Thursday, July 12, 2018

Bravo! Poems about Amazing Hispanics (Margarita Engle)

Title:  Bravo! Poems about Amazing Hispanics

Author:  Margarita Engle

Illustrator:  Rafael Lopez

Target Ages:  8 and up

Genre:  Poetry Collection

Publisher Summary:
Musicians, botanists, baseball player, pilot—the Hispanics featured in this collection come from many different backgrounds and from many different countries.  Celebrate their accomplishments and their contributions to a collective history and community that continues to evolve and [to] thrive today!

Sample Poem:
“The Magic of Words”
about Jose Marti, Cuba

As a child on the island, I see injustice,
so I write about freedom, but at sixteen,
I’m arrested, and after months of hard labor
in prison, I am forced to flee my homeland.

In New York, I stroll through Central Park
with the children of other exiles, telling stories
of gentle elephants and enchanted shrimp…

I say that each day is a poem.
Some hours are green and peaceful.
Others are red, like festivals or storms.
I love teaching children how to tell t
heir own stories.

Engle’s first-person biographical poems give an authentic voice to figures, long since past.  Their passions and spirit pour off the pages.  Readers get only a snapshot of these people, but it is enough to tantalize readers to find out more. 

The collection spans events and people from 1713 to 2011.  Many of the figures are artists and traditionally accomplished. However, Engle features ordinary people as well.  For instance, Juana Briones was a healer, farmer, and rancher.  She also spoke against unfair treatment of Native Americans as well as fought to keep her land when the state tried to unjustly take it.   Another is Arnold Rojas, a noted vaquero (cowboy). He not only learned to train horses and tell engaging stories, but he advocated for preserving Latino culture. 

Each person made a mark in some small way, but few were widely famous in their time (or even now).  Through highlighting people in all walks of life, Engle illustrates the immense diversity within the culture as well as the importance of making a difference no matter who you are. 

The vibrant artwork is stunning.  The portraits capture the historical figures so brilliantly, often with symbolic images like a dove, a basket of herbs, or a book. 
Bravo! Poems about Amazing Hispanics is a memorable and beautiful walk through history.  It is perfect for your diverse classroom and/or family library. 

Ideas for Extension Activities at Home or Lesson Plans for Teachers:
  • History:  While the figures may not be in the curriculum, the poems offer a quick and easy way to bring in diverse voices.
  • Writing:  Using Engle’s models, students can write their own first person biographical poems.
  • Literature:  Discuss the images used in the illustrations and poems.  Explore the connotations and denotations of each.  Then, evaluate how those images bring out a more multifaceted view of the people.
  • Science:  Connect relevant figures to the study of science.  In a study of plants, pull in Ynes Mexia or in a study of conservation, connect George Melendez Wright.
Historical Connections and People:
Juan de Miralles (American Revolution)
Feliz Varela (Colonial Era)
Juana Briones (California Statehood)
Paulina Pedroso (Cuban Independence)
Jose Marti  (Cuban Independence)
Ynes Mexia (STEM)
Louis Agassiz Fuertes
Aida de Acosta (Early Air Flights/Planes)
Fabiola Cabez de Baca
Arnold Rojas (Old West Vaquero)
Pura Belpre
George Melendez Wright (STEM)
Julia de Burgos (Puerto Rican Independence)
Baruj Benacerraf (STEM)
Tito Puente (Latin Jazz)
Cesar Chavez
Roberto Clemente
Tomas Rivera

Head over to Poetry for Children for more Poetry Friday poems.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Cici: A Fairy’s Tale Series (Cori Doerrfeld & Tyler Page)

Cici: A Fairy’s Tale is an entertaining graphic novel series for early readers written by Cori Doerrfeld and Tyler Page.  The series is realistic fiction with a dash of magic and imagination. 

The series features a multi-faceted Latino protagonist and family. The young protagonist deals with many typical experiences like friendship struggles, family issues, and fitting in. The plots and characters are relatable for elementary children.  The graphic novel style and vocabulary are accessible, even for reluctant readers.

There are currently three books in the series. 

Cici’s father moves out of their home and her abuela moves in as her tenth birthday approaches.  Her plans are turned upside-down when a popular classmate schedules a party on the same night as her birthday celebration.  If all that wasn’t challenge enough, Cici wakes up on the day of the party with fairy wings and the ability to see people in a new way! Fortunately, her abuela is there to help her figure out this magical change.  With her new abilities, Cici finds that navigating friendships and family is harder than she expected.

Cici is learning to deal with her family’s new living situation—the weekdays with mom and weekends with dad.  Her younger sister is fussy, and her parents are frazzled.  Her classmate Kendra seems to have it all together—pretty, popular, and rich!  Cici acts out toward her “perfect” classmate, thinking it is all a joke. However, her actions have larger consequences than she anticipated.

#3 A Perfect View
Cici invites her new friend, Kendra, to go on her family’s annual camping trip.  Cici has everything planned for the “perfect” trip.  Cici struggles with a bad attitude when plans change—from bad weather and a campsite mix-up.  Her new magic powers have some unexpected results while in the woods as well.

Friday, July 6, 2018

African American Tall Tales

Julius Lester, author
Jerry Pinkney, illustrator
Birds, bears, panthers, and even a unicorn come out of the woods when John Henry is born.  Within moments of his arrival, John jumps out of his mother’s arms and grows taller than the roof!  The next morning he gets up and chops an acre of trees down.  As John ventures out west, he single-handedly crushes gigantic boulders and digs through a mountain!  There are many versions of this tale, but Lester’s stands out for its humorous personification, colorful hyperbole, and engaging storytelling.

Mary E. Lyons, author
Terry Widener, illustrator
Roy Tyle has a way with automobiles.  People say he “can grease an axle faster than you can say 'carburetor,' and he can clean spark plugs just by looking at them hard." Roy believes there is a fatal flaw in the factory cars—they can get into accidents.  So, he takes his talents to the next level—building his own car. After spending an hour in his garage, he comes out with one that is “accident proof.” In test after test, his car avoids cars and trucks by sliding over or under them.  He doesn’t stop there though…he builds a another car that goes so far as to impress God, himself!

Jerdine Nolen, author
Kadir Nelson, illustrator
From the moment Big Jabe shows up as a small boy floating in a basket down the river, he uses his extraordinary abilities to help the slaves on the Plenty Plantation.  When the fish aren’t biting, he commands them to jump from the river and into the wagon.  When works needs to be done, he is able to single-handedly complete it—allowing the others some much-deserved rest.  Even the plants and animals change in remarkable ways when he is present.  When slaves begin to disappear without a trace, some wonder if Jabe is the one rescuing them.

Jerdine Nolen, author
Kadir Nelson, illustrator
On a summer night during a fierce thunderstorm, a lively baby is born.  Rather than cry out while taking her first breath of life, she sits up and takes hold of the lightning and thunder.  Then, she tells her parents she is partial to the name Rose, so they call her Thunder Rose.  Full of spunk, determination, and confidence, Thunder Rose accomplishes everything she sets out to do.  She amazes her parents by drinking her milk while holding up a cow, creating objects with scrap metal, staking a fence without assistance, and building a sky scraper—all before the age of ten! These thrilling feats are just the beginning of her story!

Andrea Davis Pinkney, author
Brian Pinkney, illustrator
Feisty as a kettle of just-caught fish, Peggony-Po is able to climb a look out mast and catch whales on the high seas—all before the age of 4!  There is just one whale that eludes even that most skilled sailor’s grasp—Cetus!  Peggony-Po is determined to catch that whale—known for wrecking havoc for sailors and, even, land folk.  The young boy ventures off in search of Cetus without even bothering to take a boat!  This high seas adventures, full of astonishing acts and vivid similes, celebrates the many brave African American sailors who worked side by side as equals with white sailors on whaling ships in a time of great inequality.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Freedom Over Me (Ashley Bryan)

Author:  Ashley Bryan

Illustrator:  Ashley Bryan

Target Ages:  8 and up

Genre:  Poetry Historical Fiction

Awards: Coretta Scott King Author Honor, Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, Newbery Honor Book, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award

Publisher Summary: 
Imagine being looked up and down and being valued as less than chair. Less than an ox. Less than a dress. Maybe about the same as…a lantern.

You, an object. An object to sell.

In his gentle yet deeply powerful way, Ashley Bryan goes to the heart of how a slave is given a monetary value by the slave owner, tempering this with the one thing that CAN’T be bought or sold—dreams. Inspired by the actual will of a plantation owner that lists the worth of each and every one of his “workers,” Bryan has created collages around that document, and others like it. 

Sample Lines:
from “Peggy Dreams”
My knowledge makes me
hunger for more. 
Relieving the aches,
the pains,
the suffering
of the slaves
is my chief joy.

from “Athelia”
As slaves,
we do what our owners
expect and demand of us. 
As human beings,
our real lives are
our precious secret.

from “Mulvina Dreams”
Years of driven labor
have not driven
the ancestral thoughts
out of me. 
My memories of teaching—
surrounded by children,
singing songs of our history—
lives always with me.

I began by listening to the audio book (which I recommend). I was immediately mesmerized by this narrative. The different voices bring the characters to life. Then, I read the book again and again. It is really hard to know where to begin discussing this powerful collection of poems.

Author Ashley Bryan sketched out multidimensional characters based on a historical document he came across listing the financial assets of an antebellum south plantation which included several enslaved people. In this historical fiction work, the enslaved characters each have two poems. One describes their role and life on the plantation.  The other is a stream of conscious “dream” revealing their inner desires and our common humanity. 

The central theme woven throughout is a deep longing for freedom and autonomy.  A couple powerful lines epitomize this universal desire: “Owners of the slaves think reading would give us ideas of freedom.  We know that whether we can read or not, we all want to be free.”

In addition, the characters’ unique skills and talents as well as their love for others resonate beyond race, culture, and class. Their feelings of pride for who they are and what they add to the world round out their character profiles.  

In addition, the poems illustrate the importance of their African heritage.  Some of them were born in Africa, so they still have the memories.  Those who are American born are inspired by the stories of their ancestral home.

The stunning watercolor paintings capture the characters' resilience and beauty. Hope, love, and creativity shine through despite living in the worse possible circumstances. Readers or all ages must experience Freedom Over Me.

Historical Connections:
African Kidnapping
Traveling the Middle Passage
Slavery and the American South
Slave Resistance and Runaways
Antebellum Southern Plantations

It is Poetry Friday!  Visit Michelle Kogan's Blog for more great poems.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Sleep Well, Siba and Saba (Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl)

Author:  Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl

Illustrator:  Sandra van Doorn

Target Ages:  3-7

Genre:  Picture Book

Awards:  Kirkus Best Picture Books of 2017, A Might Girl’s 2017 Books of the Year

Publisher Summary:
Forgetful sisters Siba and Saba are always losing something. Sandals, slippers, sweaters – you name it, they lose it. When the two sisters fall asleep each night, they dream about the things they have lost that day. Until, one night, their dreams begin to reveal something entirely unexpected…

First Lines:
Siba and Saba lost things. Not a day slipped by when the sisters hadn’t lost something…somewhere.

Memorable Moment:
And from that day on, Siba and Saba never again dreamed of the things they had lost.  They only dreamed about the special things they would someday see.

Sleep Well, Siba and Saba can be enjoyed on many levels. Young children will love this story of close-knit sisters who have a knack for losing track of their possessions while they are caught up in the moment.  The glimpses of Ugandan culture and the scenic views are enchanting.  The soothing alliterative language floats like dream, making it an ideal bedtime story. 

However, the narrative works on another level.  The sisters are holding on to the past, even in their dreams.  By doing so, they are kept in place—in their childhood. When their dreams begin to look to the future, though, the possibilities are endless. 

Finally, it illustrates the girls’ maturity.  Siba is entrusted with money…for her future.  Saba receives a school uniform…in preparation for a new chapter in her life.  Even as they move forward, it is clear that their family’s love is constant. 

The illustrations add to the dreamy experience.  Eye-catching yellows, greens, and reds fill the pages with lively shapes and fanciful flora.  Realist scenes such as market day and sleepovers are countered with surreal ones with animals wearing shoes and sweaters flying through the air.  

Sleep Well, Siba and Saba is a poignant and whimsical look at childhood—full of beautiful moments in the present as well as hopeful ones for the future.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thunder Underground (Jane Yolen)

Title:  Thunder Underground

Author:  Jane Yolen

Illustrator:   Josee Masse

Target Ages:  5-10

Genre:  Poetry

Publisher Summary: 
What is under your feet?
Ant cities
Fox dens
Rabbit warrens

Now dig deeper.
Forgotten towns
Fossilized bones

What other secrets hide deeper still beneath your shoes?

Favorite Poem:

“Corny Conversations”
It sounds too odd
for us to hear,
corn plants can talk,
not mouth to ear.
But with a strange
and clicking sound,
their taproots speak
beneath the ground.
We don’t know what
corn rootlings say
when they communicate
this way.
But scientific studies
they do this as they
grow and grow
and grow.

I am drawn to poetry that brings out the wonder of the world, utilizes imaginative language, and teaches a little science at the same time.  It makes me wish I was still an elementary teacher.  Poetry brings out the spectacle and awe of the world that science textbooks sorely lack.

Thunder Underground can be used along with several science units to start a lesson or to prompt writing across the curriculum:
  • Insects
  • Plants
  • Paleontology/Dinosaurs
  • Volcanoes
  • Earthquakes
  • Archeology
  • Geology
Yolen uses a variety of poetry styles from haiku to free verse.  Each one brings out a new angle about the hidden world below from the natural to the man-made (subway, basement).  Some of the information is common knowledge for adults, but not necessarily so for children.  Other fascinating facts will surprise many like plants communicating with each other and the sound of beetles walking underground. 

I love Josee Masse’s illustrations.  Each page turn offers a sweeping look at the world—both above and below the surface—with deep colors and stunning depictions. Two inquisitive children (a boy and a girl) are often pictured observing and inquiring. 

Poetry and science collide to make a wondrous experience in Thunder Underground.  It is a must have for an elementary school classroom or home collection.  These poems are sure to encourage children to think about the many unseen and unknown aspects of the world. 

For more great poems and poetry book selections, visit this week's Poetry Friday.

Bravo! Poems about Amazing Hispanics (Margarita Engle)

Title :   Bravo! Poems about Amazing Hispanics Author :   Margarita Engle Illustrator :   Rafael Lopez Target Ages :...