Fantasy – Calamity Jack

Calamity Jack

Bibliography

Hale, Shannon and Hale, Dean. 2010. Illus. by Nathan Hale. CALAMITY JACK. New York: Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781599903736.

Plot Summary

Jack is a natural born schemer who one day takes on a larger target that involves a giant and a magic bean. When the resulting beanstalk destroys buildings Jack must leave his home of Shyport, but he is determined to return and make things right with his mother and his town. With the help of Rapunzel and her amazing braids, a pixie from his past, and a new friend with a penchant for inventions, Jack takes on the giant once and for all.

Critical Analysis

This high fantasy graphic novel will draw readers in with its likeable characters, engaging illustrations, and humorous plot twists. Shannon and Dean Hale’s tale uses Jack and the Beanstalk as its jumping off point and brings adventure and the backdrop of the Wild West to this delightful book.

Jack is Native American and sees himself as a “criminal mastermind with an unfortunate amount of bad luck.” Jack and his trusty pixie have mixed luck with their scheming ways until one day Jack decides to break into the giant Blunderboar’s penthouse, high above the town. Magic beans, a golden goose, and a wild growing beanstalk all play a part in Jack’s latest scheme that results in the destruction of his home and the need to escape, with the goose in tow.

Jack heads west, but is determined to return to Shyport to help his mother and rebuild his home. First he joins forces with Rapunzel, a character from the Hale’s first graphic novel, Rapunzel’s Revenge, who uses her powerful braids to fight off evildoers.

Upon returning to Shyport, Jack and Rapunzel try to come up with a plan to overthrow the evil Blunderboar and rescue Jack’s mother, who is being held in the penthouse. First they must fight off the ant people, outsmart the screaming brownies, and destroy myriad giants. Thankfully they get assistance from do-gooder Freddie who proclaims “I tell you, I will not be bullied, you bullying bullies, you! I will not.” With Freddie’s inventions, and help from Jack’s trusty pixie friend, Pru, they seem destined for success, but not without some twists and turns along the way.

Shannon and Dean Hale’s humorous and witty story line moves the book forward and readers will be eager to turn the pages to see what awaits Jack and his team next. When all their prospects look grim, Pru comments, “This is depressing. I need a cupcake.” But they need more than a cupcake to get out of this predicament and all seems lost when Blunderboar confronts our heroes with a twist on the classic phrase, “Fee. Fi. Fo, and oh let’s say FUM.”

The Hale’s words are beautifully matched with Nathan Hale’s action packed illustrations. He drew all the illustrations in his local library, which has a cameo drawing in the book. Hale’s detailed drawings portray frightening characters, like the evil looking, giant sized ant people with their beady eyes and scary pinchers. He uses color and close-ups to convey the mood throughout the story.

In the end good triumphs over the evil Blunderboar, order is restored to Shyport, and Jack even gets the girl. A delightful fantasy tale with wonderful new twists that is sure to entertain tween and teen readers.

Review Excerpts

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: “Jack leads readers on adventure trekking through sewers and taking to the sky. The dynamic artwork fits well with Jack and Rapunzel’s quick tongues, as they flirt their way through numerous hair-raising situations.”

BOOKLIST: “Nathan Hale’s art gives it a steampunk twist, and the addition of fairy-tale creatures like giants and pixies is natural and convincing. Shannon and Dean Hale have done an excellent job stretching the bones of the traditional fable into a high-action coming-of-age story that will keep young teen readers excited and engaged.”

Awards

2011 YALSA Great Graphic Novel

School Library Journal Best Comic for Kids 2011

Nominated for a Cyblis Award

Junior Library Guild Selection

Connections

  • Read a version of Jack and the Beanstalk and compare and contrast what elements appear in this graphic novel version of the story.
  • Read Shannon and Dean Hale’s other graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge.
  • Language Arts Connection – have students write captions for what some of the characters are thinking in the book.
  • Language Arts Connection – have students choose another fairy tale as a starting point for their own fantasy graphic novel and write an outline for the story. Have them write and illustrate a scene from their original story.
  • Summary Exercise – Break the students into small groups and have each group summarize their section of the book. Then have the students share their summary in order of he book to make certain the right amounts of details are included.

Image from Barnes and Noble

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Realistic Fiction – Speak

Speak

Bibliography

Anderson, Laurie Halse. 2011. SPEAK. New York: Square Fish Publishing. ISBN 9780312674397.

Plot Summary

It’s the first day of high school for ninth grader Melinda Sordino and no one is talking to her, even friends she’s had for years. At a summer party Melinda called the cops, but when they arrived she couldn’t tell them what happened. As the school year progresses and Melinda speaks less and less to her teachers, parents, and classmates, the reason behind her silence is revealed. Readers will cheer Melinda on as she tries to come to terms with what happened to her and find her voice again in this powerful coming of age novel.

Critical Analysis

Award winning author Laurie Halse Anderson tackles a very difficult subject with honesty and authenticity in this coming of age story. Melinda Sordino is a character that readers will immediately care for as she faces her first day of high school as an outsider, “I am clanless… I am Outcast.” Melinda’s abrupt actions ending a summer party have turned everyone against her, and she navigates the beginning of high school with only the new girl, Heather, speaking to her.

As if that isn’t bad enough, Melinda hates most of her classes, and former friends and strangers shun her. The one reprieve is her art class, where kind Mr. Freeman offers a glimpse of hope, “Welcome to the only class that will teach you how to survive.” Her yearlong art assignment is to turn ‘tree’ from a word to a piece of art, which becomes another theme woven throughout the book.

Melinda’s story unfolds throughout her freshman year. As her grades drop and her throat closes in making it more and more difficult to talk, what happened at the party is revealed, “My throat squeezes shut, as if two hands of black fingernails are clamped on my windpipe. I have worked so hard to forget every second of that stupid party… I can’t tell them what really happened. I can’t even look at that part myself.”

Anderson slowly exposes the rape that Melinda endured by IT, Andy Evans, one of the most popular seniors on campus, and her helplessness in knowing how to deal with the tragic event and the ostracism that ensues. Her portrayal of Melinda’s fear and vulnerability are woven throughout the book, as she sinks deeper and deeper into depression and despair. Young adult readers will relate to the portrayal of high school cliques, frustrations with teachers, administrators, and parents, and the underlying desire for friendship and acceptance. Melinda’s feelings of helplessness are real and griping, and readers are hopeful as she decides to warn her former best friend, Rachel, about Andy Evans, who now is pursuing her.

Mr. Freeman’s encouragement continues as he instructs Melinda on approaching her art assignment and her life, “This looks like a tree, but it is an ordinary, everyday, boring tree…Scar it, give it a twisted branch – perfect trees don’t exist. Nothing is perfect.”

The book’s ending shows a transformed Melinda as she is forced to confront another attack by IT, but this time with a hopeful ending, and the realization of her own power, “IT happened. There is no avoiding it, no forgetting. No running away, or flying or burying, or hiding… It wasn’t my fault. He hurt me. It wasn’t my fault. And I’m not going to let it kill me. I can grow.” Melinda is able to find her voice, her power, unclench her throat, and speak for herself and her future.

Review Excerpts

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY starred review: “Anderson infuses the narrative with a with a wit that sustains the heroine through her pain and holds readers’ empathy. The book’s overall gritty realism and Melinda’s hard-won metamorphosis will leave readers touched and inspired.”

BOOKLIST: “Melinda’s voice is distinct, unusual, and very real as recounts her past and present experiences in bitterly ironic, occasionally even amusing vignettes. Melinda’s sarcastic wit, honesty, and courage will maker her a memorable character whose ultimate triumph will inspire and empower readers.”

Awards

Michael L.  Printz Honor Book

National Book Award Finalist

ALA Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults

School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Booklist Top 10 First Novels (1999)

Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year 1999

Connections

  • Poetry Connection – Read and discuss the poem Listen that is in the back of the book, or download from Laurie Halse Anderson’s Web Site www.madwomanintheforest.com . The poem is comprised of comments the author has received from readers after reading the book.
  • Visit Laurie Halse Anderson’s Web Site and download classroom discussion guides.
  • Have student research and report on sexual assault and local resources for victims.
  • Watch the movie and discuss how the book and film differ. Some questions to ask: is the movie true to the book, what was left out, how did the impact the story.
  • Books to explore: Wintergirls, Twisted both by Laurie Halse Anderson

Image from madwomanintheforest.com

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Realistic Fiction – Joey Pigza Loses Control

Joey Pigza Loses Control

Bibliography

Gantos, Jack. 2000. JOEY PIGZA LOSES CONTROL. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0374399891.

Plot Summary

Joey Pigza travels through life a little out of control, because he’s a hyperactive kid. As long as he puts on a new patch of his medicine everyday Joey is okay. But when he spends the summer with his Dad, who he is meeting for the first time in many years, things don’t go according to plan. Joey learns a lot about his hyperactive Dad, his grandmother, and himself in this fast paced novel. Ultimately Joey must decide what’s more important, pleasing his father or getting his life back in control.

Critical Analysis

Award winning author Jack Gantos explores the themes of family and making choices in this contemporary fiction novel. Joey Pigza is a likeable kid, with a great heart, who also has ADHD. Gantos does an excellent job in this first person narrative getting inside Joey’s head and sharing just what it’s like to be hyperactive, and how is new meds help him, “But after I got my good meds, which were a patch I stuck on my body every day, I started to settle down and think. …And the best part about thinking good things was that now I could make them come true instead of having everything I wanted blow up in my face.”

One of the good things Joey wants is to get to know his Dad. On the drive to his Dad’s house for his summer stay, Joey asks his Mom a lot of What if questions about what might happen when he sees his father for the first time in many years. But mostly Joey just wants his dad’s love, “I just want him to love me as much as I already love him.” Other characters in the book are Joey’s grandmother, his dog Pablo, and his Dad’s levelheaded girlfriend, Leezy, who ultimately helps Joey make the right choice for himself.

Joey soon learns that his Dad is as hyperactive as he is, but without meds and a tendency to drink. Carter Pigza also has his own ideas about Joey and his meds, and he’s certain that Joey can be a ‘normal kid’ and win the baseball championship with his amazing pitching ability. Joey’s Dad convinces him it’s best to throw away his meds, and while Joey knows it’s a bad idea he agrees, “And yet, even though I knew he was wrong, he was my dad, and I wanted him to be right. More than anything, I wanted him to have all the answers.”

Gantos writing style is full of humor and fast paced action as Joey navigates his summer adventures, and some difficult issues, with his colorful family. Whether pushing Grandma in the shopping cart to get her cigarettes, covering himself with shaving cream, or being “the spinner on a game board of downtown Pittsburgh” Joey’s honest, thoughtful approach to life will resonate with young adult readers.

Ultimately Joey knows what’s best for him and takes control of his life again by calling his Mom for help, “I haven’t been taking my medicine and I thought I was normal but I’m not and now I’m like my old self and I’m in trouble with Dad and I’m really scared.” Readers will cheer Joey’s decision, and his heartfelt reunion with his Mom in this honest, funny, and poignant realistic fiction book.

Review Excerpts

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: “This high-voltage, honest novel mixes humor, pain, fear and courage with deceptive ease. Struggling to please everyone even as he sees himself hurtling toward disaster, Joey emerges as a sympathetic hero, and his heart of gold never loses its shine.”

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “Readers will be drawn in immediately to the boy’s gripping first-person narrative and be pulled pell-mell through episodes that are at once hilarious, harrowing, and ultimately heartening as Joey grows to understand himself and the people around him.”

Awards

ALA Notable Children’s Book

Newbery Honor Book

Booklist Editors’ Choice

School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of the Year

Connections

  • Language Arts Connection – On page 52 Joey describes his conflicting feelings: “I was thinking that being away from Mom made be feel different. Like there was one Joey for Mom and a different Joey for Dad and that I was becoming two Joeys” (Gantos 52). Ask students if they have ever felt like they were two different people and have them write about the situation from the two vantage points.
  • Joey has a great time exploring Philadelphia while his Dad is at work. Have students research a city they have always wanted to visit and write about three places they would explore if they could “spin, stop, and go” like Joey did.
  • Use the book to discuss personal narrative with students. Have them write a personal narrative about a family member or friend.
  • Book Connections include I Am Not Joey Pigza, What Would Joey Do, and Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key all by Jack Gantos. Also The Rotten Ralph series by Jack Gantos.

Image from Barnes and Noble

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Historical Fiction – The Earth Dragon Awakes

The Earth Dragon Awakes:

The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

Bibliography

Yep, Laurence. 2006. THE EARTH DRAGON AWAKES: THE SAN FRANCISCO EARTHQUAKE OF 1906. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 9780060275242.

Plot Summary

Henry is the son of a banker and well-to-do family, and Chin is the son of their houseboy. The Dragon Awakes tells of their struggle to survive the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Yep alternates between the two boys stories, and intersperses the story with chapters detailing the historic and scientific details of the devastating disaster in this action packed adventure.

Critical Analysis

Young readers will eagerly follow the story of eight-year-old Henry and nine-year-old Chin as they endure the Earthquake of 1906 and struggle with their families to survive the devastation left behind. Although Henry and Chin come from very different worlds, they are good friends and they both enjoy reading about heroes like Wyatt Earp in their “penny dreadfuls” as Henry’s mother calls them.

Yep opens the story with foreshadowing as Henry’s dog, Sawyer, is upset, “Sawyer lifts his head and begins to howl again. Henry wishes he know what was upsetting him.” As Chin arrives home in Chinatown later that night, his neighbor Ah Quon is asking heaven, “to keep the Earth Dragon quiet.” But the Earth Dragon does not keep still and early on the morning of April 18th 1906, 375,000 square miles shake violently. The themes of family, survival, and community are woven throughout the book as Yep alternates between Henry and Chin’s very different neighborhoods and how the Earthquake and the subsequent fires destroy the city on the bay, and the residents fight to make it out alive.

Amidst the chaos that surrounds him, Henry sees his father in a new light, “Henry thought Marshal Earp was brave. But no outlaw was as deadly as Nature. This is an even bigger battle. And his father doesn’t back down.” In Chinatown, Chin now sees his father as a hero as well, “ ‘You saved me,’ Chin says. He was wrong to think his father wasn’t a hero.” The parallel story lines detail how the main characters, Henry and Mr. and Mrs. Travis in their affluent neighborhood, and Chin and Ah Sing in Chinatown, try to work with their neighbors in getting as many people out alive as possible. Mrs. Travis’ umbrella collection weaves another thread throughout the book, bringing some humor amidst the tragedy, but based on a real story.

Yep brings authenticity to the story when he alternates Henry and Chin’s stories of survival with chapters detailing scientific and historic facts about the 1906 Earthquake. Early in the book he explains in simple terms about tectonic plates, “The surface itself is broken into pieces called plates. Tall mountains and deep seafloors, people, animals, fish and forests are all on top of these plates.” Later he describes in detail the devastation from the earthquake, and the many ways the firemen work to stop the Great Fire from totally destroying the city.

The Afterword brings further authenticity to the story as this award winning author shares the sources of his research and his personal inspiration in writing this story. Yep also includes several historical photos showing the destruction in individual homes and throughout San Francisco.

Review Excerpts

BOOKLIST: “Told in the present tense, the narration provides a “you are there” sense of immediacy and will appeal to readers who enjoy action-packed survival stories.”

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “The stories depict heroic people doing heroic things and, while both boys appreciate their fathers, they certainly do not regard them as heroes. Not, that is, until the Earth Dragon roars into consciousness one spring morning, tearing the city asunder and making heroes out of otherwise ordinary men.”

Awards

Sunshine State Young Reader’s Award

Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee

Connections

  • Before reading the book with students look at this Book Trailer on School Tube: http://www.schooltube.com/video/eb9cc74e2a5239b45055/The-Earth-Dragon-Awakes-Book-Trailer
  • Explore the resources on United States Geological Society’s Web Site about the 1906 Earthquake, including photos, eyewitness accounts, and more: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/regional/nca/1906/18april/photos.php
  • Contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross or the Fire Department, and schedule a speaker to talk about disaster preparedness.
  • Divide the students into small groups to discuss the importance of working in teams and have them share examples of this from the book.
  • Science Connection – Research earthquakes and plan science activities about plate tectonics.
  • Social Studies – Use the book as an introduction to Chinese immigration.
  • Other books to explore about the 1906 Earthquake are: Earthquake at Dawn by Kristiana Gregory, and Earthquake in the Early Morning by Mary Pope Osborne.

Image from Harper Collins

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Historical Fiction – Chains

Chains

Bibliography

Anderson, Laurie Halse. 2008. CHAINS. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 9781416905858.

Plot Summary

During the Revolutionary War the Patriots are fighting for freedom from the British and Isabel is a thirteen-year-old slave girl fighting for the freedom promised to her by her dying owner. But a greedy relative sees Isabel and her sister Ruth only as property, and quickly sells them to the Locktons from New York City. Amidst the backdrop of a new home in New York City, and the cruelty of her new owners, Isabel witnesses the start of the American Revolution. She yearns for freedom and cares little whether the Patriots or the British are the ones to give it to her. But a friendship with Corazon, another slave, complicates her feelings and her actions.

Critical Analysis

Laurie Halse Anderson describes her historical fiction as historical thrillers and that title aptly describes the story of Isabel in this fast paced book. Anderson explores the themes of freedom and family throughout this beautifully crafted book set during the American Revolution.

Isabel is an admirable character who works tirelessly for her owners, and is fiercely protective of her younger sister, Ruth, who is epileptic. Yet her new owner sees an independent streak in Isabel and she does all she can to make her life miserable. Isabel’s contempt for Madam Lockton is evident throughout, “Madam looked down without seeing me… She did not look into my eyes, she did not see the lion inside. She did not see the me of me, the Isabel.”

Upon arrival in New York City, Isabel meets Corazon, a black slave with an independent streak, who is owned by a Patriot. He helps her find her way the first day in a new city, a new life. He encourages her to spy on her Master and share what she finds with those fighting for freedom from the British. Initially she sees this as the way to gain freedom for herself and Ruth, but soon finds that freedom is not so easily won.

In weaving the theme of freedom throughout the story, Anderson shows its importances in many instances. There is the fight for freedom by the Patriots and Isabel’s fight to gain the freedom that was denied her. As Isabel’s attempts to gain her freedom are squelched time and again, she fights for snipets of personal freedom amidst the oppression imposed by Madam Locket. Isabel arranges to wake early and gather the water for the household and on her way sneaks to the prison to help care for Corzon who has been captured by the British.

Isabel realizes she will never be allowed freedom from Madam Locket, “She was set on keeping my arms and legs dancing to her tune and my soul bound in her chains.” While she finds no relief from the harsh working conditions in the Locket household, she finds some kindness from their aunt, Lady Seymour, who eventually encourages Isabel to seek her own freedom. The book ends with Isabel taking her first steps toward the hope for freedom.

This award-winning author beautifully describes the drudgery of being a slave and the grueling working conditions Isabel endures, rising before the sun to start the fire in the kitchen and working without rest until Madam Locket dismisses her to her sleeping palet in the basement, amongst the potatoes. Anderson adds to the authenticity of the story with excerpts from primary sources at the beginning of each chapter. An example of this is from the Journal of Samuel B. Webb, Washington’s Aide-de-camp, “…Received information that a most horrid plot was on foot by the vile Tory’s… to assassinate His Excellency, and the other general officers.”

In the Appendix at the end of the book, Anderson answers questions about writing the book and gives further historic facts which she weaves throughout the story.

Review Excerpts

THE HORN BOOK: “Anderson’s novel is remarkable for its strong sense of time and place and for its nuanced portrait of slavery and of New York City during the Revolutionary War.”

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL:  “Well researched and affecting in its presentation, the story offers readers a fresh look at the conflict and struggle of a developing nation.”

Awards

Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, 2009

National Book Award Finalist, 2008

Top 10 Black History Books for Youth, 2009

ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2009

Connections

  • Download Discussion Questions from Laurie Halse Anderson’s Web Site, http://madwomanintheforest.com/teachers/historical-chains/. Use as a discussion with the class all together, or by having students break into small groups.
  • Share with students Laurie Halse Anderson’s Inspiration for Chains from her Web Site http://madwomanintheforest.com/teachers/historical-chains/.
  • Read the continuation of the story in Anderson’s book Forge, which is told from Corazon’s perscpective.
  • Share other books about the American Revolution including Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution, a picture book by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume 1: The Pox Party, by M. T. Anderson, Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, and Sarah Bishop by Scott O’Dell.
  • Have students create a diorama depicting one of the scenes from the book.

Image from madwomanintheforest.com

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Historical Fiction – Moon Over Manifest

Moon Over Manifest

Bibliography

Vanderpool, Clare. 2011. MOON OVER MANIFEST. Narration by Justine Eyre, Cassandra Campbell, and Kirby Heyborne. New York: Listening Library. ISBN 978-0307941930.

Plot Summary

Twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker is not at all happy to be left behind for the summer in Manifest, Kansas by her father Gideon, but times tough and he must try to find work. The story weaves beautifully between two time periods, Abilene’s time in 1936 with the backdrop of the Great Depression, and Gideon’s childhood in 1917 in the shadow of World War I. While the people of Manifest are very welcoming to her, Abilene quickly discovers there are long held secrets she is eager to unfold. The story alternates between Abilene’s naration, Miss Sadie “the diviner,” newspaper articles, and treasures from the past.

Critical Analysis

First time author Clare Vanderpool does a wonderful job exploring the themes of family, community, and belonging in this charming story. She also seamlessly weaves in historical facts and events from the Great Depression and World War I to provide the framework for Abilene’s time in Manifest.

Abilene is a tough and independent twelve-year-old girl who is upset when her father, Gideon, leaves her beind in Manifest so he can try to find work on the railroad. Gideon is the only family Abilene has known, although she has grown up hearing Gideon’s stories about life in Manifest. Abilene resigns herself to spending the summer there, after all she’s heard all about the town motto: “Manifest: A Town with a Rich Past and a Bright Future.” But when she jumps off the train all she sees is a “dried up old town.”

A hidden cigar box filled with trinkets and letters from the past changes Abilene’s view of the long summer ahead, and she quickly enlists her new friends Lettie and Ruthanne to help in unraveling the mysteries they hold. Miss Sadie is one of the people Abilene comes to know and she slowly shares stories from the past amidst the backdrop of World War I, Prohibition, the Ku Klux Klan and discrimination against immigrants. At first Abilene is annoyed with Miss Sadie for telling the truth in her own time, but is drawn into the tale and the teller: “As much as I had a need to hear her story, she had a need to tell it. It was as if the story was the only balm that provided any comfort”

I listened to this Audiobook as a download from Audible, and the listening time was 9 hours and 30 minutes. The unabridged version of this Newbery Award winning book had three narrators. The main narrator is Justine Eyre, with Cassandra Campbell and Kirby Heyborne sharing in the reading of newspaper articles and letters in the story. All three did an excellent job depicting the various characters voices and bringing to life the letters, stories, and articles from Hattie Mae’s Auxiliary, that help tell the story. The pace of the narration sets the tone for life in this small town and the readers voices embody Vanderpool’s imagery in bringing the two time periods alive with warmth and humor.

The audiobook concludes with the Author’s Note, which tells how Vanderpool wove together fact and fiction in writing the book. While the location is fictitious, it is based on a real town and some of the characters are based on people from the author’s family. She tells about her research into immigration, the Spanish flu, using newspapers and other sources from the time period.

The end of the book pulls together the many threads woven throughout the story for a heartwarming ending.

Review Excerpts

BOOKLIST starred review: “With believable dialogue, vocabulary and imagery appropriate to time and place, and well-developed characters, this rich and rewarding first novel is “like sucking on a butterscotch. Smooth and sweet.”

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “This thoroughly enjoyable, unique page-turner is a definite winner.”

KIRKUS REVIEWS: “The absolute necessity of story as a way to redemption and healing past wounds is at the heart of this beautiful debut, and readers will cherish every word up to the heartbreaking yet hopeful and deeply gratifying ending.”

Awards

Newbery Award, 2011

Kirkus Best Books for Children, 2010

Top 10 Best Kids Books, Historical Fiction – Instructor Magazine

Connections

  • Visit the author’s Web Site at www.clarevanderpool.com  to download Discussion Questions and the Author Question and Answer sheet. Use these tools to discuss the book and learn more about the author’s inspiration and research for the book.
  • Language Arts connection have students be a guest writer for Hattie Mae’s Auxiliary and write and publish an article based on something that interested them from the book.
  • Social Studies connection – Divide students into two groups and have each research an era from the book, World War I and the Great Depression, and share facts and stories from these time periods in history.
  • Books that explore World War I and the Great Depression: Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson, Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck, and Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm.

Image from Barnes and Noble

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Nonfiction Books – Almost Astronauts

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream

Bibliography

Stone, Tanya Lee. 2009. ALMOST ASTRONAUTS: 13 WOMEN WHO DARED TO DREAM. Sommerville: Candlewick Press. ISBN 9780763636111

Plot Summary

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream tells the true story of 13 brave women who dreamed of joining NASA as the first women astronauts. They endured strenuous testing, including hours floating in an isolation tank, and having freezing water injected into their ears.  Stone tells their story with passionate writing, historic photos, and detailed facts. She shows that while these courageous women had the right stuff, it was the wrong time for NASA, and the government to accept women, or anyone other than white men, into the space program.

Critical Analysis

Award winning author Tanya Lee Stone tells the fascinating story of the “Mercury 13 Women” with conviction and passion. In 1961 most women led very traditional lives and were not allowed to rent a car or get a bank loan without a man’s signature. Against this backdrop, Stone tells how these thirteen women were selected, tested, and fought for the right to join America’s race into space as women astronauts. All were accomplished pilots who risked job loss, discrimination, and for one, divorce, to fight for their dream.

Randolph Lovelace, the doctor who oversaw the testing of the Mercury 7 men, conducted the grueling tests and the thirteen women passed with flying colors. Stone writes, “The results offered solid scientific evidence that women were not, in fact, the weaker sex. No one could say that women weren’t strong enough, or smart enough, or fit enough, to fly into space.” And yet those facts were not enough for NASA and the government to give them that chance.

Stone includes detailed descriptions and photographs of the tests the women participated in and the fast paced writing sets the tone throughout the book. Readers will squirm as they read about Jerrie Cobb having freezing water injected into her ears to induce vertigo, and read with anticipation to see if she makes it through the many hours of the isolation tank test. This photo essay conveys the story with photographs, timelines, interviews with the surviving women, and copies of magazine articles. The media showed photos of the smiling faces of Jan and Marion Dietrich, the “first astronaut twins,” and quotes from E. K. Hopper of “Lots of room in space for women.

But behind the scenes at NASA and in Washington, the reality was a very different story. There is full page copy of a letter from Vice President Lynden Johnson squelching the women’s efforts with a bold note stating “Let’s stop this now!” written across it. Despite the bravery and determination of these thirteen women, the reality was that America wasn’t ready to allow them into space.

The book concludes with photographs of the many accomplishments of women astronauts once they were admitted into the space program in 1978. There is also a full-page color photograph of the shuttle Columbia launch in 1999 with Dr. Eileen Collins, the first woman space shuttle commander, at the helm. The remaining members of “Mercury 13” attended the launch and cheered her on from the ground. At the back of the book, Stone lists source notes, photo credits and an author’s note describing her fascination with the women and a determination to share their story.

Review Excerpts

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL starred review: “This passionately written account of a classic but little-known challenge to established gender prejudices also introduces readers to a select group of courageous, independent women.”

THE HORN BOOK starred review: “Stone presents the full story of early-sixties public discourse about women’s capabilities and clearly shows the personal, political, and physical risks taken by the women in pursuit of their dream.”

VOYA: “Any girl with an interest in space flight or the history of women’s rights will applaud these courageous pioneers.”

Awards

2010 Sibert Medal Award

ALA Notable Children’s Book

ALA Best Book for Young Adults

YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Honor

NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor

Connections

  • For a poetry connection, explore the poems Tanya Lee Stone wrote about the “Mercury 13” women, available at the author’s Web Site, www.tanyastone.com
  • Listen to an interview with the author on Vermont Public Radio athttp://www.vpr.net/news_detail/86019/
  • Science-Create a timeline of the first forty years of the space program. Include important dates and use alternate colors for events that included male and female astronauts.
  • Language Arts – Research and create a power point presentation about a woman who has been a pioneer in her field. Share the presentation with the class.

Image from tanyastone.com

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