Monday, March 31, 2008

2008 Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts

2008 Committee: Deanna Day, Chair, Monica Edinger Past Chair
Pat Austin, Sharon Levin, Janelle Mathis, Jonda McNair, Kathy Short, Edward Sullivan

Poetry and Drama

Dillons, Leo and Diane. (2007). Jazz on a Saturday Night. New York: Blue Sky Press/Scholastic.

Forman, Ruth. (2007). Young Cornrows Callin Out the Moon. Illustrations by Cbabi Bayoc. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.

Neri, G. (2007). Chess Rumble. Illustrations by Jesse Joshua Watson. New York: Lee & Low.

Park, Linda Sue. (2007). Tap Dancing on the Roof: Sijo Poems. Illustrations by Istvan Banyai. New York: Clarion/Houghton Mifflin.

Schlitz, Laura Amy. (2007). Good Masters, Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.

Historical and Realistic Fiction

Compestine, Ying Chang. (2007). Revolution is Not a Dinner Party. New York: Henry Holt.

Ellsworth, Loretta. (2007). In Search of Mockingbird. New York: Henry Holt.

Gifford, Peggy. (2007). Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little. Photographs by Valorie Fisher. New York: Schwartz & Wade/Random House.

Murphy, Pat. (2007). The Wild Girls. New York: Viking/Penguin.

Schmidt, Gary D. (2007). The Wednesday Wars. New York: Clarion/Houghton Mifflin.

Selznick, Brian. (2007). The Invention of Hugo Cabret. New York: Scholastic.

Sheth, Kashmira. (2007). Keeping Corner. New York: Hyperion.

Woodson, Jacqueline. (2007). Feathers. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin.


Fleischman, Paul. (2007). Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella. Illustrated by Julie Paschkis. New York: Henry Holt.

Higgins, F.E. (2007). The Black Book of Secrets. New York: Feiwel and Friends/Holtzbrinck.

Varon, Sara. (2007). Robot Dreams. New York: First Second/Holtzbrinck.


Bausum, Ann. (2007). Muckrakers. Washington, DC: National Geographic.

Fletcher, Ralph. (2007). How to Write Your Life Story. New York: Collins/Harper Collins.

Marcus, Leonard S. (2007). Pass it Down: Five Picture-Book Families Make Their Mark. New York: Walker/Holtzbrinck.

Sis, Peter. (2007). The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Sullivan, George. (2007). Helen Keller: Her Life in Pictures. New York: Scholastic.

Picture Books

Baretta, Gene. (2007). Dear Deer: A Book of Homophones. New York: Henry Holt.

Gravett, Emily. (2007). Orange Pear Apple Bear. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Harrington, Janice N. (2007). The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County. Illustrations by Shelley Jackson. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Judge, Lita. (2007). One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II. New York: Hyperion.

Lee, S. (2007). The Zoo. La Jolla, CA: Kane/Miller.

Messinger, Carla and Katz, Susan. (2007). When the Shadbush Blooms. Illustrated by David Kanietakeron Fadden. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle.

Tan, Shaun. (2007). The Arrival. New York: Scholastic.

Watt, Melanie. (2007). Chester. Toronto, ON: Kids Can.

Wild, Margaret. (2007). Woolvs in the Sitee. Illustrated by Anne Spudvilas. Honesdale, PA: Front Street/Boyds Mills Press.

Nonfiction Monday -- One Hen

One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference
by Katie Smith Milway
illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes
Kids Can Press, 2008
review copy compliments of the publisher

Based on the true story of Ghanian Kwabena Darko, ONE HEN tells the story of the difference that microfinancing can make to an individual, a family, a community, and ultimately, a country.

In the story, Kojo and his mother live in a community that pools its resources and allows the families to take turns borrowing the money for a project that will help them to make a profit before they pay back the loan. Kojo's mother uses her turn to buy a cart so she can carry more firewood to market. With a part of their profit, Kojo buys one hen. The hen provides them with eggs, but also generates more profit. Kojo buys more hens, realizes he needs to finish school to better run his business and eventually gets a scholarship to an agricultural college. When he returns from college, he expands his poultry business, providing jobs for the community and paying taxes that help his country.

ONE HEN is beautifully designed. The illustrations, by Eugenie Fernandes, are bold and colorful paintings. Each double page spread is one third or one half text on a rich (pun intended), luminous gold background. On each illustration is a line reminiscent of "The House That Jack Built":
This is Kojo.
This is the loan that Kojo gets.
This is the hen that Kojo buys with the loan he got.
These are the eggs that Kojo sells from the hen he bought.

The book includes information about the "Real Kojo," Kwabena Darko, and sections titled "What you can do to help?" and "Making changes in the world, on person, one family, one community at a time..." There is also a glossary of African and economics terms.

Teaching economics has always seemed abstract and irrelevant to 10 year-olds. I think all that will change this year when I use this book as the anchor of my economics unit.

One Hen was featured on the NPR story, Child's 'One Hen' Lays Microlending Success.

Be sure to check out the One Hen website.

The Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Picture Book of the Day.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

How Much Can You Love Barbara O'Connor?

So, I LOVED HOW TO STEAL A DOG. I think it is one of the best read aloud books out there for grades 3-5. So, I was very excited to see that GREETINGS FROM NOWHERE was available at Cover to Cover.

I can't tell you how much I love this book. For me, it was a cross between all of my favorites. Sometimes I felt like I was reading Cynthia Rylant. Sometimes I felt like I was reading Kate DiCamillo. It made me feel like lots of my favorites (VAN GOGH CAFE, BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, WHERE THE HEART IT). Barbara O'Connor seems to have found a voice in this one that is brilliant. The story is simple--a group of people who seem to need each other and find things out about themselves because of the time they spend together.

Barbara O'Connor takes us to the Sleepy Time Motel in the Great Smokey Mountains. And she introduces us to characters who will live with us for along time. I can tell that these are characters I will think about for a very long time, even though I have finished reading the book.

I have decided to read this one aloud to my 3rd and 4th graders starting later this week. It may be a bit sophisticated for them but I don't think so. I think when you read about characters you come to love, it is big.

Really, I can't imagine loving a book more than I loved this one. It was really quite a perfect book.

(I went back to watch the book trailer on the book. I figured I wouldn't like it now that I had read the book, but I LOVED it! It is perfect. Totally captures the feel of the book. Brilliant!)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tastes Like Chocolate: Thoughts From Young People

I received this book as a gift and what a gift it is! TASTES LIKE CHOCOLATE by Randi Allison is a collection of poems written by the children she's worked with over the years. It is a collection that is a great read--just as a great poetry read. As a teacher, it is a great reminder of how lucky we are to work alongside children every day. It helps remind us how brilliant and insightful they are! And it can also serve as a great resource for teachers of writing. Such great models of writing by kids of different ages.

The title and organization of the book are both quite clever. The back of the book reads "Like a fine chocolate sampler, this collection is filled with delectable moments of joyous wonder that melt and linger, dark musings of loss with a bitter aftertaste of longing, and simple insights filled with gooey, luscious surprises. Like any fine treat, TASTES LIKE CHOCOLATE yearns to be shared with the people you love." The Table of Contents shows us that the book is organized in the same way a box of chocolates might be--with bittersweets (thoughts about challenges), sweets (thoughts about childhood), and darks (thoughts about death and dying).

This collection is a perfect addition to your library if you are a teacher of reading, writing, poetry and/or life in general. Each poem gives the reader lots to think about. I can see using poems with kids in my class--thinking about how they might use what they learn in their own writing. I can see kids reading it on their own. And, as a teacher and parent, I can see going back to it--rereading some favorites over and over.

A great collection--this is one like I've never seen before. Because Randi is an educator, she has chosen an amazing collection of poems to share with the world. These poems were most likely written in great writers' workshops in great classrooms. It is a great reminder of the power of poetry in our students' lives. For years, I have collected my own students' writings--knowing that I will share them with future students. As a teacher, I know the power of these models in writing workshop--that reading the work of other children can have a huge impact on students' writing. In this collection, Randi shares a variety of these models for us to add to our own collections.

This is not an easy book to find but there is a website where you can order it. The website also has some great endorsements by educators like Shelley Harwayne, Cris Tovani, and Chrysse Hutchins.

Friday, March 28, 2008

That Workshop Book by Samantha Bennett

I just discovered this new book about Reading/Writing Workshop. It is AMAZING! I would highly recommend it to anyone who has or wants to implement a solid reading and/or writing workshop.

Samantha Bennett is part of the PEBC out of Denver. She is an instructional coach for teachers in grades K-8. This book is brilliant and timely. Personally, I have been overwhelmed with professional book reading lately. I just can't keep up. So, I have been very careful about adding too many new professional books to my pile. This one is a must-have/must-read/must-keep-going-back-to kind of book. Bennett begins the book by reminding us why workshop works. She takes us back a bit to the groundbreaking work of Graves, Calkins and Atwell. She begins by reminding us that "workshop has been relegated to harsh time constraints, descriptions of activities to do in minilessons, or strict pacing guides that tell teachers how a workshop should unfold over a year...We have a problem with broad implementation with shallow understanding of the potential of what a classroom as a literal workshop means. The superficial orthodoxy around the procedures of workshop has distracted us from the core values of WHY workshop works."

She takes this issue on throughout the book--that the reason workshop works is in ritual, structure, student ownership, choice, etc. After her introductory chapter that reminds us what we seem to have lost in the workshop of today, she takes us into 6 classroom workshop and shows us why they work. There are definite key workshop elements to the workshops but there are also differences in the ways that teachers implement. Because she is a coach, Bennett is able to show us what works, why it works and to point out places for reflection. There are places in each chapter where both Bennett and the classroom teacher reflect and we are able to benefit
from being part of that reflection.

Surprisingly, this is an easy read. She takes us back to important thinking in a way that has a humor that is quite engaging. It is smart. It is important. Not only do you rethink your workshop, but there are also lots of ideas embedded in each classroom "visit". The book is a great combination of reflection, information, and things you can try tomorrow. The key though, is in remembering that workshop is not about one lesson or a daily routine. It is so much more than that when it works well.

I have to say that this is the BEST cover I have ever seen on a professional book. It is creatively done and calls you to read it. On opening the cover, you find that the art teacher at Bennett's school, Ann Loring, did the illustration on the cover and those throughout the book. The book is brilliantly done. The design and touches throughout the book are quite fun and creative for a professional book. You really feel like you know the writer and the teachers well because of it. A fun, engaging design.

Throughout the book, Bennett has created a "Teaching Fairy"--a little character who points things out about the classrooms we visit. Now, if you know me, I hate gimmicky things so I would tend to not like things like this. But in this book, the Teaching Fairy works well. It is nice to think that as teachers in schools these days, there is a little fairy helping us to the hard work we do. Because Bennett and the illustrator (Ann Loring) handle this with humor and fun, it totally works!

I can see this book being critical in staff development. So much to talk and think about. And since the examples span grades 1-8, there is something for teachers at all levels. The first chapter is one that would be good to revisit as a staff or in a workshop-getting back to the stuff of the workshop. I loved reading it on my own (although I found myself calling friends to read lines that I thought were brilliant!) and I am looking forward to talking to others about it soon!

Poetry Friday -- Pay Attention

It was A.E. Housman's birthday this week (Robert Frost's, too). It usually takes the sight of blooming trees to remind me of this poem. No blooms yet here.

I have more than doubled the age of the speaker of the poem at this point, but I still have hopes that I'll be able to watch spring come fifty more times. Forty more for sure.

Because there is no "for sure," no way of knowing how many more springs one has, this poem reminds me every year to pay attention as if this might be the last.

Loveliest Of Trees, The Cherry Now
by A. E. Housman

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Ted Kooser's American Life in Poetry column featured another (modern) blooming cherry tree poem this week, by Judith Harris. Here is the last stanza:

It is only April.
I can't stop my own life
from hurrying by.
The moon, already pacing.

The roundup today is at Cuentecitos.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Claire and the Bakery Thief

Claire and the Bakery Thief
by Janice Poon
Kids Can Press, 2008
review copy compliments of the publisher

Claire's dad lost her job and they're moving. He's enthusiastic about the small town bakery he bought that he's going to convert to all-organic, but Claire's mom is less than thrilled about moving away from the city. Claire's dog Bongo is her constant companion, but when it comes to making new friends, it seems she's stuck between older girls who only want to talk about boys, and the six year-old son of a neighbor.

Luckily, Claire meets Jet, a girl who has a great imagination like hers and whose experience with divorce helps Claire deal with her bickering parents.

Claire has her eye on a shady artificial flavoring salesman who keeps coming to the bakery, and when her mom goes to the city with him and doesn't come back, he's Claire's main suspect. With the help of Jet and Bongo, Claire sets out to solve the mystery of her missing mom.

This graphic novel for younger readers is reminiscent of Kat & Mouse by Alex de Campi, which features middle school teen girls teaming up to solve a mystery that threatens one of the parents. Claire and Jet will appeal to girls in the 7-10 year age range. The mystery in Kat & Mouse is set in the science lab and in the back of the book are the instructions for doing some of the science that the girls use to solve the mystery. Similarly, in the back of Claire and the Bakery Thief are some of the recipes that are featured in the story.

By the end of the book, Bellevale seems like home to Claire and her parents. Claire is looking forward to the start of school, and readers will look forward Claire's next adventure.

For the list-maker in your life

Thank you [bb-blog] for the link.

I'm not sure how I'll survive until April 30 without these...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Vampires and Aliens and Purple Monsters

Little Vampire
by Joann Sfar
:01 First Second, 2008
review copy compliment of the publisher

Three short stories in one thin volume for graphic novel readers who like to pore over detail in the illustrations, and who don't mind small text.

In the first story, Little Vampire Goes to School (just like the title says), but he and his bright red ghost dog, Phantomato, are disappointed to find all of the classrooms empty. It's night time, after all. The next night, the Captain of the Dead and all the ghosts come along and play school with Little Vampire. They all bring their own school supplies because they must not use any of the daytime children's supplies and let them know there are such things as ghosts. Little Vampire doesn't follow these rules. He completes a mortal's unfinished homework. Thus begins a written conversations and ultimately a friendship with Michael.

In the second story, "Little Vampire Does Kung Fu," Michael is having trouble with a bully at school. Michael's grandfather counsels that violence is not the way to solve the problem, but Little Vampire takes Michael to visit a Kung Fu Master. In a very convoluted way, Michael learns that violence is not the way to deal with a bully, but it does sometimes have unintended positive consequences.

The final story is "Little Vampire and the Canine Defenders Club." Little Vampire, Michael and Phantomato save the lives of three dogs who had been imprisoned in a cosmetics testing lab. In the course of the story, the reader loses faith in adults on the one hand (the scientists), but gains faith in adults on the other hand (Michael's grandfather's total acceptance of Little Vampire.)

Kaput & Zösky
by Lewis Trondheim
:01 First Second, 2008
review copy compliments of the publisher

You've never met two more inept aliens. Kaput and Zösky are out to enslave populations, trash cultures, demolish planets, and, in general, wreak havoc so that they can "cheat in the casinos and win loads of dough" in the worlds they conquer. Needless to say, their plots and plans never work out. Think a pair of Wiley Coyotes and a new population of alien RoadRunners on every planet in every galaxy that Kaput and Zösky visit before you worry about polluting the minds of young children with violence and intergalactic domination. They've maybe never read this story before in a graphic novel, but they've sure seen it on Saturday morning TV and on their video games. Best thing about this book -- if they read it again when they get older, they'll get the irony of the stories.

If you don't believe me, take a peek and see for yourself. Publishers Weekly has a 10-page preview here.

And now for the purple monsters.

Flight Explorer, a kid-friendly version of the twice Cybils-nominated Flight, edited by Kazu Kibuishi (recently of Amulet fame) is just out (yesterday). I must have it! Until then, I'll be satisfied with a Jellaby short story from the book.

Holiday Music

'Tis the season of testing, so we couldn't resist sharing some "Holiday Music."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Spring Cleaning

Save trees, send less waste to the landfill (or hopefully, to recycling), and reduce your risk for identity theft.

1. Switch to e-statements and e-billing whenever possible. Save trees and keep your personal information out of publicly accessible mailboxes at the same time.

2. Opt out of unsolicited credit card and other pre-screened offers.

3. Opt out of unwanted catalogs. Call the company directly, or go to

Thanks to Danielle Chatfield, Community Affairs Director of MidState Educators Credit Union for these suggestions.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Poetry Friday

Here's a poem for the first day of Spring Break:

The Tables Turned
by William Wordsworth

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you'll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There's more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

Today's roundup is at Wild Rose Reader.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Amulet News

An article in Variety reports that Amulet (my review here) will be made into a movie by Warner. Siblings Willow and Jaden Smith will have the brother-sister star roles.

Also in the article, "Five books are planned in the Scholastic series, with the second installment skedded for release this year." Skedded? That's a word?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Everywhere the Cow Says "Moo!"
by Ellen Slusky Weinstein
illustrated by Kenneth Andersson
Boyds Mills Press, 2008
Review copy compliments of the publisher

One of the indicators in our 5th grade social studies standard about immigration says that students should be able to identify the lasting effects of the English, Spanish and French in the U.S.. I know that standard so intimately because Karen and I wrote an immigration unit a couple of summers ago.

So I get this book in the mail and I open it up.
"In English, the dog says, 'Bow-wow bow-wow!'
In Spanish, the dog says, 'Goo-ow, goo-ow!'
In French, the dog says, 'Wah-wah, wah-wah!'
In Japanese, the dog says, 'Wan-wan, wan-wan!'
But everywhere, the cow says, 'Moo!' "

How could my Integration Radar not go up?!?!

The pattern in the book repeats for what the frog, duck, and rooster say. You guessed it. Everywhere the cow says, "Moo."

The best part are the illustrations. The English dog surprises a Beefeater, the Spanish dog defies a bullfighter, the French dog serenades the Eiffel Tower, and the Japanese dog sits beneath a cherry tree. In each illustration is something iconic from that culture. Including architecture.

You don't have to love this book because it's perfect for your social studies unit. There are plenty of reasons to simply love this book.

* * * * * *
Edited to add: Monica at Educating Alice has a great connection to this book -- a website where you can hear kids from around the world imitating the sounds of animals! Check out her post and then go listen!!!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Nonfiction Monday -- Sabertooth

by Patrick O'Brien
Henry Holt, 2008
review copy compliments of the publisher

Step aside, dinosaurs. Time to pay attention to the kitties.

Sabertooths of some kind or another hunted the Earth from 13 million to 10,000 years ago. The best-known, and the star of this book, was the Smilodon (3 million-10,000 years ago).

O'Brien's painted illustrations vary from full-spread to full-page to multiple panels per page. With the text in boxes that overlap or overlay the illustrations, the book almost has the feel of a nonfiction graphic novel.

You will learn how scientists know what they do about this ancient cat (the fossil record), how all cats evolved from one common ancestor, what scientists don't know about sabertooths (what color their fur was, whether they hunted alone or in cooperation), the prehistoric predators they likely competed with for food, and the food animals they might have hunted.

The book ends on a cautionary note, reminding us that we need to protect the habitats of our modern big cats, or they, too, will go the way of the sabertooths.

The Nonfiction Monday Roundup is at Picture Book of the Day.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Shakespeare For All

Henry V
by William Shakespeare
script adaptation by John McDonald
Classical Comics, 2007
2007 Cybils Nominee
review copy compliments of the publisher

by William Shakespeare
script adaptation by John McDonald
Classical Comics, 2008
review copy compliments of the publisher

I don't need to tell you the plot line in these books. What you need to know about is the publishing format.

First of all, this is Shakespeare in graphic novels. Instead of just reading the play, you get to see it "acted out" on the page before you. But the best part is that each title comes in three versions of the text: Original Text (the bard's own words, full and unabridged), Plain Text (a plain English version of the full script) and Quick Text (shortened dialogue for young readers and for those people who want to understand the story rapidly).

The folks at Classical Comics have "turned up the excitement volume" when it comes to classical literature and they want to share the excitement with you. Check out their website for free downloads and an extensive page of links to articles about everything from teaching with graphic novels to further information about Shakespeare. They have 9 more titles in the works: more Shakespeare and Bronte, Dickens, Shelley, Stoker, and Wilde.

Let the high school English and ELL teachers in your life know about these books! Differentiated instruction made possible!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Poetry Friday -- Daylight Savings Time

Daylight Savings Time
Comes Early This Year

This is so wrong...
and so beautiful.
I am sitting here at my
watching a big ball of orange emerge
from behind skeletal trees into a pink-and-purple sky.

I am at work
watching the sun rise.

I am momentarily blinded
by a flash of grace
before the day races away from me.

Round up today is at jama rattigan's alphabet soup. She's celebrating Bob Dylan and asked us to share our favorite Dylan lyrics. I'm not a Dylan fan. I did, however, read a book this week in which the main character is a Dylan fan (Naked Bunyip Dancing by Steven Herrick). That's the best I can do. Especially when it's the week Daylight Savings Time shifts my universe.

(image from

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Scaredy Squirrel At the Beach

Scaredy Squirrel At the Beach
by Melanie Watt
Kids Can Press, 2008
Review copy compliments of the publisher

Scaredy is back on the scene just in time for spring break. Slather on your 65 spf sunscreen and stretch out with him on his fake -- and very SAFE -- beach.

Shake your head when he cooks up a plan to mail himself to the beach to get a shell so that his beach has the proper wave sounds.

Laugh out loud when he gets more than he planned for at the beach (ie: a crowd of people), and has more fun than he could have imagined (after playing dead for awhile).

Scaredy's fake beach will never be the same once he gets home and makes some modifications...and once he finds out he brought home more than just a shell...

Pleasant Surprises, Part One

Naked Bunyip Dancing
by Steven Herrick
illustrated by Beth Norling
Front Street Press
April 1, 2008 release
review copy compliments of the publisher

I never would have picked this book up on my own, but it was required reading, so I gave it a go. And I was pleasantly surprised!

Now, I should give a small disclaimer here -- I hardly ever read YA, and I haven't ever read any of Steven Herrick's other books. The sole soul on Goodreads who has read and reviewed this book didn't think it was as good as his others. So keep that in mind. And a note on the title -- a bunyip is a mythological Australian animal. I Googled bunyip after I read the book, but knowing what a bunyip is hasn't helped me understand the title. Maybe it has given me permission to be okay with the fact that I don't understand the title.

This is a novel in verse about an Australian 6th grade class with a new, liberal, pony-tailed, Dylan-singing teacher named Mr. Carey. The poems, in the voices of the students, understandably give us a very childlike view of what happens in their classroom. These poems are what you'd get if you overheard kids talking about their day at school -- they talk about the parts of the day that were out of the ordinary; they talk about each other; they talk about their weird and wonderful teacher; they talk a little bit about what's going on at home. If you read between the lines, you know that Mr. Carey has a method to his "madness," he knows his students very well and works hard to play to their strengths, and there's a lot more teaching going on than the students report.

On Friday afternoons, the class does co-curricular activities. "Mr. Carey says its stuff you do/on Friday afternoons/and you don't have to do tests/or be marked on it." The class is working on a concert, and the way Mr. Carey stays out of their way and lets them make if it as much as they can reminds me of The Last Holiday Concert by Andrew Clements.

The class takes a field trip to the Sewerage Works. (Australian spelling.) When else has that happened in children's literature? The Qwikpick Adventure Society by Sam Riddleburger, of course!

The way you can infer the influence of the teacher through the students' voices and actions is reminiscent of Mr. Fab in Ralph Fletcher's Flying Solo.

The depth of the characters revealed in the fewest number of words is all Love That Dog by Sharon Creech.

All these book "cousins" on my bookshelf are what made me pleasantly surprised by this book. I haven't tried it on a real, live child reader. I don't know if the Australianisms will throw them off. Stay tuned for that. I am going to add Mr. Carey to our list of 100 Cool Teachers in Children's Literature! (He's number 111.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Nonfiction Monday -- Trout Are Made of Trees

Trout Are Made of Trees
by April Pulley Sayre
illustrated by Kate Endle
Charlesbridge, 2008
review copy compliments of the author

This was a fun book to read to fourth graders. They knew what it was going to be about as soon as I read the title. "This is a food chain book, isn't it?!"

That did not prevent them from listening intently as I read. The text is simple, but poetic: "They (the leaves) snag and settle soggily down."

The illustrations tell the story of the children studying the stream as well as the story of the life in the stream. And the illustrations were painstakingly researched. Although stylized, the aquatic insects are true to life, right down to the gravel cases of the caddisfly larva.

One of our Language Arts Standards talks about writing for different purposes and audiences. When I finished the book, I asked my students who they thought was the intended audience for this book. "Kids," they said. "Little kids," someone elaborated, "Because there aren't very many words on each page."

I'm betting that another audience for this book will by fly fishers. I'm going to take a copy of the book to our next fly fishing club meeting for the raffle. I'm pretty sure there are some fly fisher dads (one is an avid member of Trout Unlimited and does lots of stream restoration) who would gladly take this book home.

April Pulley Sayre on writing nonfiction at I.N.K..
An early review of Trout Are Made of Trees at Charlotte's Library.
Our interview with April last year is here.
April's website is here.
The Nonfiction Monday roundup is here.

Nonfiction Monday -- Non-Book Edition

The Day After The Blizzard of Oh-Eight
Not my back yard, but I wish it was!
Not my front yard, but I admire the craftsmanship!
Not my houses, but I wish they were! (Cute, and made cuter in the snow!)
Not my dog (our friend's black lab) made these tracks porpoising through 15 inches of snow while trailing his long lead. After the picture was taken, we measured the distance between the bounds -- SIX FEET!

The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower

I just finished reading Lisa Graff's second novel, THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF BERNETTA WALLFLOWER. The funny thing is that at the same time, I am reading aloud THE THING ABOUT GEORGIE to my class at school. (They are loving it--there is so much to talk and think about. It is an engaging story and Graff has a way of creating the perfect amount of depth for upper elementary readers--not an easy thing to do!)

I am picky about my read alouds. With 9 months of school, we only get through about 9-10 books a year. So, I have to be very picky. When I read THE THING ABOUT GEORGIE last year, I knew it would make a great read aloud. I have the same feelings after finishing THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF BERNETTA WALLFLOWER.

The book is great for lots of reasons. It is a fun read--the plot is totally different from other books for kids this age. Bernetta has been set up by her best friend Ashley. The consequence is that Bernetta won't be able to attend the private school she has attended since Kindergarten anymore. She just doesn't have the $9000 to attend. But she comes up with a scheme to make the money and the adventures begin.

This book would make a good read aloud for lots of reasons:
1. The plot is fun and will keep kids engaged.
2. There is a strong girl character, which is always good.
3. This is a book with a strong girl character that I think boys will also enjoy. The male characters and the plot will keep boys engaged. It is sometimes hard to find books with girl characters that boys will stick with, but this one will appeal to boys and girls.
4. There is lots to talk about as Bernetta makes the decisions that she does, decides about right and wrong, and learns about who she is.
5. Lisa Graff writes a great ending--ties things up in a way that works for this age group.

There are lots more reasons but these are my top 5 of the moment. I have many others because I LOVE this book!

I can't wait to see what Lisa Graff does next! (By the way, she has a very fun website and blog--well worth checking out! It would also be well worth your while to check out the Lisa Graff interview at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast....and the one at Mother Reader...and the one at Miss Erin.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

to be like the sun by Susan Marie Swanson

I LOVE sunflowers.
I LOVE picture books about sunflowers.
I LOVE poetry about sunflowers.
And I LOVE Margaret Chodos-Irvine's illustrations.

So, my favorite new picture book of the moment is to be like the sun by Susan Marie Swanson and illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. When I first looked at it, the title and the sunflower on the front drew me in. It wasn't until I opened it up that I recognized the illustrations and had to look back at the cover to see that they were indeed done by Chodos-Irving. The coloring is a bit different from Ella Sarah Gets Dressed but they are clearly her illustrations.

It looks like this book was first published as a poem as part of an anthology. Whoever decided to turn it into a picture book was very, very smart. It makes a PERFECT picture book. In my opinion, there can never be enough books about sunflowers or planting sunflowers.

This book takes you from the seeds in the spring to the winter when the sunflower is just a memory. The language may be what makes this book my favorite of the day. My favorite line is the one when the little girl is planting the seeds. "All the instructions are written in your heart." There are so many more lines like this.

I am always looking for books with great language. But I often find trouble finding books with great language that young children can enjoy and appreciate. Often the books are geared toward older children. This book is good for all ages and I think readers of all ages will appreciate the language that is so perfect.

As I sit here in the midst of a blizzard, it is quite nice to have this book to read and remember that spring isn't that far away.

Friday, March 07, 2008

WHY WE TEACH by Linda Alston

WHY WE TEACH: LEARNING, LAUGHTER, LOVE AND THE POWER TO TRANSFORM LIVES is a timely book for anyone who is teaching in 2008. It reminds us why we teach--through hard times, after hard days, and during these days of mandated curriculum and testing. Linda Alston shares stories of her own teaching career--short pieces that can remind us all the joys of teaching and of being in the company of children every day.

I have talked to so many teachers across the country who have told me that they aren't having fun anymore. That teaching is no longer enjoyable. Linda addresses the times and clearly holds on to what is important for the children we teach.

"At the end of the day, we are exhausted. We feel as if we cannot teach another day--that is, until tomorrow. In the morning, we find the strength to come back and teach again. Why? Because we love and believe in children. We behold the gifts in them and nurture the children to become their most magnificent selves. We hold on to hope that their futures will be bright and glorious. The day that we don't go back might well be the day we miss the miracle of a child making a connection, saying something funny or profound, creating a work of art, and giving our lives meaning and purpose." (Page 96)

I found the stories in this book to be just what I needed. The foreword by Vivian Paley and the afterword by Lester Laminack are also very powerful. The stories can be read in any order. But they all remind us how much we can learn from children and how important it is for us to do what is right for the children we teach.

Poetry Friday -- For Will and Lyra

Yesterday, I finished listening to The Amber Spyglass. Before that I listened to The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, all by Phillip Pullman. I had read all three books, but long enough ago to have forgotten much.

Here's a poem for Will and Lyra, and for me to remember now that they are gone until I read or listen them back to life.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.

(the rest of the poem is here...the roundup is here)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Who Knew?

Did you know?
In New York, it is against the law to throw a ball at someone's head for fun.
The Venus Flytrap grows naturally only in North and South Carolina.
In Gary, a person may not enter a movie house or theater or ride a public streetcar within four hours of eating garlic.
In Alaska, it is against the law to wake a sleeping bear in order to photograph it.
Each August, Twinsburg, Ohio holds the Twin Days Festival, the world's largest annual gathering of twins.

I learned all of this AND SO MUCH MORE in the new book GO, GO America by Dan Yaccarino.
Beth at Cover to Cover shared this book with me yesterday. I thought it was going to be like all of those other books about states--general info. But when I opened it up and started reading, I was amazed at how much fun info was packed into every page. What fun information. Every single piece of trivia is as interesting as those I shared above. It is quite a fun book. One I'd love to read Cover to Cover. In terms of curriculum, there is lots of ways to use this book in the classroom. We are currently doing a unit on government-such a hard thing for kids to understand. But if we take some of these laws and learn about how they actually came to be, it might really help them understand how democracy works. This states in this book are set up in order of how the Farley Family travels the country. The Table of Contents is quite creative and the author dedication ties into the book too. At the end of the book, more traditional information about each state is shared (capital, state flower, motto, etc.)

This will be a definite hit in my classroom (if I ever decide to share it!).

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Stories That Dovetail in the Middle

All three of these books tell endless stories.

Both covers are front covers. The middle is the shared ending or the roundabout that tells you to flip the book over and read the same story told a different way.

For 20 years I had one example of such a book. All of a sudden in 2007 I found two more.

One is unique; three is a collection. Do you know of any other books that have stories that dovetail in the middle like these?

Giant Story/Mouse Tale: A Half Picture Book
by Annegert Fuchshuber
Carolrhoda Books, 1988
personal copy

The giant wants a friend, but he's afraid of everything. He runs away to escape his fears, and finds himself in a meadow. In the center of the book, he stretches out in the grass to rest, wishing for a small friend he could hold in his hand. Read from the other side and find a brave mouse who wants a friend, but no one wants to be a friend to such a brave mouse. She goes searching for a friend and winds up in a meadow, where she curls up in a warm spot to rest until she has enough strength to go looking again for a friend. The center spread? The giant stretched out sleeping with the sleeping mouse in his hand.

I Love You More
by Laura Duksta
illustrated by Karen Keesler
Sourcebooks, 2007
review copy compliments of the publisher

Read from one side and hear Mommy answer the question, "Mommy, just how much do you love me?" Read from the other side and hear a little boy answering his mother's question, "So, just how much do you love me?" In the middle, you find the ultimate answer that they each have for the other: "I love you more than anything in the whole wide world."

Dogs and Cats
by Steve Jenkins
Houghton Mifflin, 2007
personal copy

If you start on the dog side of this book, you will find double page spreads with information on one aspect of canines (size and shape, how breeds came to be, etc.) and fabulous cut and torn paper collage illustrations. Don't miss the cat shadow in the corner of each page with a single sentence of information about cats on the same topic. In the center of the book, a cat and dog are stretched out together on a rug. Flip the book over and you read detailed information about cats (with the same great illustrations), keeping watch for the shadow dog and the single sentence of related information about dogs.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Meme: Passion Quilt

Monica, from Educating Alice, tagged us for the Passion Quilt Meme.

Here are the rules:

  • Think about what you are passionate about teaching your students.
  • Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about…and give your picture a short title.
  • Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt” and link back to this blog entry.
  • Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce

For us, just like for Monica and Doug, at Borderland, it's a struggle to untangle our passion from the passions of our students, and on top of that, to find a photo that represents it all.

The best we can come up with is this one. In a Choice Literacy article, Franki wrote about creating Revision Toolbags for her students -- big ziplocks filled with all the fun tools for revision that she uses when she writes: highlighters, sticky notes of all sizes, scissors and tape, gel pens with colored ink, staplers and staple removers. Knowing that our children have only been writers for a couple of years, really, and that they are still children, after all, her idea was to let children play with revision, let them experiment with revision and all the tools writers might use. I read the article and it made such good sense that I stopped at Staples after school that very day and spend a wad on revision tools. And sure enough, when I introduced the revision toolbags, revision's popularity soared. Suddenly, revision was fun.

So here's a picture that shows Franki's idea and the way one of my students put her idea into action. It's a picture that exemplifies the ways we share professionally and "borrow" each other's ideas either flat out or with a new spin. It shows how our students try on our passions (reading and writing) and make them their own.

We'll tag Karen and Bill at Literate Lives, Katie at Creative Literacy, Megan at Read, Read, Read, and Meredith at Learning Together. We know that one of you is in Chile (last we heard) and two of you are up to your ears with report cards. Do this when you get around to it. Can't wait to see what you come up with! (I did a blog search of Meme: Passion Quilt and there are hundreds of entries. It would make interesting reading, but alas, report cards are calling my name, too. Actually, I need to finish grading...sigh...NOT my passion!)

The Spotlight... on US over at 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast!!!

Jules and Eisha, thank you for the fabulous interview (love the images you found!!), and Liz, Jen, Sarah, and Susan, thank you for your kind words!

Great Characters!

I always look for books that can become children's favorite characters. I look for characters that are featured in more than one book so students can look forward to the next book about the character and can think about what might be next for their favorite characters. Here are a few that I recently picked up.

For those of you who love LaRue from his last few books (Dear Mrs. LaRue), you'll love this new one about this amusing dog. This time LaRue is writing letters to his owner as he decides to run for mayor. The other candidate wants to take away dogs' freedom! fun book and also one that can be used to explain elections in a way that could make some sense to young children.

by Leslie Helakoski
The four chickens from BIG CHICKENS are back. This time they leave the safety of their chicken coop to find the farmhouse. But things aren't that simple. I think the illustrations of these 4 chickens are the best--their personalities definitely come through. The story line and the repeated text are predictable and fun. Makes you look forward to a third book about these chickens!

I am including this one even though there is only one book about this Monkey. I am including it because I am hoping that there are more to come. I picked it up after reading Fuse #8's review and the post at Schu's Blog of Lit and More. The illustration of the monkey totally sold me. I'm not sure what it is about this book but I LOVE it. The monkey totally cracks me up and he grows on you more and more as the book goes on. What a concept!

Monday, March 03, 2008

NonFiction Monday

As part of our writing workshop, we are doing a study of Literary Nonfiction. When I think about what that means, I think it is quality nonfiction writing --the nonfiction writing that has the qualities of good writing. It is different from encyclopedia or traditional report writing.

Knowing that this is a big focus for our grade level standards, I have been trying to pick up some good mentor texts--nonfiction books that students can learn from. I am amazed by how many great nonfiction books are out there these days. These are some of the newer ones I've picked up.

POOP: A Natural History of the Unmentionable
by Nicola Davies
The version of this that I purchased is a very tiny book (3" X 5") which makes it quite fun! The illustrations are amusing and the writing has a great deal of humor embedded in it. A topic that kids love to read about and they can certainly learn from the casualness of the writing.

THE BROOK BOOK: EXPLORING SMALL STREAMS by Jim Arnosky is full of great information about brooks. The illustrations are soft and the colors work. Many features of nonfiction text (labels, question headings, etc.) are embedded throughout and there is variety in the page layouts. The language is perfect when looking at quality nonfiction writing. One page says, "As a brook tumbles and runs downhill, the moving water shapes te land it flows over." Every line seems packed with information and the writing is quality nonfiction. The author's note lets readers know that the book is set up to help you get the most out of a visit to a local brook!

A DICTIONARY OF DANCE by Liz Murphy is a fun dictionary of dance vocabulary. Each letter of the alphabet is accompanied by a dance specific word such as improvisation or kick. The pronunciation and definition are included. The illustrations give readers a visual to further explain the word.

I GET WET by Vicki Cobb is an older book (2002) that I just discovered. I purchased this one because of the writing and the page layouts. Cobb often places the words in a wave coming out of a faucet or something similar. The key is that the writing in those spaces is well-written. My students often have fun with font and word placement but forget about the quality of writing when doing so. This will show them how to tie those things together.

FROGS by Nic Bishop
The photographs in this book were what drew me to it in the first place. The writing is as spectacular as the photos. The book is packed with information and organized in paragraphs about different things. One paragraph lead says, "Some people are confused about the difference between a frog and a toad, but you do not have to be." Love that! A great index and glossary are found at the end of this book.

HOW STRONG IS IT? by Ben Hillman
I heard about this book from Karen at Literate Lives. HOW BIG IS IT? by the same author is a class favorite. This is a great second book. The illustrations are fascinating--showing strong things like lasers, sharks, and wood. The photos draw you into the text and the text goes on to tell you the information you want to know. The writing is tight--one column per photo. It is organized by paragraphs and well written. Each page can be studied by nonfiction writers and they will learn lots about organization, choice of details, and more.

HOORAY FOR INVENTORS! by Marcia Williams
I would consider this book to be a graphic novel of sorts, but not really. Each page stands alone and has the feel of a comic book. Some boxes hold isolated information while other spreads connect a story about a famous inventor. Facts are found in every white space on the page so there is lots to look at and discover. The organization is an interesting component. The index helps readers find the information they are looking for.

Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Picture Book of the Day.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Weekend Reading

The February Carnival of Children's Literature is up --Leap In!

The February issue of The Edge of the Forest is up -- thank goodness for that extra February day so that it could be published in February (with 29 minutes to spare)!

Lester Laminack Visit

Lester Laminack visited Dublin this week. On Thursday, he was the author visit at our school. If you are looking for a good author for an author visit, he is one of the best I've heard. He is a teacher, author, writer and quite the entertainer. He talked about his writing process and shared lots of insights about his books. He has written 5 children's books (THE SUNSETS OF MISS OLIVIA WIGGINS, SATURDAYS AND TEACAKES, TREVOR'S WIGGLY-WOBBLY TOOTH, JAKE'S 100TH DAY OF SCHOOL, and SNOW DAY) with more on the way.

On Friday, Lester was part of the Literacy's Connection's yearlong workshop. The Literacy Connection puts on a workshop each year. In the fall, we all get together and get copies of the book we will be studying throughout the year. Then in the spring (this weekend), the author of the book visits and spends Friday teaching demonstration lessons in classrooms for us to watch and discuss. On Saturday there is a follow-up with a full day workshop. This year we read one of Lester's newer professional books, READING ALOUD ACROSS THE CURRICULUM. This is a companion book to LIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE.

Quite a variety of things and Lester was amazing at all of them. His rapport with the kids during the author visit was instant. Kids had trouble leaving the room because they wanted to stay to hear more. Teachers felt the same way--many of us were laughing so hard, we were crying! And he was just as amazing with the teacher groups on Friday and Saturday. He reminded us about so much that we seem to have lost in the last 5 years of teaching. He reminded us of the power of books in the classroom and our need to get back to using our own common sense when teaching.

If you are looking for an author visit or a teacher visit, Lester was a huge hit!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Better Than Leveled Books

I definitely understand the place of leveled books in primary classrooms. Kids need books they can read to move forward as readers. But, I think that as a nation, we have forgotten that there are so many great books--quality children's literature--that supports new readers in the same way that leveled books do. So, I have been adding to my collection of books that are perfect for new readers--books to have in the classroom that serve the same purpose as leveled books; books that young readers can read on their own because the supports are there for them.

I've picked up 3 new books in the last few weeks that fit this category.

WHAT WILL FAT CAT SIT ON? by Jan Thomas is definitely one o my new favorites. The text is very predictable as readers watch as the cat decides where to sit (Will Fat Cat sit on...the CHICKEN?) The illustrations are perfect. The facial expressions on all of the animals add to the story and the colors are quite fun. This is one of those books that I can't keep close to me--everyone I show it to keeps it or passes it along to someone else. Every class that has heard it has quickly determined it is a class favorite. A definite must for Pre-K-1 classrooms. I must say that reading it aloud to kids has that same feel that DON'T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS! has. It is fun for kids and fun for the adult reader too!

Today, I picked up Emily Gravett's new book MONKEY AND ME. I am becoming a huge Gravett fan so this was an easy decision. She is brilliant. This book consists of very simple texts that repeats, great picture support and great possibilities for predictions.

NEVER TAKE A SHARK TO THE DENTIST ( AND OTHER THINGS NOT TO DO) by Judi Barrett. You know Judi Barret from CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and ANIMALS SHOULD DEFINITELY NOT WEAR CLOTHING. This book is just as fun! There is only one line of text per page and each one tells the reader about something they should never do. For example, one page tells you to "Never hold hands with a lobster." The thing I like best about this book for new readers is that the illustration next to the text provides the "why" for the statement. If the reader is not sure why the statement would cause problems, the illustration explains the reasons. (For example, in the picture accompanying the lobster statement, you see many animals who HAVE done this and now have hands wrapped in bandages, swollen paws, etc. The simple predictable text and picture support is perfect for young readers.

I think that it is CRITICAL that we get over this leveled book craze that has gone too far and get real books back into the hands of our children. These are three that fit this mission!