Poetry for Children: Bronx Masquerade

2 Jul


Grimes, Nikki. Bronx masquerade . New York: Dial Books, 2002. 



A unit on the Harlem Renaissance inspires a group of students in Mr. Ward’s English class to begin writing their own poetry.  What first begins Wesley “Bad Boy” Boone’s refusal to write an essay becomes rap turned into verse, and verse turned into Open Mike Friday in English class. Soon rough and tumble Tyrone is creating his own writings, then Chaunkara, then Raul and one by one the student’s of Mr. Ward’s class begin to express their identities in prose.  As if writing in a journal of their thoughts, each day teenagers comment on the poetry of their peers, relating it to their own lives as teenagers in the Bronx and following with their own carefully crafted poem.



This book is a compilation of feelings and experiences of the hard life, living with alcohol and drug abuse, violence, and hopelessness.  The themes of living in tumultuous surroundings are coupled with the emotional rollercoaster that teenagers in general are subject to, feeling judged, being overweight, the jock, the princess and the many stereotypes that peer pressure brings to young adults.  Because the poems are written through the ideas of many different characters, they each vary in rhythm, rhyme and style.  Raul, the artist creates his poem in the shape of a “Z” while expressing his feelings of being “categorized.”  He says, “The fact is you are more comfortable with myth than man.”  In similar fashion, Devon, the “jock” creates simple yet powerful sentences- “Don’t call me Jump Shot.  My name is Surprise.”

The value to young adults in this verse novel is that each poem is preceded by a quick narrative by the author, an explanation in common language that adds to the author’s character and can help young readers interpret the poem that follows.  The characters connect through the narratives.  Lupe longs to have a child of her own, longing to feel the love that she has never received from any man, including her father. Gloria, the single mother says “Lupe has no idea how lucky she is.  How can I get through to her?”  One by one the stories and poems connect to one another in a way that creates a global view of this class and the connections that they share.



KIRKUS REVIEWS, starred review:  “All of the [students], black, Latino, white, male, and female, talk about the unease and alienation endemic to their ages, and they do it in fresh and appealing voices. Rich and complex. “

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “As always, Grimes gives young people exactly what they’re looking for—real characters who show them they are not alone.”

BOOKLIST: “Readers will enjoy the lively, smart voices that talk bravely, about real issues and secret fears. A fantastic choice.”


*excellent for connecting during black history month;  read one passage and poem per day and discuss connections to previous entries

*have students write their own journal entries, see if it inspires their own poetry


Traditional Literature: The Hero Beowulf

25 Jun


Kimmel, Eric A., and Leonard Everett Fisher. The hero Beowulf . New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.


THE HERO BEOWULF is a children’s version of the epic Viking poem BEOWULF.  This version serves to cover part one of the poem.

Beowulf became known as a hero at a very young age.  He attacked and killed trolls that had been preying on travelers and saved sailors from a terrorizing sea serpent.  News of Beowulf’s bravery spread across the land.  One day Beowulf heard of a green monster by the name of Grendal.  Grendal had been feasting on warriors and attacking the halls of nearby King Hrothgar.  Beowulf vowed to fight the monster and kill him and proclaimed that he would do so with his bare hands.  Beowulf and his men slept in the halls of King Hrothgar’s castle waiting to strike.  When Grendal came into the hall Beowulf grabbed on to his arm and held on tight.  Grendal begged and pleaded to be left alone but Beowulf had vowed to kill him.  In desperation Grendal pulls himself away from Beowulf but his grip was so strong that it pulled the arm off of the beast.  Grendal sulked away to die in the marshes.  King Hrothgar was so grateful that they rewarded Beowulf with fine jewels and treasure.  From that point on:

From north to south on land or sea,

Upon the earth or beneath the tall sky,

Never lived a man equal to Beowulf,

Ecgtheow’s son, slayer of Grendal.


The story serves as an introduction to the classic epic poem BEOWULF.  It has familiar archetypes of good (Beowulf) and evil (Grendal).  The book has plenty of action that would probably be favored by active children.  The basic concepts of mythology (Hrothgar prays to the Gods), heroism and mysticism (Grendal the green monster) are introduced to young readers.  The illustrations are oversized and appear to be pastel work. While the depictions do assist with the story line they are simple and may not be as appealing as the child’s imagination could create by reading the text alone.  Overall the book serves as a good introduction to the genre of legends and myths and would likely capture the imaginations of young minds.


SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL review:  “A great green monster, cool Viking gear, and powerful, concise language mark this book.”

BOOKLIST review: “Kimmel retells the poem’s best-known portion in accessible prose. It’s hard to imagine a better introduction to the epic tradition than the double-page depiction of Beowulf’s sea journey.”
KIRKUS review:  “A grand tale…well worth introducing to younger audiences.”


*This book would be good read aloud and followed up with students creating visual representations of the characters and battles in the books.  The story could also be interpreted dramatically by classmates.

*Similar Stories:

Macdonald, Fiona.  You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Medieval Knight: Armor You’d Rather Not Wear

O’Brien, Patrick.  The Making of a Knight: How Sir James Earned His Armor

Traditional Literature: The Three Pigs

24 Jun



Wiesner, David. The three pigs. New York: Clarion Books, 2001.



THE THREE PIGS begins as the familiar tale of pigs being terrorized by a villainous wolf.  However, the wolf makes a mistake when he huffs and puffs just a little too vigorously and blows the first little pig right out of the story!  When the straw house pig realizes that he is safe and away from the ensuing story he quickly retrieves the wood and brick house pigs from their impending doom.  Safe from danger, the three pigs act like troublesome children crinkling the pages of the story and even jumping into other nursery rhymes and stories along their way.  They save a dragon from being slayed and the cat and the fiddle join them outside the storybook.  After a good adventure the pigs get homesick and decide that they wish to return home.  Fortunately they now have a friend in the dragon.  The dragon scares away the wolf and the three pigs return to the house made of bricks with a few new friends in tow.


David Wiesner departs from the traditional tale of the three little pigs in this fractured fairytale.  The violent aspect of the original story is removed when the pigs take matters into their own hands and remove themselves from the story.  No one gets eaten, no one gets hurt and the pigs go on a merry adventure transforming the original story.  Wiesner’s illustrations are critical to the story plot as the viewer sees the pigs peeking between story book pages.  The rest of story unfolds through dialog balloons and is told through the eyes of the pigs.  The characters move from 2D to 3D as they bounce in and outside of the story.  The story ends with all of the characters intact and the traditional “and they all lived happily ever after.”



PUBLISHERS WEEKLY review:  “Wiesner’s (Tuesday) brilliant use of white space and perspective… evokes a feeling that the characters can navigate endless possibilities–and that the range of story itself is limitless.”

BOOKLIST starred review:  ”Wiesner has created a funny, wildly imaginative tale that encourages readers to leap beyond the familiar; to think critically about conventional stories and illustration, and perhaps, to flex their imaginations and create wonderfully subversive versions of their own stories.”

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL starred review:  “Children will delight in the changing perspectives…and the whole notion of the interrupted narrative…fresh and funny…Witty dialogue and physical comedy abound in this inspired retelling of a familiar favorite.”



*The story creates an excellent opportunity to expand with classroom activities such as plays, artwork and song.


*Similar story from the wolf’s persective:


Traditional Literature Review: Swamp Angel

24 Jun



Isaacs, Anne, Paul O. Zelinsky, Sarah Reynolds, and Robert L. Egolf. Swamp Angel . New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 1994.



In this tall tale we are introduced to Angelica Longrider, born in 1815 as a frontier woman in the hills of Tennessee.  Angelica is no ordinary girl, as a newborn she was already as tall as her mother.  Her parents never could have known that their oversized daughter would someday turn into the greatest, most legendary woodswoman in Tennessee.  Angelica quickly made a name for herself by building log cabins at the age of two and saving covered wagons from drowning in the swamp lands with her bare hands.  She soon became known as the legendary “Swamp Angel.”

Then one summer the town became terrorized by a troublesome grizzly bear.  The beast became known as “Thundering Tarnation,” since that is what most of the town folk yelled after he wrecked havoc on their homes.  Soon a contest was created for the bravest hunter that could take on the enormous bear.  The hunters were appalled when Swamp Angel came out to give her hand a try at taking out the bear.  One by one the hunters failed to defeat Tarnation.  When Swamp Angel finally got her shot at challenging the bear the fight that ensued would leave landmarks all over Tennessee from that point on.  The Great Smoky Mountains are still there to this day, caused by the dust and dirt stirred up during their battle.  After a noble and well earned fight, Swamp Angel finally defeats Tarnation and makes him in to a bear rug as her trophy.  Today the rug lives in Montana and is known as Shortgrass Prarie.




This tall tale is a female companion to the great Paul Bunyun.  The story has a woman as its heroin and tells the classic story of good triumphing over evil.  The story is episodic and full of action; it is enough to keep boys interested with the grand scale of the characters.  The Midwestern dialect adds to style of the story.  The fur of the bear is referred to as “pelt,” and characters display frontiersmen speech with words like “ain’t,” and “Thundering Tarnation!”  Paul Zelinsky’s illustrations perfectly compliment the story and would help any young reader visualize the setting and characters.  Swamp Angel wears a bonnet and a handmade dress with stockings.  The town’s folk wear raccoon skin hats and carry rifles.  The illustrations are filled with brown undertones giving the feeling of being in the woods and with nature.  The illustrations are contained within a wooden frame to further the theme of the story.  The story is a good depiction of Midwestern settlers in early America.  While the story is unrealistic it does have the classic aspects of a tall tale with grandiose characters and stories about natural landmarks that live today.



SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL starred review: This debut of a promising new storyteller adds to the tall-tale tradition a pictorial counterpart that will entertain and endure for a long time to come.

THE KIRKUS REVIEWS:  “To say that you are entering Caldecott land doesn’t begin to do this book justice. “

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY starred review:  “Zelinsky’s (Rumpelstiltskin) stunning American-primitive oil paintings, set against an unusual background of cherry, maple and birch veneers, frankly steal the show…”




*This story would be excellent if told by a professional storyteller in the classroom or in the library.

*Similar picture book folktales:

Lucine Kasbarian.  THE GREEDY SPARROW










Picture Book Review: Make way for ducklings

16 Jun




McCloskey, Robert, and Robert L. Egolf. Make way for ducklings, . New York: Viking Press, 1941.



Mr. and Mrs. Mallard are looking for a safe home to hatch their eggs and care for their ducklings.  They search far and wide for the perfect spot.  They come across a garden in the city where they are fed peanuts but Mrs. Mallard fears that this place is not safe enough for their young.  They eventually find a spot away from the garden in the city but intend to return when their young are old enough to be safe.  The ducklings hatch and begin to grow.  Mr. and Mrs. Mallard decide that it is time to go back to the garden in the city.  Mrs. Mallard walks her trail of ducklings all through the city, stopping traffic and causing quite the stir in the city.  Eventually they make it safe and sound to the city garden and are able to finally call it their home.


This is a touching story with great visuals that children can relate to.  A mother duck and her ducklings are often known to stop traffic and catch the attention of onlookers.  This book is relatable to young and old.  The reader begins to feel worried that the mother and her ducklings will not make it through the city.  This book tells the story of a journey through obstacles and ends in triumph.

The illustrations are extremely detailed and artistic.  Every page looks that it could be a painting in and of itself.  McCloskey puts a great deal of detail to the background images and in creating the setting for the story.


  • The Caldecott Medal
  • NEW YORK TIMES:  “The most distinguished American picture book for children.”  “One of the merriest picture-books ever… told in very few words with a gravity that underscores the delightful comedy of the pictures.”



Picture Book Review: Click, clack, moo: cows that type

16 Jun


Cronin, Doreen, and Betsy Lewin. Click, clack, moo: cows that type. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2000.


In this fun and witty picture book Farmer Brown has a problem.  The barn animals find a typewriter and start making demands in the form of type written notes.  The animals threaten to go on strike and stop providing milk and eggs until their demands are met.  The ducks are sent in to negotiate a settlement between the competing sides.  Little does Farmer Brown know that the ducks have an agenda of their own!



Doreen Cronin’s writing is composed of simple understated sentences which would quickly engage a young reader.  While simple, the plot is extremely intelligent and would probably be good for introducing children to unfamiliar, words in a context that is easy for them to understand.  Children could easily get drawn into the story by making animal sounds to compliment the text, (“Click, Clack, Moo”) while being simultaneously introduced to new more complex vocabulary, (“ultimatum,” “neutral”).

Besty Lewin’s bright, bold illustrations compliment the story perfectly. Lewin uses thick watercolor lines that create modern, cartoonlike characters.  The characters bring humor into the story with their vivid expressions.  Chickens stand angrily in a full page spread helping children visualize a unified group up against a frustrated farmer.

This is a fun and humorous book which would be useful for getting students engaged in reading and introducing them to new vocabulary.


  • 2001 Caldecott Honor Award
  • ASSOCIATION FOR LIBRARY SERVICE TO CHILDREN: “Seemingly simple watercolors and fluid, confident black lines supported by careful color choices, dramatic shadows, and dynamic page design combine to create a lighthearted pictorial experience,” said Rockman. “Every detail is just right and every page gives a new perspective on this novel situation.”
  • Starred Review in PUBLISHERS WEEKLY:  “This clever and funny sequel… more than lives up to its title and demands repeat visits.”


  • *Other books written by Doreen Cronin:  GIGGLE, GIGGLE, QUACK; DUCK FOR PRESIDENT;  DIARY OF A WORM
  • *Other books illustrated by Betsy Lewin:  GIGGLE, GIGGLE, QUACK; DUCK FOR PRESIDENT; TWO EGGS, PLEASE

Picture Book Review: A sick day for Amos McGee

16 Jun



Stead, Philip Christian, and Erin E. Stead. A sick day for Amos McGee . New York: Roaring Brook, 2010.



Amos McGee is a friendly man with a very routine life.  Every day he wakes up and prepares to go to work at the zoo.  He has many friends that he plays with and supports at the zoo each day. One day Amos wakes up sick and realizes that he cannot make it into work.  Amos’s friends from the zoo are sad that they have no one to play with and decide to visit him in his home.  The roles are reversed when the zoo animals now care for and play with Amos while he is sick at his home.


This is a story of warmth and dedication between friends.  The author uses repetition and concepts that are easy to understand for a young reader.  While some of the words are tricky (rhinoceros, elephant), the sentence structure combined with images are enough for young readers to use context clues to understand the text.

The illustrations were created in pencil with solid blocks of color in various parts throughout the book.  The characters in the book have a great deal of expression in their faces showing kindness, sympathy and love.

This is a touching book that would be relevant to teaching the concepts of love and affection between families and friends.


  • The Caldecott Medal
  •   Starred review in THE KIRKUS REVIEWS: “This gentle, ultimately warm story acknowledges the care and reciprocity behind all good friendships: Much like Amos’s watch, they must be wound regularly to remain true. “
  • Starred review in PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: “Newcomer Erin Stead’s elegant woodblock prints, breathtaking in their delicacy, contribute to the story’s tranquility and draw subtle elements to viewers’ attention…”


  • *Other books by Phillip Stead:  CREAMED TUNA FISH AND PEAS ON TOAST

Welcome to my Blog!

16 Jun

My name is Jenny Boyd, I am a student in Dr. Vardell’s Literature for Children and Young Adults course for the Summer of 2011.  Here I will be posting book reviews and other assignments for the course.  Please feel free to look around and make any comments that you see fit!