Review: A Time to Dance

“There are no dancers / on this temple’s walls. / Here, even Shiva / stands still.” page 99

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman.
Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Group, New York, 2014.
Novel in verse, 307 pages.
Lexile:  720L  .
AR Level:  4.8 (worth 5.0 points)  .

Veda is a classical dance prodigy starting out on a glorious career in Bharatanatyam when her leg has to be amputated.  But dance is her life and the center of her being.  Can she forge a new life?  Can dance be part of it?

A Time to Dance

Pretty sure this is going on my favorite 2017 reads list although the competition will be steep this year.  Not what you expected me to say about a novel in verse, right?

My biggest problem with novels in verse is that they are incredibly difficult to balance.  I love novels, and I love poetry, but inevitably most novels in verse lose out either in plot or in poetry.  This book has ample plot and appropriate narrative arc, while still having generally gorgeous poetry.  I’m in awe of how Venkatraman pulled this off, because it is very, very difficult to do.

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Board Book Review: Baby Dance

The diverse characters in our sixth board book will get you and baby dancing!

Baby Dance by Ann Taylor, pictures by Marjorie van Heerden.
HarperFestival Devision, HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1999.
Board book, 14 pages.

Baby is crying and Mom and the cat are napping, so Dad takes baby for a movement-filled dance that dries up the tears until the happy, well-rested family reunites on their couch.

Baby Dance cover resized

I absolutely loved the swirling movement of the illustrations, and the way that the background subtly moved through the rainbow from a calm purple to an energetic yellow.

I wasn’t keen on the depiction of the hair.  We meet three characters – mother, baby, and a man presumably father, but not named, so he could also be an uncle, stepfather, or other relation.  Mom’s hair is long and curly/wavy.  Baby’s hair appears in some pictures to be in twists or short braids, but in others to be loose with bows on it.  Dad’s hair is equally ambiguous.  In this case I would have liked a little more definition for the hair.

Baby Dance p 13-14 resized
Baby Dance pages 13 and 14 depict the family reunited on the couch.

Again referring to the art, I was a bit confused by how baby was drawn.  Were the pictures intending to depict an older child, or did the illustrator just not have much experience drawing babies?  Since father and child are continually in motion, the art is much more difficult to execute, and the child looked adult or awkward on some pages.

However, I did enjoy the shading, interesting backgrounds, and portrayal of dad.  I’m curious what medium was used (chalk? pastels?) to get the layered swirls of color on the backgrounds.  The balance of text/picture was perfect for a board book; there is never more than a sentence on each page spread.

Baby Dance p 9-10 resized
Baby Dance pages 9 and 10 show dad dancing with baby.

The text is based on a poem from the 1800s – I assume white South African illustrator Marjorie van Heerden did the adaption, although perhaps it was the publisher.

Probably the aspect of this that annoys me the most is the spine.  This is part of the Harper Growing Tree line, so the spine is red to correspond with the level and the logo takes up half the space.  It doesn’t connect with the book at all, and since the book is rather slim, this makes it quite hard to pick it out off the shelf when I want to read it.

Rated for Newborns and up, this certainly is interactive to read to a wee baby and dance along.  However, the size is a bit big for Baby to play with, so we mainly use this as a lap book.  I think it will be more intriguing to a toddler, and the text, despite a few difficult words (ceiling), could be deciphered by an early reader.

I did have some qualms about a few aspects of this book, but overall the dancing and portrayal of a caring, involved father figure won me over.

Review: The Girls in the Circle

“The girls in the circle / have painted their toes. // They’ve twisted their hair / into big yellow bows. ” pages 4-7.

The Girls in the Circle by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson.
Produced for Scholastic by Color-Bridge Books, Brooklyn, NY, 2004.
Poem illustrated as picture book, 32 pages (including back matter).
Lexile: 490L.
AR Level: 1.9 (worth 0.5 points).
NOTE: Part of the Just For You series, level 2.  This book is poetry.

The Girls in the Circle is a well-known poem, here presented with illustrations and additional commentary and activities.  A group of girls staying at Grandma’s dress up in all her things.  But when Mom arrives, she won’t let them leave until they change back… or have they?

The Girls in the Circle cover resized

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Review: Coretta Scott

“things nature never intended / a child to see / haunted them / tragedy accompanies growth / no matter who we are” p. 22

Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
Amistad imprint, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2009.
Biographical poem picture book, 30 pages.
Lexile:  not leveled
AR Level:  4.9 (worth 0.5 points)
Note: this book is an illustrated poem.

Ntozake Shange has written a poem and Kadir Nelson has illustrated it in this gorgeous, but non-traditional biography.

Coretta Scott cover

I’m not quite sure what I expected from this book.  Probably something more like Martin’s Big Words because the cover style looked similar to me.  Actually, it was quite different and I have some mixed feelings about it.  I’ve ordered another, more traditional children’s biography of Coretta Scott King which I’m hoping will compliment this one nicely.

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Web: In the Public Domain

Anybody who loves 18th century literature has heard of Project Gutenberg and similar online methods of obtaining books which no longer have a copyright, but when we browse these websites, it is often easier to find books with racist commentary or ideologies than to source books by authors of color.  Today I have a few sources to help you.

The list Black Writers in the Public Domain has a variety of genres available mostly through Gutenberg, but also from some other Public Domain sites.

The same website also has a review of a novel called The Conjure Woman, which is set in the antebellum South and was written by a black journalist.

There are two bookshelves available on Project Gutenberg.  One is African-American Writers, and the other (which has some overlap) is the Slavery bookshelf.  The Slavery bookshelf has some international writers, but is mainly about African-American slavery, which means it includes abolitionist writings by white authors.

Following this rabbit hole eventually brought me to The Antislavery Literature Project, which is all about trying to source original texts about the American antislavery movement from a variety of public domain sources and link them in their database.  This includes writings by white abolitionists as well as trying to source a variety of early writings by authors of color.  Their website is helpful for finding items from smaller digitization projects and gives a brief synopsis of each work.

If you’d like to do a unit on poetry by black authors, poets.org is a great starting place.  They have biographies, essays on, and at least one or two poems by everyone from well-known poets like Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou to comparatively newer poets like Claudia Rankine.

This website is full of sources for teachers, including recommended poems for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Black History Month and other occasions, searchable by poetic form.  Get even more in-depth for Black History Month with this part of the site that includes poems, essays, and original source documents.  There are also areas for movements like the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts.  I’ve only covered the African-American areas, but this site is pretty good about including poets from a variety of traditions and ethnic backgrounds; if you’re interested in poetry, it’s definitely worth a look!

Oh, and for a starter, here’s an anthology of poems, The African American Experience.  I’m reading this and a nonfiction book from the first list electronically and enjoying both.

28 Days Book Review

In short, this book is a must-have for every school library, and highly recommended for home and classroom libraries as well.

28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World by Charles R. Smith Jr., Illustrated by Shane W. Evans.
A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2015. 54 pages.
Non-fiction picture book.

I don’t recall if I purchased this book or was given it as a gift, but it was one of the early books that inspired the 30 day project.  This book features 29 days that chronologically tell the story of Black History.

Each day has either a single page or a two-page spread.  I am quite curious about the process used for this book, because the text and the pictures are perfect matches.  It’s quite clear that a great deal of time and thought was put into the illustrations and the layout.  Besides the gorgeous artwork of Shane Evans, the book has several features which allow it to be used at a variety of age, reading, or interest levels.

First the date is stated month/date/year.  Then one sentence briefly describes the event featured for that day.  The name of the person featured, or event occurring, is in a different font.  Then the poem or writing follows.  This is the most varied part of the book, with rhyming poems, acrostics, free verse, eulogies, or quotation from documents, speeches, or songs incorporated into various pages.  I see this portion as having classroom applications not only for Black History Month, but also in April for National Poetry Month.

28-days-a-new-resized
28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World by Charles R. Smith and Shane W. Evans

Finally, each day ends with a paragraph in smaller type that gives additional background about the person or topic for that day.  This means there are four methods of interpretation for each day: the picture, the date and factual sentence, the poem or quotation, and the informative paragraph.  The parent or teacher reading this book aloud could choose to read only one or two sections, or they could read all of them.

One thing to remember when reading this book aloud is that the poetry sections vary quite a bit.  Harriet Tubman’s eulogy fills two pages, while Matthew Henson’s poem is 11 words long.  Some of the poems rely on the reader being able to see the poem, and others are meant for two voices.

Another important consideration is the content.  This book is marketed at ages 4-10, however there are some pages which may worry younger children.  Consider the child or group of children you would be reading this book to.  The kids were rather upset reading about the Dred Scott decision on Day 2.  Even though it is overturned on Day 4, if you are reading it one page each day, that may be too long.  I was able to use this book with older students as an introduction/review.

This book hits all the major court cases and many of the major “names” in Black History, along with others who may not be as familiar.  This was our first introduction to Madam C.J. Walker, although we later read a brief chapter book about her.  Matthew Henson and Robert Smalls might not be as familiar as Malcolm X and Jackie Robinson.  One odd digression is Nelson Mandela on Day 26, as he is not an American (but for some reason often included in African American history).  However, in general we really enjoyed reading a variety of poetic forms and learning about many moments in history and great figures, with vibrant illustrations to match.

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