Friday, April 29, 2011

Black Ships Before Troy by R. Sutcliff

Sutcliff, R. (1993). Black ships before Troy. New York, NY. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc. 125 pp. (Grade Level: 3rd-8th)

            This story starts with the wedding where evil Eris starts a conflict between three of the Olympian gods as to which of them is the greatest. Sometime later they take the question to a young man named Paris who decides Aphrodite is the greatest of them, and she grants her promise to give him a wife more beautiful than any other. A few years later Paris hears of Queen Helen and travels to her land to see if she really is as beautiful as everyone says. When he sees that she is, he convinces her to run away with him, and that is where the trouble really begins, for the king of Sparta, Menelaus, Helen's husband, finds out he lays war to Troy, ultimately destroying the city.
            This is an incredibly long story, but when it is being read it does not seem tedious or longwinded. The reader is pulled in, the tale woven so beautifully and intricately it is hard to remember it is just a legend. I think this would work as a great read aloud to the entire class; the words are written in such a way that it would suit them to be read aloud. There are morals woven throughout the legend, and some parts could be read as standalones, although I think it has its best effect when read altogether. The pictures are delicate, like the prose, and done in colored pencil, watercolors, or oil; I'm not sure. But oh, the writing of these stories uses such language it draws the reader in and does not let them go.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

1001 Nights; Sinbad the Seaman

1001 Nights: The illustrated fairy tales from one thousand and one nights. (2005). The first voyage of Sinbad the seaman. Berlin, Germany. pp. 62-73. (Grade Level 3-5).  

Sinbad started out very rich through family money, but soon lost it all. In order to try to gain it back, he goes on a voyage, but the ship gets shipwrecked through some unforeseen circumstances.  He manages to make it alive to an island, where he finds favor with the king. When a ship comes into dock much later with some goods of man the crew thought dead in a shipwreck, Sinbad tries to convince them that the man is he, and that he is not dead.  

The text is hard to read because it is so old-fashioned; full of laborious sentences and words we no longer use. The illustrations look like they were made on the computer, and are uninteresting and un detailed. I would not use this in my class. If I could find a different version of the story with better illustrations and more familiar text, I might consider using it to teach about the culture, or have the students create a story of their own that is similar. This story would be in first person and describe a made-up, improbable adventure they were on.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by P. Fleischman

Fleischman, P. (1988). Joyful noise: Poems for two voices. USA. A Charlotte Zolotow Book Harper & Row, Publishers. 44pp. (Grade Level: 6th-8th).

            This collection of 14 poems has the common theme of insects. Each is very different, and meant to be read by two readers at once. Sometime the two readers will read at the same time, and only sometimes they say the same words as each other. There are also detailed pencil drawings of insects above the titles of the poems.
            Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices would be an interesting book to have in the classroom, but under special circumstances. These poems are meant to be read aloud, and two people are to read simultaneously. This becomes difficult when the two readers must read completely different words. When read smoothly, these poems are interesting and elicit responses different from if it was read by only one person; there is something more awe inspiring about these. The best use I can think of for this book is for two students, who are comfortable reading in front of the class, to practice together several times, and then present.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What Are You?

When Jesus called Peter and Andrew  in Matthew 4:19, he told them 'follow me and I will make you fishers of men.' He did not say he would make them healthy, or prosperous, or lucky or even blessed. He said he would make them fishers of men.

So, if this was Jesus' call, to them and to us, why are we not more focused on making new disciples? Why are we so content with going to church once or twice a week? Or even spending time in prayer and reading? Why aren't our energies targeting those who are not Jesus' followers?

Are you a follower of Jesus, or a fan? *Are you willing to go anywhere he leads? Are you willing and ready to go 'fish for men'? Or a fan who shows up on Sundays, roots passively for Jesus and for missions? Do you, subconsciously even, think that the more services you attend, the better fan you are, the more perks you will get? Jesus never promised Frequent Flier Miles.

We tend to give the Israelites a hard time about crying 'Hosanna, Hosanna!' and worshiping Jesus on 'Palm Sunday', and then crying 'crucify him!' on Friday because he wasn't doing what they thought he should be doing. But, honestly, how different are we? Singing songs and worshiping and gathering in God's name on Sunday, and then crucifying Christ with our words and actions during the week. The Jews did it once- we do it week in and week out. ***

The difference between a fan and a follower, in this case, is that a follower is in it through the thick and thin, and a follower lives and speaks and acts in a way that lures others in.

* I first heard this phrase at my aunt's church. This Link will take you to the text of the first sermon in the series through
*** I first heard the ideas presented in this paragraph at Bible Study last week

Simple Machines by T. Monroe

Monroe, T. (2011). What do you know about simple machines?  New York, NY: Rosen    Publishing Group Inc. 24pp.  (Grade Level: 2-3)

            This informational book asks twenty questions about simple machines in everyday life. There are pictures on each page with examples of different versions of each type of machine. Sometimes children are pictured using the machines, but sometime they are adults. The pages are colorful and engaging, and the text is large and easy to read. Important words are in bold, helping students uncover the main concepts. A small index and glossary are included as well.
            This book, and the set of books that go with it, would be helpful inclusions to the classroom. They are short and concise, perfect for the few minutes of transition time between subjects, or when students finish early. Also, they are great at curbing student's curiosity without giving them too much information. The pictures also have a description, packed with information. This book is a great place to start students, because it will most likely make them interested in the topic, and from there do more research.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rosa by N. Giovanni

Giovanni, N. (2005). Rosa. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, LLC. 29pp. (Grade Level: 3rd-7th)
            Rosa is a biography about Rosa Parks in narrative form. It starts the morning before her infamous refusal to switch seats and her arrest, and ends with the people of Montgomery walking in non-violent protest for almost a year until the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was wrong.
            The illustrations by Bryan Collier help make this book come alive to readers. They are collages of drawn pictures, pieces of same-colored paper, patterns, and of photographs of real things. They make the pictures more interesting to readers, causing them to slow down a little when they read and to really soak in the message. This would be a good book to use in the classroom when talking about the segregation laws, Rosa Parks, and even change and how to make change when the way things are is wrong. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I've realized I tend to make resolutions at certain times of the year.

Not in the winter, because it's so long and cold and dreary.
Not in the middle of something, because it seems too late.
Not on any normal day, because resolutions deserve better.

I tend to make resolutions
at the new year
at the beginning of a new school semester
in the spring
in the summer
on my birthday
before going on a trip or
when getting back from a trip
when I move back home for the summer or
when I move back to school in the fall
at the beginning of a month
on interesting holidays

have you noticed trends in your resolutions?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

And If The Moon Could Talk by K. Banks

Banks, K. (1998). And if the moon could talk. France. Gallimard Jeunesse. 32 pp. (Grade Level: K-2nd)
            The story in this tranquil picture book centers on a young girl getting ready for bed. Parallels are drawn between the scene with her at home with her parents and with other bedtime scenes the moon sees around the world. At the end, the little girl falls asleep and dreams, and "the moon murmurs goodnight"(31-32).
            The prose was well chosen; words that sooth and calm and predicts stifled yawns. The pictures are an imprecise blur where images and ideas are still perceivable, but aids in inducing sleep. This would be a difficult book to include in the curriculum because it is a bedtime story. However, it could be used when talking about different cultures and people and their nocturnal habits. In one picture, it seems as if a farming community is preparing for bed, and in another it is a nomadic group in the dessert. Discussion focusing on the bedtime rituals of different peoples around the world would be appropriate, and lead into an observation that even the students in the classroom have different bedtime habits although they live in the same area.  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Letter

Peeking into the tiny window, I see a slant of white. I turn the dial to the left. I pause at the first number, turn right, stop at the second, turn to the left again, stop again- I've had the three numbers memorized for three semesters.  I firmly grasp the ridged knob and pull. The small door opens, and I pull out the long white envelope. Is it from a friend? My sister? My grandma? I read my own name, firmly scrawled in the center, symbolizing that I was the center of the author's thoughts- this time, my sister's.

I open it right away, not even waiting for a comfortable chair back in my room. I tear envelope open, slide the folded notebook paper out quickly, impatient. Letters do that to me. The paper is thin, and smooth; the writing is print, and in pencil. I smile at the way my name is written. I skim the first few lines, and my smile widens.

She tells me of many things. Some thoughts, some dreams, some stories. My smile is small now, reminiscent and nostalgic. I read the second page, and the third. I don't want the letter to end, but it does. It is not the kind of end that ends, though, but the sort that begins something else. Rather more like the end of a chapter, than the end of a book.

The next chapter is in my control, so I pull out a college-ruled notebook, and a pen. I date the letter on the top right, and take a deep breath. Now it is my turn to share thoughts, dreams, stories, and ideas. I write in cursive. My thoughts overflow and spill onto the page, I have to pause, because my writing is becoming illegible because of the speed and ferocity with which I am writing. I pause, and think. What to say next?

Eventually, I stop writing. There is more to say, but it will wait for later. There is not sufficient paper to pen all my thoughts. I fold the pages, careful to crease them. I have to fold it extra small, I am out of long envelopes, and am left with only small ones. Tomorrow, when the campus post office finally opens again, I will purchase a forty-four cent stamp, and leave my thoughts, dreams, stories and ideas in the hands of others, until it reaches the hands of my sister. And then I wait, eager to repeat the process.

Our Singing Plant by S. Foresman

Foresman, S. (1997). Our singing planet. HarperCollins Publishers: Glenview, Ill. pp119 (Grade Level: K-3).

Our Singing Planet is a compilation of short stories, poems and songs written to familiar tunes. There are many topics, but the central themes are singing, music, friendship, and family. Each piece of literature is very different from all the others in the book, and would gain the attention of young listeners/readers very quickly.
Each of the stories have various types of illustrations. Some are in light colors, others in bold colors, some are photos of children, and one looks like a quilt. The variation would help keep the attention of younger children. In the photos of children playing instruments, diversity is shown through different ethnicities shown, and one child is in a wheelchair. This will help show children that just because they look a little different does not mean that they cannot do and play the same things. The last story is about a young Chinese boy who learns some words in Chinese to write a letter for his grandmother. One nice thing about this book is that each story can be read individually whenever the class needs a quick story to settle them down, or as a transition between subjects. The prose is fairly simple, and children will soon know when to chime in with the correct words.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Sandalwood Tree by E. Newmark

Newmark, E. (2011) The sandalwood tree. Atrina Books; New York, NY. 357pp. (Adult Fiction, reader discretion advised).

The Sandalwood Tree was published just two days ago, on April 5th.

First off, I adore the cover. It is equal parts bold and clam, gentle and vibrant. My copy has a little more detail than the one pictured- but this one has more focus on the woman standing at the base of the staircase.

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark is a mix of first person narrative in the late 1940's, and third person narrative and letters in the 1840's-1860's. The main character is called Evie, and she travels to India with her toddler Billy and her husband Martin, who is "writing his Ph.D. thesis on the politics of modern India." After Martin had served in World War 2, their marriage and their relationship had changed drastically, and Evie is hoping that, by getting away from Chicago and into some place 'romantic' like India, they will be able to sort out what is wrong and reunite.

While cleaning their little home, Evie accidentally finds a packet of letters dated almost a hundred years previous. She reads them, and becomes obsessed with the lives of Adela and Felicity who have an interesting connection to the very house Evie and her family now occupy. She begins to unravel their lives, bit by bit, and slowly things begin to make sense. Will the girls from the letters be able to teach Evie anything useful in fixing her family?

I was turned off by all the language. For a book 350 some pages long, there were not too many, but still, there were about 50 mild to strong words used. Martin, Evie's husband, is the one most frequently to use them. Also, I thought it was dumb luck that helped Evie find the different packets of letters in just the right order, and it would have made a stronger story if she had somehow searched for specific ones at specific times, instead of happening upon the separate bundles of letters as she did. Finally, Evie and Martin to not 'wait for marriage', if you know what I mean, and one female character has 'unnatural relations with other women,' which unnecessarily complicates the story. It could have done just fine without that twist, and I assume Newmark added it to appeal to our current culture, not as a vital piece of her plot.

The plot line itself was very interesting, and I read the whole novel in two sittings. The setting is unfamiliar, and mysterious, and intriguing. Maybe it has something to do with myself being in a phase loving history- this time period even. But I also think it has to do with how Newmark transports her readers into Evie's world, and they grow along with Evie. They cheer for her, cry with her, fear with her, and sometimes scold her. But the point is, while reading this book, Evie comes alive.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Picture Poem

Most of these pictures have been edited on new software I downloaded. But, not all of them. Some of them just turned out spectacularly.

Morning comes. Gently at first.
But then the sun shines full.
Flowers are growing, 
their beauty is showing

Shooting up overnight.

Even among last year's dead
Even out of past hurt
Every spring

Not only new flowers
But animals, too
Little birds
Small and new
Even the trees have begun to bud
Some tiny and brown-green
Some large and vibrant red
All reminders
That we can start anew
Start afresh
From our mistakes and hurts
But, we, like them, need Help.