Sunday, May 3, 2009

Because of Winn-Dixie

Choosing a book to read that has been made into a feature film can be a bit tricky. Often times the book is much better than the movie. Sometimes the film is better but leaves out a lot of the plot from the book. Sometimes the film is only a glimpse of what the book was about. When I selected Kate DiCamillo's Newbery Honor book, Because of Winn-Dixie, I had already read The Tale of Despereaux and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, two other titles also written by DiCamillo. I thoroughly enjoyed both of those books and I couldn't remember why I hadn't read her Newbery Honor book. I was skeptical because I had heard that the film version of The Tale of Despereaux did not follow the book and wondered if Winn-Dixie would have the same fate. I'll admit that I was also curious about a book with "Winn-Dixie" in the title. Having lived in Florida for 17 years, I knew that the Winn-Dixie was a well-known supermarket chain in that state.

The book was wonderful and a really easy read. Opal is a charming character that claims a mangy-looking ownerless dog at the Winn-Dixie. She finds a friend in the dog and meets a host of unusual characters through the book that need a friend just as much as she does. Throughout the book Opal is also trying to understand why her mother left her father (the preacher) and her. Opal comes to understand that "you can't hold on to anything - you can only love what you've got while you've got it." With Winn-Dixie around, her father begins to come out of his "turtle shell" and Opal begins to realize that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to her friends Ms. Gloria Dump, Ms. Fanny Block, Otis, the Dewberry boys, Sweetie Pie Thomas, and pinch-faced Amanda.

Overall, the movie stayed true to the book and I enjoyed it. Jeff Daniels plays the preacher dad and Cicely Tyson and Eva Marie Saint play Miss Block and Miss Dump, respectively. A few characters, such as the trailer park manager and the local policeman, had extra parts in the movie. The policeman had some comical scenes and Mr. Alfred, the trailer park manager came to tolerate Winn-Dixie after a rocky start. The Dewberry boys also had some funny scene-stealers. The part of Otis, the pet shop clerk, was played by the musician Dave Matthews. He plays the socially awkward guitarist who has a calming effect on all the animals. I would recommend reading the book first (Kate DiCamillo's first book is as awesome as the other two I read!) and then seeing the movie. Readers will not be disappointed with the movie version.

The Lorax, Didactic Literature, Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big, and The Great Kapok Tree

The Lorax
is considered didactic because it teaches the consequences of misusing the environment. Today, didactic children's books are published more as cautionary tales of what happens when we make inappropriate choices. Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big, by Berkeley Breathed, tells the story of Edwurd and his reputation of fibbing. As it turns out, his sister Fannie is the culprit of the lie this time. Readers will appreciate Edwurd's fantastic creation of the chain of events that leads to the broken pig. They will also learn the importance of telling the truth and not following in the footsteps of someone who is making poor choices.

Another title, The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry, is also a great piece of didactic literature. The story could be used to teach students about the destruction/conservation of the rainforest and the plants and animals of this ecosystem. The beautiful illustrations are also great teaching tools. Although this title was written in 1990 I chose it because the students in my class really enjoyed the book and gained a greater understanding of the effects one person can have on the rainforest habitat.

Dr. Seuss and Tension In Today's Literature

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems contains a bit of tension! As students read the book they realize that the pigeon has been told not to drive the bus. They also realize that the pigeon is pleading and begging, using every possible reason that seems to make sense, to get permission to drive. I'm certain that readers of all ages can relate to this type of persuasion! Students will also relate to the story because they know that the grown pigeon, just like their parents, has good reasons for not allowing the pigeon to drive the bus. They also have an idea about what will happen if the pigeon gets behind the wheel. I believe that this book appeals to readers because they envision themselves driving a big bus!

David Goes to School. by David Shannon also contains tension. School-age readers will read about David's behavior and think "He shouldn't be doing that!" The readers know and follow the rules. They do not like getting into trouble and I believe it makes them a bit nervous when they see David making more and more poor choices. This book appeals to children because they are able to see what happens and how other students react when someone doesn't follow the rules.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Caldecott and Newbery Awards

The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually to an illustrator of children's picture books who provides a child with a "visual experience." In this case "children's" refers to children up to the age of fourteen. In order to qualify for this prestigious award the illustrator must be a United States citizen or resident. The work must be published in English and considered "original work." The award may be given posthumously. The Caldecott Medal is given to illustrators for distinguished work or excellence in artistic technique, pictorial interpretation and appropriateness of the story, theme, or concept. Selection committee members also consider delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood, or information specifically as they apply to picture books written for children.

The John Newbery Medal is awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature published in English in the United States. The author must be a citizen or resident of the United States and may be awarded posthumously. Authors of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry are considered. Selection committee members consider interpretation of the theme or topic, presentation of information (accuracy, clarity, organization), delineation of characters and setting, development of the plot, and appropriateness of style. The decision is based primarily on the text of the book and its contribution to literature. The Newbery is the best-known and most discussed children's book award in the United States.

Is one award better than the other?

In my personal opinion one award is not better than the other. The authors and illustrators who are selected to receive these awards are phenomenal on their own and are selected because of their excellence and distinguished quality of work. The recipient of the Caldecott Award is an illustrator who creates authentic work that complements text. Not only does the illustrator need to have great artistic ability, he or she must be able to make the connection between the illustrations and text. On the other hand, the Newbery Award winner must be able to write a story that stands solely on the text without regard to illustrations. The recipient of either award must be a standout in his or her category with incredible talent.

Nim's Island

As I read Nim's Island, written by Wendy Orr, I was drawn to the life that Nim and her father have created on the island. The two live in seclusion and have many modern amenities such as cell phones, computers, and satellite capabilities. Their life is very similar to the characters in Swiss Family Robinson (a favorite classic), only Nim and her father choose to live alone and are very happy with their circulstances. The book is a great little read and children (and adults) will enjoy the details of their adventures. Readers will also find Nim's island/animal friends delightful.

When comparing the book and movie I found that they were slightly different and that the translation to film added details that enhanced the book but didn't take away from the story. The film version gave more information about the writer's life. Alex Rover has quite a few "conversations" with the hero of her novels and the hero encourages her to leave her apartment and take a chance in order to help Nim - even though adventure is something that Alexandra only writes about. Nim, on the other hand, is a real adventurer and is relying on her email connection with Alex, the hero, to get her through a scary time. Throughout the movie, Alex's father is portrayed as the adventurer in the novels. The movie gives more scenes to him (played by Gerard Butler) than the book allows, but it also shows more of the father-daughter relationship and the special connection the two have.

The "bad guys" that are trying to take over the island are tourists in both the movie and book but they have different names. At one point in the movie they come ashore and have a big party/luau. Nim meets a boy (not mentioned in the book) from the ship as she is setting up her own attack to get rid of the intruders. Even he understands the importance of keeping the island secluded.

The entire book and movie is full of fun adventure and survival action. I believe this would be a great book for students to read and compare/contrast with the movie. Comparing and contrasting the two would lead to a opportunity to discuss creative license and leaving out sections of the book that might have been important to the story or made the movie even better.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ruby's Wish

Ruby's Wish, written by Shirin Yim Bridges, is an true story about a young girl in China who wants to go to the university to get an education instead of following the tradition of growing up and getting married. This inspiring story tells of a determined little girl who works hard to make time for studies as well as learning how to cook and clean house. The mothers, at that time in China, thought that learning to cook and clean house so that they could get a good husband was much more important that studying for a chance to go to the university. As Ruby tries to "do it all" many of the other girls give up the studies. Ruby's grandfather continually encourages her as he notices her talent in calligraphy and poetry. He finds out that Ruby believes that the boys are better looked after than the girls but he tells her to continue with her studies. Eventually she is rewarded for her hard work when her grandfather presents her with a letter of acceptance to the university.

I believe this would be a wonderful addition to every elementary collection. All children, boys and girls alike, will appreciate the story of Ruby and be encouraged to work hard to achieve their dreams. The story also shows the rewards of being independent and determined while being respectful of traditions and culture. The story, illustrated in beautiful watercolors, gives readers a look at the Chinese culture and how it has changed just in the past 80 years. The readers will also see that even when your wishes and dreams seem impossible you shouldn't give up on them. If a small girl can change her destiny and how her culture percieves a girl's place in society then the readers will see that they can accomplish great things, too.

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Moose Flanagan, a 12-year-old boy, lives on Alcatraz Island, a maximum security prison near San Fransisco, California. He lives there with his father, a guard and electrician at the prison, his mother, and his sister Natalie. Natalie has special needs that the doctors in the year 1935 have not been able to diagnose. Moose's parents are trying to get Natalie accepted into a school that will help "cure" her. This story is more about Moose's relationship with his parents and sister, and how his family and new friends on the island address Natalie's condition, than about Al Capone.

Moose is very protective of his sister and at the same time overwhelmed with the responsibility that he is given to take care of her while his mother and father work. The two meet some unusual friends on the island in a Theresa, a 7-year-old and Piper, the warden's sneaky daughter. Despite Moose's best intentions trouble follows as well as some unusual adventures. Gennifer Choldenko, the author, skillfully shows Moose's balance of frustration in a situation he has no control of and his love for his sister.

While this story is completely fictional, the families of workers actually lived on Alcatraz while it was open and the details of the book are realistic. As I read the story I was drawn in immediately. I had no idea that the book was about autism and how this family and the medical world tried to understand the disease. Growing up I had a sister with special needs and found that, just like Moose, I could not communicate with her as I would another person. I often had babysitting duty and I remember trying to teach her things that I thought would help her along. I understood Moose's frustration and his unconditional love for Natalie. I highly recommend this book and will read Choldenko's first novel Notes From a Liar and Her Dog and her future titles!