Richard Peck’s, A Long Way from Chicago is the first book in the trilogy about larger than life character Grandma Dowdel and her grandchildren, Joey a...moreRichard Peck’s, A Long Way from Chicago is the first book in the trilogy about larger than life character Grandma Dowdel and her grandchildren, Joey and Mary Alice. (The second is A Year Down Yonder and the last is A Season Of Gifts.) Joey and Mary Alice are sent from Chicago to spend the summer each year with their Grandma Dowdel in rural Illinois. The book immediately grabs the reader’s attention: “You wouldn’t think we needed to leave Chicago to see a dead body. We were growing up in there back in the bad old days of Al Capone and Bugs Moran.” Grandma Dowdel is not to be outdone by anyone so she offers to hold the viewing of Shotgun Cheatham’s dead body in her parlor. Late that night when the body moves on its own Grandma takes out her shotgun and proceeds to shoot! (Little did the other participants know that it was just the cat causing the chaos.) Each chapter describes another year (during the Great Depression from 1929-1942) of antics their Grandmother subjects them to. From ghosts to outdoing the banker’s wife the reader is sure to enjoy Grandma’s antics.
Peck grew up in Decatur, Illinois and certainly used his experiences to write this historical and hysterical fiction. Written in the point of view of Joey the readers get a glimpse into how Grandma rids the town of bullies and brings down the “society” class a peg or two! This well written book won a Newbery Honor Award. I enjoyed this book but liked A Season of Gifts even more! In A Season of Gifts Joey and Mary Alice are now adults and don’t visit any longer. But when a preacher and his family move next door the antics start all over again. I could relate to the characters more in A Season for Gifts.
Novelist Plus suggests ages 8 and up but to get the full depth of life during this time I would suggest grades 4th and higher. Activities for this age group might include learning about Chicago gangsters and what life was like during this era. The website: http://libraries.risd.org/wallib/alon... has numerous activities relating to the book, include colloquialisms of the time. One example is “she hightailed it out of there.” Another activity would be a reader’s response journal chapter by chapter to share with peers in discussion groups. (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)
Review was completed with the hardcover 2006 edition.
Even the title, Moses; When Harriet Tubman Led her People to Freedom causes the reader to pause a...moreReview was completed with the hardcover 2006 edition.
Even the title, Moses; When Harriet Tubman Led her People to Freedom causes the reader to pause and think of an extraordinary person empowered by his or her belief in God. This historic fictional picture book, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Kadir Nelson conveys Harriet Tubman’s struggle to free as many African American slaves as possible. We have read many stories about Harriet Tubman before but this one has a new twist. The author brings to life the incredible faith and trust Harriet had in God to guide her to safety and this story doesn’t disappoint.
The text is lyrical and poetic in third person narrative and dialogue between Harriet and God (in different typeset). “Lord, I’m going to hold steady on to You.” And God whispers back in the breeze, “I’m going to see you through, child.”
It has her conversation with God that brings her to freedom and greatness. She is free but misses her family so she returns to guide them even though she risks once again becoming enslaved. She returns nineteen more times to the south to free more than 300 slaves. The simple text works well with the beautiful illustrations. The reader can see how Nelson would win the Coretta Scott Award. With muted earthy blues and browns Nelson’s illustrations becomes an additional character all on its own.
The age range for this text is 5-8 years (determined on the front flap) and the Lexile level is 660 (according to Novelist Plus). The foreword blurb and author’s note at the end give needed background information for the young reader. This would be an excellent read aloud for K-3. Older children 5th grade and up might be able to write a poem from the point of the view of one of the slaves traveling with Harriet as she brings them to freedom. (less)
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)