Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mock Newbery Time!

If you have been reading our blog for a very long time, you know that we started this blog as a way for us to read lots of books and predict the Newbery. We are not so good at that, but we love to give it a try anyway. Even though our blog focus has changed, trying to predict the Newbery is a fun tradition that we have.

So, we love to read Mock Newbery blogs and sites. School Library Journal has a new Mock Newbery blog for this year. It is called HEAVY MEDAL which I totally love! It is run by Nina and Sharon whose Newbery blogs you may have read in the past. Both of them have served on Newbery committees. They are just starting to talk about those books that could be winners. Definitely a site to keep up with if you are at all interested in the buzz around this award.

You Must Meet Melissa Sweet

Actually, you probably already know her! She has written and/or illustrated more than 70 books. Here are a few you might have seen:

Carmine: A Little More Red
The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon (by Jacqueline Davies)
The Pinky and Rex series (by James Howe)

Check out Melissa Sweet's website for a more complete list of her works.

The two books I want to focus on here are her newest, Tupelo Rides the Rails and A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams (by Jen Bryant). These are the two books that grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me and made me write to Melissa Sweet out of the blue and ask her for a blog interview, to which she graciously agreed!

Tupelo Rides the Rails
by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin, April 2008
review copy provided by the publisher

Tupelo is a dog who, despite being dumped off by the side of a road with her sock toy, Mr. Bones, believes "Everyone belongs somewhere." She looks and looks for a place to belong, eventually hooking up with a pack of dogs who call themselves "the BONEHEADS, the Benevolent Order of Nature's Exalted Hounds Earnest And Doggedly Sublime" and a hobo named Garbage Pail Tex. The BONEHEADS and Tupelo ride the rails with Garbage Pail Tex until they get to a town where Garbage Pail Tex's hobo friends find homes for all the BONEHEADS but one. Tupelo. She makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to wish upon the dog star, Sirius, and it turns out to be worth it.

Stars are important in this book. You know that from the minute you see the star chart endpapers, and then again when Tupelo hears the dog myth of how the constellation Orion came to be leading Sirius the dog star through the sky in the constellation Canis Major surrounded by other constellations such as Canis Casa, Rubbish Canis, Great Fetching Ball, and the Seven Bones. And again, of course, when she makes her wish.

Dog heroes are important in this book. You know that from the minute you open the first of several fold-out pages and find a continuation of the star chart on the inside cover and front end paper on one side, and a time line of dog heroes throughout history on the other side.

The illustrations are sometimes in panels, giving the book an almost graphic novel feel, and sometimes in gorgeous single-page paintings like the two above. There is a hint of multi-media, when Timmy and Lassie make a photographic appearance during Garbage Pail Tex's story time on the train.

Tupelo Rides the Rails is a sweet and powerful story that makes tears come to my eyes every time I read it. I see something new in the illustrations every time I read it, too.

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams
by Jen Bryant
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Eerdmans Books For Young Readers, August 2008
review copy provided by the publisher

"Picture book biography" just doesn't do this book justice. Jen Bryant's poetic telling of the story of Willie Williams' life and her use of the literal Passaic River of his childhood and the metaphoric flow of his words and poems, and Melissa Sweet's multimedia illustrative interpretations of Williams' poems mesh PERFECTLY. I'd like to take this opportunity to nominate this book for the Caldecott Medal!

This book also has important endpapers -- all of the poems that are mentioned or excerpted in the text or the illustrations are found there.

In the Illustrator's Note in the back of the book Sweet writes about her "inadvertent" connection to William Carlos Williams, and about her research. She writes this about the media she used for the illustrations:
"These pictures needed to convey his era and the modern art of his time that was so influential to Williams. There were a lot of false starts -- nothing I did seemed powerful enough to match his poems. Then I looked to a big box of discarded books I had from a library sale. One of the books had beautiful endpapers and I did a small painting on it. Then I took a book cover, ripped it off, and painted more. The book covers became my canvas, and any ephemera I had been saving for one day became fodder for the collages."
This book could have so many uses in the classroom -- as a mentor text for students writing biographies, in an art class to explore the visual interpretation of poetry, in writing workshop to reinforce the ways writers use their notebooks to capture small moments they can go back to and write about later.

Besides being used, it needs to be pored over. The details and layers of meaning in the illustrations are simply astounding. You just can't get tired of looking at this book!

Enough of my babbling. On to the interview.

Me: First, some questions about Tupelo Rides the Rails. You explain on the back flap how you came to combine stars, dogs, and trains in Tupelo. Could you tell a little about how the hobos fit in?

MS: The idea to include a hobo came when I realized the dogs needed someone to help them get to their homes. I made a list of everyone who might ride a train and that’s when the hobos came into play. An added benefit was the thought that, without regular baths, a hobo might smell mighty good to a dog. I could imagine hobo who appreciated dogs and stars as well.

Me: Tupelo seems almost multi-media, with the fold-out pages, the star chart endpapers, the time line of dog history...could you talk a little about your design process for this book, and how it fits in with all the books you’ve illustrated?

MS: It’s a very different process illustrating a story I’ve also written. It took a few years to get this story right and I thought about it constantly. I don’t have that luxury when I’m under deadline for other books—my time with the manuscript is limited. The design was shaping up to be a 40 page book, but we needed just a little more space to tell the story, yet a 48 page book seemed too long. The gatefolds allowed me to extend the story in certain places. They also reminded me of a train schedule unfolding, or a map. I didn’t want this book to be read fast, I wanted it to move along, but more chug along (like the train!) and to feel like a journey, which it is.

I tell students that making a book is like making a movie and there are about 32 frames (pages) to tell the story. How we utilize that space is big part of my job. Using the comic book device of breaking up pages into panels helps give more space. Tupelo is a simple story on one hand, but multi-layered because of the addition of the celestial legends and the dog hero information.

Me: Some of the pages of Tupelo are illustrated in panels. Have you ever considered writing or illustrating a graphic novel?

MS: Yes, and all I can say is stay tuned. I grew up with comic books and love how a story is told in panels of all kinds. I need about five lifetimes to do all the books I want to do.

Me: Tell a little about the dogs in your life. Did you grow up with dogs? And what makes your brother Sandy a “legend among border collies?” (from the acknowledgments in Tupelo)

MS: We always had a dog, or three. There were all kinds of terriers that were hard to train little devils. Then when it was time to get a dog with my own family, we decided it would be a shelter dog. Maine has an incredible placement rate for rescue dogs. It’s safe to say my family is completely embarrassed by all the gushing I do over our two dogs. But I find I never get bored of watching them. My brother has adopted border collie rescue dogs. They are notoriously smart and watch my brother as if waiting for his every move and command. He is their leader and hero, to be sure.

Me: Please share with our blog readers a little about your MY DOG IS A BONEHEAD website and your work with shelters and rescue dogs.

MS: After the book was done it felt like a natural segue to have some sort of shelter support come out of the book. The website was designed so kids, and adults, could join the BONEHEADS Pack online by filling out a form about their dog and downloading a picture of them. It doesn’t cost anything to join. I put the dogs up on the site and for every dog that joins I give a shelter donation. A portion of the sales from the store on the site will go to rescue causes, and a portion of my royalties as well. In addition I offer a signed print from the book for shelters to use in their auctions. We’ve got a pretty good-sized pack now on the site now and I’ve found people write hilarious things about their dogs. The very best thing that’s happened regarding the shelters was at the launch party I had here in my town. The local shelter was there with information and they brought a beautiful rescue dog who was adopted that day. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Me: Now let’s hear about A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, by Jan Bryant.

First of all, thanks for the artist’s note in the back of the book. It’s always nice to learn about the materials/media that were used by the artist. Would you tell a little about the “ephemera” you’d “been saving for one day” and how you created the collages?

MS: This book had a woefully skimpy dummy and not many sketches. Although I had done extensive reading about WCW and visited his town, I was beginning to panic. I didn’t have a handle on how to render this book. The deadline was on the heels of Tupelo and I was feeling almost out of gas. I had saved some beautiful end boards from an old book with a subtle print and a good quality paper. I tried painting on it and it worked great. Then I tried using book boards as my canvases instead of starting on paper. It was just the thing I needed to propel me. It was new and fresh and I had such momentum from it. I’ve been buying old books, notebooks, atlases for years and for this project I used whatever I wanted—nothing was saved for another project. The collages are done like a painting. I start with a background, then add more objects and push things around until I feel it’s done. I approach it as a design problem so I’m considering the colors, composition etc. When I collect or buy collage materials I don’t necessarily know how I’ll utilize them. I just know I have to have them.

Me: Again from the artist’s note, it seems that you had an unusually strong connection to this book. Can you tell us about that?

When I was seven I went with my brownie troop to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY City. I came home with a souvenir postcard of a painting by Charles Demuth, The Great Figure. It is an abstract painting of a fire engine racing the city on a rainy night. I loved that painting and was pretty pleased I understood the imagery and could feel the urgency of the fire truck. Fast forward 40+ years and Eerdmans calls me about this biography of William Carlos Williams. The working title was The Great Figure, from his poem that begins: "I saw the figure five in gold." I had seen this poem and I wanted to know if WCW had written the poem after seeing the painting. It turned out the poem had been penned by WCW one night on his way to Marsden Hartley studio, where he then he gave it to Demuth. It was serendipity, and I thought, I’ve come back to this painting! I think this goes under the category of: You never know what will influence your child along the road of life.

Me: How did you come to be the illustrator for this book? Had you worked with Jen Bryant or Eerdmans Books before?

MS: No, this was my first time with both. I believe they chose me because Gayle Brown, the art director, had seen the book I illustrated, The Boy Who Drew Birds about John James Audubon. Gayle was wonderful to work with and really trusted my process, for which I am extremely grateful.

Me: Some general questions next. What was your formal art training?

MS: I have an Associates Degree in Art from Endicott College and attended the Kansas City Art Institute as well as the Museum School in Boston. After that, I went anywhere there was a course I wanted to take, or I took classes wherever I was living. I still love to take classes in anything. Blacksmithing, papermaking, tin toys, you name it, I’m there.

Me: Can you describe your typical workday? (If such a thing exists!)

MS: My work day is from about 8am to 2pm or 3pm , five days a week. I’ve stuck to this for the last 20 years and it’s been a good discipline. I never make appointments during that time. It’s all mine. It allows a lot of work to get done and even if I’m just drinking tea and reading in the studio, I consider myself working.

Me: A River of Words and Tupelo Rides the Rails are both 2008 books. Were you working on them at the same time? How did they influence each other? (I see they both have star charts, for instance.)

MS: Thank goodness for color Xeroxes…Those star charts have served me well. Tupelo took a good deal of time and consideration to make all the elements work together. It really absorbed me. As soon as it was done, I had to jump in and begin the art for this book. I went wild with the collages for A River of Words. I don’t think I would’ve had the same freedom had I not poured my soul into Tupelo. I needed a sense of abandon, and thought of all the soirees Williams attended in New York, all the modern art he loved. I tried not to censor and trust my hunches. One thing I’ve learned after many projects is that the process is not a function of time. I’ve found I work best with a deadline and the proverbial gun to my head. It forces me to make decisions and everything we do in a book is a decision. Artists have to make marks to have something to respond to, and it’s the same with writing. The early writing I do for a book looks pretty sorry, but it gives me a starting point. I have William Stafford’s quote that talks about “ lowering one’s standards in order to write” and I find that’s very helpful with art or writing. Not every day is going to be extraordinary.

Me: What are you working on now (if you can say)?

MS: I can’t say. I heard Richard Russo once say his next book is about 350 pages, so mine is about 48 pages.

Me: What is your all-time (or current, you pick) favorite medium for your art?

MS: I love using gouache. I’m not sure life would be worth living without it.

Me: What is your favorite book out of the 70+ you’ve written and/or illustrated? (Again, if such a thing exists!)

MS: In the spirit of diplomacy, I love them all for different reasons. But Carmine was so much fun, and I never dreamed I’d get to use the word “nincompoop” in a book.

Me: And now, some questions just for fun:

Coffee or tea?
Tea, PG tips to be specific.

Vanilla or chocolate?

TV, DVD, or movie theater?
The movies, so long as it’s not a megaplex. We don’t have TV but I download Project Runway on YouYube religiously.

Classical or jazz?
Jazz or Leonard Cohen.

Beach, mountain, or forest?
All the above and maybe back-road bicycle ride too.

Early bird, or night owl?
Early bird.

Hardback, paperback, or magazine?
The New Yorker, or whatever I’m researching next.

Thank you, Melissa, for agreeing to this public sort of chat! I've...or shall I say, we've enjoyed getting to know you and we look forward to your next books!

For a tad bit more information, see Kids Q & A at Powell's.

All illustrations courtesy of Melissa Sweet. Posted with permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Too Many Toys

Too Many Toys
by David Shannon
The Blue Sky Press (Scholastic)
available October, 2008
review copy provided by the publisher

Spencer had too many toys.  He had fleets and convoys and parades of toys.  He had zoos and armies of toys both big and small, loud and quiet, educational and not.

After Spencer's dad steps on one too many Lego pieces and Spencer's mom trips over one too many train tracks, Spencer receives the ultimatum:  "YOU HAVE TOO MANY TOYS!"  And he's going to have to get rid of some of them.

Spencer's mom doesn't know who she's up against, though.  First, Spencer is a dramatic sentimentalist complete with big sad eyes (like the ones Puss in Boots uses in the Shrek movies).  Then he's a crafty lawyer who knows when it's "in his best interest to agree."

Finally Spencer's mom has a box of toys that she can get rid of.  But while she's having a cup of tea and a short rest, Spencer discovers one toy he can't do without -- the BOX! 

Portland and Columbus Kidlit Conference Updates

Here's the easy way to find out how much fun lots of bloggers had in Portland.

Our posts about our mini-conference in Columbus are rounded up here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

New Books to Support Emergent Readers in Book Club Orders

You know what a HUGE fan I am of Shelley Harwayne and her work. So many of us in literacy have learned so much from her about classroom instruction and creating great schools that focus on literacy. Now that Shelly is a grandma, she is spending lots of time with her grandchildren and has been writing on early literacy. (We reviewed her book, LOOK WHO'S LEARNING TO READ and interviewed Shelley about it here a few months ago.

Shelley's newest publication is a series of Scholastic books that are written for beginning readers called "I'm Reading Now". They are small books and reasonably priced. And they are perfect for K-1 classrooms. These books center around 2 characters--Ruby and Ben. It is clear from the text that Shelley understands the kinds of support beginning readers need. The texts are all very predictable--on most pages, there is one line of text. The pictures support the reader in lots of ways. And the stories all have a clever ending which shows Shelley clearly understands the things that 5-7 year olds find amusing:-) I love that these books focus around 2 characters. I think it is so important for new readers to fall in love with characters and to want to read more about them. In this series, kids will come to know and love Ben and Ruby and be able to use that to help them make predictions in their reading.

From what I understand, there are more books in this series but the first set was in the September Scholastic Book Order.

The illustrator, Jannie Ho, posted about them on her blog a while back. The illustrations are perfect for the books!

When Bloggers Get Together

Jone and Jama, I forgot to take pictures of my Cloud Nine pancakes for you, but be assured, I did have them for breakfast. With a side of bacon!

Then we were off to Cover to Cover. We read, recommended, shared, chatted, and took over the Saturday Story Time area. Sorry kids! Hope you didn't mind having story time up front with Clifford the Big Red Dog!

I don't have any official figures, but I'm pretty sure none of us left with less than $50 worth of books!  My picks were Judy Moody Goes to College, the newest Magic Tree House (Eve of the Emperor Penguins), There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Fly Guy (for my collection of variants), Cynthia Rylant's retelling of Cinderella (all of Franki's raving finally convinced me), The Scrambled States of America (the new one is SO fun that I had to have the first one, too), and since Eid is coming up next week, Night of the Moon.

Partly because I wasn't feeling well (thank you, class, for this KICKIN' cold) and partly because I was whining about not having any time to do my own reading (due to the recent avalanche of Notables nominees that are sitting around my house in boxes and teetering stacks), I went right home and read both Judy Moody and Eve of the Emperor Penguins.  Now I can really talk these two books up with my kids next week when I add them to my classroom library.  It's not like I'm caught up or anything, but that tiny piece of peace of mind is going to fuel the rest of the weekend as I attempt to work without the ability to breathe.  (I did just learn that I can drink whisky with an impaired/nonexistent sense of smell/taste, and the warmth in my chest feels dang good.  I may not get much of anything done after all...)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

We *HEART* These Blogs

We are honored to be *hearted* by Charlotte's Library.  We're going to pass the luvv on to our local pals.

Here are the rules:
1) Add the logo of the award to your blog.
2) Add a link to the person who awarded it to you.
3) Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
4) Add links to those blogs on your blog.
5) Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs! 

Creative Literacy
Literate Lives
Authentic Learner
Read, Read, Read
My World - Mi Mundo
Best Book I Have Not Read

Friday, September 26, 2008

Kidlit Conference Weekend


Jone MacCulloch -- Check it Out
Laini Taylor -- Grow Wings
Anastasia Suen -- Picture Book of the Day
Jen Robinson -- Jen Robinson's Book Page
Jim Di Bartolo -- Jimbo Jabber
Jackie Parker -- Interactive Reader
Anne Levy -- Book Buds
Colleen Mondor -- Chasing Ray
Lynn Hazen -- Imaginary Blog
Betsy Bird -- Fuse #8
Kate Schafer -- Ask Daphne!
Elaine Magliaro -- Wild Rose Reader
Sarah Stevenson (aka A. Fortis) -- Finding Wonderland
Kelly Wilson -- Wilson Writes
Farida Dowler (aka Alkelda the Gleeful) -- Saints and Spinners
Pam Coughlin -- MotherReader
Camille -- BookMoot
Gregory K. -- GottaBook
Elise Murphy -- elise murphy books
Nancy Arruda -- Bees Knees Reads
Diane -- Biblio Addict
Cassie Richoux -- Bookwyrm Chrysalis
Kim Baker -- Wagging Tales
Katie -- Pixie Palace

edited to add:  Non-clickable complete list of conference participants is here

(our "logo" is supposed to say "Ohio: The Blogger State")

Karen and Bill -- Literate Lives
Franki and Mary Lee -- right here at A Year of Reading

(Did I miss anyone?  If so, don't be offended, just let me know and I'll make it right!)  

Poetry Friday -- William Stafford

I've been thinking about William Stafford all week, ever since the Stafford Fest at 7-Imp last Friday.  I'm definitely overwhelmed this week, and I'm feeling neither heroic nor wise.  Sigh. Here's hoping for the wisdom to get things right in my life.  Soon.

The Little Ways That Encourage Good Fortune

Wisdom is having things right in your life
and knowing why.
If you do not have things right in your life
you will be overwhelmed:
you may be heroic, but you will not be wise.
If you have things right in your life
but do not know why,
you are just lucky, and you will not move
in the little ways that encourage good fortune.

(read the rest here)

The round up today is at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

May you move in the little ways that encourage good fortune this coming week!

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Anyone who knows me knows how much I LOVE Disney World. I love the whole idea of it and we have a great time every time we visit. I am not a huge fan of vacations with nothing to do so Disney is a good kind of relaxing for me. Bill at Literate Lives recommended this book and also reviewed it on his blog. It was one of those books I wasn't sure of (science fiction/fantasy is not my genre of choice) but I was hooked IMMEDIATELY!

In THE KINGDOM KEEPERS seems that the "bad guys" (the Overtakers) in Disney are trying to take over the park. It is up to Finn and his friends to save the park. They have just been hired as "hologram tour guides" and this technology adds to the fun. The whole idea is fun and very believable.

This is a great adventure. It is science fiction but not so much that it is hard to follow. The book is full of action but not so much that it takes over more of the book than the plot. And I loved that it took place in Disney World. It was fun to be able to visualize all of our favorite Disney spots throughout the book (the author did a great job of including so many of them!)

I am not usually a plot-based reader. I read for characters I love. I can't say that I loved or really even got to know the characters in this book well. But the plot was enough for me to get hooked and stay hooked. I can see that this book would appeal to lots of readers.

There is a sequel out to the book that was published this year. I have not read it but am anxious to see if it is as good as this one. I can see this working for 5th grade and older.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A New Wordless Picture Book--SOUTH by Patrick McDonnell

After learning so much from Katie D at Creative Literacy about the importance of picture reading with young children, I have been trying to add quality wordless books to my collection. This week, I was thrilled to find SOUTH by Patrick McDonnell. What a great book! I love the size. It is a small book and the characters are also pretty tiny on the page. This adds to the meaning of the book.
This is the simple story of a cat who helps a lost bird on his journey. I loved the story. It was so sweet and, as wordless books always do, it amazed me with the amount of meaning that was packed in.
My favorite page was the last one--loved the ending.

It is hard to review a wordless picture book --sharing it in words seems to ruin the visual experience of the book. But if you are looking for good, wordless picture books, this is definitely one you'll want to buy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I laughed out loud in the bookstore when I read this book. Who thinks of these things? LAZY LITTLE LOAFERS by Susan Orlean is narrated by a young child--one who is wondering how babies get away with not working? She has a point. And she defends it throughout the book. She isn't too thrilled that while she is at school taking tests and doing book reports, these babies are hanging out looking at their toes and pushing elevator buttons. The whole concept cracks me up.

I thought, when I started it, that the concept would get old. That the author couldn't really carry it out for a whole entire book. But I was wrong. It amused me until the very last page. I think it is the voice of the narrator that makes it work. She is talking to us with a little bit of sarcasm that works. It is pretty sophisticated humor so I am not yet sure which age of kids would most enjoy it.

There is a lot of acceptable jealousy in the book--the baby gets to stay home with mom and do nothing, while the narrator has to go to work. The pictures tell so much of the story. Speaking of the pictures, they are quite fun. I had to do a 2nd read to see the humor added by the illustrations.

As a teacher, I am wondering if this could work as a model for persuasive writing. I could see it as a pretty fun mentor text for older kids to use when thinking about essay and persuasive writing. Because really, this is an essay answering the question of why babies don't work (How do the lazy little loafers get away with it?) The word choice, voice and actual examples really do make it quite a good model for older kids. And I think they would LOVE the humor.

No matter how you use this book or who you share it with, it is definitely worth a read. Pretty darn funny, if you ask me.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Books I Could Read A Million Times-PART 1

So, I have learned something important in my first few weeks as a librarian. Since I see every class, on a 4 day rotation, I often read a book several times over the course of 4 days. I choose one book to read to every class in the school. ( I got this idea from Bill at Literate Lives. My hope is that by reading the same book to all of the kids in the school, we have anchors to talk about--books that can be talked about at dinner tables at home, books that can be talked about with friends in other classes, etc.)

SO, sometimes I read the same book 20+ times over 4 days. Other books I read 4-8 times--to one or two grade levels.
What I have found is that one of two things happens quickly: Either I CAN'T STAND IT after the 2nd or 3rd read OR I love it every single time and never get sick of it. I look forward to reading it again. So, I am paying attention to those books that, honestly, I could read a million times and never get tired of. I figure if that happens, it is one of the best books out there. Here are a few that I have discovered so far.

Piggie and Elephant by Mo Willems
I never tire of these amusing characters. The stories are fun and enjoyed by all age levels. And, I find myself getting better at them each time I read them. I sound more like the characters as I read them over and over. I have not yet read one of these to the whole school but I plan to read the new one that comes out this fall to everyone. I don't think I will ever get sick of these two great characters! All of the books in this series meet my criteria for "Books I Could Read A Million Times". An added bonus--I have discovered that if I find myself becoming a bit grumpy or cranky, reading one of these to 1st or 2nd graders puts me back in a good mood! The fun of it just makes you happy!

Where is the Green Sheep by Mem Fox
The rhythm and rhyme in this book is quite fun. And the fact that kids join in on each page to chant, "Where is the green sheep?" is also quite fun. This is a quick read aloud and one that kids ask to hear over and over.

Beware of the Frog by William Bee
This is a new one that I hope becomes a classic. This is the story of a sweet old lady named Mrs. Collywobbles. Really, I could say her name a million times. It is fun every, single time. (Kids like to say it too!) The humor and surprise in this story is quite fun. I love seeing the kids' faces when the surprises begin and continue throughout the book. It is funny because this story starts out in a pretty traditional way. Since I read it over 20 times this week, I know precisely when students become hooked and I know that once we get to that point, they are hooked for the book. It looks and sounds like your traditional fairy tale--but not quite. I was actually a little sad when I read it to the last class last week.

(I will share other books that I find that fit my criteria as I come across them. Not many books are that fun to read 20+ times so those that can, definitely deserve to be shared!)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Week

Last weekend began with the 5th annual Ohio Casting for Recovery retreat, and ended with a blow-by from Hurricane Ike. Both events taught me big lessons.

In 2005 I attended the CFR retreat as a participant. For the past three years I've served on the retreat team as a planner/fundraiser throughout the year and as a fishing instructor at the retreat. I wrote about the 2006 retreat here.

The William Stafford poem that Jules shared for Poetry Friday this week (and all the other Staffords in the comments) helped to crystalize what the CFR weekend taught me this year. This year I heard myself saying to a participant things I need to remember and practice in my own life:
All we really have is this moment right now. We can't change what's behind us and we can't know what's ahead of us, so we need to focus on this moment and do our best with it, enjoy it to its fullest. (Live in the moment, Mary Lee. Pay close attention to Right Now.)

There are plenty of people in the world who will judge you based on your looks. The ones who matter are the ones who get to know you -- the ones who can see that you are so much more than your shell, who can see the beauty within you. (Don't judge, Mary Lee. Learn to look within for beauty. Be one of the ones who matter.)
When I got home from the retreat, new challenges and learnings awaited me. Ike's winds were revving up to 60-80 mph, construction barrels were rolling across the road creating a live-action obstacle course, branches were down (and still falling) everywhere I looked, roads were closed by fallen trees, and there were no working traffic lights.

I pulled into the driveway at 4:00 pm, just as we lost electricity. We didn't get our power back until 1:30 am on Thursday. Across the street from us, and in many other parts of the city, they still don't have power. Within walking distance of my house, there is still a street closed because of a fallen tree. There were schools in the city and around the area that were closed for four days this week. In our district, we were out two days (one building for three).

Here's what I learned from Ike:
I missed being connected to the Internet and email, but I can definitely survive without it. Hot showers are much more important in the big picture.

Electricity isolates us as much as it connects us. Without electricity, we spent much more with our neighbor, sharing lunch from a COSI we found nearby that was miraculously open, sharing pans and thermoses of hot water (we have a gas stove), and commiserating during the clean-up. I haven't talked to her since the power came back on.

If this much chaos was caused by half-power hurricane winds in a dry storm, I can now clearly imagine what a real hurricane is like. We had no rain (so no flooding and less damage because the trees were dry), and the weather cooled down to the 70's after the storm passed, leaving us with pleasant, rather than steamy, air. My heart goes out to anyone who has ever lived directly in a hurricane's path.

For one day, I lived in two worlds -- the one of chaos, deprivation and uncertainty at home, and the "normal" one at school. I now have a better appreciation for my students who navigate two worlds every day.

When you're focusing on where the next meal is coming from, it's hard to care about politics, the stock market, and the situation in Afghanistan.

It doesn't matter how many services and offers of help are available to those in need, when you are cut off from the "real world," you have no idea those services and offers even exist. We had a battery radio, but we could not find a single station that gave us any information (beyond school closings) that was of any assistance. We found it quite amusing when we got power to watch the news and see how much information about the storm and the recovery was available...if you had electricity to watch the news! CRAZY! WRONG!

And once again, I learned that all we really have is this moment right now. We can't change what's behind us and we can't know what's ahead of us, so we need to focus on this moment and do our best with it, enjoy it to its fullest.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Poetry Friday -- Review

Beastly Rhymes to Read After Dark
by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Brian Biggs
Alfred A. Knopf, 2008
review copy provided by the publisher

(the cover of my copy looks nothing like this)

This is a fun-sized volume (about 5" x 7") of poems perfect for the Halloween season. The illustrations are bold and colorful, and the rhymes just beg to be read aloud.

Here are some quick excerpts from a few of the poems:

The Lavatory Crocodile
"...She settled in the loathsome pool
Beneath the bathroom of your school.
When next you find you have to go,
Look first, and wave, and say 'Hello!'... "

Lovely Giant Squid
"...You can't have friends and eat them, too."

Who is Haunting the Zoo
"Boo! Boo! Boo! Boo!
Who is haunting the zoo?
There's a phantom flamingo,
A windigo dingo,
An elephant skeleton, too..."

Leopard Chefs
"My next-door neighbor, Hilda Hitchen,
Kept two leopards in her kitchen
Who, when Hilda wasn't looking,
Taught themselves the art of cooking..."
(you might guess, it doesn't bode well for Hilda!)

Parasite Lost
(the title's enough on this one -- it's the best/grossest poem in the book so you'll have to read it yourself!)

Never Bully a Bug
"...Young William never realized
The tiny mites he victimized
Had cousins that were giant-sized..."

This week's roundup is at author amok.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Literacy Connection Annual Workshops

For those of you who attend the annual Literacy Connection workshops, you will be happy to know that THE LITERACY CONNECTION has a new website! And, the new workshops have been announced there and by mail. This year, Kelly Gallagher, author of Deeper Reading, Teaching Adolescent Writing and others.
He will be presenting to teachers in strategies for writing in grades 4-12. Kelly is a full time teacher and a great presenter. The session is on Saturday, October 11 and the cost is $50 (Lunch included. A great way to spend a Saturday if you teach grades 4-12. Registration forms and info are on the site.

Carl Anderson will be The Literacy Connection's April speaker. He will be speaking on the topic of Assessing Writers. For those of you who have attended the April workshop before, it is part of a year long study around an expert's work. We meet in October to talk about the year and then meet in study groups around the work. Then in April, the author of the book speaks and does demonstration teaching at a local school. I always learn a lot when I attend these. More details are on The Literacy Connection's website.

HIP HOP SPEAKS TO CHILDREN edited by Nikki Giovanni

I have always been a huge fan of Nikki Giovanni. Her poetry books were some of the first I had in my classroom. Her newest book, HIP HOP SPEAKS TO CHILDREN: A CELEBRATION OF POETRY WITH A BEAT may be my favorite yet. I just received a review copy and spent quit a bit of time with it. It is quite fun and packed with great poetry with a beat. The book is due out on October 1 and I imagine people will be scrambling to get copies as soon as they can.

These are the things I love about the books:

-The poetry has a beat and I love poetry with a beat. So much fun to read and play with.
-Some of my favorite poets have pieces in this collection--Eloise Greenfield, Nikki Grimes, Maya Angelou, Walter Dean Myers
-There is a GREAT CD that goes along with the book. 30 of the poems are included on the CD. Many are read by the poets. Others are read by performers.
-The illustrations are gorgeous. So many illustrators and looks that seem to match the poems. Each page stands alone as its own work of art.
-I love the variety of the poems, the illustrations, and the audio. There is something to hook everyone to the book.
-I love the size. It is a pretty big poetry book. One with lots packed in it. You know when you pick it up, that it is filled with beat and depth.
-Nikki Giovanni shares her vision for the book and the history and importance of hip-hop as the introduction. Such a reminder of how powerful words have been throughout history.

Love this book. I think it is a K-8 must-have for classrooms and libraries. Like I said it is packed and it may be (at first) intimidating to young readers. But, once they hear some of the audio, spend time with the illustrations, and experience some of the poetry, I think it will become a favorite.

Other reviews:
Nikki Giovanni shares her thoughts on the collection on this video.
Amy Bowlan of School Library Journal includes Giovanni's video clip in her review also.
Jennie at Biblio File
Becky at Becky's Book

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

WILD BOARS COOK by Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall

I have been trying to catch up on "funny books". I don't always tend to read those books that are just plain fun. But with my new job as school librarian, I think it is very important that we laugh in the library. And that we laugh a lot. So, I have been on the lookout for funny books. My friend, Bill at Literate Lives has been a huge help with this. I think I am getting better at finding books that kids might find to be amusing.

As a classroom teacher, I looked for books to use as mentors for writing, books to use for comprehension minilesson, books that would meet the needs of different readers and writers in my classroom and books that I could use across the curriculum. We certainly read books for fun, but they weren't a priority for me when I was shopping. I just usually happened upon them. These days, I am trying to catch up on knowing more books like this.

I think one of the other librarians in the district shared this one in our last meeting and I just got my own copy. It is called WILD BOARS COOK and it is quite funny. The story is a sequel to the book MEET WILD BOARS which I haven't read yet--but I am anxious to do so sometime soon.

The 4 wild boars are great characters. It is fun that their names rhyme (Boris, Morris, Horace, and Dorris) but the way they spend their time is pretty fun too. They are not likable creatures but you find yourself loving them anyway. In this story, the boars are hungry so they make a magnificent pudding. It is amazing to me how much you get to know each character in such a short text. The book is pure fun but it is also filled with great writing, and a very satisfying ending. A great book all around.

Other reviews:
Publisher's Weekly

An interview with Sophie Blackall at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Monday, September 15, 2008

THE DIAMOND OF DARKHOLD: The Fourth Book of Ember

I have LOVED the Ember series. I found CITY OF EMBER when it first came out--Karen at Cover to Cover recommended it and it became our year's first read aloud. It was one of the best first read-alouds ever. A perfect combination of plot, action, adventure and lots to talk/think about.

When PEOPLE OF SPARKS came out, I was ending the cycle with the class who had read CITY OF EMBER. The publisher was nice enough to send me an ARC so we finished off our year with that book as read aloud. The book caused lots of conversations and disagreements--so much for 5th graders to talk and think about.

I read THE PROPHET OF YONWOOD when it came out. I liked it but didn't love it like I had loved the others.

I picked up the fourth and final book--THE DIAMOND OF DARKHOLD--last week and have been staying awake a bit too long reading it the last few nights. It is a PERFECT ending to a great series. I think sequels and final books can be very disappointing but this one was far from either of those.

The fun in this book is that Lina and Doon return to the city of Ember. I must say, as a reader, it was like I was returning too. It was changed, but I remembered it. I remembered being there and I reentered the world of Ember just as Lina and Doon did. I am not sure how DuPrau accomplished this as a writer, but it works well. I won't tell the story here but this series is a great one for readers of science fiction. And this ending book is perfect--closure but surprises; characters we see grow and change, goodbyes and new hope.

If you have yet to read any of the books in this series, I would read CITY OF EMBER quickly--before the movie comes out in October. I think it will be a great movie--the trailer shows a bit of it. But I can't imagine the movie can even compare to the book.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Poetry Friday -- Found Poem

I keep this list of reminders on a sticky note at my desk.  Just for today, they seem like a poem.


We never
know what to expect.

We've never
seen it all.

In every interesting situation,
we never
really know 
what to do.

We should always
proceed with caution.

We should always

The roundup this week is at Biblio File.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

If Animals Kissed Good Night

If Animals Kissed Good Night
by Ann Whitford Paul
illustrated by David Walker
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008
review copy provided by the publisher

This is my new baby shower gift book.

Reading this book as the last read aloud of the night is bound to result in lots of snuggling and kissing. What a great way to end the day!

The book starts out, "If animals kissed like we kiss goodnight, Sloth and her cub in late afternoon's light would hang from a tree and start kissing sooo slooowwwww...the sky would turn pink and the sun sink down low." Peacocks kiss with a fan dance, snakes kiss like rope loosely wound, walrus calf and papa kiss with whiskery swishes, elephant give a kiss and then a shower, "and Sloth and her cub? Still...kissing good night." Land and water and forest and Arctic and human animals kiss their way through the rest of the book, and you can probably guess what Sloth and her cub are doing after the child is tucked in with all her stuffed animals around her!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Join Hands! The Ways We Celebrate Life

Join Hands! The Ways We Celebrate Life
by Pat Mora
with photographs by George Ancona
Charlesbridge, 2008
review copy provided by the publisher

A year ago, I had never heard of the Malaysian poetic form pantoum.

Then last year, Tricia (Miss Rumphius Effect) used the pantoum for one of her poetry stretches. She explained the form, wrote an original, and shared the pantoums her stretch participants wrote.

This August, Kelly Fineman explored the pantoum for Poetry Friday.

Jone shared an original pantoum in April, and then came back at the end of August to a poem she worked on for Elaine's (Wild Rose Reader) and Janet Wong's challenge to write a ring/blanket/drum poem and made it into a ring/blanket/drum pantoum!

And now Pat Mora and George Ancona have created a single-pantoum picture book! I declare it The Year of the Pantoum! The pantoum is the perfect form for Mora's poem. She explains, "A pantoum is a repeating form written in four-line stanzas. The second and fourth lines in one stanza become the first and third lines in the next stanza. In the last stanza, the second and fourth lines are almost the same as the frst and third lines of the first stanza. So, like a group of friends joining hands, the poem becomes a circle."

In her poem, friends sing and dance, strut and ballyhoo, plan a masquerade and a parade, take a chance and begin to dance, and join hands in a "happy hoopla way." A fun book and a great invitation to children to explore the pantoum.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Monsoon Afternoon

Monsoon Afternoon
by Kashmira Sheth
illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi
Peachtree Publishers, 2008
review copy provided by the publisher

The weather is changing, and the first fat raindrops of the monsoon are beginning to fall. No one but Dadaji has time to play with his grandson. Luckily, Dadaji remembers what fun he had as a child playing in the monsoon rains -- floating paper boats in the washtub, enjoying the smell and feel of the rain after a long dry season. Dadaji remembers swinging in the banyan tree, watching peacocks strut, and picking mangoes, and he shares these memories as he spends the afternoon with his grandson. He assures the little boy that he was once as young as he is, and, yes, someday the little boy will be a Dadaji, too.

In the author's notes at the end of the story, Sheth shares some of her memories of monsoon season from her childhood on the west coast of India.

Many of our students and their families have storm-related memories. In our beginning of the year writing workshops, we often ask students to write personal narratives. This book might prompt students to gather and write a collection of storm stories.

Kashmira Sheth's blog

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Erin Hunter at Cover to Cover

One of the three authors who write as Erin Hunter, author of the Warriors series, Victoria Holmes, visited Cover to Cover on Friday. I have never seen so many people at Cover to Cover. The audience was predominantly tween/teen girls and their moms, but there were some boys and dads there, too. The audience was very animated and interactive, cheering when Holmes announced that a big book about Bluestar is forthcoming, and gasping when she revealed that Firestar will die.

All of the displays and bookshelves from the middle of the store were moved to the back room.

After the talk, they called groups of 25 in for autographing. Rumor has it there was someone with autograph number 258. Luckily the rain held off.

Here's a report about the afternoon by longtime Warriors fan, occasional guest blogger (here and here), and my former student, Victoria:

I got an email from Ms.Hahn telling me that on September 5 at 4:30 PM I could meet Victoria Holmes (the main Warrior writer) and listen to her talk and that she was signing books. That alone was a miracle, just to hear I could meet her. I have read every single one of her books and I always buy the new ones the day of their releases, so this experience was going to be amazing. She was to be at a little book shop which I had never heard of called Cover to Cover.

To my first surprise Victoria (which is also my name) had a nice British accent, which just made everything else five times funnier. For many who have read her books this may also be a surprise: she doesn't own any cats and actually she doesn't like cats. She owns one dog (a bull terrier) named Missy, who is utterly spoiled.

If anyone is interested in knowing why cats die it isn't because she doesn't like them or they're bad, NO she kills cats when they get boring (LOL). Also there are no perfect relationships in the books, because she says they get too boring and therefore she kills someone.

When time came around for questions some little kid asked her, "Who is your least favorite cat?" Victoria answered, " I don't have least favorite cats and if I do they die, then become my favorite cat." Victoria is just such a funny person.

For anyone asking how devoted is she to Warriors, well, she is getting married in November and she will still be on tour so their honeymoon will be wherever they go on the last week of her tour.

Future books coming out:
Long Shadows: Power of Three: Book Five- Dec. 1
Tigerstar and Sasha: Escaping the Forest- Jan. 1

There will be another volume of six books coming out also and several more special edition books coming out on Bluestar and Skyclan.

This was just an amazing experience to be there in the hot and crowded little book shop and to meet Victoria Holmes! You can't describe it until you've met her for yourself, so I have a question: Are you a Warriors fan yet????

Victoria certainly is a fan, and has been from the beginning! Here she is with Victoria Holmes.

Maybe this is a future Warriors fan? He made good use of his time in the board books while Victoria Holmes was speaking.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Apples & Oranges: Going Bananas With Pairs

Apples & Oranges: Going Bananas With Pairs
by Sara Pinto
Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children's Books, 2008
review copy provided by the publisher

This year, our staff is focusing on a few of the strategies in Marzano's CLASSROOM INSTRUCTION THAT WORKS.  One of the instructional strategies that has been proven by research to raise student achievement is identifying similarities and differences.

To launch our study of weather, we brainstormed all the weather words we could think of.  I recorded the words on the overhead, and the students at each table took turns writing the words on index cards.  Then I gave the groups this task:  sort the words into groups that you think make sense.

After this content work on similarities and differences, I shared APPLES & ORANGES: GOING BANANAS WITH PAIRS.  This book nearly put a couple of my students over the edge.  

Page 1: "How are an apple and an orange alike?"  Page 2: "They both don't wear glasses."    

"I don't get it!"  "It doesn't make sense!"  

Others, however, delighted in the playfulness and quickly were able to adapt to the BOTH DON'T format of the comparing.

Page 17:  "How are a spoon and a fork alike?"  Student Response:  "They both don't run away with the dish."  About half the class understood the literary allusion.  I was thoroughly impressed.  This is clearly a student to watch!  (Page 18:  "They both don't dance in the ballet.")

This seems like another book that would be fun to take down the grade levels to see how younger and younger students handle the BOTH DON'T format.  Or maybe a certain librarian could try it for me -- hint, hint Franki!  Or maybe you can try it in your classroom and let me know how it goes! 

Friday, September 05, 2008


I picked up a great new book this week at Cover to Cover. It is called 10 THINGS I CAN DO TO HELP MY WORLD by Melanie Walsh. It is written for young children and the simple text and shaped pages make it a fun read with lots of important information.

This is a type of how-to book with added facts for young children--why they should turn off the water when they brush their teeth, that we could save lots of trees by using both sides of the paper, and more. Kids can read the main text and also the added facts.

The large text, bright illustrations and fun page shapes make this a perfect nonfiction book for homes, classrooms and libraries.

I must say, I have been so impressed with Candlewick Publishers lately. So many of the books I love--books that are a bit unique--are published by Candlewick. This is one of those books!

Poetry Friday: Cicadas

Cicadas at the End of Summer
by Martin Walls
(American Life In Poetry: Column 024)

Whine as though a pine tree is bowing a broken violin,
As though a bandsaw cleaves a thousand thin sheets of
They chime like freight wheels on a Norfolk Southern
slowing into town.

But all you ever see is the silence.
Husks, glued to the underside of maple leaves.

(the rest of the poem is here)

Happy End of Summer! Let the cool weather begin!

The round up this week is at Wild Rose Reader.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A Book to Add to My Word Play Books

I love when I find a new book to add to my collection of picture books with great word play. I am building quite a collection of these so I couldn't pass up this new one that I found today. It is called BUTTERFLIES IN MY STOMACH AND OTHER SCHOOL HAZARDS by Serge Bloch. This is the story of a boy's first day of school--from the minute he wakes up until the time the bus drops him off at home at the end of the day. Each page tells a bit about his day and each is filled with lots of word play--The illustrations share the "literal" meaning of some of the sayings. They are simple black and white illustrations with color graphics added to illustrate the point of the more literal meaning. From "being in a pickle" to being "in the same boat", this book is full of idioms and a simile or two ("I was as happy as a puppy with two tails!").

The thing that makes this book unique is that the idioms are part of a story with a bit of a plot--the word play is definitely the focus of the book but there is a sequential story going on too!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


I was so happy to find BABYMOUSE: MONSTER MASH this weekend! Now that Jennifer and Matt Holm are only writing 2 new Babymouse books per year, the wait between books seems like forever!

BABYMOUSE: MONSTER MASH is set during the Halloween season. And, the fun thing about this book is that it is ORANGE INSTEAD OF PINK! A fun change that totally works for this issue. And, as always, Babymouse is quite adorable on the cover and throughout.

In this story, Babymouse is planning a Halloween party. The group of "mean girls" (Felicia Furrypaws and friends) want to be invited but they want Babymouse to play by their rules. Babymouse has to make some choices.

I love so much about this series, but this one really nails why I like it so much. Babymouse gets lots of peer pressure in this book-peer pressure to be someone who she is not. Peer pressure to do things she knows are not right. I like this because it is so real--so close to what some of our kids deal with on a daily basis. Babymouse is a character who gives us a way to think about these things. Since I've read every Babymouse book out there, I've become quite attached to Babymouse. In the first few books I think I loved her because she was adorable and unique. And I loved the size of the books and the humor. But in this book I realized, I love the character Babymouse. She is strong and real and anxious and fun-loving and so many other things.

The humor is still all over the book--the tombstones at the end of the book, the dedication page, etc. There are even paper dolls with costumes on the back page! And, thank goodness that they give us a very tiny bit of info on the next Babymouse book--Babymouse: The Musical--on the back flap. Even though it won't be out until spring, it reminds us (thankfully) that Babymouse will be back!

My 3rd grade daughter read the book before I did and loved it. Here is what she had to say (Spoilers included):
I liked the end of the book because the mean girls kept making rules like "A Girl has to be a princess for Halloween." Babymouse does things cause the mean girls say "You have to do it. It is a rule." Babymouse goes back home to get ready for her party. The mean girls say, "Can we come in?" Babymouse says "You have to be wearing a scary outfit." I liked that part because she made her own rule and she stuck up for herself. She didn't let them boss her around anymore."