Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper (c2010)

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“From the time I was really little–maybe just a few months old–words were like sweet, liquid gifts, and I drank them like lemonade. 

I could almost taste them. . . . Every word my parents spoke to me or about me I absorbed and kept and remembered.  All of them. . . . By the time I was two, all my memories had words, and all my words had meanings.

But only in my head.

I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old.”

Word-lover Melody Brooks has cerebral palsy.

She attends the local public school, and for the first time ever, she and her special needs classmates are being included in the regular classrooms. Sadly, Melody concludes that the students and even some of the teachers assume “that my brain is messed up like the rest of me.” (p.152)

When Melody gets a Medi-Talker (a combination computer, music player and speech device), she is able to talk for the first time using a computerized voice.   Even so, it’s difficult to get people to overlook her physical limitations and treat her like any other 5th-grader. Will Melody be allowed to compete in the national Whiz Kids competition?

Thank you, Sharon Draper, for helping us understand what it is like to live with cerebral palsy.   Thank you for teaching us how to respectfully relate to students with special needs.

Highly recommended for grades 5-8.

Awards/Lists:  Children’s Books of the Year 2011–Ages 9-12; Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts 2011; Teachers Choices 2011; Young Adult’s Choices 2011.

Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm (c2010)

It’s 1935, and times are tough. Turtle Curry’s mother takes work as a housekeeper where children aren’t allowed, so Turtle travels south to live with relatives she has never met in Key West, Florida.

In Turtle in Paradise, a spirited eleven-year-old girl lands is a close-knit “Conch” community filled with boy cousins, strange ways, hidden treasure and family secrets.  While Turtle bides her time until she can live in a beautiful home like a real family, she discovers that wherever you live with people that love you—well, that’s a real home.

Jennifer Holm, the author of this 2011 Newbery Honor book, masterfully weaves snappy dialogue, authentic period details (Shirley Temple, Necco Wafers, etc.), tantalizing foreshadowing, and down-home wisdom into this story inspired by her own Key West relatives. The characters are refreshingly imperfect.  However, just like Turtle—who has a tough shell but a soft underbelly—they pull together and love each other.

The author’s note shows period photos and fleshes out the historical setting. Jennifer Holm also earned Newbery Honors for her Our Only May Amelia and Penny from Heaven.

Awards/Lists:  Booklist Books for Middle Readers, 2010; Newbery Honor Books, 2011; Notable Children’s Books–Middle Readers

From the Christian Library Journal (November 2011); used with permission.

Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool (c2010)

Twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker is content riding the rails with her Daddy, but he sends her to Manifest, Kansas, to spend the summer of 1936 with folks from his youth. While there, she lives with the interim Baptist minister and spies around town with two new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne.

Abilene is puzzled about her father’s connection to the town, so she searches for mention of him in old newspaper clippings and stories told by Miss Sadie, the local fortune-teller.

Although the main story of Moon Over Manifest takes place in 1936, flashbacks to the years 1917-1918 touch on prohibition, WWI, immigration, orphan trains, Spanish influenza, the KKK, and the unfair treatment of coal mine workers.

The author, Clare Vanderpool, has created something akin to a Richard Peck novel with laugh-aloud humor, “down-home” sayings, memorable characters and tight-knit community relationships. On a deeper level she infuses the story with positive values such as good manners, hard work, patriotism, care for the homeless, neighborliness, family, etc.

If the book has a weakness, it would be that the author tries to accomplish too much in one book—too many sub-plots and mysteries, too many historical topics, too many morals to the story.  The frequent insertion of flashbacks, personal letters, and newspaper clippings makes the storyline choppy.

Although Abilene visits the local “medium, diviner, fortune-teller, spirit-conjurer” to get information about her Daddy, the Hungarian immigrant uses that persona as a ruse. In reality, she functions mainly as a natural healer and listening ear for folks in the community. There are several references to the Bible.

A complex yet enjoyable story that teaches a lot of history.

Awards/Lists:  Children’s Books of the Year 2011 (12-14); Newbery Medal Winner, 2011; Notable Children’s Books, 2011; Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 2011.

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, by Marshall B. Rosenberg (2nd ed.,c2003)

James 1:19-20 says, “My dear brothers, take note of this:  Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (NIV)

Nonviolent Communication is not written from a biblical perspective, but it does offer some keen insights into how listening, speaking, and anger can be intertwined.

Rosenberg explains why it is important for each person to take responsibility for their own feelings. He contends that “what others say and do may be the stimulus, but never the cause of our feelings.” (p.49) “Violence comes from the belief that other people cause our pain and therefore deserve punishment.” (p.147)

In order to be emotionally free, we must “take responsibility for our own intentions and actions” on the one hand while “we respond to the needs of others out of compassion, never out of fear, guilt, or shame.” (p.60)

Nonviolent communication “guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others.  Instead of being habitual, automatic reactions, our words become conscious responses based firmly on an awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, and wanting. We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathic attention. In any exchange, we come to hear our own deeper needs and those of others. . . .” (p.3)

The nonviolent communication process involves expressing 4 pieces of information and also receiving the same 4 pieces of information from others:

1. The concrete actions we are observing that are affecting our well-being

2. How we feel in relation to what we are observing

3. The needs, values, desires, etc., that are creating our feelings

4. The concrete actions we request in order to enrich our lives

As a woman, I relate to what Rosenberg says about expressing the needs behind my feelings :

For centuries, the image of the loving woman has been associated with sacrifice and the denial of her own needs to take care of others.  Because women are socialized to view the care taking of others as their highest duty, they have often learned to ignore their own needs.

At one workshop, we discussed what happens to women who internalize such beliefs.  These women, if they ask for what they want, will often do so in a way that both reflects and reinforces the beliefs that they have no genuine right to their needs, and that their needs are unimportant.  For example, because she is fearful of asking for what she needs, a woman may fail to simply say that she’s had a busy day, is feeling tired and wants some time in the evening to herself; instead, her words come out sounding like a legal case:  “You know I haven’t had a moment to myself all day, I ironed all the shirts, did the whole week’s laundry, took the dog to the vet, made dinner, packed the lunches, and called all the neighbors about the block meeting so [imploringly] . . . .so how about if you . . . ? “No!” comes the swift response.  Her plaintive request elicits resistance rather than compassion from her listeners. They have difficulty hearing and valuing the needs behind her pleas, and furthermore react negatively to her weak attempt to argue from a position of what she “should” or “deserves” to get from them. In the end the speaker is again persuaded that her needs don’t matter, not realizing they they were expressed in a way unlikely to draw a positive response.”

Rosenberg warns that “if we don’t value our needs, others may not either.”(p.56)

The author teaches how to  listen to someone with empathy rather than trying to fix a problem or make that person feel better.

Christians may not agree with everything in this book (such as the effects of corporal punishment), but Rosenberg does provide the reader with a helpful tool chest of communication skills for building healthier relationships and a happier life.

Peace, Locomotion, by Jacqueline Woodson

Twelve-year-old foster child Lonnie Collins Motion (a.k.a. Locomotion) writes letters to his younger sister, Lili, who lives in a separate foster home. He describes his life with his foster mother and her two older sons–Rodney and Jenkins–in their humble but loving home.

Jenkins is a soldier in the Iraq War and goes missing for a while before returning home as an amputee.  Lonnie asks Rodney what he should pray for, and Rodney replies, “Peace, man . . .  Pray for peace. . . .The way I see it . . . You pray for peace, all the rest of the stuff comes. . . . Peace covers everything, Little Brother. Everything.”

Lonnie writes to Lili, “From now on, I’m gonna be doing everyting about peace, Lili  I’m going to be praying for it and thinking about it and trying to make it a part of every single thing.”

And so Lonnie wrestles with the concept of war and the theme of peace is interwoven throughout the remainder of the story.

Jacqueline Woodson is a very gifted and highly-awarded author.

I am in awe of her writing ability.

This story is saturated with familiar sensory details, real-to-life characters, and down-to-earth wisdom.

Woodson packs in many mini-morals (e.g., the power of other people’s words over us or everyone’s right to their own tears) in such a natural way that the reader absorbs them without noticing.

The 5th-graders at Webster Christian School study personal narrative as part of the English curriculum.  This year they used autobiographies by Bill Peet, Alex Rodriguez, Betsy Byars, and Sid Fleischman. I’m wondering if fictional narratives would work because, if so, this would be an excellent choice because it is so well written and the protagonist is a 6th-grade boy.

This is the sequel to Locomotion (also a great book), but the reader does not need to have read the first book to understand and enjoy Peace, Locomotion.

Highly recommended for grades 5-8.

Lists/Awards:  Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2010

Children Make Terrible Pets, by Peter Brown

“When Lucy, a young bear, discovers a boy lost in the woods, she asks her mother if she can have him as a pet, only to find him impossible to train.” (Library of Congress)

The idea for this book brewed inside Peter Brown for a long time:

When I was a child, I once found a frog in the woods and brought it home to be my pet.   My mom was not happy. “Would you like it if a wild animal made YOU its pet?” she asked.  To which I replied, “Absolutely!” (dust jacket cover)

Children chose this humorous story as one the finalists for the Irma Black Award for 2011. Fans of Melanie Watt’s Chester and Scaredy Squirrel books will like this book.

The simple, large illustrations make this an excellent read-aloud.  Unfortunately, Lucy the Bear exclaims “OH! MY! GOSH!” when she discovers the little boy, and that is not something I am willing to read aloud.  Nor am I willing to add the book to the Webster Christian School collection for the same reason.

Awards/Lists:  New York Times Book Review:  Notable Books of the Year, 2010:  Best Children’s Illustrated

Black and White Rabbit’s ABC, by Alan Baker

“The story of a rabbit’s exhausting efforts to paint a picture presents the letters of the alphabet.” (Library of Congress)

The kindergarten class reads Black and White Rabbit’s ABC.   Next Mrs. Satta shows the students a wide selection of ABC books to consider when they browse for a book to borrow.

When the students are done selecting a book to take home with them, they gather in small groups to play Alphabet Lotto.

Katy No-Pocket, by Emmy Payne; pictures by H. A. Rey

“Desolate Katy Kangaroo has no pocket in which to carry her son Freddy, so she asks all the other animals how they carry their children and finally goes to the city to find a pocket of her own.” (Library of Congress)

The pre-K  library class discusses the concepts of fiction (made-up stories) and nonfiction (real information books).  Next we read Katy No-Pocket, a fiction book, and then browse picture-filled nonfiction books about kangaroos.

Rain Forests: Gardens of Green, by Laura Purdie Salas

Rainforest for children

Each year Mrs. Goodearle, the 3rd-grade teacher, and Mrs. Satta, the librarian collaborate to teach a unit on rainforests.

The students enjoy watching 3 videos in the classroom:  Animals of the Rainforest, Plants of the Rainforest, and People of the Rainforest.

One library class is devoted to reading a nonfiction book about the rainforest and gathering a wealth of other books (both fiction and nonfiction) to be placed in the classroom.  As the students enter the library, they see many exciting rainforest books on display.

Mrs. Satta creates a “know-want to know-learned” graphic organizer on the whiteboard. The students raise their hands to share what they already know about the rainforest and/or anything they would like to learn about it.

Here are those results:

Know:

  • There are lots of frogs in the rainforest.
  • There are alligators, monkeys, lizards, & spiders.
  • There are toucans.
  • There are birds of paradise.
  • There are parrots.
  • There are lots of trees.
  • It rains a lot.
  • There are waterfalls.
  • There are anacondas, plants & ants.
  • Jungles are different from rainforests.

Want to Know:

  • Are there any alligators or crocodiles?
  • Are there elephants?
  • Are there monkeys?
  • Are there lizards?
  • Are there cheetahs?
  • Are there spiders?
  • Are there garden snakes?
  • What animals live in the emergent layer?


Next, Mrs. Satta reads the nonfiction book Rain Forest:  Garden of Green aloud.  Along the way the students note any answers to the questions posed or confirmations/corrections of information already known about the rainforest.

Also,  the following features/terms relating to nonfiction books are discussed:  table of contents, font variations, “fun facts,”  glossary, index, resources for further study, and appendix.

Next the students spend time selecting books to borrow.  Some of the books on display are chosen by students.  The remaining books get checked out to the classroom teacher so that the students may browse them during free reading time.

The next week, Mrs. Satta asks the students to report what they have learned about the rainforest.  Here are the results:

Learned:

  • Most animals and plants in the rain forest have not been named yet. (CH)
  • There are groups of animals called species. (JL)
  • The emergent layer is where the high trees are . (JR)
  • There is a layer called the canopy. (PK)
  • The bottom floor is brown because no sun reaches the bottom. (GS)
  • The rain forest can get 6-9 feet of rain per year or even more. (JC)
  • Elephants do live in some rain forests. (CH)
  • Animals that live in the canopy can live their  whole lives there without touching the ground. (JS)
  • Some monkeys can jump up to 5 feet when jumping from tree to tree . (AG)
  • Leaf cutter ants plant the leaves which they have chopped up.  The leaves grow into fungus that the ants then eat. (CW)
  • The biggest spiders grow in the rain forest. (NF)
  • There is a species called the strawberry poison arrow frog. (JS)

The learning in the classroom with Mrs. Goodearle continues to build until it culminates in an exciting “Rainforest Day” complete with room decorations, taste-testing rainforest foods, stuffed animal friends to represent indigenous animals, and viewing Disney’s The Jungle Book.


The students reported which rainforest foods they enjoyed:


Heart of a Samurai: Based on the True Story of Manjiro Nakahama, by Margi Preus

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In 1841, an American whaling ship rescues five stranded Japanese fishermen. The Captain befriends fourteen-year-old Manjiro Nakahama and adopts him. They return to Bedford, Massachusetts, where Manjiro marvels at the Americans’ freedom to pursue their ambitions. Manjiro realizes that he will never be fully accepted in the United States (he is believed to be the first Japanese person to visit America), so he journeys home. Although initially imprisoned and often suspected as a spy, Manjiro helps Japan understand the outside world and open up foreign relations—ending a 250-year-long isolation policy.

Heart of a Samurai is an apt title because, from a young age, Manjiro longs to be a Samurai even though Japanese tradition dictates that he work as a lowly fisherman. Ironically, Manjiro is appointed samurai to the shogun because of his time in America—a truly shocking thing at that time. The story is divided into five parts which open with a quote from the Samurai Creed or Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai.

The author, Margi Preus, masterfully imbues the story with realism so that the reader sees, feels, even smells, what Manjiro experiences. Even more impressive is the way she interweaves such intangibles as freedom, bigotry, homesickness, isolationism, etc.

The influence of Western missionaries in Hawaii and Japan is negatively cast. “Western missionaries . . . were one reason Japan had closed its doors to foreigners.”(p.85) In Hawaii, “the native islanders here were expected to change almost everything about their lives for the missionaries. Manjiro could understand why Japan had expelled them.” (p.86) Once Manjiro returns to Japan, Manjiro is required to stomp on an image of the Madonna and child. (p.263)

Manjiro Nakahama is a fascinating historical figure who showed amazing fortitude, intelligence and resilience.  The extensive epilogue, historical note, glossary, and suggestions for further reading enhance this remarkable and well-told story.

Awards/ Lists:  Newbery Honor Book 2011; Notable Children’s Books, 2011; Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers 2011

From the Christian Library Journal (June 2011); used by permission.