Review (Plus)

Review (Plus): “The Lightning Queen”

The Bookstore Blurb: If you enjoyed The Princess Bride, you will enjoy this book--a love story spanning generations featuring great storytelling by the grandfather to his 11-year-old grandson. TheLightningQueen_9780545800846_88712The Book Review by Ms. America: I adored Fred Savage balking when his grandfather, played by Peter Falk, showed up to take care of him while he was home sick from school in the initial scene of the 1987 film The Princess Bride. It was a generational disconnect of a grandpa taking time to read to his middle school-aged grandson who, of course, doesn't appreciate the gesture, but within the first few pages of the story is hooked and wants to hear the story of the undying love between the Farm Boy and Princess Buttercup. This is how I felt while reading The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau. It is about a young boy who journeys to Mexico to visit his grandfather; while there, the boy is told the tale of his grandfather, Teo, and his childhood friendship with Esma, Queen of Lightning. A few times the audience is brought to the present by interruptions, but it doesn’t alter the telling of the story; it even made me want to get back into the story. I enjoyed this type of storytelling, which I later learned was based on true events. Teo is an Indigenous Mexican--called a Mixteco--and lives without running water, electricity and modern day facilities. After the death of both his father and sister, Teo’s mother was too emotionally distraught to take care of him, so he is being raised by his grandfather, who is a healer and a wonderful man constantly encouraging Teo to aspire for more than what the little village offers. A band of traveling Gypsies come once a year to Teo’s village to show a movie and tell fortunes. With this group is Esma, who sings beautifully enough to bring the dead back to life. Her charismatic personality arouses life in the faltering young Teo. He has experienced too much grief for one so young, so when Esma's grandmother reads Teo’s fortune and it tells of a lifelong friendship with the one the Gypsies referred to as 'Squashhead' --the ever-beautiful and charming Esma--he is enthralled with the possibilities of a friendship for life. The friendship evolves over the next few years to give both children hope to find something beyond the despair they live each and every day. Teo is encouraged to go to the nearby school with a white teacher; Esma is encouraged to become a singer. Their two paths veer and ultimately they grow apart until present day. Teo feels a longing to find his estranged friend, and he enlists the help of his grandson. Thanks to Google, Esma is discovered and the friends can reunite. (No spoilers, so I must stop now while I'm still keeping the secret!) In the classroom: The historical aspect of this book is phenomenal. The description of the two outcast cultures--the Romani and the Mixtec Indians--allow the reader to have a taste of what it would be like to be shunned within the world as well as within their own village. Teo and Esma form an unlikely friendship that is allowed by the grandparents and tolerated by the villagers. This is a story allowing a platform for discussion on diversity. Use YouTube to show quick videos of different cultures. I found several videos depicting both cultures represented in The Lightning Queen. Using several different clips, have your students "analyze the main ideas and supporting details presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how the ideas clarify a topic, text, or issue under study" (CCSS ELA.SL.6.2 & ELA.SL.7.2). You can go a step further and have your students discover their own clips and present them to the class.
The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau (Scholastic | 9780545800846 | October 27, 2015)

Review (Plus): “These Shallow Graves”

Book Shelf Blurb: Set in 1890s and true to the time period, These Shallow Graves is about Jo Montfort, an aristocratic girl whose father gets murdered and who must dig up information---including a dead body--in order to solve the mystery. TheseShallowGraves_9780385737654_ab97fAmerica's Review: As we approached to Halloween, I was intrigued by the title of Jennifer Donnelly's newest YA novel, These Shallow Graves, and wanted a good bone-chilling novel to keep me awake at night. Although I enjoyed the book, I am glad to say I won't be left with nagging or reoccurring nightmares. Instead, I am left with a sense of relief to know the innocent lives lost in the telling of the story get their due in the end. We start the story with three people digging up a corpse--apropos to the title, but it isn't the literal grave that Donnelly wants her readers to grasp, but rather the figure of speech. We all are subject to 'digging' our own graves, and as the plot thickens we see how narcissistic people can become. Covered in dirt and standing with a shovel above a grave is our protagonist, Josephine Montfort. Jo is a 17-year-old girl living in the 1890s among the upper echelon in New York City. She is covered head to toe in dirt, but we are not told why; instead, we are transported to the past, where it is unveiled why our lovely and innocent protagonist is standing at a graveside at 2 in the morning. Jo's father has been murdered; his partners in his shipping company have been murdered as well, and it seems the business has been compromised when shipping manifests mysteriously disappear. Compelled to become a reporter, Jo finds herself yearning to learn the truth of her father's untimely demise, as well as the truth of the shipping business. Much to Jo's chagrin this is not the time when a young lady can ask questions or go anywhere without a chaperone. Jo is at the mercy of the era and has to discover how to elicit answers without shaming her family or herself. Thanks to her intelligence, wit and charm, she manages to befriend a newsie who has connections throughout the city. This friendship quickly evolves into a romantic relationship which will epically fail due to their lineage. The historical aspect of this novel was compelling, as was the plot development and characters. I felt like a winner because I knew who did what before Jo did, but that isn't to say I didn't enjoy the book. The authors depiction of the time allowed me to create beautiful images of the story as I read (well, some not-so-beautiful, as New York has a lurking evilness to its west side, with its pickpockets and ladies of the evening, though some of these settings allowed for great characterization to develop). In the classroom: Historical fiction allows the opportunity for a cross-curriculum activity. Jo is 17 and getting ready to enter the world in which she was raised. Her family has selected the correct man for her to marry. They have molded her to lead a perfectly sheltered and blissfully ignorant life. But she has other plans. What was life like for teenagers in 1890 versus today? A comparison/contrast paper is the perfect assignment for this novel. Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources (CCSS 9-10 English/Language Arts/ History/Social Studies). Do not make students write a paper, but merely find sources. Teach them the difference between secondary and primary, as they are difficult to determine when a student is using the Internet. The Internet can be deceiving and it is best to educate prior to giving an assignment. Once you have instructed them between the differences, you can assign a book report allowing students to select historical fiction books detailing the differences between current day and the past.
These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly (Delacorte Press | 9780385737654 | October 27, 2015)

Review (Plus): Who Done It?

WhoDoneIt_9781452141985_005f8To figure out who ate the ice cream, you have to turn your book sideways and look at the lineup of the clever characters in Who Done It? by Olivier Tallec. Cleverly hidden in a very sturdy board book, one of the thickest I have ever held, is a misfit. You have to solve who did what based on the pictures of the lineup. This book is missing numbers under the chins of the characters, but that would defeat the purpose of it being a kid-friendly book. I loved how you had to find the guilty party for spilling, but you also had to identify who had a sad day. This crafty little book allows you to teach your child how to see who was guilty of both physical and mental anguish. The characters allow you to discuss why a character may be happy or sad, or how they may feel when they are the one who spills their milk. It is such a simple concept, but turned sideways and hidden within the concrete, solid walls of a book you can take places without fear of your child ruining it. This book could take a bite from a tiger and still stand up for another reading at your next three-year-old party. It is just that amazingly constructed. In the Classroom: For Early Learning and Development in the preschool years, Florida has devised their own set of state standards. One of the key elements they are focusing on is the ability of students "to recognize, then internally manage and regulate, the expression of emotions both positive and negative, with teacher support and multiple experiences over time" (Florida Early Learning Development). Olivier Tallec has given his audience the gift of expression in his illustrations in his newest book. There are a minimum of five characters to a page who have done something, and it is up to the reader to figure out "Who Done It?" This book is interactive in nature and gives teachers the perfect resource to use in their classroom for early child development. This is a must-have book for early child classrooms.
Who Done It? by Olivier Tallec (Chronicle Books | 9781452141985 | October 13, 2015)