"It didn't matter where you were, if you were in a room full of books you were at least halfway home."
-Lev Grossman, The Magician's Land

Friday, March 27, 2015

Meet a Charming and Spirited Lady in What To Do About Alice?

Kerley, Barbara. 2008. What To Do About Alice? Ill. by Edwin Fotheringham. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN 978-0-439-92231-9

What To Do About Alice? chronicles the life of Theodore Roosevelt's eldest daughter, Alice Lee Roosevelt, from childhood through the end of her father's presidency.  Kerley presents Alice as a rambunctious and highly spirited girl who had a knack for driving her father crazy.  As a child, she liked to jump on couches, joined an all-boys club, and wanted to own a pet monkey.  She tackled challenges head on and didn't want anyone's pity.  As she grew, so did her passion for life.  Alice would stay out late dancing and bet on horse races, much to her father's chagrin.  She was truly ahead of her time.

Alice also developed a love of politics.  When her father became the president, she gladly took on the role of goodwill ambassador and traveled to many places representing the United States.  During his second term in office, Alice joined the American delegation that was heading to Asia.  Upon returning from this trip, Alice got engaged to a congressman, Nicholas Longworth.  Eventually, she became one of her father's most trusted advisers.  

Through it all, Kerley mentions time and time again how Alice "ate up the world" and lived life to the fullest.  

Kerley's picture book biography is geared towards elementary children, and for that age group, she has hit a home run.  She presents Alice in a way that children can relate to; she is fun and adventurous and doesn't always listen to her father.  She travels to far off places and does crazy things, like jumping into the ship's swimming pool fully clothed.  She even has a pet snake!  Kerley knew which historical details to include that would likely grab the attention of her readers.  This biography is certainly meant to be read from cover to cover.

In addition, Fotheringham's illustrations are incredibly detailed and complement the story in every way.  The book itself is larger than a normal picture book, which I believe was done intentionally. This allowed Fotheringham to create these huge, striking pictures depicting Alice's many adventures.  They are quite engaging to the readers.  Interestingly enough, Fotheringham used a computer to create his illustrations.

Kerley makes use of documentable dialogue throughout her book.  An author's note is included at the end where she cites the sources she used to find those quotes.  She also includes more information about Alice that did not make it into the story.  Kerley's work is accurate, however, there is a plethora of information about Alice Roosevelt that she did not include.  I think this speaks to Kerley knowing her audience, as some information would not be appropriate for 7 and 8 year olds to read (i.e. Alice had affairs throughout her marriage, and her daughter's father was reportedly not Nicholas Longworth).

This biography is unlike any I ever read as a child.  I would have been much more inclined to read this genre if the picture book format had been around when I was young.  My 7 year old daughter really enjoyed reading about Alice.  She kept asking me, "Did this really happen?  Did she really do that in real life?" as we were reading together.  She especially liked learning that Alice had a color named after her.  This is another book I had to search for when I prepared to write this review, as she had put it on a shelf in her bookcase, along with her other treasured books!

2009 Sibert Honor Book

ALA Notable Book

Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book

Best Books of the Year - Publishers Weekly

Best Books of the Year - School Library Journal

Best Books of the Year - Kirkus Reviews

From BOOKLIST - "Irrepressible Alice Roosevelt gets a treatment every bit as attractive and exuberant as she was...Kerley's text has the same rambunctious spirit as its subject, grabbing readers from the first line...The large format gives Fotheringham, in his debut, plenty of room for spectacular art."

From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL - "Kerley's text gallops along with a vitality to match her subject's antics, as the girl greets White House visitors accompanied by her pet snake, refuses to let leg braces cramp her style, dives fully clothed into a ship's swimming pool, and also earns her place in history as one of her father's trusted advisers...Fascinating."

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY - "It's hard to imagine a picture book biography that could better suit its subject than this high-energy volume serves young Alice Roosevelt."

Have students choose someone important in their life to write a biography on.  Have them research carefully, including personal interviews with their subject.  After the biographies have been written, allow students to share them with the class.

Give students some choices of other children of presidents to do research on.  Share what they have learned with the class.

Have a discussion about why some of Alice's behavior was considered outrageous.  How were things different back in the early 1900s?  What would people think of her behavior if she were to do all of those things today?

Alice described her zest for life as "eating up the world."  Have a discussion with your class about what they think this phrase means.  Have them give examples from the text that show Alice "eating up the world."  Then, ask your students to share what they would like to do to "eat up the world."

The book mentions a song that was written about Alice, "Alice, Where Art Thou?"  There was also another song dedicated to her, "Alice Blue Gown."  Share the lyrics of these songs with your class.  

Thursday, March 26, 2015

We Are The Ship - A Must-Read for Baseball Fans Everywhere

Nelson, Kadir. 2008. We Are The Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. New York: Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN 978-0-7868-0832-8

Kadir Nelson presents a powerful look at Negro League Baseball, beginning with its formalized creation by Rube Foster in 1920, through its decline once Jackie Robinson joined the majors in 1947.  Using a narrator who represents the collective voices of the many members of the league, Nelson highlights the talented players, many of whom have never been given the recognition they rightfully deserve.  Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Cool Papa Bell are some of the ones baseball fans may know about, but there were so many more who were all-stars in their own right.  He describes the challenges they faced, from finding restaurants and hotels that would accommodate "colored people" while on the road (sometimes they had no choice but to sleep at the local jail or in funeral homes!), to the hostility and discrimination they would face when playing in white towns.       

Ultimately, though, Nelson's story is one of inspiration.  He describes this amazing baseball league that was built from nothing more than determination, perseverance, and an absolute love of the game.   The players considered themselves fortunate because they got to do what they loved for a living.  The Negro Baseball League drew quite a following, and sometimes the games would attract up to 30,000 fans.  People traveled from all over to see the East-West All Star Game.  When they played white teams in exhibition games, they earned respect from the opposing players; regardless of color, baseball is baseball and talent recognizes talent.

Major league owners eventually took notice of these amazing players, and with the signing of Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945, baseball was no longer a segregated sport.  This led to the ultimate demise of Negro League Baseball.  However, this was truly an important piece of American baseball history, and Nelson has done an amazing job chronicling its story.

While I am a huge lover of baseball, and an avid Boston Red Sox fan, I admit to not knowing much about Negro League Baseball prior to reading Nelson's book.  I was looking forward to reading it, but I was unprepared for how completely captivated I would become.  The style in which Nelson chose to write his book makes it read more like a fascinating piece of literature than an informational book.  The narrator does not merely list facts.  Rather, he uses imagery to make the readers feel like they are there with him and adds humor to keep the mood light.  For example, when describing Gus Greenlee's team, the Pittsburgh Crawfords, he says, "After home games, his players would go to his restaurant to have dinner and meet the pretty girls who were already there waiting for them.  (Women have always loved ballplayers, you know.)"  Nelson's passion for the subject shines through, and the reader can't help but feel that same enthusiasm, as well.

The book is organized in chronological order, and lends itself to be read cover-to-cover.  That is how I read it and how I believe it makes the most sense.  However, if the reader does not have the time or inclination to do so, Nelson has included an index at the end of the book.  This makes it helpful for the reader to access specific information in the text or the illustrations. 

Nelson's oil paintings are interspersed throughout the book.  These paintings are simply breathtaking.  They help the reader to visualize the people and places that are mentioned in the book.  They also convey strong emotion and are Nelson's way of paying tribute to these heroes of the game.  A collection of original paintings and sketches from We Are The Ship have even been on display at numerous museums throughout the country, including the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Nelson spent many years conducting research for this book.  An author's note at the end explains how he looked at a variety of books, documentaries, films, and websites on the subject of Negro League Baseball to gather information.  These works have been cited in a bibliography and a filmography that are both included in the book.  In addition, he personally interviewed several former players and read first-hand accounts of others.  All of this meticulous research has led to a story that is as accurate as it is enjoyable. 

I was truly taken by the story conveyed in We Are The Ship.  It is recommended for children ages 8 and up, but I feel that this is a story for baseball fans of any age.  Based on my glowing recommendation, my husband is now reading the book, and I am looking forward to discussing it with him.  Recommending a book is the highest compliment I can give to an author, and Nelson deserves that and more for his beautiful story and paintings. 

2009 Sibert Medal

2009 Coretta Scott King Author Award

2009 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor

From BOOKLIST - "Award-winning illustrator and first-time author Nelson's history of the Negro Leagues, told from the vantage point of an unnamed narrator, reads like an old-timer regaling his grandchildren with tales of baseball greats Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and others who forged the path toward breaking the race barrier before Jackie Robinson made his historic debut...The stories and artwork are a tribute to the spirit of the Negro Leaguers, who were much more than also-rans and deserve a more prominent place on baseball's history shelves."

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY - "In his first outing as author as well as illustrator, Nelson (Ellington Was Not a Street) delivers a history of the Negro Leagues in a sumptuous volume that no baseball fan should be without."

From KIRKUS REVIEWS - "Along with being absolutely riveted by the art, readers will come away with a good picture of the Negro Leaguers' distinctive style of play, as well as an idea of how their excellence challenged the racial attitudes of both their sport and their times."

Have students choose a player from the book and have them conduct research on his life, career, and family and present the information to the class.

Have students do further research on how Negro League baseball impacted segregation and integration during the Civil Rights Era.

Have students learn the different positions in baseball and rules of the game.  Organize them into two teams and have them play a game.  Or, simply have them try to hit a baseball with a bat.

If there is a baseball team near your school, take students to a game.  After, have them write about their experience at the game, using their five senses.

For younger students (ages 7 and up), watch and discuss the 1950 movie The Jackie Robinson Story.  For older children (ages 11 and up), watch and discuss the 2013 movie 42
  • The Jackie Robinson Story. Jewel Pictures, 1950.
  • 42. Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, 2013.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

See How You Measure Up with Actual Size

Jenkins, Steve. 2004. Actual Size. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 978-0547512914

Steve Jenkins's Actual Size is a nonfiction book that centers around various animals.  Jenkins uses minimal text to share tidbits of information about each animal, as well as their measurements.  The majority of each page is taken up by illustrations depicting these animals (or parts of the animals) at actual size.  For example, the eye of the giant squid, with its 12 inch diameter, takes up an entire page and then some.  The 22 inch giant walking stick, the world's longest insect, doesn't completely fit the span of two pages.  In contrast, the dwarf goby, the smallest fish, is only 1/3 inch long.  This tiny fish is so small it is almost difficult to see at its actual size.  Jenkins ends his book with more detailed information about each animal, as well as pictures of the whole of each animal that are not drawn to scale.

This concept book is an excellent example of quality nonfiction literature for younger children.  The information Jenkins presents is accurate and imparted in a clear manner.  In addition, his paper collage illustrations have been created in a way that depict the animal (or a part of the animal) at its true size.  For young children, the concept of inches is too abstract for them to truly comprehend without some sort of visual accompaniment.  These collages are a highly creative and effective way to show the actual animal sizes to the readers.  They are truly designed in a way that will grab the reader's attention.  Jenkins has also included a section at the back of the book with more information on each animal's habits, diet, and habitat, for those children who want to learn more.

While some nonfiction books are not meant to be read cover to cover, this book is.  It is organized in a way that makes it a great read aloud.  Each page follows the same pattern - illustration of the animal with one to two interesting facts about said animal, including height and weight.  However, don't expect it to be a quick read. Children will want to pause on each page to take in the illustration and possibly compare the animal's size with their own.  My children wanted me to stop reading so they could hold their hands up to the page to compare them with the size of the gorilla's.

My children and I really enjoyed this book.  It was brand new to both myself and my 7 year old daughter.  My 5 year old son, however, exclaimed happily that this book is at his preschool, and he has looked at it several times.  He said, "I like the part with the huge gorilla hand."  My daughter's response was, "It was funny how tiny the fish was.  I loved seeing the animals in their real sizes.  It was awesome!"  When we reached the final pages, they each picked an animal for me to read about so they could learn more about their favorites.

This book is a true gem, and I can't wait to read more Steve Jenkins titles with my children!

2005 Orbis Pictus Honor Book

Natural History Best Books for Young Readers, 2004

CHILD Magazine Best Book of the Year

BCCB Blue Ribbon Nonfiction Book

Top Ten Sci-Tech Books for Youth, 2004; American Library Association-Booklist

From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL - "This beautiful book is an enticing way to introduce children to the glorious diversity of our natural world, or to illustrate to budding scientists the importance of comparison, measurement, observation, and record keeping.  A thoroughly engaging read-aloud and a must-have for any collection."

From BOOKLIST - "Jenkins' artwork is gorgeous (a gate-fold of a frog in midleap is particularly memorable)...An unusual, unusually effective tool for connecting children to nature's astonishing variety."

From THE BULLETIN - "Jenkins's imaginative paper collages work their usual magic in transcending their medium to capture the spirit and detail of their subjects."

For students who loved visualizing the actual sizes of different animals, read Jenkins's similar title, Prehistoric Actual Size.

  • Jenkins, Steve. Prehistoric Actual Size. ISBN 978-0618535781

Read other nonfiction works by Steve Jenkins.
  • Jenkins, Steve. What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? ISBN 978-0618997138
  • Jenkins, Steve. Biggest, Strongest, Fastest. ISBN 978-0395861363
  • Jenkins, Steve. Almost Gone: The World's Rarest Animals. ISBN 978-0060536008
Have students choose an animal from the book that they are interested in learning more about.  Have them research the animal and write a report on what they've learned.

Use this book as an introduction to measurement.  Teach children how to use a ruler and a tape measure.  Have them measure fingers, hands, arms, and other various objects in the classroom.  Then, have them open up the book and measure the animals.  Decide when to use a ruler and when a tape measure is needed.

Have students create their own own paper collage.  Give them cut up paper and glue and let them create a picture of their choosing.

Photocopy the page depicting the gorilla's hand, one for each child.  Have students dip a hand in paint and make their handprint on top of the gorilla's.  This will allow them to see how the size of their hand compares to the gorilla's.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A visit with author and poet Leslie Bulion

I had the pleasure of spending the day with award winning author and poet Leslie Bulion.  I had contacted Leslie last fall and asked her to speak at my daughter's elementary school.  She came yesterday, and she was so inspiring!  She really engaged the students, and the teachers couldn't stop talking about how impressed they were.

If you haven't read any of Leslie's books, I highly recommend you check them out.  Here are three of her poetry compilations that she personally signed for my children.

That's me with Leslie.

For more information on this amazing author, check out www.lesliebulion.com.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Book Trailer - This Is Not My Hat

Here is my original book trailer for the 2013 Caldecott Medal book 
This Is Not My Hat.  I hope you like it!