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Let's sample some of the new books available to us of late and see which ones you and your students could use.
The Tiger Rising (Candlewick, 2006 ISBN 0763618985)
Kate DiCamillo's The Tiger Rising has just been reissued in paperback. This edition includes some suggestions for extension activities, but you won't have any trouble finding things to talk and think about after reading this beautiful little book. Intended for kids in grade 4 and up, it's the story of a miserable boy, Rob, and an equally miserable girl, Sistine. Rob's living with his father in a run-down motel. He grieves for his recently deceased mother, but he must do so without tears for his father has forbidden those tears. He's miserable at school too because of two bullies and because of an incurable rash on his legs. He copes by trying to feel nothing. Sistine is miserable because of her family's divorce and her relocation here in this awful town. She copes by fighting everyone and everything.
When Rob discovers a caged tiger, he shares the secret with Sistine who is determined to free the tiger. This runner up for the National Book Award is brilliantly done. It's a tale of loss and redemption, of humans made whole by each other.
Sistine is named after the Sistine Chapel so you'll need to have art books displaying it available. Blake's poem "Tiger" is quoted and is important to the story so print out a copy for everyone.
Rob carves beautiful things out of wood and you may want to investigate sculpture and wood carving, but the images of the tiger are what linger for me. I'd find as many tiger images as possible and then give the kids big brushes, large sheets of paper, and whatever colors of paint they want to create their own tiger images.
Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini (Greenwillow, 2006 ISBN 0060850949)
Sid Fleischman has a new book out and it's a biography. Now, whom would this flamboyant, over-the-top writer choose for his subject? None other than the flamboyant, over-the-top fellow magician, Harry Houdini. Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini is aimed at readers from fourth grade up. Fleischman's breezy writing style is perfectly suited for the story of this master of escape and magic.
Reading the biography of a man whose life stretched from 1874 to 1926 gives us glimpses of the Gay Nineties, World War I (Houdini tried to enlist but was rejected because he was 41), and the fads and customs of each era. Fleischman tells us just enough of the secrets behind some of Houdini's tricks and illusions to make us almost see how he did it.
Put out a time line from Houdini's birth to death and see how many other famous people were his contemporaries. What things were invented then that are important in our lives today?
Tie it into some science investigation: just how long can humans hold their breath? Then go on to read more about the world's famous magicians. Start with Merlin.
Museum Trip (Houghton Mifflin, 2006 ISBN 0618581251)
Skip now to a book aimed for younger readers. Barbara Lehman's Museum Trip is sort of a sequel to her earlier The Red Book (Houghton Mifflin, 2004 ISBN 0618428585). In that one we go in a book inside a book. In Museum Trip we are in a building. Wordlessly the author/illustrator follows a boy in the museum who stops to tie his shoe and becomes separated from his classmates. Soon he becomes engrossed in the painting of a maze. Turn the page and he's in the maze, and then on to a series of mazes. In the sixth maze there's a tower and a close-up let's us watch the boy get a medal. Then he's back with his classmates, but he's still got the medal and, wonder of wonders, so does the museum director.
This notion of a left-over from a seemingly imaginary experience is not new so have fun with the kids connecting it to some of those other magic leftovers in children's literature like Van Allsburg's bell from Polar Express (Walter Lorraine, 2005 ISBN 061861169X), and his cap from The Garden of Abdul Gasazi (Walter Lorraine, 1979 ISBN 039527804X).
Return to the art museum and take with you such books as those by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Preiss Glasser. You know the ones: You Can't Take a Balloon into the . . . Museum.
And then there's the idea of walking into a painting. You'll have to bring out The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau (Farrar Straus, 1990 ISBN 0374435820) by Jon Agee. He steps into a painting and disappears. Why he does so should bring about an interesting discussion no matter the age of the reader.
Turn it into an art and writing lesson. Put up a display of art prints. Which painting would you like to step into? Imagine yourself doing just that. What would you see as you step deeper into it? What perspectives would change? What about the size of objects in the painting as you neared them? Draw the painting as seen from the inside. Write about your experience inside the painting.
Don't leave the work of Jon Agee without looking as his latest one: Terrific (Michael di Capua, 2005 786851848). A talking parrot would seem a pleasant thing to have, but not if you're Eugene Mudge. He lives in Dismal, North Dakota and utters the title word frequently and sarcastically. Then he wins a tropical cruise. Then he's shipwrecked and cast up on an island with a talking parrot. How long would it take you to utter, Terrific! Mudge's way? Terrific!
You Come to Yokum (Walter Lorraine, 2005 ISBN 0618551220)
And lastly, a self-serving plug. My book You Come to Yokum came out last year but we haven't had a chance to publicize it. It's a good read aloud for grades two and up or an easy read to yourself for third and up. It's set in a hunting lodge in the Berkshires of Massachusetts right after World War One. The two boys are busy dealing with Rooshy, the hired man. Mom's trying to bring the struggle for women's suffrage to the housewives and mill workers of the area. Dad's trying to cope with falling stovepipes and a Model T., Aunt Winnie's convinced a bearded monster is after her, and Uncle Clint's trying to be the sanity in the picture. It's good for a laugh and an easy taste of history. Have fun.
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