Monster: Walter Dean Myer

Monster

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Publisher: HarperCollins World

Year of Publication: 1999

Personal Comments:

  • My favorite parts of the books are Steve’s journal entries, which allow readers to depart from the formal, matter-of-fact language of the script to get a glimpse into Steve’s feelings.  The first entry of his notebook (p. 1-5) was particularly hard to read.  At sixteen, most boys feel tough and like nothing can defeat them, and are great at masking their emotions.  Steve is presumably tougher than most boys, since he’s hung out on the streets of Harlem, with some rough, shady characters.  It’s hard to imagine what kind of conditions he experienced in jail that would cause him to shed his macho exterior and reduce him to a sniffling, little boy.  It’s sad to think that even when he’s that scared, he has to figure out when’s the best time to cry, so as not to draw attention to himself.

    I like how the journal entries also reveal his struggle with identity, how a few months in jail have made him doubt who he was:

    • “When I look into the [mirror], I see a face looking back at me but I don’t recognize it.  It doesn’t look like me” (p. 1).
    • He writes in another entry, dated July 8, “I want to look like a good person.  I want to feel like I’m a good person because I believe I am.  But being in here with these guys makes it hard to think about yourself as being different” (p. 62).
    • A day later, he observes that Miss O’Brien doesn’t really see him.  “Who was Steve Harmon?” he writes.  “I wanted to open my shirt and tell her to look into my heart to see who I really was….  I know that in my heart I’m not a bad person.”
    • Even after the trial is finished and he is acquitted, he is unsure of himself.  “That is why I take the films of myself.  I want to know who I am.  I want to look at myself a thousand times to look for one true image.  What did [Miss O’Brien] see that caused her to turn away?  What did she see?” (p. 281)

    The other thing the journal entries revealed were his close relationship with his family, which humanizes him and adds to his childlike qualities.  I love the scene where he and his brother Jerry talked about being superheroes, and Jerry said Steve should be Batman, so he could be Robin (p. 58).  It’s sweet that Jerry so unabashedly looks up to his older brother, and the friendly shove from Steve only goes to show his obvious love for Jerry.  The scenes where Steve’s parents visit him in jail are almost unbearable, especially the one where Steve realizes his father might also start to doubt him and see him as a monster (p. 116).

  • Monster was actually the first book I read this term, a couple of weeks before classes started.  One scene stopped my reading right on the tracks, kept me awake for a couple of nights, and still haunts me two months later.  As powerful as this book is, this scene defined the entire story for me.  On page 73:

    CUT TO: Weird shot of INTERIOR: DEATH ROW.  STEVE is seen walking down the hallway between two guards.  He is brought into the death chamber.  The guards are pale, almost greenish.  They lay STEVE on the table for the lethal injection and strap him down.

    CU of STEVE’s face.  He is terrified.

                VO (as camera focuses on STEVE’s face)

    Open your legs; we have to plug up your butt so you don’t mess yourself as you die.

    STEVE’s face grimaces with pain as they put in the plug.

    I can hardly type this scene without tearing up.  In one sentence (the voiceover), Steve is completely dehumanized.  I think about the sheer terror…what if he were my child…that he is someone’s child…that someone’s child/brother is put to death like this, reduced to nothing but something that could mess up the cot and cause extra clean-up…a nuisance.  And yet, this is a life.  I was never one to take a stance for or against capital punishment – I’ve always just thought it’s not up to me to decide about someone’s life – but this one sentence really rattled me.  I don’t know if I’d want even the worst criminals to face what Steve faces….

    The book also reminds me of the unfair treatment of black youths and racial profiling…as Steve wrote in his notes at one point, “What did I do?  What did I do?  Anybody can walk into a drugstore and look around.  Is that what I’m on trial for?  I didn’t do nothing!  I didn’t do nothing!” (p. 115)  It’s painful to think about the vicious cycle inner-city kids are stuck in.

  • This book will most likely appeal to teenage boys exclusively, particularly those who are interested in crime/murder fiction, even though the book is about much more than that.  It makes a powerful read for both African-American and non-African-American students, and offers an insightful look into our judicial system, our own prejudices, and the fragility of self-identity.  Because the book is written in script form as well as journal entries and lower reading level, it can be read quickly and  appeal to reluctant/struggling readers.  Though the courtroom scenes are matter-of-fact, some of Steve’s descriptions of life in jail might be too upsetting for younger readers.  For that reason, I would recommend this book for older middle-schoolers and up.

Awards, Honors, Prizes, Best Lists:

Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, 1999 Honor Book Fiction United States
Coretta Scott King Book Award, 2000 Honor Book Author United States
Edgar Allan Poe Award, 2000 Nominee Best Young Adult Novel United States
Isinglass Teen Read Award, 2003 Winner New Hampshire
Kentucky Bluegrass Award, 2002 Winner Grades 9-12 Kentucky
Los Angeles Times Book Prize, 1999 Finalist Young Adult Fiction United States
Michael L. Printz Award, 2000 Winner United States
Adventuring with Books: A Booklist for PreK-Grade 6, 13th Edition, 2002 ; National Council of Teachers of English
Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2000 ; Bank Street College of Education
Booklist Editors’ Choice: Books for Youth, 1999 ; American Library Association
Books for You: An Annotated Booklist for Senior High, Fourteenth Edition, 2001 ; National Council of Teachers of English
Books in the Middle: Outstanding Books, 1999 ; Voice of Youth Advocates
Bulletin Blue Ribbons, 1999 ; Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
Capitol Choices, 1999 ; The Capitol Choices Committee
Children’s Literature Choice List, 2000 ; Children’s Literature
Horn Book Fanfare, 1999 ; Horn Book
Lasting Connections, 1999 ; American Library Association
Lasting Connections, 1999 ; Book Links
Middle And Junior High School Library Catalog, Eighth Edition, 2000 ; H.W. Wilson
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005 ; H.W. Wilson
Not Just for Children Anymore!, 2000 ; Children’s Book Council
Parent’s Guide to Children’s Media, 1999 ; Parent’s Guide to Children’s Media, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, April 1999 ; Cahners
Recommended Literature: Kindergarten through Grade Twelve, 2002 ; California Department of Education
Senior High Core Collection, Seventeenth Edition, 2007 ; The H. W. Wilson Co.
Senior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to the Fifteenth Edition, 2000 ; H.W. Wilson
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2000 ; American Library Association
YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2000 ; American Library Association

Accessed at: Personal Library

Audiobook: Love That Dog


Title: Love That Dog
Author: Sharon Creech
Read by: Scott Wolf
Publication Date: March 14, 2006
Publisher: HarperFestival (Unabridged Edition)
ISBN-10: 006085278X
ISBN-13: 978-0060852788
Format: Audio CD
Length: 35 minutes
Summary: In Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog, a boy named Jack overcomes his skepticism about poetry. Inspired by famous poets like Robert Frost and Walter Dean Myers, Jack starts to write about his friendship with his beloved dog, Sky, and eventually reveals the grief he feels about losing it. Poems, Jack discovers, can be safe way to explore topics that might otherwise be too difficult to talk about.

Audience: Ages 8 and up

Strengths: 

  • The book is a great way to introduce poetry/free verse to someone unfamiliar to the genre or who doesn’t particularly like it. Scott Wolf, with the right amount of pauses and intonation, adds warmth and emotions to the otherwise-spare/simple text.
  • The audiobook teaches listeners how one might recite poetry and introduces them to the world of spoken word.
  • The content and length, I felt, were perfect for those new to audiobooks: too complex — the listener has a hard time keeping up; too long — the listener may lose interest and stop. Though the recommended age on various review sites was grades 4 and up, my 1st and 3rd graders sat through the entire 35 minutes entirely captivated.
  • I liked that the audiobook includes readings of some of the poems that inspired Jack’s writing. Jack’s favorite poem “Love That Boy” was read by its author, Walter Dean Myers.
  • Jack asks some good questions about poetry that kids probably have asked themselves. Readers will appreciate his honesty and confusion about this often-misunderstood genre.

Weaknesses: 

  • Though Scott Wolf has theatre experience and does a great job reading, I wonder if the book would’ve been even better read by a younger child, since the entire book was based on Jack’s journal and musings. For example, the read-along CD for Victoria Kann’s Pinkalicious, The Princess of Pink Treasury was narrated by a young actress (Eliana Shaskan) who sounded the way one would imagine Pinkalicious to sound. Would Love That Dog be even more relatable had a boy read it and injected it with the attitudes/tones/expressiveness that are so unique to boys?

Uses: 

  • As an accompaniment to the book, a read-along. Listening to something while seeing the words can help reinforce reading skills and fluency. Students can make connections between written and spoken words.
  • Poetry unit — free verse vs. more structured poems — do poems have to rhyme? do they have to have certain patterns, structures, or components? Which kind of poems do students prefer? Would Love That Dog have the same impact if it rhymed? Why did the author choose free verse rather than a more structured format?
  • More practice with different types of poems. Have students write their own concrete/shape poem.
  • Poet study — have students select, then study, a favorite poet or one they are curious about. Read his/her collection of poems and pick a favorite poem. What does the student like about this poet or his/her poems? Create activities around the poet/poems.
  • Introduction to the world of spoken words. How might a reader’s tone, pauses, or attitude change how the listener interprets the poem? Have students read the same part of the book differently and see if listeners have different reactions to the words.
  • Explore different themes in the book. Discuss how the original poems addresses those themes.
  • Have students write poems about an emotion such as happiness, sadness, loneliness, and encourage them to share with the class. Or, demonstrate the power of words by having students identify themes and mood of the poem without the benefit of the title or help from the writer.

Awards/Best Books (from CLCD):

Music: Outside My Door

Artist: Lori Henriques, singer/songwriter/piano teacher from Portland, Oregon

MP3 Album: Outside My Door

Original Release Date: January 1, 2011

Label: Human Puppy Records

Format:  MP3s

Total Length: 29:42

Note: Outside My Door MP3s can be purchased on Amazon.com; a physical copy of the songs (i.e. on a CD) can be purchased aet Lorihenriques.com. More songs can be found on Lori’s Facebook page, under “Band Profile“, or on Amazon.com.

Media Description: This collection by Lori Henriques is a good introduction to piano and jazz for kids. The songs range from carefree and light (“Happy to Be Me”) to educational (“Something You Learn”) to melancholy and reflective (“Green Leaf On the Ground”, “Outside My Door”) to just plain fun (“It’s Hard to Wait for Your Birthday”, “If I Had a Twin”).

Audience: 4-12

Strengths: 

  • Even the Henriques’ target audience is kids, her lyrics are rich with vocabulary and wordplay that older kids and adults will love. Her quirkiness and sense of humor will appeal especially to older listeners. I love that she doesn’t “dumb down” the content, and includes big words like “consider”, “distinguish”, “transpose”, “ennui”, and “milieu” (all those just in her song “Something You Learn”).
  • Older children (and adults) will relate to the various themes Henriques writes about. “Something You Learn”, for example, celebrates kids’  curiosity, first experiences, and self-discovery. “It’s Hard to Wait for Your Birthday” is about learning patience, and “Mean People” talks about the types of people you’d rather just avoid.
  • The music is beautiful, thoughtful, and unique…an answer to parents who might wince at more popular offerings such as KidBop or the newest Bieber album. It’s a great way to introduce kids to piano/jazz, and it’s not too childish (like Raffi) as to turn the older kids away.
  • Younger kids who might not understand the lyrics will still be drawn by the music…some light and “bouncy” (as one reviewer describes), and some calm and soothing (e.g. “Green Leaf on the Ground”). Henriques reminds me a little of a Nora Jones for kids.

Weaknesses: 

  • As much as I love the clever lyrics, some kids will inevitably not like them or “get” them completely. If a child can be convinced to listen to it carefully, though, they might end up enjoying it. It’ll be hard not to smile and feel good about yourself.

Uses: 

  • As mentioned before, Henriques’ songs is a great introduction to piano and jazz for kids. Music/piano teachers can use this in class to teach about the jazz genre and its characteristics.
  • Teachers can use this music to calm the class down or get students moving.
  • With my own kids, I would play a piece of music and have them act out the moods in the tune. They can flit, float, stomp, or bounce accordingly. What characteristics abut the music give them clues about the mood of the song?
  • Lyrics can be printed out and used in a poetry lesson. What are some of themes in these songs? How does the artist use the addition of music to enhance the themes/moods/tone of the piece?
  • Simply listening to the lyrics with your students/children can lead to great conversations about what Henriques means.  You can talk about what it means to like yourself, what the kids like and dislike learning, what makes the kids sad, what makes them scared, etc.
  • These songs/themes can be turned into writing prompts.

Awards: Winner of the Parents’ Choice Gold Award

Blog: storytime katie

Blog Title: storytime katie

Author: Katie Salo, a Youth Services Manager working at a Chicagoland library. She is the only storytime librarian there and has a passion for early literacy, preschoolers, flannel boards, etc.

Blog summary: This blog focuses on storytime ideas and resources, as well as commentary on what works and what doesn’t. She includes pretty regular updates on the events and projects at the library, as well as links to other libraries and resources.

Audience: Children’s librarians, teachers, parents/caregivers

Strengths: 

  •  Katie’s blog is well organized — one of the best I’ve seen among the blogs I’ve surveyed. This is extremely important especially for blogs that contain so much content.
  • The blog contains a LOT of practical information and suggestions, invaluable to a librarian starting out or wanting to find new ways to energize/revitalize storytimes. The content is divided into these key sections:
    • Resources: links to external sites for craft ideas, flannelboards, fingerplays/action rhymes, songs, etc.
    • Flannelboardsalmost 60 different flannelboard plans with detailed instructions of how to make them, the books and songs that go with them, etc.
    • Songs, Rhymes, and Fingerplaysa huge list of songs, rhymes, and fingerplays from various sources. There’s an alphabetically-arranged master list (another example of great organization!), as well as subsections on “Opening/Closing Songs” and “Session Stretchers”.
    • Themesa list of over 130 themes that are arranged alphabetically as well as by subsections “Alphabet”, “Colors”, and “Opposites”.
  • Each storytime plan (see example) has a short section on how it went, with tips and suggestions on extension activities/songs/crafts.
  • Book reviews (see example) come with song/craft suggestions.
  • You can subscribe to the RSS feeds of the blog’s content.

Weaknesses:

  • I honestly can’t think of any children’s librarian/teachers/parents/caregivers who wouldn’t find this website helpful. The only minor criticism, if I had to give any, is that I wish she has more content directed for older kids (ages 5 to 12). Her love is obviously for birth to pre-K but her job includes services to other age groups, and it’d be interesting to see what she does for them.

Uses:

  • A valuable resource for librarians who lead storytimes for kids ages 0-4. 
  • Numerous lesson plan, craft ideas, etc. for school librarians, homeschoolers, teachers, early childhood educators, parents/caregivers, etc.
  • Ideas for children’s/youth services area — how to market/display books, programming ideas, etc.
  • A good directory/source for other blogs and resources.

Other: Katie’s ideas and thoughts/comments on children’s/YA librarianship and programming can also be found via her Twitter (@katietweetsya) and Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/simplykatie/) pages. She is also a writer for ALSC’s blog.

Blog: Hi Miss Julie!

Blog Title: Hi Miss Julie!

Author: Julie Jurgens, a children’s librarian in the Chicagoland area

Blog summary: This blog focuses on library services/materials for children and youth, though because of Miss Julie’s background in early childhood education, there is special emphasis on children birth through pre-K. Posts range in topic, from book reviews, programming ideas, links to other library blogs, events/news announcements, to general musings/commentary on her experiences and this field. She is also a musician and several posts discusses the importance of singing/song during story time; the blog had a link to one of her songs What’s Up! 

Audience: Children’s librarians, teachers

Strengths: 

  • This blog was listed as one of the “100 Helpful Blogs for School Librarians (and Teachers)” on Edudemic.com.
  • I like the look and feel of the blog…modern and clean.
  • Her writing is informal and down-to-earth…it feels like you are having a conversation with her. She’s honest about her feelings towards subjects such as the “makerspace” movement (she thinks that’s just a fancy way of saying “programming”, which libraries have been doing for a long time) and “keynote speakers” (she thinks storytellers and librarians makes just as good keynote speakers at conferences than newly published, highly hyped authors). 
  • She has a small section devoted to story time and story time resources, but even more helpful has been links to other sites she provides within her blog entries.

Weaknesses:

  • The blog posts lack organization. Even though they are tagged by topic, there isn’t a simple way to access archived posts, see how many posts are in each category, etc. For example, I might want to see all of her book reviews, but first I’d have to find one book review by scrolling through the post (a tedious exercise in itself), then click the tag that would take me to all other reviews. The relevancy of items returned depends on the quality of the tagging. When I clicked the “review” tag on one of the entries, it did in fact, returned some other book reviews. However, it also returned “year in review” type entries. 
  • There’s not an easy way to figure out how often she blogs either, except by scrolling through the entries and connecting the dots between dates. Blog sites usually has a way to organizing/displaying archived items by date and category…I’m surprised she hasn’t utilized it.

Uses:

  • Due to the lack of organization, I would probably use this site for general-interest/leisure reading and as a way to access other sites and resources. Her tips on storytime and her posts about music during storytimes will be helpful for those librarians interested in bringing a musical component in their programming.

Awards & Honors: From her CV, she was named Book Expo America Librarian Blogger 2012, and as mentioned before, her blog was listed as one of the “100 Helpful Blogs for School Librarians (and Teachers)” on Edudemic.com.

DVD: Chrysanthemum…and More Mouse Mayhem


Title: Chrysanthemum… and More Mouse Mayhem 

Publication Date: 2008
Publisher: Scholastic Storybook Treasures
ASIN: B00113ALMC
Format: Animated, Color, DVD
Plot summary: This DVD features animated videos based on classic children’s stories, such as Kevin Henkes’ Chrysanthemum, Owen, and A Weekend with Wendel. The disc also includes 2 bonus stories.

  • Chrysanthemum: Chrysanthemum feels insecure about her name, then realizes that it’s absolutely perfect for her. (Story written/illustrated by Kevin Henkes, narrated by Meryl Streep)
  • Owen: Owen is getting too big for his security blanket, so his mom comes up with a solution. (Story written/illustrated by Kevin Henkes, narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker)
  • A Weekend with Wendel: Sophie learns to stand up for herself when bossy cousin Wendell visits. (Story written/illustrated by Kevin Henkes, narrated by Mary Beth Hurt)
  • The Caterpillar and the Polliwog: A polliwog talks to a caterpillar and wonders when he would turn into a butterfly. He was surprised when he turned into something very different altogether. (Written/illustrated by Jack Ken, narrated by Ruis Woertendyke and Melissa Leebaert)

Audience: K-2

Strengths: 

  • Children who enjoy these books will love seeing their favorite stories come to life. Adults will appreciate the priceless casting — especially Meryl Streep and Sarah Jessica Parker — where each narrator perfectly captures the story’s tone and characters.
  • Beginner/struggling readers will enjoy reading along with the DVD.

Weaknesses: 

  • The video adaptations of these books were all well-down, and this can be said for most volumes in the Storybook series. However, the DVDs can use a re-release with more bonus features, perhaps with interactive, educational games that children can access on the computer or right from the DVD menu. Some DVDs have special features such as games or author/illustrator interviews, but not all. This does not detract from the quality of the videos, but in the age of apps, online educational games, and interactive ebooks, Scholastic might need to add more to the DVD sets to compete for the attention of young viewers.

Uses: 

  • As part of an author study on Kevin Henkes. Students can view these after reading the books.
  • Struggling readers can turn on the caption and read along with the video. This helps develop fluency and confidence.
  • These stories have important themes that children can learn from: loving who you are even when others make fun of you, becoming more independent in a big kid’s world, standing up for yourself, and being comfortable in your own skin.
  • Teachers/moms/school counselors can use these stories with younger grades to teach about self-confidence and bullying, character traits (each story showcases some desirable and undesirable traits), etc. Kids can role-play and act out what they would do in similar situations.
  • The videos bring words on paper to life. Teachers/librarians can have kids do the same with similar books. They can create their own live-action version of their favorite books. This reinforces cooperation, group work, etc.