The Porcupine Year is the third book in the Birchbark House series about the protagonist, Omakayas by Louise Eldrich. 12 year old Omakayas is an Ojibw...moreThe Porcupine Year is the third book in the Birchbark House series about the protagonist, Omakayas by Louise Eldrich. 12 year old Omakayas is an Ojibwe girl in 1852 America. This book is a heartwarming story that chronicles the struggles of Omakayas and her family as they search for a new safe place to live after being removed from their home by the United States government.
The story catches you from the beginning with banter between Omakayas and her brother Pinch. The banter soon turns to survival and working together when they accidentally go over a waterfall. Humor replaces danger when Pinch saves a porcupine that later becomes his “medicine animal” and wants to live perched on his head! The two are reunited with their extended family and start their long journey north to start a new life. Numerous difficulties are thrown in their path as they make their way across the landscape. The reader lives one year of Omakayas’ life and learns about the customs, relationships and spiritual beliefs of this Ojibwe Native American family. The overwhelming theme of sticking together to survive continues throughout the entire book as the family encounters the cruelty of other Native Americans, starvation, abduction and death but ends with Omakayas’ coming of age when she receives her “first moon (puberty).” Along the way the reader gets to see how each situation, good and bad, is dealt with and thus learns a great deal about Native American culture.
I happen to love Native American symbolism and spiritualism and found myself really enjoying this book. Eldrich does a beautiful job of describing the setting so young readers can visualize not only the landscape but the mood and thoughts of the characters with simple but moving authentic dialogue. She is of Chippewa descent and clearly has an authentic perspective about the life of a Native American in this era. The pencil drawings although rare, also lent themsleves to the beauty of the book. I can see how this text won the ALA Notable Children’s Book Award.
It is suggested that the age range of this text is grade 3-8. I would suggest it not be used with 3rd to 5th grade children because of some of the “intense” material and the amount of background knowledge needed to comprehend the text. This possibly disturbing material includes a story about a person being eaten by dogs. In addition, there are many aspects of the book that need scaffolding. The names in the book are difficult to pronounce and I found myself confused as to which character was male or female. I was fortunate to have listened to the text on a CD and received the correct pronunciation. Younger students might become frustrated with the unusual names. I also have a great deal of background information about Native American rituals and beliefs and found it easy to fill in any gaps. Things like “spirit cloth”, medicine animal’ and “first moon” as well as the Native American symbolism and beliefs about nature would need to be discussed with children prior to reading. Discussions about the onset of puberty also need to be considered. Instructors need to make individual determinations as to the maturity of their students as well as their background knowledge. This is not a stand- alone text but may be offered toward the end of a unit on Native American life.
I did not read the other two books in the series, The Birchbark House and The Game of Silence but I look forward to doing so in the future.(less)
Carmen Agra Deedy’s 14 Cows For American is the true heart-wrenching story of Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, an African medical student studying in New York...moreCarmen Agra Deedy’s 14 Cows For American is the true heart-wrenching story of Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, an African medical student studying in New York when the twin towers burned on 911. He returns to his Maasai tribe and retells the story in the hopes that the elders will bless the cow he worked so hard to purchase for his mother but now decides to give to America. As Kimeli Naiyomah explains, his tribe taught him that, ”to heal the pain in someone’s heart, you give something that is close to your own heart.” To the nomadic Maasai tribe a cow means, “life”. Without their cows they would starve to death. The tribe hears the story and decides one by one to also give, until 14 cows in all are offered. An American diplomat is sent to receive the gift. When he and his wife arrive they are given a ceremony with full traditional garb, dance and the experience of a sacred ritual. They are moved to tears and so was I!
Upon reading this picture storybook one can tell why it won a Bluestem Award nomination and Parent's Choice Award. Thomas Gonzalez’s illustrations are simply beautiful. The bold bright colors would be appealing to any child. The wide horizontal shaped design of the book with illustrations across two pages emphasizes the landscape and openness of nature and the heavens, the setting for this story. The text is just as beautiful as the illustrations. Each support each other so the reader feels the depth of the emotions felt by the tribe that day and the magnitude of their gift. The story ends with, “because there is no nation to powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort”. The text is accompanied by a drawing of the main character’s eye with the reflection of the twin towers burning in the richness of his beautiful black eyes. I know at this point, I have lost all control!
I was left with questions at the end of the book like did they really send the cows and if so, here where are they now? All of my questions were answered in the epilogue along with a website for further information.
This text would lend itself to discussion in numerous ways for students 9 and up. A discussion about 911 and how it impacted to world would be appropriate. I would also suggest using this book as a mentor text to discuss visual literacy elements with children second grade and up. Discussions about how illustrations and text and how they support each other for understanding and mood and tone of a text would be in order. (less)
Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson is the story of the author’s heroic ancestors starting with slavery, marching in the civil rights movement and ending w...moreShow Way by Jacqueline Woodson is the story of the author’s heroic ancestors starting with slavery, marching in the civil rights movement and ending with the present day passing of traditions to her daughter. It depicts the life of Soonie, an African American slave and the generations of relatives who were sold away from their family as children. Soonie used her talent for stitching picture “crossroads” and “paths” on patches (used as pictorial maps) that would ‘’show the way” to freedom for escaping slaves. The overall theme is one of strength, bravery, love and hope. The mood is often dark (as is the subject matter of slavery) with unbelievable adversity and heartbreak overcome. I believe the author’s message is that we enjoy the benefits of the struggles that previous generations endured.
The author uses authentic speech and cadence to add to the authenticity of the story with sentences separated in poem format. The reader can feel the love for their children, as each generation “loved that baby up”. This book serves to document and give value to the lives that previously were told in oral form from generation to generation in African American history. Most strikingly is the loss of Mathis May’s daughter’s name in history “born free that same year”.
The illustrations by Hudson Talbott enhance and support the text beautifully. The book cover design depicting Soonie holding a candle to light the way in contrast with the dark cut away makes the reader want to go inside. Talbot uses many artistic elements to impact the reader including, water color, three-dimensional materials (like fabric and needle and thread) as well as darkness contrasting color. Happier times are bright and whimsical, dark times are dark and bordered with authentic pictures in chaos and shaped to form quilt patches. The illustrations beg to you to stop and ponder before turning the page. I read the book but also watched the Reading Rainbow DVD of the narration by Diane Carroll. This was well worth the viewing. The DVD did not concentrate on the use of quilts to aid in the escape of slaves but rather on documenting family history.
The text would be suited for children third grade and up. Younger children might have difficulty with the depiction of children being sold away from their families at such young ages, despite the fact that it is historically true. Although the book represents dark times in our history the sense of hope and perseverance would be an uplifting message to discuss. In addition, the use of this book as a representation of illustrations adding to the mood of the text is also a possibility. (less)
How sad is the world? And how sad that I live in Chicago and didn't even know the true pain that many families have to endure. This is a story that ne...moreHow sad is the world? And how sad that I live in Chicago and didn't even know the true pain that many families have to endure. This is a story that needed to be told. I am not a big fan of graphic novels but I feel it was done well and would lend itself to numerous discussions for teens and adults about "Yummy". Perhaps, a discussion about where we went wrong as a society and what we can do to help in the future. (less)
Jacqueline Woodson’s Feathers was the winner of a 2008 Newbery Nomination. Set in first person narrative the story tells about fifth grader Frannie an...moreJacqueline Woodson’s Feathers was the winner of a 2008 Newbery Nomination. Set in first person narrative the story tells about fifth grader Frannie and the affect that a poem read at school has on her. ‘Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune-without the words, and never stops at all. “-Emily Dickinson
The book has many layers. The underlying theme is dealing with inter-personal relationships involving both family and friends. Relationships are challenged when Frannie witnesses racism and bullying in her school. A white student joins their predominantly African American school and the class bully names him “Jesus” because of his long hair and white skin. To complicate the situation, her friend Samantha thinks he might actually be Jesus! Equally important in the story is how a family endures when the mother has multiple miscarriages and a deaf child (Frannie’s brother, Sean).
As in many of Woodson’s books the underlying sense of hope comes through. Her eloquent prose describes the 1970’s setting. Her well-developed characters transport the reader into the book. “She said the first time she sat down in the church, all this beautiful light came pouring in through the one stained-glass window above where the pastor stood. Mama said she watched the light and the light had so many things in it- color, dust, hard and soft patches of sun. She said she sat there and leaned into the light and it warmed her and helped her understand. And what I understood, Mama said, was that the baby would always be with us-somewhere, somehow. When we needed her.”
Amazon.com suggests an age 9 and up level to this book with a 4th grade and up reading level. There are numerous activities that could be done in a 4th grade and up classroom. Taking Woodson’s talent of creating strong visual prose students could do a “sketch and stretch lesson” in which suitable portions that lend themselves to visualization could be read aloud. Students respond to the reading by sketching what they hear and then discussing their sketches with peers. See the lesson on the Read, Write and Think website: www.readwritethink.org/classroom-reso...
Other activities (for older children) include learning about racism in the 70’s and/or using graphic organizers to analyze one or more of the characters and how having them in the book contributed to the whole body of the text. (less)
“Mais oui!”, Mike Artell has created a hilariously funny Cajun fairy tale in Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood. The book starts with a brief histo...more “Mais oui!”, Mike Artell has created a hilariously funny Cajun fairy tale in Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood. The book starts with a brief history of the Cajun people and a short paragraph about Louisiana (his birth place) in the dedication. There is a much needed glossary of terms to help the reader since the book is written in what I assume is the authentic dialect of the region. The protagonist in the story is Petite Rouge Riding Hood who happens to be a duck! What else would you have if the setting takes place in the swamps of the bayou? The story plot follows as any other Little Red Riding Hood story with the protagonist trying to get to her sick Grand’Mere but running into an antagonist: this time an alligator. In this tale Petite Rouge has a helper, TeJean, the family cat. They don’t get far before they run into Claude. “It was Claude, dat ol’ gator. Petite Rouge gotta honch dat ol’ Claude t’inkin’ he’d like to have her fo’ lonch.”
I find the text surprisingly easy to read with the help of the glossary and background knowledge of the traditional Little Red Riding Hood tale. I can just hear the Cajun accent in my head while I read. The story continues but without the traditional,” my what big eyes you have” or the didactic elements of the original version. In this story the gator dons a duckbill mask and webbed feet. The illustrations by Jim Harris are worth seeing and depict what it might be like to live on the bayou and easily fill in any gaps from the text. The author supplies a different ending…. Cajun style. Here comes the spoiler; Claude is tricked into eating boudin (sausage) with hot sauce!! The last page with signs written by Claude will make you linger and then laugh! Claude does not seem as menacing as the wolf in other tales about Little Red. Definitely worth reading!
I would say this a fractured fairy tale but it really does stand alone on its own merits. The biggest character, the narrator, is never mentioned but one of my favorite features of the book, not to mention sassy Petite! This book would be ideal as a read aloud in a K though 3rd grade classroom but would be difficult for them to read on their own if they do not have experiences with this type of dialect. (Novelist suggests a Lexile reading level of 870= 5th grade). There is an audio version of the text that comes in cassette form but Mike Artell also made available audio files of him reading the text on his website www.mikeartell.com/books.html. The combination of cd and text could be part of a listening center after oral reading.
I can also see this book being used as part of a study of the regions of the United Sates in 3r to 5th grade classrooms. Louisiana has such an interesting cultural life that needs to be remembered especially after the exit of many of the citizens after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
Children who enjoyed this version might also enjoy Little Red Cowboy Hat by Susan Lowell. (less)
Marvel Fairy Tales by C.B. Cebulski (illustrator Ricardo Tercio) was disappointing and confusing to say the least. This book contains numerous fairy t...moreMarvel Fairy Tales by C.B. Cebulski (illustrator Ricardo Tercio) was disappointing and confusing to say the least. This book contains numerous fairy tales rewritten in graphic novel format with marvel cartoon characters taking the roles of the protagonists. For example, Jennifer Walters plays the part of “She Hulk” (Dorothy from the Wizard Of Oz). For the sake of this review I will concentrate on Mary Jane and the Little Red Riding Hood chapter. The story begins with Mary Jane (Little Red Riding Hood) making candy deliveries in the forest when she is attacked (we as readers never find out who they are). A Spiderman type character then comes to save her. The next scene depicts a court scene with her being cross examined by a law official (confusing to say the least). The story continues with Mary Jane conflicted about her role in life and whether the wife of Peter Parker is enough for her. With the entrance of the wolf Mary Jane realizes she wants to get off the “path” she was told to stay on and attempts to stand up to the “demonstrative” sinister wolf.
I need to point out that I am not a lover of graphic novels and have minimal background knowledge of Marvel comic book heroes. That being said, I found many issues with this text. First, the idea of Marvel comic book heroes as fairy tale protagonists was far reaching but could have been carried off if not for the use of other fantasy plots such as the Spiderman element in this story. Second, the text was weak and the illustrations dark (in a color sense) and confusing. Third, the use of gender biases like women being taken care of my the men they marry was used by the author to support the lesson to be learned (follow your own path) but in doing so I feel it watered down the plot. Lastly, I take issue with the format of the book. There was no table of contents in the beginning and the title and creators of the story were at the end of each story not the beginning. To many young adult readers this would also be confusing since it doesn’t follow the usual text features they might be used to. I would not use this book in a classroom. It is not an example of quality literature. (less)
Alien Encounter, the 4th book in the Alien series by Pamela F. Service (illustrations by Mike Gorman) continues the saga of Zack, alien agent on Earth...moreAlien Encounter, the 4th book in the Alien series by Pamela F. Service (illustrations by Mike Gorman) continues the saga of Zack, alien agent on Earth. Zack was placed on Earth as an infant but only found out about his alien status last year. (They do not indicate his age but I feel he was a teenager.) His mission on Earth is to act as a representative for the Galactic Union. This time his mission is to intercept a “Nythian” alien youth named Tu before he scares Earthlings so much that they will not want to join the Galactic Union (when the time comes). Tu is in search of his father, Iv, who he believes is the sole survivor of the Roswell, New Mexico U.F.O. crash in 1947. The action takes place in Roswell during the annual U.F.O. Festival. The “plot thickens” when Zack needs to bring his father on the trip and his father is unaware of him being an alien. Zack finds Tu and befriends him. To complicate matters Major Garrett (Army Intelligence) is hot on their trail and kidnaps Zack’s father. All ends well but you will have to read the book to find out how our protagonist rights the world on Earth again!
Alien Encounters won the Eleanor Cameron Award for Science Fiction Literature for Middle Grades for 2011. (Amazon book review suggests a grade level of 3 and up and an age level of 8 and up.) Its simple text makes it easy for middle grade readers to follow the fast past science fiction storyline. I gave it three stars because i feel it lacked something in the storyline but I am sure it would be attractive to boys who like alien encounters.
The illustrations are done in black and white sketches and although sparse they add a visual cue to how the characters look. Interestingly, Gorman’s illustration of Zack reminds me of Darren Stevens from the Bewitched TV series!
Classroom recommendations include a study of the Roswell incident in American history. Students who enjoyed this text might also comparing and contrasting it with Steven Spielberg’s movie, E.T. In addition, this text would be ideal for extended writing activities. Students can write about; “What they would do if they met a real alien” just as Zack did. (Zack supposedly wrote about this topic and won a trip to Roswell, which was not true.) (less)