July 8, 2009
In this 2008 historical fiction novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, Isabel and her younger sister Ruth are supposed to be freed when their mistress dies. Unfortunately, they are instead sold and bought by a Loyalist couple living in Patriot-occupied New York in 1776. Isabel and Ruth’s parents have died, so Isabel takes good care of her sister. However, she knows that now they are slaves again, Isabel will not be able to protect Ruth fully, so she desperately tries to find a way to freedom. Isabel meets a boy owned by a Patriot soldier who tells her that if she spies on her master and mistress for the Patriots, she could earn freedom for herself and Ruth. Isabel knows it’s a terrible risk. Should she do it? What will happen if she does? What will happen if she doesn’t?
I really enjoyed Chains and am looking forward to the second book in the predicted trilogy due to come out next year. Chains is particularly good at showing readers what it was like to live during the American Revolution. Small details like the book’s font and historic quotes at the beginning of every chapter help pull readers into the story. Isabel has a difficult time readjusting to being a slave after she believed she’d be free. This also helps bridge the gap between 21st century readers and the 18th century setting as readers’ inability to understand is voiced by Isabel. Chains would also be an excellent book for students learning about the American Revolution and/or slavery because it shows all sides. Readers are exposed to Patriots and their views but are also reminded that Loyalists lived in the colonies and sometimes pretended to fight the king. They also see slavery from the slaves’ perspective and meet masters who are cruel or kind. Chains is a must-read for anyone interested in history AND for those who aren’t.
April 6, 2009
United Tweets of America: 50 State Birds, Their Stories, Their Glories by Hudson Talbott is a picture book about (surprise!) the U.S. state birds. Each state is featured in alphabetical order, and readers may be surprised by some of the birds they find on each page — New Mexico’s state bird is the roadrunner, and the cardinal is the state bird of 7 states! Besides the state bird, each page offers a few other facts about the state or the bird.
However, although United Tweets of America is definitely informative and interesting for learning about the state birds, it doesn’t offer a lot of good facts about the state – just a few here and there. If you’re teaching or learning about the state birds, this is a great book, but if you’re more interested in the states themselves, I recommend Our 50 States by Lynne Cheney, which is a great picture book full of information.
March 11, 2009
Bonnie Geisert has written four picture books based on various types of towns in the United States. Each one was illustrated by her husband Arthur Geisert. The first, published in 1998, is Prairie Town. Next came River Town, which was followed by Mountain Town and Desert Town.
Although I haven’t read Desert Town yet, I expect it to have the same style as the others. In each one, Geisert uses simple narration to describe the town over the course of a year and explain how the seasons affect it and the people living there. Her husband’s birds’-eye-view illustrations make readers feel they are silent, secret observers.
These books are great for depicting towns and people across the United States. They are realistic examples of specific parts of America. Although they’d be great for geography lessons, these books work best in one-on-one reading. The details in the pictures are best seen up close. With so much detail in the pictures, however, the story is new every time it’s read.
At the end of each book, Geisert also includes a note to mention events that happened throughout the year (a wedding, carnival, dedication, etc.) that the reader may have missed. It’s fun to go back through the pages of the story to find evidence of those events in the town. These are definite reads for anyone interested in small towns across the country.
April 16, 2008
This book by Lynne Cheney is filled with interesting information about all 50 states. The book has a loose plot of a family traveling throughout the entire country, but with each page dedicated to a state and jam-packed with pictures and trivia, the book certainly does not read like a story. The family vacation concept does pop up on each page though; if you’re paying attention you will find the two kids sending their grandma or friends emails and text messages about the exciting things they see or learn. Our 50 States is a great way to learn about geography and the diverse culture of the United States. With so much information on each page, this is definitely a book where each look may provide you with something new.
Mrs. Cheney has also written four other books for children, including A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women. Each of her books for children includes an aspect of American history, and most, including Our 50 States and A is for Abigail are illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser and feature fun, colorful illustrations.
April 10, 2008
This book by Lane Smith was easily my favorite from the selection for class last week. It combines history, Beatles references, and humor to create a very entertaining book. I highly, highly recommend it. Actually, the more I read Lane Smith books, whether they are his own or an effort with Jon Scieszka, the more I love his work. Not only are these books fun for kids, but also for adults who read with kids (or just for the fun of it on their own). This story shows a look at five American leaders as children and how their actions as children may have impacted them as adults.
Like with Martin’s Big Words, Scholastic also put out a video for this book. The video is definitely just as good as the book. It works in some new animation as well as includes music that sounds very similar to Beatles songs. James Earl Jones also narrates. The video is great to watch if you have the opportunity, otherwise check out the book. It will absolutely make you laugh.
Here’s an advertisement for the book and video.
April 9, 2008
In honor of the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. last week, I thought I’d revisit Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport. Scholastic released a video version of the book, which I think contains different aspects. Instead of adding new animation for the video, Scholastic decided to give movement to the pictures from the book. The video zooms and pans across a page to make it appear as if the pictures are actually moving. This gives more detail to the pictures. The video also uses a narrator (actor Michael Clarke Duncan) but occasionally includes text that moves quite a bit on the page. Some kids who are learning to read may find this distracting.
Overall, I think the video is a good adaptation of the book, and it’s nice that Scholastic released it as part of their video collection. It includes a portion of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, in his own words. If you want to view, listen, or read the entire speech (which I highly recommend), go here.
March 23, 2008
William Low’s Old Penn Station is beautifully illustrated. The story presents the history of the station as if it were telling the life of a living, breathing person. The realistic, detailed paintings further bring the station to life. Old Penn Station romanticizes the older way of life, when trains were the primary means of transportation and grand stations were filled with travelers. It’s hard to miss the message of losing the past and “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” The book feels more like a coffee-table book than a children’s book, but older kids who enjoy trains, art, or history might appreciate it.