Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Crossover (Kwame Alexander)



Middle Grade and Teens (YA)

Sample Poem
Dad, this girl is making
Jordan act weird.
He’s here, but he’s not.
He’s always smiling.
His eyes get all spacey
whenever she’s around,
and sometimes when she’s not.
He wears your cologne.
He’s always
texting her.
He even wore loafers to school.
Dad, you gotta do something.

Dad does something.
He laughs.

Filthy, talking to your brother
right now
would be like pushing water uphill
with a rake, son.

This isn’t funny, dad.
Say something
to him. Please.

Filthy, if some girl
done locked up JB,
He’s going to jail.
Now let’s go get some doughnuts.

Publisher Summary
"A bolt of lightening on my kicks...
The court is sizzling.
My sweat is drizzling.
Stop all that quivering.
Cuz tonight I'm delivering.

raps basketball phenom Josh Bell.  Thanks to his dad, he and his twin border, Jordan, are kings on the court, with crossovers that make even the toughest ballers cry.  But Josh has more than hoops in his blood.  He's got a river of rhymes flowing through him--a sick flow that helps him find his rhythm when everything's on the line.

As their winning season unfolds, things begin to change.  When Jordan meets the new girl in school, the twins' tight-knit bond unravels.  In this heartfelt novel, basketball and brotherhood intertwine to show Josh and Jordan that life doesn't come with a playbook and, sometimes it's not about winning.

The Good
Alexander creates life-like characters that middle grade readers can connect to.  Josh (Filthy) and Jordan (JB) are typical seventh graders dealing with love, friendship, school, and family issues. They have sensible parents who are devoted to each other and the boys.  Much of the novel involves positive interactions between the parents and the twins. 

Rather than chapters, the narrative is broken into four quarters and overtime. The text is in mostly free style poetry, but there are some rhyming ones as well. Most of the poems are written like short vignettes or as conversations. Sometimes the narrator muses on intriguing words or basketball rules. While some figurative language is incorporated, overall the poems are highly accessible to the target audience. 

While Josh's love for basketball comes to the forefront as the novel begins, I quickly realized he is not a flat character.  He is smart, loyal, and sensitive. Words fascinate and delight him. Josh is devoted to his family, especially JB. There is much more to discover about him.  

The Bad
My attitude. Well, at least at first. After several recommendations, I started listening to the audio book. I will keep it 100%. I rolled my eyes with all the basketball talk and wondered if I could make it through it.  I do not regret sticking it out.  The Crossover defies expectations.

The only “bad” about the text is a couple subtle references to the parent’s sex life. Very subtle, but creeped me out anyway.  No young person wants to put parents and sex together in the same thought.  At least I hope not! 

The Brilliant
The significance of the title is what stands out most to me.  The crossover is a basketball move that Josh is known for.  The books is about basketball, so at first it seems that is the reason for the title.  However, I found that is much more.  First, the boys are crossing over into adolescence.  With that crossover, comes hormones and girls.  JB’s relationship with a girl comes between the brothers.  They are moving into a new phase of their lives and relationships.  Another crossover is in Josh’s attitude.  He begins a bit flippant and arrogant, which leads to a bad decision.  Fortunately, he has good parents and coaches.  Their consequences prompt him to reflect and to grow into maturity.  Finally, a character crosses over into death, impacting the lives, growth, and attitudes of Josh and others.  The multiple layers are rich for discussion and reflection.

Even though I am not a sport’s fan, many tweens and teens are. There is a huge enthusiastic audience for this type of book. Whether a sports lover or not, I cannot more highly recommend this Newbery and Coretta Scott King winning novel.  

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.  Hop on over to Shannon Messenger's blog for other middle grade recommendations.

5 Must Read Books on Ramadan

Ramadan is a month long Muslim celebration. There is a strong emphasis on community, family, and charity. Most importantly, it is about a renewal of their focus and faith in Allah. Learning about Ramadan is a way to emphasize that while we are all different, people need faith, community, family, and charity to be healthy and happy.    

With several informative children’s books on Ramadan, educators and parents can expand awareness about the traditions of the followers of Islam.  I learned a lot about this religious and cultural celebration from the selections I chose. For those who have Muslim children in their classroom or neighborhood and want to learn more about their faith and culture, Dorothy Kavanaugh’s Islamic Festivals and Celebrations provides a more comprehensive explanation of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, hajj, Eid al-Adha, births, weddings, deaths, and other celebrations.  She also includes other books and Internet resources.  The following is a progressive listing of Must Reads for those wanting to expand their students' or children’s multicultural awareness.

This non-fiction book is a fantastic introduction for children. There are many vibrant photographs from various countries illustrating Ramadan traditions like praying, reading the Koran, dancing, and sharing food. The large text is broken into small sections that are easy to understand. Heligman proves a wonderful overview for ages 5 and up. 

My First Ramadan (Karen Katz)
Katz writes her story through the perspective of a preschool child who wants to fast like the grown-ups do.  Young readers get the sense of experiencing the festival for the first time through this wide-eyed, enthusiastic narrator.  Adorable pictures and large text make it ideal for ages 2-6. 

Under the Ramadan Moon (Sylvia Whitman)
This lyrical story provides snapshots of the celebration.  Verses each follow a similar format as  We wait for the moon. We watch for the moon. We watch for the Ramadan moon.” Whitman’s perspective is that of the Muslim people as a whole rather than an individual child telling the story. Ages 4-8 will enjoy it. 

Seven-year-old Pakistani-American Yasmeen tells the story of her family’s modern day celebration. This selection is probably my favorite because of the lush Islamic art and vivid colors, giving it an authentic feel. The storytelling is well done for the target audience of 6-9.

The White Nights of Ramadan (Maha Addasi)
Noor lives in a Middle Eastern country. She shares her excitement and wonder as she prepares for and celebrates in her native country. Readers see their traditional garb and local traditions (like one similar to our Halloween). The text will appeal to ages 6-11.

I want to mention one more book. It is not specifically about Ramadan, but it covers many aspects of it.

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns (Hena Khan)
This concept book illuminates aspects of Islam while teaching colors.  Each poetic couplet captures the culture like “Red is the rug Dad kneels on to pray,/facing toward Mecca, five times a day,” and “Brown is a date, plump and sweet./During Ramadan, it’s my favorite treat.” Mehrdokht Amini’s stunning illustrations round out the elegant text.  This book is worth a trip to the bookstore or library for children ages 2-6.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Loud Lula (Katy S. Duffield)

Title:  Loud Lula

Author:  Katy S. Duffield

Illustrator:  Mike Boldt

Target Audience:  4-10

Opening Lines:
Lula was born smack-dab in the middle of one of the biggest twisters Pryor County had ever seen.  Winds howled.  Trees snapped.  It was bust—your—eardrums loud. But…it wasn’t as loud as Lula.

Publisher Summary:
Lula might be a pint-sized gal, but she’s got a big ol’ voice!  Since her birth, Lula’s loud voice has wreaked tens kinds of havoc across Pryor County, disrupting humans and animals alike.  Lula’s parents are worried:

What’s going to happen when Lula starts school?

Will Lula ever learn to use her “inside voice”?

But when Lula spots something sinister making it’s way toward town, it seems that she may have found just the right use for that big ol’ voice after all.

Ok. True confession. I completely related to Lula.  When I was a child, I was always being told to speak softer.  To me, I sounded normal.  Unfortunately, I have not outgrown my bellowing voice or lively laugh.  In comes in handy as a teacher.  My students can always find me.  No one ever tells me to speak up, and I don’t have anyone fall asleep in class.  (Well, except for one student who used to sit in the front row!!!!  Talk about being able to sleep through a hurricane!) 

As for Loud Lula, I loved it.  It reads like a modern day tall tale, with lots of hyperbole.  For instance, she calls her kitty home for supper and “every cat all the way from Crowley’s Corner came a-callin’." When she asks, “Where’s the bathroom?”  The schoolhouse shakes “like a big ol’ bowl of boysenberry jelly.”

Duffield incorporates similes.  She describes the storm as “like nothing more than a chicken feather hitting the hen house floor.”  Everyone else is exhausted, but Lula is “spry as a spring chicken.”  

The illustrations are full of drama!  The schoolhouse shaking, kids fainting, and Lula dancing on her desk!  The characters are animated—joyful, exhausted, content, surprised, excited, annoyed, and relieved.  There are many opportunities to discuss emotions. 

At the end of the narrative, Lula uses her loud voice to warn others of danger and save the day: “The way some folks tell it, those firefighters didn’t even have to pull out their hoses.  Lula’s rip-roaring holler ran that wildfire back across the hills!” Lula is a hero and spotlighted in the local paper. She is finally appreciated (well, sort of) for who she is—joyful, enthusiastic, caring, and loud.

Loud Lula is a reminder that we need to appreciate and to celebrate all people, even when their gifts and personality may be different than the norm.  This book is a riot, especially for the loud one in the class/family or for kids who enjoy a good boisterous read.

Ideas for Lesson Plans and Extension Activities:
  • Language Arts:  Teach about hyperbole and simile
  • Character Education:  Discuss talents, gifts, and special qualities
  • Science:  Research tornados and wild fires
  • Writing:  Write a newspaper article about a local or school hero
  • Field Trip:  Visit a fire station
  • Social Studies:  Learn about feelings and emotions
Visit Susanna Hill's blog for other Perfect Picturebooks. 

Heart and Soul (Kadir Nelson) Topic List

Kadir Nelson's Heart and Soul is not only a beautifully written book but an excellent resource for teaching and extension ideas.  I have included a list in this separate post of the people and major events for easy reference.  There are many African-American people listed for students to research for projects and essays or for educators to bring in additional book about. 

Chapter 1:  Declaration of Independence
George Washington
Boston Tea Party
Thomas Jefferson
American Revolution

Chapter 2: Slavery
Slave Ships
Negro Spirituals

Chapter 3:  Abolition
Fredrick Douglass
William Lloyd Garrison
Harriet Tubman

Chapter 4:  Lincoln’s War
Abraham Lincoln
Nat Love
Slaves fighting in the Civil War
Robert E. Lee
Andrew Johnson
Emancipation Proclamation

Chapter 5: Reconstruction
Charles Sumner
The Freedmen’s Bureau
Ku Klux Klan
Jim Crow Laws

Chapter 6:  Cowboys and Indians, Native Americans and Westward Negros
Buffalo Soldiers
Homestead Act
Bill Pickett (rodeo performer)
Nat Love (cowboy)

Chapter 7:  Turn of the Century and the Great Migration
Felix Haywood
Archduke Ferdinand
World War I
Chicago Defender (Newspaper)
Jazz and Blues music
Booker T. Washington

Chapter 8:  Harlem & the Vote for Women
W.E.B DuBois
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Howard University
Tuskegee University
Negro League baseball (Chicago American Giants)
Jelly Roll Morton
Ella Fitzgerald
Duke Ellington
Josephine Baker & Cotton Club
Aaron Douglas (artist)
Archibald Motley (artist)
Langston Hughes
Zora Neale Hurston
James Weldon Johnson (author)
Alain Locke (writer)
Women’s Suffrage
Ida B. Wells

Chapter 9:  Hard Times and World War II
Jackie Robinson (Negro league)
E.G. McConnell (761th Tank Battalion)
Stock Market Crash
Great Depression
Adolf Hitler
Joe Louis
Max Schmeling (boxer)
Pearl Harbor
Franklin Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt
Tuskegee Airmen
761th Tank Battalion
Battle of the Bulge

Chapter 10:  Black Innovation
Ernst Matzeliger (shoes)
Elijah McCoy (ironing board and lawn sprinkle)
Lewis Latimer (improved electric lamp)
George Washington Carver
Fredrick M. Jones (x-ray machine and refrigeration)
Dr. Charles Drew (blood preservation)
Annie Malone & Madame C.J. Walker (hair growing lotions)
Garrett Mogan (traffic signal)
Grantville Woods (train communication)
Otis Boykin (control devices)
Mahatma Gandhi
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Chapter 11:  Jim Crow’s A-Dying
Branch Rickey & Jackie Robinson (Major League)
Thurgood Marshall
School Integration
President Eisenhower
Rosa Parks
Montgomery Bus Boycott

Chapter 12:  Revolutions
Civil Rights Leaders
Angela Davis (revolutionary)
James Brown (singer)
Sam Cooke (singer)
Freedom Riders
A. Philip Randolph
Malcolm X
Adam Powell
Fannie Lou Hamer
Medgar Evers
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Civil Rights Act
Voting Rights Act

Friday, April 22, 2016

Heart and Soul (by Kadir Nelson)

AuthorKadir Nelson

Illustrator:  Kadir Nelson

Ages:  7 and up

Subjects:  American history, discrimination, civil rights, equality

Summary from the Publisher
The story of America and African Americans is a story of hope and inspiration and unwavering courage. This is the story of the men, women, and children who toiled in the hot sun picking cotton for their masters; it's about the America ripped in two by Jim Crow laws; it's about the brothers and sisters of all colors who rallied against those who would dare bar a child from an education. It's a story of discrimination and broken promises, determination, and triumphs.

Kadir Nelson, one of this generation's most accomplished, award-winning artists, has created an epic yet intimate introduction to the history of America and African Americans, from colonial days through the civil rights movement. Written in the voice of an "everywoman," an unnamed narrator whose forebears came to this country on slave ships and who lived to cast her vote for the first African American president, heart and soul touches on some of the great transformative events and small victories of that history. This inspiring book demonstrates that in gaining their freedom and equal rights, African Americans helped our country achieve its promise of liberty and justice — the true heart and soul of our nation.

My introduction to Heart and Soul was listening to the audio book.  This experience added to the authentic voice of the narrative.  Her intonations and cadence made me feel I was listening to a grand storyteller.  The narrator begins by telling the story of her ancestors, but the last nearly 100 years is seen through her first hand experience. 

The text effortlessly weaves between the personal voice of narrator and historical fact.  It is highly engaging to read or to listen to.  Nelson uses poetic language to heighten this non-fiction text.  For instance, he personifies the Jim Crow laws. Rather than coming across as some abstract, archaic part of history, the reader feels the enormous weight and influence of them.  Though I knew I was getting a history lesson, the language, point of view, and imagery reads like a well-written literary story. 

I, also, checked the book out from the library when I learned there are illustrations.  I am so glad I did!  Even though the book is broken into chapters based on chronological historical eras, it is also a picture book.  Each page of text is accompanied by a full-page picture.  Periodically, there are sweeping 2-page illustrations.  Kadir Nelson’s portraits of African Americans at various times in history are BETTER than actual photographs.  His colors are rich, and his paintings cover the emotion and tone of the narrative so aptly.  I just want to keep looking through the book over and over.  I could not help re-reading many sections as I was browsing through the illustrations.  (This book is one that I could re-read multiple times.)

When I first began listening to the audio, the perspective shook me a bit.  While I do expose myself and work to understand different cultural and historical perspectives, I never read the history of American through the eyes of a narrator like the one Nelson creates. It jostles the idealistic sentiments of the founding of America a bit in the beginning. The narrative makes the statement that the founding fathers could have extended freedom to everyone, which I feel simplifies the issue. Sure, it would have been nice—for women too.  However, I also realize that society was not there yet. I am thankful they laid the foundation of ideas that has progressively allowed every American to be free.  Nelson highlights the obstacles--physical, mental, and social--that people on all sides (but especially for African Americans) had to overcome. Overall, it was enlightening to see our history from this diverse perspective. 

For African American students, Heart and Soul instills a pride in their cultural and historic contributions. The specific accomplishments of many people are noted.  Some I was familiar with while many others were new to me.  There are many opportunities for projects and research to learn more. 

I highly recommend Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans (click to see a video introduction).  It is a book that children, middle graders, teens, and adults can all appreciate and enjoy. 

Ideas for Extension Activities and Lesson Plans 
Teachers and parents can use this book to supplement and to extend history lessons.  A timeline, bibliography, and index are included in the book for easy reference. Here are some sites that provide more resources.  
Visit Susanna Hill's blog for Perfect Picturebook Friday.

Freedom Over Me (Ashley Bryan)

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