Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Passport Reading Journeys Library for Reading Specialists in Williamsburg-James City County

These are books in the Passport Reading Journeys Library for reading specialists at Lafayette High School, Warhill High School, and Jamestown High School. Which of the following books have you read? Which ones would you recommend?

Published in 1968 by Paul Zindel
First Harper Trophy Edition, 2005
Published in 1990 by Laurel Leaf
Author: Caroline B. Cooney

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Passport Reading Journeys Library for Reading Specialists in Williamsburg-James City County

These are books in the Passport Reading Journeys Library for reading specialists at Lafayette High School, Warhill High School, and Jamestown High School. Which of the following books have you read? Which ones would you recommend?

Published in 2005 by Random House
Author: Caroline B. Clooney 
Published in 2006 by Tom Doherty Associates
Author: Elizabeth Haydon
Published in 1997 by HarperCollins
Authors: 15 Distinguished Authors
Published in 2006 by Puffin Books
Author: Ellen Klages

Passport Reading Journeys Library for Reading Specialists in Williamsburg-James City County

These are books in the Passport Reading Journeys Library for reading specialists at Lafayette High School, Warhill High School, and Jamestown High School. Which of the following books have you read? Which ones would you recommend?

Published in 2006 by Puffin Books
Author: Richard Peck

Published in 2005 by Puffin Books
Author: K. L. Going

Published in 1994 by Harper Trophy
Author: Sharon Creech
Published in 1967 by Harper Trophy
Author: Robert Lipsyte

Passport Reading Journeys Library for Reading Specialists in Williamsburg-James City County

These are books in the Passport Reading Journeys Library for reading specialists at Lafayette High School, Warhill High School, and Jamestown High School. Which of the following books have you read? Which ones would you recommend?

Published in 1981 by  Random House
Author Walter Dean Myers
Published in 1999 by Amistad and Harper Teen
Author: Walter Dean Myers

Published in 2005 by Disney
Hyperion Books
Author: Rick Jordan
Published in 1990 by Harper Trophy
Author: Avi

Passport Reading Journeys Library for Reading Specialists in Williamsburg-James City County

These are books in the Passport Reading Journeys Library for reading specialists at Lafayette High School, Warhill High School, and Jamestown High School. Which of the following books have you read? Which ones would you recommend?

Published in 2000 by Alfred A. Knopf
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Published in 1977 by Harper Trophy
Author: Betsy Byars

Published in 1988 by Harper Trophy
Author: Walter Dean Myers

Published in 2002 by Harper Trophy
Author: Jerry Spinelli

Stargirl by Jerry Spinnelli

Published in 2000 by Alfred A. Knopf
Realistic Fiction

Conformity versus nonconformity. This is the major theme of Jerry Spinelli's book Stargirl. How far should a person go to "fit in" with the crowd? Should individuals sacrifice their deeply held beliefs and who they really are just to accepted by the group? And is it even possible to please everyone anyway? These questions and more are at the heart of Spinelli's novel. I absolutely loved this book and believe everyone could relate to it in one way or another because we all want to feel like we belong, especially when we are in high school. But is sacrificing who we really are just to be accepted by the crowd really worth the cost?

Spinelli's novel is told from the first-person point of view of Leo Borlock, an eleventh-grade student at Mica Area High School (MAHS) in Arizona. In the first chapter, "Porcupine Necktie," Leo describes his fascination with his Uncle Pete's necktie and how he becomes the owner of it. It's not like any other tie he has seen, and he is crazy about it. When he was twelve, his family moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona, and his uncle gave him the tie as a going away present. Because he was so crazy about it, he begins to collect porcupine ties; however, two years later, he still has only one porcupine tie in his collection.

Leo's mother sends a regular feature article about Leo to be published in the local newspaper. The last line of the article reads: "As a hobby, Leo Borlock collects porcupine neckties. One day, he comes home to find a package on his front doorstep that has a tag that reads "Happy Birthday!" When he opens the gift-wrapped package with a yellow ribbon, he finds a porcupine necktie inside. Needless to say, the tie is rather unusual, and the author of the gift is anonymous.

This short introduction to the novel  foreshadows events to come. Leo remarks, "At the time I simply considered the episode a mystery. It did not occur to me that I was being watched. We were all being watched" (2). This is a great introduction to the book because Leo's fascination with his uncle's unusual tie becomes symbolic of his later fascination with Stargirl.

Leo meets Stargirl at school. Her real name is Susan Caraway, but she has a habit of changing her name whenever she feels she has outgrown her old one. Although she dresses flamboyantly, carries a large bag with a sunflower on it, and carries around a ukulele strapped to her back, her behavior seems even more bizarre. She sings "Happy Birthday" to students in the lunchroom everyday, even people she doesn't know; she puts a vase with a flower in it on her desk in every class, a ritual she repeats every day. She cheers for both teams at football and basketball games, attends strangers' funerals, and even carries a pet rat around on her shoulder. She seems to know details of the lives of everyone around her. How does she do it?

The students at MAHS don't know what to think about Stargirl. At first, students think she is crazy and avoid her, but when her crazy antics seems to help the school's basketball team develop a winning streak, students begin to experience incredible school spirit. Hillari Kimble become jealous of Stargirl and tries to turn everyone against her. Dori Dilson is the only friend who stands by her; meanwhile, Leo is developing a crush on Stargirl and can't seem to get her out of his mind.

Although the novel seems realistic on one level, as far as student behavior goes, I couldn't help but think as I read this book that this was not going to turn out well in the end. Stargirl is likable, funny, interesting, and brave; she doesn't care what anyone thinks about her. These are all qualities to be admired, but I kept asking myself, what would happen if someone actually behaved this way in school? I had to keep reading just to find out what was going to happen!

This book is well-written and easy to read.  It's the kind of book you can't put down once you turn the first page. I highly recommend Stargirl for both teenagers and adults! I can't wait to read more of Spinelli's books.

Jerry Spinelli's Official Website
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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Stitches: A Memoir by David Small

Published in 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

David Small's graphic novel Stitches: A Memoir is one of the most depressing books I have ever read. Not one character in the entire book has any redeeming qualities. I'm sorry that David Small had such a horrible childhood growing up in Detroit, a city that, to me, also symbolizes a life of decay and hopelessness. My father was born and raised in Detroit, and it sickens me to see what has happened to that once thriving city. I lived there for a VERY short time when I was a young child and am thankful my parents decided to leave when the crime rate began to escalate and the schools and neighborhoods really began to deteriorate. We moved when we began to hear gunshots in our neighborhood on a regular basis.

The mother, the father, the grandparents, the doctors, the nurse, and even the psychiatrist that was characterized as the rabbit with his ticking time piece from Alice in Wonderland were all characters that I did not relate to in the least. I did not connect with them and wouldn't want to.

I also didn't appreciate the image of the crucifix hanging on the wall at his grandmother's house and the way Christ is portrayed speaking to him from the cross, "He was a durn little fool!" If this family had had even a mustard seed of faith in their lives, things might have been totally different. I don't understand why Small included this scene in his book at all. Christ and the crucifix had absolutely nothing to do with his misery. What was that about?

Small's memoir is sad, depressing, and left me feeling a sense of hopelessness, and I would never want to make my students feel this way. I am thankful there is hope in the world, but I certainly didn't find it in this book. I believe books should speak to the heart; they should touch the heart; they should inspire; they should teach. Life is hard enough. This book didn't do any of these things. I'm sorry to say that this book makes me dislike graphic novels even more than I did before. On the back of Small's book, Jules Feiffer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist has this to say:
David Small presents us with a profound and moving gift of graphic literature that has the look of a movie and reads like a poem. . . . We know that we are in the hands of a master."
A profound and moving gift of graphic literature? A master of what? I'm sorry. I just didn't find this book at all moving. I don't know if this graphic novel accurately portrays the author's childhood, but it made me feel sorry for him and his family. I hope one day he finds peace and joy in his life or has found it, and I hope he doesn't follow in his grandmother's footsteps by ending up in an insane asylum.

David Small, I recommend that you read Christ's actual words from the Bible, not words that you put it his mouth yourself. There you will find hope. Look them up. Christ's words are written in red, and I promise you, he won't call you "a durn fool."

Friday, April 11, 2014

Anne Frank: A photographic story of a life by Kem Knapp Sawyer

Published in 2004 by DK Publishing
Junior Biography

I had a difficult time deciding which biography I wanted to blog about, so I ended up choosing Elly Berkovits Gross' book Elly: My True Story of the Holocaust. However, I wanted to give an honorable mention to this book by Kem Knapp Sawyer: Anne Frank: A photographic story of a life.

Most people have heard the story of Anne Frank or have read her diary, but this book takes her story to a new level. This book is one of the most beautiful chapter books for young people I have ever read. It is well-documented and is filled with illustrations and sidebars that tell Anne's story.

If you are at all interested in studying about the Holocaust, check this book out! I highly recommend it! Also, check out the link below to see more great books written by this author!

Kem Knapp Sawyer's Books for Young People
Find This Book In Your Local Library

Elly: My True Story of the Holocaust by Elly Berkovits Gross

Published in 2009 by Scholastic, Inc.
Junior Biography

Elly Berkowitz Gross' Elly: My True Story of the Holocaust is a miraculous story of survival from Auschwitz II/Birkenau and later from a slave labor camp at the Volkswagen Factory in Fallersleben. Elly was born in Hungary in 1929 several years before Hitler rose to power and at the height of the depression. As a young child, she didn't have many material possessions and describes a tragic event concerning the only doll she ever owned that had been given to her by her father. She was an only child until her brother Adalbert was born and took pleasure in caring for him; she loved him very much. Even before the Nazis invaded her country, Elly experienced many instances of antisemitism, and she shares these experiences in her book.

When Elly was 13, her father was drafted into a forced-labor camp, and Elly describes his ordeal:
His group marched on foot with no food, water, shoes, or warm clothes. One day, his keepers forced the group into a trailer, locked the doors, and poured gasoline around the trailer. Then the soldiers put a match to the gasoline and burned the workers alive. My thirty-seven-year-old father was among the group of young men who died that day.
I forever missed my daddy, who, far from his family, suffered cold and hunger for months. And fire took my dear daddy's life (28).
She learned of her father's death after the war when she returned to her hometown (78).

The only picture of Elly (at the age of two)
that survived the Holocaust
Elly's story, like so many survivors of the Holocaust, is heartbreaking, but I believe their stories must be told and must be heard. This book is easy to read and has short chapters that make it perfect for young readers age 9 and up. In the center of the book, Elly includes many photos that document her story and her life.

In one of the most memorable scenes, Elly describes the day she, her mother, and brother arrive at Auschwitz. When the men in striped rags jump into the boxcar, one man tells her to say she is eighteen. Another tells her mother to give her son to someone else. A decision had to be made in a split second, and of course, Elly's mother holds on to Adalbert. Elly is sent to the right, and her mother and brother are sent to the left. They perish, and she survives. Elly describes how her memories still torment her to this day:
My mother, holding my brother in her arms, remained on the left. As I ran to reach the others, I waved to them. They looked in my direction. I relive this moment all of my life. We had arrived at Auschwitz II/Birkenau concentration camp in Poland.
During my life, as problems arise, it crosses my mind that I made a terrible mistake. I am tormented with remorse. Why did I not say to my mother, "Give my brother to someone and come with me?" Why do I feel guilt that Mother was sent to the left? 
In my life, tragedies poured on me. I was robbed of my father at age thirteen. When I was fourteen, he perished in a forced-labor camp. When I was fifteen, my mother and brother were taken from me. Was I selfish by not speaking up at that moment? By not saying, "Mommy, please come with me?" You, Reader, be the judge. Did I do wrong (34-35)?  
In her book, Elly includes a photograph she later found of her mother and brother as they departed the train on that fateful day, June 2, 1944, the day they arrived at Auschwitz. It's a miracle the photo survived the war.

Elly believes that her survival during the Holocaust was due to a chain of miracles that occurred. She doesn't consider herself special, but she says that without those miracles, she would not have survived. Not many children under the age of 18 survived. The first miracle she attributes to the fact that she was born with blonde hair, blue eyes, and white skin. Second, even though Hungarian laws forbade Jews to travel, she was able to secretly travel by train to an aunt's house to get food before her family was deported. No one on the train questioned her because of her appearance.

While she lived in the ghetto of Cehei, which held more than seven thousand inhabitants, Elly was assigned the job of peeling potatoes and was able to steal plenty of raw or boiled potatoes to eat. She also managed to smuggle a small pocketknife onto the train and was able to cut a small hole so she could breath. On several occasions, she used the knife as a means of survival and was never caught.

Miraculously, Elly survived the dreaded Dr. Mengel at Auschwitz when at the last minute he directed her to the right rather than the left. During one roll call, that often lasted for hours even in the pouring rain, she passed out and felt that "an angel held out her wings" and kept Dr. Mengele from seeing her. She was quickly taken inside and managed to survive. At the Volkswagen factory, a German Meister (factory supervisor) brought her some salt to stop her gums from bleeding, thereby preventing infection. Elly describes other "miracles" that spared her life.

Near the end of her book, Elly describes her liberation which took place on April 14, 1945, her struggle to rebuild her life after the war, her eventual marriage to her husband and birth of two children, and her new life in America, and in a final section, she shares nearly a dozen poems that she wrote describing her experiences.

Although I've studied the Holocaust extensively and have had the opportunity to attend conferences at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and visit Auschwitz, I had never before heard of this book. I was so glad to find this jewel in the junior biography section at my local library.

Source of Images
Find This Book At Your Local Library

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

Published in  2004 by Scholastic, Inc.
This edition published in 2012
Science Fiction / Fantasy
Individuality vs. conformity
Identity vs. access
Freedom vs. control 
These are the themes of Suzanne Weyn's sci-fi thriller The Bar Code Tattoo. This story is set in the future. The year is 2025, and everybody is getting it. They say the bar code tattoo will make life easier, will hook you in, and will become your identity (back cover), but those who refuse to conform risk losing everything, even their lives.

This is not normally a book I would choose to read, but I thought it would be an interesting choice to fulfill the science fiction/fantasy genre requirement for this class. I didn't really care for the book, but once I started it, I wanted to follow through. The plot is typical of this genre. Kayla, the protagonist, a sixteen-year-old teenager, has to make a choice. Will she get the tattoo once she turns seventeen? Her family life is in turmoil; her father has committed suicide, and her mother is addicted to drugs. Everyone around her seems to be conforming, but she has strong reservations about what is happening. Global-1 and ArgoGlobal are taking over the world.

When she chooses not to have the tattoo, her life is turned upside down. She becomes an outcast at her high school, is betrayed by her closest friends, and has to go on the run. After having a vision of a woman named Eutonah, she flees to the mountains for refuge, and the majority of the book is about her journey north. She meets with danger along the way and nearly loses her life when she is shot in the shoulder. Many of the subplots seem unrealistic. For example, she meets old friends from high school along the way that would have no idea of her destination.

I didn't really care for this book; it definitely has a "new age" feel to it. I wasn't surprised to learn that the author is a member of the Fourth Unitarian-Universalist Church in New York. I felt the story line was too predictable. The author merges science fiction with the Bible (The Book of Revelation), telepathy, visions, and mind control. However, students who like reading science fiction might enjoy this book and other books written by this author. I really don't know what else to say about it. I wasn't impressed and would leave it up to my students as to whether or not they would want to read it. It would not be a book that I would recommend, but I do believe there is an audience out there who would enjoy it.

If I had to come up with one adjective to describe this book, it would have to be CREEPY.

Meet Suzanne Weyn
Image Source

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman (Illustrated by Eric Beddows)

Published in 1988 by Harper Trophy
Poetry / Poetry Collections

I was surprised to learn that Paul Fleischman's Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices was published in 1988 and that I had never heard of it. Where has this book been all my life? I've never heard it
mentioned or recommended by any librarian or teacher. This 1989 Newbery Medal award winning volume of poetry is incredible, and I will definitely add it to my personal library. The poems in this book could provide many opportunities for students to act out the poems they are reading, and I can envision numerous uses for this volume in my classroom. It would be a great addition to my collection of concrete poetry.

This unusual collection of poems is designed to be read by two people, either individually or simultaneously. Joyful Noise is a companion volume to I Am Phoenix, a collection of two-voice poems about birds, and both books are usually purchased togetherThe fourteen poems included in this volume recreate the sounds of various insects: grasshoppers, mayflies, fireflies, moths, cicadas, and honeybees, just to name a few.

My personal favorite is the poem "Book Lice." What an interesting way to look at an insect I would normally abhor! Fleischman makes book lice seem adorable, and in the illustration, the tiny insects are actually smiling. I am certain the next time I see an old, dusty book, images of book lice will come to mind. As much as I love books and would hate to see these destructive creatures destroyed, I find myself feeling empathy for them. Fleischman creates feeling and brings his tiny insects to life through his use of language and imagery:
I was born in a
fine old edition of Shiller
                                           While I started life
                                            in a private eye thriller
We're book lice                     We're book lice
who dwell                             who dwell
in these dusty bookshelves      in these dusty bookshelves.
Later I lodged in
Scott's works-volume 50
                                            While I passed my youth
                                            in an Agatha Christie
We're book lice                      We're book lice
attached                                attached
despite contrasting pasts         despite contrasting pasts.
Once day, while in search of
a new place to eat
                                            He fell down seven shelves,
                                            where we happened to meet
We're book lice                      We're book lice
who chew                             who  chew
on the bookbinding glue           on the bookbinding glue (15-16).

The book lice get married and honeymoon in an old guide book on Greece and continue to tell the tale of their journey in first-person point of view. These few stanzas provide just a taste of the clever poetry presented in Fleischman's book.

Not only are the poems a delight but the illustrations are equally noteworthy. Eric Beddows, the illustrator for this text, has received numerous grants and awards for his artistic work. His simple, black and white pencil drawings illustrate each poem and bring life to the text. This book can best be described in one word: FUN! It will make you smile!

Paul Fleischman's Official Website

More About Eric Beddows

More Images by Eric Beddows

Source for Images       

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman (Illustrated by Rick Allen)

Published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Poetry / Poetry Collections

Joyce Sidman's Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night is a beautifully illustrated book of poetry and prose that is delightful to read. One cannot review this book without paying special attention to the artwork. The illustrations were made by the process of relief painting; this process is described in detail at the beginning of the book:
Relief painting is when the artist takes a drawing or sketch and transfers it onto a block of wood, or in this instance, a sheet of linoleum mounted on wood, and then cuts and carves
away the drawing using a variety of tools. The areas left uncut are covered with ink and printed on paper by hand or on a press; a number of blocks can be cut and then successively printed in different colors, with the different blocks being "registered" or aligned to create a multicolored print. The prints for Dark Emperor were each printed from at least three blocks (and in some instances as many as six) and then hand-colored with a strongly pigmented watercolor called gouache. There are definitely faster methods of making a picture, but few are more enjoyable in a backwards sort of way (front matter).
With the turn of each page, the reader is drawn into an amazing world that is not visible to the naked eye. Not only are the illustrations beautiful but the poems (on the left side of each page) and the prose passages (on the right side of each page) are equally exquisite. The opening poem welcomes readers to the night:

To all of you who crawl and creep,
who buzz and chirp and hoot and peep,
who wake at dusk and throw off sleep:
Welcome to the night (6).

Sidman and Allen then take readers on a journey they will not soon forget by revealing a world that comes alive after the sun sets. On the left side of each page is a poem about a raccoon, a snail, a moth, an owl, a spider, a cricket, an eft, and a bat; these simple creatures, not often the topic of poetry or prose, are described in ways that make them seem important to what takes place when the sun goes down. The author also describes what life is like at night for the trees, the mushrooms, and even the moon as she uses personification to give them life-like qualities. On the right side of each page, Sidman uses prose to go into more detail about topics she addresses in each poem.

I found this book to be one of the most enjoyable books I have read this semester. The simple language (topics) and beautiful illustrations reveal another world not often seen, heard or spoken of in such an elegant way.

At the end of the book, a glossary defines terms with which readers may be unfamiliar, such as echolocation, stridulation, spinnerets, and ubi sunt. While reading this book, I learned many interesting facts about animals. For example, I wasn't aware that porcupines slept in trees and that baby porcupines were called porcupettes. I am certain that, if you read this book, you will learn something about animals, too. I highly recommend this book, especially for children who love animals. This is one book I will definitely add to my personal library.

Joyce Sidman's Official Website

Rick Allen Illustrations

Image Source

The Watertower by Gary Crew (Illustrated by Steven Woolman)

Published in 1994 by Era Publications (Australia)
Science Fiction / Fantasy

The Watertower is a science fiction/horror/fantasy story that was written by Gary Crew and illustrated by Steven Woolman. Paulsen (1995) suggests "One of the reasons Crew teamed up with Woolman was because of the illustrator's interest in the macabre, bizarre fantasy and old B-grade science fiction. Woolman not only illustrated the book but designed it as well, and the design is inordinately innovative. Woolman illustrated the book using a combination of chalk and pencil on black paper, plus acrylic paint on textured board, all to striking effect. To read the book the reader has to gradually turn it through 270 degrees, and like the central character, they are metamorphosed in the actual reading process." The text of the story is simple, but the illustrations are complex.

Jameyson (2012) contends The Watertower has "hooked" its readers from the very beginning, especially students who do not like to read at all:
The Watertower turned heads from the moment it was published--literally as well as figuratively. That's because, to begin with, the reader must actually turn the book on its side to read it and then continue to turn it as the story progresses (or doesn't, depending on your interpretation). According to one advocate, a high school English teacher, the actual turning/handling along with the tantalizing clues to the story--is what hooks her student readers, particularly the less enthusiastic ones.
Both Crew and Woolman like to make their readers work. They understand precisely how much explanation their audience needs, and The Watertower strains readers' abilities to the breaking point.
The book was originally published in Australia by Era Publications in 1994, and the first American edition was published by Crocodile Books in Brooklyn, New York, in 1998. The plot is about two boys in their mid-teens who decide to go for a swim in a mysterious watertower that stands on a hill overlooking the town of Preston, Australia. The town is located in the Australian outback. The exact date in which the story is set is not given, but the illustrations indicate the story occurs in the mid-nineteen thirties to the mid-nineteen forties. The buildings, automobiles, and clothing the characters wear all suggest this time period.

In the opening lines, Crew (1998) creates suspense, "Nobody in Preston could remember when the watertower was built, or who had built it, but there it stood on Shooters Hill--its iron legs rusted, its egg-shaped tank warped and leaking--causing a long, dark shadow across the valley, across Preston itself." The eerie description of the tower suggests there is something unusual, and perhaps even sinister, about the tower that overlooks this rural, Australian outback town.

One summer afternoon, Spike Trotter and Bubba D'Angelo meet at a service station in town with the intent to climb up to the watertower for a swim. Spike leads the way, remarking that his mother warns "it is dangerous up there." Bubba, a little overweight and out of shape, follows behind with his towel in hand. The author implies that Bubba's mother "couldn't have cared less where he went," and this statement takes on greater significance at the end of the story. When Spike reaches the top of the hill, he turns and looks down on the town and sarcastically call the townsfolk "Suckers." The implication of Spike's statement is left to the readers' imagination; nevertheless, it is strange and seems out of place.

When the boys reach the top of the hill, they realize someone had erected a fence around the tower to keep trespassers out; however, the fence has been torn down, or so it seems. Bubba asks, "You reckon vandals done that?" Already having climbed to the top of the watertower, Spike yells down to Bubba, "Hurry up" and throws the access hatch open. It's very hot, so the boys take off their shirts and shorts and begin to climb down into the tank for a swim. A long ladder descends towards the murky water below, and it's so dark inside that the boys can hardly see. When Bubba gets to the bottom rung of the ladder, he describes the water as being "Green. Like Moss. Like slimy, dead moss." Bubba calls out for Spike, who supposedly climbed down into the tank first, but he doesn't answer. All Bubba can hear is his voice as it echoes off the walls of the tower. At this point, the author makes an unusual remark; "[H]e might not have been there at all," perhaps foreshadowing the strange events to come.

Bubba is described as not particularly liking the water. He only gets in the water up to his knees, splashes around a bit, and glances up towards the light "imagining." Perhaps he is wondering where Spike is hiding. As a reader, I assumed Spike had descended into the tank first. He finally calls out to Spike telling him that he is going to climb out of the tower and get dressed. Still there is no answer from Spike, and Bubba assumes Spike is somewhere beneath him in the water. When Bubba climbs out of the tank, he wraps his towel around his waist and begins searching for his clothes. He sees Spike's clothes wedged beneath the hatch but can only see his shirt flapping in the wind. He cannot find his pants. He calls to Spike, whom he assumes is down inside the tank and asks him if his pants are "down there," when all of a sudden Spike appears behind him, dripping wet. How did Spike get out of the tank before Bubba? How did Spike get behind him? Something strange and unusual is taking place here.

Spike laughs, and Bubba assumes his pants have blown away. Spike tells Bubba to go home with the towel wrapped around his waist, but he shakes his head, "No way. If my mother finds out I lost my pants, I'm dead." Bubba fears his mother because she "could land a wallop like nobody else in town." Bubba's mother only appears in one illustration in the text, and she is seen standing at a window staring at the watertower. The expression on her face is sinister, and there is a reflection of the tower that can be seen in the upper, left-hand corner of the window above her head. Does she care where Bubba is headed after all? Has she gone for a swim in the tower metamorphosing as well?

Spike volunteers to run back to Bubba's house and climb in through the window of his bedroom to get him another pair of pants. Before Bubba gets a chance to respond, Spike is gone. Bubba crawls back into the tank because the hot metal is burning his feet. As he descends into the darkness, he reassures himself he will be all right but stops halfway down the ladder. He begins to hear the tower creaking and groaning and reasons that it's the heat and the metal expanding. He smells a strange smell and reasons it's the algae, "all rotten and festering." He sees the water swirling below and reasons it's the wind and the shifting of the tower. He says, "It's old and rickety," and then admits he is frightened, very frightened.

When Bubba finally reaches the top of the tower, he pauses for a moment and then decides to wait for Spike under some nearby bushes. He will feel safer there. It's so hot that his skin begins to blister, and he wonders how long it will be before Spike returns with his clothes. All of a sudden, Bubba hears something move at the top of the tower. He calls out for Spike, and after receiving no response, he begins to climb to the top of the tower once again. The very next illustration is a full-page image of Bubba's face with no text. Upon close examination, the reader notices a spike-like object in one of Bubba's eyes. The reader infers something is taking hold of Bubba; something is changing inside him. Time passes.

When Spike returns calling Bubba's name and waving his shorts wildly, Bubba climbs out of the watertower and begins to dress himself, but something has definitely changed; the reader can see it in his eyes. At some point, Bubba got back into the tank, but this is not indicated directly in the text. As Bubba begins to climb out of the tank, he appears confident and strong, "[I]f I stayed down there a minute longer, I reckon I would have dissolved. The water was great. I had the best swim. I taught myself to lie on the bottom. I could do it to the count of a hundred and twenty. No lie. Two minutes.  Boy that was good." This is strange behavior for a boy who doesn't like to swim and would barely get his legs wet. Spike realizes something is strange, and his eyes narrow. He wants to see the water wrinkles on Bubba's fingers, but Bubba refuses to show him. In an ironic twist, Bubba now takes the lead and turns towards home. He says his mother will be worried if he doesn't come home soon. "You know what a worrier she is. She'll be scared something happened to me, won't she?" This is a strange remark from a boy whose mother could care less where he went; he closes the hatch with a thud. The story ends with Spike looking at Bubba with a confused expression on his face.

The audience for The Watertower would appeal to older children rather than younger children, and it was intended for older audiences. The characters are well-developed, but young children would have difficulty following the story and understanding the complex illustrations, especially when the pages begin to turn. The book could be rather confusing for younger readers. The language is appropriate for the time and setting, and the theme is well-developed; however, the reader has the opportunity to draw his own conclusions about what is happening in the text.

Although Crew's The Watertower won The Australian Children's Picturebook of the Year after it was published, the intended audience for this book is between 9 - 15 year-old students, perhaps even older students and adults. Paulsen (1995) writes, "[M]ore often than not they are written for older readers rather than youngsters you might expect. . . . So while Gary Crew is primarily marketed as a children's writer, he is not constrained by marketing boundaries. Indeed many of his books are ageless, able to be enjoyed by children and adults alike." Paulsen (1995) also suggests "The Watertower belongs to a new niche in children's literature, that of the picture book for mid-primary to mid-secondary readers . . . kids aged from nine to fifteen. According to Crew it is 'based on the notion that children, especially older boys, still love looking at pictures, but are generally intellectually insulted by the childish fare (in both print and visual text) that they are served up.'"

The illustrations are what really carry the plot along in The Watertower. It is interesting how Woolman weaves together what is taking place while Spike is running back to town to get Bubba's clothes and Bubba is waiting for Spike to return. Both events are portrayed in the same illustration. At one point in the story, the reader actually gets "lost" or "turned around" because of the way the pages turn. I actually had to read the story several times to comprehend what was taking place because, as I turned the pages, I found myself actually heading back to the beginning of the book. This was confusing, but it was also intriguing at the same. time. I felt like I was trying to solve a puzzle.

I've never before read a book where the author manipulated the illustrations to this extent. The pictures are accurate and consistent with the text. They carry the story and the plot forward and make the story interesting, fun and enjoyable. The illustrations are authentic for the setting and time period and are appropriate for the mood of the story. Woolman uses bright colors and unusual shapes to extend the story and actually disrupts the balance in the story in a most unusual way by manipulating the reader to the the pages of the book 270 degrees.

I find Crew's book The Watertower eerie but fascinating, and the way Woolman illustrates the text is interesting and innovative. Whether he is writing science fiction, horror, and stories that are just unexplainable, Crew invites his audiences to explore the bizarre and unknown.

Image Source
Meet Gary Crew
Gary Crew Books
Find This Book At Your Library

A Day That Changed America: Gettysburg by Shelley Tanaka (Paintings by David Craig)

Published in 2003 by Hyperion Books for Children
Nonfiction / Informational Text

Shelley Tanaka's A Day That Changed America: Gettysburg teaches children about the Battle of Gettysburg, a pivotal moment during the Civil War, and the Gettysburg Address. Her series of books I Was There includes In The Time of Knights, Secrets of the Mummies, Graveyards of the Dinosaurs, On Board the Titanic, and Discovering the Iceman. Two other books she has written include The Disaster of the Hindenburg and Attack on Pearl Harbor.
Gettysburg Memorial Cemetery
Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg has become legendary and has come to be known as the speech that inspired the nation. Tanaka is an award winning children's author and editor.

David Craig, the illustrator for this book and professional artist depicting historical events and people, was
Battle of Gettysburg
also instrumental in creating a series of paintings commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of World War II. John Y. Simon, the historical consultant for Tanaka's book, is also an author and has written numerous books and articles on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. He serves on the executive committee of the Lincoln Form at Gettysburg and is also a professor of American history at Southern Illinois University--Carbondale (end dust jacket cover). Tanaka, along with Craig and Simon, have produced an excellent nonfiction book that accurately portrays the history of Gettysburg and the significance of the Gettysburg Address.

Although this book accurately portrays what led up to the Battle of Gettysburg, explains the significance of this moment in history, and provides a copy of the Gettysburg Address itself, my favorite part of the book is when Tanaka contrasts the two men who addressed the nation at the Gettysburg memorial after the nation began to realize the tremendous loss of life that occurred during the three-day battle:
Edward Everett and Abraham Lincoln could not have given more different speeches at Gettysburg. Everett spent a great deal of time writing his speech. In fact, the ceremony was delayed by four weeks because he needed more time to prepare it. His speech was two hours long, sometimes flowery, and full of names, facts, and historical references. His deep voice thundered over the crowd, and he waved his arms grandly as he recited the whole text from memory. It was an impressive performance.
Abraham Lincoln's speech was two minutes long. It was handwritten on two sheets of paper that he held in front of him while he read. Most of the words had only one syllable. He did not
The Gettysburg Address
have much time to prepare his speech, as he had only been asked to speak at the Gettysburg memorial a few weeks before the ceremony, but the ideas had been in his mind for some time. 
Edward Everett was a former president of Harvard--a man with a vast formal education. Abraham Lincoln had gone to school for less than one year. Yet both men were avid readers, and they both loved language. They borrowed phrases and drew on a wide knowledge of literature and history that went back to the ancient Greeks, the Bible, and Shakespeare.
Few speakers since have been able to match their eloquence. Some have called Lincoln the last president who could truly use words. In fact, no American president has written  his own speeches for fifty years (39).
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is a simple, yet powerful speech that called on Americans to stand together at a difficult time in our nation's history, and that is exactly what his speech did. Lincoln inspired our nation to come together, to remember the sacrifice of those who died on the battlefield, and to move forward as a united people. Tanaka also includes a two-page map describing the Battle of Gettysburg in detail that is an excellent reference to what took place during the battle, a battle that claimed more than 50,000 lives.

I highly recommend this book for those who enjoy studying history and who believe it is important to teach children about how America became the nation it is today.

The Gettysburg Address
Gettysburg National Military Park
Meet Shelley Tanaka
Facts About Gettysburg

Monday, April 7, 2014

Symbols of American Freedom: Ellis Island by Hilarie Staton

Published in 2010 by Chelsea Clubhouse
Nonfiction / Informational

Hilary Staton's Symbols of American Freedom: Ellis Island is one book in a series of books that tell stories of important historical places and monuments that have shaped American history and have become symbols of freedom for all Americans. Other volumes in this set include The Alamo, Independence Hall, The Lincoln Memorial, Fort McHenry, Mount Rushmore, The Statue of Liberty, The Gateway Arch, The Gettysburg Battlefield, and The Washington Monument.

Staton's book documents the history of Ellis Island and explains how it became a symbol of hope for millions of immigrants throughout the years. The book is written for students 8 years and up and is beautifully illustrated. Many of the illustrations come from the Library of Congress and other historical societies and libraries. The book describes in detail what it was like for those who passed through Ellis Island from the time they arrived until they actually entered the country.

Throughout the book, there are short bios of immigrants who came to America; Max Factor (1877-1938) is one example:
Max Factor was born in Lodz, Poland. In 1904, he, his wife, and their three children entered the United States through Ellis Island. They went to St. Louis, Missouri, where he sold perfumes and creams at the 1904 World's Fair. A few years later, they moved to Hollywood, where he began doing makeup for movie actors. He invented new ways to make actors look better on film. Soon after, he began selling makeup to the public. Over the years, he invented many new products, such as false eyelashes and the eyebrow pencil. Max Factor brand makeup is still very popular today (6).
The book also includes short stories of immigrants written "In Their Own Words." These primary sources add credibility to the text. Staton also discusses in detail how Ellis Island has changed over time. The final chapter in the book describes what it is like to visit Ellis Island today. Both a timeline and glossary are included in the book to aid the reader in understanding the text.

I highly recommend this book for those who believe it is important to teach children about the opportunities America has provided for millions of immigrants from around the world.

Ellis Island National Monument Official Website
Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation Official Website
Immigration, Stories of Yesterday and Today

BRADBURY: Classic Stories from Ray Bradbury

Published in 1990 by Bantam Books
Science Fiction / Fantasy

When I stumbled across this anthology in the library recently, I thought it would be a perfect choice to fulfill one of my requirements for the science fiction/fantasy genre. Ray Bradbury is one of the most famous and most prolific writers of the 20th century. He was born August 22, 1920, and died June 15, 2012. He won many awards spanning his 70 year writing career and is best known for writing fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery novels, and short stories. I have used many of Bradbury's writings in my English classes throughout the years, and students love them. Two of my students' favorites include two short stories: "The Cold Equation" and "The Sound of Thunder." "The Cold Equation" is not included in this anthology, probably because it is too long, but "The Sound of Thunder" is included. Bradbury's most famous novels include Fahrenheit 51, The Martian Chronicles, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. 

Bradbury: Classic Stories 1 from The Golden Apples of the Sun and R is for Rocket is divided into two parts. The first part of the book includes 18 short stories from The Golden Apples of the Sun, and the second part of the book includes 14 short stories from R is for Rocket. Many of the stories in this anthology appeared originally in The New Yorker, Mademoiselle, American Mercury, Charm, The Reporter, Epoch, Collier's, and The Saturday Evening Post (front matter).

Like any anthology, some stories are better than others; some would be appropriate to use in a classroom setting, and others would not. "The Sound of Thunder," a story about dinosaurs, is often included in high school literature books. Other stories, however, such as "The Garbage Collector" might not be well-received. This story is about a garbage collector who finds that his job has changed one day. Garbage collectors have been notified that if an atom bomb drops on their city, they will immediately stop what they are doing and begin collecting the bodies. He considers quitting his job, but his wife, on the other hand, thinks nothing of it. Her attitude is that it's just a job that must be done. As the garbage collector considers the aftermath of an atomic bomb, he tries to figure out how he would stack the bodies in his garbage truck and considers whether or not he should keep the men, women, and children together or separate them. He describes in detail the dilemma of the rotting corpses. Not all stories in this anthology are as dark as "The Garbage Collector." Anyone considering this anthology should use caution when choosing stories to read to children.

Although I highly recommend this book, I would encourage teachers to choose stories that would be appropriate for their particular age group. Ray Bradbury challenges his readers to think about ordinary things in new ways. Readers who like this genre will enjoy this book because the stories are short and easy to read. They also are designed to catch the read by surprise, and that's what makes Bradbury's writing so popular.

Ray Bradbury's Official Website
Ray Bradbury's Books

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

Published in 1995 by Dell Laurel-Leaf
an imprint of Random House Children's Books
Historical Fiction

Victims of the Birmingham Church Bombing - 1963
Christopher Paul Curtis' first novel, The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963, earned him a Newbery Medal, a Coretta Scott King Award, and the Golden Kite Award, in addition to many other awards and honors. I hadn't read this book
before, but as soon as I opened the cover and saw who the book was dedicated to, I knew I wanted to read it: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, the toll for one day in one city.

I was immediately reminded of the poem "Ballad of Birmingham" written by Dudley Randall. I usually read this poem with my classes in January, around the time of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. The
16th Street Baptist Church Bombing
September 15, 1963
poem was written in memory of the four girls killed during the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. I thought the book would be more about this event; however, it was not. The church bombing was in the back of my mind as I read the book, but I kept wondering when and how it was going to connect with the story.

The book is about the Watsons, a fictional African American family who live in Flint Michigan: ten-year-old Kenny, the narrator; Daniel and Wilona Watson, Kenny's parents; Kenny's brother Byron ("By"); and his sister Joetta ("Joey"). The Watsons, affectionately referred to as the "Weird Watsons," are a typical, loving family with one problem: Byron, the oldest child, is getting into trouble, so they decide to drive to Birmingham so he can stay the summer, and perhaps the following year, with Grandma Sands, Wilona Watson's strict mother. What they don't realize is that they are heading towards a tragic historical event in history. The contrast between the way the family is portrayed and the tragic events that happen at the church are what really make this novel so compelling. The reader is drawn into the life of this rather ordinary family, while at the same time, understanding that racial unrest lies just beneath the surface. As the reader becomes familiar with each member of the Watson family, especially the children, he or she begins to realize the children who were killed in the church bombing also had families and lived ordinary lives as well. It humanizes the victims.

During the first part of the book, the readers get to know the Watsons as a family experiencing the ups and downs of family life and sibling rivalry. Because the book is narrated by Kenny Watson, a ten-year-old boy, the language and tone is often humorous. At times, I was reminded of the humor in the graphic novel Diary of a Wimpy Kid. One scene I found particularly funny was when Byron got his lips frozen to the mirror of their car, the Brown Bomber. Another humorous scene was when Byron got his hair "conked" and dad shaved his head bald. Other scenes include Kenny playing with his friends and Byron bullying his siblings.

One of the funniest scenes in the book begins with Byron trying to scare his brother and sister. "Even though I was in fourth grade I fell for a lot of the stuff Byron came  up with. He made everything seem real interesting and important" (52). Byron looks around to make sure no one is listening, and then he attempts to convince his brother and sister that "fake" garbage trucks go around the neighborhood picking up frozen dead people.

As Kenny and Joey listen intently, Byron explains:
You see, some of them trucks ain't real garbage trucks at all. Joey, you was right, every cold morning like this the streets is full of dead, froze people. Some of the time they freeze so quick they don't even fall down, they just stand there froze solid! . . . That's where them fake garbage trucks come in. Every morning they go round picking the froze folks off the street, and they need them big doors because someone who got froze don't bend in the middle and they wouldn't fit in no regular ambulance. . . . Both of you gotta swear never, ever to try and look in the back of one of them trucks. I did it once and I'ma tell you, there ain't nothin' more horrible than seein' hundreds of dead, froze up Southern folks crammed up inside a garbage truck. It's a sight that I'ma carry to my grave with me" (53).
     Joey begins crying; Byron turns to Kenny and says, "Give my regards to Clark, Poindexter" (54) and leaves him to wipe away her tears. These scenes help the reader identify with the characters; older siblings often antagonize their younger siblings.

Slightly more than halfway through the book, Dad begins to get the Brown Bomber ready for their trip
to Birmingham by cleaning it and fixing it up. He purchases an Ultra-Glide record player so they will be able to listen to anything other can country music on their long trip. Did this contraption really exist? . . . Once the family is loaded in the car, they drive through Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee and stop at rest areas along the way. The conditions are terrible; most have outhouses.

By the time they arrive at Grandma Sands, the reader is more than half-way through the book. I kept wondering how they were going to connect the church bombing to the story and was surprised how little the book focused on the event because of the strong emphasis placed on it in the reviews that I read.

Although I like The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963, I found it hard to read at times. I often found my mind drifting as I was reading it, and I was a little disappointed that the book didn't focus more on the Birmingham church bombing. Because of the book's dedication and the references in the book reviews, I kept waiting for a link to be made between the story and the historical event, and that doesn't happen until the very end of the book.

Nevertheless, this book is a good family book and reveals the Watsons as an ordinary, African American family experiencing life, and contrasts their lives with the racial tension and political upheaval going on in the background. This would be an excellent choice for students in middle school; I would consider it for struggling readers on the high school level as well.

Meet Christopher Paul Curtis
Source for Images
Find This Book At Your Local Library

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Illustrated by Trudy White)

 Originally published in 2005 in Australia by Picador
Published in the United States in 2006 by Alfred A. Knopf,
an imprint of Random House Children's Books
Historical Fiction

Zusak's The Book Thief is a story about how important books become to a ten-year-old girl living in a small town (Molching) outside of Munich during World War II. In fact, writing saves her life. The narrator is Death, and the story is told from his point of view:
I could introduce myself properly, but it's not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away. 
At that moment, you will be lying there (I rarely find people standing up). You will be caked in your own body. There might be a discovery; a scream will dribble down the air. The only sound I'll hear after that will be my own breathing, and the sound of the smell, of my footsteps. . . .[My] one saving grace is distraction. It keeps me sane. It helps me cope, considering the length of time I've been performing this job. The trouble is, who could ever replace me? . . . The answer, of course, is nobody, which has prompted me to make a conscious, deliberate decision--to make distraction my vacation. Needless to say, I vacation in increments (4).
Times of war are particularly stressful for Death because of the great loss of human life. Death is stressed out and needs a break; he needs to relax. However, it's not performing his job that is the real problem. Death explains that he needs a distraction from "the leftover humans." The survivors are the ones he can't stand looking at because they are the ones "left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise. They have punctured hearts. They have beaten lungs" (5). Then, Death begins to tell a story:
It's the story of one of those perpetual survivors--an expert at being left behind.
     It's just a small story really, about, among other things.
     *A girl [the book thief]
     *Some words
     *An accordionist
     *Some fanatical Germans
     *A Jewish fist fighter
     *And quite a lot of thievery 
I saw the book thief three times (5).
The book thief's name is Liesel Meminger, a ten-year-old girl who lives in Nazi Germany. Because she can no longer care for them, Liesel's mother decides to give up her two children (Liesel and her brother Werner) for adoption. While traveling on a train towards Munich, Werner dies, and this is the first time Death sees Liesel. While attending her brother's funeral, Liesel finds or "steals" her first book, a book called The Grave Diggers Handbook. Even though Liesel cannot read or write, she is fascinated by the book. Perhaps, the book becomes for her a companion of comfort to cope with the loss of her brother and family.

When Liesel arrives at her foster home on Himmel Street (a.k.a. Heaven Street), Death explains, "Whoever named Himmel Street certainly had a healthy sense of irony. Not that it was a living hell. It wasn't. But it sure as hell wasn't heaven, either" (26). Liesel's foster parents are waiting, Hans Hubermann, who she affectionately calls Papa and Rosa Hubermann (Mama) who is stern, has a sharp tongue, swears often, but in the end, has a heart. Liesel becomes very close to Papa as he comforts her in the middle of the night when she has nightmares and wets the bed. He plays his accordion and also teaches Liesel how to read. Liesel also meets Rudy Steiner, a young boy in the neighborhood, and they fast become friends. He has a crush on Liesel and is always asking her for a kiss. Leisel always refuses Rudy's request until Death appears (seeing the book thief for a second time) when Himmel Street is bombed in an air raid. Finally, Liesel grants Rudy's request, but it is too late.

The second book Liesel steals is called The Shoulder Shrug; she saves the book from a book burning. She happens to steal the book on Hitler's birthday, and it was her "anger and dark hatred that fueled her desire to steal it" (84). In an instant, she becomes "a girl made of darkness" (84). At the beginning of Part II, Death provides "Some Statistical Information."
First stolen book: January 13, 1939
Second stolen book: April 20, 1940
Duration between said stolen books: 463 Days (83).
Throughout the book, the narrator provides facts and statistical data to aid his readers. As the story unfolds, other characters are introduced: Max Vandenburg, a Jewish fist-fighter who is hiding in the Hubermann's basement to escape the Nazis and Tommy Muller, a young boy who lives near Liesel on Himmel Street.  Liesel and Max become close friends and share an affinity for reading. Max writes two books for Liesel that include sketches and his biography. Max actually uses pages from the book Mein Kampf, (Hitler's book of hate) to write his books; his sketches and text are illustrated in Zusak's book by Trudy White. One is a thirteen-page book called The Standover Man; the other is called The Word Shaker. Tragically, Max ends up being taken to a concentration camp, but does he survive? Tommy Muller is Liesel's neighbor on Himmel street, and he is repeatedly teased and harassed by the Hitler Youth.

A major character in the story is Ilsa Hermann. She is a prominent citizen in Molching and wife of the mayor. Mama Rosa and Liesel work for the Hermann family cleaning and pressing their laundry. When Liesel and her mother lose their job, Liesel continues visiting Ilsa's home because she loves to read the books in their large library. Even though Liesel steals books from their library, it is Ilsa who encourages Liesel to write a book about her life, a book she titles The Book Thief, which she writes in the basement. Ilsa ends up playing a significant role in Liesel's life after the Himmel Street air raid that flattens the entire neighborhood. During and after the raid, Death appears to most of the people Liesel knows. Liesel is one of the "leftover humans," a survivor left behind to crumble among "the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise." She has a punctured heart and beaten lungs, but she still has her books.

Several things the narrator (Death) says at the end of the novel will remain with me for quite some time: After the Himmel Street air raid when Liesel is leaning over Rudy's body, Death describes what he witnessed, "She leaned down and looked at his lifeless face and Liesel kissed her best friend, Rudy Steiner, soft and true on his lips. . . . She did not say goodbye. She was incapable, and after a few more minutes at his side, she was able to tear herself from the ground. It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on, coughing and searching, and finding" (536). This is the second time Death sees the book thief.

Once again, when Death sees Liesel with her Papa, he watches in amazement:
Papa was a man with silver eyes, not dead ones.
     Papa was an accordion!
     But his bellows were all empty.
     Nothing went in and nothing came out. 
She began to rock back and forth. A shrill, quiet, smearing note was caught somewhere in her mouth until she was finally able to turn.
     To Papa. 
At that point, I couldn't help it. I walked around to see her better, and from the moment I witnessed her face again, I could tell that this was who she loved the most. . . . 
'Goodbye, Papa, you saved me. You taught me to read. No one can play like you. . . . No one can play like you.'  
Her arms held him. She kissed his shoulder--she couldn't bear to look at his face anymore--and she placed him down again. 
The book thief wept till she was gently taken away (537-539).    
Seeing Liesel, the book thief, for the third time, Death becomes "distracted" from his job for a brief moment. Death rescues the book that saved Liesel's life, the one she wrote in the basement, the one she titled The Book Thief, the story of her life: "It's lucky I was there. Then again, who am I kidding? I'm in most places at least once, and in 1943, I was just about everywhere (539).

Death saw the book thief three times, and it had a tremendous impact on him: at her brother Werner's funeral, as Rudy's body lay on Himmel Street, and by Papa's side after the devastating air raid. Death's final words: "I am haunted by humans" (550).

This book really made me think about what is important in life. It's true. We will all meet Death "soon enough, depending on a great range of variables" (4). Perhaps in the end, how we respond to the difficult times we face will make a difference.

Although I liked The Book Thief and want to see the movie now that I have read it, I'm afraid many of my students would avoid reading this book because of its sheer size. I will encourage them to read it, nevertheless.

Markus Zusak's Official Website
Image Source