Check out the April Carnival of Children’s Literature! I haven’t had time to peruse it, but it looks great!
I received an ARC of The Willoughbys at ALA Midwinter. A slim novel, it somehow fell to the bottom of my too-large-for-itself pile of books. While organizing my new bookshelves I stumbled upon it again and quickly scanned the first page. And the second page. The third. It came with me in the car to the eye doctor, where I read in the waiting room. And on the car ride home. In a few short hours I had finished the book and absolutely loved it!
Those of you who, like me, equate Lois Lowry with The Giver et al, might be surprised by this book. A slightly snarky, tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic novel is at the same time a love letter to “old-fashioned stories”. You know those cliché tales where the poor orphaned children, downtrodden and poor as church mice but with a heart of gold, help out those less fortunate than themselves and inspire goodness in the world around them. And they always get their happy ending! The Willoughbys pays homage to these stories while simultaneously poking fun at them.
The four Willoughby children long to be orphans; afterall, all good children are orphans. Unfortunately, they are unlucky enough to have two very uncaring parents. Together, the children concoct a wild plan to do away with their parents while their diabolical parents plot to eliminate the children from their lives. Throw in some good old-fashioned baby on the doorstep fun and a lively, caring nanny and you have the makings of a fine “old-fashioned story”.
Calling to mind such literary gems as Anne of Green Gables, James and his giant peach, and Heidi the children attempt to live like good orphans (even if they are not yet truly orphaned) resulting in a hilarious tale of one family and their struggle to be “perfect”. I laughed out loud many times while reading and frequently saw some of my favorite heroes and heroines mirrored in Lowry’s characters. The characters run the gamut from a kindly nanny, to abandoned babies, crochety old misers, and a long-lost son each tied neatly and (un)believably into the story. Unbelievably in the sense that you know real life could never work out that way, yet believable in the context of those wonderful classic children’s stories where the characters rise above their means and achieve greatness.
I know some reviewers in the blogosphere were concerned about an audience for this novel. While I don’t believe my students will necessarily see all the allusions to classic children’s stories, I think they will appreciate the snarkiness and complete silliness of the novel. While they would appreciate the story more with a decent background in classic stories I think they will get a kick out of it even with limited knowledge of Ann of Green Gables, Pollyanna, and Heidi.
My students are currently working on their multi-genre self portrait poetry anthologies (Georgia Heard, Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School). They are working on them at home while we focus on the poetry toolboxes and revision in school. Next week we will be taking in part in our annual state testing (oh joy), so I am trying to decide what our final unit of study will be after testing is completed. I am very intrigued with the idea of a multi-genre research project.
A multi-genre research project allows students to research a topic of their choice, just as they would with an expository research paper (the “report” we are all used to seeing). My problem with a research report is that I end up reading 45 of the exact same paper, some of which are even plagiarized. The students are bored, I am bored, and I don’t think either of us gets much out of it. A multi-genre project will let my kids research the topic of their choice, thus letting me do a little more work on their research skills before they head off to middle school. But more importantly, it will allow them to be creative and present the information they learn in a synthesized way, without boring regurgitation. I need to lay it out and get some more reading done, but this seems to be the path I will be heading down for our final unit of study!
Does anyone have experience with multi-genre projects in middle school or intermediate grades? I would love to hear an advice or information you have!
One of my favorite book websites is the one recently set up for The Adoration of Jenna Fox. It was recently updated with reviews, a sample chapter, author bio, author interview, and medical-ethics related links. As I was perusing, imagine my surprise when I saw my own review quoted! Check it out!
I have to give credit where credit is due- back in December, Jen Robinson reviewed Maryrose Wood’s My Life: The Musical. As a huge Broadway fan, I immediately added the book to my wishlist. I recently had the chance to read it and WOW! This is a love letter to Broadway and I loved every minute of it.
Emily and Philip are sixteen-year old best friends, fatefully brought together by the first preview of a brand new Broadway musical, Aurora. Both teens immediately fall in love with the show and begin sneaking into the city every weekend to stand on the rush line, their friendship growing with each new performance. As Philip says, the number of times they have seen the show is in “the triple digits”. In order to sneak away from their Long Island homes every Saturday, they borrow money from Emily’s grandmother (Emily’s bat mitzvah money) and concoct elaborate stories and schemes to escape suspicion. (I loved this because I have a lot of friends who did the exact same thing when we were in high school -one of the benefits of living in the NY metropolitan area). Each performance of Aurora is a zen-like experience for the pair, allowing them to escape their lives and the realities that are haunting them daily. Emily uses the show to escape her droll and “boring” life, but her parents and teachers tell her it is taking over her life. In fact, her English teacher forbids her write about Aurora anymore. Philip’s divorced mother spends all her time at work and his law-breaking older brother revels in torturing Philip about his uncertain sexuality.
When rumors begin to spread that Aurora will close, both teens are frantic. They devise a scheme to buy tickets to each of the remaining 16 performances and when it doesn’t work, they are heartbroken. Of course, the story doesn’t end there. The hijinks continue, along with subplots involving Grandma and her boyfriend, Philip’s older brother’s burgeoning fake ID business, and a school production of Fiddler on the Roof.
Throughout this book, I just kept laughing, because I saw myself and many of my friends in the characters. Anyone who knows me knows that I am definitely one of the “drama geeks from the suburbs” that Maryrose Woods dedicates the book to. I see 6-10 Broadway shows each year, stand on rush lines almost every time, and even attended the Tony Awards last year. I have been obsessed with shows just like Philip and Emily are and have shed a tear or two over a closing announcement. The references to current Broadway plays are timely and amusing, while the chapter titles are songs from various Broadway musicals over time. And one of the subplots, dealing with “The One Sure Thing” in theater, is spot-on!
This book is perfect for anyone who loves Broadway, musicals, theater, or drama club. As soon as I finished the book I called a friend of mine and told her I am giving it to her on Monday. A fellow Broadway-lover, I know she will love the book. Even though the main characters are sixteen, I think the book will appeal to a broad audience. I can see many of my students enjoying the book as much as I did. (Philip does struggle with his sexuality in the book, but he ponders it like any young boy would.) I also see most of my own friends loving this book!
Maryrose Wood ends the book with a little background on herself. At the age of eighteen she was cast in Sondheim’s flop, Merrily We Roll Along. This inside look at Broadway will satisfy the urge in any fan (and draw great pangs of jealousy from those who want to be on Broadway!). All in all, this was a great book and I can not wait to pass it on to some more readers!
Snooping for birthday presents, almost eleven-year old Sam Bell stumbles upon the mystery that is every child’s secret nightmare. A locked box and a yellowed newspaper clipping, with a picture of Sam, tell him that his life isn’t what it seems. The younger Sam in the photograph is identified as Sam Bell. Sam has always had trouble reading, so the only other word he can decipher is “missing”.
Sam is a very likable character, and I was immediately drawn into his story. He struggles with school, specifically with reading, but he is talented in woodworking and design. The mystery of who he is and why he is labeled as missing in the newspaper article. While this is not an edge of your seat mystery, it is full of suspense and I kept turning the pages, hoping to learn who Sam really was!
I loved Pictures of Hollis Woods and Lily’s Crossing so this was a natural choice. I wasn’t sure how she would pull out a mystery when I was most familiar with her realistic and historical fiction. Needless to say, she did a great job!
I thoroughly enjoyed the story and can’t wait to recommend it to my students. I have a lot of mystery lovers in my class and sometimes it is a struggle to find appropriate middle-grade mysteries for them. Too often, the mysteries I find are too young or too old, involving characters and situations that my students just can not connect with. Eleven is perfect and fulfills a great need in my classroom library. Hopefully, my students will enjoy it just as much as I did!
I’m in Poetry Friday this week with a poem of my own. I normally choose a poem by a “real poet”, but as I have been encouraging my students to share their poetry, I should do the same. The following poem was inspired by my trip to Tenochtitlan, where I stood at the top of the Pyramid of the Sun- the third largest pyramid in the world.
Time Atop the World
Standing atop the ancient world, stone pyramid beneath my feet.
Surveying the land spread below,
who else has stood where I am standing?
Victims of sacrifice?
The cool breeze
lightly kisses my skin.
I reach toward the sky
As far as the eye can see,
pyramids to the left and right.
Below, crowds are no more than small ants,
Flowing down the Avenue of the Dead.
Their voices carry to the top,
and I imagine the crowds
that once passed by this,
crowds of men
who lived and died
thousands of years ago.
Who will stand here in the future?
What will they see
when they stand atop
and modern world,
surveying the land below.
Will they wonder about me?