Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Critical Analysis of Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo has taken the world by storm with her children's books that have become instant classics. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and The Tale of Despereaux are two of her recent novels. Children seem to love these books because they deal with emotions that children have, in a way that doesn't sugarcoat the bad and redeems with good.

Once you read Kate's books, you will realize that there is no formula to her stories. They are told about main characters of various types, some who are sympathetic, and others who are not so much. In The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, the main character is a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. Although Abilene, who owned him, loved him immensely, Edward does not love anyone except himself. Edward is described as being full of himself and disinterested in others. In The Tale of Despereaux, on the other hand, the main character is a tiny mouse named Despereaux. Although his family doesn't care much for him because he doesn't conform to what a mouse should be, the reader is left with a picture of a likeable underdog. You have to feel sorry for a mouse whose own mother would name him Despereaux.

There are many of the same themes found throughout both books. They include love and having a heart, fear, hope, despair, transformation, loss, separation, and being a disappointment to others. I think these themes are what make these books so popular with young readers. Who hasn't, at times, felt like a disappointment to others? Or felt the pain of loss or separation from loved ones? Although they are dealt with in very different ways, these are universal emotions that connect us all as humans.

Let's look at the positive themes first. Hope, love, and having a heart are among the strongest themes in both books, and yet they are presented from uniquely. Despereaux, as a mouse, falls instantly in love with the human princess. His heart swells, and he feels great joy in being around her. He feels that she loves him, too, when she smiles at him and touches his head. Despereaux's love for the Princess Pea is "wonderful, powerful, and ridiculous." This love gives him hope when he is thrown in the dungeon. He cannot imagine that love won't save him. Edward, on the other hand, is incapable of love. While Abilene loves him, he is indifferent to her. But as the story progresses, he begins to feel love for the new people that come into his life, and with that development of his heart he begins to feel hope, even when his life seems the darkest. While Despereaux has a heart from the beginning, Edward is on a journey to develop one, and learn what it means to love someone other than himself.

Loss, separation, and despair are themes that are also found in both books. For Edward, he is on a journey of loss and separation. He is first owned by Abilene, but then he falls overboard and is lost from her. He is eventually found by a fisherman who takes him home to his wife, Nellie. Nellie's daughter Lolly throws him in the dump. He is found by a dog, Lucy, and her hobo owner, Bull. He is thrown off a train where Bull and Lucy are sleeping. He is found by an old woman who makes him into a scarecrow. He is taken by a young boy named Bryce who takes him home to his sister, Sarah Ruth. When Sarah Ruth dies, Bryce takes him to Memphis, where his china head is broken. Bryce takes him to a dollmaker to have him fixed, but Bryce can't pay the dollmaker, so he puts Edward up for sale. He is eventually purchased by a woman and her daughter, and the woman turns out to be a grown-up Abilene. He only begins to feel loss and separation when he is taken from Nellie. By the time he is in the dollshop he is filled with despair, and he doesn't think he will ever love again, until Abilene buys him for her daughter. It takes the journey to develop these feelings in Edward. It is like the old saying, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." On the other hand, because Despereaux doesn't need to learn how to love, he feels loss and separation as soon as he is sent to the dungeon. His thoughts of the princess are what keep him from despair.

Both of these books deal with a transformation of the main character. Despereaux is a very small mouse and an unlikely hero. But his love for the princess and his quest to save her transforms him into a brave "knight in shining armor." Edward is a self-centered, aloof rabbit at the beginning of the story, but by the end of the story he wants to be loved again so desperately that he is afraid to hope for it.

These stories are written in very different styles. Edward's story is a standard third-person narrative and is presented in a serious tone. Despereaux has an omniscient narrator who addresses the reader directly. I really enjoyed this narration style as it made me feel very involved in the story. Despereaux is also written with a great deal of humor. Although both books have beautiful illustrations that add much to the story, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane has several color illustrations that I think are stunning. The depth and texture of these pictures really makes the story come alive.

Many teachers read these books out loud to the class. I had the opportunity to hear Kate speak about her writing on December 2, and she was asked why they work so well for this. She said that she reads her writing out loud, and sometimes even records it and plays it back to listen to how the words sound together. She compares her writing to music. I also wondered whether boys would enjoy The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane as much as girls do. I asked Kate and her publisher, and they said that boys do seem to enjoy the story, as long as they don't have to carry the book around with the bunny on the cover. I suggested maybe they need a boy's cover for the book.

Kate's books are very popular both with children and with teachers. At first glance, it wouldn't seem like these books would be popular with kids. These books are not like Harry Potter, or some other books that kids like. As I read these books, and researched Kate, I began to understand their popularity. The characters deal with universal emotions that allow the reader to really connect with them. Students can be encourage to make connections and explore common themes as they learn to become proficient readers. I learned a lot about use of voice and techniques of writing that seem to make these books resonate with students. Because of Kate's unique style of writing as though the words are music, the stories lend themselves to classroom use. I encourage you, as future teachers, to give Kate's books a try.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Kate DiCamillo

What do a very small mouse with large ears and a china rabbit have in common? Despereaux is the unlikely mouse hero of The Tale of Despereaux and Edward Tulane is the china rabbit featured in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. They are both creations of the children's fiction author, Kate DiCamillo. You can read about Kate at her website, http://www.katedicamillo.com/.

Kate has tried her hand at three different types of children's literature. She has written early chapter books featuring a pig named Mercy Watson. She has also written stories for upper elementary and middle school students, including Because of Winn-Dixie. Because of Winn-Dixie was Kate's first novel, and it was a Newbery Honor Book. It has also been made into a movie. Next was The Tiger Rising, which was a National Book Award finalist. The Tale of Desperaux followed, and it won the Newbery Medal. It, too, is being made into a movie. Her latest novel is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, featuring the unlikely main character Edward Tulane, who is a china rabbit. The story in some ways reminded me of Flat Stanley. Kate's final (for now) book is a picture book called Great Joy.

While Kate's writing can be light-hearted, as in the Mercy Watson series, her books often include a touch of cruelty and darkness. She says she wants children to know that the world is beautiful, but that it can also be hard. Children see cruelty every day when they get on the school bus, so they can't always be protected. She writes about powerful emotions that kids can connect with.

Why does Kate write children's literature? Because she has failed at every other career option. She has always been a reader, and she considered herself to be a writer, but didn't commit to doing the work of writing until 11 years ago, when she was 29. She decided to write children's fiction when she worked in a book warehouse picking children's books to fill orders. She began reading the books as she was picking them, and fell in love with them. Being a dedicated reader as a child, she was also influenced by such classics as Winnie-the-Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, and Pinocchio.

Where does she get her ideas? She says that the ideas are all around. She eavesdrops and pays attention to the things happening around her. She likes to write about things she has seen, not necessarily things she knows. She makes herself write two pages a day, five days a week. Eventually the stories come to her, sometimes even in dreams.

I think Kate is a very unique author because she writes in different styles geared towards different audiences. Regardless of who reads her works, they all seem to be enthusiastic fans of these unique characters. But just be careful if you are out on the street and a blond, curly-haired woman seems to be paying an unusual amount of attention to you. You just might show up in her next novel!

Biography of Sharon Draper

Sharon Draper

Award-Winning Author and Educator

Sharon Draper is the winner of numerous awards including the Coretta Scott King Literary Award, National Teacher of the Year Award and is a New York Times bestselling author, just to name a few of her accolades. A native of Ohio, she began her career as a National Board Certified educator and happened into the writer's world after being challenged by her students to enter a writing contest for Ebony Magazine of which she won. After her achievement, Sharon wrote her first novel Tears of a Tiger in 1994. Things didn't just magically happen for her after that. Eventually the book picked up, gained lots of popularity amongst teachers and students and the demand of more from Sharon took off.

Sharon's first book turned into a trilogy (The Hazelwood High Trilogy). Kids felt like they went to school with the characters in these books and could really relate to the issues dealt with in at least one of the stories. In an interview, Sharon said "I think I understand kids' mindset." This is how she gets inspiration to write her books. If you read the interview I linked, Sharon talks about how understanding the way teens think and who they are, she is able to write for them and about them. In another interview, Sharon admits that she likes historic authors like Charles Dickens, but he wrote for his contemporaries 150 years ago. Mrs. Draper writes because she understands that kids today would rather read about people like them NOW. She wants young people to learn to read and says that "reading shouldn't be painful, it should be painless."

This beautiful author is like the R. Kelly of the literary world, (she doesn't limit herself to just one genre or demographic). Sharon has written fictional novels for pre-teens and young adults about drinking and driving, child abuse, suicide and surviving life's trials, she's written poetry books for children and adults, her newest book is about slavery and she has even written books for teachers. As an accomplished public speaker, Sharon travels all over the world speaking to people about the importance of education and literacy .

Through her website, schools and organizations can request a visit from Sharon. Since she's retired from teaching herself, she is more than happy to come to schools for a day. Sharon will spend time reading her books to groups, and will sometimes teach an English lesson to small classes. She likes to speak with teachers as well and give them tips to survial.

Sharon Mills Draper is an accomplished writer, speaker and educator. Her books will have you hooked and you won't want to put them down. Since reading the first two books in her first trilogy, I am eager to read the last one, plus the wide collection of Sharon Draper books. Mrs. Draper enjoys the rare spare time she has with her husband, four children and her dog Honey.

Patricia Reilly Giff

“I always start each day by writing.
That’s like breathing to me.”

The life of two time Newbery Award author Patricia Reilly Giff began in Brooklyn, New York on April 26, 1935. As a child, her favorite books included: Little Women, The Secret Garden, The Black Stallion, the Sue Barton Books, and the Nancy Drew series. She was so intent on reading that her sister had to grab books out of her hands to get her attention. Later on in her life Giff found her children having to do the same thing! She earned her B.A. from Marymount College and upon the suggestion of the dean she became a teacher. Her career as an educator lasted for 20years during which she earned an M.A. from St. John’s University then went on to receive a Professional Diploma in Reading and a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Hofstra University.

One day Giff announced to her husband that she was going to write a book. Her husband began quickly working on combining two closets in their apartment into a cramped workspace. This was the beginning of over 60 books and still writing. Her career as an educator gave way to her becoming an author. Pictures of Hollis Woods and Lily’s Crossing won the Newbery Honor. Lily’s Crossing also received the Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book award. Nory Ryan’s Song was the recipient of both an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and an ALA Notable Book. Other books she has written include:

Giff and her husband live in Weston, Connecticut. They have two sons Jim and Bill and one daughter Ali whose names often appear in her books. In 1990 Giff along with her husband and her children opened a children’s book store The Dinosaur’s Paw which was named after one of her Kids of the Polk Street School novels. The store is located in Fairfield , Connecticut.

Critical Analysis

In Pictures of Hollis Woods, Hollis is a girl who was abandoned at birth. She was named after the area in which she was found. And, yes, it is a real place in Queens, New York. All Hollis has ever wanted is to be part of a family. She has been in the foster care system for her entire life and has been shuffled from home to home. One summer Hollis spends her time with a family at their vacation home. She has grown comfortable with the Regans, enjoys spending time with their son Steven and savors each day she spends with them. Toward the end of the summer the family approaches Hollis telling her that they want to make her a part of their family. Hollis has finally gotten what she has wanted her entire life. Then what went wrong? Hollis is at her special place on the lake doing what she loves to do and lives to do, draw. Time stands still for her and she is late getting back to the Regan’s home. Steven takes the old truck without his father’s permission searching for Hollis so that she is back in time. While Steven and Hollis are driving back to the lake house Steven looses control of the truck. The truck flips and rolls down an embankment several times. Hollis sustains minor injuries but Steven is more seriously hurt. Feeling she is to blame for the accident she runs away from the Regan’s back to her social worker. After several visits from Mr. Regan urging Hollis to return to the family she still refuses. Hollis is then placed with Josie who is a retired art teacher. Josie, who had had many foster children in the past, now lives alone. Hollis relates very well with Josie due to their common background, art and Josie’s laid back yet caring nature. During her short while with Josie, Hollis begins to notice that Josie is getting more and more forgetful. One day, after school, as Hollis arrives back at Josie’s home she notices that her social worker is paying a visit. The social worker then breaks the news to Hollis that she no longer can remain with Josie due to her decreasing mental awareness. Hollis decides that she and Josie need to leave that night. Where do Hollis and Josie wind up? Hollis takes Josie to the Regan’s lake house. After several days and Hollis noticing that unusual things are showing up at the house she finally discovers Steven had been helping them. They call the Regan’s who in turn contact the social worker. They all come together and celebrate at the lake house. Finally there is a happy ending. Hollis gets the family she has always dreamed of and Josie gets the help she now requires.

In Nory Ryan’s Song, the reader travels to a different place and time:
Ireland during the Great Hunger. Throughout this grueling period of time, the
English taxed the Irish on land these families already own. Here, Nory Ryan,
in her teen years, is left as the main caregiver for her family. Her mother has
died, her father is working in Galway in order to provide for his family,
and her older sister gets married and leaves for a better place as Nory often refers to it; Smith Street… Brooklyn… New York… America. During her efforts to remain in the Ryan family home and keep a bit of food on the table she is befriended by Anna . Anna, who is a herbal practitioner, does have a little money and a cow which allows her to have some of life’s basic needs. Nory begins to spend more and more time with Anna who, without Nory realizing, is training her to take over her healing practice. With life becoming bleaker, Nory’s grandfather, older brother and sister decide to leave the town in order to find work. This leaves Nory with her baby brother, Patch, to remain at home. With day to day living becoming increasingly difficult, Nory makes the heartbreaking decision to send her baby brother with neighbors on a ship to America. Nory remains with Anna as they try to plan how they will find what the need to stay alive. One evening as they sat in front of a fading fire a knock on the door is heard. When Nory opened the door there stood a man overcome with exhaustion. Faintly you could here him utter the words Nory Ryan. Nory introduced herself and he handed her an envelope which she slowly opened. There she found two tickets to America one for her and one for Patch. Nory thought, “Patch is already gone.” Then she looked at Anna. Surely Anna would go with her but they both looked at each other and knew. Anna would remain in Ireland but Nory would venture to America.

The characters Hollis Woods and Nory Ryan depict some of the same personality traits. They are determined, caring and self sufficient young women who rose out of the depths of despair to live the life they have always hoped for. The theme of family is present in both books. Hollis Woods who has been orphaned at birth has always wished she could be part of a real family. She finds her first family home with the Regans and then again with Josie. Both these situations give Hollis a feeling of wholeness and oneness. Nory on the other hand has a family but little by little looses them. Her mother has died, her father in another city working, her older sister moving to America, her grandfather with her other brother and sister leave the family home in search of work and lastly sending her little brother off to America. Ultimately, they reunite becoming the family they once were. Under the umbrella of family, I would like to include the issue of abandonment which has resulted from the lack of family in both Pictures of Hollis Woods and Nory Ryan’s Song. These characters were tough enough to pull through many adverse situations. Hunger is another subject that is entwined in both books. While Hollis was living with Josie they had a limited amount of money to spend each month and when the end of the month approaches it is very difficult to make ends meet therefore food was scarce. The ability to stretch their resources was a challenge each month. In Ireland, we find Nory going down to the shore trying to find anything that washed up that might be edible or she is scaling cliffs in order to find bird eggs to eat. Giff gives a voice to everyday people who face struggles on a daily basis and it is easy for us to relate to her characters and the hardships they face. Friendship is another topic that is strong in both stories especially friendships with older people. The relationship between Josie and Hollis is heartwarming. Hollis has an affinity towards Josie from the very start and instead of Josie taking care of Hollis the opposite occurs. Hollis id given the opportunity to care for someone else. Josie truly depended on her and she was not going to let Josie down. During her life people had disappointed her but she will not disappoint Josie. Turning to Nory Ryan’s Song, the relationship that began as a very awkward and intimidating one evolved into a strong attachment. Nory depended on Anna for a great number of day to day decisions since she had no other adult figures in her life at the time. Anna did count on Nory to assist her with tasks as she was molding Nory to take on her healing practice. Anna did realize what a gifted and determined young woman Nory was. It was a difficult decision for Nory to leave Anna to rejoin her family and eventually go to America. She was willing to remain with Anna but Anna persuaded her to go. It took a great deal of strength on both sides to remain true to their decisions.

Both of these stories exhibited young women with an enormous amount of dedication and determination. They both had a desire and worked diligently to attain the outcome they only once wished for. Even though these novels were set in very different times and places the similarities were very clear. Giff pulls from her own family history and well as the lives of those she has come in contact with. It is very obvious that she is very in touch with the lives of ordinary people. I look forward to reading more of her work.

Other Books by Patricia Reilly Giff

Biography & Critical Analysis of Walter Dean Myers


This 5 time Coretta Scott King Award winner came from humble beginnings. Born in West Virginia in 1937, he was left motherless at the age of three but was in no way an orphan. His father entrusted him to the care of his God parents, the Deans, who raised him in the cultural Mecca of that time, HARLEM. His beloved city, Harlem, appears to have had a profound impact on him. He weaves stories of characters from Harlem up and down the pages of his books like rich tapestries on a wall. He seems to have captured the pulse of Harlem and is able to articulate it on a page which allows the reader to see the rich colors, tastes, smells and voices of the community.

His love of writing actually developed out of necessity. As a young child, he had a speech impediment which prevented him from pronouncing certain types of words. When he was asked to read out loud in class he would freeze up from nervousness. At the age of 9, his teacher suggested that he write his own poems consisting only of words he could pronounce so that he could read them out loud. His love of writing started there and blossomed into a career spanning 40 years and includes over 70 published Children's and Young Adult books.

He has also received critical acclaim in the literary community as the recipient of 5 Coretta Scott King Awards, 2 Newberry Medals, 1 Caldecott Medal, the 1994 SLJ/YALSA Margaret A. Edwards Award for Outstanding Literature for Young Adults and was the first recipient of the Michael J. Printz Award.

His career as a full time author wasn't a 1st, 2nd, or even 3rd career move. His winding career path lead him through the Army, Post Office, Department of Labor, and other destinations before stopping at the wonderful world of Children's and Young Adult Literature. Of this winding career path he says, "...because I didn't have much in the way of formal education, most of my jobs sucked. I was working as a messenger when I made the decision to seriously turn to writing. What was available to me at that time, were cheap magazines (Yes, I wrote for the National Enquirer), sports magazines, and as a result of a contest, books for young people." The contest he is speaking of actually resulted in the publishing of his first book, Where Does the Day Go, in 1969. So at the age of 32 he embarked on a journey as a professional author.

When asked what draws him to Young Adult Literature he says, "The young adult and middle grade periods of my life were so vivid and, in looking back, so influential in how I would live the rest of my life, that I am drawn to it over and over again."

His Young Adult books often deals with authentic, complex, sobering and sometimes painful themes which are reflective of ebb and flow of the lives of young adults. In discussing his feelings on Young Adult Literature he says, "The special place of the young adult novel should be in its ability to address the needs of the reader to understand his or her relationships with the world, each other, and with adults. The young adult novel often allows the reader to directly identify with a protagonist of similar interests and development."

Not all of his books deal with sobering themes. He also has quite a sense of humor, which is showcased in Smiffy Blue: Ace Crime Detective: The Case of the Missing Ruby and Other Stories and The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner.

Smiffy Blue is a detective who solves crimes by following the most off-the-wall clues imaginable. Myers inspirations for writing Smiffy Blue came from stories he would tell his son. He would make the stories progressively sillier and challenge his son to guess how the story would end.

The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner is historical fiction. Artemis and his trusty side kick, Frolic, embark on a journey across the United States to avenge the death of his slain uncle Ugly and find his treasure before Catfish Grimes, who killed his uncle Ugly, gets to it first. When asked about branching out into other genres such as historical fiction he says, "My stories are an extension of my life. I've always been a person who wanted to explore every facet of life and different ways of expressing the human experience.

"I'm surprised to actually be able to make money doing this thing I love."


Walter Dean Myers is a virtual literary chameleon. He has written picture books, poetry, short stories, novels, formula fiction, historical fiction, and biographies. He has an inept ability to write in the voice of a young adult about issues as sobering as teen homicide and as silly as the secret formula to un-pop popcorn. When I began reading his books I wondered if he has a sense of humor. I also wondered if all of his novels focus on young adults at emotional and societal crossroads. Shortly after questioning the breadth of his work I happened upon, Smiffy Blue: Ace Crime Detective and The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner.

These books are hilarious. Both books center around African American, male, dynamic duos who are on journeys to solve an unanswered mystery. Smiffy Blue has his uncleaver side kick, Jeremy Joe and Artemis Bonner has his trusty but inexperienced tag-a-long, Frolic. In both cases the second half of the duo (Jeremy Joe and Frolic) serve as a sort of comic foil to the main characters. They also appear less experienced and need the main characters to survive.

On their journeys they both encounter characters with unique names. Their names either rhyme or reveal something about them. For example, Smiffy Blue and Jeremy Joe work with Inspector Hector, Dr. Seymore Orless, Stash McCash, Penny Stamp and Nick Nasty. Artemis and Frolic encounter such characters as Catfish Grimes, Uncle Ugly, and Lucy Featherdip.

Myers also uses unique language which adds to the humor and “down home” feeling of the books. In The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner he uses colloquial language. For example, when Artemis had done some work at a tannery he came out smelling awful. He got on a stage coach to get to his next destination and had the following conversation with the stage coach driver,

" You always stink like that?" the driver asked me. "Only when I am about to shoot somebody...does the smell come upon me." "You smell like you fixing to shoot the whole United State Army," he said.

The humor comes out in the use of "fixing to shoot," and gives me a familiar connection with the way the older members of my family speak.

In Smiffy Blue: Ace Crime Detective Myers uses a plethora of rhyming words. Each time Smiffy Blue finds a clue, he and his trusted side-kick, Jeremy Joe have the following exchange:

"Smiffy blue has found a clue!" cried Jeremy Joe. "I have indeed found a clue!" said Smiffy Blue.

They are men on missions but that is about where the similarities end. The books represent two different genres. Smiffy Blue is Formula Fiction (series). Within the book there are 4 separate capers to solve. There is also a predictable storyline. Smiffy receives a call from inspector Hector, he and Jeremy Joe go to the scene of the crime, follow a list of increasingly silly clues, and some how solve the crime. The righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner is a Historical Fiction Novel. Artemis has the same objective throughout the book. He is on a journey to avenge the death of his uncle Ugly by killing Catfish Grimes and finding his uncle's treasure.

The settings also separate the books. Artemis is on an adventure in 1882 which takes him to real places, such as the OK Corral in Tombstone Arizona. He also meets real historical figures such as Wyatt Earp. In contrast, Smiffy Blue solves crimes in the fictional, Doober City and encounters all fictional characters.

Unlike Smiffy Blue, Artemis doesn't always win. Artemis gets beat up multiple times, gets sick, is often outwitted and has to work to earn money to complete his mission. On the other hand, Smiffy Blue is always triumphant and his day consists of solving a crime and going home satisfied.

I felt that Smiffy Blue: Ace Crime Detective is for younger audiences who want to be entertained and enjoy formula fiction. I personally had a hard time reading the book. Although it is only 74 pages and the words are in big print, it took me longer to read it because it was so silly. When I started reading the book, I thought he was going to seriously solve a crime. I would read a sentence over and over again trying to make sense of it. I finally realized, it is not supposed to make since. The point of the book is that Smiffy Blue solves crimes just by coincidence because his reasoning doesn't logically lead to the answer.

I was, however, taken in by the illustrations. I absolutely love the way the characters are portrayed. The characters look like the hopped out of the T.V. show, Good Times, and right into the book. Each one of the characters is dressed to the Nines. The men where polyester, checker-board print pants, trench coats and derbies. The woman wear cute minis skirts, foxy coats, and their hair is always salon ready!

The use of language in Smiffy Blue: Ace Crime Detective is actually poetic. Reading the words quietly does not do the book justice. He has built a lot of comical rhymes into the book but you can't hear the comedy unless you read it out loud. A teacher would entertain a class and teach them about rhyme patterns by reading this book out loud to his or her class.

I really enjoyed The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner. You wouldn't really know that Artemis is an inexperienced 15 year old by listening to him. He is a child who speaks with the intelligence of a well mannered adult. He sounds like a mature man with high regard for good morals and proper decorum. However, on the inside he is a kid. A very brave kid, but nonetheless, a kid. I think this would be appealing to adolescent readers because they often feel that they are smarter than adult. Artemis feels the same way, which is half of the reason he is outwitted so often.

I also liked the way Myers fused history and geography into the book. The book is set in 1882 in the Wild West. Artemis traveled across North American and into Alaska chasing Catfish Grimes. Reading this book really made me want to look up dates, historical figures, and geography facts so that I could really experience his journey with him. This is a great book to use in conjunction with a social studies unit on the Wild West.

Smiffy Blue and Artemis Bonner were men on missions. Their missions took them to vastly different places and they achieved their objectives in totally different ways but they both will provide a thrill for young readers. Both books are extremely useful for Independent, Read Aloud, or Shared reading. As I noted earlier, they can also be useful in conjunction with other subject matter.

It has been a wonderful journey learning about the life and works of Walter Dean Myers. Studying the works of Walter Dean Myers has helped me to understand that as an educator there is a plethora of novels, short stories, poems and biographies which I can use in conjunction with other subjects to broaden my students learning and help them develop critical literacy. On a personal note, studying his life was hope inspiring because I learned about someone who changed careers at the age of 32 and made a career out of what he loves to do!

So there you have it, two wonderful books for young adult readers!

Stephanie Perry Moore Bio

Stephanie Perry Moore is a christian fiction author that has written several series of books for children and teenagers. Some of the series that she has written are the Payton Skyy series, the Laurel Shadrach series and, the series we are studying, the Carmen Browne series. Each of the series are focused of seperate age groups. The Carmen Browne series is focused on the preteen age group.

Stephanie Perry Moore is from the southern region of the country. She was born in Charleston, South Carolina, but was raised in Virginia. Her upper education was received in Alabama. Stephanie currently lives in Georgia with her husband and two children. Her husband just happens to be Derrick Moore, a former NFL player.

Stephanie started writing as a child. She used to write television episodes for the Cosby Show. None of them were ever sent to Bill Cosby, but it fostered her love for writing. As a christian, she found herself looking for christian books that she could identify with culturally. She didn't find any and that was her motivation to become a christian writer. She felt that it was necessary to identify with the characters that you are reading about.

Stephanie didn't find her journey to be very easy. It took her seven years to get published. Many publishers didn't find it very appealing to promote youth christian fiction. Once she broke into the business, things flourished from there. She has 14 titles in print. In addition to the youth books, she has two adult books, Flame and A Lova' Like No Otha'. She has a website, http://www.stephanieperrymoore.com/.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Critical Analysis of Books by Richard Peck

Richard Peck was inspired by Mark Twain and his writings, which partly led Peck to become a writer. Peck was most impressed with the way Mark Twain could write poetry. Even though Peck does not write poetry, he has adapted some principles learned through Twain's work. In the books, Fair Weather and A Long Way From Chicago, Peck has provided young adults the opportunity to learn about historical events during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s taking place in the Midwest.

The book, Fair Weather, takes place during Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition. Some may find this book more interesting than The Devil in the White City because of Peck’s compelling descriptions of Chicago’s World Fair instead of an overload of facts. Here’s a glimpse of Peck’s voluptuous literature as he encapsulates the World’s Fair in the voice of Rosie Beckett:

“As we turned up into the sky, you didn’t notice the straining and the clanking of that terrible wheel anymore. The great exposition began to fan out below us, and all the pavilions were like frosted wedding cakes. It was the White City on blue lagoons against the endless lake. Golden statues caught the last of the setting sun. Then like sudden morning the electric lights came on. If I could show you anything, I would show you that. The searchlight turned, and everything was washed in light like there could never be darkness again. Just at that moment when the fair was a field of diamonds beneath my feet, the fair and all the world belonged to me” (Fair Weather, p.131-132).

In Fair Weather, the Beckett Family lives in Southern Illinois and one day Mrs. Beckett’s sister, Euterpe, sends the family tickets to the World’s Fair. The parents must stay behind and tend to the farm to keep supporting the family, but the children, Rosie and LeRoy, and their grandfather, Si Fuller, go to visit Aunt Euterpe in Chicago. The children are very apprehensive at first because they think Chicago is a dangerous town where people get shot. But once they visit and learn more about the city and what Chicago has to offer, there is no turning back!

The book, A Long Way from Chicago, takes place a bit later during the Great Depression. The Dowdel children, Joey and Mary Alice, are sent to visit their grandmother who lives somewhere south of Chicago and north of St. Louis. The children visit their grandmother every summer for eight years. At first they are very annoyed with their grandmother’s behavior and think she is “older than dirt.” She likes to walk a fine line with the law and definitely expresses her opinion in a sneaky but mean way at times. But as each summer passes by that Joey and Mary Alice spend with their grandmother, they see more clearly a clever and more kind-hearted woman who deeply loves her grandchildren. As a side note, some reviewers have seen similarities between this book and Gary Paulsen's Harris and Me: A Summer Remembered. One reviewer states, "They both involve eccentric relatives, are episodic in nature and laugh out loud funny." Click here to learn more about Paulsen.

Here’s an excerpt from A Long Way from Chicago to illustrate Peck’s figurative language and Grandma Dowdel’s blunt nature, in the voice of Grandma Dowdel.

“It happened back in 1871. And it all come to pass because of the Great Fire of Chicago. The town of Decatur was sending a special train full of volunteers up to fight that fire…Somehow, the train full of firefighters got on the same track as a Wabash freight train. They met head on. … Killed a brakeman on the freight train and both engineers. Oh, you never saw such a mess. I was only a babe in arms, but I remember it well. My maw walked the tracks down there and held me up to see it. They’d pried the locomotives apart and taken out the dead. But it was a sight to behold. They said the dead bodies looked like they’d been fed through a sausage grinder” (A Long Way from Chicago, p.86).

Both books depict life and historical events in or around the Chicagoland area. What is interesting in both books is that neither residence, The Beckett family or Grandma Dowdel, have a specific address. The Beckett family lives in rural Christian County, IL and Grandma Dowdel lives somewhere south of Chicago and north of St. Louis. Perhaps Peck's grand plan here was to illustrate the simplisity of life compared to the hectic nature of living in a big city like Chicago. What is also interesting is that neither set of parents in both stories are a major part of the plot. The children in both books are sent off to visit relatives. In Fair Weather, the children visit their Aunt in Chicago for one summer to see Chicago’s World Fair. In the other book, A Long Way from Chicago, the children ride the train south of Chicago to visit their Grandmother for eight summers during the Great Depression.

Interestingly, Peck presents a prominent older figure in both his books, most likely to instill tradition and understanding of past time to the next of kin and their next of kin. Peck suggests that the aged figure is for “suburban readers living in age-segregated subdivisions” and for “readers in cement cities where the old fear the streets.” We learn about Buffalo Bill and Grandpa fighting in the war together while reading Fair Weather. But in A Long Way From Chicago, we learn all about Grandma's idiosyncrasies while living in rural Illinois from 1929-1935. She likes to make up her own rules and toys with the law. Grandma Dowdel is capable of anything, but over time we find out she is most capable of displaying love to her grandchildren.

Richard Peck is a phenomenal writer and captivates his audience through his words and visual imagery. His books are narrated through the voice of one of the children in each book. Peck provides graphics throughout the book, Fair Weather, most likely because he depicts events at Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition. In the book, A Long Way from Chicago, each chapter covers one summer in time and Peck illustrates the life of people in a rural southern town of Chicago in more descriptive words to challenge your imagination instead of using graphics.

These stories helped me put in perspective what life was like in the late 1800's and early 1900’s; I think students will also reap the same benefit. However, although I am not a historian and Peck did not grow up in the time frame, I do wonder how accurate the depiction of life, climate, and relationships were. Perhaps, just like all historians, the references of events are usually up for interpretation.

Overall, I was mesmerized by Peck’s visual imagery of “the olden days” and enjoyed learning about history in a captivating, fun atmosphere he portrayed in his books. I think these are great books for students to read and learn from. Teachers can incorporate history while also teaching language arts techniques and characteristics of a novel, includeing setting, conflict and foreshadowing. Students will dive into the world of an imaginative family but in doing so, they will have the opportunity to learn about true historical events. Richard Peck captivates his audience and targets his books for young adults. What a great way to learn about history!

Richard Peck

Richard Peck was born and raised in Decatur, IL by his mother (Illinois Wesleyan graduate) and father (education ended at 6th grade). Peck graduated with an English degree from DePauw University. He was drafted by the US Army in 1956 and after his return, he completed a master's degree from Southern Illinois University. Richard Peck is author of children and young adult books, including Fair Weather and A Long Way from Chicago, and many, MANY more.

Richard Peck has earned many honors for his young adult books. He earned a Newbery Honor for A Long Way from Chicago, and then for its sequel, A Year Down Yonder, Peck won the Newbery Medal. In 2002, Peck was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Bush. What a great honor!

I chose to read the aforementioned books, Fair Weather and A Long Way from Chicago, where Richard Peck takes real historical events, set in the Chicagoland area, and adds a fictional family life to them. Being from the Chicagoland area, I was gravitated toward his books. Peck's books give children the opportunity to learn about history in a fun and exciting way! If you and your family are from the Chicagoland area and want to learn about the World's Columbian Exposition without having to read The Devil in the White City, I encourage you to read Fair Weather.

Unfortunately, Richard Peck does not have a personal website because he has refrained from using modern technology. He does not have a computer and uses a typewriter for his manuscripts. Therefore, much of what we know about Peck is either written in his autobiography, Anonymously Yours, or posted online from others.

Richard Peck was a world traveler and a teacher. He met many people during his travels and some of these people appear as characters in his books. Peck is one that encourages non-conformity and encourages writers to get to know people who do not conform. Peck's ultimate goal in writing is to enrich the lives of his readers. He is known as being graceful, witty and charming. In his autobiography, he puts his dedication of enlarging lives in these words:

"I read because one life isn't enough, and in the page of a book I can be anybody; I read because the words that build the story become mine, to build my life; I read not for happy endings but for new beginnings; I'm just beginning myself, and I wouldn't mind a map; I read because I have friends who don't, and young though they are, they're beginning to run out of material; I read because every journey begins at the library, and it's time for me to start packing; I read because one of these days I'm going to get out of this town, and I'm going to go everywhere and meet everybody, and I want to be ready."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Library Card Changed My Life - Gary Paulsen

Would you ever believe that an author with over 30 years of experience and 175 books under their belt would have ever worked for the circus? Well Gary Paulsen has worked many odd jobs such as circus entertainer and herding cattle before he picked up the trade of writing.

During Gary’s childhood he saw very little of his father, who served in the military during World War II, nor his mother, who worked in the Chicago Ammunition factory. They spent a lot of time overseas when Gary was very young and after a three year stint in the Philippines where his father was stationed they moved back to the United States. Gary never stayed in the same school for more then five months, “I was an ‘Army brat,’ and it was a miserable life,” Gary said. During several summers he was sent to live with relatives working jobs such as newspaper delivery to support him-self. Many of his novels have this common theme of a young teen spending their summer away from home. Arguments at home and his father’s drinking forced Gary to run away from home at the age of 15.

No matter how hard his childhood was, Gary still can point to the situation that changed his current path. He was walking past the public library when he decided to step inside to warm him-self. The librarian offered a library card which he gladly accepted, and began roaring through the books she suggested, mostly science fiction and westerns. “When she handed me that card, she handed me the world,” Gary recounts.

Another life changing event occurred when he decided to take on the life of his father. Gary enlisted in the Army in 1959 and ended his service in 1962. After his service in the Army, Gary worked jobs around the country. One of his last jobs was as a magazine editor in California. This is where he first learned the trade of writing, working on his own work during his free time. He quit that job, moved to Minnesota where he was born, and shortly after published his first novel.
Mr. Paulsen's best known work, one that I remember reading when I was in school, is Hatchet. Hatchet, along with Dogsong and The Winter Room, have all been named Newbery Honor Books. His newest book, Lawn Boy, is about a young boy who gets an old lawnmower from his Grandmother and starts to mow lawns during one summer break. Through twists and turns along the way, one young boy transforms a single lawnmower into a lawn care company.

Gary Paulsen is not only an award winning author but has competed in the Iditarod in 1983 and 1985. His best finish was his first race in 1983 in which he finished in 41st, and is looking to compete again in 2008. With all of these adventures it is no surprise that many of his books have an outdoor setting. He often uses the coming of age story in his writing, where a teen masters the art of survival in isolation as a rite of passage. These teenage characters arrive at an understanding of themselves and their world through experiences in nature.

Through an interview Gary Paulsen was asked to describe his motivation, he said, "There is no motivation, it’s just what I do. It's my nature. The stories are like a river that’s going by all the time, and I just 'bucket in' and up comes a story. It's a cliche, but it’s like that." Paulsen continues to write because he has a basic belief in young people and that he believes that his writing will help encourage people to care about the world around them. Gary once said, "I know if there is any hope at all for the human race, it has to come from young people." His own experiences when he was young, traveling the country and running away from home instilled in Gary a sense of adventure, which is evident in his works.
Never intending to be one of those make it up as you go writers, Gary has lived many of the tales that are told through his novels. Success has not spoiled him though. He has won several awards including ALA Best Book, Parents Choice Award and the Newberry Honor Book. His most recent book, Lawn Boy, published earlier this year is even up for three awards in 2008. Gary never sought out to write 100 books and win awards. Instead he has chosen to write about the precious human struggle to survive, drawing upon his own life for examples.

To better understand a little more about how Gary became a writer and how that one librarian changed his life, watch the video below.


MADONNA Do you remember the 80's? That was Madonna then... and this is Madonna now... a children's' author? It is true, Madonna has made yet another transformation in her life.

In 2003, Madonna released her first of nine children's storybooks, The English Roses. It was on New York Times bestseller list as #1 for 18 weeks and was simultaneously released in over one hundred countries and 30 languages. It holds the world record as the fastest-selling children's picture book in history.

The English Roses book is one of the two picture books that are based around 5 girls that are inseparable friends and grow up in England. Each girls has their own personalities and interest yet they do everything together. The stories also include a pumpernickel loving, rough around the edges, fairy god mother that pops in every once in a while to add a whimsical touch to the stories and help teach the girls a lesson. Madonna has also incorporated these friends into 4 short chapter book series; The English Roses,Good Bye Grace, The English Roses, The New Girl, The English Roses, Friends for Life, and The English Roses, A Rose by Another Name. The English Rose book series explore feelings of envy, jealousy, friendship, love, and other emotions that young tweens may feel growing up. Within the books is a constant clique of a group of 11-year-old girls in contemporary England, and there are autobiographical elements to the theme. The audience for these books seemed to be geared towards 11 years to 13 year old children. I found that The English Rose series seemed more geared towards the female audience but her other picture books seem to address any audience including adults.

Along with the two English Roses picture books, Madonna has written four other picture books including; Mr.Peabody's Apple, Losta de Casha, Yakov and the Seven Thieves, and The Adventures of ABDI. Each book has a message or a lesson to be learned. They touch on subjects like rumors, greed, selfishness, sickness, and how to obtain happiness. The illustrations in all of these books are wonderful. Each books has a different
illustrator but all the books including the chapter books are produced and published by Callaway.

What could inspire the "Material Girl" Madonna to become a children's author? It is not because she is known as a Pop star Diva who has sold more than two hundred million albums worldwide with a over 25 Top Ten singles. Madonna's inspiration is not because she has starred in 18 movies, including my favorite Desperately Seeking Susan, and in various Broadway shows. Her inspiration in not because according to the
Guiness Book of World Records 2007, Madonna is the highest earning female singer of all times.

One such inspiration came from the loss of her mother who died when she was young, which she told London's Times that because of this as a child she "felt very awkward and out of place in school. Not popular, not attractive, not special in any way and I was longing for love and approval from someone." Another inspiration for becoming a children's author stems from becoming a mother and having 2 of her own children and the son that she has adopted. Madonna states having children opened her eyes on responsibility and selfishness. Motherhood has taught her to be aware of choices she makes. Lastly, her inspirations come from her strong believe in Kabbalah. Her faith in Kabbalah has taught her to send messages of sharing not for the sake of getting but for giving. Her giving has carried onto all of Madonna's children books. Proceeds for her books will go to the Los Angeles-based Spirituality for Kids Foundation.

Madonna has her own website which you can view her autobiography, videos (even some of the great ones from the "80's" my personal favorites), awards and even merchandise. But what I thought was cool for The English Roses books, they have their own website. The website has games, advice for tween issues, recipes, pictures to download, screen savers and it is called MyEnglishRoses.net

Critical Analysis of Books by John Green (1st Draft)

John Green is not J.D. Salinger, the author of Catcher in the Rye, a best selling "problem novel" for teens that debuted in the 1950s. Nor is he Judy Blume, the author of Forever, and various other hot and sexy teen romance novels from the 1970s. Yet, like these two authors, Green has managed to tap into the passions and interests of a generation of adolescent readers. He has done so by filling his novels with humor, sexual energy, heart-wrenching conflicts and emotions, and deep philosophical ideas that do not beat the reader over the head, but rather lie quietly waiting for readers willing to take the extra effort to look deeper for them.

Humor and sexual energy are two clear staples of Green's work. In Looking for Alaska, a novel that has been compared to Catcher in the Rye, a teenager named Miles goes to boarding school and makes two friends, Alaska and the Colonel; Alaska and the Colonel are not only witty and sarcastic in relation to their peers and teachers, but also very mature in their sexual knowledge and experiences. A lot of the enjoyment of the novel comes from observing Miles, Alaska, and the Colonel verbally interact with one another, and upset the academic and behavioral expectations of their teachers and peers. Similarly, in An Abundance of Catherine's, Green presents a trio of friends--Colin, Hassan, and Lindsey--who are smart, witty, and sarcastic-- though not in quite as an extreme way as in Looking for Alaska. In this novel, as in Looking for Alaska, the main character, Colin, is sexually attracted to the female sidekick, Lindsey. However, unlike Miles in Looking for Alaska, Colin's desires are not instantaneous nor constantly diverted and manipulated. Instead, he comes to realize his affections for Lindsey after a long (perhaps even tortorous) period of obsession with other women.

19As my biography of John Green reveals, he is a very unique writer.


Both books have a lot of humor.

Both books involve a journey


Abundance is a journey to Tennessee, and learning about relationships

Alaska involves more of an internal journey at a prep school setting in Alabama.