Tuesday, June 30, 2015

by Chris Van Allsburg

OH-Chris Van Allsburg!  What an incredible storyteller!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to teach a mini-Author Unit of Study featuring just Chris Van Allsburg books to study and focus on his unique style of writing? Jumanji, The Sweetest Fig, The Stranger, The Widow’s Broom, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick..to name just a few. Wow! It would be so interesting to see how that focused study would influence student writing! 

PROBUDITI! is yet another example of Van Allsburg’s incredible storytelling abilities—and his ability to use subtle twists and turns throughout the story. He adds  a fun ‘zinger’ at the end of the story—making it all the more enjoyable.

PROBUDITI! does not disappoint!

Book Talk
The story opens with our main character, Calvin, playing a trick on his little sister,Trudy—and getting caught by his mother immediately.  It turns out that this particular day is Calvin’s birthday.  He apologies to Trudy under threat of not receiving his birthday present.

HIs birthday present turns out to be fantastic—two tickets to see Lomax the Magnificent!  Lomax is known to be a world-famous magician and hypnotist.  Calvin invites his best buddy from next door, Rodney, and off they go!

The Lomax show is amazing and the boys thoroughly enjoy themselves!  At the end of the show, Lomax hypnotizes an audience member and the boys laugh so hard at her antics when she is hypnotize.  All of a sudden, Lomax shouts “PROBUDITI!” and the woman immediately snaps of out her hypnotic state. Again, the two boys think it is absolutely hilarious!

A favorite line from this part of the story: “‘How’d he do that?’ Rodney whispered. Calvin shook his head in amazement as he and his friend sat in the darkened theater, watching Lomax slide a burning candle in one ear and pull it out the other. Then the magician invited a woman from the audience onto the stage.”

Back at Calvin’s house, the two boys try making their own hypnotic contraption with an erector set—and of course, they try it out on Trudy.  As Trudy watches the spinning disc, Calvin announces that she will turn into—a dog!  Trudy immediately gets down on all fours, hangs out her tongue, pants and barks.

The boys are thrilled with their ‘success’ with Trudy and take her outside for more adventures with her.  But problems begin when she continually barks so loud and a neighbor complains. 

They try to remember the word that the Great Lomax used to snapthe lady out of her hypnotic state-“PROBUDITI—-but they could not remember it—they try every made up word close to it—but not “PROBUDITI”.  Trudy continues to act like a dog.  The boys decide to try to find the Great Lomax and see if he can bring Trudy ‘back’.   However, they just miss his limousine and sit down with a chocolate chip ice cream cone to debate what to do next. However, Trudy, as a dog, quickly laps up the ice cream!

Now the boys have to come up with their own idea to get Trudy out of the hypnotic state.  They do. They throw water on Trudy as she sleeps and of course, she wakes up and starts crying.  Mother arrives home at that moment, and Calvin is sent to his room on his birthday with no spaghetti birthday dinner or birthday cake.

Trudy finally brings him a peanut butter sandwich. He laughingly tells her about hypnotizing her and how she spent the afternoon acting like a dog.  She isn’t convinced, but he tells her she doesn’t remember because she was hypnotized.  She pauses, tells him that the spaghetti and birthday cake were delicious—-and so was the chocolate chip ice cream!

Another favorite line—great ending! “‘The spaghetti was good,’ Trudy told Calvin. ‘So was the cake.’ Calvin grunted. ‘Know what else I liked?’ Trudy asked. ‘That ice cream this afternoon. Chocolate chip’s my favorite.’ “

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Realistic Fiction
Reading Workshop strategies: Connecting, Predicting, Inferring, Synthesizing, Analyzing, Critiquing
Writing Workshop Genre and strategies: Personal Narrative, Strong Lead, Strong endings, elaboration, subtle twists

Chris Van Allsburg website: http://hmhbooks.com/chrisvanallsburg/

Monday, June 29, 2015

Night in the Country 
by Cynthia Rylant
Illustrations by Mary Szilagyi

I have always been in awe of Cynthia Rylant’s writing—and—her ability to write. If you have read about her writing process—she often states that when she is ready to write a book, she simply sits down and writes it out.  That’s it.  Rarely any rewrites or revisions!  

I mean—who does that!!!!!???? 

A brilliant, talented and gifted author—that’s who!

As simple as the text is in Night in the Country, Rylant’s use of words is powerful (as always!).  This would be a great mentor to use with upper elementary students to demonstrate sentence fluency and variety, elaboration and language that could foster visualization.

Book Talk 
From the beginning of this story, readers get a sense of a storyteller describing to them what night is like in the country… peaceful, quiet, yet very busy in its own way.

A favorite line is the opening:
“There is no night so dark, so black as a night in the country. In little houses people lie sleeping and dreaming about daytime things, while outside—in the field, and by the rivers, and deep in the trees—there is only night and nighttime things.”

Rylant, as storyteller, continues to gently, quietly weave her lyrical description of  the night: owls swooping, frogs singing, apples falling to the ground, rabbits munching, raccoons and cows cuddling their babies.

All of this happens while we sleep—unless one happens to not be able to sleep! Then you can hear the sounds quietly happening all around outside as well as in the house:

Another favorite line:
“And all around you on a night in the country are the groans and thumps and squeaks that houses make when they are trying, like you, to sleep.”

The storyteller ends the tale with a bird announcing the upcoming dawn, the nighttime animals growing quiet and getting ready to observe and listen to us as we all wake up.

Suggested Use as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Realistic Fiction
Reading Workshop strategies: Connecting, Visualizing, Maintaining Fluency
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Narrative Writing, Strong Lead, Elaboration, Sentence Variety / Fluency

Cynthia Rylant’s webpage: http://www.cynthiarylant.com/

Friday, June 26, 2015

by Margaret Wild 
Pictures by Ron Brooks

This picture book as a mentor text  is definitely for older students-maybe 4th grade—definitely 5th and 6th graders.  The depth of different themes for discussion that can be derived from this story are many... and at a mature level. 

Fascinating illustrations—students and teachers should look carefully at them from the beginning of the book to help understand the story.  Text is interestedly hand written—almost childlike--adding to the fascinating story.

Awards: Fox has won multiple awards in Australia, where the author and illustrator are from.

Book Talk
The story opens with the illustrations showing Dog running with Magpie in his mouth and a fire raging in the background.  The readers also get a hint of Fox in the background, as well. 

Dog rescues Magpie from the fire, but we quickly learn that Magpie has an injured wing and can no longer fly.  Magpie is deeply saddened and angry about it.

Dog—who is blind in one eye—is generous and kind with a beautiful positive attitude about life. He gently takes care of Magpie, nursing her back to health. He then has an idea and encourages Magpie to hop on his back. His idea?  As he runs, she would be able to feel like she is flying!!  Magpie is resistant at first, but finally gives it a try.

Both Dog and Magpie are thrilled and thoroughly enjoy the partnership and friendship that develops between them. He runs and she feels like she is flying. She verbalizes what she sees so that the Dog could also ‘see’.  This activity continued over a several seasons and the friendship and loyalty between the two deepens.

A favorite line: “Dog runs so swiftly, it is almost as if he were flying. Magpie feels the wind streaming through her feathers and she rejoices. ‘Fly, Dog, Fly! I will be your missing eye, and you will be my wings!’ “

Then, in the springtime Fox formally enters the story. Dog, with his generous and hospitable spirit, invites Fox to stay with he and Magpie, but Magpie does not trust Fox and is reluctant to accept Fox as part of their ‘family’. Magpie knows that Fox watches her all the time. This, of course, makes Magpie extremely uncomfortable. Magpie mentions this to Dog, but Dog encourages her to be accepting of Fox.

Fox, then begins to try to entice Magpie to go with him.  He says that he can run faster than Dog and she will really feel like she is flying.  Magpie stays loyal to Dog and tries to ignore Fox, but she finally gives in and leaves with Fox while Dog is sleeping.

Indeed, Fox runs like the wind-much faster than Dog and Magpie loves the feel of flying that she gets from being on his back!  Magpie thinks she is happier than she has been in a long time!

Suddenly, deep in the middle of a desolate desert, Fox stops and shakes Maggie off his back. She falls. Fox abruptly turns and trots away-leaving her alone with a rude comment.  The heat is scorching and she is not sure that she can survive.

But then she thinks of Dog, who will be soon waking up without her. She is filled with devotion and loyalty (and guilt for leaving?) for Dog. This inspires her and she starts hobbling home to him.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre:  Animal Fantasy
Reading Workshop strategies: Predicting, Inferring, Synthesizing, Critiquing
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Narrative, Elaboration,strong ending
Curricular Themes: Character Ed discussions on friendship,  love and belonging, temptation, risk and betrayal.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

by Donald Crews

This story is autobiographical for Crews and a brilliant mentor text for memoir. It could also be a great mentor for small moment writing or personal narrative.

I love this book for the sense of carefree, unsupervised play that the characters experience-especially at the beginning of the book.

Donald Crews dedicated Shortcut to six people (on a first name basis)  with the last line in the dedication  being “All’s well that ends well”. Since there are seven characters illustrated, I can only guess the six named in the dedication are Crews’ family and friends in the story.

Book Talk
Seven kids are heading home after a day’s play.  They have apparently lost track of time, as it is getting late and they know they are expected at home soon.

A favorite line from this part of the book:
“We should have taken the road.
 But it was late, and it was
   getting dark, so we
     started down the track.”

They know they shouldn’t take the ‘shortcut’ down the railroad track, because it can be dangerous if a freight train unexpectedly appears.  The railroad is on a steep mound, with briers, water and possibly snakes down below it.  

The darkening sky adds urgency to their quest to get home quickly, so the seven decide to take the shortcut—walking along the railroad. This brave decision to take the railroad adds a playful attitude to the scene as the children laugh, shout and sing as they walk along.

Another favorite line:
“We laughed. We shouted. We sang.
   We tussled. We threw stones.
      We passed the cut-off that
         led back to the road.”

Suddenly, they do hear a train and their dilemma deepens—should they run ahead to the path home—-or back to the cut-off?  Should they jump down from the railroad mound into the brier patch?

They decide to run back to the cut-off—-but are forced to jump off the tracks when the train catches up with them.  The train passes them. They are so close that they feel the tremendous force and noise. Crews beautifully illustrates the train passing with all its strength.  Finally i the train passes and heads on. The children are still scared, but are all fine.

To head home this time, they take the cut-off to the road, like they should have in the first place.
They arrive home safe and sound and no one tells the grown-ups or talks about the experience for a long, long time.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Memoir
Reading Workshop Strategies:  Connecting, Predicting, Inferring
Writing Workshop Genres: Memoir, Personal Narrative, Small Moment
Curricular Themes: We Need Diverse Books

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sitti’s Secret
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Awards: School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, ALA Notable Children’s Book, Jane Addams Children’s Book Award

A sweet story of a lovely relationship that develops when an Arab American girl goes to Palestine to meet her grandmother for the first time.

In the ‘author’s blurb’ in the back of the book, author Naomi Shihab Nye states: 
“If Grandmas ran the world, I don’t think we’d have any wars.”

I love that statement! And I think I could whole-heartedly agree!

Book Talk
Mona is our narrator and begins the story by explaining in wonderful childlike understandings that her grandmother lives on the other side of the earth. When it is night at Mona’s house, it is day at her grandmother’s house in Palestine. Mona tells readers that there are many miles, much water, many presidents and a million trees between them.

Mona describes the first time that she went to Palestine to meet her grandmother. She called her grandmother, Sitti, which means Grandmother in Arabic—the language that Sitti speaks, but not the language that Mona speaks.  Sitti calls Mona Habibi.

A favorite line from this part of the story:
“She called me habibi, which means ‘darling’. Her voice danced as high as the whistles of birds. Her voice giggled and whooshed like wind going around corners. She had a thousand rivers in her voice.”

Even though Sitti and Mona cannot speak each other’s language, they  quickly develop a language of their own that they both understand. They use hums, claps, winks, whistles and  clicks.  They take walks, do errands and communicate as happily as can be in their new invented language.

Sitti and her Habibi soon developed a warm, loving and close relationship. Sitti brings Mona into her life by teaching her the traditional ways of making lemonade from fresh lemons from her lemon tree and flat bread from a 100 year old recipe, picking bunches of mint, hair combing and well water gathering.

Soon, however, it is time for Mona to return to the US.  The goodbyes are tender and tearful, but the memories and understanding of Sitti’s world are deep and long lasting.

Back home in the US, Mona becomes alarmed with news reports on developments in the Middle East. She writes to the US President all about her wonderful, simple and loving Grandmother in Palestine and lets the President know that she and her Sitti want peace.

Mona ends her story like she begins: describing for the readers how she and Sitti live in different parts of the world. She is getting up and out of bed at the end of the story. But she knows that Sitti will be going to bed soon. And when her Sitti sleeps, she will dream of Mona.     

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction
Reading Workshop strategies: Connecting, Inferring, Visualizing, Inferring
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Personal Narrative, Strong Lead,
Curricular Themes: Diversity/ We Need Diverse Books

Info about Naomi Shihab Nye: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naomi_Shihab_Nye

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Treasure   
by Uri Shulevitz

Awards: Caldecott Honor

A wonderful, enchanting folktale that actually reminds me of a much simpler version of The Alchemist.

Book Talk
Isaac is a poor man who lives quietly in a small village.  He often has no food, but does not complain and lives a simple, yet good life.

One night he had a dream that a voice told him to go to the Royal Palace in the capital city, look under the bridge and he would find a treasure.  Because the dream was so unlikely, Isaac ignored it.

He then dreamt the same dream again.  And again, he ignored it.  What a preposterous dream!

Yet when he dreamt the identical dream the third time, he thought he should pay attention to it and follow its advice.

So he set out for the long journey on foot to the capital city.  The author simplifies the story at this point by putting one sentence on each page, but the enchanting illustrations highlight the text on the page adding unwritten details to the story.

Finally, Isaac arrives in the capital city and he makes his way to the Royal Palace and the bridge, He is eager to look for the treasure after his long journey, but a new problem arises. The bridge is guarded at all times by the Royal Guards.  It would be awkward for him to look for a treasure.

Still he stays there for many days. Finally the captain of the guards asks Isaac what he is doing there everyday. Isaac humbly explains his dream. The captain laughed and gave this explanation for his laughter:

(My favorite line:)
“You poor fellow,” he said, “what a pity you wore your shoes out for a dream! Listen, if I believed a dream I once had, I would go right now to the city you came from, and I’d look for a treasure under the stove in the house of a fellow named Isaac.”

Isaac simply bowed and started the long journey home.  On arrival back at his small hut, he immediately began to dig under his stove and indeed, in no time, he uncovered an incredible treasure!

He built a prayer room in thanksgiving, sent the guard captain a large ruby, lived the rest of his life in contentment and he was never hungry again.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Folktale/Fairytale
Reading Workshop strategies: Predicting, Visualizing, Inferring, Summarizing
Writing Workshop genre/ strategies: Folktale, Subtle twist, Strong ending 

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Gardener   
by Sarah Stewart
Illustrated by David Small

Awards:  Caldecott Honor and The Christopher Award

My husband is an educator, but in his heart and soul, he is a gardener.  He has had an after school gardening club called “The Green Hornets”  for several years. The ISG Jubail Green Hornets have turned our campus grounds-which are situated in Jubail, Saudi Arabia (in the great Arabian desert) into a beautiful, lush, landscaped area.

He often talks to our faculty that kids today need ‘less screen-time and more dirt-time’.  Together, our mantra is that a maker-space is not just about 3-D printers.  Especially in the 21st century, where an awareness in sustainability is growing, getting kids involved with developing and growing a school garden is a must and should be the #1 maker-space in the school (in our humble opinion).  He truly believes in 'garden-based learning' and does what he can to share the magic of gardening. 

This review is dedicated to my husband and the Jubail Green Hornets.

Book Talk
This story takes place in 1935, during the Great Depression and is told through letters that the protagonist, Lydia Grace, writes to her family.  The fantastic illustrations that depict the Depression-era struggles, also add depth and details to the events mentioned in Lydia Grace's letters.

When the story opens, Lydia Grace is living in a rural community with her parents and Grandmother.  Her father and mother have been out of work for some time.  It is getting difficult for the family to afford rearing Lydia.  Despite the hardships that the Depression brings, Lydia and her Grandmother share a love of gardening and grow a prolific garden full of fresh vegetables and flowers.

The family decides that it would be best to send Lydia Grace to the city to live with Uncle Jim, who has a bakery. She is to assist him in the bakery.  As the family helps her pack, Grandma gives her seed packets to plant when she gets to the city.

Lydia Grace is strong and good natured and has a contagious, positive attitude.  Uncle Jim is a bit of a grump and never smiles. Lydia makes it her goal to get Uncle Jim to smile.  Through her year with him, she learns a lot about baking from him and Ed and Emma, the other workers in the bakery.  She also turns the bakery area into a beautiful floral display by planting flowers in the flower boxes and around the shop. This seems to attract more customers and Uncle Jim almost smiles.

A sample of this story told through letters:
“May 27, 1936
Dear Mama, Papa and Grandma,
You should have heard Emma laugh today when I opened your letter and dirt fell out on the sidewalk! Thank you for all the baby plants. They survived the trip in the big envelope. More about Emma: She’s helping me with the secret place, Hurrah!
Love to all,
Lydia Grace
P.S. I saw Uncle Jim almost smile today. The store was full (well, almost full) of customers.

Her letters to her family communicate how she is doing with her schooling and baking, but are mostly centered around how and where she has grown something new and her enthusiasm for the beauty that her gardening bring.

One day, she discovers the very top of the large apartment building that they live and work in. It is a mess with trash, but Lydia sees its potential as a roof-top garden area.  Together with Emma, they secretly work for several months to develop the roof-top garden. 

By the 4th of July, the roof-top garden is in full, glorious bloom, so the three take Uncle Jim there to surprise him and to celebrate the holiday together.  Uncle Jim nearly smiles.

The last letter in the story informs the reader that Lydia’s father has gotten a job and  Lydia is heading home. Lydia is thrilled although she has grown close to Uncle Jim (despite his grumpiness) and Ed and Emma.   As a celebration of the good news and their time together, Uncle Jim makes a scrumptious cake that they all eat together on the roof top surrounded by the beautiful garden. 

In her last line in her last letter, Lydia has a special note to her Grandma, telling her that Lydia is looking forward to helping Grandma in her garden again. As Lydia writes, “We gardeners never retire.”

The last page has no letter, but a tender illustration of Uncle Jim and Ed and Emma bidding Lydia Grace a tearful and loving goodbye at the train station. 

Suggested Use as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Historical Fiction
Reading Workshop strategies: Connecting, Inferring, Fluency, Summarizing
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Personal narrative (thru letters), Strong Female
Curricular Themes: US History (Great Depression), Science—growing gardens

David Small/Sarah Stewart’s website: http://www.davidsmallbooks.com/

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Dad, Jackie and Me 
By Myron Uhlberg
Illustrated by  Colin Bootman

Awards: Many!  2006 ALA Schneider Family Book Award, 2007 IBBY Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities, 2006 Storytelling World Award, 2006 IRA TEachers’ Choice, 2006 NCTE Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts

Well, that says it all!  This book is a winner!

This is a tender story about a boy, who has normal hearing, and his deaf father.  They follow the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers—the first year that Jackie Robinson played on the team.

The book emphasizes the strength that develops in an individual to overcome prejudice—not only Jackie Robinson, because of the color of his skin, but the father, because he is deaf.  

Book Talk
It’s the beginning of the 1947 baseball season and our narrator is very excited!  He lives in Brooklyn and is a huge fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers (like everyone else in the neighborhood).The Dodgers have just signed Jackie Robinson and the fans are thrilled with the talent he brings to the team. 

The boy’s father comes home one afternoon from work with tickets to a game. The boy’s father is deaf and using sign language explains to the boy that he wants to meet Jackie Robinson! The boy is surprised because up until now, the father has shown little interest in baseball.

They go to the game and watch as the opposing team is cruel and prejudice towards Jackie.  When Jackie makes a great play, the Dodger fans go wild chanting Jackie’s name: “Jack-ie, Jack-ie”.  The boy’s father tries to join in, but makes grunting noises instead which attracts some strange looks and embarrasses the boy.

The summer continues and the father and son follow the team by starting a big scrapbook and going to as many games as they can. They thoroughly enjoy supporting Jackie, not only because of his spectacular athletic ability and contributions to the team, but because of the special connection the father begins to feel with Jackie.  The father has also faced discrimination in his life because of his hearing disability.  

Throughout the summer, when the crowd chants “Jack-ie, Jack-ie”, the boy’s father chants as loudly as he can, “AH-GHEE, AH-GEE”.  The boy wonders if Jackie can hear his father.

By the end of the season, the Dodgers had the pennant wrapped up, but the boy and his father still go to the last game.  Jackie makes an amazing catch for the last out of the game and the crowd cheers wildly…including the boy’s father with his “AH-GEE, AH-GEE” chant.  After he makes the last out, Jackie stops for a moment, then looking directly at the father, tosses the game winning ball directly to him. The boy’s father, who had never caught a ball before, easily catches the toss from Jackie Robinson, solidifying their kinship as individuals who have been discriminated against.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Memoir, Historical Fiction
Reading Workshop strategies: Connecting, Inferring, Analyzing
Writing Workshop genres /strategies: Memoir, Narrative Writing, Elaboration, Strong endings
Curricular Themes: Civil Rights issues/US history, We Need Diverse Books

Monday, June 8, 2015

Animals Nobody Loves  
By Seymour Simon

Time for another non-fiction mentor text review!

I love the photos and the no-nonsense, factual yet intriguing information that Seymour Simon gives readers on these fascinating, but unloved animals. It makes me wonder—Are these animals considered ‘unloved’ because of their looks or their actions—or both?

Book Talk
Seymour Simon—the king of informational books—has done it again with an engaging, close-up photos and intriguing text featuring twenty animals that are not considered your typical ‘warm fuzzy’ animals.

He teaches readers about the unusual habits and adaptations of these animals (to name of few): shark, bat, hyena, piranha, rat, cockroach, and rattlesnake. 

Simon’s goal with the book is to give readers enough information about these fascinating, yet unloved creatures, to hopefully change readers minds so that at least they will understand why the animals behave and look the way they do.

A sample of Simon’s informational writing:
“Cockroaches are insects that have lived on the Earth for more the 200 million years-far longer than human.  Like rats, cockroaches are found all over the world except in the coldest places.”
Wow- lots of good information in just a few sentences.

Kids will love this book!

Suggested Uses at a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Informational
Reading Workshops strategies:  Search for and Use Information, Connecting, Questioning
Writing Workshop genre: Informational Writing
Curricular Themes:  Science-Animal Adaptations

Seymour Simon’s website: http://www.seymoursimon.com/

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Other Side  
 by Jacqueline Woodson
 Illustrations by E.B. Lewis

I love Jacqueline Woodson’s vernacular and storytelling voice.  I would love the opportunity to someday see her in person and hear her read her stories aloud.

Please see my reflections and thoughts on when I read The Other Side to my 5th grade Library classes under the “What I know for Sure” tab of this blog. http://goo.gl/ewTjSH

Book Talk
The protagonist, Clover, narrates this poignant, meaningful story of a black girl, a white girl, a friendship and a fence.

The fence. The fence stretches through the town and symbolizes the separation of the white people and the black people. Clover’s mother has warned her not to go on the other side of the fence because it is not safe. But this particular summer, a white family has moved into a house on the other side of the fence near Clover’s house. There is a young girl in the white family who is about Clover’s age.

A favorite line from this part of the story: “That summer everyone and everything on the other side of that fence seemed far away. When I asked my mama why, she said, “Because that’s the way things have always been.”

Clover sees the white girl playing outside. Every day. As the neighbor girl plays, she gets closer to the fence until she is sitting on top of it.  Clover watches, waits and thinks about the neighbor girl everyday.

Another favorite line from this part of the story, “Someplace in the middle of the summer, the rain stopped.”

One day the girl was on the fence and asked Clover and her friends if she could join them in  jumping rope. One of Clover’s friends answered ‘no’ before Clover has a chance to consider it. This seemed to bother Clover.

Eventually, the two girls talk and introduce themselves. Clover holds back a little from talking, but the neighbor named Annie is friendly.  They both admit that their mothers have told them not to go to the other side. But then Annie suggests that they sit on the fence because “she never said nothing about sitting on it.”  Clover thinks that is a great idea.

The girls do sit on the fence and their friendship blossoms.  They ignore Clover’s friends who initially stare at them and they spend hours together during the rest of the summer ‘watching the whole wide world around them’ and symbolically lowering the height of the fence.

Mama notices the girls' friendship building and Clover waits to be told to stop sitting on the fence. But Mama doesn’t ask her to do that.  Instead Mama acknowledges the new friendship with a smile and Clover is pleased with her quiet approval.

One day Clover and Annie ask Clover’s friends if they can jump rope. They hear the answer, “I don’t care”, which they take as more or less a ‘yes’. The two girls join in the fun. And they do have fun--all of them together- black and white. Afterwards all six of the girls sit on the fence together and declare that someday the fence will be torn down.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Reading Workshop strategies: predicting, connecting, inferring, critiquing
Writing Workshop genres & strategies: Personal narrative, memoir, Good Endings
Curricular Themes: US History/ Civil Rights issues; We Need Diverse Books

Jacqueline Woodson’s website:  http://www.jacquelinewoodson.com/

Monday, June 1, 2015

Crow Call 
by Lois Lowry
Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

In her first picture book,Newbery award winning author, Lois Lowry, writes a tender personal narrative of a special morning for a daughter and father after the father returns from the war.  She delicately reveals their developing, warm relationship as they become reacquainted.

This story is based on Lowry’s own experience with her father. You can tell.  The writing is so intimate.  This is a superb mentor text for personal narrative, character development, and elaboration.

Book Talk
Liz gets out of bed early in the morning. She has special plans to go out to the fields with her father.  Her father has just returned from the war.  She has grown a lot since he has last seen her and she is shy and timid to show him who she has become.

A favorite line from this part of the story: "I practice his name to myself, whispering it under by breath. Daddy. Daddy. Saying it feels new. The war has lasted so long. He has been gone so long. Finally  I look over at him timidly and speak aloud.”

Liz does start talking to her father and reveals to him that she has never gone hunting before.  He acknowledges this and tells her that he has a special job for her: the crow caller.  He tells her what a special job it is and only talented people can do it.  He also tells her that  “having that shirt will help.”  Dad is referring to a large flannel shirt that Liz is wearing.

Lowry’s writing flashes back to when Liz is younger, before the war. Liz and Dad go into the local department store and they buy Liz a men’s flannel hunting shirt.  

Lowry then brings readers back to the present, Liz (wearing the flannel shirt) and Dad stop for breakfast and order cherry pie. They then set out to the hills to hunt for crow.  Their conversation gets easier for Liz.  Dad always has a tender and just right answer for her. They discuss the crows and how they are eating and ruining the crops. Even though Liz understands that the crows are a nuisance, she is uncomfortable with hunting them and shooting them, which is Dad's purpose for going to the hills.

Liz finds the nerve to ask Daddy about the war. His answers are simple and honest and satisfy her curiosity. They practice calling for crows.  Then they get silly together trying to call other animals: tigers, bears and giraffes.  Dad’s imitation of a giraffe noise is hilarious and they two share a big laugh.

They walk farther into the hills and Liz finally calls the crows.  They all come.  Liz has fun calling the birds and seemingly talking back and forth with them, yet realizes this is what will make it easy for Dad to shoot them.

But he doesn’t shoot them.  She understands that the crows will always ruin the crops and some other hunter may shoot them, but today it is not her Dad.  She is happy and satisfied with the special morning.

Another favorite line from the end of the story: “I blow the crow call once more, to say good morning and good-bye and everything that goes in between. Then I put it into the pocket of my shirt and reach over, out of my enormous cuff, and take my father’s hand.”

The very last page shows a photo of Lowry as a girl wearing the large men's flannel hunting shirt.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Realistic Fiction/ personal narrative
Reading Workshop strategies: Connecting, Inferring, Synthesizing, Character Development
Writing Workshop genre/ strategies: Personal narrative, Elaboration, Character Development, Strong Ending