Friday, July 30, 2010

Two Days / Two Novels in Verse

I've spent the last four days with some very smart educators, and it was very invigorating professionally. If you don't already know about Choice Literacy, and you like to hone your teaching craft when it comes to reading and writing, I would encourage you to check out the Choice Literacy website. Choice Literacy sponsors workshops/seminars, creates DVDs about learning and classroom organization, and sends out a weekly newsletter called The Big Fresh.

I've been in Wrentham, Massachusetts, at one of those week-long workshops, where the learning opportunities and speakers are different every day. So many smart people from whom to learn, so little time!

In one of the Choice Literacy sessions I attended, Katie Doherty, a 6th grade teacher, spoke about her reading workshop in the middle school setting. It was delightful for me, as a 5th grade teacher, to hear someone in the secondary arena talk about how she has figured out a way to live within a middle school schedule, and still stay committed to reading workshop, writing workshop, and choice for her students when it comes to reading and writing. I could wax on forever about the amazing things Katie teaches her students each and every day. But I want to focus specifically on a "gift" she gave each of the people in her day-long session.

Spinning Through the Universe: a novel in poems from Room 214 by Helen Frost was first published in 2004. It is a story about a school classroom and its members told in verse. (Frost also wrote Diamond Willow published two years ago, and reviewed by Bill here.) I actually read it in the short flight between Boston and Washington DC (visiting my daughter for two days). It was powerful, and I found myself teary a few times.

Spinning Through The Universe tells the stories of many unique individuals that are in Mrs. Williams' classroom, Room 214. The reader learns about illness and heartache and friendship issues and family issues and so much more. Frost gives us a peep inside the different characters' lives by switching the point of view bookended by Mrs. Williams' thoughts in the beginning and at the end.

Every time a new character's voice is heard, a new page is begun. I think that makes it easier for the middle grade reader to keep track of who's talking, because there are so many people we hear from. I found myself flipping back and forth in the book to make sure I was staying true to one character's life; I think this would be a great book to share with students in a read aloud setting as we tracked the different characters and what was happening in each of their lives. The inferring the reader will have to do when a story is written in verse will also be something on which to work.

And each time a new character speaks, there is a new title for that section. It was good reflection for me to match the title with the emotions of the character and the story they tell.

In addition to the beautiful story Frost weaves together, she also gives the reader another gift. In the back of the book, Frost explains what form is. She has sectioned the story into two parts; in the first part, she uses a different form for each poem. In the second part, each poem is a very clever acrostic poem (so clever I didn't even catch that all of them were that form until I read the back!!). Frost then proceeds to explain the different forms of poetry and verse she used, giving them a name and a person for whom she used that form.

What a great gift, both from Katie and from Helen Frost. I had already planned on starting the year in writing workshop with poetry to loosen up my students' writing skills, but now that I've read Spinning Through the Universe, I have a perfect read aloud to complement that study! I can't wait to share it with students, and then guide them to the tub that contains the rest of novels in verse I have been collecting.

I anticipate that Spinning Through the Universe will become a new mentor text for me. Most importantly, I will use it for enjoyment of story. But I will also be using it for character understanding, inferring, and writing mentor. How wonderful to have a text that has multiple purposes. I absolutely loved this book!!

Stay tuned for the second, and the newest story in verse review. Coming your way soon...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Justin Fisher Declares War Good in So Many Ways

So I'm back for a short time, everyone returned safe and sound from my second trip to Boston and in two days I leave for my annual golf trip to Michigan, or as I like to call it Dads' Camp. I won't be reading anything there, but I managed to read James Preller's new book Justin Fisher Declares War. For all of you recent readers of Literate Lives, James, or Jimmy is a friend of our blog and Karen and I so I was thrilled when he sent me a copy of his new book, autographed too! Here are several reasons I really like Justin Fisher Declares War:

1. It's short! Only 135 pages but so much is packed into those pages! It will be easy to convince my students to pick it up because they won't be intimidated by the size. I'm really starting to look for titles that are 200 pages or less.

2. It has some familiar characters. Trey and Spider from Along Came Spider are back in cameo roles. Kids like catching up with characters from other books, that's why series are so popular. James brings these two memorable characters back to interact with Justin Fisher, class clown.

3. It has a reading pit and a male librarian! WOO HOO!

4. It has lessons that can be taught through read aloud. I know class clowns everywhere who are struggling with the fact that they are losing friends because everyone is growing tired of their constant joking will see themselves. Hopefully it will lead them to reinvent themselves without changing completely, just like Justin Fisher.

5. It has a new teacher and an old teacher interacting with the old teacher sharing the age old advice "never let them see you smile." Obviously I don't agree with this philosophy, but it's such a classic. I loved it when the new teacher, Mr. Tripp, finds success with Justin when he chooses to ignore it.

6. As with all James Preller books, it has great characters interacting with each other.

7. It will appeal to all 4th and 5th graders.

As I was reading I realized that I have never created a mosaic for any of James Preller's book and since I love his stuff and he's a friend, I thought it was about time. So here it is.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ruth and the Green Book

You know those great gift cards, candy, gadgets, etc. that you notice while standing in a checkout line? Recently my favorite children's bookstore, Cover to Cover, has started tempting me at the checkout line as well. They have featured books displayed where you check out. I was first tempted by, and then purchased, The Red Umbrella. My most recent discovery while standing at CTC's checkout counter was Ruth and the Green Book written by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and illustrated by Floyd Cooper.

Ruth and the Green Book is a picture book that does a very effective job telling about a time in history of which I had some background knowledge, but I loved that I learned from this book. I had no background knowledge whatsoever about the "The Negro Motorist Green Book."

The story takes place in the 1950's when Ruth's dad surprises Ruth and her mom by coming home with a new car one day. He bought it for his job, but first, they decided to use the car to go visit Ruth's Grandma in Alabama. Everyone was so excited.

Ruth's family soon learns that life is very different from where they live in Chicago. Gas station owners wouldn't let them use the bathrooms, restaurants wouldn't let them eat, motels with vacancies wouldn't let them stay. Ruth thought:

"It semed like there were 'White Only' signs everywhere outside of our Chicago neighborhood."

But on their second night from Chicago to Alabama, they stopped at a house of a friend of Ruth's dad. He shared that the friendliest gas stations were Esso stations. When they finally stop at an Esso, the attendant there showed them a pamphlet called, "The Negro Motorist Green Book." It was like today's version of a AAA Guide Book. The Green Book was organized by states and contained names of places where black people would be welcome to eat, sleep, get gas, shop, etc.

This is the piece of history of which I had no knowledge. The Green Book was actually put together by a postman, Mr. Victor H. Green, to help black people when traveling. The first edition came out in 1936, and the final edtion was published in 1964. Though there was a cost in buying the book, what an incredible resource for black people who wanted to travel during the time of the Jim Crow laws!

Telling this story through Ruth's eyes is very effective. A child narrator softens the hatred that surrounded black traveler, and instead focuses on the positive things the Green Book brought into this family's life. Cooper's illustrations are very soft as well, and complement the text quite nicely.

I was very moved by Ruth and the Green Book, and am so glad I was "tempted" at the checkout counter to buy it. This book will be shared and prominently displayed in our classroom with Sit-In - what wonderful and meaningful conversations we can have about this time in history using these two fabulous books!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Another Mosaic

I'm leaving on Thursday for my second trip to Boston, much smaller group, only 30 kids this time. I won't be posting until I get back, but I'm pretty excited, I received a copy of James Preller's new book Justin Fisher Declares War! today and will be taking it with me.

I finished Patricia MacLachlan's new book Word After Word After Word and liked it a lot. I can see many uses for this in the class room, Karen reviewed it here. I wonder if Ms. Mirabel has been added to the list of cool teachers at A Year of Reading. Since the book has already received a lot of attention from the blog world, I thought I'd make a mosaic for it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


I was very moved by the nonfiction picture book, Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down. It was written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney. They are both very talented in their own right, but this book shows the genius of their collaboration.

Sit-In is a story about a very famous moment in time. It starts on Feb. 1, 1960, when four Negro college students decided to sit down and try to order at the Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. They chose to ignore the "Whites Only" sign and planned to peacefully sit there until they got their order.

Their peaceful act of defiance caught on like wildfire around the country, and soon there were many Negro people sitting at lunch counters, waiting to be served.

This book is so striking because it is true. Andrea Davis Pinkney even found out what the four students in Greensboro actually ordered: doughnuts and coffee. In fact the phrase that repeats itself several times throughout the story is, "... a doughnut and coffee, with cream on the side." Such a simple request, but what a monumental task to undertake.

Most of the story is written as a metaphor for eating, especially the parts about equality, peace, and integration. That metaphor works so well with a story about people sitting at a lunch counter, which eventually leads to something much greater than "a doughnut and coffee, with cream on the side."

Brian Pinkney's illustrations are wonderful. I think my favorite page is the one where the words tell about all the horrible things that were done to the people at the lunch counter by angry people, full of hatred. The words tell of "coffee poured down their backs, milkshakes flung in their faces, pepper thrown in their eyes, ketchup - not on the fries, but dumped on their heads." The words are pretty descriptive, and the illustrations hint at the anger of the people doing these acts in the background.

I was recently in Washington D.C., and while visiting the Smithsonian Museum of American History, I had the opportunity to see the actual counter with the four stools from the Greensboro Woolworths. It's an amazing piece of our country's history, and one we shouldn't forget.

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down will be one of my first read alouds of the year as we begin to build community. It will be important to look at all the ways we can stand up for each other and for what's right, no matter what the color of our skin or our ethnicity. This particular event happened 40 years ago, and our classroom community will be a place where it still happens today.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My Next Trip to Cover to Cover 5

It's been a while since I posted a list of my future purchases, and here's what I've discovered about my bookstore posts, they are very helpful to me! Hopefully our Literate Lives readers are finding them helpful too, but the last time I went to Cover to Cover, I consulted my posts so I wouldn't forget something. Anyway, here are my next purchases at Cover to Cover.

Wonder Horse: The True Story of the World's Smartest Horse by Emily Arnold McCully: Born to slavery, Bill Key exhibited a talent for communicating and caring for animals at a very young age. Once he was a free man, Bill studied to become a vet and began taking care of animals. When his favorite horse dies giving birth to a crippled colt he is almost inconsolable over the loss. The colt comes to him and Bill is renewed. He realizes the intelligence of the horse and trains it to answer math and spelling questions. From that point on Bill and his wonder horse Jim travel the country entertaining crowds. This non fiction picture book will be a hit with all of the horse lovers at Bailey.

Stand Straight Ella Kate: The True Story of a Real Giant by Kate and M. Sarah Klise: Ella Kate Ewing was born at a normal size but soon after began growing at an abnormal rate. When she was done she was eight feet tall! Today we know that Ella suffered with gigantism but in her day, she was made fun of by kids and adults when she went in public. Her only way to deal with her height was to join traveling shows and circuses where people paid to see her. As cruel as this may sound, it actually worked out well for Ella, she became wealthy and built her own house to accommodate her size. When she would return from the road, she would host many of the townspeople to share her travels and the exotic locations she was able to visit. Kids will be fascinated with the actual size drawings inside the back and front cover and the story will be excellent for teaching about making the best of a difficult situation and not feeling sorry for yourself.

The Pirate of Kindergarten by George Ella Lyon Illustrated by Lynne Avril: When Ginny starts kindergarten, she realizes she love reading circle, but reading itself is difficult. Not because Ginny doesn't know her letters and sounds, but because she sees two of everything. Ginny figures out if she closes one eye things clear up but her teacher tells her to stop squinting, she realizes that if she gets really close the print things clear up but her teacher says "we read with our eyes, not our noses." And so it goes until a school vision screening discovers that Ginny suffers from double vision. When she visits the eye doctor he fixes her up with a patch until her special glasses are ready and Ginny is thrilled that it allows her to see like the rest of the kids. Great story to teach kids that we all can learn, we just do it differently. It's also a great eye opener for us teachers to our students' differences in the classroom.

My Next Trip to Cover to Cover 1
My Next Trip to Cover to Cover 2
My Next Trip to Cover to Cover 3
My Next Trip to Cover to Cover 4

Friday, July 16, 2010

How To Clean a Hippopotamus

I bought How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships by Steven Jenkins and Robin Page this past spring, put it on my bookshelf to read, and then forgot about it. I'm so disappointed about that because this book is an amazing find. It would have been a perfect complement to the life science unit I taught in the spring dealing with ecosystems, food chains, food webs, and interdependence.

This book deals entirely with symbiosis - how animals form mutually beneficial relationships with each other. What Jenkins and Page have done is choose some of the more unusual partnerships and highlighted them. I anticipate that when I share this book, I will hear comments like, "Gross," "Awesome," "They did what," and "No way," just to name a few.

Some of the relationships this book deal with are:
  • cleaning by one animal of another (a plover cleaning a crocodile's teeth)
  • protection from predators (upside-down jellyfish on top of a crab)
  • hunting/finding food (the coyote and badger vs. the prairie dog)
  • providing or sharing homes (black tree ants and woodpeckers)
Each double-page layout has a theme, and this is divided up into smaller boxes, anywhere from 3 - 8 boxes per page. Jenkins and Page co-wrote the text which is so amazing, but Jenkins' illustrations are perfect at both complementing the text, as well as engaging the reader.

In addition, for those readers who still want more knowledge, in the back of the book, the authors share even more information about symbiosis. They also have each double-page layout reduced, and underneath tell the size, habitat, and diet of each animal mentioned on those 2 pages.

How to Clean a Hippopotamus is a great nonfiction mentor text, as it so adeptly pairs the visual information with the written information. This will be one of those books I share multiple times throughout the year. I love Steve Jenkins' work, and he and Robin Page have another winner on their hands!!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Some Tech Stuff for the Summer

So after the first summer tech discussion at Katie's house, I came away inspired to try one new thing and to practice and old thing...nothing happened. After I read about the second tech discussion at Karen's house I was once again inspired to try one new thing and practice an old thing...this week...something happened!

I finally took the plunge into Twitter, Franki has been bugging me for about a year, maybe more, to get hooked. I kept putting it off because I wasn't sure why I needed to join. Truthfully, I still haven't figured that out, but after talking with Karen, I learned that was one thing that took place at the last tech discussion. Everyone who didn't have a Twitter account, now does. I didn't want to be left out, so here I am. If you have any suggestions for things I should do with this Twitter thang, let me know. Right now I'm mostly just lurking and have only tweeted on my Twitter once. That was the new thing.

The old thing I practiced was the book mosaic idea I came up with last summer. Basically the idea is to put together a collection of 9 pictures that represent a book in some way. I've done them for The Small Adventures of Popeye and Elvis, Savvy, and Make Way for Ducklings. I also created one for a family vacation. I hadn't done one in a while so yesterday I sat down and created one for Countdown, my first pick for some Newbery attention this year.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Whole Nother Story

A Whole Nother Story by Dr. Cuthbert Soup was amusing and entertaining from the first page to the last page.

To start with, the author of this book (which I am pretty sure is setting itself up to be a series) is listed as the President, National Center for Unsolicited Advice. Dr. Soup makes a great narrator, stepping out of the story from time to time to add his commentary (reminds me a little of Lemony Snicket). In addition, throughout the book, there are pages of unsolicited advice. These advice pages are not to be missed because they are so darn funny. An example:

"Advice On Choosing A Dog -- ... I love animals. So much in fact that I have had the words 'I Love Animals' shaved into the side of my dog, Kevin."

Pure silliness and kids are going to love it.

The main characters in the story are the Cheeseman family: Dad (Ethan), Barton (the oldest), Crandall (the youngest), Steve (Crandall's boldly speaking sock puppet), and Saffron (the middle and the sister). The Cheeseman family tends to leave wherever they're living frequently in the middle of the night. Their dog, Pinky, has developed the ability to sense when the bad guys who want Mr. Cheeseman's invention are near, and when that happens, the Cheesemans pack up and take off. Mr. Cheeseman is trying to invent a time machine for many reasons, not the least being the ability to go back in time to right before Mrs. Cheeseman was killed.

The bad guys chasing the Cheesemans go by the names of Mr. 5, Mr. 29, Mr. 88, and Mr. 207. Their seniority within the bad guys is indicated by how close to the number 1 they are. In addition, Agents El Kyoo and Aitch Dee are trying to locate the Cheesemans as well. The final character in pursuit of the Cheesemans is international spy, Pavel Dushenko and his chimp, Leon.

Hilarity ensues as the Cheesemans manage to stay ahead of all these folks. Along the way, the Cheesemans meet and receive help from some very different and interesting characters. That only makes it more fun for the reader.

A Whole Nother Story
had me laughing out loud at points. I was getting a pedicure at the time and got a few strange looks. :) I predict that this will be a book universally liked by almost all students. For that reason alone, I was actually thinking of purchasing 2 copies.

For more reviews of A Whole Nother Story, check out:

Library Pirates
Book Kids
Three Silly Chicks (interview with Dr. Soup)
Learn Me Sumthin' (includes a link to a connected website)

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Chalk by Bill Thomson was actually introduced to me when I walked down the hallway of my school this past spring, and walked by one of the kindergarten rooms. Outside the room were these huge chalk drawings the kindergartners had drawn with a copy of the title page of Chalk. I was delighted with all their imaginative creations, but I still didn't know the book.

About a month later, at a literacy event at my school, books were being sold and Chalk was one of the books available. Much to my delight, I found that Chalk is a wordless picture book. After "reading" the book finally, I could now make more sense of what those kindergartners had created.

Chalk is delightful in so many ways, but the one I appreciate the most is the nod to the imagination of young children. I love the idea of children playing in imaginative ways.

I think I will use this wordless picture book in the beginning of the year as I get to know the different personalities of my new class. The pictures will invoke conversation, they will also encourage students to remember the "pretend" things they used to do or still do, and a little bit of inferring will need to be done to make sense of the story. What great information I can learn about my class as we share Chalk together!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Red Umbrella

I was recently at Cover to Cover, and on display at the check-out counter was The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez. I trust the opinions of the smart ladies at Cover to Cover, so if they thought this was a book worth displaying, I decided to get it and put it at the top of my "to read" pile.

I'm soooooo glad I did! It's hard to believe this is a first novel for Gonzalez because she has very adeptly put many layers in this story. Whether it was intentional or not, I'm not certain, but what the layers allow is wider audience access to the plot of the story. Whether you're an upper elementary student reading it for plot and characters, or you're a middle/senior high school student studying the time Castro came to power in Cuba and how it affected the people, or you're an adult like me who remembers seeing stories about Castro on the television news -- The Red Umbrella will appeal to all.

A few of the "layers" that really help move the story along:
  • From chapter 1 to chapter 37 (the last one), Gonzalez starts each one with a quote or headline from a variety of United States newspapers that tell what was going on in Cuba. The story starts with a headline dated May 2, 1961, and ends with a headline from April 2, 1962. A study could be done of these chapter titles alone to see the transitions in Cuba over an 11 month period.
  • A very believeable main character in Lucia, a 14 year old, whose biggest worries are what outfit to wear, what boy might like her, and how to spend time with friends. All that changes early on when the private Catholic school she goes to is shut down because the priests are deported, and soon all her friends and neighbors want to be part of the Revolution and frown on Lucia's family because they liked Cuba the way it was.
  • Seeing Cuba through Lucia's eyes -- a Cuba I didn't know. I think Castro and his beliefs were so much a part of what I learned about Cuba growing up in the 60's, that Lucia opened my eyes to a beautiful place I didn't know about.
  • Watching a family be split apart to keep the children safe. The immigration of Lucia and her brother to America where they lived with foster parents in Nebraska. Watching how Lucia and her brother adapted to this new environment, so different from anything they've ever known. It also made me happy to know that there were many generous families like Lucia's foster parents who took in Cuban children until their parents could hopefully get here themselves.
  • The friendship between Lucia and her best friend in Cuba, Ivette, is a dynamic one. Reading about the ebbs and flows of their relationship will greatly interest the reader.
  • There are many Spanish words and phrases used in The Red Umbrella. Gonzalez has included a glossary of their pronounciation and meanings at the end of the book.
  • The author's note where she shares that her parents and her mother-in-law were children like Lucia and her brother -- "children who were not only separated from their families but also separated from their country and culture." She also shares even more background knowledge for the reader about the events of that time in Cuba.
The Red Umbrella was a wonderful read, and has actually made it into the stack of possible read alouds for next year. Even if it isn't a read aloud, it will be a rich book to add to our classroom library.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Next Trip to Cover to Cover 4

I really need to make a trip to the bookstore, I haven't been there in a couple of weeks and I may be having withdrawal symptoms, shaking, speaking incoherently, reading old newspapers, etc. I really need to get some Cover to Cover therapy!

Charlie's Superhero Underpants by Lee Wildish and Paul Bright: OK, so any book with underpants in the title gets my attention and almost always a laugh in THE PIT! This book will definitely get laughs as Charlie's favorite underpants, red with POW! across the front and KERZAP! OOF! and SPLAT! across the back, go missing from the clothesline. Charlie takes off on a round the world search for his favorite underoos and ends up trading various animals for other people's clothes around the world. When he meets the Yeti in Nepal, he finds his underwear in an absolutely HILARIOUS picture of the beast wearing the missing undies. VERY FUN!

Flying Lessons by Gilbert Ford: The book starts as a celebration of pigeons and their migration to the north. Pigeons do everything the same, cooing, rest on the same wires, caught worms together, dip in the same bath, and wait for their eggs to hatch. One day they are joined by an unusual "bird" that can't do all of the things they can do, but when the winter turns suddenly cold, the pigeons are stuck in the north, unable to fly. That's when the unusual "bird" comes to the rescue and gets all of the pigeons to safety. The pictures are wonderful in this fun book and lessons about not being to hasty to judge others can come from its reading.

But I Wanted a Baby Brother by Kate Feiffer and Diane Goode: The first book by these two was hugely popular in THE PIT and still doesn't sit on the shelves much, I have the same expectations for this book. When a baby sister comes home from the hospital, Oliver Keaton is NOT happy! All he wanted was a baby brother so he goes about trying to make a trade with his friends who have baby brothers. As he goes through his list of friends, one baby brother cries too much, one baby brother is into stuff that doesn't belong to him, and all of them are just annoying in a variety of ways. In the end Oliver decides his baby sister is just right for him and they become friends. Fun story of siblings learning to get along with bright colorful pictures, very fun.

A Place Where Hurricanes Happen by Renee Watson Illustrated by Shadra Strickland: The author of this spent time in New Orleans after Katrina working with kids. Using poetry and theater to help the children of New Orleans cope with the aftermath, she was inspired to write this book. Told first person through the eyes of a number of children, the reader follows them through the process of preparing for the hurricane to coming home for the recovery. Very well written, leaving nothing out, including the loss that all of the people of New Orleans felt. The pictures are beautiful, the children's faces filled with emotion and feeling.

My Next Trip to Cover to Cover 1
My Next Trip to Cover to Cover 2
My Next Trip to Cover to Cover 3

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Two Easy Chapter Books That Are Well Done

I have a hard time finding easy chapter books for those kids that need them. In my opinion, many of them are not well written and the stories are just bad. I was excited to find two this week that I will be adding to the library and encouraging my younger readers to try out.

The first is part of the Down Girl and Sit series. Down Girl and Sit are dogs that have adventures and the one I read was called Home on the Range. Lucy Nolan has created these very funny dogs named Down Girl and Sit who have the dog philosophy "a fence keeps a dog on one side, and excitement on the other" and go to a dude ranch with their owners. While they are there the run into squirrels that bark, prairie dogs, and ugly dogs, coyotes. They also venture under a fence and discover a raging bull and meet a country dog named Git Along. The story is fun, fast paced and filled with corny puns and jokes that my younger readers are going to love. It's also illustrated by Mike Reed which will help some of the more reluctant readers pick it up. I'm going to check out the others in this series and probably adding more titles to the library.

The second first chapter is The Best Horse Ever by Alice DeLaCroix. Now I won't lie, I'm not a huge fan of horse stories, never have been, but plenty of my first and second grade girls are, so I'm constantly on the look out for new horse stories, this is a good one. Abby takes lessons at the stable just across the field and her all time favorite lesson horse, Griffin is for sale. Her parents have said if the right horse comes along, they would consider buying it for Abby and they are true to their word and Griffin comes to live at Abby's barn. After a couple of early mishaps, Abby throws herself into taking care of Griffin, so much that she begins to miss her other summer activities and offends her best friend. When she finds herself not enjoying her new horse quite so much, she realizes, after shopping trip with her mom, that she needs a little balance in her life. It's a good story with a lot of detail about horses and taking care of them that will please my horse lovers.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Henrietta Hornbuckle's Circus of Life Not Just Clowning Around

Another find from the new fiction shelf at my library and another really good book. I love these little surprises in the summer! Henrietta Hornbuckle's Circus of Life by Michael de Guzman was one of these little surprise finds.

Henrietta is the only child of Hortense and Morris Mortimer (Momo) Hornbuckle. They are a clowning family, members of the small and struggling Filbert's Clown Circus. They travel in a caravan of RV's with the only family that Henrietta has ever known. She has never gone to school but is very wise and smart, she has never lived in a house, but always felt at home. Now the year's tour is beginning and the big show in Union Park, NYC serves as the incentive to learn a new act with her father.

Henrietta and Momo begin working on an act called The 8 Foot Clown. Henrietta will stand on her father's shoulders wearing a costume that creates the illusion of an 8 foot clown. The act will debut in NYC. Hortense Hornbuckle has a different incentive for this season's tour, she wants to meet up with her estranged sister, Carlotta, in Oyster Bay and try to reconcile the differences between them. Differences that stem from Hortense's life choice of marrying Momo, instead of pursuing the teaching career she trained for. This is the storyline that provides all of the foreshadowing for tragedy because it's all about "preparing for what happens when the circus is gone."

Henrietta isn't ready to accept the idea that her happy, carefree life with the family of clowns could ever end. Momo isn't much help with accepting it either since it's all he's ever known. It's interesting how author Michael de Guzman uses the various characters to show all sides of Henrietta and her family, there's Sweetpea, a 16 year old who wants something other than clowning, that forces Henrietta to examine her life and realize that she loves being a clown. It's her Aunt Carlotta that points out to Henrietta that she is an intelligent, pretty girl who is a clown as an act, but not as a person. Henrietta's beloved father Momo personifies her self confidence and makes her feel that she can do anything.

When tragedy strikes the family and the circus is forced to close, Henrietta learns that there may be life after the circus when all of her clowning family reveals their very "normal" life plans when the circus ends. Henrietta talks them into one more show, for Momo, in NYC and with the help of the mechanic Ixnay, Henrietta pulls of the 8 Foot Clown routine by herself and she and her mom ride of into the sunset with adventures unknown on their minds.

I liked Henrietta Hornbuckle's Circus of Life. It was a quick read with great characters and plot line that kept me going. Even though Michael de Guzman dropped hints along the way of what was going to happen in the end, it wasn't predictable and I was surprised at the turn of events. I'll be recommending this to fourth and fifth graders in the fall.