Wednesday, July 31, 2013

An Excellent King Arthur Novel

Yolen, Jane (2003) Sword of the Rightful King.  Orlando:  Harcourt

     Okay, I admit it, I am a sucker for a good King Arthur story.  Whether it is TH White's sometimes silly  Once and Future King,  Sir Thomas Mallory's seminal Morte d' Arthur,  Goeffrey of Monmouth's apparently historical  History of the Kings of Britain, Tennyson's Arthurian Poetry, or any number of wonderful versions that have come since, I tend to like them.  In fact, when the royal baby was born this past weekend, I was hoping against hope that they would name him Arthur (and then we could watch him restore England to her former glory -- though hopefully without the oppression and subjugation of other peoples).  Instead they named him the same name as the tyrant the Americans sought independence from.  Sigh.) Anyway, somehow, I missed this book when it came out -- and that is a shame, because it is really very good.
     In this version, Arthur is already king when it begins.  He is a good and just king, but although he has consolidated power from the British chieftains, the young empire is still vulnerable to attacks from within and without.  Arthur rules the kingdom, but his subjects still do not see him and love him as their king.  So the wizard Merlinnus devises a test involving a sword and a stone. But the Evil Morgause would love to mess up Merlinnus's plans -- possibly through her sons who are serving as knights of the round table, but whose loyalties are uncertain.  On top of all this, throw in Arthur's squire Gawen, who has secrets that Arthur and Merlinnus cannot guess at and you have the makings for a fine story.  This one moves quickly, keeps you turning pages, and has adventure, intrigue, action, and even some surprising romance toward the end.  It is a very satisfying book.
     I don't think this one is ideal to study in a class.  It has plenty of interesting themes -- but I think to study it  in class would kill any enthusiasm kids will have for it.  Instead, put it in you classroom library and let them discover it on their own.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Best book for readers who teach math or math teachers who read

Hyde, Arthur  (2006)  Comprehending Math:  Adapting Reading Strategies to Teach Mathematics K-6.  Portsmouth: Heinemann.    

Usually the books I recommend here are children's literature.  This one isn't.  It is a practical book about how to use reading to teach math and how to read in math, and how to write in math, and how to use the arts (like drama) when teaching math.  For a book full of practical advice for teachers, it is actually remarkably dramatic.  If you ever teach math, you need this book, and here is why:

I am convinced this book is written by a really smart mathematician who absolutely loves to read everything he can get his hands on.  There is excellent material in here about integrating reading, writing, drama, and other arts into K-12 teaching.  Hyde really gets it.  He understands that math teachers don’t need more work to do (“Oh, great, now I have to teach reading and writing and the arts too – Arggghhhh!”) – but rather they need more tools to be able to reach their students.  That is exactly what Hyde provides – plenty of really useful tools – particularly to reaching those who do not yet know they love math.

There is still time left in the summer to read it.  Get hold of this one.  If you don't teach math, buy this for someone who does.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tweens in the thick of the French resistance to the German invasion of WWII.

Jablonski, Carla; Purvis, Leland (2012) Victory:  Resistance Book 3  New York:  First Second. 

Paul Tessier and his sisters Sylvia and Marie are all involved in the resistance against the Nazis.  In this, the conclusion of a three book series, the Nazi invasion of France begins to falter, and the resistance presses its advantage.  Though they are just kids, the Tessiers act as couriers, intelligence gatherers, and at once point even shelter and hide an allied pilot who has been shot down.  It is exciting work and ignites their idealism, but it also proves to be far more serious than they had imagined.  They learn that friends and enemies are sometimes not as clear cut as they thought, and that loss comes with any war. 
     This would be a great book for history or English classes – although it would be important for young readers to learn to distinguish between the elements of fact and those of fiction. Worth getting all three books for a classroom library. 

Top 20 Good Classroom Library/Literature Light  (Middle School and High School) Graphic Novels
Here are some graphic novels (my original list had about fifty GNs on it, but I culled it down to just the stronger ones.)  These may not have strong enough themes to sustain classroom study, but would be good books to have available to get kids interested in reading.  As always, you may want to read these for yourself before buying them -- my tastes may not equal yours, and your community may have different standards of what is acceptable than mine does.  They are good books, though.  Check them out.  


Avi, Floca,B. (1993) City of Light, City of Dark, Scholastic
Good story – some thematic development (cross generational friendship, optimism vs pessimism).  Mostly just fun, though.  The plot is a kind of good kids against evil quest sort of thing.  Black and white.  Middle school and high school


Brosgol, Vera.  (2011)  Anya’s Ghost  New York:  First Second. 
Anya is a fairly recent immigrant from Russia who stumbles into a well in a field and meets a ghost.  At first the ghost seems like a perfect best friend.  Then Anya begins to suspect the ghost is not telling her the truth about its origins.  Lots of underage smoking and some vulgarity.  Characters are middle- schoolish in age. 


Busiek, K. and C. Pacheco (2004). Arrowsmith: So Smart in their Fine Uniforms. La Jolla, Wildstorm. 
Alternate reality world war 1 -- magic works, mythical beasts exist, and Fletcher Arrowsmith, who has grown up in the new world, joins the Overseas Air Corps.  With his little dragon, he fights for the allies.  Excellent story.  Themes:  Coming of age, Dulce et decorum est, etc.  Great for middle and high school.  Kids who like reading fantasy will love this one. 


Castellucci, C. and J. Rugg (2008). Janes in Love. New York, Minx (DC).
Middle School and high school girls.  Nice story.  Overall messages:  Art rules!  Be yourself!


D’Errico, Camilla 2008  Burn  New York:  Simon and Shuster. 
I don't usually review manga -- I feel like there is far more of it than I could ever keep up with.  And this one certainly isn't pure manga.  It is interesting stuff, though, and might be a nice bridge for manga readers to explore conventional graphic novels.  The drawings are sketchy and this is one in a series, so I can’t say it was a complete story, but it was pretty compelling about a kid who gets connected to a evil war robot and has to work out one body with two minds, two sets of objectives, and two moral codes.  Interesting stuff.  The art could be stronger, though.


Hale, S; D, Hale, et al.  (2008) Rapunzel's Revenge  New York:  Bloomsbury.   This is more for middle schoolers, but I know one high school student who still rereads this regularly.  This is a wild west retelling of the Rapunzel myth, but without the prince.  Rapunzel saves herself and the kingdom along with it.  She comes across as a sort of female Indiana Jones without the macho.  Good stuff.


 Hale, S; D, Hale, et al.  (2010) Calamity Jack New York:  Bloomsbury  Even better than Repunzel’s revenge.  Does a great job of establishing a whole world. 


Kesel, B., S. McNiven, et al. (2002). Meridian: Going to Ground. Oldsmar, Florida, CrossGen.
Excellent series – female protagonist.  Fantasy world – revolution, morality, etc.  Good stuff.


Kesel, B. and J. Middleton (2003). Meridian:  Flying Solo. Oldsmar, Florida, CrossGeneratiion Comics.
Good fantasy story -- strong female protagonist.  Nice detailed world.  Good stuff.


Kibuishi, Kazu  (2008) Amulet:  The Stonekeeper  New York:  Graphix.
Good adventure story.  So the short version of book one is that Emily has inherited this magic stone, and she and her brother Navin have been transported, along with their sick mother, to a fantasy land where their companions, including a couple of robots and a pink rabbit are helping them in hopes that Emily, as stone keeper, will save their world.  Also, they live in a giant walking house.   Nice drawing.  Persistent theme seems to be the difficulty of determining who to trust.


Kibuishi, Kazu (2009) Amulet Book 2: The Stonekeeper's Curse. New York: Graphix.  
        In volume two, they have to escape a pack of evil elves, aid some powerful but benevolent trees, rescue their mom, defeat the elf king, and master the magic stone without letting it take over. 
     I know that sounds silly.
     But here is the thing, a graphic novel is a combination of words and pictures, and these pictures are awesome.  Fourth graders through eighth graders are going to love this book.  It is fun and funny and sometimes gripping. 
     This is not the sort of graphic novel with themes in it that will stretch your consciousness or change your life.  But it isn't lightweight either.  It treats the reader as if he or she is intelligent and perceptive.  Good stuff.


Kim, Susan; Klavan, Lawence; Hicks. Faith Erin (2010) Brain camp.  New York:  First Second.  Kind of a weird little story.  Two disaffected kids get sent to a camp that gets results.  Through a series of coincidences, they don’t eat the food and soon realize that everyone else in the camp is turning into a passive, hyper-intelligent zombie.  Then they discover that the other kids are vomiting up dead baby birds.  After some close calls, they avoid being transformed and save the camp from evil (alien?) birds.  


Larsen, Hope.  (2008) Chiggers  New York:  Atheneum .  Nice exploration of middle school relationships at camp – bit of an emotional rollercoaster. 

Pratchett, T., S. Ross, et al. (2008). The Discworld Graphic Novels. New York, HarperCollins.
High school and up.  Fantasy  Good stuff.


Reed, M.K.; Hill, Jonathan.  (2011) Americus.  New York:  First Second.    Two eighth graders, fans of a fantasy series, find their friendship torn asunder when one mother  reads part of the series and goes on a fundamentalist crusade to purge the library of it.  Unreasonably unsympathetic portrayal of fundamentalist Christians – but an exciting fight and satisfying that the forces of good (the librarian and the boys) win in the end.

Renier, A. (2005). Spiral Bound (Top Secret Summer). Marietta, GA, Top Shelf.
Anthropomorphic animal children discover that the monster in the pond is mechanical -- restore an exile to the community, and cavort through an underground newspaper/art complex.  Their art teacher is a whale in a kind of motorized fishbowl.  Great fun.  Ideal for middle school.


Robinson, J., P. Smith, et al. (2003). Leave it to Chance:  Monster Madness and Other Stories. Orange, California, Image Comics.    Chance rocks!  Strong female protagonist.  No bad words.  Some scary monsters, but little graphic violence.  Some mention of witchcraft -- but no how to.


Robinson, J., P. Smith, et al. (2002). Leave it to Chance: Trick or Treat and Other Stories. Orange, California, Image.

19.    Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean (w/ Sketch)

Taylor, Sarah Stewart; Towle, Ben (2010) Amelia Earhart:  This Broad ocean.  New York:  Hyperion.  Sort of a fiction piece about a girl reporter who lives on an island in Newfoundland which is the starting point for Earhart’s attempt to fly across the Atlantic.  A lot of biographical data here, and extensive end-notes for at least some sourcing   It looks sort of like a picture book -- but it isn't


Yolen, Jane.  (2013)  Curses Foiled Again   New York:  First Second. 
It completes the story begun in Foiled.  Aliera Carstairs is a high school student who works hard, likes to read, and is passionate about fencing (sword fighting, not chain link and picket fences).  She has been taking lesson for years and is very good with a foil.  In the first book her mom was at a garage sale and bought her a fencing foil with a red jewel at the end of the hilt.  It turned out that the foil was enchanted and allowed her to see the faerie world all around her.  This led to some odd and otherworldly experiences and the discovery that her lab partner was a troll.   Now in the second book, we are drawn into the real conflict -- a save-the-world-from-utter-destruction kind of thing with plenty of close calls, plot twists, narrow escapes, and surprising revelations. Good stuff.  Mike Cavallaro's illustrations are exciting and engaging.  The use of color to indicate the separation between the mundane wold and the faerie one is well handled.  The facial expressions are particularly well-rendered.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Ancient Kevin Henkes

Henkes, Kevin (1992) Words of Stone  New York:  Puffin

Who knew?  Before Kevin Henkes wrote picture books like Crysanthemum and Lily's Plastic Purse and Kitten's First Moon he wrote adolescent novels.  As part of my attempt to read all the Newbery Books, I stumbled upon Words of Stone which, although it has some humor in it and a few lighthearted moments is way more serious than we are used to from Henkes.  The main character, a 10 year old boy named Blaze seems very troubled (maybe because he was burned badly as when he was younger, maybe because his mother is gone, and maybe because he seems to have some obsessive-compulsive tendencies.)  Anyway, a girl named Joselle (who has her own struggles) moves in nearby and makes his life wonderful and horrible at the same time.  This is a book about lying and where it gets you, but it is also a book about untangling problems and finding hope.  

This would be a good one for fifth and sixth grade up through middle school.  And actually, I could see some high school and college kids enjoy reading it too.  I am not sure it would be a good read aloud (though actually it might) but it would be a good book for kids to talk about.

You won't find this one in a new bookstore -- though you might get lucky and discover a copy in a used book store or a thrift shop.  Amazon currently has 73 copies available.  And of course, because Librarians love the Newbery, there is probably a copy in your local library.


Graphic Gettysburg (and Lincoln too)!

Butzer, C.M,  (2009) Gettysburg: The Graphic Novel  New York:  HarperCollins

     The Gettysburg Address is a powerful speech in part because it was a response to a country deeply at war with itself and was a recognition of the depth of the pain and the uncertainty of the future of the young nation.  Getting students (or anyone) to read past "Four score and seven years ago..." can sometimes be a remarkably difficult thing for history and social studies teachers to manage.    Then along comes C. M. Butzer's  Gettysburg:  The Graphic Novel.

     Like O'Connor's Journey into Mohawk Country or Baker's Nat Turner, this graphic novel uses images to provide the context for a primary source document.  That is to say, the first 50 pages (two thirds of the book) use a comic book style featuring panel movement and speech and thought balloons to convey the violence of the battle of Gettysburg, the way it toughed the soldiers, the nearby townsfolk, the local officials, and the nation.  That way, when President Lincoln takes the stage and clears his throat, the reader, like the audience, finds himself or herself intensely interested in what the president is going to say about this carnage.  As the speech continues, the images in the panels show us not only how the audience is receiving the speech, but also the historical moments that lead up to the speech, the devastated battlefields that lend solemnity to the occasion, and some of the implications the speech would have for the future -- all the way to our time.

This book won't necessarily be everyone's cup of tea -- but it may be an excellent way to engage students who think that history is uninteresting -- mainly because they haven't been able to see that every historical event involves thousands and thousands of individual stories and connections.  There is something about seeing the faces of the soldiers, the bystanders, the wounded, and so on, that changes our perceptions.  As you can see from the above illustrations, the art is good and well thought out.  Butzer's strength is that he lets us into so many individual lives --though that can also be a drawback.  I sometimes wished that we could follow a particular character across several panels instead of always moving on to the next scene.  But that is a relatively small complaint.

The bottom line is this.  If you teach middle school or high school history, this would be a really good book to use in your classroom library (or even in your curriculum -- though if you decide to incorporate it into a unit you teach, please let me know, I would love to find out how it went.)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A picture book about an Odd Duck (and other quirky waterfowl)

Castellucci, Cecil; Varon, Sara (2013) Odd Duck.  New York:  First Second. 

This is an odd little book.  Although it has graphic novel elements, it really reads more like a regular children’s picture book (usually one image per page rather than panels, for instance.  The story is cute.  Theodora is a rather quirky little duck who befriends her neighbor who is downright odd sop that he might not feel so alone.  After a while though, she realizes that maybe he befriended her for the same reason. 
      This would perhaps fit best for second grade through fourth  (though I can imagine using it in high school to introduce a lesson about individuality and nonconformity.)  The images are appropriately quirky.  I am not going to say you need to have this book on your shelf, but if you did, it would add an interesting bit of flair to some of your less interesting picture books.