Monthly Archives: January 2016

Traditional Thursdays: Sideways Stories from Wayside School

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I have always loved Louis Sachar’s zany book – ever since it first crossed my school desk circa the fourth grade. Seeing the play interpretation at our local children’s theatre in a later field trip was a delight, and reading it years later to my dormmates as a college kid was like revisiting one of my funniest old friends.

What makes this story so timeless? Sachar’s ’78 classic is a crazy kooky and sidewayscoverfun read that brings in the ridiculous and unbelievable and makes it perfectly normal.

A teacher who thinks her students are so cute they must be monkeys?

Ice cream that tastes like your personality, but you can’t taste it?

Dead rats sneaking into school?

A boy who just can’t stop kicking things?

Just a normal day in a school that was accidentally built 30 stories high (without a 19th)!

Sideways Stories is a chapter book that collects 30 stories, each one starring a different member of the Wayside School community. Each chapter is about four pages long, and has a different tone, determined by the character.sidewayspaul

Some are driven by narration, some by action, some by descriptions – something for every type of reader. Paul, for example, engages in intense debate with Leslie’s pigtails over whether or not he should pull them. Sharie, on the other hand, is asleep her entire chapter.

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What I most like about this story is its snappy wit. The children all have their youthful good-natured (and sometimes self-serving) naïveté, but so do the adults. And everyone states the obvious…except the obvious just happens to also be hopelessly silly. I would highly recommend this as a read aloud or a silent chuckle-aloud!

 

By: Julia McCorvey

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Winners Wednesdays: A Visit to William Blake’s Inn

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Like many of the young children who heard A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travellers by Nancy Willard as a bedtime story, I have nenew doc 1_1ver read any work by Blake. Nevertheless, the child in me found the book’s poems delightful while my college student-self marveled at Willard’s literary prowess. In 1981, the illustrations, by Alice and Martin Provensen, received a Caldecott Honor while the book itself won the Newberry Medal – the first Caldecott honoree to do so. The drawings reflect the book’s playful and imaginative tone, while the poems themselves depict a wondrous world full of dragons, angels, and characters such as the Man in the Marmalade Hat and the King of Cats. Parents and children will be able to enjoy this book together thanks to Willard’s attention to detail and the extravagant world she creates.

In entering the book, the reader is taken on a journey through William Blake’s inn along with a young resident. Before even entering the inn Willard makes it clear that the world in her book is certainly not the same one Blake lived on. “Blake’s Celestial Limousine” carries us to the inn. After shrinking his large luggage down to the size of a small envelope, the young narrator declares, “Uneasily I stepped inside/ and found the seats so green and wide,/ the grass so soft, the view so far/ it scarcely could be called a car,/ rather a wish that only flew when I climbed in and found it true.” The author’s message is clear: anything you read in this book can be true if only you believe it to be so.

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Several different poems describe a day in the life at Blake’s inn. The sun and the moon interact freely with other guests, who can proudly proclaim themselves to be rabbits, tigers, and bears. At one point, Blake leads several guests through a walk on the Milky Way. The rabbit, cat, tiger, and young boy all marvel at the stars surrounding them while the rat grumpily says that he should have stayed in bed. Blake responds by giving “silver stars to the rabbit/ and golden stars to the cat/ and emerald stars to the tiger and me/ but a handful of dirt to the rat.” Again, the author is imploring her reader to suspend his or her disbelief and travel along with Blake on his magical journey.

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The book opens with an introduction by the author. She tells the story of how she was introduced to the poems of William Blake, and, while she does not say it explicitly, it is obvious that she hopes her book will be the spark kids need to find Blake themselves. I myself intend to immediately find myself copies of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience in order to not only understand the literary techniques used by the author (English geek that I am), but to experience the same wonder that inspired her to create such an intricate and welcoming world.

– Allia Calkins (2016)

Trendy Tuesdays: Goodbye Stranger

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As 2016 begins, publications and bookstores are releasing their Best of 2015 lists, and if anyone is trending it’s Rebecca Stead. She won the Newbery Medal in 2010 for her Middle Grade mystery When You Reach Me, but her 2015 novel Goodbye Stranger tackles the social pressures of middle school with even more charming detail and subtlety, landing it on Best of 2015 lists from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, The New York Times, Amazon.com, and more. It could not be more deserving.

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Due to its three very different perspectives, Goodbye Stranger is the book that will connect with any 10-15 year-old in your classroom or life. Bridge, who goes by Bridge, the main narrator, is a twelve-year-old girl who survived a roller skating accident when she was younger and was told by doctors that she must have lived for a special reason. Regardless of where the reader is at in his or her own soul searching, they will see themselves reflected in Bridge as she searches for that reason, wears cat ears to school, and figures out where she fits in with her best friends, her family, and a new friend that’s a boy.

Sherm, said new friend, has his voice heard in short chapters that are letters from him to his grandfather who recently moved out of his house, leaving his grandmother and family reeling. Sherm gives us a boy’s view of his and Bridge’s friendship, something that feels different and needed. The bearer of the third perspective is a mystery, but she is an older girl who is skipping school to avoid the repercussions of betraying one friend to meet the demands of another. Her story is a window into what lies ahead for Bridge and her friends as they go on to 8th grade and High School, where toxic friendships and crushes will become a lot more serious. Her identity is revealed in the end, along with every other loose end that Stead expertly ties up.

While each character in this book comes fully alive, such as Bridge’s brother who competes with his manipulative best friend to win crazy bets, my favorites would have to be Bridge’s two best friends Emily and Tab. With all the “mean girl” groups of friends in Middle Grade literature, Emily, Tab, and Bridge actually love each other. Even when they say or do the wrong thing, they always have the intention of being there for one another and their friend-chemistry is refreshing and fun. Emily has developed curves over the summer and is flirting with an older boy, while Tab begins to idolize her teacher Ms. Berman, who calls herself The Berperson, and leads Tab to view their friendship and boy drama through a feminist perspective. They are so different, but so loyal to each other, and it is a great thing to see.

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When I finished this book and was asked what it was about, I couldn’t say. It is far too layered for that. To me, this book didn’t produce a message or a story as much as it did a feeling of connectedness. This book brings us into the lives of all different people in Bridge’s circle trying to figure out who they are and why they’re here. It doesn’t give an answer and will surely leave readers with questions for discussion, but it does show how all of the little things that people do for each other mean something, which is something all kids (and even teens and adults) need to hear.

“Life is where you sleep and what you see when you wake up in the morning, and who you tell about your weird dream, and what you eat for breakfast and who you eat it with. Life isn’t something that happens to you. It’s something you make yourself, all the time.”

– Rebecca Stead, Goodbye Stranger

 

– Rebecca Bendheim