Celebrating Mother’s Day with Picture Books

As a mother and a Librarian, I used Mother’s Day as a focal point for my classes this week. Rather than read books explicitly about mothers for my youngest students, I chose to focus on books that portray moms in much the same way my students observe them. From my own experience as a mother, I adore the portrayal of Olivia’s mom in the series by Ian Falconer. Olivia’s mother can be seen sitting building a sand castle with her daughter or reading to Olivia before bed. She is busy attending to her children throughout the narrative and that is something very appealing for the children that read these books. Another book where I love the way the mother is drawn is in Jack Ezra Keat’s The Snowy Day. Peter spends the day alone exploring the snowy world outside his apartment but at the end the day when he comes home, his mother is there to peel off his wet clothing and hear all about his adventures!  Finally, I really appreciate the Mama llama in Llama Llama, Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney. In this witty book written in rhyme, Llama Llama starts to fret about being alone in the dark after Mama has tucked him in! I love the opportunity this narrative provides for me to explain what a phone looked like when it was attached to the wall with a spiral cord attached to the receiver!

Llama red pajama

 

princess and the peas

Another theme that I explored in the picture books I selected this week were narratives in books without a mother figure in them. The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke and The Princess and the Peas by Caryl Hart were enjoyed by all. Both stories portray very spunky protagonists and craft a storyline where there is a breakdown in understanding between father and daughter. In the end everything is rectified, but the books serve as a good reminder that not every child has both a mother and father.

treelady

Using the theme of “mother earth,” I also sought to include depictions of women in picture books who cared for our earth. The titles I selected were Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli, Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, and The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins. In each of these books the central figure is a woman that does something to make a lasting and significant difference on the environment. My students made connections about the way their own mothers care for them and how these women cared for the earth in much the same way through their nurturing, dedication, and patience.

Mother's House

 

In Our Mothers House by Patricia Polacco is a wonderful book to engage the class in a discussion about what is the essential component of a family. How does our own family compare to that of the one portrayed in this book where two mothers have adopted three children?  Students are able to articulate the characteristics essential to be able to raise a family of strong, independent children. And the students never fail to comment to how much love is expressed in the images of this family!

the-Giving-Tree

Whenever possible, I seek to work poetry into any lesson that I can with students. Reading poetry aloud provides a platform to discuss the author’s economy of language and symbolism used when dissecting the text. How could mother’s day pass without a look at The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein? For my students in third and fourth grade they are typically surprised by this book. It is such a sharp departure from the humorous poetry he made his signature, but it never fails to inspire the students to talk.  And the conversation from our discussion is rich – does “the tree” symbolize a parent? How do we treat the people who love us unconditionally? What do we really need to be happy?

Finally, as the day came to a close in my own home, I had my daughters listen to The Lanyard by Billy Collins. If you have a poem or picture book that you love reading for Mother’s Day, please share it so we can all add it to our list or resources on this topic!

ALA Media Awards – Books I love!

In February, I eagerly watched the announcements for the 2015 ALA Youth Media Awards. These awards are a professional highlight and the final selections never cease to surprise me! Though there will always be debate over what makes the final cut, at root I see these awards as a way to highlight great books for my students and discuss collection development.

For the past several years I have presented an overview of the award winning books and authors during our lower school morning meeting. The girls and the faculty look forward to seeing familiar titles and surprises as much as I do. The presentation is also a vehicle for informing students about the numerous awards for which the American Library Association recognizes books and authors with distinction.  The following books are selections that I was so pleased to see earn recognition!

El Deafo by Cece Bell

2015 Newbery Honor Book: El Deafo by Cece Bell – It was such a pleasure to see this book gain recognition at the national level! Written as an autobiographical account of her own deafness brought on by childhood illness, this book was a title I had pre-ordered through Amazon months in advance and I was not disappointed after I spent an afternoon reading it straight through. Ms. Bell does a masterful job capturing her own isolating experience of deafness in all its complexity.  The author’s struggle to make friends, survive school, and find a place within her family, are all so expertly captured and illustrated that I cannot wait to reread it.

Frida by Yuyi Morales

2015 Caldecott Honor Book and 2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award: Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales – I have long been an ardent admirer of Frida Kahlo and although there are several biographies for children about her, this is the most authentic one I have read. Frida Kahlo was such an incredibly unique artist that encapsulating her dynamic force in modern art is a challenge for an author that writes biography for children.  In this exploration of the imagery of artist Frida Kahlo, the ethereal narration in both English and Spanish, guides the reader through the heart and soul of Frida! The art for the book was created using stop-motion puppets made from steel, polymer clay, and wool. The artist illustrator Yuyi Morales also employed painting and digital manipulation of the photographs to create a warm, accessible view of her career. Viva Frida uses technology in a way that makes the pictures truly captivating for the reader. Through Yuyi Morales’ work we get a chance to follow the life of Frida and discover her own world of fantasy that is full of animals, love, and creativity. I am going to use this book to compliment Frida: Viva La Vida! Long Live Life! by Carmen Bernier-Grand to promote National Poetry month in April.

Roget and his Thesaurus

2015 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal: The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet – Established in 2001, this medal is awarded annually to the author and illustrator of the most distinguished informational book published in the United States in English during the preceding year. I love Melissa Sweet’s illustrations and she has carved a niche creating visually accessible non-fiction for some of our youngest students. This book details the life of the Peter Mark Roget who created the original thesaurus first published in 1852 under the full title: Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, Classified and Arranged so as to facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition.  The list of principal events provide context to Roget’s accomplishment and give the audience a lot to explore beyond his own contribution to writing. My favorite passage from the book was one that I will invariably use in time to come!

“Peter’s family moved often, so making friends was difficult.

But books, Peter discovered, were also good friends. There were always plenty of them around, and he never had to leave them behind.”

What were your favorite 2015 ALA award winners?

Oh yes, the books!

Do you ever feel so busy juggling your <insert a thousand library related duties here> along with ‘big projects’, faculty meetings, team meetings, committee meetings, collaborative meetings, research lessons, EMAIL, Libguide design, and oh yes, working with students, teaching classes, and other various non-library related school responsibilities that sometimes you look longingly at the cart of new books that you’ve  purchased, knowing you won’t get to many of them until summertime?

This comes to mind:

I drew a line in the sand for myself a month ago. It might have been around the time that reeeeeaaallly cold temperatures arrived and I went into hibernation, I’m not sure, but I basically said “no more putting the kids to bed and escaping into mindless Netflix, no more half-hearted attempts at professional journals when I’ve been neck deep in the issues all day long. Nope, I’m escaping into the books.”

I’ve read three books in three weeks, people. I’m in heaven. I thought I would share them with you here and then maybe you’ll reciprocate with some good reads of your own?

I started with two National Book Award finalists:Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The most beautifully written dystopian book I believe I’ve ever read. The premise is this: set in the present day United States, an absolutely deadly, fast moving flu has wiped out over 99% of the world population. The entire infrastructure has collapsed: there is no gasoline, no electricity, no medicine, no security. A troop of traveling Shakespearean actors and musicians makes a loop through a region, risking much, honoring the Star Trek quote that dons the side of their makeshift caravan, Because Survival is Insufficient. This is a survival story and so would be most appropriate for mature middle schoolers or high schoolers, but it’s a good one that I highly recommend.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. If you or your students are fans of historic fiction, this is your book! Written in alternating perspectives, it’s the story of Marie-Laure, the French daughter of the locksmith of the Museum of Natural History, who has gone blind at a young age and whose natural curiosity is in itself a thing of wonder. You then get to know a German orphan named Werner whose gift at assembling radios and deciphering radio frequencies gains the attention of German officials as Hitler begins his quest for world domination. The story weaves together like a beautiful, albeit tragic wartime tapestry.

It’s quite clear why both of these books were nominated for the NBA. They are excellent. Now onto my third book, which I’m honestly still reeling from. It’s not for the faint of heart, so consider yourself warned.

It’s An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. Ms. Gay is coming to visit our school this spring so I purchased both of her highly acclaimed books (Bad Feminist, a collection of witty, culturally and politically charged essays is her other).  Our faculty book club selected the novel as our February read so I went ahead and read it over the weekend. I knew from the blurb that it would be tough: an affluent woman of Haitian descent, living in Miami, living a pretty idyllic life with her loving husband and adorable baby boy, goes to visit her parents back in Haiti. As they leave the family compound to go spend a day on the beach, three SUVs pull up with masked armed men, the wife is kidnapped, and a mighty ransom is demanded. Her father refuses to pay and the ultimate stand-off begins, one in which some pretty graphic torture scenes take place and Mireille does her best to survive with her sanity intact.

If you have a strong fortitude, I say read it. It’s brilliantly written, the character development is superb, there are some really interesting relationships, and the tension is palpable when you experience the desperation that abject poverty brings. My blinders were removed regarding how routine kidnapping is in other parts of the world and this story, the good and the bad, is going to stick with me for a very long time, I can already tell. All marks of a good book in my opinion.

So now I ask you, what books have you read lately that you would suggest? Ready, set, comment below!

Sharing is Caring – Technology, Privacy, and The Circle

It’s summer….

and so I’m inundated with books! Each year, I make the attempt to read all the books on the summer reading lists and all new books being taught in English courses over the next year. I also get distracted with my own reading and recommendations from friends. So while it’s an admirable goal, it’s one I’m as happy to have “in progress” as complete. Each school does summer reading a little bit differently. In our school, there’s one community book that everyone reads (1), 14 sponsored books, of which students choose one (15), and four professional books of which faculty choose one (20). One of the reasons that I enjoy doing this is that it leads to authentic (ie. not “small talky”) conversations with all students and teachers in August. It’s a shared experience, and you can always glean something from a book, even when it isn’t a book you’d choose yourself. Which leads to the other reason that I enjoy this. I am exposed to a variety of books I might not otherwise read, and there is a deadline that motivates me to read them.

One of the sponsored books this summer was The Circle, Dave Eggers’ most recent book, which was published last fall. While it could be described as a near-future technology dystopia, I’m partial to Margaret Atwood’s term “satirical utopia.” Imagine Google, Facebok, Twitter, YouTube, and Apple as one company, a happy company that just happens to wield a lot of power. When one of my English teachers requested this book as his sponsored summer reading, I thought back to Atwood’s favorable review in the New York Review of Books, where she writes statements like,

“The outpouring of ideas is central to The Circle, as it is in part a novel of ideas. What sort of ideas? Ideas about the social construction and deconstruction of privacy, and about the increasing corporate ownership of privacy, and about the effects such ownership may have on the nature of Western democracy. Dissemination of information is power, as the old yellow-journalism newspaper proprietors knew so well. What is withheld can be as potent as what is disclosed, and who can lie publicly and get away with it is determined by gatekeepers: thus, in the Internet age, code-owners have the keys to the kingdom.

This, then, is the “real” world to which Eggers holds up the mirror of art in order to show us ourselves and the perils that surround us. But The Circle is neither a tract nor an analysis but a novel, and novels always tell the stories of individuals. …It also incorporates passages of symposium-like Socratic dialogue by which the central character is manipulated, through rational-sounding questions and answers, into performing the increasingly outrageous acts that logic demands of her.” (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/nov/21/eggers-circle-when-privacy-is-theft/)

Turns out, the teacher in question was not familiar with Atwood’s critique but had read one by Ellen Ullman three weeks prior in the New York Times Book Review. Ullman’s conclusion about the book’s literary merit is radically different from Atwood’s.

“This potential dystopia should sound familiar. Books and tweets and blogs are already debating the issues Eggers raises: the tyranny of transparency, personhood defined as perpetual presence in social networks, our strange drive to display ourselves… “The Circle” adds little of substance to the debate. Eggers reframes the discussion as a fable, a tale meant to be instructive. His instructors include a Gang of 40, a Transparent Man, a shadowy figure who may be a hero or a villain, a Wise Man with a secret chamber and a smiling legion of true-believing company employees. The novel has the flavor of a comic book: light, entertaining, undemanding.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/books/review/the-circle-by-dave-eggers.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)

After reading the book, I began to question further these competing claims. Consider these excerpts.

LA Times: Even as satire, The Circle is disappointing as a novel: the plot is too easy, the prose simple, the characters flat and undistinguishable. Due to these same qualities, however, The Circle succeeds as commentary on the era of big data and transparency. The scary part is that the Silicon Valley of The Circle barely seems like a caricature. (https://lareviewofbooks.org/review/dave-eggerss-the-circle)

Booklist Starred: Eggers brilliantly depicts the Internet binges, torrents of information, and endless loops of feedback that increasingly characterize modern life. But perhaps most chilling of all is his notion that our ultimate undoing could be something so petty as our desperate desire for affirmation.

Kirkus Reviews: Eggers thoughtfully captured the alienation new technologies create in his previous novel, A Hologram for the King, but this lecture in novel form is flat-footed and simplistic. Though Eggers strives for a portentous, Orwellian tone, this book mostly feels scolding, a Kurt Vonnegut novel rewritten by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Guardian: There are a few weaknesses. Eggers struggles here and there to balance psychological plausibility with the outlandishness of his satirical flourishes; he sometimes needs his characters to behave in ways that seem – certainly when you put the book down – to be wholly implausible. …But this is a prescient, important and enjoyable book, and what I love most about The Circle is that it is telling us so much about the impact of the computer age on human beings in the only form that can do so with the requisite wit, interiority and profundity: the novel. (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/09/circle-dave-eggers-review)

This reminds me that book reviews aren’t perfect, and they certainly aren’t impartial. A plot that makes us examine what we intentionally and unintentionally share online is bound to have readers’ personal beliefs on the subject mixed in. Because I’ve appreciated Eggers’ other works, I’m inclined to believe that some of the bits that I found clunkier were in fact purposeful. There is humor through word play and situational humor. There is no doubt that we are voluntarily giving away some of our privacy. Our phones track our location street by street for GPS or restaurant apps but always know where we are. When we take photos, the technology knows the location, and social networking sites can automatically recognize faces and tag them. Cool but also a bit scary in the wrong hands. Real-life face tracking software was in the news yesterday. The Circle made me stop and think about the ways that technology is using me as a product for companies just as I use technology to make my own life easier. Too often, a book retreats to the back of my mind after reading it. “Good” or “bad,” this is one that returns to my mind as I’m watching the ad with the surfer looking at current wave conditions from his home computer. How can I disagree with The Circle’s motto that “Sharing is Caring?” And yet I have reservations…

If you can’t tell, I’m partially writing this post because I can’t wait until August and so desperately want to discuss the book with someone. If you’re read it or have thoughts on the subject of technology and privacy, I’d love to hear it in the comments below!