Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Her Date is a 3000 Year-Old Mummy


The Professor's Daughter
by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert
Translated by Alexis Siegel
First Second, 2007 (originally, 1997)

I predict that this book will be one of the strong contenders for the 2007 Cybils Graphic Novel (Age 13-up) Award.

Lillian Bowell, daughter of the greatest British archaeologist, the esteemed Professor Bowell, needs an escort so she can walk to Kensington. Her father won't be home until later that evening. What's a girl to do? What indeed: take the mummy of Imhotep IV out of his sarcophagus, dress him up in tails and top hat, and go for a stroll!

The story veers from ludicrous to touching (Imhotep cries when he hears Mozart for the first time and gets drunk on tea) to slapstick funny (Imhotep declares his love for Lillian and his intention to marry her to her father who replies, "You are the property of the British museum. You are dead. Stay out of this.") all in the course of the first twenty pages.

A crime is committed, Lillian is kidnapped (turns out, by Imhotep III, father of Imhotep IV...you guessed it, another mummy), Imhotep IV is lost and found, and he sets out to rescue Lillian.

Queen Victoria makes an appearance late in the story, but she refuses to be of any help, so Imhotep III dumps her in the Thames. The Guards remark, "Doesn't it look like the queen is crossing the Thames doing the backstroke?"

The ending is satisfying, and brings closure to the two dream sequences during the story that reveal interesting truths about Imhotep's very first love and his very first children.

I can't tell you any more. You just have to read it for yourself. And then smile, shake your head, and read it again. (Make sure you get the Collector's Edition, which includes Guibert's "London Sketches From the British Museum and the Streets of London, 1977." You can see the characters and settings begin to come to life.)

bookshelves of doom's review
Comics Worth Reading's review

Monday, July 30, 2007

Teaching Meme

Mentor Texts tagged us for this meme. Franki's answers are first, in green. Mary Lee's answers are in purple. We each answered the prompts and then combined our answers, so any overlap is...because our thinking overlaps!

I am a good teacher because...I work really hard to get to know each of my students. I never sit back and think I'm a good teacher. Every year (sometimes every DAY) there are new challenges that cause me to grow and reinvent myself.

If I weren't a teacher I'd be a/an...I'd be a full time reader (is that a job?) Architect. (A story for another time: one high school teacher's gender discrimination killed a dream.)

My teaching style is...inquiry based/talk-based. Continually evolving.

My classroom is...chatty. I think kids learn a lot by talking so there is a lot of talking between kids all day. Full of books!

My lesson plans...don't ever fit into neat boxes. Begin in my imagination.

One of my teaching goals is...to keep as much student ownership in the day as possible. We are being pressured to get rid of that in the name of testing and it is the way kids seem to learn best. Create a classroom community as quickly as possible at the beginning of the year.

The toughest part of teaching is...that you never stop thinking about it--It is really the best part too--we never have it totally figured out and that makes it fun and challenging at the same time. Trying to make sure the work we do is authentic.

The thing I love most about teaching is...seeing kids grow and change and become themselves. When the lightbulbs go off (theirs or mine)!

A common misconception about teaching is...that we can all just follow a scripted program and all will be better. Meeting the needs of every child is much harder than that. "Joe/Jane Public/Politician" knows better than I do how I should be doing my job.

The most important thing I've learned since I've started teaching is...that kids do best with lots of choice and usually when I get out of the way, the totally surpass any expectations I had! There is more art than science in teaching.

*************
We're tagging Read, Read, Read and Creative Literacy.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Larger Than Life Lara




I picked up this book at Cover to Cover a few weeks ago. I am always looking for short, easier chapter books that have depth--things to talk about. When I taught 5th grade, I could find lots and lots of great books for them that were worth talking about--books that dealt with issues. It is a bit trickier in third grade. The kids are still learning to follow plot so I try to find books with a good, easy to follow plot, as well as real life issues to talk about. I think LARGER THAN LIFE LARA by Dandi Daley Mackall will be a great book for read aloud and/or booktalks with 3rd and 4th graders. It has so many things to talk about.

Mackall also weaves in reminders about story elements as we read which is a unique thing and something kids would enjoy.

Lara moves into Laney's 4th grade classroom and is immediately the target of meanness and bullying. Lara is very large--so big that she has to have a special chair and she swishes when she walks. Lara handles the meanness with a positive attitude and is always able to find the best in people. It doesn't end quite the way I had predicted which is always nice--I love a little surprise. It isn't really a happy ending, but there is closure.

There are lots of things that kids would find to discuss with this book. It is a great new book with lots of possibilities.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Snow Baby


The Snow Baby: The Arctic Childhood of Admiral Robert E. Peary's Daring Daughter
by Katheri Kirkpatrick
Holiday House, 2007
Guest review by A.J. Wald, resident Arctic and Antarctic expert

I do so love a surprise. That is probably why I gladly read Katherine Kirkpatrick’s The Snow Baby, even though I have shelves groaning under the weight of books on Arctic and Antarctic exploration. Book after book of determined adventurer’s and scientist’s tales of grim survival under the trials of cold, darkness, fear and, sometimes, madness. Not a single one of these volumes, however, tells the story of the sweet-faced little tyke born to Robert E. Peary and his wife Josephine Diebitsch Peary on September 12, 1893 on the shores of Smith Sound, Greenland.

Other books on the Arctic barely mention the birth of Marie Ahnighito (the woman who sewed Marie’s fox skin coat and caribou skin trousers also provided the baby’s middle name) Peary. Marie’s story is important, however, within the context of Arctic exploration and in light of her own, unique experiences.

It will come as no shock that Marie Peary did not have a stereotypical childhood. Beginning her life in Greenland, she was taken south to Washington D.C. at age 11 months. There, the Snow Baby lived with her mother and her maternal family while her explorer father continued to strive to reach the North Pole. A pattern developed that brought Marie and Mrs. Peary back to the Arctic for periodic reunions with Robert Peary, interspersed with time in ‘civilization’.

During the Arctic episodes, Marie meets a who’s who of North Pole exploration, from the indispensable Inuit, to the ice pilot Bartlett, to Mathew Henson. Marie has her own adventures too, skidding across glaciers, literally by the ‘seat of her pants’.

Her life, both in the far North and in the urbane strictures of Victorian America, fascinates and informs the reader about the history and the society of the times. Ms. Kirkpatrick does not shy away from the recognition of Robert Peary’s ‘other’ children, produced by his liaisons with Inuit women. Her frank, tasteful explanation of the historical existence of Marie’s half-brothers and sisters was refreshing in its tact and honesty.

There is a truly excellent map of Robert Peary’s expeditions and delightful photographs of the Pearys and the extended family, the Inuit of Greenland, the ships, dogs and characters that were part of Marie’s life. A fine bibliography of research works and a useful index round out this very worthwhile fifty page edition.

Upper level 4th and 5th grade readers, girls or boys, will be able to glean a great deal from The Snow Baby, as will anyone who delves into the exciting and complex life Marie Ahnighito Peary.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Poetry Friday -- Reading by Flashlight

My recent reading has not turned loose of me just yet.

I took out my copy of Poets Against the War (edited by Sam Hamill) and browsed a bit and shook my head that this book was published three years ago when the first lady uninvited poets from her poetry forum after getting wind that they might speak against the war. Time flies when it's not your town getting bombed.

I found today's poem on the Poets Against The War website. It is a poem that speaks of the consequences of war (as did Greetings From Planet Earth, although Kerley's book was more about human consequences), reading by flashlight (as did Letters from Rapunzel) and the question of "why do I have so much when others have so little?" (as did How to Steal a Dog).

Here is the end of Nancy Flynn's poem:

Reading The Oregonian by Flashlight

.
.
.
My flashlight makes a circle, enough light to read by,
and I feel like Abraham Lincoln. Isn't this
what character is made from?

In Baghdad, three years now, and electricity's
only reliable four hours a day.



Read the whole poem here.

MsMac at Check it Out has the round up this week.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Interesting Trio of Books

Greetings From Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley (website)
Letters from Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes (website and blog)
How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor (website and blog)

I checked out all three from the library to see whether or not I needed to own them. I read them all and I just purchased all three.

Dads are missing from all three stories: In Greetings, he hasn't returned home from Vietnam; in Letters, he's in the hospital with clinical depression; in Steal a Dog, he walked out on the family, leaving them homeless.

Great boy character in Greetings. Harry and Taran are the only other good boy characters in my summer reading (not on purpose). Theo is smart and curious and persistent.

Smart and curious and persistent also describe Cadence in Letters. Holmes captures/creates an authentic voice in the letters that Cadence writes. Georgina's voice in Steal a Dog is also spot on and crystal clear.

All three books are similar in the way the authors have masterfully woven the plot line. In Greetings, Kerley weaves together the best and worst of our nation in the late 1970's: space travel and the Vietnam War. In Letters, Holmes combines clinical depression, fairy tales, poetry, and the trials and tribulations of the gifted child. In Steal a Dog, Holmes gives poverty and homelessness a variety of different faces and voices which defy common sterotypes.

Out of all three, it was Steal a Dog that gripped my gut and made me talk out loud to the main character. ("What do you think you're doing?!?!?") I had thought there was a sense of doom and foreboding in Wringer, by Jerry Spinelli. Turns out, watching a character wait for his 10th birthday and the awfulness of becoming a wringer at the town pigeon shoot was nothing compared to watching Georgina blunder her way through the social and emotional chaos of living out of a car, the plan, the theft, the cover-up, and the realization that she has gotten herself in so deep that there is no graceful way out.

I'll keep Greetings and Letters for personal recommendations to 4th/5th graders. How to Steal a Dog will be one of my first read alouds.

* * * *

Mindy's interview of Barbara Kerley at propernoun
Kelly's interview of Barbara Kerley at Big A little a
7-Imp's interview of Barbara Kerley at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Little Willow's Poetry Friday from Letters from Rapunzel
7-Imp's review of Letters from Rapunzel
BooksForKidsBlog's review of Letters From Rapunzel
Midwestern Lodestar's thoughts on How to Steal a Dog
Brianne Reads and Reviews review of How to Steal a Dog
Barbara O'Connor's story of how a failed picture book turned into two novels: How to Steal a Dog and, coming in spring 2008, Greetings from Nowhere

EDITED TO ADD: Julius Lester's thoughts on Vietnam vs. Iraq, an interesting companion to Greetings from Planet Earth

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

New from Deborah Wiles


The Aurora County All-Stars by Deborah Wiles

This might be my Newbery pick of the moment. I LOVE Deborah Wiles. I loved LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER and especially loved EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS. But, The Aurora County All-Stars (due out this week) may be my favorite for lots of reasons.

This is a story of baseball, a story of a strong community, and a story of friends. Deborah Wiles ties the story together with quotes from Walt Whitman. She also uses quotes from famous baseball players to set the stage for each chapter. Her writing is brilliant.

And, as an added bit of fun, Ruby Lavender is back in this book--she is part of the story. Reading about a familiar town with a few familiar characters is always fun and reading about Ruby Lavender again was quite a treat. She is not the main character but it is like visiting an old friend.

Deborah Wiles has characters you just have to love. Here is her introduction to one of the characters in the book:

"Honey Jackson, age six, aspiring dancer and lover-of-life extraordinaire, sat barefoot and cross-legged at the top of the front porch steps. She wore her best pink leotard and tutu. Around her neck, hanging from some string, was a pair of toilet-paper-roll binoculars. Behind her, in a short, straight row, sat seven small stuffed animals--her audience."

I am thinking that if I were teaching 4th or 5th grade this year, I would start the year with this as the read aloud. I am pretty sure it is one that all kids would love. And so much to think and talk about. But, I am teaching 3rd/4th and I am not sure it is the right book for early 3rd graders as our first read aloud.

Right now, it is one of my new very-favorites.

New Professional Book from Elaine Garan

SMART ANSWERS TO TOUGH QUESTIONS by Elaine Garan
is one big gift to teachers from Elaine Garan.

It is hard to teach well these days. With the pressure of testing and standardization, so much of what we know about how best to meet kids' needs is being lost. As teachers, we know the best research-based practices but lately, we have been being asked to go against much of what we know to follow scripted programs, give more and more tests, and include more isolated skill and drill that never seems to transfer to real reading and writing.

In Elaine Garan's new book SMART ANSWERS TO TOUGH QUESTIONS, Garan tackles many of the questions that we, as classroom teachers, are being asked--questions like "Why do you allow students to read on their own during class? When they are reading silently to themselves, how do you know they're really reading? Shouldn't you be testing them to make sure they're reading the right level of book? It seems to me there are a lot of problems with just having the class read on its own."

The questions are tough questions and they are questions that we get asked often. Elaine Garan has helped us answer these questions. She has not only provided an appropriate response to each question, but has also gathered important research that we can read in support of each of the best practices she describes. And she has put it all in one place for us.

Garan begins her book with a letter to teachers. She lets us know that parents most often trust their child's teacher. She gives us the tools we need to better participate in decision-making and to help educate parents on research-based best practices.

Throughout the book, she includes proof of her answers, research studies that she encourages us to read, things to think about, and ways to help parents see that the things happening in the classroom are in support of their child's learning--even if it is not what they did when they were in school.

An added feature throughout the book are thoughts specific to administrators and literacy coaches--ideas for working with staff and parents in staff development sessions to create conversations around these important issues.

The other thing I appreciate is how respectful Garan is of the people asking these tough questions. She is never critical of thoughts of the public, but is clear that, as educators, we do have knowledge about student learning and that it is our responsibility to share those with parents and community members so that we can work together for each child.

Actually, Garan's acknowledgments sold me on the concept of the book. Her last acknowledgment is to her parents. She says, "My parents gave me many gifts, but the one I treasure the most is their integrity and the model they set for us. They are both still writing letters to the editor, and neither will let an injustice or a lie slide by without at least trying to fight the wrong and maybe even right the wrong."

Elaine Garan sees the wrongs that are happening because of the misinformation about how students learn. With this book, she has give teachers the gift of answers and research to support quality classroom practice.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Life As We Know It Has Not Ended

J.K. Rowling will ("probably") write a "Potter encyclopedia" about the characters in the Harry Potter series.

Meredith Vieira heard it first. I learned it from Pop Goes The Library.

The Cat Master


The Cat Master
by Bonnie Pemberton
Marshall Cavendish, 2007
review copy courtesy of publisher

Remember my former student who is the Warriors series expert? She's the one who read and reported on the new (then) Warriors graphic novel last spring.

When the box of books came from Marshall Cavendish and I came across The Cat Master, I knew Warriors Girl was the one who should read and review it. Here is a loosely reconstructed transcript of our discussion of The Cat Master over ice cream at Graeters:

Me: So tell me a little about the book.

Warriors Girl: Well, it's the author's first book, and it took about 10 years for her to write. I know this because I googled her and read her website.

The two main characters in the book are Buddy and Jett, cats who are brothers. Jett is greedy and ambitious. When the Cat Master dies -- he's their father, but they don't know it -- Buddy is chosen to be the next Cat Master, but he doesn't know it because Jett intercepts the message. Jett wants to kill Buddy before Buddy becomes the master.

Me: Is this book at all like the Warriors books?

WG: It's like Warriors in that there are indoor and outdoor cats, but they are named differently (feral/indoor). It's different because there are other animals besides cats in the story (dogs, a possum, a lizard). Both have good and evil characters. The Cat Master feels really different than Warriors -- the chapters alternate between characters.

Me: Which series do you like better?

WG: It's too soon to tell, but I will definitely read more books by this author if she writes more. It seems like she will. You can kind of tell that the next book will be about Soot, Buddy's son, becoming Cat Master.

She dedicated the book "In Memory of Buddy" and in the acknowledgments she says Buddy was "a stray cat who changed my life forever." She has lots of cats and she really gets cat behavior. She even has a business that sells anti-scratching stuff that keeps cats from scratching on furniture.

Me: Anything else?

WG: I think I'm going to start reading prologues. If you skip them, you miss out on some pretty important information. I've always read epilogues; they give a summary and some good hints.

Me (in my mind): It's good to know that she's still growing as a reader! It's never too late to learn that prologues are pretty important!

Off Topic--Voice Your Love of DOTS

Okay, so DOTS are my very favorite candy. Love them. Often get them for birthday presents. Buy them whenever I see them. They make me happy.

So, I was a little thrown when I read the post about Dots on Candyblog today. UGH! I love this blog and often agree with the candy reviews. The sentence that stuck with me was:

"Dots are one of those candies that I see a lot at stores, but I rarely see anyone buying them or eating them."

I can see why Cybele at Candyblog said this. When I think about it, I rarely eat DOTS in public. Not for any reason, other than, they aren't often available in places where you would eat them. They sell them in stores and you eat them at home or in the car or at work. They are a comfort food. A great candy when you need a little sugar and a little flavor. They are fun and happy.

I am not a fan of anything but the traditional flavor box but I LOVE the original flavors.

For me, these are like the last of the original movie candy. Maybe they bring back childhood memories. I'm not sure.

Candyblog has invited anyone who loves DOTS to testify and so far, 17 people have already commented expressing their love of DOTS! SOOOO, if you love DOTS, go over to CANDYBLOG and show your support.

Really, Candy Corn or Dots? DOTS win hands-down! Don't you agree? DOTS win over pretty much any candy in my book.

(This may be the only candy that I would stand up for with this kind of enthusiasm!--unless they bring back Marathon Bars from the 80s.)

New Blog To Check Out

Megan is a 5th grade teacher just down the pike a bit from us who reads, reads, reads. In fact, that's the name of her blog: Read, Read, Read.

Her blog debuted in the kidlitosphere in June, and already she's skipping across the stage in scene three of Act One of The Play's The Thing (July's Carnival of Children's Literature)!

I can't wait until school starts and we get a chance to peek into her classroom and see how all these books she's been reading are received by her students!

Monday, July 23, 2007

100 Cool Teachers in Children's Literature -- The One Year Anniversary

A year ago, Franki wrote this post:
Okay so I am totally loving the lists from Jen Robinson's Book Page blog--Cool Boys from Kid Lit and Cool Girls From Children's Literature. I loved reading over these lists and thinking about these great characters we love.

I soo loved the idea that I started thinking. Could we come up with 100 Cool Teachers from Children's Lit? What do you think? So many teachers in books are these stereotypic, mean, dumpy people who are worn out. So, let's start putting together a list of 100 Cool Teacher's in Children's Lit. I am going to start with Great Aunt Arizona from MY GREAT AUNT ARIZONA by Gloria Houston. I also think The Giver in THE GIVER is a cool teacher. I would also like to add Mrs. Granger from FRINDLE by Andrew Clements. She is cool in disguise. We're looking for thoughtful teachers who understand kids and learning and are active, intelligent people who love their work. Do you think we can find 100? We are taking suggestions from readers!
A year later, and our list has over 100 cool teachers! (The list has a permanent home in our sidebar, too.) Thanks for all your suggestions! Surely there are some cool teachers in the books you've read recently -- let's keep the list growing!

The Play's the Thing

The July Carnival of Children's Literature is up at Saints and Spinners. We've been cast in the unlikely roles of bartender and bartending friend!

Open Water Swimming

GRAYSON
by Lynne Cox, author of SWIMMING TO ANTARCTICA

There will be no competitive open water swim for me this summer. Reading GRAYSON will have to do. And it will do just fine.

In this slim book, Cox tells the story of an early morning (before sunrise) training swim in the ocean off Seal Beach, California in March (55 degree water) of the year she was 17. She had already swum the English Channel twice, and the Catalina Channel once.

As the sun rose during this swim, Cox suddenly became aware of a huge presence swimming near her. She was afraid it was a shark, but it turned out to be an 18-foot baby grey whale. Because it was swimming with her, she could not swim to shore -- it would beach itself and die. So, in spite of the voices inside her head that doubted the choice, and following the voices inside her heart that felt a compassionate connection to the baby whale, Cox stayed in the water for several more hours, swimming from a pier to an oil rig and back to the pier LOOKING FOR THE MOTHER WHALE! She had the help of a lifeguard boat, several fishing boats, and a small crowd on the pier, but she was the one who stayed in the water with the baby until he was reunited with his mother.

The book is a lyrical description of the intimate connection of a swimmer to the ocean, the tides, the currents, and all of the living creatures of the ocean, both beautiful (dolphins) and frighteningly beautiful (rays and purple jellyfish). It's also the story of the power of positive thinking, and mind over matter. Everything you ever needed to know about taking risks, pursuing goals, and overcoming doubts, you can learn from Lynne Cox in this book. Here is my favorite passage:
"The answer came to me. Wait as long as you need to. The waiting is as important as the doing: its the time you spend training and the rest in between; it's painting the subject and the space in between; it's the reading and the thinking about what you've read; it's the written words, what is said, what is left unsaid, the space between the thoughts on the page, that makes the story, and it's the space between the notes, the intervals between fast and slow, that makes the music. It's the love of being together, the spacing, the tension of being apart, that brings you back together. Just wait, just be patient, he will return."

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter Fun!

So, I am feeling a little bit left out of the Harry Potter craze. I am embarrassed to admit that I have not read the Harry Potter books. Not sure how it happened. I started the first one when it first came out and it seemed bad timing or something. My husband, however, was totally hooked immediately. Now, this many years later, it just seemed far too overwhelming to read 6 books in anticipation for the last one. But, I have followed the Harry Potter craze. I love what it has caused. And I have followed all of the media leading up to Book 7. My husband and daughter attended Cover to Cover's Harry Potter party last night (Mary Lee also attended--see photo). They got their books at 12:01 am. My older daughter read until 3:30 am and they have both been reading at every spare moment. But it seems that people have already finished and the world is nervous that someone will give the ending away before they finish.

As much as I hate missing out on the fun, I must say, it is fun to watch all of this objectively. I love all of it and love that the world has stopped for the last of the Harry Potter books. I love that people everywhere today were carrying around the books. I love that many families I know had to purchase multiple copies of the book to avoid any fighting over a single copy. I love that my daughter is getting text messages from friends when they get to a certain page. I love that my husband and daughter are trying to keep up with each other so they can chat when needed. This is all such fun.

I am thinking that I will read the last chapter of Book 7. I don't think I'll ever be able to experience Harry Potter as the world has. I missed it. If I read it later, which I very well may do, I will know so much from the talk, the media, just by being part of the world. I won't come at it as everyone else did. But, I am dying to read the end. I am dying to see how she decided to end a series like this. I have read some of the reviews about the ending and I think I can read it just to see how she did it--how she created a satisfying ending that was not totally predictable but yet totally believable when expectations were so high.

Even though I have not read one of the books yet (yes, I am embarrassed every time I say this), I consider myself a JK Rowling fan. I love that she created something so amazing. I love the brilliance. I love the impact she's had and that the whole world talked about Harry Potter today.

So, I'll keep you posted about whether or not I read that last chapter of Book 7--no, I won't give away any secrets. But, I think it is the only way I can participate in the fun this week. Meanwhile, I'll watch my husband and daughter finish up.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A New Mercy Watson Book



Mercy Watson: Princess in Disguise by Kate DiCamillo is the latest book in this series. I thought it was a little early for a Halloween story but I loved it anyway! I have to admit that it took me a few books to fall totally in love with Mercy Watson. But, I am totally hooked now! It is clear that DiCamillo is a different kind of brilliant in these books.

My youngest daughter is seven and was THRILLED to see a new Mercy Watson book. The humor and the illustrations are perfect for her age. And the plot and characters are wonderful for students new to chapter books. This one may be my favorite--I thought I liked the image of Mercy driving a car, but Mercy dressed in a princess costume (that is a terribly snug) is my new favorite!

The story is simple--Mercy dresses up for Halloween and gets into trouble. Readers can count on many predictable things throughout the story. The neighbors' reactions to Mercy, Mr. and Mrs. Watson's unconditional love for Mercy, and a happy ending. A perfect series for children new to chapter books as well as readers who want a fun story!

Poetry Friday -- Fame

Famous
by Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

For what do you hope to be famous? Compare your answer to the poet's.

The Poetry Friday roundup is at Mentor Texts this week.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

It's Not Because We Don't Care...


...it's because everyone else is doing such a fine job staying on top of all the breaking news.

We're not the biggest fans, but we're not grumpy nay-sayers, either.

I'll be at Cover To Cover's party tomorrow night, I'll get my copy at 12:01, and I'll go home and read it as fast as I can while still savoring the moment in history.

Then we'll resume sitting back to see what y'all have to say about it!

Girls Like Spaghetti

A new picture book by Lynne Truss is out. If you liked the original EATS, SHOOTS, AND LEAVES as well as the children's version with the same title about why commas matter, you'll love THE GIRL'S LIKE SPAGHETTI: WHY YOU CAN'T MANAGE WITHOUT APOSTROPHES. As with her book about commas, Truss uses each two page spread to show the huge difference an apostrophe can make. With fun illustrations, children can see the difference in meaning between sentences like "The girls like spaghetti." and "The girl's like spaghetti.". The humor in the illustrations help make the point.

Another fun book and I am glad to see she is continuing with these punctuation books for children. Hopefully, more are on the way.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Castle Corona by Sharon Creech

I LOVE a good fairy tale so I was thrilled to see Sharon Creech's new book CASTLE CORONA. It is due out this fall and it is a must-have.

The story is one of a royal family and some peasants. The characters all fit into the mold of great fairy tale characters--the strong female peasant, the beautiful princess, etc.

This is the story of all of these characters--characters who want more from life and from who they are. The beautiful princess finds that she wants to be more than beautiful. Pia and Enzio, the peasants, want to live in royalty. The king wishes to be more wise. These aren't formal wishes--just the every day thinking of people wanting something different or more in a real-life kind of way.

It is a fun fairy tale--felt a bit like TALE OF DESPEREAUX and a bit like something by Gail Carson Levine--a great combination for a great fairy tale.

The thing I liked best is the message Creech seems to give us about story. In the book, there is a wordsmith who often tells stories to the royal family. It is through these stories that the royal family and the peasants begin to imagine the possibilities in their lives, see themselves in stories, and become more content.

The back of the book says that this is for ages 8-12. I can definitely see reading it aloud to 3rd graders. And I think it will also appeal to much older readers too. It is a great fairy tale. With so many fairy tales and fantasies coming out, I am so happy to see that Sharon Creech has added to the genre. I loved the story, the characters, the writing, and the message.

A New Back to School Book

It is time for Back to School books. A friend of mine who is a Kindergarten teacher shared this new one with me today---CORNELIUS P. MUD, ARE YOU READY FOR SCHOOL? by Barney Saltzberg. It is definitely a great one for young children getting ready to go off to school.

Cornelius is getting ready for school and the text follows a semi-predictable pattern asking Cornelius whether he has done what he needs to do get ready for school. "Did you eat breakfast?" "Yes!" and so on. But there is something very important that they forget which makes for quite a cute ending.

The illustrations are colorful and happy--the colors remind me a bit of NO, DAVID! by David Shannon. Cornelius is an adorable pig character who is quite lovable. The font of the text is big and basic for new readers and yet fun to give a happy tone to the book. A great choice to read aloud to help with the transition for school and a perfect read for beginning readers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Author Fired by Former Fan

"...yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith." --Samuel Taylor Coleridge his autobiography, Biographia Literaria.
How to Cheat a Dragon's Curse
as told to Cressida Cowell
the fourth book in the Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III series

I was willing to believe in the Vikings, the dragons, the sea creatures, the unlikely ways that Hiccup gets into and out of trouble, the crazy names, the language Dragonese, the holiday of Freya'sday Fete. I was a little irritated that she named a character "Big-Boobied Bertha." She really didn't need to stoop that low in the potty-mouth humor department, but I could handle it. I've read the ROTTEN SCHOOL series, after all.

Cressida Cowell completely lost me as a reader and a fan and a future book purchaser when, at the very end of the book, she writes this about an arrow that had been stuck in a potato:
"...I buried the arrow which saved my life in some muddy ground behind my house, and, miracle of miracles! A single seed must have been sticking to the metal!

For some time later, in the springtime, I noticed a strange green plant in that particular spot, and I dug the arrow up again. A new potato, larger than the one I lost, had grown right around the arrow's point."
POTATOES DO NOT GROW FROM LITTLE TINY SINGLE SEEDS THAT STICK TO ARROW TIPS! THEY GROW FROM CHUNKS OF SEED POTATOES!

I am completely willing to suspend my disbelief for all kinds of fantastic inventions an author creates in a story. I will not, however, suspend my knowledge of the way the real world works. Ms. Cowell, you're fired, and I suggest you get a new editor.

Continuing Education -- Graphic Novels

A brief timeline of my graphic novels education to date:
  • In November of 2005, I read the first volume of the Scholastic color re-issue of BONE. In my reading log, I noted this historic event: "My first graphic novel." In January of 2006, BABYMOUSE hit the bookstores.
  • Last October (2006), I volunteered to be on the Graphic Novels panel for the Cybils . (Press Release here for more information on the Cybils.) I did this to jump-start my graphic novel education, and it did the job.
  • Last November (2006) at NCTE, I heard Scott McCloud speak. Scott McCloud is "an American cartoonist and a leading popular scholar of comics as a distinct literary and artistic medium," according to his Wikipedia entry. I read his book MAKING COMICS as the "textbook" for my education in graphic novels, and then over the course of the next couple of months, I read about 40 graphic novels, most of which were Cybils nominations.
Maybe I shouldn't have just revealed how much of a newbie I am to the world of graphic novels, but you know, in some circles (over 30, never read graphic novels), I'm a virtual expert.

This morning I finished the three volumes of the SCOTT PILGRIM series by Brian Lee O'Malley. Scott McCloud said (I have this in my notes) that O'Malley's work, and others like his, will "bridge the gap between Japanese manga and American comics. This generation of artists will speak directly to our kids." That's why I read these three books. And while they might speak directly to kids, they don't speak so directly to me.

The series is summarized in Wikipedia thus:
The series is about 23-year-old Canadian Scott Pilgrim, a slacker, hero, wannabe-rockstar, who is living in Toronto and playing bass in the band "Sex Bob-Omb." He falls in love with American delivery girl Ramona V. Flowers, but must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends in order to date her.
That much I got, although I almost didn't finish the first book because the set-up of the plot was just too weird for me. Once O'Malley got to Ramona V. Flowers and defeating the seven evil ex-boyfriends, I understood what to expect from the rest of the books. Some version of one evil boyfriend per book.

Did I know that all the names of the bands mentioned in the books are references to video games? No, because I have a reading history, not a gaming history. But did it matter that I didn't get all the video game references? (Or, for that matter, most of the rock music references?) Nope. Because I got the story. Most of it. And thanks to Scott McCloud, I could probably even point out some of the American comic influences and some of the Japanese manga influences.

What does all this mean and why am I writing about it here? If we ask kids to read outside their comfort zones and try new genres, we should, too. If we want to be able to tell kids first hand what it's like to stick with a book and be glad we did, we should have been there/done that.

What kinds of books/genres have you read that are outside your comfort zone, and what did you learn from that experience that you can share with your students?

Global Babies

I am always looking for new board books for baby gifts. I often put together a bag or basket of board books as a new baby or baby shower gift. I always buy some of the classics but love to include new books in the mix.

GLOBAL BABIES by the Global Fund for Children and published by Charlesbridge Publishing is a great new addition to the board book collection. It is an adorable small board book highlighting a baby from somewhere in the world on each page. The photographs are colorful and many babies are dressed in traditional clothing. The text that goes along with each page is simple. The draw is definitely in the adorable faces on each page.

I didn't know about the Global Fund for Children but I read that they develop titles "to support appreciation of the multicultural world in which they live". Some of the profit from these books go to the fund to support children around the world. I'll keep my eyes out for other books by the Global Fun for Children.

Since most babies love to look at other babies, I think parents and new babies alike would love this book.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Tell An Author You Care Day--E.L. Konigsburg

Emily at Whimsy Books designated today as "Tell An Author You Care Day". Love the idea and wanted to make sure to participate. I read her ideas of how to participate and decided on this idea from Emily--Idea #4:

Profile an author in your blog. I'm not talking just another review. Tell us a little about the author and mention at least one of his/her books that you love.

I have been thinking about E.L. Konigsburg all week since I finished an advanced copy of her upcoming book THE MYSTERIOUS EDGE OF THE HEROIC WORLD.

I am fascinated by E.L. Konigsburg. FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER was one of my favorite books of childhood. Claudia's trip to the museum has stayed with me throughout my life. The book was also a favorite of my husband's who doesn't remember many great books from childhood. It is a classic and one that, as adults, we can all still talk about.

So, I had to read THE MYSTERIOUS EDGE OF THE HEROIC WORLD that will be out this fall by Konigsburg. Again, she is brilliant. This book actually has a feel that is similar to FROM THE MIXED UP FILES in that there is art, and a mystery, and the process of making sense of things that are not quite organized. Amedeo and William work together to help sort through the items in Mrs. Zender's house as she prepares to move. They uncover great stories as they get to know Mrs. Zender and each other. And of course there is a little mystery to uncover. There was a bit more history in this book--art that was confiscated during the Holocaust is a backdrop. The history is part of the fun of the discovery. And the learning about this part of the Holocaust is shocking--a part of history that many of us don't know much about.

One thing that was an extra in this book was the fact that Konigsburg pulled in characters and places from THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY and THE OUTCASTS OF SCHUYLER PLACE. Even though they weren't a focus in the other books, I always think it is fun to revisit places and people I know as a reader.

I am amazed by Konigsburg which is why I chose her to thank today. She has been writing amazing books for over 30 years! She must have written FROM THE MIXED UP FILES at a pretty young age. And so many of her books since then are just as fabulous as that one. THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY and THE OUTCASTS OF SCHUYLER PLACE are two of my more recent favorites. An author who I can enjoy as an adult as much as I did as a child--one of the first authors who hooked me on reading and made me get to know characters that have stayed with me forever. I can't explain the fun of having read her books over the last 35 years. I love that she continues to surprise us with every book and that I can have that same feeling now as I did when I first met Claudia. I don't know of any other authors who have been writing such amazing novels consistently--she somehow tells amazing stories and makes them very timely for today's readers. I have read several of her more recent ones aloud to my intermediate students and they are always a hit--well loved and the anchor for lots of great talk. Her respect for kids and their ability to change the world is clear in every one of her books.

So, hooray for E.L. Konigsburg--an author I have enjoyed almost since my love of books began. A new book by Konisburg is such a treat. She continues to amaze me as a reader.

Get Busy!

It's Tell An Author You Care Day, as proclaimed by Emily at whimsy. It's also Emily's birthday, so be sure you check out a list of some of the authors she cares about -- one for each of her years -- and wish her a happy birthday!

Here are Emily's suggestions for celebrating TAAYC Day:
"1. Write a letter or email to a favorite author. I think JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer receive plenty of fan letters. Think of an author you love that may need a little boost.
2. Write a positive review on Amazon and, if you want to, link to it in your blog.
3. Buy a book by a favorite author and give it to someone who will enjoy it.
4. Profile an author in your blog. I'm not talking just another review. Tell us a little about the author and mention at least one of his/her books that you love."

Leave a comment on Emily's blog, telling her what you did for TELL AN AUTHOR YOU CARE DAY. If you do, you will be entered into a drawing.

I took care of #1 today before I even remembered it was TAAYC Day. I just completed #2, but at Powells, and minus the link. I will, however, let the author know it is there! I'll take care of #3 this very afternoon. (Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie books are ready to put in the mail to my friend's daughter Sophie.) I'll get busy on #4 after I swim. Stay tuned.

Five Things Meme -- Results Are In

The complete list of questions and surveys from the original June 25 post is here.

1. Five things I was doing ten years ago.
89% said Mary Lee. You were correct.

2. Five Snacks I Enjoy.
100% said Franki. You were correct, although it could have been A Little of Both because I like dark chocolate.

3. Five Songs I Know All the Lyrics To.
63% said A Little of Both. You were correct. The first two are all Franki and the last three are all Mary Lee.

4. Five Things I Would Do If I Were A Millionaire.
63% said A Little of Both. It was actually all Franki, but I definitely concur with the naps and the giving a lot away. I don't mind laundry, but I have less of it!

5. Five Bad Habits.
50% said Franki and 50% said A Little of Both. It was A Little of Both. 2 and 3 are Franki and the rest are mine.

6. Five Things I Like To Do.
67% said Mary Lee. You were right. But it could have been A Little of Both because of the reading, writing and napping.

7. Five Things I Would Never Wear Again.
67% said A Little of Both. It was actually all Franki, but I agree about the bikini. I gave that one up in junior high.

8. Five Favorite Toys.
100% Mary Lee. You're right, but Franki does love her stickie notes, too!

Paint the Wind by Pam Munoz Ryan

I was lucky to read and Advanced Copy of PAINT THE WIND by Pam Munoz Ryan. Ryan is one of my favorite authors and ESPERANZA RISING is one of my all-time favorite books. So, I was thrilled to read this new one.

This is the story of Maya, who has lost her parents, and now her grandmother. She goes to live with her mother's family and spends the summer at Sweetwater River learning about her mother, horses and herself.

Maya, as are all of Ryan's characters, is a strong female character. She has had lots of hard things happen in life but somehow finds a way to stay true to who she is.

This is a horse story, so it will appeal to lots of readers who love horses. Maya develops a relationship with a horse named Artemesia as she learns about horses and her mother from her Aunt Vi. Pam Munoz Ryan has included a glossary of "horse terms" as well as a note on the back of her book sharing some of her own experiences with horses.

But this book will also appeal to readers who aren't necessarily looking for a good horse story. It is a story of family, grief and of growing up. Pam Munoz Ryan continues to give us great female characters--girls who are strong, who are connected to their history and their family, and who find their own identity in rough times. I always read for character--plot is secondary to me as a reader-and Maya will stay with me for a very, very long time.

On an aside, this is a fat book with big print/spacing. So, it isn't as long as it appears. It should be perfect for middle elementary students. It seems perfect for 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. I am anxious to share it with mine once school starts in the fall. It is due out in September.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Week of Travel

"It must be so nice to be a teacher--having the summers off..."

How many times have you heard this since June?

This week, I was fortunate enough to participate in two workshops for teachers. I've been gone for a week, learning lots and seeing great people. I spent two days in Monterey, California at the Writers At Work Conference hosted by The Culham Writing Company. What a great time. If you don't know Ruth Culham (otherwise known as "The Traits Lady"), she runs an amazing 3 day conference every year. This year, I was able to hear Lisa Yee (who, by the way, is as wonderful in person as she is on her blog), Ralph Fletcher, and James Blasingame (who shared lots of great new YA titles), Many others presented but I wasn't able to hear their sessions. It was a great line up--Ruth Culham, Janet Angelillo, Lester Laminack, Bridey Monterossi, Linda Rief, Laura Robb, Charles Smith Jr., and Janice Wright--a combination of teachers, writers, children's authors, experts in children's lit and more. A great time and lots of learning!

Then I flew to Portland, Oregon for a Choice Literacy Workshop. I gave a workshop for two days on literacy in grades 3-6 and met such great people. Most of the people were from the Portland area but a few traveled far to attend the workshop and enjoy the city. There were other Choice Literacy Workshops going on by The Sisters, Jen Allen, Andie Cunningham, and Ruth Shagoury.

Both of these conferences understand how important teachers' learning is. Teachers learn lots and are thrilled with an hour for lunch! Teachers were in groups small enough for great conversations--groups where they could share and learn from each other. At both conferences, teachers talked about not knowing what to do with a full hour for lunch. We are so used to eating in 10 minutes, rushing to duty, etc. An hour lunch was a much appreciated luxury--as was the time to talk and learn with other colleagues who were thinking about literacy.

After spending four days with teachers at great institutes, I was very energized. (well, after recovering from my all night flight home!) We are all working so hard to make sure we do the best we can for our students. Teachers seem to be the target of so much criticism lately and I just don't see it. Teachers are working harder and smarter than we ever have. We understand more about how children learn and how best to create classrooms that meets the needs of ALL kids. As a profession, we seem to be losing confidence in our own decision making and we shouldn't be. I met so many amazing teachers this week and I learned a ton from them. Thinking together about student learning IN THE SUMMER.

I am tired of the world thinking that we all became teachers because we get our summers off. I admit that summer takes on a different pace but I wouldn't call it "OFF". I so treasure this time in July when I can attend workshops, read professionally, find new children's books that my students might fall in love with, and think ahead for the fall. In every city across the country, teachers are getting together attending workshops, and learning new ways to meet the needs of their students. I loved every minute of my learning this week.

Sneeze!

I just received a copy of this great new nonfiction book--SNEEZE!--from Charlesbridge Publishers. What a great book! I am pretty sure it will be a favorite in my class once school begins.

The topic alone is always interesting to kids. And the book is really informative. I learned so much that I didn't know before.

Every spread begins with a black and white photo of a child. Sometimes that child is sneezing. If not, there is definitely a potential for a sneeze in the scene(a cat, for instance). The second page in the spread uses great colorful "micrographs"--a new term for me that is explained at the end of the book. Micrographs are taken with either a scanning electronic microscope or a transmission electronic microscope. The images are magnified and very interesting to look at.

The back of the book also has some additional information on sneezes. Lots of info about sneezes and the body, told in a very kid-friendly way make this a great book to add to my nonfiction library. As I've said earlier, I am looking for nonfiction books that invite kids to read them from cover to cover. So many of the books that I have in my classroom have lots and lots of information spread out across the page. I feel like many of these books invite browsing and skimming. So, I am very excited about SNEEZE! The topic, photos, and format make it perfect for kids in middle elementary grades. And it is available in paperback!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Newbery Alert

Sharon's Newbery is picking up where Nina's Newbery (mock Newbery blog/event in Oakland) left off last year.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Poetry Friday -- An Original

The Test Scores Are In

A child is more than any one score.
And so is a teacher, too.
But when the scores surprise and please,
Loudly shout, "WOO - HOO!"

I celebrate the highest highs,
I celebrate every success.
Every score is a sign of learning;
Every score measures progress.

I know I taught, but did they learn?
The question haunts me less
Because I see the numbers there
And can measure my teaching with the tests.

A child is more than any one score.
And so is a teacher, too.
But when the scores surprise and please,
Loudly shout, "WOO - HOO!"


Round up this week is at Chicken Spaghetti.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Secret of the Sirens

Secret of the Sirens
by Julia Golding
Marshall Cavendish, 2006
review copy provided by publisher

Al Gore would love this series.

The basic premise is that mythical creatures (unicorns, pegasi, sirens, etc.) do still exist. They are protected by a group of humans who belong to the Society for the Protection of Mythical Creatures. These humans each show an affinity for a certain kind of animal. For example, one of the characters, Colin, has an affinity for horses. He is companion to a pegasus. The main character, Connie, seems to have an affinity for birds, and she is companion to the sirens before she knows any more than that she gets along well with animals, before she even knows about the Society and companions.

Here's where Al Gore comes in. The work of the Society, to hide and protect the few remaining mythical creatures from other humans, has become increasingly difficult as humans have overtaken and developed most of the remaining wild places in the world. And now, along the English coast where Connie lives, an oil refinery threatens the coastal rocks where the sirens live. The sirens are fed up with being pushed out of their homes, and they are retaliating by drowning refinery workers. If they keep it up, they could cause an oil tanker to wreck and foul the coast and the coastal waters. It's up to Connie to find a way to prevent that from happening.

To complicate matters, Connie learns that she is not simply a companion to birds/sirens. She is the only living Universal Companion. She is able to be companion to all species and all mythical creatures. Good thing there is a new Universal, because the ultimate evil, Kullervo, is gaining strength. In some ways he is like Connie, but when she asks, "Is he a universal companion?" this is the answer:
"Universal he may be, but companionship is far from his mind. I think he is more like a whirlpool -- or black hole -- pulling all who venture near him inexorably into his wicked schemes. Once creatures go down his road, it is nearly impossible to pull them back. They get in too deep, falling for his lies that all humans are the enemy -- the oppressor. It's tragic that while the sirens think that they are choosing freedom to act without restraint, they are in reality choosing captivity. They may believe he's serving their cause, but once he has his hooks into them, they will end up his slaves. He is only interested in them in so far as they further his goal."
"His goal?"
"The eradication of humanity."

There are all kinds of great tensions in this book. Good vs. evil, obviously. But also wilderness vs. development, humans as destroyers vs. humans as conservationists, nature vs. technology. Like I said, Al Gore would approve.

I can't wait to read the other books in the Companions Quartet: The Gorgon's Gaze and Mines of the Minotaur. Michelle at Scholars Blog doesn't like the not-so-subtle environmental message as much as I did. That just means that you'll have to read these and see what you think! Go now! You have a week before HP!

BIG News

Ginormous made it into the new edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. I remember hearing my students (one in particular...you know who you are) use this word for the first time four years ago.

Here's my prediction for a word that will be added some time soon, based on 1. my inability to break my students of saying it, even after two years of intensive interventions, 2. the efficiency of this word compared with the "correct" version, and 3. I broke down and used it myself. The word? VERSE, vb., meaning to compete with someone in a game or sport. "I'm going to verse him in chess." The roots of this word are in the preposition VERSUS, as in Army vs. Navy. (The correct/clunky/inefficient way to say "verse?" "Go against." How does "go against" relate to versus? On the other hand, it is clear to see how "verse" relates to versus.) Other words in the dictionary around VERSUS include, as a reminder that language is a living, changing thing: versatile and version.

For other new words that made it into the dictionary, see USA Today's AP story.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Happy Birthday

Today is the birthday of E(lwyn) B(rooks) White.

I celebrated by reading Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little, which I loved as much or more than Franki said we would!

Simply Sarah

Simply Sarah: Patches and Scratches
by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, illus. Marcy Ramsey
Marshall Cavendish, 2007
Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Simply Sarah: Anyone Can Eat Squid
by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, illus. Marcy Ramsey
Marshall Cavendish, 2005

Simply Sarah: Cuckoo Feathers
by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, illus. Marcy Ramsey
Marshall Cavendish, 2006

In a move that was quite revolutionary (for me), I read the three books in this series out of order. (I know. Amazing.) But because of that, I can say that they all stand alone quite nicely, and unlike some other early reader series books (Magic Tree House comes to mind), the way Naylor weaves in the common background information never feels formulaic.

I did have a disturbing sense of de ja vous as I started Patches and Scratches. Sarah is a spunky little girl of an unspecified age (maybe it's in there, but I can't recall it) between 2nd and 4th grade. She lives in an apartment in a big city (Chicago), her mom is an artist, and she has a little brother and a friend who lives on another floor in the apartment building. Her father is not the building manager, but Mr. Gurdy, the man who lives in a room in the basement of the building, does feature prominently in this book. In the book Cuckoo Feathers, the problem centers around pigeons. Echoes of Clementine?

Maybe Clementine-ish. There's nothing in any of the three books of the Simply Sarah series that has the flash and splash of the Clementine books, but the writing in the three books in this series is more consistent and even. (I liked the first Clementine book a WHOLE lot and the second one so-so. The same was true for my 5th graders.)

The basic premise in all three books is that Sarah wants to be anything but ordinary. She wants to be special. In all three there is a satisfying plot twist and things work out in the end...but definitely not the way Sarah or the reader thought they would work out. I think this structure of the text will support beginning readers who need to learn to pay attention to clues in the text as they read so that they can modify their predictions as they go along.

There's a lot going on with the characters in these books, but it is all woven very naturally into the story, so that it doesn't seem like the laundry list that I'm going to make it into: Sarah's father is out of the picture -- he is overseas building bridges and we only meet him through his weekly phone calls. Sarah's best friend Peter is black, and he lives with his grandmother. Sarah's two newest friends, Mercedes and Leon, live in the apartment building across the street. Mercedes is Leon's cousin. She was born in Mexico, and is now living in Chicago with her aunt, uncle and cousins. Mercedes and Leon attend Catholic school via a school bus; Sarah and Peter walk to their neighborhood public school. One of Sarah's friends at school is Tim, who is Chinese. In Anyone Can Eat Squid, Sarah comes up with the idea that saves Tim's family's Chinese restaurant from closing. Like I said, as a laundry list, it seems like a bad case of "what other element of diversity can we include?" But when you read the books, it comes off quite naturally.

I give Sarah a stamp of approval, and nominate her to be a part of the new Spunky Girl Character Club along with Clementine, Moxy, and Grace.

Children's Authors at NCTE

I know lots of bloggers are planning on attending the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Convention in November in NYC. It is always a fun time with lots of authors and great talk about reading, writing, and books. Children's authors are always a highlight. Some of the major authors who are speaking have been announced on the website--thought you might be interested. Some are children's authors, some YA, some adult, some professional:

Jonathan Kozol at the Opening Gala
Amy Tan at the Friday Kickoff
Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney at the Books for Children Luncheon
Rudine Simms Bishop at the Elementary Get Together
Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson at the Middle Level Luncheon
Esmeralda Santiago at the Secondary Luncheon
Gregory Maguire at the Secondary Section Get Together
Ishmael Beah at the College Section Luncheon
Jerry Spinelli at the ALAN breakfast
Allen Say at the Children's Literature Assembly Breakfast


There are lots of others but these are some of the sessions that are being highlighted. Check it out!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hirschi and Mangelsen: Great Partnership

There's a Tom Mangelsen gift shop in the Denver Airport. Lucky me -- my flight (back in June) was delayed 5 hours, so I had plenty of time to shop!

I found two books, one new and one newish, written by Ron Hirschi and illustrated with Mangelsen's photographs.

Lions Tigers and Bears: Why Are Big Predators So Rare?
Boyds Mills Press, 2007
recently reviewed at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy

My nonfiction collection needs to be updated and I need to get back to a better ratio of fiction:nonfiction read alouds. This book is a good start on both goals.

This book has seven short chapters, each about a different big predator: cougar, polar bear, lion, cheetah, tiger, grizzly bear, and killer whale. In each chapter, Hirchi paints a picture with words that describes the animal in its habitat. He tells how the animal lives, and how it has come to be threatened by humans: habitat loss, over-hunting, pollution, global warming. He also tells what is being done and what can be done to protect the dwindling populations of these magnificent animals. And who better to show us (as opposed to telling us about) these gorgeous creatures than Tom Mangelsen. Along with Jim Brandenburg and cloudscome, he is my favorite nature photographer.

Searching for Grizzlies
Boyds Mills Press, 2005
with drawings by Deborah Cooper

This book is a combination of factual information about grizzlies in the main text, and the story of the grizzly "hunt" (armed with cameras, camping equipment, and fly fishing gear) told on faux journal pages. The book is also illustrated with photos, as well as "journal" sketches of wildflowers and birds and animal tracks. There's a lot to look at, and something for every reader. It's a book to go back to again and again. I can imagine lots of discussions about nonfiction reading strategies with this book. Some might read the main text first, exclusively. Some might do the same with the journal-y text. Some might "read" the pictures first. And, of course, for some, there might be a new strategy for each page, depending on what caught your attention first.

DOGKU by Andrew Clements





What a fun book this one is! I am always looking for picture books that can be read and reread--noticing different things. DOGKU by Andrew Clements is a story of a dog, told in Haiku. An absolutely adorable dog finds a home in this great picture book. Each page tells a part of the story in Haiku. To add to the fun, the blurb on the inside flap, as well as parts of the author blurbs, are told in Haiku. The author's note has a little info on the Haiku.

This is a fun story with great illustrations by Tim Bowers. It is also a great sample of writing that can be used in writing workshop minilessons--a story told in many haiku poems is a unique format that kids could have fun with. You can't help but fall in love with the dog and what a clever title!

Monday, July 09, 2007

NEA -- Final Report

The NEA Representative Assembly really was like being at the Grand Canyon -- my "snapshots" can't do it justice. The Grand Canyon gives the awe of natural beauty; the NEA RA gave me the overwhelming sense of awe that I am one of so many people who believe in public education.

Like the Grand Canyon, the NEA RA is huge. The 3.2 million members of NEA elect 8-9,000 representatives who come together in July to take care of the business and set the policies of the organization. We dealt with/debated/decided 95 new business items, and amendments to the bylaws and constitution. There were both radical conservatives and radical liberals in attendance. Everyone had the right to speak, and for the most part, the radicals balanced out the radicals and we wound up somewhere in the middle.

I encourage you to visit the NEA website to view short videos of the eight presidential candidates' speeches. In the sidebar on the same page, you can also check out NEA's day-by-day description of the action, view the amendments and new business items, and view slide shows on different topics throughout the week.

NEA Report #8 -- Philly Food

I don't want to give the impression that the NEA RA (Representative Assembly) was all work and no play. And I certainly don't want you to think that we survived on bread and water! Finding good food in Philly was part of the fun of the week!


The Reading Terminal Market across the street from the Convention Center is like our North Market...only on steroids! It has been open since 1893 and is home to more than 80 merchants, two of whom are descendants of the original standholders from a century before. This market has Thai, Mexican, Amish, gourmet, and local foods (just to name a few). There are fresh flowers, fresh fruits and vegetables, crafts, wines, and cookbooks (just to name a few more). What a great asset to the thriving downtown of Philadelphia!













Yes, we ate the requisite Philly Cheesesteak. The governor of PA visited the convention and he told us what makes the Philly Cheesesteak the Philly Cheesesteak. (He had been mayor of Philly before becoming governor.) 1. Stringy, fatty meat. Many people try to improve on the Philly Cheesesteak by using good meat, but that nullifies the authenticity. 2. Cheese Whiz. Again, don't bother with real cheese, because it won't melt right and get down in the cracks of the stringy meat. 3. Don't drain the fat off the onions. Yup, to be a REAL Philly Cheesesteak, it needs to be greasy. The ones we ate were authentic in every way. And I'm sorry, Philly, but I like the fake version I get at Cap City Diner!














Even though we worked really hard for the 5 days of the Representative Assembly, we somehow found the time to make it over to the Reading Market in the mid-afternoon for a still-warm cookie, or some to-die-for candy!


The best meal of the week was at La Fontana Della Citta. I had the best arugula salad ever, and great creme brulle. The Eggplant Parmesan was good, but not the best ever.

On the first day we were in Philadelphia, the day we did all our sight-seeing, we had lunch at Soho Pizza. I had a typical slice of pepperoni, along with an experimental slice of broccoli/spinach. YUM! Whoda thunk? But it worked. I may try to replicate it here at home!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II



I just found this powerful new picture book at Cover to Cover. ONE THOUSAND TRACINGS by Lita Judge is based on a family story. Following World War II, this American family helped families in Germany who were suffering after the war. Many families sent tracings of their feet with letters asking for help finding shoes for family members. They organized others to help too and were able to help hundreds of families during this difficult time.

The illustrations are amazing--beautiful paintings with actual artifacts from the author/illustrator's grandparents' attic. Real photos, letters asking for help, tracings of feet on a variety of paper are all part of the illustrations and end pages. The author's note adds a bit more information.

Although this book is powerful, I think it can be read to young children too. Often, books like this are too much for young children. But this book focuses on the good that one family did and how their help made such an impact on others. It is told from a child's voice which also makes it appropriate for children of all ages. I am adding it to my stack of books about people who have made a difference in the world.