Thursday, April 25, 2013

Module 15 - Go Ask Alice

Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous


This book is the diary of a fifteen year old, told as journal entries.  When her family moves to a new city, she finds that she is an outcast and she has a hard time making friends. She spends the summer with her grandparents and while there she attends a party and accidentally consumes a drink that has been laced with LSD. She enjoys the experience, but vows never to do drugs again.  She returns home and finds herself doing drugs again.  She is finally part of a group that accepts her.   She finds herself trying quit numerous times.  Each time she only successful for a short time.  She runs away twice and each time is welcomed back to her family.  She eventually winds up in a psychiatric hospital and vows to quit for good.  Three weeks after she finally quits, she dies from an overdose. This is a very sad story which shows the brutal effects of teenage drug use. 

(2007). Go ask alice. New York: Simon Pulse.

My Impression
I can understand why some parents may want to limit their child's exposure to this book; however, it is such a realistic depiction of the unintentional, downward spiral of drug abuse.  Having a teenage daughter, this book was very painful to read.  As parents, we have no idea about the emotional demons our children face.  Finding a niche is crucial; however, if the niche is wrong for the child, we see in this novel the disastrous results. Personally, I think that this would be an excellent novel for a book club discussion.  If the realism keeps one child away from recreational drug use, it will be worth it!

From Horn Book Magazine:

Published in 1971 by Prentice-Hall, Go Ask Alice spread like wildfire among teen readers as soon as it appeared as an Avon paperback-"more than four million copies sold," touts the current Aladdin paper edition. Conjuring all the pulsating power of the Jefferson Airplane rock song from which it borrowed its name, Go Ask Alice gave an insider's look at the simultaneously glamorous and frightening world of drugs. As a curious pre-teen, I lapped up the "real diary" of this anonymous fifteen-year-old, eager to learn of the thrill and lure of those forbidden substances from the smugly satisfying position of not sharing Alice's fate (and of suddenly "getting" what Grace Slick was singing about).
My motives were not as lofty as those of the critics who strongly recommended the book when it first appeared. Knowing that many parents (and teachers and librarians) would be uncomfortable with the subject matter-and the vulgar language-of the book, the Christian Science Monitor implored, "Precisely because of this reluctance to expose one's children to such material. . . the book must be read." From Library Journal: "This diary depicts all the confusion, loneliness and rebellion associated with adolescence.... Unlike other 'true-to-life' stories, this is true (it's based on an actual diary). An important book, this deserves as wide a readership as libraries can give it." And Publishers Weekly recommended the book as an "eloquent look at what it must be like to be in the vortex" of drug use. However, PW was, it seems, the only source at the time to question the book's authenticity: "Maybe we're all too cynical on that subject these days, but it does seem awfully well written, and in any case brilliantly edited."
But most readers accepted the book for what it claims to be-a real diary by an anonymous teen. The question of authenticity was raised again only when Alleen Pace Nilsen interviewed Beatrice Sparks for School Library Journal in October 1979, after seeing Sparks listed on the cover of a new book as "the author who brought you Go Ask Alice." Nilsen's article, "The House That Alice Built," depicts Sparks in a less than flattering light as a purported youth counselor with sketchy qualifications. Nilsen relates Sparks's claim that she compiled the book from diaries given her by a young girl she befriended but added other incidents and ideas from similar cases. Nilsen concludes, "The question of how much of Go Ask Alice was written by the real Alice and how much by Beatrice Sparks can only be conjectured." (In a letter to SLJ Sparks later defended not only the book's credentials and her own but the decor of her house, which also came under attack in the article.)
Whatever the proportions of their contributions, Sparks and her Alice together created a phenomenal success. What accounts for it? Timing, for one thing. Published right at the height of the psychedelic era and the dawning awareness that experimenting with drugs might have a downside, Go Ask Alice provided the perfect combination of voyeuristic appeal and high-mindedness: the book got credit for opening important lines of communication about the dangers of drug use. Though we don't know precisely to what extent Sparks shaped or added to the diary, she seems to know when to let Alice's own words and experiences speak for themselves-and thus speak directly to teen readers as she relates her feelings about friends, boyfriends, and the thrill and "beauty" of her first encounters with drugs. Yet somehow, either by conscious design or happenstance, each of Alice's drug-influenced adventures ends unhappily, whereupon Alice gives discourse to the evils of drugs and renews her promises to "rectify [her] life." This is all quite feasible as a true picture of the up-and-down cycle of addiction, and perhaps Sparks is simply fortunate that Alice makes the case against drug use so eloquently for her. However, Sparks does admit in Nilsen's article to altering the ending of the book: Alice did not die of an actual overdose as it says in the epilogue, "but in a way that could have been either an accident or a suicide. . . probably influenced by her being on drugs." Apparently the "probable influence" was not sufficient to assure the moral of the story as Sparks intended: Alice took drugs; Alice died from drugs.
Clearly, many readers were taken with the story of the sweet, confused girl lured into the sordid world that would eventually take her life, and critics and educators were delighted with the opportunity to show the dangers of drugs to kids in a way accessible to them-"See, don't take my word for it. Just Go Ask Alice." But much of the book's merit was derived from its status as a "real diary," so if it's not all Alice talking, does it deserve to be judged differently? As Nilsen pointed out, the book was "more or less exempt from the regular kind of literary criticism since it was supposedly the diary of a deceased young girl." If Sparks did in fact serve as an author who crafted and shaped her raw material, and we apply some literary standards accordingly, how will Alice stand up today?
Rereading the book in the context of current young adult literature, I was amazed by how unenthralling I found it. Poor Alice sounds ridiculously melodramatic and immature compared to today's more worldly teens. Upon learning of her family's impending move, she writes, "Dear precious Diary, I am baptizing you with my tears. I know we have to leave and that one day I will even have to leave my father and mother's home...." Most fifteen-year-olds I know are slightly more excited about the prospect of eventually getting some space away from mom and dad. Yet we must believe in Alice's innocence if we are to believe that she has no idea what's happening to her when she is slipped some LSD at a party twenty pages later. Somewhat harder to swallow than the acid-laced Coke are the moral platitudes slipped in throughout the diary. Alice writes of her friends, "Sometimes I think we're all trying to be shadows of each other.... Kids are like robots, off an assembly line." Above all, we are to believe that Alice is not a bad girl, but a good girl who loves God and her family and who happens to get mixed up in some very bad things.
Alice's childish and often vacuous ramblings may be plausible as the actual diary entries of a searching, as-yet-undefined teenager, and granted, I related to them more readily at age twelve than I can as an adult reader. Totally implausible, however, are the diary entries of Sparks's latest book, Annie's Baby, featuring a voice that sounds remarkably similar to Alice's (with the exception of a few contemporary words such as rad tossed in and a plethora of capital letters and "soooooo"s to fill up the pages). The fourth in an apparent series of "anonymous true stories," following Almost Lost (about life on the streets) and It Happened to Nancy (about AIDS), Annie's Baby is about a fourteen-year-old who becomes pregnant by her abusive boyfriend. Even if we were to believe in this new incarnation of Alice (and while I assume that Sparks is attempting to simulate the "real" teenage voice of her greatest publishing success, the similarities do again raise the question of how much of the original Alice was Sparks's fabrication), the book's overt didacticism precludes any aesthetic claims. Here Sparks is not satisfied with the lessons given by Annie herself"[Mom] and Dad fought from as long back as I can remember . . . That's probably what makes me so insecure"-or even by the way that this particular diary actually responds to Annie with its own advice, a(overscored) la Jiminy Cricket: "I'm going to think only of what Danny wants us to do . . . and besides, 'everyone is doing it.' [New paragraph] 'Everyone is not doing it!"' In an amazing coincidence, Annie turns out to be distantly related to "Dr. B." (Sparks) and goes to visit for a therapeutic weekend. The tapes of their discussions as well as a quiz on "What Is Love?" are handily transcribed in Annie's diary. The transcripts do nothing to enliven Annie's tedious tale of her abusive relationship, pregnancy, and young motherhood. The book is appended with further information about pregnancy, STDs, abuse, and "out-of-wedlock births."
None of Sparks's more recent message-laden books will even approach the phenomenal popularity of Go Ask Alice. Their blatant fictionalizing assures that they will not be accepted as the sensational, true document that Alice was, while their heavyhanded proselytizing prevents them from being remotely successful as works of literature. And again, the timing of Alice's release was exceptionally opportune, addressing breakthrough subject matter in young adult books at a time when we were ready to hear about it. With so many taboos having since been broken in young adult literature, is it possible for any book to have this kind of impact today?
Melvin Burgess's Smack was published to great acclaim in England (as Junk) in 1996, winning both the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Prize for Fiction. Published here this year by Henry Holt, it continues to be touted as an important and realistic portrayal of teenage drug use. Twenty-seven years after Go Ask Alice-so what's new? As the straightforward title indicates, Smack is about heroin use, whereas Go Ask Alice is about using everything but heroin. The bigger difference is that Smack is a novel, complete with characters, setting, and plot. On its own terms, it can be judged fairly and squarely as a literary work. But has it been? As with Go Ask Alice, many critics seem most taken with the realism of the subject matter. "Based on actual people and incidents, this harrowing tale is as compellingly real as it is tragic" [Kirkus, 3/ 15/98]. Yet the author himself tells us in his opening note that some of the characters are "seeded from real people," but "the book isn't fact; it isn't even faction." He doesn't intend to present the book as a real account, just as a realistic depiction of teenage lives-on-the-edge. Burgess creates a palpable 1980s punk scene in Bristol, where the characters "squat" abandoned houses. The setting is much more tangible than that of Alice, which seems to float from suburb to city without much effect. The characters are more interesting, too. Gemma, Alice's counterpart, is no innocent waif but a thrill-seeker who leaves home and eventually tries heroin largely because she "was the most bored person she knew." The story is told by Gemma and nine other characters whose lives intersect, including her sweet boyfriend, Tar, who runs away to escape the abuse at home and gets lured into heroin use mainly to please Gemma. Yet each of Burgess's first-person narratives achieves a more distinct voice and personality than Alice manages to convey throughout her entire story. Their relationships with their families are also much more clearly drawn. Tar anguishes between guilty love and hate for his manipulative, alcoholic mother. Gemma feels stifled by her strait-laced parents, yet their suffering from her disappearance is sympathetically portrayed. By contrast, Alice's shapeless parents seem to hover ineffectually in the background, waiting for her next return home.
However, as Jennifer Brabander wrote in her May/June 1998 Horn Book review, "Establishing the 1980s Bristol setting. . . takes precedence over the story for too long and slows the book's pace considerably." Many readers may not hang in long enough to get to the "action" of the story: the decline into heroin addiction and the endless denials thereof; the turn to prostitution to support their habit; junkie pregnancies and babies; and the repeated attempts to climb back out of the life. So while Smack is easily a bettercrafted book than Go Ask Alice, its own shortcomings might lead one to ask whether subject matter or literary merit was given greatest consideration when such high praise and prestigious awards were being doled out. And though it may still be more successful by literary standards, it can't compete with Alice as a groundbreaking book on teenage drug use. Probably nothing can. Of course, that won't stop others from trying. Beauty Queen by Linda Glovach, published just this September by HarperCollins, also traces the descent into heroin addiction. "In the spirit of Go Ask Alice. . " reads the jacket copy, and in fact the young woman's gushing journal entries are very reminiscent of Alice's. The book is also more like Alice in that here, too, the action-the heavy drug use and plunge into a sordid life away from home and family-begins right away. The potential glamour of the drug is also conveyed here much more than in Smack, as Sam recounts her new life as a topless dancer, raking in big bucks while regular shots of heroin keep her feeling happy and beautiful. In fact, life seems pretty terrific to Sam-until her seedy cop boyfriend ditches her, driving her to the overdose that causes her inevitable death. The fast plot, earnest voice, and sexy cover will surely win young readers.
But Alice's era is over. Go Ask Alice was a phenomenon of its time that cannot be repeated, by Sparks or anyone else. Education and discussion about drugs is part of every school child's experience, and there is probably no remaining subject under such a delightfully enticing taboo. The book's immense popularity spills over to today's readers in some part due to Alice's universal adolescent angst, and in large part due to the power of legend and legacy-of the sixties' drug culture, of teens of every generation, and of Alice herself and her tragic tale.
Adams, L. (1998). A second look: Go ask alice. The Horn Book Magazine, 74(5), 587-592. Retrieved from

From Common Sense Media:

What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a no-holds-barred vivid picture of the life of a teen heavily addicted to drugs during the 1960s. While some of the scenes and language may feel dated, the book still carries tremendous emotional power and feels authentic. Teen characters are involved in drugs, prostitution, etc., but the shocking reality of this book has been credited with keeping many teenagers from trying drugs. Though the writing may not be literary, but its truth comes through on every page. The story is riveting -- even reluctant readers will devour it. The book is a powerful way for teens to really experience the tragic consequences of drug addiction.

What's the story?

We never learn her name. She's 15, the daughter of a college professor. She's given LSD at a party and loves it. She dives into the drug world, and soon begins selling to children to pay for her own drugs. She runs away and is again drawn into drugs. She returns home determined to stay clean, but takes drugs one night and hitchhikes to Colorado.
She drifts, sick and in a stoned fog for months, trading sex for drugs. A priest calls her parents and she returns home again, but the druggie students at her school torment her. One puts LSD into some candy and she has a horribly bad trip, ending up imprisoned in a mental hospital. Home again with no desire to return to drugs, she feels hopeful, but fears returning to school. The story ends with tragedy.

Is it any good?

Only parents can decide if they want their children to read GO ASK ALICE; they know their children best, and may wish to read the book themselves before deciding. Clearly, the book is intense: It graphically describes the waking hell into which the main character descends, her heartfelt but futile battles to return home and stay clean, her pleas to God to save her, her trust and love for her family, and her ultimate failure. It socks readers in the gut.
Many realistic young adult books use frank language, but none more so than this book. Purportedly based on the real diary of a middle-class, nice teenage girl who became a drug addict in the 1960s, this story is nothing short of harrowing -- and that's why it works. Teenagers who read the book easily sense that it tells the truth.
Wyatt, M. (n.d.). Go ask alice. [Web log message]. Retrieved from
Suggestions for Use in Library
  • Book talk covering banned books (high school only)
  • Health unit drug abuse (high school only)
  • Book club selection (high school only)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Module 14 - Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse

Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse, by Marilyn Singer


According to the author, these poems were written in reverso. "When you read a reverso down, it is one poem. When you read it up, with changes allowed only in punctuation and capitalization it is a different poem" (Singer, 2010). The author has created reverso poems using classic fairy tales: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Litttle Red Riding Hood, and others.  

Singer, M. (2010). Mirror mirror, a book of reversible verse. Dutton Childrens Books.

My Impression

This is imaginative book is fun for students to read.  The author creates a poem that when read from the top to bottom, has one meaning, and when read bottom to top, has a completely different meaning.  In addition to the creative text, the illustrator creates images showing the different point of views for each reverso.  I read this book to my fourth grade students, intending to read only a two of the poems; however, the students didn't want to stop at two.  They begged for me to keep reading.  Afterward, quite a few were interested in trying their hands at creating their own reverso.  


A collection of masterful fairy-tale–inspired reversos—a poetic form invented by the author, in which each poem is presented forward and backward. Although the words are identical in each presentation, changes in punctuation, line breaks and capitalization create two pieces that tell completely different stories. “In the Hood,” for instance, first presents Red Riding Hood’s perspective: “In my hood, / skipping through the wood, / carrying a basket, picking berries to eat— / juicy and sweet / what a treat! / But a girl / mustn’t dawdle. / After all, Grandma’s waiting.” Reversed, we hear from the wolf: “After all, Grandma’s waiting / mustn’t dawdle... / But a girl! / What a treat— / juicy and sweet / picking berries to eat, / carrying a basket, / skipping through the wood / in my ’hood.” Masse’s gorgeous, stylized illustrations enhance the themes of duality and perspective by presenting images and landscapes that morph in delightful ways from one side of the page to the other. A mesmerizing and seamless celebration of language, imagery and perspective. (note on the form) (Poetry. 8-12)
Mirror mirror, a book of reversible verse. (2010, February 15). Kirkus Reviews, Retrieved from
I like to think that the world of children’s literature has gained a bit more respect in the last decade or so. Folks notice it and reference it more often. And as sales continue to be good and scholars take note of it more often, its sub-genres proliferate and gain acceptance. Graphic novelists of children’s fare increase. Non-fiction writers for kids demand more attention. And then there are the poets. Poets like Marilyn Singer who has been doing good steady work for years and years. I’m looking at my watch and I see that it’s just about time that Ms. Singer get her due. How clever of her to make it easy on me by producing a poetry picture book that is not only fun, not only clever, and not only beautiful to look at, but also has a good FIVE stars from five professional review journals. Mirror Mirror is everything a person wants in a book for kids. It’s enjoyable for children, who will pore over the wordplay for long stretches of time, and it’s clever enough for the gatekeepers (librarians, teachers, parents, etc.) who want a poetry book for kids that doesn’t take them to Snoresville, USA. Mirror Mirror, in short, delivers.
Better flip to the back of the book (how appropriate!) if you want an explanation of what’s going on here. Says the last page, "We read most poems down a page. But what if we read them up?" Calling such poems "reversos", Singer’s concept is simple. Each poem is repeated. The one on the left is read down. Then Singer takes the same words, puts in some slightly different punctuation, and when each line is read backwards it tells an entirely new story. The stories in this book are fairy tales and Singer not only tells the tales frontwards and backwards but gives them new stories too. The ugly duckling, for example, has some doubts of his own potential beauty. In his upbeat poem he says confidently, "Plain to see – / look at me. / A beauty I’ll be." Then doubts set in and he sighs, "A beauty I’ll be? / Look at me – / plain to see." One of the smartest books out there for kids, young readers will be entranced by Singer’s wordplay and Masse’s lovely (if not equally clever) illustrations.
When I first heard of a "reverso" I thought it meant a poem where every single word is backwards when it repeats. Fortunately, Singer has no wish to drive herself bonkers. It’s not every word that’s backwards, but lines. This makes for great wordplay, and some creative solutions. My favorite is the poem that I think also comes across as the cleverest. "In the Hood" is a Little Red Riding Hood take. It’s short, so I can write it in full here. On the Little Red side of the equation it reads, "In my hood / skipping through the wood / carrying a basket / picking berries to eat – / juicy and sweet / what a treat! / But a girl / mustn’t dawdle. / After all, Grandma’s waiting." The wolf replies, "After all, Grandma’s waiting, / mustn’t dawdle . . . / But a girl! / What a treat – / juicy and sweet, / picking berries to eat, / carrying a basket, / skipping through the wood / in my `hood."

Alas, not every poem is equally strong.  I was a little baffled by the Rapunzel verses, since I couldn’t figure out who was telling each of the two poems. Generally speaking, though, these glitches are the exception rather than the rule. And if you don’t care for one poem, you’re bound to think another is fantastic.

Most folks will probably look at the pictures here and assume that illustrator Josee Masse utilizes a kind of paint on wood technique similar to the work of Stefano Vitale. Not the case, I assure you. According to her editor, "she painted the pieces of art with acrylic paint on illustration board. She uses an undercoat of acrylic which is what gives the texture . . . . Then she builds up colors on top of that". These puppies clearly took serious work to make. What I like about the pictures too is how well she has split the pictures that accompany the poems into two mirror-like images. Their details reflect how well Masse has understood the text too. For example, in the poem "Do You Know My Name?" the girl from the Rumpelstiltskin story laments that even though she’s the beloved heroine, no one ever knows her name. On the opposite page we see the little man dancing beside a fire that burns his name into smoke, while on the other side that smoke has turned into golden thread that spells out nothing at all. Extra points to Masse for taking the time to draw a correct bobbin on a spinning wheel too. Most artists of that story don’t take the time (Paul Zelinsky being an exception).

I can’t help but think that with the success of this book Singer and Masse will simply have to give in to the demands of their fans and do a sequel of sorts. Why, they could take nursery rhymes in the second! Then classic children’s books in the third. Then famous women from history, tall tales, presidents, the list goes on and on. For now, though, we can enjoy this single reverso collection, possibly the first of its kind for kids. Beautiful both as object and as a way of getting kids interested in poetic forms, this is a must purchase for any library or home collection. One of a kind.
Bird, E. (2010, May 3). [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Suggestions for Use in the Library

  • Compare character's point of view
  • Discuss how the illustrations enhance the text
  • Writing activities - create original reverso
  • Poetry unit - compare/contrast different genres of poetry

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Module 13 - Wonderstruck

Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick


The written part of the story takes place in the 1970s. The main character, Ben, is deaf in one ear, recently lost his mother to an accident, and now living with his aunt and uncle.  He has no idea of his father's identity.  He leaves for New York City in a search for answers to secrets that his mom kept from him.  Hopefully, he will find his father.

In the illustrated story, Rose, lives in New Jersey in the 1920s.  She can see New York City from her window.  She is fixated on an actress and sneaks from her bedroom window one night to see her in a silent movie film.  

Though the tales are different, they are intertwined and come together to bring an unexpected conclusion to both of the characters searches.

Selznick, B. (2011). Wonderstruck. New York: Scholastic Press.

My Impression

Beautiful, beautiful story.  I loved how the pictures told one story, the text told another story which both came together at the end.  Both characters left their lives looking for something.  This story may be too complex for younger readers, but upper elementary and middle schoolers will enjoy it.  The size is daunting, but when they see the number of illustrations, it will be an easy sell.  This is one of my favorite books to read this semester.


With Wonderstruck’s opening wordless sequence of an approaching wolf, readers might think they’ve embarked upon a Gary Paulsen novel, but this is a story not of wilderness adventure but of two young people running—to New York City—for their lives. The pictures (pencil, double-page spread, wordless) follow a young girl, Rose, living in material comfort but also emotional distress in 1927 Hoboken; the text is set in 1977 in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters region, where a boy, Ben, struggles with the death of his mother and the loss of his hearing. Yes, Rose and Ben eventually meet, as do the text and pictures, but both stories are encumbered by the conclusion of the book, which, in resolving many themes and mysteries, dictates too much of what has gone before—it feels as if the narrative was composed backward rather than arising organically from its beginnings. For example, Rose’s childhood hobby of constructing model buildings from the pages of hated books doesn’t seem to follow from anything, but it does give her an adult career at New York’s Museum of Natural History, where Ben also finds himself after several similarly belabored circumstances. Still, there is much technical brilliance here, both in the segues between text and pictures and between the pictures themselves, as in a scene where Rose, locked in a room, seems to be contemplating the many photographs on a wall, but a page turn reveals that Rose has actually spotted a window—and escapes. While Ben’s story suffers from an excess of telling rather than showing, he (Rose, too) is openhearted and easy to love. The intricate puzzle-solving of the plot gets a generous and welcome shot of straightforward emotion when Ben is given an unabashedly romantic friendship with another boy, Jamie, with whom he experiences the wonders of the museum in secret and at night, a nod to E. L. Konigsburg that Selznick acknowledges in an informative closing note.
Sutton, R. (2011, September 13). Review of wonderstruck. The Horn Book, Retrieved from

Suggestions for Use in Library - 

  • Graphic novel book talk

Module 12 - Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Doreen Rappaport


A biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. that begins when he is a child.  He experiences discrimination; however, the words of his mother and father help him to see beyond the problems to find a peaceful solution. In simple, yet profound, writing the author shows how King made a difference with peace and love instead of violence.

Rappaport, D. (2007). Martin's big words: The life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children.

My Impression

A picture book about Martin Luther King's life told with a young audience in mind.  I loved that this book started with King as a young boy and how he felt about the discrimination that he experienced.  The words that he spoke are large and bold, helping the child to distinguish the importance.  This book is excellent for young readers just learning about discrimination and Martin Luther King, Jr.   The "big words" offer many jumping off points for discussion.  I think that children can see that they, too, can make a difference; King was a child once, just link them.


Beginning with the startling cover, which contains only the face of Martin Luther King Jr., with his smile broad, and his eyes crinkled in laughter, this title intrigues. It’s an homage in words and pictures, in which the author weaves King’s words with her own to present a brief but stately portrait of the American hero. Rappaport explains that as a child King was determined to use “big words,” no doubt the result of listening to his father preach. On many subsequent spreads, King is pictured as an adult, and a direct quote is reproduced in bold type. In fact, King’s words were huge in idealism, delivering a message that was big in simple yet profound ways that can be understood by young readers. In smaller print, Rappaport gives historical context. Her sentences have a directness and symmetry that sets off King’s more transcendent, poetic quotes. Collier’s watercolor and cut-paper-collage illustrations express deep feeling. On the cover and final two portraits, King is depicted with a subtle monochromatic technique, which alludes strongly to a stained-glass metaphor, represented in portraits of King’s church. In other spreads featuring King himself, his face is lit, giving it a powerful visual weight and compelling readers to pay attention. While the cover portrait shows his eyes glancing to the side, in the final portrait he looks directly at the reader, his eyes offering an unmistakable challenge. Author and Illustrator Notes are moving as well as informative, and quotes are attributed. Readers will hear his voice echo in this presentation. (timeline, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 5-9)

Martin’s big words: The life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (2001, August 15). Kirkus reviews, Retrieved from

This picture-book biography provides an ideal introduction to this leader and his works. Juxtaposing original text with quotes from King's writing and speeches, Rappaport's (Escape from Slavery) narrative offers a pastiche of scenes from King's life, beginning with his childhood experience of seeing "White Only" signs sprinkled throughout his hometown. He questions his mother about their meaning, and she assures him, "You are as good as anyone." Listening to his father preach, the boy asserts that "When I grow up, I'm going to get big words, too." Rappaport also touches upon King's role in the Montgomery bus strike that followed Rosa Park's 1955 arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger and his subsequent efforts as a civil rights crusader. After briefly describing the circumstances of his death, the story concludes, quite abruptly, with the statement, "His big words are alive for us today." The author relies on her subject's own words, and his power, passion and pacifism shine through. Collier's (Uptown) striking watercolor and cut paper collage art feature closely focused, lifelike images of King and other individuals against an inventive montage of patterns and textures. The portraits of King exude his spiritual strength and peaceful visage. In the background of some scenes are intricate recreations of stained glass windows, which, Collier explains in an introductory note, he interprets as a metaphor for King's life. An elegant, understated pictorial biography. Ages 5-9. (Sept.)

Martin's big words: The life of Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr. (2001, October 8). Publisher's weekly, Retrieved from

Suggestions for Use in Library

  • Use the Read Write Think template to have students write their own big words:
My big words. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Module 11 - An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, by Jim Murphy


In 1793, Philadelphia was experienced an unparalleled health crisis.  It started subtly, with only one person.  Doctors didn't notice it, until the cases started adding up.  Murphy details the Yellow Fever epidemic from beginning to end and beyond.  It started gradually.  One man became ill, and died.  It became troublesome when more and more men at the same boardinghouse died from the same symptoms.  After doctors became aware of the epidemic, there were issues with trying to treat the disease and stop its spread.  There was much disagreement about the cause and the treatment.  Murphy details how the epidemic affected all walks of life.  Families abandoned sick family members, strangers stepped in to offer assistance.  Murphy closes his expository with how the toll of the epidemic was felt in the years following.  He closes the novel with a large source list for readers wanting more.

Murphy, J. (2003). An American plague, the true and terrifying story of the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

My Impressions

Wow!  I never thought that a book about an epidemic would be so enthralling.  Once I started reading this book, I did not want to put it down.  The author does an amazing job creating a journal that encompasses what happened in Philadelphia right before the Yellow Fever epidemic through the resolution of the epidemic.  The book closes with how doctors experimented and eventually found the cause of Yellow Fever.  Murphy was able to tell a horror story without creating unnecessary sensationalism.  I would recommend this to any middle schooler, boy or girl.


A mesmerizing, macabre account that will make readers happy they live in the 21st century. The yellow fever epidemic of 1793 snuck up on the people of Philadelphia during the hot summer; by the end of the year, some 10 percent of the city’s population lay dead. Drawing heavily on primary sources, Murphy (Inside the Alamo, p. 393, etc.) takes readers through the epidemic, moving methodically from its detection by the medical community; through its symptoms, treatment, and mortality; its effects on the populace, and what Philadelphia did to counter it. Individual chapters recount the efforts of the heroes of the epidemic: the quasi-legal committee of 12 who took over the running of the city government; the country’s preeminent physician, Dr. Benjamin Rush; and the Free African Society, whose members toiled valiantly to ease the victims’ pain and to dispose of the dead. Powerful, evocative prose carries along the compelling subject matter. Even as the narrative places readers in the moment with quotations, the design aids and abets this, beginning each chapter with reproductions from contemporary newspapers and other materials, as well as placing period illustrations appropriately throughout the text. The account of Philadelphia’s recovery wraps up with a fascinating discussion of historiography, detailing the war of words between Matthew Carey, one of the committee of 12, and Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, the leaders of the Free African Society—interesting in itself, it is also a valuable lesson in reading and writing history. Stellar. (bibliography, illustration credits, index) (Nonfiction. 10+)

An American plague. (2003, April 21). Kirkus Reviews, Retrieved from

Suggestions for Use in Library
  • Scientific Research: Humans have been “plagued” by terrible epidemics throughout history. Encourage students to research one of these diseases, list ten facts about it, and share their findings with the class. Your suggested list might include: botulism, bubonic plague (Black Death), cholera, diphtheria, influenza, leprosy, Lyme disease, malaria, measles, polio, smallpox, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, etc. 
  • Current Events: Epidemics and pandemics have become a byproduct of the “globalization” of the modern world. Invite the students to investigate news sources to discover if there is currently an epidemic in some part of the world. Ask them to share what this epidemic is, how it spreading, and what measures are being put in place to control it.
Stover, L. (2010, January). An american plague: Library lessons. Retrieved from

Monday, April 8, 2013

Module 11 - Now & Ben

Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin, by Gene Barrettta


This book introduces Ben Franklin's inventions and how they have stood the test of time.  It has lively cartoons that show his original invention, and why he made it, and how it is being used in our current era.  His contributions span his invention of the lightning rod to  his contributions to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Barretta, G. (2007). Now and Ben. Henry Holt and Co. (BYR).

My Impression

This is a great book to introduce Ben Franklin to younger readers. Younger readers will especially enjoy the illustrations depicting then and now.  It does not provide great details, and there are no references or sources to guide you for further information; therefore, it would not be a book to use for research.  


Sunny cartoons juxtapose now and then in a lighthearted exploration of how Benjamin Franklin’s inventions have survived into the modern age. Although “invention” is a little broadly construed—are political cartoons and Daylight Savings Time, strictly speaking, inventions?—it’s a pretty impressive collection of achievements: The Franklin stove and lightning rods, of course, share space with bifocals, odometers and swim fins. The illustrations are genial enough, and use a lightly humorous touch to make their points (Ben offers an obviously distressed sailor a lime to stave off scurvy). A clean organization that opposes “Now” on the left (dominated by modern blues and greens) and “Ben” on the right (dominated by yellows, Ben’s blue coat standing out) aids in the presentation of the information. It’s an enthusiastic enough effort, but, in an anniversary year bound to be chock-full of Ben Franklin books, such flaws as the absence of suggestions for further reading make it no more than a marginal purchase. Rosalyn Schanzer’s How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning (2003) covers much of the same territory but does it much better. (Picture book/nonfiction. 5-9)

Now & Ben: The modern inventions of benjamin franklin. (2006, February 1). Kirkus Reviews, Retrieved from

Suggestions for Use in Library

  • Introduce inventions
  • Introduce Benjamin Franklin
  • A great read aloud to liven up an American history lesson
  • Use as an introduction to research projects on innovators/inventors

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Book Trailers

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry

Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper

References for Number the Stars Book Trailer
Lang, A. (2013, January 19). It's good vs. evil in 'number the stars'. The Vignette. Retrieved from
Lowry, L. (2011). Number the stars. New York: Sandpiper.

References for Out of My Mind Book Trailer

Draper, S. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Draper, S. (2012). Out of my mind. Atheneum.