Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars (John Green)



Summary of The Fault in our Stars (by John Green):

Sixteen year old Hazel is clinically depressed after three years of fighting off terminal cancer. The doctors have found a way to keep the cancer from spreading (for the time being), but she has limited lung capacity.  To help her deal with her illness and (hopefully) make friends, her parents bring her a weekly support group.  When charismatic and witty Augustus Waters begins to attend, Hazel finds a kindred spirit who not only understands her situation but is also her intellectual equal.  Through their relationship, Hazel begins to experience life more fully. 

Evaluation:

Insightful:  Author John Green has drawn authentic characters who offer insights not only in what it means to live and to fight off illness but also on what it means to be young, in love, and dealing with loss.  I loved the playful banter between the characters (especially Augustus and Hazel).  The often poetic way that a situation or idea is described is brilliant and wonderful.  I thoroughly enjoyed Green’s use of language and metaphor. 

Bold: The author does not belittle those with terminal illness, but he does not romanticize the fight of cancer patients either.  The characters themselves comment on the common stereotype of the “heroic” fighter.   They illustrate in their lives that even the “best” of people and fighters are not always graceful and brave. 

Irreverent:  Hazel has no idealistic notions of the world, God, or the afterlife.  She believes in a vague “universe” that she eventually concludes “wants to be noticed.”  Her attitude towards traditional religion and beliefs is impertinent.   While Augustus has a sense of wanting to make a difference in the world and of a “something” beyond, Hazel does not see the purpose.  She shames him for believing his position is more enlightened, and he caves.  Hazel is content to just be part of her small circle, eventually dying and being forgotten.  While this aspect of the novel is realistic and reflective of many people’s beliefs, I found it disappointing and depressing.

Raw:  Green reveals the harsh reality and difficult setbacks of his characters.  The characters get angry, yell, and, even, break things. They occasionally use raw language and profanities.  Parents sometimes showed their weakness in dealing with their sick children.  Some of the more heart-wrenching moments are when Hazel is desperate to find out what happened to the mother in her favorite novel (An Imperial Affliction), and her fears on what will happened to her parents (especially her mother) after her death. 

Overall, I genuine enjoy The Fault of our Stars.  I cried.  I laughed.  I smiled (especially when Augustus was “in the picture”).  I recommend this book for ages 14 and up. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Poetry Friday: Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars (by Douglas Florian):


Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars (by Douglas Florian):
As with many of Florian’s other books, this space-themed collection incorporates science facts with the  rhyme, rhythm, and imagery of poetry.  The illustrations are a wonderful blend of painting, collage, text, and simple die cut shapes.  The collection begins with general poems about the universe and our solar system.  Next, each planet has its own poem.  Other space elements are covered, such as moon, comets, constellations, black holes, and the great beyond.   The “galactic glossary” explains in prose format, that both compliments and expands the poems, more about each of the objects. 

This collection is ideal for educators and parents teaching about the solar system.   Children get a fun introduction or reinforcement of facts.   They can be challenged to create their own space poems using information that an adult provided or that the children researched.  The illustrations could be used as a spring board for child-created painting/collage depictions of our solar system.   For other solar system books and activities, visit my Pinterest collection

“Venus”
Scalding-hot surface,
Nine hundred degrees.
Nothing can live there,
No creatures,
No tree.
Poisonous clouds
Of acid above.
Why was it named for
The goddess of love?

“The Comet”
Ice, rock, dirt,
Metal and gas—
Around the sun
A comet may pass.
A dirty snowball
Of space debris.
The biggest snowball
That you’ll ever see.


Check out other great poems and poetry anthologies at Random Noodling in honor of Poetry Friday.  


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Pirate Nap (by Danna Smith)



Summary of Pirate Nap: A Book of Colors (by Danna Smith):
Two energetic and mischievous preschoolers attempt to avoid naptime.  Together, they experience a pirate adventure by imaginatively turning household objects into colorful pirate treasures and objects.  Eventually, their mother successfully corrals them into bed for a nap, but not before they “stash their treasures” and “stow their swords.”   The snappy rhyming text is sure to draw young readers. 

Another clue.  Blow me down!
A treasure chest!  Wooden. BROWN.
Pirate’s luck.  The treasure’s big.
Yo ho ho!  The pirates dig. 

Evaluation:
Author Danna Smith has created a fun rhyming adventure that effectively teaches the early learning concept of color identification while celebrating imaginative play.  The colors words are a natural part of the text.  The object in question is the focal point through brighter colors that contrast with more muted tones, position on the page, and/or the action of the story.  The color name is always bold and in the color in question, ideal for teaching youngsters visual recognition and allowing them to “read” along.   While color identification is taught, it is down in a more subtle way than most concept books.  The focus of the text and illustrations is on childhood play and nap time.

Artist Valeria Petrone does a wonderful job with the accompanying illustrations.  Her animated pictures add to the text rather than just mimic it.  For instance, the text states:  “Hear a scream.  What could it be?  A purple monster from the sea!”  The illustrations show a younger sister (dressed in purple) who has taken the necklace from her siblings and run off. 

Pirate Nap will quickly become a pre-naptime favorite.  I recommend the book for ages 3 months to 4 years old.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Picturebook Author Spotlight: Jan Thomas

I was so delighted with The Doghouse by Jan Thomas that I was inspired to check out her other books.  I find myself frequently revisiting and sharing them with others.   My local library recently added her latest book, prompting me to share some of my favorites with my fellow picturebook lovers on the blog-o-sphere.

Jan Thomas has a charming style which is both memorable and interactive.   Children (and adults) are drawn to the simple illustrations and reoccurring characters—animals and dust bunnies.  These characters are often emotionally charged with cheerful excitement or playful fear.  The simple vocabulary, rhyming words, and repetition are ideal for building early reading skills and for practicing early readers.  Her stories often have an ironic twist or humorous situations.   Best of all, the books make the readers and listeners feel like important participants in the story experience.  Check these books out on your next trip to the library or the bookstore. 


Four adorable dust bunnies—Ed, Ned, Ted, and Bob love to rhyme all the time!  While the other three are distracted with their exuberant rhyming game, Ed tries to warn them of impending danger.  Instead of listening to him, they correct him.  For instance, they inform him:   “No, Bob…’Look!’ does not rhyme with car!”  Even when he finally gets his whole message out (“Look out! Here comes a big scary monster with a broom!”), the others still do not understand…that is until they see it coming toward them!   They are not out of danger yet though.  Kids will want to rhyme right along with these original characters while enjoying the fun plot turns. 


When the rhyming dust bunnies meet Big, Mean Dust Bunny, they ask him to join their rhyming game.  He declines.  They urge him on anyway.  The Big Mean Dust Bunny lives up to his name…he makes every rhyming round an opportunity to bully the others.  Until, the big fat cat “spats” him.  The others come to his aid (while maintaining their rhyming game), warming his heart and winning him over.  The end pages have a cute twist…and a possible clue for a sequel. 

The book begins with the question, “Will Fat Cat sit on…the cow?”  The concerned cow replies, “Moo?”  The next page reveals, “No!  Fat Cat will not sit on Cow!”  The question continues in a similar fashion with each of the animals until the mouse helps find a solution.  With that resolved, the next question is, “What will Fat Cat have for lunch?”  This query prompts the animals to all flee.  I love the playful banter between the animals, the melodramatic looks, and the exaggerated suspense.  Children are sure to have a blast with this question and answer book. 


A cheery ladybug invites readers/listeners to join in a game of pretend.  They are asked to imagine there is a tiny bug on their nose, in their mouth, and on their shirt (among other things).  When that pesky bug refuses to come off (even after a round of the chicken dance), the ladybug asks readers/listeners to pretend a giant hungry frog is coming to eat the pest.  An unexpected visitor arrives, so she pleas to the participants to make a scary face!   That scary face has a surprising outcome!  Not only does this book encourage interaction, it is sure to elicit giggles and grins.


Out on the prairie, the cowboy tells two cute little cows it is “Time to hit the hay.”  Looking sleepy and content, they listen as the cowboy sings:

It’s time
for little cows
to rest their head.
It’s time
for little cows
to go to bed.
It’s time
for little cows
to sleep so tight.
It’s time
for us to say…

On the next page, the cowboy shrieks, “Eeeeek!”  He sees a shadow and thinks it is a huge hairy spider.  The cows show him it is only a flower.  They try the lullaby again.  Each time, the cowboy becomes frightened by something that turns out to be nothing scary at all.  Until a big giant wolf shows up.  It is okay though.  He LOVES lullabies too.  They all sleep happily ever after.  Kids will love to read a long with this bedtime story, which reassures them there is nothing to fear.  

Monday, April 1, 2013

Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert (Gary D. Schmidt)


Summary of Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert (Gary D. Schmidt):
Martin de Porres was born with seemingly everything to his disadvantage.  He was the son of an African slave mother and a Spanish noble father, making Martin a mixed race child.  His early years were spent in extreme poverty.   Despite these economic and cultural obstacles, his mother called him “The Rose in the Desert.”  When he was eight years old, his father took him from the stink, cold, and hunger of the barrios.  He gave Martin and his sister his name—which was frowned upon by both the royals and the clergy.  Later, Martin was apprenticed out to become a healer and later came to live with the Dominican priests.  He overcame great racial and economic prejudice to become highly respected and sought after for his ability to heal and to show compassion to both people and animals, yet he always lived humbly among those he served until his death.

Evaluation:
Like most people, I love success stories.  Martin de Porres’ story is definitely such a story—but not at all in the typical sense.  He is not a man who overcomes to be rich and famous, but rather to remain poor and humble.  Through his work, he ministers to many and alleviates great suffering.  There are many recorded miracles attributed to him which led the church to eventually canonize him into the sainthood.   Whether you believe in miracles or not, Martin’s service and compassion for others stands as a testament to the greatest that humanity can achieve despite immense odds. 

Author Gary D. Schmidt records this story in beautiful poetic language.  For instance, I love the lines, “Hunger lived in their home.  Illness was their companion.”  This description aptly captures the oppressive nature of his early surroundings.  Another favorite section is:  “After thirteen years, every soul in Lima knew who Martin was:  Not a mongrel.  Not the son of a slave. ‘He is a rose in the desert,’ they said.”   In addition, artist David Diaz expertly illustrates the text.  I love the muted tones with splashes of color that captures the life and the culture of this beloved saint. 

While Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert is a story worthy of sharing for any occasion, it is noteworthy to include in a study of the Renaissance, South American/Spanish culture, and saints/religious figures.  Of course, it is a study of positive character qualities, such as perseverance, humbleness, and compassion.  I recommend this book for ages 7 and up.   


For other outstanding non-fiction selections, check out the Non-Fiction Monday round up at Wendie's Wanderings.