Monday, September 27, 2010

Literary Elements

            Literary elements are the meat and potatoes of a story—without these, I’m not sure what a story would even look like! They provide structure and balance, create mood, and if used effectively, stir enough interest to draw the reader in. Character, point of view, time, place, plot, mood, symbol and extended metaphor, and theme all stand on their own as uniquely important elements of a good story. However, for me, character, point of view, and place are especially critical in drawing me into the pages of a book.
            When I think of character, my mind automatically goes to the main hero or heroine of the great books I have read. However, character can also be portrayed through the setting, and includes all of the people in a story. Big or small, every role contributes to the plot and somehow influences a story’s outcome. Perhaps the most exciting element of character is how they change. Without character growth, the story would seem stale and the action stagnant. An author whose stories rely on the growth of her characters is Laura Ingalls Wilder. In her Little House Series, readers are invited to share in the transformation of Laura and the rest of her family as she copes with loss, triumphs over adversity, and celebrates the good things in life. As a child, I was enamored by Laura and her strength as the leading lady in the Little House books. Her character demonstrates the rich potential of all human beings and gives the reader a model for dealing with life’s everyday trials. In addition, we see the dynamic that is created between characters as new people are introduced with every book and each new adventure. This dynamic between characters is an element that I look for in books, as it adds depth to the plot and shows us the emotional side of a story’s characters by observing their interactions with others. These components are just a small insight into the intrigue that character adds to a story.
            Point of view is an element of literature that plays closely alongside character. First person narrative is the point of view which comes straight out of the thoughts, feelings, and insights of a single character—they are the one narrating the story for the reader. I think first person is effective because we get to experience the story through one person in the most intimate way possible. Their every thought is accessible, which gives unique perspective. However, in first person we miss out on this kind of intimacy with other characters—what we know about them is strictly based on how the first person narrator thinks and feels. Although this creates suspense, first person point of view can be rather limiting. Third person, on the other hand, allows the reader to experience the innermost thoughts of as many characters as the author chooses to reveal. Within a story, we can see how characters think and relate based on how each one feels. I like this option in literature because as a reader, I am not subject to one character’s emotions and biases. Rather, I get to go through the story with a developing awareness of how each character responds and feels in each situation, which is why I think third person is a more valuable approach in literature.
            I love the dynamic attributed by and place in a story. Contrary to what it may seem, place reveals so much more than the setting. Place can involve period, mood, the passing of time, and it can definitely influence characters. For example, had Laura Ingalls Wilder been alive during modern times, she would not have faced the same struggles and her life would have told a dramatically different story than the issues her family experiences in the Little House books. However, the drama in her stories describes a fascinating time that can only have been garnered from the unique place of her life experience. This aspect also affects the mood of Wilder’s writing, influenced by the issues her family faces which would not be of equal concern in modern-day America. In this way, place elicits a certain charm that has helped to popularize the story of the Ingalls family. The way that characters value aspects of place also can clue readers in on their interests and morals. In other words, a character’s interaction with place can reveal their commitment to other characters and the things that they value most. These types of interactions demonstrate to the reader the utmost importance of place and its role in revealing the nature of characters and the story as a whole.

Leaves


            Picture Book—PreK-1
            Rating: 5 Stars
            Summary: A young bear marvels at the changing seasons and worries about the leaves as they fall from the trees. When he grows tired, he curls up for the winter and wakes up to the newly budding trees of spring!

            In Leaves, Stein portrays the sheer amazement and awe of a young bear as he experiences the world for the first time. I love that he is a little shocked at the first leaf that falls, and tries to help by spearing the gathering leaves back onto the bare branches. I felt a surge of compassion for the bear at his concern for the leaves. At first, I thought that the simplistic lines of the story left something to be desired, but I have come to realize that this approach is what makes this story come alive. The simple text allows us as the reader to take in the beautiful pictures and notice the subtle details of the bear’s existence, especially on the pages where there are no words at all. Stein has also framed his illustrations, which I feel creates a sense of intimacy with the bear. His expressions illuminate his curiosity and bewilderment as the leave are falling, and helps to demonstrate his overall innocence as a young animal learning about the wonders of the world. The simple lines also complement the peacefulness and steady flow of the changing seasons, which helps to form an appreciation for nature as the bear is living through autumn, winter, and finally spring.
            This book would be a great choice for curriculum dealing with a number of topics: leaves, the changing of seasons, or hibernation. The story is so accessible because of its simplicity, which I think would allow children to explore the text and make whatever meaning that they want to out of it. While one child may value the text and pictures for its description of seasons, another student might be enamored by the cycle of hibernation that is described in the storyline and detailed in the illustrations. Also, the bear’s curiosity and innocence are relatable for children. I think younger students would especially enjoy seeing him ponder why the leaves are falling and would relate to the amazement that many of us experience when we are young and learning about the world. Overall, I truly enjoyed this story and definitely hope to have it in my classroom so that my students can enjoy it as well.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I Completely Know About Guinea Pigs

I Completely Know About Guinea Pigs by Lauren Child
            Picture Book—PreK-2
            Rating: 4 Stars
            Summary: Lola gets to bring Bert, the class guinea pig, home during school vacation. She and Charlie have fun learning about Bert and making an obstacle course for him to run, but when Bert gets lost, they must find him before Lola goes back to school!

            I Completely Know About Guinea Pigs comes from the TV adaptation of Lauren Child’s book series. I haven’t read much of the Charlie and Lola series, but I can definitely see how these characters are popular among kids. Lola’s excitement is infectious as she wishes to take Bert home for the school vacation, and it’s comical to see how her brother Charlie doubts her preparedness to care for the animal. The dynamic between the brother and sister reminded me of my relationship with my older brother, who also acted like a know-it-all and challenged my ideas with his own questions and commentary. I really enjoyed learning about guinea pigs, and liked how the information is not presented in an in-your-face sort of way. As the reader, we instead explore the world of guinea pigs with Lola and her friends as they engage in a friendly rivalry to show off what they know about the pet. The art in this book is fun and energetic, which helps to bring out the excitement that Lola is experiencing with Bert. I really enjoyed Child’s use of collage. Most memorable were the VHS tapes, cardboard, and wooden blocks that make up Bert’s run track. Overall, the collage is distinctive and brings out a unique experience for us as the reader.
            Since the Charlie and Lola TV series is popular among kids, I think this book and others of Lauren Child would be valuable additions to a classroom library. The connection to the TV show would make this an attractive choice for students, especially with reluctant readers who may have seen the show. This story also has a nice touch of humor, which I know from experience is a nice feature that helps to pull students into a story. In addition, many elements lend themselves to students’ lives, such as the rivalry among classmates, the sibling dynamic, and caring for a pet. With so much for readers to connect to and laugh about, this book would be an ideal choice for a read-aloud as a nice break from the grind of everyday learning..

            

Some Dogs Do


Some Dogs Do by Jez Alborough
            Picture Book—PreK-2
            Rating: 4 Stars
            Summary: Sid the dog starts flying one day on his way to school, but nobody believes him and says he is making it up. Feeling sad and dejected, he returns home, only to find that his parents can fly too, and he was right all along!

            I picked up Some Dogs Do because I really enjoyed other books by Alborough, including Hug and Where’s My Teddy? While I didn’t find this story to be quite as successful as those, Some Dogs Do still has many qualities that had me smiling through the pages and relating to the main character on an emotional level. Sid goes through a roller coaster of emotions, first feeling elated that he flies to school, and then experiences rejection and is distraught because nobody believes him. I feel bad for the poor guy! Acknowledgement from your peers means everything to young kids, and Sid was seeking an enthused reaction so that he could share in the excitement with his friends and classmates. However, even his teacher tells him that he is wrong—dogs don’t fly. Nothing squashes joy like the rejection of peers, and I know that I experienced this growing up as well. Sid’s gloomy expression seeps off of the page through the illustrations, and I felt a sense of distress for him as he sulked back home, unable to recover the delight that sent him off the ground in the first place. Ultimately, Sid’s family shares with him the truth that they can fly, and the ending serves as a great reminder that it is ok to believe in the seemingly impossible.
            While I enjoyed the story and especially loved the bright illustrations, I would have some concerns in sharing this story with my students. I think I would preface a reading of this book with a discussion on how to distinguish between what is real and what is make-believe. Depending on the age of my students, I think this would be necessary because the storyline can become confusing if they were to take its message literally and believe that dogs can really fly. After a reading of the book, it would then be natural to talk about issues relevant to my students that others might find silly or improbable, such as being able to spell a difficult word or shoot a three-pointer in basketball. This discussion can be inspired by Sid’s experience to teach us that with positive thinking, we can prove others wrong and succeed at what might seem impossible. This is a theme that is all too important for kids to understand and believe.

I Want a Pet

I Want a Pet by Lauren Child
            Picture Book—PreK-2
            Rating: 5 Stars
            Summary: A girl longs for a pet, but quickly learns that her initial choices (a lion, octopus, and boa constrictor, to name a few), bring a slew of undesirable traits and responsibilities.

            I Want a Pet is a classic scenario of a child who bargains with her parents to let her have a pet. I certainly found myself in this same situation for much of my childhood—my longing for a dog resulted in fourteen years of persistent begging before my family finally adopted a dog from a shelter. Just like the parents in the story, my mom and dad always found plenty of reasons to avoid getting a pet. None were quite as outrageous as those that this story chronicles as the girl names off numerous animals which are obviously ill-suited to be pets. Child captures the determination and incessant pleading that many children go through in order to eventually have a pet. I found the reasoning very humorous, especially when the grandad says that “Stuffed pets are very reliable.” My dad once felt the same way and got me a battery-operated dog for Christmas, telling me that was the closest I would get to having a dog. Fortunately, he changed his mind, and the girl in the story is also lucky enough to eventually get a pet that we just see as an egg at the end of the story. I like that Child leaves it up to us as the reader to speculate about the girl’s pet, adding to the mystery and allure of the story as a whole. Also, the quirky illustrations add a fitting touch to the story. The scratchy, juvenile depictions perfectly complement the mentality of the girl as she dreams about all of the bizarre pets she can have.
            This story would be a great read-aloud for young children. For every child who is lucky enough to have a pet, there is another who is longing for one, and everyone can dream about owning an eccentric pet like a lion or boa constrictor. I think everyone can relate to the dream of having an animal to care for and love. At the very least, I Want a Pet would be a great story to ignite the imaginations of students and discuss the excitement of owning an octopus or a lion. While improbable, this is just the scenario that children can easily latch on to and use as inspiration for a story of their own. The end is also open for interpretation, which would be a good way to get students thinking and generating their own inferences as to what pet the girl will end up with when the egg hatches. Overall, I think this story would simply be a great way to inspire creativity in a way that is still relatable to a lot of kid’s interests. 

Ballet Kitty

Ballet Kitty by Bernette Ford, ill. by Sam Williams
            Picture Book—Grades PreK-1
            Rating: 4 Stars
            Summary: Ballet Kitty is upset when she can’t find her ballet slippers, but still has an exciting day playing and dancing with her best friend, Princess Pussycat.

            Ballet Kitty is a charming story that any young aspiring ballerina would love. While I only stuck with ballet for a year when I was a little girl, I still found this story to be very cute and relatable. Kitty wakes up happy and looking forward to her play date with Pussycat. She is saddened when she thinks that she has lost her ballet slippers, but still manages to have a great day, forgetting all about the slippers. I remember feeling the same way as a young girl. It was usually easy to let the little things get to me, causing uproar and reacting with the typical drama of a girl. When I was turning ten years old, my parents let me have a sleepover, and I was unhappy because our VCR wasn’t working correctly so we couldn’t watch a movie. However, I still had a great time dancing and gossiping with friends. Just as I forgot about the VCR, I also was caught up in the fun that Kitty and Pussycat were having, that I along with Kitty forgot about her missing slippers! I think this is what makes Ballet Kitty so real as a reader—we can all relate to feeling gloomy only to find ourselves caught up in the fun of family and friends. Kitty eventually finds her slippers, and this also serves as a reminder of how silly it is to worry about the little things when life has so much joy to offer.
            This story would be a great choice in the classroom, particularly as a free time selection for girls to enjoy independently. Girls who like ballet would love flipping through the pages and taking in the illustrations. I shared this story with two girls who take ballet classes, and they loved performing the pirouettes and pliĆ©s along with the characters. However, this story would difficult to use as a full-class read aloud or in conjunction with a particular unit, because the theme specifically targets a female audience. As a teacher, I might encourage girls to pick it up if we are talking about how books can bring out our emotions, as I think anyone can relate to how Kitty feels. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Author Study--Joseph Bruchac




            I chose to study Joseph Bruchac because I had no idea who he was or what he had contributed to the world of children’s literature. I was pleasantly surprised to find that his work is often inspired by his Abenaki heritage, and he writes of Native American life and folklore stories passed down through the generations of the Abenaki culture. While he has written extensively literature and poetry geared towards adult audiences, he began writing for children and young adults in the 1990s and continues to do so through the present.
           Two of his children’s books that stuck out to me included The First Strawberries and Raccoon’s Last Race. Like many of his stories, these are two old Native American tales that explain something about nature and the world while also teaching a life lesson. The First Strawberries tells of how this fruit came to be, and I was drawn to it because of its universally applicable lesson that comes out of a seemingly simplistic story. All that happens is an argument between a husband and wife, and while the woman is walking away, she is stopped by the beautiful strawberries and is delayed there long enough for her husband to catch up with her and apologize. However, this story reminded me of all of the things in life that can sometimes get the best of us and cause anger or frustration with those around us. I think this would be a great lesson to talk to students about, because we all have bad days and feel like the world is against us. However, if we just stop to enjoy the little pleasures in life, we realize that we don’t have it that bad after all.
            Raccoon’s Last Race also presents a situation that we can learn from. Azban the raccoon is conceited and boastful of his ability to run faster than the all of the other animals, but that is soon taken away from him when he gets squashed by a boulder during yet another race. According to the tale, this is how raccoons ended up with a flatter body and short legs that are not as suitable for running.
            While I am a bit wary of choosing books that are heavily weighted towards teaching a lesson, I think Bruchac’s books can still be valuable literature in the classroom. Native American legends like these teach us to be a good friend to others and to evaluate where we find meaning in our lives. These are themes which I can ease into the curriculum as a teacher to remind students that we should be respectful of each other, listen when others are speaking, etc. More relevant, however, is the fact that Bruchac’s writing can be utilized within a unit about Native American cultures. Like his Abenaki tribe, a lot of Native Americans use folktales to teach their children and show them the path they should take in life. I think it’s important for students to learn about Native American literature and the purpose behind why these stories have been passed on through the generations. By showing students that Native American tribes use literature to teach life lessons, they can begin to develop a respect and understanding for this element of the Native American culture.

Because of Winn-Dixie

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
            Children’s Novel—Ages 9-12
            Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)
            Summary: This is the story of ten-year-old India Opal Buloni and the summer that she finds a dog. Winn-Dixie, named after the town’s supermarket, helps Opal to meet a lot of new friends and realize a lot about herself throughout the course of the summer.

            Because of Winn-Dixie is a great story about both friendship and loss. Opal has been raised by her father because her mother left them when she was still young. As I was reading, I felt a heart-wrenching feeling of sadness alongside Opal because she constantly thinks about her mother and mourns the fact that she doesn’t know much about her. Opal’s struggle with this experience made me pause and reflect on how lucky I have been to grow up in a family with both parents. I think I often take this for granted—even in the midst of a world where divorce is far too common and I know plenty of people whose parents are no longer together. Because I have not gone through this, I had a hard time relating to Opal. However, the text is written in such a way that her feelings are raw and out there for the reader to observe. As the story develops, Opal finds that a stray dog, Winn-Dixie, has a knack for socializing and helping her to make friends in her new town. Winn-Dixie quickly becomes part of the family, and I could relate to Opal’s rapidly growing love for him. It reminded me of the bond that my family instantly formed after adopting our dog from a shelter when I was in middle school. Lastly, Kate DiCamillo masterfully tailors the dialogue to capture a laid-back southern dialect and give us a snapshot of the characters in their truest form. I felt as though I was sitting in on each conversation and developing a personal relationship with the characters.
            I think students would find it easy to relate to this book—whether to the loss experienced by Opal, her desire to make friends, and especially the difficulties she has with getting along with some of her peers. This novel would also be a good base to discuss the ways that people from around the country use language differently. In fact, I think this topic would have to come up in reading this book because there are many examples in the dialogue of incorrect grammar and slang that might confuse students and challenge how they write. As a teacher, I would like to see how students might react to the obvious dialect, if they react at all. I think it would be important to reassure them that it is not wrong, but rather just a representation of how people talk and certainly a feature of writing that can make the story much more interesting.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Canoe Days

Canoe Days by Gary Paulsen, ill. by Ruth Wright Paulsen
            Picture Book—Grades PreK-3
            Rating: 4 ½ Stars (out of 5)
            Summary:  A man in a canoe glides along a lake, enjoying and becoming one with the peace and beauty of the nature surrounding him.

            I felt an instant connection with Gary Paulsen’s Canoe Days. My family camps and enjoys the outdoors to the fullest extent, and so I share an appreciation for the beauty that Paulsen describes in this story. When I was young, my family took many vacations to Wisconsin, where we stayed on a lake and went canoeing as a tradition. The lines are poetically written and seem to glide across the pages and off of my tongue to match the seamless gliding of the canoe across the lake’s surface. Paulsen also personifies the many animals encountered in the story, which helps to bring them to life, along with the interest created by the use of similes and metaphors. I could almost close my eyes and feel myself sitting alongside the man in his canoe, which is precisely what I find most effective about this story. Its lyrical flow and richly painted illustrations perfectly capture the serenity of nature that is found on this lake and in nature everywhere.
            As a teacher and lover of nature, I intend to instill an appreciation for the outdoors in my students. Sometime during the school year, I hope to study nature and incorporate elements of both science and literature when doing so. I believe Canoe Days would be a great story to share, not only in relation to my personal experience with nature, but also as a great piece of literature to enjoy. By using this story almost in the context of poetry, students can learn how to find inspiration in the world around them to explore and write about. However, I think I would need to be careful not to have unreasonably high expectations for my students just because they are studying nature. In other words, what I find beautiful and inspiring may not elicit the same emotions in them. This text could also be used by students to learn about how to enrich writing with fuller descriptions and the use of devices such as simile and metaphor, since it provides such wonderful examples of these and other strategies to make your writing more interesting.

No, David!

No, David!  by David Shannon
            Picture Book—Grades PreK and Up
            Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)
            Summary: David seems to constantly find trouble and be reprimanded to stop being bad, but is finally consoled with a hug.

            No, David! is the author’s depiction of himself as a young boy. This story captivated me as a reader because I could definitely relate to the series of scolding that young David receives. In fact, I think everybody could remember themselves as having a little David in them growing up. When he is fooling around in the bathtub and splashing water everywhere, the illustration reminds me of myself as a child. I know that I was reprimanded for splashing my mother during bath time, but who can blame poor David when he has all of those awesome toys to play with? Sometimes as a child, it seemed like the only word I heard was “No,” and this is definitely what David is experiencing. My favorite thing about this book is that the words are so simple and repetitive, but the pictures supply so much depth. I spent quite a long time on each page just taking in the illustrations in sheer amazement at the story they provide which is absent from the text. As a reader, I got a sense of David’s disobedience from the words, but was really able to see his personality through the devilish grins. The illustrations also made me laugh along to see the joy on his face as he is causing trouble and having so much fun regardless of the scolding from his mom. At the end of the story, David finally seems affected and is given a hug by his mom, who says, “Yes, David…I love you!” This was a great reminder that at the end of the day, parents will love you no matter what.
            No, David! is an easy read and would be great for young kids because the repetitive nature would help them to learn and read it. However, I think this book would work with older students as well. Its message is simple but significant, and so I would use this story to talk about the message that is intended—that no matter what, our parents will always love us. As a teacher, I think it would be important to share a personal story of a time when I misbehaved to show students that we all make mistakes and can be forgiven. This message can then be applied to classroom behavior to remind students how much I care about them even if they do something wrong. Finally, this book could also be used with students to encourage them to pay attention to and pull out information from the illustrations. I think No, David! would be an excellent choice of literature to practice this strategy. So much of the action relies on the pictures and the text is simple enough that it would allow students to make independent discoveries of what they can learn from a book’s illustrations.

The Car Washing Street

The Car Washing Street by Denise Lewis Patrick, ill. by John Ward
            Picture Book—Grades 1-4
            Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)
            Summary: Matthew and his father sit out on their stoop on a Saturday morning watching all of the neighbors wash their cars. Matthew loves living on the car washing street because something crazy always happens.

            The Car Washing Street is a special story that brings back a lot of memories of the street I grew up living on. Just as Matthew looks forward to the Saturday morning ritual of car washing, I could not wait for the warm summer nights to roll around on my street. As a kid, I would constantly be running around outside with my brother and the several other kids on the block. We would goof around on our bikes or in somebody’s sprinkler, and the water fight that Matthew has with his neighbors in the story is reminiscent of what we would end up doing with the hose out on the lawn. Patrick’s subtle use of alliteration spruces up the text, but other than that, the writing is lacking in any sort of flair. However, I think this is fitting for the story, as it is told just as you would see it if you were sitting on the stoop with Matthew observing the action—it is pure and simple in flavor as it describes what is happening. At the conclusion of the water fight, the group is brought together by some cool refreshments sold by a street vendor. As they unwind with their ices on a stoop, I felt a warm sensation of togetherness that reminds me of the bonding my family shared with our neighbors—an experience that I think is dying out in neighborhood living today.
            In the classroom, I think this story would work well as a preface to a writing exercise. I know that writing about personal experience is easy and students often enjoy the retelling of something that happened over the summer, during a school break, etc. Therefore, we could have a short sharing time and then the students can use The Car Washing Street as inspiration to write about a similar occasion when they had fun just playing around. With this story, I would also emphasize the importance of bonding with friends and family over the simple things—events that happen every day and aren’t necessarily a special occasion. I think we can always gain from a reminder to enjoy the little things in life and remember to play and have fun. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mudball

Mudball by Matt Tavares
          Picture book—Grades 1-4
          Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)
          Summary: Mudball depicts the legendary story of little Andy Oyler, the shortest player in the baseball league. While he has never gotten a hit before, fate seeks to change Andy’s luck on a rainy day in 1903.

            Mudball is a story that I can definitely relate to as a reader. I played softball for many years and grew up in a family that loves all aspects of baseball. At first, Andy Oyler just seems like your typical underdog hero, but this story has so much more to offer. As I was reading, I recalled the many games I played in the rain and how difficult it was to run out onto the field every inning in those conditions. I also experienced many slumps in which it almost seemed like I would never be able to hit the ball again—and so I know how Andy was feeling as he went up to bat amidst the jeers from the crowd. I think the feeling of defeat is far too common, especially as young kids are immersed into the world of sports at such a young age and often pressured to do well by parents, coaches, and peers. The expectation for children to succeed athletically is an unrealistic one because kids develop at different rates and do not even have control over their motor skills until adolescence. Therefore, Mudball contains a good lesson by demonstrating that you don’t always have to be the best to be the hero, and more importantly, sports are most valuable when we are out there to simply have fun. Tavares effectively conveys this message of fun and builds the story’s excitement through his use of dialogue. As the players frantically search for the ball in the mud puddles, I felt myself on the edge of my seat with every exclamation they shouted, placing me in the moment with them and making me feel like a part of the action.
             As previously mentioned, I think this story shows us the importance of having fun with a sport, even if you’re not the best player. Relaying this message to kids is important, and that is how I would use Mudball in my classroom. I’m not exactly sure if it would fit nicely within a specific theme or unit, unless we were talking about sports. In sharing this book with children, I would really hope that they could learn from Andy Oyler that you can still make a big difference even if you’re not a natural athlete or the star player on your team. For this to set in with students, I think it would be useful to first share my own experiences playing softball as a kid and let them know that I had struggles of my own. As their teacher, this would be good for them to hear that something they might experience is not uncommon and that we all go through phases of feeling like we are not as talented as our peers. Finally, I would try to transfer this message to the classroom and talk about our differences in abilities in school as well. It would be a good opportunity to discuss how we sometimes fall short of what is expected of us in school, but that it is okay and we should always keep trying and bring our best effort to the plate, just as little Andy Oyler did.

William and the Night Train

William and the Night Train by Mij Kelly, ill. by Alison Jay
            Picture book—Grades PreS-K
            Rating: 4 out of 5 stars  
            Summary: William and his mother, along with an array of people and animals, board the night train on its way to tomorrow. William is wide awake and wants to get to tomorrow quickly, but the train won’t leave until he is asleep.

            Reading William and the Night Train made me feel like a kid again. Much of the story follows William as he wildly bounces from train car to train car and is simply too excited for tomorrow to come that he cannot go to sleep. I remember being tucked in by my parents but feeling the exact same anticipation as William and wishing that it could just be tomorrow already! Especially when we would be leaving the next morning for our summer vacation, I know that I spent many nights as a child wide awake in bed and starring through the dark thinking about everything that we had planned for our trip. I also connected with William’s experience as his mother tells him the quickest way to tomorrow is to close your eyes and go to sleep. It’s funny that I can recall my mom saying the same thing to me, and I would wake up the next morning with the realization that she was right—the night flew by once I was asleep. The motif of this story—a train taking you to tomorrow—reminded me of The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. The charm of this book also stems from the disproportionate characters and array of circus animals that board the train along with William. It makes me want to hop on board and join the fun—I wouldn’t want to sleep either with all of the excitement around!
            I would definitely consider using this book in my future classroom. After sharing it with a couple of students, however, I do have some hesitations. The two second grade girls that I read this to really enjoyed the story and especially loved the illustrations. They had fun pointing out the different people boarding the train and seeing that there were little piglets in one of the cars. However, it took them a while to grasp the idea of a train going to “tomorrow” as a time frame rather than as a location, since that is what they know of where trains take you. One girl was laughing as she asked me if “tomorrow” was really the name of a city somewhere, and so I did my best to explain the train ride as a metaphor for going to sleep. In the end, I think they both understood; however, I would discuss this concept more thoroughly as we read through if I were to use this story in my classroom. I think it would also be helpful to have a class discussion and have students share a time when they were so excited that they couldn’t fall asleep, and maybe that would help set the stage for this story. To fit it in with a certain theme, I might read it when we are coming up to a holiday or break and tie it in with plans that students have during their time off. Otherwise, I think this book would also be great just as a fun read-aloud at the end of the school day.