Thursday, March 16, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – LITTLE RED by Bethan Woollvin

I really loved this - so succinct and clever in the way it plays with the traditional fairy tale. But be warned. It's a little dark, especially the ending!

Summary from the publisher:

Little Red Riding Hood meets a wolf on her way through the woods to visit her sick grandmother. The wolf is hungry, and Red Riding Hood looks tasty, so he hatches a dastardly plan, gobbles up Grandma and lies in wait. So far, so familiar. But this Little Red Riding Hood is not easily fooled, and this big bad wolf better watch his back. In this defiant interpretation of the traditional tale, the cheeky, brave little girl seizes control of her own story (and the wolf gets rather more than he bargained for).

The perfect gift for fans of darker fairy tales, complete with tree-shaped cover flaps that make this a sumptuous sight to behold.

Little Red was written by and illustrated by Bethan Woollvin. It was published in 2016 by Two Hoots.

Opening:

“One day, Little Red Riding Hood’s mother called to her.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I really loved this clever take on a classic story. With just the original characters and a simple text, the author has created a darkly humorous and very entertaining story. I loved the repetition of “Which might have scared some little girls. But not this little girl.” The careful use of colour (black, white and red) and size really enhances the darker moments in the text. The importance of the expressions shown in the character eyes reminded me of the “Hat” books by Jon Klassen. 

I’d study this one carefully to see how the text leaves room for the illustrations, and also how the text and illustrations leave room for reader interpretation.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

Although I really admired this one, I think it might be a bit scary for a couple of my younger kindergarteners. For slightly older kids, it would be great to contrast this book with the classic story and highlight Little Red’s more progressive and active role in dealing with the wolf.

Ages: 3 - 6

Grades: K - 3

Themes: fairy tales, fears, self-confidence

Activities:

Create puppets to represent the grandmother, wolf and Little Red and act out the story.

Draw a picture to show what Little Red’s plan might have looked like.


Why do you think the author left out the woodsman character from the original story? Discuss. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - GHOST by Jason Reynolds

The experiences of the boy in this book are completely different from my own, but the writing is so well done and the story is so compelling that I was right there with Ghost, cheering him on. 

Description from the publisher:


Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

Ghost has a crazy natural talent, but no formal training. If he can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all starting with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who blew his own shot at success by using drugs, and who is determined to keep other kids from blowing their shots at life.

Ghost was written by Jason Reynolds and published by Simon and Schuster in 2016.

Why you want to read this book… 

It’s got strong, layered characters that take hold of your thoughts and make you want to keep reading to find out what’s going to happen to them. I don’t even like sports, but I was rooting for Ghost to succeed with the track team. Even more than that, I wanted him to deal with some of the issues in his life and have a feeling of safety where he could discover himself and his strengths. This is a fast read, and an emotional story that is hard to put down. One of the great things about this book is that it’s the first book in a series! Looking forward to reading the next one.

“So when I was done sitting at the bus stop in front of the gym, and came across all those kids on the track at the park, practicing, I had to go see what was going on, because running ain’t nothing I ever had to practice. It’s just something I knew how to do.”


If you’re a writer… 

This is a great book to study if you’re writing a novel with a first person perspective. The main character has a strong, consistent voice and all the details fit with his point of view.

“He was wearing those sweatpants, the swishy-swishy kind that make every step sound like paper crumpling.”


If you’re a teacher…

This book provides opportunities for class discussions about issues related to race and class, stealing, gun violence, bullying, and how to find ways to deal with strong emotions like anger. This book has many layers and at the same time, will keep student interest because of the focus on track and the short chapters.

“I’d made my point, and it wasn’t like I wanted to be part of their little club. I just needed everybody to know that the fancy, white-black boy wasn’t all that.”


Opening line:

“Check this out. This dude named Andrew Dahl holds the world record for blowing up the most balloons…with his nose.”

Other info:

On his website, Jason Reynolds talks about writing: “And when I say I’m a writer, I mean it in the same way a professional ball player calls himself an athlete. I practice everyday and do the best I can to be better at this writing thing while hopefully bringing some cool stories to the world. The stories are kinda like my slam dunk.”
Here’s a video of Jason Reynolds reading from GHOST at the 2016 National Book Awards Finalist Reading: