Literary Reviews (Matt’s Thoughts About Texts)

We are stuck at home!

What to do? Here is an idea. It is my 100th Blog: Escape Novels

I provide a rationale for three award-winning novels to use as vehicles of escape from the boredom and isolation of Coronavirus pandemic stay-home-followers.

Daxin-Gratz“Refugee” Review

The author Alan Gratz has written several books honored for celebrating diversity. Among others, the 2017 book “Refugee” won the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Award. Not only does the book shine a light on very different cultures, but it pays respect to an age old plight of humanity: The Refugee.

The treatment of refugees in the recent past has been appalling. This book is a needed and important read for America’s and the youth of the world. Thankfully, it was chosen as the 2018 Global Read Aloud. There can’t be too many books like this one!

Screen Shot 2020-05-07 at 7.58.51 AMStoryworks Junior: #OnlineLearning Tool Extraordinaire

What is your favorite online teaching tool? How have pedagogy companies adapted to the #OnlineLearning world?

Storyworks Jurnior didn’t have to change. It is still as awesome and useful as ever!

License to Poetry

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Check out “Poetry is Classy” to read one of my poems.

Why do you poetry? Does that sound wrong? I turned the noun poetry into a verb. I can do that. “How?” you ask. I have a license for it.

Graphic Novel

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” Book Review

Problematic Writing

How many sub-genres exist within realistic fiction? I almost just wrote, “What is your favorite?” but instead, I want to pose this question:

Trolley_problemWhat type of text changes you?

Change can be uncomfortable. People get complacent within their norms. Some get bored. If you are looking to shake things up or challenge yourself, I recommend you try out the realistic fiction sub-genre of problem novels. Check out this blog for a description and a couple of ideas for texts.

Biography: Henry “Box” Brown

Book review for the picture book

Written by: Ellen Levine

Illustrated by: Kadir Nelson

Informational Book About Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Book Review for Caldecott winner “Balloons Over Broadway” by Melissa Sweet + links to additional sources for more information about Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Alcatraz_Island_March_1962Breaking Out the Controversy

Storyworks Junior (2016) featured a nonfiction text about the daring and famous Alcatraz Prison escape that occurred in 1962. One of my favorite things about this text is that it ends without neatly tying up the ends of the tale. In fact, the whole story is an unsolved police investigation! The three men who escaped “The Rock” were never found. The Storyworks Junior article tells all about the men’s preparations and the difficulties that they would have had to overcome. Then you are left with the fact that the men got out, but disappeared.

When using this text, I make it controversial by pitting students against one another. I have some write, arguing that the men did survive. They have to provide evidence from the text to support their opinion. On the other hand, the men very well may not have survived their daring escape. They could have been eaten by sharks or simply drowned, with their bodies washed out to sea. Some students argue these points.

This blog tells the story of my class using a nonfiction article to spark controversy. How do you make text meaningful to your class?

downloadWhere does Inspiration Come From?

This is a blog about one tiny thing, an image, a feeling, a word, inspiring a whole novel. It contains a CLCD-format review of “Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventure” by Kate DiCamillo, written for Kutztown University, Department of Library and Learning Technologies, LLT 520 “Resources for Children and Young Adults” course. Additionally, there is a short bio with a list of other DiCamillo texts.

Light_dispersion_conceptual_waves“Circus Mirandus” and Light-Bending

A “speculative novel” is science fiction, fantasy, time travel, dystopia, etc. Here is a blog inspired by the book “Circus Mirandus”. I love this book because is makes you think; not just calculate-think, but wonder and imagine-think. The story focuses on belief in magic, as in it is real if you believe it. This reminds me of Christmas magic and blind faith.

Off-The-Page Artwork by Caldecott Winner, David Wiesner

imagesFor a class at Kutztown University I revisited some of my favorite texts of David Wiesner. I begin the year with one of his wordless books, “Tuesday”, and I use “The Three Pigs” when teaching fractured fairy tales. Wiesner’s artwork is beautiful and imaginative. He thinks outside of the box… In the case of “The Three Pigs” his creativity leaps right off of the page… literally! If you are unfamiliar with this author, check out the blog. There is a book review for “Tuesday” within it.

Appreciating the Past is ClassyFeatured Image -- 1049

In true form, I will begin this thing with a blog that wasn’t so much a review about the book, but a way to use a classic in the class. This is a call to arms, as you will, defending the use of old books. The ballet is beautiful, but what is the story behind “The Nutcracker”? That question prompted me to pick up and read the original text several years ago. Now, I read it to my students every year.

Interesting thought not mentioned in the blog: This past year, I realized that the movie Inception, where Leonardo DiCaprio travels deeper and deeper into people’s dreams is a literary element! The Nutcracker has a story within a story within a story describing where the nutcracker came from. It’s not the best classic, but so much of Christmas culture is infiltrated by this nut-cracking character that it seems valuable to visit its origin. Classics are classy by definition.

Before Reading

Prior to experiencing a text, I have my students look up vocabulary words. We discuss anything unique to the setting and characters kids will experience that is necessary for understanding the text.

Here is a blog championing vocabulary through telling a story of something that happened to me: Cognomens Are Classy

gold coloured human statue
Photo by Engin Akyurt on

Award-Winning Titles

Reviewed, Discussed, Explored, etc.

A year and a half ago I had this hair-brained idea that I would read all of the Newbery Award Winners. Originally, I thought I’d begin at the beginning, reading the very first one “Story of Mankind” (1921) and work my way to the present, chronologically. I wanted to accomplish this because I recognized that some of my favorite books are award-winners. If the most literate people on the planet chose to award a text, it is probably pretty good. Although I had read many, there are plenty I hadn’t touched… yet! And so, I began. As it turns out, I lost some steam, and I didn’t keep to strict chronological order. Also, some books deserved more than one blog!

I am picking this mantle back up. The texts will not be explored chronologically. And breaking with the original goal even more, I am going to add books that did not win Newbery Awards to this “review page.” Finally, I do not intend to produce reviews in the traditional sense. You can get those elsewhere. I am going to apply my take on “class” to these texts. What makes the book classy? Are there elements that are not classy? Those are my driving questions when writing. Without further ado, here are my most recents.

5 Classy Elements of “The Story of Mankind” (1921)

The very first Newbery Award-Winner wasn’t what one would expect: It was NOT a novel, but an attempt to make history palatable to young readers.

  1. Figurative Language
  2. Evidence-Based
  3. People’s Perspective
  4. Thought-Provoking
  5. Opinionated

3 Classy Things Dolittle Does

While the 1st Newbery Award-Winner was nonfiction, the 2nd recorrects this with fantasy beyond the 1924 mind!

  1. A unique attitude regarding wealth
  2. Respect for animals
  3. Holds science in high regard

Warning: There are racially insensitive attitudes exhibited in this classic. They are subtle, but should not be ignored.

A Classy Adventure Aboard “The Dark Frigate”: 3 Effects

3 “Aaaars” from the Captain for this classy award winner:

  1. Romance
  2. Rub
  3. Realism

iBooks Are Classy

This is a journal entry about using iBooks to read the 3rd Newbery Award-Winner connects technology with the faraway past of frigates and 17th century language that was written in 1924.

Stories Are Magic Potions: Use With Care

Published in 1925, “Tales From Silver Lands” by Charles J. Finger, the 4th Newbery Award Winner, is a collection of South American folktales of aboriginal people from that continent.

To Evaluate is Classy

A journal article about “Kira – Kira” by Cynthia Kadohata (2005), a book so sad that it is sweet!