Module 10 — Historical Fiction

Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora

Module 10 — Historical Fiction

Bibliography

Mora, P.  (2009).  Tomas and the library lady.  New York, NY: Paw Prints.

Summary

This story, based on events in the life of Tomas Rivera, shows the difference that books, the library, and caring adults can make in the mental and emotional lives of a child.   Rivera, the author of the acclaimed novel ...And the Earth Did Not Devour Him, was a child of migrant farm workers who went on to earn a doctorate and become a university chancellor.  In Tomas and the Library Lady, the young Tomas is welcomed into a world of learning and the imagination by a kind librarian who lets him check out books on her card.  He becomes a storyteller to his family with the encouragement of his wise and loving grandfather.

My Impressions

That this story comes from the life of a writer for whom I have strong respect makes it especially moving for me. The illustrations add a lot to the story, with young Tomas visualizing himself among dinosaurs and in the midst of other adventures.  This book shows the power of learning and of the library and it shows that caring adults can be so important to kids. This is a great book to show kids how a writer’s vivid imagination was sparked by the ideas he encountered in the books from the library shelves.

Reviews

Elleman, B. (1997, Oct.). [Review of the book Tomas and the library lady]. School Library Journal, 43, 105.

Gr 2-4–Tomas Rivera, who at his death in 1984 was the Chancellor of the University of California at Riverside, grew up in a migrant family. Here, Mora tells the fictionalized story of one summer in his childhood during which his love of books and reading is fostered by a librarian in Iowa, who takes him under her wing while his family works the harvest. She introduces him to stories about dinosaurs, horses, and American Indians and allows him to take books home where he shares them with his parents, grandfather, and brother. When it is time for the family to return to Texas, she gives Tomas the greatest gift of all–a book of his own to keep. Colon’s earthy, sun-warmed colors, textured with swirling lines, add life to this biographical fragment and help portray Tomas’s reading adventures in appealing ways. Stack this up with Sarah Stewart and David Small’s The Library (Farrar, 1995) and Suzanne Williams and Steven Kellogg’s Library Lil (Dial, 1997) to demonstrate the impact librarians can have on youngsters.

Rochman, H. (1997, Aug.). [Review of the book Tomas and the library lady]. Booklist, 93, 1906.

Books for Youth, For the Young: Ages 4-8. From the immigrant slums of New York City to the fields of California, it’s an elemental American experience: the uprooted child who finds a home in the library. Mora’s story is based on a true incident in the life of the famous writer Tomas Rivera, the son of migrant workers who became an education leader and university president. Far from his home in Texas, the small boy is working with his family picking corn in Iowa. Inspired by the Spanish stories his grandfather (Papa Grande) tells, Tomas goes to the library to find more stories. The librarian welcomes him into the cool, quiet reading room and gives him books in English that he reads to himself and to his family. He teaches her some Spanish words. Then, as in so many migrant stories, the boy must leave the home he has found. He has a new, sad word for her, “adios. It means goodbye.” Colon’s beautiful scratchboard illustrations, in his textured, glowingly colored, rhythmic style, capture the warmth and the dreams that the boy finds in the world of books. The pictures are upbeat; little stress is shown; even in the fields, the kids could be playing kick ball or listening to stories. Perhaps the most moving picture is that of the child outside the library door, his face pressed against the pane. In contrast is the peaceful space he finds inside, where he is free to imagine dinosaurs and wild adventure.

Using in the Library

Tomas Rivera, like labor leader Cesar Chavez and writer Francisco Jimenez, was the child of migrant workers and grew up while moving around the country, attending many schools and always working hard.  Present a book talk featuring books about/by these three children of migrant workers who became very influential and important to American history and culture.  In the book talk also present novels that show the experience of families of migrant workers, such as Lupita Manana and Esperanza Rising.

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Module 9 — Mystery

Torn to Pieces by Margot McDonnell

Module 9 — Mystery

Bibliography

McDonnell, M.  (2008).  Torn to Pieces.  New York, NY: Delacorte

Summary

Anne, this mystery’s seventeen-year-old narrator, is accustomed to an unorthodox homelife, but she is left at a loss when her vaguely employed frequent-flyer mother leaves a strangely worded and deeply mysterious goodbye letter (of sorts).  Anne soon finds that she knows almost nothing about her mom’s daily existence and that she and her grandparents can have no expectation of learning where Anne’s mother is or what she is doing.  Bizarre events linked somehow to Anne’s mother’s business (or criminal) connections begin to pile up, and Anne, who begins strained relationships with two boys who have issues of their own, attempts to make sense of a world where no assumption goes untested and no predicted outcome holds more than a small amount of certainty.

My Impressions

This book is unlike any I’ve ever read.  The first-person narration is simultaneously descriptive, secretive, and strangely tangential, much like the bizarre letter Anne receives from her amazingly uncommunicative mother, who was at least once employed as a writer and claims to care about and/or love her daughter.  The bizarre events and seemingly free-associating narration combine to create a uniquely compelling novel that never ceases to amaze.

Torn to Pieces features audaciously bold stylings and its plot and characters are wildly unpredictable.  After an initial period of frustration and bafflement, I was bowled over by McDonnel’s unique stylings and free-flowing narrative.  The term “novel” fails to describe Torn to Pieces.  I’ll describe it instead as a dramatic epistolary epic prose tone poem–with a twist.  A must!

Reviews

Campbell, H. M. (2009, Jan. 1). [Review of the book Torn to pieces]. School Library Journal, 55, 110.

Gr 8–11— Anne, 17, is used to her eccentric mother’s comings and goings; after all, the woman is a biographer who must travel to interview the subjects of her books. Anne is used to her mother pulling up roots and moving the two of them and her grandparents to a new town. She is definitely used to having few friends and fewer boyfriends. All that changes when two new boys show an unusual interest in her. A phone message from her mother leads her to thousands of dollars stashed inside a hollowed-out book, and then her mother doesn’t return from one of her trips. When Anne calls the woman’s cell, the number has been disconnected, and there is no record of her at the hotel where she was supposedly staying. As the teen begins to unravel the mystery of her mother’s identity, she discovers that all she has ever known has been a fabrication. Fast-paced and exciting, this book is a perfect choice for fans of Caroline Cooney’s “The Face on the Milk Carton” series (Random). The complicated plot takes a little deciphering to figure out, but persistent readers will be rewarded for their efforts. Anne is an articulate and intelligent heroine, and readers will identify with her sense of social isolation as they live vicariously through her courage and tenacity.

Booth, H. (2008, Nov. 1). [Review of the book Torn to pieces]. Booklist, 105, 36.

Gr. 8-11 Anne has never really liked the fact that her mother travels so much for work, but she gets by, thanks to her nearby grandparents, and enjoys the benefits of her mom’s ample salary. Besides, her mom always makes it back for the important things. But when her mother misses Anne’s birthday and her cell phone gets disconnected, Anne starts to worry, and with good reason. Soon, the life she thought she had is crumbling in front of her eyes and she is sucked into a world of long-held secrets, government agencies, double crosses, and dangerous men. Anne’s mom’s shocking past has caught up with her, and Anne discovers that no one in her life is who she thought they were. Readers may want to be aware that as she investigates the complex deception her mother has constructed, Anne encounters violence on several occasions, including a disturbing scene of attempted rape and potential incest. This teen thriller is slow to start but builds to a gripping conclusion with a final twist that will shock and satisfy teen readers.

Using in the Library

In Torn to Pieces the protagonist is involved in several hunts for information, money, or other resources.  Send students on a treasure hunt, using clues to find library resources in print.  (The library catalog may be used to locate print resources.)  For example, “I am organized in volumes by the letters of the alphabet.  I provide information for basic research and fundamental knowledge.  Use me to find information about the FBI (agents of the FBI appear several times in Torn).  What resource am I?  In addition, what is the name of the main FBI headquarters and in what city is it located?  What is the significance of this name?”  Send students on the scavenger hunt and discuss the results when you reconvene.  Students can use multiple sources with the goal of identifying several ways to find the information in various print resources.

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Module 8 — Fantasy and Science Fiction

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Module 8 — Fantasy

Bibliography

Juster, N.  (1961).  The phantom tollbooth.  New York, NY: Random House.

Summary

This whimsical fantasy follows the journey of a bored boy, Milo, who receives a surprise package containing a tollbooth that allows him to enter an alternate universe. The book is filled with clever puns and every kind of wordplay.  Milo encounters a host of wacky characters including King Azaz the Unabridged, ruler of Dictionopolis, and the Which known as Faintly Macabre and visits such places as the Island of Conclusions (to which he must, of course, jump).  As Milo learns to appreciate rather than ignore his surroundings, the reader is immersed in a topsy-turvy world of adventure.

My Impressions

I found the book’s beginning very strong and felt that the predicament of Milo, bored but restless and seemingly adrift, is one common to many people young and old. The wordplay is lots of fun and I admire Jules Feiffer’s drawings, especially the first drawing of Jules walking home from school in a cloud of dejection, observed by a seemingly sympathetic bird.  As the progresses I think that it loses some of its punch because the conflicts which Milo faces seem to have no real consequences.  I think the book could use some higher stakes toward the end so that the reader feels more engaged in Milo’s journey and quest.

Reviews

McNamee, G. (2006). Anniversaries: The phantom tollbooth [Review of the book The phantom tollbooth]. Kirkus Reviews, 74, 1086.

When we first encounter [Milo] in the opening moments of The Phantom Tollbooth, Milo is bored, bored, bored. Conveniently lacking parents and with few apparent responsibilities other than going to school, he lives in a house well appointed with toys, games, books and other goodies. Nothing can engage him. “I can’t see the point in learning to solve useless problems, or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where Ethiopia is or how to spell February,” he grumbles. Milo has an incuriosity about the world and learning that would do the sitting president proud, and nothing, it seems, can shake him from his torpor.

Nothing, that is, save the arrival of a new toy: a cardboard tollbooth that affords Milo a gateway into an alternate universe designed by C.P. Snow.There he finds two royal brothers nearly at war over whether words or numbers are supreme. In the realm of Dictionopolis, beautiful ideas float about freely, but humbugs, trivialists, multivalent ministers, polysemic pedants and other rancorous types devalue their currency. In the land of Digitopolis, meanwhile, the good citizens know that the average family has 2.58 children and 1.3 cars (and, says one, “since I’m the only one who can drive three tenths of a car, I get to use it all the time”).

Learning to negotiate his way past the shoals of unreason and the demons of insincerity, to name just a couple of obstacles, teaches Milo a thing or two about the grownup world. It also gives him powerfully good reasons to arm his mind against dullness, obfuscation and lies, all of which thrive on just the incuriosity of which Milo had been a past master.

Juster taught his readers to question authority, to question generally, and certainly to leave a kindly mark on the world. Forty-five years old and showing no signs of age, The Phantom Tollbooth well deserves its status as a literary classic. It’s not bad reading for kids, either.

[Review of The phantom tollbooth, by N. Juster]. (2005, Sep/Oct). Connect Magazine, 19, 18-19.

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster (Random House, 1961), still holds up as a classic adventure for fourth through eighthgraders. “It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time,” says Milo, the hero of the story. He receives the gift of a tollbooth and because there’s nothing else to do, travels through the tollbooth in a toy car. He first enters Dictionopolis and picks up Tock, the watchdog who ticks. They continue along a route visible on a map printed on the end papers of the book. In Dictionopolis, they meet the Spelling Bee, the Humbug, and Faintly Macabre, the not-so-wicked Which. Many conventions of time, space, logic, computation and expression are playfully rearranged in this tale. (The Island of Conclusions may only be reached by jumping. At one point, the Humbug wants to travel via miles because it’s quicker, but Milo wants to travel in inches because it’s shorter.)

Using in the Library

Give examples of puns from the book — the watchdog Tock, for example, objects to Milos manner of speaking: “‘KILLING TIME!’ roared the dog–so furiously that his alarm went off. ‘It’s bad enough wasting time without killing it!’ And he shuddered at the thought.” — and challenge students to find others. Have students write down and perhaps illustrate various puns or wordplay from the book. Students may also find sources in the library that contain examples of word play, idioms, or riddles.

The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking: Book One by Patrick Ness

Module 8 — Science Fiction

Bibliography

Ness, P.  (2008).  The knife of never letting go: Chaos walking: Book one. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

Summary

Every person in Prentisstown (a “New World” on a colonized planet) is continually assaulted by the noise of everyone else.  A virus has killed all the women and left the men unable to tune out or silence the thoughts of others, and this “noise” makes solitude or secrets impossible.    When the 12-year-old narrator, Todd (the last colony’s last boy, soon to become a man at the age of 13), discovers a place in a nearby swamp that is free of noise, he begins to question beliefs he had thought to be self-evident.  After he is forced to flee into the swampland, chased by a vengeful preacher and other men of the colony, Todd encounters a girl, making it even more clear that his world is not as it had always seemed.

My Impressions

In this world a never-ending noise seems like a curse, but the barrage of information is perhaps not that unlike our current world in the digital age.  Patrick Ness finds creative ways to express the constant bombardment, including handwritten text with words that crowd together and overwhelm the book’s standard manuscript.  There’s a lot to think about in this book, but it’s also a page-turner that keeps you wondering what’s next.

Reviews

Chipman, I. (2008, Sept. 1). [Review of the book The knife of never letting go]. Booklist, 105, 97.

/*Starred Review*/ Chased by a madman preacher and possibly the rest of his townsfolk as well, young Todd Hewitt flees his settlement on a planet where war with the natives has killed all the women and infected the men with a germ that broadcasts their thoughts aloud for all to hear. This cacophanous thought-cloud is known as Noise and is rendered with startling effectiveness on the page. The first of many secrets is revealed when Todd discovers an unsettling hole in the Noise, and quickly realizes that he lives in a much different world than the one he thought he did. Some of the central conceits of the drama can be hard to swallow, but the pure inventiveness and excitement of the telling more than make up for it. Narrated in a sort of pidgin English with crack dramatic and comic timing by Todd and featuring one of the finest talking-dog characters anywhere, this troubling, unforgettable opener to the Chaos Walking trilogy is a penetrating look at the ways in which we reveal ourselves to one another, and what it takes to be a man in a society gone horribly wrong. The cliffhanger ending is as effective as a shot to the gut.

Honig, M. (2008, Nov. 1). [Review of the book The knife of never letting go]. School Library Journal, 54, 133.

Gr 9 Up— Todd Hewitt lives in a world in which all women are dead, and the thoughts of men and animals are constantly audible as Noise. Graphically represented by a set of scratchy fonts and sentence fragments that run into and over each other, Noise is an oppressive chaos of words, images, and sounds that makes human company exhausting and no thought truly private. The history of these peculiar circumstances unfolds over the course of the novel, but Ness’s basic world-building is so immediately successful that readers, too, will be shocked when Todd and his dog, Manchee, first notice a silence in the Noise. Realizing that he must keep the silence secret from the town leaders, he runs away, and his terrified flight with an army in pursuit makes up the backbone of the plot. The emotional, physical, and intellectual drama is well crafted and relentless. Todd, who narrates in a vulnerable and stylized voice, is a sympathetic character who nevertheless makes a few wrenching mistakes. Manchee and Aaron, a zealot preacher, function both as characters and as symbols. Tension, suspense, and the regular bombardment of Noise are palpable throughout, mitigated by occasional moments of welcome humor. The cliff-hanger ending is unexpected and unsatisfying, but the book is still a pleasure for sophisticated readers comfortable with the length and the bleak, literary tone.

Using in the Library

Patrick Ness uses handwritten text (sometimes overlapping and dominant) to show the overwhelming bombardment of noise.  Are there other ways that authors can express ideas through the type, placement, or structure of printed or handwritten text?  Ask students for ideas and then present examples of concrete poetry, which uses the poem’s physical shape to present an idea associated with the words of the poem.

Shown above is “The Sawfish,” from A Poke in the I, Paul B. Janeczko’s excellent collection of concrete poetry.  After reading a few examples of concrete poetry with students, discuss how Ness has used the text to express important ideas in the The Knife of Never Letting Go.  Challenge students to write examples of concrete poetry or of words or phrases (using word puzzles, for example) that express ideas through words and form.

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Module 7 — Realistic Fiction (Young Adults)

Slob by Ellen Potter

Module 7 — Realistic Fiction (Young Adults)

Bibliography

Potter, E.  (2009).  Slob.  New York, NY: Philomel Books.

Summary

An intelligent but awkward twelve-year-old narrates this thought-provoking book. Owen Birnbaum, overweight and unaccepted at school,  has suffered a devastating loss and desperately seeks a means to turn back the clock for at least a brief glimpse into the past.  If he can use an ingenious invention, his obsessive project, to see one horrific moment from the past, Owen feels that he can have some control in his life and restore a sense of order, if not justice, in the world.   In this funny and moving story, Ellen Potter connects the reader with a boy who is suffering but not without hope and certainly not without wit.

My Impressions

I think this a well-written and moving book that really packs a wallop.  It looks at some serious psychological issues in perceptive and moving ways but manages to keep a light and entertaining tone.  I really loved this book’s ending, and I thought SLOB was especially effective in handling the issues of guilt, low self-esteem, and social isolation.  All the while, its first-person narration is consistently entertaining, funny, and thought-provoking.  The book has several surprises that really emphasize its themes and give them special impact.

Reviews

[Review of Slob, by E. Potter]. (2009, Apr.15). Kirkus Reviews, 77, 447.

An intriguingly offbeat mystery concerning the theft of cookies from a boy’s lunch, at turns humorous, suspenseful and poignant. Intelligent Owen is the fattest kid in his middle school, having packed on the pounds after a major upheaval in his life caused him to begin turning to food as a source of comfort. His younger sister, who has joined up with a group at school called Girls Who Are Boys (GWAB) and taken to insisting that others call her Jeremy, coped by growing tougher. Owen, on the other hand, has become an object of ridicule due to his weight. While the Oreo heist provides the main premise for Owen to engage with other kids at school, there are a number of secondary mysteries crafted alongside it, each of them raising unexpected questions that are neatly wrapped up by the novel’s end. While some readers may balk at some of its more convenient coincidences, fans of Jerry Spinelli and others of his ilk may especially enjoy it and will be held rapt.

Knight, E. (2009, July 1). [Review of the book Slob]. School Library Journal, 55, 90.

/* Starred Review */ Gr 6-8 –Owen is the fattest–and smartest–seventh grader in his New York City school. When he’s not ducking the school bully or trying to survive the world’s most sadistic P.E. teacher, he invents things. Currently Owen has two projects–a TV that will show events in the past and a trap to catch the thief who keeps stealing the Oreos from his lunchbox. There’s a lot of middle school banter and adolescent dialogue. However, what begins as a lighthearted adventure gradually takes on a darker tone. Owen calls his invention Nemesis and insists that it needs to reach exactly two years back. As the story evolves, readers learn that there are places in town where he feels distinctly uncomfortable, and that he treasures a note that says only “SLOB.” Step by step, Owen reveals the tragedy behind his concerns. Two years earlier, he was hiding in the basement of the family store, listening as his parents were killed by an intruder. Adopted by the 911 operator who took his call after the murders, he dreams of identifying the perpetrator. Although Nemesis fails to solve the crime, Owen is finally able to find closure, with help from his sister, their friends, and, surprisingly, from the dreaded bully himself. A sensitive, touching, and sometimes heartbreakingly funny picture of middle school life.

Using in the Library

SLOB deals with the issues of bullying and social stigmatization.  What are some ways in which students can help to prevent bullying?  Discuss with students and have students create posters to encourage everyone — including students, teachers, administrators, and parents — to do their best to prevent bullying and help everyone to feel included and valued.  To get students thinking, share a passage or two from SLOB and ask what messages Owen might want to get across to others.  Then show a couple of print ads from http://www.bullyingresources.org/sbn/printmaterials.asp and challenge students to create posters to display in the library or the hallway to encourage everyone to help stop bullying.

After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

Module 7 — Realistic Fiction (Young Adults)

Bibliography

Woodson, J.  (2008).  After Tupac & D Foster.  New York, NY: G. P, Putnam’s Sons.

Summary

After Tupac & D Foster is the story of two girls who, upon meeting a mysterious, world-wise girl who arrives in their neighborhood one evening, find and then lose a friend who makes their group a trio.  The new girl, who is especially fond of Tupac Shakur, makes a huge impression on her new friends and they share in her trials as she deals with the problems of being a foster child and having a mother who comes back into the picture.

My Impressions

I enjoyed the camaraderie of the three girls in this story and I think this book would appeal to a lot of kids in middle or early high school.  I also like the idea of having the characters discuss and follow the life of a real person.

Reviews

Engberg, G. (2008, Feb. 1). [Review of the book After Tupac and D Foster]. Booklist, 104, 51.

Gr. 6-9 “The summer before D Foster’s real mama came and took her away, Tupac wasn’t dead yet.” From this first line in her quiet, powerful novel, Woodson cycles backward through the events that lead to dual tragedies: a friend’s departure and a hero’s death. In a close-knit African American neighborhood in Queens, New York, the unnamed narrator lives across from her best friend, Neeka. Then D Foster wanders onto the block, and the three 11-year-old girls quickly become inseparable. Because readers know from the start where the plot is headed, the characters and the community form the focus here. A subplot about Neeka’s older brother, a gay man serving prison time after being framed for a hate crime, sometimes threatens to overwhelm the girls’ story. But Woodson balances the plotlines with subtle details, authentic language, and rich development. Beautifully capturing the girls’ passage from childhood to adolescence, this is a memorable, affecting novel about the sustaining power of love and friendship and each girl’s developing faith in her own “Big Purpose.”

Vikstrom, K. (2008, Apr. 1). [Review of the book After Tupac and D Foster]. School Library Journal, 54, 154.

/* Starred Review */ Gr 6–10—D Foster, Neeka, and an unnamed narrator grow from being 11 to 13 with Tupac Shakur’s music, shootings, and legal troubles as the backdrop. Neeka and the narrator have lived on the same block forever and are like sisters, but foster child D shows up during the summer of 1994, while she is out “roaming.” D immediately finds a place in the heart of the other girls, and the “Three the Hard Way” bond over their love of Tupac’s music. It seems especially relevant to D, who sees truth in his lyrics, having experienced the hard life herself in group homes and with multiple foster families. Woodson’s spare, poetic, language and realistic Queens, NY, street vernacular reveal a time and a relationship, each chapter a vignette depicting an event in the lives of the girls and evoking mood more than telling a story. In this urban setting, there are, refreshingly, caring adults and children playing on the street instead of drug dealers on every corner. Readers are right on the block with bossy mothers, rope-jumping girls, and chess-playing elders. With Tupac’s name and picture on the cover, this slim volume will immediately appeal to teens, and the emotions and high-quality writing make it a book well worth recommending. By the end, readers realize that, along with the girls, they don’t really know D at all. As she says, “I came on this street and y’all became my friends. That’s the D puzzle.” And readers will find it a puzzle well worth their time.

Using in the Library

The girls in this book follow the life and music of Tupac Shakur.  Ask kids to name the musicians, actors, writers, or other artists/performers who are big influences on them.  Ask students: if you were to create a cover for a book about you, your friends, and a performer who is it important to you, what would it look like?  What would the title be?  Create the book cover, and then maybe write a table of contents or even a first chapter. Display the book covers in the library.

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Module 6 — Realistic Fiction (Younger Readers)

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

Module 6 — Realistic Fiction (Younger Readers)

Bibliography

Gantos, Jack.  (1998).  Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key.  New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Summary

The book’s narrator is dealing with big problems at home and, because of his severe ADHD, even more problems at school.  He is completely distracted in class and his teachers have been steadily losing patience.  Events reach a breaking point when Joey somewhat inadvertently swallows and ingests his housekey during class.   Joey’s problems at home include an abusive grandmother and an alcoholic and sometimes absent mother.  Over the course of the book, Joey learns some important truths about himself and begins facing his problems while hoping for a better life at home and, perhaps, a dog to take care of and add as a member of the family.

My Impressions

While aimed at younger readers, this book tackles some important issues that many kids deal with on a daily basis.  The book shows that ADHD is a serious problem that can cause great frustration and can impede a child’s growth and development.  The problems Joey faces at home, including neglect, emotional abuse, and an alcoholic parent, are also serious, but Joey’s narration manages to keep the tone optimistic without minimizing the extent of the problems.  The story is also quite funny, and Joey’s narration is consistently witty and entertaining.

Reviews

Lempke, S. D. (1998, Dec. 15). [Review of the book Joey Pigza swallowed the key]. Booklist, 95, 752.

Books for Youth, Middle Readers: Gr. 4-7. Joey Pigza, who lives with his hyperactive grandmother, understands that he’s also “wired bad.” Despite his best intentions, he can’t concentrate and can’t hold still. What’s more, he can never resist an impulse: when his teacher assigns him to sharpening pencils to keep him from getting into mischief, he sharpens pencils, then chalk, then a Popsicle stick, and finally his own finger. He begins to settle down when his mother returns and gets him started on medication, but unfortunately, his morning pill wears off by noon every day. What makes this unusual is Gantos’ sympathetic approach to all concerned. There are no bad guys among the adults, just well-meaning, occasionally exasperated grown-ups trying to help Joey get his behavior under control. Joey tells his own story, giving a vivid, keenly observed, detailed account of his actions and the reactions of others: “By lunchtime my meds had worn off again and I was spinning around in my chair like it was the Mad Hatter’s Teacup ride at the church carnival.” Gantos sometimes seems to be using Joey to inform readers, and occasionally makes Joey’s comments seem too adult, but Joey is warm, lovable, and good-hearted, though maybe just a little too nice to be realistic. (He never even gets angry when he’s deprived of the sugary treats he so craves.) Most teachers and students know at least one child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and this book will surely help them become more understanding, even as they enjoy Gantos’ fresh writing style and tart sense of humor.

Brommer, S. (1998, Dec.). [Review of the book Joey Pigza swallowed the key]. School Library Journal, 44, 124.

Gr 5-8-Joey Pigza suffers from severe attention deficit disorder and struggles to remain calm when his world chaotically slips through his fingertips. When his medicine wears off, he cannot concentrate or sit still and is constantly in trouble at school. After leaving him for several years in the care of his abusive grandmother, his mother returns to reclaim him and her parental responsibilities. But Joey remains a challenge: he continually disrupts his class, swallows his house key, and runs away during a field trip. Eventually, he injures a classmate and is sent to a special education center for six weeks; here his medication is regulated and he learns how to manage his behavior. Joey leaves the center feeling strong and in control and he triumphantly returns to his old school. Gantos creates a strong cast of multidimensional characters. Joey is inherently a good kid and just as his teachers want him to succeed, readers will empathize and feel his emotional and physical bruises. References to alcoholism and abuse add realism to the novel without impeding the flow of the plot. In his first-person narrative, Joey relates incidents that are heart wrenching and humorous. From the powerful opening lines and fast-moving plot to the thoughtful inner dialogue and satisfying conclusion, readers will cheer for Joey, and for the champion in each of us.

Using in the Library

In a booktalk, present the Joey Pigza books as a series, reading funny and dramatic passages to set up conflicts and cliffhangers in each book. Starting with Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, read the sequence in which Joey ingests his housekey.  Tell about Joey’s problems at home and at school and ask if Joey can accomplish his goals of improving at school and at home and maybe even getting a dog.   Read funny and dramatic passages from Joey Pigza Loses Control, What Would Joey Do?, and I Am Not Joey Pigza to sell the books to kids.

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Module 5 — Picture Book

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

Bibliography

Pinkney, J.  (2009).  The lion and the mouse.  New York, NY: Little, Brown and Co.

Summary

A wordless retelling of Aesop’s fable, this is the story of how a lion and a mouse become friends through separate acts of kindness.  When a lion decides to release a mouse that has woken him from a nap, he is unaware that the same mouse will later save him from a cruel trap.  Explaining the origins of the book, Pinkney writes in a preface, “Since most retelling of the fable are sparse in text, a wordless version seemed quite natural; yet these engaging characters led me to make the story even fuller by providing a sense of family and setting.”  He sets the story in the African Serengeti, and the expansive scope of many of the illustrations places these animals in the midst of a vast landscape teeming with life.

My Impressions

The pictures in The Lion and the Mouse are so expressive that words really are not necessary.  The words that are included are sound effects, adding another texture to the story to further immerse the reader in the atmosphere of African grasslands.  I think that Pinkney took great care to make each picture add to both the story and the characters of the lion and mouse, making both the principal characters more rounded and developed.   This book is beautiful to look at and also shows the values of kindness and friendship without hitting the reader over the head with the story’s well-known moral.

Reviews

Lukehart, W. (2009, Sept. 1). [Review of the book The lion and the mouse]. School Library Journal, 55, 146.

/* Starred Review */ PreS-Gr 3— This story starts on the cover with the glorious, golden countenance of a lion. No text is necessary to communicate the title: the direction of the beast’s gaze and the conflicted expression on his tightly cropped face compel readers to turn the book over, where a mouse, almost filling the vertical space, glances back. The endpapers and artist’s note place these creatures among the animal families of the African Serengeti. Each spread contributes something new in this nearly wordless narrative, including the title opening, on which the watchful rodent pauses, resting in one of the large footprints that marches across the gutter. In some scenes, Pinkney’s luminous art, rendered in watercolor and colored pencil, suggests a natural harmony, as when the cool blues of the sky are mirrored in the rocks and acacia tree. In other compositions, a cream-colored background focuses attention on the exquisitely detailed and nuanced forms of the two main characters. Varied perspectives and the judicious use of panels create interest and indicate time. Sounds are used sparingly and purposefully—an owl’s hoot to hint at offstage danger or an anguished roar to alert the mouse of the lion’s entrapment. Contrast this version with Pinkney’s traditional treatment of the same story (complete with moral) in Aesop’s Fables (North-South, 2000). The ambiguity that results from the lack of words in this version allows for a slower, subtle, and ultimately more satisfying read. Moments of humor and affection complement the drama. A classic tale from a consummate artist.

[Review of The lion and the mouse]. (2009, July 27). Publishers Weekly, 256, 61.

/* Starred Review */ Other than some squeaks, hoots and one enormous roar, Pinkney’s (Little Red Riding Hood ) interpretation of Aesop’s fable is wordless—as is its striking cover, which features only a head-on portrait of the lion’s face. Mottled, tawny illustrations show a mouse unwittingly taking refuge on a lion’s back as it scurries away from an owl. The large beast grabs and then releases the tiny creature, who later frees the lion who has become tangled in a hunter’s snare. Pinkney enriches this classic tale of friendship with another universal theme—family—affectingly illustrated in several scenes as well as in the back endpapers, which show the lion walking with his mate and cubs as the mouse and her brood ride on his back. Pinkney’s artist’s note explains that he set the book in Africa’s Serengeti, “with its wide horizon and abundant wildlife so awesome yet fragile—not unlike the two sides of each of the heroes.” Additional African species grace splendid panoramas that balance the many finely detailed, closeup images of the protagonists. Pinkney has no need for words; his art speaks eloquently for itself. Ages 3–6.

Using in the Library

The only words that appear in this book are sound effects (or onomatopoeia).  Not that it would have been a good idea for the book, but what if Pinkney had decided to include dialogue between the lion and the mouse.  Have students write dialogue for various pictures in the book, writing dialogue bubbles on post-it notes and placing each bubble by a character in the appropriate page in the book.  Multiple bubbles could be placed on each picture and students could take turns reading the dialogue and discussing their favorite lines.

Have students write sentences on strips of paper to summarize six or seven events of the story shown in various pictures.   Collect the strips of paper, scramble each set to change the order of events, and redistribute the strips of paper.  Students then place the events in sequence.

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Module 4 — Newbery Winners

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The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois

Module 4 — Newbery Winner

Bibliography

Pene du Bois, W.  (1947).  The Twenty-One Balloons.  New York, NY: Viking Press.

Summary

This book tells the story of a disgruntled math teacher who decides to retire and take a great adventure.  The teacher manufactures a gigantic balloon and sets out on what is planned to be a year-long trip around the world.  In the midst of his journey he is forced to crash land on the island of Krakatoa, which is in the world of this book the home of a wealthy, secretive, ingenious and bizarre civilization.   The professor escape with the inhabitants of Krakatoa when the volcano erupts.  They flee the volcano with a special platform, created for the occassion, that is taken airborne by twenty balloons, leading to the professor’s ultimate discovery and rescue in the Atlantic.

My Impressions

I was reminded of Roald Dahl throughout the beginning of the book, and I wonder if Dahl read and was perhaps influenced by Pene du Bois.  Although I didn’t find the book’s ending was very strong, I really enjoyed both the writing and the illustrations (both by Pene du Bois).  I think this is a very creative book but I think its appeal could not be as broad as that of similar works by Sid Fleischman or Roald Dahl.  Kids who are big fans of Dahl, however, I think would probably appreciate and enjoy this book.

Reviews

Beavin, K. (1998). The twenty-one balloons [Review of the book The twenty-one balloons]. Horn Book Magazine, 74, 765.
McDonough narrates this broadly fantastical tale with deliberate, almost stately self-importance, an approach that suits both the main character, the stuffy Professor William Waterman Sherman, as well as the late nineteenth-century setting. Particularly noteworthy are his evocations of the wealth of details used to enrich the plot. Unskillful narrators and long descriptive passages are a combination that can easily create mind-drift in listeners, a problem that McDonough circumvents masterfully. His confidence in the inherent interest of these descriptive passages-which not only complementthe drama of the adventure but also give substance and reality to the fantasy — is a testimonial to his skill and experience as a narrator.

Garness, S. (1987). William (Sherman) Pene Du Bois. In G.E. Estes (Series Ed.), Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 61. American writers for children since 1960: Poets, illustrators, and nonfiction authors. (pp. ?). Detroit: Gale Research.

Professor William Waterman Sherman plans to escape his dull life as a teacher of arithmetic by sailing off in a huge hot-air balloon to remain aloft for a year. Unfortunately his balloon is punctured and he crashes on Krakatoa Island, where he discovers a colony of Americans living a life of luxury made possible by the existence of a fabulous diamond mine on the island. The diamonds must be kept secret in order to preserve their value on the world market, so Professor Sherman prepares to spend the rest of his life on the island. Only days after his arrival, the very active volcano on the island erupts, a disaster for which the Krakatoans had prepared by inventing an escape vehicle in the form of a large platform to be carried aloft by twenty hot-air balloons. All manage to escape safely, but because Professor Sherman is the only one who does not have a parachute, he must crash-land the platform in the ocean after all of the others have jumped off. He is picked up by a passing freighter, is given a hero’s welcome, and tells his story to the world.

The humor of The Twenty-One Balloons is satirical rather than absurd, a new development in Pène du Bois’s style. The people who are anxious to welcome Professor Sherman back after his adventures show themselves to be foolish and pompous in their attempts to vie for his attention and the honor of being seen with him in public. Pène du Bois also makes a comment on the irony that human greed enslaves the wealthy so that the covetous Americans must live on top of an active volcano in order to be near their diamonds. But though they are foolish or greedy, Pène du Bois’s characters are not evil; even the Krakatoans, anxious to guard the secret of their fabulous wealth, do not kill Professor Sherman or make him their prisoner, but rather allow him to live with them as their equal, participating in their “gourmet government” and helping in the invention of many wonderful mechanical devices to make their lives more comfortable.

Using in the Library

The book’s Professor Sherman is hailed as a record-setting adventurer.  Many world records involve various types of transportation and involve such factors as speed and endurance.  Assign students to use library resources other than the internet to find world records related to transportation, travel, or exploration.  Students can then create a poster for display in the library.  The poster could be a timeline, an illustration, or a student-written newspaper account of the event.

A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard

Module 4 — Newbery Winner

Bibliography

Willard, Nancy.  (1981).  A Visit to William Blake’s Inn.  New York, NY: Harcourt Brace.

Summary

This book takes an inventive approach in introducing kids to the visionary poet and artist William Blake.  Visiting a fictional inn run by William Blake, the reader sees a world in which it’s not unusual to encounter angels and dragons, talk with bears and tigers, or play host to the King of Cats or the man in the marmalade hat.  The book’s witty rhyming verse tells the story of a visit to the inn, and the beautiful illustrations complete the fantastical world of a poet’s vivid imagination and his gift for sharing his unique vision.

My Impressions

I love the illustrations and the poetry in this fun and creative book.  I’m not sure how the author came up with the idea of William Blake having an inn, but it’s a fun concept and I’m sure that an inn run by William Blake would have been an interesting place indeed.

Reviews

[Review of William Blake’s inn, by N. Willard]. (1981, Sept. 1). Kirkus Reviews, 49, ?.

Unquestionably a labor of love, this is set in an inn presided over by William Blake. There, dragons bake the bread, angels shake the featherbeds, a tiger, a rabbit, a bear, and other animals fill the rooms, sunflowers request “a room with a view,” and the only human guests we’re introduced to are the little-boy narrator and “the man in the marmalade hat”–who arrives “equipped with a bottle of starch/ to straighten the bends in the road,” then proceeds to ask for “a room at the top.” The first of Willard’s 16 verses begins, “This inn belongs to William Blake/ and many are the beasts he’s tamed/ and many are the stars he’s named/ and many those who stop and take/ their joyful rest with William Blake.” The verses are laced with fancies but formally tidy, as are the Provensens’ charming period illustrations, which give a quaint prim cast to such dreamlike phenomena as a flying carriage, a breakfast table balanced on a rooftop (breakfast is “on the house”), and a parade of animals through the milky way, led by Blake, with the little boy astride the tiger. It’s just as well that the Provensens’ manner is poles apart from the visionary intensity of Blake’s, but one wonders how Blake’s work would inspire Willard to invoke his image and meter to such whimsical purpose. Still, the book is a visual pleasure, even beyond the illustrations, and the poetry accomplished, perhaps enchanting–as in ” ‘Where did you sleep last night, Wise Cow?/ Where did you lay your head?’//’I caught my horn on a rolling cloud/ and made myself a bed,// and in the morning, ate it raw/ on freshly buttered bread.’ ” It’s a question of sensibility.

Vousden, E.C., & Ingram, L. (1986). Nancy Willard. In G.E. Estes (Series Ed.), Dictionary of literary biography: Vol. 52. American writers for children since 1960: Fiction (pp. ?). Detroit: Gale Research.

Though her contribution to children’s literature consists primarily of several picture books and the Anatole stories, Willard received highest recognition (the 1982 Newbery Medal) for A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems For Innocent and Experienced Travelers (1981), a book that is unlike anything she had previously done for children. Ostensibly based on Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, the collection portrays the poet and artist as a keeper of an inn in which plants and animals speak, guests ride in Blake’s fantastic flying car, and celestial bodies cavort for the entertainment of all. Many of the fifteen poems are nonsense verses, such as “The Man in the Marmalade Hat Arrives,” “The King of Cats Orders an Early Breakfast,” and “The Wise Cow Enjoys a Cloud,” while others express morals or messages clearly, such as “When We Come Home,Blake Calls for Fire,” which praises the virtues of fire, and “The Marmalade Man Makes a Dance to Mend Us,” which bids all creatures to live in peace. Willard indulges in a clever play on words and a mild satire on the idiosyncrasies of the English language in “The Wise Cow Makes Way, Room, and Believe,” “Blake Tells the Tiger the Tale of the Tailor,” a verse story of a tailor who builds his house of body parts stolen from animals only to discover that his home is haunted by his victims, is the most disturbing of the collection.

The poems presented here are short and simple, making use of traditional forms. The subject matter ranges from the didactic to the purely fanciful, but the poems are always markedly nonsensical and literal-minded: breakfast served “on the house,” for instance, is served on the roof of the inn.

As impressive as the poetry itself are the illustrations by Alice and Martin Provensen. The drawings, done in subdued colors and a quaint style, reflect the action of each poem, often depicting the scenes word for word. Filled with smiling animals, fantastic contraptions, and detailed cutaway views of the rooms of the inn, these illustrations provide an amusing and richly detailed complement to Willard’s poetry.

Using in the Library

William Blake’s most famous poem is probably “The Tyger.”  Read the poem to students, emphasizing the poem’s rhythms.  Discuss with students: how is the tiger portrayed in the poem different from the one shown in the book?  If the tigers from the book and the poem seem very different, what might they have in common in the imagination of someone like William Blake?  From the poem and the book, what can we conclude about the personalities of the inn-keeper (in the book) and of the poet (writer of “The Tyger”)?

“The Tyger” is a famous poem about an animal.  Ask students to find and share other poems about animals.  Using “The Tyger” or another poem as a model, write a poem about an animal and share in the library.

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