Monday, April 30, 2007

Bloggers to Read

I just received my May/June 2007 issue of The Horn Book Magazine in the mail today.

Betsy from Fuse #8 Production has an article called "Blogging the Kidlitosphere". Check out her recommendations for what children's literature blogs to read. Many of these I read frequently. I'm planning to check out several others.

Interview with Brian Selznick

The San Diego Union-Tribune has a great article/interview with Brian Selznick on The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Thanks to Big A, Little a for the link.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam

I was drawn to Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam not because I like dog stories--although some of my favorite books are dog stories (Love that Dog, Because of Winn-Dixie)--but because I really like Cynthia Kadohata. I enjoyed Kira-Kira and Weedflower, so I wanted to read her latest release--Cracker!

I also like historical fiction. Any time I can learn something about history and be entertained, I jump at the chance. When I realized that Cracker is told in 3rd person but gets inside of the head of the dog too, I was a little skeptical. Not because Kadohata isn’t a good storyteller—she is. I was just not crazy about reading about what a dog might think. But my skepticism didn’t last long. I was immediately drawn into the story about a German Shepherd who goes to Vietnam to sniff out explosives.

Cracker starts out as a young boy’s dog. Willie, the owner of Cracker, loves his dog very much. When his family must move, Cracker cannot go with them. Willie has read about how the war effort in Vietnam was looking for good dogs, so Cracker goes off to be trained for the war.

There he meets his new owner, Rick. Rick and Cracker head to Vietnam together, undergo many important missions, but the bond between the two grows stronger and stronger. This dog learns his job, but becomes closer than ever to his new master.

This is a work of fiction, but so many facts about the Vietnam war and dogs in the war are brought out. Scenes from the war front make the reader feel as though they are right there going through the drama, the suspense, and the fear with Rick and Cracker. I was completely drawn into the last part of the book.

Rick and Cracker have a bond that continues as strong as two comrades, even until the very end. What was amazing to me was the fact that many of the dogs used in Vietnam were euthanized or given to the Vietnamese after the war. Only a few were brought bag. Now, when the military uses dogs, they have a policy that “No Military Dog Left Behind.”

Link to Vietnam Dog Handlers Association

Friday, April 27, 2007

Love that Dog Resources e-mailed me two interesting resources on Sharon Creech.

A Readers' Theater of Love that Dog performed by Sharon Creech, Walter Dean Myers, Sarah Weeks, and Avi.

Slideshows about Sharon Creech and her books.

Help Yourself to Haiku

Poetry Friday....

I must say, haiku books are some of my favorites. With the popularity of haiku for kids, some fabulous haiku books are coming out that are kid-friendly. Two of my new favorites are Wing Nuts: Screwy Haiku by Paul B. Janeczko and J. Patrick Lewis—two poetry-for-kid kings--and Today and Today haiku by Issa, haiku orginalist, with illustrations by G. Brian Karas.

These books, while both aimed at kids, and both haiku collections, are truly at different ends of the haiku spectrum. That’s why I love these books. They both make haiku accessible to kids, but they show how different and how fun haiku can be.

Today and Today has just been released by Scholastic Press. Issa, is one of the haiku poets from Japan, where haiku originated. He wrote these poems in the late 1700s. This book is made up of very old poems. But they have been translated and illustrated and brought to life for the modern day child.

G. Brian Karas’ illustrations bring these ancient poems alive through his beautiful nature paintings. They are divided up by season, and since haiku are usually about nature, this is very appropriate.

My favorite is a summer haiku:

So many breezes
wander through my summer room:
but never enough

These poems give kids great examples of haiku that really follow the essence of what a haiku is: about nature, capturing one moment, simplistic. These poems, all fabulous, are only enhanced by G. Brian Karas’ illustrations.

On the other end of the spectrum, Wing Nuts: Screwy Haiku by Paul Janeczko and J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Tricia Tusa, celebrate the fun in haiku. This book came out last spring (2006). These haiku do not follow the traditionalist approach where haiku are written about a moment in nature. They follow the pattern of a haiku, but they are jokes, plays on words, riddles, and laugh-out loud funny.

In fact, when I read this out loud to my classroom of fourth graders, there were many laughs, but they were delayed reactions. These are poems that kids “get”, but they have to think about it for a minute. Then they say, “Oh, I get it. (pause) That’s hilarious!” I love that delay because it sometimes just takes them a minute to “get it” and think outside the box.

My favorite:

Noah Webster had
no choice except to put
the cart before the horse

This book is a good romp for introducing the short fun of haiku, or allowing kids to chew on after they have spent some time studying traditional haiku. They can see how it can be fun to play with a poetic form and give it a twist. The illustrations by Tricia Tusa also give the book a playful mood. The illustrations are wild, bright watercolors with lots of details. They also help kids “get” the poem on more than one level. They definitely add another layer to think about.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Guji Guji

Guji Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen was one of the books that made it to the Primary List for Virginia State Reading Association’s Virginia Readers’ Choice list. One of our librarians informed me that this book received the most votes by kids in our area. Those votes will be totaled up with other votes in the state of Virginia. Who knows if this book will actually win the Virginia Readers’ Choice Award for the Primary list or not?

Guji Guji was first published in Taiwan in 2003, then published in the U.S. by Kane Miller in 2004.

I’m wondering how to pronounce the title, also the name of the character in the book. In my mind it sounds like Coochie, Coochie, Coo—somewhat like you would say to a baby. Listen to NPR’s Daniel Pinkwater and Scott Simon read the book and you’ll hear how to pronounce it.

The first thing I noticed about this book was the fabulous artwork also by Chih-Yuan Chen. The title papers have the animals in the book—ducks and an alligator—going off the page. It’s reminiscent of David Weisner’s Three Little Pigs in that Chih-Yuan Chen isn’t confined to margins. The other illustrations are over-the-top funny with the ducks and the alligators in silly, exaggerated positions. The adult crocodiles appear mean and conniving. The ducks are striped, polka-dotted, and yellow.

The book starts when a large egg rolls into the mother duck’s nest. She doesn’t really notice that is different from her eggs. When the eggs hatch, out comes a striped duck, a polka-dotted duck, a yellow duck, and a crocodile self-proclaimed “Guji Guji”. The crocodile doesn’t realize he’s different than the rest at first. He acts like a duck and becomes part of the duck family.

It is only when some adult crocodiles notice him that they tell him he is, in fact, a crocodile, not a duck. They try to trick him into luring his duck family to their hungry mouths. Guji Guji, now a crocoduck, finds a way to trick the ravenous crocodiles and save his family.

I can see why the kids in my area picked this as their favorite. It has enticing illustrations and a romping, funny story. I can’t wait to check out Chih-Yuan Chen’s other book, On My Way to Buy Eggs.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

VOYA Poetry Picks

Voice of Youth Advocates, or VOYA released their Poetry Picks for 2006. This a list of young adult books written in poetry in the last year, some published as recently this month, so they are hot off the presses.

We are all Hokies

I live about 25 minutes from the Virginia Tech campus. Yesterday we were faced with an unimaginable tragedy that was so close to home. This afternoon we watched as the President of the United States flew over our hometown to comfort the Virginia Tech family. I am without words. My prayers are with the families and friends of all of these students and faculty members. If you missed Nikki Giovanni's inspiring words at the Convocation, "We are Virginia Tech", you can view them here. You can read the transcript here.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Best Bets Book List Released

One of the sessions I missed at the Virginia State Reading Association conference was Joan Kindig's. She always does a year in review for the best children's books. Her list that she talked about in her session can be viewed here. Joan served on this past year's Newbery committee. Thanks to VSRA for putting up her list for those of us who didn't get to attend her session.

My favorite out of Joan's list (of the ones I've read so far), is hands-down John, Paul, George, and Ben by Lane Smith.