Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Module 11 Informational Books: The Boy on the Wooden Box

The Boy on the Wooden Box

Bibliographic Information
Leyson, L. (2013). The boy on the wooden box. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 

This is the memoir of Leon Leyson, one among many on Schindler's list.  He begins telling his story by describing what his life in Poland was like before World War II began.  He lived with his his mother and siblings in a small village in the country, while his father was in Krakow, working in a factory and saving money so his family could join himAfter five years, Leon's father had enough saved, and they all finally moved to Krakow.  Everyone was excited because they felt like this was a new start for their family, a chance for new experiences and better opportunities.

For a short time, things were looking up, but then the Leyson's started hearing rumors of another war.  Not long after, the German army rolled in and occupied Poland.  Leon and his family immediately felt the effects of the occupation.  They were suddenly barred from many public places like the park, the trolley, and stores, and his father lost his job at the factory.  As times grew worse, they had to sell off belongings just to have food to eat.  Even though things were bad, the Leyson family had no idea just how horrifying they would get.  The family was moved from their apartment into the Jewish ghetto, where they were forced to share a one-room apartment with another family.  They lived in fear of being arrested and sent to work camps.

One lucky day, Mr. Leyson was called to open a safe for a prominent Nazi, and he so impressed the man that he was hired to work at the man's factory.  That man was Oskar Schindler.  Over the next few years, Leon's father's job offered the family some protection from the Nazis, but when it became all too clear that his job with Schindler couldn't protect them forever, Mr. Leyson began asking Schindler to hire the rest of his family.  After months went by, months in which Leon was moved to a work camp and separated from his parents and siblings, months that Leon didn't think he would survive, he finally received word that he would now be working in Oskar Schindler's factory.  Leon Leyson and his family worked for Schindler until the war ended.  A few years after World War II ended, he moved to America with his mother and father.  Leon married and had children and worked as a teacher for many years.  He didn't often speak of what he went through in WWII, not until a reporter convinced him to share his story years and years later, when the film, 'Schindler's List,' was being released. 

Words can't describe the depth of feeling this book evokes.  Like many historical fiction novels set during WWII, this book relates a story that seems too horrific to be true.  Sadly, this book is true because Leon Leyson lived it.  The characters' sheer strength and will-to-live is inspiring, but at the same time you question how they managed it as you read about the conditions they lived through.  I would recommend this book to anyone upper elementary and older because it shows the impact that just one person can have on the world. 

This powerful memoir of one of the youngest boys on Schindler's list deserves to be shared.  Leon Leyson grew up in Poland as the youngest of five children.  As WWII breaks out, Leyson's ingenuity and bravery, combined with the kindness of strangers and a bit of serendipity, save his life, time and again.  The storytelling can at times meander, and the various reflections of his life in Poland during the war can result in a certain patchiness, but Leyson's experiences and memories still make for compelling reading about what it was like to suffer through the Holocaust.  This memoir is a natural curriculum addition to WWII units for upper-elementary and middle school readers.  Be sure to have additional materials on hand about Oskar Schindler, as readers will want to do more research into Leyson's story. 

Review Reference
Thompson, S. B. (2013, September 1). [Review of The Boy on the Wooden Box:
     How the Impossible became Possible... on Schindler's List: a memoir, by L.
     Leyson]. Booklist. Retrieved from

Library Use
~ I think this book would be a great companion to a historical fiction novel set during WWII.  Students could compare the HF text to this memoir and discuss similarities and differences in the two genres.
~ This book would be a wonderful addition to a WWII display.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Module 10 Historical Fiction: Amelia and Eleanor go for a Ride

Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride

Bibliographic Information
Ryan, P. M. (1999). Amelia and Eleanor go for a ride. New York: Scholastic Press. 

This is the story of the unique friendship between Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt.  Both women were independent, adventurous spirits ahead of their time.  One evening Amelia and her husband are invited to join Eleanor at the White House for dinner.  Over dinner the two friends begin talking about flying, and Eleanor asks what it is like to fly at night.  Amelia immediately offers to leave dinner and take Eleanor on a ride over Washington, and off they go.  They fly for a while, enjoying the wonder of the city lights far below.  The story fittingly ends with the women headed off another adventure, this time with Eleanor at the wheel of her new car, driving off into the dark night with Amelia by her side. 

I found this book to be inspiring and full of a sense of adventure.  I think it accurately presents the two main characters as strong women who weren't afraid to think for themselves and act in a way that wasn't the norm for the time.  With that being said, it is a thoroughly enjoyable picture book in its own right, telling a tale of two friends having fun together.  The black and white sketches are a perfect match with the text and add to the sense of wonder and excitement on each page.  The double-page spread of Washington, D.C. lit up at night is breathtaking.  The author's note at the end provides readers with interesting facts about the two women and the real events that inspired the story. 

Ryan imaginatively expands on a true historical event in this intriguing picture book. While dining at the White House in 1933, Amelia Earhart convinces Eleanor Roosevelt to join her on a night flight to Baltimore. The two women marvel at the sights and the excitement from the air. After landing, they sneak away for one more adventure, as this time, the First Lady treats her friend to a fast ride in her new car. The fictionalized tale is lively and compelling, and the courage and sense of adventure that these individuals shared will be evident even to children who know nothing about their lives. Without belaboring the message, the author clearly conveys how the "feeling of independence" that both women treasured was a crucial part of their personalities. Selznick's larger-than-life pencil drawings add considerably to the spirit of the tale. He captures the glorious beauty of the night flight and the beauty of the city below. Varied perspectives and background details consistently draw readers' eyes. An author's note clearly defines which elements of the story are factual. The women were actually accompanied by two I male pilots, but the author decided that it made it "much more exciting" to imagine that they were alone. "Almost all" of the dialogue comes from historical accounts. The title stands well on its own, but will also work as an excellent inspiration for further reading about the lives of Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart. 

Review Reference
Engelfried, S. (1999, September). [Review of Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride,
     by P. M. Ryan]. School Library Journal. Retrieved from

Library Use
~ This book would be great when studying famous women in history.
~ It could also be used to teach the historical fiction genre.
~ The illustrations could also be the focus of a lesson, discussing how the black and white pictures compliment and lend voice to the story.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Module 9 Mystery: The Night my Sister Went Missing

The Night My Sister Went Missing

Bibliographic Information
Plum-Ucci, C. (2006). The night my sister went missing. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc.

What begins as a typical night on the beach for Kurt and his group of teenage friends, turns into a nightmare.  One minute they're all hanging out on the old pier, talking and having fun, but the next someone starts passing around a small handgun that was brought to the party.  Suddenly a shot- or was it a firework?- is heard, and Kurt's sister, disappears over the edge of the pier into the rough surf.  Kurt spends the rest of his night hanging out at the police station, waiting on his parents to get back in town, and eavesdropping on all the locals who stop by to give their testimony.  

At first it seems pretty clear that their friend Stacy had something to do with the tragedy.  Some people think she pulled the trigger in a fit of jealousy, others think the gun going off was an accident, but almost everyone agrees that the gun belongs to Stacy.  As Kurt listens, he learns things about his friends that he hadn't seen before.  With his eyes wide open, Kurt begins to gain understanding about the difference between the public persona of his friends and the struggles that some of them were hiding.  He also starts to realize that what he wants out of life may not match the plans he's made with his parents.  Now if only his sister, Casey, is found and she's okay, Kurt is ready to make some honest decisions about his life.  Will all of his friends be able to do the same? 

This is a good little mystery with a lot of character development mixed in.  The reader has a unique perspective through Kurt listening to his friends' testimony.  We see his reactions to all the revelations at the police station, and we watch him change and grow as he starts to understand how little he really knew his 'friends.'  It is very interesting to see how all these events work together to help Kurt grow up, seemingly overnight.  Of course, as more and more clues come to light, the story keeps readers intrigued with twists and turns that seem unrelated at first.  I think that middle and high school students will enjoy this book because it is a mystery that will keep you guessing and invested in the story right up to the end. 

A shot rings out at a beach party.  A girl falls backward- or dives forward- into the water and disappears.  Her older brother, Kurt, remains in the police station all night anxious for word and spying on those who come to give their statements.  The thread running through the speculations and accusations is Stacy Kearny, a poor little rich girl, whose explosive family secrets make her a prime suspect in the shooting.  Plum-Ucci returns to a familiar topic- a young missing person and the questions raised by the disappearance- to explore class prejudice, teen cruelty, and loyalty between friends.  There's no doubt Plum-Ucci can tell a heck of a story.  But there are chink's in the narrative's armor:  characters tend to sound the same, and the one-way mirror in the station that enables Kurt to spy on the witnesses sticks out like the device that it is.  Still, readers will be turning pages as new information is dispensed in each chapter, moving and changing the story in unexpected ways.  They'll race to the ending and won't guess it until they get there. 

Review Reference
Cooper, I. (2006, October 15). [Review of The Night My Sister Went Missing, by 
     C. Plum-Ucci]. Booklist. Retrieved from

Library Use
~ This would be a great book to read and discuss, focusing on how the events affect the characters in different ways and how those characters change throughout the story.
~ It could also be used in a Mystery display or in a lesson about the various elements found in mysteries