Top 10 Books to Use in the Classroom

My list of Top 10 Books to Use in the Classroom consists of five for grades K-2 and five for grades 4-6.  I chose each one primarily because I feel the story contains information presented in a way that is meant to be shared.  As a read aloud there is opportunity for discussion of the material but in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

alphabet  counting on frank  zin zin zin  cazuela  alexander  alligators  gabriela  american plague  bad news for outlaws  a gathering of days

  1. A Prairie Alphabet by Jo Bannatyne-Cugnet is a collection of words and themes as it pertains to life on the North American plains, in particular farming.  The vocabulary would be very familiar to children living in the western panhandle of Nebraska but it would be very eye opening and educational to a group of city dwellers who are unfamiliar with where their food comes from.  The drawings in this book are so realistic and rich in detail that it would be easy to spark a discussion.
  2. Counting On Frank by Rod Clement was chosen for its large bold artwork and unique situations that are perfect for inspiring a discussion on fractions, volume, counting, and measurement.  Sample activities are listed at the back of the book.
  3. Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin by Lloyd Moss offers a lively expressive description of the instruments in an orchestra.  This would be a great read aloud to initiate discussion as part of music class or prior to a field trip to the orchestra.
  4. The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha R. Vamos is written in fun sing-song verse that is partly bilingual.  In fact when I read it I put it to a tune.  I chose it because the illustrations are bright and lively and it would be a great addition to encourage cultural diversity.
  5. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst is a delightful story of a boy who describes his worst day ever.  He is in a bad mood and he doesn’t smile much throughout the book.  It provides the perfect opportunity to discuss feelings and the importance of respecting each other.
  6. Alligators and Music by Donald L. Elliott contains accurate descriptions of the instruments in an orchestra as narrated by the instruments themselves.  This would be a great accompaniment to a music class as a read aloud to initiate discussion of the purpose of each instrument individually and as a whole when played together in an orchestra.
  7. My Name is Gabriela/Me llamo Gabriela (Bilingual): The Life of Gabriela Mistral/la vida de Gabriela Mistral by Monica Brown tells the story of Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American woman to receive the Nobel prize in Literature.  The story illustrates her passion for education, poetry, and teaching with bright colorful pictures and bilingual passages.  I would use this to encourage cultural diversity as well as initiate discussion on the Nobel Prize.
  8. An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy is a historically accurate account of a plague that wiped out thousands of people during the end of the eighteenth century.  This book is so interesting that when it is read to students they will want to pay attention because the story is so intriguing.  It reads like a mystery novel and is a real page turner.  It will not feel like they are learning history.
  9. Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U. S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson is a beautifully illustrated and historically accurate account of a former slave who became a U.S. Marshal in Indian Territory prior to Oklahoma becoming a state.  Reading it aloud will capture the class’s attention and spark a discussion on the early days of post slavery and western expansion in our country.
  10. A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-32 by Joan W. Blos is a collection of journal entries by a young girl in New England.  One of the reasons I chose it as a read aloud for older students is that it is written in language as it was spoken in the early nineteenth century.  Reading it to students will allow for explanations of what they don’t understand and will stimulate free discussion of the social, political, and cultural aspects of growing up during that time.  Children went to school but learned from a speller filled with Bible quotations; girls were taught only the basics of mathematics; slavery was still legal but only in certain parts of the country.

Top 10 Reads for the Semester

My top 10 reads for the semester are a pretty varied collection.  I loved reading each and every one of them so it is impossible for me to rank these.  Consider them all number ones!

the giver  despereaux   painting   rain reign  swamp angel  locomotive  seven blind mice  minou  american plague  black cat

  1. The Giver by Lois Lowry engages you emotionally and intellectually as a reader. It tells a thought-provoking and timeless tale that calls us to question the price we pay for an ordered and peaceful society.  The decision that the hero makes in the end renewed my faith in humanity.
  2. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo is a sweet adventure tale of a mouse born with a curiosity that leads him to read fairy tales, appreciate music, and learn to love.  His bravery and loyalty turns the runt of the family into a true hero.
  3. The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau by Jon Agee is about a mysterious stranger whose paintings cause all sorts of mischief and land him jail.  Alas, one single painting saves the day and Clousseau exits the story as mysteriously as he entered.  This picture book is wonderfully illustrated and would be a fun mystery to read to young children.
  4. Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin is a beautiful story of the daily struggles of a girl born with Asperger’s syndrome.  The story is filled with strength and compassion and is presented in a way that is humorous, thoughtful, and very touching.
  5. Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs is a folk tale with rich colorful illustrations.  The story is outlandish and fun.  It takes place in Tennessee and the setting is portrayed nicely through the artwork and the language used.  This would make a great read aloud book to a mixed audience, K-4th grade.
  6. Locomotive by Brian Floca is illustrated with detail that brings the railroad to life.  The reader will follow train travelers on the first transcontinental railroad on their way out West to California.
  7. Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young tells a story of seven mice who individually discover the same object but each perspective is uniquely different.  It takes the last mouse to put all the clues together to identify what they found.  This is a great story to read to preschoolers or kindergartners.
  8. Minou by Mindy Bingham tells the story of a very pampered cat who has never had to do anything for herself.  One day her owner dies and she is forced out on the streets of Paris to fend for herself.  She meets Celeste, an experienced cat, who teaches her how to survive and become independent.  The watercolor paintings beautifully depict some of the sights in Paris and there is a glossary of them in the back of the book.  A word of caution:  Don’t get too caught up with the feminist theme presented or this sweet story will simply become a political agenda.
  9. An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy is a historically accurate account of a plague that wiped out thousands at the end of the eighteenth century.  When you read this story it does not feel like you are learning history.  It reads like a mystery novel and is a real page turner.
  10. The Black Cat by Christopher Myers is an intriguing story that follows a black cat through the  inner city at night to discover where he lives.  The artwork is very unique and effectively enhances the mysteriousness of the feline.

Reading Aloud

Reading aloud in the classroom is important because it allows everyone to get involved in the story.  It becomes a group activity and can be interactive.  It also allows for the reader to make sense of the story or lead in a discussion as the story is being told.  Students have the opportunity to take notes and ask questions.  Or it can be the perfect conversation starter for discussing a topic that is relevant to the book, like making friends or going to a new school.

I compiled a list of 10 books I would like to incorporate as read-alouds in the classroom.  I chose each book as an accompaniment to a specific lesson plan.  When I originally chose books to read this semester, I did not take into consideration whether they would be good to read aloud and, as a result, my list contains books for different grade levels and various classroom applications.  Each of these books contain information that presents itself in a very unique and interesting way that a textbook does not.


a gathering of daysA Gathering of Days by Joan W Blos.  A journal of a girl in New England 1830-1832 tells the story of a girl’s courage in aiding a possible runaway slave and the consequences involved.  I would read this aloud to a 6th grade social studies class to enhance a discussion on the social and political implications of slavery during that time even in the free states.



bad news for outlawsBad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.  This is a true story of a former slave who became a very respected U.S. Marshall in the Indian Territories until Oklahoma became a state in 1907.  I would read this book as part of a 5th or 6th grade social studies discussion on what life was like for former slaves after the Civil War.


working cottonWorking Cotton by Sherley Anne Williams.   This is a story of a migrant African-American family of cotton pickers in California narrated by a young child that could realistically have taken place anywhere from fifty years ago all the way to more recently.  I would read this book as part of a 2nd grade social studies discussion.


my rows and piles of coinsMy Rows and Piles of Coins by Tololwa M. Mollel.  The story takes place in Tanzania, Africa in the 1960s and centers around a boy’s desire to save his hard-earned money to buy a bicycle.  I appreciate this story for its depiction of culture in a village in Africa.  What I found most intriguing is that most villagers even today can only afford one bicycle for the entire family and it is used primarily for work, not recreation.  I would read this book as part of a discussion on cultural diversity possibly during Black History Month.


mufaroMufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe.  In this story inspired by South African folklore, two sisters travel to the city where the king will choose a wife.  I would read this to a 2nd grade class to spark a discussion on the elements of a folk tale (villain, hero, magic, moral) and the African culture as depicted in the illustrations.



alexanderAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst.  I would read this to a 1st grade class to spark a discussion on respecting each other’s feelings.



american plagueAn American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy.  This is a very detailed account of an actual Yellow Fever Epidemic that occurred in 1793.  It is told in such a great story telling style that it reads like a mystery novel.  I was particularly impressed by the detail in the social attitudes toward African Americans (slave or free), the description of common medical practices in the 18th century, and of the detail in describing living conditions of the time.  I think reading the book to a class of 6th graders over the course of several weeks would drastically increase their interest level on the history of our nation.


counting on frankCounting on Frank by Rod Clement.  I would read this to a 3rd grade math class to encourage open discussion on various topics including whole numbers, fractions, and volume.




locomotiveLocomotive by Brian Floca.  I would read this aloud to a 1st or 2nd grade class to enhance a lesson on the effect that the railroad had on our nation.



alligatorsAlligators and Music by Donald Elliott.  This book describes the instruments in a symphony orchestra with detail and humor.  I would read this to a group of 3rd – 6th graders who are interested in starting band or as a precursor to a field trip to the orchestra.


Reading Challenge Check-In

A while back I challenged myself to read as many books as I can from The Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll (#1 – 100) posted on April 13, 2010 by Elizabeth Bird.  I have read ten of the books so far and loved every one of them.  One of the difficulties with the goal is that each book has taken me over three hours to read.  (Since I try to read four hours per week, I supplement my weekly reading with children’s picture books or easy readers.)  At the rate I am going, I will be lucky to read all the books by the end of 2016!  But I am looking forward to it.


One of the positive effects of this challenge is that I am reading books that I once passed over because I thought why bother since I already saw the movie or so and so has already told me all about it.  What I failed to take into account is that when you actually sit down and read a book free of other distractions, the experiences of the characters in the book become your own.  It is a much deeper emotional experience that when you watch a portrayal of the story (like a movie.)  This is definitely the right reading goal for me.


johnny-automatic-books-300pxI have a side goal to collect all the books on the list as well and create my own library to have with me when I become a teacher.  I plan to only include the books from the list that I like.  So far that is all of them.  I have had great luck buying books inexpensively at library book sales in Chadron and Alliance.  Some are in great condition and some are library discards but it doesn’t matter so much to me right now because the literature that is written on the pages is what I’m after.

In the near future I am going to try to increase my reading to two books per week, but for now I am happy with the progress I have made.


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

its monday

I was in the children’t section of the library and I couldn’t resist checking out a whole stack of easy readers. I have been focusing lately on books geared to the fourth to sixth grade reading level, but I was in the mood for something innocent, silly, and fun that picture books portray so well.  I was in the mood to create multiple daydreams all at once.

lal baghThe Sheep of the Lal Bagh by David Mark and illustrated by Lionel Kalish.  Come to a park in India called the Lal Bagh and meet the lawn mower, a sheep named Ramesh.  People come to the park to relax and to see Ramesh.  But when he is replaced with a real lawn mower, he feels betrayed and runs away.  The mayor soon realizes the situation and sends out a search party to find him.  In addition to a cute story, the playful and detailed drawings give the reader a taste of Indian culture and tradition.  I recommend it highly.

alexanderAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz.  Alexander is having a bad day and doesn’t think anyone cares.  It can be daunting to a child when they feel that way.  This story can help a child realize that it is normal to have a bad day and that it is not the end of the world.


alphabetA Prairie Alphabet by Yvette Moore and illustrated Jo Bannatyne-Cugnet.  Realistic paintings explore life on the prairie through the alphabet.  This book even includes a glossary of cultural descriptions and an index of words by letter.  I was impressed by the book’s uniqueness.  For example, the words representing the letter “i” are: icicles on an irrigation sprinkler.



Alligators and Music by Donald Elliott and illustrated by Clinton Arrowood.  This is a story that describes a symphony orchestra in detail.  Each musical instrument is personified and tells a story about themselves. The illustrations of the instruments are drawn with accuracy and the language used to describe them flows with elegance.  The story is unique, informative, and very fun to read.  This would be great to read to a group of students in a music class.



sneeze “Stand Back,” Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze!” by Patricia Thomas and illustrated by Wallace Tripp.  The story  is told in whimsical rhyming stanzas.  Although the book is illustrated in black and white for the most-part, the animated drawings come to life with movement and funny facial expressions.  You should definitely read this if you want a silly book that will make you laugh.  This would be great to read to kindergartners and for first and second graders to read by themselves.


chairDown the Back of the Chair by Margaret Mahy and illustrated by Polly Dunbar.  This story is so silly and the drawings are so outrageous you will laugh at loud.  I could totally relate to the frantic disorganized nature of the father as he proceeds with his day.  It is a treasure hunt for Dad’s car keys… down the back of the chair!



christmasThe Christmas Tree Tangle by Margaret Mahy and illustrated by Anthony Kerins.  A little kitty gets stuck in a towering Christmas tree and, in an attempt to save it, is followed by a cat, a dog, a goat, and pigs.  They all get stuck as well.  It is up to a young girl to save them.  This story is told in rhyming stanzas and is very fun to read at Christmastime.



painting  hershel  treasure  mufaro  village

The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau by Jon Agee.  Felix Clousseau is an unknown and mysterious painter who wins a contest, becomes famous, and then gets sent to prison when his paintings come to life and wreak havoc on the town.  But all is not lost when the very last of his paintings redeems all the damage that has been done and Clousseau is released.  The story reads like a mystery which is why I love it.  The illustrations engage the reader’s curiosity.  Various hues of color from dull and drab to soft and bright effectively set the mood on each page.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. (1990 Caldecott Honor book)  It is the fist night of Hanukkah and Hershel of Ostropol encounters a sleepy village that does not have even one candle lit.  He is recruited to rid the town of oppressive goblins so they can resume celebrating Hanukkah and stop living in fear.  In the spirit of cultural diversity, I think it is important to introduce a variety of literature to children including stories about Jewish holidays.

The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz. (1980 Caldecott Honor book)  This is a humble story with the moral, “Sometimes one must travel far to discover what is near.”

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe.  (1988 Caldecott Honor book)  The drawings in this book are beautifully detailedThe author was inspired by ruins in Zimbabwe when he illustrated it.  The story was inspired by south African folklore.  Two sisters travel to see the king as candidates to be the next queen.  This is a great story to teach the value of being generous and kind.

It Takes A Village by Jane Cowen-Fletcher.  Visit an open-air market in Africa as a girl searches for her brother.  Colorful drawings depict life and culture on market day in a rural African village.

snowman  clubhouse  armadillo  proudfoot  sunday stroll

A Really Good Snowman by Daniel J Mahoney.  Jack is constantly bothered by his little sister, Nancy.  He just wants to be left alone.  He plans to enter the snowman contest with his friends, but of course Nancy wants to tag along.  At first he ditches her, but when he sees how she is struggling (with the snow and with bullies), he feels compassion and helps her.  This would be a good book to read to siblings.

The Perfect Clubhouse by Daniel J Mahoney.  A group of friends decide to build a clubhouse together so that they have a space of their own.  All though they agree on the building materials, they don’t seem to agree on anything else.  As they proceed with the project, they discover that they each have a slightly different agenda and are not working as a team.  By the end of the story, they work out their differences.  This is a good story for modeling good behaviors for friendship.

Armadillo by Mary Elise Monsell and illustrated by Sylvie Wickstrom.  This is a nice story of how friends take care of each other.

The Mouse & Mrs. Proudfoot by Albert Rusling.  This is a story about a mother and daughter who do not realize how good they have it until things get worse.

A Sunday Stroll by Paul Borgese and illustrated by Jane Arimoto.  With fun and playful illustrations, this is a tale of friendship.  There’s nothing sillier than a centipede putting on 100 socks and 100 shoes.

badger  vanessa  naomi  space witch  gabriela

Badger’s Bad Mood by Hiawyn Oram and illustrated by Susan Varley.  This is a story of how friends help each other.  In this case, Mole helps Badger get over the bad mood he is in and finds a way to make everyone feel appreciated.

Say Hello, Vanessa by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and illustrated by Lillian Hoban.  This is a very sweet story about making friends as told through the eyes of a smart but shy little mouse. The simple drawings are in black and white but contain wonderful details. This would be a good story for the first day of school and for students to take turns reading aloud.

Naomi Knows It’s Springtime by Virginia L. Kroll and illustrated by Jill Kastner.  Impressionist oil paintings depict springtime as experienced by a girl who is blind.  The storytelling is very sweet and tender.

Space Witch by Don Freeman.  Tilly Ipswitch decides she wants to fly to outer space to scare people on Halloween so she builds a spaceship, the Zoom Broom, loads up her cat, Kit, and flies off in search of another inhabited planet.  It is a fun little adventure. It was published prior to the first moon landing and the depictions of the space ship and space suit are pretty funny compared to how we depict those things in books and movies today.

My Name Is Gabriela, The Life of Gabriela Mistral by Monica Brown and Illustrated by John Parra.  This is a bilingual children’s story of the life of Gabriela Mistral who, in 1945, became the first Latin American writer to receive the Nobel Prize in literature. It tells of her passion for learning, teaching, and poetry.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

its monday

I am continuing to read books from the The Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll (#1 – 100).

phantom tollboothThe Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer is a delightful story filled with wordplay.  A boy named Milo, who walks gloomily through life without purpose or interest and who is convinced that everything is a waste of time, discovers a tollbooth in the middle of his room one day.  Since he has nothing better to do, he decides to get into his electric toy car and drive through the tollbooth.

The adventure begins with such destinations as the land of Expectations, the Doldrums, Dictionopolis, Digitopolis, and the Mountains of Ignorance.  He makes many interesting acquaintances along the way including a watchdog named Tock, the Rhyme and Reason sisters, the Mathemagician, and Dr. Dischord.

The adventure Milo has keeps the story interesting but the whimsical language that is used is why you should read it.  It is hilarious. At the Word Market, in Dictionopolis, Milo and Tock meet the Duke of Definition, the Minister of Meaning, the Earl of Essence, the Count of Connotation, and the Undersecretary of Understanding.  It is here that they are arrested and sentenced to six million years in jail for “…sowing confusion, upsetting the apple cart, wreaking havoc, and mincing words.”


While in jail they meet Faintly Macabre who tells them the tale of how princesses Rhyme and Reason kept order in the land by solving everyone’s problems for them.  Things fell into chaos when the Mathemagician and his brother, Azaz, got into an argument and banished the sisters.  It is at this point in the story when Milo and Tock set off to save them and restore peace.

The story is so original and filled with so many metaphors, old and young alike are bound to be equally entertained.

Top Ten Tuesday – Top 10 Book to Movie Adaptations I Still Need to Watch


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s theme is Top Ten Book To Movie Adaptations I’m Looking Forward To or Ten Book To Movie Adaptations I Still Need To Watch.

the phantom tollbooth  the giver movie   bridge to terabithia movie  
 The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster was first published in 1961 and made into a movie in 1970.  I am currently reading the book and am surprised that they were able to make a movie out of abstract principles like mathematics and the use of words in language.  I am looking forward to watching it.

The Giver by Lois Lowry, first published in 1993 and the winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal, was made into a movie in 2014.  Although it only received a rating of 2 tomatoes (94 negative reviews out of 146) on  Rotten Tomatoes, I am anxious to see the movie.  With Jeff Bridges playing the Giver, who wouldn’t want to see it?

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson and Donna Diamond, first published in 1977 and winner of the 1978 Newbery Medal, became a movie in 2007.  At first I refused to watch the movie because of the attention it gives to the fantasy aspect.  Although I fear it will not portray the emotional impact of the book, I am changing my mind because I am intrigued that Robert Patrick is playing Jack Aarons, Jess’s father.

despereaux movie  holes movie  the seeker movie  lightning thief

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, first published in 2003 and the winner of the 2004 Newbery Medal, became a movie in 2008.  Although I am not thrilled about seeing another cartoon movie, I loved the book and hope the movie will not be a disappointment.

Holes by Louis Sachar, first published in 1998 and winner of the 1999 Newbery Medal, became a movie in 2003.  Although I saw the movie and loved it, I have not read the book.  Once I finish the book, it will be fun to see the movie again and critique the differences.

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, first published in 1973 and a 1974 Newbery Honor Book, became a movie titled The Seeker in 2007.  I have a different motivation to see this one.  Because it received only one tomato (79 negative reviews out of 92) on Rotten Tomatoes, I am curious to see where the movie makers went wrong.

Percy Jackson & The Olympians Book One – The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, first published in 2005, became a movie in 2010.  I still need to read the book and see the movie.

charlottes web movie   hobbit movie 2012  poseidon adventure movie

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams, first published in 1952 and a 1953 Newbery Honor Book, became a movie in 2006.  This version stars Dakota Fanning.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, first published in 1937, was made into a movie in 2012 called The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  There are so many movies out there based on the Tolkien series that I am hoping this is based on the first book, The Hobbit.

The Poseidon Adventure by Paul Gallico, first published in 1969, was made into a movie in 1972.  I hope to catch this one on TCM.

Diversity in Children’s Literature

I read the articles “Here I Am” by Brian Pinkney and “Representing the Muslim American Experience” by Laila Alawa.  I agree with both of the authors that there is a lack of literature in schools representing the Muslim and African American child’s perspective and/or experience.  I think mainstream education overlooks and undervalues the idea that it is important for children to explore and develop their identity through stories and picture books that match their values and culture.


I think it is safe to say that most young boys like adventure and exploring new things.  Pinkney describes the frustration he had as a boy in the 1960s finding picture books that depicted black children  having adventures.  As he states in his article, “…I began to feel like a nonentity — like the hole in the doughnut.  I constantly asked, “Where am I?”
The first time I realized my own racial stereotype was in Phoenix, AZ at Mountain View Elementary School’s Christmas party for students and parents.  (Keep in mind that Mountain View Elementary School is predominantly Hispanic with about 8% Caucasian.)  They had a free photo booth where children could get their picture taken with Santa Clause.

Feliz-Navidad-Card-Front-by-Merlin2525-300pxIt was the first Mexican Santa I had ever seen.  I was shocked at myself for reacting like that and assuming that Santa had to be white.  That is when I realized that every literary depiction of Christmas I had every seen featured Caucasians.

I feel that there is much to be gained from exposure to perspectives and viewpoints other than that of our own.  Escaping from the norm will allow us to see beyond stereotypes.  Knowledge is power.  I am looking forward to expanding my perception of Muslim culture through some of the books Alawa recommended in her article:

ask me no questions    does my head look big in this    my name is bilal

If the hero always wears a white hat and the villain always wears a black hat, we know who the hero is without even reading the story.  But it is the story that is important, not who wears the white hat.  We need to do more to change typical racial stereotypes in this country.  Spreading awareness of the issue is a good place to start.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

its monday

I am continuing to read books from the The Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll (#1 – 100). The Giver, by Lois Lowry, won the Newbery Medal in 1994.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that quite a few of the books on the list are Newbery books.  This is going to become one of my favorites.  I really like stories that are set in alternate worlds.

the giver

The Giver takes place in a world that seems quite similar to ours, at least at first glance.  The children go to school, study and play.  They have parents.  The parents have jobs and take care of the children.  The elderly are well cared for.  They live in a community that is well-mannered and respectful.  There is order and efficiency.

Beyond that we soon discover how dystopian their society actually is.  Parents raise their children, a boy and a girl, but they don’t actually give birth to them. When children turn 12, their life’s work is dictated to them as part a very important ceremony.  It will determine whether you get to be a doctor, a birth-mother, or dig ditches for the rest of your life.  There is no freedom of choice.

When Jonas turns 12, the job assigned to him is the Receiver of Memories.  He does not understand the full consequence of his fate until he starts his training.  It is then that we discover that the Receiver has the “honor” and duty of bearing the burden of all of history including the  pain and suffering of war, of loneliness, of hunger.  But he also sees color for the first time.  He experiences and feels everything for the very first time from the soft coldness of snow to the intense pain of a sunburn.

In this world of safety and efficiency, there is no personal choice, no freedom, no love.  The sacrifice for this utopia is to strip everyone of the joy and pain of being human and inflict it on one individual, who then occasionally must remind the community of the past so as not to repeat other’s mistakes.

This is such a powerful book.  No wonder it is on my list!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

its monday

Generally speaking, my favorite genre is science fiction.  But the more books I read that won the Newbery Medal or were Honor books, the more I appreciate stories that aren’t science fiction.  I just finished reading Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1978.  It was made into a movie in 2007.  I only saw a few scenes of the movie, but even with only a glimpse I expected the book to be more fantasy than drama.

bridge to terabithia

I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t.  The story that I read described the bonds of a very close friendship forged between two fifth graders, Jess (the middle child and only male in the family except for his dad), and Leslie, his new neighbor.  They have a secret place called Terabithia where their dreams and imaginations wander.  But more importantly it is a place reserved only for them.

As the story progresses, Jess gets to see a world through her eyes.  He is fascinated by her courage, intelligence, and wit.  The reader gets to experience the same emotions and anxieties Jess is feeling as he develops a very personal yet innocent relationship with Leslie.  He is probably feeling jealousy and love for the first time in his life and has to deal with conflicting emotions that are new to him.

bridge to terabithia movie

I refuse to watch the movie because I am disappointed that the movie makers felt they had to incorporate such a dependence on magic and fantasy.  The magic that is created in Terabithia (in the book) is there because of the deep connection between Jess and Leslie.

In the end we get to experience the same trauma and sorrow as Jess which is further proof of his feelings for Leslie.  We follow him through his ordinary day with his thoughts of Leslie and his crush on Miss Edmunds and how he argues with himself over an inner guilt that he doesn’t realize he has…until the next day.  This book is a tear-jerker for sure.