Bradley, K. B. (2011). Jefferson’s sons: A founding father’s secret children. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780803734999
Annotation: It’s an open secret at Monticello that Beverly, Maddy, Harriet and Eston are Master Thomas Jefferson’s children by his slave Sally. How does this family deal with knowing their father is a great, influential man who owns them?
Reaction: Bradley tells her story over the course of 22 years through three slaves owned by Thomas Jefferson, using the 3rd person limited point of view. By switching narrators, she is able to cover the full history of her chosen time period while keeping the narrator a child. The first narrator shift was a little jarring for me, as I was really invested in Beverly’s story and wanted to continue with him, but by the second shift, it was expected and smooth reading. I enjoyed how she was able to show the reader how each previous narrator grew and matured through the eyes of the new narrator.
This book was a really fascinating look at a man who is generally idolized by the American History. While the story centers on the slaves who narrate the story, two of whom were Jefferson’s illegitimate children, their feelings about “Master Jefferson” color the narrative and give the reader a different perspective of the man. By the end, I found myself having a hard time reconciling the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and was an integral part of creating this country with the man who not only owned slaves, but had children with one of them and ran up ridiculous amounts of debt. Whenever I start feeling bad about my school loans again, I’ll console myself with the knowledge that at least I owe less than Thomas Jefferson did.
I would use this book as part of a 4th or 5th grade history unit to provide students with a different perspective than a typical history book has. I think an important part of history is to teach children about the good and the bad, giving them a rounded view of the world. I would even recommend this for adults, as I feel I learned a lot from reading this book. It has challenged my thinking about Thomas Jefferson, which I always think is the mark of a successful book. Bradley pushes her readers towards new ideas and forces us to rethink what we were taught.
Petersen, D. (2008). Mouse Guard: Fall 1152. New York: Villard. ISBN: 9781932386578
Annotation: The communities of mice rely on the Mouse Guard to protect their homes and ensure their survival. In the Fall of 1152, the Guard uncovers a treasonous plot to set up one mouse as dictator over all mice citizens, and only the Guard can keep this from happening.
Reaction: This book is a really quick read and a great story. The blurb on the front cover says it “reads like a mix of Lord of the Rings and Stuart Little, which is a pretty good description of it, though none of the mice get into the kind of hijinks that Stuart does, and it’s not as fantastic as LOTR. This book could be an actual historical account of these events if the characters were people instead of mice, and I really like that Petersen didn’t add a bunch of extra stuff like magic and other fantasy elements. A Goodreads review likened Mouse Guard to Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM, which is an ideal comparison, as they both have similar tones and deal with small critters struggling to survive in a harsh world.
I also really like how serious it is. Petersen might have included one or two jokes in the book, though I can’t remember them, and I think that was really well done. It would have been really easy for him to make this story silly and goofy, but he gives it gravity and weight. The mice of the Guard all take their duties seriously and are committed to protecting the mouse way of life.
I loved the way Petersen sets up his mouse society and creates such a well thought out world. His art is richly detailed, and I enjoyed how fierce and brave his characters are. He is able to convey a lot of expression through really small changes of the faces. The predators the mice face are almost photo realistic, which sets them a little apart from the mice whose anthropomorphization slides them farther away from reality.
I would recommend this book for readers who enjoy talking animal stories, such as the Redwall series by Brian Jacques and Mrs. Frisby, but it would also be good for kids who enjoy stories about war, fighting and protecting one’s home.
Media Used: Ink and digital color
Winter, J. (2011). The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s life with the chimps. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books. ISBN: 9780375867743
Annotation: Even as a child, Jane Goodall was a watcher. She wanted to learn things no one ever had, and she set off for Africa to live with the chimpanzees and learn everything she could about them.
Reaction: The illustrations are simple and a little cartoony, which isn’t a bad thing, and the colors used are lovely. Winter uses a lot of teals, blues and greens, giving the art a warm and peaceful feeling, like looking at pictures of tropical paradises. All the scenes of just Goodall with the chimps allow the reader to sort of feel what it might be like to be in her position: no other people around, no modern comforts, but not lonely and enjoying the wilderness.
This book could be used in 4th or 5th grade as part of science unit on animals. Goodall is the premier knowledge on chimpanzees, and this could be read alongside a class learning about primates to introduce the students to the scientist behind what people know.
One of the things that I really enjoy about picture book biographies is the way they have introduced me to so many different historical figures that I had never heard of before or knew very little about. These books are a great opportunity to give kids (and adults!) a quick overview of someone awesome without having to devote a lot of time or effort to a more traditional, long biography. I feel like picture book biographies are an ideal way to interest readers, particularly reluctant readers, in learning more about historical figures and time periods. And since the books are generally so short, it’s easy to give kids book after book until they find something that really clicks with them.
Media Used: Acrylic paint and pen
Author’s Website: None
Moss, M., & Hendrix, J. (ill.) (2011). Nurse, soldier, spy: the story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War hero. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780810997356
Annotation: After finding a home in the United States, Frank Thompson was eager to join the Union Army. What the Army didn’t know was that Frank was really Sarah, who went on to become a valued soldier and did many jobs, including spying on the Confederates.
Reaction: Sarah Emma Edmonds has a fascinating story, and I find it pretty amazing how long she was able to masquerade as a man. She was strong and brave and demonstrated the kind of attitude and drive that we should teach all our children to have. I enjoyed how much of her spirit Moss and Hendrix were able to communicate. Moss describes the beginning of her adventures in the Union Army, which seems to just be the beginning of Edmonds’ exciting life. I think it would fascinating to read more about her and the other women who were involved in the Civil War as soldiers and spies.
The illustrations are bright, hopeful and exciting. And I LOVE the way he used hand-drawn typography from Civil War-era posters to accent the text. It breaks it up and adds some excitement to Moss’s writing.
This book could be used in a 5th grade Civil War unit. The author includes a lot of factual information at the back of the book, as well as a glossary of terms that might be unfamiliar, a bibliography and an index.
Media Used: Pen and ink with fluid acrylic washes on Strathmore Velum Bristol.
Lesser, C., & Rand, T. (ill.) (1997). Storm on the Desert. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company. ISBN: 9780152721985
Annotation: The Southwestern desert bakes in a summer sun as thirst inhabitants seek shelter. Suddenly, a storm rages, and in the aftermath, the desert is a changed place.
Reaction: I loved this book. Lesser’s poetry is lovely, but it’s Rand’s illustrations that bring to life a monsoon storm in the Sonoran desert. He perfectly captures what a storm is like: sudden, no visibility, flash floods, running for shelter, and the peaceful aftermath, being cleansed by the rain. His illustrations make me homesick for Tucson and the raging summer thunderstorms we endure there.
Lesser gives a shout out to the Desert Museum in Tucson in the acknowledgements, which warms my heart. I never went to the Desert Museum in the six years I lived in Tucson, thinking I would always have the opportunity some other time. Now that I don’t live there, I wish I gone back then.
This book could have a place as a part of a 5th or 6th grade poetry unit, to teach students about free form poetry. It also could be used as part of an ecology unit, to teach students about the desert and its unique inhabitants.
This book has examples of both simile & metaphor.
This book is in my Top Ten Favorites.
Media Used: Pencil, pastel, chalk, and watercolor on 100% rag stock.
Schotter, R., & Potter, G. (ill.) (2006). The boy who loved words. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books. ISBN: 978-0375836015
Annotation: Selig is a boy who loves words and collects his favorites on scraps of paper stuffed in his clothes, but he finds he loves them best when he shares them.
Reaction: As someone who loves words, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I would enjoy sharing it with fifth graders in order to foster their own love of words. Selig’s physical collection of words is glorious, and I love the idea of a kid just carrying around seemingly random scraps of paper covered in wonderful words.
The collaged words in the illustrations keep the reader looking out for new and fascinating words, and the illustrations recall the 1950’s era of American history.
The author provides a link to a Teacher’s Guide for the book that includes ideas for vocabulary projects, as well as connecting the book to social studies, art and music.
Parents’ Choice 2006 Gold Award Winner.
This book is on the 2011 Students’ List for “Books receiving votes for Top Ten Favorites from students in Summer 2011.”
Media Used: Pencil, ink, gouache, gesso, watercolor, and collage
Grade Level: 5th
Summary of Lesson: Study Selig’s favorite words for a spelling and definition quiz, write a story featuring class’s favorite words
Focus Question: What are your own favorite words and how can you use them?
Books/websites used: The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter
–>Read The Boy Who Loved Words
–>Individually, write out Selig’s favorite words & look up the definitions
–>As a class, create a list of students’ favorite words and their definitions
–>Individually, write a story featuring the class’s favorite words
–>At the end of the week, quiz students on the spelling and definitions of Selig’s words
–>Develop dictionary using skills
–>Creativity while working within specific parameters