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?

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!

James Marshall has written five short stories about George and Martha in George and Martha: One Fine Day.

  1. The Tightrope: Martha loves walking on her tightrope, but Martha loses her confidence when George becomes frightened.
  2. The Diary: Martha cannot seem to find a private moment to write in her diary. Will George learn to be polite and respectful of Martha’s wishes?
  3. The Icky Story: George decides that lunchtime is the perfect time to tell icky stories, so Martha comes up with a plan to prove to George how undesirable such stories are when one is eating.
  4. The Big Scare: When George scares the daylights out of Martha, she threatens to scare him, too, but when?
  5. The Amusement Park: After a day of fun, Martha gets her revenge and scares the daylights out of George.

Each of these amusing stories is accompanied by charming drawings. The pictures are simple but engaging. Marshall is able to put the weight of every emotion into the faces of each hippopotamus. You will always find George or Martha looking amused, innocent, annoyed, sly, or angry. George even turns completely green when Martha tells her icky story!

Through George and Martha, Marshall has written several unassuming moral lessons. Children learn the importance of minding their manners at the table and toward individual people, and they learn the value in encouraging their friends. George and Martha provide teachers and parents with the perfect opportunity to fulfill a teachable moment.

For another look at George Marshall’s work, read this article which places George and Martha as #48 on a list of Top 100 Picture Books!

It’s Saturday again, and time for another Picture Book Weekend! Today we’ll be reading George and Martha: One Fine Day by James Marshall. George and Martha are two best (hippopotamus) friends who are always having exciting little adventures, and they have been two of my favorite storybook characters for as long as I can remember. While reading this book, consider what it means to be a friend and the different ways we should (or should not) treat our friends. Then, if you find some other George and Martha stories, let me know what you think of those, too!