Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Misfits

James Howe

The Misfits is a novel written by James Howe. The target audience of this book is fifth to seventh grade students.
-“ A fast, funny, tender story that will touch readers.” (School Library Journal)
-“A timely, sensitive, laugh-out-loud must read.” (Voice of Youth Advocates)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The Misfits is the story of a group of social “outcasts” and their struggle within the social norms of school. The gang of five (made up of Skeezie, Joe, Colin, Bobby, and Addie) want to change their school for the better and decide to form a political party in their school election called the Freedom Party. The gang wants the school’s only African American student to be the president of the party. The Freedom party is broken up due to not having permission by the school and they reassemble to form the No-Name Party that has a central focus around no name-calling in school. Unfortunately the No-Name Party looses in the school election but based on their efforts the schools adopts a no name-calling day. This book is more than just a school election race. It focuses on interpersonal relationships and the struggles that students face through bullying and name-calling.
This book really speaks out as an anti-bullying message. It is an issue that is faced within schools on a daily basis and it can have last effects on students whether it is physically or psychologically. Students should be exposed to a novel like The Misfits because I feel it is important to have students understand and know what the effects of bullying are. Having students being exposed to a narrator who tells the story through a victim’s eye can really open up the minds of students and let the see into their world. When bullying takes place, many students do not understand the repercussions it may have on someone and the effects may be long lasting. Bullying should not be tolerated in schools even if it name-calling. The physical abuse sometimes does not out weigh the verbal abuse that goes on in the hallways and classrooms of schools and it is extremely detrimental to self-esteem. Even though this book is aimed at fifth through seventh graders, an anti bullying message should be expressed to students no matter the age. Visit this anti-bullying website for parents, students, and educators to find out more information: http://www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/kids/ and http://www.antibullying.net/
The Misfits can also be considered a controversial book. Joe is a character in the book that is confused about his sexuality. This can be a touchy subject to talk about within a classroom but it is something that students might be able to relate to if they too are confused about their sexual orientation and it should be known that it is something that occurs within other people as well. Joe is afraid to talking about his confusion and does not know how to feel. There is also a list generated in the book of names that Joe is called such as queer, fag, faggot, and gay. These terms might not be familiar with all students but a simple explanation can keep from a classroom discussion getting out of hand. Teachers can explain how these words can be hurtful and damaging when used. Exposing students to this can help them cope with the idea that they might be confused as well and that is okay. Schools should be a safe environment where students should not feel afraid and teachers should be open to their students if they are confiding in a struggle. Even though this book does have some controversy in it, it should not be banned from classrooms. There are a lot of great life lessons and messages to be discussed within a classroom that students should be exposed to.
“Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirit”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Multicultural Picture Books

My America is written Jan Spivey Gilchrist and illustrations by Gilchrist and Ashley Bryan. The target audience of this picture book is first or second grade students.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Summary: This multicultural book highlights that America is made up of many different types of people, not everyone is the same race or ethnicity and that is what makes the United States unique and open to opportunity.
This picture book is different than most picture books that I have come across, especially ones dealing with multicultural issues. The text of this book is composed of a poem. All of the text is an on going poem that stretches through out the pages. The poem speaks to the readers as well, asking them questions such as “have you seen my country?”, “have you seen my land?”, “have you seen my people?”, etc. This idea of questioning helps readers stop and think about their surroundings and what their aspects of their world are made up of. Diversity is a huge idea within schools in this new and ever changing day and age where it is more crucial than ever to explain to students that everyone does have different backgrounds but everyone still is excepted. It is okay to be different and everyone as a whole is who makes up communities.
To go along with the beautiful poem of the text, the illustrations are incredibly detailed. They are vibrant and full of color and complement the text well. The illustrations do a good job to showing different genders and races of people. As students read along with the book, they want and should be able to identify with the people within it to make it more personable and meaningful. The poem as a whole is also written all together in the back of the book on the last page to more completely represent the poem since it is broken down by page within the story. This makes it easy to photocopy to potentially pass out to the class to use with an activity.
This book is a great introduction into different writing activities. Students can do any number of activities such as writing their own poems on culture, identity, ethnic backgrounds, or gender. Writing does not even need to be a poem. Students can write in any format relating it back to any of the possibilities related above.
Visit this website for multicultural lesson plans and resources: http://www.cloudnet.com/~edrbsass/edmulticult.htm

The Skin You Live In is a multicultural picture book written by Michael Tyler and illustrated by David Lee Csicsko. This book was originally intended to be used within the Chicago Children’s Museum located at Navy Pier in Chicago, IL. The Chicago Children’s museum is a lively learning experience that allows children to take adventures with their families and friends and explore the cultural diversity that is present in Chicago. For more information visit: www.ChiChildrensMuseum.org
The target audience for this picture book is preschool through second grade students of all different races and backgrounds.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Summary: This book points out that one’s skin is something that is unique to every person but it is also something that everyone has is common. Skin protects us, keeps us warm, radiates, and allows us to be who we are! No matter the skin color, everyone has something in common.
This book would be great for any early elementary school classroom. It simply explains that skin color should not matter who you are and even though the color may be different it serves the same purpose for everyone. It is similar but different at the same time and this book really hits home with this message, especially at the end of the book. This is great for younger students because schools are becoming more and more diverse and not all students may understand why they look different from one another. Stressing that is not a bad thing and that there are similarities help students understand that it okay to be different from one another and not to be scared of being different. The book is unique with it’s rhyming; sing songy lyrics that grace the pages. According to T&J, the lyrical flow of the text makes it a great read aloud to students and helps push the story along.
Other picture books that are similar to The Skin You Live In or would complement nicely in a text set would be Mem Fox’s Whoever You Are, We are Different, We Are The Same by Bobbi Kates, The Colors of Us  by Karen Katz, and What I like About Me by Allia Zobel Nolan. All these are great multicultural books that can be used in a classroom and expose students to different aspects of multiculturalism. Check out amazon.com or other book websites that provide reviews to find out more information.

A Rainbow of Friends is written and illustrated by P.K. Hallinan. This multicultural picture book appeals to students in preschool, kindergarten, or first grade.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Summary: A Rainbow of Friends highlights the different attributes that friends can have such as clothing, skin color, ethnicity, and gender. Even though all children are different and can appear different, it does not mean that they cannot be friends!
“Still, each friend is given a shore of our hearts so no one feels different, unloved, or apart”.
This would be an idea picture book for kindergarteners. Kindergarten is the first opportunity for most students to start to make friends and be exposed to different types of other children who may be different from them appearance wise. Especially with schools becoming more culturally diverse, I believe that as teachers it is our responsibility to expose students to different cultural aspects early so they can gain an understanding and promote a level of respect towards one another. A Rainbow of Friends is full of great quotes about acceptance such as “An though we may wander a bit wide or far, our friends still accept us the way that we are” and “ Our goals can be reached with the greatest success by trusting that others are doing their best”. The words of this book are inspiring and motivating, urging students to be accepting and know that is it okay to be different and that everyone can be accepted.
(This is a website for a lesson plan that goes along with A Rainbow of Friends! http://makeworksheets.com/samples/lessonplans/daily.html)

Not only do books similar to this promote awareness but they can also be linked to prevention. Bullying is another big issue within schools right now and being aware of cultural differences, whether it is physical appearance or ethnic backgrounds, students gain and understand that could reduce bullying. Bullying usually results when students are unfamiliar with something or feel threatened by others and if students are aware of differences and know how to accept them, it could do wonders in the school. Once again if this starts at an early age, like kindergarten, it is something that students can take with them all through out their academic careers.
Click here to visit a bullying prevention website for both children and adults.
The illustrations do a great job at showing diversity. There are different genders and races of children represented through out the book all interacting with one another. Visually, this sends a positive message that everyone can play games, talk, sing, and do a variety of activities together. The illustrations are also vibrant and eye catching which helps draw the readers in and to become more involved with the story. The children throughout the book are also drawn and young, kindergarten aged children that relates to the audience for this picture book.
This a fantastic classroom must have for primary grade teachers or parents!  

The Woodson Experience

I have never read anything books by author Jacqueline Woodson until our Reading and Responding to Children’s Literature class. To be honest, I never even had heard of her. But overall, I am definitely happy that I have been exposed to her work and writing style. It is unique and not quite like anything that I have ever read and I feel that her voice really speaks through the text. I felt a lot of different emotions while I was reading her work as well. I felt sadness, happiness, and anger. The events of her work really move the reader and provoke emotion, something that a great writer can do. It is just one thing to write words on a page but to really bring out emotion and getting readers to think is a gift that not every author has.
Many of her books deal with the same themes and ideas. After having our class discussion I discovered that her books deal with African American characters within an urban setting. Many of them are faced with a struggle such as family issues or interpersonal and also tend to be heavy, weighing a lot on the main characters. However, these are great issues to expose students to within a classroom because it is reality and could happen to anymore. Something traumatic could have happened to any one of the students in a classroom so they may be able to relate to the experiences that the characters are feeling in the books.
Because of the intensity of the issues that she writes with, her work can be seen as controversial. I do not have a problem with controversial work as long as it is taught in a way that students will be able to understand and take away something. I would not object to using Woodson’s work within my classroom. I believe it would be great exposure for students and she also writes from an African American point of view. This can help students gain an insight to how people from other races portray aspects of our world and their reactions to it. It definitely gives a different perspective that many students are not used to.
Jacqueline Woodson writes picture books and novels. Check out her work at her website: http://www.jacquelinewoodson.com/

My Many Colored Days

My Many Colored Days is written by the one and only Dr. Seuss and with illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. The target audience of this picture book is kindergarten through second grade students.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Summary: This fun rhyming book highlights the different emotions people can feel on any given day and explains that it is okay to feel different emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, and many more. Ultimately, you are still always you and it is natural to feel different feelings.
This is a traditional Dr. Seuss book with the clever rhyming and catchy phrases and an underlying message that speaks to the reader. But overall it shies away from the made up fantasy worlds typically seen from Dr. Seuss with the crazy characters and made up words. This book highlights more on issues that a reader can really relate to on a daily basis, specifically emotions. I think it really speaks to younger students that it is okay to different emotions. It is normal to feel sad, happy, and angry just as the books shows. It is all part of life and students need to understand how to cope. This book displays the different emotions through the illustrations as well. For example, when the book talks about being sad and blue, the illustrations are blue and darker colored to show that that’s might how people feel. The overall message is really important as well. Even though people go through different feelings in the end you are still you. Students might feel timid and scared that they feel a certain way but it is important to explain that you are still you. Another great aspect about the illustrations is that they are also illustrated with animals as well as pictures of people. The animals are kid friendly and are related to the emotions as well, which also helps students relate and understand the story better.
Student can do an activity along with this book by creating their own drawing or painting of how they are feeling. They can represent their feelings with different colors, symbols, and ideas that allow them to be creative and express their feelings. Students sometimes need to be exposed to different outlets to express their emotions and art can be a fantastic way. 
Dr. Seuss

Visit http://www.seussville.com to get recourses, book ideas, and information on anything Dr. Seuss related!

Leo The Late Bloomer

Leo the Late Bloomer is written by Robert Kraus and illustrated by Jose Aruego. The target audience of this picture book is first and second grade boys and girls.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Summary: Leo the Late Bloomer is the story of a tiger that is not developing like all the other tiger’s and his father is concerned. This mother is reassuring and says that everyone develops at their own pace. Leo eventually blooms just as his other animal friend have.
This is a fantastic story to use in a classroom to talk about difference and development with students at an early age. Many students go through periods where they feel they might not be as athletic, artistic, or less skilled in academic subjects as their peers and this book talks about how it is okay to feel that way because everyone develops at their own rate. There is a lot of differentiation of skills within a classroom and using this picture book can be a great way to convey that message to students. Sometimes students cannot understand why they are not like their peers but this book really speaks that it is okay to be different. Today there are a lot of problems with bullying and students being picked on for being different. This book can be tied into an anti-bullying message also in that even though everyone can develop differently, everyone makes it eventually.
The illustrations are really well done too. They were created from watercolors and the images are extremely vibrant and eye catching not to mention kid friendly. They clearly depict that is happening with the story and goes nicely along with the text on each page. The other “developing” animals are always shown happy and having a good time with friends while Leo is always shown unhappy with a frown on his face until he reaches that point where he blooms. This can relate to students in that this is exactly how they may be feeling and they can see it in a visual way, especially for learners who are more visual instead of auditory.
Leo The Late Bloomer also comes with an option of an audio CD that may be a different approach to having students listen to the story. Students can use it to read to themselves with a CD player possibly at a station within the classroom or if possible all students can have a copy of the book and listen along with the CD as a class.
Click here for a lesson plan over Leo The Late Bloomer.
Visit this link to see different ways to help children with self confidence: http://www.squidoo.com/confidentchildren

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Locomotion: Jacqueline Woodson

 Locomotion is written by author Jacqueline Woodson. This novel is aimed at students who are in middle school, grades 6-8. Woodson tends to focus on a lot of family related issues within an urban setting where black students are the main characters or there is an interracial mix. Her work could be seen as controversial since it deals with different issues such as death and suffering, which some feel students should not be exposed to within schools. I personally believe her writing is fantastic and controversy should not over shadow what she has to offer as great literacy to sink into within a classroom.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Summary: Lonnie is a nine-year-old boy who has lost his parents in a house fire. Separated from his younger sister and in foster care, Lonnie searches to fit in and come to terms with the tragedy that has stricken his family. This book captures the thoughts and feelings from Lonnie’s perspective through poetry. This novel is sectioned out into many different kinds of poems, short and long, that really give the reader and insight not only to Lonnie’s feelings but also exposing them to the genre of poetry and ways it can be used.
I really enjoyed reading this book. At first, I was a little skeptical because I am not a fan of poetry. I was proven wrong as the poetry beautifully depicts what Lonnie is going though. There is a lot of sadness in this book. Lonnie is constantly struggling to understand and come to terms with the loss of his parents while he is separated from his sister. A major theme of this book is acceptance. Lonnie wants to be accepted at school, within his foster home, by his sister’s foster parents, and also he personally needs to start to accept his situation and the death. Religion is also strongly referenced. Ms. Edna his caregiver is constantly praying and talking to God and Lonnie’s sister Lili also tells him that he needs to find God and gives him a Bible. Religion is a touchy subject within schools so I think it is important for teachers be careful when they go about focusing on this topic within the book.
Since Lonnie is experiencing a lot of different emotions and sometimes people can use writing as an outlet. This book is a great example how poetry can be used as an escape and a way to get feelings out. This is a good message to convey to students. Poetry and writing is not just factual or for a academic purpose, writing can be an outlet and way to express something that cannot be said aloud or understood. This also can be used to expose students to different types of poetry and Locomotion would be a great book to include within a poetry unit. Poems such as haiku’s and free verse are included along with many more. The writing is descriptive and precise that they would serve as wonderful examples.
Finally, this book also provides a different perspective. It is told from the viewpoint of an African American boy. In children’s or young adult literature, it is not as common to have a viewpoint from a minority group.  I think it is great way to include diversity and get students to understand how and what the world is like through someone else’s eyes. Some of the language is even written how a nine-year-old boy would spell and even pronounce certain words.
Overall this is a quick, easy read but sends a powerful message. It is also a little outside the box in that it is a entire novel of poems but it still is just as meaningful as a personal narrative or a typically written novel. This is a great book to change up the reading selection and give students a different taste from many different standpoints. 

Jacqueline Woodson is an award winning author and has been recognized for her outstanding work. Get information on Woodson herself, other books, and the sequel to Locomotion; Peace, Locomtion here.

The Giver

The Giver is written by Lois Lowry and is the winner of the John Newberry Medal. The Giver is a highly controversial science fiction novel, but is a great literary piece of be taught in the classroom.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars *****
Lois Lowry
Summary: Jonas lives in an artificial world where choices are limited and the citizens always follow the rules. It is a society that does not encourage diversity. There is one track, and everyone follows it, sheltering people from life’s real issues and the pain or happiness that can be felt along with it. There are no color or opportunities to go outside of what is deemed as “normal”. When Jonas meets The Giver his whole world is changed since he has the insight to a world of limitless feelings, experiences, and ideas.
The Giver is a fantastic book to teach in a classroom. This should be a book that is taught in an older middle school classroom (seventh or eighth grade). There are a lot of heavy issues such a pain, suffering, and death that can be graphic and descriptive. There is also a lot of depth to this story so students need to be at an appropriate level to think more outside the box and understand the different aspects that are incorporated into the text. This book uses very vivid imagery and descriptions to create depth and complexity. Lowry does a fantastic job at creating this artificial world that is so much different from the world that we live in today. 

I never had the experience to read The Giver when I was in school but I am glad I have had the experience to read it. It has a lot of major themes such as power, choice, pain, fear, and lack of diversity. These are all themes that students can relate to and discuss. This book can be great to parallel our society and compare and contrast the differences. How would our society be if it were similar to the society in The Giver? How would the society in the book be different it people were allow to speak about their feelings and be able to show pain and suffering? There are so many different aspects this book can take on and lead to great discussions.
I personally cannot imagine living in a society where there are no choices or variety. I think this book really speaks to students in that they should value and embrace diversity and be able to appreciate the fact that they do have the freedom to do pretty much whatever they want. Even though The Giver has a fictional plot and society, there are places in the world where freedom and diversity is limited. It is important ideas to pass down to students who may be more sheltered and less understand about the power of freedom and choice.
This book takes on a lot of typical characteristics of science fiction. It revolves around a future, artificial world and other elements such as a strong plot, well-developed characters, and themes. The plot is something that kept me intrigued with this book. I was constantly worrying about what was going to happen and what Jonas was going to do next. I think a really important element to plot is making readers want more and to continue on reading. One thing that is frustrating about this book though is the ending. It really leaves you hanging and unsure of what exactly happened to Jonas. At the same time, maybe this is just another reason why this book is so brilliant. It leaves lingering questions opened to interpretation that can spark amazing class discussions.