Graphic Novel Review: El Deafo

Cece Bell just wants to live her life and make friends without her hearing aids getting in the way. This graphic novel memoir will appeal to a wide range of students.

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El Deafo by Cece Bell, color by David Lasky.
Amulet Books Imprint, Abrams, New York, 2014.
Graphic novel memoir, 242 pages.
Newberry Honor winner, 2015.
Lexile: not yet leveled
AR Level: 2.7 (worth 2.0 points)

Cecilia Bell just wants to live her life, make friends and have fun.  But she lost her hearing after a bout of childhood meningitis, and now she has to wear hearing aids.  Even worse, at school she has to wear the phonic ear, a special device that allows her teacher’s voice to travel from a microphone directly to her ear.  She soon discovers that most teachers forget to turn the phonic ear off, allowing her to hear them anywhere in the school building.  This leads to an imaginative fantasy life where she transforms into El Deafo, superhero with mesmerizing rosebud underwear and the power of feedback!  Meanwhile, in real life she’s trying to navigate friendships in the hearing world, a tricky business as the only student in her school who can’t hear.

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El Deafo by Cece Bell

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Deafness/Hard of Hearing

Deaf vs. deaf (and some signing resources)

I’m about to post my first review about a book dealing with deafness or hard of hearing issues, but there are sure to be many more.  Personally I am not deaf (yet) but several family members have gone through severe hearing loss in middle age, so it’s a possibility I’ve been aware of since I was a child.

As an adult I chose to study American Sign Language for a year and still use it occasionally at one of my jobs.  Through my classes (and briefly wanting to be an interpreter) I learned a lot about Deaf culture and made several Deaf friends.  My signing is still very basic but I try to learn a new sign with every conversation.  Right now I am not really a part of Deaf life in my area – most of my friends are also able to verbalize and lip read some, so we communicate in a mixture of speaking, signing, and text messages when all else fails!

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Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, learn to fingerspell your name or other words at http://www.scholastic.com/wonderstruck/signs.html

What many people are not aware of: having hearing loss and being Deaf are two different things, similar to how someone can be culturally and ethnically Jewish, but may or may not practice Judaism (the religion).  Being Deaf is not about loss but rather about embracing a rich and unique culture.  There are different levels of deafness and different amounts and sounds that each deaf person can hear.  There are different techniques for managing in the hearing world including hearing aids, cochlear implants, lipreading, and written communication.  And there is a different culture in the Deaf world.

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Review: Perfect

“April used to be my sister. She used to be nine, and charming. […] Now Ape Face is ten and everything is different.” p. 3

Perfect by Natasha Friend.
Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis MN, 2004, reprinted Scholastic, NY, 2006.
Realistic fiction, 172 pages + extras.
Lexile: 590L
AR Level: 3.5 (worth 5.0 points)

Isabelle Lee cannot believe her mom is forcing her to go to group therapy.  Sure, her little sister caught her throwing up one time, but it’s not like she isn’t handling her dad’s death just fine.  Then pretty, popular, smart, wealthy Ashley Barnum walks into group, and Isabelle knows there has to be a mistake.  Because Ashley is perfect – every girl wants to be her and every guy wants to date her.  But as sessions pass, Isabelle starts seeing the cracks in Ashley’s, and her own, life.

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This was a pretty random choice.  Some of my students were reading it so I wanted to see why it was so popular.  I’m glad I read this library book because I definitely won’t be checking this out to fourth or even most fifth graders.  This is a fast-paced novel and very realistic.

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Early Chapter Book Review: A Man Who Changed Things

“She told M.L. how white people brought black people to America. They made black people slaves. Then in 1863, the United States government said black people were free. But some white people still thought they were better than black people.” p. 7

Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Man Who Changed Things by Carol Greene.
Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1989, this edition 1999.
Early chapter book nonfiction – biography, 46 pages + index.
Lexile: Not Lexiled
AR Level: 2.7 (worth 0.5 pts)

This book is a prime example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (although we all do sometimes).  When I was on a buying rampage as we began the thirty day project, this title came up on my Amazon suggestions repeatedly, but the cover was so irritating that I couldn’t stand to waste money on a book with such lackluster pictures.

Sometime later, I was browsing my local used bookstore and saw the book again, but at a steep discount.  I decided to glance through and was delighted to see that 1) It is not illustrated as the cover would indicate but uses photographs, and 2) it is an early chapter book.  I immediately bought it and am so glad I came across it in person.

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Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Man Who Changed Things by Carol Greene.

This book is part of Houghton Mifflin’s Soar to Success reading intervention program, which is used in some schools as extra help and others as a reading program.  Some teachers also use the books to supplement their classroom library.  Although it might sound weird because this is a very thin chapter book which looks more like a picture book than your typical chapter book, this is a textbook and will likely come with textbook markings.

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Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson

“everyone in our school has afterschool activities.//mine is going home.” p. 27 (David Levithan)

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan.
Speak, a Penguin Random House company, New York, 2010.
Realistic YA fiction, 310 pages + extras.
2011 Stonewall Book Award honor, and New York Times bestseller.
Lexile: 930L
AR Level: 5.1 (worth 11.0 points)
NOTE: This book is marked as a Target pick, but I bought it ages ago in a John Green set.  It wasn’t an intentional diverse buy.

Will Grayson is struggling with love, life, and friendship, specifically his best friend Tiny Cooper.  will grayson is struggling with the will to live, his undying love for his boyfriend isaac, and his sort-of-friendship with maura, who wants to date him.

They don’t go to the same school, or live in the same place, or have very much in common at all, until suddenly their worlds collide.

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Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

It’s always hard to buck a trend.  I didn’t particularly like this book.  First I tried to read it when a friend recommended it, but didn’t get very far.  Then I stubbornly purchased a copy and made myself read it while working through all of John Green’s novels.  Finally, I reread it for this review.  I still don’t like it that much, although there are high points.

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Review: Happy Birthday, MLK

This picture book has been a staple of classroom celebrations for more than a decade.

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney.
Scholastic, New York, 1993.
Picture book nonfiction, 28 pages.
Lexile: 800L
AR Level: 4.2 (worth 0.5 points)

This simple text describes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and death to help children understand why we celebrate on the third Monday of January.  It is titled Happy Birthday because originally MLK day was on January 15th to commemorate his birthday, but it became a move-able celebration when it became a federal holiday.

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Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney

Here we have an all-star team who really know their audience and work splendidly together.  Marzollo is best known these days for her I Spy books, and prolific illustrator (and sometime author) Brian Pinkney has many books about African-American history and culture.

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