Thursday, July 31, 2008

Graphic Novels for the Youngest Readers

Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Maus and the editor of the Little Lit anthologies of graphic stories (scary, strange, folklore and fairy tales), has now teamed up with editorial director Francoise Mouly (who is also his wife, and a New Yorker art editor) to bring us Toon Books, "a groundbreaking collection of early readers in comics form." (Review copies compliments of the publisher.)

by Geoffrey Hayes (April, 2008)

by Agnes Rosenstiehl (April, 2008)

by Jay Lynch and Frank Cammuso (April, 2008)

by Eleanor Davis (August, 2008)

by Jay Lynch and Dean Haspiel (September, 2008)

by Art Spiegelman, October, 2008)

I'm still thinking about all of the filters we use when we read. My "teacher filter" is a bit weak when it comes to books for the very youngest readers. I handed these to Franki and she had no problem with the predictable text, the limited vocabulary (in Benny and Penny, Silly Lilly, and Jack and the Box), and the simplistic story lines (Silly Lilly and Jack and the Box). She talked about all the support a beginning or struggling reader would get from the pictures. She pointed out how important it would be for young readers to find an appropriate entry point into the world of graphic novels, and for the struggling older reader to be able to read socially accepted books (graphic novels) at his/her level.

There is an interesting (extensive) conversation (with some occasional brick-throwing and foul language -- makes me glad to inhabit this more polite corner of the blogosphere) about what makes a comic appropriate for young readers at Comics Should Be Good. Toon Books aren't reviewed, but are mentioned in the discussion in the comments. Joe Rice, author of the blog, also filters comics/graphic novels with Teacher Eyes. He wants them to be appropriate for kids, real kids, not "some mythical ideal child from some golden age; the child some parents want to believe they’ll have, an innocent, spritely thing filled with sweetness and wonder." He looks for appropriate "page density," and good design. One of his cardinal rules is "Don’t talk down to the kids. And don’t pretend you were ever this simplistic either." I don't think he would like Toon Books.

Have you seen them? What do you think? Here are some reviews I found (let me know if I missed yours or one you know about):

The first three reviewed at Comics Worth Reading.
All six reviewed at Book Addiction.
Otto's Orange Day received a mixed review at Good Comics for Kids.
David Elzey at Excelsior File was disappointed in them.

Books That Make Us Say, "WOW!"

Robert Gould's Time Soldiers ® series
Published by Big Guy Books
Kathleen Duey, the co-author of the series with Robert Gould (Duey's blog here), was a National Book Award Finalist and a had a Cybils Short List book in 2007.
The books, created and photographed by Robert Gould, are digitally illustrated by Eugene Epstein.
Review copies (Book #1 Rex, Book #2 Rex2, and Book #3 Patch, all copyright 2005) were freebies from Sally at Cover to Cover. Looking at Powell's and Amazon, it would appear that there are 7 or 8 in the series now.

Every book you read, you read through a series of filters: your knowledge of the topic, your experience with the author, your mood that day, your purpose for reading, your age, your reading preferences and/or ability.

One filter we use every time we read a children's book is the Teacher Filter. We imagine every book we read in the hands of a child, or in the hands of an adult reading with a child (or group of children).

So when I tell you that these Time Soldiers books made me say, "WOW!" when I first opened them (and consequently had the same effect on teachers of both older and younger students than I teach, as well as on a Literacy Principal), please understand that this WOW is not the same kind of WOW that The Underneath has elicited from both of us.

Every page of these books is illustrated with photographs that make you feel like you're watching a movie or TV show of the book. In Book #1, Mikey and his big brother Rob discover a funny-looking spot in the woods through which they can see a dinosaur. Their father doesn't believe them, so they gather their four friends and the video camera and they walk through the funny-looking spot and into a prehistoric dinosauric adventure. They film what they see so they can take the evidence home to Mikey and Rob's father. Lots of the illustrations appear to be the view through the video camera's viewfinder. (Readers who love to spot details in the illustrations will keep track of the duration of the adventure in the viewfinder's time stamp, as well as the shrinking battery power of the camera.) By page 52, the kids have decided that they have come through a Time Portal. When they get back home, they agree to wait until the next day to show the video tape to their parents. Then, at the end of the book, "In the silence of the night..." a man in a black suit and black sunglasses steals the tape from the video recorder. (cue the "uh-oh" music -- duhn-dhun duhn...)

These books are not Great Literature. They will never be considered for either the Newbery or the Caldecott. Here's what they WILL do:
  • I'm predicting that they will be wildly popular with my students.
  • They will hook reluctant readers.
  • They will support developing readers.
  • They will lead readers to other books in the Time Travel genre.
  • They will inspire writers to tell stories with digital media.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


ARABELLA MILLER'S TINY CATERPILLAR is quite the darling new picture book. Beth at Cover to Cover had it on a stack of new books she thought I'd like.

This story is about Little Arabella Miller and her tiny caterpillar. There seem to be lots of stories about caterpillars changing into butterflies, but this one is a bit more than that. Arabella loves this caterpillar as only a true friend can. She takes great care of him until he becomes a special butterfly. When the story is finished, there is a two page spread with nonfiction information about the stages of a butterfly's life. I like the combination of fiction and nonfiction in this book. This would be a good companion book to DON'T WORRY BEAR by Greg Foley.

There is lots to like about this one. First of all, the size is fun. It is a teeny tiny bit bigger than most picture books. The illustrations are quite fun. Arabella takes up most of the entire cover of the book. She is happy and colorful--with a fashionable hat! The colors throughout the book are bold against white which makes for a fun read. There is rhyme and rhythm and repetition to the story. A great choice for reading aloud to young children.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

We've Been Honored!

Thank you, Stacey and Ruth, at Two Writing Teachers, for honoring us with an "Arte y Pico Award"!

From the Arte y Pico blog: "What is the meaning of the expression: Arte y Pico? Basically, ironically, it translates into a wonderful phrase in Mexico, “lo maximo.” LOL! It will never find its counterpart in English, but if it HAD to, it would be something like, Wow. The Best Art. Over the top."

To pay this honor forward, we will follow the rules and:
1) Select 5 blogs that you consider deserving of this award, based on creativity, design, interesting material, and contribution to the blogger community. The blogs can be in any language.
2) Post a link to each blog so that others can visit.
3) Each award-winner has to show the award and link to the blogger that awarded it.
4) The award-winner and the one who has given the prize have to show a link to Arte y Pico.

Here are our five picks. These folks are fairly new to the Blogosphere/Kidlitosphere, and we'd like to use this award to give them a boost.

On the Learn -- Her identity is Teach People Not Books, which we love. Here's what she says about herself: "First year educator; social-justice minded; sworn enemy of teacher shoes everywhere. My mama does dance and, as fate would have it, my daddy does rock and roll."

Carol's Corner -- Carol is a literacy coach from Denver who reads lots and thinks critically.

The Boy Reader -- He had a summer Guys Read Book Club in the Park. Cool stuff.

The Graphic Classroom -- They're "promoting the use of high quality comic literature in the...classroom"!

My World-Mi Mundo -- Stella does a great job keeping our eye on the literacy needs (and abilities) of ELLs.

2 New Predictable Books for Young Readers

I hadn't been to Cover to Cover in a while so my visit there yesterday was great (after I met Mary Lee for breakfast, of course!). Beth and Sally had lots of things to show me. I bought a few new pictures books that seemed to be great additions to the predictable picture books I have.

LOOK OUT, SUZY GOOSE by Peter Horacek
Suzy Goose is a fun little character. Someone I can relate to--she is looking for a little peace and quiet! Her family and friends were making far too much noise. So, she goes into the woods looking for some peace and quiet. Even though Suzy is unaware, she has some followers. Some animals who think she would make a great meal. Just like in other cumulative tales, there is lots of repeating as each animal joins the group. There are also sound effects spread across the page that make for fun reading. I love the illustrations. They go from light and bright to dark and a bit eerie as Suzy makes her way into the woods. This one strikes me as a great read aloud and one that kids will go back to on their own over and over.

JACK AND JILL'S TREEHOUSE by Pamela Duncan Edwards is a fun version of THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT. In this version, Jack and Jill are building a treehouse. Just as in the original version, the story is cumulative as each new thing is added. The story starts out with the sentence, "This is the branch that held the treehouse that Jack and Jill built." Each page adds another material that was needed for Jack and Jill to build the treehouse. The text is on the right hand side of each two page spread. The fun part of the text is that is reads almost like a reebus--the picture of each new material is illustrated above the word on each page. The illustrations are nice and soft and readers can follow along with the building of the treehouse. I can definitely see a chart for shared reading with this book. The repeated phrases and picture supports make this great for new readers.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Great New Nonfiction for K-1

There is a great new-to-me series of pop-up books out for young kids. They are called POP-OUT Surprise Books. I have been looking for good pop-up books, books that kids would actually read and the pop-up adds to the text, rather than the beautiful ones that kids just play with.I just picked up three of the four that are available. Looks like they came out in 2007.

GIANT POP-OUT VEHICLES, GIANT POP-OUT BUGS, and GIANT POP-OUT PETS. (They didn't have GIANT POP-OUT SHAPES yet but I'll get that one as soon as they do.

These are great pop-up books and they are nonfiction. And, even more fun than that, is the fact that each page gives the readers clues so that when you lift the flap, the giant pop-out photo answers the question. For example, on page one of the pets book, the left side reads, "I walk quietly on my four soft paws, and sometimes I chase after mice!" The right side then asks, "What am I?" and the child can lift the flap for the answer. A very large, pop out photo of a cat! Along with the patterned text for each animal, there is also an added piece of information under the "What am I?" line. A photo with an added piece of information about the animal is included.

These books are great fun for lots of reasons

#1 They are Pop-Up Books and those are always fun!

#2 They are filled with great, colorful photos.

#3 They are predictable so they are quite supportive for new readers.

#4 The fun of guessing once clues are given is always fun (and these clues make it pretty easy to be correct!)

#5 They are nonfiction--nonfiction and pop-up--what a great combination!

These are pretty sturdy books too. So they should last in classrooms if kids are semi-careful. There aren't pieces to pull and turn like there are in the more fragile pop-up books. I can also see these as a great model for some kids for nonfiction writing.

What a find!

NCTE Convention Info on Website

n C t001 e

(Thanks to THE READING ZONE for this fun new toy that let me create the NCTE heading!)

It is that time of year again--time to register for NCTE's (National Council of Teachers of English) Annual Convention! This year, the conference, themed BECAUSE SHIFT HAPPENS: TEACHING IN THE 21ST CENTURY, will be held in San Antonio, Texas from November 20-23.

Kylene Beers, program chair for the convention shares her thoughts on the convention and the theme.

And, they have posted a list of some of the big speakers. SOOO many great speakers and authors all in one place! It really does look like a phenomenal weekend! Some children's authors of interest are Tomie dePaola, Jacqueline Woodson, Sharon Creech, and Lois Ehlert. General Session speakers are also pretty amazing--I am looking quite forward to Gary E. Knell, President of Sesame Street and his special guest!! Lots more great speakers are posted on the site.

If you are wondering about sessions that match your needs, the searchable program is great. You can look for speakers, topics, strands, etc.

Looks to be a great conference in a great location!

Mary Lee, Katie D., Karen S., and I (who will all be attending) will plan some type of Kidlitosphere get-together. We'll do something casual and simple to get together and visit. Lots of us were there last year and it was quite fun. So, if you decide to come to San Antonio, email us or comment on the blog and we'll know how many to plan for.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

New Booklist for Phonics Instruction

A great article and booklist came in today's issue of THE BIG FRESH, Choice Literacy's free weekly newsletter. It is an article by Shari Frost who is a regular contributor to the site. She shares a list of great books that can be used to teach phonics skills--books that are so much better than some of the nonsense books that kids are reading in schools these days.

ELEVEN by Patricia Reilly Giff

by Patricia Reilly Giff
Wendy Lamb Books (Random House), 2008
review copy compliments of the publisher

What could possibly motivate an eleven year-old, who doesn't yet read, to want to become a reader?

Sam puts his time in every day in the resource room (when he hasn't sneaked outside instead). Anima reads aloud to him every night, "If he can't read yet, one thing we can do while we try to help him is to give him the world of books." Mack teaches him that the ability to "read" wood, to repair wood and to build with wood, is a rare and valuable talent. Still he doesn't read.

It's Sam's eleventh birthday. He's looked everywhere for hidden presents. Everywhere except the attic. He doesn't find any presents in the attic. Instead, he finds a mystery -- a newspaper clipping that shows a picture of him as a three year-old. The only word he can decipher from the headline is "missing." What does this mean? Does he not belong with his grandfather? Who is his family? What do the dreams and memories that have begun to haunt him mean? Who can he befriend at school who will help him solve this mystery?

Patricia Reilly Giff has woven a beautiful story of family, friendship, dreams, and longing. We have all had a Sam in our class. With this book, Giff reminds us to be patient, to try every approach, to encourage every talent, and to realize that it may, in the end, be nothing that we, as teachers, do that will lead our Sams to reading.

Reviewed by Jen Robinson as part of MotherReader's 48 Hour Read in June and at Charlotte's Library.

I dare you...

...not to get a silly grin on your face and say, "AWWWwwwww!)

Baby Animal Alphabet

(link from BB-Blog)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Poetry Friday -- Round Up Is Here!

Thought for the day: don't judge a book by its cover; don't assume you understand stone.

by Charles Simic

Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger's tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

(the rest of the poem is here)

Leave your Poetry Friday link in the comments. We'll round up at various times throughout the day. Happy Friday! Happy Poetry Friday!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The early birds are in!

Andrea and Mark, at Just One More Book, have a review of a "snazzily illustrated" rhyming book that was an instant hit in their house. It's the kind of book that will inspire you to start rhyming!

cloudscome, at a wrung sponge, has a poem for her boys, accompanied, as always, by her fabulous photography.

Jamie, at, is joining us for the first time with a review of a book of poems by a Canadian author.

Tiel Aisha Ansari, at Knocking from Inside, has a haunting original poem based on a short story by Ursula LeGuin.

Eisha, at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, has again received inspiration from The Poets Upstairs (who apparently are also cooks). She's introducing us to a poet who needs more attention, and sharing a poem that is not for the queasy.

Sara, at Read, Write, Believe, shares one of her favorite poems this week. It's a poem that makes you vow to stand up a little taller.

writer2b has her head in the stars today. She shares a whole constellation of poetry and images.

Mme T, at Destined to Become a Classic, has been critter-watching in her jungle-garden. She found a kindred spirit (and a new favorite poet) in Roethke.

jama, of jama rattigan's alphabet soup, has her head not in the stars, but in her refrigerator today. I dare you not to open your fridge after you read her post!

(Excuse me for an editorial aside here. Did I ever mention how much I love Poetry Friday? When I describe it to non-bloggers, I tell them it is like a party. You get to go and "hang out" with your "friends" (who could be the bloggers or the poets/poems that are shared that week), but you are always guaranteed to meet some "new friends" every week as well. As the hostesses of this "party," we have the added fun of watching patterns and connections emerge in the poems everyone chooses. It's a little like time-lapse photography.

Okay. That's all. Back to the poems.)

At Wild Rose Reader, Elaine has a review of J. Patrick Lewis' World's Greatest: Poems, along with some insider information about how this book came to be (and a sad-but-true connection to one of the poems in the book.)

At Blue Rose Girls, Elaine
shares a poem that will make you reflect back on all your summer jobs, and perhaps also on all of your mentors.

Laura Salas has a great picture from camp and this week's 15 Words or Less Poems.

& & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & &

It's been a busy and productive morning! How about some more poetry now?!?!

Sylvia, at Poetry for Children, has a book review for us today.

Linda, at Write Time, shares her contribution to Lee Bennett Hopkins' new collection HAMSTERS, SHELLS, AND SPELLING BEES.

(The quote of the day on my iGoogle page: "There is no reciprocity. Men love women, women love children, children love hamsters." - Alice Thomas Ellis)

alotalot, at A Little of This, A Little of That, has pioneers on her mind today.

Sherry, at Semicolon, has a poem by Spencer and a question for you.

Little Willow, at Bildungsroman
, features upbeat lyrics to an ABBA song.

Tabatha has links to some poetry games and shares an original poem, too!

Charlotte, at Charlotte's Library, writes about a time when a book she liked led her to a poem she liked and inspired her to go read more. She, too, has a question for you.

Kelly, at Writing and Ruminating, shares a tribute to Randy Pausch, of THE LAST LECTURE fame.

Becky, at Becky's Book Reviews, reviews BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY. Mark your calendar for its October appearance in bookstores.

Michele, at Scholar's Blog, is taking comfort in Shakespeare when all else seems to be going wrong.

Susan, at Chicken Spaghetti, shares some Ralph Covert song lyrics, and she's doing a GIVEAWAY OF THE RALPH'S WORLD CD FOR CHILDREN. Get over there by 8:00 tonight and get your name in the drawing!

Lisa, at Under the Covers, reviews a book of treasure hunt poems.

TadMack, at Finding Wonderland, shares a poem that ponders mental health.

Sarah, at Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering, today is pondering the power of the right poem at the right time.

Diane, at The Write Sisters, is another Poetry Friday newcomer. Welcome ladies! Thanks for sharing the link to one of your favorite sources for pictorial inspiration for writing poetry!

Laurel, at Laurel Snyder
, has mythology on her mind today, thanks (or no thanks) to Percy Jackson.

# # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # #

Almost time for bed. Let's finish this round up (until tomorrow morning, when I'm sure I'll wake up and find a few more).

Jim, at Haunts of a Children's Writer, has a famous 15 minute sonnet, and his own 15 minute poem.

::Suzanne::, at Adventures in Daily Living, has a poem by Seamus Heaney, her literary hero.

Ruth, at There Is No Such Thing As A God-forsaken Town, has been patiently waiting since 7:45 this morning to be rounded up. Please accept my apology, Ruth, for inadvertently skipping you! Everybody, make sure you check out her review of a Kristine O'Connell George book I've never seen -- one that folds together poetry and origami. Very fun!

Kimberly, at Lectitans, has a poem that could be a lullaby. Perfect timing!

Stacey, at Two Writing Teachers, pays homage to her home state, Indiana, with the state's poem. Does your state have a state poem? Does mine?

MNOSAL is our third Poetry Friday first-timer this week, with a poem about thunderstorms and a picture of a very fine looking cat who is not always brave during thunderstorms.

Erin, at Miss Erin, has one of my very favorite Shel Silverstein poems.

Cuileann, at The Holly and the Ivy
, has the last word (at least for now) with a cat poem that is also very final.

Okay, one more. MotherReader wrote a rhyme to help us remember not to judge her first attempts at virtual booktalks (check YouTube in the near future) too harshly.


Well, I totally lucked out. I received an advanced copy of Debbie Miller’s upcoming professional book TEACHING WITH INTENTION: DEFINING BELIEFS, ALIGNING PRACTICE TAKING ACTION. (I know that you are all very jealous and I do feel a bit guilty that I have had a chance to read this book before it is released. So, I thought I’d at least share some highlights with you and let you know that this is another amazing read from Debbie Miller.)

You can also get a Sneak Peek at the book at the Stenhouse site. Looks like the sneak peek includes an excerpt as well as some of the gorgeous color insert.

Debbie Miler’s book READING WITH MEANING changed classrooms everywhere. Debbie invited us into her classroom to see her own work and her children’s thinking. In this new book, Debbie does the same. Since she retired as a classroom teacher five years ago, she has been working in classrooms across the country. In this new book, she again invites us to be part of her teaching—to see the thinking behind all that she does and to hear the brilliant thinking of the students she works with.

Debbie starts the book off, with a conversation about defining our beliefs as teachers. She says, “I’m convinced that success in the classroom depends less on which beliefs we hold and more on simply having a set of beliefs that guides us in our day to day work with children. Once we know who we are and what we’re about in the classroom, we become intentional in our teaching; we do what we do on purpose, with good reason.”

The book follows this line of thinking. Instead of believing in test scores to tell us all we know and following scripted lessons and pacing guides to meet the needs of our students, Debbie helps us thinking about think through the ways that our practices line up with the beliefs we hold about teaching and learning.

The first chapter in the book is called “Picture Perfect: How Does Your Ideal Classroom Look, Sound, and Feel”. In this chapter, she shares with us that by having a vision of what we want for our kids in March, April, and May, helps us set up a classroom that allows that to happen. She knows the right environment is critical to student learning.

Debbie continues on, sharing with readers her thinking on aligning practice, teaching for engagement, designing lessons based on your beliefs, assessment and the best use of time.

The honesty with which Debbie Miller writes and her willingness to share her own challenges in creating beliefs and aligning those to practice are helpful. She is honest about things she let go of in her teaching when she realized they didn’t match her beliefs. It is a glimpse into Debbie’s brilliant teaching and the steps she has taken to get there. She shares her own beliefs as well as honest reflections of her own growth as a teacher---times when her practice did not always align with her beliefs. She shares stories from her own teaching and stories from teachers she has worked with.

With all that she packs in, you would think that this would be a 500-page book. But the book is a short, thoughtful and reflective look at teaching and learning. This would be the PERFECT book for staff book talks, helping us as teams and schools define what it is we believe and beginning to align those beliefs to our practices.

This book is due out in late August. I would schedule time on your calendar now so that you have time to read it right away. It is thoughtful and very hopeful. It is an energizing read—reminding us why it is that we became teachers in the first place. As always, Debbie writes in a way that celebrates the joy of teaching. Just as she creates classrooms for children. 

Debbie believes in classrooms in which a “can-do” spirit permeates the room. “Children seem to breathe in, ‘I/We can do this,’’ and breathe out, ‘Here’s how.’ These children sense that they have the capacity to roll up their sleeves, take action, and get things done.” In her newest book, Debbie Miller again does the same for teachers. She gives us the words we need to roll up our own sleeves with a can-do attitude.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Ways We Read

Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self. “We are not only what we read,” says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. “We are how we read.” Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.

Reading, explains Wolf, is not an instinctive skill for human beings. It’s not etched into our genes the way speech is. We have to teach our minds how to translate the symbolic characters we see into the language we understand. And the media or other technologies we use in learning and practicing the craft of reading play an important part in shaping the neural circuits inside our brains. Experiments demonstrate that readers of ideograms, such as the Chinese, develop a mental circuitry for reading that is very different from the circuitry found in those of us whose written language employs an alphabet. The variations extend across many regions of the brain, including those that govern such essential cognitive functions as memory and the interpretation of visual and auditory stimuli. We can expect as well that the circuits woven by our use of the Net will be different from those woven by our reading of books and other printed works.

From Nicholas Carr's "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", The Thank you Monica, at Educating Alice, for the link. She chose this excerpt. Go read the whole article. What do you think? Which part resonates in your brain?

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Visit to Hodge-Podge Books

I was doing some work in Albany, New York last week and was able to fit in a visit to Hodge-Podge Books. Frank Hodge, the owner is quite well known. Most likely, if you love children's books, you have read about Frank and his store. So I was very excited when our friends Val and Amy set up a visit for us!

What a fun and cozy place it is! And what a wonderful man Frank is. He gathered us around to share with us some of his new favorite books. In the photo, you'll see some of us who were part of the visit--me (on the floor) Cris Tovani, Debbie MIller, Philippa Stratton, and Rachel Billmeyer. (Val and Amy were kindly taking photos from the visit!)

Mr. Hodge shared some of his favorite new titles. I purchased a few that he mentioned--my favorite being MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMP. Crack me up--who thinks of these things? We also got a sneak peek at Mem Fox's upcoming picture book TEN LITTLE FINGERS AND TEN LITTLE TOES! It seems to be due out in November and I just can't wait! It is a great book--as is always the case with Mem and will make for the best baby gift ever!

I picked up two new books that I hadn't seen before. One is a great one for the beginning of the school year. It is called
HAPPY SCHOOL YEAR by Susan Milord. This book is connected to The First Day Campaign that I don't know much about but seems to be a way to involve families by making the first day of school a celebration for families. The picture book is a great one that captures the way so many of us feel on that first day of school and how the day always ends on a happy note.

I also picked up M IS FOR MISCHIEF: AN A TO Z OF NAUGHTY CHILDREN by Linda Ashman. I was drawn to it because the illustrations were done by Nancy Carpenter who illustrated 17 THINGS I'M NOT ALLOWED TO DO ANYMORE (which cracked me up!). This book is a kind of poetry/alphabet book. The author describes 26 "naughty" children. These are poems that kids will definitely like more than the adults, but I found many of them quite amusing. My favorite child in the book was 'Doodling Daphne', although there were several that I loved. A fun book about naughty kids with lots of fun surprises (and of course, great illustrations!)

It was a great trip. If you EVER have a chance to meet Frank Hodge and to visit his wonderful store, I would highly recommend it. It is quite a treat!

Out of the Wild...again

Perhaps it's getting a little tedious when Franki and I both post on the same book. At least this time it's not back to back like our reviews of The Underneath (mine, hers).

Franki was lucky enough to snag an ARC of Out of the Wild (her review here); I bought mine at Cover to Cover.

by Sarah Beth Durst
June, 2008
review copy purchased at my favorite independent children's bookstore: Cover to Cover

I laughed out loud -- literally shouted a "HAH!" -- at the end of the first book, Into the Wild, when the identity of the "villain" (the one who caused The Wild to grow) is revealed. Durst hid her villain in plain sight.

In the second book, Out of the Wild, I started laughing out loud from the very beginning. Reading this book is like being on the magic carpet with Julie -- a roller coaster ride of twists and turns and near-misses and surprises. With lots of laughs all the way. The story begins when The Wild eats one of the Three Blind Mice and then, when Julie demands, "Give him back!" The Wild instead delivers her father, the 500 year-old prince of Rapunzel, Julie's mother. Chaos begins immediately, when Prince (Julie's father) takes off to rescue a princess and The Wild begins to grow with a vengeance. And the laughs come one right after another.

On creating an identity for her father, who has appeared out of nowhere: "Who knew that miracles came with paperwork problems?"

On the experience of flying cross-country on a bath mat turned magic carpet: "This, she thought, is like some bizarre dream. She shouldn't be flying past DC on a bath mat."

When Julie comes up with a plan, her impulsive, charge-in-and-save-the-world father says, "It is a good plan. You are your mother's daughter." This causes Julie to think, "Well, it wasn't a save-the-world sort of plan, and it had the potential to be mind-bogglingly humiliating, but it was (moderately) better than charging in, sword raised."

When Julie climbs the beanstalk out of the Grand Canyon: "She told herself that she shouldn't be surprised. After all, if Grandma's broomstick could fly in the real world, if Bobbi's wand could change people into pumpkins, and if the wishing well could grant wishes, then why shouldn't magic beans work too? And no matter where they were, magic beans always grew into beanstalks that reached the giant's castle in the clouds. But still, a castle over"

Pondering how her new friend Henry is coping: "She thought about Henry, finding out for the first time that his father was a fairy-tale character one moment and then being carried away by a dragon the next. He was, she thought, having a much worse day than she was."

On the nature of evil: "Linda still looked like the [description withheld because it's a total spoiler] that Julie had grown up knowing. She had plain brown hair and an ordinary round face with chipmunk cheeks. She wore a preppy brown sweater set and charcoal gray pants. What kind of villain wore a sweater set?"

Great tri-review at 7-Imp (with Tadmack of Finding Wonderland fame).

Other reviews at
Becky's Book Reviews
Dare to Be Stupid (Tamora Pierce's blog)

And here's Sarah Beth Durst's blog, where she tells about her upcoming visit to the Northboro, Massachusets Library -- the real one where she grew up as a reader and "learned to love books" -- the one that is, along with the town, the setting of both of her books. How fun would that be?!?!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Poetry Friday -- Full Moon

Moon over Long Island Sound, as seen from Abbotts' Lobster in the Rough in Noank, CT.

Full Moon
by Robert Hayden

No longer throne of a goddess to whom we pray,
no longer the bubble house of childhood's
tumbling Mother Goose man,

The emphatic moon ascends

(the rest of the poem is here)

The round up this week is at Writing and Ruminating. Next week it will be HERE!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Children's Literature at the Autostadt in Wolfsburg, Germany

We didn't go out of our way to visit the Autostadt. Wolfsburg and the Autostadt are very near Ribbesb├╝ttel, the village where our hosts live. (Ribbesb├╝ttel is about an hour away from Hannover, Germany).

The Autostadt is a mash up of theme park and science museum, all on the subject of The Glorification of Volkswagen and All of the Car Brands Owned By VW. You might not believe me if I told you how much fun it is. Go to YouTube and watch some of the videos. You'll find out what those towers are in the photo to the left, and how the Ritz Carlton figures in.

Here's the children's literature connection. We walked into the Skoda pavilion. It was quite whimsical.

The biggest surprise came when I picked up a brochure on the way out.  It was this cute little accordion-fold booklet, and LO AND BEHOLD, it was illustrated by Peter Sis.  Skoda is a Czech company; Sis is a Czech.

Here is a close up of the cover and another to give you the scale.

Keep your eyes open.  There are children's literature connections in the most surprising places!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mines of the Minotaur

Mines of the Minotaur
by Julia Golding
Marshall Cavendish, May 2008
Review copy compliments of the publisher

Last summer I reviewed the first two books in this quartet, Secret of the Sirens and The Gorgon's Gaze.

Luckily, this week I had some airport and airplane time with all the requisite delays and reading opportunities. I gave myself permission to bring the books I WANTED to read rather than the ones I NEEDED to read. Work will wait.

Mines of the Minotaur opens with Connie Lionheart, the only universal companion in the Society for the Protection of Mythical Creatures, calling up a dangerous and violent storm. She's not doing this on her own. She suspects that her dark companion, Kullervo, is responsible.

Running from this dark side of herself takes Connie into the mines near her town and into the world of a damaged Minotaur and other damaged mythical creatures who are in hiding.

Connie must explore and learn to accept all the parts of herself, even the dark and angry and dangerous ones, in order to become whole, heal the damaged creatures, and lead the society.

The society, in turn, must learn to trust and accept Connie and work together with her rather than fear and shun her.

In a subplot that mirrors the hard decisions that Connie and the society are making, the non-society humans in Connie's neighborhood debate, accept, and erect a wind farm to capture the ocean breezes as an alternative energy source.

At the Companions Club website I took the Companion Assessment Test and learned that I am a member of the Company of Winged Creatures. "Congratulations, you are a member of the Company of Winged Creatures. All of us in this company love to take flight. As a High Flyer you will be mixing with creatures as dangerous as the sirens, or as miraculous as the phoenix. Only the most intrepid are selected to join us, so get ready for take off!" After answering a few more questions, I learned that "You have been chosen as a companion to the great eagles. A remnant of the forebears of our everyday eagles, these huge birds nest as far from humankind as possible. Masters of flight, they are so big that a person can ride on their backs or be carried in their claws. But beware: they can be cruel and deadly. Be cunning in all your dealings with your companion."

And at Julia Golding's website, I see that the final (her fans hope not) book in the quartet is out in the UK.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Adult Summer Reading Lists

I read with interest all of the comments on Franki's post about summer reading lists yesterday. Then I looked back at our series last week on the summer reading of our favorite literacy leaders. Here's what I found out about how adult readers make their summer reading "lists." We choose the books we read because
  • they are our book club book
  • they are another by our favorite author
  • we saw them on display in the book store
  • they are part of our favorite genre or our "own little reading club" (Katie Wood Ray's term)
  • a friend recommended them
  • to stay current
  • for a project
  • we bought them at a conference
  • we have lots of airport/airplane time
Just to restate the obvious:

1. Adult readers definitely create summer reading lists. But we create them for ourselves and for our own purposes.

2. Even our youngest students learn to choose books that are just right for them. My fourth graders chose books this past school year for every reason on the above list except the conference one. (I had a student who thought very carefully about what book he would take when his family went to India.)

3. Summer reading lists are not the problem. A list as a mandate rather than a suggestion is the problem.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

If You Like Captain Underpants, You Might Like...

I wrote an article/booklist for Choice Literacy that I thought I'd share here. Books for kids who like Captain Underpants--books they might enjoy. It is here if you are interested.

Now, if we are thinking of summer reading lists like this--connecting kids to books based on books they love, kids would have lots of ownership over what they read.

Summer Reading Lists

I have been reading with interest the many posts on Summer Reading lists (for example, here and here and here) and am worried about where we, as a group, are going with this thinking. My biggest problem with summer reading lists is the fact that we, as adults, think that we are better equipped to choose books for kids than they are equipped to choose books for themselves. No one likes a summer reading list that is mandated and by creating one, no matter how good it may be, you are taking choice away from a reader.

I think summer reading is a lifelong habit we want to instill in kids. Summer reading is often the best reading. But kids are not going to become readers if they see reading as an assignment and don't have the opportunity to read the books they choose.

My daughter who will be a senior in high school, was thrilled to have the summer to read the TWILIGHT series. She is holding off on her summer reading list until August and fitting in as much of her summer as possible with the books that she's had on her "to read" list for a while. She is reading like crazy and loving it. Isn't that what we want?

Recommending books that are good for kids and giving our opinions is far different from creating lists of books by grade level or grade range. Creating lists for parents and teachers is far different from creating reviews for kids so that they can DECIDE what they want to read. Creating our own summer reading lists because we don't like the ones out there, only says that we like the idea of summer reading lists if they are lists that WE create. Where is the child as reader in these conversations?

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

It is not every year that readers get a book as wonderful as THE UNDERNEATH by Kathi Appelt. I knew after the first few pages that this was a book that I was lucky to be reading. I have had the same feeling when I read WALK TWO MOONS by Sharon Creech and THE GIVER by Lois Lowry. And I think I felt this way, years and years ago when I read THE SECRET GARDEN. Other people seem to be having the same reaction to this book—feeling the same way when they read a book that has been a lifetime favorite.

I even remember the talk around these books being similar to the talk I am hearing now about THE UNDERNEATH. Lots of my children’s lit friends are telling me that I need to read this book but they don't really say much about it. "It is just worth reading." You can’t really explain the book without actually reading it.

There is lots to this book to love and I am sure that it must be the talk of the current Newbery Committee. Kathi Appelt has woven together a brilliant story and she has crafted in a way that it is more than a story. The writing is powerful. She is able to weave several stories together in a way that tells an even bigger story.

This book is so much more than what the blurb on the front tells us. It is so much more than a dog book. So much more than a book about love and hate. It is so much more than a book about wisdom and innocence.

I am pretty sure that these characters will stay with me forever and that I will read this book again sometime soon. I think there are layers of meaning that I missed the first time through—I kind of thought about them quickly but was too invested in the plot to focus too much on the depth that Appelt has created with this story.

I am anxious to see how kids will respond to this book. I am thinking 5th grade is perfect. Maybe 4th or 6th. I have a few past students in mind who may read this and fall in love with it like I did. If I were teaching 4th or 5th grade next year, I would probably read this one aloud for sure. But I would save it for later in the year, once kids understand the possibilities in books, once they have learned to talk together about books. It would definitely be on my read aloud list but I would have to make sure to read it when they were ready for the depth and the emotion.

I’ve heard this book described as “dark”. I didn’t think so. I found some unpleasant things—some hate and some hateful characters, but the story is a hopeful one and one that I think will be around for a very long time.

This book is a MUST READ! Really, as you read it, you feel so lucky to have found such an amazing story!

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

I’m not afraid of animal stories that might make me cry. I’ve read and reread (with tears streaming down my face) Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, Little Britches, and Each Little Bird That Sings.

The Underneath came along at a time when my heart was a little wobbly with pet emotions – our ancient (20 year-old) cat passed away while we were in Europe, and we were in the midst of adopting a rescue cat who had been chewed on by a dog and shot with BBs.

And yet, The Underneath did not make me cry. I was drawn in immediately by the animal characters and completely repulsed by the human characters. I was captivated by the language. (This book is a poem. A long prose poem. I think it would make an amazing read aloud.) I followed the weaving of all of the stories mesmerized, as if in a dream. As the tension in the story built, I read urgently. I raced to the end, and yet when I finished I wanted nothing more than to read it again. Immediately.

There is no easy way to tell what this book is about. Good and evil, hate and love, the piney woods of East Texas, ancient trees and ancient spirits, hummingbirds, life and death. You just have to read it. You must read it. What are you waiting for? Read it!

Reviews with plot summaries and glowing praise abound. This is a book that’s Going Places. Be sure not to miss Kimberly Willis Holt’s conversations with Kathi Appelt here (part one) and here (part two).

Poetry Friday -- Catalogue

by Rosalie Moore

Cats sleep fat and walk thin.
Cats, when they sleep, slump;
When they wake, pull in -
And where the plump's been
There's skin.
Cats walk thin.
Cats wait in a lump,
Jump in a streak.
Cats, when they jump, are sleek
As a grape slipping its skin-
They have technique.
Oh, cats don't creak.
They sneak.

Cats sleep fat.
They spread comfort beneath them
Like a good mat,
As if they picked the place
And then sat.
You walk around one
As if he were City Hall
After that.

(the rest of the poem is here)

I'm going to have to beg to differ a bit with Rosalie Moore. Some cats will never walk thin and will never be sleek when jumping. Case in point, Willie Morris. (After the southern writer, author of My Dog Skip and My Cat Spit McGee.)

Willie Morris is built like a tank, with a broad head, a wide chest, and look at those feet! He fills up the space under my desk (albeit more comfortably than the dog did). He stays true to the poem in that he does spread comfort beneath himself (unless he's trying to curl up on your chest in bed), and you do walk around him as if he were City Hall (although not in the sense the poet had in mind, I'm sure)!

Willie Morris is a +/-2 year-old rescue cat. His right rear leg is still healing from a dog attack, and the base of his tail and his tush are still clipped short from the removal of BBs. In spite of these indignities and injuries, he is loving and attentive and wants to be wherever you are.

The Poetry Friday Round up is at Under the Covers.

What are "The Sisters" and Cris Tovani Reading?

"The Sisters", Joan Moser and Gail Boushey, authors of The Daily Five just started a new website that you might want to check out. Gail and Joan visited Dublin this week and let us know what they are reading.

Gail has 3 daughters and this summer, Gail, her three daughters and Joan are having a family booktalk on the TWILIGHT series by Stephenie Meyer. They are all loving it!

Joan is also reading Anne McGill-Franzen's book KINDERGARTEN LITERACY. She is also reading The Western Guide to Feng Shui: Creating Balance, Harmony, and Prosperity in Your Environment. Her book "for fun" is ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN: THE JOURNAL OF MAY DODD.



I am reading this really cool book about the brain. It's called BRAIN RULES by John Medina. He's a develpmental molecular biologist but don't let that scare you. The book is very readable. Medina's target audience is the business world and educators. On the plane a couple of weeks ago, I read about the book in USA Today and was intrigued by the author's 12 Principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school. Rule four happens to be: We don't pay attention to boring things. That alone hits home for my own learning as well as my teaching.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lyra's Oxford

We had a fabulous day in Oxford. That night we both read Lyra's Oxford by Philip Pullman. Here is a passage that mentions this building:

"At half-past eight, she [Lyra] and Pan moved out of the shadow of the Radcliffe Camera's great dome and slipped into the narrow alley, overhung with Chestnut trees, that separated Jordan College from Brasenose."

Jordan College is Exeter in real life, but Brasenose exists, as does the narrow alley between them, along with Turl Street, which is the street where Lyra and Pan emerge from the alley in their secret mission to help the witch's daemon. A mission that turns out to be a ruse, but you'll have to read the book to find out the details!

What are Ralph Fletcher and Aimee Buckner Reading?


THE POST-BIRTHDAY WORLD by Lionel Shriver (finished a month or so ago)


THE SLEEPING DOLL by Jeffrey Deaver (a guilty pleasure)

LUSH LIFE by Richard Price

From Aimee Buckner, author of NOTEBOOK KNOW-HOW:

THE BOOK OF AIR AND SHADOWS by Michael Gruber. I found this book at the bookstore - I liked the title and was intrigued by the blurb. It's about a lost manuscript by Shakespeare. The book starts off as a flashback alternating between two different characters and how they came to be involved in looking for this manuscript. Eventually their lives collide and the book moves from flashback to present day. It's like a literacy treasure hunt with bad guys chasing the good guys, murder, lies, twists and turns. It took me awhile to 'get into' the book, but once I did, I was hooked.

ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY by David Sedaris. This is a collection of essays by Sedaris. He's a humorist who writes about his family and life in general. His essays are funny but do have some 'language.' I first found Sedaris listening to one of his books on my ipod. Now I can't get enough of his work. It's a nice book to read between novels.

LITERATURE AS EXPLORATION by Louise Rosenblatt. Her work is timeless. I'm reading it for a project I'm working on. It reminds me of how kids learn to read - the theories of language acquisition and what it looks like in the classroom. It's a book you'd most likely read for a college graduate course, but I'm loving it.