Many of Polacco’s stories are based on her own family’s stories and background.When Patricia was a child, her parents were divorced. She spent the school year living with her mother and summers with her father. Her mother’s family celebrated Hanukkah, and one of Patricia’s masterpieces is The Trees of the Dancing Goats. In this poignant tale, the author tells about a year when her family demonstrated the true meaning of giving when they made Christmas happen for their neighbors.
Another of Polacco’s tales that transcends both Hanukkah and Christmas is The Christmas Tapestry. In this book, the author shares the story of a minister and his family who revitalize a crumbling church. Just before Christmas, they buy a tapestry to hang in the sanctuary. When they share a wintery ride with an elderly woman, they are reminded of the persecution that others experienced during WWII because of religion.
In the following clip, Polacco talks about listening to her family stories.Filed under Christmas, Hanukkah, Picture Book | Comment (0)
One of my favorite books for the holiday season (or any other time) is Elijah’s Angel by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson (HBJ, 1992). This story appeals to me on so many levels. Families who celebrate Chanukah and Christmas can all relate to the meaning of their holidays. As a fan of folk art and outsider art, I enjoy introducing Elijah Pierce (1892-1984) to our students.
Elijah was a woodcarver, barber, and deeply religious man. During his lifetime, this humble craftsman was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His woodcarvings are owned privately and in museum collections.
Michael Rosen, the author, met Elijah Pierce as a youngster, and he has shared his friendship with Elijah in this story. As a young friend of the woodcarver, Michael was enthralled with Elijah’s work. However, when Elijah gave Michael the gift of an angel during the Christmas season, Michael was conflicted. He didn’t feel that he could accept it because Michael was Jewish, and his family didn’t own “graven images”. Michael’s supportive parents helped him celebrate the true meaning of Chanukah, Christmas, and friendship.
The illustrator of Elijah’s Angel also knew Elijah Pierce. Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson became his friend and student. Her illustrations are in a folk art style.
In the following trailer, Elijah describes his craft.Filed under "People Who Make a Difference", Christmas, Hanukkah, Picture Book | Comment (0)
There have been a number of outstanding picture books published within the past year. When I compose my yearly list of favorites, I have varied criteria. Some picture books are simply a work of art with their marriage of illustration and text, while others belong to a noted author’s or illustrator’s body of work. Some books are just perfect for a child’s specific stage of development, and others can be used with a genre or thematic unit that I share with children in the library. My favorite picture books combine many of these characteristics, and they will also appeal to many ages. Those are the books that I imagine a four year-old or a ninety four-year-old enjoying.
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel, 2013) makes my top ten list this year. Duncan takes his crayons out in class, and he finds a packet of letters written by them. Each color has a comment or complaint about their use. Blue is upset because it gets used so much that “I am so short and stubby, I can’t even see over the railing in the crayon box anymore!” Let’s hope that this is only the first book that we will see from this author/illustrator team.
Author Jim Tobin teamed up with illustrator Dave Coverly and created The Very Inappropriate Word (Henry Holt, 2013). Michael collects words from many places – home, school, dictionaries, books, and conversations. He stashes them away to save and use later. One day, he collects a word that he has never heard before “@#*!”, and his sister tells him that it is a “very inappropriate word”. Michael shares the word with friends and uses it himself which causes him trouble.
I am not often a fan of wordless or nearly wordless books because I usually share a book with a group of children. When the illustrations tell the story, fewer readers can enjoy it at the same time. David Wiesner’s latest title, Mr. Wuffles! (Clarion Books, 2013) is an exception. I am a fan! This author/illustrator brings the reader into the world of a picky cat who eschews the toys his owners have purchased for him. Instead, he discovers a toy that is out of this world, complete with aliens. Let your imagination run free with this story.
David Wiesner talks about his work in the following video.
I was in the fifth grade on November 22, 1963. I still have a vivid memory of my teacher coming into our classroom after speaking to other teachers in the hallway. It was the first time that I had ever seen a teacher cry, and she shared the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. We were sent home from school early, and I spent the rest of the weekend watching television with my family. There was no shielding children from this national nightmare, and many of us were also watching the live coverage when Lee Harvey Oswald was also killed.
This has become history for today’s middle school students, but there are two recent books that bring this history to life – “The President Has Been Shot!”: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson (Scholastic Press, 2013) and Kennedy’s Last Days: The Assassination That Defined a Generation by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt, 2013). O’Reilly’s volume is adapted from his title, Killing Kennedy. Both Swanson and O’Reilly have chronicled this major event for adults and young adults alike.
Filed under History, Middle School, Non-Fiction | Comment (0)
In April of 1939, Detective Comics #27 was sent to newsstands across the country. Little did the purchasers of this comic book know that this issue would later be worth thousands of dollars. This was the issue that introduced Bat-Man (later changed to one word, Batman), “…a hero who looked like a villain, a vigilante who was also a detective.”
While Batman had a secret identity, until recent years, so did his co-creator, Bill Finger. Bob Kane has always been the cartoonist who is credited with developing Batman. In Bill, the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman illustrated by Ty Templeton (Charlesbridge, 2012), author Marc Tyler Nobleman shares the story of Bill Finger’s contributions. Through the years, many cartoonists and comic book historians have unearthed facts that support that many of the ideas and plot lines from the very beginning were the creation of Bill Finger. Bill had agreed to be a silent partner, and his estate doesn’t receive the same royalties from all of the Batman spinoffs that Bob Kane’s estate receives. To recognize his many contributions to the Batman phenomena, The Bill Finger Awards for Excellence in Comic Book Writing are presented to honor comic book writers.
Do check out the Batman that I grew up with – the tv show starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin.Filed under Non-Fiction, Picture Book Biography | Comment (0)
There are specific awards for children’s literature that are important to watch. The obvious two are the Caldecott Award and the Newbery Award, which are announced in January. Another important award announcement is made in the fall, and that is the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award list. These awards have been given annually since 1967, and they recognize books in three categories: picture book, fiction and poetry, and non-fiction.
This year’s Boston Globe-Horn Book winners are outstanding selections. The winner in the picture book category is Building Our House by Jonathan Bean (FSG, 2013). The author chronicles the experiences that his family had while constructing their own home. He tells this charming story through the eyes of a young narrator. The family buys land and moves to the country, and they begin their year and a half long construction project. There are subtle side stories that are told through the illustrations, like Mom’s pregnancy and the addition of another family member. The book is a gem.
The winner in the non-fiction category is Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Byrd (Dial, 2012). Byrd produced a colorful volume for our intermediate and older readers that chronicles the life of one of our most interesting Founding Fathers. Franklin’s wit and wisdom has stood the test of time; it is as pertinent today as it was over two hundred years ago.
For a complete list of the present and past winners, be sure to visit The Boston Globe – Horn Book site.Filed under Awards, Non-Fiction, Picture Book | Comment (0)
As many baseball fans enjoy post-season play, it’s a perfect time to introduce children and adults to William Ellsworth Hoy (1862-1961), one of the few deaf players ever to succeed in the major league. His amazing story of talent, persistence, and courage is chronicled in the picture book biography, Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy (Lee & Low, 2012).
William Hoy was able to hear during his earliest years, but when he was three, he lost his ability after he suffered with meningitis. Growing up deaf during the 1860s was difficult for him because there was little sensitivity to his condition. When William was ten years old, life opened up for him when he attended the Ohio School for the Deaf. His education broadened as he learned sign language, how to read lips, and he got to play on the school’s baseball team.
After graduation, Hoy became a successful shoemaker, even buying his own shop where he was able to build a baseball diamond for local teenagers to play with him. That was where an amateur league coach discovered him, and his dream to play professional baseball began to seem possible. William was such a solid player that the following year he made it to the minor leagues with the Oshkosh club.
One of Hoy’s biggest obstacles was that he couldn’t hear if the umpire called a pitch a ball or strike when he was at bat. He needed to turn around, and the umpire repeated his call. Opposing pitchers began to quickly thrown to him before he could settle himself in the batter’s box for the next pitch. This caused him to struggle at bat. Between seasons, William devised a plan to work around this challenge when he worked out a plan for the third base coach to indicate the umpire’s calls with a hand signal. He was on his way to the majors.
William Hoy played for the National League team, the Washington Nationals, for fourteen years. William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy’s statistics rank him with the top twenty-five players who have ever played major league baseball in the areas of stolen bases, assists by an outfielder, and double plays by an outfielder. Yet, he still is not honored in Cooperstown in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 2008, on the day that the Phillies won the pennant, they honored William “Dummy” Hoy at Deaf Awareness Day.Filed under "People Who Make a Difference", Picture Book Biography, Sports | Comment (0)
Our fourth and fifth graders are avidly reading various books that have been nominated for this year’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (MACBA). This voluntary reading program was started by Dr. Helen Constant in 1975, and it is administered through Salem State University. Twenty-five books are nominated for the award, and our voting for the DCD favorites will take place in late winter.
There are many obvious benefits to reading along with us for the next few months. Students are often introduced to authors who are unknown to them before this, and they return looking for other books by them. Some of the authors, like Rick Riordan and Mike Lupica, are already favorites of many intermediate readers. An important benefit that may not be obvious is that our readers become critics. They learn how to evaluate literature through plot, characters, and interest, and they have fun doing so. Throughout the next few months, I’ll highlight some of the nominated titles. Links to the reading lists and our required journal pages can be found on our DCD Library page.
One of my favorite contemporary writers is Rick Riordan. As a former English and history middle school teacher, he now shares his talent with millions of readers. Many of our students have enjoyed his series, “Percy Jackson and The Olympians.” The first Percy Jackson book, The Lightning Thief, was made into a popular movie in 2010. The second movie from the series, Sea of Monsters, is currently in theaters. In his “Kane Chronicles Series”, the author explores Egyptian myths and legends. This author’s books are gifts for children and adults. They spark an interest in mythology that few books accomplish. When re-reading these gems, I often return to my high school text, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, to learn more about particular gods.
Riordan’s title, The Lost Hero, is one of the nominees for this year’s MACBA; this is the first book in “The Heroes of Olympus Series.” The author takes us back to the world of the Greek gods and crosses over into the realm of the Roman deities. The main character, Jason, wakes up on a school bus holding a girl’s hand. He is perplexed to find out that he is at the Wilderness School, an institution for “bad kids.” Those are the least surprising facts that he has to face. More surprisingly, he finds out that he is a demigod, and, along with his friends, he faces a quest to save Hera, Queen of the Gods.
Do check out Rick Riordan’s website for information on all of his books.Filed under All Ages, MA Children's Book Award, Novels, Read-Alouds | Comment (0)
“If they want to give me a medal for being me, I’ll take it.” (Quote from Auggie in Wonder)
When I was in elementary school, I read a book called Karen by Marie Killilea (Buccaneer Books, 1952). I can still remember the effect that this book had on me as a child. I felt such empathy for Karen, who was the subject of the biography. Marie shared the story of her daughter’s life and struggles. Karen was born with cerebral palsy, and her parents chose to raise her at home to give her as normal a life as possible. With her parents’ love and support and her own perseverance, Karen went on to live a productive and independent life. My young heart went out to her, and the book opened my eyes to the person inside.
Fast forward to our children today. I believe that there is a book that is touching many of them just as Karen did me. That book is Wonder by R. J. Palacio (Knopf, 2012). While Palacio’s book is a novel, the author has so meticulously crafted her story that the reader believes in the main character. The protagonist, Auggie, was born with genetic abnormalities, and he has undergone many operations. Even after so many surgeries, his face is severely disfigured. When he goes out, adults and children cringe when they see him, stare, or turn away. This story is of his fifth grade year when he enters school for the first time. He faces the daily revulsion that others demonstrate towards him, but he also discovers true friendship. He demonstrates exceptional courage, and many of his schoolmates learn something about themselves too. Palacio came up with the idea for Wonder because of her own family’s experience when they saw a child like Auggie.
This is certainly a book that many of our fifth graders have been discussing, as they have chosen to read it with their teachers. The middle schoolers have also found it. Parents may want to read it themselves if they choose to share it with intermediate readers.
Years from now, I hope that many of today’s readers will remember Wonder, as I remember Karen.Filed under 5th Grade, Middle School, Novels | Comment (0)
There are some authors who are standouts in the field of literature for children and young adults. Nic Bishop is one of these unique individuals, and his contributions to the non-fiction genre for young readers are extraordinary.
Because of his father’s work, Nic Bishop’s childhood involved a great deal of travel and living in a variety of cultures. This upbringing fed his curiosity about his world which Bishop further explored through his interest in photography. He started taking pictures of nature when he was nine years old. As he grew up, his adventures and education continued to take him to interesting and remote locations. While he started his writing career as an adult author, his transition to books for children was a gift to all of us who discover his work.
One of my personal favorites is Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot (Houghton Mifflin, 2010). He collaborated on this with Sy Montgomery who wrote the text. They share the story of the ninety-one birds on Codfish Island off the coast of New Zealand.
If you are interested in how he takes his phenomenal photographs, do check out this video where he discusses his work on Spiders (Scholastic, 2007).
His website provides interesting information about his life and work.
http://www.nicbishop.com/Filed under All Ages, Science | Comment (0)