Thursday, February 26, 2009

Coraline, Inkheart, movies, and books

I've always been one to read the book first, then see the movie. Then I always complain that the book was better. That is certainly the case with Coraline, now in theaters. I saw it in 3-D with my daughter. It's a great movie and the 3-D effects are awesome, but of course, I don't think the movie is as good as the book; and I didn't like the addition of a new character to the story. Part of Coraline's charm as a heroine is her self-reliance and assuredness. She really didn't need a sidekick.

Still, it's well worth seeing. Leave the preschoolers at home though! (I was surprised to see how many were in the theater)

Inkheart is a different story. I had never read Inkheart and went to see the movie with my daughters. It wasn't the best movie I've ever seen, but I really did enjoy it as a reading-themed, action movie.

I followed up the movie by downloading the audiobook version of the book, read by Lynn Redgrave (Listening Library 2005). I'm not sure if it was the length of the book (over 15 hours) or the monotony of listening to the same reader, that made it such slow-going. I've listened to Lynn Redgrave as the reader of Prince Caspian, and got used to her characterizations after a few chapters, however, the number and variety of characters in Inkheart makes it difficult for any narrator to create enough vocal variety for each character. Add to that fact, the fact that I already knew most of the story (although the movie does depart from the book in several major ways), and the whole audiobook experience was a bit of a chore.


just when I was deciding that I wouldn't follow through on the rest of the series, Listening Library played a cruel trick on me - they included the first chapter of Inkspell, read by Brendan Fraser after the final chapter of Inkheart. Now I have no choice. I have to know what happens to Dustfinger!

Amelia Earhart

Tanaka, Shelley. 2008. Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator. Ill. by David Craig. New York: Abrams Books.
ISBN: 9780810970953

This biography of Amelia Earhart is the winner of the 2009 Orbis Pictus Award, the award given for "outstanding non-fiction for children" by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator contains references, resources, websites, abundant and captioned photographs, an index, and full-page, lifelike, painted illustrations. The small print allows this illustrated biography to contain a wealth of information in an attractive format. A perfect choice for middle-schoolers.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book

I always seem to have trouble when I try to add tags to an embedded Animoto video. Not sure if it's a Blogger glitch or an Animoto proprietary issue. In any case, I'm still an Animoto fan.

So, the tags are here and the video is in the next post.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Charles Darwin's 200th

Abraham Lincoln and Edgar Allen Poe are not the only people with 200th birthday anniversaries this year. This month marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin on February 12, 1809.

Just in time for the celebration are two new Darwin biographies: Animals Charles Darwin Saw: An Around the World-Adventure by Sandra Markle and illustrated by Zina Saunders (2009 Chronicle Books, San Francisco) and What Darwin Saw: The Journey that Changed the World by Rosalyn Schanzer (2009 National Geographic, DC)

Both books are well-researched, illustrated biographies containing bibliographies, resources, maps and indexes. (I was going to type indices, but WikiAnswers assures me that indices is only to be used when dealing with an over-50 "fuddy duddy." Who knew?) Animals Charles Darwin Saw, also includes a glossary.

Both are suitable for middle school students and contain enough information to equal a larger-print, small chapter book. The two books tell the same story employing different strategies. Markle's book relates Darwin's finding of prehistoric bones in this way,

"Before Darwin, people did not believe that animals changed over time. But after Darwin stumbled on some strange bones, he started thinking. He thought about the many different kinds of wildlife he had observed and how the animals seemed well suited to the environments in which they lived. He began to wonder whether animals did change over time, developing the characteristics they needed to survive and prosper."

In comic book style panels, Schanzer's book relates the same information using many of Darwin's own words,

"Darwin finds: 'a large piece of covering like that of the Armadillo, but of gigantic size,'... 'an immense Mastodon, which must have abounded over the whole country,' ... 'It is impossible to reflect on the changed state of the American continent without the deepest astonishment. Formerly it must have swarmed with great monsters: now we find mere pigmies.'"

Both books are generously illustrated. Animals Charles Darwin Saw contains naturally-colored, double-spread watercolor and ink illustrations with small text printed over the paintings. What Darwin Saw is more brightly colored and comic, employing panels of varying sizes and using thought bubbles and brown print to designate Darwin's actual comments.
Bottom line: both books do a fine job of relaying a difficult concept in a manner that is both engaging and understandable to young readers. I hope more teachers will embrace the concept of "picture book" nonfiction.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Gettysburg: The graphic novel

Butzer, C.M. 2009. Gettysburg: The graphic novel. New York: Collins.
ISBN: 9780061561764

In black, white, and subtle hues of Union blue and Confederate gray, first-time author, C.M. Butzer, tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg and its aftermath in graphic novel format.

The story begins with a double-spread map of Gettysburg, 1863, then continues with cameo "photos" of the main historical figures (both military and civilian), and background information presented as a two-page letter written with quill pen and ink. The remainder of the story is told in mostly multi-panel pages (some wordless), with particular emphasis on the Gettysburg address, included in its entirety, each phrase accompanied by a panel depicting pivotal moments of both past and recent history, alluding to the timeless nature of Lincoln's most famous words.

The Author's Notes are an invaluable source of reference information, explaining source documents, dialogue, symbolism, and background information relating to period conditions.

Although the cover art did not initially appeal to me, I picked this book up because of my interest in history and the fact that local students in my area often take class trips to Gettysburg. I began the book without much enthusiasm and questioned the effectiveness of some of the book's early dialogue. It was not until I reached the account of photographer Timothy O'Sullivan's arrival at the bloody battlefield, that I realized the great effort that author C.M. Butzer, had made to maintain historical accuracy. The panels depicting dead soldiers on the field, are dutiful replicas of actual photographs which I recall viewing at Gettysburg National Military Park. The dialogue which I had questioned as stilted, was an actual conversation as record by a contemporary of General Buford. As mentioned, the Author's Notes are a page-by-page resource of historical background.

Gettysburg: The Graphic Novel offers more than historical accuracy. It gives the reader a balance of both war and peace. There is much more to Gettysburg than the battle. There is the story of the town's civilians, the political drama, the humanitarian concerns, the creation of the site of what was then called, The Soldiers National Cemetery, and of course, the far-reaching impact of President Lincoln's address to the thousands gathered at the newly created national monument.

Sample pages from the book may be found on the author's blog

Hopefully, teachers will embrace the non-fiction, graphic novel genre as a tool for reaching those students who shun history as boring or irrelevant.

There is great depth to this slim, 80-page volume.

Safe at Home

Lupica, Mike. 2008. Safe at home. New York: Philomel.
ISBN 9780399247163

Twelve-year-old Nick Crandall has just received the wish of every boy on his middle school JV baseball team - a chance to play varsity, a chance that no Hayworth School sixth-grader has ever been given. He should be thrilled; but he's not. Nick, adopted only three years earlier from a foster home, is happy on JV. He's a star player. He's among friends.

When he's drafted to fill in for an injured varsity player, he no longer feels "safe at home." In fact, he longer feels at home anywhere.

Safe at Home is part of the Comeback Kids series, written by famed sports columnist, author, and TV personality, Mike Lupica. The thrill of the game takes center field in this story as Nick Crandall learns confidence and an appreciation for the things he has, rather than a longing for those he doesn't.

Middle school boys and baseball fans should enjoy this short, baseball-themed novel.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tillie Lays an Egg

Golson, Terry Blonder. 2009. Tillie lays an egg. New York: Scholastic.

Of course, I live in NJ, so take this with a grain of salt, but my eldest daughter related something to me the other day - Her language arts teacher mentioned that, in one of her classes, not one student knew the sound that a donkey makes. How sad that we've become so far removed from the farms and country that feed us. (Doesn't anyone sing "Old MacDonald" anymore?)

Tillie Lays an Egg may be just the book to inspire a preschooler's interest in farm life.

The stunning photography combined with the fun of look-and-find,

"Where has Tillie laid her egg?"

and the attendant humor (Tillie lays her eggs on the kitchen table and the ironing board, among other unlikely places!)

make this book a winner!! Hee Haw!

Stone Rabbit: BC Mambo

Craddock, Erik. 2009.BC Mambo (Stone Rabbit series). New York: Random House.

BC Mambo is the first in a graphic novel series (Stone Rabbit) by Erik Craddock. When this book arrived in my new book bag, it screamed out, "READ ME!" The bright colors, large-eyed creatures, and big-toothed hero are definite attention-getters, but there's more to Stone Rabbit than a flashy little cover.

The series begins in Happy Glades and our long-eared hero is bored to tears, when suddenly -
a portal opens up in his bathroom,

"Well, that's odd. You'd think I'd know if there was a bottomless pit of doom in the middle of my bathroom -- Besides the toilet ..."

Along with a bottle of barbecue sauce, he falls into the pit of doom and lands in the Neanderthal world where he finds himself to be its only possible savior,
as the evil Willie plans to take over the world ....

with barbecue sauce???

Unobtrusively moralistic (can you really rule the world with HAMBURGERS?!) and very funny, this series has great potential. It is short on dialogue and long on action. Most pages have only one or two frames, and several are double-spreads of prehistoric action.

According to Random House, this series is targeted at five to ten-year-olds. I think that the humor and dialogue,

"Behold! Willie's Big Burger Hut! My legacy! Bask in its majesty!"

will be above a five-year-old's level of understanding, but little readers may be drawn in to the book's small size, vivid colors and expressive characters, nonetheless. Eight to ten-year-olds should feel right at home traveling through time with Stone Rabbit.

I think this series will be a winner. I'm going to put this book on the shelf and see if I'm right.

Beneath the Waves - a review

As we read disturbing news accounts of dying manatees , environmental disasters caused by toxic waste, and ocean pollution on the scale of ...