Friday, June 27, 2008

Poetry Friday: Twelve Rounds to Glory

Candlewick Press, 2007

This book is for upper middle grade readers and young adult readers. But the layout of the book is like a picture book. It’s obviously not a picture book because of the length and the content. It is intended for older readers.

This is a biography written in verse. The book is divided into twelve chapters, or rounds. I was truly amazed at what a rhyming wizard Smith is. He has the poems rhyme, but they don’t appear sing-songy or cutesy. We learn much about Muhammad Ali through Smith’s verse. The dust jacket says that it was inspired by rap. It’s also written in second person almost like the author is talking directly to Ali about himself.

Bryan Collier has such a distinct style of illustrating. I enjoyed seeing the poems illustrated in full color. Many of the biographies in verse that I have read in the past weren’t illustrated in full color, so Collier’s illustrations added another dimension.

Smith writes about Ali’s fight with Joe Frazier:

You have ascended the mountaintop
and must now reach its peak;
your body is tired
but your spirit is not weak.
Your rubbery legs
carry you to meet Joe,
but your weighted-down fists
manage to strike blow
after blow
after blow
after blow
to your opponent…”

This book won the Coretta Scott King Honor Award in 2008.

Hear Smith read some of his poems here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Candice Ransom on Transitional Readers

I heard Candice Ransom speak at the Roanoke Valley Reading Council's Literacy Tea on May 29, 2008. I am very far behind on posting reviews and notes from speakers I've heard, so I'm attempting to catch up.

Candice Ransom has written over 100 books for children including Finding Day's Bottom, Tractor Day, Seeing Sky-Blue Pink, and her new series for children, Time Spies Series.

I read the first book in the Time Spies series, Secret in the Tower, before it was published. I immediately loved it for two reasons: 1) it would appeal to my students who were unable or unmotivated to read longer chapter books, and 2) it took place in Virginia and snuck in Virginia history. Since I teach fourth grade and fourth graders study Virginia History, this was a big draw for me. You can read a chapter of Secret in the Tower here.

So, what are transitional readers? They are kids who are past the easy reader books, but aren't ready for middle grade chapter books. They are newly independent readers. As a teacher, I'm glad Candice is trying to appeal to this age group. There are some kids who try to make that leap to regular chapter books and just can't plow through the entire book. They aren't ready. The Time Spies series books are ones that have chapters that can be read in one sitting, and have a "hook" at the end of the chapter, to make the reader want to keep reading.

Ransom describes her books as a mixed genre, combining adventure, fantasy, mystery, biography, history, set in a comtemporary setting, and put it all in a series. She says that this series is a tribute to "everyday fantasy" where a kid feels like something magic could happen to you. She pays homage to E. Nesbit and others. In this series, modern day kids go back in time to an important moment in history. But as Ransom says, she uncovers a piece of history in each of the books that hasn't been "done to death." The social studies teachers in my school were excited that Secret in the Tower talked about Jack Jouett, known as the "Paul Revere of the South" who warned Jefferson that the British wanted to capture him.

There isn't an author's note at the end of each books, because "kids don't read them." Instead there is a travel guide at the back of each book with the historical information in it.

The Time Spies series has a wonderful website with lots of information for kids. You can check it out here.

Other links:
Candice Ransom's website
Candice Ransom's blog