Sunday, July 24, 2016

Percy Jackson's Greek Gods (Rick Riordan)

Title:  Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods

Author:  Rick Riordan

Illustrator:  John Rocco

Target Ages:  10 and up

Genre:  Mythological Collection

Publisher Summary:
“A publisher in New York asked me to write down what I know about the Greek gods, and I was like, Can we do this anonymously? Because I don't need the Olympians mad at me again. But if it helps you to know your Greek gods, and survive an encounter with them if they ever show up in your face, then I guess writing all this down will be my good deed for the week.

So begins Percy Jackson's Greek Gods, in which the son of Poseidon adds his own magic--and sarcastic asides--to the classics. He explains how the world was created, then gives readers his personal take on a who's who of ancients, from Apollo to Zeus. Percy does not hold back. ‘If you like horror shows, blood baths, lying, stealing, backstabbing, and cannibalism, then read on, because it definitely was a Golden Age for all that.’”

First Lines:
“I hope I’m getting extra credit for this. 
A publisher in New York asked me to write down what I know about the Greek gods, and I was like, ‘Can we do this anonymously? Because I don’t need the Olympians mad at me again.’
But if it helps you to know your Greek gods, and survive an encounter with them if they ever show up in your face, then I guess writing all this down will be my good deed for the week.”

I listened to this book with my teen son on audio. Jesse Berstein, the narrator, does a fantastic job with tone and voice.  He embodies the character of Percy Jackson perfectly and changes his voice to distinguish other characters.

The point of view is an interesting mix of literary elements.  Percy Jackson is a fictional character from the modern era that has encountered each of the gods in his own life.  While the focus of the storytelling is on the stories from the ancient world, he makes remarks from his personal experience as well. 

Another element related to point of view is how the author has crafted through his storyteller frequent juxtapositions of the ancient and modern world.  He may be listing or describing a situation using ancient concepts and shift to bringing it to the modern world.  For instance, after Persephone goes missing, they discuss ways to help find her like “offering a reward, putting Persephone’s face on milk cartons, and stapling missing posters around town” (81). First, this technique brings out the character of Percy Jackson, both as a modern protagonist as well as his humor.  Also, it is a way to make the ancient world stories more concrete and relevant for readers.  Finally, educators and parents have an opportunity to discuss those juxtapositions.

The story telling is highly engaging. It is broken down into chapters, each on a different god or goddess. Then, there are several stories related to each one.  Some will be familiar to most readers, but there are some nice gems I had never heard before.  The stories are ideal for building mythological knowledge and Greek culture in children.

Many figurative elements are used. Irony is plentiful—especially verbal.  There are puns, like “Poseidon gets salty.”  Idioms are used, such as “out of his league” and “broke the ice.”  There are similes, metaphors, hyperbole, and understatement examples sprinkled in. 

My only concern is age-appropriateness. There are frequent references to adultery, murder, and, even, rape. As we know, those were activities often attributed to the Greek gods. The behaviors are not glorified though. Nothing is described graphically. Adults will know what is happening, but younger children will not likely grasp the significance. For those with younger readers, you may want to review it in advance to make sure you are comfortable with the material.

Overall, Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods is a thrilling book to read or to listen to. My son and I enjoyed it so much we are not listening to Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes.

Activities and Extension Ideas for Lesson Plans:
  • Religion: Discuss how your ideas about god and the supernatural compare with those of the Greeks.  Why do you think they chose to see their gods as more human than god-like?
  • Mythology:  Pick 2 or more myths to compare and to contrast.  What do these myths say about the Greeks views on life? Their fears? Values? On human nature?
  •  Characterization & Irony:  Discuss ironies in characterization.  For instance, Aphrodite is the goddess of love, but she is known for being hateful and causing strife while Ares is the god of war, but he is depicted as being wimpy.  Why do you think the Greeks chose to paint their god in such contrasting lights?
  • Figurative Language: Discuss examples of similes, metaphors, juxtaposition, irony, and so forth.

Historical Connections:
Ancient Greece

Trojan War

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Poetry Friday Round Up: Dear Wandering Wildebeest

Welcome to the Poetry Friday Weekly Round Up.  Join in by adding your link at the bottom of this post. To begin with, enjoy a couple poems from this collection:

Author:  Irene Latham

Illustrator:  Anna Wadham

Target Ages:  6 and up

Genre:  Poetry Collection

Publisher Summary:
“Spend a day at a water hole on the African grasslands.  From dawn to nightfall, animals come and go.  Giraffes gulp, wildebeests graze, impalas leap, vultures squabble, and elephants wallow. “

Sample Poems:

“The Watchman’s Song”
Call me sentry,
Call me guard.
I round the mounds
in the yard.

I stand up tall.
I scan the dirt.
I watch the town,
ears alert.

I sing my song:
peep peep peep,
It means, we’re safe!
Forage! Sleep!

But, if Jackal stalks
and closes in,
or if Hawk circles
yet again –

I’ll whistle-shrill.
That means: Duck!
Don’t push luck!

Call me sentry,
Call me guard.
I round the mounds
in the yard.

“Tree for All”
Giraffes feast on my leafy crown;
my buffet never closes.

Rhinos doze beneath my broad branches;
my umbrella shelters and shades.

Baboons scramble up and down my trunk;
my playground delights all ages.

Owls nest in my hidden knothole;
my cradle cozies brand new wings.

Skinks sleep in my think spotted bark;
my camouflage keeps them safe.

Safari ants trail along my roots;
my roadways help build a city.

No grassland beasts can resist my charms;
I am a wild brush willow tree.

Latham plays with words and poetic forms.  For instance, her titles are colorful and fun.  “Lifestyles of the Sleek and Sinuous” describes how the Black mamba snake lives while “Calling Carcass Control” explains the feeding habits of various animals. Many of the poems follow a traditional format with set stanzas and rhyme. Others are more creative. “Oxpecker Cleaning Service” is written as an advertisement while informing readers about this animal’s important role.  To highlight the difficulty giraffes have to get a drink, a free verse poem is written in outline form. 

While the poems can be enjoyed for their diversity and delightful imagery, this collection has educational value as well. It can supplement units on Africa, habitats, and animals in the science curriculum.  Sounds devices like rhyme and alliteration are plentiful.  These poems can be used to study diverse voices and personification.

The poems themselves are educational on their own. However, a short paragraph corresponds to each one providing additional background information for young readers to better understand the habitat and animals. 

This format can be an inspiration for poetry writing in the classroom or at home.  First, provide an informative prose paragraph on an interesting topic or assign students to pick their own. Then, allow students to write poems using the information. Encourage them to play with literary devices like personification and point of view as well as sound devices. This activity is also an opportunity to teach the difference between poetry and prose. While prose just “gives the facts,” poetry allows readers to experience the facts through vivid imagery and different points of view.

Anna Wadham’s illustrations are fantastic.  The soft colors and beautiful drawings give little glimpses into life on the African grasslands. 

Overall, Dear Wandering Wildebeest is a celebration of nature and diversity.  It is a must-read!  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Smile (Raina Telgemeier)

Title: Smile

Author/Illustrator: Raina Telgemeier

Target Ages: 11-15

Genre: Memoir/Graphic Novel

Awards:  Will Eisner Comic Industry Award Winner, Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book, New York Times Editor’s Choice

Publisher Summary:
“Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, severely injuring her two front teeth. What follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached. And on top of all that, there's still more to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion, and friends who turn out to be not so friendly. Raina’s story takes us from middle school to high school, where she discovers her artistic voice, finds out what true friendship really means, and where she can finally…smile.”

I recently reviewed Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters, which I loved. In many ways, I think I like Smile even more. 

The structure of the book is centered around Raina’s journey for the perfect physical smile. Many (myself included) will empathize with her journey—getting her front teeth knocked out, braces, root canals, head gear, and more. I cringed many times at the painful experiences!

Teen angst abounds from crushes to embarrassing moments to body changes.  For instance, she develops a crush on a boy in her band class, but loses interest in him before he does her—causing awkwardness for both of them.  Unfortunately, her next crush is long and unrequited. Also, she is often mocked and teased by her “friends.” One of the worst experiences is when they pulled down her skirt during lunch! Of course, she must go to school with zits, a lack of fashion sense, and tons of teeth problems. These types of issues plague most people as they move through middle school and into high school, making her memoir highly engaging and relevant.

The heart of the narrative, though, is Raina’s emotional journey. Like most adolescents, she struggles with feeling awkward, trying to fit in, and going through puberty. She has a toxic group of friends who exploit her insecurities further.  When she finally comes to realize how awful they are and makes new friends, her confidence and outlook change dramatically. Raina learns to smile at life. 

She ends with a timeless epiphany:
“My life didn’t magically turn perfect after that…Instead, I threw my passion into things I enjoyed, rather than feeling sorry for myself.  I realized that I had been letting the way I looked on the outside affect how I felt on the inside. But the more I focused on my interests, the more it brought out things I liked about myself. And that affected the way other people saw me!”

I highly recommend Smile for middle grade and teen readers.  The graphic novel format is ideal for reluctant readers.  The motifs are realistic and relatable for all ages. 

Historical Connections:
San Francisco Earthquake (1989)

For more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, visit Shannon Messenger's Blog.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Outside the Box (Karma Wilson)

Title:  Outside the Box

Author:  Karma Wilson         

Illustrator:  Diane Goode

Target Ages:  7 and up

Genre:  Poetry Collection

Publisher Summary:
When you think outside the box…poems about Pigasus appear!  Not to mention Horaceopotamus, Gargantuans, and all sorts of monkey business. You can snack on Greekwiches, build a pet robot, then dance with the Boogie Man.  Fly the largest kite, sleigh down the steepest hill, and find all those aliens under your bed!  Anything can happen outside the box.  Now, won’t you join us for a read! 

Appealing to kids and parents alike, Dive in to Karma Wilson’s latest collection of more than 100 poems—some humorous, some poignant, and all of them Outside the Box.

Sample Poems:

All my friends are jealous.
Oh, how they envy me.
I lived through something terrible,
and all-out tragedy!

It happened on the playground.
I was playing all alone,
and then it came and cornered me
and chilled me to the bone!

I tried to run away and hide
but found no way to flee.
I backed into the playground fence
with it pursuing me.

And then the worst thing happened,
an act so dark and bleak.
Mary Ellen Burkenshire
kissed me on the cheek!


Somehow I survived it,
and my friends are having fits.
(But I won’t tell a soul,
I like it…just a bit.)

“Spider Trap”
Don’t kill helpless spiders if you see ‘em.
It’s absolutely better if you free ‘em.
So never, ever kill those spiders dead.
Set them loose (but in your sister’s bed.)

"I (heart) Salad!"

I can't wait to eat that salad you're making'
with crunchy croutons, loads of bacon,
creamy ranch, and bits of cheese.
A side of crusty French bread, please.
I love salad, without a doubt.
(But could you leave the veggies out?)

This entertaining collection of poems reminds me a lot of Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends—lots of childhood fun and unexpected turns. The black and white sketches by Caldecott winner Diane Goode provide additional energy and imagination.

There are a wide variety of types of poems, such as concrete, shape, narrative, holiday, and occasional. Each deals profoundly and humorously with childhood experiences and fears. Wilson does an apt job taking a fear—the dark, aliens, vampires, and such—and making it funny or even empowering! For instance, the alien under the bed is really just a sandwich that has become moldy.  Also, in "Sheet!" a child is afraid of the dark.  However, he just needs to use the "force field" of his "impenetrable, magical sheet" to keep all the frightening creatures away.  

Irony, hyperbole, and fun word play are abundant.  In "The Tattler" the speaker ironically pleas with the the teacher to punish Dale for tattling.  A roller coaster experience is described with vivid imagery and hyperbole in "The Great Gargantuan."  Several poems play with word meaning, such as "Greenwich" and "Definition of  a Unicorn." For more teaching ideas, click HERE.

The unexpected turns is one of my favorite parts of the collection.  An elaborate discussion of missing candy in "Thieves" is implied to really be the parents rather than an outside thief.  "Wishy Washy" illustrates the fickleness of crushes and birthday wishes. The "Gamer" who brags all the time and hogs the controls is not who you would expect. Many of the poems take similar turns.

The theme of Outside the Box is thinking and seeing the world in a fresh and unexpected way. The collection succeeds at depicting new perspectives as well as illustrating elaborate imagination and infusing lots of humor.  People of all ages will enjoy these poems.

               Visit A Year of Reading for the full Poetry Friday round up!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Tantrums, Hurt Feelings, and Selfishness: Helping Children Deal With Their Emotions

Books are ideal springboards for discussing a wide array of emotional responses.  With picture books, parents and educators can help children identify their feelings and deal with them in an healthy manner. The following 10 picture books focus on some of the most common emotional issues in early childhood.

When Sophie’s Feelings Are Really, Really Hurt
Molly Bang
Hurt Feelings, Dealing with Criticism
Sophie paints a picture in a creative rather than realistic manner. A classmate criticizes her, causing her to feel hurt and sad.  A thoughtful teacher helps them deal with the conflict.

Duck, Duck, Dinosaur
Kallie George/Oriol Vidal
Jealousy, Self-Centeredness, Sibling Rivalry, Competitiveness
Feather, Flap, and Spike are siblings who each want to stand out and get their mother’s attention.  They compete over who is the biggest, sweetest, and funniest.  However, the trio realize it is better to play and to cuddle together than to argue over who is the “best.”

Gillian Shields/Cally Johnson-Isaacs
Tantrum, Self-Centeredness, Manners
Ellie has everything, but she wants more.  She refuses to get out of bed until her father buys her an elephant.  When it arrives, he takes over her toys, her room, and even her place at school.  He demands she do everything for him.  If she doesn’t, he throws a huge Elephantantrum!  This role-reversing experience teaches Ellie the importance of manners, sharing, and relationships.

Horrible Bear!
Ame Dyckman/Zachariah OHora
Tantrum, Rudeness, Mean Words
A girl peaks into a bear’s cave while he sleeps.  Rolling over, he accidently breaks her kite.  Even though she is the one invading HIS space, she calls him a “horrible bear” and stomps off.  Now, the bear is angry!  Together, they learn that acting out in an angry and selfish manner is not the solution.

How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad?
Jane Yolen/Mark Teague
Tantrum, Angry, Selfishness
Sometimes, dinosaurs get mad like when they don’t get their way, when they are told “no,” or when they have to take a nap.  Sometimes they have dinosaur-sized tantrums.  Other times they count to ten, take a time out, breathe calmly, and obey.   Most importantly, they hug and apologize.

Samantha Berger/Dan Santat
Beware of Crankenstein!  He’s an ordinary kid who transforms into a monster of grumpiness!  Using a little humor and hyperbole, children will see what a crabby person looks and acts like (so hopefully they won’t want to be one).

Betty Goes Bananas
Steve Anthony
Frustration, Tantrum
Betty loves bananas.  She just cannot seem to get it open, so she throws a huge frustrated tantrum!  Her friend toucan helps her.  Then, she gets mad because she wanted to do it by herself.  Can Betty learn how to control her frustration?

Clark the Shark
Bruce Hale/Guy Francis
Boisterous Behavior
Clark is rowdy.  He is enthusiastic about life—sometimes just a bit much for his friends and teacher.  With a little guidance and some self-control, he learns:  “There’s a time and place for everything” and “Sometimes you stay cool.

Sue Heap
Selfishness, Siblings
Amy loves her blankie and toys.  When her siblings want to join in the fun, she responses selfishly with, “Mine!”  After seeing how sad her behavior makes her brothers, she decides to share.

Grumpy Pants
Claire Messer
Penguin is in a bad mood.  No matter what he does, he just can’t seem to shake it!  He learns some healthy ways to help him change his perspective.