Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Firefly Letters

The Firefly Letters

The Firefly Letters by Margarita Engle is about a suffragette's journey to Cuba.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book for many reasons.  For one, it is written in free-verse poems.  For two, each poem is titled by one of the three main characters (a couple are by a fourth character) and is written from their points-of-view. For three, the characters were strong women during a time when women were treated as if they were owned.   Cecilia was a slave and was owned.  She struggled with the memory of being captured in Africa, torn away from her family, and sent to Cuba.  She is now pregnant and wants freedom for her child more than anything.  Fredrika went against all norms and became a travelling writer.  As she visited and learned all about Cuba, she also sat with the slaves in church, and told the girls that they should stay in school all day to be educated with the boys.  Elena was "imprisoned" by the lifestyle that prevailed in Cuba during these times.  She was prisoner to her house, and to her place in society.  She was from a wealthy family but didn't believe in slavery.  As she filled her hope chest waiting to be informed of whom she would marry, she dreamed of running away to real freedom.

Birmingham Sunday

Birmingham Sunday

If you have ever wanted to know more about "Bombingham", Alabama - this is the book for you!  It has a good mix of pictures and information.  The photos do a good job of portraying what it was like during that time in our Nation's history.  It takes us through the events that lead up to this particular Sunday.  It  was the first time that anyone died during the bombings going on in Alabama.  You will meet the four little girls killed by the bomb, plus two other boys who were nowhere near the bomb who were also killed.  You will also meet the men who were responsible for that fateful day in 1963, the last one being caught in 2002.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Any Small Goodness

Any Small Goodness: A Novel Of The Barrio

Any Small Goodness by Tony Johnston takes place in a barrio of Los Angeles. It is a story of a Mexican-American family and how they have to deal with such things as street gangs and teachers who are trying to Americanize them, all of which they want nothing to do with. Young Arturo learns to recognize any small goodness and also learns to create his own. He and his friends create the Green Needle Gang… You will have to read the book to see what this gang is all about!

This story uses many Spanish words and phrases and the author has included an index in the back so that you can look them up as you read. Take a peek at the link below to learn some more Spanish. It is quite fun and includes vocabulary, games, music, and videos.
Learn Spanish

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Tequila Worm

The Tequila Worm
Pura Belpre Award 2006

Canales, V. (2005).  The tequila worm. New York, NY: Wendy Lamb Books.

This is a 2006 Pura Belpre Award winner.  I found this book to have a very slow start.  It seems to take the reader methodically through each holiday and family Tradition without much depth.  It is the story of a Mexican-American family, living in McAllen, Texas, and their traditions.  I finally got hooked when Sofia began making the decision to go to a boarding school in Austin.  I think it began to hit home for me, as I stayed back in Florida to finish high school when my family moved to Austin.  I then went to the University of Texas at Austin and got to go home to visit all the time.  My Papa (dad) was always so excited when I came home and also very proud of me.  My family members had not gone to college before me.  I was the first of many cousins who have now completed college.  I had tears by the end of this book because I have also lived through the pale gray death of my father, the numbness that follows, and the fact that life must go on.  I found the rich Catholic heritage of Sophia's family interesting too.  My family is Catholic, but not Mexican-American.  The Mexican-American families around me have such a rich heritage and tradition which is a wonderful thing.  I found that this story answered some of my questions about those traditions.   A good little book which exposes the reader to a young girl who wants to broaden her world.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom
Newbery Honor 2009
Pura Belpre Medal 2009

Engle, M. (2008). The surrender tree: Poems of Cuba's struggle for
     freedom.  New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company

This is an historical fiction book about Cuba and its three wars for independence.  It is the story of Rosa, Jose, and Silvia from each of their points of view.  Rosa lived and worked as a nurse, first known as a little witch.  She healed the sick with God's gift of medicines made from the wild plants.  She was also hunted for being a witch.  She and her husband, Jose, must live in hidden caves in order to help the injured and sick rebels.  Rosa helps all who are in need whether dark or light, friend or foe.  Silvia is a young girl who, with her family, is moved to a reconcentration camp.  There is not enough food or supplies for them to survive there.  Her twin brothers and mother die leaving Silvia by herself.  Silvia remembers the stories her grandmother told her of Rosa.  Not knowing if the stories are real, she decides her only chance of survival is to find Rosa.  She wants to learn to help others too.  She sneaks out in an oxcart with help from a Brother of Charity and Faith.  She does find Rosa who takes her under her wing and teaches her the ways of survival.  A wonderful book to read and learn about the times of the Cuban rebellion.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Out of the Dust

Out of the Dust

Out of the Dust by Karin Hesse is another fantastic historical fiction book written in free-verse!  It takes place during the Dust Bowl time  of the Depression in Oklahoma.  It will show you what it was like to try to survive during these dust storms and this horrific drought. 

Billie Joe had things that she loved and looked forward to just like anyone else.  She loved her family, her Ma was about to have a baby, and she loved to let the music from her piano playing take her to another world.  All this changed the day that her Pa left a bucket of kerosene by the kitchen stove.  

Read about what happens to Billie Joe.  You will learn how they would set the table with the dishes upside down to try to keep things clean until they ate.  All their food had the grit of the dust, no matter how hard they tried to keep things clean.  The simplest things; like breathing and taking a walk became extremely difficult.  After Billie Joe loses everything she holds dear, what will she do? 

Here are some pictures of what it was like...   Retrieved on October 8, 2011 from http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/depression/dustbowl.htm .  Visit the website for more information.

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dust2.gif (64061 bytes)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Home of the Brave

Home of the Brave

This is the heartwarming story of an immigrant named Kek.  He came to the United States as an African war refugee.  He comes to live with his aunt and cousin.  He doesn't know if his mom is alive or not.  His story really makes you stop and think about what it would be like to go somewhere not knowing anyone, or even the language.

This book is beautifully written in free-verse with the best imagery ever.  Kek calls an airplane a flying boat.  He doesn't understand what the "unkind blanket of white" is and why the cold "is like claws on [his] skin" (p. 3-4).

Kek goes to school and is in a class for children learning English.  He decides to get a job helping a widow with her farm.  He makes best friends with a cow, Gal, that he takes cares of and talks to.  Gal helps Kek feel comfortable because cows are very important back home.  The widow eventually needs to sell her farm and Kek needs to find a safe place for Gal.  The story shows the intricate relationships between Kek and Gal (the cow), Gunwar (his cousin), Hannah (a foster child), Lou (the widow), and Kek's missing mom.

Home of the Brave is one of my new favorite books.  I think it would make a wonderful read aloud chapter book with many opportunities for important discussions.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians

Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians (Lunch Lady, #2)

The Lunch Lady and the Librarian (one of his many LL books) by Jarrett Krosoczka is a graphic novel that takes place in a school. It is high interest and high action! The lunch lady leads a double life as a superhero. There are lots of cool gadgets like taco-vision night vision goggles, hover pizzas, and sonic boom juice boxes. In this book the librarians are up to no good. When they are discovered by the crime-fighting lunch ladies, they unleash characters from stories. Fun! Fun! Fun!

I was so lucky to have been able to meet Jerrett in person. He told us all about how he became an author and illustrator. He has a great sense of humor. He even gave us painting lessons. Here are a couple of pictures from my day.

Look JarrettKrosoczka up on his website. Can you believe that he has his very first book that he made when he was in third grade?  You can see it on his website!

These are Jarrett’s self portraits. He painted these so fast! I won’t show you mine. : )  He taught us that we don’t need to use black or white when painting. We mixed all our colors for our final color portrait with no black or white.
Here is a picture of him autographing my books! What a great day!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Persepolis, #1)

Satrapi, M. (2003). Persepolis: The story of a childhood. New York, NY: Pantheon.

This is a graphic novel autobiography that is all about the life of little Marji, who is growing up in Iran.  It gives us not only the history of what was taking place during the 1980's, but also the insights of a child.  Her family valued education, women, and freedom.  They were a very close knit family.   This book shows us how it was to be excited to win the revolution against the Shaw only to be devastated by the realization that the ultra-religious government has taken over.  Many freedoms are now taken away.  The women have to wear veils, there were no more parties or alcohol allowed, borders are closed and eventually even the education system is shut down for a couple years.  Marji starts out by idolizing those who are imprisoned, tortured, and being a part of the revolution.  Now, with the new government, the prisoners are murdered.  The people who still show their individuality would be discovered and put to death.  Everyone has to hide what they are really doing or what they really think.  Marji, being brought up by rebellious parents, was not capable of hiding her feelings and thoughts, even when she should.  Things got so bad that her parents feared for her safety and decide to send her away to live with relatives.  I am sure that move saved Marji's life.  This account really helps the reader get an inside view of a family in Iran.