January’s Sparrow

January's Sparrow9780399250774_p0_v1_s260x420January’s Sparrow

Patricia Polacco, Author and Illustrator

Philomel Books, Fiction, 2009

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  African-American, Slavery, Fugitives, Underground Railroad, Freedom

Opening/Synopsis“Sadie, the youngest Crosswhite, shuddered when she saw the paddy rollers thunder into the slave yard on their horses, draggin’ a runaway on the end of a rope behind them.  All the slaves had been ordered to stand at the porch rail that mornin’.”  Sadie was horrified when she realized that the men were dragging and beating January, who was like a brother to her.   He had carved a  sparrow for her days earlier and she knew he was going to run.  Adam and Sarah Crosswhite overheard that two of their four children were going to be sold.  The fled the Kentucky Plantation with only the clothes on their back and in the middle of the night.   They made a harrowing trip across the Ohio River into Indiana and traveled the Underground Railroad north to freedom in Marshall, Michigan.  In Marshall, there was a growing number of Negro families who found support and friendship in the white community.  Sadie’s father and brothers found jobs, and Sadie attended school.  But, the family was always on the look-out for bounty hunters and angry masters searching for runaway slaves.  One day a package arrived with Sadie’s treasured sparrow inside.  Attached to it was a note that said, “I found you.”  What will her family do?  Readers will be surprised by the ending.

Why I like this book:  Patricia Polacco has taken a true story that she discovered a few miles from her Michigan home and written a compelling story for children about slavery and the underground railroad.  In fact the home she lives in was site of underground activity.  In writing this story, Polacco used “dialect modified from slave narratives,” which enhanced the unique voice of January.  Polacco did a lot of research about the Crosswhite family and the amazing community of Marshall, MI, which adds considerably to the story’s authenticity.  Polacco’s vivid and colorful artwork is done with charcoal and watercolor.  She captures the fear, terror, pain and the joy in her powerful, detailed and expressive illustrations.  Visit Patricia Polacco on her website.  You can see a photo of her home built in the 1800s, and learn some interesting facts about famous visitors.

Resources:  Patricia Polacco has a Guide for Educators with Curriculum Connections, Discussion Questions and Classroom Activities, including a Reading Response Journal.  You will need to scroll down the PDF file to find January’s Sparrow.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Bully – Bully Prevention Month

Bully

Patricia Polacco, author and illustrator

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for:  Grades 3-5

Theme: Cyberbullying, Friendship, Popularity, Schools

Opening“It was my first day at my new school.  I lived right across the bay from the Golden Gate Bridge now, and it was beautiful to look at, but it wasn’t home yet, and I dreaded going to school.  I missed my old school — and all my friends.  My stomach was churning and my heart was pounding out of my chest.” 

Synopsis:  Lyla quickly makes friends with Jamie.  They eat lunch together and watch sci-fi movies on Fridays.  Jamie is also computer savvy and helps Lyla set up a Facebook page on her computer.  Lyla makes the cheerleading squad and wins some awards at school.  The popular girls take note of her and invite her into their group.  Lyla begins to pays less attention to Jamie.  But, when Lyla watches her new friend Gage surf the computer to leave nasty and hurtful remarks on the Facebook pages of targeted classmates, including Jamie.  Lyla drops out of their group and hangs out with Jamie.  This clique of girls is mean.  When Lyla musters the courage to stand up to Gage about her bullying behavior towards Jamie and other kids, the girls take revenge.  Lyla finds herself the target of an even bigger cyberbullying scheme.

Why I like this book:  This is the first picture book I’ve seen for older kids that  deals with cyberbullying.  Patricia Polacco has written a much-needed book on such an important topic.   It is an excellent book that escalates when the cheerleaders take revenge and steal achievement tests.  But, Polacco is crafty in her judgement to let the students solve the problem on their own, with Jamie’s superb computer skills.  Polacco talks about bullying in a note to her readers at the end.   “I myself was a victim of teasing because of my learning disabilities.  In my case, this involved only a few other children.  But if e-mail, text messaging, blogging, and tweeting had existed in my time, I would have felt the entire world scrutinizing and passing judgment on me.  I wrote this book on behalf of children everywhere.” 

Resources:  This is a great discussion book for the classroom.  Check out the National Bullying Prevention Center.  They have a special site for kids and teens to join against bullying.   Click here to visit Patricia Polacco’s website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

The Art of Miss Chew

The Art of Miss Chew

Patricia Polacco, Author and Illustrator

G.P. Putnam’s Sons,  April 2012, Fiction

Suitable for: Ages 5 and up

Theme: Artistic Expression, Autobiographical, Learning Disabilities, Self-esteem

Opening/Synopsis:  “I discovered how much I loved art the summer I spent with my grandmother and father in Michigan.  Grandma was an artist; she drew and painted so beautifully!  Grandma even told me that I was a natural artist, so I couldn’t wait to take Art at school next fall when I got home to California.  I only had one problem left –tests.  I just couldn’t seem to pass them.”  Trisha loves school, but she has a lot of trouble reading.   Her new teacher, Mr. Donovan, recognizes that she is smart, but needs more time taking test.  He gives her that time and she begins to pass them.  He also discovers her artistic talent when he sees one of her drawings.  Since there isn’t an art program in her school, Mr. Donovan arranges for Trisha to study art with Miss Chew, head of the high school art department, twice a week.  Miss Chew inspires Trisha “to see” an object before she draws.  Trisha carries her sketch book with her everywhere.  One day Mr. Donovan’s father dies and he has to leave for Ireland.  The stern substitute teacher sees no value in art and attempts to derail Trisha’s art classes.  But, Trisha and Miss Chew have a plan to outsmart the new teacher.

What I like about this book:   This is a heartwarming  autobiography of author/illustrator Patricia Polacco and the people who nurtured her artistic abilities, including two real teachers she names in the book.  This book is a lovely tribute to the educators who spotted her talent and encouraged her in that direction.  Patricia Polacco is an outstanding storyteller.  Her story is an important read for young aspiring artists, and for kids who have trouble reading.   Her colorful and bold illustrations evoke a lot of emotion and fun.  She has created over 50 picture books.  In a note to her readers, Polacco says “The tragedy is that today, too often monies are no longer available in many public schools to support art, music, drama, or descriptive arts programs.  How could this be?  Art teaches us to speak a language that originates in the heart, the soul and earliest memories.  How could any course be more important?”  Click here to visit Patricia Polacco’s website.

Activities:  Encourage your children to do art projects at a young age.  Introduce them to a variety of art supplies, crayons, colored pencils, chalk, paints, drawing pads and molding clay.    Many recreation centers, YMCA’s and art galleries have art and craft programs throughout the summer and year.  Visit art galleries, topiary gardens and concerts.  Create a space in your home to showcase your child’s artwork and let your child know how much joy his/her drawing brings you.

Additional Resources:  Colleague Beth Stilborn featured the “Arts and Books on Vacation” series on her blog last summer.  She focused on a variety of art programs for youth in New York City, Los Angeles, Canada and London.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.  Perfect Picture Books will be going on vacation after today’s posts,  and all the contributors will resume again September 7.    I will continue to publish book reviews and do some interviews throughout the summer, perhaps with some breaks.