The Children's Book Compass

Archive for November 2010

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan.  Illus. by Sophie Blackall.  (2010).  Pages not numbered.  Viking.  Grades 1-4.  Picture Book/Realistic Fiction.

Lively second graders hung on every word when I read aloud this outstanding book to them.  Of course, they would because Khan writes about issues that concern children – acceptance by peers, parental demands, sibling challenges and birthday parties.  Rubina and her family appear to be new immigrants to the United States.  The children thought that the family might be from Iraq because the mother wears a headscarf and as one boy told us, “that’s how mothers dress there, my father served there and he told me.”

Rubina rushes home from school because she is excited to be invited to a birthday party.  Her mother, Ami, says, “What’s a birthday party?”  It is clear right away that Ami needs to be educated about birthday parties, especially when she says that Rubina’s younger sister, Sana, can go too.  When Rubina says – “They don’t do that here!”  Ami tells her to call her friend and ask if she can bring Sana or she can’t go.  Sana goes with her sister and ruins the party.  She even eats the big red lollipop Rubina receives in a party favor bag.  Sadly, Rubina is not invited to any more birthday parties.  The second graders’ eyes got very big when I read that part.  They had opinions as to what Rubina should do to her sister.  But this author surprised them when her plot twists in an unexpected way.  Sana comes home with a birthday party invitation and the mother says she must take Rubina and their youngest sister.  The problem is resolved with a generous act on Rubina’s part.  This story gave the students lots to talk about.  They wanted to discuss Rubina’s kindness to her sister and the powerful connections with other books they made – My Rotten Red Headed Older Brother by Patricia Polacco and The Can Man by Laura Williams.  The illustrations by Sophie Blackall expand the characterization and give additional understanding of the events.  Some pictures give an unusual perspective on the scene, showing a series of actions going on from above.  Blackall adds texture to her illustrations with patterns and prints in the clothes of the characters and the interior decorations of the home.  This book is an excellent choice to share as a mentor text for realistic fiction.

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Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri.  Illus. by Randy Du Burke.  (2010).  94 pages.  Lee & Low Books Inc.  Grades 6 and up.  Graphic Novel/Realistic Fiction.

The graphic novel format is an excellent choice to dramatize the true story of an eleven year old boy, Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, who murdered a girl and then was killed by his own gang.  The black and white illustrations give the story a gritty realism.  Neri creates a narrator, Roger, who is Yummy’s classmate.  In telling Yummy’s tragic story Roger tries to sort out how such a thing could have happened.  Roger describes his neighborhood on Chicago’s Southside as feeling like a war movie.  Gangs ruled the neighborhood, “if you go out at night, you might get yourself shot.”  The gang was the only real family Yummy knew.  To belong he carried a gun and followed the orders of his gang leaders.  After he mistakenly shot a 14 year old girl instead of the intended gang rival, his gang hid him from the police.  When the police pressure became too intense the gang executed him.

In this note in the beginning of the book Neri writes, “I invite you, like Roger, to sort through all the opinions that poured in from the community, media, and politicians, and discover your own truth about Yummy.”  Neri gives a detailed list of these sources at the end of the book.

The even manner presentation of Yummy’s story shows that there were no winners, only losers.  Neri asks in his Author’s Note at the end, “So, was Yummy a cold-blooded killer or a victim?  The answer is not black-and-white.  Yummy was both a bully and a victim – he deserves both our anger and our understanding.”  DuBurke’s pictures add power and tragedy to the story.  The multiple illustrations on each page are framed in different sizes and presented in a variety of lay-outs on the page which moves the story along at a fast pace.  Close-ups of faces add to the drama.  Speech bubbles alternate with Roger’s boxed narration to clearly show who is speaking.  After youngsters have read this book, guide them in discussing the story to come up with their own answers to the question about Yummy being a cold-blooded killer or a victim.

Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

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