Elephants Cannot Dance! by Mo Willems

September 21, 2011

Elephants Cannot DanceEver been told you can’t do something?

This is the story of someone who tried anyway!

The Story

In this picture book for ages 4-8, a little pig in a tutu tries to get Gerald the elephant to dance. Despite Gerald’s insistence that even books say elephants cannot dance, he is convinced to at least try. Can he do it? What happens when he tries?

Kids who love music, the theater arts, and animal stories will be attracted to this book.

Boys in particular might relate to the idea of giving up on something they enjoy, such as dancing, because others say it’s something only girls should do. By seeing Gerald’s trials, kids might feel hopeful and encouraged to try something outside of what a boy supposedly should or should not do. Gerald and Piggie let the reader know it’s ok to try.

What questions might you ask to get kids talking about the book?

  1. Why do you think Piggie insisted that Gerald try to dance?
  2. What are some of the things you have not tried because you think you can’t?
  3. Why is it important to try to do something, even if you think you can’t?

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The worst-case scenario survival handbook: Junior edition, by Borgenicht & Epstein, Ill. C. Gonzales

August 31, 2011

Want to laugh?

Want to be grossed out?

Just open up this book!

The Skinny

The Worst-Case Scenario Handbook is for kids ages 9-12. It offers humorous and sometimes gross advice on the many perils of childhood. Every chapter revolves around a theme, such as “Survival skills for your social life”, which is then divided into small sections including different scenarios, such as “How to survive farting in public”.

Who will love this book?

Kids who love humor, the “gross factor”, and practical advice will love this book (some grownups will like this as well!). The titles of each scenario alone can draw the attention of readers, even those who are reluctant to pick up a book. The illustrations are colorful and slightly exaggerated for maximum laughter. Behind the humor and gross aspects, kids can also find trivia, helpful information on self-confidence, being bullied, doing well in school, and how to survive getting into trouble with grownups.  The practical advice is down to earth and believable.

This is one of those few, well-rounded books that has the capability of appealing to a very large audience.

What questions might you ask to get kids talking about the book?

  1. What methods have you tried to calm down an angry parent? Has any of it worked?
  2. What should you do when you get into trouble at home? Why?
  3. Have you ever felt you needed advice and did not know who to ask? What kind of advice were you looking for?

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Naruto volume 1, by Masashi Kishimoto

July 15, 2010

Rating: 5/5

You’re probably thinking: “You’re kidding me. She’s reviewing Naruto volume 1?! I know I’m quite late to jump on this particular bandwagon, though it was suggested to me about 5 years ago. Honestly, I should listen to my students when they tell me to read some of these titles! (Except for Death Note…that’s not a manga I would recommend to anyone K-12. Period.)

Naruto never attracted my attention, despite the hordes of students eating them up and begging for more. Now, however, I’m trying to catch up to the latest volumes and avoiding any fans so they don’t spoil the story for me. So, what’s to like about Naruto?

First, if you’ve been under a rock, self-imposed or otherwise, here’s the skinny: this is the story of a young ninja in training whose body was sacrificed to save his village from a 9-tailed demon fox, now imprisoned inside him. For the longest time he was the village reject without knowing why. When he discovers the secret locked in his body, his story truly begins. It’s one of exploring, creating, testing, and transforming the bonds that we form with others.

In the first volume, when we meet Naruto for the first time, he is the cocky class clown who can’t do anything right. It’s time for him to take his final exam, for the third time, so he can graduate from ninja school, earn his leaf headband, and continue his training. However, he fails a fourth time. Dejected and desperate, he is easily tricked into stealing one of the village’s most dangerous scrolls. Now the whole village is after him but all he wants is to learn what’s in the scroll so he can graduate.

I’ve met many teachers who have some reservations about this series, such as the violence and the occasional skirting of adult themes, but I believe the pros outweigh the cons. To be fair, here are some of the cons of this manga:

  • Sacrificing one for the sake of many: The way an entire village sacrifices the life of a baby by imprisoning a demon inside and then shunning said child, is quite horrible.
  • Violence: 12-year-olds are trained in the ninja ways and once they graduate they are expected to take on missions and risk their lives for the village. The fight scenes are lengthy and many characters get beaten to within an inch of their lives (and in later volumes they die).
  • Adult themes: Part of Naruto’s pranks includes a transformation into a sexy, naked blonde to unnerve his teachers and peers. Little poof of clouds are the only objects standing in the way of full frontal nudity.
  • The main character disregards rules and authority.

These are valid points, but to dwell on simplistic ideas of violence and what is or is not “appropriate” would be to completely miss the point in Naruto. Compared to most of what passes for entertainment in television these days, this series is quite mild and it actually has a lot to offer. Here’s how:

  • Sacrificing one for the sake of many: this is a controversial topic that can open the door to a lot of discussion in the classroom. For example, we could compare what happens in the story to the way soldiers sacrifice their lives for their country and the way they sacrifice the lives of others for the same reason. No longer so clear-cut, is it?
  • Violence: There are many types of violence in life and bullying is one of them, to which children are no strangers. In the beginning of this series there is a lot of bullying of Naruto by peers and adults. This could open the door to conversations on how to address bullying in school.
  • Adult themes: Some of these inappropriate scenes are brought on by Naruto’s yearning to be acknowledged. This could begin an insightful discussion on what people are willing to do for others to pay attention to them and why. Kids can easily relate to Naruto’s feelings. He desperately wants to belong and make friends, so he resorts to becoming the trickster and become the center of attention.
  • Disregard for authority and rules: This is very prevalent in schools and can open the door to discussions concerning respect  and the meaning behind having and following rules.
  • Perseverance: Naruto lacks talent, intelligence and common sense, as he’s reminded constantly, yet he defies all odds  with hard work, perseverance and big heart. Children can discuss if this idea of working hard to achieve one’s dreams is realistic. Indeed, Naruto provides many examples where he apparently fails despite how hard he tries. But, does he really “lose”?
  • Bonds: Naruto does not have a family, but he begins to make one for himself through bonds with instructors and peers. Students can discuss the importance of forming bonds with others and different types of families extant.
  • Acceptance: This term is quite different from “tolerance”, which is so popular yet implies that there is something negative we have to put up with. Naruto, in having experienced hardship, pain, segregation and loneliness has developed empathy for others, which allows him to give people the benefit of the doubt and see beyond the surface.  This facilitates discussion about differences and how they inform our lives.
  • Growth: This is what keeps me going back to Naruto. From the first volume we witness his growth as a ninja, as a friend, and as a human being. It’s this growth that encourages inquiry and sends a clear message: It’s OK to make mistakes as long as we learn from them and continue to move forward.

Is Naruto worth the read? Should we tap into this story in the classroom? It’s my hope that you will pick up the first volume and decide for yourself. It gets two thumbs up from me!

Topics in this series (so far) include: persevering, sacrifice, friendship, family, humanity, freedom, independence, choice, justice, survival, community, oppression…

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The Library, by Sarah Stewart, Ill. David Small

June 23, 2010

 

Rating: ?/5

“Elizabeth Brown
Entered the world
Dropping straight down from the sky.

Elizabeth Brown
Entered the world
Skinny, nearsighted, and shy.”

So begins the tale of Elizabeth Brown, a girl whose life revolved around books.

When I first picked up this colorful picture book, I was excited about both the premise and David Small’s fantastic illustrations. A woman who dedicated her life to books finds she has too many and makes a decision that benefits the town she resides.

Cute story, right? Well, I have very mixed feelings about this book. I’ve loved to read since I was a little girl and would ignore my dolls and sneak some reading at night when I was supposed to be sleeping – just like the character in this story. But as much as I love reading, there is life outside the page.

This character reads in school, at home, while cleaning, while exercising and in every possible situation you can imagine. This ends up being pretty hilarious because it’s so silly. However…

“Elizabeth Brown
Preferred a book
To going on a date.

While friends went out
And danced till dawn,
She stayed up reading late.”

While I can imagine some readers thinking, “This is hilarious!”, I can also imagine others shivering: “I never want to be like that!” She misses out on a lot of life experiences because all she wants to do is read.

In all fairness, the book does allude to friends borrowing books, Elizabeth tutoring to pay her bills and moving in with a friend after she made a decision about her books. I’m just not sure if this is enough to balance this story.

Have you read this book? What do you think? Is this a funny and endearing story of a bibliophile, or is this a stereotypical and disappointing tale of unhealthy obsession?

I’m leaning towards “disappointing”, even as the bibliophile in me is screaming “how could you say that?!”

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Happy Mother’s Day! – I’ll Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch, Ill. Sheila McGraw

May 9, 2010

Rating: 5/5

Happy Mother’s Day to all who toil incessantly for those they raise and love.

Motherhood has little to do with biology and more to do with caregiving, respect, and unconditional love.

I wish you all the best!

In honor of this day, I chose to write about I’ll Love you Forever; a book so powerful that the cover alone is sometimes enough to make me teary-eyed.

It begins with a mother singing to her baby:

“I’ll love you forever
I’ll love you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be.”

The baby grows up and challenges the mother’s patience in many ways. However, her song remains the same and she rocks and sings to her child when he is asleep, even when he turns into an insufferable teen. Years pass in the blink of an eye; the mother turns old and frail and cannot rock and sing to her son any more. The roles are reversed and the son holds on to his mother gently and sings to her in her final days.

The illustrations are rife with color and show humorous images of both mother and child as he makes plenty of messes and she climbs a ladder to a second-story room to sing to him. It is a beautiful tale of the circle of life, family, and a mother’s undying love.

If you have not read this yet, you need to do so as soon as possible! Don’t forget to bring a tissue…or two.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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George Washington’s Teeth, by Deborah Chandra and Madeleine Comora, Pics. Brock Cole

January 4, 2010

Rating: 5/5

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and that 2010 has started off on a positive note.

My first resolution of the year was to post on this blog again! The end of 2009 was hectic and emotionally draining so the blog was the furthest thing from my mind. Now that 2009 is over, it’s time for a fresh start.

Though I don’t foresee being able to post as much as I did at the beginning of last year, blogs will at least be posted on a weekly basis whenever possible.

Without further ado, let’s talk about George Washington’s teeth!

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Did you know that by the time George Washington became president of the United States he only had two teeth? In this funny picture book, tooth after tooth is lost as George Washington goes off to war, crosses the Delaware and is elected.

When he finally becomes “toofless”, he brainstorms a way to get teeth back in his mouth so he can smile and eat solid food again. Kids will love learning about this side of George Washington’s life. Written in funny verse, this is an engaging way to learn about a human being who struggled with constant pain but never gave up looking for a solution. Additional biographical information and pictures in the back of the book serve to expand the conversation about George Washington.

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Rumplestiltskin’s Daughter, by Diane Stanley

November 7, 2009

Rumplestiltskin's Daughter

Rating: 5/5

Rumpelstiltskin is not an evil little creature intent on taking a woman’s firstborn child in exchange for her life. He’s actually a sweet man who is vertically challenged and wants nothing more than to be a father…if only a woman would marry him!

In this new spin on the classic Rumpelstiltskin tale, Meredith is offered marriage to the king in exchange for a certain amount of gold, which she must spin from straw overnight or the king will take her life. When Rumpelstiltskin shows up with an offer, she’d rather marry him!

Years later, their daughter goes to shop in town with her father’s golden coins. The king recognizes the gold and puts her in the same predicament as her mother. No little man comes to her rescue, but with cunning and compassion she escapes death and teaches the king a valuable lesson.

This is a beautifully illustrated story that keeps you wondering what will happen next. Topics include fatherhood, independence, empathy, charity and the value of work.

This story is a step in the right direction, where characters are not constricted to the gender box and are free to work for what they want with compassion and intelligence. I highly recommend it for all ages.

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