Friday, May 17, 2013

Poetry Friday: Follow, Follow (by Marilyn Singer)

Like her earlier work Mirror, Mirror, Marilyn Singer has created a collection of clever and ironic reversos.  Follow, Follow uses fairy tale characters and stories to illustrate that there are two sides to every story.  The poems, and accompanying illustrations, are side by side.  Though there are only slight changes in areas of punctuation and capitalization, the poems are exactly the same on both sides, but the lines are in reverse order.  Amazingly, with just those small changes, a completely different perspective is revealed. For instance, in “Ready, Steady, Go!” both the hare and the tortoise’s views are seen (read both side separately):

That ridiculous loser!                             Take me to the finish line!
I am not                                                 I’ve got rabbit feet to
a slowpoke.                                           beat.
Though I may be                                    I can’t be
the smallest bit distracted,                       the smallest bit distracted.
I can’t be                                               Though I may be
beat.                                                      a slowpoke.
I’ve got rabbit feet to                              I am not
 take me to the finish line.                       That ridiculous loser.

Singer uses many other favorite fairy tales, such as  Twelve Dancing Princesses, The Emperor’s New Clothes, Goose Girl, Princess and the Pea, The Pied Piper, Puss in Boot, and Three Little Pigs.  Follow,Follow can be enjoyed for its beautiful illustrations and witty poems, but it also makes for insightful and entertaining exploration opportunities of literacy and performance in the classroom.  I recommend this book for ages 7 and up. 

One of my favorites is a nice contrast between traditional and modern views of women and love: “The Little Mermaid’s Choice.”

For love,                                           You’ll never catch me
give up your voice.                             playing
Don’t                                                “Catch him.”
think twice.                                       You can’t
One the shore,                                   be docile
be his shadow.                                   in the unruly sea.
Don’t                                                Keep your home.
keep your home                                 Don’t
in the unruly sea.                               be his shadow
Be docile.                                          on the shore.
You can’t                                           Think twice!
catch him                                           Don’t
playing                                              give up your voice
"You'll never catch me."                          for love.

For other great poetry selections from around the blog-o-sphere, check out Think, Kid. Think.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Non-Fiction Monday: No Backbones series (by Natalie Lunis)

On this Non-Fiction Monday, I am excited to share another outstanding non-fiction series from Bearport Publishing.   I promise.  I am don’t work for them.  I am just a huge fan of high quality books.  This week I read Squishy Sponges and Prickly Sea Stars from the No Backbone: Marine Invertebrates series.  There are four additional titles:  Crawling Crabs, Gooey Jellyfish, Slimy Sea Slugs, and Squirting Squids

The information, written by author Natalie Lunis, is an excellent introduction to invertebrates in general and each animal specifically.  Each 2-page layout has 4-5 simple sentences in a bullet point format for easy reading.  The independent reading level is 2-3 grade range while children as young as 3-4 years of age will understand and enjoy.  Each book has fascinating facts on areas like what each animal eats to how they eat to what eats them!  Of course, each animal has a unique body type, which makes each title high interest reading. 

I love the large, vivid pictures that accompany the text well, offering an “inside” look into the lives of these underwater creatures.  For instance, Squishy Sponges reveals how crabs use sponges to camouflage themselves and Prickly Sea Stars shows how stars use their stomachs to eat mussels.  Many of the photos are so up-close and personal that minute details are seen, such as a sea stars’ eye spot and a sponge's pores. 

Check out the No Backbone series, as well as their others, at Bearport.   Visit Instantly Interruptible for other Non-Fiction Monday selections from around the web. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Navigating Early (by Clare Vanderpool)

Summary of Navigating Early (by Clare Vanderpool):
Jack Baker is suddenly uprooted from his Kansas home after his mother dies.  He transfers to a Maine boarding school while his father, a military officer, finishes serving at the close of World War II.  Early Auden, the strangest of boys, is also an outsider who has faced great loss.  The two boys forge a friendship that takes them on a quest in search of the Great Appalachian Bear.   Along the way, Early tells Jack of the fictional story of Pi which parallels their own physical and, often, personal journeys toward facing the loss and pain in their lives.  A colorful cast of characters help make their quest memorable and poignant. 

I read Vanderpool’s debut (and Newbery winning) novel, Moon Over Manifest, so when I saw this new book on a couple other blogs, I knew I had to read it.  Vanderpool has a gift for creating unforgettable characters and parallel multi-layered story lines.  Navigating Early showcases both of these features.

Jack is a sort of “every boy.”  He struggles with fitting in and finding his place in school, in his family, and in life.  Early, on the other hand, is rare and unforgettable.   Jack commonly calls him “the strangest of boys” because Early’s behaviors were not understood in that era.  Though Early is highly intelligent and functional, he appears to be on the autism spectrum.   His mannerisms and personality are endearing and, at time, humorous.  I could not help loving him. 

The main story line is Jack and Early’s quest.  Early creates a story to parallel the numbers in the mathematical pi.  Pi, like Jack and Early, must go on a quest to earn his name.  As Pi learns what it means to be a man and deal with loss and hardship so do Jack and Early—each in a different way.  Even the minor characters they encounter have their own intertwined and satisfying stories. 

Middle grade readers will be drawn to the boys’ journey to find the Great Appalachian Bear.  They will relate to Jack’s and Early’s characters as well as enjoy the fascinating other characters.  I highly recommend Navigating Early for ages 8 and up. 

Check out other excellent Middle Grade Fictions at Shannon Messenger's blog

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Before I Fall (Lauren Oliver)

I just finished listening to Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall on audio.  When I first began the book, I was tempted to stop it.  The characters came across arrogant, superficial, and immoral.  All qualities I hate to see in anyone, but especially as models for teens.  Because of the countless rave review I have encountered over the past couple years on the book (and because I enjoyed one of her other books, Delirium), I plunged forward.   I am glad I did. 

Plot:  Oliver takes the familiar “groundhog day” plot, but she makes it feel fresh.  Seventeen year old Sam keeps living the day of her death over and over for a total of 7 days.  The first few days she is only interested in finding a way out.  She is also still stuck in her immaturity, prejudices, and shallow teen self.  With each effort to make a significant change, Sam slowly sees the day (and much of her life) through a 360 degree lens.   The multi-layered plot has a steady pace that kept me wanting to come back to hear more.

Characterization:  At the opening of the book, I disliked all the characters.  I grew to like Sam and the others. Even the fiercest character, Lindsey, earned my sympathy. They each illustrated in different ways that people are much more than they seem. The popular people are often some of the most broken, always looking to cover up their hurts, habits, and failings. Sam, also, learns how her actions impact others, often in unexpected and devastating ways. The circumstances, I hope, will prompt young adults to consider their choices more carefully.

Motifs: There are so many great motifs.   First, the story focuses on the bullying of one innocent classmate, Julia.  As she lives out each day, Sam feels the weight of her group’s actions toward this particular peer as well as a few others.  The message about the impact of bullying is real and relevant.  Next, I love how Sam begins to appreciate the people and the world around her.  Unfortunately, she only has a short time to revel in it, but readers will definitely be challenged to “love deeper” and “speak sweeter.” Finally,  illusions play a significant role. Sam lives in an illusion—until that fateful day of her death. She struggles at first to see others and herself for what they are in reality.  As she peels back the onion layers of that day and her life, she gains a greater understanding of herself and those around her.

Language: I love Oliver’s often lyrical and beautiful use of language and metaphor.  Her dialogue comes across genuine and realistic.  The one aspect I did not enjoy is the frequent cursing.  Two of the most common words—sh*t and b**chare used more excessively than I prefer, especially for young people. Yes, I know that many do curse—and do it often—and most people cuss on occasion.  For many, this issue will not bother them.  To me, cursing is the crutch of those who lack imagination and/or vocabulary to express themselves another way.  For these teen characters, it is likely the case. 

Sexual Situations:  I was especially saddened by Sam’s initial desire to have sex for the first time with a boy she had mediocre feelings with to “get it over with.”  Fortunately, this attitude does eventually mature.  Also, Sam is flirty with one of her teachers.  On the day she decides to “live it up” since everything will be reset the next day anyway, she becomes sexually aggressive with the instructor, leading to some intense physical contact.  This scenario is a HUGE pet peeve of mine in young adult fiction.  Fortunately, Sam becomes repulsed by the event in retrospect.  With each fictional or real occurrence of the inappropriate teacher-student relationship, I feel it becomes less shocking and, slowly, becomes seen less and less as immoral or wrong—which I believe is a sad commentary on our times.  Overall, the girls approach sex is playful and fun. They are described draping themselves all over guys who appear to have little respect for them.  One of their favorite sayings is “No glove.  No love.”  If they are going to have sex, I appreciate that they at least advocated condom use.  Like many contemporary youth fictions, the seriousness of sex as an extension of maturity and commitment and love is completely absent.

After finishing the book, I believe it was likely the author's purpose to begin with the superficial, popular "mean girls" and turn the stereotype upside down--which she did accomplish.  I recommend Before I Fall for ages 15 and up.  

Freedom Over Me (Ashley Bryan)

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