Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Focus Question: The Literary Elements

The literary elements are all important aspects that create the foundation for a story.  The use of all of them combined constructs the form and body of any story, and helps the reader to understand what is happening from page to page. 

I find characters to be the most important.  A story without characters, in my opinion, is no story at all.  However, a character does not necessarily have to be a person.  As seen in The Higher Power of Lucky, the desert can be a character in itself.  The growth of the characters themselves brings the story to life, and is what interests me the most when I am reading any given story.  

Point-of-view is also an important literary element.  There is nothing more frustrating than reading a story where the point of view is inconsistent, if it is not done correctly.  In the fourth book of the Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn, the narrator switches 3 times between characters.  We get to see what is going on through Bella's point of view, then Jacob's, then back to Bella's.  I believe this to be an incredibly clever way of seeing the story from different angles.  It helped me as the reader gain insight to various characters emotions, and made for an interesting twist.

Time is also something that can be played with by the author.  Jumping time zones (such as during flashbacks) can be beneficial to bringing a story to life, or it can cause confusion and lose the reader.  I think that the most basic and understandable form of time is when it is organized chronologically.  For young children especially, this is the most realistic and relatable, because our lives are being lived chronologically.  Much like point-of-view, I feel that time has the potential to really help or really hurt the body of a story.

Place is an element that I find can add a lot to a story.  The more detailed the setting is, the more I like it, because I can get a visual of where the characters are in place.  Place helps contribute to the passing of time, based on when the location of the characters changes.  I think that without description of the character's location, I as a reader would be frustrated and lost.

Plot is essential, as I feel it forms the story itself.  The sequence of events that are created throughout a story are what I enjoy reading about- the actions, the activities, and the events that the characters partake in.  It helps to connect the dots and relate other parts of the story, and is best enjoyed when read between the lines.

The mood of a story is created by a combination of all of the above literary elements.  The colors of the place, the emotions of the characters, can all help create the mood or tone of the piece.  The mood is important: if the mood is depressing it can pull you in and evoke emotions that the author intends to take out of you.

Symbols and extended metaphors are extremely helpful in the building of a story.  The Higher Power of Lucky is notorious for using symbols to add important tidbits of information to the reader, whether it be about the characters, place, etc.  (i.e. Lincoln's knot typing obsession says a lot about him as a person).

Finally, theme is important for the author especially when creating a piece of writing.  It is what the story is likely built off of, and we as readers get to interpret what the author is trying to say based off of this literary element in combination with the six others.

The Higher Power of Lucky

Title: The Higher Power of Lucky
Author: Susan Patron
Illustrator: Matt Phelan
Genre: Children's Novel
Age group: Upper Elementary
Rating: 5 stars

When assigned the Higher Power of Lucky, I was admittedly not very enthused.  Novels such as this reminded me of my elementary and middle school days, where I was assigned short novels to read.  Hating the fact that I was being forced to read something against my will, especially a book I would not have chosen myself, lead me to strongly dislike these assigned readings.  However, it wasn't until I completed this novel in college that I have learned to truly appreciate novels aimed at its intended age group.  Ironically, I have a stronger appreciation for children's novels, and a greater understanding of their depth, now that I have read a book aimed at young children while I myself am a young adult.  

I found that the character of Lucky is more than just a child in a children's book.  She is a complicated being with depth and emotions that are sought out throughout the book by the reader.  What struck me within the first chapter is that Lucky's mind seemed too wise and mature for her child body.  Each chapter was exciting as I the reader was able to watch Lucky grow and develop.  But it wasn't necessarily the words at face value that intrigued me, but more so the feelings they evoked.  To my surprise, this book was not at all childish or at a "lower" reading level- it was a well written novel that could be perfectly enjoyable to an adult as well.  The references to more "adult" content such as Alcoholics Anonymous helped me as an older reader really take the book seriously as an actual novel rather than something written solely for kids.  At the same time, I enjoyed the child-like nature of Lucky's adventures, and the innocence of characters such as Miles and HMS Beagle.  

Although there has been controversy about this book (in terms of the word 'scrotum') I find this book to be an excellent choice for upper elementary readers.  I think it would be easy for readers to find someone to relate to in this book, whether it be Lucky, Lincoln, or Brigette.  I would imagine that children of Lucky's age would find her thoughts, emotions, and antics to be relatable or at the very least intriguing.  The illustrations are also a nice way to break up the text and help the children get visuals of things that may not see every day such as a burr.  If I were to teach in an upper elementary classroom, I would definitely implement this book into a lesson for its thoughtful writing, or the content regarding Lucky's self-discovery.  I feel that people of all ages could learn from the Higher Power of Lucky, and enjoy reading about this realistic and relatable character.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Happy to Be Nappy

Title: Happy to Be Nappy
Author: Bell Hooks
Illustrator: Chris Raschka
Genre: Children’s Picture Book
Age Group: Lower Elementary
Rating: 3 stars

            Happy to Be Nappy is a book about ethnic hair care, aimed at younger readers.  Its hand lettered text makes it slightly challenging to read due to the handwriting itself, and the childish and simplistic watercolor illustrations add a bright and happy mood to the piece.  The book seems to be aimed towards colored girls, as the word “girl” is used repeatedly, and the illustrations are all characters of darker shades of skin.  This could be a good lesson in diversity in a lower elementary classroom.  However, the book describes the difference in ethnic hair and its abilities to do certain things, so it may not be very relatable to all students.  For this reason, I believe it would be better to have available for free reading time in a classroom, but would not necessarily be ideal for a read-aloud.  

Tacky the Penguin

Title: Tacky the Penguin
Author: Helen Lester
Illustrator: Lynn Munsinger
Genre: Children’s Picture Book
Age Group: Lower Elementary
Rating: 5 stars

            Being a childhood favorite, I was immediately drawn to this book at the public library.  Tacky the Penguin is about an odd penguin, who does everything differently from his penguin friends.  He does cannon balls instead of diving gracefully, he sings loudly and off key, and he marches to a different beat.  When hunters come along, the other penguins run and hide, and Tacky scares them off with his singing and odd behavior.  In the end, the other penguins realize they love Tacky for his differences, and his oddness is really a good thing!
            I think this book is perfect for children of young ages, because it sends the message that being different is a good thing.  For this reason, I would definitely read this aloud in my future classroom.  The book is not gender biased, and is not particular to one specific “type” of person, thus being a great book to read aloud in a group setting.  The illustrations are goofy and colorful sketches that add emotion and detail to the text.  All in all, I find this to be a great read that is truly applicable in a classroom setting.

A Rainbow of Friends

Title: A Rainbow of Friends
Author/Illustrator: P.K. Hallinan
Genre: Children’s Picture Book/Poetry
Age Group: Lower Elementary School
Rating: 5 stars

            A Rainbow of Friends is the ideal classroom read for a lower elementary school classroom.  The illustrations are child-like and filled with vivid colors and shading, and depict perfectly what the text reads while adding addition information such as character emotion.  The story is also a poem, as it rhymes all the way through from page to page.  It is about the importance of having friends from all different races, backgrounds, interests, etc.  This is an extremely important message for people of all ages, thus there are great benefits of reading this aloud to a classroom.  It is short and concise, but gets the message across, and provides the reader with a light and happy mood.  Overall, I think this is the perfect book for a classroom setting.

Calling Doctor Amelia Bedelia

Title: Calling Doctor Amelia Bedelia
Author: Herman Parish
Illustrator: Lynn Sweat
Genre: Children’s Book
Age group: Lower Elementary
Rating: 2 stars

            Although I love the Amelia Bedelia series, I find this book to be a little challenging for young readers.  The reading itself is doable, however the amount of puns included in the story may be challenging for beginners.  For example, there is one page that deals with “drawing blood,” where the patient literally draws with markers, his blood.  Little puns like this are on every page, and after reading this aloud to two second graders, it was evident that they were confused on the content.  As an adult, I found the story to be humorous and entertaining, but I could understand the confusion for a young child.
            The illustrations added to the text, with a sketchy style and bold colors.  Simplistic and to the point, the images did a good job of illustrating what was written in the text, although they do not give the reader any additional insight other than what is already written.
            I think this book would be fine to have in a classroom for children to read in their free time, but I don’t think it would be the best choice in terms of a read-aloud to the class.  It isn’t guaranteed that all the students would understand the ironic puns and underlying jokes in the story, and for this reason I think I would shy away from using it in a group setting.  

The Purple Balloon

Title: The Purple Balloon
Author/Illustrator: Chris Raschka
Genre: Children’s Picture Book
Age group: Lower Elementary
Rating: 2 stars

            Having Chris Raschka as my AIP person, I assumed I would like this book as I have many of his others.  However, I was disappointed after reading The Purple Balloon.  This book is about dying, and is very blunt in its wording.  I understand that the message is good, and saying that “good heals,” but the bluntness of sentences such as “There is only one thing harder to talk about than someone old dying- someone young dying” makes me wary to ever use this in a classroom, or with my children in the future.  The illustrations, assumed to be watercolor, are simplistic and child-like, and the color adds a nice touch.  However, I don’t think that the illustrations can save this book from what in my opinion, is a storyline unsuitable for young children.
            I can see how Raschka is trying to shed light on a dark situation such a death, and I believe that there are some kids out there who could benefit from this story.  I do not think I would use this in my classroom, but if there were a situation where a student had gone through a death in the family or similar situation, this book could possibly help in the healing process.  

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ellen Tebbits

Title: Ellen Tebbits
Author: Beverly Cleary
Genre: Novel
Rating: 4 stars

When I think back to my reading days in upper elementary school, Beverly Cleary comes to mind.  Upon searching for a children's novel to read for this class, I knew just where to look.  Ellen Tebbits brought back memories of my SSR time in elementary school (silent sustained reading), and I knew I was going to have to check it out and brush up on my Beverly Cleary books.  

Ellen Tebbits is about a young girl going through your ordinary childhood changes and antics.  She gets herself into various messes, has make-ups and break-ups with her best friend, and experiences the embarrassment of wearing woolen underwear in the winter time.  The book starts off with Ellen trying to avoid her classmates at ballet as she changes into her leotard in a closet, later befriending Austine Allen who has woolen underwear as well.  The story continues with Ellen and Austine going to school in matching outfits, and later fighting and tugging at one another's new dresses.  By the end of the story, after a dramatic and relatable girl fight filled with tears, the two make up and are back to being best friends.

I think this book is very relatable to young girls at the elementary level.  It's a fun read that I believe girls especially will enjoy.  I don't think it would be particularly beneficial to make this a classroom read, as it is somewhat gender biased.  However, the message of friendship is one that trails throughout the novel, and is appropriate for children at that age as they form friendships.  The best thing about this book, as previously stated, is it's relativeness.  When I first read it during my childhood, I found myself comforted by Ellen's embarrassing moments and her rollercoaster of a life, because it shows young girls that there are other people out there going through the same thing.  Overall, it's a funny and entertaining read!

Monday, September 13, 2010

AIP: Chris Raschka

Chris Raschka was an interesting person to research due to his unique artistic style and talented to both write and illustrate children's books.  His illustrations tend to be either child-like, or cartoonish in appearance, and are splashed with vivid colors of paint (with a preference in watercolor).  Chris received 2 caldecott medals for his work, one in 1993 for "Yo! Yes?" and another in 2006 for "The Hello, Goodbye Window."  His illustrations are described by some as "musical," which parallels greatly with his love for the viola, which he has played professionally in two symphony orchestras.  Chris' hobbies and interests range from yoga to knitting, playing solitaire to playing viola.  Overall, this interesting illustrator has talents that branch far from just children's books.

I find Raschka's illustrations to be attractive and colorful pieces of individual art.  His use of watercolor is smooth and almost liquid across the page, with noticeable brush strokes that add texture to each piece.  I think this child-like approach is perfect for illustrations in children's books, because it is relatable to a child of young age.  Some of his other illustrations, such as those from "Charlie Parker played be bop," are more of cartoonist pieces, where color stays within the lines and is often more solid and bold.  Overall, I think that it is Chris Raschka's brilliant use of color along with his loose and childish style that is what grasps the interest of so many young readers.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Just Grandma and Me

Title: Just Grandma and Me
Author/Illustrator: Mercer Mayer
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Age Level: Lower Elementary
Rating: 3 stars

Mercer Mayer’s Just Grandma and Me is an adorable tale about a little boy and his grandma.  The characters are all animals of some sort, and the main character is an ambiguous critter.  The cartoon art is colorful and smooth, with a lot of detail that adds to the story.  With short sentences per page, the illustrations add a lot to the story by showing facial expressions, the background and setting, etc.  The storyline involves the boy spending the day with his grandma, and how much fun he has at the beach with her.  I remember my grandma reading this book to me when I was a child, and I found it to be the perfect bonding experience.  The language the boy uses while he narrates is relatable to a child of a young age.  For example, the boy states “I wanted to blow up my sea horse, but I didn’t have enough air.  So Grandma helped a little.”  The illustration shows the grandma doing all the work, and helping much more than a little.  This was something typical of me as a child- trying to claim I was doing things on my own, without the help of an adult.  I find this book to be a simple and short story that could easily bring a smile to a child’s face.   
This book would not be particularly useful in a classroom, as there is not a very deep and prominent message suitable for a classroom setting in comparison to other stories.  However, this is an enjoyable book that I would read to my own children or grandchildren in my future.  It could also be useful for very lower elementary students who are just learning to read, because the sentences are short and the vocabulary is simple.  It seems to be more of a "for fun" book, which children could enjoy as a free reading choice.

If You Give a Pig a Pancake

Title: If You Give a Pig a Pancake
Author: Laura Numeroff
Illustrator: Felicia Bond
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Age Level: Lower Elementary
Rating: 3 stars

             Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a Pig a Pancake is a fun and silly read for young kids.  Numeroff’s series regarding animals was popular for children of elementary school ages when I was young, and they still are today.  The cartoon art illustrations by Felicia Bond give added detail about the story that is not included in the text.  For example, the girl’s expression in the pictures is one of exhaustion, which is not mentioned what-so-ever in the sentences prior. 
            This story wraps around from a pig wanting a pancake, to wanting many other things, to in the end just wanting a pancake once again.  It demonstrates series of events in life and how one thing in one’s mind can lead to something completely different, which will in turn lead to something different, and the cycle continues.  This is a very relatable thing to any person, as one thought can remind one of something else, which will then remind them of a totally different idea, continuing the brain’s path. 
            This picture book is ideal for young kids, as it is relatable, colorful, and funny.  The sentences are short on each page, which could be helpful for beginning readers.  Overall, Numeroff’s books are fun and childish in a way that I can still appreciate even after reading them fifteen years later.  
            This book would be alright to read in a lower elementary school classroom for fun, but does not portray a very important message that you would typically find in classroom readings.  I think it would be an enjoyable read for children at home with their parents, or as a fun short story in class.  It is also good for beginning readers because sentences are short and the words used are pretty basic.

The Very Busy Spider

Title: The Very Busy Spider
Author/Illustrator: Eric Carle
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Age Level: Lower Elementary
Rating: 5 stars

The Very Busy Spider is one of Eric Carle’s infamous picture books that involves his collage method of illustration.  With painted and textured pieces of paper, Carle collages and overlaps pieces to create unique and colorful images, in this case, of animals.  The background is white which draws the viewer’s eye to the collage itself.  He also uses a raised medium that serves as the spider’s web, and is textured to the touch which is fun for young children.
Throughout the story the spider is spinning her web, while various animals ask her to do things that are typical of their breed.  For example, the pig asks the spider if she wants to roll in the mud.  This is good for young kids in that it helps them with animal identification.  I find this book to be an enjoyable read, with beautiful illustrations, and helpful tips in the text that help children learn their animals.
I find Eric Carle's books to be suitable for lower elementary students, whether they are having it read to them or learning to read themselves.  The sentences are short and basic, and the illustrations are destined to catch the students' eye.  I have seen this book used in many lessons in art classrooms, and I personally find his illustrations ideal for this type of setting and intend to use them in my future art room.

Smoky Night

Title: Smoky Night
Author: Eve Bunting
Illustrator: David Diaz
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Age Level: Upper Elementary
Rating: 3.5 stars

             Eve Bunting’s Smoky Night is considered to be a controversial read for children of young ages.  The narrator is a racially ambiguous boy watching rioting from his window; a violent and painful scene.  After escaping his home from a fire set by rioters, he leaves his cat, which is a problematic issue that continues throughout the story.  The narrator describes seeing a dead man with no arms, which in my opinion is much to harsh for young readers.  Characters Mrs. Kim and Danielle later bond through the tragedy of both losing their cats, although they had once disliked one another due to racial differences.  They found comfort in their shared misery during this tragic time, and set aside their differences while facing the bigger issues at hand.
            Although I believe this story to be quite harsh and intense for young children, the message that it ultimately sends is important for young readers.  It provides diversity and friendships formed between various people and races that were previously on bad terms.  The illustrations are ideal for the chaotic and violent scene of the story, with harsh edges in the drawings and photographed borders created through textured mixed media.  The images are dark and daunting in color, setting the mood for the story as a whole.  David Diaz’s artwork supports Bunting’s words from start to finish.
            This book may not be suitable in my future classroom, because it is seen as highly controversial.  I personally would not choose to read aloud or have students read a story that involves a young boy seeing a dead man with no arms.  I think there are more suitable choices for the classroom, however I understand the author's message and find this book to teach a good lesson.

Apple Pie 4th of July

Title: Apple Pie 4th of July
Author: Janet S. Wong
Illustrator: Margaret Chodos-Irvine
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Age Level: Lower-Middle Elementary
Rating: 4 stars

In Janet S. Wong’s Apple Pie 4th of July , Wong’s words mesh perfectly with Margaret Chodos-Irvine’s diverse and colorful illustrations to portray the life of a young Chinese child struggling with her culture’s differing holiday activities.  The illustrations provide a mixture of skin colors and genders, making the pictures extremely diverse and nonbiased.  The images are created by use of brightly colored, ambiguous, geometric shapes, with no distinctive detail.  This leaves plenty of room for the reader to fill in the blanks and not be limited to an image by strong detail, which still giving them an idea of the characters and the scene being set. 
            The story begins with the main character explaining how no one wants Chinese food on the 4th of July.  Her parents own a market, where they eat and serve Chinese food all day on America’s Independence Day.  All the young child wants is a slice of apple pie, as she believes is the customary and proper food to be eaten on this day.  By the end of the story, there is a long line of Americans eager to eat Chinese food from the family market.  Surprised and seemingly happy, the child (who could be either a boy or a girl based on the image) finds comfort in the fact that he or she is not so different after all. 
            The story deals a lot with integration and reverse integration, as cultures mix and everyone finds peace in the end of the book.  It is a great children’s book that shows kids that it is okay to be different, but in addition, we are really not so different after all.  It celebrates differences and diversity, while showing that we are all in fact human beings.
            I think this book is perfect for a classroom setting.  Even in upper elementary, the students could learn a lot from the message within this story.  I can think of many lessons on diversity and cultures that could arise from reading this book aloud to a classroom of students, and I believe it to be ideal for a class of elementary students.