safety.
7.      Rosenthal, Eileen. I Must Have Bobo! Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011. Illustrated by Marc Rosenthal. (34 pages)
A young boy loves his sock monkey, Bobo, but his cat Earl keeps stealing it! In the end all three lie down together for a nap. This book uses a really minimalist aesthetic; the pages are all cream-colored with only a small simple drawing on most pages. I found that to be really memorable, it sort of made me think of Winnie-the-Pooh. Also, the font is in all-caps which I like.
8.      Harper, Charlie. ABCs. Ammo Books, LLC, 2008. (20 pages)
This book is a simple ABC board book with gorgeous animal illustrations for each letter of the alphabet by the iconic Charlie Harper. I used to have his Big Golden Book of Biology when I was a girl, but now it’s impossible to get unless you want to spend hundreds of dollars for a collector’s edition (How I wish I could read that book again for this assignment!). However, small children’s books like this one allow a new generation to see his beautiful geometric nature paintings.
9.      Berenstain, Stan & Jan. The Berenstain Bears’ Nature Guide. Random House, 1975. (64 pages)
The Bear family goes on a long nature walk and they learn facts about animals, plants, and the earth itself. This book is humorous and informative. The illustrations are very memorable; this was a favorite of mine as a child and even after decades I could remember the cave illustration and some of the other pages. It’s an interesting mix of fiction and non-fiction.
10.  Sendak, Maurice. Where the Wild Things Are. Harper Collins Publishers, 1963. (40 pages)
A wild boy in a wolf suit is sent to bed without supper when surprisingly his room transforms into a forest and a sea and an island full of monstrous “wild things”. Luckily, when he returns he finds that his supper is waiting for him and it’s still hot. This book has several pages together with illustration only and no words, what a great time for a child to imagine the story or even speak aloud what he or she thinks is happening.
11.  Mendoza, George. Need a House? Call Ms. Mouse! Grosset & Dunlap, 1981. Illustrated by Doris Susan Smith. (34 pages)
Henrietta Mouse is a home designer with unconventional ideas about how to make the perfect house for her forest animal friends. This book invites children to imagine what a perfect home is and think about the needs of others creatively. We learned in class that hope and imagination are important aspects of children’s literature, and this book helps to open the mind.
12.  Yolen, Jane. Owl Moon. Scholastic, Inc., 1987. Illustrated by John Schoenherr. (30 pages)
A father and daughter go for a late night winter walk through the quiet woods searching for an owl. This story is told in first-person from the perspective of the daughter who is never named. It is a very introspective and quiet sort of story, which ends in the almost frozen silent joy when you find what you’re looking for. It’s a simple but pretty universal emotion when you know that you’ve made a memory, and I think children can really sense that feeling of “special”.
13.  Minarik, Else Holmelund. Little Bear. Harper & Row, Publishers, 1957. Illustrated by Maurice Sendak. (63 pages)
Little Bear has adventures with his animal friends and his Mother Bear is always around to help him with food, warm clothes, and bedtime stories. This book is so heartwarming; it seems to me to be a true celebration of what we appreciate in mothers. And also what mothers appreciate about their little bears.
14.  McCloskey, Robert. Make Way for Ducklings. Viking Press, 1941. (76 pages)
A family of mallards walks through the streets of Boston to make it back to the park pond where they want to live. Policemen and pedestrians are helpful to the mother duck and her ducklings. I liked this book because it was a wholesome story about people appreciating and protecting nature. The drawings were very biologically accurate and realistic, albeit simple and colorless.
15.  Freeman, Don. Corduroy. Viking Press, 1968. (30 pages)
Corduroy is a toy bear in a department store with a lost button, but a girl falls in love with him anyway. She buys him and gives him a home, friendship, and a mending. The bright red cover of this book is very attractive and memorable. I think anyone would empathize with the characters in this story, as we all long for companionship in spite of our imperfections and we all give companionship to others who are imperfect as well.
16.  Evans, Shane W. Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom. Roaring Brook, 2011. (32 pages)
A group of runaway slaves make it through a dark and scary journey to find a new a bright life. The most striking thing about this book is how picture value was used, most of the book being drawn in deep dark blue shadow with the ending showing yellow light. The pictures and even the picture value really helped to tell the story and symbolize what this journey must have meant to the participants.
17.  Cronin, Doreen. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. Illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Atheneum, 2000. (32 pages)
The cows have a typewriter and are leaving typed demands to a very frustrated farmer. In the end, the supposed neutral message-man, the duck, steals the typewriter and the fun starts all over again as the ducks begin typing. This book was light-hearted and funny – I loved the page in which the duck was carrying the terms of truce. The repeated refrain, “Click, clack, moo” would make this very fun for a toddler who would enjoy speaking a repeated refrain along with the reader.
18.  Graham, Bob. Let’s Get a Pup! Said Kate. Candlewick, 2003. (32 pages)
A modern family decides to adopt a puppy from the pound, but an older dog makes an impression on them and they all agree to go adopt the older dog as well. The characters in this book seem very likable and spontaneous (not to mention compassionate to the older dog). I did not really care for this style of illustration – the lines and shapes seem a bit sloppy and round which for me makes everything run together (no sharp contrast, maybe) – but I did like the closing picture which was all blue except for the highlighted bed with Kate and both dogs.
19.  Slobodkina, Esphyr. Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business. HarperCollins, 1940. (40 pages)
A cap peddler naps under a tree only to wake and find that all of his caps have been stolen by monkeys! This book is so fun to read to little ones; the colors are bright, the illustrations are very crisp with clean contrast, the lines of text repeat in patterns, and there are simple concepts in the text where the reader can help to teach the young listener about counting and colors in an entertaining way. My favorite part is producing the sound that the monkeys make (“Tsz! Tsz! Tsz!”) and yelling, “You monkeys, you!” (I still yell this at my old kids when they are being naughty – haha.)
20.  Bunting, Eve. Smoky Night. Illustrated by David Diaz. Sandpiper, 1999. (36 pages)
A family survives a night of rioting and fire, as they simultaneously grow to appreciate neighbors in their community they may have misjudged beforehand. This book tackles some themes which are fairly deep: racial tension, riots, and life-threatening fires. It is done in such a way that is sensitive to the young audience of readers, while maintaining realism. I like the use of the cats as symbols for the racial tension and reconciliation the characters go through.
21.   Eastman, P.D. Are you my Mother? Beginner Books: A Division of Random House Inc., 1960. (63 pages)
A bird hatches while his mother is away and sets out on an adventure to find her, asking many creatures and objects the question: Are you my mother? There is great humor in this as the little bird falls out of the nest and makes so many mistakes. It’s heartwarming too when the reader sees him reunited with his mother in the end having discovered what a mother is after seeing so many things that a mother is not.

22.  Hyman, Trina Schart. Little Red Riding Hood. Holiday House, 1983. (26 pages)
Little Red Riding Hood ignores her mother’s advice and ends up with a dangerous friend in the woods on the way to her grandmother’s house. In this traditional folktale, we learn how it can be to “drift off the path”. Whenever I hear this story, I always think of this poem I have memorized (but I don’t know the author of it! Or where/when I read it!) which states the moral of the story as:
“Now, little girls this seems to say; watch your friends along the way,
Never trust a stranger friend; you do not know how it may end,
Keep in mind this simple truth: sweetest tongue hides sharpest tooth.”
23.  Young, Ed. Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Story from China. Paperstar, 1989. (32 pages)
Three sisters must match wits with a crafty wolf (disguised as their grandmother) after they let it into their house. This variant of Little Red Riding Hood featured scary and dark images of the wolf inside the house, and dreamier non-crisp lines of the wolf below the tree. My favorite thing of all, though, was the wise and self-effacing dedication in the beginning of the book to wolves for lending their good names as tangible symbols for our own darkness.
24.  Aardema, Verna. Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears. Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Dial, 1975. (32 pages)
An African porquoi folktale, this book gives a funny explanation for why mosquitoes buzz close to people’s ears. This book is cumulative and builds up to an entertaining conclusion as many animals make mistakes along the way like a cascade of dominoes. My favorite illustration was the lizard with sticks in his ears because his grumpy face was so expressive and the sticks were such a comical concept.
25.  Waber, Bernard. A Firefly Named Torchy. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1970. (39 pages)
Torchy is a firefly with a light that is too bright for the forest. His fellow fireflies discourage him from using his light and he’s upset until he goes to the city and learns that there are many types of light in the world. Waber uses a lot of abstract color block on black background – the color block style makes me think of Eric Carle.
26.  Gonzalez, Maya Christina. My Colors, My World, Mis Colores, Mi Mundo. Children’s Book Press, 2007. (24 pages)
A little girl starts this bilingual book by describing how the desert makes everything the same color, but then as she begins to look for beauty she finds beautiful desert colors in things like sunsets, flowers, and more. The plot structure and characterization are pretty simple, but the colors and language are very rhythmic for reading to a young one.
27.  Say, Allen. Grandfather’s Journey. Houghton Mifflin, 1993. (32 pages)
The illustrations in this story were some of the most attractive I’ve seen all semester and it has some universal themes which speak to what home means to people who have travelled. The thing I remember most from the reading, aside from the drawings, is the statement that whenever we are in one place we are homesick for the other. Also there was something about how being a parent makes you crave old things, I really resonated with that idea.
28.  Stevenson, Robert Louis. My Shadow. Adapted and illustrated by Monique Felix. Creative Editions, 2002. (32 pages)
A mouse observes and plays with its shadow, it notices that shadows don’t grow and move in the same way mice do. There was a beautiful page of yellow buttercups and no words. The poem was something a child would enjoy; it is relatable and made more fun with the fresh illustrations Felix adds.
29.  Dr. Seuss. Hop on Pop. TM & co, 1963. (64 pages)
This book does not follow a story line per se, but each page or two has rhyming fun for kids who are beginning to read simple words on their own. It’s really fun to see the silly things that the characters do like sitting on a cactus, chasing a bear out of a tent, and of course hopping on their pop. This book seems almost more like poetry than a story with all the rhyming and word play, Dr. Seuss just has a very unique style.
30.  Wolkstein, Diane. Little Mouse’s Painting. Illustrated by Maryjane Begin. Morrow Junior Books, 1992. (26 pages)
Mouse paints a landscape, but her three friends all think that the painting is of them. Mouse explains that she knows it’s just a landscape since she’s the one who painted it – but that night she begins to see her friends in the painting after all. The theme of this book is one of interpreting works of creativity, and even though that may be an abstract concept I think that children are really into doing this. They are better at interpretation than some adults give them credit for.
31.  Wadsworth, Olive A. Over in the Meadow. Illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. Scholastic, 1971. (20 pages)
This classic counting rhyme was originally written by Wadsworth, but a number of illustrators have brought the rhyme to life with differing styles of picturebook art. I love Ezra Jack Keats’ version, which I remember from my own childhood, she uses bold collage artwork in a way which makes every animal type look unique and appealing. Out of curiosity, I looked on Amazon to see the other variations of this rhyme by other illustrators and I have to say that Keats’ version and the version illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky are the most charming to me.
32.  Klassen, Jon. This is Not My Hat. Candlewick, 2012. (40 pages)
A small fish steals a hat from a much larger fish, but as he swims away he convinces himself that it will be just fine. This caper is pure naughty fun, as the onlooker can see that the small fish is in deeper trouble than he realizes. I can imagine kids reading this and getting really excitable as they yell out warnings to the small fish or laugh as they delight in knowing that the statements small fish makes are not true.
33.  Wilkin, Eloise. Prayers for Children. Golden Inspirational, Little Gldn Tre Edition, 1999. (24 pages)
Eloise Wilkin illustrates the pages where she has quoted simple rhyming prayers which children can repeat. The illustrations are old-fashioned, sweet, and detail-oriented. I think a spiritual family would really enjoy reading these poetic prayers with their children, but it would likely be frowned upon for school reading because of its theistic content. However, I have to say I really enjoyed reading it.