Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis (Biography Picture Book)

Written by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

A picture book that introduces a new generation to the amazing, inspiring story of Joe Louis.

Matt de la Peña and Kadir Nelson have crafted a beautiful biography of the African-American boxer Joe Louis. The story weaves Louis' 1938 fight against German (and devote Nazi party member) Max Schmeling, and the young Louis' struggle in a very segregated America. This poetic telling of a physically and emotionally powerful individual is a book that must be shared with young students of all ages! 

In his formative years, Joe was ridiculed for his stutter. Words seemed to allude him. All that Joe had was his massive, powerful hands. His mother that this was a sign that he should play music. However, when she sent him to his first violin lesson, he skipped out and went to the gym next door. Destiny takes him by the hand. 

He returned day after day to the gym; his mother still thinking he was learning the violin. Joe's first times in the ring were not successful. Knocked down, beaten, and bruised, he kept coming back day after day. The other boxers at the gym became his mentors. Joe, when he became a professional boxer, was quite the sportsman. Although he might have knocked them out, he would help the opponent up and shake their hand. 

The book takes dead aim at history. Joe became a hero of the black community when he was fighting other Americans. Although Schmeling gave Louis his first professional loss in 1936, a rematch would united all (both black and white) America. On a June night in 1938, Joe Louis would stand to represent what all of America was feeling about the horrors happening in Europe. 

My current roommate, who is currently studying secondary English education, is hoping to use this picture book to introduce a lesson. At the high school level? YES! It can work. It is a wonderful way to introduce students to a piece of our twentieth century history that is often overlooked. 

If Kadir Nelson doesn't win the Caldecott Medal for this masterful picture book, I will be forced to go in the ring with the judging committee! (He was a previous Caldecott Honor winner...but this is his year!)

Boxing Legend Joe Louis!

America is Under Attack

Flash Point (August 16, 2011)
In Don Brown's latest, he tackles the tragic events of September 11, 2001. 
While tackling such an emotional event with children can be daunting, Brown gives an honest account of the events of the morning of Tuesday September 11, 2001.  A combination of factual information and personal accounts, this book is powerful as he documents fire chief Joseph Pfiefer leading his team of firemen to rescue people in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. 

The illustrations are strong and impressive, yet are not overly sensationalist or violent. The colors are muted blues and grays that clearly convey the mood and feeling of that horrific day in American history.

This picture book would be ideal for a fourth or fifth grade class during a discussion of 9/11. Using this book early in September during a school year would send a message that the literature and texts that we read in the classroom are going to be powerful and meaningful. Ideas of a discussion group can be found by following this link:  Teacher Guide

The Blues Go Extreme Birding

By Carol L. Malnor and Sandy F. Fuller
Illustrated by Louise Schroeder

Fabulous! A Portrait of Andy Warhol

Sea Horse, Run!

Going Solo (Memoir)

     By Roald Dahl

Boy (Memoir)

                                                                                                             Boy: Tales of Childhood

     Children's author Roald Dahl gives a glimpse of his childhood in his memoir entitled Boy: Tales of Childhood. Dahl, beloved writer of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches, and Matilda, brings his clever writing style to this memoir. He is quick to point out the fact that Boy is, "not an autobiography." Dahl claims that this memoir is a collection of stories from his childhood that are etched in his mind. He writes of his accounts that, "some are funny. Some are painful. Some are unpleasant. I suppose that is why I have always remembered them so vividly. All are true."   

The stories Dahl recounts cover his formative years from birth to age twenty. He delves into this family's life before his birth, including how is father lost half of his arm.

So much of this memoir highlights his strong relationship with his mother. This is something personally I really enjoyed because I have such a strong relationship with my mother. I found myself becoming very fond of Dahl's mother, Sophie, and I really respected her choices as a single mother. For example, when she found out that Mr. Coombe's had used corporal punishment against her child, she tells Roald, "They don't beat small children like that where I come from. I won't allow it." I admired the fact that she would stand-up for her child against an evil headmaster.

The amount of abuse and neglect towards children is quite disturbing. It is shocking to think of a culture that was so dismissive and abusive towards children. If I would use this memoir in the classroom with my students, I feel that the topic of child abuse and discipline would be an important topic to broach with students.

Boy captures the essence of Roald Dahl's young life. You can clearly see the parallels between Dahl's personal experiences and his creative writing. (I wonder if the Matron at St. Peter's was inspiration for Miss Trunchbull in Matilda?)