Thursday, January 31, 2008

"MOSES: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom"

2006 Caldecott Honor Book
2006 Coretta Scott King Award Winner
"MOSES: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom"
Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Hyperion Books for Children, 2006
Picture Book, Historical Fiction, Multicultural K-5
This book is absolutely breathtaking. I do not even know where to begin! First and foremost, the history of the book spreads compassion on my heart and leads me to think about what a brave and courageous woman that Harriet Tubman was. When she decided to run away and try to escape slavery, she did not have any support from any person on Earth. However, she trusted in God to guide her and lead her. Her faith gave her inner strength, peace, hope, comfort, and safety. The way that God used Harriet Tubman to lead many safely out of slavery is absolutely amazing. I can not imagine ever having the courage to return to the South nineteen times to lead her friends-her people-to freedom! She truly was a Moses of her people. Moses led his people to the promised land, the land of Caanan, which the book refers to Canada "cannaanland." Moses' staff also turned into a snake and parted the Red Sea.This is similiar to when Harriet's broom turned into a staff, then a rifle. God was telling Harriet that he would protect her againist her enemies, that no harm would come to her. I think that God's words or voice being bigger and in a larger font helps depict that God is holy and powerful. Every page contains God's words to Harriet as well as Harriet's inner thoughts, fears, and prayers. Therefore, the characteization of Harriet is very developed. I felt a bit like I had traveled the journey with Harriet, through her voicing her inner self and descriptons that are given by the author; "Running through the swamp, she hears frogs croaking and her own heart the moon's reflection, she sees God's face." What wonderful imagery! Can't you hear the frogs, feel your heart pounding from being in the darkness of a swamp and then feeling the peace that Harriet must have felt when she saw God's face in the reflection of the moon? I believe that the text alone would capture the reader's attention, because the ongoing conversation between Harriet and God is captivating. Also, Harriet Tubman's story is so courageous and full of meaning that readers would be captured to know the outcome of the story.
There is no doubt that the illustrations are are the heart in conveying the message of the book. When viewing the illustrations, I tried to take in everything; the bright moon and twinkling stars of the night, the expressions of Harriet's face, and every detail of the background. I did not want to miss any element of these beautiful paintings. The illustrations communicate symbolically through the use of backgrounds, colors, shading, and texture. One of my favorite illustrations is when Harriet is hiding in the woods from the men on horseback. The painting is set at night and Harriet is sleeping in the grasses under the trees. The moon and stars are shining through the trees. The mens' torches are shining in the background. Harriet is sleeping peacefully and is surrounded by an array of different animals that can be missed if you do not take your time to look closely! Rabbits, a fox, raccoons, a possum, wolves, and an owl are surrouding Harriet. I believe that this has such an impact on me because while there are men searching for Harriet, she is surrounded by God's creatures, keeping her company and keeping her safe. The text says the "God cradles her." Indeed, this illustration conveys this picture! Each illustration has an impact on the reader. Different emotions are evoked through each painting.
This book is a great way to teach students about slavery. They need to understand why Harriet wanted to run away and why she risked her life to save her people. Students can also be introduced to the Undreground Railroad. I believe that this book does a great job of conveying both of these subjects. Harriet talks of her running away because she speaks of the mistreatment that masters give slaves. Harriet's journey expresses the hardships and fears faced along the way to freedom. Harritet Tubman is truly a hero, a humble, courageous woman who sacrificed her life to better the life of others. She followed her heart and God's calling and truly made a difference. This book teaches Harriet Tubman's journey but also teaches life lessons and is deserving of each award.

"What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?"

2003 Caldecott Honor Book
"What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?"
Author: Robin Page
Illustrator: Steve Jenkins
Houghton Mufflin Company 2003
Picture Book, Informative, K-3
I can not wait to read this to my elementary class! They will absolutely love this book. Students will enjoy trying to guess the animals that the noses, tails, ears, etc. belong to before they are revealed on the next page. When students listen to the interesting animal facts, I believe that they will want to know more about these animals. The facts that the children learn from reading this book will be facts that they will remember to tell their parents, grandparents, and friends. This book may even lead students to do some research on their own if they are interested in a specific animal the book introduces.
The illustrations are astonishing. It is amazing that the illustrations are a cut-paper collage, which is where various types of paper are cut or torn and pieced together onto a background to create a picture. The texture of the animals look very realistic-the skunk's tail looks bushy and furry while the four-eyed fish looks slimy and smooth. The white background really brings out the beauty and the details of the indvidual pictures on the pages. The animals's noses, ears, tails, eyes, feet, mouths, and facial expressions look very real. I especially thought that the nose of the hyena and the leg of the mosquito looked real-I had to touch them to be sure that they were not! The illustrations no doubt communicate symbolically through the use of background, colors, and texture. The backgrounds and effects for each animal are different, which adds more characteristics to the animals. For example, the platypus is swimmng through the water, the whale is diving vertically down the page, the monkey is hanging from a tree, the horned lizard is squirting blood from his eyes, the gecko is upside down, and the pelican's head is down in the water with his mouth wide open to catch a fish. I think that the artistic medium greatly enhances the book in that in that it is very unique and looks so much like the real animals.
The text is in a very unique setting around each animal. This is great integration of the text with the pictures. The text slides along the body of the animal or is right beside the animal's picture. This is good to prevent confusion among beginning readers who may not know which sentence would match the animal.
"What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?" is worthy of the Caldecott Medal Honor Award because it captivates young readers with the true-to-life illustrations while teaching interesting facts about all kinds of different animals.

Monday, January 21, 2008

"Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village"

2007 Newbery Award Winner
"Good Masters, Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village"
Author: Schlitz, Laura Amy
Illustrator: Byrd, Robert
Publisher and date: Oxford University Press, 2007
Genre: Historical Fiction
Appropriate for grades 4-6
The setting is an English manor in the year of 1255 during medieval times. There are 22 different monologues which express the feelings, hopes, worries, challenges, and circumstances of each character. The reader is able to feel what the character expresses through these monologues. Interesting facts about this time period are also included in each of the 22 sections. The author also makes connections between different characters. For example, the characters may be friends, brothers, sisters, or the connection may be as simple as one throwing mud at the other. I believe that readers would all connect and find themselves similar to one character, because they are all very different!
This book was not like any that I had ever read before! I do not remember reading a book about the medieval times! The facts that Schlitz based her monologues on taught me a great amount of new information. I also found it easy to find myself feeling pity for certain characters and happy for others. I can name which ones are my favorites and which ones that I do not care for so much. It would be fun to have this discussion with students! I believe that my two favorite characters would have to be Jack the half-wit and Mariot, the glassblower's daughter. Jack demonstrates a true act of friendship as he befriends Otho, the Miller's son, who the other boys do not seem to like. Jack helps Otho when he found him beat-up and sobbing. Jack even cried with Otho! Jack says that he stayed by Otho's side until he stopped crying. I think that this is a great lesson that could be taught through Jack about friendship-to be willing to put others before yourselves, to be compassionate to all people, and be willing to help in any way that you can! I also liked the story of Mariot because she is a girl who has a crush on her father's apprentice,Piers, and wishes that she could be his friend, for she feels compassion on him because he is an orphan and alone. While Mariot's sister, Maud, despises him and claims that she would never marry him, Mariot would marry Piers. She is afraid to expose her feelings about Piers to her sister because she does not want to be teased. How often do we face this situation in our own lives? When we are afraid to express our feelings, ideas, or thoughts because we are afraid of being teased or made fun of? Mariot should expressed her feelings so Piers would have a friend. In the same way that I chose my two favorite characters, all readers can do the same! Each reader can connect to at least one of the characters in some way. I also found the names of the characters very fun and interesting.
I believe that this book should not be read to grades younger than fourth. Even at this age all of the concepts introduced in this book may not be understood. For example, in the monologue between Jacob Ben Salomon (the moneylender's son) and Petronella (the merchant's daughter) an unlikely friendship forms between them at the stream. Their friendship is unlikely because Jacob is a Jew and Petronella is a Christian. I did not understand why Petronella would want to throw a stone at Jacob when she saw that he was wearing a yellow badge, which identified him as a Jew. After reading the author's background pages on the reasons that Jews were persecuted in during this time and doing some research on my own, I understand. This may be a difficult for concept for younger children to understand, but can be incorporated into a history lesson in the fifth of sixth grade. Nonetheless, there are many concepts that are introduced that I believe students would enjoy leaning more about. For example, the lifestyle of people during this time can be expanded upon. Each person had their own "title" that determined much of how their life was lived and how others treated them. For example, the Lord controlled the lives of the people living in the manor, millers were seen as outcasts, knights were heroes, plowboys were hard workers, and villeins were unfortunate because they were peasants who were not free. Students could research and discuss the differences and similarities between the different types of livelihoods the books introduces. Boys and girls may enjoy learning more about Richard, the Lionheart, who Simon, the knight's son, makes mention of. This will also help students learn more about the crusades of this time period. There are some great ideas for Medieval lesson plans which include many fun learning activities that can be used with this informative and fun book! Of course, the teacher could use the monologues in a short play, which was the reason that Schlitz wrote the monologues in the first place! I believe that older students would really enjoy this activity. The teacher should be sure that the students really try to put themselves in the position of their character if they read the monologues out loud to the class or act them out.
This book is a great book to use in a upper elementary class when teaching about the medieval times! It is very informative and fun!