Friday, April 29, 2011

Nomansland, by Lesley Hauge

Tweens and teens are drawn to dystopian novels and have been for years. I remember being fascinated by dystopian novels as a teenager: Nineteen Eighty Four, Brave New World and The Lord of the Flies. There is something fascinating about delving into an imaginary world of the future where everything seems to be going wrong. If your teen - especially a girl - loved The Hunger Games, you might try looking for Nomansland, a debut novel by Lesley Hauge.
by Lesley Hauge
NY: Henry Holt and Co., 2010
ages 12 - 16
available on Amazon or your local library
Set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian society, Nomansland delves into the inner turmoil of Keller, a young teen, as she struggles with her own values and identity in an oppressive society. In a population made up entirely of women, Keller's society defends itself vigorously against invasion by men from the outside world (yes, the title is supposed to be No-Mans-Land, but it took me a while to get that...). The girls in the society are taught to avoid the seven Pitfalls—Reflection, Decoration, Coquetry, Triviality, Vivacity, Compliance, and Sensuality—and to reject warmth and friendship.

The leaders have created a tough, self-reliant society, and yet allegiance to these values and to the leadership is cracking at all levels. One of Keller"s fellow "Trackers" discovers a buried ruined house of the "Old People." The girls' excitement over the fashion magazines, makeup, and high heels they discover leads first to fascination and soon to peer pressure and a bizarre fashion show. It ends in death and disaster when their repressive, pleasure-hating leaders find out and punish the girls.

Young teens - especially girls - will be fascinated at an outsider's look at our "modern" society with all the trappings of consumer culture on show. This is a novel for reflection on peer pressure, trust, and identity and is not a story for readers who want exciting action.

I would give this to lovers of The Hunger Games and Graceling who are clamoring for more dystopian literature with strong female leads. It is more introspective than either of those, with less plot/drama/action. But interesting premise and compelling story that pulled me through.

The review copy came from my local library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Breaking Gender Roles - sharing books that defy stereotypes (ages 9 - 14)

I've been fascinated by some of the reading and workshops I've done around gender roles and how we can help students see past gender stereotypes that still perpetuate in society. I've always wanted to develop a unit with a teacher where students explore these stereotypes and then think about ways that people have found their own way, creating their own sense of identity. As children finish elementary school and start middle school, they are more and more influence by their peers and society. But they're also struggling to create their own sense of identity. It's a perfect time to see how characters in books deal with these tensions. Here are some of my favorites.
Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness)Alanna: The First Adventure
The Song of the Lioness series
by Tamora Pierce
NY: Atheneum, 1983
ages 8 - 12
available on Amazon or at your local library
preview available on Google Books
Eleven-year-old Alanna dreams of becoming a knight, but all her father insists that she must go to the convent to become a lady. So Alanna hatches a plan to trade places with her twin brother, who has no desire to become a knight and dreams himself of studying to become a great sorcerer. So they disguise themselves as each other, and Alanna becomes Alan of Trebold, knight in training. As Alanna tries to keep up with her studies and learns to fight with weapons, she has to continually hide her true identity.

Alanna is a great character: stubborn, cheeky, doubtful of herself. As Abby the Librarian wrote on her blog, "Alanna's just the kind of character that you love to root for. She's got a good heart and she's feisty and she shakes things up.  Plus, she's an awesome fighter and a powerful female." She highly recommends the audiobook. While this may seem like a straightforward girl-in-boy's-clothing story, it is an exciting, fun read and one that will prompt a lot of discussion. It's popular with both boys and girls who enjoy fantasy.
The Dreamer (Ala Notable Children's Books. Older Readers)The Dreamer
by Pam Munoz Ryan
NY: Scholastic, 2010
ages 8 - 12
available on Amazon and at your local library
preview available on Google Books
winner of 2011 Pura Belpre Author Award
This fictional account of real life poet Pablo Neruda's childhood is part historical fiction, part poetry, and part lyrical magical realism. Eight year old Neftali Reyes was a shy, stuttering, skinny youngster with a domineering, authoritarian father. Neftali loves to read and dream, observing the world around him, and collecting small items wherever he goes. But his father insists that he needs to exercise, learn to swim, excel at math and become a doctor or a dentist. The struggle between Neftali and his father forms one core of this story, but the other heart of the story is Neftali's discovering his own inner voice, his love for nature and his ability to notice small details in the world around him. This is a quiet book, interspersed with evocative illustrations by Peter Sis - it will appeal to students who like characters that march to a different drummer. It would be a wonderful launching pad into the abusive nature of the father and constricting expectations placed by society.
Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to DreamAlmost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream
by Tanya Lee Stone
MA: Candlewick, 2009
ages 10 - 14
available on Amazon and at your local library
preview available on Google Books
2010 Sibert Medal for distinguished nonfiction for children
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction nominee
2010 Amelia Bloomer list
Tanya Lee Stone tells the riveting, true story of the "Mercury 13," a group of women who took and passed the same physical and psychological tests that men took to qualify for NASA's astronaut training program. Even though these women aviators proved to be as fit, determined, and courageous as any man, they were barred from becoming astronauts because of their gender. Stone does a remarkable job of setting the scene, explaining to today's young women the gender roles of women in the late 1950s. This is narrative nonfiction at its best - absolutely riveting, fascinating, compelling. It would make an excellent addition to a unit examining gender roles, as well as just plain old gripping reading for any family. I've heard that the audiobook is also very well done, although I have never listened to nonfiction audiobooks like this. I would love to get into a discussion with today's students about the factors that led to this injustice, and whether they see any of the same factors at work today.

Some other books that would fit within this general theme are:
I would love to hear of other books you think would fit this project. I'm especially interested in books that show boys acting in more sensitive, creative ways.

The review copies came from our home and school libraries. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot (Scientists in the Field series)

I am fascinated with the series Scientists in the Field. Again and again, they produce captivating books that explore scientists pursuing interesting, challenging scientific investigations. This series makes science real, breaks it down so kids (and parents!) can understand it, and make us want to learn more. I highly recommend them both as read-alouds to 3rd - 5th graders, and independent reads for 5th - 8th graders. I loved The Frog Scientist, by Pamela S. Turner, and this winter I was fascinated by Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot, by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop. As we all celebrate Earth Day, this is a wonderful book to share that explores what scientists are doing to bring a species back from the brink of extinction.
Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot (Scientists in the Field Series)Kakapo Rescue:
Saving the World's Strangest Parrot
by Sy Montgomery
illustrated by Nic Bishop
NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2010
ages 9 - 14
available on Amazon and at your local public library
winner of 2011 Robert F. Sibert Award for Nonfiction
The kakapo (pronounced KAR-ka-poe) is an endangered, flightless parrot, the largest in the parrot family, and the only nocturnal parrot. With beautiful green feathers and a charming bewhiskered face, these birds are wonderful to watch. They smell like sweet honey, are intensely inquisitive and can live to be over 100 years old. This unique bird lives only in New Zealand, and most of its original habitat was either destroyed by men or invaded by non-native species. Furthermore, they have a very specific diet and their reproductive cycles are heavily influenced by climate and environment. Now, only 120 kakapo survive. When the book starts, there are fewer than ninety endangered kakapo alive on a tiny, rugged island south of mainland New Zealand. They have been removed here to protect them from rats, dogs, stoats and other predators. Kakapo Rescue follows the determined efforts of scientists and volunteers trying to save the Kakako from the edge of extinction.

Photography by Nic Bishop, from Sy Montgomery's website
Montgomery and Bishop follow as scientists and volunteers track every bird on the island. These dedicated individuals work night and day, especially monitoring eggs as the adult kakapo forage for food. With such a tiny, vulnerable population, every egg and chick is crucial to increasing the number of kakapo alive.

I know many of my students will be fascinated to read about these scientists, and will feel empowered that scientists and environmentalists can really make a difference. It takes incredible perseverance, but it can be done. The Kakapo Recovery Organization has an excellent website. When Montgomery and Bishop left the island, there were only 87 kakapo. Now, the website reports that there are 120 kakapo. There is a kids page with great information and even the sounds of a kakapo, and you can also explore all sorts of information. I was especially interested in reading about the current nesting tables, showing how many eggs were laid and how many chicks were born each year.

For more information, check out Sy Montgomery website. I also was very interested in this recording at Teaching Books from Sy Montgomery. You can read an excerpt from the book here on Sy Montgomery's website. And teachers will find a wealth of resources on the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt site, with many different teaching ideas and connections across the disciplines.

Kakapo Rescue was honored with the Robert F. Sibert Award for the most distinguished nonfiction book for children in 2010. It also received star reviews from Booklist, School Library Journal, Kirkus and the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. It was also a finalist for Middle Grades Science Book from the SB&F/AASL awards.

If students like reading Kakapo Rescue, I'd recommend other books in the Scientist in the Field series. Pamela S. Turner's Project Seahorse also examines significant work scientists and environmentalists are doing to protect animals.

For many other nonfiction resources to share with your children, check out Nonfiction Monday. It's a weekly event hosted around the Kidlitosphere and is a great place to discover wonderful books for children. Today it's hosted by Peggy Thomas at Telling Kids the Truth: Writing Nonfiction for Children.

The review copy comes from our home library collection.  If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night - beautiful poetry for nature lovers (ages 7 - 14)

As we celebrate Earth Day, I'd like to take a moment from our busy schedules and revel in some appreciation of the natural world around us. Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night is a beautiful combination of poetry, information and artwork that I found both inspiring and mesmerizing. I'm not sure how many children will pick it up on their own, but it would make a wonderful addition to a home, classroom or school collection - something to dip into when you want something refreshing and inspiring. It would make a lovely year-end gift to a teacher with a special love of nature.
Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night (Booklist Editor's Choice. Books for Youth (Awards))Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night
by Joyce Sidman
illustrated by Rick Allen
NY: Houghton Mifflin
ages 7 – 14
available on Amazon or your local library
In this collection of 12 poems, award-winning poet Joyce Sidman combines evocative poetry with keen observations of nature. She asks us to slow down and observe the world that comes alive after dark, whether it’s the stolid oak tree, crickets or the night spider. Combining poetry, striking illustrations and detailed scientific information, this collection will intrigue children (and adults!) who are keen observers of the natural world around them.

The first poem in the collection begins:
“Come feel the cool and shadowed breeze,
come smell your way among the trees,
come touch rough bark and leathered leaves:
Welcome to the night.”

-- from "Welcome to the Night", by Joyce Sidman
Sidman brings readers right into the night, the world that comes alive when we humans have left and gone to bed. She wonders how these nocturnal animals live in the night, the skills they need to survive, the rhythm and pace of their night time world. Come experience a night in the woods, taking time to study the flora and fauna.

The video below will give you a sense of the way Rick Allen's artwork fits Sidman's poetry so perfectly. I love the way they use sounds of the night to draw my attention right in. I just wish the producers of the book trailer had included Sidman reading aloud one of her poems. To listen to Sidman's beautiful voice reading two poems from this collection, head over to Teaching Books.

This beautiful book has already won many awards including the 2011 Newbery Honor Award, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor, CBC Bank Street Best Book of the Year, NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book, and Cybils Poetry Award Finalist. Wow!

If you enjoy this blend of beautiful poetry and interesting science, I'd highly recommend exploring Sidman's other work including: Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's Survivors, Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems, and Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow.

For more poetry to share with your children, be sure to check out Poetry Friday, a weekly celebration of poetry by bloggers in the Kidlitosphere. This week's celebration is being hosted by Kate Coombs at the Book Aunt. She has a lovely review of Compost Stew (which we love at our school!), and will share other poetry links throughout the day.

The review copy came from our home library collection. If you'd like to know how much I loved this - I gave this book to my mother for her Christmas present! If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.