Monthly Archives: March 2008

Twisted Fairy Tale Challenge

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OK. I know. I said there would be no more signing up for challenges. Well… I lied. Here’s why:

1) Enna Isilee over at Squeaky Books came up with a practically irresistible challenge premise: Twisted Fairy Tales. You read 4 (or more) Twisted Fairy Tales by May 5 /08. They can be books that are not strictly twisted Fairy Tales, but have Fairy Tale elements or themes (like Into the Wild).

2) I was already planning to read 2 fairy-tale-ish books in the next little while (A Curse Dark as Gold / Into the Wild) so I might as well get credit for them… right?

3) She made the prettiest banners that totally match my blog and I had to have one to call my very own.

Enough justification! I am a grown-up reader so I can do whatever I want (so there!). I’m having trouble choosing my 4 books though. 2 are for certain:

A Curse Dark as Gold – Elizabeth Bunce
Into the Wild – Sarah Beth Durst

So… what else:

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How ever will I choose from among all of these very girly delights? I’m not thinking that this challenge is going to help much with my “read more books by and about men” reading goal for 2008. Oh well.

A Hearty Dose of Adorable

In the spirit of all things adorable (because everyone needs a little adorable to get through the last 4 days before March break), I present:

I think she’s ready for this:

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Don’t you?

(Thanks to Adrienne for sharing this much-needed, tiny piece of perfection).

Nonfiction Monday: I Found a Dead Bird

41777zcbt0l_ss500_.jpgJan Thornhill’s book, I Found a Dead Bird: The Kids’ Guide to the Cycle of Life & Death, is just the kind of nonfiction title that many kids will find cool. It’s an up close look at death through a mostly scientific lens, how it happens and why it happens. This is a fascinating – and potentially controversial – book, as I can imagine some parents finding it too grim or too graphic for their kids. Thornhill addresses the fact that death is a taboo topic for many humans early in her book, and suggests that avoiding the subject will likely just add to fear and anxiety.

The matter-of-fact tone established at the outset continues through the whole text, which helps to normalize the subject matter to a certain extent. I like how Thornhill explains her reason for writing the book in the first pages:

“I found a dead bird. It made me sad. But I also had a lot of questions, like: why did it have to die? how did it die? what would happen to it now it was dead?”

She then proceeds to look at death from just about every angle: food chains, lifespans of different species, predation, the negative influence of humanity on ecosystems, war, forensics, medical research, cloning, grieving, funeral customs. Naturally, the text can only touch on these topics and likely spark further questions in kids’ minds, leading to more reading and learning and questioning. In certain cases, I don’t think that it’s a smart (or sensitive) move to offer such a fleeting analysis of potentially disturbing images: “Oh, yes kids, and another way people die is in wars” (insert image here). Don’t get me wrong, I know that kids see many images of war these days, but I don’t think that this means they understand these images or find them normal or are unaffected by them. I would be hesitant to put this book into just any kid’s hands, as I’m not sure that all children who had recently experienced a loss would handle the text and images easily.

The book has a lot of kid appeal in its design, bright colours, arresting digital illustration and a look similar to Guinness Records in the way that lots of facts appear all over the pages in small bites. And then there’s the “Yuck Factor.” Take the series of pictures of the decomposing piglet, for instance. It’s gross, but interesting. I like how Thornhill encourages kids to say “Yuck,” stating that this reaction is totally natural. But then she encourages them to learn about it anyway. Say yuck, and move on. Good lesson.

I found a dead bird has won numerous awards and is one of the titles in the running for a 2008 Ontario Library Association Silver Birch Award . It’s sure to start many a conversation in the classroom and around the dinner table.

Cuba 15

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If you happen to be looking for a book that will warm your exhausted, wintery soul, then look no further than Nancy Osa’s Cuba 15. Always one to be seduced by a fine cover, I snapped this book up at one of the best bookstores for teachers in Toronto (and possibly anywhere): Another Story Bookshop. Another Story has an unparalleled collection of books that focus particularly on social justice, equity and diversity. No proper teacher could possibly walk out empty handed. I was looking for a few of the titles for my Expanding Horizons Challenge booklist. I didn’t ending up choosing Caramelo, as planned, because I picked up Cuba 15 and practically started reading on the spot.

Osa’s story is completely charming. It’s warm, rambunctious and peopled with kind-of-crazy, endearing characters. It’s a bit like going to dinner at someone’s place when you don’t know them very well and then finding that the rest of the party-goers are mostly cuckoo but you stay up all night long eating and drinking and having the best time you’ve ever had in your life. In fact, Osa’s story is about a party, a quinceañero. When Violet Paz turns 15, her Cuban grandmother announces that she’s going to start planning Violet’s quinceañero (the traditional party where 15 year old Latinas celebrate their coming of age with family and friends). Violet is not loving this plan. She hasn’t ever exactly felt “at one” with her Cuban heritage, mostly because Cuba is a bit of a taboo topic in her house. No one ever really talks about the family’s history there, and so Violet feels disconnected from all of that. She’s also half Polish. Violet has no interest in the traditional quince, with the tiara and girly pink gown. Mostly to please her Abuela, Violet agrees to the whole production on the condition that she organizes everything and everyone involved. With Quinceañero for the Gringo Dummy close at hand, Violet begins serious party-planning. Along the way, she draws closer to her family and discovers what matters to her, beginning to grow into herself. There’s another thread to this story, as Violet joins up with her school public speaking team, and finds a way to bring her often hilarious family life into her performances. Toss in a little romance and some well-wrought secondary characters and you’ve got a lovely jumble of happy, mixed-up, heart-warming real life. I sunk into this book and finished it with a smile on my face.

Possible discussion points for the classroom: making your own traditions, learning to compromise with family, cultural and parental pressure on young adults, coming of age traditions, cultivating a talent… There’s a Reader’s Guide and Author Interview included in the book. It’s also won tons of prizes, if that’s your thing: Pura Belpré Honor Book, ALA Notable Book, ALA Best Book for YA, Américas Award Honor Book, Booklist Top Ten First Novel for Youth and it was named a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. I think it merits each and every one of this awards. As for the degree to which it serves the purpose of this challenge (providing insight into a different culture), I think it does this quite well. It certainly made me want to head out and learn more about the quinceañero tradition and Cuban culture and music. I imagine many young people would want to do the same after reading this.

It’s made me want to check out a few of the many quinceañero-themed books out there, including:

41jvulooprl_ss500_.jpg Fifteen Candles – by Adriana Lopez

4159ysvasrl_ss500_.jpgEstrella’s Quinceañera – by Malin Alegria

51f-fivlil_ss500_.jpg Once Upon a Quinceañera – by Julia Alvarez

These should tide me over while I wait for Nancy Osa’s next book.