Friday, June 29, 2012

Fairy Tale Friday: Awake (by Jessica Grey)

Thanks for joining us for Fairy Tale Friday.  We hope you will link up and/or join in as we talk about fairy tales.  Visit my co-host, Literary Transgressions. This post is, also, linked up with the Freedom to Read Giveaway Hop.  Enter to win a free copy of Jessica Grey's Awake

Summary of Awake
Alex loves science, especially studying rocks.  She enjoys spending her summers working at the Gem and Mineral Museum where she feels in control and comfortable.  The summer before she leaves for college, her equilibrium is thrown off when Luke, her high school’s heart throb (and her former best friend), takes a job at the museum too.  What's more, Alex is thrust into an unexpected magical adventure when some ancient artifacts show up at the museum—one of which is an 800 year old bed with a princess sleeping on it!  Clueless about fairy tales, she teams up with a co-worker and the awakened princess to unravel the mystery and break the curse.  Together, they find they have an unlikely bond.  Reluctantly, Alex learns about the magic that resides within her, the importance of friendship, and the power of true love.   

Author Jessica Grey has woven together a distinctive and unpredictable retelling of “Sleeping Beauty.”  There is an interesting dichotomy between the magical, fairy tale world and the real, modern world.   The fairy tale setting is portrayed as “real” with a seamless blend of fairies and magic in the natural world.   Then, there is the modern world with a hidden magic below the surface of constant busyness and sterile technology.  Finally, there is a fairy realm where magic is still strong. 

Another unique aspect is the characterization.  The female characters are strong, smart, and heroic which contrasts sharply with the traditional retelling where the prince embodies those character qualities.  Alex does not define herself by the “prince” or other men.  Instead, she is independently forging her own path.  During the story, she finds strength in her female friendships and eventually in true love based on friendship and respect.  I like that Alex is not perfect and popular.  She is the intelligent, nerdy girl.  The downside is that she sometimes downplays her abilities and appearance too much.  She severely lacks confidence in herself, particularly early in the novel.  This situation does remedy itself for the most part. 

There are lots of twists, turns, and unexpected events in Awake, making it an enjoyable and engaging read.  I recommend this book for ages 10 and up.  

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Freedom to Read Giveaway Hop

I am a Reader, Not a Writer is hosting the Freedom to Read Giveaway Hop.  Books4Learning is offering a copy of Jessica Grey’s Awake, a modern retelling of Sleeping Beauty, and $10 to use at the book depository.   For my review of this exciting and creative tale, visit my Fairy Tale Friday post

To enter to win this giveaway, click below on Rafflecopter.   Also, visit I am a Reader, Not a Writer for dozens of other participating blogs with book-related giveaways. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fairy Tale Friday Recap

Today is Fairy Tale Friday!  I want to apologize for flaking last week, when I was to host no less!   Lately, it has been a challenging time in my family.  Last Thursday night was a revelation that continued into Friday and Saturday!  Honestly, with personal things and freelance editing, my head has not been in the blogging game which is why I have not posted much lately.  

Unfortunately, I do not have a new tale to share.   Right before Fairy Tale Friday was officially launched, I wrote about Jack and the Beanstalk and shared how to do a fairy tale study.  In addition, I have been working on a Pinterest folder of fairy tale teaching ideas.  Please visit those posts/sites if you have not already.  I will do my best to back on top of things by next week.   

In the meantime, visit my co-host at Literary Transgressions for their weekly post.  I hope you have a fantastic weekend! 

Please visit next week Friday!  

Friday, June 8, 2012

Fairy Tale Friday: Storybound (by Marissa Burt)

It is Fairy Tale Friday!  Please visit my co-host Literary Transgressions where you can link up with this weekly round-up. Readers can enter to win this week’s book: Storybound!  Click on the Debut Author Giveaway Hop to find out how. 

Summary of Storybound (by Marissa Burt):
Twelve year old Una feels isolated and alone in the "real" world.  Everything changes when she discovers an extraordinary book in the library that transports her right in the middle of a fairy tale adventure!  She makes friends with Peter, a hero-in-training, and Sam, a talking cat.  They help her fit in the character academy, where each person is trained to be a character in a fairy tale—the hero, the princess, the side kick, the villain, a village girl, and so forth.  For years, the citizens of Story have believed the accounts of the Talekeepers, who keep all the books written by the Muses hidden and forbid any new stories from being recorded.  Unbeknownst to most, the people are being manipulated and oppressed.  As the trio works to discover why Una was brought to Story, many truths are revealed, and they realize there is something much more sinister at work. There are many questions that beg to be answered:  Who wrote Una into the story?  Are the rumors of the once and future king true?  What is the true nature of the Muses?  Who can be trusted?  Will Una’s friends be able to rescue her when she comes face to face with the nefarious women in red?  Una must also face the truth of her past, and the three friends must help defeat the great evil that is working to envelop the land. 

It did not take me long to become captivated with Storybound.  Author Marissa Burt creates an alternate world, much like Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, where students live and are trained in special skills. Characters of Story take classes in Villainy, Backstory, and Outdoor Experimental Questing.  Not only is this a creative take on the fairy tale world, I also like that the classes (and book in general) prompt readers to consider what elements make up a fairy tale and how are they manipulated to make each tale unique. 

The plot was action-oriented, lots of intrigue and suspense.  Peter must work to keep Una’s origin a secret while helping her figure out how she got there and how she is going to get home.  Like Harry Potter, there is a villain along with some cohorts who are working for complete control of the people.  A group of adults are already working in the background to prevent this tyranny from occurring.  The children are in the middle of it, sneaking into forbidden places, looking for clues, keeping their activities secret, and protecting each other. 

One way the people are kept under the thumbs of the Talekeepers is through the suppression of creativity and ideas.  This aspect made me think of Fahrenheit 451.  All the tales from the past are hidden away. No new tales are allowed to be written.  Instead, people are fed propaganda, and anyone who protests disappears.  This problem is escalating because, now, many of the books are being sought after and burned to prevent the truth from ever being revealed. 

Like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there is the notion that a just and benevolent king once ruled Story.  It is believed that he left the Muses and some leaders in charge of his people until his eventual return.  These people have betrayed the king and the people…or at least that is what it seems.  The king’s eventual return gives some of the characters hope. 

Characterization is well-done.  Several of the characters are multi-dimensional.  Snow, Una’s roommate, is the most round.  At first, she comes across as spoiled and demanding.  Then, she acts catty and materialistic when Una moves into her room.  These are all covert ways the young girl uses to cover up the insecure and painful feelings she has about herself and her family.  She acts like she doesn’t care, but she really does.  Both Una and Peter are developing characters.  For instance, Una begins shy, uncertain, and lonely but she develops into a bold, confident, and sociable young girl.  Peter comes across a bit arrogant and inflexible when you first meet him, but he develops into my favorite character.  As he helps Una on her quest, he becomes more flexible and sacrificial.  There are many interesting portraits of supporting characters like teachers, parents, and classmates.

Friendship, loyalty, freedom, family, and bravery are some of the positive motifs. Opportunities for discussion, though, are also prompted about censorship, government propaganda, fairy tale elements, gender roles, and stereotypes. 

Storybound concludes with some riveting revelations, but there is not a complete resolution to the action.  Story’s End is the planned sequel for 2013 which I am looking forward to reading.  I highly recommend Storybound for ages 8 and up.   Enter to win a copy: Debut Author Giveaway Hop.

Disclaimer: As per FTC guidelines, I received a copy of this book from the publisher or author in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation. All opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Picture Book: Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! (by Jonah Winter)

Summary of Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! (by Jonah Winter):
Pablo Picasso began painting around the turn of the 20th century. At that time, art was predictable.  Picasso bursted unto the scene with an original and new approach.   He had an amazing passion and brilliant gift for painting that prompted others, much older and experienced, to watch and to learn from him.  Though he began as a poor artist, he soon became widely popular and incredibly wealthy.  After being inspired by some African masks, Picasso went back to his studio where he painted something unlike anything he had ever done.  The unveiling was far from ideal.  People were shocked and dismayed.   Of course, he was hurt by their criticism because he was proud of his work.  Everyone encouraged him to keep painting the way that made him famous.  He told them, “To copy yourself is pathetic!”  After his next revolutionary painting, people continued their protests.   Critics claimed the work did not make sense. His response was, “The chief enemy of creativity is ‘good sense’!”  Picasso continued through the next several decades experimenting and inventing new styles, offering a new way to look at the world.  Today, he is one of the most famous and celebrated painters of the 20th century. 

Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! is an engaging introduction into the artist’s early life and works.  Author Jonah Winter depicts Picasso as an artist who defied conventions despite overwhelming criticism in order to be true to himself.  Also, Winter draws a parallel between Picasso’s unpredictable and innovative paintings and the fast-paced and ever-changing world he lived in.  Artists Kevin Hawkes’ vigorous illustrations are a blend of realistic art with some elements of Picasso’s work, such as exaggerated facial features and unexpected angles.  One of the most striking pictures is of a peaceful landscape scene with Picasso jumping out of it, reflecting well the theme of the book.  I recommend Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! for ages 7 and up. 

Teaching Opportunities:
  • Biography:  Research to find out more about Picasso’s life and write a short biography of his later years
  • History:  Explore the inventions and changes that were occurring in Picasso’s early life, such as cars, airplanes, telephones, and bombs
  • Art History:  Check out a book on Picasso’s work or find pictures on the Internet; and then, examine the various styles he depicts
  • Art Project:  Try one of several ideas that allow budding artists to experience Picasso’s style like the ones found at The Art Student
  • Technology:  Create a PicassoHead
  • Comparison:  Compare and contrast Picasso’s work with some of his contemporaries' works
  • Writing:  Write a description and critique of one of his paintings

 This post is linked up with Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word and at Perfect Picture Book Friday.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Picture Books (Science): The Water Cycle

The water cycle is a fascinating and vital topic to teach.  I have highlighted three selections, each at a different level of child-readiness.  These books can be used as enriching reading at home as well as to introduce, to teach, or to extend a lesson on the topic. 
This selection introduces the water cycle at its basic form.  The authors begin with water experiences that young children are already familiar—coming from a hose, wobbling in puddles, and pouring from a faucet.  Then, they poses the question:  Where does water come from? The response is a beautiful poetic depiction of the water cycle as a continuous circle of precipitation, evaporation, and condensation.  The imagery is vivid and vibrant.  For example, the rain is described as cascading from the clouds, meandering down the mountains, and wavering over the waterfalls.  There is a shift to the importance of water to all life from the plants and animals to you and me. The illustrations appear to be a blend of collage and paint with lots of texture and energy.  I recommend All the Water in the World for ages 3 and up. 

Jakab’s book builds on the previous recommendation and goes into more detail on the cycle as well as related areas.  She begins by defining a cycle and connecting it to several different ones in science, such as rock, animal life, seasons, and plant life.  Next, she defines “water” and explains its importance.  She breaks the water cycle into four parts—rain, rivers & oceans, water vapor, and clouds.  Each one is explained in a straight-forward manner and accompanied by photographs or diagrams.  Significant parts are labeled and/or explained concisely.  The final sections are on the balance of nature (how the other cycles relate to the water cycle), the relationship between people and water, and the importance of conservation.  Also included are ideas for saving water, information on how to collect fresh water, a glossary of key terms, and an index for easy reference.  Earth’s Cycles: The Water Cycle does an excellent job introducing and explaining this vital science concept.  I recommend it for ages 7 and up.

The Water Cycle (by Francis Purslow)
Purslow combines a traditional non-fiction book with modern technology resources.  She goes in-depth describing water states at their molecular level with pictures to illustrate.   Key areas are covered:  condensation, clouds, precipitation, transpiration, and evaporation.  I like how she explains and depicts types of precipitation, condensation, and clouds.  There are numerous striking photographs that accompany each area. Other interesting subjects are also introduced.  For instance, there is a map of the world that shows the availability of fresh water in each geographical region.  This information is an excellent discussion starter and critical thinking opportunity.  Also, a timeline highlights key discoveries made by scientists as they learned about aspects of the cycle.  The topic is rounded off with information on pollution, hydrologists, and fun water facts.  Modern technology and hands on activities are blended with the text.  By logging into a publisher website, there is access to audio, video, and other web links.  I recommend The Water Cycle for ages 9 and up.  

Friday, June 1, 2012

Fairy Tale Friday: The Bully Goat Grim (by Willy Claflin)

It is Fairy Tale Friday!  You may link up your fairy tale themed posts here.  Also, visit my co-host Literary Transgressions.  My post this week is on a brand new fractured fairy tale by Willy Claflin:  The Bully Goat Grim.

Story Summary:
Every full moon, the forest creatures gather together and listen as Maynard Moose shares a tale:  Once upon a time…Bully Goat Grim used his enormous size to frighten the other forest animals.  Whenever he saw a cute, little furry animal, he loved to lower his large, boney head as he charged ahead: “Gaddump, gaddump, gaddump, POW!” Over the tops of the trees the creatures flew and fell to the ground.  Bruised, battered, and broken, the animals all stayed hidden.  Under a foot bridge lived a family of trolls—the mommy (a three headed troll), the daddy (a two-headed troll), and baby (one-headed troll).   This happy family enjoyed being together—wallowing in the mud, visiting the dump, staying up late, and having rude noises contests.  After their late night activities, they slept late each morning.  On one particular day, Bully Goat Grim came trip-trapping across the bridge, which woke up the daddy troll first.  He yelled, “Who’s that trip-trapping on my bridge?”  The goat replied, “Beware, beware, the Bully Goat Grim!  Nobody better not mess with him!”  The daddy troll tried to come up with a solution, but he was not able to. The next day, the same thing happened with the mommy troll.  Finally, the baby troll comes up with a creative idea for dealing with the Bully Goat Grim which not only prevents him from bullying her family but also all the other forest creatures. 

I am an English teacher and editor, so I am particular about grammar and vocabulary.  When I first tried to read this book, I stumbled over the author-created vocabulary and improper grammar (double negatives & superlatives).  Fortunately, there is an audio CD included that has a reading of the book.  After listening to it, I had a greater appreciation of the book.  I would recommend if you plan to read it out loud, you should listen to the CD first.  It is an enormous asset for catching the rhythm and appreciating the unusual vocabulary.  Of course, the improper grammar usage provides a teaching opportunity--formal or informal--and it is part of the characterization.

There are several noteworthy features of this creative narrative.  First, the author defies stereotypes.  The traditionally cute, fluffy billy goat becomes the aggressor while the typical mean trolls are a loving family.   Next, the youngest troll is the one who is able to solve the problem.  I like this aspect because it does empower children, but at the same time, youngsters need to be reassured that parents/adults can be wonderful resources to help with problem solving.  Finally, the main theme of the book is related to bullying.  While the solution in the story could not be replicated in real life, the idea of it could be.  When one person stood up to Bully Goat Grim, it gave the other victims courage to also stand tall and defuse the “power” he had over them. 

Artist James Stimson brilliantly utilizes his illustrations to capture and to extend the narrative.  Bully Goat Grim is white with black spots and exaggerated horns on his head.  These choices are significant.  First, the horns (the symbol of torture/bullying) are overstated because to the victims, the fists or person can seem larger than life.   Also, by making the goat mostly white (the color of purity and innocence), Stimson is again resisting stereotypes, revealing that outward appearances can often be incomplete or inaccurate.  Many of the scenes are colored in neutrals and greys, indicating a gloomy mood during the pinnacle of his bullying influence.  Once the animals are free of the oppression, the scenes are bright and cheerful. 

The Bully Goat Grim is a complex and interesting read, ripe with opportunities to extend and to discuss.  I recommend this book for ages 7 and up.  This title will not be released until August 16, 2012, but you can pre-order here soon..  

Teaching Opportunities:
  • Literature:  compare and contrast with a traditional telling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff and/or other modern tellings
  • Character Education:  use as a springboard for discussing bullying--causes, solutions, and other aspects
  • Grammar:  read as you begin teaching or reviewing double negatives or superlatives (more, most)
  • Vocabulary/Word Meaning:  evaluate the author-created words; identify word parts that are comparable to familiar words to the student to help predict word meaning (context clues can also be used to help)
  • Language:  create your own word(s) using word parts and meanings of 2-3 words; then, write a sentence(s) showing the word(s) in context
  • Writing:  write an original version of the story or an alternate ending as a class, in groups, or individually
  • Social Studies:  examine the map of the forest together (such as how are landmarks and geographical features depicted); teach grade-appropriate map skills and/or allow students to create their own maps of a fictional or a real place
  • Visit my Pinterest page with links to dozens of fairy tale-related activities around the web
You can link up below for Fairy Tale Friday.

Disclaimer: As per FTC guidelines, I received a copy of this book from the publisher or author in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation. All opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. 

Poetry Friday: My Picture Book

It is Poetry Friday!  I am thrilled to announce that I have finished my first picture book which is written in poetic form.  The focus is on the pond habitat during springtime. Counting, colors, baby creatures, and their habits are highlighted.  I have not found the "perfect" title yet.  If you have a suggestion for one, please leave a comment!  Here are a couple stanzas from my manuscript:

We go to the pond to feed the ducks. 
We see many wonders.  What great luck! 
Bursting with birds, insects, and creatures, 
each, with their own distinctive features. 

Five small green turtles swim with a purpose, 
heads bob up and down on the pond’s surface. 
Looking for tadpoles, insects, and small fish. 
Together they make one delicious dish. 

Eight soft brown ducklings by their ma they stay, 
swimming and watching her all through the day,
diving for insects, water weeds, and snails, 
paddling, splashing, and shaking their tails.

Visit Carol’s Corner for a list of other sites sharing their favorite poetic finds this week.    

Freedom Over Me (Ashley Bryan)

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