Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Book Review – Historical Fiction

Curtis, Christopher Paul. 1999. BUD, NOT BUDDY. New York: Delacorte Press.
ISBN 0385323069

Ten-year-old Bud, living in Flint, Michigan during the Great Depression, has already lost his mother. He doesn’t have a lot going for him except his “Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making A Better Liar of Yourself” and his suitcase containing his only worldly possessions (which he rarely lets out of his sight.) He escapes from yet another bad foster home situation and sets out on a quest to find the person he believes to be his father—a jazz musician whose flyer Bud found among his mother’s things. He doesn’t find his father, but he finds a family just the same.

Christopher Paul Curtis works magic with this novel as he has in previous works. Not only does he tell a compelling story of the cruelties suffered by his young protagonist, he does it with such matter-of-factness interspersed with humor—like mistaking Lefty Lewis with whom he hitched a ride, for a vampire because he was transporting blood to a hospital; or being afraid as a six-years-old that because he lost a tooth that some other appendage might become detached—readers can’t help but be drawn in to this.

Although this story is set in Michigan, Curtis relates the harsh conditions suffered nationwide by everyone during 1930’s. His descriptions of the food lines and the Hooverville camps along the railways tell of additional agonies with which Bud-not-Buddy had to contend. Young readers, even those who have not suffered all that Bud did, will identify with his not being in control in a grown-up world where decisions about his life and world are made for him and are out of his control. Students may also be inspired by his determination to set out on his own to find his father.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because this is a tale of an orphan during the Great Depression that the story is a hard one to read. It is full of human emotions such as Bud’s huge disappointment when the musician on the flyer he’s sought out thinking him to be his father turns out to be a detached, older, overweight man who wants nothing to do with Bud. But Curtis moves the story along with humor and realistic dialogue and finally orchestrates a happy ending with the surprising plot twist—a bag of stones inscribed with the names of places and dates, one of Bud’s few and treasured possessions—ties his own mother with the surly musician Bud has mistaken for his father.

Book Report (January/February 2000)
This is a fine, truly enjoyable story written about the Depression era. It has a little something for everyone and would make a good classroom read-aloud. Highly Recommended

Publishers Weekly (August 9, 1999)
While the grim conditions of the times and the harshness of Bud's circumstances are authentically depicted, Curtis shines on them an aura of hope and optimism. And even when he sets up a daunting scenario, he makes readers laughÆ’for example, mopping floors for the rejecting Calloway, Bud pretends the mop is "that underwater boat in the book Momma read to me, Twenty Thousand Leaks Under the Sea." Bud's journey, punctuated by Dickensian twists in plot and enlivened by a host of memorable personalities, will keep readers engrossed from first page to last. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)

Coretta Scott King Award 01/17/00 Notable/Best Books (A.L.A.) 01/21/00
Newbery Medal/Honor 01/17/00 School Library Journal starred 09/01/99

Other award winning books by Christopher Paul Curtis:

Websites that include booktalks, author biography, study guides, etc.:




Book Review – Biography

Stanley, Diane, and Peter Vennema. 1998. BARD OF AVON: THE STORY OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. Ill. by Diane Stanley. New York: Morrow Junior Books.
ISBN 0688091091

This is a beautifully illustrated, brief biography of the world’s most famous and prolific playwright, William Shakespeare. In the telling of Shakespeare’s life, much is included regarding the history of theater itself, as well as the English language.

Proven historians, Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema, once again take on a subject about who little is documented. However, they are able through research and accurate illustrations of the period, to recreate for readers the life of William Shakespeare, whose prolific plays and poems have influenced the English language like no other writer since.
The authors are always careful to note when gaps in documented events force speculation about what might have happened, but the events suggested are always logical, given the point in time and place, for example when explaining that William’s father, John was the high bailiff of Stratford-on Avon, and responsible for deciding if an acting troupe would receive a license to perform, they state: “Perhaps he allowed his five-year-old son, William, to sit in front with him for the special performance.”

Their picture book format recreates for readers through the intricate stylized period illustrations the Tudor architecture as well as the daily life and customs of servants and gentry alike at the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century in England. Royalty is depicted in their finery; a peasant woman sells oranges to theater patrons.

Another aspect that lends to the authenticity of this biography is the fact that history is not sugar coated. Noted is the fact that it does not appear Shakespeare’s marriage to Anne Hathaway was a happy one. This is noted in the story as is the often unruly behavior of some theater-goers.

A postscript tells much of the history of the development of the English language and the tremendous impact Shakespeare had on its development. Many of the most common phrases used today—tongue-tied, budge an inch, set your teeth on edge, dead as a doornail, and many others—which were originally coined by Shakespeare reveal his brilliance as a writer in saying so precisely what is wished to be said.

Publishers Weekly(July 13, 1992)In this compact, informative biography, Stanley and Vennema return to the 16th-century England they portrayed so deftly in Good Queen Bess: The Story of Elizabeth of England. These seasoned raconteurs have sorted out historical facts, speculation and conjecture to neatly piece together the puzzle of Shakespeare's life.

Booklist(September 1, 1992) Gr. 3-8.
Stanley's finesse with the decorative elements of painting makes each illustration a pleasure and the whole book visually satisfying. Accessible to a wide age range, this is a fine introduction for anyone beginning to read Shakespeare. ~--Carolyn Phelan

Another biography of the Elizabethan times:

Other biographies by Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema:
Charles Dickens: The Man Who Had Great Expectations
Joan of Arc
Leonardo da Vinci


Book Review – Historical Fiction

Taylor, Mildred D. 2001. THE LAND. New York: Phyllis Fogelman Books.

Paul-Edward Logan, son of a wealthy land owner and a black woman who worked for his father, grew up with the unique situation of being acknowledged as part of his father’s white family—that is until a family confrontation forced him to run from home and fend suddenly for himself. But he carried always with him a deep and abiding desire to own his own land. This is the story of his quest to realize that dream in a world where former slaves might be free but certainly not equal.

In this prequel to her award-winning ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY, Mildred Taylor, through her introduction and character development of Paul-Edward Logan, the grandfather of her beloved Logan clan, not only reveals the life-wrenching struggles endured to procure the Logan’s land, but also gives a sign of the times that her protagonist had to endure the humiliations and sacrifices he did. Race is a huge factor throughout Paul-Edward’s life, from the blow-up with his father that precipitated his leaving the comfort of his home, to the white landowner who thought he could reclaim land promised to Paul-Edward, cleared by his own sweat and blood and that of the people he loved.

This race riddled disparity of the post Civil War south is not sugar coated by Taylor, but is revealed in the dialogue of her characters: “You think I care about a paper signed with a nigger? Well, let me tell you something, boy. There was a time I owned hundreds of you people.” Taylor’s accurate depiction of life and times of this period does not weigh down a compelling story in its own right.

Friendship is a powerfully uplifting theme from the first of the story where Paul’s nemesis, Mitchell continues to beat up on Paul. Peace is finally made between the two, and they become lifelong, faithful friends who come through for each other at powerfully critical times. It is only through Mitchell’s help that all the land gets cleared that will supposedly give Paul ownership. Mitchell ultimately gave his life in this endeavor.

In the author’s note, she tells how she drew from her own family’s oral history. After reading this book it’s plain to see why it was awarded the Scott O’Dell award for historical fiction as well as the Coretta Scott King award for outstanding literature. It is an outstandingly interesting read for older elementary students, as well as adults.

Horn Book starred (Spring, 2002)
Taylor masterfully uses these historical realities to frame a powerful coming-of-age story of a bewildered boy becoming a man beholden to no one.

Booklist*Starred Review* Gr. 7-12. Like Taylor's Newbery Medal book, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976), this powerful historical novel, a prequel to Roll of Thunder, refuses to "whitewash" history. As the author notes in her afterword, the language was painful and life was painful for many African Americans, including her family. Drawing directly on her family history, especially what she knows about her great-grandfather, she goes back to the time of Reconstruction to tell a searing story of cruelty, racism, and betrayal. She also tells a thrilling coming-of-age story about friendship, hope, and family strength.

School Library Journal (August 1, 2001)
Gr 7-10
It is wonderful historical fiction about a shameful part of America's past. Its length and use of the vernacular will discourage casual readers, but those who stick with it will be richly rewarded. For fans of the other Logan books, it is not to be missed.-Bruce Anne Shook, Mendenhall Middle School, Greensboro, NC Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Other historical fiction by Mildred D. Taylor include:
The Friendship
The Gold Cadillac
Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry
Let the Circle be Unbroken
The Road to Memphis
Mississippi Bridge
Song of the Trees

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Simon, Seymour. 1998. BONES: OUR SKELETAL SYSTEM. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 9780329218843

The human skeletal system is described in detail including the living cell material that makes up bone, the connective tendons, ligaments and muscles, the purpose and function of the skeleton, and descriptions of the size and range of bones in different parts of the body. Fractures and skeletal diseases are also discussed.

The reason most students are drawn to Seymour Simon books in the first place is usually the outstanding photos he includes in his many nonfiction books. This book is no exception. The detailed photos of the inner workings of the human skeletal system are bound to again attract the attention of elementary age students as is the detailed photo of the human skull or the x-ray of metal pins holding a broken bone in place. The photos, however, are accompanied by only very minimal captions.
The design of the informational text renders a complex subject most interesting and readable for upper elementary students, but has few markers such as topic/subtopic designations to guide younger readers in their reading of fairly complex, though interesting, text. However, the significant detail, such as the fact that the human hand is made up of twenty-seven bones, and high-interest photos and illustrations will capture students’ interests in the typical Seymour Simon manner. He compares the human skeleton to “the framework of a building”, but doesn’t stop with the typical "the-wristbone’s-connected-to-the-armbone" way. He includes instead fascinating, accurate information beyond the usual coverage of this topic including X rays and MRI scans of fractures, the intricate workings of joints, and the manifestations of arthritis, all the while making these complexities understandable for students by comparisons such as comparing the spine to “a flexible chain of bones that can twist like a string of beads”.

This book is likely to be read in its entirety by older students with already a modicum of interest in the topic of bones, but will entertain almost all readers with its fascinating photos and illustrations.

Horn Book (Spring 1999)
Adding to his body of quality nonfiction, Simon describes one aspect of human anatomy. Straightforward explanations…and fabulous full-page, computer-enhanced color photographs work well together to engage and instruct readers.

September 1, 1998
Simon once again proves his remarkable facility for making complicated science clear and understandable.

Seymour Simon’s MUSCLES follows in a similar vein the intricacies of the human body.
Other award-winning nonfiction books by Simon include:



Discovering Animal Habitats Around the World

Jenkins, Steve and Robin Page. 2005. I SEE A KOOKABURRA! : DISCOVERING ANIMAL HABITATS AROUND THE WORLD. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0618507647

Six habitats—desert, tide pool, jungle, savanna, forest, pond—on various continents around the world along with eight of the animals of each habitat are presented and illustrated in layered information in this inviting nonfiction book. First the habitat is pictured with the eight animals camouflaged there. On the following double-page spread the uncamouflaged animals appear in the exact position as on the previous pages along with corresponding information. As noted ants are found everywhere on earth except for the Polar Regions and a few islands, and an ant is camouflaged on each habitat page and revealed in its exact position on the following page. Finally, a glossary and map further elaborate all information.

Steve Jenkins and Robin Page are known for taking accurate, scientific animal information and presenting it in a format that will engage even young elementary age children (ANIMALS IN FLIGHT, MOVE!, WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A TAIL LIKE THAT). I SEE A KOOKABURA does that as well. The colorful double-page spread design of cut and torn paper collage creates attractive, but accurate renditions of the habitats and animals discussed. The only problem, as pointed out by Booklist (August, 2005), is that students might be confused by the inaccurate proportions represented by, for instance, the picture of the rhinoceros being smaller than the picture of the termite shown within the same habitat depiction.
The design of this particular book makes it such that it can be read on several levels—most basically as an I Spy game in finding the animals that are very well camouflaged in their habitats. The simple text giving information about each animal is displayed in and around the "revealed" animal, often taking on an arrangement mirroring the shape of the animal described, for instance the text describing an echidna, "an echidna, a prickly, egg-laying mammal." is arranged to resemble the echidna's prickly spines. For older elementary students the detailed animal glossary divided into sections correlating with each of the six habitats, along with a map outlining the global location of each habitat, has enough accurate information that it could be used as a source for reports. An additional reading list is provided for those interested in reading even more about these ususal animals and their habitats.

School Library Journal (May 1, 2005)
K-Gr. 4
Filled with vibrant colors and palpable textures, the illustrations are breathtaking and give a real sense of the vitality, diversity, and beauty of nature. A first-rate foray into ecology that will encourage readers to explore the world around them.

Publishers Weekly (April 25, 2005)
Jenkins masterfully manipulates texture and space, playing up the unique palette and architecture of each habitat, while pushing readers towards an aesthetic awareness of the remarkable shapes and patterns that compose nature’s wonders.
Other nonfiction animal books by the husband/wife Jenkins/Page team include:



Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. 2005. HITLER YOUTH: GROWING UP IN HITLER’S SHADOW. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0439353793

This story of a youth organization over seven million strong, founded and controlled by Adolph Hitler during World War II tells of the impact of channeled youth on Nazi Germany and ultimately, the world. The story is told through the individual stories of young people–some who supported the youth organization like Alfons Heck, only sixteen year old, who commanded more than 800 Hitler Youth and led these young people in actual battle when the Allied forces closed in. Others like the Scholl children, Inge, Hans, and Sophie risked their lives distributing literature denouncing Hitler. The story tells of the book burning, vandalizing the property of Jewish citizens, intimidation of nonconformists, and the informing on anyone who was not supporting the cause—even one’s own parents. It concludes with the de-Nazification of the young people of this group who were exploited by Hitler along with the reconstruction of Germany itself and includes a challenge to the young people of today not to allow themselves to be seduced by strong personalities with ulterior motives.

Through Bartoletti’s intense research—direct interviews with former members of Hitler Youth as well as interviews of Jewish residents who were children during this time, oral histories, examination of diaries and written accounts—she is able to make comprehensible the seduction and allure of this organization for the German youth during that time. “I can remember the feeling I had when he spoke,” said Sasha Schwartz, who was eleven when Hitler came to power. “At last,” I said, “here’s somebody who can get us out of this mess.” Or Alfons Heck at the age of ten after hearing Hitler convincingly speak, “from that moment on, I belonged to Adolf Hitler, body and soul.”
The introduction of each of the twelve individual children on whom the story most focuses, along with a Timeline and epilogue of the fates of each of the twelve young people help clarify the running text which is divided by chapters, but not by individual stories. This sturdy book, 176 pages, 27 cm. square, is heftier than many books circulated in children's libraries.
The black and white photos offer powerful images that often tell more than the text itself such as the alarming faces of Hitler youth in actual battle where one does not expect to see such youthful countenances on soldiers in battle (p. 119, “Fanatical Fighters” “Hitler’s Boy Soldiers 1943-1945). Other powerful photos show the innocense of a group of very young girls in their first year of school, dressed all in white, giving the "Heil Hitler" salute along with their teachers (p. 41), or another showing the anguish experienced by a young soldier returning home to Frankfurt and discovering the destruction that was his home (p. 154). The photos are what likely will draw students to this book and can with the detailed captions all but tell the story of this organization and of the war itself.

Horn Book (May/June, 2005)
While many books for the young have chronicled the experiences of Hitler’s victims, far fewer have looked at the impact of Nazi ideology on those who subscribed to it.

Kirkus (April 1, 2005)
Bartoletti makes it clear what appealed to youth: “excitement, adventure, and new heroes to worship,” hope, power, and the “opportunity to rebel against parents, teachers, clergy, and other authority figures.”

This book is a Newbery Medal Honor book and a Robert F. Sibert Medal honor book for 2006. Other nonfiction books by Susan Bartoletti include:
Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850
The Flag Maker
Growing Up in Coal Country
Kids on Strike!

Friday, June 15, 2007


SCHOOLYARD RHYMES: Kids’ Own Rhymes for Rope Skipping, Hand Clapping, Ball Bouncing, and Just Plain Fun

Sierra, Judy. 2005. SCHOOLYARD RHYMES: Kids’ Own Rhymes for Rope Skipping, Hand Clapping, Ball Bouncing, and Just Plain Fun. Ill. by Melissa Sweet. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0375825169

This is a collection of 50 chants, and rhymes that can be used for jumping rope, hand clapping games, or simply sharing and repeating with friends. Rhymes include some old favorites and some new twists—maybe some verses you didn’t even know existed.

Melissa Sweet’s water color and pencil illustrations which often incorporate the text of the rhymes—sometimes in silhouettes, sometimes in clothes, sometimes in jump ropes—bring action a humor to the chants. Rhymes are grouped by topics such as underwear, (always a favorite), animals, food, etc. Kids will love reading this book for the lyrics as well as to see how this version differs from their own.

Horn Book (September/October, 2005)
Kids will enjoy this celebration of naughtiness and childhood fun.

School Library Journal (October 1, 2005)
The rhythms and nonsense rhymes are irresistible, compelling memorization and participation in the fun.

Other similar books:
Red Hot Peppers: The Skookum Book of Jump Rope Games, Rhymes, and Fancy Footwork by Bob Boardman

Hand Clap! "Miss Mary Mack" and 42 Other Hand Clapping Games for Kids by Sara Bernstein

Anna Banana: 101 Jump Rope Rhymes by Joanna Cole