Douglas Wood has brought to life a pivotal moment in world history through his book Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World. He covers the historical facts accurately and humorously while describing Prime Minister Churchill’s visit to the White House during Christmas 1941. Children will certainly enjoy this peek into a president’s life with everything from friendship and feasts to speeches and schemes. In the end, the visit was a success. The United States agreed to an alliance with Great Britain for the duration of the war. Indeed, this vacation (of sorts) marked a turning point in the progress of the Allied Powers which allowed them to save the world from the tyranny of war.

This engaging book is made even more delightful with Barry Moser’s incredibly detailed watercolor illustrations. He has painted portraits of Churchill and Roosevelt both as children and adults, and he effectively depicts the antics of both world leaders. Additionally, his representations of naval ships, Japanese war planes, and U. S. airplanes are impeccable and draw the reader into the era of World War II. The final full-page illustration of Harry Hopkins’ letter to Mrs. Churchill brings a satisfying end to an exciting journey back in time.

How could you use this book in a unit on World War II? Additionally, would you find this story useful when teaching about courage and friendship?

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This weekend, we are reading Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World written by Douglas Wood and illustrated by Barry Moser. This colorful picture book is a delightfully historic account of the Christmas that United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill shared in 1941. That December, just after the Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base, Churchill traveled to Washington, D.C. to visit with the president. Churchill and Roosevelt spent the holiday making war plans. In this book, Wood chronicles both the political debates and festive escapades at the White House that Christmas.

I know most people don’t enjoy learning about history, but this book offers an enjoyable viewpoint. Read it yourself, and tell me what you think of Christmas in 1941.

Originally published in 1942, Gertrude Chandler Warner writes a wonderfully suspenseful story of four orphaned children. Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny Alden are supposed to live with their grandfather, Mr. Alden, after their parents die, but they have never met Mr. Alden and are afraid of him. So, they decide to run away and live by themselves. On a rainy night in the woods, Jessie finds an abandoned boxcar, and the children soon decide to keep house in it.

As a child, I was inspired and a little frightened at the Alden’s exploits. The thought of living in the woods and taking care of my siblings without my mother or father to help me was just about the scariest thing I could think of. Yet, the Alden children never seemed worried about finding food or making money. Every day, Henry would do odd jobs for Dr. Moore and bring home food whenever he could. Every day, Jessie and Violet would work to keep the boxcar clean and prepare meals. The children’s resourcefulness is amazing, and even when Violet becomes very ill, you know that everything will be alright.

Modern children who read this book will likely be astonished at all of the things the Aldens are capable of doing. Henry gladly works to organize a hopelessly disorganized garage. Jessie can cook a whole meal over a fire. Violet can sew by hand. Benny never complains about any of the chores his older siblings give him. Considering that the story is set in the early 1940s during World War II this is not really as unlikely as it seems. Readers will learn that children during this time were expected to similar tasks every day or whenever necessary. The Boxcar Children is a perfect book to integrate into a unit concerning American history or World War II.

The Black Bull of Norroway is a story very similar to “The Beauty and the Beast.” The heroine of each story is a young girl with two greedy older sisters, and the heroine must learn to love a monster. Yet, the plot of this story stands on its own.

In “The Beauty and the Beast,” Beauty (Belle) is portrayed as a self-sacrificing daughter who only agrees to marry the beast so that she can save her father. However, in The Black Bull of Norroway, the bull treats Peggy Ann kindly from the very beginning and takes care of her. Peggy Ann’s trial comes later in the story. After she has helped the black bull regain his human form as the Duke of Norroway (Norway), she becomes lost, and he cannot find her. Peggy Ann works for seven years before she is able to search for the Duke, only to find that he is engaged to another woman. Peggy Ann, though, is not going to give up, and finds a way to win him back.

This book is a wonderful story to use with any lesson or unit on fairy tales, especially when comparing similar fairy tales. Charlotte Huck’s writing is very artistic and descriptive, and Anita Lobel’s watercolor illustrations are beautiful – they could practically tell the story on their own! I encourage you to find this book and then put it on your classroom bookshelf.

Welcome to another Picture Book Weekend! This weekend we will take a look at a Scottish fairy tale. The Black Bull of Norroway is retold by Charlotte Huck and illustrated by Anita Lobel. This is a similar story to “The Beauty and the Beast” and “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” as the Black Bull of Norroway is a monster who is later tamed by a young lady. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I look forward to posting the review tomorrow, Sunday, 24 June 2012.

The Boxcar Children

21 June 2012

As a child, The Boxcar Children series was a staple in my reading list. I spent a whole summer reading through as many of these books as I could find. I was thrilled that I could read chapter books, and these books instilled in me a permanent love of mystery.

The book we’ll be reading is the first in the series, The Boxcar Children. In this story, we are introduced to Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny Alden who have just lost their parents. They are supposed to go live with their grandfather, Mr. James Alden, but they have been told that he is a cruel man. Afraid, they run away and build their own home in a boxcar. Warner tells the story of their lives with no parents and their joy in being together. Her words are simple, but her story is engaging. This is the perfect series for beginning readers.

Read The Boxcar Children, then tell me what you thought of the Alden children living on their own. If you read these books when you were young, tell me about the influence they had on your desire to read.

The review for The Boxcar Children will be posted on Monday, 25 June 2012.

I visited Yellowstone National Park with my family in 2005. At the time, I wasn’t too eager about the trip, but once we made it home I knew that I would always cherish what I had learned and seen of that beautiful place. During my visit, many park rangers talked extensively of the 1988 fire. I learned how important natural fires are to the life cycle of the forests and meadows in Yellowstone, and I could still see the effects of that fire in some places, but I never really knew the extent of that fire until reading this book.

The Great Yellowstone Fire by Carole G. Vogel and Kathryn A. Goldner describes the park, the animals, the fire, and the effects of the fire in a very concise but descriptive manner. The beautiful photographs effectively illustrate the story such that the reader might actually be at the park talking with a park ranger. We learn that fire is important to clear away all of the dead vegetation and make room for new plants, and that fire helps to open the pinecones of lodgepole pine trees and scatter the seeds that will plant new trees. In the park, firefighters only put out the fires that are created by humans, and the natural fires are left to do their jobs. However, in July of 1988 during a very dry summer, the natural wildfires began spreading uncontrollably so that park officials decided to begin fighting all fires. Firefighters recruited from across the country use every available method to fight the fires, but by September the fires reach Old Faithful Village. The historic buildings were saved with brilliant emergency plans and efficient firefighting, and on September 11th snow began to help put out the fires. A harsh summer was followed by a harsh winter, but nature knew what to do once spring came again.

This book is a beautiful example of the glory of Yellowstone National Park. Vogel and Goldner have proven the importance of all our national parks and reminded us that even the scariest changes are necessary.

This weekend we will take the opportunity to read some nonfiction. Yellowstone National Park is one of my favorite places, and it provides so many interesting things to learn. This weekend’s book is The Great Yellowstone Fire by Carole G. Vogel and Kathryn A. Goldner published by the Sierra Club and Little, Brown.

This informational picture book provides an accurate view of life in Yellowstone. Readers will learn about the history of the park and the history of fighting natural wildfires. Photographs document the progressions of the fire that changed the landscape of much of Yellowstone in the summer of 1988. The Great Yellowstone Fire will have you eager to learn more about this wonderful place and might even convince you to hop on the first plane headed to Wyoming.

I’ve asked you all to tell me about the lessons you’ve learned from one of the characters while reading The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty, so I’ve decided to answer my own question by writing about Lydia Jaackson-Oberman.

I particularly admire Lydia’s imagination. She has the ability to make fiction seem so real that you believe every word is true, and she can do this while hardly thinking about what she is creating. She can turn the smallest question (i.e, What is your greatest fear?) into something akin to a military investigation. Her imagination has often made her seem detached from the world, and it often prevents her from understanding her own feelings. However, Lydia uses her wild imagination and secret assignments to repair friendships and help a hurting friend. Whether she knows it or not, Lydia’s imagination is her greatest strength and her greatest weakness.

In the same way, we all have traits that can be used to build up and to tear down. I am a perfectionist in every way. Sometimes I am glad to pay close attention to details so I can do a job correctly the first time. Most of the time, though, I am overwhelmed by the details. I see everything that is wrong, and I cannot find a way to fix everything. At this point, I usually give up because I do not want to try to complete a task I cannot do properly the first time. For an example, perfectionism always affects my writing. Occasionally, I can be happy because I feel that I have written perfectly effective. However, I tend to feel that I have missed something or not presented my ideas coherently, but then I have no idea how to fix it. It is why I hate proofreading. No matter the perils of perfectionism, though, I love the feeling when I finally do make something “perfect,” and I am sure that Lydia is glad to know that her imagination can help her friends.

Have you learned anything else from Lydia and The Year of Secret Assignments?

So, you’ve finished reading The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty. I hope I haven’t made you wait too long for the review, but I wanted you to savor every page of this book. As I was reading through it myself (for the third time) I realized just how many important lessons we can learn from this book.

From the main characters, we learn individual lessons.

  • Lydia: A girl who wants to be a writer but believes she will never succeed. Her wild imagination constantly keeps her out of the grip of reality because she experiences only fear and failure when she acknowledges that life is not her own perfect creation.
  • Emily: A bit of an airhead, she has a love of life that borders on recklessness. Emily appears to only care about having fun every chance she gets, but she will fight heart and soul for the things she believes in and the people she loves.
  • Cassie: A tender and caring friend, Cassie lost her father to cancer a year ago. She doesn’t want to burden Emily and Lydia with her pain any longer, so she begins slipping away from them and follows her therapist’s advice to confide in a stranger.
  • Sebastian: Lydia’s Brookfield penfriend, Sebastian struggles with abominably low grades and a volatile temper. He is Lydia’s perfect counterpart. He plays along with and, eventually, encourages her games, but he maintains a rational and practical view of life (even when he compares it to a soccer match).
  • Charlie: Emily’s penfriend, Charlie is the unassuming scapegoat. Self-absorbed, though not arrogant, he is always the last to pick up on the significance of each situation he encounters. By no means stupid, Charlie learns that, with Emily, it is just easier to go along for the ride and ask for details later.
  • Matthew: Cassie’s penfriend, Matthew Dunlop is the catalyst in this entire story. He responds to each of Cassie’s letters with venomous hatred. When she keeps writing, he finally decides to befriend her, only to throw her goodwill back in her face and stomp on it (figuratively). In actuality, Matthew Dunlop is Paul Wilson. A top student at Brookfield, he is respected by every teacher, desired by every girl, and loathed by every self-respecting male student in the school. His craving for power and praise becomes his demise by the end of the book.

First of all, each of these characters proves that teenagers are capable of much greater things than adults usually give them credit for. Even though this book is fictional and maybe a bit exaggerated (but what is the point of fiction if it must be believable, eh?) it teaches a lot about how we treat others. New friendships were forged, and old friendships withstood numerous attacks. Oh, and the good guys caught the bad guy.

So, here’s your secret assignment: Pick a character and tell me what you learned from that character. Did you see yourself in that character? Would you have responded differently in the same position? Are there any qualities you admire in this character? Is this your favorite character, or your least favorite? Why?

Answer one or all of these questions in the comments or with a link to your own blog post. Tomorrow, 15 June 2012, I’ll post my own answers to some of these questions. See you then!