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Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter

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Chinese Cinderella is Adeline Yen Mah's memoir about growing up neglected and unwanted. While many elements of the tale are distinctly Chinese, Mah's emotional tale resonates with readers of any culture. By entitling her memoir Chinese Cinderella, from the very beginning she invites the reader to make connections between her life and that of Cinderella's. Yet, the Chinese cultural and historical elements make this story a unique one. The book begins with a paragraph-long dedcation to all unwanted children worldwide. The following page, Contents, outlines the book with straightforward titles. Mah writes the chapter titles and numbers in English as well as Chinese. She includes Author's Note, which explains written Chinese. Finally, in the last section before the narrative of the memoir begins, there is a Preface that sheds some light onto the author's purpose for writing: "For those who were neglected and unloved as children, I have a particular message...please be convinced that each of you has within you something precious and unique." Her musings on strength in the face of adversity is followed by a practical, breif tutorial in Chinese names and number system. Mah does her best to prepare you emotionaly and cognitively for her tale. The tale proceeds in a simple chronological manner. The wording and vocabulary she employs is concise and effective. Elements of the popular western Cinderella story are present: dead natural mother, evil stepmother, befriended by animals, favored step-siblings and diligence and optimism in the face of adversity. However, the similarities between the popular version of Cinderella and Mah's story are subtle, thus preventing the memoir from becoming a parody. Additionally, always in the background, is a changing China, adding texture, gravity and originality to the story. There are a few pages of family photos included, as well as a couple of transcripts of letters and stories written by and to Mah. Also, after the end of the memoir, included are notes about the original Chinese Cinderella. Mah includes the actual tale of the Chinese Cinderella written in Chinese on the next page. In her explanation, Mah notes the abscence of punctution, the beauty of the characters, and how the books were physically made. Following this section is a Historical Note. The Historical Note is basically a review of all that was mentioned in the text, yet strained and isolated from the personal story. If I were to use this book in a class, I would have the students read all of the additional information, including the Historical Note and information about the original Chinese Cinderella, before reading the text itself. The addendums serve as excellent background-building, prereading exercises.
A Lime, a Mime, a Pool of Slime: More about Nouns

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A Lime, a Mime, a Pool of Slime: More About Nouns is one in a series of books about parts of speech. The book, while following the typical format of a non-text book about grammar, is as effective as the teacher that uses it. The book is a brightly colored, rhyming romp through nouns. The first page after the title page contains a brief, traditional definition of a noun. From that point on the book is a collection of sentences and illustrations that work together not to tell a story, but to highlight that revered staple of speech, the noun. The book moves from the general to the more specific. In the beginning, nouns are simply listed. The nouns are brightly colored, allowing them to stand out from the rest of the print. Eventually, the book moves into abstract and proper nouns. Explanations and examples of the specific noun types are given. While the prose is not particullary interesting, there are some features that can be ellaborated upon to make the book more effective. There is some effort to include unique, informal and vivid nouns such as bling (as in ostentageous jewerly), shack, slime, hand-me-downs, and chimp. There are illustrated examples of all the nouns, thus making the book an informal picture dictionary. Finally, there are many geographical references made to such interesting places as Norway, Peru, Boston, Timbuktu, and Paris, France. A discussion could be has as to how elements of these places, proper nouns, are represented in the illustrations.
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World

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Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong recounts the adventure of Sir Earnest Shackelton, his crew and their vessel, The Endurance. Armstrong jumps right into the thick of the voyage after a brief first chapter. The narrative is streamline, beginning when The Endurance sets sail and ends, perhaps abruptly, when the crew is rescued. But for the very brief epilogue, nothing is mentioned about the aftermath of the rescue. It is though after resoulution of the main conflict, the tale ends; no falling action. However, the events and people that are mentioned are done so vividly and effectively. While the content is satisfying, the most outstanding aspect of the book is its format. The cover is a near canvas of white except for the bottom third, which contains a photograph of the harnessed crew dragging a boat behind them. The imposing blank background impresses upon the view a sense of isolation and impotence in the face of nature. Throughout the book there are more amazing photos that transplant the reader into a barren, Antarctic wasteland bespeckeled by only their own human settlements. There are photos of the crew, their ship, before and after icy torture, as well as snapshots of thier everyday lives. One page contains four crew portraits; these portraits put a face on man's desire for adventure and exploration. The deeply creased faces of the men speak not of a coddled life, but of weather and sea and peril. Over and over the photographs depict the struggle playing out in the book: nature's fury and harshness and the human drive to conquer it. The book also contains maps, blueprints of The Endurance, lists of crew members and their specialaties in relation to the voyage. The text is interesting and it is easy to follow the chain of events transpiring in the book. There are humerous anecdotes, such as Mrs. Chippy and the stowaway, as well as tense tales of near mutiny. However, the photos taken by an Endurance crew members are what really sets this book apart. We all know what a picture is worth.
Children of the Dust Bowl

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Chidren of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp tells of the exodus of thounsands of dust bowl residents during the devistating drought that struck the western plains of the United States between 1936-1940. The intoduction, entitled Mr. Steinbeck's Book, puts forth a secondary theme that will wind throughout the book: social justice and class discrimination. Jerry Stanley tells of the heated response to John Steinbeck's novel, The Grapes of Wrath. While The Grapes of Wrath is now considered a great American novel, at the time of its publication, it was considered one-sided, obscene, "untrue" and called by one congressman "the black, infernal creation of a twisted, distorted mind." Stanley presents this controversy and backlash to highlight the negative opinions and feelings regarding the migrant Okies. These sentiments are echoed throughout Stanley's book in the reaction of California residents and school system to the Okies and their struggle, in many cases, for existance. The first half of the book is dedicated to explaining the human and geological factors contributing to the migration, as well as life pre and post migration. The hardships faced are exemplified in the photos included in the book, photos taken by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) during this time period. The photos capture the absolute destitution and squalor encompasing the lives of the Okies. The second half of the book narrows its scope and focuses on Leo Hart, a man determined to improve the education of the Okie children, an unwanted element in California at the time. Jerry Stanley follows Hart's creation of Weedpatch school, a school intended for the outcast Okies, outlining the trials and successes of his endeavor. In Children of the Dust Bowl, Leo Hart is the representative of social justice, fighting for those without a voice.
Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade

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Balloons Over Broadway recounts the ingenuity and creativity of Tony Sagh and his how he helped engineered the Macy's Day parade. The book opens with Tony,a curious youth, inventing a mechanism for feeding chickens and making life easier. This incident highlights a love of science and troubleshooting abilities that characterize Tony and contribute to his success.
Gold! Gold from the American River!: January 24, 1848: The Day the Gold Rush Began

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Gold! Gold from the American River is a sweeping look at the California rush. Despite its thin spine, the book covers a wide range of topics. The author, Don Brown, takes a very personal approach to the tale telling. He employees James Marshall's cry of "Gold!" and his subsequent death as bookends with which he props up the story of the gold rush. However, in between those bookends, is a wide variety of information intended to provide the reader with panoramic view of the lifestyle, hardships, politics, sucesses and failures of the adventurous souls traversing the wild west. Just a few of the areas skimmed are the dangers of transcontinental travel, business aspects of mining, geography, American Indians, Chinese immigrants, women's roles, those who profited and those whose tales were of tribulations and penniless deaths. Brown narrates his text via third person, he includes many quotes, excerpts and other first-hand narratives, furthering his more individualized, realistic and relatable take on the past. In his source notes, he sites the library of congress as a major resource. He also includes several websites for further investigation. In the classroom, because of the breadth of the material covered, I would use this book to provide a general background intended to suggest possible areas of more in-depth study.
Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944

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Upon the Head of a Goat is a plainly told memoir of a 9 year-old Jewish girl, Piri, growign up during WWII. The book is broken up into three sections: Komjaty, a Ukranian village, Beregszasz, her Hungarian home, and The Ghetto where her and her family are forced after their city is evacuated. The tone is matter-of-fact. It is not didactic or preachy; it is the tale of a survivor. The memoir spans the years 1939-1944. The book is Aranka Siegal's tale, yet the main character is named Piri. In the photo at the beginning of the book, she identifies all of the family members, however, she lables herself 'Piri.' Why did she change her name? Was it a nickname or term of endearment given to her by her family? Or, perhaps it provides some distance between author and character when writing? Was using her own name too traumatizing, or,in contrast, by using a personal, private family name, was a more personal ora invoked? The story has various themes throughout. One is information or the lack thereof. In the beginning of the book Piri is shielded from truth by her grandmother. Newspapers are hidden from her. When Piri sees dead bodies of soldiers in a river, she inquires about the scene. Her grandmother stalls as long as she can until finally she asserts "They're at peace now." The matter is not discussed further. The complication of sending and recieving letters also plagues the families, and they live in a state of constant uncertainity. The Jewish community relies on itself for news of what is to come, though there isn't much. Whenever a new family enters the ghetto, they are prodded for information. Presently, with a 24-hour news cycle and internet access, it is so very difficult for students to imagine what it is to live starved for information. The characters in the book are so desperate for news of their world and yet, they are denied access. The end of the book is rather abrupt. For readers versed in history, the final page of the memoir is heart-wrenching. There, upon the page, is a word with such unfathomably horrid connotations and images that anyone associated with it is bound to have experienced suffering. In the last paragraph the readers learn that Piri and her family are going to 'Auschwitz.' And while that is basically the end of the book, it is by no means the end of the tale. There is an Afterword that relays what actually becomes of Piri and her family. While I appreciate the firmness with which the Aranka Siegal sticks to the genre of memoir, I grew fond of and concerned about the character and her family. I would have like to know more.
Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly

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Writing Magic is a how-to guide for aspiring young authors of fiction, as well as a tool Language Arts teachers can use to further the understanding of literature and the writing process. Gail Carson Levine uses simple language, sound advice and vivid examples to lead readers through the process of writing. With a warm, conversational tone and a flexible approach to writing, Carson reveals how to crush useless self-criticism, begin a story, create inviting 'white space',develop characters and dialogue, select point of view, create suspension of disbelief, and generate ideas. The end of each chapter contains a writing activity designed to provide an opportunity to develop a specific skill or element. These activities could also be used by English teachers as an addendum or enrichment in class to further a particular literary element. For example, in Chapter 14, point of view is outlined in a way that not only benefits writing, but encourages a reader to become more aware of author's intention and style. The chapter illuminates the thought process behind the section of perspective as well as demonstrates the effect. Overall, Writing Magic serves as an effective way to teach reading and writing in a more holistic manner.
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