Newsletter, Volume 13, Number 1


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Suggested Books and Links


As I'm writing this It's a snowbound Monday here in Massachusetts. The schools are all closed and it's a great day to curl up with a book. I want to share with you a range of books I've enjoyed recently. There's a novel for grades five through nine, an easy to read chapter book, a book of poetry, a nonfiction book for all ages, a book for children's literature lovers, and links to some great online articles. I hope you find time to check out a couple of them.

Jocelyn, Marthe. "How it Happened in Peach Hill." (2007, Wendy Lamb. ISBN 0375837019.) 240 pg. Fiction. Novel. 3 out of 5 stars. Gr 5-9.

Annie and her mother are scam artists. It's 1924 and they move from town to town with Annie's mother pretending to be able to tell the future and communicate with the dead. She has Annie pretend to have a severe developmental disability in order to eavesdrop on the townspeople and feed the information back to her mom. When Annie gets fed up with the role because of a crush on a boy she fakes a miracle cure so that she can be herself again. At the beginning of each chapter is a snippet of superstition, "If you use the same pencil to write a test that you use to study for the test, the pencil will remember the answers." This is a light but engaging read set in a time period not often covered in children's fiction.


Minarik, Else Holmelund. "Little Bear." Illustrated by Maurice Sendak. (1992 box set, Harper Trophy. ISBN 0064441970.) Fiction. Chapter book. 63 pg. 3 out of 5 stars. Gr PreK-3.

This early "I Can Read" book was first published in 1957 and retains much of its charm. It's a good pick for beginning readers just grasping the power of their new skill. While most of the words are very basic the author did not shy away from less common words, "'Then I wish that I could find a Viking boat,' said Little Bear." These four short stories are reassuring tales --- Baby Bear fantasizes incredible wishes and Mama Bear brings him gently back to Earth.


Janeczko, Paul B. "A Kick In the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms." Illustrated by Chris Raschka. (2005, Candlewick. ISBN 0763606626.) 60 pg. Poetry. 4 out of 5 stars. Gr 3-7.

Looking for an accessible way to introduce a range of poetry forms? I've got just the book. Janeczko ranges from sonnet to haiku to cover 29 different forms. Each has a short description and one or more examples. The collection includes a wide range of poets and bright playful illustrations. It deserves a place in every poetry collection.


Hillman, Ben. "How Big Is It?: A Big Book All About Bigness." (2007, Scholastic Reference. ISBN 0439918081.) Nonfiction. 47 pg. 4 out of 5 stars. Gr PreK-9.

This captivating nonfiction title will draw you in from the first page. Spread across a page and a half is a photo of a two-story house and photo-edited in is a realistic Giant Squid with its 55.2 feet length measured out across the bottom. That's big. Along the right side are six paragraphs of well-written information about the Giant Squid.
The book continues in this format. Each spread is another gigantic example with interesting facts along the right. The photo-edited illustrations are strikingly realistic --- a polar bear towering over the hoop in a basketball game, an Ice Age glacier rising above Chicago, a hummingbird perched on the egg of the elephant bird and other impressive contrasts.
Scoop this one up for general browsing by even reluctant readers and be sure to include it in any unit on measurement.


Nel, Philip. "The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats." (2007, Random House. ISBN 9780375833694.) Nonfiction for adults. 190 pg. 5 out of 5 stars. Gr. PreK-12.

And you thought "The Cat in the Hat" was a simple story. This 190 page book delves into all the details you never noticed in this and the sequel, "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back."
There's the changing meter in the text, the disappearing bathtub in an illustration and the many small drawing details. Nel also shows us other related illustrations of Seuss' and the original drawings and text for the "Cat in the Hat" books. You'll also find lots of information on Seuss himself and his working style.
With all the illustrations this book's lightness lifts it above any scholarly weight. I highly recommend it for cover-to-cover reading or to browse. It's fun to spend time with a critic who enjoys children's books as much as you and I do.
You can also use this with older (grade 5 through high school) students when you're talking about how to critique a piece of literature or a piece of art. It can lift students right out of the book report rut and let them see another way to look at a text without intimidating them. What could be simpler than leafing through a picture book and noticing that the number of fingers on the cat changes and wondering why?


Graphic Novels, School Library Journal's Web Site
The School Library Journal has an article from their January 2008 issue on graphic novels. Here you'll find reviews of 29 novels starting from 2nd grade and going through high school.


Technique in Illustrations, American Library Association's Booklinks Web Site
This article is part of a series on illustrations in children's books and covers the different materials and techniques used.


Books about Art in the Social Studies Curriculum, also from Booklinks
Here's an annotated listing of books which allow you to bring art into the social studies curriculum in order to enhance your curriculum with art while still covering your school's requirements for social studies.


Children's Book Reviews, Publishers Weekly's Web Site
And last, but not least, here's Publishers Weekly's children's book reviews from the last week in December.


That's it for the moment. I expect to be back in February. Until then, happy reading.

Rebecca Otis


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