The Last Dragon: Dragon Speaker by Cheryl Rainfield (a hi-lo book) - Book Review

I’m going to say straight out that I am not a fan of hi-lo books. As a reading specialist, I GET the need for them, understand the struggling reader – Shoot, I live and breathe the struggling reader, but I’m a book lover and a firm believer in students rising to a challenge.

I’ve read many, many hi-lo books and most are didactic and overly simple in plot and character development. I’ve never recommended a hi-lo book for the aforementioned reasons. However, I am going to tell you about one of the best hi-lo books that I’ve gotten my hands on and teachers of middle school struggling readers (or even elementary teachers looking for easy chapter books) will want to take a look at The Last Dragon: Dragon Speaker.

Protagonist Jacob is a disabled boy who can speak to birds, hear their thoughts really, as they hear his. He’s soon thrust into an adventure to right the wrongs of his village. Alongside Jacob is his solidly fantasy genre friend and his future love interest (which will serve well in discussing genre). The plot is quick and Jacob & company are interesting (two of my worries with hi-lo books, remember?). His struggle with self-esteem issues is also a good choice, as this may be an issue for some of the struggling readers who glance its pages. The Last Dragon: Dragon Speaker has magic, villains and dragons, and manages to present the story in a believable way, without the detail-less tone accompanying many hi-lo books.

Written at approximately grade 3 and geared to the middle school interest level, teachers seeking decent, even well written, hi-lo books should check out the The Last Dragon series.

For more information for High Interest - Low Reading Level books, you can check out the publisher’s website where they discuss the science behind these books and how they work.  I love what they say about working the students OUT of hi-lo books being the whole purpose!

The Tree That Time Built by Mary Ann Hoberman & Linda Winston - Book Review

The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination is an amazing and beautiful poetry anthology supporting both science and language arts curriculum standards, as well as opportunities for critical thinking. But, I suspect, any time you attach the word “evolution” to something, you are limiting some of its audience. And that is such a shame.

The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination is one of those books that teaches without effort and flows from knowledge to art easily. Strong examples of figurative language, scientific study and critical thinking are married to artistic expression. There are over 100 poems and an accompanying audio CD presenting 44 of them, most read by their authors.

The footnotes, added to many of the poems, are especially helpful in teaching. They tie science, nature, and art to background knowledge (or build new knowledge, for that matter) and extend the poems critical thinking possibilities. They offer teachers opportunities to seize those special “ah, ha!” moments, so wonderful within the profession. The end features a glossary of terms and book suggestions for further explorations. A final ‘About the Poets’ section is just icing on the cake.

Lets not forget to mention that The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination is also a beautiful book in hand. The publisher has taken the extra time to choose rich papers and strong design elements to add even more depth of presentation. In a world of growing digital media, this book lover can certainly appreciate that effort.

Highly recommended!  The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination is a must for all (elementary & secondary) language arts and science classrooms and libraries. I will be passing this one along to my own school’s science teacher :-)
-------------------- Resources --------------------
Genre: Poetry. Age: 9-12. Pages: 224.
Themes: Science, Nature, Beauty, Art
Thank You to Sourcebooks for my lovely copy; I'll be passing this one around!
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Date: October 2009.
ISBN-13: 978-1402225178
Buy The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination Here

Boston's NPR affiliate has a nice interview with the authors. Scroll down to the 5th interview to listen: HERE.

Mary Ann Hoberman is our Children's Poet Laureate. She lives in Connecticut and has four children and five grandchildren. She always knew she wanted to be a writer. You can read more about her on her website. Her co-writer is Linda Winston, a teacher and cultural anthropologist, you can read more about her on her publisher's website.
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti.

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Joey Fly, Private Eye author & illustrator explain the graphic novel process

Yesterday   I told you all about a great new graphic novel, Joey Fly, Private Eye in Creepy Crawly Crime, and today I have an excellent classroom addition written by author Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Neil Numberman explaining the whole process of how a graphic novel gets made. Without further ado:

by Aaron Reynolds and Neil Numberman

(Interior. Aaron Reynolds, a writer of children’s books and graphic novels, is sitting at
his writing desk. He’s typing, but suddenly stops when a shadow falls over his screen. It’s a kid, about ten or eleven.)

Aaron: (looking up) Hey.

Kid: Hey. Whatcha doin’?

Aaron: Um…writing. Who are you? What are you doing in my writing room?

Kid: I’m just some random kid.

Aaron: Ah. A random kid in my writing room. Okay.

Kid: Yeah. Act like I’m not here. (pause…Aaron starts to get back to work, but is
interrupted) Aren’t you an author?

Aaron: (turning back around) Ignore you, huh? That’s gonna be tricky. Yeah. I write
kid’s books and graphic novels.

Kid: Graphic novels? Like comic books?

Aaron: Kinda.

Kid: Whatcha writing now?

Aaron: An article about how a graphic novel gets made, but I wanted to write it LIKE a
graphic novel, so that’s what I’m doing.

Kid: But…there’s no pictures. A graphic novel has lots of pictures.

Aaron: Not at first. Not mine anyway.

Kid: What?

Aaron: Seriously. I don’t draw.

Kid: I must have the wrong house then. I thought the dude that lives here makes
graphic novels.

Aaron: I do. But I don’t draw them….I write them.

(Kid pauses while he thinks about this, then…)

Kid: That’s messed up.

Aaron: No, it’s not.

Kid: You can’t make a graphic novel without being able to draw.

Aaron: Well, I do. Like my new graphic novel…it’s called Joey Fly, Private Eye…

Kid: Way to work that in there. Nice plug. Smooth.

Aaron: Yeah, thanks. Well, Joey Fly starts out like this. A script, just like this one.

Kid: Just the stuff people say?

Aaron: Mostly. I also write in what I see happening in each scene.

(Kid flops into a big cushy chair and puts his feet on Aaron’s writing desk, makes himself
at home. He looks at Aaron like he’s lost his mind.)

Aaron: See? Like that. It’s called “stage directions”.

Kid: Oh cool! Like actions and stuff!

Aaron: Yeah, exactly.

Kid: Do it again.

(Kid gets up, kind of excited now. He’s putting it all together in his head, but then he
notices a fresh sandwich on Aaron’s desk. Goes over, lifts the bread…he’s kinda
hungry…but decides he doesn’t like tuna. Flops back down in the chair.)

Kid: Hey, that’s awesome how you made me do all that stuff! And I do hate tuna.

Aaron: It’s a script. In the graphic novel, I write the story. I come up with the characters. In Joey Fly, Private Eye, I create what happens, what characters are in it, all that stuff. Then I put it into a story…a script like this.

Kid: But it’s not a graphic novel. No pictures.

Aaron: Not yet. It will be soon. But first, I break it into panels.

Kid: Panels?

Aaron: Like this. Chunks. How I imagine it will get broken into boxes in the finished
graphic novel. This helps me figure out the flow and pacing of the story, helps me cut
extra junk that’s not needed, and helps the illustrator figure out how he’s gonna lay out
the pictures on the page.

Kid: Cool. I notice you use lots of words like “gonna” and “whatcha” and stuff. My
Language Arts teacher would go nuts on you for that.

Aaron: Yeah, well… I try to write how people really talk. I think that’s important,
especially for a graphic novel. It all depends on the character. Like, Joey Fly says some
gonnas, but he also uses lots of detective-y phrases…

Joey: Life in the bug city. It ain’t easy. Crime sticks to this city like a one-winged fly on
a fifty-cent swatter.

Aaron: Like that. That’s his opening line in the book.

Kid: Okay, that’s pretty funny.

Aaron: Well, I try.

Kid: But it’s still not a graphic novel.

Aaron: Man, for a random kid who shows up in my writing room, you’re seriously pushy.

Kid: Do you know many eleven-year-olds? We’re all like this.

Aaron: That’s right. Not being one, I forget sometimes.

Aaron: Well, now that it’s all broken into panels, I give it to my publisher. And once
she’s happy with it, she sends it off to the illustrator and he starts drawing.

Kid: You tell him what to draw?

Aaron: No.

Kid: You tell him what the characters should look like?

Aaron: No.

Kid: What do you tell him?

Aaron: Nothing. Most of the time, we never even meet.

(pause…the kid’s mouth is hanging open.)

Kid: That is seriously messed up.

Aaron: That’s how it works. Unless you are the writer and the illustrator (which I’m
not…I don’t draw, remember?), that’s how it works.

Kid: So what happens then?

Aaron: The illustrator looks at it and begins to sketch out what he thinks the characters
look like.

Aaron: Like, for Joey Fly, Private Eye, the illustrator is a guy named Neil Numberman.

Neil: Hey kid. What’s up? Hey Aaron.

Aaron: Hey Neil. So, Neil might decide after reading this script that you look like this:

Kid: That’s me?

Neil: Yep.

Kid: You made me a bug!

Neil: Well, we’re talking about Joey Fly, Private Eye, so I’m thinking in bugs. It’s my
job to use my imagination, to come up with my ideas of what Aaron’s characters and
story look like.

Kid: Cool.

Neil: And as I start drawing and figuring out what it all looks like, Aaron’s story moves
away from being a script and I start creating real characters…


Thanks so much to Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Numberman for this awesome classroom support!

© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti.

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Joey Fly, Private Eye by Aaron Reynolds with illustrations by Neil Numberman - Book Review

Older readers and graphic novel lovers will find a lot to like in Joey Fly, Private Eye in Creepy Crawly Crime. Told with the style and verve of hard-boiled detective fiction, Joey Fly, Private Eye in Creepy Crawly Crime has all the traditional fittings of the genre. There’s the cocky assistant, Sammy Stingtail. There’s the curvaceous dame in distress, Delilah. There’s even the gritty street scenes of a city painted in shadow.

It seems Delilah has lost her precious diamond pencil box and she wants to hire Joey to find it. But as Joey and his new assistant will find out, not all is what it seems with this femme fatale.

Joey Fly, Private Eye's tongue-in-cheek style and witty rhetoric offers many great opportunities for the classroom as well. As with most mystery fiction, there are abundant sections for prediction and detail identification. Though the book is labeled for grades 4-6, it is, perhaps, better suited for an older student or stronger reader who can appreciate the countless examples of figurative speech. The worry with this sort of story is whether the young reader will “get it”  and average readers in 4th - 5th grade would certainly need a fair deal of support. However, I'd never want to sell my students short and Joey Fly, Private Eye in Creepy Crawly Crime is certainly a classroom keeper.

Recommended for strong readers, middle school students and lovers of the graphic novel format. Also great for inclusion in science classes or during a lesson on insects.

Here's a taste of what readers are in for:

-------------------- Teaching Resources --------------------
Genre: Graphic Novel, Mystery. Age: 9-12. Pages: 96.
Thank You to Mr. Reynolds for my copy.
Publisher: Henry Holt Date: April 2009.
ISBN-13: 978-0805082425
Buy Joey Fly, Private Eye in Creepy Crawly Crime Here

Discussion Questions: Though not divided into specific sections, the story has some definite scene changes that make for perfect stopping/discussion points.

Section page 1 – 27: What is a private eye?
Why does Joey hire Sammy Stingtail?
Why is Sammy Stingtail so clumsy?
Section page 28 – 39: Why is Joey Fly so interested in talking to Gloria?
What do you think Gloria will say when Joey confronts her?
Section page 40-51: Why does Joey Fly suspect Delilah is not telling the truth?
What does he do about it?
Section page 52 – 67 Predict what happened between Delilah, Gloria and Flittany.
What does Flittany eat?
What will happen when Delilah, Flittany and Gloria get together?
Section page 68 – 96 Make a sequence chart of what exactly happened at the party and afterwards until Delilah hired Joey Fly.

Vocabulary: chump (8)  muggy (9)  arachnid (10)  exoskeleton (10)  clumsiest (12)  invertebrate (12)  parched (13)  expressions (19)  molt (20)  compelled (25)  annoyance (25)  accusation (25)  stampede (31)  dung beetle (31)  hunch (31)  heave (33)  gargantuan (40)  appetizers (45)  antennae (51)  stagnant (56)  dame (57)  unkink (59)  centipedes (63)  caterpillar (63)  stench (66)  cattail (66)  lingo (70)  spasm (70)  agility (74)  dramatic effect (75)  horrendous (76)  cicada (77)  venom (78)  mandibles (81)  kamikaze 981)  savoring (83)  stupor (84)  duo (85)  parasite (85)  larvae (86)  steroids (91)  skulking (93)

You can follow Joey Fly or  Sammy Stingtail on Twitter!

Aaron Reynolds is a human, not a bug, but he often writes about bugs. He is the author of Chicks and Salsa, Superhero School, Buffalo Wings, and, of course, the Joey Fly, Private Eye graphic novels. You can read more about him and his other books on his awesome website.

Neil Numberman is a termite currently residing in New York City. Joey Fly, Private Eye is his first graphic novel, but he is also the author/illustrator of the picture book Do NOT Build a Frankenstein. Stop by his website.

Oh Wait!  If all this greatness wasn't enough, author Aaron Reynolds also sent along some cool cutouts for your students. Just click on the picture to enlarge it, then right click, choose "save picture as."



© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti.

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