Turkey Tot is a clever re-telling of the classic story The Little Red Hen. In this version the Little Red Hen is replaced by Turkey Tot and the three...moreTurkey Tot is a clever re-telling of the classic story The Little Red Hen. In this version the Little Red Hen is replaced by Turkey Tot and the three uncooperative friends are Chick, Pig and Hen. Instead of preparing and baking bread Turkey Tot wants the sweet, juicy blackberries in the tree high above their heads.
The other animals agree that the blackberries look delicious but they are too far out of reach and therefore impossible to pick. The animals began to walk away. Turkey Tot discovers a ball of string and concocts a plan to find balloons, tie them to the string and float up to the tree where they will then be able to pick the blackberries. The other three animals dismiss his idea:
"Not me," said Chick. "You're talking crazy talk."
"Not me," said Pig. "We can't reach the berries and that is that."
"Tsk, tsk," said Hen. "He's been different since the day he hatched."
Turkey Tot's response is always that he will do it himself followed by:
But he couldn't. So he didn't. But he found something else.
Turkey Tot's next discovery leads to another ingenious plan, and so on.
The structure of the original Little Red Hen story solidly underlies Turkey Tot but here the characters have a little more personality--other than lazy and selfish. In the end Chick, Pig and Hen come to appreciate Turkey Tot's creative and original thinking. The phrase "He's been different since the day he hatched." becomes an expression of admiration instead of a put-down, leaving all four characters better off than they were at the beginning of the story.
Jennifer Mann's illustrations are bright primary and secondary hues in bold panels. The characters are drawn simply yet completely and Turkey Tot has wonderfully quirky facial expressions that mirror his personality perfectly.
This is a great read-aloud for younger children in classrooms or at home. I will also be using it with older students when I study fairy tales for structure and examples of different versions based on a traditional form. (less)
B.U.G. is extraordinarily successful blending of contemporary realistic and fantasy fiction. In addition to the seamlessly interwoven genres the story...moreB.U.G. is extraordinarily successful blending of contemporary realistic and fantasy fiction. In addition to the seamlessly interwoven genres the story embodies the themes at the heart of every individual--particularly young people--trying to decide who we are when overwhelmed by feelings and circumstances.
Sammy is bullied mercilessly at school--both physically and emotionally. His only solace is his music--klezmer, a Jewish traditional music form. When Sammy begins studying for his bar mitzvah the rabbi tells him about a legendary defender of the Jewish people--a mythical creature called a golem. Heedless of the rabbi's warnings, when Sammy reaches his breaking point at school he creates his own golem and brings it to life.
Sammy discovers there are responsibilities and dangers involved with creating a life--any life--that he did not expect. He is forced to make decisions about retaliating in anger or simply protecting and standing up for himself. Doing the right thing when you have been repeatedly hurt by another is one of the most difficult decisions any of us face. I appreciated this aspect of the story.
Amid the fantastical existence of golems are the genuine themes of friendship, compassion and personal integrity. Having read many bully-themed novels this year, I enjoyed the fact that B.U.G. was different in the addition of the fantasy elements. Do kids get their heads stuffed in toilets by bullies? Truthfully, not really. Are they browbeaten and ostracized? Absolutely--far too frequently. Due to the universality of the story's theme and the obvious fantasy element of the golem I was willing to suspend reality for those of Sammy's circumstances that would not have been believable in a strictly contemporary fiction book. (less)
Tollins are not fairies. Though they both have wings, fairies are delicate creatures and much smaller....In addition, fairies cannot sing B-sharp....Tollins regard fairies as fluttery show-offs and occasionally use them to wipe out the insides of cups. Tollins are also a lot less fragile than fairies. In fact, the word "fragile" can't really be used about them at all. They are about as fragile as a housebrick.
So begins Tollins: Explosive Tales for Children. The book is divided into three stories: How to Blow Up Tollins, Sparkler and the Purple Death and Windbags and Dark Tollins. Each of these stories is in turn divided into chapters, making this an excellent read-aloud in classrooms or at home.
The main character is a Tollin named Sparkler who, due to being exploited by humans at a fireworks factory, becomes a scientist, determined to provide humans with an alternative to using Tollins as fireworks. Sparkler's stories are a unique mix of sweetness and tongue-in-cheek humor which will appeal to young children and adults alike.
Sparkler's ingenuity and determination are inspiring. Iggulden's ironic touches (particularly relating to the fairies, who are NOT treated well by the Tollins, who seem oblivious to this fact) and clever wordplay add a dimension to the stories that elevate them above a traditional children's story of fairy-like creatures. Lizzy Duncan's illustrations are quirky and an absolutely perfect complement to the theme and tone of the stories. The Tollins are depicted in purples and dark reds with a slightly old-fashioned quality and hysterically funny facial expressions.
There is much to be savored in Tollins. I thoroughly enjoyed my reading experience with these characters and their adventures and encourage anyone who enjoys a story for the sake of a good story and a good laugh to grab a copy! (less)
The Sandman and the War of Dreams is the fourth installment in William Joyce's Guardians series (the animated feature film Rise of the Guardians was b...moreThe Sandman and the War of Dreams is the fourth installment in William Joyce's Guardians series (the animated feature film Rise of the Guardians was based on the series). I have enjoyed each of the books and there is still one final installment left to be written, but The Sandman is my hands-down favorite so far.
The entire series appeals to me because it has the wonderful storyteller quality of the best fairytales and because the theme woven throughout is one of kindness and love, belief in miracles and the courage to make those miracles happen. The Sandman describes riding throughout the skies on shooting stars, listening to the wishes made to him as he passes saying:
If a wish was worthy, we were honor-bound to answer it. We would send a dream to whomever had made the wish. The dream would go to that person as they slept, and within this dream there would be a story...and it would help guide them in their quest to make the wish come true.
I really love the belief in magic coupled with individual initiative and cooperation to combat the evil of Lord Pitch (the Nightmare King). The Sandman is a uniquely gentle story that is nonetheless full of the adventure and good vs. evil battles that keep the story moving at a brisk--sometimes breathless--pace.
This is a perfect read-aloud (as are the others in the series) for a classroom or as a bedtime selection for the whole family. I highly recommend it for all ages, but it will be most enjoyed by 7-11 year olds and those--like me--who truly love the storyteller/fairytale genre. (less)
I laughed out loud at this one! In Lion, Shark and TimberWolf are finding it hurtful that other animals whisper behind their backs, call them "bad kit...moreI laughed out loud at this one! In Lion, Shark and TimberWolf are finding it hurtful that other animals whisper behind their backs, call them "bad kitty" and hold Little Red Riding Hood and "feeding frenzies" against them.
Coming together in a support group for Carnivores they decide the best way to avoid being treated this way by other animals is to become vegetarians. And they try. Without success.
Disguises are the next idea, allowing them to blend in and be included by the other animals. Predictably, this plan also fails as none are able to maintain their disguises for very long.
With advice from the Wise Old Owl they realize that they are CARNIVORES. That is what they were intended to be and they do not need to feel bad or ashamed of it. They are meant to exist in this world in this particular way and that's OK.
The text is perfectly proportioned for each page and Santat's illustrations showcase his genius in characterization. He brings a modern graphic novel quality to the story. The bunnies and the TimberWolf I find particularly hilarious.
I, personally, love the slight humorous twist at the end of the story. In my opinion it saves it from being too sappy and gives it the perfect 'edge.' That said, it may not be for everyone; my sense of humor tends to lean farther toward parody, absurdist (even sarcasm) than some others.
As it is I shared it with my children (ages 9 and 11) but I would still have read it with them if they were age 2 and above. I could definitely see this being used in an elementary science life cycle lesson or one clarifying vegetarian/carnivore terms and traits. (less)
Warp Speed is an interesting book. The main character is Marley Sandelski, a 7th grader who feels invisible--except when he's targeted by bullies. Mar...moreWarp Speed is an interesting book. The main character is Marley Sandelski, a 7th grader who feels invisible--except when he's targeted by bullies. Marley belongs to the AV Club and is a rabid Star Trek fan. Outwardly he fits the stereotypical profile of a "nerd."
Marley lives with his parents above the Rialto Theater, which they own and operate. The Rialto shows old movies on the old reel-to-reel projectors, including occasional silent movies for which Marley's mother plays the live music. Marley's mother is blind due to a degenerative retinal disease and her character is an important aspect of Marley's story, in that he sees modeled in his mother an example of strength and courage and determination. Marley's love for his parents also adds to his own distress in that--like SO many of us--he doesn't want to tell them about what he is suffering at the hands of other students. Part of that reluctance comes from wanting to protect his parents from the knowledge, and part of it comes from the unwarranted embarrassment and shame that comes with being treated cruelly by others.
When a new student arrives and joins the AV Club and eventually observes Marley being constantly harassed, hit, called names, etc., becomes angry and demands to know why no one is reporting the abuse we discover the reason Marley is the bullies' target: he stood up for another student (friend) who was receiving the same treatment. When Marley tried to stop the abuse of his friend, the bullies turned their venom on Marley--which is often the case for the individual with enough courage to stand up for another.
I liked Warp Speed because Marley's character is so genuine, his narration so heartfelt and achingly honest. Warp Speedallows the reader to see beyond Marley's outward appearance. The stereotypical "nerd" characteristics that his peers see (Star Trek uber-fan who sometimes lapses into Klingon, AV Club member, non-designer/trendy clothes, etc.) are true aspects of Marley's personality. The difference is that Marley continues to conduct himself--throughout the book--in accordance with his beliefs and values and without giving up the things he DOES truly enjoy (like Star Trek and AV Club) while continuing to search for ways to feel the sense of belonging and acceptance that every one of us needs. He never gives up who he is as a person and THAT is something worth reading! (less)
Sharon Creech's most recent work The Boy on the Porch is calm and sweet and incredibly moving.
John and Marta find a boy asleep on one of their porch c...moreSharon Creech's most recent work The Boy on the Porch is calm and sweet and incredibly moving.
John and Marta find a boy asleep on one of their porch chairs. There is no trace of how or why he arrived there--just a note that the little boy eventually takes from his pocket and hands to Marta:
Plees taik kair of Jacob He is a god good boy.
Wil be bak wen we can.
Unsure of what to do, John and Marta go about caring for the child hesitantly at first. They search for Jacob's family, for reports of missing children, but find nothing for months. Jacob is a unique child in that he is either unable or unwilling to speak so John and Marta must discover ways to communicate with him. As they observe Jacob and his remarkable gift for art and music/rhythm they marvel at and delight in him, growing closer together with each passing day.
In tone and style The Boy on the Porch is reminiscent of Patricia MacLachlan's Sarah, Plain and Tall and is closest in theme to Creech's previous work The Unfinished Angel (which I love). It is really the story of John and Marta and how this small boy on their porch shapes the rest of their lives. It is a story about the power of love and compassion and simple kindness. It is a story about the best in people healing what can be the wreckage inflicted by the worst.
It is about loving children and is one of the most truly beautiful stories I have read in a long time. Due to its tone and theme The Boy on the Porch may work better as a read-aloud for younger readers, who probably would not choose it independently. For Sharon Creech fans it's a must-read! And for those who are not familiar with Creech's work this is a delightful way to begin! (less)
Odd Duck is a bright, engaging, colorful story about Theodora. More than a picture book but just as richly illustrated, Odd Duck is a graphic novel in...moreOdd Duck is a bright, engaging, colorful story about Theodora. More than a picture book but just as richly illustrated, Odd Duck is a graphic novel in chapters. For young/beginning readers it is the perfect bridge from picture books to easy chapter books. For older elementary readers it is still a well-crafted story about being different, finding friendship in unexpected people and the unconditional acceptance of those friends.
Theodora is already different from other ducks: she doesn't fly south for the winter, she likes to try new salsas, make quilts, read many different kinds of books and live far enough from town to be by herself where she can star gaze at night. She doesn't like change.
Then Chad moves in next door. After meeting him, Theodora is appalled by his lack of manners and hygiene, his loud hammering as he builds and displays huge sculptures in his yard and his unorganized splashy way of swimming. She is certain she and Chad will never be friends.
Then one night they discover they are both stargazing. Chad offers Theodora the chance to look at the stars through his telescope. They begin to talk and discover that although they are very different in many ways, they also have many interests in common. They begin to spend time together and develop a friendship. When the pair overhears someone else talking about the oddness of 'that duck' each thinks it is a reference to the other.
Each angry that the other believes her (or him) to be odd, they stop talking. Theodora is adamant that her friendship with Chad is over. Theodora's discovery of both what a good friendship truly is and what it is worth in each of our lives is touching in its simplicity and its truth. Odd Duck is a beautiful book for all ages (although older readers will need it to be introduced as part of a unit or presentation since they will assume it is beneath them due to its format) about the beauty and joy we can have in life if we are open to both our own true selves and the gift a friend brings to our lives. (less)
Bob Shea is one of my favorite authors because his work so easily crosses age barriers. His picture books are usually applicable to very young readers...moreBob Shea is one of my favorite authors because his work so easily crosses age barriers. His picture books are usually applicable to very young readers and to upper elementary ages. I often use his work at the middle school, high school and adult level as well.
Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great is unique in the "anti-bully"-themed literature in that it successfully addresses relational bullying. Relational bullying is loosely defined as:
•Leaving someone out on purpose •Telling other children not to be friends with someone •Spreading rumors about someone •Embarrassing someone in public
Having just kicked off an Anti-Bully Theatre Initiative in an elementary school with the Social Worker and Behavioral Specialist there (as well as my own experiences and those of my own elementary-aged children) it is evident that relational bullying is the most prevalent. Because it is also the most difficult to define and identify it is less likely to be reported.
Unicorn is an excellent story about how we can feel jealous of someone based on things they can do (or have) which we somehow feel make us seem less because we can't do(or don't have) it. This can be a talent, a skill, even a school assignment or project done especially well.
The feeling of enviousness itself is not necessarily "wrong" or "bad" but can lead us to make choices about our behavior--particularly in the area of relational bullying--that are inappropriate and hurtful. Shea's fancifully illustrated story suggests through the character's actions that when we get to know someone, talk with them we often find out things we did not know about that individual. We find we may have misjudged. We discover that individual has fears and insecurities about things he does not do as successfully as he would like. We gain the ability to celebrate what others are able to accomplish rather than constantly holding ourselves up in comparison.
If we never talk to or spend time with an individual, we miss an opportunity to make a good friend we would not have had otherwise.
Unicorn is a great discussion springboard for younger and older readers alike, often covering dynamics present in a particular classroom or home environment. (less)
This is an excellent addition to Dewdney's successful Llama, Llama series. Baby llama has grown up with his readers, make him an excellent character t...moreThis is an excellent addition to Dewdney's successful Llama, Llama series. Baby llama has grown up with his readers, make him an excellent character to model successful anti-bully strategies for young readers. This installment of the series is exactly on point for young readers pre-school through 2nd Grade in identifying inappropriate behavior and telling someone in charge.
When Gilroy Goat says and does hurtful things Llama clearly tells him to stop. Gilroy does not stop. Llama turns it over to his teacher. She clearly identifies Gilroy's inappropriately hurtful behavior and redirects him, while encouraging him to acknowledge and take responsibility both for what he has done and how to change his behavior going forward.
The piece I absolutely love is that the storyline also models forgiveness and giving an individual who has made a mistake another chance. (less)
Zarafa is the fascinating true story of a singular giraffe. In 1827 the King of Egypt, in an effort to improve political relations, sent a giraffe to...moreZarafa is the fascinating true story of a singular giraffe. In 1827 the King of Egypt, in an effort to improve political relations, sent a giraffe to King Charles X of France as a gift. This is the story of that giraffe's journey.
Zarafa was captured at the age of 2 in North Africa. Too young to travel yet to the capital of Alexandria, she lived in a small village, nurtured and milk-fed by the villagers. When she was old enough they sailed her down the Nile in a boat built specifically to transport her, along with her keepers, 3 cows to provide her milk and several monkeys to keep her company.
Once in Alexandria, where she was marveled over by the King and the city's residents, preparations were made for her to sail again. This time she was to cross the Mediterranean Sea to France. Her 2 new keepers--Hassan and Atir--cut a hole in the ship's deck so Zarafa could stand in the hold and still fully extend her neck to breathe fresh air. They built a small tent on the deck to cover her head.
They arrived in Marseilles in winter so Zarafa had to wait until spring to continue her journey to Paris. In spring Zarafa and her keepers began the 550-mile walk to Paris. French citizens lined the streets to see her pass. She was already a celebrity. In Paris the king and all the Parisians fell in love with her. 1827 became known in France as The Year of the Giraffe. Zarafa lived in Paris with her keeper Atir until she died in 1845 at the age of 21.
Judith St. George's picture-book-telling of Zarafa's story is easily ready and accessible to all ages in its language. Britt Spencer's illustrations are bright and fanciful, keeping the story focused at an approachable level for even the youngest readers due to the fact there is quite a bit of text (40-135 words) per page.
For any reader--young or old-- especially those interested in (or obsessed with) giraffes--this is a fascinating read!
FYI: If you want more information, PBS Nature Documentaries has an excellent selection titled Tall Blondes, available in most libraries. The narrator has an adult nonfiction book of the same name if you are interested in reading more in-depth about the giraffes. I highly recommend both the Tall Blondes book AND the PBS Nature film! (less)