"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

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Pirate of Kindergarten - A Must See Book

Lyon, George Ella. 2010. The Pirate of Kindergarten. Ill. by Lynne Avril. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 978-1-4169-5024-0

Ginny is a Kindergartener who loves school.  She enjoys reading and drawing.  But Ginny has a problem.  Her eyes like to play tricks on her.  She has difficulty walking to Reading Circle because she sees double the amount of chairs.  Reading is tricky because the words seem to move all over the page.  And using scissors is even trickier; multiple images appear on the paper, and she's never sure which one to cut.

Everything changes for Ginny on Vision Screening Day.  To Ginny's dismay, the nurse finds that she has double vision.  This prompts a visit to Dr. Clare, who gives Ginny an eye patch to wear.  This patch allows Ginny to see only one of everything.  Now, she is a Kindergarten Pirate.  She is able to read, cut, run, climb, and walk successfully.  Ginny's problem has been solved, and she couldn't be happier.

The Pirate of Kindergarten is actually based on George Ella Lyon's own experiences as a child.  She has written the story in a way that makes it easy for young children to comprehend Ginny's visual impairment.  Ginny is a relatable character, in that she enjoys school and the many activities that happen there throughout the day.  Her frustration over using the scissors and her anxiety over the vision screening are understandable.  When Ginny is given the patch to wear, Lyon highlights all of its positive effects.  This lets the reader know that wearing an eye patch is not weird or strange, but helpful and exciting.  Should any young children encounter someone with an eye patch in the future, they will have a much better understanding of why the person is wearing it after reading this book.

Lynne Avril's vibrant illustrations realistically portray how Ginny's eyes work, both before and after the patch.  When I read this story to my own children, ages 7 and 5, the illustrations really helped them understand what it would be like to have a visual impairment.  The book prompted a discussion with my children about my own eye sight.  I do not have double vision, but I have very poor eye sight and wear contact lessons.  They both asked, "Is this what it is like for you when you don't have your contacts in?"  I don't think they ever really understood what it meant to have a visual impairment until they read this book.  

2011 Schneider Family Book Award Winner

Volunteer State Book Award Master List

From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL - "Lyon's short, descriptive sentences set up the situation deftly, and Avril's astute chalk, pencil, and acrylic drawings of "two of everything" provide a vivid window into Ginny's pre-treatment world. It is not until the end of the story that Ginny declares herself a pirate, but as a metaphor for confidence and competence, her patch effectively declares her to be captain of her own ship."

From BOOKLIST - "Based on Lyon’s own experience, the sensitively written story radiates empathy and good humor. Even children who have not experienced Ginny’s problem will understand her occasional frustration and find it intriguing that one person can literally see the world differently from another."

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY - "Without lecturing or making Ginny the object of pity, Lyon (Sleepsong) and Avril (Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse), who works in cheery but remarkably expressive pastels, show how disorientating and alienating it feels when something as fundamental as visual perception goes awry."

Have a discussion with your students about visual impairments.  Do any of them have a visual impairment?  Do they know someone with a visual impairment?  

Invite the school nurse into your classroom.  Have him/her administer a vision screening on each student, so they can experience it for themselves.

Read your students more books about characters with visual impairments.  Here are some suggestions:
  • Headley, Justina Chen. The Patch. ISBN 978-1580891707
  • Shaw, Beth Kobliner. Jacob's Eye Patch. ISBN 978-1476737324
  • Kostecki-Shaw, Jenny Sue. My Travelin' Eye. ISBN 978-0805081695

Ginny's eye patch is just one way she is unique.  Have a discussion with your students about what makes each of them unique.

Share this book trailer with your students.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Experience the Power of Imagination with The Boy in the Garden

Say, Allen. 2010. The Boy in the Garden. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children: Boston. ISBN 978-0-547-21410-8

After listening to Mama read him a story about a crane who turns into a woman, Jiro goes with his father to visit Mr. Ozu.  Mr. Ozu has a beautiful garden, in which Jiro spies a crane.  He approaches the crane carefully, so as not to frighten it.  But when he hears the laughter of his father and Mr. Ozu, he realizes the crane is a statue.

Jiro runs away in embarrassment, and he comes across a small cottage.  Thinking it may be the cottage of the woodcutter from Mama's story, Jiro goes in and makes himself at home.  Soon after, a beautiful woman appears, and Jiro believes it is the Crane Woman.  He is thrilled to be part of the story, and he is determined to take care of her.

Unfortunately, it appears to have all been a dream.  Papa wakes Jiro up after finding him asleep in Mr. Ozu's teahouse.  As father and son walk home, they take a moment to observe the bronze crane.

Did Jiro actually enter the story Mama read to him?  Or was it all really a dream?

Allen Say opens his book with "The Story That Mama Read to Jiro."  When he switches to the narrative of Jiro and his father going to visit Mr. Ozu, readers will likely wonder what the connection is between these two stories.  As the tale unfolds, the reader sees that Jiro may have just wandered into Mama's book.  This is certainly an intriguing idea that will grab readers and keep them guessing as to what is really going on.  Many children have often fantasized about becoming a part of their favorite books.

Say's muted watercolor paintings complement the text.  The wonder in Jiro's face is evident on each page.  While he does put on a kimono at the small cottage, Jiro is initially painted wearing pants and a coat (as well as his father).  This helps make him a relatable character to children of any culture.  The kimono comes into play when the legend comes to life.  The most important illustration, however, is the one on the last page of the book.  The reader has just come to the conclusion that Jiro's experiences took place in a dream, but a small bird flying in the distance might lead them to believe maybe it did really happen after all.   

Allen Say has written and illustrated countless picture books and was the winner of the Newbery Medal in 1994.  He has a true gift for storytelling.   

From THE HORN BOOK - "A gently unsettling tale of the power of the imagination." 

From KIRKUS REVIEWS - "Say is at the height of his artistic achievement in this tale of a little boy named Jiro and the powerful impact that a story has on him...This is a beautiful, moving, quietly mysterious read, ripe with possibilities for interpretation and contemplation." 

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY - "Caldecott Medalist Say (Grandfather's Journey), his work always painstaking and poignant, ventures tentatively into the realm of fantasy....Pale colors and expanses of empty space contribute to the feeling of haunted charm. Did Jiro dream? Possibly—or possibly not." 

Visit this website to listen to Allen Say talk about his inspiration for The Boy in the Gardenhttp://www.teachingbooks.net/book_reading.cgi?id=4794&a=1

Share more of Allen Say's picture books with your students, including his 1994 Caldecott Medal Winner, Grandfather's Journey.  Click on this website to find a list of his books. http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/bookwizard/books-by/allen-say#cart/cleanup

Click on this website to find a printable activity for your students to complete. http://www.thewiseowlfactory.com/PDFs/2011/09/TheBoyintheGardenQandA.pdf

Have your students share what story they would like to become a part of and why.

Show your students pictures of real looms and share some videos of what weaving cloth looks like.  This may be an unfamiliar process for them.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Kira-Kira - A Novel of Love and Hope in the Face of Tragedy

Kadohata, Cynthia. 2004. Kira-Kira. New York: Atheneum Books For Young Readers.  ISBN 0-689-85639-3

The year is 1956.  Katie, a young Japanese American girl, has spent the first five years of her life living in a Japanese community in Iowa with her family.  When her parents' Oriental foods grocery store goes out of business, however, they decide to pack up and move to Georgia, where her uncle lives.  

Life in Georgia is very different.  Her family moved from a comfortable house in Iowa to a cramped apartment.   Katie's parents work all the time.   The other children at school ignore her.  Her only real friend is her older sister, Lynn.  Katie idolizes Lynn.  She is a shining star who seems to know everything about everything.  Katie feels happiest when she is with Lynn and always tries to please her.  

Everything changes when Lynn gets sick.  At first, she just seems tired all the time and needs extra rest.  The purchase of their own home breathes new life into Lynn, but as more time passes, it becomes clear that she is not getting any better.  The hospital bills start to pile up and Katie's parents fall behind on their mortgage payments.  They work more and more hours, but it's still not enough.

Katie's life is filled with a combination of worry, uncertainty, and despair.  What is wrong with her sister, and will she ever get better?  And how can she prevent her family from falling apart?

A sign of a remarkable author is the ability to make the reader both laugh and cry, and Cynthia Kadohata does just that in her stunning novel.  She uses the power of voice to make Katie a memorable and relatable character.  Katie is a typical young girl who would rather spend time with her older sister than do her homework.  Her observations of the world around her are often amusing.  She has a family who loves her and would do anything for her.  And while her family may be poor financially, their lives are rich with love.  Readers will root for Katie to succeed because she is so likable.

Kadohata's portrayal of the racism the Takeshimas face is accurate based on the setting of the novel.  The receptionist at the motel mistakes the Japanese American family for Indian and then Mexican.  She offers them a room at the back of the motel but charges them two dollars extra for it.  The only people who are friendly to the family in Georgia are the other Japanese Americans.  The white people ignore them or point and stare.  Mrs. Takeshima experiences this vividly when she gives birth to Sam.  The nurses in the hospital can't stop staring at the "cute Japanese" baby, but are purposely neglectful to her.  Both Lynn and Katie have a difficult time making friends, and it is a big deal when Amber, a white girl, befriends Lynn.

Kadohata intersperses Japanese words within the text.  The title of the novel, Kira-Kira, is Japanese for "glittering," and this word is meaningful to both Lynn and Katie.  Lynn dreams of moving to California and seeing the kira-kira sea, and for Katie, it was the first word she learned.  The older characters have Japanese names.  Kadohata also makes note of the most important holiday in her culture, New Year.  The most devastating event in the novel actually takes place on New Year.

I look forward to reading more of this prolific author's work.

2005 Newbery Medal Winner

2005 Asian Pacific American Literature Award Winner

2005 ALA Notable Book

From BOOKLIST - "In her first novel for young people, Kadohata stays true to the child's viewpoint in plain, beautiful prose that can barely contain the passionate feelings. Just as heart wrenching as the sisters' story is what Katie knows of her father's struggle, whether it's his backbreaking work in the factory or his love for his family. The quiet words will speak to readers who have lost someone they love—or fear that they could."

From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL - "Told from Katie's point of view and set in the 1950s, this beautifully written story tells of a girl struggling to find her own way in a family torn by illness and horrendous work conditions. Katie's parents can barely afford to pay their daughter's medical bills, yet they refuse to join the growing movement to unionize until after Lynn's death. All of the characters are believable and well developed, especially Katie, who acts as a careful observer of everything that happens in her family, even though there is a lot she doesn't understand. Especially heartbreaking are the weeks leading up to Lynn's death, when Katie is exhausted and frustrated by the demands of her sister's illness, yet willing to do anything to make her happy. Girls will relate to and empathize with the appealing protagonist."

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY - "This novel shines."

If your students enjoyed this novel, have them read another of Kadohata's titles:
  • Kadohata, Cynthia. The Thing About Luck. ISBN 978-1416918820
  • Kadohata, Cynthia. Weedflower. ISBN 978-0689865749
  • Kadohata, Cynthia. A Million Shades of Gray. ISBN 978-1416918837

Have your students write a journal entry describing what school was like for Katie.  

Have your students research why New Year is the most important holiday in the Japanese culture.

Ask your students to think about what might happen next for Katie and her family.  Will her parents still be struggling with money?  Have them write an epilogue of what the family is doing a year from when the novel ends.

Share this video with your students of Cynthia Kadohata discussing the novel.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Chinese Folktales and Imagination Blend Together in Where The Mountain Meets The Moon

Lin, Grace. 2009. Where The Mountain Meets The Moon. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-316-03863-8

Where The Mountain Meets The Moon is the story of a young girl named Minli.  Minli and her parents live in the poor village of Fruitless Mountain.  Their tireless work, day after day, provides them with only the smallest amount of food.  Ma is dissatisfied with the life they have and would love nothing more than a change in fortune.  Inspired by Ba's exciting stories, Minli decides to leave home and seek out the Old Man of the Moon, in the hopes that he will tell her how to change her family's fortune.

Thus begins a long and dangerous journey.  Along the way, Minli befriends a lonely dragon, and he becomes her constant companion, as he, too would like to ask a question of the Old Man of the Moon.  Together, they outsmart some monkeys, search for the Guardian of the City of Bright Moonlight and a borrowed line, encounter an evil green tiger, and listen to a wealth of old stories.  They also make many new friends who are more than happy to assist Minli and Dragon in whatever way they can.

Meanwhile, Ma and Ba are worried sick about their precious daughter and fear they may never see her again.  Will Minli succeed in finding the Old Man of the Moon?  And if so, will he be willing to help her?  The ending of this exciting tale may surprise you.   

Lin's novel is both enchanting and compelling.  Minli is a strong female character who decides to take fate into her own hands.  She is determined, courageous, and kind.  In short, she has all of the qualities that any young girl might aspire to have.  I think this is particularly important because girls in Asian Pacific American literature have been portrayed as shy, obedient, and subservient in the past.  It is refreshing to read a story where the character breaks free of those stereotypes.  Minli's quest will likely fascinate all young readers, but her character will have just as a profound effect on the perception of Asian Pacific American girls.

Chinese folklore, both traditional and newly imagined by Lin, plays an essential role in this novel. Throughout the book, Minli is surrounded by these stories.  The stories Ba tells her in the evenings are the catalyst for her journey.  Throughout her travels, each character she meets has another story to share.  These stories further her knowledge and help guide her in making important decisions.  For example, The Unknown Part of the Story of the Old Man of the Moon tells both Minli and the King of the City of Bright Moonlight that the paper passed down to him from his predecessors is in all likeliness the borrowed line.  Minli uses that knowledge when she arrives at Never-Ending Mountain to create a kite from the valuable paper (along with the red string).  The Old Man of the Moon will surely take notice of her when he sees that she has returned a paper from the Book of Fortune to him.  It is important to note that at the end of her novel, Lin shares which aspects of the book were based on real Chinese folktales and which parts she created herself.

Where The Mountain Meets The Moon is a culturally authentic novel.  The characters have Chinese names, the foods they eat are traditional Chinese foods, and the clothes they wear are bright in color and made of silk.  The color red is important in the Chinese culture, and the twins, Da-A-Fu, are described as wearing red.  Dragons are symbolic in Chinese culture, and there are many dragons in this story (both real and as part of the stories).  The people who encounter Minli's friend, Dragon, are awed by him.  Likewise, goldfish are considered symbols of luck and good fortune, and their appearance in the novel marks considerable change for the characters.   

It would be remiss not to mention Lin's beautiful artwork.  Her full color paintings are vibrant and add another layer to this already engaging story.  They help the reader to more completely visualize the characters and events. 

This is the first title by Grace Lin that I have read, but I am looking forward to reading more of her work.  She is a noteworthy author from a diverse cultural group that is poorly underrepresented in American children's literature today, and I look forward to sharing her books with my students.    

2010 Newbery Honor Book

2010 CCBC Choices List

2013 Nutmeg Award Nominee

From BOOKLIST - "With beautiful language, Lin creates a strong, memorable heroine and a mystical land. Stories, drawn from a rich history of Chinese folktales, weave throughout her narrative, deepening the sense of both the characters and the setting and smoothly furthering the plot. Children will embrace this accessible, timeless story about the evil of greed and the joy of gratitude. Lin's own full-color drawings open each chapter."

From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL - "The author's writing is elegant, and her full-color illustrations are stunning. Minli's determination to help her family, as well as the grief her parents feel at her absence, is compelling and thoroughly human."

From KIRKUS REVIEWS - "Lin deftly incorporates elements from Chinese folk- and fairy tales to create stories within the main story and provide context for Minli's quest. With her "lively and impulsive spirit," Minli emerges a stalwart female role model who learns the importance of family, friendship and faith during her amazing journey. Richly hued illustrations reinforce the Chinese folk theme."

Grace Lin has several wonderful activities that go along with the novel on her website.  Check them out by clicking on this link. Grace Lin's Website  

Share this video of Lin being interviewed about her novel by some children.

If your students enjoyed Lin's writing, have them choose another of her books to read.  Her other middle grade novels include:
  • Lin, Grace. Starry River of the Sky. ISBN 978-0316125970
  • Lin, Grace. The Year of the Dog. ISBN 978-0316060028
  • Lin, Grace. The Year of the Rat. ISBN 978-0316033619
  • Lin, Grace. Dumpling Days. ISBN 978-0316125895  

Have your students write about what one question they would ask the Old Man of the Moon if they had the opportunity and why.

Ask your students to think about which character in the novel they are most like.  Have them write why they are similar to this character and list attributes that they both share.