Is it Far to Zanzibar? Poems about Tanzania

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Title: Is It Far To Zanzibar? Poems About Tanzania Author: Nikki Grimes Illustrator: Betsy Lewin
Publisher: New York; Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

Genre: Poetry Level: Intermediate Number of pages: 26 Pub. Date: 2000

Summary:

This is a collection of Poems about the culture, food, and geography of Tanzania. The poems help the reader to better understand the life of the Tanzanians, but are also comedic. The book also uses Swahili in the poems to help teach some of the words that would be used in Tanzania.

Critique:

This book of poems displays two main elements of poetry, Rhythm and Rhyme. Almost all of these poems have at least one of these elements and in many of them they work together. The rhyme helps to keep the rhythm of the poem going.  These elements are used effectively throughout the book. An original view of the Tanzanian culture is shown in these poems. Furthermore, they can be used to learn and have fun at the same time.

Response:

I enjoyed this collection of poetry. I particularly liked how in many of the poems Grimes incorporated the use of Swahili into many of the poems. When she did this many times you could read the next phrase and the English would be incorporated. If not there is a dictionary in the back to look the words up. My favorite poem in this book is “I safari”. It incorporates both rhyme and rhythm and talks all about traveling. It also incorporates quite a lot of Swahili while keeping the rhyme up which I think is impressive.

Assignments:

Before: This book would be a good closer for a lesson of Tanzania. Or it would be a good book to use when talking about the different African countries and their different cultures.

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Diary of a Fairy Godmother

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Title: Diary of a Fairy Godmother Author: Esmé Raji Codell Illustrator: Drazen Kozjan
Publisher: New York; Hyperion Books for Children

Genre: Modern Fantasy Level: Intermediate Number of pages: 170 Pub. Date: 2005

Summary:

Told from the point of view of young Hunky Dory’s diary, this story includes many famous fairy tales, Including: Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, Wishing Wells, the Wizard of Oz and many more. Hunky Dory is all set to be the wickedest witch in her grade. But then she is introduced to Fairy Godmothers and the idea of wishes. After struggling with inner conflict, Hunky decides to drop out of school and pursue a career as a fairy godmother. This enrages her mother and she is kicked out of her house. Hunky struggles to make a name for herself while also staying true to what she really wants.  In the end Hunky helps Cinderella and becomes a full fledged Fairy Godmother while also making amends with her mother and other witch friends.

Critique (Include features of genre featured in class.)

This story is a Humorous Fantasy, the book is not very serious and have may comical moments. This book does a good job in making the reader believe that there is a world of magic with witches and fairy godmothers. Although this book is obviously fantasy, princes get turned into frogs for goodness sakes, there are some traits of realistic fiction. Hunky Dory is a very relatable character and she goes on a journey to find herself. I believe characteristics of becoming one’s own self, realistic fiction are very present in this story. Hunky challenges what is expected from her and ends up becoming something greater than she ever imagined.

Response:

This book was adorable. I really enjoyed how it gave a different viewpoint of classic fairy tales. I thought it was clever how the author wove in the fairy tales so that the story still worked if you had never read them. This made the book more universally entertaining. Also at the end of the book is a long list of fairy tales that focus on witches for further reading. This would allow students to pursue the topic further if it was of great interest to them.

Assignments:

            During: Everyday students will be given 5-10 minutes to write a short diary entry about what happened in class that day.

Boy Meets Boy

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Title: Boy meets Boy Author: David Levithan Illustrator: n/a
Publisher: New York; Alfred A Knopf

Genre: Realistic Fiction Level: Upper Number of pages: 185 Pub. Date: 2003

Summary:

Paul has known he was gay his life but it was confirmed for him in Kindergarten when his teacher wrote it on his report card for his parents. Now a sophomore in high school, Paul is out proud and has found a boy, Noah, who he thinks he might love.  Unfortunately for Paul, life is not that easy and his whole world starts to fall apart. First his best friend for ten years, Joni, finds a new boyfriend who changes how she acts. Then his ex-boyfriend decides he wants to get back with Paul. In the end, Paul figures out how to get everything he wants and the story ends on a happy note.

Critique:

This book is both a becoming your own person and a living in a diverse world book. This is a diverse world book because it talks about a group of people who are normally marginalized, individuals who consider themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual. The main character Paul is gay while other main characters classify themselves as LGBT. This book gives insight into the struggles that these teens face. At the same time this book talks about the importance of friendship. When Paul is at his lowest point it is through talking with his friends that he figures out how to get his life back on track. Finally, this book talks about the importance of family and how different families react to different things, like having a gay child. This ties the two categories this book represents together.

Response:

This book was really good, and I found that it was easy to relate to the main character, Paul. All teenagers feel like their whole world is falling apart every once in a while. It is helpful to see that other individuals, even if they are fictional, struggle with that same feeling. The only real problem I had with this book is trying to keep all the characters and their relationships straight. I made this nifty chart to keep them all straight in my head.

Chart

Another thing I found interesting about this book is that it has struggled, like many books, with teachers and librarians trying to ban it. The main reason for this is that it shows a LGBT viewpoint that many adults believe is unacceptable. They do not want to expose their children to what they think are bad morals. The thing I find interesting about this book is that other than the gay undertones, overall this book is written pretty cleanly. There is no serious swearing, sexual content or talk of politics. If this was a book about a straight individual I don’t believe that as many parents would want to ban this book.

Assignments:

After: Students will compare this to other similar stories with heterosexual main characters.

The Other Side

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Title: The Other Side Author: Jacqueline Woodson Illustrator: E. B. Lewis Publisher: New York; G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Genre: Historical Fiction Level: Beginner Number of pages: 31 Pub. Date: 2001

Summary:

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson could be used a great promoter of social justice in the classroom. The book is the story of two young girls, one black and one white, during the time of segregation. Both girls’ mothers tell them not to cross the fence that divides the town because it is dangerous. Throughout the summer the two girls form a friendship, oblivious of skin color. The book ends on a positive note with both girls agreeing that someday the fence will be knocked down.

Critique:

This book is set in the time period of segregation. There is a fence dividing the white and the black parts of town. However, the place and characters are made up. For this reason I believe that this book is a historical period piece. This book focuses on the social morals during the time period. For example, even though today segregation is frowned upon, in this book the parents don’t seem to think there is any problem with it.

Response:

I thought that this book was very useful for discussing the idea of segregation in the classroom. While the book never out right says that the town is segregated one can assume based on the fence that runs between the two properties. This segregation keeps the two girls from being friends at the beginning of the book but slowly they work toward unity. I think that the end of this book is the best part because it shows a hopeful look of the future.

Assignments:

Students will be split into two groups and each will write a short paragraph about what it is like to be on one side of the fence. Either black or white.

My Friend Rabbit

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Title: My Friend Rabbit Author: Eric Rohmann Illustrator: Eric Rohmann Publisher: Connecticut; Roaring Brook Press

Genre: Caldecott Level: Beginner Number of pages: 33 Pub. Date: 2002

Summary: This is the story of mouse and his friend rabbit. Rabbit tries very hard to be a good friend but no matter what he does it somehow always backfires on him. While playing, Rabbit accidentally throws mouse’s plane into a tree. In attempt to get it back Rabbit stacks many animals up to try and get up high enough to get to the plane. All the animals end up falling but mouse gets his plane. Mouse saves rabbit from the angry animals. The book ends with rabbit messing up again.

Critique:

This book has very few words and relies heavily on its art. The art works it’s way across the page. On one page the art helps to show how high the tower that Rabbit is building out of animals is. The few words in this book very in position following Rabbit and Mouse. On the last page there is also some dialogue that is small and has a line connecting it to the character speaking. Each page has a black border helping to create a clean image. This border also help to show rabbit pulling in different animals from a different area than where the story takes place.

Response:

I thought that this book was adorable. Poor Rabbit tries his best but he just always seems to be messing up. I feel like everyone has a friend like that. This book is good because it shows people that just because a person makes a mistake it doesn’t mean that you cant be friends with them.

Assignments:

            During: Have students name the animals that Rabbit stacks.

A Read Aloud:

Joseph had a Little Overcoat

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Title: Joseph Had a Little Overcoat Author: Simms Taback Illustrator: Simms Taback Publisher: New York; Penguin Group

Genre: Caldecott Level: Beginner Number of pages: 32 Pub. Date: 1999

Summary:

Joseph had a Little Overcoat is about a character named Joseph. Joseph’s overcoat slowly gets worn down until he must make it a jacket then a vest, ect. This continues to happen until Joseph make a button out of his once large overcoat. Then one day he looses the button. This leaves him with nothing. So he makes a story out of his journey. 

Critique:

The coolest thing about this book is the cutouts that make each piece of clothing that Joseph wears smaller. This is a fun and interactive part of the book. The font is always located at the top of the page and the picture at the bottom. This shows that story that was just read, making the pictures necessary. Also the font is yellow, matching the overcoat, and is located on a dark background so that it stands out and is easy to read. There are no borders because they would restrict this book.

Response:

This was not my favorite book. Joseph loosing his button and ending up with nothing seemed a bit ridiculous to me. If I could change one part of this book it would be Joseph loosing his button. I would end with joseph having his button. The loosing of the button and making a book about it seems unrealistic to me. I did like the song that was a part of the book. I feel like this helps to explain the ending of the book a little better, but I still liked the other Caldecott books I read better.

Assignments:

            After: Students will sing, “ I had a little overcoat” that the book is based off of.

A read aloud:

The Blue Sword

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Title: The Blue Sword Author: Robin McKinley Illustrator: n/a Publisher: New York; Puffin Books

Genre: Modern Fantasy Level: Upper Number of pages: 272 Pub. Date: 1982

Summary:

Harry moves to Damar after her father’s death to be closer to her only real family, her brother, Richard. However, when the Hillfolk’s King Corlath comes to town Harry’s life changes. Corlath kidnaps her and she begins to learn the way of the Hillfolk. Soon she is a member of the king’s riders and carries the famous blue sword. She fights with the Hillfolk to save both of the communities that are a part of her life.

Critique:

This book is a high fantasy with characteristics of magical adventures.  Harry is the hero in the story going on a quest to save both her home country and the magical Hillfolk who’s culture she becomes a part of. However, there are also many examples of magic found in this story. Including when Harry is captured and The Hillfolk’s King walks through walls to get to her. This book is set in a made up desert setting in a time that seems stuck between medieval and modern. One characteristic of this book that makes me believe it is particularly good fantasy is that many of the characters don’t believe that the magic is possible. This helps to create a sense of realism in the story that helps to make the magic that much more special.

Response:

I love, love, loved this book. Harry was a very relatable character. She is sad about her father dying but at the same time is excited to be in her new home. Then after the Hillfolk abduct her; she struggles with her fear and curiosity. These feelings are all one’s that most can relate to.  I feel like I am like Harry in that I am curious about surroundings when ever I am some place new. I have moved seven times and each time although it is frightening I am interested to find out about the new surrounding.

Assignments:

            During: Students will imagine they are in Harry’s place and write about what they would do.

Where the Red Fern Grows

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Title: Where the Red Fern Grows Author: Wilson Rawls Illustrator: N/a
Publisher: Garden City; Doubleday Company Inc.

Genre: Realistic Fiction Level: Upper Number of pages: 212 Pub. Date: 1961

Summary:

This is the story of a young boy, Billy, who wants hunting dogs more than anything. After trying everything to get his parents to buy them for him he decides to start saving up to buy the dogs himself. After two years of saving he buys two puppies. He names his dog Old Dan and Little Ann.  The dogs are wonderful hunting dogs and end up winning a championship competition. Then one horrible night Billy and his dogs encounter a mountain lion. After an intense fight, the mountain lion dies. Unfortunately, Dan and Ann don’t make it. Billy is left wondering why his dogs had to die. As they move to a new town Billy goes back to his dogs graves and finds a red fern, a plant that legends say can only be planted by an angel, has grown over them.

Critique:

This book can be classified under two different realistic fiction categories. The first is the becoming one’s own person category. The book talks about Billy becoming a man and also describes his relationship with his family members. Also I would say that Ann and Dan become a part of Billy’s family. Also, this book could be classified as a Coping with problems of the human condition book. At the end of this book, Billy has to deal with the death of both of his dogs. Finally, this book is set in a realistic setting, with realistic characters but they aren’t real.

Response:

This is the saddest book I have ever read in my entire life. I knew that the dogs weren’t going to make it from the first couple pages of the book. However, when they finally pass away, I cried like a baby. It was so depressing for me that Little Ann last her will to live when Old Dan died. Also I felt so bad for Billy. Anyone who ever had a pet knows how hard it is to loose them. Rawls does a wonderful job of pulling the heart strings of the reader and making them feel Billy’s pain.

Assignments:

During: Students will write a summary of what happens each time this book is read.

Abraham Lincoln

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Title: Abraham Lincoln Author: Amy L. Cohn and Suzy Schmidt Illustrator: David A. Johnson Publisher: New York; Scholastic Press

Genre: Biography Level: Beginner Number of pages: 38 Pub. Date: 2002

Summary:

This book discusses the life of Abraham Lincoln from birth to his death. Rather than discussing just the facts that are normally of interest in a classroom, this book discusses Abe’s appearance and his love for reading.  The book ends showing the Lincoln memorial and talking about after a busy life Lincoln finally gets to rest.  

Critique:

This biography is a fictional portrait of Abraham Lincoln’s life.  While it is based on facts, there are no primary sources used in the book. The quotes from the book are made up and we have no way of knowing if the events in the story happen exactly as the book says they do. While this book does talk about much of Abraham Lincoln’s life there are some gaps. For example the book leaves out that Lincoln looses his son, it doesn’t talk about Gettysburg and the book leaves out the building of the Lincoln memorial even though it is featured in the book. If these events were added this book would become a better  biography.

Response:

I like the fact that this book focused on more than just his presidency. This helps to give a bigger picture to Abraham Lincoln’s life. Also the last page with the timeline helps to give a larger overview of what Abe’s life looks like. Some of these dates are not discussed in the book so this timeline helps to tie together his life from what the book discusses and any previous knowledge students have.

Assignments:

            During: Students relate what happens in Abe’s life to things they have experienced in life.  

 

What’s Their Story? Cleopatra

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Title: What’s Their Story? Cleopatra Author: Haydn Middleton Illustrator: Barry Wilkinson Publisher: Oxford; Oxford University Press

Genre: Biographies Level: Intermediate Number of pages: 31 Pub. Date: 1997

Summary:

This book gives a summary of Cleopatra’s life. It skips over a lot of her early life and mainly talks about her life after she marries her brother Ptolemy in 51 BC. The book discusses how she meets Julius Caesar and Marc Antony and has children with both of them. Finally, it explains how she kills herself rather than become prisoner to the Roman General Octavian.  

Critique:

This book is a Fictional portrait of Cleopatra. While it seems to be based on careful research, there are no primary resources. Without these resources there is no way of knowing if the events happened the way Middleton says that they do. On the other hand, this book is more fact than fiction meaning that it is not a biographical fiction.

Response:

I have a large previous knowledge of Cleopatra, and have even taught a class about her two years ago. I find that this book sticks to the facts relatively well. While it leaves out some facts about her life, like her three sisters, it doesn’t stretch any facts in the text. One problem I have with this book is that they describe Cleopatra as tricking the Roman generals into loving her. This is a biased opinion that the Roman’s spread during the time period. Inn actuality there is no way of knowing if Cleopatra loved the men or not. Another problem with this book are the illustrations. Wilkinson portrays Cleopatra with straight black hair with bangs. This is a normal mistake and is based in are preconceived notions about Cleopatra. In fact Cleopatra wore wigs with curly hair.

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However, despite these problems I believe that this book gives a relatively strong portrayal of Cleopatra if paired with other literature on her.

Assignments:

Before: Discuss the assumptions about Cleopatra and the accuracy of any previous knowledge of Cleopatra.