Book Reviews - Books for Building Your Library

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Team Literacyhead has put together a Ten Titles list that explores language, both through content and bilingual text. Enjoy the diversity of the texts and the insight they offer into learning a language.

In English, of Course

You will enjoy Josephine Nobisso's slice-of-life tale, which is brimming with charm. It's 1955, and rows of students representing cultures from near and far are waiting to introduce themselves to their classmates. When Josephine, a young girl from Naples comes forward, she suddenly remembers that she doesn't speak English. But you can't count this spirited and resourceful girl out. With the help of a teacher who serves as her interpreter, Josephine uses pantomime, vocal expressions, and body language to convey an unintended but hilarious story. Through the course of it all, we are reminded that conversation is truly an art form and that we do share a common language. Dasha Ziborova's illustrations are stimulating and simply magnifico. This one is certain to be on my best of 2010 list.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

More Bears!

As teachers we constantly give feedback to our student writers and encourage them to do them same for each other. This ever-evolving, never-ending dialogue does have its limits, and More Bears! illustrates to even the youngest students that ultimately the author has creative control. Famous for his whimsical animal drawings, Troy Cummings's illustrations of bears are playful, each clearly exhibiting its own special personality. Use this book when you need to clarify the role of feedback to a young writer as well as the ways that feedback can sometimes be too much of a good thing!

Tito, the Firefighter/Tito el Bombero

Tito, the Firefighter/Tito el Bombero: The piercing bray of the horn, the flashing lights " ah, the life of a firefighter! It is full of exciting, adrenaline-pumping moments and feats of heroic action. That is why becoming a firefighter is Tito's dream, and when an alarmed Spanish-speaking man stands in front of the firehouse waving his arms, Tito is enlisted as an honorary firefighter. He saves the day by serving as a translator for the firemen. Kimberly Hoffman's computer-generated images are expressive and vibrant; each page is drenched in color and all have a three-dimensional effect. Tim Hoppey creates a delightfully rousing slice-of-life tale in Tito's East Harlem neighborhood. This serves as a wonderful read-aloud. A useful glossary with vocabulario is featured in the back of the book. ESOL teachers and their students will especially enjoy taking turns reading the English and Spanish translations throughout the text.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

I Hate English

I Hate English is one of those books that every teacher should read. There aren't many books written from the perspective of the student that allow teachers to gain an understanding of the phases of language acquisition. Ellen Levine brings Mei Mei's story to life and Steve Bjorkman's droll, cartoony images lighten the weight of this hefty issue. The reader gains a firm understanding that language, history, and identity are intricately connected fibers that are tied to the preservation of one's cultural identity.

One Green Apple

"App-ell." This is one of the first English words that Farah speaks around her classmates. In the beginning Farah is "tight inside herself" as she accompanies her class on a fieldtrip to an apple orchard. She wears a dupatta on her head and her father has warned her that some people may not like her because of cultural and political differences between their home country and the U.S. Throughout the field trip Farah exchanges glances and warm smiles with two students who eventually befriend her on a hayride. They blend their differently colored apples together, signifying unity. A gentle tale that should be required reading in order to help students understand the perspectives of Middle Eastern students. Ted Lewin's realistic, painterly images capture the emotion, compassion and warmth of Eve Bunting's timely story.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Just in Case

Yuyi Morales won the Pura Belpre Award for Just a Minute and she follows it up with another unique tale. Jaunt through the alphabet with Senor Calavera, the Mexican skeleton who is on his way to Grandma Beetle's birthday party, but "Juuuust a minute!" Zelmiro, a spirit, reminds Senor Calavera that he needs to bring grandma a gift.

Senor Calavera subsequently gathers an assortment of accoutrements representing every letter of the alphabet, Una Acordeon: for dancing, Bigotes: a mustache, and Cosquillas: tickles to make her laugh! Children will love Yuyi Morales clever storytelling and they will laugh out loud at the parade of whimsical fantasyscapes that Yuyi renders on each double-page spread.

I Lost My Tooth in Africa

What do you get in Mali if you lose your tooth? A: a dollar bill, B: a quarter, or C: a chicken? If you selected C. a chicken, then you are correct!

This is exactly what Amina receives from the African Tooth Fairy after she loses her tooth on a visit with her extended family members in Mali. Baba Diakite creates a panoramic spectrum of rich images blooming with majestic blues, earthy reds, and resonant yellow-orange warmth. This story is written by Baba Diakite's oldest daughter, Penda Diakite, and is based a true account of what happened to her younger sister. It is a delightful narrative with vocabulary from Bambara, the national language of Mali, punctuating the text. A glossary with pronunciation appends the book as well as the tantalizing recipe for Aunt Kadja's onion sauce. This is a surefire winner for the for the toothless set between the ages of 5 and 10.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

The Navajo Year: Walk Through Many Seasons

The Navajo year begins in October, when summer and winter meet each other. In Navajo Year: Walk Through Many Seasons by Nancy Bo Flood, Coyote walks the reader through the thirteen months of the Navajo calendar. Illustrated by Billy Whitehorne, who lives in the Shonto-Black Mesa area of the Navajo Nation, this book captures both with images and words. Presented in poetic form, with graceful and precise language, Flood manages an economy of words that makes the innate challenges of poetry appear easy. The book closes with a Navajo pronunciation guide, produced by Berlyn Yazzie, Sr. The guide offers narrative descriptions as well as phonetic pronunciations of each of the months of the Navajo calendar. This book engages, entertains, and teaches.

Dear Juno

At the core of the correspondence between a young Korean boy and his grandmother is the unmistakable power of love and its ability to transcend any and all barriers. Juno and his beloved grandmother are separated by geographic and language barriers but they remain connected through the artifacts they send to each other. Juno sends a leaf from his favorite tree and his grandma sends a photo of her cat. She cannot read English and Juno cannot read Korean, so the physical symbols they include in their sealed letters represent tokens from their hearts that effectively convey the sentiment of what they cherish. Soyung Pak and Susan Kathleen Hartung's images and prose emanate an effectual aura and sentimentality that will make you want to read this charming story again and again.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Yoko Writes her Name

Yoko can write her name, but not in English. She writes it quite effectively in Japanese and deservedly she feels a sense of pride in these accomplishments, that is until two oh-so-unfriendly classmates tease and shame her by chanting rhymes and signifying taunts about her Japanese characters. They assert that she most certainly will not graduate from kindergarten. But fellow classmate Angelo knows that Japanese writing is indeed something special, in fact he refers to it as a "secret language" and helps Yoko to write her name in English in exchange for learning to write his in Japanese. Soon everyone in class, including the mocking Olive and Sylvia, want to learn to write in Japanese as well. Joy of joys, Yoko does in fact graduate from kindergarten " with a bilingual diploma. The work of Rosemary Wells never disappoints. The story and the images in Yoko Writes Her Name are blithe and sunshiny and they exude the cheerful positive exuberance that is the very essence of the lovable character Yoko.