Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Three Golden Keys

Author/Illustrator: Sis, Peter
Published by: Doubleday 1994
Genre: Fantasy, Picture Book, Multi-cultural
Age Range: 3-4th grade

This book, written to his daughter Madeleine, is about Peter Sis and his fictitious trip back to the city of his childhood. A wild storm carried the hot air balloon that he is traveling in off course and her finds himself back in Prague. When he arrives the city is deserted but still looks the way it did when he was young. He finds his way to his childhood home and discovers that it is locked with three padlocks. His black cat leads him through the city to three places that he enjoyed as a child, my favorite was the Astronomical clock. In each place he reads a Czech legend and receives a key. After reading all the legends and receiving all the keys he goes back to his house and unlocks the door. His mother welcomes him, and it is like he has never left Prague and now he has brought his daughter with him.

I love Sis' attachment to his roots and his attention to detail. This is the second book I have read of his where he is trying to recreate for his reader the culture of his childhood. The first one I read, "The Wall" brought out the sad and bad things of his childhood but this story shares some of the good things of the city. These are the things he wanted to share with his daughter. All of his illustrations are very detailed, even the images that seem simple, like the weather balloon on the first page, have very detailed textures. I also like how he has a hidden image of a cat throughout the whole book. On one page the city looks like it has cat eyes, in others the doors look like cat faces. He plays with the process of juxtaposing one image on top of another to add new or more meaning.

This could easily be adapted into a lesson for any age group. In grade 3 students are supposed to learn about fables and myths and learn how to incorporate them in their art. Sis incorporated the legends of his culture into this book. Grade 4 is learning about North Carolina and they could work on illustrating a legend or tale from North Carolina's history. For older students into the middle and high school age range Sis' images could be used as examples of line drawing, juxtaposition, use of color as a symbol, etc.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Author/Illustrator: Selznick, Brian
Published by: Scholastic Press, 2007
Genre: Historical fiction, Illustrated Novel
Age Range: grade 4 and up
Caldecott Award Winner 2008

This book is about Hugo Cabret, a young orphan boy that lives in the walls of the Paris train station. He takes care of the clocks to hide his uncle's disapperance, and steals to get what he needs. This stealing is what leads to the discovery of his biggest secret and a great adventure. The reader finds out about Hugo's life before the train station and meets other characters whose lives become intertwined with his in more ways than one. In the end the mystery is solved and Hugo gains a family and a sense of identity.

I LOVED this book!! I would recommend it for any age. The illustrations are beautiful. I love how it opens by telling you to pretend you're in a movie theatre, and then the story begins with pictures that progress jusk like in a movie. At first I didn't understand the significance of this but by the end of the book it came toghether. By the end I felt like the structure of the book took on two forms. In one way the pages were what the automaton was writing and drawing on, but in another it was a movie. Even the pages with words look like the white screen framed by the darkness of the theatre.
One of my favorite pages has to be that of the inside of the train station in the beginning of the book. It reminds me of Claude Monet's La Gare St. Lazare, a painting of one of Paris six train stations. The train station featured in the book is that of Gare Montparnasse.

This book draws the reader in with an interesting plot and beautiful illustrations. Then it also incorporates actual movies of the time period as well as some of the history behind movie making, magicians, and automatons. I liked when Hugo and Isabelle went to see a movie and Hugo made a comment about how he thought every movie should end with a great chase scene like the one he had just seen. I knew then that I could look forward to a chase sequence at the end of the book. It is little treasures like that that make this book great for even older readers.

This book could lead into lessons about Paris, machinery, art and movies. Students could draw their own automatons and decide what they would have them do. They could even take it a step further and build them. They might not actually move on their own, but it could lead into lessons about sculpture and form. Students could also work together in teams to write their own mini movies and then star in them using video cameras and imovie. This would incorporate writing, creativity, learning about plot and story structure, teamwork, etc. There could even be a movie viewing day, like the honor ceremony for Georges Melies at the end of the book, where the class would watch everybody's movies.

In the back of the book the author offers a lot of great information about what pictures he used and how to find out more about the movies in the book and the film maker that became part of his story. One of the most interesting things he provides is the link to a clip showing a real automaton writing. Amazing!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

Author: Sis, Peter
Published by: Francis Foster Books, 2007
Genre: Autobiography, Multi-cultural
Age Range: grades 4 and up
Caldecott Honor Book 2008

This book is an autobiography about Peter Sis, his love for drawing, and his life behind the Iron Curtain. Throughout the book Sis weaves together his own feelings and history with facts about the Communist Party and the events that touched his life during the Cold War. He goes from being able to draw what he wanted as a child to drawing what he was told to in school. This mimicks the growing cencorship and suppression of the ruling Communist government that he lived under. In school he was being taught to remain loyal to the Communist party and report those who acted against it, even family members. As he grew older he realized something was wrong with that kind of life. He and his peers began to come into contact with the music and other popular culture of the west and desire this freedom in their own lives. Throughout his life he expresses himself through drawing, but the regime he lived under was all about cencorship and he had to be careful of where and what he was drawing. In the end the Communist party is defeated, the wall is torn down, and he is finally free to express himself without fear.

I really enjoyed this book. I loved how the importance of art and expression are promoted. I enjoyed how the facts are listed beside the illustrations on both sides of the page, but Sis' personal story is told in a few words at the bottom. I love how his life is symbolized by his drawing. At first he is young and free and can draw anything he wants, then he becomes indoctrinated and his drawings take on the political themes he is learning. Then, as he begins to understand that something is wrong and begins to think on his own again, he begins to draw what he wants to again.

Right away I enjoyed how all of the pictures were black and white except for the colors in his own drawings, symbolizing his creativity, and the red, representing the Communist party, both of which play major rolls in his life. I also liked how he repeted and bolded the word COMPULSORY. This promotes the importance of the word, and, I think, makes it seem more official and intimidating.

I was amazed at what Sis and his peers did just so they could express themselves. The trouble they went through to make guitars and instruments so they could make their own music showed me how fortunate we are to be able to just go down the street and buy an electric guitar or drums, etc. I've never had to worry about being arrested for my art or the way I think. There is always that worry that people won't understand your art, or appreciate it, but I can't imagine having the added burden of politcal punishment to worry about as well.

I think this story is an excellent way to teach about history, and also a great way to teach about how we should take advantage of the freedom that we have to create. Part of the art curriculum for K-12 is to build understanding of people and cultures in different times throughout history using visual art. Following this story, I could have my class illustrate their own autobiographies or just a simple story from their lives. This kind of activity can incorporate many of the competentcy goals outlined in the NC Standard Course of Study, such as learning how to "depict sequence of events in artwork," or creating "extended visual narratives based on one's own life and experiences,".

The forbidden parts of Western Culture, "Western decadence", that influenced Sis:
-Louis Armstrong
-The Beatles
-The Who
-The Rolling Stones
-Fats Domino
-Chuck Berry
-blue jeans
-long hair
-high heeled boots