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Golem

Wisniewski, David (1996). Golem. New York: Clarion Books.

This story tells the Tale of Jewish Rabbi Loew who creates a Golem character to save the Jews of Prague from oppression.

Genre: Legend

Grade: 4th-8th

Readers who would like this book: Children who enjoy “dark” stories, children who enjoy history, children who enjoy legends

Rating and Response:5; This story is a truly compelling one, and the combination of the illustrations and text could not be more perfect. Although I think that this story could be a little frightening or dramatic for young ones due to its solid emphasis on good and evil, I think that the gray area provided by the Golem character can teach children a valuable lesson. This book won the Caldecott Honor in 1997 for illustration, and it could not be more deserving! Some of the major criteria used to determine this award are as follows, and I think that Golem fits them all.

  1. Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed;
  2. Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;
  3. Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;
  4. Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures;
  5. Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience

The paper collage like depictions of the tale are fabulous and truly do fulfill all of the above criteria.

Question: What is oppression? Why does oppression happen?

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The Sandwhich Swap

Al Adullah, R., DiPucchio, K., & Tusa, T. (2010). The sandwhich swap. New York, NY: Disney-Hyperion.

Best friends Lily and Salma struggle with accepting one another’s  taste in lunch. When a food fight breaks out, their disagreement put their friendship to the ultimate test.

Genre: Fiction

Grade: 1st-3rd

Readers who will like this book: Children who value friendship, children who enjoy stories involving, cultural diversity, children who like stories involving tolerance.

Response and rating: 5, I liked this book a lot. I think it’s a great book for teaching children about tolerance, because its message is funny and lighthearted and I think it would be relatively easy for children to understand it. I think it would be a great story to read in class to break down and educate children on some of the cultural and ethnic barriers in society!

Question: Have you and a friend ever had a disagreement about something? How did you solve it?

Reading Strategy: Reading Logs (Tompkins pgs. 113-115)

A reading log’s primary purpose involves a student considering the book their reading in a deeper and more meaningful sense. Students could both draw a picture and write a short note about what the  book has taught them. I think using this strategy would be great for this book because it could serve as a sort of formative assessment for the teacher to see whether or not students are correctly receiving the message of tolerance. I also think that it would be an appropriate strategy  because it would allow children to privately express their  feelings surrounding a sometimes sensitive topic.

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Junkyard Wonders

Title: Junkyard Wonders

Bibliographic information: Polacco, P. (2010). Junkyard Wonders. New York: Philomel Books

Brief annotation: Trisha asked to stay with her dad for a year so she didn’t have to be in a special class. However, when she gets to class she finds out that she is in the Junkyard. At first she hates that fact but she learns that everyone is a genius.

Genre: Realistic picture book

Grade level: 3rd – 5th grade

Who will like this book: I think that readers who have trouble in school, with classes or fitting in, will like this book.

Rating: 4 – I really enjoyed this book. I think it sends a great message that even though not everyone is the same on the outside, we are all geniuses in some way.

Question: Have you ever been made fun of for something you do differently than others? How did you feel? What did you do about it?

Learning strategy: For this book I chose the Hot Seat activity. Students will take on the persona of a character, or author, and be interviewed by the other students.

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The Rough-Face Girl

Bibliographic Information: Martin, R., & Shannon, D. (1998). The rough-face girl. New York, NY: Puffin Books.

Brief Annotation: In this Algonquin version of the Cinderella story, the Rough-Face Girl and her two beautiful but haughty sisters wish to marry the mysterious Invisible Being- but first they must prove that they have seen him.

Genre: Folklore (Fairytale)

Grade Level: K and up

Readers who will like this: Readers who enjoy Cinderella; readers who love nature; readers who enjoy stories about Native Americans

Rating/Response: 4; I thought this was a lovely book. I thoroughly enjoyed Shannon’s illustrations, particularly the pictures of how the rough-face girl sees the Invisible Being. I loved that in this version of Cinderella, the Rough-Face Girl provides her own “ball gown,” and she is the pursuer rather than the pursued. I am always concerned about the accuracy and acceptability of stories depicting cultures that the author(s) are not from (such as Arrow to the sun). However, my brief research on this book turned up only one argument against the validity of The rough-face girl, and that argument could easily be applied to all retellings of the Grimm version of the Cinderella story, as well- that the author had played down the bleaker and more violent aspects of the story. Therefore, I would feel more comfortable sharing this story with a class than some of the other books that I have read.

One question you would ask before a read aloud: This book is about Cinderella. How many of you know the story of Cinderella? (Note if there are any children who are unfamiliar with Cinderella; adjust prompt as needed). As I am reading this story, I want you to think of two ways this story is the same as the Cinderella story that you know, and two ways this story is different.

Reading Strategy: Venn Diagram (Tompkins p.144-147)

Venn Diagrams would be a great strategy to use when doing comparison during a folktale unit. I would read two versions of the Cinderella story- The rough-face girl and a version that most of the kids would be familiar with, such as a book version of Disney’s Cinderella. I would ask the students before reading The rough-face girl to think of ways that it is the same and that it is different from the other version of Cinderella. After reading, I would ask the students, in small groups, to complete a Venn Diagram with main plot points and details that were the same in both stories, unique to Disney’s Cinderella, and unique to The rough-face girl. This strategy would work well for a folktale comparison because both stories would be fresh in the students’ minds, it would help sharpen their confidence in comparing and contrasting, it would appeal to students with visual and mathematical/logical learning styles, and would allow me to integrate two different subject areas (math and literacy).

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And Tango Makes Three

Richardson, J., & Parnell, P. (2005). And tango makes three. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.

This book tells the true story of a unique penguin couple at the Central Park Zoo who hatch, raise, and nurture a unique baby penguin of their own!

Genre: Nonfiction

Grade: 1st-4th

Readers who will like this book: Children who like animals, children who have “nontraditional” families, children who like true stories.

Response and rating: 5, This book is truly amazing. I love the fact that it is a nonfiction story about a gay couple essentially written in a form that children can understand and relate to. Many critics of the book say that it is poorly written and lacks any real beauty and flow, but I disagree. I think that the simplistic writing allows for more reader interpretation of the book’s message. After all, I think that because it is nonfiction, readers will take many different messages from the book. I think that more appreciation needs to be placed on the authors’ desire to share the story rather than on how perfect the writing is.

Reading Strategy: Venn Diagram (Tompkins pgs.144-147)

Lately in my fieldwork, I have seen my host teacher use Venn Diagrams quite regularly. This strategy involves students first brainstorming a list of the similarities and differences between two things, and then writing the list into a Venn Diagram in the appropriate spaces. For And Tango Makes Three, I think it would be great to create a Venn Diagram with students that compares their own family to Tango’s family. The goal of this strategy would be to help students realize that all families are loving, supportive, and wonderful.

A Venn Diagram would be appropriate for this book because, one, it can span across a large age range. The complexity of what is included in the diagram could be easily adjusted based on this. Second, it would be a great way to help students relate the possibly unfamiliar concept reflected in the story to their own lives in a positive light!

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Amelia Rules! The Whole World’s Crazy

Bibliographic Information: Gownley, J. (2006). Amelia rules: The whole world’s crazy. New York, NY: Antheneum Books for Young Readers

Brief Annotation: This graphic novel is a collection of five short stories featuring Amelia, her newly divorced parents, her aunt, and her band of misfit friends as they navigate the trials of growing up.

Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Grade Level: 2-7

Readers who will like this: Readers who are transitioning from picture books to novels; readers who enjoy graphic novels; readers with “non-traditional” families; readers who enjoy books that push the boundaries

Rating/Response: 4; I found Amelia to be a bright, spunky, and strong character. Amelia’s interactions with her parents felt realistic and didn’t shy away from exploring the variety of emotions and doubts that a child with newly divorced parents can experience. I particularly enjoyed Amelia’s interactions with her Aunt Tanner. I enjoyed the stylistic choices Gownley made, particularly Amelia breaking the fourth wall. There were some problematic aspects for me. While I loved that this book acknowledged that children are far more aware of the adult world than most grown-ups would like to give them credit for, I did feel that the book went a little too far on a few occasions (such as the first appearance of Tanner, when she appears to only be wearing an over-sized t-shirt). I was also very uncomfortable with the fact that the white, blonde, skinny girls were being portrayed as more desirable both in terms of friends and potential crushes than the frumpy brunette. This is a book that I might not choose for a read aloud or required reading, but I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable having it be a part of my classroom library.

One question you would ask before a read aloud: What makes a family? (I would particularly like to address this with the older range of children who might read this book, and ask them if Amelia, Reggie, Pajamaman, and Rhonda can be considered a family.)

Reading Strategy: Character Blogs (Yopp & Yopp, 2010). In a Character Blog, students create blog posts as if they were one of the characters in the text. This would be a great strategy for Amelia rules! The whole world’s crazy. There are several different characters, and students could choose the character they connect to the most. Using Character Blogs helps students to understand both the events in the story and the deeper feelings and motivations of the characters. This could help students understand the motivations behind some of Rhonda’s actions, or put words to the silent Pajamaman. I would mostly use this strategy for Amelia rules! The whole world’s crazy because the nature of the narration is in itself similar to a blogger’s voice; thus, Amelia is modeling the strategy for the students. They could then employ the strategy for later works.

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What a Scare, Jesse Bear

White Carlstrom, N. (1999). What a scare, Jesse Bear. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.

Jesse Bear has a fabulous time engaging in all things Halloween, including carving pumpkins, picking out his costume, and even trick-or-treating!

Genre: Fiction

Grade: PreK-2nd

Readers who will like this book: Children who celebrate Halloween, children who like to play dress up, children who like rhyming stories with lots of rhythm!

Response and rating: 2; Simply put, I thought this book was too boring for a classroom context. The storyline was very simple and while this may be good for younger children, I had a hard time picturing where this could fit into a diverse classroom context. The book is the epitome of a traditional Halloween book, but one thing that I did like is that the characters are bears rather than human children. I think that I might read this book to my students just for fun, but it is not something that I would structure a large plan around.

Question: What is your favorite thing about Halloween? Why?