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Karen's Book Reviews
Picture Books and Easy Readers
Evaluating Books
Picture Books and Easy Readers
Traditional Lit and Poetry
Nonfiction and Biography
Fiction - Historical and Fantasy
Fiction - Realistic
Patricia Polacco - Biography
Patricia Polacco - Bibliography
Patricia Polacco - Bio-Critical Analysis

September 13 - September 26, 2004

Sierra, Judy. Monster goose. Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2001. ISBN 0152020349.

This entertaining collection of poetry takes twenty-five familiar nursery rhymes and gives them a ghoulish twist. Readers will be delighted by the characters they meet such as "Old Monster Goose", who types the rhymes on her laptop computer. Additional characters include :Humpty Dumpty', who while sunbathing on the beach, uses SPF - 3 and ends up hard-boiled, and "Weird Mother Hubbard" who fetches her doggie a bone - the toe of Skeleton Joe! Judy Sierra puts on interesting slant on classic nursery rhymes. Younger children will enjoy some of the poems like "Pussycat, Pussycat" and "Slithery. Dithery Dock', while older students will appreciate the more mature humor in poems such as "Cannibal Horner" and "Jill and Jacques". Gay Lynn Van Vleck of the School Library Journal (September 2001) states, "Dark humor buffs or those who giggle at the gross will be roaring over Sierra's wonderfully crude and macabre take on twenty-five familiar nursery rhymes".

The illustrations by Jack E. Davis are done in acrylics and colored pencils on watercolor paper. The poetry is enhanced by the wonderfully descriptive illustrations. Matthew Penn of Library Talk (January/February 2002) writes, "Davis's giant, big-headed people, monsters, and animals make this volume a worthwhile purchase". The illustrations are detailed and readers get the full meaning of each rhyme by looking at the pictures.

Young readers will enjoy the humor in this collection of rhymes. It would be a great read-aloud for around Halloween and could inspire students to write some spooky rhymes of their own!

Adler, David A. Lou gehrig: the luckiest man. Harcourt Brace and Company, Orlando, 1997. ISBN 0152005234.

This wonderful Blubonnet Award winning story traces the life of Lou Gehrig - from his birth in 1903 to his death in 1941. Gehrig was a star baseball player with the New York Yankees from 1923 to 1939. He struggled with the terminal disease "amyotrophic lateral sclerosis", which affects the central nervous system. At the onset of this diesease, Lou had trouble hitting and fielding. He also had problems with balance and weakness. The beautifully illustrated book shares with the reader the accomplishments af Gehrig, while conveying his courage and bravery in the face of adversity. In Horn Book Magazine, Martha Parravano writes that the story, "...stresses Gehrig's character: his inherent modesty, his steadfastness, his optimism and courage in the face of a terminal disease". The text of the story is easy for readers to understand. It presents simple, accurate facts about Lou Gehrig in a bold and large typeface. The pages of the book are not overrun with text. The author's use of language in the story expresses the kind of person that Gehrig was - "an iron horse" who never gave up and always tried his best. It also conveys the emotion of baseball fans and the city of New York about their star player. "But Yankee fans wanted to do more. They wanted Lou to know how deeply they felt about him."

The book is large in size and laid out horizontally, like a time line. The front cover shows a smiling portrait of Gehrig, and the back cover shows his memorial. The endpapers of the book are done in Yankee blue!

The expressionistic illustrations are by Terry Widener. His medium was "golden acrylics on Strathmore Bristol board". The pictures are large and show exaggerated expressions of the characters to portray their feelings and emotions. Parravano writes, "The illustrations, too, are impressive; meticulously detailed ... they also pack an emotional wallop".

When enjoying the story, readers may notice several ways that the illlustrations accurately portray the text. For example, the first page starts with a 'bird's-eye view" of Lou Gehrig's neighboorhood in the Yorkville section of New York City, giving the reader an overview of the way he grew up. On the next two pages, when the story discusses how much he loved playing sports as a child, you notice that the pictures of him at school are smaller than the pictures of him playing sports. This expresses that he had a much larger interest in sports than academics.

Later on in the book when the author talks about how Lou was "shy and modest", you notice that the other character in the illustration - Babe Ruth - is shown smiling while you are not able to see the expression on Lou's face. This shows his shyness.

Readers will also see as they go through the story that the turning points in Gehrig's baseball career and life such as when he went into a "slump" or when he left the Yankees, are illustrated with pictures that take up almost the entire two page spread - conveying the size of the character's emotions.

The two-page illustration of Yankee Stadium after Lou's death - showing the rainy, gray, gloomy city and fans walking about with black umbrellas shows how sad the city felt about losing their star player. On the last page of the story, a single baseball is left in the rain on the field's green grass as a final tribute to Gehrig's outstanding baseball career.

Martin, Rafe. The rough-face girl. G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1992. ISBN 0399218599.

The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin shares with readers the Algonquin Indian version of the Cinderella story. The story is set by the shores of Lake Ontario, in a Native American village. The "prince" in this story is a great, rich, powerful, and handsome "Invisible Being", that can only be seen by his sister. The 'rough-face girl' is our Cinderella, whose cruel and hard-hearted sisters make her sit and tend the fire. The girl is hopelessly scarred and burnt with hair that "hung ragged and charred". The two older sisters dress up in their finery to try to win the hand of the Invisible Being, but after meeting with his sister and not being able to see him or answer her questions about him, they return home embarrassed and ashamed.

The rough-face girl decides to visit the Invisible Being, even though she does not own anything fancy to impress him with. His sister immediately sees that she has a kind heart and can answer all of her questions. She gives her the finest of robes and tells her to bathe in the waters of the lake, where her skin and hair are magically healed. The rough-face girl and the invisible Being are married, and live happily ever after.

Rafe Martin, the author, uses colorful language to retell this Algonquin Indian tale. Descriptions such as "they walked haughtily through the village" and "her voice was swift as lightning and strong as thunder!'" keep the reader interested. Susan Scheps, of the School Library Journal writes, "simply, in the words of an oral storyteller, Martin retells an Algonquin folktale".

The language used in this story make it a wonderful read-aloud.

The beautifully illustrated pictures convey the emotion and plot line of the story. David Shannon uses soft acrylic paints to articulate the mood and beauty of the tale. Scheps also writes " Shannon's finely crafted full- and double-page acrylic paintings in the rich hues of the earth embody the full flavor of the story".

The Rough-Face girl is a wonderful story to share with children grades three and up. Children will enjoy the magical elements of the story and hearing a different version of Cinderella. This is a good book to use with a lesson on comparing and contrasting cultures and their tales.

Mora, Pat. Tomas and the library lady. Ill. by: Raul Colon. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1997. ISBN 067904013.

Pat Mora shares the story of a little boy named Tomas. Based on her childhood days in the Texas desert, the story tells about Tomas and his family, who are migrant workers, and how they travel from one place to another to work the farms. Tomas and his family are from Texas, and are traveling to Iowa to pick fruits and vegetables for the farmers in the summer. The author uses descriptive language to describe the hot, weather and the long trip. Tomas has a favorite pastime; to listen to the stories that his Grandfather tells. His Grandfather encourges Tomas to go to the public library, where he can discover many more fascinating stories. Tomas is greeted by the friendly "library lady", who helps him find books and lets him read to her on quiet days. Tomas's imagination takes him to faraway and interesting places when he reads. Tomas even teaches the library lady some phrases in spanish in return for her kindness. Finally, it is time for Tomas to return home to Texas and he is very sad. But, the library lady gives him the best goodbye gift of all: his very own book! Tomas closes his eyes and his imagination soars and takes him to new heights as he enjoys his treasured book.

The illustrations by Raul Colon use muted colors and swirls to convey a feeling of peacefulness in the story. The toned down colors help to express the dusty and hot Iowa summer - the setting of the story. The illustrations are very realistic and take up the majority of the pages - making it easy for readers to look at and discover the fine details. The pictures are an beautiful enhancement of the text.

Barbara Elleman of the School Library Journal writes, "Colon's earthy sun-warmed colors, textured with swirling lines, add life to this biographical fragment and help portray Tomas's reading adventures in appealing ways".

Tomas and the Library Lady is a excellent addition to any library collection. It is an inspiring story of how a librarian can use their love of literature to motivate young people to read and enjoy books. It demonstrates to the reader how they can use literature to escape into another world.

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