Saturday, December 15, 2007

Harry Potter Halloween Party

I just realized that I only posted about my Halloween party on my personal blog, but some of you might be interested in reading about it because this year's party theme was Harry Potter. You can read all about it here, and here are a few pictures to get you interested.
Our party invitations:

Our family costumes (I was Dolores Umbridge, Larry was both of the Weasley twins and every time he left the room and came back he alternated introducing himself as Fred or George and getting annoyed that people kept getting him mixed up with his twin, then our baby was a Mandrake)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Have you seen LookyBook? It's a web site that lets you view whole children's books from cover to cover. The point of the site is to help you make informed purchases. The site is only in beta form, but it's pretty cool (not sure how it's legal or feasible, but it's very cool).

The Castle Corona - by Sharon Creech

Sharon Creech is one of my favorite authors so I was prepared to fall in love with her latest book, The Castle Corona, but I just couldn’t. Creech takes a far departure from the realistic fiction in present day settings of her other novels. The Castle Corona is tale set in Midieval times, full of peasants and royalty.

The book itself has torn edges and the illustrations are made to create the feel of an illuminated manuscript, in fact, the cover even says, “Illuminated by David Diaz”. Diaz, known for his multi-cultural illustrations in books like Smokey Night and The House that Juan Built, is also trying something new with the flourishes framing his bright illustrations. Each chapter begins with a half-page illumination, but many readers have expressed their disappointment that the illustrations repeat throughout the novel so they are not getting all of the artwork that they bargained for when they purchased the book.

My disappointment was not in the illustrations, but in the storyline. The chapters alternate between the lives of the spoiled royalty, and two orphaned peasants, Enzio and Pia. Enzio & Pia spend their days working and dreaming of how wonderful it would be to be royalty, while the royal family spends their time thinking about how tough it is to have royal responsibilities. One day Enzio and Pia discover a pouch stolen from the castle, which leads to a series of events that intertwine their lives with the royal family. In the end, the puzzling mystery falls flat and the ending wasn’t satisfactory. I totally agree with one review that I read that said, “the BIG REVELATION was neither big nor a revelation nor even remotely interesting.”

The book feels a bit more like an allegory than a fairytale so of course everyone grows and learns in the end. The book is more about growing up than exciting adventures, and I suspect it will be a hard sell to many young readers.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

No Talking - by Andrew Clement

Andrew Clements has done it again. Those who like Frindle or the Landry News will also enjoy No Talking; in fact, they may even like it more. War of the sexes is going on among the fifth-graders at Laketon Elementary School and Dave and Lynsey suddenly become the generals when they make a bet as to whether the boys or girls can manage to say the fewest words for two days.

It all started when Dave was working in his report on India and read about Gandhi and came across the statement, “For many years, one day each week Gandhi did not speak at all. Gandhi believed this was a way to bring order to his mind.” Dave decided his mind could use a little order so he tried to go a whole day without talking, which went really well, until he had a run-in with Lynsey. Their run-in sparks the bet, and suddenly all the fifth-graders are thinking of language in a whole new way. They decide if an adult in school asks them a question they can answer, but they can only use three words and contractions will only count as one word.

I really enjoyed the unbiased, all-knowing narration that said things like, “It’s also a shame to have to report this, but Lynsey was just as proud and stubborn as Dave.”

If this book is used in a classroom, I’m sure it would inspire a lot of thought debate about language and gender.

I think it’s also going to cause some debate among teachers because it doesn’t exactly portray them favorably. The principal HATES the competition because she likes complete control so she does not appreciate that the kids she’s been trying to shush for years are quiet because she was not the one to quiet them. Another teacher, Mr. Burton fights for the kids’ right, but merely as a matter of self-interest because he thinks it will be a good topic for his thesis. Meanwhile, Mrs. Marlow fights to stop the contest from disrupting her lesson plans, but then gives up because, “demanding that they all go back to being noisy, self-absorbed chatterbrains—it simply wasn’t logical.” OUCH! While the principal comes around and learns her lesson, the other teachers don’t and I was a little disappointed by how selfish they were. On the other hand, kids will probably appreciate the portrayal of teachers who are out to get them and love the book all the more for it.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Elijah of Buxton - by Christopher Paul Curtis

Elijah is the first child born into the town of Buxton, Canada, a community of free blacks and escaped slaves. He’s been sheltered from the realities of slavery because of his “fragile” nature, which he is often teased about. As we follow Elijah through his adventures escaping from snakes and chunking stones, he tries to prove to his parents that he’s growing up. Hi new strength prods him to face his fears in order to help others gain their freedom.

It’s nice to see Christopher Paul Curtis return to historical fiction, don’t get me wrong, his other novels are fun, but teachers across the country applaud The Watsons go to Burmingham and Bud, Not Buddy because they manage to teach about history through really funny, endearing, male main characters between the ages of nine and eleven. So yes, Curtis published ANOTHER historical fiction novel narrated by a young, black male; but this novel still manages to be fresh and original. How does he do that?

This book does contain some violence, but it would hard to portray slavery without it. The other matter some teachers are having a hard time with is Elijah’s dialect. I recently attended a book talk where the speaker brought the debate about dialect up and said that some teachers are worried that it will be too difficult for some young readers who might otherwise enjoy this book. She questioned whether or not it’s too much and I can see where she’s coming from.

I think Curtis really deserves some praise for the gentle ways he explains how slaves must have felt when they escaped. It provided some really beautiful interesting moments in the book. Elijah explains that escaped slaves who reach Buxton alone and are spotted hiding in the forest have to be approached very carefully. Elijah says:
“Even if they ain’t seeing no white people they still caint bring theirselves to show who they are. We learnt a long time ago to make no big commotion when we first seen ‘em. We learnt that all the running they’d been doing, all the looking their shoulders and not knowing when they were gonna eat again or where they were gonna sleep or who they could trust made ‘em skittish and even dangerous and not likely to take to no one running at ‘em. Not even if you were smiling and waving and showing how happy you were that they got through. Afore you’d reach ‘em they’d just melt back into the woods and you’d be standing there wondering if you’d really seen anything atall. If a bunch of us went charging at ‘em whooping and raising Cain they might disappear back into the forest for another two, three days. And that was two, three days that they were free but didn’t know it, which Pa says is tragical ‘cause you ain’t never gonna know how much time you got here on earth and each day you’re free is precious.”
Wow! They end up sending a young girl wandering the way of newcomers so they don’t feel threatened and run away. I think that’s really eye-opening.

There’s just so much in this book that I never thought about and I learned from. Like instead of playing cops and robbers or Indians and cowboys, the kids in Buxton played abolitionists and slavers. Another instance is when Elijah mentions his friend’s grandmother is about 50 so she’s so old and frail they are afraid to leave her alone even a moment. And any kid who ever even thinks about using the N word should read what happens when Elijah almost says it; Mr. Leroy explodes and explains what it means and why it should NEVER be used. He says, “Ya’ll young folks gotta understand that’s a name what ain’t never called with nothing but hate . . . You saying that word aitn’t showing no respect for no one what’s had that word spit on ‘em whilst they’s getting beat on like a animal.” Elijah’s father later goes on to tell him that he needs to be especially careful around people who used to be slaves because, “They’ve seen people acting in ways that caint help but leave scars and pecularities.”

And without spoiling anything, this book didn’t end the way that I wanted it to, but it ended the way that it had to. Anyone who picks it up will really learn a lot from it.