Monday, January 31, 2011

Creature by Andrew Zuckerman

I dare you to look at each and every photograph in this coffee-table sized book by Zuckerman and not want to start an inquiry project. I dare you to look at the first few simian portraits and put it down. I dare you not to be full of wonder and not to marvel at the animals contained beneath the white linen covers. The blue tongued skink, the African lion, the tokay gecko, the cat. Certainly the cat. The beauty, the complexity, and the varieties of existence on the planet we call home cannot help but persuade the peruser to keep turning the pages. The pages are wordless, and the collection of portraits is supplemented by a photo index with classification data at the back (science teachers take note!). While the heft and format of this book makes it unsuitable for circulation in our environments, it is the perfect open book display, the essential call to inquiry for a co-taught unit on animals, and a stress-free read for anyone who walks into the library.

Zuckerman, Andrew. Creature. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2007.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Copper Sun by Sharon Draper

After watching her entire family murdered, fifteen-year-old Amari’s idyllic life becomes a living nightmare as she is forced to march to the coast in irons and travels the Middle Passage to face a lifetime of slavery in the Carolinas. Will she ever see her love again? Will her plan to escape to the South really work? Draper’s work of historical fiction alternates perspective from Amari to Polly, a fifteen-year-old white indentured servant whose responsibility it is to train Amari in the duties and conduct of a slave. The girls’ relationship blossoms into a friendship as each discovers surprising similarities in their plights and histories, despite their preconceived notions of each other. This compelling read would naturally supplement any unit on the Middle Passage, slavery in America, and colonialism in America as Draper includes historical information on Fort Mose, a Spanish colony that guaranteed freedom to any escaped slave. Partner Copper Sun with The Middle Passage by Tom Feelings, which can also be found in your library.

Draper, Sharon. Copper Sun. New York: Simon Pulse, 2006.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection edited by Matt Dembicki

Sneaky, mischievous animals characterize the twenty-one Native American trickster tales in this compact collection. While this book will probably not appeal to students who are looking for graphic novels in general, it is certainly valuable as a teaching tool. Editor and artist Dembicki put together teams of storytellers and artists, a process he explains in a note to readers, and Native American storytellers make the tales authentic. This is a good thing, but it also means the writing may seem stilted, abrupt, and strange to students unfamiliar with the vernacular. Which brings me back to mentioning the value of this resource for teaching units on fables, folktales and mythology. Some of my favorites are the stories that explain the history of things, like how the rabbit’s tail came to look the way it does now in “Rabbit’s Choctaw Tail Tale,” and the story behind the alligator’s scales in “How the Alligator Got His Brown, Scaly Skin.” In these stories, tricksters get their comeuppance, but in others, tricksters are the victors. My favorite of the latter type is “Giddy Up, Wolfie,” an outrageous story about a rabbit who is in love with a wolf and he tricks her into leaving her wolf boyfriend for him. The illustrations throughout the collection are fantastic -- beautiful, quirky and varied, making this a useful resource for teaching art as well as ELA.

Dembicki, Matt, ed. Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Books, 2010.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sneak Preview: Carmen by Walter Dean Myers

This urban retelling of the tale of a beautiful and sensuous woman who has a strong loyalty to her people and a deep need to be free will resonate, thematically, with readers who have felt the pull of loyalty vs. the law. Myers dusts off the classic Carmen, often found these days in opera houses and ballet performances, and brings it to life in East Harlem, with a cast of over 20 characters-- perfect for a classroom reading. The play, which is broken up into two acts with two scenes per act, promises to lend itself to a week long unit in an ELA class at just over 100 pages.

I was lucky enough to pick up a free advanced uncorrected proof of this title at the ALA mid-winter meeting in San Diego earlier this month. Because that means that none of our students have read the book yet, I can’t tell you with any accuracy how they’ll respond. I can just say, without giving away too much, that readers who found themselves hooked on the form of Monster and Riot have something to look forward to on April 26th, 2011 (publication date) or whenever it makes its way into their libraries. In the meantime: has anyone seen the Spanish film by the same name starring Paz Vega? I’d love to hear if there are any clips that would pair well for a class. This would be a nice read to contrast with Street Love by the same author.

Myers, Walter Dean. Carmen. New York: Egmont, 2011.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Truce by Jim Murphy

Can you imagine exchanging gifts and singing Christmas carols with men who had killed your friends and been trying to kill you for months? This was the case for many British and German soldiers fighting each other along the Western Front during WWI. Beginning with a succinct first chapter that chronicles the events, tensions, and miscommunication that led to WWI, Jim Murphy’s Truce then moves on to describe life in the trenches, focusing on how the shared experience and short distance between trenches nurtured friendly exchanges between enemies. This shared camaraderie led to the Christmas day truce in which British and German soldiers climbed out of their trenches into “No Man’s Land” to celebrate the holiday, often against the orders of their commanding officers. Written for a middle school audience, containing clear maps and fascinating photographs, this book would be an excellent resource for a social studies unit on the causes of WWI, trench warfare, the Western Front, and peace studies. Try pairing this book with The Enemy by Davide Cali and Serge Bloch.

Murphy, Jim. Truce. New York: Scholastic Press, 2009.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rainforest by Thomas Marent

Few things are freakier to our New York City students than purple beetles, bright blue crayfish, and iridescent spiders. These and so many more wonderfully interesting-looking creatures are portrayed page after page in this collection of colorful and vivid photographs taken by Thomas Marent in rainforests all around the world. Thankfully, every picture gets a caption, which is often necessary for figuring out what the subject is exactly. In addition to the close-ups of animals and insects, there are pictures of waterfalls, trees and other plant-life, within the dense forest and sweeping landscape shots taken from above. The rainforest really looks like it might be paradise until the reader stumbles upon the pictures of the many varieties of tarantulas and jumping spiders that call these forests home. This book is a fantastic choice for many students, including struggling and reluctant readers -- the pictures are so captivating; it is hard to avoid getting sucked in.

Marent, Thomas. Rainforest. New York: DK Publishing, 2006.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kids Draw Anime by Christopher Hart

Sometimes the library gets readers excited about reading. Sometimes the library gets non-readers excited about reading. And sometimes the library helps non-readers tolerate being in a reading space -- while they maintain that they do not want to read -- by providing them with drawing books. Those drawing books can help with reading. In the case of Kids Draw Anime, we have a drawing book that sneakily offers its readers some help decoding manga through its instructional “adding expressions” section on page 15. I recommend this book to readers looking for a how-to drawing book, and teachers who may be pioneering instruction with manga and need a visual reference for how to read anime expressions.

Hart, Christopher. Kids Draw Anime. New York: Watson-Guphill Publications, 2002.

Monday, January 17, 2011

An American Plague by Jim Murphy

If a deadly and contagious sickness struck your city, and the wealthier classes began to evacuate, would you stay, and help your fellow citizens? Or would you leave with your family and head for safety? Appropriately subtitled The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, the story begins one hot summer in Philadelphia when all were faced with this question. This non-fiction title does not have a cover that draws the viewer in, nor does it have an opening line that grabs you by your neck and forces you to keep reading. But if you can start on Chapter 2, with its grisly death scene, or pitch students a story about a plague that attacked the United States before it extended beyond its current eastern coast, the reader will be richly rewarded with a harrowing story of death and perseverance, racism and heroism, politics and a glimpse at life in the U.S. just after its revolution. George Washington and the Free African Society are major players in this 139 page title which is followed by sources and an index. Pair it with Anderson’s Fever 1793 (click here for scholastic's lesson plans to teach it), or assign it as supplemental reading to students studying 16th century American History. An interesting point of contrast with contemporary literary responses to the AIDS crisis, this just might interest future public health advocates and policy makers in their course of study.

Murphy, Jim. An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. New York: Clarion Books, 2003.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess

Imagine the man found guilty of raping you when you were twelve was being released from prison after serving three years of a nine year sentence. Now imagine that man is your father, and your mother couldn’t be more thrilled that he’s coming home. That’s the situation for fifteen-year-old Meredith in Such a Pretty Girl. The reader follows Meredith during her frightening first encounters with her father, and glimpses the abuse she suffered through flashbacks. Andy, another victim of her father’s, has always been Meredith’s rock, but begins to break when her father is back on the scene. Meredith is fraught with conflict over preserving her own safety or putting herself in harm’s way to make sure her father can never abuse another child. This book is gripping and suspenseful from beginning to end. Students appreciate the injustice of Meredith’s situation, her resilience, and the satisfying ending.

Wiess, Laura. Such a Pretty Girl. New York: Pocket Books, 2007.

Monday, January 3, 2011

I and I: Bob Marley by Tony Medina, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson

Tony Medina explains, “[I and I] discourages thinking of oneself solely as an individual but instead as part of a community.” Written in verse that imagines Marley’s life recounted in his voice, this biography of Bob Marley explores these communities, the childhood, religious, and political roots that came to shape Marley’s signature reggae style. Watson illustrates each poem with a boldly colored painting that captures the moment and mood. The book ends with a Notes section where the biographical details and information that motivated each poem are explained in accessible language. Many of our students are drawn to Bob Marley’s story, but others may come to this book out of an interest in poetry, art, or biography in general. Teachers may use this book to teach biography, first-person perspective, and poetry.

Medina, Tony and Jesse Joshua Watson, illus. I and I: Bob Marley. New York: Lee & Low Books Inc., 2009.