Thursday, June 21, 2018

Freedom Over Me (Ashley Bryan)

Author:  Ashley Bryan

Illustrator:  Ashley Bryan

Target Ages:  8 and up

Genre:  Poetry Historical Fiction

Awards: Coretta Scott King Author Honor, Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, Newbery Honor Book, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award

Publisher Summary: 
Imagine being looked up and down and being valued as less than chair. Less than an ox. Less than a dress. Maybe about the same as…a lantern.

You, an object. An object to sell.

In his gentle yet deeply powerful way, Ashley Bryan goes to the heart of how a slave is given a monetary value by the slave owner, tempering this with the one thing that CAN’T be bought or sold—dreams. Inspired by the actual will of a plantation owner that lists the worth of each and every one of his “workers,” Bryan has created collages around that document, and others like it. 

Sample Lines:
from “Peggy Dreams”
My knowledge makes me
hunger for more. 
Relieving the aches,
the pains,
the suffering
of the slaves
is my chief joy.

from “Athelia”
As slaves,
we do what our owners
expect and demand of us. 
As human beings,
our real lives are
our precious secret.

from “Mulvina Dreams”
Years of driven labor
have not driven
the ancestral thoughts
out of me. 
My memories of teaching—
surrounded by children,
singing songs of our history—
lives always with me.

I began by listening to the audio book (which I recommend). I was immediately mesmerized by this narrative. The different voices bring the characters to life. Then, I read the book again and again. It is really hard to know where to begin discussing this powerful collection of poems.

Author Ashley Bryan sketched out multidimensional characters based on a historical document he came across listing the financial assets of an antebellum south plantation which included several enslaved people. In this historical fiction work, the enslaved characters each have two poems. One describes their role and life on the plantation.  The other is a stream of conscious “dream” revealing their inner desires and our common humanity. 

The central theme woven throughout is a deep longing for freedom and autonomy.  A couple powerful lines epitomize this universal desire: “Owners of the slaves think reading would give us ideas of freedom.  We know that whether we can read or not, we all want to be free.”

In addition, the characters’ unique skills and talents as well as their love for others resonate beyond race, culture, and class. Their feelings of pride for who they are and what they add to the world round out their character profiles.  

In addition, the poems illustrate the importance of their African heritage.  Some of them were born in Africa, so they still have the memories.  Those who are American born are inspired by the stories of their ancestral home.

The stunning watercolor paintings capture the characters' resilience and beauty. Hope, love, and creativity shine through despite living in the worse possible circumstances. Readers or all ages must experience Freedom Over Me.

Historical Connections:
African Kidnapping
Traveling the Middle Passage
Slavery and the American South
Slave Resistance and Runaways
Antebellum Southern Plantations

It is Poetry Friday!  Visit Michelle Kogan's Blog for more great poems.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Sleep Well, Siba and Saba (Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl)

Author:  Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl

Illustrator:  Sandra van Doorn

Target Ages:  3-7

Genre:  Picture Book

Awards:  Kirkus Best Picture Books of 2017, A Might Girl’s 2017 Books of the Year

Publisher Summary:
Forgetful sisters Siba and Saba are always losing something. Sandals, slippers, sweaters – you name it, they lose it. When the two sisters fall asleep each night, they dream about the things they have lost that day. Until, one night, their dreams begin to reveal something entirely unexpected…

First Lines:
Siba and Saba lost things. Not a day slipped by when the sisters hadn’t lost something…somewhere.

Memorable Moment:
And from that day on, Siba and Saba never again dreamed of the things they had lost.  They only dreamed about the special things they would someday see.

Sleep Well, Siba and Saba can be enjoyed on many levels. Young children will love this story of close-knit sisters who have a knack for losing track of their possessions while they are caught up in the moment.  The glimpses of Ugandan culture and the scenic views are enchanting.  The soothing alliterative language floats like dream, making it an ideal bedtime story. 

However, the narrative works on another level.  The sisters are holding on to the past, even in their dreams.  By doing so, they are kept in place—in their childhood. When their dreams begin to look to the future, though, the possibilities are endless. 

Finally, it illustrates the girls’ maturity.  Siba is entrusted with money…for her future.  Saba receives a school uniform…in preparation for a new chapter in her life.  Even as they move forward, it is clear that their family’s love is constant. 

The illustrations add to the dreamy experience.  Eye-catching yellows, greens, and reds fill the pages with lively shapes and fanciful flora.  Realist scenes such as market day and sleepovers are countered with surreal ones with animals wearing shoes and sweaters flying through the air.  

Sleep Well, Siba and Saba is a poignant and whimsical look at childhood—full of beautiful moments in the present as well as hopeful ones for the future.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thunder Underground (Jane Yolen)

Title:  Thunder Underground

Author:  Jane Yolen

Illustrator:   Josee Masse

Target Ages:  5-10

Genre:  Poetry

Publisher Summary: 
What is under your feet?
Ant cities
Fox dens
Rabbit warrens

Now dig deeper.
Forgotten towns
Fossilized bones

What other secrets hide deeper still beneath your shoes?

Favorite Poem:

“Corny Conversations”
It sounds too odd
for us to hear,
corn plants can talk,
not mouth to ear.
But with a strange
and clicking sound,
their taproots speak
beneath the ground.
We don’t know what
corn rootlings say
when they communicate
this way.
But scientific studies
they do this as they
grow and grow
and grow.

I am drawn to poetry that brings out the wonder of the world, utilizes imaginative language, and teaches a little science at the same time.  It makes me wish I was still an elementary teacher.  Poetry brings out the spectacle and awe of the world that science textbooks sorely lack.

Thunder Underground can be used along with several science units to start a lesson or to prompt writing across the curriculum:
  • Insects
  • Plants
  • Paleontology/Dinosaurs
  • Volcanoes
  • Earthquakes
  • Archeology
  • Geology
Yolen uses a variety of poetry styles from haiku to free verse.  Each one brings out a new angle about the hidden world below from the natural to the man-made (subway, basement).  Some of the information is common knowledge for adults, but not necessarily so for children.  Other fascinating facts will surprise many like plants communicating with each other and the sound of beetles walking underground. 

I love Josee Masse’s illustrations.  Each page turn offers a sweeping look at the world—both above and below the surface—with deep colors and stunning depictions. Two inquisitive children (a boy and a girl) are often pictured observing and inquiring. 

Poetry and science collide to make a wondrous experience in Thunder Underground.  It is a must have for an elementary school classroom or home collection.  These poems are sure to encourage children to think about the many unseen and unknown aspects of the world. 

For more great poems and poetry book selections, visit this week's Poetry Friday.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Islandborn (Junot Diaz)

Title:  Islandborn

Author:  Junot Diaz

Illustrator:  Leo Espinosa

Target Ages:  4-9

Genre:  Realistic Fiction Picture Book

Publisher Summary: 
Every kid at Lola’s school was from somewhere else.  Hers was a school of faraway places.

So when Lola’s teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families emigrated from, all the kids are excited.  Except Lola.  She can’t remember the Island—she left when she was just a baby.  But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories—joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening—Lola’s imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to the Island.  As she draws closer to the heart of her family’s story, Lola come to understand the truth of her abuela’s words:  “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.”

First Lines:
Every kid at Lola’s school was from somewhere else. 
Hers was a school of faraway places.
Mai was from a city so big that it was like it’s own country.
India and Camila were from a stony village at the tippy top of the world.
Matteo had lived in a desert so hot even the cactus fainted.
Nu was bone in a jungle famous for it tigers and poets.

And Lola was from the Island.

Memorable Moment:
Lola opens her book of memories—“and out busts the Island.”

Lola’s exploration of her heritage is rich in imagery and figurative language.  As members of her family and community share their memories, they blend with the imaginative.  Bats the size and shape of blankets soar above.  People dance in the city streets. Coconut plants become part of the barbershop landscape.  Each image and memory brings up feelings of joy and longing.  
The story does not shy away from the unpleasant though.  One neighbor reveals the dark side of their island experience: A monster took power that instilled terror in the people. He destroyed whole towns with a single word.  Eventually, people fought back and defeated him.  But for some, there are still scars in their hearts.  Then a hurricane destroyed her family’s community—prompting them to come to America.  Lola learns that with joy there is also a sorrowful side of her homeland.  

Through these conversations, Lola feels more connected to her homeland and community.  She is inspired to draw a variety of pictures blending the real with the fantastic and the beautiful with the ugly.  Author Junot Diaz multi-faceted view of life is memorable and moving.   

Leo Espinosa’s vibrant multi-media illustrations capture all the heart and imagination of the story.  Striking colors aptly depict this beautiful story of diversity and family pride.

Islandborn is a must read! 

Activities and Extension Ideas for Lesson Plans:
  • Social Studies:  This story is perfect for starting a conversation or school project highlighting students’ lives.  It can be a simple one like bringing in “All About Me” pictures and information to more in-depth projects about family heritage. 
  • Reading:  Use the story to discuss the different between reality and fantasy—both in the illustrations as well as the descriptive elements of the story.  Consider why Mr. Muir says a monster took over the island rather than an evil person/government.
  • Language-Arts:  Identify examples of figurative language, like hyperbole, imagery, and simile.  Students can create their own examples and draw pictures of them.
  • Geography:  Identify on a map the author’s home country of the Dominican Republic.  Read about this island nation.  Consider:  Do the descriptions of Lola’s island compare with what you learned about the Dominican Republic?
  • Art:  Draw or paint an island that blends the real with imaginative. 
  • Science:  Learn about hurricanes.  Compare hurricanes vs. tornados.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Nothing Can Frighten a Bear (Elizabeth Dale)

Author:  Elizabeth Dale

Illustrator:  Paula Metcalf

Target Ages:  3-8

Genre:  Picture Book Fiction

Publisher Summary: 
Daddy Bear insists that nothing can frighten a bear – but when there’s a noise in the night, Baby Bear isn’t convinced. The bears set out to make sure there aren’t any monsters but, as they vanish one by one, it looks like Daddy Bear might not be so brave after all!

First Lines:
Deep, deep in the woods, with the moon shining bright, some bears snuggled up in their beds for the night. 

There was Mommy Bear, Daddy Bear…Grace, and then Ben…and Baby Bear, too, who lay dreaming but then…

Memorable Moment:
When Baby Bear realizes the source of the roar (I won’t spoil it though).

In this up-side-down bear “hunting” narrative, the bears are the ones searching for the monster after Baby Bear is awoken by a loud noise.  The story is full of suspense and nighttime adventure.

During the hunt, various family members get caught in the forest (in a tree, a stream, and some mud).  Initially, Father Bear and Baby Bear are oblivious that the others have gone missing.  When they finally realize it, they panic. For a moment, both wonder---Did the monster get them?  

Out of the darkness appear not one, not two, but three fierce looking dark creatures.  As they are about to flee, they hear the “monsters” say “Hey.”

Baby Bear realizes it is his mother and siblings!  They are a mess because they got caught in forest brush.  The family ventures back home—deep, deep in the woods—to go back to sleep.

A roar awakens baby Bear again.  He is certain it is a monster.  His family—who are still awake—know the source though…and it is not a monster.

Nothing Can Frighten a Bear is an amusing bedtime story that assures children what they hear go “bump” in the night is not a monster or any other scary creature.  It is the imagination rather than real danger that frightens us.   With some gentle encouragement from this storybook, young “bears” learn to be “brave as can be.”   

Activities and Extension Ideas for Lesson Plans:
  • Nighttime Walk:  Go on a dusk or night walk together to observe what comes out during that time.  Investigate the noises and discover their origins. 
  • Fears: Use the book to discuss and dispel nighttime fears. 
  • Science:  Learn more about bears and their habits. 
  • Math:  As each bear gets caught in the forest, explain it as a math problem.  There were 5 bears and 1 is caught in the forest.  How many are left?  Count them together.
  • Literature:  Compare and contrast the story with other bear hunt stories like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Where, Oh Where, Is Baby Bear? (Ashley Wolff)

Author:  Ashley Wolff

Illustrator:  Ashley Wolff

Target Ages: 2-8

Genre:  Picture Book

Publisher Summary: 
Where, oh where, is Baby Bear? 
Inside the log? 
Behind the waterfall?
Between the cattails? 
Join him and Mama Bear for a cozy moonlit game of hide and seek.

First Lines:
One by one, bats fly out of the deep, dark den.
“Where are they going?” asks Baby Bear.
“They are going to look for food,” says Mama Bear.
“Can we go look for food too?” asks Baby Bear.
“Yes,” says Mama.  “Let’s go.”

Memorable Moment:
“Where, oh where, is Mama Bear?” he calls.
“Here I am, Baby Bear,” says Mama, “right beside you.”

I had my own game of where, oh where, is Baby Bear.  I spotted a young bear in my yard a couple weeks ago.  He was quite a neighborhood sensation as many others saw him too—getting into items on a patio and peaking into a shed while one man was working.  I caught a glimpse of him a week later running across a lawn. Then he climbed a tree. He apparently found his way back to the wild because there have not been any recent spottings. He was so cute though.  Here is a picture one of my neighbors took of him.  

I came across Where, Oh Where, Is Baby Bear? at the library this week.  From the cover picture to the last scene, I became smitten with this book.  (It probably helps that I LOVE bears!).  

The illustrations are absolutely adorable!  The vibrant blues and blacks contrast with the sprinkles and brushes of whites, neutrals, and yellows.  Baby Bear’s playful personality is captured as he hides from his mother, but always close by.  Along the way, young readers learn about bear habits like foraging for berries and catching fish in streams.  Other busy nocturnal creatures are also shown, such as raccoons, frogs, bats, owls, deer, and rabbits. 

The focus of the narrative is a back and forth—Where are you?... Here I am.  This predictable technique invites children to “read along.”  In addition, they can find Baby Bear and explain where he is, such as behind the waterfall and between the cattails. 

The rhythmic language is soothing, and the mother-child dynamic is comforting, which makes Where, Oh Where, Is Baby Bear? a perfect addition to bedtime reading.  Let’s be honest, children will enjoy it anytime of day though! 

Activities and Extension Ideas for Lesson Plans:
  • Science:  Study more about bears and their habits.
  • Categorization:  Explain how some animals are primarily active at night (nocturnal) while others are in the daytime (diurnal). Print out pictures (or use some you already have).  Together put all the animals that primarily come out during the day in one spot (like under a sun picture or word like “day”) and those that like the night in another spot (like under a moon picture or word like “night”).  Here is an online activity.  
  • Choral Reading:  Because of the repetitive pattern--where are I am--and predictable responses (based on the pictures) use in a class or at home to prompt listeners to chime in for the question/answer and even responses like "behind the waterfall." 
  • Characterization: Identify Baby Bear’s primarily personality trait (playful, mischievous).  Identify ways that character quality is depicted (illustrations like climbing a tree or hiding behind something, his desire to play games, his interactions with is mother).
  • Survival:  Discuss how to act if a bear ever crosses your path. 
  • Pretend Play:  Play your own game of hide and seek or a variation by hiding a stuffed bear.  
  • Story Time: Listen to this read-aloud if you don't have access to the book.

Freedom Over Me (Ashley Bryan)

Title:   Freedom Over Me:  Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life Author :   Ashley Bryan Illustrator :   Ashley...