Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Banned Books Part 1


Banned books. Why do we have to place limits on books? Isn't it up to the reader to make their own opinions of what a book has to offer? I guess I just do not see how we can place one piece of literature away from another based solely on a parents belief that the text and/or illustrations will take their child down the "wrong" path. I see so many of the books that I admire from my childhood placed on these lists solely because of the content within them was fitting at the time they were written and now are "controversial" because the story could offend someone. What about our history. Why should we hide from our past. Isn't it our job to bring the mistakes of our forefathers to light and change our ways. To me there should be no banned or controversial books. Every book on those lists has something to offer readers. LET THEM READ!!! With that said, let's get to blogging. I am choosing to complete this weeks blog under one entry. My reasoning for this is because the books are all related and therefore they should be discussed together.

The Misfits by James Howe (pgs. 1-142)

I am not 100% sure why this book is being lumped into the "controversial" category. I tried to find information that would help to explain why we were choosing to read this book along with our banned/controversial children's books and nothing was made clear to me. For what I have read so far, I would just say that this book is more for helping build self-esteem and less on controversy.
I admire the characters in this book (well the main ones anyway). Addie is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in. Bobby is doing his best to find his place in the world. Skeezie is misunderstood and Joe knows what he is but is not quite sure how to tell everyone else. Their friendship is solid and they support each other. That is a great theme of friendship if I ever heard one. The other plot is one of speaking your voice. When the administration tries to foil their plans of becoming a third party in the upcoming election, they work through their roadblocks.
I like the overall theme of what I have read so far. I am enjoying watching "The Misfits" come into their own, find their inner voice and stand up to those who have been putting them down for years. My wish would be that this book be required reading for all in junior high. Words can be hurtful and students need to know that it is okay to stand up for themselves.
I would absolutely teach this book. I would not approach it however until at least 5th grade. I believe this would be a good companion book to go along with the Character Counts curriculum that is now popular in the schools. Another good time to teach this book would be when students are given a Guidance section on bullying.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (illustrated by Henry Cole)

What an amazing story. The true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo (Roy and Silo). Who says you have to be in love with the opposite sex to raise a family. When the penguin keeper noticed Roy and Silo in love, he took an extra penguin egg and allowed them to raise Tango (because after all it takes two to Tango).
This book was another of my choices that had I not been told that it was a story of two homosexual penguins, I would have thought it was just a book about family. The illustrations are whimsical and pull the reader into the story. The love story between Roy and Silo is inspiring.

I would absolutely teach this book. In the Des Moines area this book was challenged by a family who was APPALLED that their school would openly teach about homosexuality. The school board luckily disagreed with the family. However, the school board, to appease the family moved the book to a part of the library that required parental permission to check out. Nice compromise but ABSOLUTELY unnecessary.

We need to stop sheltering our children. Yes we need to protect them but by taking books like "Tango" and placing them on a permission only shelf, we are not preparing our children for the world that exists today. I do not want my students to have to face a situation and fall flat on their face and make unnecessary comments about anyone (or their lifestyles). It is up to the parents to explain their views at home, but it is my job as a future educator to prepare my students as much as possible for the crazy world we live in.

In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

I read this book several times trying to find why it would have been considered controversial. Finally the fourth time through it and I think I got it - the main character, Mickey loses his pajamas and goes naked (and I mean naked) for awhile. Whoop d doo. What kid has not seen themselves naked? The text is simple, not controversial in anyway and the illustrations allow you to be heavily involved in the dream. Once again it is a parent who wants to have their child be sheltered that causes this book to be on the list.

I would definitely teach this book. I would have no problem reading it to my kindergarten class. Yes the illustrations may get a snicker when they see Mickey without his pj's but the story more than makes up for it. I would not however leave it in my classroom library. I say this only to hopefully serve as a happy medium between myself and parents.

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters

The title says it all for this book. One does not need to go any further to know why this book is considered controversial. Any book that discusses Evolution will always come under scrutiny if a teacher chooses to teach it.

Westberg Peters does put the concept of evolution into terms that younger students may understand and the illustrations are age appropriate. I have seen this book placed into two age categories - kindergarten to grade 3 and grade 4-7. That is quite a large span.

I would have to say that I would probably not teach this book unless my administration will back its reading 100%. There are too many issues that are associated with Evolution. I do not want to battle any family who is overly religious and stomp on their beliefs. I also would not feel comfortable teaching this book due to the overwhelming vocabulary that may trip up younger students.

Daddy's Wedding and Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite

Back in the early 1990's a book like Daddy's Wedding and/or Daddy's Roommate may have caused some controversy. However in today's society there is no way a book portraying a loving same sex couple should be considered controversial.

While yes at times Willhoite has a tendency to be a little stereotypical regarding a gay relationship, the story of love is quite clear. Young Frank is totally at ease with his fathers relationship AND his mother is very much supportive of her ex-husbands lifestyle. The illustrations are a bit over the top but that is necessary to help with the overall feeling of the stories.

I would definitely teach this book in my class. It would help show my students that there are several types of family dynamics. It shows that while Frank has a mother and stepfather, he also has a father and future stepfather who love him just as much. I would use this series when completing a Social Studies unit on families.

Like I said in the beginning I do not believe that we should have books that are considered controversial. Yes, parents do have the write to voice their opinions regarding the literary choices that are given to their children. However, when one parent complains there are more children that suffer from not having the book read to them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hate it or love it?

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
I really was not wanting to read this book. I was thrown off by the title and the back cover really made me want to not read it. I was just thinking that it was a book about a boy who loved his dog, but had a hard time conveying that love.
What I found was a lovely surprise. Ms. Creech does an amazing job of telling a story of a boy who is trying to find his literary identity. Jack starts out by not wanting to complete an assignment, he hated poetry and could not make sense of what was being read. What he ended up finding was his voice. The way he worked out what he was thinking about the poems used in class reminded me of how I felt about poetry.
I truly am in love with this book. I agree that "any words can be a poem. You've just got to make short lines". That was how it was explained to us. Never did I have a teacher who tried to place the emotional part into creating poetry. They just seem to concentrate on a word and said "write about it".
This book is so much more than a book about poetry. It could be used as an instruction manual for teachers. Ms. Stretchberry was able to gain Jack's trust. She allowed him to guide her with when he was ready to have things posted, when to add his name and when to back off. She gave him the opportunity to gain the strength necessary to write about a very difficult time in his life. I want to be that teacher. I want to be the one who helps the student achieve the confidence to become the student (and in this case writer) they can be.

Hugs and Kisses

The Valentine Star by Patricia Reilly Giff; Chapter Illustrations by Blanche Sims
I was drawn to this book because of the adorable cover art. The fact that it was written by a two-time Newberry winner also helped in the selection. I am also interested in books that could be put into a thematic unit (in this case, Valentine's Day).
The theme of the book was cute. Emily and Sherri are friends, one day Emily decides she wants to play by herself, which Sherri takes the wrong way. This in turn creates a rift between the friends. Will they ever work it out?
The premise of the story is evident on almost any given day at school (regardless of grades). What I like about this book is that the author put the problem in a context that younger students could comprehend. The illustrations used at the beginning of each chapter helped connect the emotions the main characters were feeling to the text.
Intended audience: 2nd to 4th grade

Sunday Afternoon's

Katie's Sunday Afternoon written and illustrated James Mayhew
An enjoyable story about a little girl and her grandmother as they spend a HOT day together. Instead of spending the afternoon at the pool, Katie and her grandmother decide to visit the local gallery. While there Katie is able to go into the paintings and help those who in the painting enjoy life outside of the pictures.
This book is also another in a series. What I love about this book is that it introduces the reader to the world of art. In this particular book it is with reproductions of Seurat, Signac and Pissarro, also known as Pointillists. The text is enjoyable and is a little on the difficult side for beginning readers (due to the use of French phrases). The book would be good to use for a lesson on predicting the story.
I used this book with my Reading Buddy who claimed he was not a good reader. During our first meeting he mentioned that his favorite subject was Art. When I stumbled across this series, I thought it was just what I needed to get him engaged. I was correct, he really enjoyed the painting and was even more interested in reading the story than in our other meetings.
Intended audience: Kindergarten (for the illustrations) to 4th

Duck, Duck, Goose

How Do You Count a Dozen Ducklings? by In Seon Chae; Illustrated by Seung Ha Rew
The cover of this book infers that it is a book about counting ducklings. I was thinking that it would serve as a good book for introducing numbers to a kindergarten class. However, what I found was that it would actually be a good book to use when introducing the concept of multiplication to second and third graders.
The mother duckling is concerned with being able to keep track of her twelve ducklings. There is a fox on the loose who needs a snack. By trying different grouping scenarios the mother is able to keep her ducklings safe. She eventually does a good enough job that she is able to fool the fox.
The illustrations are good, each duckling is given a distinct personality. The text is simple, but the illustrations allow the reader to see the multiplication occurring.
Intended audience: Kindergarten through 3rd

Chicka Chicka

Boom Chicka Rock by John Archambault; Illustrated by Suzanne Tanner Chitwood
Another book in a series, Boom Chicka Rock, continues along the lines of its sister book, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. A great book to use when introducing numbers to children, this book uses illustrations related to "Hickory Dickory Dock" to tell the story. The repetition of text will help the reader when they read for understanding. The illustrations also allow for the students to make a connection between the picutres and the text they are trying to read. They should be able to attain what the text is implying by looking the illustrations.
I would use these books in my classroom in conjunction with the introduction of number sets. Each book get progressively further in the number sets and will make the concept of math a little easier to understand.
Intended audience: Kindergarten


How Do Dinosaurs Learn Their Colors? by Jane Yolen; Illustrated by Mark Teague
How Do Dinosaurs Learn Their Colors? is a delightful story. It is one in a series of books designed to help children learn manners, colors, habits, numbers, and many other subjects. What makes this series so relate-able to children is the authors use of dinosaurs as the main characters. Dinosaurs take the place of children in the book, but human adults are still viewed as the authorities.
What I love about this series is the illustrations. Each page introduces a new type of dinosaur and offers relatively easy text for the readers to follow. At the end of the books further information is offered about the dinosaurs illustrated in the book.
While the text is simple, the use of dinosaurs will offer a starting point for many kids to become interested in reading. I know that my daughter made a friend at school based on their love of dinosaurs. One of the first books she ever read to me was a book in this series (How Do Dinosaurs Go To School?). If you have a student who is struggling with reading, I believe this series could help.
Intended audience: Kindergarten to 3rd

Wrut Wrow Wraggy

Scooby-Doo and the Phantom Cowboy; illustrations by Hanna & Barbera

Scholastic has decided to bring episodes of its popular "Scooby-Doo" series to readers. I must admit that I always enjoyed watching the cartoons when I was a kid. I was a little leery of how the episodes would be translated into text however. What I have now come to realize is that Scholastic is a lot smarter than I gave them credit for. My 5 year-old daughter is a perfect example of their success.

On Sunday we were taking a break from cleaning the house and I let them watch a little T.V. I found "Scooby-Doo" on the Cartoon Network and thought we could watch it. My daughter however got extremely upset. She did not believe that "Scooby-Doo" existed outside of the books that she was reading. She really made a connection with the books that we were reading. She is enthralled with the way Scooby seems to jump off of the pages due to the great illustrations. While the stories are predictable and always end with "those meddling kids and their dad-burned dog" solving the mysteries, my kids often will make up their own stories based on the illustrations.

I would probably never use these book when teaching in my classroom, I would keep them in my classroom library. They allow students to enjoy a character that has been around for years (at least 35 that I know of). They also typically have a lesson attached to them somewhere. In the lower grades they may be beneficial when discussing the importance of teamwork.

Intended audience: Kindergarten to 3rd

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

You have to love bananas

Once Upon a Banana by Jennifer Armstrong and David Small
Who doesn't love a good book about bananas? A jester (yes I said jester) lost his monkey (yep, I said it). The problem is the monkey steals a banana and throws the peel on the ground which causes a whole chain reaction to occur during the rest of the book.

The book sends a good message about how one action we take may change the course of our (or someone elses) life. I would use this book when I teach a unit on the environment and a character counts curriculum.
The illustrations allow you to see the expressions on the peoples faces as they see the problem and how the next person sees what is to come.

All in all this was my favorite book of "wordless" books that i read. The story was clear, the illustrations were spot, and the themes were apparent early.

Intended audience: Kindergarten to 3rd


The Crocodile Blues by Coleman Polhemus

What? I am totally lost as to what this book is about. I know that "wordless" books are supposed to challenge the readers imagination, but either this book really missed the mark or I am just not that imaginative.

While the drawings were good and the "gate-ways" (that is what the flaps were referred to) were amusing, the overall idea of the book was lost on me. Amazon and Barnes and Noble say that "The Crocodile Blues" is "a creative book that will leave readers anything but blue." What I find funny about that is, that even they cannot tell me what the book is about.

The illustrations show a man taking an egg from an egg vending machine placing the egg in the refrigerator. While he and his bird fall asleep the egg cracks and a FULLY grown crocodile appears. Next thing you know the guy has moved, then attends a party, and is presented the egg by the same crocodile who he ran from. I just don't get it. If someone can explain it to me I would greatly appreciate it.

Intended audience: I am not sure. I probably would not use this book in my curriculum because if I am confused about this book, how am I supposed to use it in my teaching.

Ha Ha

The Last Laugh by Jose Aruego & Ariane Dewey

A cute book about having the last laugh on something mean. The Last Laugh is a cleverly disguised book about bullying. As one can guess by the title, the snake gets his bullying returned. Throughout the whole book you see the snake tormenting animals and never having any thing done to him in return.

Finally a gaggle of geese decide to get even, they have had enough. What I liked about this book is that the theme is so prevalent for what may happen in schools today. I really do not have much else to add about this book. It was fairly predictable.

Intended Audience: Kindergarten to 2nd grade

Last Night

Last Night by Hyewon Yum

What child hasn't been sent to bed with no supper? Last Night by Hyewon Yum is a delightful book about a young girl, sent to bed with no supper and what happens when she falls asleep.

The illustrations are so dead on, it is easy to see the story occurring on the pages. The little girl is frustrated and falls asleep with the favorite teddy bear who takes her on a tour of the forest with her friends.

Hyewon Yum does an amazing job of using shadowing in his drawing to bring out the anger the characters faces and the disappointment the mother feels (a looming figure with her hands on her hips). The fact that the bear trusted the little girl enough to introduce him to his friends (an eclectic bunch of foxes, fish, and turtles), lets the reader know that trust is earned. It also helps one see that the little girl and her mother need to forgive and forget.

Intended audience: Kindergarten to 3rd grade

Saving Strawberry Farm

Saving Strawberry Farm by Deborah Hopkinson; Illustrated by Rachel Sadora
In the spirit of the genre presentations, I have decided to dedicate this weeks blog to the genre's that were discussed in class tonight.
"Saving Strawberry Farm" is an adorable book based on the Depression Era "Penny Auctions". Davey and Rose are excited about the Independence Day celebration their parents have planned. However when they go to the store to pick up the ice for the lemonade, the find out that their favorite person, Ms. Elsie, will be losing her farm. With the help of the town, they have a penny auction to purchase Ms. Elsie's farm for very little money.
When I think of the Depression, I think of dirt, sadness and despair. Yes, this book has all of those. However, the text never once makes you feel sorry for the kids in the story. It starts out telling what the family is going through in tough economic times. But it turns into a story of togetherness and friendship. The illustrations are light and carefree.
If you wanted to use this book to compare the Depression of the 1920's and 30's to our current economic situations, I believe that it will help make the discussion easier due to the illustrators ability to make the children real.
Intended audience: Kindergarten to 3rd grade.

Poopsie Hamster Buns reporting

Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman by Dav Pilkey

So I am completing my post about "Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman" under my new pen name of Poopsie Hamster Buns. Too funny.

I am still relatively new to the whole "Captain Underpants" phenomenon. Last summer I was teaching at a Summer Program and had a group of kids who were not paying close attention because of this series. Instead of getting mad, I found a way to use them in the teachings.

What I enjoy about these books is that they take the story of two boys who could be interchanged with almost anyone in school, anywhere in the country. Dav Pilkey has a way of making reading and writing fun. He introduces several forms of writing into his tales and that is what makes it fun. The expressions on the illustrations are also priceless. I can totally remember making the faces of "Captain Underpants" when I would play Superhero in grade school.

"Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman" brought back many memories of my least favorite teacher and how I would have loved to do something to her. The fact that she did not promote her students using their imaginations really bothered me. Ms. Ribble is everything I DO NOT want to be as a teacher. I was so excited to see Harold and George go against the grain. To me every student should be able to question. They may not always like the answer that they get, but they should at least have the chance to ask.

Intended audience: 4th grade and up. Adults may even enjoy them. I know I did.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Heroes Don't Run: A Novel of the Pacific War by Harry Mazer
I must have been walking around the Curriculum Lab with a deer in the headlight look on my face because two of the librarians stopped me and asked if I needed help. The genre of historical fiction has always been interesting to me. However, what I believed was historical fiction is not actually what it is today.
I was always under the impression that historical fiction was any book that took place in the past. However that is not true. I will not go into details because I do not want to ruin the genre presentation for next week.
Heroes Don't Run is a coming of age book designed for upper elementary grade students. Adam is adamant about joining the military to avenge the death of his father at Pearl Harbor. What he was not expecting was the amount of resistance and hard work he would encounter before he could fulfill that mission. Harry Mazer does and amazing job of bringing you into the pain that Adam was facing in the lose of his father. Mazer also brings in several historical elements (Japanese internment camps, Pearl Harbor survivors, Okinawan fight scenes) that transport the reader into Adam's world.
I believe though that it was the cover art that draws people in. One can see the pain in Adam's face, but yet also see the boy that has gone off to war, as so many young men were forced to do with this war. Having read the last book in a three book series only wants me to read the full story of Adam.

Monday, February 2, 2009

An Oldie but a Goodie

Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
While I was at a local bookstore I decided to visit the Caldecott Medal section. I never realized how many books I have read that have received this distinguished award. However, one book in particular took me back to when I was young.
Even before I could read I was a big fan of this book. My Aunt Janet gave me this book when I turned 4. I used to sit up after I was tucked in and look at the pictures. The monsters for some reason never frightened me. The expressions for the "Wild Things" were so loving to me. I used to think that Max was the one who should have remained on the island. After all, he was the one who misbehaved, not the monsters. They just wanted to please Max.
I still to this day can not tell you if this book is based on a dream that Max was having or if he was just playing make believe. I choose to believe that it was a dream but my six year-old will tell you that he stepped into his room, was mad at his Mommy and thought of things that would make his Mommy mad. All to get back at her. What an active imagination that child has.
"Where the Wild Things Are" is a classic story that allows the reader to form their own conclusion as to how and why Max went to the island. Was he dreaming of the Monsters? Do the Monsters represent all of the authority figures in his life? Does he decide to forgive the Monsters and that is why he gave up the authority and returned home? That is the beauty of the story - it allows you to imagine what happened.

Hip Hop

Froggy's Baby Sister by Jonathan London; Illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz
An excellent book series to be used in a K-1 classroom, the "Froggy" series of books focuses on raising self-esteem and promoting character in younger students. In this particular book, Froggy is finding the joys and sorrows of being a big brother. The story itself is perfect for students of this age who may be experiencing welcoming a new sibling.
The colors chosen by Mr. Remkiewicz for the illustrations are colors seen in many children's drawings. They are bright and detailed enough so the reader can predict what will happen next.

Silly Monkey

Curious George's First Day of School by Margret & H.A. Rey

Now who doesn't love a story about a silly little monkey brought to the United States by a man in a yellow hat? Curious George has been around as long as I remember. My Dad used to read me one of the Rey's stories every night for bed. I always swore that when I was older I was going to bring a monkey back from a vacation. I wanted my "George" to do everything with me.

The illustrations in this book, once again, allow the reader to tell the story without having to know every word on the page. They are whimsical and detailed. The illustrators use of colors allows the drawings to jump off of the pages. The giggles that my children provide while reading these stories wants me to have all children experience the brilliance of Margret and H.A. Rey. I fully intend to have the whole collection of Curious George in my classroom library.

Finding Nemo

Ecosystems: Oceans by Greg Reid

Every once in awhile I like to find a non-fiction book that explores an area of the world. One of my favorite places to visit (no matter which coast I am on) is the ocean. I want to share my fond memories with my students. I also want to help them squelch any fears they may have based on movies and/or books.

Oceans offers the reader an in-depth look at oceans around the world. The text allows the reader to feel as if they were actually visiting that particular location. What I also liked about the book is that the author provides the viewer with a list of websites that students, caregivers, and teachers can use to extend the information that is provided.

Grandma's Wishes

If Jesus Lived Inside My Heart by Jill Roman Lord; Illustrated by Amy Wummer
While I was looking for books to read for this weeks blogs, my daughter recommended that I read a book given to her by her Great-Grandmother. Now, I am a little leery of reading a book and blogging about it when it is religious based, because I know that religion should not be brought into the classroom. However, when I asked her why she liked the book, my daughter answered "because the pictures are fun to look at." So this week I have decided to revisit some books that I have read over the years and looking at them based on the criteria of the reading we completed for this week. The books are more for the story that the illustrations tell, not the story themselves.
If Jesus Lived Inside My Heart by Jill Roman Lord is a delightful story that teaches children to be generous and helpful to those around them. I did not even need to read the dialogue that accompanied the story. My three year-old was able to tell me the story and I know it was based on the illustrations. Amy Wummer uses cherub looking children and placed them in scenes that promoted the overall theme of the story. If I were to be teaching in a parochial school, this series of books would be great to use for a "Character Counts" unit.