Module 5: Before We Were Free

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Book Summary:

Anita de la Torre is a young girl living with her family in 1960s Dominican Republic. She has never really questioned the happy life she shares with her family on their compound until one by one her family starts disappearing to America. As Anita begins paying attention, she notices that he family is becoming more and more secretive, suddenly there are rules where there didn’t used to be, and everyone seems worried. Over time life gets very difficult for the de la Torre as they fight to be free from an oppressive dictatorship. Anita’s family risks everything, including their lives, for the freedom of their people.

APA Reference of Book:

Alvarez, J. (2002). Before we were free. New York, NY: A. Knopf.

Impressions:

I have not had much exposure to literature from the Latino culture, so I was excited to pick this Pura Belpré Award winner up.  I found this book to be wonderfully written and an enjoyable read. As I have never grown up knowing anything other than freedom, the story of a girl living under the oppressive dictator was simultaneously enlightening and devastating. I loved how believable the characters were. The story is narrated from a 12-year-olds perspective, and as such we get to see Anita’s first experiences with first love and true despair, her hope and her losses. Before We Were Free is a wonderful story that eloquently displays the Latino culture and really makes the reader think. It was truly a wonderful and enlightening story that made me laugh, cry, cringe and smile. I would highly recommend it, I think it has something to offer both kids and adults. I’ve read so much about the lives of people in WWII (both fiction and non-fiction) but it amazes me that I’ve waited so long to branch out into other cultures. The author based the book on her family’s experiences living in the Dominican Republic in the 1960s and it really helped open my eyes to other oppressive societies and what the people go through.

Professional Review:

“In her first YA novel, Alvarez (How the García Girls Lost Their Accents) proves as gifted at writing for adolescents as she is for adults. Here she brings her warmth, sensitivity and eye for detail to a volatile setting—the Dominican Republic of her childhood, during the 1960–1961 attempt to overthrow Trujillo’s dictatorship. The story opens as 12-year-old narrator Anita watches her cousins, the García girls, abruptly leave for the U.S. with their parents; Anita’s own immediate family are now the only ones occupying the extended family’s compound. Alvarez relays the terrors of the Trujillo regime in a muted but unmistakable tone; for a while, Anita’s parents protect her (and, by extension, readers), both from the ruler’s criminal and even murderous ways and also from knowledge of their involvement in the planned coup d’état. The perspective remains securely Anita’s, and Alvarez’s pitch-perfect narration will immerse readers in Anita’s world. Her crush on the American boy next door is at first as important as knowing that the maid is almost certainly working for the secret police and spying on them; later, as Anita understands the implications of the adult remarks she overhears, her voice becomes anxious and the tension mounts. When the revolution fails, Anita’s father and uncle are immediately arrested, and she and her mother go underground, living in secret in their friends’ bedroom closet—a sequence the author renders with palpable suspense. Alvarez conveys the hopeful ending with as much passion as suffuses the tragedies that precede it. A stirring work of art. Ages 12-up. (Aug.)”

(2002, July 22). [Review of the book Before we were free, by J. Alvarez]. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-375-81544-7

Library Uses:

I would use this book as part of a cultural series. I would feature several different books focusing on various cultures.

Module 4: Bridge to Terabithia

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Book Review:

Jess is a soon-to-be 5th grader growing up in rural Virginia outside Washington, DC. His main concerns over his summer vacation are training to become the fastest runner so that he could gain fame amongst the 4th, 5th and 6th graders. Things are shaping up nicely, but his plans change when Leslie moves to town. With her short hair, jean shorts, and unbeatable running speed, Leslie is unlike any other girl Jess has ever met–which is saying something as he has four sisters. While their friendship is bumpy at first, it soon blossoms as they create Terabithia together, a magical land that Jess and Leslie rule. Through their time spent in Terabithia Jess and Leslie find what it is like to have true friendship.

APA Reference of Book:

Paterson, K. (1977). Bridge to Terabithia. New York, NY: Crowell.

Impression:

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson was a great read. As someone who grew up in a very small town I could certainly relate to a lot of the social interactions between students and families in the book. I tried my best to forget what I already knew about the story from the movie and read it with fresh eyes. This was not an easy feat, but I managed to succeed. Ultimately, I really enjoyed the story. I can also relate to what it’s like to suffer the loss of a friend at such a young age, and I think that death is something that should be addressed with younger readers. As such, this book does it wonderfully. As much as I would love to spare children the lessons of this book, I lost my first friend at the age of 9 and know that it doesn’t matter if the subject is painful, death is an important and very real part of life. This book handles death realistically and very beautifully, and I think it is a read that both parents and kids will like.

Professional Review:

“Paterson’s Newbery-winning novel becomes an entertaining and dramatic audiobook via Leonard’s accomplished reading. Jess Aarons is eager to start fifth grade. He’s been practicing his sprints all summer, determined to become the fastest runner at school. All seems to be on track, until the new girl in class (who also happens to be Jess’s new next-door neighbor), Leslie Burke, leaves all the boys in the dust, including Jess. After this rather frustrating introduction, Jess and Leslie soon become inseparable. Together, they create an imaginary, secret kingdom in the woods called Terabithia that can be reached only by swinging across a creek bed on a rope. But one morning a tragic accident befalls Leslie as she ventures alone to Terabithia, and Jess’s life is changed forever. Leonard deftly interprets the strands of humor, realism and heart-wrenching emotion woven into Paterson’s fine tale. His careful and authentic handling of Jess’s anger and grief in the aftermath of the accident is sure to touch listeners. Contemporary instrumental interludes featuring guitar, piano and drums signal the beginning and end of each tape side. Ages 9-up. (Jan.)”

(2001, January 1). [Review of the book Bridge to Terabithia, by K. Paterson]. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved: from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-694-52452-5

Library Uses

Throughout the book Jess and Leslie make several references to taking care of even the smallest predator, and Jess makes it a priority to help those that are upset, even if they happen to be the school bully. With that in mind, I would want to share this book with a reading group at the library and then have the children “kind bomb” the library. Kind bombing is where you have the kids write kind notes to strangers and hide them in library books for the next person who checks it out to find. The idea would be to make someone’s day a little bit brighter through kind notes, because as the book illustrates, people often keep bad things a secret.

Module 4: The Giver

Giver

Book Review:

Jonas is growing up in the perfect world: no pain, no fear, no doubt, and no hunger. Nearing his 12th year, Jonas is facing his Assignment in the adult world, the placement that will dictate his life until he moves to the house for the old. But instead of being assigned like every other Twelve, he is chosen for a special position, one with great honor, exceptional loneliness and unbearable pain. Jonas is chosen to receive all of the memories from generations past that are currently held within one man, the Giver. These memories bring the truth of all that has been missing in Jonas’ life: deep and meaningful emotion, the ability to see the world in color, and everything else that has been kept from him for so long, including love and choice.

APA Reference of Book:

Lowry, L. (1993). The giver. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Impression:

This is your typical dystopian society packaged as a utopian. As is typical with these kinds of books it is not until the reader gets about half way through that they really realize just how messed up the “perfect” society is. After thinking about it for a while I decided that this story reminds me of leaving the comforting world of childhood and facing the reality of the harsh world around us for the first time. The depth of our maturing emotions can and will bring us unbearable pain but it will also bring us great joy, such as the feeling of longing and the sound of music that Jonas is finally able to experience. Ultimately I think that this book is amazing, it makes me sad to think of all the time I wasted keeping it on my to-read list and never actually picking it up. When I think of award winning books, this books really exemplified for me what a Newbery Award winner should be.

Professional Review:

“In the `ideal’ world into which Jonas was born, everybody has sensibly agreed that well-matched married couples will raise exactly two offspring, one boy and one girl. These children’s adolescent sexual impulses will be stifled with specially prescribed drugs; at age 12 they will receive an appropriate career assignment, sensibly chosen by the community’s Elders. This is a world in which the old live in group homes and are `released’–to great celebration–at the proper time; the few infants who do not develop according to schedule are also `released,’ but with no fanfare. Lowry’s development of this civilization is so deft that her readers, like the community’s citizens, will be easily seduced by the chimera of this ordered, pain-free society. Until the time that Jonah begins training for his job assignment–the rigorous and prestigious position of Receiver of Memory–he, too, is a complacent model citizen. But as his near-mystical training progresses, and he is weighed down and enriched with society’s collective memories of a world as stimulating as it was flawed, Jonas grows increasingly aware of the hypocrisy that rules his world. With a storyline that hints at Christian allegory and an eerie futuristic setting, this intriguing novel calls to mind John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. Lowry is once again in top form–raising many questions while answering few, and unwinding a tale fit for the most adventurous readers. Ages 12-14. (Apr.)”

(1993, April 26). [Review of the book The giver, by L. Lowry]. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-395-64566-6

Library Uses:

I would use this book along with other titles to set up a display for Banned Books Week. I would also feature it as the book for a young adult/ adult reading group. Once the book was read and the group met again, I would show the movie for the readers to compare and contrast and hold a discussion about banned books.

Module 3: Hey, Al & Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears

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Book Summary:

Al is a janitor who lives with his loyal pup Eddie in a cramped one-bedroom apartment on the West Side of New York. While Al is content with their life, Eddie is not. One day they get the opportunity to fly away to an island of birds in the sky. Al and Eddie love their new paradise until they discover some unexpected consequences: they begin growing beaks and feathers! Frightened of what begins to happen to them the longer they live on the island, Eddie and Al flee for their lives, and normal appendages. They struggle to make it back to their old life, and as the book ends, sometimes paradise lost is heaven found.

APA Reference of Book:

Yorinks, A. (1986). Hey, Al. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Impression:

Hey, Al won the Caldecott Award for best illustrations in 1987. The stunning illustrations are definitely sure to please, but I am conflicted on the story itself. While I found Hey, Al to be fun, I also felt that it was a little lacking. I appreciate the notion of teaching kids to be happy with what they have and to make the best out of their current situation. However, I feel that this story almost borders on telling kids that because paradise may have some draw backs it’s better to not strive for betterment at all. All in all, I can definitely see how Hey, Al shows children that hard work is commendable and that even though something may seem perfect often there are flaws that will eventually be uncovered. I would say that this book is worth the read if for the illustrations alone. But personally, I would make sure that the kids understand that while the grass may not actually always be greener on the other side, it is important to always strive to achieve your goals.

Professional Review:

“Hey, Al is about self-enhancement, morality, and imagination. The genre of the story is Comedy, Action/Adventure, and Cartoon/comic, the setting is Contemporary and Fantasy, and the heritage is North American.

When Al and Eddie tire of their relentless struggle to survive on the West Side, they are carted away by a magical bird to a paradise. They change their minds when they turn into birds themselves, and race home to learn that ‘paradise lost is sometimes heaven found.’

Moral reasoning in the story focuses on concern for relationships and concern for law and order.

The theme of the story is Be thankful for what you have in life.”

Good Media Good Kids review

(2005).  [Review of the book Hey, Al, by A. Yorinks]. Good Media Good Kids. Retrieved from: http://goodmedia.nd.edu/reviews/review.cfm?id=1564

Library Uses:

Have a “Birds at the Library” day where you invite all of the kids to come dressed as their favorite bird, have pin the feather on the bird games, and let the kids make bird feeders to take home using toilet paper rolls, peanut butter and bird seed.

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears

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Book Summary:

Things go awry for a poor mosquito in this delightful west African folktale. A mosquito gets blamed for starting  a horrible chain reaction of events. The mosquito tries to talk to the iguana but rather than listen to the mosquito the iguana puts two sticks in his ears thus beginning a chain reaction with severe consequences.  As the creatures in the jungle try to find out what happened they must trace events back to the beginning, which ultimately leads them to the mosquito.

APA Reference of Book:

Aardema, V. (1975). Why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears. New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers.

Impression:

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears was the Caldecott Award winner for best illustrations in 1975 and it’s no wonder why. These stunning illustrations brought life to the colorful west African tale about why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears.  I thought the story was fun until the mosquitoes chain reaction causes the momma owl to live through the death of her baby. As a kid I imagine that this would have horrified me, and I probably would have cried. Other than that I thought that this story was wonderful, it could most certainly be used to teach kids about causation.

Professional Review:

“”In this Caldecott Medal winner, Mosquito tells a story that causes a jungle disaster. “Elegance has become the Dillons’ hallmark. . . . Matching the art is Aardema’s uniquely onomatopoeic text . . . An impressive showpiece.”
-Booklist, starred review

(n.d).  [Review of the book Why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears, by V. Aardema]. Booklist. Retrieved from: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0140549056/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

Library Uses:

This book reminded me of the game telephone that we used to play when I was a kid and I would have the children play it after reading this story. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Telephone is where you whisper something to one kid and then have them whisper it to another and so on. Then you see what the last kid thinks was said.

Module 2: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

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Book Summary:

The lower case letters head up a coconut tree in alphabetical order until the tree becomes too heavy and spills them all onto the ground. Afraid that the little letters may be hurt, the capitalized adult letters rush over to kiss scrapes and make sure they are all okay. Once all taken care of, the letters try to do it all again!

APA Reference of Book:

Martin, B., & Archambault, J. (1989). Chicka chicka boom boom. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Impression:

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom breathes new life into learning the alphabet. These letters are not content to hang out in some boring song; instead they race up a coconut tree for some rough-housing fun. This book is fun, plain and simple. I consider this brightly-colored rhyming book an alternative to the alphabet song and with illustrations that are bold and bright it is sure to please even the pickiest of young readers. In fact, I reread the book a couple of times because I enjoyed it. Yes, yes, I am an adult. But I plan to share this book with my nephews when I see them next because I am convinced that they will love it. But really, who wouldn’t?

Professional Review:

“In this bright and lively rhyme, the letters of the alphabet race each other to the top of the coconut tree. When X, Y and Z finally scramble up the trunk, however, the weight is too much, and down they all tumble in a colorful chaotic heap: ‘Chicka Chicka . . . BOOM! BOOM!’ All the family members race to help, as one by one the letters recover in amusingly battered fashion. Poor stubbed toe E has a swollen appendage, while F sports a jaunty Band-Aid and P is indeed black-eyed. As the tropic sun goes down and a radiant full moon appears, indomitable A leaps out of bed, double-daring his colleagues to another treetop race. This nonsense verse delights with its deceptively simple narrative and with the repetition of such catchy phrases as ‘skit skat skoodle doot.’ Ehlert’s bold color scheme, complete with hot pink and orange borders, matches the crazy mood perfectly. Children will revel in seeing the familiar alphabet transported into this madcap adventure. Ages 2-6.”

-Publishers Weekly

(1989).  [Review of the book Chicka chicka boom boom, by B.Martin & J. Archambault]. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from: http://www.amazon.com/Chicka-Boom-Classic-Board-Books/dp/product-description/1442450703/ref= dp_proddesc_0?ie= UTF8&n=283155& s=books

Library Uses:

There are a lot of fun uses for Chicka Chicka Boom Boom in the library. Personally, I think creating an alphabet tree as a library display using colored paper and dye cut letters would be a fun way to really bring the story to life for young patrons. You could create the tree and hide the letters around the children’s area of the library. Read the story to the children and then have them go on a scavenger hunt around the area to find them.  Then the children use the story to put the letters in the tree in the correct order. You could also have a board with a tree on it and felt letters that the children have to place on the tree in order, kind of like a word scramble.

Module 2: The Little Engine That Could

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Book Summary

The Little Engine That Could was written by Watty Piper in 1930 and has been a beloved children’s book since then. Often considered a classic, The Little Engine That Could is about a small train that is hauling toys and food over the mountain to the children on the other side when her engine goes out. The train and the toys are distraught over the idea that the children might wake-up and have no food to eat or toys to play with. After asking several passing trains for help they finally find salvation in a kind, small blue engine that is passing by. Despite being small, the little blue train does her best to help the toys and the stranded train bring happiness to the children.

APA Reference of Book:

Piper, W. (1961). The little engine that could. New York, NY : Platt & Munk.

Impression:

This book reminded me a lot of the types of stories I used to read with my mom before bed. This story shows children the power of optimism, perseverance, how important it is to be kind, and the negative impact of pride. While the story can be repetitive, especially if you find yourself with a child who loves to re-read stories, it is worth the read. Personally, I like that it is simple and a little repetitive. The repetition can come in handy  if you are reading it to a group of children because it gives them ample opportunity to say key phrases along with the reader. Also, while the illustrations are reminiscent of the time when the book was written, I still think that they still look wonderful. The book is very colorful and sure to capture the reader’s attention.

Professional Review:

“Long (I Dream of Trains ) pays respectful homage to George and Doris Hauman’s compositions in his visual interpretation of the classic tale of determination and perseverance, first published in 1930. Yet the artist adds a lushness to the spreads and injects even more personality into the characters; he uses the larger format to play up the vistas of mountain and valley that pose such a challenge to the engines on this route, and gives “the funniest little toy clown you ever saw” a starring role. A cheerful purple elephant whose eyes droop as one engine after another declines to pull their load, a pair of pull-toys containing curious giraffes (their necks bow in disappointment) and a cuddly, expressive stuffed monkey are among the supporting cast. The spacious spreads also allow for a more dramatic flow of the text (the original often broke a paragraph in the middle of a climactic moment). Long adorns the different engines with wry human characteristics. The cowcatcher of the haughty Shiny New Engine resembles teeth exposed by a snarl, while the Rusty Old Engine (who says, “I can not. I can not”) sports a smokestack in the shape of a dilapidated top hat, a mop of gray hair and a monocle. The pièce de résistance is the brave Little Blue Engine that could, with bright blue eyes in place of windows, a wide smile and—while chugging up that daunting mountain—a pink tongue protruding from her mouth. Both faithful fans and newcomers will enjoy this triumphant ride and eagerly climb aboard for repeat excursions.”

-Publishers Weekly

(2005, August 22,).  [Review of the book The little engine that could, by W. Piper].  Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-399-24467-4

Library Uses:

Hold a design a train contest. I would let the children design and build their own train using a variety of materials and then place the trains around the library for patrons to vote on.

Module 1: The fantastic flying books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

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Book Summary:

Mr. Morris lives to read the books of his personal library and pen the story of his life. Books are his greatest joy until one day all of his books, including the one he is writing, are destroyed in a terrible storm. Lost without his book to preoccupy him, Mr. Morris lives a life without color as he wanders around in search of meaning. But one day he discovers a library and suddenly his life is colorful again. The library and its books are in need of someone to care for them, and as Mr. Morris is introduced to the various worlds in the books on the shelves he again find purpose in life. He carefully acts as doctor to the hurt and broken books, introduces dreary-looking visitors to books that color their lives, and spends his life finding meaning among the bookshelves.

APA Reference of Book:

Joyce, W., & Bluhm, J. (2012). The fantastic flying books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Impressions:

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore feels like a classic children’s book even thought it is barely a year old. I was very impressed by this book. The story was lovely, and while it is said to be for children ages 4-8 I would feel no shame in recommending it to adults as well. The beautifully illustrated images, much like the story, will stick with you long after you close the book. As an avid reader myself, I find Joyce’s story amazing because it accurately illustrates the way I feel about books. This book about books shows how they can bring color to a dull life, and fully captures the excitement of a book lover to be around stories. I recommend this book for anyone who likes to read or wants to like to read. If you’ve ever felt giddy entering a library or a bookstore, this book is for you. Every child needs this book to introduce them into the world of reading. Trust me, they will love it!

Professional Review:

“Joyce’s magnificently illustrated book-about-books inspired—yet arrives after—his 2011 animated short film of the same name, which won an Oscar. The unusual sequence of film-to-book (there’s an app, too) suggests that while books are indeed glorious things, what really matters is story. This one follows a dreamy bibliophile named Morris Lessmore, who loses his cherished book collection to a cataclysmic storm that’s half Katrina (Joyce is from Louisiana) and half Wizard of Oz. After meeting a ‘lovely lady… being pulled along by a festive squadron of flying books,’ Morris finds an abandoned library whose books are alive and whose covers beat like the wings of birds. They flutter around him protectively, watch as he starts writing again, and care for him as he ages: ‘They read themselves to him each night.’ Underneath this book-about-books, there’s a deeper story of love, loss, and healing, one that will be appreciated as much (if not more) by adults as by children.”

–Publishers Weekly

(2012, May 07) [Review of the book The fantastic flying books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, by W. Joyce]. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-4424-5702-7

Library Uses:

I think that this book would lend itself beautifully for an activity in the library. I would suggest reading the book and then having the children create a book about themselves the way Mr. Morris kept the book of his life. I would have the children create a paper book just a few pages long, have them title it, glue or draw a picture of themselves on the cover, and then detail information such as their favorite book, food, movie, school subject, etc.