Archive for January, 2015

JasperTitle: Jasper John Dooley: You're in Trouble

See also: Jasper John Dooley: You're in Trouble

Author: Caroline Adderson

Illustrator: Ben Clanton

See also: Ben Clanton's Squiggles and Scribbles

Publisher: Kids Can Press

Year: March 1, 2015

Pages: 124

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of this book. I was in no way compensated nor asked to write a favorable review of the book. All you get here is honesty and my opinions.]

My initial reaction after I finished this book was that I didn't care for it all that much. I mean, frankly, I work with children all day long who need absolutely zero drinks of Torpedo High Energy Drink. On one level, I perfectly get the humor; on another level, the story was an echo of what I deal with every single day of my life. I'm sure I am in for some nightmares. I jest, of course, but reading about my students in this book was fun and helped me see them in a little different light. Maybe I can just go to work each day an imagine they have dads or moms who allowed them to drink Red Bull before they came to class.

So, let's start with what I didn't like about the book and from there move on to what I did like.

First, the role of the parents kind of bugged me. I see this in children's books a lot. The parents are present, but they are also kind of stupid. I'm not sure if Jasper's parents are sitting back and waiting for Jasper to figure out the problem on his own or if they are aloof (mother) and kind of irresponsible (dad). This is the only Jasper story I have read so I'm not sure if this is typical or atypical of the parents in the series. I'm not sure why the parents seem so strange, but they bugged me because they seemed to provide no guidance whatsoever in the story; they were there, but they were absent. The age group this story is written for (7-10 according to Kids Can Press) is an age group that needs guidance during discovery. I'm not sure I want my sons' best friends giving them guidance for living–even if I am not naive enough to disbelieve they get it from them anyhow.

Second, there were a few language issues that bothered me. Maybe it's Canadian to say things like 'the lates', but this is not something that is typically understood in American English–and it's certainly not something we teach in Language Arts. It's a colloquialism that might need explained to students who read the book or adjusted in versions destined for the US. Second, I'm not sure why there are so many randomly placed capital letters in the book. At seemingly random places, random words are capital in the middle of sentences. It's odd and, again, it's not how English is taught. I'm sure it's a literary device, but I still hate it because there's no accompanying explanation as to why it is that way.  Third, I'm not sure I understand the author's intention in using the word 'pills' to describe cutting celery. As an adult, I understand what it means; I'm not sure children will understand. And the notion that 'it would be so much easier to swallow a pill with Torpedo High Energy Drink…' is just a bit too close to reckless even if the author is talking about celery.

I am a teacher and I see the results of children who make reckless choices. I also see the results of parents who are irresponsible and aloof. I understand that some things are meant to be funny, but lampooning dangerous things can problematic, for children, if done so without explanation. I hate to be critical, but if I want children to read a book I have to read it with an educator's eye and a parental eye. It seems to me that these, and some other strange things, might require explanation or some guidance. It also appears that Jasper is simply destined to learn the hard way. He keeps going back to this energy drink, he keeps feeling badly about it, and he keeps swearing off drinking more. There is probably a lot of truth in this for adults as well as children. If Jasper learns he cannot manage these things on his own, I wonder if there are lessons to be learned by adults too?

Now, on to the things I liked about the book.

First, I think the book is really funny. As an adult, I saw the humor and some innuendo that made the book interesting. There was one particular conversation that I thought was terrific:

"Three things, the. Good sleep? Check. Good breakfast? Check. Dad set two plates of bacon and eggs on the table. "With your good sleep and your good breakfast behind you, you'll feel confident and strong for the game, Jasper.' 

"My breakfast is in front of me," Jasper said.

"But after you eat it, it will be behind you."

"Won't it be in me?" (46; digital edition; NOOK)

I love conversations like this. Here in this conversation I think the author captures well the spirit of a precocious child. It's really a wonderful exchange and it characterizes many of the conversations that take place in the book. It's funny and charming and totally exasperates the dad.

Second, there are not a lot of illustrations in the book, but the ones that are there are well done and add texture to the story. One of my favorite pictures is of Jasper falling asleep on picnic table in the park while his friend Ori, wearing a shirt reminiscent of Charlie Brown, looks on. I would like to have seen a few more illustrations, but that's a personal preference. The ones that are in the book are fun and capture well the tenor of the story.

Third, I think the ending added a nice twist to a story that seemed to me lacked an overall plot. Essentially the story goes from scene to scene and works very hard to see how many 'bad' things Jasper can do after drinking the energy drink. There's no real rising action, no real climax, and the can of energy drink must be the biggest can of energy drink on earth. But the end of the story provided a fresh twist that I truly appreciated and, to be sure, brought the story together for me. I laughed out loud when I read it and, after I thought about it for several hours after finishing the book, it caused me to reassess the entire story. Really it was the ending that won it for me.

Overall, I like the story even if I have a few reservations about some of the things in the story. Those reservations might well be matters of personal preference and nothing more. This book is part of a collection of Jasper John Dooley stories–early chapter books for young readers. I am sure that young readers will be amused by the chapter dedicated to Jasper's underwear, to toilet foot, and to getting stuck in the wrong bathroom. I'm sure they will be amused by many things in the book. It's a good effort even with my exceptions noted in the above paragraphs. It's a fun story I think will be fully enjoyed if there is some parental or teacher guidance. The book is not just about making good choices or the sketchy things that happen when we make bad choices, but about learning to resist temptation. In this regard, it may be helpful for some adults too.

4/5 stars

Grades 2-5/Ages 7-10

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ZippyTitle: Zippy the Runner

Author: JiYu Kim

Illustrator: JeongHyeon Seon

Publisher: Norwood House Press

Year: 2015

Pages: 29

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair an unbiased review of this book. I was in no way compensated for my review and I was not required to write a positive review of the book. ]

I teach special education at a small elementary school. I have been teaching special education for 4 years now as a second career. It is not easy work–I work with students who have emotional/behavioral disorders. The students keep my on my toes and on the go. They have more energy than is typically necessary for a human, but that is all part of the fun of the work.

Another aspect of these students' lives that is perplexing is their willingness to give up easily on tasks they deem too difficult. Typically their default mode is: "I can't." It is terribly frustrating for me as a teacher because I see in them the ability to do anything they set their minds to doing–even if it requires more processing time to do so. Yet within in them there is a chicane of some sort or another that convinces them they cannot. Thus a large part of every day is spent working to show them that they can, in fact, accomplish something and that what matters is not, always, success, but effort. We constantly use the word 'try' in my classroom because, as I tell the kids, you do not know if you can or cannot until you try. 

To this end, I believe Zippy the Runner would be a helpful book. Zippy, the main character, has to press on and on, keep practicing, keep running–keep trying. What I like best is that at the end of the book Zippy has no yet succeeded, but neither has Zippy quit trying. This, in my opinion, is what is key to this story.

I also like the artwork very much. I believe the illustrator did a brilliant job composing art for the pages–even though what I saw on the digital version didn't render very well on my Adobe Digital Editions (I didn't even download this to my NOOK so I'm not sure how it rendered on that device.) Still, I loved what I saw. And if the truth must be told, I will say that if a children's book as good artwork, it will usually fly with kids–and with me. I love the illustrations.

The end of the book features a Reader's Theater idea which can be found here and some curriculum ideas for using the book in the classroom. The reader's theater is a bit short, but may be helpful in lower grades. The curriculum idea is a fun little art project that the students will likely enjoy as well.

This is a book I will incorporate into my classroom and one that I think my students will enjoy. I enjoyed very much and I will look forward to reading more from this author and, perhaps, from Norwood Press House books in the MySELF Bookshelf Series.

5/5 stars

The information below is from the Norwood Press House website I have linked to above.

Grade level: K-2
Dewey: E
Subject: Fiction, Social and Emotional Learning, Optimism, Self-Worth
Accelerated Reader Reading Level: 2.5
Accelerated Reader Quiz #: 168500
Lexile Level: 470L
GRL: K

BOBTitle: Blue Ocean Bob: A Challenging Job

Author: Brooks Olbrys

Illustrator: Kevin Keele

Publisher: Children's Success Unlimited, LLC

Year: 2015

Pages: 51+

Blue Ocean Bob Website

[Disclaimer: In exchange for my fair and unbiased review, I was provided an ARC by the publisher through NetGalley. The views expressed here are mine alone. I was not required to write a positive review and I was in no way compensated for the review. All images belong to the copyright owner.]

Blue Ocean Bob wants to be a marine scientist who helps all the animals and 'safeguard the sea.' What follows are five short stories told in a series of couplets (AABBCC, etc.). Each chapter is relatively short, but they are fairly well balanced and interesting enough to hold the attention of the reader. It took me about 20 minutes to read the book and I enjoyed it.

In chapter 1, Bob has to help a baby seal learn how to swim, but first he must learn how to dive himself. In chapter 2, he has to help clean up the water, but in the process gets a pelican tangled in a net and has to solve another problem. In chapter 3, he has to warn some sea animals that a storm is coming and they need to find safe place to wait it out. In chapter 4, he has a crisis concerning his choice of a career path and has to wrestle with some tough decisions. And in chapter 5, Bob finds his calling once again by rescuing an animal that needs help.

Bob has to work hard to see his goals through to the end in each chapter. I'm guessing this has something to do with the author's interest in 'achievement philosophy.' The little bird, Xena, his 'guardian, ally, and friend,' is kind of annoying and serves as a sort of Jiminy Cricket type character except that Xena is (seemingly) always negative and warning Bob of the dangers that lie ahead and why he should just abandon all his quests and his ambition to be a marine scientist. Bob has to press on through this constant negativity, through constant challenges, and seek wisdom from others in order to accomplish his goals of rescuing and warning animals in the sea.

I do like this book. There are times, yes, when the rhythm of the rhyme gets a bit difficult and that may prove challenging for students at times. With that said, I have no real problems with the story as such. I would use this book in my special education classroom because I find that many of my students often default to 'I can't' or 'it's too hard.' Sometimes those negative nancies abound and it would be helpful for them to have another voice showing that they can, in fact, accomplish things they put their minds too; that they can achieve when they try. Bob is a great character study in perseverance.

One final note, the artwork is spectacular. I would like to have provided a link to the illustrators website, but I'm not sure I found the right one so I didn't include it. I love the pictures and the color and the overall wonderfulness of the art. It is appropriate to the story and enhances it on every page. Children seem to like stories involving interaction between humans and animals. I think this accomplishes that in a nice way, even if there are moments when the grammar could be a little clearer.

I recommend this book and will adopt this as part of our social skills curriculum in my classroom.

4.5/5 stars

Daniel PlanTitle: The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life

Author(s): Rick Warren, Daniel Amen, Mark Hyman

Publisher: Zondervan

Date: 2013

Pages: 346

The Daniel Plan Official Website

Saddleback Church

[Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of The Daniel Plan in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of the book. I was in no way compensated nor asked to write a favorable review. So, there you go.]

I'm sitting in my study tonight enjoying some music, playing a game on my NOOK, and enjoying a fine adult beverage–which is loaded with carbs and calories and was probably made from the sorts of things that the authors of The Daniel Plan would advise me to eschew. I'm actually fine with that. It seems to me that the key to living, and enjoying life, is moderation. But let's be honest: most Americans would just as soon cut their leg off than to practice moderation.

This is a long book. A very long book. It is all of the 261 pages of text about the Five Essentials (Faith, Food, Fitness, Focus, and Friends.) One would think it would be a quick and rather whimsical read, but it wasn't. It was boring. The remainder of the pages (263-346) are filled with recipes, fitness plans, meal plans, detox charts, and more. Really, it is terribly boring reading–even the multitude of personal testimonies marked off in green text boxes gives the book very little depth because all the testimonies are, predictably, supportive of the wonders of the Daniel Plan. I'm not suggesting the authors should have included negative testimonies; that would defeat the purpose. I am suggesting they could have eliminated most of them and the reader would not have missed anything.

I'm going to just cut to the chase, so to speak, in this review. Rick Warren is very popular and has written several books that have been remarkably helpful to thousands of people around the world. This is a fact no one disputes–well, except for some online 'ministries' who think it their job to police the church. I'm not concerned about Rick Warren as an individual nor is it my objective here to review him. I will review the book. The Daniel Plan is the third of Warren's books I have read and the same problem I had with the first two is the problem I have with this one: I dislike to the nth degree the way he uses Scripture to suit his own agenda. And with this book it starts with the title and gets worse.

Let's be honest: the Old Testament book of Daniel has absolutely nothing to do with what 'a healthier lifestyle' and frankly it is simply pastorally irresponsible to suggest that it does. Yes, in chapter 1 of Daniel, Daniel and his three friends refuse to eat the king's provisions and instead consume only vegetables and water. The next verse says, "To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds" (1:17). The emphasis is on what God did, not on the reasons why Daniel and his friends went on the peculiar diet in the first place.

This is how Warren consistently uses Scripture. He quotes it piecemeal–as if that is how the Bible was written. A verse here, a verse there; a particular translation that renders a verse with just such language that it suits Warren's thesis. It's old and tired. Just once I'd like Warren to write a book where he deals with a whole text–say, a book length church program about the church living in exile and what the Bible says to us about keeping in stride with Jesus all while focusing on one book of the Bible, from one translation, and with clear theological exposition of the book. But that is just not what I get from Warren's books. It is disappointing. And if I might say one final thing about this point, it would be this: his use of Scripture is, in my opinion, dangerous because it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of Scripture. That is, it may not necessarily be wrong, but neither is it necessarily right. It really fails, at a significantly deep level, the grapple with the hard truth of the Bible. The Bible isn't necessarily interested in better people, but new people. Books like The Daniel Plan might make us thinner, healthier, and better. They will not necessarily make us new.

As much as I hate to say it, Warren is a master of abusing context to make Scripture match his ends.

As for the rest of the book, what can I say? There are those who agree; there are those who disagree. I've read other reviews suggesting his take on wheat and gluten and other grains is wholly off base. I disagree that the diet plan suggested in the book is affordable. Whole foods and organic foods are incredibly expensive and the meals they suggest we prepare for our families probably are not entirely realistic for families where both adults work full-time. I could be wrong, but I'm willing to bet that people who are already in a financial position to eat the sort of foods suggested are going to have a much easier time following through than people who are not.

A couple of final points. First, I disagree that red meats 'should be cooked medium rare or medium' (146). I think this is a matter of taste. Second: "That is why we believe that once The Daniel Plan is embraced by the faith community, it will spread the gospel of health and change through America and the world" (148). Well, there you go. This is a worldwide initiative. I can think of a few other things the church ought to embrace–but this is a 'faith community' initiative not necessarily a church initiative.

Here's the bottom line: I am sure The Daniel Plan has helped a lot of people. I am sure there is nothing in it that is entirely unhelpful. I am sure it is a radical thing for the 'faith community' to embrace. I am sure it is somewhat countercultural. I am sure getting healthy is a good thing that many of us in the church need to think about–especially in America where our poor are among the wealthiest people in the world. Rick Warren continues to produce books that are meaningful to a large portion of the population and that make a lot of money for his publishers. (There's a whole line of The Daniel Plan products including journals, apps, exercise gear, etc.)

As far as content is concerned, I'm indifferent. It's nothing more than another in a long line of lifestyle books on the market. Strangely enough we have a market for these books in America where we have everything we need. Others can testify to the medical content of the book; although, I have read reviews that suggest he is misguided on the issue of wheat, grains, gluten and other things. (And I might add that I don't trust Dr Oz who happens to be a proponent of the content of this book.)

But I'm not going to pretend for a minute that this book has done any justice to Scripture and I'm not going to pretend that just because it was written by a Christian preacher that it necessarily has anything to do with faith in Jesus. The 'faith community' is where it's at for this book–whatever faith that may be.

2/5 Stars

Jan 17, 2015

PT Forsyth is amazing.


Jan 17, 2015