Monday, October 27, 2008

Genre 4- The Voice That Challenged A Nation

(1) Bibliography
Freedman, Russell. 2004. THE VOICE THAT CHALLENGED A NATION: MARIAN ANDERSON AND THE STRUGGLE FOR EQUAL RIGHTS. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-618-15976-2


(2) Plot Summary
Marian Anderson rose from poverty to become one of the greatest singers in the world. Despite the fact that she had sang in the major capitals of Europe, performed for Kings and Queens as well as for President and Mrs. Roosevelt at the White House; she denied the opportunity to perform at Constitutional Hall. The hall owners, the Daughters of the American Revolution, had a ban on black artist and they refused to reserve their stance. Outraged her supporters organized a free concert on the step of the Lincoln Memorial

(3) Critical Analysis
Freedman meticulously documents and cites all of his sources. This biography is beautifully organized and well written. The sequence of information is clear and concise. Black and white photographs are incorporated. Pages 66 and 67 display the Lincoln Memorial performance; these images convey what no words can describe. The following text found on page 1 summarizes the spirit of the book:

“Lord I got a right,
Lord I got a right,
Lord I got a right,
I got a right to the tree of life.”

(4) Review Excerpt(s)
Voice of Youth Advocates: “Freedman creates a masterful biography of Marian Anderson.”

Publishers Weekly: “…most poignant is Freedman's re-creation of Anderson's 1939 performance before 75,000 fans at the Lincoln Memorial, a concert precipitated by the DAR's refusal to allow a black singer to appear at its Constitutional Hall…”

(5) Connections
* Visit the official website:
The Marian Anderson Historical Society

* Search for video on YouTube
“Deep River”
“Ave Maria”
“"My Country, 'Tis of Thee"

Genre 4- An American Plague

(1) Bibliography
Murphy, Jim. 2003. AN AMERICAN PLAGUE: THE TRUE AND TERRIFYING STORY OF THE YELLOW FEVER EPIDEMIC OF 1793. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-395-77608-2


(2) Plot Summary
This text chronicles the yellow fever outbreak of 1793 in Philadelphia. The emergence of the disease was not noticed in the beginning. It was not until people began to fall ill and die that the city started to become aware of issue. Doctors debated about type of illness it was and speculated about what caused it. Wealthy and well-to-do citizens (as many as 20,000) fled the city leaving behind those who could not afford to escape. The yellow fever epidemic decimated about 2,000 people and brought the United States Government to halt.

(3) Critical Analysis
Murphy draws on a multitude of sources included numerous firsthand medical and non-medical accounts, several of which he quotes.

“Death, mounted on his pale horse, seemed to ride
triumphant: there was but a step between the people
in the city and the tomb.”

The text is chronologically organized and flows very well. Several illustrations and newspaper clippings are peppered throughout the book. On page 78 and page 90 appear a list of victims from the 1794 epidemic from Matthew Carey’s history. These experts and others aid in showing the reader how real and dire the situation was. Those that witnessed the detestation of the plague never learned the cause of it. Murphy goes beyond and provides that information to the reader in chapter 8. Without this information the story would have appeared incomplete.

(4) Review Excerpt(s)
Voice of Youth Advocates: “The story is captivating, and the writing is straightforward. Readers come away with a sense of the era as a whole and a keen picture of the overall devastation brought by yellow fever.”

Booklist: “Drawing on firsthand accounts, medical and non-medical, Murphy re-creates the fear and panic in the infected city, the social conditions that caused the disease to spread, and the arguments about causes and cures.”

(5) Connections
* Assign other books about plagues:
Karner, Julie. Plague and Pandemic Alert! ISBN 0-7787-1580-9
Lynette, Rachel. Bubonic Plague. ISBN 0-7377-2639-3
Robson, Pam. The Great Plague. ISBN 0-7500-1934-4

* Cross-curriculum and teach a health unit on disease prevention. Discuss how germs are spread and stress the important of hand washing.

Genre 4- Quest for the Tree Kangaroo

(1) Bibliography
Montgomery, Sy. 2006. QUEST FOR THE TREE KANGAROO: AN EXPEDITION TO THE CLOUD FOREST OF NEW GUINEA. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-618-49641-6


(2) Plot Summary
This narrative follows the mission of a research team to locate the elusive Matschie’s Tree Kangaroo. The animal is an endangered species, having been hunted and eaten by the natives for hundreds of years. The team will trek on a three day hike through rugged terrain facing many hazards along the way to get to the Tree Kangaroo’s habitat. The plan is to capture and outfit a few of these creatures with a radio collar. By tracking these marsupials, scientists will learn more about their habits and figure out how to best help them.

(3) Critical Analysis
The author is able experience the expedition because she accompanied the research team! Montgomery is able to witness scientist and experts at work. The book is nicely organized. While the narrative is intended to be read from cover-to-cover, there are a few stand alone snippet sections such as “Marsupial Mania” and “Fantastic Cloud Forest” that the reader can jump right into. Nic Bishop’s photographs are colorful and amazing. Without them the tale would not be as impressive as it is for the photographs are an intricate part of the design and presentation. Robin Wingrave beautiful watercolor maps show the reader where the adventure takes place. The Quest for the Tree Kangaroo makes a wonderful addition to any child’s home library.

(4) Review Excerpt(s)
Booklist: “…Montgomery gives an unusually strong, visceral sense of the work and cooperation fieldwork entails and the scope and uniqueness of this particular mission.”

School Library Journal: “The book's fascinating glimpses into a little-explored region will hold the attention of anyone interested in unusual creatures and the efforts to study them.”

(5) Connections
* Have the class read other books by Sy Montgomery:
Montgomery, Sy. Search for the Golden Moon Bear: Science and Adventure in Pursuit of a New Species. ISBN 1-60358-063-8
Montgomery, Sy. The Snake Scientist. ISBN 0-618-11119-0
Montgomery, Sy. The Tarantula Scientist. ISBN 0-618-14799-3

* Students can visit ARKIVE at for information, images, and video on Tree Kangaroo and other endangered species.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Genre 3- Out of the Dust

(1) Bibliography
Hesse, Karen. 1997. OUT OF THE DUST. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN: 0-590-36080-9


(2) Plot Summary
Set in 1930’s Oklahoma this novel covers two years in the life of a teenage girl named Billie Jo. She lives with her parents on their farm and life is a constant struggle. With the dust storms, lack rain, the Great Depression, and the fact he hasn’t had a good crop in three years, Billie Jo’s father attempts to grow wheat. Despite these set backs, somehow the family manages to survive. There is some excitement in house because Billie Jo’s mother is pregnant. When Billie Jo is not in school or studying for state exams, she plays the piano and dreams playing the piano will take her somewhere.

(3) Critical Analysis
Written in narrative free verse, the novel manages to flow well. The flow endures even when Hesse breaks up some of the verses as in “The Dream.”

Piano, my silent
I can touch you,
You are cool
and smooth
and willing
to stay with me
stay with me
talk to me.

Hesse uses rhythm as a tool and by disrupting it she conveys the strong emotions associated with loss. The emotional impact of this verse-in-novel is strong. The reader feels the heroine’s joy and pain, her confusion and hope. The imagery is extremely vivid and the verses convey this property without being to wordy. The story is powerful and moving.

(4) Review Excerpt(s)
Booklist: “…Hesse's writing transcends the gloom and transforms it into a powerfully compelling tale of a girl with enormous strength, courage, and love.”

Kirkus Reviews: “…there are no pat endings, but a glimpse of beauty wrought from brutal reality.”

(5) Connections
*Have the class read other novels set in the Great Depression Era:
Koller, Jackie French. Nothing to Fear. ISBN 015257820
Taylor, Mildred. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. ISBN 0803726473

*Have students read non-fiction literature as well:
Freedman, Russell. Children of the Great Depression. ISBN-13 9780618446308
Lied, Kate. Potato: A Tale from the Great Depression. ISBN 0792269465

*Science Connection: Study dust storms.
Planet Gobbling Dust Storms.
Science: Causes of the Dust Bowl.
What caused the 1930s dust bowl (for images)?

Genre 3- Knock On Wood

(1) Bibliography
Wong, Janet S. 2003. KNOCK ON WOOD: POEMS ABOUT SUPERSTITIONS. Ill. by Julie Paschkis. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books. ISBN: 0-689-85512-5


(2) Plot Summary
KNOCK ON WOOD is a collection of 17 poems about superstitions. Subjects include black cats, four leaf clovers, luck horseshoes, broken mirrors, and the number 13- often deemed unlucky by some people. The book gets its title from the final poem “Wood.” Janet S. Wong includes a section briefly discussing the superstitions. The final page is devoted to the author’s personal notes.

(3) Critical Analysis
The poems are written in free verse and she makes little use of rhyme. There are very few sound elements. Wong uses language to shows feelings and tones.

oak for a mind whose grain runs deep,
pine for the soft-hearted,
cedar for the clear conscience.

The imagery is a little weak but the illustrations compensate for it. Paschkis watercolors are amazing and are in some cases strong than the accompany poem as in “Ears,” “Garlic,” and “Hair.” Paschkis represents children of many different ethnicities in illustrations making the collection multicultural.

(4) Review Excerpt(s)
Booklist: “Filled with mystery, magic, and hidden worlds, these are poems to liven up language arts classes and to spark discussions about personal beliefs.”

School Library Journal: “Humor, satire, subplots, historic references, and decorative and surreal elements abound in artful profusion. There is much to ponder in both words and pictures.”

(5) Connections
*Have students read other books about superstitions:
Gay, Kathlyn. Keep the Buttered Side Up: Food Superstitions from Around the World. ISBN 0802774695
Jenkins, Steve. Duck’s Breath and Mouse Pie: A Collection of Animal Superstitions. ISBN 0395696887

*Have the class discover the science behind some superstitions:
Ruchlis, Hyman. How Do You Know it’s True?: Discovering the Difference Between Science and Superstition. ISBN 0879756578
Winner, Cherie. Circulating Life: Blood Transfusion from Ancient Superstition to Modern Medicine. ISBN 0822566060

*Children can visit Childrens Books Site Index of Superstitions:

Genre 3- A Pizza the Size of the Sun

(1) Bibliography
Prelutsky, Jack. 1996. A PIZZA THE SIZE OF THE SUN. Ill. by James Stevenson. New York: Greenwillow Books. ISBN 0-688-13236-7


(2) Plot Summary
In the first poem the author is making a gigantic pizza. He plies on “oceans of sauce,” “mountains of cheese,” and acres of toppings! It’s an original that he is willing to share with all pizza lovers. The pie will take a year and a half to bake. This book is full of adventures such as “I’m wrestling with an octopus,” “I’m practically covered with needles and pins,” “I made something strange with my chemistry set,” and “I’m proud of my Preposterpus.”

(3) Critical Analysis
An anthology of silly poems, A Pizza the Size of the Sun is loads of fun. Most of these poems rhyme and are in cadence. Prelutsky gets creative with some of the poems. “I Was Walking in a Circle” is written in a circle and reads clockwise. “Backwards Forwards Silly Rhyme” is pended entirely backwards. “Gloppe’s Soup Shope” contains an illustrated list of the soups sold within the poem. The reader needs a mirror in order to read “I Am Your Mirror Image.” The author makes use of alliteration in “Quentin Quimble Quamble Quayle.” The chorus in “Rat for Lunch” is humorous and delightful:

Rat for lunch! Rat for lunch!
Yum! Delicious! Munch munch munch!
One by one of by the bunch—
Rat, oh rat, oh rat for lunch!

Several creatures are anthropomorphic such as the Jellybean Brigade, the Teenage Hippopotamus, and the Unsavory Tomato. At times Prelutsky uses some vocabulary that is a bit advanced (i.e. ascertained, predicament, invariably) but it is important for children to get exposure to new words in order to expand their vocabulary. The emotional impact is ridiculous, carefree, and amusing. Stevenson’s black and white illustrations really compliment the poems. Poor Mr. Rollo now framed on the author’s living room wall.

(4) Review Excerpt(s)
Booklist: “A delightful addition to poetry collections that will not stay on the shelf for long.”

Publishers Weekly: “This often boisterous mix of silliness and song should prove entertaining for the whole family.”

(5) Connections
*Have the children read other Prelutsky poem books:
Prelutsky, Jack. Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep. ISBN 0688840531
Prelutsky, Jack. The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders. ISBN 006073776X
Prelutsky, Jack. The Beauty and the Beast: Poems for the Animal Kingdom. ISBN 067987058X

*Have the class explore similar poetry selections:
Foster, John. My First Oxford Book of Nonsense Poems. ISBN 0192762753
Milligan, Spike. Silly Verse for Kids. ISBN 0140303316
Cole, Joanna. Anna Banana: 101 Jump-Rope Rhymes. ISBN 0688077889

*Students can visit Mr. Prelutsky official website: