Tag Archives: 8-12

So Many Dynamos!

Title: So Many Dynamos!

Author:  Jon Agee

Illustrator: Jon Agee

Publication/ Year: Sunburst Books, 1994

Number of Pages: 67

Tags/ Themes: 6-8, 8-12, Non-Fiction

Genre: Non Fiction? It’s a list of Palindromes

Descriptive Annotation:  This book is made up entirely of funny palindromes and hilarious pictures to illustrate them. On every page is a different palindrome with an image describing the palindrome. For example, one of my favorites is, “No Sir! Away! A papaya war is on!”, with a beautiful image of an epic papaya war going on. This book is certainly not for young readers, and instead contains humor that would be more fitting for older students, probably starting around 7th or 8th grade. (I am not quite sure on this though because some of the palindromes include alcohol, such as “Ron, I’m a minor!” with an image of an older guy trying to buy a little kid a drink. I think that starting around 7th grade they would understand that this is just a funny palindrome, but I don’t think it would really be appropriate for younger students. This book made me crack up and laugh out loud many times.

Classroom Application: I would use this book to help teach students about palindromes! What better way than to use a hilarious book to make kids remember what palindromes are? With the creative drawings and unique phrases I have never heard before, this is a book that is impossible to forget about. After teaching what palindromes were and showing the book, I would challenge the students to come up with one or two creative palindromes of their own and draw their own picture to describe it! Then we could hang them on the wall. I think this would be a super fun activity that would also help solidify the idea of palindromes for them.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis:  All of the images are drawn with pencil and maybe charcoal, so you can’t really tell different races or portrayals of culture. This book is less for cultural analysis and statement and more about fun with words! Linguistically, this book is brilliant. It turns speech on itself, engaging your mind (wondering, no way is that actually a palindrome), and making you laugh.


This One Summer

Title: This One Summer

Author(s): Mariko Tamaki

Illustrator/Photographer: Jillian Tamaki

Publisher and Year: First Second Books, 2014

Number of Pages: 319

Tags: Emotion, Family, Fiction, Friendship, Graphic Novel, 6-8, 8-12, Sarah Luce

Genre: Fictional Graphic Novel

Descriptive Annotation:

This graphic novel is about a young teenage girl and her family who go up to their cottage on a lake every summer. The story follows the girl, Rose, and her friend, Windy, as they spend their days at the beach and their nights watching horror movies from the local store. The girls are exposed to many adult things as they hang around the store where the older kids hang out. Rose’s family is also going through a rough patch that summer and Rose learns of the secret behind her mother’s new negative attitude towards the lake. This book has a lot of crude language and mature themes that are not acceptable for students younger than high school age, if not older.

Classroom Application:

This book could be used to discuss life issues in a high school setting. Some students who read this book might be introduced to topics they have had little experience with, if any at all.  It is important to use this book as a discussion starter, instead of simply a “free reading” book, as it could stir up strong feelings within students.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis:

This One Summer represents the teenage culture around the “coming of age” period in adolescents’ lives. It was published in 2014, so the portrayal is similar to today’s experience. The story is a graphic novel, so most of the dialogue is through speech bubbles and a lot of the plot is carried through the illustrations. In one scene, the young girls are talking about the older kids they ran into at the store, and it is clear they are impacted by the teenagers’ actions. Rose and Windy start talking about them once they get home saying, “‘Oh my god those girls are sooo loud. I bet you they were drunk. They’re like, DRUNKS’” (page 40). I would introduce this story to my class with a warning of the maturity of its content and language. The story not only deals with intense topics, but also situations where families are apart, like when Rose’s mom says to Rose, “‘I know you’re angry. Rose. I didn’t send your dad away’” (page 224). It gives students an insight into what life is like for families that may be different than their own.



If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler

Author: Italo Calvino


Publisher and Year: Harcourt, 1981

Number of pages: 264

Tags/Themes: Adventure, Chapter Book, Fantasy, Fiction, 8-12, Olivia Ruff

Genre: Fiction (Avant-Garde)

Descriptive Annotation: This novel is an example of Avant-Garde fiction. The novel has a different plot for each chapter, and it follows a the process of reading the book by Calvino. The style, plot, and narrator changes each chapter because each chapter is the first chapter of different books. The end of the book combines the titles from each chapter to form the beginning of “If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler.” The words used in the novel are complex, so it would be for an advanced English class.

Classroom Application: This novel would be idea for a college prep English course. The novel pushes the readers to analyze the traditional format of narrative, and the language used in the novel will push students to learn new vocabulary. This would be good as an introduction to Avant-Garde fiction, which is a part of literature that can easily be overlooked, but it is useful for generating great discussion about the reading process and structure of novels.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: The author, Italo Calvino, is an Italian author, and this novel was translated into English. The novel covers a range of thought provoking concepts given the nature of Avant-Garde. This novel disrupts typical aspects of literature, specifically with plot, narration, and structure. Students will be challenged to think outside of the box in regards to how they view literature because the novel itself calls attention to the reading process. I would use short stories first to introduce students to Avant-Garde, and this novel would be what I choose as the end of the Avant-Garde unit because it embodies many aspects of Avant-Garde fiction. “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought” (3). “With a zigzag dash you shake them off and leap straight into the citadel of the New Books Whose Author Or Subject Appeals To You” (6).


Author(s), Illustrator/Photographer: Art Spiegelman

Publisher and Year Number of pages: Pantheon Books, 1991, 296 Pages.

Genre: Fiction, Autobiography, Memoir, History and Biography.

Descriptive Annotation: The cover features two Polish Jews (Spiegelman and his father) cowering under the shadow of a giant swastika, modified by the imposition of a German-stylized cat’s head emblem. This is a combination of both standard Holocaust imagery and the use of animals as metaphors, which can be seen for the entirety of the graphic novel. Maus is the heartbreaking story of a Polish-American man and his aging father’s experiences in the Holocaust as a Polish Jew, and the continued regret of Spiegelman “using” the death of six million Jews to sell his book to some extent in his mind. As the Holocaust is described to him via his father, Spiegelman also continues to express guilt that didn’t talk to his father more about his experiences on a frequent basis when he had the opportunity to do so when the former was alive. The whole of his father’s trials, from growing up in moderately anti-Semitic Poland to the German invasion in 1939 and the ways in which the population react (or don’t react) to the actions the Nazi regime takes against the Jewish population, are covered in the book. Prior knowledge of what the Holocaust was, and perhaps reading of some more traditional fare on the era such as The Diary of Anne Frank, would certainly be useful in the scenario of students reading this novel in the classroom.

Classroom Application: In this graphic novel, the characters are all played by different animal personas based on nationality, which would be ideal for some upper-level social studies settings. For instance, the Nazis/Germans are cats, the Jews are mice, Americans are dogs, and the French are frogs. The metaphors purposefully don’t work for large portions of the story, i.e. when a mouse is a veteran of World War I for Germany and he flickers back and forth between being a mouse and a cat. This is a teachable moment, since it’s Spiegelman’s way of saying that race and racism, or discrimination of any kind, is very arbitrary because the categories we apply really don’t hold water when held up to scrutiny, or when you consider that people can belong to more than one category.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: Spiegelman covers the different ways in which the Holocaust is remembered, and notes that when he published the novel, nobody had used a comic book format to do so before: “I’m not talking about YOUR book now, but look at how many books have already been written about the Holocaust. What’s the point? People haven’t changed…” (Spiegelman, p. 34). Exasperation with people not being able to get the message with traditional mediums of literature drove Spiegelman to write this book, and that is why 27 years later, this is still a widely taught and used piece of work, both in the US and Germany, the latter of which had to be lobbied to permit the public sale of this book due to the display of the swastika being an illegal offense in that country. Another source of controversy is that the animal chosen to represent the Poles was a pig, since that is a common stereotype of people from Poland and from Eastern Europe in general, and the Germans are universally seen as a brutalizing force in the novel as well. The author speaks through one of his characters as unrepentant on the latter, though, stating “Let the Germans have a little what they did to the Jews” (Spiegelman, p. 226). Such an attitude may seem severe to certain readers, but in the context of the experience of Spiegelman’s family and millions of others, it is understandable that they are biased against their erstwhile oppressors and architects of the genocide.

The Wall: Growing Up Behind The Iron Curtain

Author(s), Illustrator/Photographer: Peter Sís.

Publisher and Year Number of pages: Frances Foster Books, 2005, 50 Pages.

Descriptive Annotation: The cover features two awards-one Caldecott, and one Robert Siebert, along with a Czech baby in the middle of a giant red star. As a send-up of the sort of books the Soviet and Communist presses made during the Cold War, there are many parodies of Communist Party imagery, the red star on the cover being the first example. This is a combination of both standard Soviet imagery and the kind of cartoons and political drawings that appeared in plentiful quantities in the Prague Spring of 1968, in which control by the Czechoslovak Communist regime was briefly loosened and the free press came roaring back temporarily. The wall is the story of that spring and the effect it had on the author, a Czech-American man and his visit that he took to his homeland with the children he raised in the United States. Their experiences in the city of Prague are much different than those of their father’s: “Now when my American family goes to visit my Czech family in the colorful city of Prague, it is hard to convince them it was ever a dark place full of fear, suspicion and lies” (Sis, p. 49). As his childhood under Communist rule is described to the reader by the use of comic strips on the top of the page and captions on the bottom, Sis also continues to express the fears that tormented him as a young man in the old country, and how he and his family didn’t talk about certain things for fear of the secret police hearing them. The whole of his trials, from growing up in the tightly repressed Czechoslovakia, to experiencing true freedom in the second half of the 1960’s and the subsequent Soviet invasion in August of 1968 and the ways in which the population react (or don’t react) to the actions the Red regime takes against the previously free media and citizenry, are covered in the book. Prior knowledge of what the Cold War and Prague Spring were would certainly be useful in the scenario of students reading this book in the classroom.

Classroom Application: In this picture book, the comic strips depict what is and what is not permitted by the Soviet puppet government at various stages of its existence, which would be ideal for some social studies settings which have students that perhaps had relatives behind the Iron Curtain back in the day, and didn’t get to experience some of the freedoms that we as Americans take for granted. This is a teachable moment since it’s Sis’s way of saying that his life in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s through the 1980s was so drastically different from what students today have to experience (mandatory participation in a scouting movement and collection of scrap metals), it can be hard to teach in some ways. We must try as educators to do so, however, because if we don’t, the same mistakes of the past could easily be repeated again.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: Sis covers the different ways in which the Cold War and Prague Spring are remembered, showing the contrast between East and West through maps and exclaiming what a unique experience having the Beatles and Beach Boys was in his country: “But out of the dark came a glimmer of hope. The Beach Boys arrived. America to the rescue!” (Sis, p. 27-28). Exasperated with the new youth movement and fearful that the colorful styles of the West will destroy their socialist paradise, the Czechoslovak police maul and arrest concertgoers who saw the Beach Boys at Prague’s Lucerna Hall in 1969 as they leave. The return of people not being able to get the music they want from the West through traditional means results in a huge black market forming, one that persists in Sis’s telling until his departure for the US in 1984. This should be a widely taught and used piece of work, both in the US and around the former Eastern Bloc, since it shows the profound failure of the latter and the absolute oppression which results from authoritarianism. In the context of the experience of Sis’s family and millions of others, it is necessary that they are brought some peace of mind that this kind of system can never rear its ugly head again and make people scared to live their lives in peace. Artists like Sis, who was a radio DJ and actually toured with the Beach Boys when they visited his country, can never be truly suppressed by the jackboot of hate, but they need our help whenever possible to keep their creative flames alive.





Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey

Title: Stepping stones: a refugee family’s journey

Author(s)/Illustrator/Photographer: Margriet Ruurs, stonework done by Nizar Ali Badr

 Publisher and Year Number of pages: Orca Book Publishers, 2016, 27 pages.

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Descriptive Annotation: The cover features a simple artistic rendering of a refugee family fleeing Syria made out of typical pond stones one could find most anywhere, but done in a way that is culturally sensitive-the artist who made the stone sculptures is from Latakia, Syria, and disassembles his pieces as soon as they are photographed. The author actually went and found him and his work on Facebook, but it took some time to get that process going as far as getting the artwork into the book was concerned. As for the book itself, it is a bilingual storybook (English and Arabic text) that involves the engrossing, yet tragic, story of a Syrian family forced to flee their homeland as a result of the ongoing civil war there (2011-present). Rama, our protagonist, is a boy who is used to his peaceful home life with his mother, father, brother Sami, and his grandpa Jedo being the same for years and years. However, the author notes, “that was then, and this is now” (Ruurs, p. 9). Latakia is the only home he’s ever known, and when the war comes to the village, he and his family must flee the land they love so much with tears in their eyes on foot, then by boat to Southern Europe. The family ends up in Europe and is luckily welcomed with open arms, something not all Syrians could state. It would be beneficial for the reader to read up on why and how the civil war got started, as there isn’t much background knowledge provided in the text and it would help to enjoy this story better. The language is pretty simple, but also profound in its own way when describing the devastating impact of the war on ordinary Syrians, particularly Rama and his family.

Classroom Application: It is an ideal text to teach lessons on the aftereffects and Homefront of wars since too often the media and history books solely focus on the big battles and generals instead of the human impact of war, and its unsustainability for the long run. Good stewardship of those who flee strife and calamity is a must, and the author subtly demonstrates that treating your fellow man with dignity and respect is the way rather than outright militancy and sabotage. The best avenue to pursue is to do as the unnamed Europeans do at the end of the book: “Stay here with us. You will be safe now. No more war” (Ruurs, p. 22). How the children best learn this lesson, of course, would be up to the teacher. The passion shown by the main characters in pursuing their goal of freedom from fear and want is certainly a trait for teaching purposes and could be tied into the Four Freedoms speech Franklin Roosevelt gave during World War II in a history classroom setting. Students could think about laws or supreme court decisions that exist in this country that discriminate, or in the past discriminated, against those who took refuge on our shores, and how to go about changing them.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: Since the book is set in Syria and Southern Europe, the culture of the Mediterranean over the centuries is described to a large extent and would be great for a social studies-type course. The traditions of the Syrian people intermingle with those of the host culture they resettle in, but since they are all from the same region to some extent, it is not as much of an adjustment for them as it was for some: “We have a new home now, a home with new sounds and smells, with smiles and people who help” (Ruurs, p. 23). Even though they weren’t part of the group that originally settled the area thousands of years ago, Rama and his family start to readjust, making themselves at home as best they can. Goodness in oneself and others is also a key component in the book, as that kind of lesson never gets old, no matter what sort of class you are teaching, or in what nation-from the US to Sweden to Syria.


Author(s) Illustrator/Photographer: Carl Hiaasen

 Publisher and Year Number of pages: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002, 292 pages.

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Descriptive Annotation: The cover features a simple artistic rendering of a burrowing owl’s white eyes on a sky-blue background, very similar to other minimalist books of Carl Hiaasen’s that feature similar cover artwork. As for the book itself, it involves the engrossing story of Roy Eberhardt, a boy who is used to being a new kid. Florida isn’t the first state he’s lived in, but probably the most interesting place he’s ever been. We first meet Roy with his face being pressed against the window of his school bus by Dana Matheson, the local bully.  While dealing with Dana, Roy meets a boy named Mullet Fingers and learns of a sinister plot involving a pancake house called Mother Paula’s, which is planned to be built on the site of an owl rookery.   Roy used to hate Florida and mope about going back to Montana, but now he doesn’t think it’s so boring after all. Roy and Beatrice, his crush at school, have to decide whether or not to help protest for owls’ rights with Mullet Fingers by sabotaging the Mother Paula’s site, which is not an easy choice to make since he is already in trouble at school for ditching class to chase Mullet Fingers. Luckily for the reader, there isn’t much background knowledge needed to enjoy this story-all they need do is get comfortable in their favorite spot and get to enjoying it. The language is pretty simple but also profound in its own way and could be used for a variety of grade levels due to a mass appeal for readers with many different tastes.

Classroom Application: Since the book makes the protection of the environment at all costs from those who would besmirch or defile it an enormous priority, it’s an ideal text to teach lessons on sustainability and good stewardship of the Earth. The author subtly demonstrates that outright militancy and sabotage towards polluters isn’t the best avenue to pursue, and how the children best learn this lesson would be up to the teacher. The passion shown by the main characters in pursuing their goal of environmental preservation is certainly a trait for teaching purposes. One possible lesson after reading the book would be to review current events and find a story that gets the class excited about environmentalism. Students would also do well to recognize, as Roy does, that “Just because something is legal doesn’t automatically make it right” (Hiaasen, p. 180), and think about laws that exist in this country that may not necessarily have been just or good for every American, and how to go about changing them.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: Since the book is set in South Florida, the unique cultural blend formed in that region over the centuries is described to a large extent and would be great for a social studies-type course. The traditions of the Seminole peoples that originally settled the area thousands of years ago are ever-present. Hiaasen explains them to the reader through the character of Mullet Fingers, who is a barefoot young man that ran away from a “special” (read: Indian re-Education) school in Mobile, AL to come and protect the swamp that holds the owls from bulldozers that are coming to build a pancake house on their homes. The Seminole Nation has always been committed to maintaining and supporting the bounties and remaining in sync with those bounties, hence the fierce devotion Mullet Fingers has to the cause: “‘You bury those birds,’ Mullet Fingers said, ‘you gotta bury me, too.” (pg. 267). His zeal convinces Roy to stand up to the corporations as well, and the unity of both boys from drastically different backgrounds is a message that can resonate with many students if taught correctly. Goodness in oneself and others is also a key component in the book, as can be seen in Roy’s conversations with another character on Mullet Fingers: “‘Eberhardt, why do you care about this kid?’ It was a good question, and Roy wasn’t certain he could put the answer into words. there was something about the look on the boy’s face . . . something urgent and determined and unforgettable” (Hiaasen, pp. 74-75). That kind of lesson never gets old, no matter what sort of class you are teaching.