Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Pippi Longstocking and Lauren Child--what a match!

I am a huge Lauren Child fan. Love all of her books and can happily watch entire episodes of Charlie and Lola on TV. She is brilliant. So, I am not sure how I missed the exciting news that she has just illustrated a classic favorite--
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. But, I did find it yesterday.

I always liked Pippi but I didn't love her. I read all of the books and had a ball thinking about what it would be like to be her neighbor. But, I must say that Lauren Child's version of Pippi is quite lovable. She is still the same Pippi but more fun, in my opinion.

So, the story is the classic one that we all read. But the book is large with large print and not quite so many words on a page. It is a fun size for kids.

So, I brought it into my room today and just asked if anyone knew Pippi Longstocking. None of them had ever heard of the book but they were like bargain-shopping women at a sale trying to get it from me. (I finally let a little girl have it who had just finished a book yesterday. ) Really, there was something about the book that they had to have it. They knew nothing about it but it LOOKED like a book they wanted to read. Lauren Child has that impact on people. I imagine I will never get it back as several kids have their eye one it.

So, I am thrilled about this book. It is absolutely adorable.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Robert's Snow -- Matt Phelan

"She Never Misses"
(ink and watercolor on paper mounted to flake)

Mark your calendar for the third auction of the Robert's Snow: For Cancer's Cure fundraiser at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, December 3-7, so you can bid on Matt Phelan's snowflake.

Look at that sly little grin, those arched eyebrows just daring you to come within range of that perfectly formed snowball. What spirit! What spunk!

Come to think of it, she reminds me a bit of Matt Phelan himself! When you look at Matt's work, you'll see that he has not lost touch with his inner air guitarist/trampoline jumper/yodeler/Tarzan.

In Matt's interview with 1000 Times No, a blog/podcast that explores the No's in life, I learned that Matt went through quite a few No's before he became an illustrator of children's books. His most notable No was the time he learned that the optioned screenplay he had quit his job to write would never be made into a movie. However, all of Matt's work in theater developed his skills of interpretation, which he has applied to illustration. After getting the screenplay no, he joined SCBWI and risked a portfolio review. Turned out to be the best $30.00 he ever spent, because it led to his first illustrating job!

Matt's first book came out in 2005:

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs
written by Betty G. Birney
(Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2005).
Three more followed in 2006:

The New Girl…and Me
written by Jacqui Robbins
(Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2006)

The Higher Power of Lucky
written by Susan Patron
(Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2006)

Rosa Farm
written by Liz Wu
(Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2006)

Matt's 2007 books are:

Floridius Bloom and the Planet of Gloom
written by Lorijo Metz
(Dial Press, 2007)

A Box Full of Kittens
written by Sonia Manzano
(Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2007)

Where I Live
written by Eileen Spinelli
(Dial Press, 2007)

Very Hairy Bear
written by Alice Schertle
(Harcourt Children’s Books, 2007)

Matt keeps a sketch blog at Planet Ham. If you search his blog for all the posts labeled "Illustration Friday," you will see that he participated EVERY WEEK in 2006! Quite a goal, and quite a variety of pieces!

On Matt's website, you will learn that he is tickled to be able to say, "Now available in specially marked boxes of Cheerios is a cute-as-a-button miniature edition of The New Girl...and Me! The free book (one of five) is all part of Cheerios' very cool Spoonful of Stories program." You can also find some gorgeous Matt Phelan Original Wallpaper for your computer screen, and take a tour of his studio.

But here's what you've really been waiting for, my interview with Matt:

How and why did you get involved with the Robert's Snow project?
I first heard of the project two years ago and thought it was a fantastic idea. When the call for new snowflakes came up on the Blue Rose Girls blog this year, I wrote to Grace immediately and asked if I could participate.

What are some other children's book illustrators whose work you especially admire?
I'm a huge fan of children's books, so my list is pretty long. Emily Gravett, Brian Floca, and Alexandra Boiger are just a few current faves off the top of my head. Angela Barrett's recent version of Beauty and the Beast is stunning. David Small is not only one of our finest draftsmen, he is an absolute master of pacing. From the golden age, I have to put Ernest Shepard at the top of my list.

Did you have any sense when you were illustrating The Higher Power of Lucky that it might be Newbery material? Any idea that there would be the big brouhaha over the anatomical vocabulary?
I knew it was a wonderful book but it didn't occur to me to consider its award potential. To be honest, I wasn't sure an illustrated novel was even eligible. Although I realized that I had never read the word scrotum in a novel before, I had no idea it would cause a controversy. How naive.

Can you tell us anything about your top secret mission in Maine? (see sketches in recent posts on his blog)
Well heck, it wouldn't be much of a secret if I cracked the first time someone asked about it. No, I will say absolutely nothing. Except that the mission was for a book I'm writing. And the subject is somewhat nautical. But really, that's it. Stop your clever interrogation tricks!

Okay. No more clever interrogation. On to the silly stuff! Beer, wine, or sparkling water?
Beer. But only microbrewed beer, preferably from the Philadelphia area which includes some of the best breweries in the world.

Cake, pie, or creme brulee?
Creme brulee, because making it involves a tiny blow torch. It's the dessert of welders.

Wizard of Oz, Sound of Music, or Oklahoma?
I'll have to pick Oklahoma because sometimes I whisper the phrase "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" as a mantra. It's very soothing.

Here's what ELSE you've been waiting for: a "raffle doodle" being offered by Matt to one lucky reader of this Robert's Snow feature. Just leave a comment, and at the end of the week, I'll put all of the commenters' names in a hat and we'll draw for a winner! This is the original sketch that you might win:
Let the auction fun begin! May Robert's Snow be a giant blizzard of bidding that shuts down schools for five days. When it stops snowing, let's meet at the park for a snowball fight. I get to be "She Never Misses," and I personally want to throw the snowball (maybe with a rock or piece of ice in the center -- he doesn't play fair, so why should I) that hits Cancer right between the eyes so that snow goes behind his glasses and he's blinded, he gets a bloody nose, and goes running to mommy. Take THAT, you creep, for the year of hell you gave me! And THAT for all of my friends you've pelted...especially the ones you've taken out of the game way too early.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Growing Kidlitosphere!

When we celebrated our Blog Birthday in January, we thanked Melissa for this post where she created the word KIDLITOSPHERE.

On January 2, 2007, the word KIDLITOSPHERE was official with 538 Google Hits.
On June 23, the word had 15, 700 hits.

Today, I was getting things ready for a workshop I have talking to teachers about words. I always share this true-to-life Frindle-like story, so I googled the word again to see how popular it is getting.

As of today, October 28, the word gets 36,900 hits when googled!
Pretty cool, huh?

Mom's Overture (Teachers' too!)

This is the funniest thing we've seen on YouTube in a long time. Maybe ever. It is everything a mom would say in 24 hours condensed into 2 minutes and 55 seconds, and set to the William Tell Overture.

So, it got us thinking about all the things teachers say in a school day.

Let's gather a list of all of the kinds of things we say. While we might never sing it on YouTube, perhaps you could hum the William Tell Overture while you read it.

Here are a few of our common phrases to get you started:

Have a seat, get ready for math, zip, exCUSE me?!?
Take out your homework, come to the meeting area, did you sign in?
Bring your writer's notebook, do your self-evaluation, find it!
What happens when...? What did you...? Where is your...?
Don't forget to do your lunch count.
Get your coats--it's cold out today.
Pick up the scraps around your table.
What's going on? Whatcha doin'?
Clean your desk, look again, are you sure?
What are you going to do about that?
Take out your planner, sit down please, shhhhhhh...
We're ready for a quiet line.
Have a good evening! Don't forget your homework!

Send us your best phrases, and we'll compile them all into a Teacher's Overture.

Edited to add this one I just found on Cynthia Lord's blog: "A fourth-grade teacher in Franconia, New Hampshire sent me a link to a podcast of his students discussing RULES. Wow.

First, my jaw dropped and then I got teary listening to those kids! What thoughtful comments. I especially loved when they are discussing, "Is life fair for Catherine?" and "How do you define regular and normal?" how one student said there is an "infinity chance" of normal.

I also smiled when the teacher said, "The only person who should be moving right now is . . . ." That reminded me so much of being a teacher, myself."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

This 'n That

I'm just getting ready to go check out today's Robert's Snow posts. I haven't kept up on my blog reading since this blizzard of posting started, but I have read almost every Robert's Snow post on the day it was posted. And if not on the day, the day after. This dedication to reading Snow posts and lack of regular blog reading habits has, of course, resulted in me being days late to important revelations, and thoughtful conversations. I'm sure there's plenty of other action in the kidlitosphere that I've missed, but since I don't know what it is, I'm not worrying about it!

How about a few Halloween diversions, just for hoots?!?!? (pun intended)
Now, get back to work, or go outside and enjoy the fall weather, all of you who have enjoyable fall weather.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Poetry Friday -- Halloween ABC

Halloween ABC
by Eve Merriam
Illustrated by Lane Smith
Copyright 1987

I'm feeling old. (It doesn't take much these days.) Eve Merriam's book of 26 Halloween poems has been one of my all-time favorite holiday books since...this is where the problem lies...since close to the beginning of my teaching career. Yeah. That long. And when I went to Powell's to get an image and a link, it wasn't there. Because it's out of print.

Come to find out, I missed the release of the updated version in 2002:

I doubt I would have bought it because, frankly, it doesn't look as spooky as the original book. I really liked Lane Smith's dark, foreboding illustrations. It appears from the reviews that the poems are the same in both books, only the illustrations have been updated. And the poems are classic Eve Merriam. If she chooses some predictable Halloween subjects for some of the letters, she writes a surprising poem. Every poem is completely unique -- there is no formula for the poems that make them repetitious and boring. The poem for Apple begins,

sweet apple,
what do you hide?
Wormy and
rotten inside.

(You can see the whole poem for Apple here.)

This poem is a good example of the way the whole book twists and turns your expectations for what each poem might be about, or what word she might choose for each letter of the alphabet.

Grab this book (if you can find it), turn the lights off and light a flickering candle, get out your spookiest voice, and have a great read aloud! Happy Halloween!


Today's roundup is at Literary Safari, a new blog for me. Look around their blog a bit before you click out to the poems today. They've got some great stuff over there!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Plain Janes

The Plain Janes
by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg
DC Comics
Copyright 2007

2007 Cybils Nominee

There are three main plot lines in this graphic novel for teens.

1. The main character, Jane, is walking by a cafe in Metro City when a bomb goes off. Her parents are afraid to live in the city, so they move to the suburbs.
2. As the new kid at Buzz Aldrin High, Jane consciously negotiates the cliques. She refuses to join the "cool girls," and yet when she sits at a table of outcasts, she finds herself in the unique position of being an outcast of even the outcasts.
3. Jane writes letters to another of the bomb blast victims, a young man known only as John Doe who has been in a coma since the blast. Jane saved him, picked up his "Art Saves" sketch book, put up posters of him to try to learn his identity, and visited him in the hospital. She takes his sketch book with her when her family moves to the 'burbs.

These three plot lines twist together to form the story of how Jane wins over the outcasts and turns them into the most popular group at Buzz Aldrin High. She involves the girls (another Jane, Jayne, and Polly Jane -- hence the Plain Janes of the title) in secretly creating public art installations/events/attacks that are claimed by the group P.L.A.I.N.: People Loving Art In Neighborhoods (hence the Plain Janes of the title).

Lo and behold, art does save -- it saves all of the Janes and gives them a powerful girl gang that helps them come to terms with high school cliques in their own unique ways.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Plot Thickens

Bone 6: Old Man's Cave
by Jeff Smith
Review copy -- purchased for the classroom by a parent at our school book fair (Thanks again!!!)

Suspense is building in the continuing saga of the three Bone cousins.

Grandma Ben's sister (who was thought to be dead) is actually The Hooded One who works for the Lord of the Locusts. Whoda thunk?

The Hooded One thinks Phoney Bone is the key to everything because his larger than life campaign-for-mayor balloon (the one that got the Bones run out of town in the first place) has become snagged at the entrance to the lair of the Lord of the Locusts. There looms this omen: a gigantic Phoney Bone with a torn ribbon across his chest reading, "Phoncible P. Bone Will Get You..."

Back when it was a campaign balloon, it read, "Phoncible P. Bone Will Get Your Vote." So it's all a big over-inflated misunderstanding, but before they can all have a chuckle about it and move on, the Lord of the Locusts swarms Princess Thorn and overtakes her. Fone Bone saves her with the necklace the Red Dragon gave him...or does he? She reawakens at the end of the book, but walks off the last page with her hood pulled down over her the Stick Eaters.

"To be continued..."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Robert's Snow--LIVE!

As I mentioned last week, my 81 Days of Balance ended with a workshop for Choice Literacy I had this past weekend. As I was pulling together final details a few days before the trip, I realized that my plane was landing just 22 minutes away from the Child At Heart Art Gallery where the Robert's Snow Snowflakes were on display! What luck! So, we decided to take a tiny detour to visit the gallery and the snowflakes. (So, it was pouring down rain and we had no umbrella--as you can tell by the photo--but it was so worth it!)

WOW! I thought they were amazing online but they are GORGEOUS in real life. Each one is absolutely breathtaking. It was pretty powerful to see them all in one place. There are several that I hope to bid on--a few that I fell immediately in love with. I know you must all be a bit jealous--I know Mary Lee was (It didn't really help that I reminded her every 30 minutes that I was going to see the snowflakes in real life!) The snowflakes have moved on from the gallery and onto the Danforth Museum of Art. If you are ANYWHERE near the museum, it is a pretty amazing thing to see--the snowflakes all in one place. The art was amazing but having the snowflakes on display here was such a powerful tribute it is to Robert Mercer.

And I am so happy to have met my new friend Paul, the owner of the gallery. What a place! As a children's book person, I can't believe my luck in finding it. The gallery is filled with children's book art. Original pieces and prints from so many artists. I feel like I found such a great treasure. Not only a place to purchase original art but a person who has developed great relationships with many of the artists and knows so much about children's book art.

It was a great day--the time we spent in the Gallery seeing the snowflakes, looking at the art, meeting and chatting with Paul, and of course buying a few things! If y0u are ANYWHERE near the gallery, I would highly recommend a visit. And if you aren't near it, but are looking for great children's book art, it seems like this is the place that can probably find it for you!

As an added resource for you moms out there, if you make it to Newburyport, I would make sure to get to the Pink Hearts/Blue Soles children's shoe store. A kind of dangerous place with the best children's shoes I've ever seen--all in one place. I am thinking of flying to Newburyport to shop for schools shoes for my daughter next fall:-) If our kids are going to learn to read in school, I think they need to do it in great shoes, don't you? (See, I knew I could connect this shoe store somehow....)

Needless to say, I loved Newburyport, the Child at Heart Art Gallery, the Snowflakes and the shoe store. What a great way to end my 81 Days of Balance:-)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Robert's Snow -- Week Two

Note to Blog Readers about Blogging for a Cure: When Jules of 7-Imp put out her call in September for bloggers to interview/feature artists who had created snowflakes for Robert’s Snow 2007 at their blogs, a number of artists had not yet sent in their snowflakes to Dana-Farber. As time was of the essence to get Blogging for a Cure underway, we worked with the list of artists whose snowflakes were already in possession of Dana-Farber. Therefore, not all the participating artists will be featured. This in no way diminishes our appreciation for their contributions to this worthy cause. We hope everyone will understand that once the list of artists was emailed to bloggers and it was determined which bloggers would feature which artists at their blogs, a schedule was organized and sent out so we could get to work on Blogging for a Cure ASAP. Our aim is to raise people’s awareness about Robert’s Snow and to promote the three auctions. We hope our efforts will help to make Robert’s Snow 2007 a resounding success.

  • Thank you to Elaine of Wild Rose Reader for the above Public Service Announcement.
  • Thanks also to Tricia of The Miss Rumphius Effect and Jen of Jen Robinson's Book Page for providing the html code for the links in the sidebar. Those two can write code to either relax from a stressful week of report writing at work, or while watching sports on TV. I just have one word for that: wow.
  • And, of course, MEGA thanks to the amazing Jules of 7-Imp for having the vision to bring the Kidlitosphere together for this important project, and the organizational skills to make it happen!

Guest Reviews

A former student sent me these reviews of a couple of new books I passed along to her to read.

Letters from Rapunzel
Review by Eye Red Abook

When you open the pages of Letters from Rapunzel, you will be entranced into the average world of, you guessed it, Rapunzel! This young tween is despairing because of her Homework Club and of her father’s clinical depression “Evil Spell," so she writes to a Post Office Box number to confide her troubles to an unknown stranger. This is a hilarious and heartwarming tale that should now be in your hands, as you sit, spellbound, on the davenport, reading.

Into the Wild
Review by Fan Tasy

Imagine a world in which you are doomed to repeat, over and over, the same old fairy tale, and you have to be the same character. This is the world Julie encounters as she tries bravely to retrieve her mother, Rapunzel, her adopted brother, Puss-in-Boots, and her adopted grandmother, Gothel. This fast-paced tale has twists and turns every way you look, so beware. The Wild bites, even harder than Julie knows.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dot to Dot

Liz volunteers in her 1st grade daughter's classroom. What I wouldn't give for an extra pair of eyes like hers in my classroom. She can find the big picture within the small moments that she spends with those lucky kids.

This week, she provides a perfect concrete example of those fancy Edu-lingo terms SCAFFOLDING and ZONE OF PROXIMAL DEVELOPMENT. She drew the dots for the child to connect. She left. When she came back, the child was drawing the dots AND connecting them. The essence of good teaching. Go here and read all about it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Robert's Snow--Jeff Newman

We are happy to host Jeff Newman's snowflake on our blog today!
Jeff's snowflake is called "The Christmas Hair." This is one of the snowflakes that will be auctioned off as part of the third auction.

If you have not taken time to read about the auction, please visit the site where you can see the snowflakes on display. You may have to visit again later this month to see all of the snowflakes, but MOST of there are so many on display right now that you will want to visit several times. They are all gorgeous! Another amazing reminder about how lucky we are to be part of this world of literacy and books.

Now back to Jeff Newman. I am a HUGE fan of Jeff Newman. I can read the book HIPPO! NO, RHINO every day and laugh every time. It is a great book told almost completely with the illustrations. It is clear from this book that Jeff Newman is quite brilliant and talented and that he has a great sense of humor.

We were able to ask him a few questions about his work and his snowflake project.

Tell us a bit about the inspiration for Hippo! No, Rhino. Where did the idea come from?
Hippo! was based on a real incident I witnessed at the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin. I was sketching the rhinoceroses one morning (the zoo was only a few blocks away from my apartment), when a woman approached their enclosure, and waved her family over to look at the “hippopotamuses”. A few minutes later, another person did and said the exact same thing, even though there was a prominent sign indicating what type of animals these were. The rhinos didn’t seem to care, but I started to wonder what would happen if they did. I wrote down three words next to one of my drawings:

That was in 2004. Two years later, Hippo! was published. Of course, some stuff happened in between, too.

What new projects are you working on?
I’m currently working on my next picture book, The Boys, with Simon & Schuster. It’s about a kid who’s kind of shy, and has a hard time working up the nerve to join a weekly baseball game with a group of boys his own age. As with Hippo!, the story is told primarily through pictures, but unlike Hippo!, there’s a significant amount of plot. On top of that, the characters’ motivations and emotions are more subtle, and therefore more difficult to express in a way that’s easily understood. It’s been very challenging trying to convey all of this pictorially, but so far, I think it’s going well.
After The Boys is finished (it’ll be released in Summer 2009!), I’ll be starting on my fourth book (also with Simon & Schuster), but I can’t say for sure what it will be, yet. I’ve got a bunch of different ideas in various stages of completion. We’ll see which one bubbles up first. I can almost positively guarantee that whatever it is, it will be out before 2027.

Tell us a bit about your blog and website--what will readers find there?
My website has a selection of my illustration work, mixed in with some personal pieces. It’s definitely in need of an update, though. There’s an “animation” page with a little, placeholder pencil-guy banging a drum. It’s been there for three years. I’m sure anyone who’s a regular visitor to the site has long since given up on the promise that the page is “coming soon”, and they’re probably right to do so.
On the other hand, I update my blog at least once a week with comics, short stories, drawings, the occasional giveaway, and, on very odd days, a legitimate account of events in my personal life. It’s mostly family-friendly, but it borders on blue, sometimes.

Tell us a bit about your experience designing your snowflake--the process, why you decided to do it, how you came up with the design, etc.
I had a few ideas for my snowflake illustration, inspired by winter activities I enjoyed as a kid (sledding and making snow angels, for example), but I ultimately settled on re-doing a picture of a boy with a Christmas tree-styled ‘do from one of my old sketchbooks. I’ve got this weird thing about hair. A lot of my characters, even the animals, seem to feature some kind of distinct hairstyle. I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with hair, but it’s something I take notice of more and more as I get older (and, maybe not coincidentally, as I continue down the slow road to baldness). Anyway, it just seemed like a funny concept, and the design of it, particularly the shape of the tree, was such that it fit nicely into the angular snowflake pattern.

As to how I became involved in the project, I first read about Robert’s Snow on the Blue Rose Girls blog shortly after last year’s snowflakes had already been auctioned off. So, I was really looking forward to volunteering this year. It’s been incredibly fulfilling to be able to do what I love and contribute to a great cause at the same time.

We were thrilled to host Jeff Newman's snowflake and to learn more about one of our favorite illustrators!

Reading and the Internet

Good article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Education Online: Bit by bit, computers alter how we read.

Reporter Bill Schackner's ending:
At Penn State University, literature professor Michael Berube said jokingly that thanks to the Internet, he's had no reason to leave his desk since 2002.

Reading a novel on a monitor can be unpleasant, and in fact, Dr. Berube said he knows no colleagues who do. But he's not sure people are any less likely to read.

"The same culture that's given us Google has given us the 800-page Harry Potter novel," he said.

"I try not to be too dour about this," he said. "I have a friend who was an early enthusiast of the Internet, and by that I mean, 1993. I would tell him 'Yeah, fine. Wake me up when you can find specific passages in books I can't even remember.' "

Fifteen years later, said Dr. Berube, "we're there."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
by Jeff Kinney
review copy lent to me by a generous student

This was one of the hottest books at our school book fair. It's a quick read, and it's very funny in an "advanced Captain Underpants" sort of way. The student who lent it to me is now reading one of the R.L. Stine Rotten School books, and he thinks Diary of a Wimpy Kid is much funnier. The humor, he says, is more realistic, and just plain funnier.

In a detailed review at the excelsior file, David explains why this book should be considered an illustrated novel, not a graphic novel. He is spot on about this book traveling at light speed through kid culture and somewhat under the adult radar. Diary of a Wimpy Kid was first published on Since its launch in May 2004, the Web version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid has been viewed by 20 million unique online readers. This year, it is averaging 70,000 readers a day.

Pick up a copy so that you, too, can be in the "in" crowd in your classroom, and watch for the next four installments. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: #2: Rodrick Rules is due out in February 2008.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Spelling Expertise Requested

Anna at Blue Rose Girls is asking for some assistance with information about young spellers and spelling bees for a book she's writing that features a bird who loves to spell. Can you help her? She writes:
Here is what I'd like to know:

-At what age/grade do kids switch from phonetic, or sounded-out spelling, to standard spelling? When do teachers start correcting the spelling on their homework? I know this is a very individual thing, I've gotten answers from anywhere from Kindergarden to 2nd grade... what has been your experience?

-Has anyone out there been to a spelling bee in recent past, or had one at your school? If so, which grades participated? Was it part of the curriculum, or an after school/enrichment type of thing?

-I've been looking at word lists for spelling bees (by grade) online, is there a good resource for this that you know of? I've heard the "four blocks" literacy model is a standard one.... but I'd love to know of more!

See How It's Made

DK Publishing has a new book out--SEE HOW IT'S MADE. I picked it up because we are doing a genre study in Writing Workshop on How-To Writing. (I am all about short genres for genre studies these days!) And this book is filled with it!

This is a DK book but looks different from others I have seen by this publisher. I guess once you open the book, there are similarities--white background, great photos, etc. But the cover is bright and inviting in a different way from the other DK and Eyewitness books I know.

This book shares information on how lots of things are made--from ice cream to sausage, to skateboards to t0shirts to rope to soap...and more.

Each item is given 2 two-page spreads. The first page introduces the item, the ingredients and some interesting facts. The second two-page spread goes through the step-by-step process needed to make the product. Each step is accompanied by amazing photographs that show the making in action.

The pages are also filled with "Did you know?" information--just fun connected info. There is also some extra trivia at the bottom of each page as well as an "At a Glance" section on the top border that summarizes the basics of the how-to.

This is a great book. Kids (and adults for that matter) can't seem to keep their hands off of it. At school, it has become quite popular. When I bring it home, it disappears with my 8 year old.

In terms of how-to writing, it is a great one to use as a mentor text. But, it is even better to read because it is just fascinating--great nonfiction for kids. It is everything nonfiction should be--lots of fascinating information packed on each page!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Larger-Than-Life Lara--Read Aloud

This week, our class finished LARGER-THAN-LIFE LARA by Dandi Daley Mackall as our second read aloud. I was a little bit worried. I had read aloud CASTLE IN THE ATTIC as our first read aloud and the kids were glued to every page. I knew LARGER THAN LIFE LARA was a great book, but I was worried that it was too serious after the fun fantasy that we had just finished.

Well, the experience was one of the best read alouds I have done. I am not sure what it was about the book, but reading it to kids was a whole different experience than reading it on my own.

If you have read the book, you know that there is a lot to talk about, a lot to think about, and a lot to be sad about. There is no happy ending. It is satisfying, but not happy. And I think the kids were surprised about that.

The author does an interesting thing throughout the book--connecting the story to the actual elements in a story. It made for a tricky read aloud and some of it was missed by lots of the kids but it was well worth it for the thinking that came from the book.

I have read aloud sad books before but they are usually about a pet dying or something. This sadness was a little bit different. I can't explain the feel in the room when we read the last two chapters. We had good, long talks about how good fiction makes you feel like the characters do and it sometimes helps you understand people in your real life better.

It was a great read. I have decided on something short and light for this week and am pondering a book for next week. I was thinking about EMMY AND THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING RAT but I'd love to find something with the kind of depth that this last one had--short with lots to talk and think about. This one was a depth that was perfect for 8-10 year olds.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Robert's Snow

Every person who is a cancer survivor should be granted their wish to die of old age.

Grace Lin's husband, Robert Mercer, was not granted that wish. He lost his fight against Ewing's sarcoma in August of 2007.

During Robert's first round of treatments, Grace made up and told Robert the story of a mouse who couldn't go out in the snow. This story became the book Robert's Snow. The book became the beginning of a blizzard of fund raising for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Over $200,000 has been raised by the sale of the first book, a second book (Robert's Snowflakes) featuring selected 2004 snowflakes and poems by celebrated authors, and the online auction of wooden snowflakes, hand-decorated by children's illustrators.

We are proud to be a part of the multi-blog Event of Support for Grace Lin and for the cancer research of the Dana-Farber Institute. Many thanks and kudos go to the 7-Imps for organizing this event. Let's see what kind of fund raising records we can break with this year's auction! You can see the snowflakes and check the auction schedule here. Watch our sidebar for a weekly schedule of blogs that are featuring snowflake illustrators. This Friday, Franki will feature Jeff Newman.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Another Cure For Drowning

A trip to Pink Moon Cupcake Bakery helped me to leave behind the
stressful week/month/start of school.

Some folks go for an alcoholic TGIF, but I'm all about the sugar rush!

A Balanced Life--Is It Possible for Teachers?

So, I keep thinking about Mary Lee's drowning poem on Friday. It is true--so many of us are feeling that way, and we always do-at this time of year.

Hip Mama Writer's 30 Day Challenge sounded so worthwhile to me, but I couldn't add another thing to my to-do list. Instead, about 10 weeks ago, I started my own personal program that I called "81 Days of Balance". (I realized I had 81 days between out of town trips and decided those 81 days would be dedicated to a more balanced life.) It seemed that work had taken over my life and wanted to make sure I at least spent 81 days being smarter about my time.

Well, I have about 6 days left until that 81 days is over and I can't really say that I am balanced. But I have rethought what balance means for me.

There is lots out there on balance and quality time and simplifying our life. My problem is that I like all of the parts of my life--I enjoy my family, my work, my writing, my down time, etc. My issue with balance is that sometimes it gets to be too much and I feel like I don't do anything well.

So, I was attempting to balance my days during these past 81 days. To make sure to exercise every day, spend quality time with my kids every day, visit friends and family more often, eat healthier every day, read every day, write and work every day.

Well, it didn't quite work out that way. I have discovered, that in my life, I have to balance across the year. I can no longer hold myself to balanced days and I think lots of teachers feel this same way. It seems that these first six weeks of school make us feel a bit off balance because so much of our life revolves around work in the classroom. But the school year cycle becomes part of who we are. There are times when the workload is more manageable and we have more time for our families, hobbies, etc.

So, I did not achieve 81 days of balance. But I learned what balance means for me. It means that my days won't be balanced. It probably means that my weeks won't be balanced. And I can enjoy things that way--because over the course of the year, life is balanced. I spend lots of quality time with all of the people I love, I have great friends, I love my work, I exercise most weeks and I clean my house on a regular enough basis that it isn't embarrassing. September is never a month where I feel balanced but now I see that it is part of the balance of each year.

Next September I am going to try to remember that the drowning feeling is just part of the balance of the life of a teacher. I can't expect more from myself. I am wondering that if with any work that is worthwhile, the drowning feeling is just part of it all.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Snow Day! by Lester Laminack

I know it is a little bit early for a snow day here in Ohio, but with the stress and drowning that we have been feeling for the last few weeks, it is nice to fantasize about the possibility of a snow day in our future. If you have not seen Lester Laminack's new book SNOW DAY, it is a must have--for pretty much anyone who has ever anticipated a snow day.

When I picked up the book, I thought it was going to be about an actual snow day--what kids did on a snow day, etc. But, no! This book is about the anticipation of a snow day! You know, that feeling you get when you turn on the weather and see that a snowstorm is coming your way and has a 90 percent chance of hitting your town just a few hours before sunrise? This book captures THAT feeling and it captures it perfectly.

Reading the book reminds you of the feelings that teachers and kids have when there is a very good possibility of a snow day!

It is one we need to buy and read to kids when that snow forecast comes in. Maybe it will be the new tradition--if we read Lester Laminack's book at bedtime, the snow will come:-)

Poetry Friday -- Drowning

Today I'd like to share my favorite lines from Not Waving but Drowning by Stevie Smith:

I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

During the first six weeks of school, it feels like water we're "swimming" in gets deeper and deeper. I'm hoping that this week the water has been the deepest and the waves have been the highest and now both Franki and I are on our way back to shore. Parent conferences are half done. Interims go out today. We have completed all of our fall assessments (math, reading, spelling) and the database has been turned in.

Deep cleansing breath in...deep cleansing breath out...

(Poetry Friday is being hosted by Two Writing Teachers this week.)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Missed All of You!!

I am sooooo totally bummed that I didn't get to join all of you at the Kidlitosphere conference. It was one of those family/mom decisions--too much going on these days! But I thought of all of you all day Saturday and have been enjoying all of the posts and photos since then. I almost feel like I was there with all of the great sharing and the few (live) chats I've been able to have with Mary Lee! Sounds like a GREAT time and I hope never to miss it again! Can't wait for details about next year!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Homeward Bound

Dear Franki,

Good news, bad news. Bad news first: I have no pictures to share. My camera doesn't shoot fast enough for candid shots that aren't blurry, and I didn't feel like making people pose. But I'm sure there will be plenty of pictures around on other blogs for you to see.

Everything else is good news: great speakers, important and relevant topics, lively conversation, lots of laughs, and most importantly, plans for NEXT YEAR'S CONFERENCE! Jone will host us in Portland, OR!!! Thank you, Jone!!!!

I 'm bringing you all the handouts (not like being here, I know) and a couple of other surprise goodies. Everyone asked after you and missed meeting you.

Talk to you soon!


Saturday, October 06, 2007


Dear Franki,

I know it was a hard decision not to come to Chicago, and I'm not trying to make it any harder on you, but this is really a hoot! It's like being inside a story along with some of your favorite characters who have come to life from other books!

We've got a busy day ahead of us! I can't wait!

More later,


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Books I've Saved From Childhood

Imagine my happiness and surprise when I saw the cover of SAD DAY, GLAD DAY on Esme's blog this week! I thought I was the only person alive who still had a copy of that book. (I can't find it right now but I know it is in the house somewhere.)I thought it was on my shelf upstairs with a few other books from my childhood--books that I've never been able to part with. After reading Esme's post, I went upstairs to look at the small stack of books I've saved. It got me thinking about what it is about these books that has made me hold on to them and what does that all tell me about myself.

My mother clearly knew how to buy books. I seem to have a book for every major event in my life. She bought me SAD DAY, GLAD DAY when I was 5 and we moved to a new house. I still have a copy of TWO NEW BABIES by Agnesann McRobert. This was a story we read while waiting for my brother to be born. (One baby in the book was the new sibling, the other was a doll for the older sibling.) My parents clearly taught me that books help you make sense of life. What a gift!

I also saved an old favorite--TIME FOR A RHYME by Ellen Wilke. I didn't remember much about it except that I loved it and we read it over and over. When I opened it today, I realized why. It is such a fun book. Each page offers a question about a rhyme like "Let's try to guess what rhymes with spoon. An easy word is..." and then you turn the page. A fun interactive book. (By the way, it is very scary when you find your favorite books from childhood on a site called!?)

A PRESENT FOR THE PRINCESS by Jane Lowe Paschall was a big favorite of mine. It is about a beautiful blonde princess who gets a thoughtful gift from a blind boy. I remember it as a very sweet and happy story. Not a bad princess story, I must say. She wasn't saved by any male character and was a good, kind person.

I also kept a few fairy tales--THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA being my favorite--it has always been my favorite version until last year when Lauren Child's version was published.

I think I had all of THE WITCH NEXT DOOR (Norman Bridwell) books. We got them from the book orders and I loved the idea that a witch could live next door. Between these books and the TV shows I Dream of Jeanie and Bewitched, it seemed possible!

And I had JIGGERS (Joy Muchmor Lacey) A book about a girl and her puppy. (This one seems to be on a site that calls it "vintage". UGH!)

As I got older, I loved THE SECRET SEVEN by Enid Blyton (It totally stresses me out now that these kids got in strangers' cars to solve mysteries!?) and all of the BETSY (Carolyn Haywood) books. I think BETSY and the BOYS was my favorite although I liked when she got to name her sister herself! And of course, there was NANCY DREW! It looks like these books are still in print!

What does this tell me about my childhood reading--I had a ball. Obviously, the quality of the books didn't matter because most of these books would not pass our quality literature tests today. Oh, I still have my copy of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and other classics, but for some reason, these other books were also important enough that I haven't tossed them. I have been a reader for as long as I can remember--I won't even tell you the copyright on some of these.

And I found this great source for all of your childhood books! specializes in books from 1950 until now. You can search your favorite titles and purchase copies of those you've lost track of. (And I must say, I think Childhood Books is a much better name than anything with the word ANTIQUE or VINTAGE in it!)

This was fun to do. Thanks ESME for reminding me about some of those forgotten books of childhood. It was fun to revisit. What are your favorite books from childhood--the ones that you've kept over the years?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Wicked Cool Overlooked Books

Yes, I'm aware that I'm three days late with this, but that's the story of my life right now, so I'm just celebrating that I've got a book to share this month!

by Lila Prap
originally published in Slovenia in 2003
First American Edition 2005, Kane/Miller Book Publishers, Inc.

This book is a series of questions about animals: Why are zebras striped? Why do whales spout water? Why do rhinos have horns on their noses? and so on. Each double page spread features a large, stylized picture of the animal in question (pun intended) in the center, with a small paragraph of factual information in the right hand margin. What makes this book so much fun is that the question is answered in silly ways in all of the other margins and even in the center section with the illustration! For example:

Why do whales spout water?
It's their runny noses! They always have colds.
To wash the clouds.
They're watering the sea grass.
For fun.

Why don't snakes have legs?
So they don't have to play football.
Because they'd hate cutting their toenails.
They forgot to grow them.
So they don't fall down.

This book begs to be a mentor text for young researchers to writing a first report. Asking the question forces them to narrow the focus of the research and learn just one thing. The silly reasons encourage them to be creative and entertain their audience. The one paragraph of factual information is just the right size for beginning writers.

There's so much to love about this book! Why haven't I seen it before?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Dear Deer

Dear Deer: A Book of Homophones by Gene Barretta

Another great book about Homophones. Since I have been building my collection of word play books, I have been keeping my eye out for new titles. I thought I had plenty of them about homophones but this one is too fun to pass up. It beats the others that I have. I think I would have bought it based on the cover alone. The cover illustration is quite colorful! But the inside is just as good.

The "plotline"of the book is that Aunt Ant has moved to the zoo and is writing to her friend Deer (Dear Deer,) about some interesting animal behaviors. For example: The monkey will tell you a TALE as he hangs from his TAIL.

Kids will love this book and I think it will help them that both words are often part of the same sentence. The illustrations are colorful and inviting.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Time to Nominate!



CHICAGO--Will Harry Potter triumph among critical bloggers? Will novels banned in some school districts find favor online?

With 90 volunteers poised to sift through hundreds of new books, the second annual Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards launches on Oct. 1 at Known as the Cybils, it's the only literary contest that combines both the spontaneity of the Web with the thoughtful debate of a book club.

The public's invited to nominate books in eight categories, from picture books up to young adult fiction, so long as the book was first published in 2007 in English (bilingual books are okay too). Once nominations close on Nov. 21, the books go through two rounds of judging, first to select the finalists and then the winners, to be announced on Valentine's Day 2008.

Judges come from the burgeoning ranks of book bloggers in the cozy corner of the Internet called the kidlitosphere. They represent parents, homeschoolers, authors, illustrators, librarians and even teens. (AND A COUPLE OF TEACHERS, TOO!!!)

The contest began last year after blogger Kelly Herold expressed dismay that while some literary awards were too snooty--rewarding books kids would seldom read--others were too populist and didn't acknowledge the breadth and depth of what's being published today.

"It didn't have to be brussel sprouts versus gummy bears," said Anne Boles Levy, who started Cybils with Herold. "There are books that fill both needs, to be fun and profound."

Last year's awards prompted more than 480 nominations, and this year's contest will likely dwarf that. As with last year's awards, visitors to the Cybils blog can leave their nominations as comments. There is no nomination form, only the blog, to keep in the spirit of the blogosphere that started it all.

See you Oct. 1!

For further info:
Anne Boles Levy
anne (at) bookbuds (dot) net

And the winner is.....

Okay, I am not quite sure what I was thinking, running a contest during the first month of school! I really did mean to announce the winner much sooner than now.

Last month, I thought I needed a root canal. Following my visit to the dentist, I had a little fun with root canal poetry and offered a little contest. Since then, I have seen a specialist and root canal needed. I just need to keep an eye on it! I could have hugged the root canalist:-)

Now that I finally have a minute to breathe--I am semi ready for parent conferences and semi-finished with beginning of the year assessments and semi-ready to start interim reports, I wanted to announce the winner.

Mother Reader is our Root Canal Poetry winner. She crafted a poem that was both amusing and had some depth--she surprised us and made us think. So, Mother Reader will receive a copy of Lester Laminack's book Trevor's Wiggly-Wobbly Tooth! Personalized and autographed by the author!

Thanks to everyone who entered! We had some GREAT poems-and they all made me feel so much better about my root canal issue.

We promise to be quicker next time we run such a contest. Bad timing on our part!

New YA Novel-The Night Tourist

I don't often review YA books but I've read a few that I thought I'd share this week. I just finished The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh last night. It is a great read, one that I think middle school students will enjoy.

The story takes place in the New York "underworld". When people die in NYC, they become part of this underworld--a world of ghosts under the NY Subway system. Jack, whose mother died eight years earlier, gets into this underworld and tries desperately to find his mother. But he meets Euri instead and the two develop a close friendship. Euri wants to live again and Jack tries to help her do this. The characters are great--both believable and likable. The concept is very intriguing. And the plot has enough suspense to keep the reader hooked.

This story has clear connections to the Orpheus myth and there are many references to mythology throughout. But for readers who are not familiar with the myth, this book would still be a treat.

This book seemed to me a cross between The Wish List by Eoin Colfer and books by Mitch Albom. A story about two characters with lessons about life and death.