Book Reviews - Books for Building Your Library

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In this issue, Team Literacyhead reviews titles that offer opportunities to explore anticipation with your students. We've included titles from well-known authors such as Donald Crews and Vera B. Williams as well as newcomers Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee. These titles will give you examples to help your students build suspense in their writing.

Come On, Rain!

Few books offer a perfect marriage of image and text the way the words of Karen Hesse and the illustrations of Jon J Muth come together in Come On, Rain! After relentless summer heat, the children in an urban apartment complex wait with their mothers for the renewing rain the bulging clouds and greying skies foreshadow. The words and the illustrations are filled with anticipation, which builds in intensity until the skies give way and the rhythmic rain compels mothers and daughters to dance in the streets. Poetic images and image-laden words make this a magical book. Hesse and Muth create characters and settings with such vibrance and authenticity that we find ourselves chanting with them, "Come on, rain!"

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Giant Steps to Save the World

How often do we ask our children, "How are you, dear one, going to change the world?" This beautiful book challenges young readers to anticipate their glorious futures by using examples from great Americans. Authors Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee have written an inspirational book that honors the bright possibilities of their young readers. Sean Qualls's paint, pencil, and collage illustrations are mesmerizing and do a stellar job of representing the vibrant lives of those like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jesse Owens and Mother Theresa.

Short Cut

There is nothing quite like the thrill of narrowly escaping danger and that is the premise here, as a group of children suddenly find themselves in the path of an oncoming freight train. Donald Crews writes and illustrates this heart-racing story, placing in the center of the action the same group of characters he introduced in his book, Bigmama's. Despite the fact that a train could be coming at any moment, the children decide to take a short cut home along the railroad tracks rather than their usual path. Crews shows expertise in portraying emotions that range from excitement to anticipation to fear with the use of little text.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Roller Coaster

Though it follows a simple story line, Marla Frazee's tale captures an anticipatory event to which many children can relate: a first-time roller coaster ride. Readers follow one little girl as she and other riders experience the excitement and fear of the wait for the ride to begin. Text matches the ride's actions as it dips, whips, zooms and whirls. After you read them this book, your students will say, "Let's go again!"

Train to Somewhere

Woven into this heart-wrenching tale of an orphan girl hoping to to be reunited with her birth mother is a slice of American history. In the the early 1900's, "Orphan Trains" would carry children from New York City orphanages to families in the West eager to adopt. In this story, Eve Bunting gives young Marianne the role of narrator. Marianne is one of 14 children anxiously hoping to find a new home along one of the stops as the train makes its journey west. Her anticipation of seeing her real mother waiting at each stop is crushed when, one by one, each of the other children is chosen for adoption until only she remains. Finally, at the last stop in Somewhere, Iowa, Marianne is given a chance at happiness. Bunting's gentle portrayal of a serious social issue is paired with Ronald Hilmer's accurate period artwork.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

One Million Men and Me

Journalist Kelly Starling Lyons attended the famous 1995 Million Man March. While there, a young girl caught her eye and inspired this beautiful picture book. The sense of anticipation starts with the first sentence. The daughter says her Daddy took her even though her cousin said no girls were allowed. Traveling through the night on a bus, waking to a pink sunrise, walking to the march with faces filled with color "....a rainbow of chocolate, graham cracker brown and cream," there is a building sense of hopefulness as one million African-American men gather as brothers for peace. Peter Ambush's two-page illustrations focus on the rich tapestry of individual faces, giving us a glimpse of the individuality that together formed this historic event.

A Chair for My Mother

This 1983 Caldecott Honor Book is a classic. Vera B. Williams wrote and illustrated A Chair for My Mother, a sweet story of yearning. Told from a young girl's perspective, we feel the family longing for something as simple as a perfect, cozy chair. Williams's colorful watercolors convey one family's project to save all their spare change in a great, big glass jar. An underlying plotline that remains fairly subtle reveals that the family lost all their home and furnishings in a fire. The anticipation of saving enough money to buy something special is a concept that children easily relate to and the group effort of the entire family is refreshing.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed

Mo Willems fans are more than aware of his tendency to write silly books that are crazy-entertaining. Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed is that and more, as the underlying message of this book is to be true to yourself. The main character is Wilbur, a naked mole rat who likes to wear clothing in all styles. Eventually his peers have had enough of Wilbur's non-conformity and bring in the oldest, greatest, and most naked naked mole rat ever, Grand-pah, to talk sense into Wilbur. The suspense is steep as we hold our breath waiting for Grand-pah to think through this unusual situation and ultimately issue a proclamation to the colony. Never fear! Tolerance and acceptance become the norm in this little empire of naked mole rats as Grand-pah delivers his proclamation in a seersucker blazer and straw hat.

Richard Wright and the Library Card

William Miller gives a fictionalized account of Richard Wright, a 17-year-old black man living in Memphis in the 1920s, when borrowing books from public libraries was a right not extended to all Americans. Driven by a hunger to read, Wright presents the library card of a white co-worker to the librarian, claiming that he is illiterate but has been asked to check books out on the co-worker's behalf. The story itself is based on an excerpt from Wright's autobiography, with some creative license taken by the author. Accompanied by Gregory Christie's acrylic and colored pencil illustrations, the book beautifully shows the lengths to which many have had to go to learn to read.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs

The element of anticipation is especially meaningful in this story because it is a retelling of one that most people know, but from a different point of view. This is the wolf's side of the story. Jon Scieszka gives the wolf center stage to explain what really happened in his encounter with the three little pigs. Attributing it all to a big misunderstanding, readers familiar with wolf's bad behavior in the original story will anxiously await his next move to defend himself. Scieska's witty telling, coupled with Lane Smith's humorous illustrations, make this a great book for the young and the not-so-young alike.