Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The author's voice

Currently, I'm reading Alvin Ho, Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look. Earlier in the month, I read Bud, Not Buddy. Both books are fun to read and most of the time, I find myself getting drawn into the characters' interactions and adventures. However, sometimes, I feel like I am listening to the author and not the narrator. I am wondering how the "break through" happens, because I don't like being kicked out the experience of reading. I want to stay in the story. Sometimes, I think I am seeing the author because of how the story is broken up. When I read Bud's rules, I loved them, but sometimes I felt broken out of the story. With Alvin Ho, sometimes I feel like the author has lost Alvin's voice and put her own in. On the other hand, sometimes it feels very much like a boy is telling the story, even though I know a woman wrote the book.

I wonder if anyone reading this has ever felt "kicked out" of the story by hearing the author's voice. It's not a terrible thing, but it does interrupt the action, which I always want more of!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

SLIS 5420 - Module 5 - The Pigeon Wants a Puppy

Module 5 - The Pigeon Wants a Puppy - Mo Willems

Willems, Mo. The Pigeon Wants a Puppy! 2008 Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN: 978-1-4231-0960-0

The cute and easily excitable Pigeon wants a puppy and then discovers that getting what he wishes for is more than he "bargained for."

What I thought
One of the best things about this story is how the Pigeon  addresses the reader. The book is very theatrical which makes sense because Willems is an Emmy award winning writer for children's television. I've read this story to my own children and at library Story Time and each time I've had a great response. Kids love the Pigeon's expressions and they can identify with how much he wants things that he can't have. The illustrations make this book special and very funny.

Outside Reviews
 "The incorrigible bird returns in his fourth full-length romp. This time, Pigeon voices another common childhood dream: he wants a puppy. And he wants it NOW. He even promises to take care of it: "I'll water it once a month." He argues his case so forcefully that a puppy appears, but it's more than he expects: "The teeth! The hair! That wet nose!…I mentioned the teeth, right?" So he sets his sights on a different pet. Kids will love this perfectly paced picture book, which offers both the expected (breaking the fourth wall, Pigeon's classic temper tantrum) and a new twist (Pigeon actually gets what he wants? Impossible!). Willems's hilariously expressive illustrations and engaging text are cinematic in their interplay. Maybe kids won't appreciate the genius behind it the way adults will, but that won't stop them from asking for this book again and again."

MacMillan, K. (2008). The Pigeon Wants a Puppy!. School Library Journal, 54(6), 116. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

"The charming, exasperating pigeon returns, and this time he REALLY knows what he wants--or at least he thinks he does. As in his previous outings, he addresses the reader--"I'm fine. Thanks for asking"--and communicates a wide range of emotions through minimal words and a few deft pen strokes that brilliantly bring to life his one-of-a-kind personality. Following his now-familiar routine, the pigeon throws a tantrum and slyly attempts to manipulate the reader's (listener's) emotions: "You don't want me to be happy, do you? …You just don't understand." Be careful what you wish for might well be the moral of this tale, since the reality of a puppy turns out to be hilariously larger and more frightening than the pigeon's or readers' expectations. Even though the pigeon may get more than he bargained for, his many fans with find they get exactly what they've come to expect: lots of giggles. (Picture book. 4-8)"

(2008). THE PIGEON WANTS A PUPPY!. Kirkus Reviews, 76(8), 442. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

Using this book in the library
I've had great success with any Pigeon story at Story Time. Younger children are perfect for this book. Preschool kids don't get bored with the story and they laugh at Pigeon's funny antics. The story where the Pigeon wants to drive the bus (Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus)  is the best to read with kids because they love to tell him NO! over and over again.

For Fun:
Visit Pigeon Presents! website. Play games and color printouts that have characters from Mo Willems' books.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Swallowed at the Library

This poor patron didn't have a chance when the bean bag chairs attacked! I love how comfy he looks wrapped in our puffy blue chairs.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

SLIS 5420 - Module 4 - Going Bovine

Module 4 - Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Bray, Libba. Going Bovine. Delacorte Press, 2009 ISBN: 978-0-385-73397-7 

This book is an epic trip across America that is both funny, touching and surreal. Cameron has been diagnosed with Mad Cow Disease and while he is dying, he may be saving the world or having an amazing hallucination. A large cast of interesting characters flesh out this excellent, fun story. Winner of the 2010 Printz Award.

What I thought
Normally, I don't like stories that may or may not be in the narrator's head. However, this story is such an amazing trip, I didn't mind. In some ways, the story reminds me of a few other novels, such as Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and my favorite Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates by Tom Robbins. The surreal nature of the story is both fun and disturbing. I am of the opinion that the entire trip, the saving the world and everything takes place in Cameron's dying mind. However, that doesn't take away from the real-life feelings the book invokes. It is a book about celebrating life, being yourself and following dreams. The characters of Balder the Garden Gnome and Gonzo the little person are wonderful. They feel like real people that I wish I could meet.

Outside Reviews
"When sixteen-year-old Cameron was five, he jumped ship on the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney World and nearly drowned. “The thing is, before they pulled me out, everything had seemed made of magic . . . But the minute I came to on the hard, glittery, spray-painted, fake snow. . . I realized it was all a big fake. The realest thing I’d ever experienced was that moment under the water when I almost died.” This sets the theme for the even wilder ride that follows, when Cameron’s erratic behavior leads to a diagnosis of  Creutzfeldt-Jakob (a.k.a. mad cow) disease. With the student body that used to ignore him throwing a save-Cameron pep rally and decorating the gym with paper cows, Cameron and his friend Gonzo, a hypochondriac dwarf, flee the hospital on a mission (as detailed by a punk-rock angel named Dulcie) to save the world from “dark energy”—or do they? Bray gleefully tosses a hallucinogenic mix of elements into the adventure—snow globes, fire demons, a talking yard gnome, a demon-fighting New Orleans jazz musician, and more—but their origins can all be found in Cameron’s mundane prediagnosis life. So is his trip “just a ride,” as his Mom once told him about “It’s a Small World”? Readers will have a great time trying to sort everything out and answer the question at the heart of it all: even if Cameron’s experiences are all a dream,  are they any less real?"

C. M., H. (2009). Going Bovine. Horn Book Magazine, 85(5), 553. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

"In Libba Bray's unconventional novel, winner of the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award, Cameron, the 16-year-old down-and-out protagonist, meanders through varied phantasmagoric experiences after being diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jacob ("mad cow") disease. Cam has given up trying to succeed at home, in school, or as one of the cool kids. Instead, he sinks further into disassociation from his world until he is visited by Dulcie (reminiscent of Quixote's Dulcinea), a possibly hallucinatory punk/angel, who convinces Cam there could be a cure, if he is willing to assume great risks in searching for it. And so begins Cam's bizarre quest to thwart evil, unravel the mystery of the disappearing Dr. X--who may hold the key to a cure, but might also be plotting to destroy the world--and beat his terminal diagnosis. Cam is accompanied on this dark roadtrip of an increasingly spongy mind by Dulcie, a hypochondriacal dwarf named Gonzo, and a resilient yard gnome who could possibly be the ancient Viking god, Balder. [Bray] ably narrates this psychedelic ride, with a deft touch of teenage angst and ennui. There is so much going on that listeners could easily lose the twisting thread in an instant of inattention. Filled with slang, four letter words, humor, pathos, satire, absurdities, sex, drugs, rock 'n roll, and the fight between good and evil, this is not a journey for the faint of heart."

Spencer, R. (2010). Going Bovine. School Library Journal, 56(4), 57. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

Using this book in the library
This book is very unusual and is most likely for older teens. It would be an excellent project to work through some of the mythology and physical science that is mentioned in the book. The science takes on mythic proportions in the terms of alternate universes and the Norse mythology may not be familiar to all readers. Mad Cow Disease is interesting as well, since it is not caused by a virus or any other organism. Instead, bad proteins, called prions, are to blame. These topics may be fun to explore in a book club that has members who enjoy learning new things.

For fun
A few subplots in this story involved garden gnomes. Cameron's father shows his son pictures of "liberated" gnomes taken on trips and photographed in front of landmarks. His father thinks this is clever and funny. One of the characters, Balder, is an enchanted yard gnome. There is a site called "Free the Gnomes." Libby is making a commentary on this practice. In France, 79 yard gnomes were discovered alongside a river bank. People are stealing property and using it to create dubious art.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

SLIS 5420 - Module 3 - The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

Module 3 - The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein

Gerstein, Mordicai. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. Roaring Book Press, 2003. ISBN: 0-7613-1791-0

A beautiful story told in words and pictures about Philippe Petite, a real-life acrobat and artist who walked between the Twin Towers for a full hour back and forth with no net and a mile drop underneath him. The book shows how he set up the rope (illegally!) and what happens after his historic walk.

What I thought
This is one of the best post 9/11 books about the Twin Towers that I have ever seen or read. Instead of mourning the towers, this book memorializes them and remembers a beautiful, fun moment from their past. It celebrates life and the joy of accomplishment. It celebrates daring and art. The book is a fun read.

The art is a perfect match for the lyrical, beautiful text. The drawings of Philippe as he performs are joyful, and for someone who hates heights, harrowing! The sense of perspective and potential drop is captured so well, I worried about Philippe every page he was on the wire. There is even a scene where he lays down on the wire: amazing!

This book has the potential to really spark emotions. My partner, who helped clean up at ground zero as a medic, had a hard time listening to me read the story. My kids, however, enjoyed the story very much and were fascinated by the pictures. We ended up reading this book multiple times.

Outside Reviews
"Here’s a joyful true story of the World Trade Center from a time of innocence before 9/11. In 1974 French trapeze artist Philippe Petit walked a tightrope suspended between the towers before they were completed. Gerstein’s simple words and dramatic ink-and-oil paintings capture the exhilarating feats, the mischief, and the daring of the astonishing young acrobat. He knew his plan was illegal, so he dressed as a construction worker, and, with the help of friends,lugged a reel of cable up the steps during the night and linked the buildings in thesky. As dawn broke, he stepped out on the wire and performed tricks above the  city. Gerstein uses varied perspectives to tell the story—from the close-up jacket picture of one foot on the rope to the fold-out of Petit high above the traffic, swaying in the wind. Then there’s a quiet view of the city skyline now, empty of  the towers, and an astonishing image of the tiny figure high on the wire between the ghostly buildings we remember."
Rochman, H. (2003). The Man Who Walked between the Towers (Book). Booklist, 100(5), 498. Retrieved from Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text database.
"As this story opens, French funambulist Philippe Petit is dancing across a tightrope tied between two trees to the delight of the passersby in Lower Manhattan. Gerstein places him in the middle of a balancing act, framed by the two unfinished World Trade Center towers when the idea hits: "He looked not at the towers, but at the space between them and thought, what a wonderful place to stretch a rope...." On August 7, 1974, Petit and three friends, posing as construction workers, began their evening ascent from the elevators to the remaining stairs with a 440-pound cable and equipment, prepared to carry out their clever but dangerous scheme to secure the wire. The pacing of the narrative is as masterful as the placement and quality of the oil-and-ink paintings. The interplay of a single sentence or view with a sequence of thoughts or panels builds to a riveting climax. A small, framed close-up of Petit's foot on the wire yields to two three-page foldouts of the walk. One captures his progress from above, the other from the perspective of a pedestrian. The vertiginous views paint the New York skyline in twinkling starlight and at breathtaking sunrise. Gerstein captures his subject's incredible determination, profound skill, and sheer joy. The final scene depicts transparent, cloud-filled skyscrapers, a man in their midst. With its graceful majesty and mythic overtones, this unique and uplifting book is at once a portrait of a larger-than-life individual and a memorial to the towers and the lives associated with them."
Lukehart, W., Jones, T., Toth, L., Charnizon, M., Grabarek, D., & Larkins, J. (2003). The Man Who Walked between the Towers (Book). School Library Journal, 49(11), 125. Retrieved from Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text database.

Using this book in the library
At the library I work at this book is considered a biography of Philippe Petite. This could be a good starting point for using the book, especially since many people have the idea that a biography is a boring book about someone's life! This book takes one important incident in Philippe's life and highlights it for the reader. If a person wants to know more about Philippe, they have to find out for themselves. Because this story is so interesting, children won't mind trying to find out more about him or to maybe try more biographies. My kids were very excited to find out that Philippe was a real person who had really performed this beautiful act! I suspect other kids would get a kick out of finding that out and learning more.

For Fun:
Watch news footage from the day Philippe performed his daring act! Best part of the video is watching Philippe in the police station balancing the officer's hats on his nose! There are more videos about him on YouTube, including an interview of him by Steven Colbert.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

SLIS 5420 - Module 3 - Bud, Not Buddy

Module 3 - Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Curtis, Christopher Paul. Bud, Not Buddy. Delacorte Press, 1999. ISBN: 0-385-32306-9

This excellent book is a two-time award winner. It received the 2000 Newbery Medal and the 2000 Coretta Scott King Award. This story is about a young boy who is all alone in the world. His mother has died, and he has been living in the Home (an orphanage) since he was 6 years old. Bud thinks he knows who his father is and tries to find him in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along the way, he meets different people, has adventures and lets his rules for living guide him. Everywhere he goes, he takes his suitcase which contains not only secrets of the past, but also hold clues for his future. Set in the Depression era, the story is upbeat rather than sad. Bud's cheerful attitude and his determination keep him going through all of his adventures.

What I think
I enjoyed this book immensely! I don't normally enjoy books with a historical setting, but the adventures that Bud goes through are paramount to the historical nature of the story. I loved Bud's sense of humor with his hilarious "Bud Caldwell's Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself" that are found appropriately throughout the text. Just as funny are his inadvertent episodes with "vampires" and "ghosts" through the story. Another funny episode involves a librarian trying to give Bud something "special" and Bud says, "I didn't get too excited 'cause I know the kind of things librarians think are special" (p. 89). These scenes make the heartbreaking nature of what Bud has to go through as an African American orphan boy living through the Depression a lighter story than might have otherwise been told.

Overall, I think the use of humor in this story is very important. It's a story that a librarian can easily sell to kids to read based on the fact that its funny and it's a story of a runaway boy's exciting adventures. Kids won't even realize they are learning something. The pictures in the after word really might spark their imaginations, too, because some of the characters were based on the author's family. I would never try to "sell" this book as "Historical Fiction." It's more than a story about a time in history. It's very much a story about a boy finding himself, his family and the adventures he encounters.

Outside Reviews
"Curtis is so perfect for classroom use that I'm going to devote the whole column to it this month. Add this book to your list of must-reads and your list for multiple copies and read-alouds if you work with kids from fourth grade up. As with the author's The Watsons Go to Birmingham (Bantam, 1997, ISBN 0 440-41412-1), we go from laughter to tears in the blink of an eye.
Quite a character. Once you meet Bud, you'll never forget him. His self-constructed set of rules for how to "Have a Funner Life and Make a Better Liar Out of Yourself" may remind some readers of Mouse's emergency rules in Betsy Byars' The Eighteenth Emergency (Viking, 1996, ISBN 0140-31451-2). Bud belongs with Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee (Little Brown, 1990, ISBN 0-316-80906-3) and other authors' characters who enlighten the human experience and make us wish we could step into the action to help them find good homes."
Hurst, C. (2000). Meet Bud, Not Buddy. Teaching Pre K-8, 30(7), 72. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

"In a story that's as far-fetched as it is irresistible, and as classic as it is immediate, a deserving orphan boy finds a home, It's the Depression, and.Bud (not Buddy) is ten and has been on his own since his mother died when he was six. In and out of the Flint, Michigan, children's home and foster homes ever since, Bud decides to take off and find his father after a particularly terrible, though riotously recounted, evening with his latest foster family. Helped only by a few clues his mother left him, and his own mental list of "Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself," Bud makes his way to a food pantry, then to the library to do some research (only to find that his beloved librarian, one Charlemae Rollins, has moved to Chicago), and finally to the local Hoover ville where be just misses hopping a freight to Chicago. Undaunted, he decides to walk to Grand Rapids, where he hopes his father, the bandleader Herman E. Calloway, will be. Lefty Lewis, the kindly union man who gives Bud a lift, is not the first benevolent presence to help the boy on his way, nor will he be the last. There's a bit of the Little Rascals in Bud, and a bit more of Shirley Temple as his kind heart and ingenuous ways bring tears to the eyes of the crustiest of old men — not his father, but close enough. But Bud's fresh voice keeps the sentimentality to a reasonable simmer, and the story zips along in step with Bud's own panache."
Sutton, R. (1999). Bud, Not Buddy. Horn Book Magazine, 75(6), 737. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

Using this book in the library
In the after word, Curtis tells the readers about the parts of the story that were based on real-life events. Characters like Lefty Lewis and Herman E. Calloway were based on his grandfathers. Using this book as a starting point, children in a book club or other such group could explore the past. They could be encouraged to find out what their own families have accomplished or what parts of history they remember. They could also search for other events that are mentioned in the book, such as the union organizations and learn more about these aspects of history.

More information!
In one of the earlier scenes in the book, Bud is waiting in line outside the mission with his "pretend family." As they round the corner, everyone sees a sign and starts laughing. The billboard sign shows a rich white family driving in a car with the words: "THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE AMERICA TODAY!" (p. 49-50). This scene was inspired by an actual photograph by Margaret Bourke-White. Here is a link to the picture and some more information about the scene.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

SLIS 5420 - Module 2 - Freight Train

Module 2 - Freight Train by Donald Crews

Crews, Donald. Freight Train. Scholastic Inc, 1989. ISBN: 978-0590426947

Freight Train is a very simple and very satisfying story describing a rainbow-colored train and its journey through the landscape. The art is as important as the text in this book. The book received a 1979 Caldecott Honor Award.

What I think about Freight Train
I wanted to write about Freight Train because it's one of my son's favorite books. The simplicity of the story and the illustrations are a perfect match. The opening merely shows an empty train track against a bare white background. The words are so simple:

"A train runs across this track."
The ending is also simple and satisfying. After the train has sped up and passed through the landscape it is now only showing as a wisp of smoke and is:

"Going, going...gone."
I feel that the book's understated wording and cleanly illustrated pictures are what make it feel so good to read and look at. The book is a breath of fresh air when the world is a cluttered, busy place. There is order and simplicity in Crew's illustrated world and that's something that I find very satisfying.

Outside Reviews
"Crews did a fine job with Freight Train's illustrations which aptly convey the excitement of a train rushing by in a blur of color."

DeVinney, G., & Gerhardt, L. (1978). Freight Train/Rain (Book Review). School Library Journal, 25(2), 131. Retrieved from Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text database.

Using this book in the library
I have read this story not only for my own children, but also for children who come to our library story time. I am amazed at how engaged children are with this book. They enjoy shouting out the colors as I am reading and pointing to the different trains in the beginning. They enjoy it as the train speeds up and starts to travel. The book can be used in a few different kinds of story time activities. It can be used in a theme about vehicles. It can also be used to describe and help children recognize colors. It is a book primarily for smaller children and they do enjoy it very much and I feel all kids should get a chance to have this book read to them.

For fun
Learn more about Donald Crews. Donald Crews is part of a very diverse family. I enjoyed learning about him and his family.