Thursday, March 24, 2016

LS 5603 20 Review: Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt's Remarkable Life by Candace Fleming

Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt's Remarkable Life
by Candace Fleming 

Fleming, Candace. Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt's Remarkable Life. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2005. ISBN 9780689865442

Plot Summary: Fleming creates a "scrapbook" biography of Eleanor Roosevelt's life so that fans and readers may get a closer and more in depth look into her life. The book covers everything from Eleanor's schooling to the speeches she made once she was in the position as First Lady. The book describes the countless ways that Eleanor has effected the lives of the entire nation, from helping those in poverty with low-cost housing, to taking care of her own grandchildren. We get a look in Eleanor's life in and outside of the White House. 

Critical Analysis: 

Candace Fleming is another author that I did not know much about before getting into this module. While I do my best to read a lot of nonfiction, especially those books written specifically for young adults, this author is one that was not on my radar. After finding this book, I quickly realized that Fleming has written many biography style books, many in this same "scrapbook" style. My librarian informed me of how great her writing is, and how knowledgeable she seems, and I have to agree. The number of books would be proof enough, but Fleming does seem to have a wonderful reputation. However, if reputation is not enough, Fleming has included almost twenty pages of sources in the back of her book, and a note about the sources that she used. In the source notes, Fleming noted that she went to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park which has the Anna Eleanor Roosevelt Manuscript Collection that "includes two million pages of private letters, diaries, office files, memoranda, invitations, scrapbooks, pamphlets, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, and much more" (Fleming, p. 160). With so many first-hand documents, it would be impossible to deny the accuracy of which Fleming completed this book. 

The design of this book could have easily become overwhelming for readers, especially younger readers, if Fleming had not been so deliberate at how she set up the book. The book is bigger than most books, and so the pagers are bigger and offer more space for text. Instead of filling every page with just text alone, which would make for an overwhelming read, the pages are sectioned and divided off in ways that make the most sense. There are textboxes, most with their own subtitle so it is clear what that specific box is discussing. Some pages have three or four different boxes, allowing the reader to get plenty of information on each page, but without it being completely overwhelming. The book is also in chronological order, which makes Eleanor's life much easier to follow for readers. As far as the design goes, it is appealing to readers as well. There is a large number of graphics and pictures, and each is explained. There are not just pictures, however, but also letters, report cards, birth certificates, diary entries, and a plethora of other items that were written by or related to Eleanor and her life. 

While the book is separated well, the style is more matter-of-fact than some of the other book selections in the module. The writing is not necessarily exciting or light because it is giving a great deal of facts. The details are interesting, though, which keeps the book from being boring despite the straight-forward style of the writing. Fleming's writing proves her interest and knowledge of the material, which makes it a much more enjoyable read. 

Review Excerpts: 

From Publisher's Weekly: "Short chapters arranged into a pastiche of narratives and deftly supported by photographs, newspaper articles, letters and humorous cartoons explore how this sad "Little Nell," as her father called her, emerged from an unhappy albeit privileged childhood to become an indefatigable champion of the poor and powerless."

From School Library Journal: "Fleming weaves well-researched primary quotes and accounts into a mainly chronological narrative that touches upon Roosevelt’s fortes and flaws, accomplishments and controversies."


-This book would be wonderful to use in a variety of lesson plans, whether it is learning about President Roosevelt and Eleanor during their time in office, or if it is a discussion of women's rights and women that have had a huge and positive impact on the country. 

-Other books that could be paired with this title include: The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary, Ben Franklin's Almanac: Being a True Account of the Good Gentleman's Life, and Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart all by Candace Fleming. 

LS 5603 20 Review: An American Plague by Jim Murphy

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793
by Jim Murphy 

Murphy, Jim. An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. New York: Clarion Books, 2006. ISBN 9780395776087

Plot Summary: 
Jim Murphy writes an interesting, insightful piece about the illness known as the yellow fever and the toll that it took on the nation, but most specifically in Philadelphia. He uses first-hand accounts to chronicle the power of the illness and how it related to the beliefs and medical practices of the time period. Murphy also focused on how specific people handled the contagious outbreak from free African Americans to George Washington, whom was President at the time. Murphy also delves into possible cures for the disease, though these things did not come about until almost a century later.

Critical Analysis: The Yellow Fever is something that is often learned about in history class, though not in depth to the degree that this book allows. While I had not read anything by Jim Murphy before this book, nor had I even heard about him, I learned a great deal of him after deciding to read one of his books for the module. He has written a great number of books, a lot of them informational, which does help to make him seem a credible source. He has a positive reputation for these types of books, which is imperative, especially when using a book with young adults. Murphy includes almost fourteen pages of sources in the back of the book, including first-hand accounts. He stated in the sources section that he "consulted a great many books, newspapers, magazines, personal journals, and letters" (Murphy, p. 141). This shows that Murphy is knowledgeable about the topic, and if he was not he sought out a reliable source. These things work together to make the book quite accurate. 

The organization and design of the book is appealing, and it does seem like it would draw young adults in well, despite the fact that the book looks more like a "chapter book" than a picture book. As for organization, the book is broken up into chapters. While there are not any subtitle, each chapter is labeled with a date that helps readers maintain chronological order and avoid confusion of time frame. This means that each chapter is a day or event, breaking up the text in a way that is more easily digested for all ages. The design of the book is quite good as well. There is a map at the front so that readers can have an idea of what area is being discussed as they read the information. At the beginning of each chapter there is a page that includes magazine or newspaper print which adds interest, especially since all of the pages provided are relevant to the book. There is a plethora of clear pictures used, each accompanied by a caption so that the reader can easily determined what is happening in the picture, and why it would be included. 

As far as style of the writing goes, it seems that Murphy did a wonderful job. He included a great amount of information for the readers, while not making it completely overwhelming. Instead of taking a medical approach, which would have been easy to do based on the topic, Murphy discusses the Yellow Fever in a way that can be understood by anyone regardless of their medical knowledge. He brought in emotion and interest, making it far from a boring, textbook-esque read. The dialogue from first-hand accounts adds to the slightly narrative style as well. 

Review Excerpts: 

From Publisher's Weekly: "In marked contrast to the clipped, suspenseful pace of his Inside the Alamo (reviewed above), Murphy here adopts a leisurely, lyrical tone to chronicle the invisible spread of the deadly disease that not only crippled Philadelphia (then the temporary capital of the U.S.) but also set off a constitutional crisis."

From School Library Journal: "As far as the story goes, we may not know what to expect, but we’re secure in its descriptions: “I get it,” we may be saying to ourselves. “I can picture this world—it’s weird and cool. I wonder what’s going to happen?”"


-This is a wonderful book to supplement a social studies classroom when discussing the same topic or time period. 
-Other books that can be paired with this text: The Secret of the Yellow Death by Suzanne Jurmain and Frontier Living by Edwin Tunis. 

LS 5603 20 Review: Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream
by Tanya Lee Stone

Stone, Tanya Lee. Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2009. ISBN: 9780763636111

Plot Summary: The "Mercury 13" were a group of women who were determined to find out just what it takes to be an astronaut. Of course, when NASA was established in 1958 there were two main and strict qualifications; you had to be white, and you had to be a man. This story is about a group of thirteen women who knew that they were just as strong as any man, and challenged the government when they were told that they could not go to space. Despite these women never making it to space as they dreamed to, they were still a wonderful example that empowered young women to take their place as pilots and commanders. 

Critical Analysis: 

As I have gotten older, I have had a growing interest in reading nonfiction and informational texts, especially over topics that interest me. When looking at the module list, Almost Astronauts stood out to me before anything else. I find learning about events that have effected women's rights very interesting, and I could tell that this book would do just that. As I began to read, I was very intrigued by all of the facts that were provided, but also by the dialogue included. This was not expected, as it is not something that is usually apparent in informational books. That is where the concern of accuracy came into play, and so I made sure to read the included Author's Note as well. In that information, Stone explained the means she went through to get the facts for her book. That information stated that "the course of [her] research let [her] to many books, articles, scientific papers, audio recordings, and videotapes" (Stone, p. 120). Of course, all of these sources tend to be used for all informational texts, so I was not yet convinced. However, Stone went on to say that she spoke with many of the Mercury 13 women herself, some through phone calls and emails, but she also met a group of them and spent a weekend together where she was given more first hand accounts. Therefore, the information instantly becomes much more accurate. There was a large number of sources included, and it was even broken up by chapter and page numbers, which I found very useful. 

The organization and design of the book are both very good, and successfully support the information and purpose of the text. The book is written in chapters with interesting titles that make the reader want to continue reading. Throughout the chapter, there is a great deal of subtitles, some of which are specific dates of relevant days and events. The book follows chronological order, which makes it much easier to follow the story and understand how the events occurred in history. Throughout the chapters, there is also an abundance of illustrations, and they are all relevant to the information being discussed at that point in the text. Each picture also has a caption to explain specifically what it is. The pictures and interesting and clear, and certainly add to the overall appeal of the text. As far as organization goes, there is also a table of contents, index, and list of sources. 

The author includes the right amount of information in the book without it being overwhelming, but also without "dumbing down" the information just because the book is intended for young adults. The vocabulary is appropriate, and it includes the terminology that is important to the topics discussed, which could lead students to do more research if they are not sure of terms provided. The tone makes it clear that Stone is interested in what she is writing, and also has a motivating and empowering style to it. Despite the negatives that are discussed due to the historical situations, the tone continues to remain positive, which I think is important for young readers. Stone presented the information in an interesting and engaging way. 

Review Excerpts: 

From School Library Journal: "This appealing Sibert Award winner, notable for the author’s strong point of view, explores the reasons and biases behind the decision."

From Publisher's Weekly: "A gripping narrative surfaces in Stone's text, as the women are repeatedly thwarted by NASA, discriminated against and patronized by society. "


-One of the best ways I have already used this book in my classroom is to connect it back to our discussions over women's rights and how things have changed since the past, but how some things are still unfortunately close to the same. 

-Other books that would be good to read as paired texts could include Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh and Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

LS 5603 20 Review: Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Under the Mesquite
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Garcia McCall, Guadalupe. Under the Mesquite. New York: Lee & Low Books, 2011. ISBN 9781600604294

Plot Summary: Under the Mesquite tells the story of Lupita, a young girl from a large Mexican-American family. Lupita must struggle with adjusting to her family moving from her birthplace of Mexico to the United States, while trying to understand who she is. To make matters worse, her mother (Mami) is diagnosed with cancer, and Lupita cannot imagine what her life would be like without her mother. In order to help her parents during treatment at an out-of-town hospital, Lupita helps take care of her seven younger siblings. As she struggles to deal with everything life has thrown at her, she escapes to write under a Mesquite tree, using this as her refuge. 

Critical Analysis: This book in verse was different than the other two that I read and reviewed for the module in that the rhythm and structure remained almost completely consistent throughout the entirety of the book. The poems all looked very similar, and while the number of lines may have changed, each was written in stanzas with all of the lines being very similar in length. This made for consistency throughout the book, but it is more exciting when there is more diversity to the poetry in this aspect.

When it comes to rhyme, there is not much of it that can be found within this novel, and the novel did not lose anything because of this. On the contrary, it seemed that the correct words were always used because there was no concern in what rhymed and had to be used for that reason alone. Instead, the word choice and lines were free and beautifully written, while certainly still eloquent. While there was not much rhyme, the poetry flowed in a way that made it incredibly easy to read, and the beat and meter was consistent throughout the pages.

The language in the novel was beautiful in a number of ways as well. McCall did a wonderful job of mixing the English and Spanish together harmoniously to represent both sides of Lupita's culture and identity. They all ran smoothly together without seeming at all forced. Along with the added Spanish and beautiful word choice, there were many instances of figurative language, specifically simile and personification, such as the following example:

"The chain-link fence on the bridge
was like a harp, and our fingers
would play a joyful tune upon
its rib cage as we traipsed along, 
looking down at the laughing 
waters of the Rio Grande
until we reached that other world, 
the one we missed so much."
Under the Mesquite, page 40

As with the other novels in verse read this module, there was no lack of emotion in this story. Lupita was going through a lot for someone her age, and it was easy to feel the struggle that she was going through as she dealt with her mother's illness, taking care of her siblings, and discovering what is important. It was easy to relate and step into her world as she turned to writing to cope, and she was an easy protagonist to root for as the feelings were so natural. 

Review Excerpts: 

From School Library Journal: "Under the Mesquite is a window into a family dealing with cancer; but it is also more than that. It’s the look at an immigrant family, balancing traditions and cultures."


This novel would be a wonderful resource for my own classes specifically as I do have a lot of Hispanic students who have moved to the United States in recent years, so they would certainly be able to relate to Lupita.

Other novels in verse could be compared to this one to look at the craft and different techniques used, specifically another novel where the structure looks quite different from this one.

LS 5603 20 Review: Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes

Bronx Masquerade
by Nikki Grimes

Grimes, Nikki, Bronx Masquerade. New York: Dial Books, 2002. ISBN 9780142501894

Plot Summary: The voices and stories of eighteen urban teenagers come together to create this book that is a mix of narrative and verse chapters. The students all share the same teacher, where they complete a poetry unit and do their own open mike poetry. The poetry included is in the form of slam, and discusses a plethora of tough subjects while the students learn about themselves, their lives, and the tough things that they are dealing with at a young age.

Critical Analysis: The rhythm of this novel changes a great deal as it does switch back and forth between narrative and verse. The narrative portion is set up similar to other narrative novels. There is dialogue and indented paragraphs. There is punctuation as it should be, and follows a regular story format of giving the lives and emotions of the characters. In this case, it is eighteen different, interconnected characters.

The poetry pieces of the novel are much more varied in their rhythm and structure. A lot of this has to do with the fact that there are so many different characters, and the novel reads as each teenager writing their own piece of poetry. Therefore, it varies based on their personality. One of my favorite poems in the book structurally is "Zorro" by Raul Ramirez (pg. 22). In it, Raul is explaining why people call him Zorro, and the poem is written in lines that make out a large letter "z." It certainly adds a lot of character to the page. Other than that, the poems also vary in their overall length as well as line length depending on the individual and the topic being discussed.

The rhyming of the poems is something that varies as well, and I find that I do like this as I am not the biggest fan of my poetry rhyming. While it adds to some of the poems by having the last lines rhyme, I also believe that it takes away from some of them. I feel that some words are simply there because they rhyme, and do not add the greatest meaning to the poem, where another word may have been more sufficient. Still, it kept the poetry quick and interesting.

The language and emotion are two things that this novel has an abundance of. The language was different for every single character, which is quite the feat when there are eighteen of them. I love how Grimes made them stand apart, and by the end of the book it is possible to tell which character is reading their poetry without having to look for their name. The dialect was specific to urban teenagers as well, and I do appreciate Grimes using a lot of the natural lingo that they would use in the same situation.

As far as emotions go, this novel packed a punch with all of the teenagers dealing with difficult things in their young lives. While it would be easy to get mixed up and lost in the emotions and feelings of having so many characters, that is not something that occurs. Instead, it is easy to relate and feel sympathy for each one of them for different reasons. It is also natural emotion between the characters as they begin to understand each other and realize they are not who they believed each other to be. 

Review Excerpts: 

From School Library Journal"As always, Grimes gives young people exactly what they're looking for—real characters who show them they are not alone."

From Booklist"Readers will enjoy the lively, smart voices that talk bravely, about real issues and secret fears.  A fantastic choice."


I think that this would be a wonderful book to pair with other Nikki Grimes books. It could be an author study where students could look into the craft of a specific writer, and if they follow this craft through all of their books.

This would be a wonderful book for a literature circle in middle school as I do believe that there are a lot of characters in the book that many students that age could relate to, and they could see a positive example of accepting others as they are.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

LS 5603 20 Review: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline, Woodson. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014. ISBN 9780399252518

Plot Summary: Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of her childhood in a novel full of verse; short poems with eloquent writing. Woodson grew up in both South Carolina and New York, trying to make both feel like home. The timeline is during the 1960s and 1970s, when Jim Crow Laws and Civil Rights are at their peak, and Woodson grows up in these circumstances. She tells the stories of her life, the good and the bad, to explain who she is and why she is that way. Throughout the book, we also get to learn of her love for writing, and how she used writing to find herself.

Critical Analysis: Reading a novel in verse is far different than reading any average novel or chapter book, and I was initially intimidated by the idea of reading it. Poetry is not something I am strong in reading, nor do I typically enjoy it, at least in past experience. After I began to read, however, it was clear that I would be able to fly through this book as the 'chapters' were all simply short poems that made up the entirety of the novel. I believe that this format is very interesting and inviting, and it was made even more interesting by the fact that this novel was an autobiography and allowed me to learn the true story of someone's life through verse. 

A master of her trade, Woodson does a wonderful job of keeping a smooth yet interesting rhythm through the entirety of the book. One of the things that interested me the most as I read was the placement of words for emphasis. It is clear that Woodson separates certain statements to draw attention to them specifically, such as the following: 

"I cannot write a word yet but at three, 
I now know the letter J
love the way it curves into a hook 
that I carefully top with a straight hat
the way my sister has taught me to do. Love
the sound of the letter and the promise
that one day this will be connected to a full name,

my own

that I will be able to write

by myself."
Brown Girl Dreaming, page 62

Punctuation is used sparingly throughout the book, and is only used when deliberate and necessary, at least for the author. Woodson cuts off sentences and lines very specifically as well. While the poems do not rhyme, the end words are clearly chosen for a reason. For instance, in the above piece the fifth line ends with the word "love" and the rest of the sentence carries on to the next sentence. I do believe this was completely intentional to draw more attention to the word and the emotion that Woodson was feeling about this specific detail in her life. 

Like with the rhythm, there is sound, language, and imagery throughout the entirety of the novel. Onomatopoeia was evident in several locations, such as "the sizzle of the straightening comb" (p. 108). While there are other forms of figurative language included, I do believe that imagery is the one that is most evident and repeated. Woodson does a wonderful job of bringing lovely detail to the images and scenes that she wants her readers to imagine. Through the novel, I could picture the different places that she was, and how things looked. Even the minute details, such as the colors and conditions of the ribbons that Woodson and her sister wore in their hair. 

The emotional impact, at least for myself personally, was quite significant. There was an array of emotions based on the different parts of the book. I felt thrilled with Woodson when she went to visit her grandparents, and lonely when she could not play with her neighbors. I felt the pain when she lost a loved one, and had to learn to thrive in a brand new place. The emotions were raw and natural, and made the novel so beautiful. I believe that all of the poems in the book worked incredibly well together to tell Woodson's story. 

Review Excerpts: 

From the New York Times Book Review: "Ms. Woodson writes with a sure understanding of the thoughts of young people, offering a poetic, eloquent narrative that is not simply a story . . . but a mature exploration of grown-up issues and self-discovery.”

From School Library Journal: "The poems tie together the author’s personal experiences, shared memories, and understanding of the past to tease out the many forces and influences that contributed to her becoming a writer."


It would be a great connection piece to read other works by Woodson - specifically regular fiction, or perhaps another book in verse about a different topic. Students could compare how Woodson wrote about herself in Brown Girl Dreaming to how she writes about other, fictional characters in her other pieces. 

Another valuable connection would be to use this book, or pieces of it, in a civil rights unit in a class. It could be done in reading class so that it is a cross curricular topic. Different pieces could be read to compare how different people experienced life during the same time period/era. 

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