Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Town that Fooled the British: A War of 1812 Story (Historical Non Fiction Picture Book)

By Lisa Papp 
Illustrated by Robert Papp

St. Michael's, Maryland, also known as, "The Town that Fooled the British," is artistically documented in the Papp's picture book. 

The story centers around Henry Middle and his family  in the summer of 1813, at the height of the War of 1812. The British were targeting the Chesapeake Bay. On news that the British would soon be coming to St. Michael's, Henry's father suits up and grabs his musket. But, can the town's militia defeat the powerful British navy fleet? 

"Henry imagined British soldiers foraging through their garden, taking what they pleased. He refused to think about what could happen to his house and to the room he had always shared with his sister. Beneath the darkening skies, some of Henry's fear was replaced with anger." 

At home with his mother and sister, Henry insisted to his mother that they do something. She sends him off with two lanterns. Thrust into the middle of the action, Henry searches for his father among the men ready to fight off the British. As the Royal Navy creeped up the upon the tiny shipbuilding town, the men devise a plan hang lanterns in trees, ships, and houses to give the allusion that the town was destroyed. Although the British did fire upon the town but a couple of times, St. Michael's was spared the destruction it would have faced. 

Husband and wife team, Lisa and Robert Papp demonstrate that working together as a couple can actually produce a genuinely solid product. (Unlike my parents, who have worked together for almost forty-years and still instill on fighting over petty work details!) On his website, Robert writes that, "Lisa has fashioned a wonderfully exciting adventure about a small seaside town threatened during the War Of 1812, clinging to hope because of the very big idea belonging to a small boy." And it is true! The thrilling narrative is both captivating and informative. 

At the end of the book, Lisa Papp writes: "In telling this small part of a larger story, I hope to spark an interest in a much-overlooked part of our country's heroic beginnings." I believe that she has accomplished that goal. 

Robert Papp's illustrations are breathtaking and add so much to the narrative. A mix of bright and dark colors are illuminated on the page. This historical fiction picture book is a wonderful introduction to the War of 1812. I feel that third, fourth, and fifth graders would appreciate the awesome illustrations, be mesmerized by the story, and learn something about America's past from this book!

Good resources for teacher's using The Town that Fooled the British in the classroom

Cinderella (Fantasy/Folk Tale)

Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper
Translated and Illustrated by Marcia Brown
Atheneum Books for Young Readers (1971)
Caldecott Medal Book

Three time Caldecott Medal Winner Marcia Brown translates the tale classic tale of Cinderella from Charles Perrault. 

Marcia Brown has skillfully retold the French fairy tale of Cinderella, the young, beautiful girl that is harshly mistreated by her step-mother and step-sisters. Brown has successfully translated the trials and tribulations of Cinderella as she is made a slave to her evil step-family. 

"The poor girl put up with everything. She dared not complain, even to her father. He would only have scolded her, because--alas!--he was tied hand and foot to his wife's apron strings." 

As the traditional story goes, the young prince is giving a grand ball. The evil step-sisters were invited to the ball, however, Cinderella was denied an invite. She simply catered to her step-sisters as the prepared for the ball. After the carriage departed, Cinderella wept with sadness. Then, her fairy godmother appeared. Cinderella was comforted by her godmother as she said, "Well, just be a good girl. I'll see that you go." 

Fairy godmother worked her magic and turned a pumpkin, mice, and lizards into a grand coach with footmen. With the flick of her wand, the fairy godmother transformed Cinderella's ragged clothes into a beautiful gown accented with tiny glass slippers. The one rule: "Do not stay a moment after midnight. If you do, your coach will turn back into a pumpkin, your horses into mice, your footmen into lizards and your riches into rags." 

At the ball, Cinderella dazzles and has caught the eye of the young prince. "Oh, how beautiful she is!" Hearing the clock chime 11:45PM, Cinderella made a mad dash towards her coach. The next night, similar events occurred. However, when she ran towards her coach, with the prince following closely behind, she dropped one of her glass slippers. The prince soon set out to find out who the slipper belonged. Finally, it is revealed to be Cinderella, and they lived....well, you know the rest. 

From the American Library Association website, "The Caldecott Medal "shall be awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American Picture Book for Children published in the United States during the preceding year. The award shall go to the artist, who must be a citizen or resident of the United States, whether or not he be the author of the text."

The illustrations are choppy and sketch-like. The color palate relies on shades of the three primary colors (red, blue, and yellow). Truly, I feel that the illustrations lack the imagination that Brown produced in Once a Mouse. Although they are much more imaginative and whimsical than the Disney movie characters, they do not support the story. Brown's reinterpretation of Perrault's classic is much more engaging than the images that accompany the story. 

I would definitely use this version of Cinderella as a read aloud to children in second or third grade. It is wonderful for those students that dream of happy endings, but appealing to everyone who enjoys a good story!

Monday, October 24, 2011


By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                  Set in the rural Appalachian hills of West Virginia along the Ohio River Valley, Shiloh, the 1992 Newbery Medal winning book, tells the story of young Marty Preston and his compassion for a young beagle dog being mistreated by his owner. Marty names the dog Shiloh, after the small area of Tyler County.  The dog's owner, Judd Travers, is mistreats his animals, hunts out of season, and will often cheat the local shop owner, Mr. Wallace. 

When the beagle dog Shiloh follows Marty home, Marty's dad, Ray Preston, insists that it be returned to its owner. When the Shiloh returns, Marty decides to hide the dog. After Shiloh is attacked by another dog, it is revealed that Marty is harboring the dog. A visit to the veterinarian, and Shiloh is once again returned to abusive Judd Travers.   

Reading Shiloh for a student in West Virginia is probably the equivalent of reading Bridge to Terabithia for a young Virginian student.Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has uncannily captured the vernacular of this particular part of West Virginia. Typically the dialect in this region is not conventionally southern, but a mixture of a distinct Appalachian blend influenced by the area’s close proximity to Pittsburgh, PA. Evident when the vile Judd Travers says: 
“He’s no dog to me at all the way he keeps runnin’ off. It’s fourth time he’s left the pack when I had him out huntin’. I got to teach him a lesson. Whup him good and starve him lean. Wondered if you’d seen him.” This particular dialect seems to rely simply on important words, with no consideration of syntax. (You should he my mother and I have a conversation!)

The book is often read during third, fourth, or fifth grade. The short chapters and simplistic language are easy for young students. But, I believe it is the story of a young boy standing up for what he believes is right that is the most captivating for students. Marty tells Judd: "I'll get the game warden up here, show him the spot the doe was hit, the blood, and when he finds the deer at your place, he'll believe me."Marty begins to assert his position and will no longer stand for Judd Travers' dirty dealings. Is Marty justified in his blackmail, or has he sunk to the likes of Judd just to save a dog? These are the rich questions students begin to tackle as the read this book. 

Eleven-year old Marty lives with his parents and two sisters in the small town of Friendly, WV. The towns of Sistersville, Friendly, and Middlebourne are all real places. I have made a map here to show the different places in the area.

My grandmother particularly loved this book because she grew up in the orphanage in Middlebourne (pictured left). To be able reconnect to her childhood, and ask those ethical questions in which Marty struggles with, I believe the book really made an impact on her. She suffered great abuse at the hands of many people like Judd Travers who would foster her and her sister, Pearl. Once, when we were visiting Tyler County, she mentioned how many people use to have animals, and how poorly these animals were treated. If there was no financial gain involved, then animals were usually just abused and neglected. I often wonder if that is how she felt growing up an orphan? 

Compelling and compassionate, Shiloh has helped shed light on the very dark subject of abuse. The power of the human-animal bond, as well as the moral and ethical dilemmas, are presented well in this novel. A classic piece of children's literature, Shiloh can be enjoyed by all ages. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Picture Yourself Writing Poetry: Using Photos to Inspire Writing

Picture Yourself Writing Poetry: Using Photos to Inspire Writing 
Capstone Press, 2011
“The best poems are magical, miniature worlds.”

Laura Purdie Salas has constructed a “how-to” guide for young writers wanting to write poetry. She asserts that, “A great  poem is like a short vacation to an exotic land.”  First, she spells out the writing process, detailing prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. She then begins to focus on the use of photography to generate ideas for writing poetry. She offers a photo of two girls legs with stripped stocks and bright colored shoes. She asks: “Do you think of the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz? A striped prison uniform? Shoe shopping with your mom?” Clearly her objective is to get kids to generate ideas from images.
Salas continues to define sensory language, metaphors, concrete nouns, imagery, filler words, and randomization in poetry. Salas writes about character and voice. She makes it clear to students that not every poem needs to be written in first person. The book includes a glossary, internet sites, a list of book resources, and an index. Using this with upper elementary students would be great for supporting their use of resource materials.
This book would be a great way for fourth or fifth graders to start writing poetry. I like her visual approach to the written word. Some of the photos in the book are quite compelling. She writes that, “Poems are powerful tools that can help strengthen your poems.”
Laura Purdie Salas has recently written another book called, Bookspeak: Poems about Books. Check out the trailer below!


    Poems by Alan Katz
    Drawings by Edward Koren 
    Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008
       My mother bought me this book about a year ago. She thought that I would enjoy it and pointed out some of the poems that reminded her of me. For example: 

    The Name's The Same

    In U.S. cities
    and plenty of towns,
    people have names
    that are verbs and are nouns.

    Gene wears jeans
    and Jim's at the gym.
    Mark makes his mark
    (that's a homonym)

    Skip and Flip know
    what to do without fail.
    But if you name's Rob,
    then you're goin' to jail.

    And another one she jabbed me with!

    Long De-Vision

    The doctor said,
    "Read that eye chart...
    line four,
    please read it all."

    I cannot see the char,
    to start--
    'cause I
    can't see the wall.

    Thanks Mom! An ode to my legendary bad eyesight! 

    I highly recommend this book for exposing boys to poetry. So much is related to brothers, hating school, and the highly gross things that adolescent boys do in their lives. Example: 
     In Brief
    "Change your underwear!
    Change your underwear!"
    Each day I hear Mom whine.
    I tell her I do.
    My brother does too.
    I change into his,
    he takes mine.

    Cute, right? There are a lot of poems about flatulence, snot, and the typical hygiene habits of adolescent boys. Baseball, bodily functions, and the dreaded visit to the dentist are all available

    In the epilogue, author Alan Katz shares his experiences throughout elementary school, including some of his writing and even his report cards! Katz tells us about his inability to draw. He writes, “Even today, I can’t draw to save my life (although that’s probably not ever gonna come up—I can’t imagine a doctor examining me and saying, “Mr. Katz, we can’t operate. They only way to save your life is if you draw an adorable squirrel.”) This self-disclosure is evident throughout the afterword, and even richer in his poetry.

    I was first introduced to cartoonist Edward Koren in 1999. My best friend sent me a cartoon from The New Yorker that Koren had drawn. It was of a man at a party with a plate full of food and a woman who comes up to him and says: "Your metabolism is the envy of everyone at this party." (At the time, I was much thinner than I am now!) Koren has added a fun element to Katz’s boisterous poetry. The hairy, big-eyed, oddities that Koren has created are a perfect compliment to this collection of poems.