Author Archives: Texas Librarian

About Texas Librarian

I began my teaching career as a high school English/Reading teacher and have been a school librarian for 18 years. I have a bachelor's degree from the University of North Texas and a master's degree from Texas A&M at Commerce, Texas.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Cancer fighters, Hazel Grace, and Augustus, sixteen and seventeen years old, meet in a cancer support group in this coming of age novel. The characters, both adult and young adult, grow as they learn how to live and how to die knowing the “fault in our stars” was something over which they have no control. They all struggle to lean into good, to make caring choices by being responsible with their freedom to choose their paths rather than letting that free choice lead them to self-destruction. The stars have already made that choice for them, and it is out of their control. Augustus tells Grace that cancer “is a civil war with a predetermined winner.” p.216

Hazel Grace narrates the story with an insight that touches any aged reader. As a parent, she touched my heart by noticing the way Augustus’s parents looked at him, “watching him, never looking away, like they just wanted to enjoy the The Gus Waters Show while it was still in town.” p.235 I must say I adore listening to my children talk with their comical thoughts and deep emotions, and John Green conveyed the feeling so well.

I often ponder the idea of not knowing when something is the last. Hazel Grace reflects that “there’s no way of knowing that your last good day is your Last Good Day.” p.253 Sometimes I know that something special is happening, and I know it’s a moment I will never see happen again, the birth of a child, graduations, special ceremonies, a long visit with your son before he marries, but what about those wonderful afternoons when you share the best time ever with your child, a friend, or your pets not knowing it will be your last. You look back and wish for one more moment. I take from this book that life is precious and precarious, and we have but one chance to walk through this world as Augustus sums up for his friend, knowing that “you are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!”p.272, and understanding that these are all part of life and to make each moment count.

In some ways this book connects with another of my very old favorites, A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. The book begins with one of the characters looking back on his youth and his regrets, thinking, “It’s time to come in out of the rain.” Augustus is good-looking, witty, athletic, and charismatic like Phineas in A Separate Peace, but Augustus’s friend, Isaac, did not resent Augustus’s ease with living as Gene did with Phineas.

The characters in The Fault in Our Stars are mature beyond their years, like so many young adults who are dealing with cancer and trying to protect the hearts of those they love. The perspectives that John Green shares through Hazel, Augustus, Hazel’s mother, and Van Houten resonate innocence, love, protection, bitterness, selfishness, and forgiveness. Augustus says we have choices in this life. We choose who we love, who we hurt, who we let hurt us, and whether to hang on to things or let them go. Green brilliantly writes a book that a reader can use throughout his or her life to help get through what our stars hold for us.

Things to ponder: If authors of fiction include some truths in their tales, could the Tulip Man in AIA be Van Houten, himself? How did cancer change Van Houten? Who are the brave ones in this story?

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

Lucy and Owen, high school teens, find themselves and each other stuck in an elevator during a blackout in NYC.  They spend the night talking, looking at the stars, sharing wishes and melting ice cream, and the night is magical to them.  When the sun comes up the next morning, it’s back to reality.  Owen’s mother’s untimely death, his father’s struggle to find happiness, and Lucy’s family making a move to Europe are distractions to them as they keep in touch by postcards, “wishing you were here.”

Smith revolves the story around particular phrases, common hopes, and settings to keep the reader entwined in Owen’s and Lucy’s lives. Each of them knew something special connected them that one night, and even though their “somewheres” are in different places, the “home” is with each other “because that’s what happened when you were with someone like that: the world shrank to just the right size. It molded itself to fit only the two of you, and nothing more.” p. 110

Each of them have profound thoughts throughout the book as Owen, on his way to the house where he grew up to pack it up for selling sums it up with “everything new arrives on the heels of something old, and every beginning comes a the cost of an ending,” as he thinks on his future.  Sometimes we know when it’s an end, and sometimes we know when it’s the last time for something, and those moments are the most bittersweet as we run to our future knowing we can not hold on to our past.

The theme of stars is used throughout the story as Owen loved them and shared that love with his mother. During the blackout, he and Lucy share the constellations as the east coast is completely dark making the night seem magical.  Lucy longs to stand on the star outside of Notre Dame because it’s the center of  Paris, and Owen plans to study astronomy in college.  As the story ends, Owen and Lucy agree that where they are right then is exactly the place she wished to be while standing on the star in Paris, and  the geography of the two of them couldn’t be more perfect.

Jennifer E. Smith tells the story of Owen and Lucy with such honesty and tenderness while keeping the book completely “G” rated for even a middle school aged reader.

The Word Burglar by Chris Cander

The illustrations by Katherine Tramonte add a dimension of humor to the story that makes it a great read for any age.  Reading books upside down, kids fighting, and gamers gaming depict how a family could possibly overlook a needy child who needs a little more attention with reading help.

A boy known as the “Word Burglar” decides to steal the interesting words from books by cutting them out and pasting them in his own private dictionary until he could learn to read them.  Since he couldn’t read, his self-esteem begins to shrink.  He sees himself smaller and smaller as the book continues.  At one point he “eats his words,” which could be turned into a lesson on idioms.  Throughout the books, the author finds the most interesting words for him to steal.

Thunderstorm by Arthur Geisert

Narrative Writing Practice

In this wordless picture book, the pictures are time stamped as the story is revealed. The setting is a rural area that features barns, animals, and farm houses. At the beginning a storm is brewing and within less than an hour it becomes a tornado.

Author’s perspective: The illustrations show what is going on in three different areas: the sky, on top of the ground, and underground.  One could write the story from any of these perspectives showing a writer’s point of view.  Also, the writer must decide where to write in first person or third person.

Synthesis: Ask students to write a narrative of the events in the pictures. Focus on transitional works and phrases to go from one scene to the next.  The link to the Smart Words website has a section for transitional words about time, chronology, and sequence.  These words should help students to see a way to put the illustrations into a story.

 

 

Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Schema: Bullies, name calling

Text-to-Text Connection: Bluebird by Bob Staake

Inferring: The names of the animals printed in all capitals as used by the bull infer that the bull is using their name in a negative way.

Cause and Effect: Because the older bull told the younger one to “go away,” the effect is that the younger bull turns his rejection into anger toward the other barnyard animals.

Synthesis: Discuss ways in which hurt feelings turn into anger towards others.

Bluebird by Bob Staake

In this wordless picture book, a bluebird befriends a boy who is walking to school, walking home from school, stopping for a cookie, buying a toy boat, and ultimately is attacked by a gang of boys who want his boat.

At first the boy does not realize that the bird is following him, but he finally notices and makes the connection.

The bullies throw a stick at the boy, but the bluebird flies in front of the stick to protect the boy and is possibly killed. The bullies run away.

Several birds fly down to pick up the boy who is holding the bird. They lift the boy and bird up to the sky, and the bird flies up to the heavens. The boy waves good-bye to him. It is up to the reader to decide if they bird was killed or if it was revived by the love of his friends.

Students could write a narrative from their perspective based on the frames of illustrations in the story.

baby blue by Michelle D. Kwasney

The book is set in 1976 before there were laws in the state of Massachusetts to protect people who were being abused by family members.  At the time, the police has to actually witness a person being hit or injured by the violent family member.

Baby Blue, twelve years old at the beginning of the story, is the main character.  She represents a very strong female role model. Star, her sixteen-year-old sister, can not accept their mother’s complacency about being beaten by their stepfather, Jinx. The pattern is that Jinx would always apologize and be sorry afterwards. Prior to marrying Jinx, the girl’s father drowned while trying to rescue a boy in the river. Their father had his own problems of gambling and taking the family money without permission. The reader can see a pattern in the mother’s choice of needy men.

Blue leads her mother and her sister to the realization that they are all better than the way they are living. She shows her sister that they have the strength to fight back. Blue has a lot of heart. She feels for her father, her stepfather’s pet cat who is run over, and for her older sister, Star, even though she abandoned Blue and ran away for a while.

The book ends on a positive note with Jinx being arrested, the mother and the girls moving to a new apartment,and the mother starting to take some classes at the community college and saying, “I guess I’m off to make something,” of herself. The mother always loved flowers and hopes to open a flower shop some day. Blue sees a positive future for herself also.

River Royals Master the Mississippi by Katie Clark & Sarah Wynne

Romp down the Mississippi River with Eliza Jane and her little brother, Henry, as they experience the history of the states that touch the Mississippi River. The illustrations are full of color and life on the river. Though the book is one of fiction, the informational literature has true information.

The story begins with Eliza Jane being very distracted counting the pins in her teacher’s hair. As her teacher keeps checking in with her to make sure she is paying attention, readers will begin to recognize the traits of a child with attention deficit disorder. Instead of making this a problem, the authors show the joy and love of life that the main character has as she learns in her own unique way.

Schema: sitting in class and trying to pay attention waiting your turn to talk

Text-to-Self Connections: Melvis and the illustration of the Elvis impersonator

Mental Images: As Eliza tries her best to listen, her mind takes her into the lesson as she imagines herself having an adventure based on the factual information her teacher is telling the class. This would be a good illustration of how good readers make mental images while reading.

Theme: What matters about people is what they are like on the inside and not their social status.

The endpapers include a map of the Mississippi River.

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Douwlina: A Rhino’s Story by Grace Borgeson

The author is the current caregiver of Douwlina, an orphan white rhino. She tells the story of how Douwlina is rescued and nurtured from the day she was born to present day.

At the end, she states that it is “the goodness of God” that helped Douwlina to survive. Christian schools will especially want this book with the reference to Christ.

The text is simple and is printed on colorful pages that make an attractive presentation. Photographs of other wild animals along with Douwlina are interspersed throughout the story. The information is very brief, but young readers needing a nonfiction book about white rhinos will enjoy this one.

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

One Day I Went Rambling by Kelly Bennett

What a creative and thought-provoking, rhyming book for both adults and children!

As an elementary school librarian who reads books aloud to children every day, I can see this one as a book that will capture their attention because there is substance here that will connect with their prior knowledge to make this book worthy of their time. I predict that this title will be on several award lists this year. Readers are challenged to use their imaginations to repurpose and recycle objects that they own or discover on their path.

The illustrations, created by Terri Murphy, and names of the characters are multi-ethnic featuring children of all races. The expressions show joy, contentment, and pure fun as they “ramble” around the neighborhood. Even the kid who makes fun at first is motivated to join in the fun.

Schema: repurposing
Text-to-Self: Can you think of something you have re-used as a pencil container? Ever made a jewelry box from an egg carton?
Text-to-Text: Oliver by Birgitta Sif; Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
Compare and Contrast: How is each “find” similar and different from what they imagine it to be?
Mental Image: Can you imagine the “find” being what they imagine it to be?
Predicting: Try predicting what the items on the last page might be used for. There is an illustration, but no text so the reader has to use his or her imagination to infer or predict what these could be used for.
Synthesis: Can you think of other things their “finds” could be? Can you think of something you see that could be like something else? Think about the places you like to play and what you have played with there. I remember as a child playing house inside a group of Cedar trees where there was a small clearing in the middle of them. It was like nature made me my own playhouse.
Extension: Do a search on the Internet to find how people have repurposed what might be trash to some people into useful or artistic objects.

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.