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Fun Fourth Friday: Jacqueline Woodson

The first Jacqueline Woodson book I read was Locomotion. The previous teacher had moved to younger pastures and had left this book behind as part of her classroom library, and it was one of the few books there that I hadn’t yet read, so I picked it up during testing week so I’d have something to do while I walked around the room supervising my students. (This, at least, is the story I remember about finding it. These fifth graders are now in college, so my memory might be faulty!) I didn’t finish it during the day, but it was so compelling that I had to keep reading it after school until I was done. My heart ached for Lonnie (the main character), and I could see parts of him reflected in so many of my students that year. I would see the author’s name on different library lists and book recommendations, but I didn’t personally happen across another of her books until Each Kindness showed up at the book fair when GirlChild was a kindergartener. Another heartbreaker. Then I found Peace, Locomotion as an audiobook for my Y treadmill distraction. Every book made me fight back tears, her characters so real and so fragile, the endings often leaving a feeling of dissatisfaction, the knowledge that things aren’t perfect or completed, and there is something left for the reader to do. Last month, I was looking up a Newbery Award year, and I noticed her name as an honor recipient. And then again. And again.

And I decided I needed to do a blog post on some of her works for young readers. [Jacqueline Woodson book list]

Pecan Pie BabyPecan Pie Baby, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (2010, early to middle elementary): Gia is sick and tired of all the talk about the “ding-dang baby”! It’s been just her and her mom for so long, and now there’s a new baby due to arrive “by the time the first snow’s on the ground,” and it’s all anyone can talk about–her aunts, her uncles, even her friends! Her mom tells her that the baby loves pecan pie, just like she and Gia do, but Gia just thinks the baby is being a copycat. At Thanksgiving dinner, she’s had about enough, and her angry outburst shocks everyone and gets her sent to her room. When her mother joins her later, she shares that she, too, will miss the fun they had, just the two of them, and that Gia will have to tell the baby all about “the good old days.” When Mama says that the weatherman is forecasting snow, the two of them go to have some dessert before “that ding-dang pecan pie baby” comes, and they laugh because Gia knows her mother knows, like she does, “how much the three of us loved ourselves some pecan pie!”

Each Kindness, illustrated by E. B. Lewis Each Kindness(2012, early to middle elementary): This picture book evokes similar feelings to those brought up by The Hundred Dresses. Maya is the new girl in school, and Chloe and the other children look disdainfully at her shabby clothing and refuse to return her friendly smiles and other overtures. She continues to make her attempts at friendliness and accept the unwarranted rebuffs with grace until one day in the spring when the children laugh outright at her pretty but secondhand dress, and she goes off to jump rope alone without asking anyone to join her. The next day, she is absent, and Ms. Albert teaches a lesson on the ripple effect of kindness, saying, “Each kindness…makes the whole world a little better.” Guilt over her behavior toward Maya grips her, and Chloe is desperate for an opportunity to return Maya’s smiles. However, Maya never returns; her family has had to move. In the end, Chloe tosses stones into the river and thinks about how each kindness “done and undone” makes its mark.

Visiting DayVisiting Day, illustrated by James E. Ransome (2002, early to middle elementary): It took me a while to figure out that Visiting Day wasn’t a custody arrangement visitation or maybe a hospital visit that the little girl (never named) is anticipating with such excitement, but I’m thinking a child who has experienced an incarcerated parent might pick up on it right away. The little girl and her grandma are up early preparing–Grandma frying chicken and humming, braiding the little girl’s hair, and getting items from a neighbor who can’t afford the trip to bring them to her son. They board the bus along with other visiting families, and they all share a picnic on the ride. The little girl falls asleep and doesn’t wake up until they arrive at the “big old building where…Daddy is doing a little time.” One page spread is dedicated to the time she spends with her father, and the very next shows their separation again, Grandma reminding her that “it’s not forever going to be like this.” Then the girl and her grandmother return home again, already missing and planning for their next visit, and anticipating even more when her daddy will be home again with them. I absolutely love the art in this one; there are subtle bits of information half-hidden in the background–blurry photographs of a man and a girl all around the apartment, hints at an institutional setting when the father is first shown, expressions so real and so telling that they speak as much as the words do.

Coming on Home Soon, illustrated by E. B. Lewis Coming on Home Soon(2004, early to middle elementary): This Caldecott Honor book is set during World War II, and Ada Ruth’s mother has gone to Chicago to work for the railroad and support the family. Ada Ruth writes to her often, but a long time goes by without a response or any money sent back, and Grandma tells her to keep writing and that her mother will be “coming on home soon.” Winter comes, and with it a small black kitten that her grandmother insists can’t stay–but is allowed to anyway. Whenever the postman passes without stopping, they are both disappointed, but one day, after hunting for small game in the snow, they finally get the long-awaited letter that contains not only money but the promise that Ada Ruth’s mother will be “coming on home soon.” In the last pages, Ada Ruth relaxes in feelings of peace and remembering her mother’s love and her promise that she’s returning, and the very last page has no words but shows her mother, suitcase in hand, approaching their home through the snow.

Show WayShow Way, illustrated by Hudson Talbott (2005, early to middle elementary): Listed on her website as having “autobiographical content,” this tells the story of her family’s history as it was passed along through the female line. The first is her several-greats-grandmother who is sold at age seven and went to live in another state. There, the resident “grandma” taught the children stories of getting to freedom and showed them how to sew quilts that held a sort of coded map to help slaves escape. That woman grew up and taught her daughter how to sew, and that child was sold at age seven, and she both sewed clothing for the “big house” and the other slaves and also the same quilt maps–what they called a “Show Way.” Her daughter, Soonie, was born free in 1863, and she was told the old stories and taught to quilt, and she sewed the quilts to make a living. Her daughter Georgianna was a quick learner, and she had twin daughters named Ann (the author’s mother) and Caroline. When they were seven, they participated in civil rights marches, gripping pieces of one of the old quilts to help them be brave. When the author was seven, she “didn’t have to work in a field or walk in any Freedom lines,” but she learned to sew and learned the stories of her heritage as a kind of personal “Show Way.” And the author, too, passes these stories and this legacy of bravery and love to her own daughter.

Locomotion (2003) and Peace, Locomotion Locomotion(2009, upper elementary to middle school): I had recently finished reading Love That Dog with a group of students, and this book parallels that one in a lot of ways. Firstly, the main character, the narrator, is a boy who has a knack for poetry if not an automatic respect for it. Their teachers prompt them to continue to explore the different forms of poetry, and each uses poetry to work through a traumatic event from his past that continues to impact his life. Where the narrator of Love that Dog is mourning the loss of his pet, Lonnie is working through the loss of his parents and the realities of his life in foster care, separated from his little sister. The sequel, Peace, Locomotion, features letters Peace, Locomotionthat Lonnie writes to his sister (always signed “Peace, Locomotion”) but doesn’t send, and he is working through his resentment that she has seems to forget their parents in her eagerness to have a mama who is right here with her (her adoptive mother) as well as the internal struggles with his perceptions of Miss Edna (his adoptive mother) and the war that harmed one of her sons. I wasn’t able to get a copy of either of these books to reread, but the stories have stuck with me! While her books for younger readers touch on tough subjects, too, these books for the upper elementary and middle school crowd dig deeper and force readers to face difficult topics head on but still in an age-appropriate way.

Feathers (2007, upper elementary to middle school): FeathersSet in the 1970s, when a new boy joins Frannie’s all-black classroom, his appearance (white with long, curly hair) and demeanor (gentle but unafraid of confrontation) earn him the nickname “Jesus Boy” and a whole lot of rejection and harassment. Frannie’s dealing with her own problems with the stigma that her deaf brother faces, her increasingly religiously zealous friend Samantha who seems to almost idolize the Jesus Boy, and the fact that her 40-year-old mother is facing a difficult pregnancy after already experiencing the loss of a baby before her two living children were born and several others since then. Still, she comes to see the Jesus Boy as a person, and some other pigeon-holed  classmates like one, too, as she thinks more deeply about the complexities of living. The line of poetry she had loved the sound of but hadn’t understood becomes more clear, as well: “Hope is the thing with feathers” becomes “Each moment is a thing with feathers” to her. Each moment of life holds hope. This book was a 2008 Newbery Honor book.

I Hadn't Meant to Tell You ThisI Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This (1994) and Lena (1999, upper elementary to middle school): The subject matter of these two books is pretty bleak, to be honest, but it is dealt with in such a delicate but forthright way that I feel the books will enlighten as many as they help through tough times. I’m pretty much going to just lay out the issues addressed in the book: cancer and death, racism, abandonment, neglect, molestation, and runaways. I actually read these two books out of order, not knowing they were companion books, but it worked out fine that way, too. I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This is told in first-person from the point-of-view of Marie, a black girl who is the only child of a professor and whose mother has left them to travel the world. When Lena, a girl Marie’s father and many classmates refer to as “whitetrash,” comes to her school, Marie is assigned to help her get acquainted with things. Marie can see a brokenness in her, and she befriends her and her younger sister. Lena eventually confides to Marie that her father began touching her after her mother died of cancer. When he turns his attentions to her younger sister, she begins preparing to leave in order to protect her. The book ends somewhat abruptly with Lena calling Marie to tell her that they’ve left, and Marie seeing their empty house Lenaand hoping that they have found their safety and happiness. Lena is told from Lena’s point of view, and it chronicles what happens as she and her sister Dion hitchhike away from their father (with whom it’s revealed they weren’t supposed to be living after Lena first told someone about the molestation and they were removed from the home and separated). They are trying to get to their mother’s hometown in Kentucky, hoping that their relatives will take them in, but reality sets in as Lena realizes that if this family didn’t bother to respond when they were notified of her mother’s death, they likely were either all gone or didn’t care. When a kindly woman takes them in for the night after seeming to believe their story that they were trying to get to their mother who had just had a baby, Lena gets the courage to call Marie and tell her what is happening. In the end, perhaps contrary to what would likely happen in reality, Marie’s father, once he discovers what has really been going on with the sisters, wants to bring them home to live with him and Marie.

Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming (2014, upper elementary to middle school): In a style that expands on that found in Locomotion, the author tells her personal story in free verse. A story that reveals the turmoil and transitions that characterized the world in which she grew up and her world at home as she grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, this Newbery Honor book helps the reader see how the author became the writer she is, how her childhood successes and disappointments, joys and trials, gains and losses, and her family relationships shaped her life and her work. With contents much more engaging than a typical autobiography, there are also family trees and a number of old photographs of Ms. Woodson and many of her family members.

Jacqueline Woodson has written many other books for younger readers that I wasn’t able to get my hands on or finish in time, and she has written a number for older teens that have content too mature for the scope of this blog. She has a way of telling things how they are and making readers question if that’s how they should be, and I find her work to have an important place in children’s and YA literature. Her readers always have to think, and then they have to decide what to do with what they’ve learned about themselves and the world.

And, depending on the book, they may weep.


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Themed Third…oh, hang on…

Between moving and a kind of last-minute vacation, I got behind on this month’s theme! August will, therefore, have a Fun Fourth Friday instead of a Themed Third Thursday! See you in a week and a day!

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A Pirate’s Twelve Days of Christmas, by Philip Yates, illustrated by Sebastià Serra

A Pirate's Twelve Days of Christmas

A Pirate’s Twelve Days of Christmas, by Philip Yates, illustrated by Sebastià Serra (2012)

For this fifth review of Christmas, I decided to go to the silly side…and there is very little sillier than a bunch of grinning pirates surprising the cabin boy with a variety of pirate-y gifts!

After a few rhyming couplets to introduce the story (the crew of a pirate ship leaves the cabin boy behind during “Christmastide” so they can go plunder and he can swab the decks), the song begins. The cabin boy wakes on the first morning to find a parrot in a palm tree (and the pirate responsible for the gift is grinning and hiding behind a barrel) and is inspired to sing! The second day, two cutlasses are added to his stash and his song (and that pirate is peeking up over the side of the ship). On the third day, three black cats arrive (and you can see their footprints coming from behind a tree where another pirate is hiding to watch her gift be received). Each day, another gift is added, another pirate (and you can identify them all from the small boats leaving the pirate ship at the beginning of the story) is watching gleefully as the cabin boy enjoys his surprise, and the scene gets crazier and crazier! Finally, on the twelfth day, the twelve absentee pirates themselves show up and wish the cabin boy a merry Christmas. They weigh anchor and head to bed so that “jolly ol’ Sir Peggedy” and his sleigh can visit. (There’s also a glossary in the back to help define any unfamiliar pirate terms!)

The illustrations for this book were drawn in “pencil and ink on parchment paper and then digitally colored.” The characters have almost a wooden doll look to them, and the progressive craziness fits the mood and contents of the book very well. There is so much to see in each picture that a simple read-through will not be enough for most young readers, and they will certainly want to spend time with the book on their own looking through all the pages.

GirlChild and BoyChild’s Reactions: Both GirlChild and BoyChild enjoyed this book. Thankfully, they have heard enough of me singing silly songs not to find my choral presentation off-putting, and GirlChild even joined in since she’s familiar with the tune (and can read along with the words). They both loved looking for the gifting pirate hiding somewhere in the picture before we moved on to the next round of gifts. We started by counting the items as they were added, but the pictures soon got so wild that we just went on singing instead. I’m sure that they will continue to find new silly parts in each picture as they reread the book on their own. Be prepared to burst into song with a pirate-y gusto when you share this read-aloud with kids from preschool to elementary age!

(The author and illustrator also teamed up on A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas, and it looks just as silly!)



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Themed Third Thursday Delayed by Allergies and Activities

So, we in the Rushing to Read family have been very busy with various activities (chess tournament for GirlChild, weekend camping trip in the rain, visiting grandparents, going to gymnastics and swim lessons, a trip to the indoor video archery range, etc.) this past month, and my mental capacity has been severely taxed by the effects of allergies…stuffy nose, headache, the overwhelming desire to tell BoyChild to get out his box of cars when we get home from dropping GirlChild off at school so I can go fall asleep again… So, yeah, even though I’ve read nearly all of the books I’m reviewing for this month’s theme (Andrew Clements!), it’s the day to post, and I’m not nearly ready. So tune in next week for Fun (really fun–I love Andrew Clements!) Fourth Friday!

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Sickness Delay

So, my kids have been sick again (for almost two weeks!), and we haven’t gotten to the library in three weeks (counting the 4th of July holiday weekend), so I haven’t been able to get all my books for this month’s theme! Themed Third Thursday will be replaced by Fun Fourth Friday again this month!

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Themed Third Thursday: The Green Edition

GirlChild turned six earlier this month, and green is her favorite color. In honor of this fact (and, you know, Earth Day and all that), I did a catalog search for children’s books with the word “green” in the title. Here are some of the eclectic results!

Green, by Laura Vaccaro SeegerGreen, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (2012–toddler to elementary): This incredibly simple book featuring lush paintings and cut-outs to peep from one page to the next defines green in a number of settings and ways. Each page has just two words, an adjective and the word “green,” and the pre-green words rhyme in an alternating pattern (like slow green, faded green, glow green, shaded green, although the first and third don’t always rhyme). Although it’s clearly meant for younger readers, I can see many elementary readers getting engrossed in the art, so it might be a good book to keep in an art classroom, too! It was also a Caldecott Honor book in 2013.

Where Is the Green Sheep?, by Mem Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek Where Is the Green Sheep?, by Mem Fox, illlustrated by Judy Horacek(2004–toddler/preschool): All different kinds of sheep are found, from colorful sheep to sheep doing a variety of different things, but the green sheep remains elusive. In the end, the green sheep is found sleeping, camouflaged behind a bush. Each page contains a simple sentence stating which sheep is being shown. The refrain, “But where is the green sheep?” (repeated every few pages) helps young listeners participate in the reading, and contrasts and opposites are often used. My favorite illustration is the extreme close-up that just says, “Here is the near sheep.” BoyChild chuckled when I zoomed the book close to his face for that one!

Go Away, Big Green Monster!, by Ed EmberleyGo Away, Big Green Monster!, by Ed Emberley (1992–toddler/preschool): Cut-out pages reveal the big green monster piece by piece, then the reader tells the big green monster to go away piece by piece. This book might be helpful for children who have a fear of monsters and who need to be empowered to get rid of their imaginary tormenters. The last lines, “And DON’T COME BACK! Until I say so,” gives children a tool to banish their fears while still inviting imaginative play (including the occasional biddable monster).

Red Green Blue: A First Book of Colors, by Alison Jay Red Green Blue, by Alison Jay(2009–preschool/early elementary): Actually written by Libby Hamilton, this book is not your typical color concept book. On each page, a little boy (the one on the opening page who is experiencing a “dull and gray” rainy day) watches as a nursery rhyme takes place before his eyes, transitioning from one to the next as though he is moving through scenes that blend into one another. Although each page names a color (emphasized by bold, enlarged type), the illustrations do not go overboard on the color, making it more suitable to slightly older children than most concept books. The illustrations have muted tones and a crackled appearance, much like those old, painted wooden or ceramic plaques you might find in your grandma’s house. A picture appendix of all the nursery rhymes referenced can be found at the back of the book.

Green Is a Chile Pepper: A Book of ColorsGreen Is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors, by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by John Parra (2014–preschool/early elementary): Rhyming verse uses colors and some Spanish words to showcase Hispanic American traditions. (Although the CIP data for this book says that this is about children discovering colors in their Hispanic American neighborhood, I’m not sure where in the United States there is a neighborhood that is sufficiently rural and suited to have a monkey climbing the corn stalks…) It references Christmas and Day of the Dead traditions as well as general foods and celebrations, so it might be a good book to share with children to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15 in 2014) or for a study of Central and South America.

The Berenstain Bears Go Green, by Jan and Mike BerenstainThe Berenstain Bears Go Green (2013–early elementary): Not as long as the old Berenstain Bears books (saving paper to go green, perhaps?), this title is still not lacking in the didactic tone that typifies the series. Kids like the series, though, and I doubt this book would be any different…and it might make a good, short read-aloud for Earth Day to trigger discussion about simple ways we can be better stewards of our resources. Because it’s a recent publication, the advice given is up-to-date and at least a few items will be doable for the majority of modern children.

The Green Bath, by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Steven KelloggThe Green Bath, by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Steven Kellogg (2013): Sammy’s mother tells him to stop his adventuring and get cleaned up for his grandmother’s visit, and Sammy tries to make the best of his bath in the new green tub his father just installed. He starts to sing “The Owl and the Pussycat,” and the bathtub gets up and races to the beach where Sammy and the tub have a wild adventure with mermaids, a sea serpent, and a bunch of pirates. The tub and Sammy return to the bathroom just in time for his mother and grandmother to walk on in…then Sammy and grandma set off toward the beach in the endpapers. The book is a little odd, surely, since it implies that the bathtub adventure is real and not just Sammy’s imagination, but that doesn’t spoil the fact that this is what most young kids think when they’re playing in the bath anyway!

How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans, by David LaRochelle,How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans, by David LaRochelle illustrated by Mark Fearing (2013–early elementary): Martha, despite her parents’ proddings, refuses to eat the green beans she is served every Tuesday night with dinner. She knows that green beans are bad, but she only finds out how bad when a gang (crop?) of mean green beans comes to town and terrorizes everyone who has ever eaten or encouraged anyone to eat green beans. They end up kidnapping Martha’s parents, and only Martha’s brave act (eating all the beans that resist her insistence to let her parents go) saves them from a terrible fate. In the end, green beans are never served at their house again…but the salad is starting to look suspicious, too. I don’t know if this book will work more as an encouragement to resistant veggie eaters (would BoyChild eat green beans if he imagined that he was saving Mommy and Daddy by doing so?) or if it would make them more likely to declare a vegetable “bad,” but it’s a pretty hilarious book and probably worth trying on those stubborn vegetable haters!

One Green Apple, by Eve BuntingOne Green Apple, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ted Lewin (2006–early elementary): A little girl, Farah, who is a recent immigrant to (what I assume to be) the United States goes on a field trip with her brand new class to an apple orchard. She feels different and isolated by her dupatta (a head scarf) and inability to speak or understand English, but one classmate, Anna, tries to introduce herself and include her even though others are mean because, as Farah’s father says, their “home country and [their] new one have had difficulties.” Farah selects her allotted apple from a small, separate tree, away from her classmates, and it is the only green one that gets added to the cider press. Farah hesitates at first to help operate the press, but Anna and a boy make room for her, so she steps in. She even thinks she can taste her unique apple in the cider when they taste it. On the hayrack ride back, another child introduces himself, but when he belches, Farah notes that the laughter sounds the same as in her home country, and as she thinks about how it is only the language that sounds different and she will be able to learn that, she thinks, “I will blend with the others the way my apple blended with the cider.” Inspired by her understanding that she will learn to fit in but with her own personal flavor, she tries her first “outside-myself” word and speaks “app-ell” aloud, causing Anna to applaud her effort. The watercolor illustrations are beautiful, almost photorealistic, but the real reason I like this book is that I can see my GirlChild being the Anna in it, and I am proud of her and what she can do for lonely people around her!

Ruth and the Green Book, by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, illustrations by Floyd Cooper Ruth and the Green Book, by Calvin Alexander Ramsey(2010–elementary): This book is historical fiction set in the early 1950s and tells the story of an African American family driving south from Chicago to visit family in Alabama and the unexpected difficulties they face as they try to do simple things like get gas, use a restroom, stop to eat, or get a room at a hotel. It is told from the point-of-view of the young daughter who is put in charge of using the Green Book to find the things that her family needs along the way. The titular book–The Negro Motorist Green Book–was a book published from 1936 to 1964 that gave African Americans traveling through the United States (and eventually Bermuda, Mexico, and Canada) lists of places necessary to travelers that would accept their business. See a need, fill a need. The last page of the book gives a brief history of the book and tells that the last edition was published in 1964–the same year that the president signed the Civil Rights Bill into law, making the book obsolete. This would be a great read-aloud during a study of the Civil Rights Movement because of its true but gentle treatment of a very serious subject.

Nature's Green Umbrella: Tropical Rain Forests, by Gail GibbonsNature’s Green Umbrella: Tropical Rain Forests, by Gail Gibbons (1994–elementary): This nonfiction book features a large amount of information in a relatively unintimidating format. A large, labeled illustration on each spread introduces vocabulary and wildlife names. Illustrated maps and diagrams help explain concepts discussed in the text, a few sentences or somewhat brief paragraphs on each page. At the end of the book, different kinds of rain forests are defined and shown on a map if possible.

Do you  have a favorite green book? Share it with us in the comments!


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Themed Third Thursday…Delayed

While this is not the weather delay that so many of us have been experiencing lately (GirlChild has missed three days of school for frigid windchills and hazardous conditions this year), Themed Third Thursday will be delayed this month due to my children tag-teaming illness and keeping me from focusing! 🙂 Fun Fourth Friday next week will showcase the books I meant to share today.

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