Monday, June 30, 2008

Little Hoot

Little Hoot
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace
Chronicle Books, 2008
review copy compliments of the publisher

Little Hoot is by the same pair who brought us Little Pea a few years ago. Little Pea was the poor vegetable who was forced to choke down candy for dinner so that he could get to the part of dinner he really wanted -- the big bowl of spinach for dessert.

Now we have Little Hoot, the owlet who is forced to stay up late and play, when all he wants is to go to bed at a reasonable hour like his friends. At one point he grumps to himself, "When I grow up, I'm going to let my kids go to bed as early as they want."

Maybe reverse psychology works, maybe it doesn't. There are no guarantees that this book will get your kid to bed. What it might do, however, is defuse a tense situation with its humor and all of the owl puns scattered throughout. Give it a try. Let us know how it works!

My Pup by Margaret O'Hair

I just returned from a trip to Portland, Oregon (more on that later). While I was gone, I received a box of review books from Marshall Cavendish Publishers. What a nice thing to come home too! I will be reviewing several of the books in the box over the next few weeks but one of them caught my eye right away so I thought I'd share it now!

MY PUP is written by Margaret O'Hair and illustrated by Tammie Lyon. It is an adorable book that I am sure kids will love. The fun of getting a new puppy is shared in this great new picture book. And the author does it in a fun, rhyming chant.

Each spread features an adorable little girl (the puppy's new owner) watches as her puppy engages in a typical new puppy activity--things from eating, taking a bath, playing with the garden hose and more. Each spread has a great illustration that shows the fun that both the puppy and the little girl are having getting to know each other. Smiles are pretty common!

The text is very chanty--only 4 lines per page with every other page rhyming. An example of this is illustrated in the first two pages:

New puppy,
young puppy,
soft puppy,

Grow, puppy,
run, puppy,
chase, puppy,

Such a fun book! I shared the book immediately with my eight year old daughter. She loved it and told me that I "should blog about this one for sure!". Her favorite thing were the illustrations-she loved the expressions shown by both the puppy and the little girl in each picture.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Choice Literacy-Portland, Oregon

I just returned from Portland, Oregon where I did a Choice Literacy Workshop. It was a great few days and I met so many great people. I love being part of these workshops since they are so professional and always in great locations! I did a bit of shopping at the little shops around the hotel. Portland is such a great shopping city! And, of course I visited Powell's bookstore. (I'll be reviewing a few of the new books I picked up there later this week. I also had time to catch up with some of the other speakers. Joan and Gail (The 2 Sisters), Aimee Buckner, Jen Allen, Ruth Shagory and Andie Cunningham, Karen Szymusiak, and the Queen of Choice Literacy, Brenda Power. It was great to catch up with all of them too! I'll be doing a few more of these workshops next month too and am looking forward to them. (Joan, Aimee, and Gail are in the photo above.)

Saturday, June 28, 2008


ALPHABET ANIMALS by Suse MacDonald is a "slide and peek" book. This is a great new find for new readers--preschool and primary kids who love to have fun with the alphabet.

I have been adding to my collection of alphabet books and I so love the variety that is out there. This was a definite must-have.

Each page is a great, colorful animal--then "slide and peek" and along comes a large letter that tells the first letter of the animal followed by the name of the animal. The animals are, of course, in alphabetical order so kids who are just working on beginning sound will have the support to think about what the name of the animal might be and whether that guess matches the letter that comes next in the alphabet. For older kids who already know their alphabet, the illustrations and the fun of the slide and peek will keep them happy.

This book would make a great baby gift or a great birthday gift for 3, 4, and 5 year-olds. It would also be great in preschool and primary classrooms as well as school libraries. It is pretty sturdy, so even though it is a slide and peek, it should stay together pretty well.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Potato Joe
by Keith Baker
Harcourt, 2008
review copy compliments of the publisher

Shelve this book near Chicka Chicka Boom Boom -- it's a rhyming chant that counts up to ten and back down again using potatoes...and with guest appearances by a crow, some snow, Tomato Flo, and Watermelon Moe.

Here's a sample of the text: "One potato, two potato, hello, Joe! Three potato, four potato, tic-tac-toe!" Perfect for the three year-old in your life who has Chicka Chicka Boom Boom memorized. I'm thinking you might even want to get some potatoes out of the pantry and act it out -- easy props that can take some rough handling and still mash up for dinner!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Birthday for Cow

A Birthday for Cow
by Jan Thomas
Harcourt, 2008
review copy compliments of the publisher

Your good friends work hard to do something nice for you for your birthday, but it's your TRUE friend who knows just what will make you happy. Pig and Mouse are making a birthday cake for Cow. Duck tries to get them to mix a turnip in, stir the batter with a turnip, or decorate the cake with a turnip. Pig and Mouse want nothing to do with the turnip. Can you guess what Cow's excited to see when she comes to the party? You guessed it, the turnip!

This is a bright, bold picture book with expressive characters and not much text. Young readers will love it, and it will make a fun read aloud if you don't mind your audience shouting, "TURNIP" along with Duck!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


OTTOLINE AND THE YELLOW CAT is a GREAT find! At our blogger's breakfast a few weeks ago, I had already checked out when Beth brought over a stack of new books she thought we'd like. I was shopped out and didn't pay much attention, even when Karen from Literate Lives mentioned that it seemed like a great book. I finally took a look at it and had to go to the check out desk one more time. So, Karen gets full credit for this find.

I had forgotten about it until Katie from Creative Literacy mentioned that she and her son were reading it and loving it. So, she gets full credit for me actually reading it!

As I am trying to catch up on reading this week (the story of my life), I spent lots of the day Saturday, reading this book. There are supposed to be 3 in the series, but I am hoping for many, many more.

Ottoline is a fun character--a bit like Pippi Longstocking in that she seems to live alone-her traveling parents seem to love her. She is well-cared for by Mr. Monroe--a funny, hairy character--and a team of people who take care of things at the house. Ottoline is an interesting girl--strong and curious with lots of interesting traits. And she loves disguises! Ottoline has two interesting collections which you will learn about if you read the book. And she loves to solve puzzles.

The book is not quite a graphic novel but the illustrations tell quite a bit of the story. The text combine with illustrations on every page. The illustrations are black and white with a bit of red. The illustrations really bring the characters to life.

I am not usually a big fan of mysteries for young readers. It is a hard genre for kids--figuring out clues that add up to solving a mystery. But this is a PERFECT mystery for elementary kids. The clues are there but they can easily be missed or picked up by 8 and 9 year olds. And it makes sense at the end. I so hate those mysteries that never quite fit together. This one is perfect.

I can see a variety of kids liking this book. I think it will appeal to both boys and girls. It is a fun book with great picture support for kids new to chapter books. It is also interesting enough for older kids. I can see kids reading this from 2nd through 5th grade.

There seem to be 2 more books about Ottoline coming soon. Can't wait!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I have been trying to find and read more graphic novels that are appropriate for elementary age readers. My two main sources for books are Mary Lee and Beth at Cover to Cover. I am running a workshop on Content Reading in a few weeks and was looking for nonfiction graphic novels to share with teachers--nonfiction graphic novels that might help struggling readers make sense of concepts.

What a great surprise when Beth called with this new title--HOWTOONS! This is a How-To Graphic Book--I guess not a novel. It is filled with fun things for kids to make and the instructions to make them. Some are simple and some are complicated.

When I opened the book, I was thrilled to find that even the Table of Contents was in graphic form. Illustrations, titles and page numbers all on a two-page spread. Through the Table of Contents, I found that readers can learn how to do and make a variety of things--from counting with binary numbers to making an "Infamous Marshmallow Shooter". Clearly the possibilities for fun are endless!

The authors put a little disclaimer at the beginning--adult supervision is needed for many of these projects.

I like the idea that there is a book out here like this. I am not sure that I would just put the book on the shelf--it is a bit overwhelming. But, I can see using it bit-by-bit to try some of the activities described. Even though it is in graphic/cartoon form, it is full of lots of the usuals that you see in nonfiction text--labels, diagrams, etc. So, there are possibilities for teaching nonfiction text strategies with this book too.

A fun find! And, even more good news--I just found a great website that goes along with the book--lots of fun How-To Comics along with some games and more. And there is a blog that is written in a more graphic form! Who knew? The site seems very addicting.

Looks like the book has come from the people at MIT!
Fuse #8 reviewed the book in November if you'd like to read that one!

You can even see a video demonstration of the Marshmallow Shooter on the Howtoons website blog.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A New Series That Makes Me Laugh!

I noticed 3 books in a new series at Cover to Cover yesterday. ROSCOE RILEY RULES by Katherine Applegate. I was happy to see that there are 3 books in the series out right away--it is hard to wait for new books in a series after you read the first and love it.

This looked like the typical series book--nothing struck me about the cover except that it had a boy character and I was happy about that. I am loving all of the new series with strong girls but I have had a harder time finding these early chapter book series that highlight boy characters lately.

Well, this book was such a nice surprise. I loved it quickly. The first book is called ROSCOE RILEY RULES #1: NEVER GLUE YOUR FRIENDS TO CHAIRS. Right away, I could tell kids would like the whole idea of the book. The main character, Roscoe, tells each book in the series from his Official Time-Out Corner. Seems that each book will start out with Riley calling you over to his Time-Out Corner and then telling the story of why he is there. Pretty clever, I thought. (Roscoe seems to enjoy his corner well enough and his parents and teachers seem to love and understand him well!)

Chapter 2 in this first book is called "SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE WE GET STARTED". It says, "Here's the thing about Super-Mega-Gonzo Glue. When the label says permanent, they mean permanent. As in FOREVER AND EVER." This may be my favorite chapter in the book.

There are lots of reasons why I like this book. Roscoe tells the story and I like his voice. He is a first grader with a first grader voice. He is very clever, insightful and honest. The book is short--about 80 pages. A perfect length. Chapters are fairly short and there are lots of illustrations throughout. The thing that I think is best is that it is totally appropriate for kids in grades 1 and 2. The humor and the situations seem to be a perfect match. I can see readers of STINK by Megan MacDonald really enjoying this series too.

Looks like there are 3 available now (NEVER GLUE YOUR FRIENDS TO CHAIRS, NEVER SWIPE A BULLY'S BEAR and DON'T SWAP YOUR SWEATER FOR A DOG). #4 is due out in August and it is called NEVER SWIM IN APPLESAUCE.

I am anxious to share this book with my daughter and some of her friends. I think it will make for fun summer reading.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

READING FOR REAL by Kathy Collins

I spent Thursday and Friday at the Lakota Literacy View Institute. The teachers there have been running this institute for several years and it is a great, intense four days. A great group of people running amazing staff development for teachers. That seems to be happening in lots of places and teachers left feeling energized and ready to think ahead to September.

As an added bonus, I was thrilled to see that they had copies of Kathy Collins' new book called READING FOR REAL. It wasn't due out for another week so I was thrilled to see copies there! Kathy Collins wrote another one of my favorite professional books called GROWING READERS. In both books, she is able to help us think through what is important to our youngest readers. This book is written for primary teachers and addresses primary literacy, especially with the use of "Reading Clubs". In her simple, "bare-bone" definition of reading clubs, Kathy says, " A reading club is a couple of kids reading and talking about a small collection of books that go together in some way." She goes on to describe what these might look like, how they might go, how the year might go, etc. There are many really thoughtful ways to use these types of reading clubs with primary kids.

A big thing I like about Kathy's writing (besides how funny she can be!) is the thoughtfulness behind her planning. It is obvious that she has layers of thinking when she teaches. For example, one of my favorite is one called "Getting to Know Our Characters Well to Better Understand Our Books and Ourselves". Kathy wants students to learn about characters and character development but she also talks about reading habits as goals--those things that bring joy to our reading lives. One of the things her students learn in this character study is that "Readers think about their character even when they aren't reading their books." What a huge thing for our young readers to learn and to value as readers.

With all of the leveled craze, Kathy is able to give us a way to bring talk and joy to our primary classrooms. The vignettes that she share remind us that young children are capable of very deep reading and very deep thinking. Kathy gives us a framework to make that happen. Even though this book is written for teachers of primary students, there are huge implications for teachers of all ages.

I will be a media specialist in one of our elementary schools next year. I decided it would be a fun challenge to really think about whole school literacy and reader identity from that role in the school. READING FOR REAL has helped me think through ways in which I might bring inquiry and book clubs into the library setting for my primary students. I am thinking about ways that I can collect books in baskets--books that "go together in some way" as Kathy tells us. I am hoping for a library filled with lots of talk around great books and having baskets of books with the same character, books on a topic, etc. may be just the invitation kids need to talk with each other in the library.Above is a photo from the Lakota Literacy VIEW Institute. Ralph Fletcher, one of the speakers, with Paulette, Susan, and Lin--members of the VIEW Planning Team!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

New Book by Eileen Spinelli

Eileen Spinelli is my favorite author of the moment. It seems that every time I turn around, there is another great book written by Eileen Spinelli. We just saw her newest picture book, THE BEST STORY at Cover to Cover during our Columbus Blogger 48 Hour Read Kick-Off . It is a great story, an especially great one to use in the Writing Workshop. The girl in the story tells us about a writing contest that she sees at her local library. She is determined to write a great story and win the prize. The book takes us through her experience--trying to make the story better. She takes advice from members of her family and tries to add the things they suggest. She finally listens to her mother who tells her, "I think the best story is one that comes from the heart. Your own heart." LOVE THAT LINE and the whole page. I was drawn to this book because of the message to readers about writing. I think it could start lots of great conversations about writing in classrooms and libraries. I am usually not a fan of picture books that teach lessons about writing. They are sometimes over the top or to gimicky, but this one is really perfect for many ages. The illustrations are an added bonus--they are a perfect match for the story. They are happy, whimsical illustrations that pull the reader in.

Other recent Elieen Spinelli books that I have fallen in love with:
WHERE I LIVE NOW and SUMMERHOUSE TIME are both novels in verse. I did quick reviews of one here. Other recent books that I currently love by this author are

Looks like she has another one coming out this fall! After checking out her website, I realized that lots of the books she has written in the past, I know and love. And there are a few on the list that I don't know that I will be checking out. But it seems every time I go into a bookstore these days, Eileen Spinelli has another perfect book on the shelves!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Poetry Friday -- Chillax, Dude

Here's an original by J. Patrick Lewis that reminds us not to take things too seriously!

Thank you, Pat, for letting us debut this poem on our blog!

The Rubbery Book
by J. Patrick Lewis

One day I found under the leaves
The Rubbery Book no one believes.
It told me where to find the horns
Of lost and lonely unicorns.

It told me too about a boy
Who somersaulted Illinois,
About a bright young windowpane
Allergic to the wind and rain.

The stories all were dark or light
But written down in black and white,
Though some were blue, popsicle pink
Or cinnamon to make you think.

The Rubbery Book could stretch the truth
But just enough to share with youth
And other kids whose lives too soon
Are measured out by tablespoon.

For folks who always make a fuss
By telling you, BE SERIOUS!
The Rubbery Book’s a vitamin pill
For anyone who’s SERIOUSLY ill.

The roundup this week is at Semicolon.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Welcome Alan Silberberg!

Dear Alan,

I know you already got a letter from Lisa Yee, so we won't be the FIRST to welcome you to the Thurber House and Columbus, and hopefully we won't be the last -- there are lots of friendly people here who would love to go to breakfast (or lunch or dinner) at The Northstar Cafe, eat ice cream at Jeni's, kick around North Market, or browse the shelves at Cover to Cover.

Let us know when you get here and get settled in! We can't wait to meet you!

Mary Lee and Franki

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

MONKEY BUSINESS by Wallace Edwards

I have a pretty large collection of books that have some type of word play in them. I have always had a few baskets of books in my classroom that housed books that just have fun with words. My friend Meredith brought me this new one for a recent trip. (She is always good about finding books I don't know!) I am so excited to add this one to my collection.

MONKEY BUSINESS by Wallace Edwards is a great book of idioms. I love to use picture books with kids that help readers understand the meaning of a literary term such as "idiom". Idiom is defined on the first page of the book as "a group of words whose meaning cannot be understood from the meaning of the individual words; an expression peculiar to a specific language, that cannot be translated literally." The book then continues on with various idioms in the context of a sentence. The gorgeous illustrations show the meaning of the idiom and both the sentence and the illustration helps the reader infer the meaning of the specific idiom. One of my favorites is "Phil had no formal musical training, so he learned to play by ear." The accompanying illustration shows an adorable dog playign the instrument with his ears.

This is a new-to-me book even though it was published in 2004. According to Amazon, it is due out in paperback this month! A perfect addition to my word-play basket.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

This Could Be Our Cat

Except she's skinnier and louder and older (20 years and counting).

Thank you, Alyssa, for the link and for making us laugh until we cried. Maow.

Author Interview: Shelley Harwayne

A few weeks ago, I reviewed the upcoming professional book by Shelley Harwayne called LOOK WHO'S LEARNING TO READ. This is a great resource for preschool teachers, childcare providers, parents, and grandparents. This book is due out in July. As I was looking at it again today, I realized that it stretches far beyond preschool and Kindergarten. I found lots of fun things I can revise a bit for older kids--in homes, classrooms, libraries, etc. By far, its main audience is parents and early childhood teachers but so much that can be used beyond age 5 or 6.

For those of you who know Shelley, she has always stayed strong in her beliefs about children and literacy. In her introduction to the book, Shelley lets us in on the principles that she honors as she works with children. Some of my favorites include:

*Children need choice. They love to be part of making decisions.
*Children deserve the finest literature. We need to be fussy about the books we borrow or buy for them.
*Children need to laugh every day. And their silly sense of humor often differs from ours.
*Children need to know that we think they are clever when they ask questions, not simply when they answer questions.

I am thrilled that Shelley has taken on early childhood education. This book is a huge contribution to the field. We spent some time interviewing her about her book. As always, Shelley gives us lots to think about.

Franki: Tell us how you've become so interested in early childhood literacy.

Shelley: I didn't choose early childhood literacy as an area of interest. It chose me! What with 5 grandchildren in my care, how could I not be fascinated by their entrance into the world of literacy? They teach me new things about language acquisition and literacy learning everyday.
Franki: One of my favorite things was the list of principles you stick to when thinking about children. Can you tell us about the basic principles that you believe are important for children.

Shelley: As to the list of principles, I will address them one by one. Children need choice: It's interesting to me that when there is a moment of stress with the little ones, I can usually make that go away by giving them a choice.So if Zach wants Ben's toys, I simply ask, " What would you rather do, play with Ben's helicopter or do a puzzle with Grandma?" He usually chooses the latter and if he does choose Ben's toy, we usually engage in a lovely conversation about why the helicopter is so much fun." Partly the distraction calms him, but also it's making him feel that he is part of the decision-making in the family. "So the helicopter moves so fast, it's no wonder you want a turn. When Ben finishes playing with it, it will be your turn." Children deserve the finest of literature. Quite simply, they won't say "Read it again, if it's not a great story." Then too, it's a bit of "So little time, so many books!' I don't want to waste their time. I want books that they talk about when we are not reading them. Laughter is good for young children's emotional life and for mine! There is nothing like the p words to get pre-schoolers going: pee-pee, poopie, and the like. The sillier we get, the happier they seem. There is also a great deal of laughter attached to our language play. Just ask a 3 year old if he wants a bamburger for dinner. I am just amazed at how quickly youngsters acquire language.I can recall the first time my granddaughter realized that words that sound the same can mean different things like the ant that crawls on your picnic blanket and the aunt who is married to your uncle. I deliberately use synonyms as often as I can and as naturally as I can. “Choose one cupcake. C'mon select just one. It's up to you to pick your favorite." I must admit that I work really hard not to talk about myself in the third person. There is no reason to say, "Grandma will help you," when "I will help you," is a more natural language pattern. I also took great delight the first time I heard my grandkids use such words as , "actually" or say, “Seriously, Grandma." As to a wide range of ways to use language, I think we just need to expose them to rich language in all its possible contexts.The way you root for a team differs from the way you talk to the pediatrician. The way you talk to an elderly aunt may differ form the way you talk to a repairman. Commend children for working hard. Many studies have been done in this regard. Sometimes when children are told over and over again that they are smart, they begin to fear not looking smart and therefore take less risks, accept fewer challenges. Children who are commended for working hard are more likely to accept bigger challenges because they understand and do not fear the hard work that will be needed. Asking questions is a really important one. My grandson Ben recently asked me why some NYC street signs are green and others brown. We looked it up and discovered that historic districts have the brown signs. Imagine a 3 year old led me to learn something so new. In schools as well, kids need to know that it is not how many great questions you answer but how many you ask that sets you apart and demonstrates your intellectual curiosity. Rituals, of course. Children need to know what is expected. They thrive on boundaries. Creating rituals is one way to help them understand how the world works and what is around the bend. Empathy is what we look for in our friends and neighbors, not how they scored on a fourth grade exam. Children are always watching. Adults who show empathy are more likely to raise children who show empathy. And of course, carefully selected literature puts issues of empathy on the front burner.

Franki: What is the best thing parents and childcare providers can do to support literacy?

Shelley: Read aloud, read aloud, read aloud! Be fussy about what you read aloud and talk about the books together with your child.

Franki: What are some of your new favorite books for young children—new children's books that you love and that are perfect for young children?

Shelley: Every day it seems I have a new favorite. My 3 and 4 year olds laughed out loud with GORGONZOLA. My five year old adores Eileen Spinelli's SOMEDAY.

Franki: I imagine that each of your grandchildren respond differently to the different things you do. Can you share a few favorite stories of literate moments with your grandchildren?
Shelley: Lately,my grandkids love to play Stump Me. It's written up in the book. We tell stories rather generically to one another and the other person has to guess the story. This is a favorite bathtime activity. Will the 3 year old recently initiated, Stump Me with Songs. He hums a song and asks me to guess and then we reverse roles. Our almost 6 year old has begun playing, Fortunately, Unfortunately. She begins a story and then says Unfortunately...I have to continue the story and add Fortunately and on it goes. She has also taken to MadLibs for Juniors which simply delights me. I also love walking down the city street and Ben, (3 1/2) announces, “Please Curb Your Dog.” or Will, our 3 year old spots his name in books and newspapers, minus the capital "W'.

Franki: Can you tell us some of the favorite activities (from the book) in your family?

Shelley: I would say the top activities in the book, besides Stump Me, have been the storytelling jug filled with random party favors, pretending to use a rhyming word instead of someone's name, " I want to write something. please bring me a Ben. I mean pen," and songs with a twist. We are always inventing parodies, versions, etc.

Franki: What are your next projects--things that we can look forward to?

Shelley: Well, I have a series of emergent readers coming out with Scholastic. 32 will be released this month. They are very simple 8 page books about Ben and Ruby. I think the series is called I'm Reading Now! I have just written a few dozen more.

I am also considering writing about offering young writers easier structures or containers for their writing as opposed to these "show-off" genres that are so popular today and take so much time and appear too sophisticated for most kids. The ones I am thinking about only take a week and yet you can push for high quality because the structures don't get in the way. It's just like teaching a reading strategy and then the child tries to apply it to too hard reading material. Other things get in the way. I think the same things happen with issues of craft. I prefer teaching craft issues in rather easy structures so that the child really internalizes his understanding. These are my "intermission" ideas, things to do when you are not having formal studies. Of course, I would love for teachers to let children do more free exploration in the writing workshop, another one of my intermission ideas.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Plane Reading Continued

Thanks again to Bill and Karen at Literate Lives for these 3 recommendations too! My airplane reading was quite the success. They have been responsible for a great start for my summer reading! Another long trip coming up next week so I am looking forward to getting lots more reading in then too!

A bittersweet story that reminded me of a children's version of THE GLASS CASTLE. An amazingly strong character who survives under hard circumstances. Although her mother has trouble taking care of her, she clearly loves her daughter but can't take on the responsibility of being a mother that she needs. This is a great story with a great character who you cheer for through the entire book. It reminds you that there are lots of people in a child's life who matter. I am not sure which age of reader would enjoy this--I am thinking 5th grade and above. Hard topics and big issues. I can think of a student or two in my 4th grade class last year who would like it but it does seem a bit more middle school.
Bill's review on Literate Lives is worth reading too.

SUMMERHOUSE TIME by Eileen Spinelli
Another great novel in verse by this author. This one is all about a family vacation at a beach house. The story is so real and such a vivid portrait of family and tradition. The family's month on the beach is a fun one, but as in any family, lots is going on. Spinelli is amazing at capturing the feelings and experiences of middle grade kids. Her books have the perfect amount of depth. And she seems to have really found a way to write novels-in-verse that really appeal to kids in middle grades. Often novels in verse are a bit intimidating for children but Spinelli's are appealing and inviting.
Bill's review that introduced me to the book is here.

4 KIDS IN 5E and 1 CRAZY YEAR by Virginia Frances Schwartz
A gift from this author! I have never read a book that captures the life of a classroom so well. It is an amazing story of a great group of kids. More than that, it is the story of school at its best. A teacher who really believes in students--the kind of teacher we all hope to be. Kids who are all dealing with their own issues on their own and with classmates. So much rings true of the classroom and the author captures it all perfectly. This is another of those books that is told from several different voices in the classroom. These types of books seem to be getting more popular with authors and with kids. Not sure how we missed this book but thanks to Literate Lives for sharing it with us once they found it! A great school story and Ms. Hill is definitely a teacher that needs to be added to our list of 100+ Cool Teachers in Children's Lit!
Literate Lives review is here.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Plane Trip Reading

I just returned from a trip to Las Vegas. We had a great time! An added bonus was the extra reading time--mostly on the very long plane trip. I have spent even more (than usual) money on books since Karen and Bill started their Literate Lives blog. Well, their reviews were responsible for all 4 of the books I read on the trip to and from Vegas. Their reviews convinced me that these four were have-to books. So I started off with THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES, WAITING FOR NORMAL, SUMMERHOUSE TIME, and 4 KIDS in 5e and 1 CRAZY YEAR. I'll share the first book today and the others later this week.

This may be my new favorite read aloud title. I am recommending it to anyone I see who teaches 4th or 5th grades. It is a totally FUN book!

Author Jody Feldman has a website that is almost as fun as the book--with info and games. And-BIG NEWS--she is running a great GOLLYWHOPPER CONTEST that you will want to join! I was all ready to join but noticed that you have to be between the ages of 8 and 15. (I would have SOOOO love a GOLLYWHOPPER t-shirt!?) Spread the word to kids in this age group you know.

Jody Feldman is quite the brilliant writer. Gil is the main character who we come to know well. The other characters in the book are very different from each other. Feldman has somehow incorporated things like reality TV, codes and puzzles, a great setting (a VERY fun toy store!), video games, a contest, and a believable plot. In her acknowledgements, she mentions that when she was volunteering in the school library, a student returned Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and asked for another like it. Unfortunately, there wasn't another. It was at that moment that she decided to write one! LOVE that story!

So, I am recommending this to anyone I know who teaches 4h and 5th grades. A great plot that should engage everyone. A happy story with great characters. And a new author who I hope has another book coming soon!

Jody is one of the class of 2K8. I have to say, I so love this site. I have found so many great books on this site. So many new authors with great first books! What a great way to get the word out about such talented people. A great way for me to keep up on the newest books.

Remember, I read this book thanks to Bill and Karen at Literate Lives. You can read what they have to say about the book before you run out and buy it!

A fun book trailer here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Summer Goals Meme -- Round Up

Franki got this thing going last week, and it looks like I'm just about the last one to jump in. Folks have written lyrical goals, terse goals, single goals, I'm-already-defeated goals, and admirable goals. I want to write challenging-but-attainable goals. (In order to be attainable, number 2 will begin in earnest on July 2, after we have returned from Europe.)

1. In an attempt to slow summer down and savor every minute, I vow to make fewer lists. (Ignore the fact that this is a list, please.)
2. I will exercise EVERY morning and walk EVERY morning that it's not raining. EVERY. (Embedded in this one is a daily glance at the ceiling to say, "Thanks for another day above ground.")
3. I will write in my writer's notebook EVERY day. (Embedded in this one is a close attention to what's right in front of me, reminiscing about what's behind, and anticipation for what lies ahead.)
4. Make multi-tasking an endangered species in my life. Focus. On. One. Thing. At. A. Time. Be a better listener.

Here's a round up of what I could find with a Google blog search as of today at 6:30 pm. If I missed you, or if you didn't get tagged and you want to join in the fun, leave a note in the comments and I'll include you!

Liz in Ink
Kevin's Meandering Mind
Two Writing Teachers
Becky's Book Reviews
Jen Robinson
nothing of importance (my everyday blog)
A Teacher's Life
Sarah Miller
Read, Read, Read
Greetings From Nowhere
Things Mean A Lot
creative literacy
Authentic Learner
My Breakfast Platter
My World-Mi Mundo
Franki started it all!

edited to add:
Read Write Believe
Literate Lives

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Poetry Friday -- Hate That Cat

The Bells*
by Edgar Allan Poe


Hear the sledges with the bells,
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.


Hear the mellow wedding bells,
Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight!
From the molten-golden notes,
And all in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon!
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the Future! how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells,bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!

*first and second stanzas

This is one of the poems Miss Stretchberry uses with Jack's class in Hate That Cat, a book that made me cry.

I've tried to be upbeat and cavalier about the end of my eight-year run as a looping teacher. I did not choose to stop; the powers-that-be (the state's licensing of teachers) changed the way we do business in 5th grade at my school and looping no longer fit into the big picture. This book made a few fat tears run down my cheeks for what I've lost.

Hate That Cat is a testimonial to the power of looping. It's a new school year, and Miss Stretchberry is Jack's teacher again this year. He gets to start right where he left off last year with his riffs on "Love That Boy" by Walter Dean Myers. He doesn't waste the first four weeks in that "get to know you" dance with a new teacher. And then we get to watch as Miss Stretchberry moves Jack and his class into Poe and Eliot and Tennyson and more of William Carlos Williams. She laid the groundwork in her first year with Jack's class for a more formal study of poetry this year, and we watch over Jack's shoulder as he learns about and fiddles with alliteration, onomatopoeia, similes, metaphors, symbols, and sounds. My favorites of Jack's poems are the two that he writes "Inspired by Mr. Edgar Allan Poe" ("The Bells") -- "The Yips" and "The Purr."

Besides knowing Jack as a student, Miss Stretchberry knows Jack as a person (how deeply the loss of his dog affected him last year). You can see this in the way she slowly and gently nudges him out of his hate of "that" cat by feeding him with a steady diet of cat poems, rather than continually suggesting he write about it; she knows he'll get around to that, and he does.

Jack grew a lot as a writer in his Love That Dog year, but Jack makes incredible growth as a writer in this Hate That Cat year. Incredible, but not unbelievable. Any child (all right, all right, most children) in a classroom with a strong writing workshop make amazing progress as writers in just one year. Mostly because they write a lot, but also because they age and mature a year in that year. (Most of them.) If the children from a writing workshop classroom are lucky enough to have a writing workshop again the very next year, then the growth and progress become incredible, like Jack's. Creech has gotten this perfect in Hate That Cat -- she grew Jack as a writer in a plausible way, and she matured him as a person in a very satisfying way.

Walter Dean Myers makes another cameo appearance, along with an appearance by his son, Christopher Myers. It's fun to have the familiar poets back to hang out with the new ones Jack meets. Every time he meets a new poet he asks (alive?) and you know he's got a hankering for a repeat of the author visit in Love That Dog, but Sharon Creech and Miss Stretchberry move him along to new challenges -- novels in verse and the sounds of poetry translated into the motion of signing for a deaf audience.

Whether you read this for the poetry, the teaching, because you read everything by Sharon Creech, or just to see what's up with the cat, you're going to love this book. Watch for it this fall.

Hate That Cat
by Sharon Creech
on the shelf September, 2008
ARC compliments of Sally at Cover to Cover
(thanks for sharing!!!)

other reviews: Fuse #8, and welcome to my tweendom,

The Poetry Friday roundup is at A Wrung Sponge this week.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Two From First Second

Life Sucks
by Jessica Abel
First Second, 2008
ages 12 and up
review copy compliments of the publisher
Book #2 -- 48 Hour Book Challenge 2008

Dave Miller works the night shift at the Last Stop convenience store. Dave is a vampire and the Last Stop is a 24-hour convenience store for LA's vampire community. Dave has his eye on a cute goth girl who hangs out at the juice bar down the strip mall, but unfortunately, so does Wes, a studly blond vampire surfer dude.

Not a book I'll put in my classroom collection. This book was a stretch for me. Vampires and "who's going to get the girl" are not my things. I'll pass this book on to a teen who is into the Twilight series.

Three Shadows
by Cyril Pedrosa
First Second, 2008
ages 12 and up
review copy compliments of the publisher
Book #3 -- 48 Hour Book Challenge 2008

This is a scary book.

From the jacket flap:
"What price would you pay to save your child?

For the parents in this powerful, visually stunning graphic novel, the threat to their son is both real and frighteningly vague. Three shadows loom, and wherever the family flees, the shadows follow. Is escape impossible? Are parents even meant to try?"

Also not one for my classroom, but I'm glad I read it. Graphic novels never cease to amaze me. They can be light and fluffy, or they can be deep and thought-provoking. There's something for everyone in the graphic novel format!

Rapunzel's Revenge

Rapunzel's Revenge
by Shannon and Dean Hale
illustrated by Nathan Hale
Bloomsbury Children's Books
August, 2008
review copy compliments of the publisher
Book #1 -- 48 Hour Book Challenge 2008

Rapunzel lives in a walled villa with lush gardens and the woman she thought was her mother. There is a friendly guard who teaches her rope tricks (this will become important later) and disturbing dreams she is told to forget.

On her twelfth birthday, she climbs to the top of the wall, sees what's on the other side, meets her real mother, and gets locked in this story's particular "tower." There's growth magic and plant magic involved, which explains why Rapunzel winds up with twenty (thirty?) foot braids.

She escapes her "tower" using her braids (no letting the hair down for the hero...yet), and after making short work of an air-headed Adventuring Hero who cannot recognize the "maiden in distress" standing right in front of him (probably because she's competently riding the wild boar she just lassoed and tamed using her braids), Rapunzel hooks up with a clever lad named Jack who's running from his past with a goose under his arm. The two manage to do good and right wrongs wherever they go (lots more effective use of braids as lassos and whips and ropes) as they make their way back to the villa and Rapunzel's ("Punzie's") real mother.

There is enough action, adventure, head-thumping and hog-tying to keep the story moving briskly along -- this is no sissy fairytale. Keep your eye open for guest appearances by other fairytale characters, and be ready for the humor tucked into both the illustrations and the text. In true fairytale form, there is enough "happily ever after" to go around in the end, even though Rapunzel ends the story with a pixie cut.

The publisher recommends ages 10 and up, but I think fairytale lovers as young as 8 or 9 would enjoy this story. It would also make a good on-the-lap read aloud for a parent-child duo.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

48 Hour Book Challenge -- Finish Line

Here are my final stats:


Pages read: 1163

Time spend reading: 14 hours (17 if you count the time I spent with the Columbus Bloggers talking about books, shopping for books, and enjoying an author event.)


Mini-theme not completed: Laura Amy Schlitz (A DROWNED MAIDEN'S HAIR but not GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES!)

Time spent blogging: +/- 3 hours

What else I did: took one nap, had dinner with friends, vacuumed the house for the first time in two weeks (hard to believe that just last weekend I was spending every last minute finishing report cards and burning end-of-year dvds...), swam for the first time in at least two weeks, went to a graduation party, went to a retirement party.

I proclaim the 2008 48 Hour Book Challenge a success!! Maybe I didn't meet my goals, but I definitely read more than I would have and I seriously diminished one of my to-read piles. I can't wait to cruise around the Kidlitosphere in the days to come and check out what and how much and how long you all read!

Sequel to INTO THE WILD is Coming Soon!

I just finished OUT OF THE WILD by Sarah Beth Durst. I loved the first book in this series--INTO THE WILD. Sarah Beth Durst sent a copy of this new book so I got a sneak peak!

I must say that I loved the first book but I think I loved this one even better. It is quite a fun novel with lots of fairy tale characters that we know. The same characters that we met in the first book are back--Rapunzel, Julie, Puss-in-Boots, and Julie's grandmother. This time, we also get to know Julie's dad, the prince and some other great characters--a few little surprises along the way!

I think I liked this story because of the adventure and because I understood the concept of "The Wild" so much better after the first book. And this book takes us to lots of places across the country and brings us to lots of different fairy tale characters. Julie, once again needs to fight off the evil of The Wild and is once again, quite a creative problem solver.

This book has hooked me on novels based on fairy tale characters. They are quite fun. I am fascinated by the brilliance of people who write these. We had several 5th graders at school who loved the first book and who are looking forward to this one. These are great books for kids in grades 4-6. The perfect combination of fun, action, and great characters!

This book is due out next week! Lots of advance praise is already out there!

A Break from 48-Hour Read With Summer Goals Meme 2008

So, it seems to be time for that Summer Goals Meme. Mary Lee and I were just talking about it this week and then Amy at My Breakfast Platter mentioned that she was ready for it too! Last year, I wasn't so successful. I set some great goals and then didn't meet very many of them! I guess summer goals might be like that--no big deal if you don't accomplish them!? So, I am going to be more realistic this year. When I looked back at my goals, it was kind of depressing because I have still not accomplished some of them! The two books that were on my to-read stack last June are still on it today.

So, here are some goals that I have:
1. Read Lots
2. Continue Boot Camp but also add a 30-60 minute walk about 3-5 days a week.
3. Learn a few new recipes.
4. Drink more water.

Okay, so that's it. I am trying to be realistic yet change a few habits. We'll see how it goes!

And to get the meme restarted, we tag Katie D at Creative Literacy, Karen at Talkworthy, Bill and Karen and Literate Lives, Abby at Authentic Learner, Stella at My World-Mi Mundo , Mary Lee here at A Year of Reading, Amy at My Breakfast Platter and Megan at Read, Read, Read.

Happy goal setting!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

48 Hour Book Challenge

Twelve down, thirty-six to go.

I have finished RAPUNZEL'S REVENGE, LIFE SUCKS, and THREE SHADOWS. I'm ending this graphic novel phase of the 48 hours by reading ADVENTURES IN GRAPHICA by Terry Thompson. (Here's the link to the video podcast Franki mentioned earlier this week.)

Talking About Books Counts...

...doesn't it???

The Columbus Area Kid Lit Bloggers (from the left: Stella of My World - Mi Mundo, Mary Lee and Franki of A Year of Reading, Katie of Creative Literacy, Abby of Authentic Learner, Karen of Talkworthy, and Karen and Bill of Literate Lives) met for a delicious NorthStar breakfast and then reconvened at Cover To Cover Children's Books, where Sally (the owner) let us take as many ARCs as we wanted! Heaven!

Then we were treated to the World Premier Author Chat and Book Signing by Sarah Prineas, author of The Magic Thief.

(Franki, Sally, Mary Lee and Sarah Prineas)

Now it's time to get back to reading. I finished RAPUNZEL'S REVENGE and I'm halfway through LIFE SUCKS. After I finish, I think I'll stick with the GN theme for now and move on to THREE SHADOWS and ADVENTURES IN GRAPHICA. Then I'll be quite ready for WINNIE-THE-POOH!!

48 Hour Book Challenge

So, realistically, I know I can't drop everything to read for 48 hours. I LOVE Mother Reader's 48 Hour Book Challenge and am excited to devote as much of this weekend as I can to reading.

So, I started yesterday and did a bit of reading while getting my hair colored--I had let it go for far too long and it was getting pretty gray!

So, I finished LETTERS FROM RAPUNZEL and also read BASKETBALL BATS--a new book that I think is going to be a new series.

More later--but I am fitting in reading with the rest of the things I have to get finished this weekend. Like Mary Lee, I'll be thrilled if I finish a few of the books on my stack!

Ready, Set, GO!

READY: I have selected the books for my stack. Nothing new; nothing from the teeming boxes of Notables. Those can wait. I am going to take out my to-read pile in the next 48-hours. Well, part of it, anyway. The stack that sits at the end of that one bookshelf. There's still that whole shelf full of adult to-read, the professional to-reads, and another half shelf of children's to-read. Sigh.

Back to the list! I'll start with a graphic novel -- RAPUNZEL'S REVENGE. I've been saving it for the first book out. Then there's WINNIE-THE-POOH and THE HOUSE AT POOH CORNER. Apparently, one of the places we are going to stay in England sits next to the forest where Milne received his Pooh-ish inspiration! Left over from CYBILS last year is A DROWNED MAIDEN'S HAIR, and left over from this year's CYBILS is GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! So I'll have a little Laura Amy Schlitz going on! HONEYBEE by Naomi Shihab Nye is on the pile, as are LIFE SUCKS and THREE SHADOWS. To complement the graphic novels, I'll read ADVENTURES IN GRAPHICA. If I finish all that in 48 hours, I'll be amazed...and pleased!

SET: My morning tea is made and waiting.

GO: I'm off to read!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Poetry Friday -- Endings and Beginnings

The school year has ended. The students have been delivered north of childhood to their freedom by the big yellow buses once again. The teachers have gone south. (Don't worry; we'll bounce back!)

Someone must have flipped a switch to begin summer -- all of a sudden it's in the 90's with no sign of relief for a week.

Here's a poem about endings and beginnings:

by Jonathan Galassi

(read the whole poem here...this is the last half:)

Summer’s back,
so beautiful it always reeks of ending,
and now its breeze is stirring
in your room commanding the lawn,
trying to wake you to say the day is wasting,
but you’re north of childhood now and out of here,
and I’ve gone south.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Video Podcast with Author of ADVENTURES IN GRAPHICA

I just discovered a video podcast on Stenhouse's website--an interview with Terry Thompson, author of ADVENTURES IN GRAPHICA. Remember, we reviewed Terry's new professional book and then interviewed him about it last month. Now, you can hear him talk more on the topic in this interview. Well worth checking out!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

48 Hour Book Challenge Invitation

Are you a Columbus-area kidlit or teacher blogger?  Want to join our 48 Hour Book Challenge Kick-Off this Saturday?

Contact us off blog at ayearofreading at earthlink dot net if you're interested!

(And now I'll sneak in a little happy dance -- today is the last day of school!  Grading is done, report cards are done, dvds are burned, and freedom is only a few hours away!  WOO-HOO!)

Monday, June 02, 2008

May Carnival of Children's Literature

Melissa Wiley, at Here In The Bonny Glen, took all the Maypole ribbons in her own hands and wove a very fine (11th hour) carnival that went up on Saturday, May 31st. 

What are you waiting for?  Go browse!  You know you want to!

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Just as we promised, here is our interview with Sarah Prineas, author of THE MAGIC THIEF--coming out this week, June 3! Great timing-a great first summer read if you haven't read it yet.

Franki: Where did the idea come from for THE MAGIC THIEF?

Sarah: The way I come up with story ideas is to have one idea and jot it down in a word file on my computer and set it aside until I find another idea or two to put with it. In the case of The Magic Thief, I had the first lines in one of those files:

“A thief is a lot like a wizard. I have quick hands. And I can make things disappear.”
Then I read a letter to the editor of Cricket magazine asking for more two-part stories and more stories about wizards. I figured I could do that, and Conn became the thief that spoke those words. His character makes the story go, so all I had to do was invent situations and challenges and see what he would do.

Franki: You are a fantasy reader yourself. Were you a fantasy reader as a child? Which books hooked you on fantasy reading?

Sarah: I didn't read a whole lot of fantasy as a kid, though I realized recently that T.H. White's King Arthur story The Once and Future King must have influenced me, first because I reread it about fifty times, but also because Merlin changes young Wart into lots of different animals, and that's like the embero spell in The Magic Thief. I read Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and loved it, because what dorky 12-year-old doesn’t identify with Meg Murry and love reading about her adventures?

Franki: Which fantasy authors are favorites for you now?

Sarah: My favorite fantasy writer is J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He is the writer who taught me how to believe in the power of story and the sense of wonder that fantasy can bring to readers. One of my very favorite authors is Megan Whelan Turner, starting with her YA fantasy novel The Thief. Turner does just about everything right—her characters are deep and interesting, her plots are tricky and surprising, and her fantasy world is one in which you can spend lots of time. As a writer, I’ve read all of her books several times each just to figure out how she does what she does. The only problem is that she writes so slowly. It’s hard to wait such a long time for a new Megan Whelan Turner book, but it’s always worth the wait.

Franki: Tell us how the device in your husband’s lab ended up in your book!

Sarah: That’s a funny question! His lab equipment has a fancy name, the “molecular beam epitaxy facility.” It’s very cool looking, all shiny and gold, with dials and valves and porthole-like windows, and gauges for measuring pressure, and so on. I don’t like it very much because it’s an expensive machine that requires constant attention and is always breaking down, which means my husband has to go into the lab to take care of it. I just had to get my revenge by putting it into my book and turning it into an evil Device.

Franki: The setting was so clear to me as a reader when I read THE MAGIC THIEF. Did you have a particular place in mind when you wrote?

Sarah: I did! Not a place I’ve ever visited, though. I have a PhD in English literature and read a lot of 19th century English novels, and I always loved Dickens’s novels the most. Wellmet is modeled on the London of the early Dickens novels. I also used a map as inspiration []. I got lots of ideas for street names and the twisty alleyways of the Twilight from looking at the seedy Southwark part in that London map.

Franki: Can you describe your writing process at all? How does fantasy writing go for you? What is the typical process? A typical day? Etc.

Sarah: A typical day is that I spend lots of time writing emails to my friends and reading blogs, and I’ll also spend some time tweaking a scene. If I’m really in the zone, I’ll write for eight hours at a time and be completely immersed in the story, in the characters, in fitting the pieces together. When that happens my family lets me shut myself up in my room with my writing chair and laptop computer and waits for me to come out. Which I do, eventually…

I don’t outline at all, so I write into the void—figuring out what happens as I write it, which is a very fun way to write. It’s writing as discovery!

Franki: This is the first in a trilogy. Can you give us any clues about what to expect next?

Yes, I can! You’re the only one who has asked this question, by the way. Here are three clues. One is that Conn must search for something that is lost. Two is that he gets into trouble involving pyrotechnic explosions. Three is that he must leave the city of Wellmet. Biscuits and bacon also make an appearance. The second book is called The Magic Thief: Lost and it comes out in June 2009, a whole year after the first book.

You can read the first chapter on the author's website!