Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Chair For My Mother

Author: Vera B. Williams
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
ISBN: 0-688-00914-X

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams is a beautiful story narrated by a young girl whose family lost everything they owned in a fire. While they were able to find a new home and were given generous donations from neighbors, friends, and family members, they did not have a sofa or comfortable chair. The book tells the story of how the mother, a waitress, the grandmother, and the little girl saved up their change in a large jar until they were able to buy the perfect chair.

The beautiful illustrations in the book can make it hard to remember that you are reading a memoir. The fact that the story is narrated by the young girl, helps bring you back to the genre. The vibrant colors and landscapes shown in the illustration make it obvious that this family lives in the inner-city. This along with the mother's job as a waitress and the family saving coins in a jar brings on the realization that they are part of the working class.

It is easy to see that Williams was brought up to treasure and appreciate the value of family. The young girl is very grateful to her hard working mother and wishes that she could have a nice place to rest after a hard day's work. She also wants her grandmother to have a nice chair to sit in while she prepares dinner. You can feel the warmth and love shared between the family members just by reading. It makes you think of your family and experiences you have shared together.

The scene where the young girl discusses the fire stands out from the rest of the book. The illustrations on these pages are dark and dreary, the only colorful parts being the family members. This strong contrast also shows the importance of family, especially during difficult times.

The build-up to finally going to shop for and purchase the chair, the smiling faces in the illustrations, and the sentence, "Grandma said she felt like Goldilocks in 'The Three Bears' trying out all the chairs," showed how important this memory is to Williams.

The feelings of joy and accomplishment when finally being able to purchase something after saving for so long is incredible. Williams' illustrations and choice of words brings the reader back to important goals they have achieved in their lives and makes feel as if they too are experiencing this happy moment along with the family.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Falling Up

Author/Illustrator: Shel Silverstein
Publisher: Harper Collins

Falling Up is yet another wonderful compilation of poetry by Shel Silverstein. I chose this book because I remember reading and loving Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic as a child. Falling Up was just as great as the other two poetry books I remember from my childhood. When thinking of children's poetry, Silverstein's name is the first that comes to mind. All of the books express his vivid imagination and are great for use in Elementary classrooms.

Falling Up is a great book to use when teaching children what poetry is all about. It proves that poetry should be creative and can be about any topic that pops in your head. This book contains poems that are completely imaginative, such as, Headless Town, which is about selling in a town where no one has a head, and Help, about a talking unicorn stuck in a tree, as well as poems that all children can relate to, such as The Sack Race, about a child experiencing their first potato sack race, Diving Board, about someone who is up on the board but afraid to dive, and Safe, about crossing the street.

The different types and lengths of poems used in the book teach children that poetry can be free from form and children can write it however they like. Most of the poems are humorous but some are also inspirational such as The Voice, which speaks of the little voice inside everyone.

The illustrations in Falling Up are black and white and seem as though they are drawn in pencil. They are simple pictures that assist in describing what is happening in the poems. These too provide encouragement and inspiration to children.

By creating and illustrating poems with words and pictures that children are fully capable of putting together, Shel Silverstein teaches children to welcome and embrace poetry rather than worry about it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Nightingale

Author: Hans Christian Andersen
Translated by: Eva Le Gallienne
Illustrated by: Nancy Ekholm Burkert
Publisher: Harper & Row
ISBN: 9780060237813

I was drawn to The Nightingale because it is not a story that I remember from my childhood. Hans Christian Andersen has created many of my favorite fairy tales, so I knew this would be an enjoyable story as well.

When I first opened the book I was somewhat disappointed by the small, beige pictures on the page. The page was filled with mostly text. This conflicted with my idea of fairy tales, which are supposed to be magical stories that use the creativity of the imagination. Since fairy tales are created in a way that I only young children would believe, I didn't see how this book would grasp the attention of a young child.

After turning the page, my entire image of the book changed. I noticed that after each page of text, was a beautiful two-page spread of what had been described in the page or pages or text before it. I thought that this was an incredible way to illustrate a fairy tale. It gives the reader time to put the images together in their head and imagine what it would look like while reading the text and then shows the illustrators interpretation in a big, beautiful picture on the next page. However, I still feel as though it would be a better reader for older children in first and second grade rather than in Pre-K and Kindergarten. Very young children are excited to see pictures and are bored by too much text. As they get older their patience grows somewhat, and they will understand the illustrator's craft better.

The vocabulary used in this book also lends itself to older readers. While still considered a fairy tale, I feel as though it is a book that somewhat older children will enjoy. The story is of an emperor who had a huge palace with a wonderful garden. People came from all over the world to visit this garden and everyone spoke of a nightingale who sang beautifully from a tree. The emperor himself, as well as his courtiers had never heard this nightingale before, and the emperor wanted it brought to the palace. Once he heard it, he decided to keep it in the palace for all to hear. News of the emperors nightingale quickly spread and the emperor of Japan sent the emperor of china a mechanical nightingale made of jewels, that imitated the song of the real, dull, grey nightingale. Because the mechanical bird was magnificent and predictable the emperor soon preferred it over the real nightingale and banished her from his empire. The mechanical bird, after being played so often broke down and could only be used once a year. Soon, the emperor grew ill and was deemed dead by his servants who now moved on to worship the new emperor. Death came to weigh in on his heart and the emperor begged for the nightingale to sing so he would have to hear of all the bad deeds he had done in his lifetime. However, because it was mechanical it could not sing without the emperor winding it. Soon, the real life nightingale appeared and saved the emperor from death. He now appreciated her and agreed to let her fly free and come back to sing to him. The lesson of the story, that beauty lies within, will always be something that is important to remember no matter how times change. Children will always be able to connect this story to their lives, and the world around them.

In the back of the book, I saw that the translator, Eva Le Gallienne, had a personal connection to Hans Christian Andersen. Her father was a well known author and her mother had actually sat on the lap of Hans Christian Andersen as a child, while he told a story at her school. I definitely think that this connection came into play while she translated this book. Having a father as an author and a mother who can describe the way Hans Christian Andersen told stories would assist her in feeling the meaning of the story and creating her own interpretation.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Author: Arthur Dorros
Illustrator: Elisa Kleven
Publisher: Dutton's Children's Books

When I think of picture books, I think of stories with illustrations so beautiful that they can be hung on the walls of homes and museums. Along with these wonderful pictures, there must be an equally beautiful story to tell. The illustrations should do the job of assisting the text in telling this story. They should be a perfect fit to the text and help the reader visualize the story and feel as though they are living it. The book Abuela, written by Arthur Dorros and illustrated by Elisa Kleven does just that.

Abuela is the perfect mix of Hispanic and American culture. As a Hispanic, I can honestly say that I can relate to each and every word in this story. Abuela like my grandmothers, who are both from Puerto Rico, speaks mostly Spanish. Because of this, the story includes Spanish words with English translations in the text. It is an enjoyable method of introducing children to another language and culture.

In Hispanic culture, the abuela, or grandmother, is considered the leader of the family as well as the wisest person in the family. Abuelas can teach you many things from their many life experiences. That is why this book is such a perfect representation of Hispanic culture. Rosalba speaks of all the wonderful things Abuela can help her see while flying over the city.

The illustrations in this story also include many different cultures. On the bus alone we see an African American driver, as well as a Jewish and Asian passenger around Rosalba and her abuela. It is very representative of city life, while showing how one family perceives it.

Another reason I was touched by this story is that Rosalba and her abuela love watching the birds in the park. When Rosalba is thinking of flying like the birds, she says her grandmother would call her Rosalba el pajaro. My grandfather would always call me his little bird when I was little. This immediately brought me back to my childhood and all of the wonderful memories I had with him. Like Rosalba's uncle, my uncle also owned a store where I would go to get candy, juice, and other fun stuff.

This book teaches the wonders of the imagination and that is something everyone can relate to no matter their background.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pink and Say

Author/Illustrator: Patricia Polacco

Publisher: Philomel Books, New York

ISBN: 0-399-2261-0

My interest in this book was sparked during my first Reading course at the College of Staten Island's Childhood Education Master's program. My professor introduced it during our first class and described it as one of his favorite books. He explained he would not have enough time to read it aloud and instead used it to model a book talk. After hearing that it was a true story, passed down through Patricia Polacco's family, of two young Union soldiers, one African-American and the other Caucasian, who befriended each other during the Civil War, I knew it would be something that I had to read.

When considering books to choose for this week's multicultural topic this book immediately came to mind. Recently, a friend of mine lost her young son in the war in Afghanistan, and Pink and Say seemed to make a perfect connection. The book is dedicated to Pinkus Aylee, one of the main characters in the story. The book begins with a brief introduction explaining the background and how the other character, Sheldon Russell Curtis (Say), told the story to his daughter who promised to keep it alive.

Sheldon, a young Caucasian soldier from Ohio, was severely injured with a bullet wound in the leg in a Civil War battle and was lying in a pasture, unable to move, and slowly losing consciousness for two days. Pinkus, a young African American soldier came across Sheldon after being separated from his company. Although he also was injured, and he knew saving Sheldon would be a great risk, he knew he could not just leave him to die. Pink carried Say all the way to his home so that his mother could nurse him back to good health. Pink and his family were slaves whose masters had left after the war began. Say soon recovered with the help of Pink's mother Moe Moe Bay. The boys shared stories of their lives before the war and soon grew very close. They knew they were bringing great danger to Moe Moe Bay by staying there so against Say's and Moe Moe Bay's wishes, they were going to set out to find their companies once again. Before they were able to leave marauders arrived. Moe Moe Bay hid the boys in the root cellar where they would be safe, but the marauders killed her before they left. After burying Moe Moe Bay, the boys knew they had to go find their companies. While walking to find the Union troops, they were captured by the Confederate Army and sent to a camp. Once there the boys were separated. Say was released months later and Pink was killed immediately after arrival. Since Pink had no family to mourn him, Say vowed to pass the story on for generations so that the world would be aware of the young soldier who saved his life.

This story is extremely touching. It does a great job of introducing the reader to what lives were like during the Civil War. Patricia Polacco's choice of writing the first and last page of the story as a narration provides a sense of authenticity. While both boys were fighting for the Union, Pink was the first African American that Say had ever seen up close. The relationship that was built by the characters is something unheard of at the time. At one point in the book, they consider themselves family, which is something that is hard to imagine considering Pink's family was held as slaves by a white family.

While Patricia Polacco did an incredible job writing the story, I thought the illustrations were absolutely astounding. The mood of the story was set by the illustrations that allowed the reader to see and feel the emotions of the characters. It is very rare that I come across books with illustrations that are able to tell the story, such as this one. Just by looking at the drawings, I felt as though I was actually there watching all of this unfold before my eyes.

While I feel this story somewhat difficult for younger readers to truly understand, I would reccommend it's use for upper elementary students. It provides a wonderful opportunity for students to delve into the Civil War era and see the importance of seeing beyond differences and accepting people for who they are.