Saturday, March 31, 2007

Silly Words Day!

Nancy at Journey Woman has proclaimed March 31 SILLY WORDS DAY!

My students and I are always on the lookout for words that are fun to say and/or spell. Here are a few we treasure (in order from shortest to longest):

Zit (won't be long before they abhor that word!)
Dilfy (a made-up mom word for messy)
Atlatl (a prehistoric spear thrower)
Boonka (a word remembered from pre-speech, meaning blanket)
Kwakiutl (a NW tribe of Native Americans)
Mississippi (fun to say and more fun to spell FAST)
Tegucigalpa (the capital of Honduras)
Onomatopoeia (fun to say and spell)
Gift Certificate (because the nominator only recently mastered the pronunciation of certificate...cerFITicate? cerFICKatut? Plus, they're fun to get!)
Pachycephalosaurus (there's nothing better than dinosaur names!)
Antidisestablishmentarianism (is that really a word?)
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (we KNOW that's not a word, but it's delicious!)

Friday, March 30, 2007

DRAWING COMICS IS EASY by Alexa Kitchen



We get Time For Kids in our classroom each week. It is a great magazine and we learn lots! In a recent issue, we learned about a book by a 7 year old, Alexa Kitchen. The book is called DRAWING COMICS IS EASY (EXCEPT WHEN IT'S HARD). I ordered a copy and can't wait to share it with my students.

There is a lot to like about this book.

First of all, with the popularity of graphic novels, this book will help aspiring graphic novel authors learn to draw great characters, think about color, and more. The first chapter is called "Very Simple" and starts out with, "You may think drawing is hard. Drawing is a big challenge. But it is not. After this chapter, you'll be surprised how easy it is." Other chapters include "Figure Drawing", "Landscape", and "Mistakes".

I also love that it was clearly written by a 7 year old (now nine). I love when I can show my students kids as authors. And kids doing things that they love. The text is not perfect. It has errors in conventions--errors that a seven year old would make. It has not been redone, edited to adult standards, or typed up. It is in Alexa's original handwriting and drawing. Clearly Alexa Kitchen loves drawing comics and from her website, I noticed that she has other books available. She seems like quite an amazing 9 year old.

This book has received a great deal of publicity and has received good press from publications such as Publishers Weekly.

I love books by kids and this one seems especially timely with the popularity of graphic novels. Wish I had found it sooner--I could have used it with my students when we created our own comic strips in the fall.

Poetry Friday: Pop Quiz


















(apologies to Robert Frost)

Nothing Gold Can Stay

1. Nature's first green is what color?
A. Blue
B. Violet
C. Gold
D. Green

2. This hue is her hardest to what?
A. Fold
B. Hold
C. Cold
D. Mold

3. Her early leaf's a what?
A. Shower
B. Bower
C. Glower
D. Flower

4. For how long?
A. An hour
B. A minute
C. A day
D. A season

5. Because of the evidence in the poem that "leaf subsides to leaf./ So Eden sank to grief,/ so dawn goes down to day./ Nothing gold can stay." would you say that this poem is
A. Optimistic
B. Pessimistic



(Answers: c, b, d, a...and the jury's out on number 5. I'll poll the audience on that one. Let me know in the comments whether you see this poem as an optimistic one or a pessimistic one. There's a story behind this question that I'll share later this weekend.)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Reading Aloud EDWARD TULANE--had to share

So, I loved Edward Tulane before I read it aloud to my class. I am a huge Kate DiCamillo fan and love her work. All of it. I especially loved THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE when it first came out. Love the whole story and the writing was brilliant.

It has been our class's read aloud and we finished it yesterday. As often happens, I love the book even more after sharing it with kids. I must say that the kids loved the story. But, as kids do, they got more out of the story than I did. They are amazing. The story is so accessible and real for kids.

When we finish our read alouds, we often think about big questions that we'd like to linger over. Questions that are still swirling around in our heads after we've finished the book. The students brainstorm the list and then decide which they want to discuss. I have learned to just stand back and listen since their thinking is often better than mine. Sometimes we choose one to discuss as a whole class. It turns out that no matter which questions they discuss, they almost always gain a new understanding about the theme of the book.

So, these were the questions that came up after this read:

Why are the stars important? (Do they all connect to Edward's emotions?)
How did Abilene's grandmother know Edward only cared about himself?
Why did Kate DiCamillo choose the places he went? How did each place change him?
Why did the boy throw Edward overboard?
Why did the line, "You disappoint me" come up over and over.
Why did the illustrator decide on the front cover illustration? Why was it so important?
What does the title mean?
Why is Edward made of china?
Why did he not love before and why did he start to love later?
What does the quote at the beginning tell us?
Did Edward help himself? Was his time in the ocean the time he started to help himself?


So, as often happens, I think I can predict the conversations that will take students somewhere new in their thinking. And, as often happens, when I predicted today, I was wrong. I was pretty sure that the question "Why was Edward made of china? would take us nowhere. What was there to say or think about this one?

Then kids started sharing their thinking on the topic and we stayed with it for a while. I sat back and listened to them build on each others' thinking and was totally floored. Here are their theories--all of the things that his being made of china tell us: (I was amazed. So I must share!)

-Edward was china because he was breakable. His heart broke and broke.
-China is special and at the beginning Edward thought he was special and he was selfish.
-He was with a very rich family at the beginning--expensive, then he went to not so rich families, got dirty, etc. but even though they weren't rich, he learned to love.
-On the inside flap, it tells us that Kate D had a china doll and lost her.
-China is fragile--it is delicate and can shatter. Edward was delicate and shattered.
-People Edward meets along the way were all fragile or broken in some way.
-Breaking is like the dark and the author talks about the dark a lot.
-Maybe his whole being was broken--not just his heart.
-He was put back together at the end and that is when he found Abilene-broken and put back together and he was home --china and put back together again.

So, as always they blew me away. This little question brought them to this amazing thinking about Edward and the story of a broken heart. It was not a long conversation--15 minutes. These are 8 and 9 year olds. They are so brilliant every day. I do love my job.

I had to share. As much as I LOVE Mother Reader and as hard as I laughed at Mother Reader's view of Edward Tulane, this is the one and only time I have to disagree with her (SORRY MR). This book is a work of brilliance AND it is hugely accessible to kids--it is an amazing story with a huge life message. Full of hope and happiness. A great read aloud. It was a great day to be a teacher:-) (most days are)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Teacher Blogs

I'm a little irritated with Visual Thesaurus. I said their Blog Du Jour site was one of my five non-kid-lit blogs and then they went and let me down. Their newest set of blogs du jour are titled Teacher Talk. I checked them out, and the title should be High School Teacher Talk.

Where are the elementary school teacher blogs?

I've looked at education blogs before and I went looking again for awhile this morning, but mostly what I find are secondary educator blogs, or blogs about technology in the classroom.

However, I did find Teacher Tube:
About Us

After beta testing for almost two months, TeacherTube officially launched on March 6, 2007. Our goal is to provide an online community for sharing instructional videos. We seek to fill a need for a more educationally focused, safe venue for teachers, schools, and home learners. It is a site to provide anytime, anywhere professional development with teachers teaching teachers. As well, it is a site where teachers can post videos designed for students to view in order to learn a concept or skill.
Seems like a BRILLIANT idea. I can't wait to spend some time exploring and viewing. One more for my spring break To Do list.

Monday, March 26, 2007

PEACH FUZZ -- Graphic Novel Review

PEACH FUZZ vol. 1
By Lindsay Cibos and Jared Hodges
TokyoPop, 2005
Review copy provided by publisher

After I read this book, I knew I needed a kid-sized perspective on the story. I wanted to make sure that my "adult perspective" filter wasn't interfering with my take on the story line. So I asked Carmen Girl, a responsible pet owner, to read the book and talk to me about it.

First, a mini plot summary: Amanda begs her mom for a pet, her mom caves in, Amanda picks a ferret because it's unusual but she knows nothing about ferrets, Amanda makes a lot of mistakes as a first-time pet owner (first-time and ignorant and with no parental support and guidance...but I digress).

Carmen Girl really liked the way the author portrayed humans from the pet ferret's point of view: as the evil handra, a five-headed monster that attacks the ferret with no warning. Carmen Girl also appreciated the sub-plot to the story -- that you have to teach pets not to bite, and you have to teach them right and wrong.

And then Carmen Girl went straight for the things about this book that concerned me when I read it: Amanda is an irresponsible pet owner. She doesn't know anything about animals. She doesn't realize she has to get in touch with the wild nature of an animal to understand why it bites. She is cruel to Peach Fuzz and doesn't take very good care of her. She needed to learn about ferrets BEFORE she brought one home. And for that matter, why does her mother let her do this? She spoils Amanda and is as unthinking about the pet purchase as Amanda is (they buy the wrong kind of cage). The first pet store clerk is a total ditz, and the vet is completely unprofessional. He admits he doesn't know anything about ferrets. All he does is listen to Peach Fuzz's heartbeat with his stethoscope and then he CHARGES them for saying she's still alive. (This incident occurs after Amanda drops Peach Fuzz from a height.)

By the end of the book, Amanda is starting to "get it." She is using the information she has learned from a helpful pet store clerk to train Peach Fuzz not to bite. They are starting to form a connection.

My question to Carmen Girl -- Is this reform too little too late? Is there too much irresponsible pet ownership in this book to make it worthwhile? Carmen Girl thought it was PROBABLY okay. We both agreed we'd like to read the next book in the series to see if Amanda keeps making better pet owner choices. And when I asked Carmen Girl if I should put this book in the classroom library, she cited A DOG'S LIFE by Ann Martin as an example of a similar book that doesn't show humans in their best light and that gives the pet's point of view.

Final verdict: I'll add it to my collection, but I'll try to make sure I talk to the kids who read it to verify they're getting the message about responsible pet ownership that comes late in the book.

Links: TokyoPop's official site for PEACH FUZZ
The authors' PEACH FUZZ website

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Non-Kid-Lit Blogs

MotherReader tagged us in a meme that originated at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy.

Our mission: Name five non-kid-lit blogs we read.

First, from Mary Lee:

Indexed A blog where the daily post is a picture (or more specifically, a chart, graph, Venn diagram...) that is worth a thousand words.

Tech_Space Daily notes on science and silicon from USA Today blogger Angela Dunn. Fun little tidbits of this and that.

Blog Du Jour From Visual Thesaurus. Collections of blogs on a variety of themes. And I LOVE Visual Thesaurus.

Pragmatic Chaos A peek into the life of a smart and funny nanny. Plus, I like her blog title.

LibraryThing Blog I'm going to buy a barcode reader and get my classroom books into my LibraryThing. Or maybe I should realistically say I'm going to ATTEMPT to get that done. Reading this blog reminds me that I paid for a lifetime membership and I should really be doing more with it!

From Franki:

Pundit Mom
A blog for moms with a lot of politics included. She also writes a bit about adoption.

Suburban Turmoil
A laugh-out-loud blog by Lindsay Ferrier of the Nashville Scene. Great posts about being a mom. My favorite posts are her posts of photos and captions.

Mentor Texts
I love reading about the classroom things happening on this blog.

NCTE Elementary Blog
NCTE has a new blog and the Elementary Section just started one of its own. There are only a few posts so far but people like Shelley Harwayne and Curt Dudley-Marling are writing for this blog. This one is not funny but it does bring up some great issues regarding education.

Brotherhood 2.0
Okay, so this one is connected to Children's Lit, but the two brothers' video blog is one of my favorites. The topics cover everything and they always make me laugh.

We tag HipWriterMama, Liz in Ink, The Blue Rose Girls, and Jen Robinson.

Literature Circle Update (or...This Must Be Why I Have No Time For My Own Reading)

Back in January, I wrote about my preparations for all of my students to be involved in literature circles. It's interesting how the groups have evolved and the directions they are going now that they have found a rhythm in the balancing act of reading at a pace for the literature circle: making sure you meet your deadlines to be respectful of the other group members AND to be prepared for discussion PLUS to avoid the withering look Ms. Hahn might give you (along with the patient lecture about meeting deadlines, respect for other members of the group and being prepared for discussions).

The group that has been meeting continuously all through fourth and fifth grade is now reading their "hardest" book yet -- The Secret Garden. They've been pleasantly surprised to find that although (or because?) it is their hardest book, we are having our best conversations. We're focusing on language (lots of Yorkshire-isms and old-fashioned words to puzzle out, along with some flowery similes and metaphors...no pun intended) and on how the author uses language to convey a mood.

I wanted to push the group of capable readers who read Mary Pope Osborne's Revolutionary War on Wednesday and The American Revolution: A Nonfiction Companion to Revolutionary War on Wednesday, so I offered The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop. The were wary when they held it for the first time. It was "long." Maybe "too long." So I did something I rarely do: I pretty much outlined the whole story for them as we looked at the cover picture, the blurb on the back, and the map of the castle inside. They thought it sounded like it might be good, and they decided they could probably read 25 pages in the week before we met again. The next day, the most reluctant member, who had never read a book that long and was pretty sure he couldn't, asked to reconvene the group so he could try to convince them to read more -- he had finished 25 pages in one day, he was hooked, and he knew the rule about not reading past the stopping point. If I haven't done anything else of value this year, I have shown that one student what it's like to get sucked into a story so great you don't want to put it down!

Even before we had finished The Travels of Thelonious, I knew what book I wanted that group to move to -- The City of Ember by Jeanne du Prau. I think the comparisons and contrasts of these two books of speculative fiction about a future where humans have almost, but not quite completely destroyed the planet (and who survives and how and why) will be fascinating. I read Thelonious for the first time with the group...great book! Review to follow soon!





The Friday Group has finished all five books in the Akiko Pocket-Size graphic novel series. An unlikely, formerly invisible-by-choice boy has emerged as a leader in the group. He is lobbying strongly for Time Cat as the book they read next. I think it would be a perfect pick for them -- just the right mix of fantasy and history.


The A-Z Detective Camp group continues to slog along at a chapter a week. They want to read something harder next time...maybe Castle in the Attic will work for them, too. Just at a slower pace than the Tuesday Group.








Those are the five groups from my classroom. Then, as if I didn't have enough reading to juggle, I agreed to organize a free author visit for our fourth and fifth graders. Angie Sage will be coming to our school in mid-April, compliments of HarperCollins Publishers and Cover to Cover Children's Books. We didn't have enough time to try to get every 4th and 5th grade student through one (or hopefully more) of Angie Sage's thick-ish fantasy books, so I am doing literature circles with a few fourth graders from each class and another with a few fifth graders from each class. I am listening to Magyk on cassettes in the car. It's a fun story that really moves along with lots of characters, plenty of action, a bunch of unanswered questions, and short chapters that have provocative titles. I often find myself sitting in the school parking lot or my driveway, listening for just a bit more...just until there's a good stopping spot!

Finally, in every other waking moment, I am reading The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson for my adult book club. Bryson writes about growing up in the 1950's with his characteristic dry humor. My growing up started exactly ten years after the 1950's, so this sometimes reads like history for me, but much of it rings quite true. As of today, I am halfway through. Jury's still out on whether I'll be finished by Tuesday.

NOW do you understand why I have that huge pile of professional journals and NYTimes Book Reviews that lie untouched?!? Why I still haven't finished The Higher Power of Lucky, or Clementine, or Hugo Cabret?!? And sadly, not only are there books to read, there are papers to grade. Sigh.

Friday, March 23, 2007

"Schools Are Right to Limit Parents' Say on Book Lists"

Ann Fisher, one of my favorite columnists for the Columbus Dispatch, has a great article about the role parents should play in school book selection. There was a controversy in a local district about parents' rights to sit on the selection committees. This started with parents demanding books (THE LOVELY BONES and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT) be taken off the high school reading list. Ann argues that parents have the right to decide what their own children read, but have no right to decide what other children read. It is a great piece.

Poetry Friday! 2 New Poetry Books





TODAY AT THE BLUEBIRD CAFE: A BRANCHFUL OF BIRDS

I love when a author publishes his/her first book for children and it is brilliant. Deborah Ruddell, author of THE BLUEBIRD CAFE has written a brilliant one. You can tell by the title how clever it is, can't you?


Today at the Bluebird Cafe

It's all-you-can-eat at the Bluebird Cafe,
a grasshopper-katydid-cricket buffet,
with berries and snails and a bluebottle fly,
a sip of the lake and a bite of the sky.


Isn't it the best?
The book is filled with lots of poems about different birds. The Cardinal, The Woodpecker, and more. The language is amazing ("She rides the sky like she owns the sun"). The humor is the best. Somehow the illustrator has managed to create soft,watercolors with a touch of whimsy.

The endpages are an added treat!



COMETS, STARS, THE MOON, and MARS: SPACE POEMS AND PAINTINGS BY DOUGLAS FLORIAN

This is a great nonfiction poetry book about space. The book is full of a variety of poems about the planets and other space topics (black hole, comet...) Some poems rhyme, some don't. But they all give interesting information about space. A fun way to learn new things and an interesting look at nonfiction poetry.

Here is the beginning of the poem called "the solar system:

Each planet orbits around the sun
(A somewhat circular path).
To calculate the time it takes
Requires lots of math.

The last pages of the book include "A Galactic Glossary" and a bibliography for further reading. This books is packed with information.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

No Dentist Left Behind

My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don't forget checkups. He uses the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I've got all my teeth.

When I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he'd heard about the new state program. I knew he'd think it was great.

"Did you hear about the new state program to measure effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?" I said.

"No," he said. He didn't seem too thrilled. "How will they do that?"

"It's quite simple," I said. "They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a dentist's rating. Dentists will be rated as excellent, good, average, below average, and unsatisfactory. That way parents will know which are the best dentists. The plan will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better," I said. "Poor dentists who don't improve could lose their licenses to practice."

"That's terrible," he said.

"What? That's not a good attitude," I said. "Don't you think we should try to improve children's dental health in this state?"

"Sure I do," he said, "but that's not a fair way to determine who is practicing good dentistry."

"Why not?" I said. "It makes perfect sense to me."

"Well, it's so obvious," he said. "Don't you see that dentists don't all work with the same clientele, and that much depends on things we can't control? For example, I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle-class neighborhoods. Many of the parents I work with don't bring their children to see me until there is some kind of problem, and I don't get to do much preventive work.

Also, many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from an early age, unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay. To top it all off, so many of my clients have well water which is untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?"

"It sounds like you're making excuses," I said. "I can't believe that you, my dentist, would be so defensive. After all, you do a great job, and you needn't fear a little accountability."

"I am not being defensive!" he said. "My best patients are as good as any one's, my work is as good as any one's, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most."

"Don't get touchy," I said.

"Touchy?" he said. His face had turned red, and from the way he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth. "Try furious! In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below average, or worse. The few educated patients I have who see these ratings may believe this so-called rating is an actual measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist.

They may leave me, and I'll be left with only the most needy patients. And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?"

"I think you are overreacting," I said. "'Complaining, excuse-making and stonewalling won't improve dental health'... I am quoting from a leading member of the DOC," I noted.

"What's the DOC?" he asked.

"It's the Dental Oversight Committee," I said, "a group made up of mostly lay persons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved."

"Spare me," he said, "I can't believe this. Reasonable people won't buy it," he said hopefully.

The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, "How else would you measure good dentistry?"

"Come watch me work," he said. "Observe my processes."

"That's too complicated, expensive and time-consuming," I said. "Cavities are the bottom line, and you can't argue with the bottom line. It's an absolute measure."

"That's what I'm afraid my parents and prospective patients will think. This can't be happening," he said despairingly.

"Now, now," I said, "don't despair. The state will help you some."

"How?" he asked.

"If you receive a poor rating, they'll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out," I said brightly.

"You mean," he said, "they'll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience? BIG HELP!"

"There you go again," I said. "You aren't acting professionally at all."

"You don't get it," he said. "Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score made on a test of children's progress with no regard to influences outside the school, the home, the community served and stuff like that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think of doing that to schools."

I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened. "I'm going to write my representatives and senators," he said. "I'll use the school analogy. Surely they will see the point."




(Note: This is not an original piece of writing. This periodically shows up in the inbox of my school email. Teachers forward it on to other teachers, but I didn't know if anyone outside the profession ever saw it, so that's why I decided to share it here. If you want to know what it's like to be a teacher under NCLB, this conveys the ludicrousness and frustration of the whole mess. Apply the ideas to YOUR profession and imagine the outrage YOU'D feel!)

Nonfiction For Older Readers



Thanks again to Chronicle for these nonfiction books that will become fast favorites once I share them in my classroom.

I have been looking for longer nonfiction that students can read over several days. These books are great examples of books that fit that need. Too often, I am finding that my third and fourth graders are finding books with so much on a page, they can't really navigate it independently. So, they end up skimming, looking at photos, and flipping pages. But, with books like BABY WHALE'S JOURNEY and THE TRUTH ABOUT GREAT WHITE SHARKS, intermediate students can gain information from the pictures and the text.

BABY WHALE'S JOURNEY is more of a narrative text--sharing lots of information about the life of a baby whale. The illustrations are lifelike and will engage readers. There are not many words on the page so it is a great choice for children new to nonfiction. Following the narrative, is an afterword giving more information on the sperm whale.


THE TRUTH ABOUT THE GREAT WHITE SHARKS
is packed with information and photographs about great white sharks. There is a great deal of text on each page. The diagrams, sidebars, and photographs add more information. The text is set up with bold words and good spacing so that it won't be an overwhelming read for students in the middle elementary grades. The author gives us many "truths" about the great white shark. She shares information on the work of biologists who study sharks.

The Truth is...Great White Sharks Aren't White.
One of the things that spooks people who are diving with great whites is that the animals seem to appear suddenly, out of nowhere. One minute the ocean is empty in every direction, and the next thing you know, a great white shark is nibbling at the bars of your shark cage. Camouflage may be key to the shark's ability to sneak up on divers....


This is just one of the "truths" that the author shares about great white sharks. I learned a lot from reading this book. I am excited to share it with my students!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Seed Is Sleepy




So, those of you who know me know that I am not so into nature or the outdoors. But, this book, A SEED IS SLEEPY by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long makes me want to spend more time outside. With answers to questions like "Who would guess that a seed as small as a freckle would grow into the world's tallest tree?", even I want to learn about seeds. This book is just as amazing as their previous book, AN EGG IS QUIET. The writer and illustrator team has a very effective way of making the topic of seeds so interesting to readers. The text takes on several formats--labels, poetry, etc.

The page layout is very unique and works well. Information is spread across the page but the font and illustrations make it feel more inviting that your typical nonfiction text. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the subheadings that the author uses. Headings such as "A Seed is Adventurous" and "A Seed is Generous" say so much and the information on the page builds on that thought. Words that you don't usually associate with seeds. I can't wait to share this book with my students as part of Writing Workshop and discuss the way the author uses words in interesting ways.

There is so much information in this book that you can read and reread it, noticing more on each page.

This seems like a must-have classroom book no matter which grade or subjects I teach. It is a great model for nonfiction writing and every page is brilliantly written. The author has a way of writing about seeds so that we understand them by helping us understand how and why seeds do what they do.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Another Great Nonfiction Book from Chronicle




Have you seen the new ABC book, C IS FOR CABOOSE: RIDING THE RAILS FROM A-Z? It is a pretty unique nonfiction alphabet book about the history of trains. Each letter of the alphabet introduces one or two words that relate to trains and the history of trains (Handcar, Hospital Train, Ticket) with a sentence about that word. The power is in the illustrations and photos. Several letters are accompanied by photos from history. There are also artifacts such as maps, tickets, etc. that accompany the text. This book seems great for lots of ages. Young children who love trains, will love to look through the pictures. For older children, the photos, illustrations and artifacts are engaging and educational. The final page of image credits helps readers see where each image originated. The combination of black and white photos and bright-colored illustrations works well. I can see this as another book that is one that children can grow with.

Monday, March 19, 2007

New Nonfiction


A great box of new nonfiction books arrived from Chronicle the other day. Every one is great and I have been dying to share them with you. I'll try to share one a day this week.

PENGUINS, PENGUINS, EVERYWHERE by Bob Barner is a fun nonfiction picture book for young readers. The book is small--perfect for tiny hands. The text is rhyming and is written in a way that almost dances across each page. The illustrations are bright colored and very inviting. Each page tells the reader something interesting about penguins. There are two great spreads at the end of the book that add to the reasons why I love it. There is a "Penguin Puzzler" with illustrated questions and answers about penguin. The last page is the "Penguin Parade" which shows illustrations of 17 different penguins along with their names, place where they live and size. Good nonfiction books for young readers are sometimes hard to find. Because of the last 2 spreads, this book can grow with young children.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Author Interview: April Pulley Sayre

Back in February, April was the visiting author at my school and at Franki's school, and then she was one of the featured authors at the Dublin Literacy Conference. If you don't know her books, it's time for a trip to the library or the bookstore! Please welcome...




April Pulley Sayre!


Tell a bit about how the places you've visited in the world have wound up in the books you write.

My idea of a great day is standing in an army ant swarm in Panama or swimming with squid in the Caribbean. My husband and I travel to many biomes but focus our trips on rain forests and coral reefs. We've visited rain forests in Ecuador, Peru, Guatemala, Belize, and Panama. We've even led adventure tours to Panama so we know that country well. The direct experiences we've had in Panama have shown up in ARMY ANT PARADE and an upcoming book about howler monkeys. (I love to witness army ant swarms and see the many birds that follow the chaos.)


Photos from the rain forest are in my young readers book, TROPICAL RAIN FOREST, and in SECRETS OF SOUND: STUDYING THE CALLS OF WHALES, ELEPHANTS, AND BIRDS.

What do you feel is the best quality of your writing?

I think the best technical quality of my writing is probably what people have called "lyrical language." When I write picture books, in particular, I approach them with a certain voice, and polish them until they have a push and pull of language that is pleasing to my ear. The words have to be right. When I am done polishing a picture book it lingers in my mind—the rhythms and rhymes. I have a great sense of satisfaction when I am done writing these picture books and I never tire of reading them out loud. Perhaps that is the point. A great picture book has to hold up to repeated readings. It has to be delicious in every way.

My specialty is narrative nonfiction—material that is true but that uses suspense and other narrative techniques to give the feel of a story. I like to choose material that has layers of meaning. Often my books seem to be about something small but ultimately make a reader feel connected to something deep and large, such as the sunrise, the water cycle, and so on.

What's your favorite of all the books you've written, and what's the story behind that book?

I love so many of my books and each in its own way. One of my favorites is certainly DIG, WAIT, LISTEN: A DESERT TOAD'S TALE. It's about listening for the sound of desert rain. The illustrator, Barbara Bash, and the art director and designer just made it the perfect book. Kids just hug it to them. You can tell each part of the book was made with love. THE BUMBLEBEE QUEEN had that same quality and the illustrator, Patricia Wynne, made that text sing.



One of my favorite book texts is certainly my recent picture book STARS BENEATH YOUR BED: THE SURPRISING STORY OF DUST. It's about how you and I help create the color of the sunset and sunrise. It's about how we live in a world sprinkled with star dust and dust from long ago, even dust in which dinosaurs rolled. Again, it's one of those think small, think big kind of books. It's probably my best writing. I thought it would never be published; it was rejected 52 times over the course of 8 years until the wonderful Rebecca Davis, who was at Greenwillow, took the risk of making a book about dust. When STARS BENEATH YOUR BED won the best Science Picture Book of the Year from the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru/Science Books and Films, I cried I was so happy. I was so amazed that book would now have a life.

Would you tell us a little about your upcoming books?

I have three books coming out this year and two next year. My first, in April, is HUSH, LITTLE PUPPY, from Holt. It is a loving lullaby with beautiful illustrations by British artist Susan Winter.

In the fall my third chant book, BIRD, BIRD, BIRD: A CHIRPING CHANT will be released. A new chant illustrator, Gary Locke, has done this one and his work is spectacular. Really laugh out loud hilarious with an underlying bubble of good-natured joy.

The third book is VULTURE VIEW by Holt. I am so excited about this book. It's illustrated by Caldecott Honor winner Steve Jenkins. I think it's one of my best read aloud books and a perfect pairing with Steve's art and sensibility. I can hardly wait until it's released by Holt in October 2007. It's not just about vultures; it teaches about physics...how warming air rises and cooling air falls.

I wrote the book while standing on a tower in Panama. Yet the book isn't set in Panama at all. I was taking care of a tour participant who had gotten too excited while watching all the sloths, migrating hawks, toucans, and other spectacular things. She literally needed to rest and calm down. So, I sat with her. As I did, I looked out the window and a troop of howlers came and peeked in at us but I couldn't tell her they were there. Then, vultures started circling up out of a valley and suddenly I could hear in my head how my new book, VULTURE VIEW, should go. I had to grab a notebook and scribble the words.

In 2008, another spectacular book is coming: TROUT ARE MADE OF TREES. Of course this will be a great pairing with my book TROUT, TROUT, TROUT: A FISH CHANT. But TROUT ARE MADE OF TREES, from Charlesbridge, is another one of my deep lyrical nonfiction books, about how leaves fall into streams and are eaten by insects that are eaten by trout that are eaten by people and bears. It begins "Trout are made of trees. In fall, trees let go of leaves, which twirl and swirl and slip into streams..." I just saw the first art by Kate Endle. It is colorful and amazing collage...almost quilt like. It shows a family exploring the aquatic side of a stream.

Anything else?

Well, I just returned from speaking at the Dublin Literacy Conference, near Columbus, Ohio. It's run by you and the teachers of your district. Perhaps you're too modest to mention it, but that conference ROCKS! Any authors who are invited should definitely go. My only complaint is that I had to speak so I couldn't attend all the sessions. Moan. Moan. But I'm already using some of what I learned there.

On another note, one of the things I emphasize to kids is that not all the "cool" stuff is in rain forests and far away countries. Many of my great nature experiences have happened right here in the Midwest, in my Indiana backyard. The biodiversity here is terrific and there are lots of camouflaged, wild and wonderful creatures to see. My husband used to run a native plants nursery and he's kind of an expert in that field. So we've landscaped our tiny yard with prairie, wetland, and forest plants that bring creatures to our door.

Even a small patch of milkweed and other butterfly plants can bring great wildlife viewing to a yard or schoolyard. The future of wild life and wild experiences in the U.S. is really in the hands of landowners, even those with tiny yards. It's about planting trees and allowing places to be a little bit wild so there is room for birds, frogs, and the berries and insects they depend upon. Seeing a butterfly or a frog can make my whole day and many children feel that way, too. We need to keep that, for our health and quality of life.

I welcome teachers to take a look at my site, www.aprilsayre.com. It has lots of extension activities for my books. When I visit schools I try to take photos of what teachers are doing with the books and post those photos on my site. I better get to work because I have a lot of new material to add!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

WHY DO I HAVE TO EAT OFF THE FLOOR? by Chris Hornsey


I had to share a highlight from my weekend's book shopping. I picked up WHY DO I HAVE TO EAT OFF THE FLOOR by Chris Hornsey. This is a picture book with simple text and amusing illustrations. In the book, the dog asks its owner many questions such as the one that serves as the title. (My favorite was "Why can't I drive the car?") I am not always a fan of books written by the dog in the family. But this one is a must-have. The dog is your pretty typical house pet with some great facial expressions. While reading it aloud to my daughter, I quickly realized that the questions the dog was asking its owner, are those same questions that my 7 year old asks me---the "why can't I" questions of life. The owner finally reminds the dog that he is a dog, not a person:-) (I have seen quite a few dogs shopping at the mall lately, dressed up and in strollers, so this could be a good message for lots of dogs!) This would be a fun book for young children. It could also be used with older kids in writing workshop. It has lots of possibilities. This book was originally published in Australia in 2005.

Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers


You've probably guessed that Cover to Cover is our favorite bookstore. They just updated their website with their spring picks and lots of great pictures of the store and various author events. Now you can visit, too!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Poetry Friday on Caffeine

ImageChef.com - Create custom images



A New Lifestyle

by James Tate

the whole poem is here

A New Lifestyle

People in this town drink too much
coffee. They're jumpy all the time. You
see them drinking out of their big plastic
mugs while they're driving. They cut in
front of you, they steal your parking places.
.
.
.
. . .They're so
serious about their coffee, it's all they
can think about, nothing else matters.
Everyone's wide awake but looks incredibly
tired.

* * * * * * * * * * *

I am wide awake and incredibly tired. When it comes to caffeine, I'm serious about my tea. And my Dove Dark Chocolate. I've had plenty of both in the **gasp** TEN days since I blogged! What can I say: Lit. Conference weekend, report cards (grading, grading, grading), Saturday conference, Sunday leadership retreat (another weekend -- poof -- gone), powerpoint to create and present, physical therapy, etc., etc., etc. But I think my head is finally above water. It's good to be back.

Monday, March 12, 2007

IT'S A BUTTERFLY'S LIFE by Irene Kelly




I am on the lookout for examples of great nonfiction writing. I found a new one this week that I had to add to my classroom collection. It is called IT'S A BUTTERFLY'S LIFE by Irene Kelly. Since there were so many great books for sale at the conference, I had to really justify each purchase I made:-)

I HAD to have this one for lots of reasons:

1. The illustrations are wonderful. The butterflies seem to be flying across the page and there are several butterfly illustrations on each page.

2. The facts are presented in interesting ways. ("You may not be able to taste a cupcake by standing on it, but a butterfly can!")

3. I loved the layout. There is a lot going on on each page. The font and the text layout make it very engaging.

4. The language--it is not so easy to find nonfiction that is crafted well.
One of the great lines:

"Butterflies fly by rippling their wings up and down slowly gliding on air currents, just like birds."

5. Great facts and labels add to the information on each page.

This is a great book to use in a study of butterflies/life cycles, one to use to look hard at the way the author crafted the nonfiction or just a great nonfiction read.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Poetry Friday!




This poem is from a GREAT new poetry book called SHOUT: LITTLE POEMS THAT ROAR. Every poem in this book begs to be read aloud. I can't wait to add it to our collection for Poetry Friday! reading. I know the kids will love it. Every poem is as fun as the next. Enjoy!


SHOUT

Shout it! Shout it! POETRY!
Fun for you and fun for me.

Clap your hands! Stomp your feet!
Feel the rhythm! Feel the beat!

Chunky words all chopped in chips!
Silky sounds upon your lips.

Tell a story--happy, sad;
Silly, sorry; good or bad.

Leap a leap, hop a hop,
See the ocean in one drop.

Shout it! Shout it! POETRY!
Fun for you and fun for me.

by Brod Bagert

Monday, March 05, 2007

Hooray for Lisa Yee!

She's been named the 2007 Thurber House Children's Writer in Residence!

We're already planning our tour of Columbus for Lisa. First stop will be The North Market.

At The North Market, we will be sure she samples Jeni's Ice Cream:
"25+ flavors of gourmet, artisanal ice creams. Traditional, signature and seasonal varieties available by the scoop and pint.

Experience ice cream taken to a new level. Fresh, handmade ice cream, sorbet and gelato are all created with the finest and freshest ingredients. The menu of flavors changes frequently. On a given day, you might see Dark Cocoa Gelato, Wild Berry Lavender, Toasted Hazelnut and Salty Caramel."

Pam's Market Popcorn is also a must.












Next stop, Cover to Cover Children's Bookstore.

Later, we'll stop at the Main Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library






to see the original art by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson.











You see, there's WAY more to Columbus, OH than the Buckeyes! And we've only scratched the surface!

Teaching Grammar and Conventions: An Interview With Jeff Anderson



Last week, Jeff Anderson was one of the speakers at the Dublin Literacy Conference. It was a great day and Jeff's sessions got rave reviews. Jeff is the author of MECHANICALLY INCLINED--a must have for Language Arts teacher in grades 4-8. He's answered so many of my concerns and questions about teaching grammar and mechanics in the context of real reading and writing. He seems to have figured it out so that kids actually transfer what they learn to their writing. It is a great book. He also has a video series coming out with Stenhouse this spring that will show some of the things in action. I can't wait!

We interviewed Jeff about his book and his work.

A Year of Reading: What inspired you to write Mechanically Inclined?

Jeff Anderson: Teaching grammar and editing skills in the context of reading is what I have found to be effective. That's why I do it. When I taught skills in isolation--they kids seemed to know the material, but they couldn't or didn't apply it to their writing. Plain and simple, grammar and editing skill are part of the writing process. When grammar and editing are taught as separate activities, kids don't necessarily apply it to the writing. So the more we can connect and integrate skills within the process, the more the kids remember. It's about using grammar and editing as tools to shape the messages they want to write. In reading it's about how the ideas, structures, and patterns work together. It's not that we can't break a skill down to its smallest chunk of meaning. I like to call that zooming in, but the point is we need to make it about meaning and how everything fits together.

A Year of Reading: What is the most effective thing that you do that helps your students
understand the skills you are teaching.

Jeff Anderson: First we can't minimize the importance of how kids feel about grammar and editing. We need to invite kids in with positive examples from professional and student writers. It needs to be about how effective things are rather than an "error hunt" (Weaver, 1996). Students get excited when they look at a sentence from Flush or The Invention of Hugo Cabret. They get pulled in--and they have fun imitating and playing with patterns, seeing what effect they have. Using models or mentor text to help kids find their power. That's been the number one thing that has made my teaching of grammar and editing more effect.

A Year of Reading: What are the most common questions do you get from teachers about your work?

Jeff Anderson: How do you replace DOL (Daily Oral Language?) How do you come up with the sentences you do? I have a dirty little secret. I find an incredible amount of powerful texts in the first lines or first paragraphs of novels. That's where the authors put in a lot of work and the sentence often end up inspiring kids to write more.

A Year of Reading: Are you working on any new projects?

Jeff Anderson: The DVD that was filmed in my classroom in January is coming out in May at IRA. It's called The Craft of Grammar.

I am also working on a book of daily invitations to edit. I hope to create a sound alternative to DOL, that is systematic and authentic that invites students into the world of editing and the power of all those little marks we call punctuation.



If you love this interview so much that you'd love to read more, you can visit Jeff at his website

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Updates

New books added to the Master List of Books about Books and Reading. Thanks, sanam.

New blogs added to the blogroll:

Brotherhood 2.0 -- vaguely related to children's literature. Mostly for fun.

NYC Teacher: Mentor Texts -- great stuff going on in this writing workshop! Check it out!

New blog name:

The SLJ Blog is now Bowllan's Blog, and she wants to know if handwriting still matters. Go weigh in.

I know we need to let it die, but I just can't resist one more

That Word used in context by a three year-old.

I'm not sure which are funnier, nanny stories, or library patron stories. Us teachers, we're being slightly neurotic about real careful with sharing our kid stories, but don't think for a minute that our kids don't say and do funny things!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Cynthia Lord Rules! (get it?)

I just received the best packet from Cynthia Lord, author oF RULES and the timing couldn't be better! Cynthia Lord has a teacher packet that she uses during author visits. The packet shares her whole writing process, including pages of the revision process and more. It is a behind-the-scenes look at the book. We are just getting ready to finish Rules and the discussion has been amazing. It has been a great read aloud. And now we can take a look at the process Cynthia Lord went through to write this book.

The packet from Cynthia Lord came right at the perfect moment. We are set to finish the book this week. And, last week, Georgia Heard (author of several poetry books for kids and professional books for teachers) visited our school as part of a yearlong study put on by The Literacy Connection. We had all read and discussed her book THE REVISION TOOLBOX which is a must-have for teachers who have writer's workshop in their classrooms.



Georgia Heard taught a lesson in a first grade classroom and in our classroom on Friday. Today, I attended a full day workshop that Georgia led about revision. I learned lots and am anxious to bring the new learning to the classroom. I know my students will benefit greatly from all of the ways my thinking has changed on revision work.

CRACKER: THE BEST DOG IN VIETNAM


CRACKER!: THE BEST DOG IN VIETNAM
by Cynthia Kadohata
Atheneum, February 2007
Review copy purchased at Liberty Books

Cracker is completely devoted to his boy, Willie. Unfortunately, Willie's dad lost his job and the family has to move into an apartment building that does not allow pets. Willie has one month to find a new home for Cracker. Time is running out when Willie sees the notice that German Shepherds are wanted by the Army for use in the Vietnam War.

Because the book is told from the dual perspectives of Cracker and the humans in his life, we get a sense of how hard this separation is for both Cracker and Willie. Besides being devoted, Cracker is smart, independent, and quite willful. His new handler, Rick, joined the army at 17 planning to "whip the world" and escape running the family hardware store. Rick is inexperienced and naive, gets on the wrong side of the sarge, and winds up with Cracker as his dog.

It takes some time and not a few forbidden hot dog treats, but Rick and Cracker become a team.

The book takes the reader through the process of training a military dog to sniff out booby traps and snipers, and the reader accompanies Rick and Cracker on missions. Dogs die, friends die, legs are blown off, and Rick suffers mental anguish about all he sees and experiences.

In the end, though, the book is about the incredible bond of loyalty between a man and his dog.

In the author's note, Kadohata explains that 4,000 dogs served in Vietnam. "Dogs were considered military equipment; at the war's end they were considered surplus military equipment." These dogs saved approximately 10,000 human lives. 1,000 dogs died in Vietnam. 200 dogs were reassigned to other U.S. military bases. It is unknown what became of the rest. Kadohata interviewed dog handlers who served in the Vietnam War, and several photos in the back of the book show some of the men and their dogs.

I asked Amazing 5th Grade Girl Reader (AGR) to read CRACKER! and let me know what she thought of it. AGR has read KIRA, KIRA and WEEDFLOWER, so she is in a position to place CRACKER in the context of Kadohata's other books.

CRACKER was AGR's least favorite of Kadohata's books. She thought it was slower, and not as exciting. The war part was intense, but confusing. AGR said she would have appreciated a glossary of place names, weapons, vehicles, and military jargon, such as "Charlie" for Viet Cong. She now has some idea of what the Vietnam War was about -- something she never knew before. She enjoyed reading from the point of view of the dog and thinking about how dogs might interpret our words.

Another one of my 5th graders is currently reading CRACKER!. He is a military history buff, so stay tuned for his quite different take on the book.

Links: Author's website (has an excerpt from the first chapter)

Friday, March 02, 2007

POETRY FRIDAY!



Dream Maker

The shining silver moon
Is a coin hung in the sky
To pay the old Dream Maker
Whenever he goes by.

by Jane Yolen


This poem is from a new book of poems called HERE'S A LITTLE POEM: A VERY FIRST BOOK OF POETRY. I shop the poetry shelf often when I visit Cover to Cover. I have a good collection of poetry books and am always on the lookout for a new one to add to my collection. This one is definitely a new favorite! The cover is adorable. Inviting. It is a larger size book. The print is large. The illustrations are by Polly Dunbar and they are absolutely perfect for the book. The book is filled with happy pictures. The poems are all great poems to share with readers of all ages. Some old favorites like "Bananas and Cream" are included. This is a great collection of poems by some of our favorite poets.