Monday, January 15, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 01/15/2018

Here is what I have been reading.  To find out more about each one, click on the book title.  

I am currently reading Out of My Mind.  All I can say is, Wow!  The story is written from the perspective of a disabled child.  I love stories that broaden my understanding of others, which this one is doing in spades.

Bird.  This picture book, geared for middle grade students, is a heart-wrenching tale of loss and hardship as a child deals with his grandfather’s death and his brother’s addiction. 

Ling and Ting series.  I love this early reader series.  The characters are charming and entertaining. 

Flutter and Hum Animal Poems.  I could not take my eyes of this stunning picture book of poems.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Bird (by Zetta Elliott)

Title Bird

Author:  Zetta Elliott

Illustrator:  Shadra Strickland

Target Ages:  8 and up

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Awards: Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for new Talent in Illustrations, Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, ALA Notable Children’s book, and several others

Publisher Summary:  Young Mehkai, better known as Bird, loves to draw.  With drawings, he can erase the things that don’t turn out right.  In real life, problems aren’t so easily fixed.  As Bird struggles to understand the death of his beloved grandfather and his older brother’s drug addiction, he escapes into his art.  Drawing is an outlet for Bird’s emotions and imagination, and provides a path to making sense of his world.  In time, with the help of his grandfather’s friend, Bird finds his own special somethin’ and wings to fly.

Watch the book trailer here.  

First Lines: 
Today I saw a bird outside my window. 
It was perched on the rusty rail of the fire escape
shivering in the window. 
I wanted to open my window
and bring the bird inside
where it was warm,
but a sudden gust of wind
blew the bird away.

I drew a picture so I wouldn’t forget.

Bird is a picture book, so you may be wondering why I am posting it for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.  To be fair, the book is shelved with the middle grade fiction in my library.  The target age, according to the publisher, is 8-13.  Also, the tone, content, and themes—addiction, loss, crime—are heavy.  Bird is not a book you would typically pull out for circle story time fun.  Despite the picture book format, it is definitely geared for middle grade readers.

The story is written in free verse.  The non-linear storyline works overall, but I did get a little confused at one point.  It begins with Bird spending time with his Uncle Son (a family friend), which is where the protagonist’s character begins to unfold.  Then, it switches to his relationship with his brother and to a lesser degree his grandfather.  The reader gets snapshots of their interactions; however, the exact time and space blends together like a mingling of memory and time.  The ending re-establishes the present—Bird learning from his mentor Uncle Son, who has taken on the role of grandfather, parent, and mentor.

Bird is the age of the target audience—about 10 or 11.  He is mature and reflective in many ways, but in others he is na├»ve and searching.   This story gives a voice to the many children who live in the urban setting and must face issues like dealing with drug addicted loved ones, having all their possesses stolen from their home, fending for themselves afterschool, and relying on community members for guidance. 

The picture book format adds complexity and characterization. The illustrations reflect both Bird’s reality and his imagination.   Illustrator Shadra Strickland uses watercolors and gouache in blues, greys, and blacks to depict the text.  The muted colors add to the urban setting and protagonist’s internal conflict.  While he has an outlet in his drawing and the support of caring adults, he is dealing with some harsh realities.  The darker colors reflect that reality astutely.  In contrast, charcoal and pen sketches are intertwined to illustrate Bird’s drawings.  By studying them, the reader learns more about the protagonist’s inner thought-life.

Both his parents work long hours.  As a result, Bird often goes to Uncle Son’s apartment after school.  Other than the occasional interactions with his brother, he spends much of his time alone—drawing, reflecting, and dreaming. Those activities not only help him cope, but also give him a hope for the future.  Bird exhibits a strong sense of resilience in the midst of adversity.

The narrative and illustrations have a lot to unpack.  The theme and characterization build empathy.  As a result, I highly recommend Bird for middle grade readers. 

Activities and Extension Ideas:
  • Study the illustrations to discover more about the character. 
  • Look up the symbolic meanings of the bird.  Discuss which meanings relate to the character and how they add multiple layers to the text. 
  • Discuss the loss of a loved one as well as ways people cope and heal.
  • Evaluate what the tone is and how it is interwoven throughout the narrative. 
  • Analyze the non-linear story structure.
  • Teacher’s Guide
For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out Always in the Middle.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Ling and Ting Series (Grace Lin)

Author:  Grace Lin

Illustrator:  Grace Lin

Target Ages:  4-8

Level:  Early Reader Chapter Book/Passport to Reading Level 3

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Ling and Ting is currently a four book early reading series. Each page has a combination of illustrations, simple text, and short sections, making the series ideal for youngsters wanting to move to the challenge of chapter books. 

The books are divided into six short story chapters. The first five stories are all connected to the same theme.  In the first three books, the last one is a story (usually silly and/or imaginative) that one of the girls creates from her perspective.  The final story is either a mash up of the details in the previous five or a contrasting narrative.  In the fourth book, this formula was not followed. Instead, all six chapters were stories about the weather.

The characters are kind, thoughtful, and inquisitive.  The author effectively conveys the girls’ animated and infectious personalities in the limited vocabulary and vivid snapshot illustrations. Their relatable experiences and charming personalities will draw children in while the positive themes and admirable character qualities will impress parents. 

One of my favorite characteristics of the series is how it celebrates reading and writing.  Ting and Ling are often found with books or reading. Also, each book encourages the characters (and readers) to become part of the storytelling.  The girls depict reading, creating, and writing as both fun and engaging. 

Here are the first four books in the series.

Each chapter reveals (both directly and indirectly) the ways the Ling and Ting are different.  Ling sits still during her haircut, but Ting is wiggly (which causes a slight problem).  Similarly, one girl eats with ease using her chopsticks while the other struggles with hers.  The final chapter is a story that Ting tells to Ling using the elements of the narrative, but in an embellished, mixed up way. 

Extension Ideas
  • Discuss how each girl is different. Look closely not only at the text but at the illustrations for clues.
  • Using a graphic organizer or chart, show the similarities and differences between the two girls. 
  • Compare the details in the “Mixed Up” chapter with what really happened in the story. 
  • Write a mixed up stories using this story’s (or another one's) details. 
  • Here is an educator's guide for the Ling and Ting series from the publisher. 

Ling and Ting celebrate their birthday together.  They buy gifts, bake cakes, make birthday wishes, and open presents.  They end their day with an alternate birthday tale. 

Extension Ideas
  • Build on the previous book discussion on how the girls are similar and different.   
  • Evaluate the different ways the girls show kindness and compassion to one another. 
  • Compare the “Birthday Story” chapter with the birthday story of the previous five chapters. 
  • Practice predicting skills in each chapter:  Which color shoes will girls each pick?  What gifts will they buy each other?  What will happen when they make their own birthday cakes?  What will their birthday wishes be? What will happen when the girls exchange gifts?
  • Compare their birthday traditions to your own. 

The focus is on silly stories the girls imagine and act out. For instance, Ting plants cupcakes in the garden in hopes of growing a cupcake tree (wouldn’t we all love that!).  The girls have an imaginary swing contest that takes them up above the trees and beyond. My favorite though is their elaborate plan to convince monkeys to pick apples for them! Like the other two books, it ends with a story the girls created using the elements of the previous chapters in a unique way.  In this one, there are several illustrations of handwritten pages with pictures they drew. 

Extension Ideas
  • Build on the previous book discussion on how the girls are similar and different.
  • Compare the fantasy or silly elements with reality or realistic elements. 
  • Come up with an imaginative plan to accomplish a goal or chore (like story 4). 
  • Write and illustrate a silly story (like story 6).

Together in All Weather
Beginning with a lightening storm and ending with a double rainbow, the girls experience all 4 seasons.  In the summer they set up a lemonade stand, and in the fall they rake leaves.  My favorite is the winter story though. Ling comes up with a creative way to prove Ting is not too sick to shovel the snow.  The final two stories involve playing in the spring rain and finding a rainbow. Like the first three books in the series, the stories are sweet and entertaining. They also often have a witty or ironic ending.  

Extension Ideas
  • Build on the previous book discussions on how the girls are similar and different.
  • Before reading, brainstorm the reader's (or readers') favorite activities in each season.  How does it compare to Ling and Ting's?
  • Pick a season. Together write (or tell it orally) a story about the girls experiencing the seasons in a different way, such as sledding in the snow, planting a garden, going to the pool, or carving a pumpkin.  
  • Compare the pictures to the text in story one.  What is revealed?
  • Like the mixed up stories in the previous books (in chapters 6), create one for this book.  Write down all the main events.  Mix them up.  Pick one from the pile and embellish it.  Keep going until all the events have been used up.

All children love to celebrate their birthdays, to use their imaginations, to participate in seasonal activities, and to play with their siblings/friends.  All children can show compassion and actively share.  In short, this multicultural series focuses on what makes us similar rather than different.  

The Ling and Ting series deserves a place in your primary classroom or home library.  Your children will enjoy reading and re-reading it.  

Friday, January 12, 2018

Flutter and Hum Animal Poems (Julie Paschkis)

Author:  Julie Paschkis

Illustrator:  Julie Paschkis

Target Ages:  

Genre:  Bilingual Poetry

Publisher Summary:  All sorts of animals flutter and hum, dance and stretch, and slither and leap their way through this joyful collection of poems in English and Spanish. Julie Paschkis’s poems and art sing in both languages, bringing out the beauty and the playfulness of the animal world.

Todas los animals aletean y zumban, bailan y se estiran, y tambien se deslizan y saltan por todos los poemas alegres de esta coleccion en ingles y espanol.  Los poemas y el arte de Julie Paschkis cantan en los dos idiomas, resaltando la bellezo y lo gracioso del mundo animals.

Example Poems and Pages:

Favorite Poem:

The moon is a lantern
in the branches.
A shimmer.

A shadow whistles
through the grass.
A whisper.

Out of the darkness
an owl hoots.
An echo.

The night train
is leaving.

“El Buho”
La luna es un farol
en las ramas.

Silba una sombra
por las hierbas.
Un susurro.

De la ascuridad
ulula un buho.
Un eco.

El tren de la noche
esta saliendo.

Flutter and Hum is a stunning!  In concept.  In language.  In illustrations. 

The author’s approach was to first write the poems in Spanish, which is notable because she is not a native speaker.  As she composed, she reveals she “felt like a visitor wandering through the forest of Spanish words, marveling at the beauty of sound, meaning, and syntax.”  Then, she translated them into English.   However, they are not all translated word-for-word.  Sometimes, she “used the phrase that worked best in each language to convey the same meaning.”  The result is a beautiful collection of poems that native people in both languages will appreciate.

The collection is a celebration of language—both in the poems themselves as well as the added words on each page.  I love lines like “Slithering through the grass the sinuous snake is writing a slippery poem with his body” and “Your bed is like a small boat.  Your dreams are the sea where the boat floats.”  Paschkis adds to these lines, and all the other poems, words in both Spanish and English in the illustrations.  For instance, the “Snake” poem has lyrical words like “sway,” “serpentine,” and “swerve” in the grass while in the “Fish” one includes words like “longing,” “linger,” and “listen” in the sea.  The additional words add to the poems and their meaning. 

The illustrations are striking!  Intricate details and bold colors fill each two page spread.  They vary in purpose.  Sometimes they mirror each other like in “Dog,” but other times they add to the storytelling of the poem such as in “Owl,” where the night train leaving appears to be a metaphor for the owl (whose sound is like a night train) leaving the tree. 

Flutter and Hum is ideal for teachers seeking diverse books for their classroom and for parents teaching their children to be bilingual. However, anyone who enjoys poetry, language, and beauty will enjoy it.  I highly recommend this collection of poems and gorgeous illustrations. 

Visit Bookseed Studio for more Poetry Friday Posts.