Literary Guide for Ezra Jack Keats’ “Whistle for Willie”

Literary Guide for Ezra Jack Keats’ Whistle for Willie

Literary guide for Ezra Jack Keats’ Whistle for Willie

One of many wonderful and beloved children’s books by Ezra Jack Keats, Whistle for Willie is a simple story that perfectly captures the play-based learning that is essential to early childhood. The child engaging in such play is a character named Peter, a young boy who graces the pages of six of Keats’ other stories as well.

Whistle for Willie begins as Peter is exploring his neighborhood one afternoon, wishing desperately that he could whistle. Peter observes an older boy whistling to summon his pet dog, and longs to do the same – but he just can’t seem to make his lips work properly. Throughout the rest of the story, Peter alternates between longing for the ability to whistle and engaging in creative free play using chalk, a mirror, and even an empty box that he finds on the street. Peter’s play is unstructured and driven by impulse, and echoes the play that all children engage in during early childhood. Young readers can easily relate to both Peter’s play and his desire to be just a little bit more grown up (and to prove this growth by whistling loud and clear!).  Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: More Than One Side To A Story

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Multiple Perspectives:
Two New Novels Show There’s More Than One Side To A Story

I just finished two new novels which use multiple perspectives to tell a story. This technique is neither new nor unusual in contemporary kid lit, but the ways in which these authors wield it, make the stories fantastically realized and totally engaging to read. My mind had to work a little harder to piece together what was happening, because the stories are not so straightforward and have shifting points of view. But I enjoyed having to mentally “chew” on the stories in this way. Maybe you and your young people will too.   Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for George Ella Lyon’s “The Outside Inn”

Literary Guide for George Ella Lyon’s The Outside Inn

Download Literary Guide for George Ella Lyon’s The Outside Inn

Introduced to readers by a beautiful bug-laden cover, title page, and dedication, George Ella Lyon and Vera Rosenberry’s The Outside Inn is quite obviously a book about nature, and just so happens to be our next installation of our 2015 Summer Reading Resource series. The children who grace the cover and the story’s first page (with a dish-filled wagon in tow) show the story’s connection to childhood – clearly ready to engage in some creative free play, the quartet seem right at home in the muddy puddle in which they have settled at the story’s start. Just as the children begin to dig their muddy meals, narration of their invented game begins. Told in rhymes that beautifully capture children’s imagination and the possibilities for nature-based play, The Outside Inn is not only a silly story for children to enjoy, but it serves as a representation of the mind of a young child.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Farley Mowat’s “Owls in the Family”

Literary Guide for Farley Mowat’s Owls in the Family

Download Literary Guide for Farley Mowat’s Owls in the Family

Bird enthusiasts rejoice – the next installation of our 2015 Summer Reading Resource series is Owls in the Family! Inspired by true events in author Farley Mowat’s childhood in northern Canada, Owls in the Family is charming, humorous, and full of adventures involving creatures of all kinds. As the title suggests, two of the story’s main characters are Great Horned Owls who have been adopted by a human family. Set in rural Saskatchewan, the story revolves around the owls, Weeps and Wol, and Billy, their rescuer, and follows the trio through a series of adventures.

Weeps and Wol, both saved from grim fates, are the stars of Billy’s pet collection. The owls share the spotlight with snakes, gophers, and other small creatures common to the plains of western Canada. Each chapter of the book features a different story of adventure involving Billy, his friends, and either Weeps or Wol (or both, often). Readers follow Billy through the training of the owls, a community pet parade, days swimming on the banks of a river, trips to school with owls in tow, and a move to the big city of Toronto, among other things.

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Literary Guide for Mem Fox and Kathryn Brown’s “Tough Boris”

Literary Guide for Mem Fox and Kathryn Brown’s Tough Boris

Download Literary Guide for Mem Fox and Kathryn Brown’s Tough Boris

Our next installation of the Summer Reading Resource literary guide series is Tough Boris, written by Mem Fox and illustrated by local illustrator Kathryn Brown. Much more than just a run-of-the-mill pirate book, Tough Boris is a beautiful and succinct tale that teaches an important lesson about human emotions. Centered around Boris, the story’s namesake, the story begins with a wordless page filled with an ocean where upon the horizon sits a ship and upon a sand dune sits a young boy. This scene sets the stage for the tale that’s about to begin – told with few words set amongst images that speak volumes.

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Open Sesame: 4 Summer Bedtime Stories

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Summer Bedtime Stories: Four New Picture Books Teeming with Animals

Summer nights come alive with the sounds of nocturnal creatures, with shadows moving through the dark, with the scent of night-blooming flowers and the pungent perfume of skunks.  It is the season to spy fireflies in the dewy meadow and Luna moths under the porch light, to be surprised by rabbits and frogs and deer that leap across the road in front of car headlights, and to search for the glint of eyes in the beam of flashlights. In these four new picture books, readers will find pages teeming with animals at night. Some are trying to fall asleep at the end of the day, while others are waking up to explore the nighttime world. Some are humorously portrayed, while others appear in their natural habitat. If you’re looking for a new story to read to your child at bedtime, especially a child who loves animals, try tucking in with one of these.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Todd Hasak-Lowy’s “33 Minutes… Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My But”

33 Minutes… Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My Butt by Todd Hasak-Lowy

This week’s title in our Summer Reading Resource series is Todd Hasak-Lowy’s 33 Minutes… Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My Butt, a story that offers a fresh take on a common middle school experience. Narrated by seventh grader Sam Lewis, the story is a full-length novel yet spans only a few hours of a day in the life of a somewhat average middle school student. Sam’s narration weaves together real-time experiences, thoughts, and emotions, with memories, self-reflection, and background information in order to tell the story of a changing friendship.

The story begins at 11:41am in a middle school social studies classroom, where Sam waits anxiously for the time of day to arrive when Morgan had declared that he will kick his butt. It is not until much later in the story that we learn about the true roots of the animosity that exists between Sam and Morgan. As Sam anxiously experiences the next 33 minutes of his life, he guides readers through the ins and outs of a middle school lunch period and does a lot of reflecting upon past experiences with Morgan, his parents, and his math team – and the connections between the three. Through Sam’s reflection, a secondary story begins to form alongside the real-time narrative. Each moment of anxiety that Sam experiences, and each interaction with a friend, peer, or authority figure that takes place before the time scheduled for butt-kicking inspires Sam to reflect upon himself and his relationship with Morgan – allowing readers to begin to understand the differences between the two characters and the choices that each one made that lead them to drift apart so drastically. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Lisa Campbell Ernst’s “Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt”

Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt by Lisa Campbell Ernst

More than just a tale about a farmer who wishes to sew quilts rather than sowing seeds, Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt can be used to raise discussion about gender roles and cooperation – not to mention opportunities to connect the story to concepts in math, art, and history, too!

This week’s installment of Hilltown Families’ 2015 Summer Reading Resource series features Lisa Campbell Ernst’s Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt. A heartwarming tale featuring themes of rural living, cooperation, and gender roles, the story is a great read for folks ages 5 and older.

Sam Johnson, one half of the book’s namesake, is a rural farmer who leads what appears to be a fairly idyllic agrarian life. One day, he decides that he’d like to learn to quilt and asks his wife’s quilting group if he can join. Surprised that a man would request such a thing, the women turn Sam away. Rather than be discouraged, Sam stands up for himself and pickets their decision, then creates his very own men’s quilting group. With his fellow male quilters, Sam creates a beautiful quilt that he plans to enter in the county fair – in order to compete against the women’s group’s creation. In the end, an accident and a compromise combine to make for a surprisingly happy ending.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Lois Lowry’s “Gathering Blue”

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

Designed for use with readers at a 5th grade level, our literature guide for Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue offers families support in adding insight, visualization, and even mastery of a new skill to a great summer read!

Looking for ways to enhance family reading time? Summer is the perfect time to explore books as a family, and to expand stories and create opportunities for deeper learning together. Hilltown Families offers a wealth of resources for supporting families in this endeavor, beginning with the very first featured title in our 2015 Summer Reading Resource series of literary guides!

Featured weekly throughout the summer, this year’s installments in the annual Summer Reading Resource series include downloadable guides to children’s literature written by students and alumni from the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England. Each literary guide pairs a featured book with suggestions for ways to help children expand their thinking, create connections to the text, and allow their literacy skills to grow. These guides contain outlines with discussion topics, critical thinking questions, and suggestions for many other activities that can provide supplemental education at home. The titles featured throughout the summer will cover a wide range of genres, themes, and reading levels, so as to provide something for everyone and to support families in their pursuit of new and fascinating reading material.

The books included in the series include both picture and chapter books, and cover all of the ages and developmental capacities typically found in grades K-6. Check back weekly for a new guide, or peruse the resources offered in our 2013 and 2014.

The first guide in this summer’s series is Gathering Blue, written by literary great, Lois Lowry.  Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: 4 New Books to Welcome Summer

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Four New Books to Welcome Summer

Welcome Summer! Welcome glorious season of long days and warm nights, perfect for swimming and ice cream and going to the circus and gazing at a sky of shimmery stars. Here are four new books – three picture books and a middle grade novel – that revel in these summer delights.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee is a beautiful example of wordless storytelling at its finest. The book opens at a public pool, where a boy waits beside the water. By the time he jumps in, the pool is full of other swimmers. He dives below the crowded surface to the depths where he meets a girl. The black, white, and gray line drawings of the surface juxtapose a world below, where colors shift and change and become brighter in colored pencils and pastels. The new friends share an aquatic adventure as they encounter fish and other interesting creatures in an imaginative, watery landscape. When they swim to the surface, all of the swimmers (drawn in black and white) leave the pool, and only the friends remain, in color. The book’s large format allows readers to dive into the wondrous illustrations and experience the feeling of being underwater and the pure joy of friendship.

  • Pool by JiHyeon Lee. Published by Chronicle Books, 2015. 56 pgs.  ISBN: 978-1452142944

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Summer Reading Programs Focus on Heroes

Discover Literary Heroes this Summer

With the end of the traditional school year comes an overwhelming sense of freedom for children and adults alike. Summer vacation brings what can feel like an endless stretch of days, the hours of which children can only begin to imagine how they’ll fill. Alongside outdoor adventures, creative free play, and some much-needed unstructured down time, families can fill up those long days of summer with great books – endless volumes of which are available in our local libraries.

too darn hot

In Massachusetts – and across the country – public libraries participate in the Collaborative Summer Library Program. Each year brings a new theme to the program, and libraries work to incorporate educational programs, celebrations of learning, and constant reading in order to provide a comprehensive summer reading program that not only encourages families to read together, but allows participants’ reading to be supported by educational activities that relate to the program’s theme. Read the rest of this entry »

New York Times Summer Reading Contest for Teens Inspires Literacy via Current Affairs

New York Times Summer Reading Contest for Teens

New York Times Summer Reading Contest for Teens helps them become more aware and interested in current world affairs. Following their own interests,  teens are self-direct in their choices of what to read and write about. Every Friday from June 12 – Aug 14, teens can look for the prompt, “What interested you most in The Times this week?” Teens anywhere in the world can post their answers, offering them an international perspective of current affairs through the eyes of their peers.

For many teens, summer can be a whirlwind of activity – between outdoor explorations, visiting friends, working on hobby projects, and maybe some volunteer work or a part-time job, there often isn’t much free time left! However, many schools send students home with a list of books – some required, some suggested – that they are to read and fully digest during their break from classes. Adding some educational material to the summer isn’t a bad thing – though teens can be very busy, it’s also quite healthy for them to stimulate their intellectual curiosity. School lists can include everything from Fyodor Dostoevsky to Barbara Kingsolver, and are compiled with the students’ learning and growth in mind.

The New York Times is, for the sixth summer in a row, offering an additional way for teens to learn and grow through summer reading. However, instead of focusing on major literary works, the program uses the Times’ own content as “required” reading. The New York Times Summer Reading Contest asks teenagers to read at least one interesting news item per week, and to share a brief piece of writing about why the piece sparked their interest. Open to students ages 13-19, the contest allows for one entry per week – meaning that students are welcome to read as many pieces as they want, but that they must choose a single one to write their submission on. After the week has ended, one student opinion will be posted on the New York Times website!

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Summer Reading Quick Picks for Middle Schoolers

A Dozen Quick Picks for Middle Grade Summer Reading

It’s almost officially summer! The perfect time to get away with a great book. Whether relaxing at the beach or the park, chilling in a tent or a hammock, traveling by car or plane, or even standing in line at the amusement park, here are a dozen quick picks for middle graders, all with the common thread of taking place during summer. These books are so good, some of you grown-ups may enjoy reading them as well: Summer Reading List for Middle Schoolers.

Open Sesame: Poetry Springs Forth

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

April is for Poetry: Six New Books for Kids

April is National Poetry Month! And if ever there were a month for spontaneous outbursts of snowdrop-covered verse and dandelion rhymes – it’s now. After a long, grueling winter, to see the ice recede and flowers push up and bloom, to hear birdsong in the morning and to leave heavy coats behind, is poetic glee. Spring itself is living poetry. What a glorious time to share some couplets with a couple of kids, so here are six new books for young bards.  Read the rest of this entry »

Recommended Fiction Titles with Autistic Characters

Open Sesame: Celebrating Women’s History with Children’s Picture Books

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Women In History: Three New Books

For more than thirty years, the National Women’s History Project has been devoted to “writing women back into history.” They created a national clearinghouse of multicultural women’s history, which includes information, materials, resources, referrals, training and strategies to anyone interested in learning about women’s roles in American history. Their successful lobbying efforts led Congress to recognize March as Women’s History Month, which has become a time to celebrate the bold and beautiful, courageous and curious, strong, smart, and compassionate women in our collective history. We have so much to learn from their example, which is why we need to keep getting books about these women into children’s hands. Here are three new books that recognize girls with big dreams. But first, recognition of a local woman who left her imprint on American history and on our own local history… Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: Celebrating Black History with Children’s Picture Books

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

10 New Books Celebrating Black History

In celebration of Black History, here are 10 new books for children of all ages and the grown-ups who love them. Full of inspiration, incredible acts of heroism and bravery, and striking illustration, these are needed books not just in February, but in every month of the year.

Love Will See You Through: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Six Guiding Beliefs (as told by his niece) presents the principles of nonviolence that “Uncle M.L.” practiced and lived by. Each principle, presented in oversized font and bold, mixed-media illustration – have courage; love your enemies; fight the problem, not the person who caused it; when innocent people are hurt, others are inspired to help; resist violence of any kind; and the universe honors love – is further explained with specific actions and events of Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s life, from peaceful protests to rousing sermons.

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Open Sesame: 7 Picture Books That Celebrate Winter’s Whimsy

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Snowmen Stories: Picture Books That Celebrate Winter’s Whimsy

“Do you want to build a snowman?” is a question kids have been asking for far longer than the song made popular by the movie, “Frozen.” And kids will continue to ask whenever the snow falls, because building a snowman is a quintessential act of winter whimsy. One that is working in layers, whether the creator realizes it or not. At its most basic, building a person out of snow is just good, plain fun. When you add a friend or two or three into the mix, building a snowman becomes a cooperative effort, an exercise in teamwork. It requires a playful attitude and an artistic eye. And it never hurts to believe in a bit of magic. For if the stories are true, snowmen do come to life! It also calls for a certain acceptance of impermanence. As even the youngest builders discover, snowmen do not last forever. And as such, the snowman becomes the perfect symbol for the cycles of love, loss, and renewal. With snow in the forecast, isn’t it time to build a snowman? Read the rest of this entry »

Classics Come On Line To Thrill Audio Book Lovers

Audio Books Find a Voice Through LibriVox

Audio book lovers rejoice! LibriVox is an online resource offering thousands of recordings of a wide variety of written works. Including everything from Shakespeare to Hans Christian Andersen, LibriVox’s titles are all available through the public domain and read by volunteers, meaning that users can download recordings completely for free! Perfect for a snug winter day indoors.

For many people, fond memories of childhood include being read to by someone. During the winter months, snuggling in a cozy spot with a book and a reader is a perfect way to pass the time (and to warm up if you sit close enough together!). However, sometimes busy households don’t always have readers available, and other times, the readers would perhaps like to enjoy some listening time themselves. While local libraries offer endless titles in audio form and storyhours for kids, snow days, holidays and colds & flus can keep families away – so what’s a story-loving family to do when it’s time for a story? Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: 11 Notable Kids’ Books of 2014

One Last List: A Few More Notable Kids’ Books of 2014

2014 saw the publication of many brilliant books for kids. My family and I were smitten with fantastic new characters and imaginative stories – many of which I reviewed here in this column.

As we ready to turn the page on another year, I have one last parting list of notable books – a few picture books, a few novels, a bit of nonfiction – to herald out 2014. Find a moment, with or without a cozy companion, and open a book today. Read the rest of this entry »

Getting Your Family Tales Down & Punctuation Up!

Documenting Family Stories is a Fun Winter Activity that Support Language Arts

Hausausgaben

Getting a story down in paper makes it last forever.

While spring, summer, and fall easily lend themselves to outdoor exploration, winter sends us a clear message to hunker down and cozy up next to the fire or radiator. But what is an active family to do when weather dictates that adventures be brief and close-to-home (if at all)? The secret to a winter that is simultaneously adventure-filled, warm, and cozy is to have adventures in your minds. Active bodies can easily slow themselves for a few months if their equally active brains are frequently engaged in mental adventures. Winter is a time for stories. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: 8 Picture Books Celebrate Canny Turkeys

Talkin’ Turkey: Eight Picture Books That Keep Their Tail Feathers

Turkeys are part of our living landscape. We see them almost everyday throughout the year. In spring, we admire the big toms displaying their feathers in full regalia, and in summer, we delight in the fuzzy babies wobbling after their mothers. We watch big flocks pecking in stubbled cornfields during fall, and in winter, we follow their claw marks in the snow, hoping to find one of their long, magical feathers. We can’t help but mimic their gobble gobble, and are always surprised to see their plump bodies fly up into the trees to roost. A symbol of the Give-Away, the turkey carries historical and cultural significance, and for many, is the epicenter of the Thanksgiving feast. But in these picture books, there are no roasted turkeys. These birds aren’t dressed with stuffing and chestnut glaze, but instead wear ridiculous costumes and hatch crazy ideas to escape human plates. Vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike will appreciate the comedic feast and avian affection found in these eight picture books, where talkin’ turkey means keeping your tail feathers.  Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: Florida Backdrop Provides Canvas for Chaotic Caper

Skink – No Surrender
New Teen Novel By Carl Hiaasen

When Malley runs away with a guy she met online to avoid going to a New Hampshire boarding school, her cousin Richard knows she’s in trouble. With the help of an ex-governor-turned-wild-renegade named Skink, Richard sets out on a crazy recuse mission deep into the Florida swamps.

Skink–No Surrender, the new novel by author Carl Hiaasen, delivers a fantastic story from start to finish. High-risk adventure spiked with laugh-out-loud humor ensues as Richard and Skink track Malley and her kidnapper. Action, drama, suspense, surprise, outrageous characters, and a heroic journey – the book has it all. Even a landscape full of its own set of dangers. From breezy, ocean beaches to steamy, buggy swamps, the Florida landscape plays a multi-dimensional role, serving as backdrop for the story, providing both beauty and tension, and producing threats like intense heat, fierce storms, killer pigs, and hungry gators. It may even reveal the extinct ivory-billed woodpecker. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: 9 Picture Books Capture the Great Beauty of Fall

Autumn’s Paintbox: Picture Books That Feature Foliage

It’s that time of year when sweaters come out of hiding, and soup bubbles on the stove, when the cold descends and wood smoke rises, when morning fog gives way to crisp afternoons and long, star-filled nights. It’s that time of year when pumpkins smile from porches and apples pile up in the kitchen. It’s a time of change and preparation, of magic and mischief, of quiet and camaraderie. It’s fall in New England, and the signs of the season are abundant. Just look to the trees, the lure of leaves, where autumn’s paintbox hangs on every deciduous limb. This month’s selection of picture books, featuring one newly published book and a handful of perennial favorites, is an ode to autumn leaves, those fiery, smoldering, golden bursts of color before the landscape pales and freezes.

Fall Leaves, written by Loretta Holland and illustrated by Elly MacKay, is a brand new picture book celebrating the changing season. From the onset, the book pulls you right into its ethereal setting: an image of an autumnal forest with two children playing at the edge of a pond. While soft yellow and orange light filters through the trees, their reflection on the water shows a much different winter scene. Opening the book, readers find a multi-layered experience. The light-box illustrations were cut piece by piece from yapo (plastic) paper and set up in a three-dimensional mini theater, into which light was shone from different angles. The effect is stunning and luminescent, and captures that golden, autumnal light of the season. Throughout the scenes, the two children move in time with nature, playing, bird-watching, biking, and dancing, until fall itself leaves, and the orange, red, and umber turns to the gray, lavender, and blue of winter. Two-word lines in large print play on the meaning and usage of the words, fall and leaves, creating a poetic context for what is happening in the pictures, such as “Fall arrives/Birds leave/Leaves twist/Rain falls/”. Below these pieces of poetry, is a nonfiction component that explains what is happening in nature from a scientific standpoint. While these explanations may be too wordy for young enthusiasts, older naturalists will appreciate the information. A beautiful book to herald the season. — Published by HMH Books for Young Readers, 2014. ISBN: 978-0544106642. Read the rest of this entry »

Banned Books Week Highlights Freedom to Read

Graphic Novels Highlighted

Banned Books Week September 21-27, 2014

It may surprise some to find out there are hundreds of reported attempts to ban books every year in the United States. It may be even more astounding to hear that since 1990, the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has received reports of more than 18,000 attempts to remove materials in schools and libraries for content deemed by some as inappropriate, controversial or even dangerous.

Banned Books Week, September 21-27, 2014, reminds Americans about the importance of preventing censorship and ensuring everyone’s freedom to read any book they choose. According to ALA’s OIF, for every banned book reported, there are many more that are not. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Sesame: 5 Picture Books For Kindergarteners

School is the New Frontier: 5 Picture Books For First-Timers

The first day of school is a huge leap for many young children. The world of school is different than the world of home. Excitement, anxiety, curiosity, fear, and uncertainty are feelings shared by all petite pioneers as they head into the big, new territory of school. Sometimes a good story is all that’s needed to calm a fear, tickle a nerve, boost confidence, and generate joy.

Here are five new picture books for young adventurers getting ready to explore school for the first time. You’ll find an astronaut, a cat, a panda, monsters, and even a Norse goddess, venturing into the unknown, finding fun, friends, and their own brand of special… Read the rest of this entry »

10 Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time

Literary Guides 2014

This summer’s installment of the annual series Summer Reading Resource: Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time presents families with suggestions for rich reading material to explore together. Each suggested title is accompanied by a teacher-designed guide that includes a description of the book’s educational potential, critical thinking questions to help readers process what they’ve read, activities to support and strengthen literacy skills, and suggestions for activities that allow readers to explore the themes presented in each story deeply and experientially. Written by graduate students in Antioch University New England’s Integrated Learning program, the literary guides offer families a comprehensive resources to help enrich at-home learning and touch upon a wide variety of topics.

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Literary Guide for S.D. Nelson’s “Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story”

Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story
by S.D. Nelson

Written by S.D. Nelson, Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story opens readers’ eyes to life in a Native American village in the Dakotas. Based on Waheenee: An Indian Girl’s Story, told to an anthropologist by Buffalo Bird Girl herself, the story follows Buffalo Bird Girl through a full year’s worth of seasonal changes and activities, teaching readers about Hidatsa culture and the ways in which the seasons dictated their lives.

The book begins in the spring, with Buffalo Bird Girl helping to prepare fields and process meat from animals hunted by the village’s men. In the summer, readers learn about Buffalo Bird Girl’s responsibility to protect corn fields from animals, and her adventures berry picking and tuber-harvesting. During the fall, the entire village harvested crops and celebrated with a feast and dancing. In the winter, cold weather drove Buffalo Bird Girl’s village to migrate to a place with a milder climate, so as to be spared the harsh winter of the Dakotas.

The rich story teaches readers a wealth of information about Native American life and culture. The fact that the story’s protagonist is not an adult allows young readers to develop connections to her life more easily – they, too, can imagine doing seasonal tasks as chores to sustain their family and they, too, can relate to capturing rare free moments to play with friends. It is in connecting to Buffalo Bird Girl that readers will do most of their learning for, though they may find many similarities between their lives, the cultural divide between our lives today and that of Buffalo Bird Girl is deep and wide. Though here in western Massachusetts, the seasons dictate many of our activities, they do not force such drastic change upon our lives as they did upon the lives of members of Native American cultures. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Rebecca Stead’s “When You Reach Me”

When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead

What grows when it dies, but eats when it drinks? This and other riddles provide an intriguing and puzzling pre-read warmup for Rebecca Stead’s Newbury Medal-winning book, When You Reach Me. Classified as a science-fiction mystery novel for young adult readers, the story is a riddle-filled puzzle that will intrigue and fascinate savvy tweens and almost-tweens.

When You Reach Me is set in New York City in 1978, and is centered around the mysteries filling the life of a girl named Miranda. Miranda’s favorite activities are watching The $20,000 Pyramid, reading her favorite book (A Wrinkle in Time), and adventuring through her Manhattan neighborhood with her best friend, Sal – who helps her navigate the surprising and sometimes slightly scary things that they encounter nearby. The story truly begins when Sal and Miranda drift apart, which begins after a mysterious boy punches Sal in the stomach while they walk down a street together. After losing her best friend, Miranda encounters some other strange events – the spare key that she and her mother keep hidden is stolen, and Miranda gets a strange note from a mysterious source. Though she and her mother change the locks and assume the trouble is over, Miranda keeps getting notes – and must stay silent, though she knows not who is writing them or what they are pushing her towards.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Mildred Pitts Walter’s “Alec’s Primer”

Alec’s Primer
by Mildred Pitts Walter

Alec’s Primer is a story of freedom – a true one. Based on the real-life experiences of a man named Alec Turner, the book follows a young boy born into slavery through childhood on a plantation, fighting for the north during the Civil War, and finding freedom in Vermont. Though born a slave and forbidden to learn literacy skills, young Alec learned to read with the help of the plantation owner’s granddaughter – who insisted that Alec learn the alphabet despite the trouble that he would be in if he were to be found out. In learning the foundation of reading and writing the English language, Alec gets his first taste of freedom and dreams of someday escaping to Vermont – though he does suffer punishment for learning to read. Read the rest of this entry »

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