Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill Journal Entry 2

Dear Mr. W,

One main character in The Year of Miss Agnes is Miss Agnes. Some character traits for her are that she is a good teacher. She is also helpful and kids are important to her. It’s important that kids learn.

I know she is a good teacher because none of the other teachers ever tried to teach Bokko because she is deaf. Miss Agnes taught her sign language and how to read lips. She even had to learn sign language herself in order to teach it. Then the whole class learned those things, not just Bokko. Miss Agnes made a timeline on the wall and drew pictures from the past and put them on the timeline. Fred said that Miss Agnes could make information stick, even though they didn’t take tests. Instead they played “time machine.” 

Miss Agnes helps a lot. She taught Bokko. She also taught adults from the village even though they weren’t students. When Marie had to stay home and take care of kids, Miss Agnes had Marie come to her house at night to keep learning. She played her squeezebox at village parties so the band could take a break from playing music and dance.

Kids and learning are important to her as well. She tells Fred and Bokko’s mom that Bokko should go to school even though she is deaf. When Little Pete had to leave to work on the trapline, she read extra long so he could hear the end of Robin Hood and told him to write in a journal she gave him every day when he was gone. When their school was about to close, she gave up going home to England to stay and keep the school open. That totally shows that kids and learning are important to her.

Brian Fourth Grader

Monday, December 24, 2012

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo

The original plan was to start my review of Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo with two Christmas lists, but I quickly realized that both lists were the same. So I combined them. And now I share them with you.

Things That Have Become Associated With Christmas  AND  Things That Really Have Nothing To Do With Christmas:

Candy canes, cookies, red and green, fake reindeer antlers, bad sweaters, bells, over-sized stockings, spruce trees, Black Friday, an increase in mail, “Ho Ho Ho,” the Christmas Eve vs. Christmas morning debate, “Bah, humbug!” and these guys.

Anyway, back to the book review.

“The week before Christmas, a monkey appeared on the corner of Fifth and Vine.” He wore a green vest and a red hat and was accompanied by an organ grinder who played music. From her apartment across the street, Frances could see the old man and his monkey, and when it became very quiet in the apartment, she could sometimes hear the music “sounding sad and far away, like music from a dream.”

Curious where they went in the evening, Frances sneaks a peek one night to discover that they sleep on the street. In the cold. Alone. Frustrated at their circumstances, and at the fact that her mother won’t allow them to come for dinner, Frances rushes over to them on her way to the church Christmas play and invites them to the show.

And here’s what Christmas is really about. When Frances takes the stage, she temporarily forgets her line, an important line in the Christmas story. The shepherds whisper a reminder and the camel sways nervously, waiting, but … nothing.

Nothing, that is, until a cold old man and his monkey quietly enter the warm sanctuary.

“Behold!” Frances shouted. “I bring you tidings of Great Joy!”
And because the words felt so right, Frances said them again. “Great Joy.”

That’s what Christmas is really about. Frances’ announcement. The “tidings of Great Joy” that this young angel brings to an old man and his monkey are the same as those announced years ago by a more experienced angel. “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

Merry Christmas. May it be filled with Great Joy.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill

Dear Mr. W,

I just finished The Year of Miss Agnes. This is the plot. In the introduction I learned that Fred was the main character. Other characters include her classmates, her sister and mother, the people in town, and Miss Agnes. It is set in Alaska in 1948. The mood is unhappy because all the teachers they ever had have left them. The conflict is that once the kids like Miss Agnes, they don’t want her to leave.

Some events in the rising action include when Miss Agnes insists that Bokko come to school and she teaches Bokko sign language. She has students write stories about themselves. Miss Agnes puts a huge time line on the wall with pictures and has the class play Time Machine. She makes learning fun for kids who used to think it wasn’t important.

[Highlight to read the rest. Spoilers included...]

The climax of the story, the most important event, is on the last page when Fred and Bokko looked through the school window to see Miss Agnes and they knew that Miss Agnes decided to stay for another year. Or longer. The Year of Miss Agnes has no falling action. The book ends with the climax.

The resolution is that Miss Agnes has decided to stay and teach them. Readers don’t know why she decided to stay, but maybe it was because Miss Agnes's mom in England already died or that the students really wanted her to stay. Maybe she just wanted to stay in this place.

I wish the falling action included more information, like how long Miss Agnes stays, does she ever go back to England, does she ever get married, and does Fred ever follow her dream of going to college?

Brian Fourth Grader

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tadpole by Ruth White Journal Entry 2

Dear Mr. W,

I am still reading Tadpole. The main character is Carol. She is 10, the youngest, and says she is “nobody at all.” She is loud. Matter of fact, all her sisters are loud. They talk loud, sing loud, laugh loud, and quarrel loud. She is the youngest and smallest so people don’t really pay attention to her a lot. When Tadpole was singing, she had to sit on the ground and not by him because her sisters stole the good spots next to him. When she started to tell the story about Tadpole getting his name, her sisters cut her off and told the story themselves. She only got to say one line when she was the one who started the story. When Tad told the story about Eugene, the other 3 sister shared sneaky glances with one another but not with Carol. Her dress was owned by all 3 sisters before her, and Tad calls her “Little Carol.” Finally, Mama gives everyone chores to do, even Tad, but not Carol. She’s told to try and stay out of the way.

Tadpole is caring. He is the only one who listens to Carol, like when she suggested his name be Tad. After he told the story about Eugene, he ignored the other 3 sisters to talk just to Carol. Tad is responsible. He didn’t complain when he got a chore, he just said, “Yes, ma’am.” He also starts weeding the garden because it needs to be done, not because he was told to do it. He also helped Kentucky with her chore to clean the kitchen. He seems to be a leader. The girls follow his example to weed the garden, even when they don’t want to do it.

Brian Fifth Grader


I like what you said about Carol, but is she really one of the loud ones or do you think she gets grouped in with her loud sisters? Pay attention to Carol as you read. Is she really “nobody at all” like she says?

Tell me more about Tad. What kind of person tells stories like him and plays guitar like that? What are his strengths and talents and abilities?

Mr. W

Dear Mr. W,

I think Carol is sort of loud, but not like her sisters. She wants some things for herself, like to walk alone with Tad, but her sisters barge in and do what she wants to do herself.

The stories Tad tells are kind of hard to believe. So, maybe he simply has a really good imagination. First, people don’t move into paintings and live there. Second, a person was in the window even though the whole family was leaving and outside. But when he tells the stories he is very serious. It doesn’t seem like he’s making it up. He has musical ability. He learned the fiddle from an uncle and said he would call a square dance. It says there wasn’t a song he couldn’t figure out on the guitar, and he played like that on his first night there when all the neighbors came to visit and listen and sing with the family.

Brian Fifth Grader

Monday, December 10, 2012

Flush by Carl Hiaasen Journal Entry

Dear Mr. W,

Today in Flush, Noah was unfortunately trapped inside the main setting of the chapter: the women’s bathroom on the Coral Queen. He describes it as basically a closet with barely enough room to sit and do your business. It smelled like a combination of Clorox bleach, bathroom, and Shelley’s tangerine perfume. (Shelley was in the bathroom with him for a short time.) There is an “Out of Order” sign hanging on the outside of the door. In the bathroom there was a sink, and Noah had to brace his feet against it to keep an 85-year-old lady from coming in the bathroom while he was in there.

Noah is in the bathroom while the Coral Queen is open one night. He can hear the noise of the casino - the slot machines and the band. He sneaked on board before the boat opened at 7:00 and stayed in the bathroom for about an hour, I’m guessing, to flush enough times for his plan. Then he made a break for it.

Noah is sort of disgusted that he’s in the “Mermaid’s” bathroom. He’s also nervous about getting caught, but he also knows that his father would be proud of him. I think that knowledge makes Noah somewhat brave. When the old lady started banging on the door, he was confused that she ignored the out of order sign. He was scared when he was being chased by the two bouncer goons and he jumped off the boat.

I’m a little nervous for Noah. At the end of the chapter, Noah jumped off the boat to freedom yelling, “Geronimo!” At first Noah believes he was jumping to "sweet freedom," but then the chapter ends with, “Or so I told myself...” To me that means Noah thinks everything is going to be okay, but later he learned that no, in fact there was going to be a problem of some sort. What that problem is, however, I don’t know.

Brian 6th Grader

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tadpole by Ruth White Journal Entry

Dear Mr. W,

I am reading Tadpole by Ruth White. The story takes place in the hills of Kentucky in 1955. The book tells me that it is 1955. They live in a holler, which is like a valley that is open on only one end. The Collins family (and Tadpole, their cousin who they call Tad) live in a small house. There is a front porch, a living room, kitchen, and two bedrooms for all six of them. They live in the middle of nowhere, basically. They can’t even see their closest neighbors, and once Tad came home from the neighbor’s house by walking through the woods. There is a creek behind their house. Once they got a goat to trim their lawn, but someone needed to keep it from getting into their huge garden where they grow tomatoes, radishes, beans, lettuce, corn, and all sorts of vegetables. They also can go out in the back and kick chunks of coal out of the hill to burn in the winter.

I’d like to say the mood is happy, but it’s not all the time. The family is happy enough with what they have, but the girls whine a lot about stuff, and their mom works really hard and it makes her tired. She has to work a lot because their father left them. Carol is sort of sad and frustrated with being the runt of the family. The mood is much better when Tad is around, except when they worry that he will have to go back with his mean uncle and aunt. The sisters help out with chores more when Tad is around. He tells them stories that make work go faster and that make them think more about their family, especially their mom.

Brian Fifth Grader

Dear Brian,

Can you give me some more clues that it is 1955 other than the book tells you? Even if it didn’t say, what clues are there that this is not in the present day? Prove that it is 1955 (or about then, anyway).

Mr. W

Dear Mr. W,

Here are some ways you can tell that Tadpole takes place in the past. Mr. Puckett drives a DeSoto car. Those were made in the past and aren’t made anymore that I know of. They had to do their washing, like baths, in a back room. There wasn’t any running water or a bathroom in the house. They used a goat to mow their lawn instead of a lawn mower. They went to see two movies, Rebel Without a Cause and The Highwayman. They came out in the 1950’s.

Brian Fifth Grader

Sunday, December 2, 2012

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

My original review of I Want My Hat Back says, “Sometimes - no, oftentimes - the simplest books end up being the best books.” I then went on to summarize the book in five lines.

Jon Klassen’s next hat book is not a sequel. It's more of a companion book. Either way the line from the previous review holds true. Simple stories make great books. Here is a 100% complete summary of This Is Not My Hat. Eh-hem...

1. A little fish has stolen a hat from a big fish.
2. The little fish is unrepentant and rationalizes his deed.
3. The little fish confides in the reader and one other marine critter.
4. A permanent home is determined for the hat.

The little fish readily admits what he has done on the first page. “This hat is not mine. I just stole it.” The little fish then goes through a litany of reasons why he will get away with his theft. He does not necessarily tell why it was okay to steal the hat, but clearly believes that getting away with it is justification enough.

As the little fish goes through his reasons, it’s the illustrations that complete the story. The little fish explains that the big fish was sleeping when the theft occurred, “and he probably won’t wake up for a long time.” Oh, really? Check the illustrations.

But so what if he does wake up? “He probably won’t notice that it’s gone.” Uh-huh. Right.

Can the little fish make it to “where the plants are big and tall and close together?” Will the big fish even realize his hat is missing? Is the little fish’s confidence warranted or will he be called to account for his crime?

Just as in I Want My Hat Back, the conclusion in This Is Not My Hat is somewhat open ended. Yes, readers know what happens to the hat, but there’s still plenty left open to interpretation. Readers will have fun filling in all the possible details about what happens “where the plants are big and tall and close together.”