The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian

693208Junior Spirit describes his home as “approximately two billion miles west of happy.” Yet in wanting to escape the alcoholism, poverty and despair that dominates life on the ‘rez,’ he becomes a traitor to his tribe by simply attending a better, whiter school.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is a raw and honest look at
life on, and off, the reservation in Washington State.  An awkward but smart teen, Junior chooses to leave his underfunded, crumbling Indian school for a better education and hopefully a chance at a better life.  However, in doing so he is rejected by those he has left behind and never really accepted in his all-white, new school.  The dichotomy of his parallel lives is so deep he even takes separate names.  At home, he is Junior, a lifelong nickname that represents that his connection to both family and tribe.  At school, he is Arnold, a name given at birth but never used, at least not until stepping into this world that doesn’t recognize the tribal norms Junior has never questioned.

In trying to bridge his two identities, Junior struggles to grasp the world and his place in it.  Hispart-time-indian attempts to understand the flawed adults around him are relatable and often funny.  Readers don’t have to be a poor, Indian kid to connect with Junior and his journey. This is a book about being on the outside and looking for a way in, themes to which any teen can relate.  It explores issues of social justice and dignity, and takes a hard look at Junior’s so-called role models, all issues Kohlberg discusses as crucial issues in the post-conventional morality stage of development. It would appeal to ages of 13-16, though even an adult would enjoy the Alexie’s wry and raw writing style.

If readers have already tried and liked Diary, there are other great books on the market for picking up next.  If you were drawn to Junior’s cultural and personal identity struggles, Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos is a great next choice for you.  While grittier than Diary and set in the 1960, this book’s exploration of fitting in and standing out still resonate today.

Another next novel for Diary fans could be King of the Screwups: A Novel by K.L. Going.  Rich and popular, party-animal slacker Liam is kicked out by his dad and sent to live with his gay, glam-rocking uncle in a trailer park.  This is a book about reinventing oneself, high parental expectations and unexpected family bonds.  Liam and his Aunt Pete are unique characters that stay with you.

This is an excellent read!

5-flashlight-rating

Sleeping Dragons provide some fun and help conquering night time fears.

sleeping-dragonsThis is the book that taught my four year old to use the word gargantuan.  It has been a favourite ever since.

Sleeping Dragons All Around by Canadian author Sheree Fitch is filled with rare words to encourage a budding vocabulary.  It also contains fun rhymes, repetitive features young kids will love and whimsical illustrations from Michele Nidenoff.  The writing style allows for dramatic readings that will engage both parent and child in this fraught journey past sleeping dragons toward a midnight snack fit for the sweetest sweet tooth.

In terms of message, this is a versatile book.  Parents with little ones who might be struggling with night time fears like monsters under the bed will find this a useful book to frame a discussion about overcoming those fears.  The ultimate resolution of the story also lends itself to discussions about sharing  The illustration of the dragons denied the cake can be used for early lessons in empathy.  Parents can ask children how they think the girl feels when the dragons start to eat her mocha maple chocolate cake and then about how the dragons might feel when the little girl yells at them.

The use of language in the text is wonderful for early literacy.  It is probably more accessible for children in the 4-5 age range as there are at least 1/2 a dozen rare words per page.  This is a wonderful tool for phonological awareness both because it is simply fun to read, but also because of the rhymes and repetition.  Each page describes a specific and decidedly odd dragon but it also repeats…

“I must tiptoe, tiptoes…. softly as I pass…” or a close variation on this sentence.

The size and capitalization of the words change, encouraging not only volume shifts for the reader but print recognition for the children as well.  The placement of words on the page is also very specific, with the justification of the repeated phrases always the same.  This way, children can easily see the words they are starting to repeat with the reader.

Sleeping Dragons All Around is a great introduction to the power of language.  Parents can point out the descriptive words and encourage children to describe the things around them.  Is the tree outside just big or is it huge… or massive… or gargantuan?

Younger kids could have fun with simple pretend games.  Set up some stuffed animals and tip toe around them, trying not to wake them up.  The parent could continue using rare words describing the toys as they go with the goal of having the child start using similar descriptive words as the game progresses.

This is a wonderful book that I highly recommend for young reader both for its emergent literacy elements but also because it is simply a fun story to both read and hear.

5-flashlight-rating

Bonding with Baby over Peek-a-Boo

peek-a-who2Peek-a-boo is the favourite early game of babies everywhere.  Between the development of the early concept of object permanence and the direct face-to-face interaction of a loved one, this is the ideal learning and bonding experience.

Peek-a-boo books abound on the shelves of most libraries and bookstores, however Peek-a-Who? by Nina Laden is a lovely book for you and your child that adds extra early childhood developments concepts to make the reading experience even more fun.

Peek-a-Who? has simple rhymes to engage baby and ends with a mirror for baby to see himself.  The inclusion of these concepts make it an ideal book to take baby from around 6 months into toddlerhood.  Younger babies can appreciate the simple rhymes and giggle with the repetition.  Readers can use the voice inflection to introduce the concept of surprise and discovery.  The mirror on the final page can be used to show baby an image of himself, something that fascinates him at this stage.

As babies age they can turn the pages themselves and engage in the peek-a-boo game.  As the reader, you can encourage predictions with strong cues from both the rhyme and the illustration.  Phonoelogical awareness is encouraged through these predictions, an important early literacy skill.  The repetitive nature of the book will also help the child start reading parts back, perhaps answering each question as it is presented.

peek-a-who3Peek-a-Who? is well set up to take the learning experience past the last page.  For young babies, the mirror can extend the game of peek-a-boo with baby’s own image.  For older babies and early toddlers the game of peek-a-boo can move past this book.  Try covering object in your child’s room with the pages of the book and ask pee-a-who? The game can be extended to use special stuffed animals or even siblings.

The range of learning options makes this is a nice book to read with siblings.  The younger baby can focus on peek-a-boo games and the bright colour pictures while an older child can practice rhyming concepts with the parent asking, “what else rhymes with who?” or by asking for the sounds connected to the images in the book (ie: cow, train, elephant).

Reading just 20 minutes a day with your baby can go a long way to developing early learning skills but, more importantly it is a wonderful bonding time for parent and child, so grab a copy of Peek-a-Who? or whatever book you choose and cuddle up for a good read.

Peek-a-Who? gets five flashlights on our Under the Covers rating scale for not only being a good read but for creating a fun bonding experience for you and your baby.

5-flashlight-rating

Happy Reading!