Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Title: Feathers
Author: Jaqueline Woodson
Genre: Children's Novel
Rating: 5 Stars
Age Group: Upper Elementary/Middle School
While reading Feathers, I admit that I did not originally find the text to be controversial.  It wasn't until after I had finished the novel and was reflecting on what I had just read, that it really sunk in all of the loaded information and controversial issues touched on in this text.  The story is about a girl named Frannie who is black, and lives on the "black side" of the highway.  A boy from the "white side" transfers to her school, which causes turbulence among the children who were brought up in their segregated community in the 70's.  The boy, nicknamed "Jesus Boy" due to his "Jesus-like" appearance, befriends Frannie who sticks up for him throughout his troubled start at Price elementary school.  Other events are going on throughout the story, such as the pregnancy of Frannie's mom, and the troubles related to Frannie's brother's deafness.

I loved this story because of the way it was able to make me really think.  Certain lines were so deep and poetic, I found myself stopping to reflect on Frannie's words.  Her mind was so wise and mature for a sixth grader, and I liked how I as the reader was able to travel with her as she made discoveries regarding hope, spirituality, and life itself.  

I think that the reason I didn't originally find the text to be controversial, was because I grew up in a Christian background.  For this reason, I didn't find it odd that the characters were discussing Jesus, however, I know that in a classroom where people have varying religious backgrounds and beliefs, this could be a controversial topic.  It is an issue that would have to be addressed, because the topic of Jesus is such a prominent theme throughout the story.  There would be no getting around it in a classroom while analyzing the text.  Some of the Jesus references were more obvious, while others were hidden in metaphors.  For example, Samantha, Frannie's friend, talks of the similarities between Frannie's two chicken pox scars in the middle of her palms, and nail holes (a reference to Jesus being nailed to the cross).  For reasons such as this, I feel that this text would be best for higher-level readers in upper grades, so that they could really pick apart the text and be able to appreciate Woodson's controversial yet intelligent way of writing.

I think that this novel is a wonderful and poetic book that is relatable to any growing and maturing child. Although it is set in the seventies and segregation is still a major part of life, the internal battles that Frannie deals with such as handling bullies and friendships are life experiences that students could connect with.  At the same time, her experiences that are not as relatable, such as living in a world of segregation, are equally important to the text, as they could teach the reader about historical issues which can then be connected to life in our world today.  Overall, I greatly enjoyed reading this book, and would absolutely love implementing it in my future classroom- however, I can forsee the controversy and issues that could likely arise.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Black and White

Title: Black and White
Author: David Macaulay
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Age Level: Upper Elementary
Rating: 5 Stars
Black and White is a unique picture book that is completely unlike any I have read before.  The book has multiple stories going on at once, each of which is in a different corner of the pages, and each of which connects to the others in some way.  The different stories are written in different texts, to help differentiate between them.  The style in which the images are illustrated also differ, from line-oriented, monochromatic sketches, to colorful cartoon-like pictures.  The stories are able to connect a herd of cows, newspapers, a train ride, and a family all to one another.

I think this book would be especially fun for students to read in their free time in a classroom.  In terms of content, I wouldn't personally recommend using this book for a lesson, unless it was on different styles of illustration, or as an example to mimic in a writing activity.  The story that I particularly enjoyed was the one involving the heard of cows (found in the lower right hand corner of each page).  These illustrations were particularly striking because the black and white tended to form various optical illusions.  Overall, this book is something that should take students a while to read and understand, because they should pay special attention to each detail in the images that help build the story as a whole.

The House in the Night

Title: The House in the Night
Author: Susan Marie Swanson
Illustrator: Beth Krommes
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Age Group: Lower Elementary
Rating: 5 Stars
After reading the House in the Night, I definitely want to have a copy of this book for my future children.  In my opinion it is the perfect bedtime story, however I would not necessarily choose it for a classroom read aloud.  The story is short and concise with unique illustrations that are only black, white, and gold (perfect for the Hawkeyes :) and visually appealing.  The images are rounded and intricate with sketched markings that detail and shade each piece of the illustration.  They are almost calming in a sense, which flows greatly with the bedtime story aspect.

The story is a series of objects in events, that is then reversed.  In other words, it starts off with the mother handing the daughter a key, that goes to a house, that has a room, that has a bed... and so on and so on.  Then the story goes in reverse and ends with the key, where it had started.  This form of writing creates a full-circle cycle, which I find particularly appealing, because nothing is left unsaid or unsolved.  For me, this sets a calming mood, which is again ideal for a bedtime story.

The text itself is not very challenging, and there are only a few words per page.  For this reason, I find this to be a great book for beginning readers to practice with their parents in bed before going to sleep.  The white borders that are framed around each of the pictures really gives the idea of each illustration as a separate piece of art, which I, as an art specialization, really appreciate.  Overall, this is one of my favorite pieces of children's literature that I have seen thus far in Reading and Responding to Children's Literature.  

Arrow to the Sun

Title: Arrow to the Sun
Author: Gerald McDermott
Genre: Native American Children's Picture Book
Age Group: Elementary
Rating: 3 Stars
Arrow to the Sun is a Pueblo Indian Tale that would be ideal to read aloud when teaching a lesson to elementary school students about Native American culture.  As a Caldecott award winner for it's illustrations, this children's picture book has extremely vibrant and colorful images that are made up of geometric shapes and patterns to create abstract illustrations.  Some pages are completely wordless, allowing the students to make their own interpretations regarding what is happening in the story.

Similar to that of the Native American books I read for my genre/perspectives presentation, this book is told in the form of a Native American legend.  It is about a boy who goes on a search for his father once he reaches manhood, and becomes an arrow that he rides to the Lord in order to speak to him about being his son.  The boy passes many tests and goes on various adventures- another common theme found in Native American literature.  The storyline is almost mythical, and would surely interest students of young ages.  While teaching a lesson on Native American culture in my future classroom, I would definitely include this book.  I would also want to teach this book in the form of a big book, because I find the illustrations so unique and different from other books, that I would want students to pay close attention to the shapes and the patterns that they form.

Barnyard Banter

Title: Barnyard Banter
Author: Denise Fleming
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Age Group: Lower Elementary
Rating: 4 Stars

What originally struck me about Barnyard Banter were the elaborately collaged and colorful illustrations.  They remind me of the Eric Carle collages of animals, which I am a big fan of.  The colors and collaged papers are textured and paint splattered, making them extremely appealing to the eye and attention-grabbing.

The story teaches children the noises that animal makes, and also can help them with animal identification.  With only a few words in a relatively large font written on each page, the book is ideal for beginning readers.  The lines also rhyme from page to page, making the book perfect for a sing-along or read-aloud in a classroom.  Throughout the story, you see parts of a goose hidden within the page.  Every few pages, the text asks, "where is goose?"  this is a fun way for the students to interact with the book, searching for the goose amongst the intricate illustrations.

I would imagine this book to be the perfect big book.  By reading this aloud to a kindergarten class in a big book form, students would be able to read along, and see the colorful images in a larger form.  I can imagine my future classroom having kindergardeners singing along to the noises of the animals, and being able to identify the sounds each animal makes.

Mei Li

Title: Mei Li
Author: Thomas Handforth
Genre: Children’s Picture Book
Age group: Elementary
Rating: 3 stars

Although this book is a Caldecott winner, I found it to be slightly controversial in both its images and text.  Lines such as “Mei Li knew a girl could not be an actress” could very well send the wrong message to young readers.  In addition, after spending the majority of the book trying to prove to her brother that girls can do everything that boys can do, she ends up cleaning the house on the last page- a stereotypical role of a female.  For these reasons, I might not choose to read this aloud to a younger crowd, or at least without giving a disclaimer first. 
The images are black and white, which for me personally would not be to striking and interesting as a young child, but their sketchy textured markings are unique and interesting to the eye.  The illustrations do a good job of putting an image to the text, and giving more context clues than are given in the words alone. 
This book would be good to implement in a lesson regarding China.  The storyline is about a girl living within a walled community close to the Great Wall of China, and has a lot of vocabulary typical to China.  For this reason, it could be a good text to read aloud during a cultural unit or to go along with an activity about other cultures, specifically China.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Giver

Title: The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Genre: Science Fiction Novel
Age group: Middle School
Rating: 5 Stars

         When first assigned a science fiction novel, I was all but excited.  I had always pictured science fiction to involve aliens and scientists- an ignorant and incorrect original idea.  As I dove into The Giver, I soon realized that the genre I had originally steered clear of could in fact be a new favorite.  The Giver had real-life, relatable situations in them, however was set in a fictional “utopia” land where the world of its inhabitants differed greatly from our world today.  Throughout the novel, I found myself constantly asking, “what if this really happened?”  Although it is clear this is a fictional story in a fictional setting, it was fun to imagine a community that seemed so unbelievable.  Although there are powers and rules and a completely different way of life where Jonas lives, the character goes through relatable life happenings such as the burden of responsibility.  Although I, clearly, wasn’t dubbed a “receiver” of memories, I have bared the burden of painful secrets or the responsibility of holding another’s weight on my shoulders so-to-speak.  It is real-life emotions such as this that brought this interesting and original story to life.  Far from the aliens and scientists that I had originally imagined, The Giver included an interesting take on life that involved the discarding of the elderly and those considered to be less-than-satisfactory, along with the monitored lives and roles in the community that each character was trained to play. 
         I think that this book is perfect for students in middle school, or even lower levels of high school.  In particular, I think that this novel is an excellent example of creativity, and would thus serve as a guiding piece of writing in a writing lesson.  If I were to teach the targeted age group, I would definitely have this book assigned to the class, and then work on writing individual science fiction books after we were through.  I think that there are other students who have the same perception of science fiction as I do, and by giving them this novel as an example to show the broadness of this genre, they could maybe find a new interest in it as I did.  In addition, it is not often that students are asked to write in the form of science fiction, so it could be a great activity that promotes creativity and stretches the mind.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mouse Count

Title: Mouse Count
Author: Ellen Stoll Walsh
Genre: Children’s Picture Book
Age: Lower Elementary
Rating: 3 stars

            This is a short, cute book about mice that escape a hungry snake.  In the process, the snake fills a jar with mice, counting them as he goes.  The mice then work together to tip over the jar, escape, and are counted backwards in the text.  This is perfect for beginning readers, as it has short sentences and repeated phrases.  In addition, it deals with numbers, and the collaged illustrations show the number of mice in the jar at each time, adding color to the story, and a visual aid.  I would definitely use this book to teach very young children numbers, as it is a good example of counting to 10. 

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Title: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Author: Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault
Illustrator: Lois Ehlert
Genre: Children’s poetry/picture book
Age: Lower elementary
Rating: 4 stars

            This classic children’s book was a childhood favorite of mine.  It is a unique twist on how to learn the alphabet, with colorful images of the letters and coconut tree in which they climb.  The story rhymes throughout, and has repeated phrases, making it perfect for children who are just beginning to read, working on poetry, or the alphabet.  For these reasons, I definitely plan to read this to my future children, in addition to keeping a copy in my classroom.  It is fun and bright, and helps beginners learn, while staying entertaining and fun!

Clifford's Busy Week

Title: Clifford’s Busy Week
Author: Norman Bridwell
Genre: Children’s Picture Book
Age: Lower Elementary, beginners
Rating: 3 stars

            This book is especially helpful for students learning the days of the week.  Each page goes through the various days of the week, and a location that Clifford went in search of his toy mouse.  The pictures greatly enhance the story, as you can see Clifford’s emotion in his face, and get a better idea of the setting’s details.  Although it is not the best quality literature I have read, I do think it is beneficial for beginning readers to have stories such as this, with short sentences that can correlate with something they are also learning (i.e. days of the week).  For this reason, I would use this in my future classroom if I were teaching kindergarteners, and would also use it with my own future children in their beginning stages of reading.

My Two Uncles

Title: My Two Uncles
Author: Judith Vigna
Genre: Controversial Children’s Literature
Age: Elementary
Rating: 5 stars

            I found this book to be a realistic and non-sugar-coated story about a girl who has 2 uncles (a gay couple).  The 3 characters build a diorama together for Ellie’s (the girl) Grandparent’s anniversary party.  Her grandpa, however, does not approve of his son’s lifestyle (dating a male) and refuses to allow his son’s partner to attend the party.  In the end, Ellie is explained the differing opinions about homosexuality by her father.  The grandpa is cordial with his son and son’s partner, but isn’t overly loving or unrealistically ecstatic of their decisions after a lifetime of disapproval.  I think that the story is good in that it is realistic.  It doesn’t have a cliché happy ending, but an ending where people are just beginning to overcome their differences- representative of how many people today are in a position where they are overcoming their biases as well.  I could understand why this could be considered controversial, as the opinions in the text expressed by Ellie’s father could differ from the readers’.  However, I would use this book for a lesson in my classroom, when teaching a lesson about diversity, differing opinions, and differences.

She Come Bringing Me That Little Baby Girl

Title: She Come Bringing Me That Little Baby Girl
Author: Eloise Greenfield
Illustrator: John Steptoe
Genre: Controversial Children’s Literature
Age: Lower-Middle Elementary
Rating: 3 stars

            At first glance, it was hard to tell why this story was considered to be controversial.  This story is about a young boy who doesn’t want a baby sister, but then is happy in the end.  It is told from the boy’s point of view, making it relatable, and is what I consider to be a perfect read for a child who has a new baby sibling on the way or who has just arrived.  It’s painterly illustrations are interesting and unique in that the pastel colors show clearly each brush stroke.  A line that I found that could indeed be considered controversial, was “she couldn’t throw a football” in reference to the idea that the boy’s baby sister wouldn’t be able to play sports because she is a girl.  In addition, the book is not always in proper English, and entails some words that could be considered African American slang.  However, I think that the message of the story overrides these small details that quite honestly I do not think a small child would notice.   For these reasons, I think that I would include this book in my future classroom, or at least have it available on a bookshelf, for students who are expecting/have a new baby sibling.  

One Eye! Two Eyes! Three Eyes!

Title: One Eye! Two Eyes! Three Eyes!  A Very Grimm Fairy Tale
Author: Aaron Shepard
Illustrator: Gary Clement
Genre: Fairy Tale/Children’s Picture Book
Age Group: Lower-Middle Elementary
Rating: 5 stars

            This story shares a lot of similar characteristics to other fairy tales I am familiar with, such as Cinderella.  There are 3 sisters, and the one sister who is outcast ends up with the prince in the end.  There is an old woman who is illustrated to be similar to a fair godmother, as she casts charms and hovers above the ground.  In the story, two-eyes (the main character) is outcast for being different because she has two eyes.  Her sisters have 1 and 3 eyes, which is considered “normal” in this story, making for interesting discussion in an elementary classroom.  The old woman teaches Two-Eyes charms so that she can eat, and the sisters become suspicious.  In the end, Two-Eyes is saved from her hateful sisters by a knight, and lives happily ever after.
            The illustrations in this story add emotion to the text.  They parallel with the words, and add humor and detail.  The cartoon style goes perfectly with the light mood, and the images cover much of the page.
            I think this story is perfect for reading aloud in a classroom to a group of students.  Many students will see the parallels to Cinderella, and also discover the message that being “different” is a good thing.  I would definitely use this book to teach either a lesson on difference or a lesson on fairy tales to children of young ages in my future elementary classroom.


Title: Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella
Author: Robert D. San Souci
Illustrator: Brian Pinkney
Genre: Fairy Tale/Children’s Picture Book
Age Group: Elementary
Rating: 5 stars

            Cendrillon is a beautifully illustrated Caribbean version of the classic Cinderella.  The story is told in the perspective of Cendrillon’s godmother, who serves as a fairy godmother in this story.  The story is quite similar to the original Cinderella, in its use of wands, a ball, a magic slipper, and evil stepsisters.  The story, however, using the occasional Caribbean lingo, helping the reader become more knowledgeable on Caribbean culture.
            The illustrations are vividly colored etchings, which look like they could likely be a result of printmaking.  They are sketched and textured, giving the pages each a unique page of art.  Detailed borders surround the text, and I believe the illustrations alone are reason enough to show this to a class.
            If I become an art teacher, this book would be perfect for teaching a lesson on printmaking or color.  In a regular elementary classroom, I would also find this story to be appropriate and a fun read aloud in a group setting.  This is definitely a book I will keep in mind for use as a future educator.