Assignment 1 - Read one picture book by Mem Fox
Fox, Mem. Possum magic.1983. Illus. by Julie Vivas. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company. ISBN: 0-15-263224-7.
Grandma Poss has made Hush invisible for safety. Now Hush wants to be seen so they make a tour of Australia trying to find the right foods to make Hush visible again.
This picture book is visibly attractive on the cover with pictures of the characters and stars brightly scattering to entice the child to take it off the shelves. The end covers are not decorated. The illustrations work with the text page for page making this book excellent for read-aloud. The text is easily visible with the white background which also sets off the illustrations. The illustrations are done in pen and watercolor. The story has its own touch of magic with the relationship of the Grandma Poss and Hush. The use of animals provides for a universal approach that would be appealing to all children. Being set in Australia, a basic map that includes the towns they go to has been provided for reference at the back of the book. Under the map there is also a glossary of the Australian terms that are used in the book which in this case are dishes or treats that are specific to Australia. Students are introduced in this way to the placement of a glossary and other reference tools. The author has thus presented not only a universally interesting and delightful story, but a connection to extension activities that the teacher can develop for the students.
The characters presented are also accurate for Australia. This leads to other possible extensions. Students can learn about cooking, animals, geography and extend their vocabulary through this book. It lends itself to exploration of other books in these areas from other countries. Mem Fox has done well in the story line using magic and animals to provide an easy but intriguing plot with a universal attraction.
Assignment 2 - Read The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
Funke, Cornelia. 2002. The thief lord. New York, NY: The Chicken House. ISBN: 0-439-40437-1.
Upon reading The Thief Lord, it is very easy to see why it received the Batchelder Award in America as well as several European children's literature awards. The setting of the story is in Venice, Italy and a map has been provided for the reader to get a sense of the town as well as to locate the travels of Prosper and Bo if so desired. The main characters are dealing with a situation that can be universally understood by all children: the death of their parents precipitates the aunt and uncle wanting to adopt Bo but to send Prosper away to a boarding school. Rather than be separated the boys escape to Venice where they meet up with other orphans who become their surrogate family. The 'thief lord' is the provider and the protector of this little band. As the story develops, the reader gains insight into each child while they go through their adventures and eventually they each find their own peace.
Illustrations are provided at the beginning of each chapter which carry on the classic surroundings and flavor of Venice. A glossary is also provided at the end of the book to understand the Italian words that are used in the unfolding story. Each character is developed in a way that not only gives the reader the idea of how the person looks but also gives the reader clues and thoughts that take us inside the person to his/her feelings and thoughts. Through conversations we learn the interests of each child and adult. Such depth of characterization provides the reader the insight and the ability to become a part of the entire experience. The story thus becomes both believable and absorbing.
The underlying plot of the search for eternal youth is also intriguing in its development. This subplot opens the way for other books to be introduced to the reader, i.e. stories about the fountain of youth or Camelot. The magic of the carrousel is not questioned by the reader any more than in the Harry Potter series. Thus the book stimulates the imagination of the reader as well as providing him/her with a sense of Venice and the French language.
Assignment 3 - Read This Same Sky collected by Naomi Shihab Nye
Nye, Naomi Shihab. 1992. This same sky. New York: Four Winds Press. ISBN: 0-02-768440-7.
This anthology is best described by the words of Naomi in the introduction that state: "How are our branches different and our stories similar? And what lovely, larger life becomes ours when we listen to one another?" In this collection we find so much that is similar throughout the world. The poets write about feelings and emotions that are common to mankind. In the same breath the reader also finds out about other traditions, living conditions, and other countries. This collection has entries from sixty-eight different countries and almost twice as many poets. Each person/child reading this anthology will find a poem that speaks to him/her and then realize that the author may be halfway round the world. The concept of world peace has definitely been made more possible by the words gathered here. The end papers show some of the envelopes that actually arrived with submissions for this book. The list of authors in the back with capsulized biographical information brings the writers and the readers closer together. The index to the countries represented and the map with a star for each poet brings the internationality even closer for the reader.
In this collection, I was most touched by the poem "Grandmother" and felt the universal feeling of tenderness, love and loss. Upon checking on the author, I found that Sameeneh Shirazie lives in Karachi, Pakistan. I also learned a little about her and her family. This simple thing made me feel so much closer to her as we have had the same emotions. Such an immediate feeling of kindredship with an author is something I have never experienced before. I firmly believe that any reader who takes a moment to find out about their 'favorite' poem would have the same reaction. This section is such a simple concept that brings all of us a little closer.
Many of the poems in this anthology could be used in the classroom to stimulate students to write a poem of their own or a letter to the author. A different poem for each day can be drawn out to join with so many books and stories used in our classrooms. There are poems to be read aloud or just felt. I think I would most like to see students travel the world through these poems and help them continue their search to find others to share from even more countries. Posters that put poetry with geography could become a display throughout a school. A major project could even be a world quilt with poems being chosen for each square and each square representing a different country. The world becomes more familiar to each of us as we taste each selection and experience a familiar flavor.
Assignment 4 - Read one other International children's or YA book of your choice
Norac, Carl. 1998. I Love You So Much. Illus. by Claude K. DuBois. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. ISBN: 0-385-32512-6.
While originally published in France in 1996, the first American publication was in 1968. This story revolves around Lola, a hamster, who is trying to express something special. Each time she tries to say that something special she runs into problems which are a combination of realistic and humorous. Finally she puffs and up and the words spill out to her parents. The illustrations in the book compliment the story at all times. In fact, without the illustrations and the dust jacket introduction, I would never have known that the main character was a hamster. In fact, the only time an animal is mentioned is when another student at her school flies by too fast to hear her special words and he is called a rat. It is extremely possible that the text itself is about a child and the concept of the hamster was brought about by the illustrator. That's something the children could discuss and no one would be right or wrong but a discussion could be lively. The children might even decide that another animal might be a better choice, in which case they could do their own illustrations as a project. The illustrations do attract the reader. This book can be used as a read-aloud in class. It is also a great book for parents and children to read together. The colored illustrations look like acrylic paint and help to attract the reader both on the cover and on each page. As usual, the use of animals provides a special universal approach found in so many children's books.