Newsletter, October 2000

Welcome to the October issue of our newsletter. If you'd like to have each issue delivered to your email address you can sign-up for a subscription.

In This Issue You'll Find:

  • Workshop News
  • Book Reviews

Workshop News

I've Read the Book, Now What? Workshops for Teachers of grades 2-6 by Carol Hurst:

  • - use literature across the curriculum
  • - connect your reading program to content areas
  • - motivate your readers
  • - complement your reading program with meaningful activities
  • - enhance comprehension through conversation
  • - use a variety of genre
  • - storytell and read aloud as powerful extensions of literature
  • October 17, 2000 - Albany area
    • Best Western - Sovereign Hotel
    • 1228 Western Avenue
    • Albany, NY 12203
  • October 24, 2000 - Boston Area
    • Holiday Inn
    • 30 Washington St.
    • Somerville, MA 02143
  • November 18, 2000 - Syracuse Area
    • Holiday Inn
    • 75 North Street
    • Auburn, NY 13021
To register call Literacy Corner at 877-346-9737

Book Reviews

Rating: 3 Stars (out of 3)
Genre: Picture Book
Grade Levels K-4
Author & Illustrator: Uri Shulevitz
Title: Snow
Publisher Farrar, Straus
Date: 1998
Pages 32
ISBN 0374370923
Order Online, Hardcover, Cassette.
cover art This is one of those books where you've got to start reading with the cover. There are few words in the entire book as the illustrations carry the story. We first see the bookshop on the cover, but we hardly notice it because of the other delightful details revealed there. The title words are snow-covered. A boy and a dog romp in the snow in direct contrast to the drab village and villagers. That bookshop will be important to the plot so we'd better look at it more closely. The bookstore is called "Mother Goose Books" and figures of Mother Goose, her goose, Humpty Dumpty and two images of the man in the moon stand in bold relief on the storefront. The first page is bleak. A gray European town barely stands out against an equally gray sky. The image opens up on the next page and we see villagers going about their business. Some seem to be engaged in conversation and the text points us to a tiny dot we might otherwise have missed-- one snowflake. The boy and dog don't miss it and they react joyfully even though the grandfather downplays it. After all, it's only one snowflake. It's meaningless, he says. It's enough for boy and dog, however, and they go outside to see it. Now there are two snowflakes. A wonderfully dignified man with a very, very tall hat is not impressed. "It's nothing," he says. And so it goes. More and more snowflakes appear in the sky and the boy and dog maintain that it is indeed snowing. Townspeople, the radio and even the television proclaim that it is not, but the flakes keep coming. There are wonderful images of the townspeople, covered and bent over with snow while denying its existence but only the boy and dog enjoy it.
However, as the boy and dog go by the bookstore, Mother Goose, the goose and Humpty Dumpty come to life and join the boy and dog in the street as they romp in the snow. This is a book about the weather and the joy it can bring.

Rating: 2 Stars
Genre: Picture Book
Grade Level PreK - 2
Author & Illustrator: John & Ann Hassett
Title: Cat Up a Tree
Pages: 32
Date: 1998
ISBN 0395884152
Order Online, Hardcover.
cover art Here's a counting book that brings in the community, a whole lot of cats and handles it all with a zany sense of humor. Nana Quimby sees a cat up a tree. She calls the fire department to come and get it down. The person at the firehouse says that they don't do that anymore -- she should call back if the cat starts playing with matches. Now there are five cats in the tree. Nana Quimby calls the police. They won't help unless the cats rob a bank. The cats increase and so do the phone calls. No one will help. In frustration, Nana throws the phone out the window. It lands in the tree and the forty cats cross the wire to her house. The spindly and angular art adds to the comedy.

Rating: 2 Stars
Genre: Picture Book
Grade Level 2 - 12
Author & Illustrator: P. D. Johnson
Title: Henry Hikes to Fitchburg
Pages: 32
Date: 2000
ISBN 0395968674
Order Online, Hardcover.
cover art P.D. Johnson has taken a reference from Thoreau and built an engaging and inventive picture book around it. He tells the story of two bears, one of whom is named Henry. Henry challenges his friend to see which of them will get to Fitchburg first. The deal is that Henry will make the twenty-five mile journey on foot while his friend will go by train. However, his friend must first earn the money for train fare, thus leveling the odds.
Henry, a nature lover, takes a leisurely stroll to Fitchburg, enjoying all he sees and hears along the way. His friend works industriously at a variety of jobs for various households around Concord to earn his passage. It's the households that provide the wonderful literary allusions in the book that those unfamiliar with Thoreau will miss but no matter. Those, plus Johnson's inventive illustrations, provide added humor for those who recognize the famous names.

Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Picture Book
Grade Level 2 - 8
Author: Mary Lyn Ray
Illustrator: Barbara Cooney
Title: Basket Moon
Publisher: Little Brown
Pages: 32
Date: 1999
ISBN 0316735213
Order Online, Hardcover.
cover art The world of literature lost a great artist when Barbara Cooney died this year. Fortunately for us, she completed one last work of beauty. Her illustrations for Mary Lyn Ray's Basket Moon are among her finest.
This is the story of a young boy, living in the hills outside of Hudson, New York probably at the turn of the century. Like many of their neighbors, the boy's family lives on the baskets of black ash they make and sell in Hudson. Each year, as the baskets accumulate and Pa gets ready to make the trip to Hudson, the boy begs to go only to be declared too young yet. Pa calls him "a watcher" and the boy lives up to the title as he watches the felling of the black ash trees, the mallet pounding of the logs to get the splint ribbons of wood. He watches his father lay out the splints and begin weaving each basket.
The boy is also a listener. One of the basket makers, Big Joe, has told him, "Ears that listen are ears that hear." He listens in vain to hear the trees talk as the old basket makers can. Little by little, his father allows him to take a larger role in the preparation of baskets.
When the boy is nine, he hears the words he's been waiting for, "I reckon you could come." With the baskets strung on long poles over their shoulders, father and son set off for Hudson.
The father sells the baskets in Hudson and then goes about purchasing the things his family needs while the boy absorbs the sights of the big city. With the purchased goods strung on the basket poles, the father and son start the long walk home. (There are parallels here to The Ox Cart Man.) The wonderful trip is ruined by the jeers of a man in the town square, "A tisket, a tasket, hillbilly basket! That's all a bushwhacker knows."
Returning home, the boy finds no satisfaction in the preparation of new baskets. Encouraged by Big Joe to listen to the wind, one night he hears the wind call his name and knows that, when the time comes, he'll follow the tradition and be making baskets. The cycle begins again. Cooney has given us visual circles throughout the illustrations to accent the cycles of life in the rural countryside.

Rating: 2 stars
Genre: Brief Novel
Grade Level 5 - 8
Author: Robert Cormier
Title: Frenchtown Summer
Publisher: Delacorte
Pages: 120
Date: 1999
ISBN 0385327048
Order Online, Hardcover, Cassette.
cover art In a manner similar to Cynthia Rylant's in Waiting to Waltz and Lee Bennett Hopkins' Been to Yesterdays, Cormier uses spare, blank verse to recreate the characters, mainly family, in one summer in the life of Eugene, a lonely twelve year old whose father works in the comb factory . We get to know his extended family as he comes to understand and appreciate each one. His mother is the image of grace and love while Eugene's father remains kindly, but remote. Then, in this era in which airplanes are a rarity, the boy spots one in the back of one of the tenements. The airplane disappears before anyone else can see it. Eugene is subjected to the jeers and scorn of his playmates until his father's loud proclamation affirms his sighting. The connection between father and son becomes almost tangible in that one, shining moment. (See also Flight and Planes.)

Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Novel
Grade Level 5 - 9
Author: Bruce Brooks
Title: What Hearts
Publisher: HarperTrophy
Pages: 120
Date: 1998
ISBN 0064471276
Order Online, Paperback, Hardcover.
cover art There's a new paperback edition of What Hearts by Bruce Brooks told in four brief stories, the book gives us a longitudinal study of love as experienced by a gifted child. In the first vignette, Asa arrives home from the last day of school elated with his straight A's and full of plans for a wonderful summer only to find that his parents are divorcing and he and his mother are moving.
Asa's mother announces that she is marrying Dave, much to Asa's disgust. Dave is difficult and antagonistic. He and Asa have a hard time figuring out how to exist in the same household. However, Asa is a talented athlete and Dave turns out to be a good coach. It is only through the various sports that Asa and Dave achieve any kind of communication. Even that is fraught with danger as Dave's ego is easily bruised and he sometimes reacts violently. During that period of time, Asa's mother sinks into frequent bouts of depression and has to be institutionalized for months at a time.
In the third vignette, Asa determines to excel in baseball and Dave helps out although not with the same enthusiasm he has shown with other sports. Then Dave hurts Asa with a deliberate pitch. When Asa'a mother sees the bruise, she gamely takes over as Asa's practice partner. Then she tries to kill herself and has to be hospitalized again.
The last vignette is the most heart-wrenching. The family has moved frequently but now has stayed put for two years. Asa has begun to feel at home. He is in love with Jean, a lovely schoolmate who seems to like him. Too shy to approach her for months, Asa is encouraged by his mother to consider love a gift whether or not it is returned. He finally stands in front of Jean and declares, "I love you." To his delight and amazement, Jean sends her friend over to him with two candy hearts wrapped in a napkin. Each heart declares, "I love you." Asa is ecstatic. He returns home only to find that his mother and Dave are splitting up and he is moving again. Both he and Dave are relieved that their difficult relationship is at an end. Dave, however, declares that he loves Asa and waits for Asa to state that he returns the love. Asa cannot. Asa does however call Jean to tell her that he will treasure the hearts she sent him. Crushing him to the quick, Jean asks, "What hearts?"


Related Areas of Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site