Across the Alley

March 17, 2018

Stories embedded into my heart are my favorites like Pricilla and the Hollyhocks by Anne Broyles. Although I came across this book in 2009, I still recall the richness of the words and the endurance of the character.

Across the Alley by Richard Michelson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, is a new books to add to this favorite list of powerful stories. I have read it five times trying to comb the craft and I just sit in the story. Richard Michelson brings to life the friendship of two boys, one Jewish, one black, both separated by many cultural differences, but blend through nightly conversations through their bedroom windows. Not allowed to be friends during the day and in the open, the persist for the good.

Abe plays violin. Willis plays baseball. Through their nightly, across-the-alley window talks they teach each other their skill. Ironically, the switched activity becomes a natural talent for the other. Read how the boys rise above the grown-up expectations and bridge a friendship between their families. My guess is you’ll be cheering at the end like I did. Share this sense of hope with your students.

Willie’s real quiet now and I wonder if I said something wrong. Maybe he doesn’t know about the Nazis.
“My great-granddaddy was a slave too,” Willie finally says. “I never knew any white folk that were.”

Click on the link to view a preview of the book. My guess is you will be drawn to the story too. You can also listen to Jay O. Sanders read the book on this link (scroll midway down the page).

Share this 2 minute video with your students as he talks about writing fiction.

Savorings for Across the Alley:

  • Figurative language/ Visualization
  • Overcoming racial differences
  • Friendship
  • Sharing talents – the arts and sports blended
  • Show not Tell – “My palms turn sweaty.”
  • Sequence of pivotal scenes
  • Sense of hearing – descriptive in order for the reader to feel as if they are watching and hearing the scenes unfold

TV: How it was Invented

August 3, 2011

Kathleen Krull introduces her book with “Life Before Philo”, inviting the reader to imagine life in history. A contrast to today – no visual images except for the movie theater. Only the radio brought live entertainment into the home.

The Boy Who Invented TV: the Story of Philo Farnsworth shares how Philo was curious and intelligent. He asked questions of the repairman and read article in science magazines. Scientists were trying to create television and Philo’s mind lingered on the mystery.

Kathleen Krull shares how the idea was inspired at age 14 and Phil’s stages in creating the first TV image. This biography is a longer text, yet grabs the reader’s attention. The author’s note in the back shares how he won the patent but was not given credit for creating TV due to big business. They featured TV at the World’s Fair.

Savorings for reading and in writing for The Boy Who Invented TV: the Story of Philo Farnsworth:

  • Importance of life-learning
  • Show Don’t Tell – Kathleen’s craft with words is awesome
  • Voice – “And there was not television. That’s right. NO TV.”
  • Varied sentences
  • M Dash – used several times for emphasis on the key idea
  • Author’s Note – excellent background information and gives the rest of the story

PES new book (2009)


Someplace Special

March 4, 2011

I love author’s notes!  I fell like having a personal interview with each author.  Patricia McKissack explains that Goin’ Someplace Special is her story, based upon the segregation she grew up with.

‘Tricia Ann wanted to go to her favorite place.  She had gone there many times with her grandmother, but today she was going on her own.  ‘Tricia rides the bus, sitting in the ‘colored section’.  As she walks to her destination, ‘Tricia gets caught in a crowd and is swept into a hotel where she faces hostility.

Through the encouragement of a kind woman, ‘Tricia is reminded of her grandmother’s words:

“And no matter what,” Mama Frances called after her, “hold yo’ head up and act like you b’long to somebody.”

Arriving at her destination ‘Tricia An was thrilled.  It was a place of freedom.  It was the Nashville Library.  The fron facing declared, “Public Library:  All are Welcome”.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Goin’ Someplace Special:

  • Love of Reading
  • Determination
  • Show don’t Tell – “What’s got yo’ face all clouded up like a stormy day?”
  • Visualizing
  • Grabber Lead – “Tricia Ann was about to burst with excitement.”

The Wall

November 10, 2008

As we think about Veteran’s Day, picture books can help children relate to historical events.  Eve Bunting creates an honored respect for those who have served and lost their lives through her book. The Wall.  A young father and his son go to visit the Vietnam War Memorial Wall.  They are in search of someone, someone special – the young father’s father. The narrative is shared through the eyes of the young boy.  He wants to meet his grandfather.  Eve Bunting’s words command moments of silence and reflection.  “My dad stands very still with his head bent.”

When I read this book, a lump comes to my throat and tears fill my eyes.  I can’t help it.  Emotion wells up.  Whether I agree with why our country is at war, my heart bleeds for those who have given their lives for my freedom, for the freedom of my children.  Eve Bunting kneads her words, creating strong emotion.  Children will relate and gain a better understanding of why we honor our veterans.  I have a signed copy of The Wall by both the author and the illustrator.  Listen to what they say.

Eve Bunting:  “The wall is for all of us!”

Ronald Himler:  “Live in such a way that we will never need another wall like this one.”

See an interview with the author:  Eve Bunting. Listen to the story being read by a veteran. Images of the actual Vietnam War Memorial Wall are added during the reading of this story. Very moving.

Savorings for reading and in writing for The Wall:

  • Theme – respect and honor
  • Strong emotion
  • Show don’t Tell – “Dad’s rubbing the name, rubbing and rubbing as if he wants to wipe it away.
  • Setting matches the mood – “bare trees behind us and the dark, flying clouds”
  • Symbolism – “The wall is black and shiny as a mirror.  In it, I can see Dad and me.
  • Simile – “The letters march side by side like rows of soldiers.”