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the rock and the river

September 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Thirteen year-old Sam Childs has a lot to live up to in his house.  His father, Roland Childs, is one of the most prominent faces of the Civil Rights movement in Chicago; and his brother, Steven (Stick), has just joined the Black Panthers, much to his father’s disappointment.   Sam doesn’t know who to follow.  At first, Sam goes to Panther breakfasts at his school because he is hungry, but after he witnesses the brutal police beating of his brother’s best friend Bucky, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated, Sam begins to wonder whether nonviolence is the path after all.  The Rock and the River shows a side of the Civil Rights Movement that isn’t often portrayed in young adult literature – and the difficulty in Dr. King’s nonviolent belief in the necessity of turning the other cheek.

I don’t know how I missed this book when it was published, but somehow I did.*

It’s everything I wished One Crazy Summer could have been, as far as teaching about the Black Panthers goes.  I like the story of Sam even better than Delphine’s, maybe because I like reading about boys more than girls, maybe because Sam’s has what seems to me to be a larger dilemma.  Either way, The Rock and the River is one of the best Civil Rights novels I have read in a long time (and I should know, I did research for a paper that never ended up getting written in college for a class on the Nation of Islam about presence of non-nonviolent fiction for kids and young adults.  There isn’t much.  With the publication of this book, which won ALA’s 2008 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent award, and One Crazy Summer, (on many Mock Newbery 2011 lists so far, including my own) I hope that the Nation and the Panthers start to get more positive notice in youth fiction and literature.  I didn’t know a thing about the Nation of Islam or the Black Panthers until I took a seminar on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. my junior year in college.  We didn’t entirely focus on Dr. King – we learned about all the black Civil Rights leaders – violent and nonviolent.  The class got me hooked on the Civil Rights Movement, and segued into the Nation of Islam class, which I TA’d.  There’s a whole side of the CRM that isn’t taught in schools that kids should know about, and I hope some pick up this book and get started.

Alright, enough about my interest in the CRM and its “hidden” leaders.  I’m going to go finish this book.

*This is actually the first book I’ve blogged about in a while that I haven’t even finished yet, but had to stop to write about it because it was so good.
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let’s pause for a book review – WHITE CAT BY HOLLY BLACK

August 29, 2010 Leave a comment
The Sharpe family is full of curse workers, con artists, mobsters, thieves, and generally tricksy people.  Cassel is no different, except that out of all the members of his family, he is not a worker, and wants nothing to do with the mafia.  He’s perfectly content attending Wallingford, a private school where he runs a betting circle and keeps to himself, his secrets buried under a handsome facade of normalcy.  Cassel Sharpe has it made. But like all seemingly perfect, charming, handsome guys, Cassel has a secret.  Three years ago, he stabbed his best friend Lila (his older brother’s girlfriend) to death.



Everything changes when Cassel wakes up one night on the roof of a school building, seemingly about to jump.  He is expelled from school as a suicide risk, and has to go live in his jailed mother’s house with his estranged grandfather, a death worker.  Plagued with dreams about a white cat and reliving the murder of Lila far more often than he ever wanted to, Cassel begins to suspect that he is being worked.  As he attempts to unravel his memories and his past, Cassel begins to find out dark truths about his family’s involvement in the mafia.



White Cat is a gripping novel that you won’t be easily able to put down – and if you’re on a train reading, you WILL miss your stop.  Trust me. I did it twice.  A dark, twisting tale of magic, mobsters, con artists, and normalcy, Cassel Sharpe and his White Cat will pull you into their world with just a touch of the page.



SERIOUSLY GO GET AND READ THIS *NOW*

Chalk, written and illustrated by Bill Thomson

August 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Publication Date:
March, 2010

Reviewed For:
Ages 4-8

Journal Review / Summary
SLJ – This stunningly illustrated wordless picture book tells the story of three children who find a bag of magical chalk at the playground on a rainy day. Their drawings come to life, which seems great when a drawing of the sun stops the rain, but is scary when a dinosaur stalks them. A drawing of a rain cloud inside a play tube brings the rain back and dissolves the frightening creature. This imaginative story is the perfect showcase for Thomson’s extraordinary pictures. Though they look like photos or computer-generated images, each one is actually composed using traditional techniques with acrylics and colored pencils. The artist’s clever use of light, perspective, and expression, along with the protagonists’ neat solution to their dilemma, creates a completely satisfying experience. Thomson is a master at visual storytelling.

Illustration Medium:
Acrylic and colored-pencil

Execution in the artistic technique employed:
It’s absolutely incredible.  I seriously thought it was all digitally rendered, and therefore wasn’t all that impressed with it.  But the vibrancy of each illustration and the realistic images make this book larger than life. (Har har. Get it? Because it’s about a dinosaur?)

Appropriateness of style of illustration to story, theme, and concept:
I think the realism of the images makes the story much stronger than it would have been if it was done in childish cartoons, or a less realistic way… it would have taken the serious tone away from the book (though it would have been a lot less scary.)

Delineation/interpretation of a plot through illustration:
Wonderfully done with no words to accompany the illustrations.

Delineation/interpretation of a theme or concept through illustration:
The magic of the story (shown through the bag of chalk held by the spring dinosaur) is well shown throughout each page – whether or not the bag of chalk is present.

Delineation of characters through illustration:
Some of the characters’ faces are a little creepy, and they look very old for what I think their ages are.

Delineation of setting through illustration:
Realistic playground.

Delineation of mood through illustration:
Imaginative & hopeful.

Delineation of information through illustration:
N/A

Concluding Caldecott Thoughts:
YES.

Roly Poly Pangolin written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney

July 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Publication Date:
March 9, 2010

Reviewed For:
Ages 4-8

Journal Review / Summary
Very few children will know what a pangolin is, especially preschoolers, but this scaly baby animal evidently has many of the same fears as little kids. In large type and rhyming sentences, listeners are told how Roly Poly is scared of new things, like something that might bite, bugs for dinner, playing with strange animals, and monster sounds. So Roly Poly does what pangolins do: he rolls up into a ball. When he peeks out, he sees another ball peeking back! He has found a friend. “Roly Poly, very small, / feeling better, feeling tall. / So much to see, so much to do . . . / So much nicer when it’s two!” The scaly creatures are playfully but accurately illustrated, with the addition of expressive faces to reflect emotions. An author’s note explains that pangolins are an endangered species and makes a plea for readers to visit her Web site to learn how to help. Book proceeds will go to Cuc Phuong National Park, in Vietnam, where research is being conducted. – Booklist

Illustration Medium:
oil paints with some oil pastel, plus a bit of colored pencil.  The paintings are on canvas

Execution in the artistic technique employed:
I love Anna Dewdney’s art.

Appropriateness of style of illustration to story, theme, and concept:
Whimsical and expressive.

Delineation/interpretation of a plot through illustration:
Roly Poly peeking out of his ball to see a new friend? Priceless & adorable.

Delineation/interpretation of a theme or concept through illustration:
Great for discussing different social aspects – being shy, scared, worried to try new things – all emotions shown on Roly Poly Pangolin’s face. His expressions are excellent!

Delineation of characters through illustration:
I love Roly Poly pangolin.  He is so cute!

Delineation of setting through illustration:
Setting is very basic.

Delineation of mood through illustration:
Worried and scared Roly Poly pangolin is adorable.

Delineation of information through illustration:
Though the story doesn’t tell about pangolins, the information at the back of the book is wonderful for anyone who doesn’t know about the animal.

Concluding Caldecott Thoughts:
Initial no, but I’m leaning toward a maybe now.

LMNO Peas written and illustrated by Keith Baker

July 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Publication Date: April 2010

Reviewed For: Pre-K – Grade 1

Journal Review / Summary
Humble green peas provide inspiration in this hilarious, occupation-based romp through the alphabet. Four-inch-high letters on each page serve as an ingenious architectural platform around, above, and inside of which dozens of “pea-ple” swarm in joyful pursuit of myriad types of work. Bouncy, rhyming text introduces the alphabet peas as “acrobats, artists, and astronauts in space, builders, bathers, and bikers in a race,” with unpaid “voters and volunteers” receiving their due, too. Baker’s inventive details belie the “as alike as two peas in a pod” adage; each and every amusing personalized pea is as unique as a snowflake—and that’s the point. The digitally rendered illustrations glow in vibrant, textured colors that boldly leap off the page against a background of ample white space. The sheer fun of the rhythmic text and the large alphabet letters work well for a read-aloud audience, but the busy, engaging details of the peas in their various worker modes are better suited for one-on-one exploration that young children will want to pore over again and again.—SLJ

Illustration Medium:
Digitally rendered.

Execution in the artistic technique employed:
Not particularly impressive to me as digital artwork

Appropriateness of style of illustration to story, theme, and concept:
Colorful and cheerful, which reflects the adorableness of the images chosen for each letter.

Delineation/interpretation of a plot through illustration:
Not much plot – but well-chosen professions and activities for each letter.

Delineation/interpretation of a theme or concept through illustration:
Peas! So cute.  The idea of being whoever you want to be is well shown in the book.

Delineation of characters through illustration:
The peas each are very unique, even though there are many of them, which is impressive to me since they are so small and basic.

Delineation of setting through illustration:
Excellent use of the large letters in integrating the activities/professions.

Delineation of mood through illustration:
Unique, fun – well done.

Delineation of information through illustration:
Creative picks for the less common letters (Quilters, Quarterbacks, Underwater divers, Volunteers, X-Ray doctors, Yogis in a pose, Zoologists)

Concluding Caldecott Thoughts:
At first, thought no – but now I’m on board!

Cloud Tea Monkeys written by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham; Illustrated by Juan Wijngaard

July 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Publication Date: February 23, 2010

Reviewed For: K – 3

Journal Review / Summary
Tashi’s mother labors on a tea plantation in the shadow of the Himalayas. One day she is too ill to get out of bed. Tashi knows that without her day’s wages, they won’t have money for a doctor, but without medical care her mother won’t get well enough to work. “The problem went around and around. It was like a snake with its tail in its mouth, and Tashi was frightened by it.” The child tries to pick tea herself, but she is too small to reach the tops of the plants where the tender new leaves grow. She retreats in tears, only to be comforted by a troop of monkeys she has befriended. And then the magical element of the story emerges: the monkeys climb into the mountains and pick the rarest and most sought-after tea leaves in the world. The Royal Tea Taster samples the leaves in Tashi’s basket and pays her a handsome sum, with the promise of more in the future. This story, inspired by tales of tea-picking monkeys of the Himalayas, would be merely pleasant were it not for Wijngaard’s expressive, richly detailed ink-and-gouache illustrations. Tashi’s solemn face as she comforts her bedridden mother, the dynamic depictions of the Tea Taster swishing tea and spitting out a mouthful, the play of light through the branches under which the monkeys eat fruit, and even the delicate tracery of a decorative pattern on the bottom of each page all contribute to the thoughtful bookmaking. – SLJ

Illustration Medium: ink and gouache.

Execution in the artistic technique employed:
The technique certainly looks beautiful.

Appropriateness of style of illustration to story, theme, and concept:
The illustration style doesn’t seem to me to particularly enhance the story at all.

Delineation/interpretation of a plot through illustration:
Plot carries the illustration – the illustration often doesn’t even reflect what the words are saying – particularly evident to me on the page where the monkeys are running through the jungle – the illustration doesn’t describe everything the text does.

Delineation/interpretation of a theme or concept through illustration:
Somewhat hopeful and imaginative… but not in a Caldecott worthy way.

Delineation of characters through illustration:
Unimpressive.

Delineation of setting through illustration:
Beautiful scenes.

Delineation of mood through illustration:
Mood doesn’t really change based on the illustration.

Delineation of information through illustration:
N/A.

Additional Things I Liked:
I really like the title page.

Concluding Caldecott Thoughts:
No, probably not.

The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah written by Leslie Kimmelman and Illustrated by Paul Meisel

July 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Publication Date: March 1, 2010

Reviewed For: PreSchool-Grade 3

Journal Review / Summary
This Yiddish-inflected retelling of “The Little Ren Hen” features a balabusta (good homemaker) who kvetches about her lazy no-goodnik friends who will not help her make matzah from wheat. When they show up at the Passover Seder, the hen scolds, “What chutzpah!” Ultimately, however, they repent and the hen forgives them because she is a mensch. All ends happily as they make up for their earlier bad behavior by doing the dishes. The droll ink, watercolor, and pastel cartoon illustrations have a friendly charm that makes a nice contrast with the story’s wry humor. The Yiddish vocabulary and speech patterns will have Jewish adults rolling in the aisles, and children will enjoy the merging of familiar Passover and folktale elements. It’s entertaining to those in the know, but readers unfamiliar with the holiday may be mystified by the humor, and they will gain little understanding of the traditions of Passover. An endnote on the holiday’s history, a matzah recipe, and a glossary round out the package, but the book should be used in combination with more traditional tales or with audiences who already observe Passover. It’s a must for Judaica collections and a solid choice for large general collections. – SLJ

Illustration Medium: ink, watercolor, and pastel.

Execution in the artistic technique employed:
I wasn’t overly impressed.

Appropriateness of style of illustration to story, theme, and concept:
Don’t see any special connection here.

Delineation/interpretation of a plot through illustration:
Illustration depends on plot.

Delineation/interpretation of a theme or concept through illustration:
Meh.

Delineation of characters through illustration:
I didn’t like any of the characters.

Delineation of setting through illustration:
Mediocre farm.

Delineation of mood through illustration:
I thought it was kind of rude.

Delineation of information through illustration:
N/A

Concluding Caldecott Thoughts:
Nooo.

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