Thursday, September 28, 2006

Chapter Books - The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes and illustrated by Louis Slobodkin 1944

Talk about a book from the past. I had never heard of The Hundred Dresses until I was browsing through the library’s juvenile shelves a few weeks ago. There were three copies in various dust jacket covers, so I thought this is an interesting title I think I will take it with me and look there is a silver Newbery honor sticker. The fact this was written in 1944 and the copy I checked out is from 1971 would surprise some for still being on a shelf in the library system with the continual abundance of new books to stock shelves with. Of course, anything that has an award tag especially of the Newbery kind will be found for years to come in almost any public library or bookstore. But, I must say this smallish chapter book still has appeal and relevance in today’s time.

We meet three elementary age girls whose only real connection is they share the same classroom. Peggy is the popular well-to-do girl, Maddie is Peggy’s best friend, and Wanda is the new girl from the very poor side of town with the funny last name. No one really notices Wanda at first. She keeps to herself, has difficulty in speaking in front of the class, and wears the same blue dress everyday to school. What starts off as a simple statement from Wanda one day as the girls all admire the new dress a classmate is wearing turns into a daily “funning” by the girls. Wanda casually mentions that she has 100 dresses in her closet at home. Since she wears the same dress every day no one believes her and it becomes a game to ask Wanda about her dresses everyday.

The “funning” of Wanda by Peggy and the other girls in class is just a polite way of saying mocking, harassing, or polite bullying. Maddie always accompanies Peggy during these meetings, but says little because she wonders if she stood up to Peggy if she then will be the next target of ridicule. Plus, she thinks what is the harm in poking a little fun it isn’t as if Wanda has told the “truth”. Maddie’s home situation isn’t quite on the same poverty line as Wanda, but she doesn’t have the things Peggy does and could be seen in a different light if she didn’t go along with the popular “opinion”.

After several days of being absent from class, which no one notices, the teacher reads a letter to the class from Wanda’s father. It tells of how he is moving with Wanda and her brother to the big city where people are more accepting of families with funny last names. How Maddie and Peggy react to the news is interesting and realistic. Are they to blame? How can they fix the situation? Did Wanda really have 100 hundred dresses? The author does a great job in bringing the emotions and thinking process of this age group together in a simple and quickly read chapter book. The artist use of vague features and little color for the figures helps keep the story pliable and current as well.

This would be a great book to blow the dust off and read aloud in a classroom setting. From what I have seen there is even a teacher’s guide that goes with it. Of course, I am not sure how current the guide is. The story I think would be a good one to demonstrate to students how “funning” has side effects and consequences that may not always be seen. Would recommend for 2nd grade on up.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Picture Books - Gotta Go! Gotta Go!

Gotta Go! Gotta Go! by Sam Swope 2000

With all the Monarch butterflies I have seen today I just had to mentioned one of my all time favorite read aloud books. It is a perfect book to read this time of year especially to kindergarten through 3rd grade students. Although younger and older would also appreciate the fun and repetitive phrase of "I don't know much, but I know what I know. I gotta go! I gotta go! I gotta go to Mexico!" The author quickly yet accurately takes us through the life cycle and migration process of a Monarch caterpillar. By introducing us to the Monarch caterpillar on an individual and personable level, the author has the reader instantly developing a bond and becoming a sideline cheerleader for the butterfly’s success. This is one of those picture books that really help supplement a science project or the introduction of insects. But, it does this without getting into too much detail, but still provides an overall look at how caterpillars and butterflies follow their natural instincts. There are a number of wonderful books on butterflies in general, but this has to be one of the tops in my opinion.


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Germs, Germs Please Stay Away!

The thing about this poster is it isn't where I need it to be. I realize that germs fly, walk, or ride around on just about anything. But, let me just say this, if you have sick kids and you think it is just fine and dandy to bring them to play groups, gym classes, or anywhere they will be with other children for some time then you should be the one taking care of the other kids that end up sick because of your desire to "get out" of the house. Now, I realize this sounds a bit on the angry side, but as I have watched my wee one get sick and then recover only to get sick again from these other precious little ones this past month I tend to have the mother bear attitude emerge. Plus, I am bit short on sleep and patience this last week.

The first illness I saw coming at her gym class, but thought I could steer clear, which didn't work. But, this time I just knew the wee one was going to get sick from the moment I stepped into the new play group room at church. Two moms brought their very clearly sick kids to the group knowing they were sick and let them run around with the other ones for two hours while they went off to their rotation day for Bible study. I so wish I had the nerve to say something then. So, the wee one woke up 48 hours later sick and another 72 hours later daddy was sick and then mommy. We actually stayed home when the next play group/Bible study came around. Yes, I missed my rotation and the wee one missed play time with others, but I didn't want her to keep passing it on.

So, the good thing is we are mending, the bad thing is this is my first time with this study group and kids. Guess we'll see how the next week goes. With 10 little precious ones in a room there is bound to be sickness, but when they are so sick that one cries and needs to be held the entire two hours and both have the worse runny noses you have seen, it is just 48 hours until to the next stop on the germ train. But, I did get a few good book readings in and the wee one and I read lots of books together. Always a silver lining somewhere.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Picture Books - The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper by Kate Coombs and illustrated by Heather M. Solomon 2005

Looking for an original folktale then check out The Secret Keeper. Coombs takes a surprising approach in that the main character Kalli has the profession of keeping secrets. Kalli, who is artfully drawn with compassionate eyes and willowy form, lives alone in the forest. Throughout good weather the villagers one by one visit her to unload their burdens in exchange for some type of compensation. The secret is then magically transformed into a symbolic object, which Kalli stores in her walls of many drawers. Like most people the villagers of Maldinga have their small and large burdens, some are lies and some are hurtful actions. But, in the end Kalli begins to feel the affects of all the negative secrets and becomes ill. The villagers rush to her side to try and help, but none are sure what to do. It is suggested that people also have good secrets and maybe they should share these as well. No one wants to go first as it would be telling a secret in front of others, which is just not done. But, soon a brave young boy shares how he wants to be painter when he grows up. From there others begin to tell their happy secrets. Kalli’s spirits begin to lift with every happy secret and finds that she is able to get up and celebrate the coming spring with the villagers.

Although I hadn’t heard of a tale of this type before, my husband with a meticulous memory seems to think he has read something like it before. No matter it is a beautifully illustrated book and makes for an interesting read and bases for discussion with young and old. Although marketed as a picture book, I have found many libraries classify this book as a folktale.


Friday, September 15, 2006

Oldies, but Goodies - Kids Records

For all those who remember listening to kids stories on the radio or record players there is a website for you. A former classmate of mine works at the local library and introduced me to Kiddie Records Weekly this past weekend. This website is a project that takes “golden age” children’s records and makes them available to the public for listening or downloading. The stories are generally from the 1940’s and 50’s. It is amazing the variety of materials they have located. Some of these include classics like:

Story of Robin Hood - The Adventures of Tom Thumb - Little Black Sambo - Cinderella - Pecos Bill - Rob Roy - The Sorcerer's Apprentice - Why the Chimes Rang - Mother Goose - Madeline - etc.

There looks to be about 52 record selections for each year of the three-year project. Many of these have the original storybook images that came with the record. They all include at least the album cover image. This would make a great tool to use when introducing story versions to kids of today. The audio clarity is pretty good for most of the records as well.

I am not from that time period, but really enjoyed (and had a good laugh) hearing the different stories and how they were “told” back then. With the current tech savviness of today’s youth, many would probably appreciate the audio stream or download options.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Terrifying Toy? Maybe!

Many of us remember the classic stacker toy from years ago, which is still available. But, for some reason I had this idea that my wee one, who loves music, would enjoy the updated version. It comes with colorful lights and fun sounds when you stack the stars (no longer round rings). Plus, when you put the top on it you get to hear magical musical tunes. So, why was it put back in the closet again today? Well, every time we bring it out the wee one looks as if the toy is possessed and won’t let go of mommy’s legs, arms, or anything that can be used to hold on to.

It all started a few months ago. We (the wee one and myself) sat down to play with this thing. She didn’t like the looks of it then, but mommy thought oh I’m sure it will be fine in a day or two. It got to the point where she would cover it up with a pillow to try and hide it. It was then I thought maybe we’d try after a brief hiatus. I was thinking this morning it might be time, since she turned 19 months yesterday to bring out the stacker once again. But wait, my husband was thinking the same thing and lo and behold there it was on the floor of the playroom this morning. And, as I sat my wee one down she turned to me and gave me that don’t you think about going anywhere look. We sat down together again and I showed her what fun the toy can be and how exciting it was to hear all the fun music. She wouldn’t let go of me. Finally, she went to get a large toy and tried to run the stacker out of the playroom. I then put it out of the area and that still wasn’t good enough. The toy had “contaminated” the space and we must go elsewhere.

Any lessons here, I think to myself? No, other than she was so much happier when I satisfied her “wreeee” habit. That is her word now for when she wants to read books.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Picture Books - The Gingerbread Cowboy

The Gingerbread Cowboy by Janet Squires and Illustrated by Holly Berry 2006

“Giddyup, giddyup as fast as you can” are the words heard from the gingerbread cowboy. That’s right partner I said The Gingerbread Cowboy. I have seen a number of gingerbread man stories in my time, but this is the first I’ve seen with a western theme to it. Instead of biscuits and jam one day the rancher’s wife decides to make gingerbread and shapes it into a cowboy with a fringe vest no less. Like in many of the others stories the gingerbread cowboy takes off when he gets the chance and leads a group of hungry folks and critters in his path. Unlike the javelinas and long horned cattle, the coyote (instead of the usual fox or wolf) ends up outwitting the gingerbread cowboy as they cross the river. The nice surprise ending is seeing the rancher’s wife teaching the coyote how to make gingerbread cowboys.

If you are someone who likes variations on fairytales, then this is a book for you. Plus, I think it would be a good read aloud for a group of young ones. The artwork is comical, detailed, and colorful. It adds greatly to the tale. I originally selected this because my husband is a fan of the gingerbread man. However, I too found it a delightful read. I don’t usually mind seeing the gingerbread man eaten in the end as he really at times can be annoying with his “ can’t catch me” phrase. One thing I did find a bit odd was how in using the classic phrase this gingerbread man doesn’t call himself a cowboy, but still the gingerbread man. Would probably work well with kids 5 and up. Also, a good one to use in a compare and contrast situation.


Friday, September 08, 2006

40 Years of Star Trek

It was 40 years ago today that Star Trek made its first appearance on television and began a cult like following despite poor ratings. The show was only on for three years, yet it spun off a number of other shows, movies, and items. There are also a variety of Star Trek books available for children of all ages. Even though it was Captain Kirk who said if I remember from those summer days of watching the repeats “ boldly go where no man has gone before...” or something like that, I seriously doubt anyone envisioned such a phenomenon would have transpired. In my opinion, science fiction literature has benefited notably since Star Trek took flight. No matter your preference of genre you have to appreciate to some degree the influence a television show can have on reading and authors.

However, in other news I am sure you would all agree that Blogger could really benefit for some time with Scotty and his ability to tinker with the engines to achieve warp drive. It could be me, but of late I can’t seem to get Blogger to move past turtle speed.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Germs-They Affect Your Brain (and writing)

Okay, I must confess my last few postings have been written with a head cold. Now, I know I am not a great writer and some days I am probably no better than a high school freshman-writing student. But, I did warned everyone early on that I am the worse proofreader of my own work especially when I change my thoughts midstream in what I am trying to express. So, please excuse my poor grammatical and typographical errors of late. This cold has knocked this house's occupants onto the planet of dizzy and stuffy. Of course, on healthy days I really don’t have an excuse other than my brain and fingers don’t always connect. Well, that and I am not summiting these writings to for a grade or paycheck, so I am a bit lax in my polishing. Hope you all had a good Labor Day weekend. (The poster image is one of several from Maine's Health and Human Services Department. Thought too fun not to add.)

Monday, September 04, 2006

Chapter Books - Double Identity

Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix 2005

From time to time I run across a book that is a bit like something else I have already read, but I don’t believe I have read anything similar to this intriguing plot-twisting story. Of course, I don’t read a lot of science fiction either. Previously, I have read one of Haddix’s early books titled Running Out of Time and found it also unique. I think now there may be another book or two with similar storylines to Running Out of Time, but in the adult book section. Haddix’s writes Double Identity as if it were a bit in the future, but not to far out there. It really never gives a date other than it is past 2006. Haddix’s tackles the very controversial subject of cloning and clearly puts it to the test.

Bethany is not the typical nearly thirteen year-old she would really like to be. Her parents border on the smothering side and try to keep her secluded from the outside world. Other than going to school and swimming, Bethany spends all her time with one or both of her parents. It isn’t until a sudden and suspicious ride across several states to a relative she didn’t know existed that she is really begins to question her life with her parents. When her father leaves her standing on the front porch of her Aunt Myrlie’s the only thing she knows is that there is someone named “Elizabeth” she doesn’t know about. When she tries to contact her father she finds his cell and home telephone numbers have been disconnected. Haddix then begins the tales intriguing events that begin to unfold a life for Bethany that she didn’t know existed. Who really are her parents and why do people seem shocked and somewhat horrified when they see her? The suspense and characters do not cross the line where the book would keep one up at night, but it does keep your attention.

Haddix combines a preteen attitude along side the pains of growing up with a dose of current news controversy, but in an intrigue package. This is a book I think grades 5 and up would enjoy. Some libraries classify it as a science fiction, but I really wouldn’t as the topic is only discussed in terms of ethics and how one would feel about cloning. Plus, the timing may be in the future, but the setting and topic really are very current. The book never gets into the science of anything and deals primarily with emotions and ends with a media circus that would probably occur if someone was actually cloned. Definitely a Turn the Page book.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Poetry Books - Heart to Heart

Heart to Heart by Myesha S. Morris 2006

We all have those days that make you wonder, what next. Each of us experiences life’s ups and downs in our own unique way. Some of us are quiet with its encounter and others go to the opposite extreme of being very loud and vocal in their daily interaction with life. Recently, I was given a book of poetry that struck me as unique in the way the author has expressed her way in dealing with life’s ups and downs. She has combined the aspect of quiet with that of being vocal, but in a positive manner. Normally, we do not tend to think those that are quiet as being able to be heard through all the loud clatter of others. However, through reading her words and life experience one can see there is a positive force in this individual as well as in her life. Check out the author’s website and meet her as well as read a sample of her works. It is well worth the visit.