Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Giver Trilogy Classroom Activities

This is an activity I did when I taught two sections of sixth grade reading, but it could be done by splitting one class into two groups. One class reads The Giver, while the other class simultaneously reads Gathering Blue. Use any method you wish - large group, literature circles, preplanned unit - whatever works best for you and your students.

At the end of the novels each class makes one large novel chart for their book. Go see the art teacher and get some of that paper on the big ole' rolls and cut yourself about a 20 foot piece. For The Giver use black, and for Gathering Blue use blue. Hang it sideways on the wall. (We covered up a couple bulletin boards and part of the white board. A boring stretch of hallway would work nicely too.)

Divide the entire paper into 4 rows. Down the left side label the rows characters, setting, and summary. (Leave the top row blank.) Then divide the paper into columns. Leave the first column blank. Then label each column by section of the book. (Chapter 1, Chapter 2-3, Chapter 4-6, etc. or however you divided up the reading for your units.) Then fill in each space - the setting of Chapter 1, the characters in Chapter 1, and a summary of Chapter 1, and so on. Each space should be large enough for a normal sized piece of paper. Rows should be 9 inches tall. Columns should be 12 inches wide. (Would a picture or diagram of this be helpful? Let me know.

All of the labels and literary elements in The Giver's novel chart should be typed. Use the same font - a nice bland one - and print on white paper. After the novel chart is assembled it will be a great illustration of Sameness and will also represent the black and white world of Jonas' community.

All of the labels and literary elements in Gathering Blue's novel chart should be handwritten and colorfully designed. Students may use any color they wish except blue. Encourage creativity, especially in the use of color. Since Kira told the history of the community through her stitching, characters and settings (and possibly summaries) could be drawn rather than written for the novel chart. Before attaching them to the chart, burn the edges to give them an old, tattered look.

After all this is done, start reading Messenger with both groups. I chose to read it aloud so that we could discuss the connections to The Giver and Gathering Blue as they appeared in the story. After each day's reading, students discussed what they knew from their previous novel that helped them understand the events of Messenger. Then they had the responsibility of describing this knowledge to the other class. For example:
  1. In the beginning of Messenger, readers meet Seer and Matty, both characters from Gathering Blue. The Gathering Blue class then described what they knew about these characters to the students in The Giver group.
  2. When readers meet Leader, students who read The Giver will recognize him as Jonas. These students then describe for the other group what they know about Jonas from The Giver that helps them understand why a person so young would have the experiences necessary to be the leader of an entire Village.

Options other than reading Messenger aloud could include mixing the two original groups into two new groups, creating small groups that mix students from the original groups, or creating small groups that maintain the original split and then partnering a The Giver group with a Gathering Blue group for the descriptions.

That's a lot of information, folks, and I hope it all made sense. If you have questions, send me an email. Better yet, if something is unclear, post a comment and I'll respond with comments so others benefit from the added information.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mergers by Steven L. Layne

Dirk Tyrone awakes groggily, unable to recognize where he is, knowing only that he's bound and unable to move. He's also unable to concentrate. His ability to enter another's mind is being blocked as he tries to telepathically discern the source of the cries of pain he hears. Apparently others are captive too! Mentally struggling against this barrier, Dirk breaks free and travels - his mind travels - to Dr. Lisa Tyrone who has been tortured to the point of death.

Soon we learn about Dirk's friends, and the only family he has, Nicci , Mateo, and Keiko. Like Dirk each has a unique ability. Nicci can travel through time, Mateo can physically change forms, and Keiko can heal, both herself and others. Together they free one another and attempt to free Dr. Lisa Tyrone, who's secretly raised them all from birth. Unfortunately the rescue plays right into the hands of Senator Broogue.

Senator Broogue, the leader of the Legion for World Alliance, has manipulated world leaders and events to bring a world-wide society in which Dr. Tyrone and the four friends are a risk. A serious risk. Dirk is Caucasian. Nicci is African. Keiko is Asian. Matteo is Hispanic. The world as Senator Broogue has crafted it has been merged into a society with no racial differences and no memory of them. He envisions a world with no racial conflict, and by eliminating separate races, Senator Broogue has (in his mind) succeeded...until these children arrived, each displaying the distinct physical characteristics of four races eliminated by the Merger. Dr. Tyrone knew the children would be murdered at birth in order to protect the Merger, so she took them into hiding and secretly raised them.

The four kids are rescued at the last minute by Madam Moment, Mrs. Morph, and Dr. Panacea, three adults who share the kids' abilities but whose talents are much more highly developed. Dirk, Nicci, Keiko, and Matteo learn quite a history lesson from them about Senator Broogue, the beginnings of the Merger, and what life would be like without the Merger. Then they receive training to use their abilities more skillfully, knowing that only through reliance upon one another will the four of them be able to reverse the Merger, defeat Senator Broogue, and restore Earth to it's rightful, diverse self.

Readers will enjoy the fast paced story, especially the escape attempt at the beginning and the thrilling climax. Even Dirk, Nicci, Keiko, and Matteo's history lessons move along quickly. The flashbacks to Madam Moment, Mrs. Morph, and Dr. Panacea's (and Senator Broogue's) childhoods are filled with enough intrigue to hold reader interest, but the descriptions of Senator Broogue's calculating and manipulating actions will have readers hoping he won't succeed, knowing all the while that he does. Readers, along with characters, are faced with questions throughout the book about diversity, life, conflict, power, and the cost of each.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Silly Billy by Anthony Browne

Billy is a worrier. He has typical worries like clouds and rain. He has atypical worries like hats and shoes. He has an active imagination that takes his worries to dramatic ends like shoes walking by themselves out the window or rain filling his room matress deep in water. Is that a shark fin slicing through the waves?

His father comforts him. His mother reassures him. But worriers are strong. Worriers can resist the strength of comforting fathers and reassuring mothers.

Finally, when on a sleepover to her house, Grandma gives him a solution. (Later readers learn this solution is a Guatemalan legend.) Worry dolls. Simply tell your worries to the tiny worry dolls, place them under your pillow, and they will do your worrying for you while you get a good night’s rest.

This work great! Billy sleeps like a log…for a while, until a new worry strikes. Billy is now worried about his new friends, the worry dolls! Billy, however, with wisdom gained from his grandmother, comes up with the perfect solution.

My favorite parts of the book are the seemingly framed photographs of Billy’s worries. Even kids who share similar worries will see the silliness in the pictures. The book certainly doesn’t end up where I thought it would – I didn’t predict any Guatemalan legends – but the resolution is clever, and I found myself proud of Billy and his creative solution.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Giver Trilogy by Lois Lowry

The Giver Certainly the most well known of the three titles, this Newbery Medal winner tells the story of Jonas and his community. Jonas has been selected, not assigned like his classmates, for his new occupation. He is the new Receiver of Memory. Jonas’ futuristic community has eliminated all problems. There is no hunger, sickness, conflict, or inequality. Families stay together. Elders are respected. But Jonas, working with the old Receiver of Memory, now called the Giver as Jonas is the Receiver, learns about the past as he receives memories. He learns the price that has been paid for the community’s perfection. Jonas and the Giver devise a plan that, if successful, will save lives and possibly give back to the community some of what it has missed for many years. Truly a classic upon its release, The Giver is an unforgettable novel not to be missed.

Gathering Blue The second novel of the trilogy takes place at roughly the same time as The Giver but in another community. Kira is orphaned at the beginning of the story. She has a bad leg, one that prevents her from walking comfortably or quickly, and that brings scorn on her from a community that values strength. Fortunately she has incredible talent with thread – dying, stitching, embroidering – which saves her, and even exalts her to a position of great honor in the community. Two others children, a carver named Thomas and a young singer named Jo, have received the same honor. As Kira learns about the secrets behind her community and her past, and as young Matt helps her search for the elusive color blue, she and her friends devise a plan, similar to Jonas, that will help their community.

Messenger Six years after the events of The Giver and Gathering Blue, Kira’s young friend Matt, has grown nearly to adulthood. He lives in Village, a third community that welcomes all strangers, regardless of perceived strength or weakness, and lives a peaceful existence. But changes are coming to Village. Worthy, positive characteristics now receive lesser value and differences never before seen as weaknesses are now dividing the community. Matty, longing to learn his true name and his blind guardian, whose true name is Seer, try to understand what is happening and find a way to save Village. Characters from both previous novels play prominent roles in Messenger, and the story started in The Giver comes to a gratifying conclusion.

While these titles certainly aren't light-hearted, readers can't help but escape inside. New communities and villages and cultures and belief systems are created so carefully that readers understand everything that the main characters struggle against. There's death and injustice. Characters - society's leaders - make incomprehensible decisions, but yet readers understand why they were made in the context of the story. That doesn't mean readers agree with the decisions, however, and they will fight along with the Jonas, Kira, and Matty in their efforts to bring change where change is so desperately needed. Most importantly, readers will think.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Diary of a Fairy Godmother by Esme Raji Codell

Hunky Dory is a model student. She can "make flowers droop like wet spaghetti" and "thunder rumble like a whale's bellyache" and has "a cantankerous cackle that rattles the bones of any vertebrate for miles around!" Hey, when you're a student at Miss Harbinger's Charm School for Young Witches and your mother wishes for you to be the "wickedest witch wherever the four winds blow," then these are the sorts of things that get attention!

Once, during a spelling test, Hunky shows she can spell dragon by turning a prince into one, complete with emerald scales and lovely fiery breath. He even swings his tail and destroys the back wall of the school. After some well deserved praise from Miss Harbinger, all the girls stuck out their tongues at her in tribute. Of course Hunky was moved by their jealousy.

And so it goes with Hunky Dory and her classmates Frantic Search, Twisted Ankle, and Acid Reflux...just to name a few. Hunky even turns princes into frogs, but there's one major concern. She always changes them back.

Actions such as this probably disqualify one from being considered the wickedest.

After a guest speaker, Hunky decides on a career path. Entrepreneur. Small business owner. But where...?

While traveling to a castle to see a new baby, and bless it with some form of witchy badness, Auntie Malice tells Hunky about F.G.s. They're nincompoops. Show-offs. They're Fairy Godmothers! Why, why, would anyone do...[shudder]...good? They grant...ugh!...wishes! Witches, on the other hand, perform mischief. Now that's something worth doing.

Some time later, the solution to Hunky's entrepreneurial endeavors presents itself in the form of an abandoned shanty with a well out front. Since Hunky has always pleased her mother with her rebelliousness, and since F.G.s are such nasty creatures, Hunky hunkers down in the well and, for a fee - one gold coin - she grants wishes. Sometimes even good ones. Why, she's acting like...like...like one of them!

What a story! A girl desires to be good, which to her mother is bad, but her mother desires her to be wicked, and what's more wicked than being good? (Good question.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Twice Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris

Queen Olympia was last seen falling into the river beside Beaurivage Castle just before the wedding of Marigold and Christian. She was last mentioned in Once Upon a Marigold in the one year later epilogue as an amnesia victim suddenly getting her memory back. So what happened during that one year?

She became a new person - a loving, gentle, helpful person who lives with the mayor of Granolah and his wife. She becomes friends with Lazy Susan, Sleeping Beauty's half sister, and does everything possible to live up to her new chosen name. Angelica.

So now, one year later and her memory suddenly restored, she is none too happy about her situation. She did laundry? Swept? Carried water? Appalled, she demands to be taken back to her kingdom where she immediately proceeds to take over, bullying King Swithbert into quiet submission.

Meanwhile all our favorite characters have had a wonderful year. Christian and Marigold rule Zandelphia from their crystal castle, Swithbert and Ed play games of snipsnapsnorum, and Magnus has his own place and his eye on a beautiful young lady named Sephronia.

But with Olympia back in the fold, things quickly turn ugly. Marigold and Christian are arguing, and Swithbert isn't strong enough to withstand Olympia's demands. Pretty soon Olympia has rewritten Beaurivage's constitution and forced the trial of three treasonous conspiritors: Swithbert, Ed, and Magnus. And if you believe the trial will be fair and just, consider that three gallows have already been built in the castle courtyard.

Nobody has ever stood up to Olympia. Not Swithbert. Not her daughters. Not her subjects. She has always had everything she desires. But will it continue? Will everyone simply allow her to bulldoze her way back onto the throne even if she is a ruler with no loyal followers? Olympia is truly evil. Even a good shaking from an elephant can't change true evil (although elephant shaking, apparently, works great on the unpleasant and disagreeable).

True evil takes something much more powerful. True evil takes a rearragement of the heart as well as the head, and Olympia has a bitterly cold heart and incredibly hard head.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Chowder by Peter Brown

When the opening page says, “Chowder had always been different,” and features a bulldog on a toilet, well, you know you got yourself a … well, uh … Okay, I’m not exactly sure what you’re supposed to have given those circumstances, but that is indeed how Chowder starts.

And it’s downright funny. Chowder wears an archeologist's hat and makes dinosaur shapes in the dirt with his bones while the other dogs just chew theirs. Chowder reads the paper. He stubbornly takes time to smell the flowers. He enjoys music and dancing, the Internet, and his telescope.

Eventually his desire to fit in, despite his ability to stick out, brings him to a petting zoo. Critters! Potential friends! In his excitement he promptly loses the critters’ kickball. Great start, eh? Then Chowder’s determination to remedy the situation finds him dangling, literally, by the skin of his teeth.

He is rescued by his (yes!) new friends who proceed to do what any new friends would do: teach Chowder the ins and outs of kickball. And he fits right in.

The pictures of Chowder are hilarious. I didn’t know bulldogs had an expression that is equal parts concentration, relaxation, and satisfaction, but Chowder does. (That’s in the opening picture. See: paragraph one, above.) Chowder’s tongue nearly has emotions of its own. Sometimes it dangles and drips, like when he reads the paper, and sometimes is flaps and sprays, like when he dances.

I don’t think Chowder will win any literary awards, but if you think bulldogs driving cars and topping pyramids and leaping out windows will make you laugh, then giggle away. Chowder’s your dog…and your book.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street picks up the family’s story three weeks into the school year following the eventful Penderwick family vacation at Arundel.

Rosalind is a seventh grader, moving on from her misguided emotions towards Cagney, dealing with Tommy, the boy who has lived across the street forever, and the responsibility of being the oldest. Skye is in sixth grade, captain of the soccer team, living a vow to control her temper on the soccer pitch, and wondering why the word “pretty” keeps coming up in conversations. Jane is still writing, this time a play featuring Aztecs, maize, drought, love found, love lost, and blood sacrifice. (The problem? The play was Skye’s homework assignment.) Four-year-old Batty, sans wings, still loves animals, especially Hound, and neckties, and still catches on to much more than older sisters like to admit, including the whereabouts of the mysterious Bug Man.

Readers are introduced to Aunt Claire, Mr. Penderwick’s sister, who delivers a blue letter to Mr. Penderwick, a letter written four years earlier by his wife just before she died, urging him to date again. Aunt Claire agrees, saying, “Movies and dinner, yes, but there’s no rush for romance.” She has even set him up on a blind date with a certain Ms. Muntz. How does it go? As Mr. Penderwick says, “Cruciatus.”

In order to prevent any more of Aunt Claire’s blind dates and meet her predetermined four-date quota, the Penderwick girls come up with the Save-Daddy Plan. After Ms. Muntz, find three more horrible dates. That way Daddy will hate dating, they won’t get a wicked stepmother, and…happily ever after.

But Mr. Penderwick meets someone on his own. Marianne Dashwood. He’s seen her a couple times, but the girls never meet her. The more they question their father, the less information he offers.

And something they never thought could happen, happens. The cherished Penderwick Family Honor is sullied (but not irreparably) by the deceit of more than one Penderwick. Sometimes it takes hard lessons to learn that honesty is indeed the best policy and that sometimes the best solutions are right in front of you the whole time.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis

Like Not a Box, the first picture book by Antoinette Portis, Not a Stick celebrates the creativity of kids. Or in this case, a pig. This little piggy found a stick, and with it he's just as busy as his rabbit friend was with that box. Matter of fact the rabbit makes a guest appearance as a drummer!

The dedication page shoes a tree with one lonely stick broken off and the pig glancing up at it. I wouldn't have thought it possible with drawings this simple, but that pig has a creative sparkle in his piggy little eye as he's checking out that stick.

This time the grown-up (the assumed grown-up, anyway) skips questions and jumps right to warnings. "Hey be careful with that stick." It is rather pointy, I guess, and one might mistake the creative sparkle in the pig's eye for mischief. Maybe. Nevertheless, the warnings come. Look where you're going, watch out where you're pointing, don't trip. All about the stick!

But, of course, it's not a stick. It can catch sharks! It can create a van Gogh! Dragons? No problem! Can a stick do that?

No stick can do all that, but this is not a stick. Matter of fact, that's exactly what the pig says. "It's my Not-a-Stick."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Calder Game by Blue Balliett

Blue Balliet has successfully drawn me into three different art topics about which I would have said I had no interest. None. Chasing Vermeer made me look at painting. The Wright 3, architecture. The Calder Game immediately hooked me with entrancing descriptions of Alexander Calder's mobiles which, to the delight of Petra, Tommy, and most importantly, Calder, are on display at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art.

Now seventh graders, Petra, Tommy, and Calder visit the museum with their new teacher, Ms. Button. Despite the Button's attempts to squash any real enjoyment of the exhibit, the exhibit is altogether too majestic to be squashed. Images in my mind bobbed and waved gently as students noticed different shapes in Calder's (that's Alexander Calder the artist, not Calder Pillay the kid) ever-changing artwork.

When Calder's (the kid, not the artist) father gets the opportunity to go to England to study botanical gardens, Calder gets to go along. "You get a break from the Button," says Tommy. In addition Calder knows that Woodstock, the small town where they're staying, is home to Blenheim Palace, a hedge maze, a river and waterfall, and more history than most 12-year-old Americans can understand.

When they arrive, the Pillays learn that a donated Alexander Calder sculpture is displayed in the Woodstock town square. (More on this later.) This piece of modern art doesn't fit into the historic feel of Woodstock nor into the hearts of Woodstock's residents. Soon it disappears, stolen, amazingly, right out from under their noses. That same night Calder disappears. Two Calders, one night, both gone.

After Calder's mom is hospitalized with an injured back, Petra, Tommy, and Mrs. Sharpe cross the pond to help search for Calder. There are more codes and more hidden messages, and as more days go by with Calder still missing, the tension mounts. As the history of Woodstock comes into play and subplots twist like Blenheim Palace's maze, many of the loose ends grow closer.

(Okay, it's later.) I found it odd that after all the mesmerizing description of mobiles, the mystery centered on an Alexander Calder sculpture. The mobile theme continues throughout the book - ideas, words, people, and shapes all balance - but the main piece of art is sculpture.

There are numerous unidentified people throughout. There was "the adult who had been watching" and one time "eyes followed his back" and more than once there were "eyes peering out of a nearby window." At first it was mysterious, then it got confusing, and finally I stopped trying to keep track of all the secret watchers.

I found myself reading to finish rather than reading to find out what would happen. Maybe the attempt to balance all the subplots in one literary mobile kept the plot from moving forward too quickly, like if too much was given away at once, the balance would be thrown off.

The Calder Game is longer than the previous two novels, and unfortunately for young fans of the first novels, more complex. Maybe too complex. Fans of Chasing Vermeer and The Wright 3 will want to read it, so I will recommend it, but The Calder Game doesn't get my highest recommendation.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Monkey with a Tool Belt by Chris Monroe

To try and understand how important Chico Bon Bon's tool belt is to him, know this: When Chico Bon Bon goes to bed, he takes off his tool belt, puts on his pajamas, and then restores his tool belt to its proper place. His waist. Chico Bon Bon, you see, is a monkey with a tool belt. You never know when a tool will be needed, and you never know what tool will be needed. It's best to be prepared.

Especially if an organ grinder from the circus comes, looking to replace his lost monkey.

Wait, wait, wait. Sorry. I'm getting ahead of myself. Before that we learn all about Chico Bon Bon. He (and his tool belt) are always finding ways to help. Sometimes he builds things. Sometimes he fixes things. Sometimes he builds things that need to be fixed. But no matter what the situation, his trusty tool belt always has the exact tool needed.

No tool belt, nor any tool contained within, will work properly without one smart cookie...uh, monkey...to put it to use. And Chico Bon Bon puts those tools to good use. A creative mind plus the proper tool equals one problem solved.

So whether it's a planer, strainer, or grease container. A monkey wrench, turkey wrench, or donkey wrench. A stapler or staple remover. A snozzer or snozz remover. It doesn't matter. Chico Bon Bon has it.

He's a monkey with a tool belt.

(Special thanks to my friends at the CCBC for introducing me to Chico Bon Bon and for having Monkey with a Tool Belt available for me to read!)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Cowboy and Octopus by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

Everybody needs a friend.

If you are sitting on a teeter-totter, it just won't work right without a friend on the other side. When you need help, the first person you call is a friend. Cooking a great meal of beans and bacon is treat unto itself, but if you can share it with a friend, it's all the more tasty.

Advice is best given by a friend. You can trust him. If your Halloween shark costume isn't scary, a friend will tell you, just like he'll tell you the tooth fairy costume is downright terrifying. If your hat looks like it ought to come with a free bowl of soup, well, a friend will kindly tell you that, too.

And so it is for Cowboy and Octopus. Several short stories show how friends are with one another. They help. The play. They give advice. They are honest. They shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands, and shake hands.

A person can't hold it against Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith for not producing another Stinky Cheese Man. All-timers, real classics, are few and far between. But Cowboy & Octopus is a fun read nevertheless. Scieszka's writing gives you that little half-grin, wondering, "Was that the joke?" Then you glance at the next page and realize "That was the joke!" Then you reread it, smile growing into giggles, and realize how truly funny it is, wondering, "Why didn't I see it in the first place?!?" Smith's illustrations are as quirky as ever. This time he uses a cowboy and octopus cutout (do they make cowboy and octopus paper dolls?) and creatively puts them into different situations.

All that's missing is Smith's fingers holding the characters and bobbing them up and down, while Scieszka narrates in dopey voices:

"This dang thing is always broke." (Cowboy bobs up and down.)
"Hello. I think I can help." (Octopus enters, bobs up and down.)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Big Bad Wolf and Me by Delphine Perret

Nothing really happens after school, right? Oh sure, there's a snack and homework and dinner and bed time. The usual stuff, but nothing really exciting. Right?

What if, on your walk home one night, you happened to meet the Big Bad Wolf? The famous one - Red Riding Hood, Grandma's house, the huffing and the puffing and the "Little Pig! Little Pig! Let me in!" You know who I'm talking about.

And he's sitting in an alley, depressed, with no hope of ever being scary again.

What would you do? Probably what the boy in The Big Bad Wolf and Me does. Take him home, hide him in your closet, sneak him food, and give him roaring and scary face lessons. After all, without him, some of our most timeless and treasured stories would be extraordinarily boring! Unreadable! Big teeth and the potential for a bloody demise always make boring stories better.

The boy teaches Bernard (yes, that's his name) all about fresh meat and eating children. Bernard even tries eating the boy's sister, but he can't do it. His "ROAR!!!" is nothing more than "Yip! Yip! Aroooo!"

Eventually, all their hard work and practice produces results. Bernard becomes wonderfully frightening again, even causing a little chaos in the school yard. In the end they celebrate Bernard's regained confidence and their friendship with a Big Bad Wolf feast! Little pigs and little girls with red hoods and...

Okay, not really. They have chocolate chip cookies in the park.

Monday, May 5, 2008

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree. The Wingfeather Saga: Book One.

(I had to include all that as it's on the cover but wouldn't all fit in the post's heading. Anyway, it got my attention on the cover. Maybe it'll get your attention here.)

The Igiby family lives in a small cottage outside Glipwood Township, upon the cliffs overlooking the Dark Sea of Darkness. Janner and Tink, the eldest brothers, live with younger sister Leeli, their mother, Nia, and grandfather, Podo. They, along with all the residents of Glipwood - and indeed, all of Skree - live under the harsh occupation of the Fangs of Dang, lizard-like creatures who carry out the rule of the evil Gnag the Nameless.

Janner, as eldest, has been given the responsibility of watching his siblings. But Leeli's tendency to wander with her dog Nugget and Tink's tendency to act before thinking make Janner resent his new found maturity. The Igiby children make an enemy in Slarb, one of the nastiest of Glipwood's Fangs of Dang, yet at the same time make a friend in Peet the Sock Man, a strange fellow known for conversing with sign posts.

As the trouble builds between the Igiby family and the occupying Fangs, a hint that the Jewels of Anniera could be in or near Glipwood reaches General Khrak, a Fang sure to report back to Gnag the Nameless. In fact, Nia and Podo seem to know some secret about them. The Jewels, formally of the Isle of Anniera and High King Wingfeather, and also said to have great power, are deeply desired by Gnag the Nameless, who believes possessing them will solidify his rule.

There are secrets - locations, occupations, identities, enemies. There are near escapes and non escapes. There are tragedies and near tragedies. And through it all is the love of the Igiby family, more willing to enter the Black Carriage together than be separated, holding them, and even the hopes of Glipwood, Skree, and all of Aerwiar, together.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is traditional fantasy in many ways. But right away one notices that the voice of this novel is different from most fantasy novels. There's a playfulness here. A tongue-in-cheek, did-you-catch-that? sort of tone. From the name of this world, Aerwiar (the first words of creation's first person were "Well, here we are.") to the Great Nameless Evil that has devastated Aerwiar (an evil whose name was Gnag the Nameless), readers immediately get a sense of the humorous vibe. Included throughout the novel are footnotes referencing the literature of Aerwier including documentation (Torrboro, Skree: Blapp River Press, 3/113) that creatively gives additional insight to the novel's events.

Oh, and there's one final trait the book shares with the best fantasy novels: It most certainly leaves readers wanting more.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Ink Drinker by Eric Sanvoisin

After posting about The Incredible Book Eating Boy, I thought it would be a great book for starting the school year with first or second graders. It's a great introduction to reading: "We're going to just gobble up the books this year, kids!" That reminded me of The Ink Drinker.

I'm not much for vampire stories, but somewhere, somehow kids acquire basic vampire background knowledge. The two fangs, the blood, the pronouncing Ws as Vs ("I vant to suck your bloooood.") They get it. But I don't want it. Usually.

Odilon is the son of a bookstore owner. His father has piles of books everywhere, and he talks to them, calls them "my little bookies." (Incidently, when reading this aloud, my students often say, "That's you Mr. W!") It makes Odilon sick. Odilon, you see, hates books.

Odilon likes to hide out in the bookstore and watch for shoplifters. He cheers for them! After all, that's one less book. It's when he's hiding out that he sees an odd customer, one that puts a straw inside a book, sucks on it for a moment, then leaves. When Odilon checks the book, he finds it blank. No ink remains!

He follows the customer out of the store, and the chase leads to a cemetary and an ink bottle shaped gravestone. Odilon decends into the crypt - it's ever so creepy - to discover a library and casket. Turns out our vampire is allergic to blood. But ink, aaahhhh ink, properly aged in the pages of a book, is the perfect substitute.

Of course, this being a vampire story, a bite ensues. Draculink (yes, Draculink) makes his mark! And now Odilon has the same craving. For books.

I start the year out with The Ink Drinker. I even hand out straws. This, I tell my students, is what we can become, and maybe what some of us already are!

The story continues with A Straw for Two when Odilon gets a mysterious new classmate, followed by The City of Ink Drinkers and Little Red Ink Drinker.

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