Friday, November 16, 2012

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Book Review- Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
A.    Bibliography
Curtis, Christopher Paul. 2007. Elijah of Buxton. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN 978-0439-02344-3
B.     Plot Summary
Elijah Freeman is the first child of slave descent born free in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves. Deemed a “fra-gile” child by his mother, Elijah sets out to prove himself on a mission to retrieve stolen money. The thief had taken the money from Elijah’s friend who had been saving to free his family from slavery in the south. Throughout his dangerous mission into America, Elijah experiences firsthand the atrocities of slavery and the horrors of his parents’ former life. From “fra-gile” boy to resourceful young man, Elijah transforms as he tries to get back home.
C.    Critical Analysis
Christopher Paul Curtis is a Newbery Medal Winner for a previous historical novel. In Elijah of Buxton, Curtis uses the same vivacious, full-of-life writing to tell the tale of Elijah Freeman. Curtis weaves facts about the Buxton settlement-see author’s note for more information-with fictional characters to create an entertaining, educational story.
The story is told through Elijah’s perspective, allowing young readers to connect. Mixed into the deep content of slavery, there are humorous moments that lift the reader’s spirit. For readers who enjoy an action-packed adventure and vibrant characters, Elijah of Buxton is a great read.
D.    Review Excerpts and Awards

·         Publisher’s Weekly review: “Curtis brings the story full-circle, demonstrating how Elijah the "fra-gile" child has become sturdy, capable of stealing across the border in pursuit of the crooked preacher, and strong enough to withstand a confrontation with the horrors of slavery. The powerful ending is violent and unsettling, yet also manages to be uplifting.”

·         Starred review from Booklist: “Many readers drawn to the book by humor will find themselves at times on the edges of their seats in suspense and, at other moments, moved to tears.”

E.     Connections and Classroom Activities
·         Using teacher approved websites (such as, students can take a webquest to learn more about the Underground Railroad. Then, the students can compose a fictional composition about their own experience travelling through the Underground Railroad in search of freedom.
·         Also by Christopher Paul Curtis:

o   The Watsons Go to Birmingham- 1963. ISBN 044022800

o   Bud, Not Buddy. ISBN 0440413281

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman

Book Review- The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman
A.    Bibliography
Cushman, Karen.1995. The Midwife’s Apprenctice. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin and Company. ISBN 0395692296
B.     Plot Summary
In medieval England, a girl with no home and no family struggles to get by day-to-day. The girl, known only as Brat, meets Jane the Midwife, and her life begins to change. Brat- who renames herself Alyce- learns the way of midwifery through ill-tempered Jane. Alyce gains knowledge, confidence, and, more importantly, begins to find a place for herself in the world.
C.    Critical Analysis
The Midwife’s Apprentice shows the evolution of a girl, who rises from the dung heap (literally), to a confident young woman. It is a tale of finding oneself and overcoming adversity. Cushman uses the backdrop of medieval England to tell Alyce’s story. There is a sense of accuracy in the writing, from the language to the portrayal of a medieval village, which lends itself to the author’s research. The author’s note at the end of the book offers insight into midwifery past and present.
This is a short novel, only 144 pages, and Cushman does a great job of fitting in content. Her character development of Alyce is thorough and noteworthy. There are some scenes that may go over a young reader’s head- for instance, Jane Sharp’s affair with the baker. Nonetheless, Alyce is such a great protagonist that this is a story worth reading.
D.    Review Excerpts and Awards
·         Newbery Medal Winner 1996
·         From Publisher’s Weekly, “…supremely colorful and pungent.”

E.     Connections and Classroom Activities
·         Led a discussion group with the following questions:
o   1. Alyce's name changed several times throughout the book. How did her life reflect her name? Does a name really matter?
o   2. People call Alyce stupid and witless. Do you agree? How did she show intelligence?

o   3. Many people shaped Alyce's life: Will, Jane Sharp, Edward, and Magister Reese. What did each person offer to Alyce?

o   4. We never find out if Alyce will succeed in becoming a midwife. Do you think she will?



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

Book Review- Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

a.      Bibliography
Larson, Kirby.2008. Hattie Big Sky. New York, New York: Yearling Books. ISBN 0385735952

b.      Plot Summary
The story of sixteen year old Hattie takes place during World War I in America. Ever since Hattie lost her parents when she was five years old, she has been shipped from one relative to another. Tired of being “Hattie Here-and-There,” she bravely moves from Iowa to Montana to live on her own on an inherited homestead. In order to keep the home, Hattie is forced to fence and cultivate the land in less than a year. Between correspondence from a “beau” in the army and her new neighbors, Hattie begins to heal from the wounds of suffering and unwantedness that have plagued her since her parent’s passing.

c.       Critical Analysis
Using research from archives and family records, Kirby Larson uses brilliant figurative language to portray Hattie’s experience transitioning from girl to young woman on a Montana homestead. Larson shares with the reader the bigotry felt towards those of German descent, challenges of homestead life, and the ups-and-downs of being a teenager. The day-to-day life of Hattie is simple, yet complex, and thoroughly engaging.  

One thing to note, the recommended age is 9 and up; however, for a true appreciation of this novel and the protagonist, I would recommend 12 and up. The history of the war will not seem so overwhelming and Hattie will appear more personable to an older reader.

d.      Review Excerpts
·        Starred review on School Library Journal “Larson creates a masterful picture of the homesteading experience and the people who persevered.”

·        Starred review on Booklist “…richly textured novel full of memorable characters.”

e.      Connections
·        Historical novels are a great way to encourage the research process. Students could continue learning about the homesteading experience or the history of World War I.

·        Author study of Kirby Larson’s historical novels:

o   The Dear America: The Fences Between Us. ISBN 0545224187

o   Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival ISBN 080279747


Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Great and Only Barnum by Candace Fleming

Book Review- The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum by Candace Fleming
A.     Bibliography
Fleming, Candace. 2009. The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum. Ill by Ray Fenwick. New York, New York: Schwartz and Wade Books. ISBN 9780375841972
B.     Plot Summary
“Come One! Come All! To the Most Tremendous, Stupendous, Colossal of All Shows!” The American circus was transformed by the larger-than-life character of P.T. Barnum. The Great and Only Barnum is an inside look at the personal and business life of a man who would forever alter the world of American entertainment. This biography is filled with tidbits of valuable information, such as: “When entertaining the public, it is best to have an elephant,” and “Controversy is good for business.” Fleming captures Barnum’s ability for showmanship and self-promotion, along with his less than noble character traits. A fun, informative read for 6th grade and up.
C.     Critical Analysis
Candace Fleming is an award winning author of several biographies. Her novel, The Great and Only Barnum, is an interesting and informative read about the life and exploits of P.T. Barnum. She uses mainly primary sources, directly from Barnum’s own account, and the illustrations are old circus photos, ticket stubs, and engravings from the time. The text is organized chronologically according to Barnum’s life. Each chapter is titled and complete with subheadings, illustrations, and captions. Interestingly, there are numerous sidebars of relative information, including facts about: schoolhouses, slavery, his family, etc. The text is accompanied by an index and source notes.
D.    Review Excerpts
·        Starred review from Booklist: “The material is inherently juicy…”
·        Starred review from Kirkus: “As revealing as it is entertaining.”
E.     Connections and Classroom Activities
·        Author study of Candace Fleming’s work
             ·     Students can write their own biography about a person they would like to get to know more about
·        Students can create a timeline of Barnum’s life
·        Orchestrate a class “circus” showcasing student’s various talents