Monthly Archives: October 2010

Module 10: A Big Cheese for the White House: The True Tale of Tremendous Cheddar by Candace Fleming, Illustrated by S.D. Schindler


Summary
In A Big Cheese For The White House: A True Tale of Tremendous Cheddar citizens of Cheshire, Massachusetts get word that the president, Thomas Jefferson, is serving the cheese in the White House made by another New England town. Cheshire citizens band together to create a giant wheel of cheese to give to the president. They are successful in their task and are able to secure a place in the White House for Cheshire cheese during Jefferson’s presidency and beyond.

Impressions
As a cheese lover, the title of this book alone captivated my interest. Joking aside, I thought this book was a wonderful illustration of a quirky moment in history and of how cheese is traditionally made. I think this story would be an excellent addition to a founding fathers social studies unit. I was very impressed with the illustrations and layout of this book. Each page contains a great amount of detail which is helpful considering the historic time period. The illustrations in this book can help students visually understand the time period. Even with detailed illustrations, each page contains a nice amount of white space making the book easy to read. I also liked that the text is ample content wise and large visually.

Review: Horn Book Magazine
Sometimes, as this lively picture bock proves, truth is stranger than fiction. At the time of Jefferson’s presidency, the folks in Cheshire, Massachusetts, home of the best cheese in the United States, “heard news that threatened to sour their curds forever.” Several Cheshire citizens reported that the townsfolk of Norton, Connecticut, were not only coloring their cheddar and flavoring it as well, they were also the favored suppliers to the nation’s premier dwelling — the White House. Such an exigency demanded drastic action. Elder John Leland proposed a solution: a concerted effort to make a huge cheddar as a gift for President Jefferson — a cheese so large that he would serve it for years, thus eliminating the competition. Except for the dissenting voice of Phineas Dobbs, a curmudgeon if ever there was one, the citizens of Cheshire embarked on their historic project. How they solved problems from finding a cheese press large enough to squeeze the whey to transporting the huge object to Washington is a triumph of Yankee ingenuity documented in a reportorial, tongue-in-cheek style, extended in droll, elegantly limned pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations. The book is handsome — as pleasing to look at as it is delightful to read.

Suggested Activities
I would include this book in a storytime. Activities would include a snack time where participants can try different types of cheese and cheese flavored snacks.

Bibliography
Fleming, C. (1999) A Big Cheese for the White House: The True Tale of a Tremendous Cheddar. New York: DK Pub. ISBN: 0789425734.

Burns, M.M. (1999, September) [A review for the book A Big Cheese for the White House: The True Tale of a Tremendous Cheddar by Candace Fleming]. Horn Book Magazine, 75(5), 594-595.

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Module 9: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, Illustrated by Brett Helquist


Summary
In transit to the Art Institute of Chicago from the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. a priceless Vermeer painting is stolen. Through major news papers the thief informs the public that many paintings attributed to Vermeer are fakes and he will destroy the stolen painting if the record isn’t set straight by the art community. While the public responds to the thief’s message with outcry to the art community, two Chicago schoolchildren, Petra and Calder hunt down the painting. Petra and Calder manage to save the painting through intelligence and by noticing the many coincidences that bring key players in this story together.

Impressions
Chasing Vermeer is an incredible book. Petra and Calder are realistic characters that are quirky enough to capture the reader’s attention. In addition to creating great characters, Balliett sets these two in a plot that is worth following. This book moves along without a hitch, the pace is fast and leaves the reader wanting more. The setting is crystal clear and the mood of this story is well established but descriptive language does not bog the reader down. Beyond being a well written story, this book is a lesson in art and would make an excellent cross curriculum read for English, social studies and art classes. Teachers and parents could also use this book as a pre-read before going to a museum or taking a trip to Chicago.

Review: Horn Book Magazine
“Dear Friend: I would like your help in identifying a crime that is now centuries old.” Sixth-grade classmates Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay are drawn into the mystery: a claim that some of the works attributed to Johannes Vermeer were not, in fact, painted by that seventeenth-century Dutch artist. Their investigation–fueled by the enigmatic behavior of their favorite teacher, a shared interest in unexplained phenomena, and a few mystical experiences of their own–uncovers a series of coincidences and connections that, like the pentomino set (a puzzle-like math tool) Calder carries in his pocket, fit together in often-unexpected patterns. And when Vermeer’s A Lady Writing disappears while in transit from the National Gallery to the Art Institute of Chicago, Petra and Calder end up hunting for the missing painting right in their own neighborhood. The protagonists are smart and appealing, the prose style is agreeably quirky, and fans of puzzle-mysteries will enjoy cracking the codes presented within the text and hidden in Helquist’s stylish black-and-white illustrations. But they may also be frustrated that such a heady, elaborately plotted novel comes to a weak resolution, as the answers to the mysteries are explained away in a too-hasty summation–and the villain turns out to be an offstage figure. The conclusion may be disappointing, but the chase to the end is entertaining.

Suggested Activities
Honoring Calder’s coded correspondence in Chasing Vermeer I would have readers create a coded message recommending this book to a friend. The message would, of course, include a key for the code.

Bibliography
Balliett, B. (2004) Chasing Vermeer. New York: Scholastic. ISBN: 0439372976.

[Review for the book Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett]. Horn Book Magazine, 80(4), 446-446.

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Module 8: The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau


Summary
Ember, unbeknownst to its residents, is a city underneath the surface of the earth. The city is powered by a failing hydroelectric generator charged by a river that runs underneath the city. Citizens begin to panic as blackouts become more and more frequent. With no natural or portable lights, citizens are trapped in a doomed city. Lina finds partially damaged instructions to escape the city. Her new found knowledge threatens the establishment and threatens her life. Lina and her friend Doon decipher the instructions and escape to the surface of the Earth.

Impressions
The City of Ember is a very well written and rewarding read. The book starts a bit slow in the way of plot. DuPrau takes her time letting us get to know the characters and daily life in Ember. As blackouts become more frequent the plot speeds up and we find Lina and Doon in the thick of things. This book is an excellent example of young people using knowledge and determination to solve a problem. In addition, it’s a great example of team work. Neither Lina nor Doon could escape the city without the knowledge and talent held by the other. I think The City of Ember is also a great lesson in conservation. The citizens of Ember are running out of everything, the must conserve and reuse. A perceptive reader might stop to think, “Why not conserve before stores are low?” This book also educates the reader on political corruption. The city’s mayor hoards goods from citizens for his own benefit. He will stop at nothing to keep his wealth and control, even if it means the demise of the city. Lina and Doon fight this corruption and work to save the city.

Review: Kirkus Reviews
This promising debut is set in a dying underground city. Ember, which was founded and stocked with supplies centuries ago by “The Builders,” is now desperately short of food, clothes, and electricity to keep the town illuminated. Lina and Doon find long-hidden, undecipherable instructions that send them on a perilous mission to find what they believe must exist: an exit door from their disintegrating town. In the process, they uncover secret governmental corruption and a route to the world above. Well-paced, this contains a satisfying mystery, a breathtaking escape over rooftops in darkness, a harrowing journey into the unknown and cryptic messages for readers to decipher. The setting is well-realized with the constraints of life in the city intriguingly detailed. The likable protagonists are not only courageous but also believably flawed by human pride, their weaknesses often complementing each other in interesting ways. The cliffhanger ending will leave readers clamoring for the next installment.

Suggested Activities
DuPrau does an excellent job establishing setting. I would have readers choose a scene from the book to illustrate it according to DuPrau’s descriptions in the text.

Bibliography
DuPrau, J. (2003) The City of Ember. New York: Random House. ISBN: 0375822739.

[Review for the book The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau]. Kirkus Reviews, 71(10), 749-749.

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Module 8: The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo, Illustrated by Yoko Tanaka


Summary
The Magician’s Elephant tells the story of Peter, an orphan who is being raised by a former soldier. Under Vilna Lutz’s strict care Peter lives with little joy and pleasure. One day Peter is sent to the market for food but spends Vilna’s money on a fortune teller instead. It is predicted that his sister, long thought dead, is still alive. The fortune teller tells Peter that he will be lead to his sister by an elephant. That night an elephant is conjured by a magician and falls through the ceiling of the venue where he is performing. Peter strives to correct the damage caused by the elephant and magician and is eventually lead to his sister and a life with her and two loving parents.

Impressions
Initially, I found this book difficult to get into. As the story progressed I began to fall in love with the characters and the mood created by DiCamillo. I found Peter’s determination inspiring. I was most touched by his concern for the elephant. He pursued the elephant with the belief that it would lead him to his sister. Upon meeting the elephant he realized that she was unhappy, uncomfortable and a long way from home in her current habitat. Peter shifts his focus from his sister to the well being of the elephant and in the end he is rewarded for doing what is right. This is a key lesson for readers that DiCamillo communicates beautifully without being heavy-handed in the way of morality. The mood DiCamillo creates is dark and shadowy with glimpses of light and hope. In regards to mood I am reminded of books like The Polar Express. Finally, this story contains multiple storylines that eventually weave together and are resolved with a common solution similar to Holes by Louis Sachar. I think stories like this one help readers think outside of themselves and realized that their problems are not the only problems that need to be resolved.

Review: Publishers Weekly
In DiCamillo’s fifth novel, a clairvoyant tells 10-year-old Peter, an orphan living with a brain-addled ex-soldier, that an elephant will lead him to his sister, who the ex-soldier claims died at birth. The fortuneteller’s prediction seems cruelly preposterous as there are no pachyderms anywhere near Baltese, a vaguely eastern European city enduring a bitter winter. Then that night at the opera house, a magician “of advanced years and failing reputation” attempts to conjure a bouquet of lilies but instead produces an elephant that crashes through the ceiling. Peter learns that both magician and beast have been jailed, and upon first glimpse of the imprisoned elephant, Peter realizes that his fate and the elephant’s are linked. The mannered prose and Tanaka’s delicate, darkly hued paintings give the story a somber and old-fashioned feel. The absurdist elements–street vendors peddle chunks of the now-infamous opera house ceiling with the cry “Possess the plaster of disaster!”–leaven the overall seriousness, and there is a happy if predictable ending for the eccentric cast of anguished characters, each finding something to make them whole.

Suggested Activities
I would use this book in a display of books with a magic related theme. My hope would be to attract readers to this story by displaying it with other magic related favorites like Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl.

Bibliography
DiCamillo, K. (2009) The Magician’s Elephant. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN: 0763644102.

[Review of the book The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo]. Publishers Weekly, 256(33), 63-63.

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Module 7: The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg


Summary
The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place details one summer in the life of Margaret Rose. Margaret’s parents leave for Peru for four weeks and place her in sleep away camp. At camp Margaret is bullied by campers and staff she responds with peaceful protest. Her refusal to participate in camp activities leads to her rescue by her Hungarian Great-uncle. For the remainder of the four weeks Margaret stays with her Uncles Alex and Maurice. Her uncles have spent four decades building decorative towers in their garden. Some consider the towers to be outsider art, others see them as eyesores. When the towers are condemned Margaret puts a plan into action that saves the towers from destruction.

Impressions
The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place is a really great problem novel that wraps lots of issues neatly into one book. Margaret deals with bullying, her parents divorce, and a crush all while saving her uncles’ towers. Margaret is a brave character who does some pretty amazing and adult things while Konigsburg shows us her inner vulnerability. This book is extremely well written and falls in line with empowering children’s classics like A Wrinkle in Time.

Review: Kirkus Reviews
Master novelist Konigsburg hones her sense of irony to a razor edge in this exploration of the back story behind one of Silent to the Bone’s secondary characters: Connor’s older half-sister Margaret. Margaret, 12, has just been rescued from her authoritarian summer camp by her eccentric great-uncles. She is delighted to leave the tender offices of her vicious bunk-mates and the camp director’s insistence on lockstep enjoyment of all camp activities; she is monumentally alarmed to discover that her beloved uncles’ backyard Tower Garden, a fantasy of steel and glass, is slated for demolition, a victim of historical zoning. Determined to save the towers, Margaret begins a campaign informed by civil disobedience (in which camp has made her proficient: “I prefer not to,” says she) and civic involvement. This story condescends not one whit to its audience, passionately confronting readers with the critical importance of history, art, beauty, community, love, and, above all, the necessity to invest oneself in meaningful action. This it does with every word in place, occasionally indulging in dizzying linguistic riffs, always conscious of the ironies inherent in the acts of living and growing up.

Suggested Activities
I would include The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place in a display with books about protest and social justice. Other titles would include Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice and Esperanza Rising.

Bibliography
Konigsburg, E.L. (2004) The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. New York: Simon Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 0689866364.

[Review of the book The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg]. Kirkus Reviews, 71(24), 1451-1451.

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Module 7: Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Summary
Anything But Typical, is a story told from the point of view of Jason, an adolescent boy with autism. Jason’s disability hinders his ability to verbally communicate with most people. The book details the challenges of his everyday life. Jason shares how sensory experiences most people can easily ignore affect him in ways that totally disrupt his way of life. He explains his difficulty recognizing people by their faces. Most important, Jason explains the frustration of dealing with people who do not comprehend the implications of his disorder. Despite his limitations, Jason is a brilliant writer. Through Storyboard, an online writing community, Jason makes a friend who is a fan of his work. This friend is a girl, and Jason interprets this to mean he has a girl friend. This girl friend is a great source for anxiety for Jason as he prepares to go to a Storyboard convention where he is likely to cross paths with her. Jason’s worst fears about meeting his friend are put to ease and his love of writing is reinforced at the conference.

Impressions
Nora Raleigh Baskin has done an amazing job personalizing Jason and a great job writing this book. I think that disabled individuals and people with autism are often labeled and forgotten by the rest of the population. In truth, people with disabilities are valid members of society who have contributions to make. In Anything But Typical Jason is undervalued by many because he is autistic. His Storyboard friend, who does not know of his disability, values his talent so much that she asks Jason for writing help. This book gives the reader a glimpse into the life of a person with autism with the aim at teaching instead of creating pity.

Jason is extremely knowledgeable on the ins and outs of the English language. He describes literary devices and parts of speech in this book in a way that seems natural but is education for an uninformed reader. Because of this, I think Anything But Typical would make an excellent read for an English class. The book reinforces grammar while offering the class a great read.

Review: Publishers Weekly
Baskin. (All We Know of Love) steps into the mind of an autistic boy who, while struggling to deal with the “neurotypical” world, finds his voice through his writing ability. Though Jason initially seemed a prodigy, by third grade he had fallen behind academically, and his parents reluctantly had him tested CA year later the only letters anybody cared about were ASD, NVLD, and maybe ADD or ADHD, which I think my mom would have liked better. BLNT. Better luck next time”). Now in sixth grade, Jason still has behavioral difficulties, but is passionate about his writing and actively posts stories in an online forum. There he strikes up a friendship with (and develops a crush on) a fellow writer, though he becomes distraught when he discovers they will both be attending the same writing conference. The first-person narration gives dramatic voice to Jason’s inner thoughts about his family and his own insecurities, even as he withholds details (usually about incidents at school) from readers. Jason’s powerful and perceptive viewpoint should readily captivate readers and open eyes.

Suggested Activities

I would organize a group of young library patrons to read Anything But Typical. We would discuss the book and its implications about people with disabilities. I would then organize a “mixer” for these children and children with disabilities like Jason.

Bibliography
Baskin, N.R. (2009) Anything But Typical. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 1416963782.

[Review for the book Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin]. Publishers Weekly. 256(6), 48-50.

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Module 6: Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis


Summary
Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree is a realistic story about a middle school aged girl who is far more logical than her peers. Emma-Jean has an uncanny ability to think with true logic and reasoning, even in times of stress. The book begins as Emma-Jean discovers Colleen, a classmate, crying in the bathroom. Colleen has been uninvited from her best friend’s annual ski trip because Laura, the meanest yet most popular girl in school has taken her place. Emma-Jean resolves to help Colleen with her crisis. Emma-Jean’s tactics solve Colleen’s problem, but lead to more complicated issues in dealing with Laura. Emma-Jean learns that it is noble to want to help others, but one cannot lie and deceive in the process.

Impressions

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree is a fantastic depiction of middle school life told from the perspective of the obliviously confident Emma-Jean, and the overly insecure Colleen. By showing the story from both points of view, readers can get a sense of how different people deal with conflict. The book has a fantastic cadence that moves along nicely and is easy to read. Tarshis begins the story by immediately introducing the main conflict and allowing exposition to arrive when needed. Though the story primarily appeals to female readers, I think many different types of girls would identify with this book. Colleen and Emma-Jean are very different from one another, but both girls show the reader how to be a better person and a better friend.

Reviews: Booklist
Supremely logical Emma-Jean has little in common with her seventh-grade classmates, and she observes their often-tumultuous social interactions with a detached, scientific curiosity. But when kindly Colleen seeks her advice in dealing with the school’s resident mean girl, Emma-Jean is moved to apply her analytical mind–and a bit of desktop forgery–to aid her classmate. Pleased with the initial results of her meddling and a newfound sense of belonging, Emma-Jean sets out righting the everyday wrongs of middle-school life with some surprising success. Told from the alternating viewpoints of ultrarational Emma-Jean and sensitive, approval-seeking Colleen, a few key events of the story seem implausible, such as a shady car dealership exchanging a new car for a lemon after receiving one of Emma-Jean’s flimsy forgeries. Still, the story ends on an inspiring up note, with Emma-Jean attending her first school dance and developing tentative friendships with her fellow classmates, which should please fans.

Review: Kirkus Reviews

At the beginning of this incisively voiced story, Emma-Jean Lazarus, a self-possessed but socially isolated seventh-grade girl, has no friends her own age. In fact, Tarshis’s winning heroine views her classmates as an anthropologist might, observing them with great interest, but not really getting their strangely irrational behavior. And they, in turn, view her as simply strange. This begins to change when Emma-Jean comes across classmate Colleen Pomerantz sobbing her heart out in the bathroom. Colleen needs help in dealing with a girl bully, or as Emma-Jean sees it, the alpha chimp of Colleen’s social set. Emma-Jean decides that she’ll help Colleen and, later, others by utilizing the reasoning of her deceased father’s hero, the illustrious mathematician Jules Henri Poincaré. However, emotions have a way of defying logical analysis, and after a while, Emma-Jean discovers that she’s become entangled—not only with peers, but with friends. The comic juice in the story comes from Emma-Jean’s hyper-rational yet totally skewed take on reality, and her evolution from analyst to actor makes for a captivating, highly satisfying read.

Suggested Activities

I would decorate a bulletin board with a large print out of the cover of Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell out of a Tree. I would then have students post quick descriptions of problems they have helped solved a-al-Emma-Jean on leaf cut outs.

Bibliography

Tarshis, L. (2007) Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree. Dial Books for Young Readers ISBN: 0803731647.

McKulski, K. (2007, August) [Review of the book Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis]. Booklist, 103(14), 49-49.

[Review of the book Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis]. Kirkus Reviews, 75(2), 81-81.

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