Monday, November 30, 2009

Books in My Shopping Bag

Between NCTE and my trip to Cover to Cover today, I have lots of books that I am hoping to read in the next several weeks. Here are a few that are on the top of my pile:

CLAIM TO FAME by Margaret Peterson Haddix--I was so excited to see a new book by Haddix. I haven't been paying attention to new releases so I wasn't even aware that this was coming. This does not look to be part of any series that Haddix is so famous for. It is a stand-alone book that reviews say is for ages 9-12. From the inside flap, it sounds like the book is about a girl who is a TV star and then she realize that she can hear anything that anyone says about her. This become quite awful so she goes into hiding. I love all of Haddix's books and I think the 4th and 5th graders at school will be thrilled to see a new book by Haddix!

I am going to give myself permission to read more YA this year. I love it but always feel like I should be reading children's books that make sense for our K-5 library instead of YA. But this year, I plan to give more time to reading YA--just because I love it and I think YA books are some of the best out there. Two that I have been hearing a lot about, that I picked up today are THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner and CROSSING STONES by Helen Frost. I am a huge Helen Frost fan and Mary Lee cannot stop recommending CROSSING STONES so I picked it up. And THE MAZE RUNNER is another one I keep hearing about. I love the whole concept of this book-a closed-off world where kids enter. I keep hearing that this is one of those books that you can't put down once you start it so I am anxious to read it!

BUCK FEVER by Cynthia Chapman Willis caught my eye for several reasons. First of all, the cover is intriguing. A boy hunting for a deer, but clearly not shooting it. When I read the inside flap, the premise reminded me a bit of Wringer--a boy's father wants him to carry on the tradition of hunting but the boy (Joey) isn't interested in hunting and can't imagine killing an animal. This sounds like a great story about a boy growing up.

Another book I picked up was WILLIAM S. AND THE GREAT ESCAPE by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. This one is about four children who run away-to their aunt's house. It looks like this book is about their runaway adventure and their journey for a home and a family.

And, finally, I picked up LOVE YA BUNCHES by Lauren Myracle. It is one that I have been seeing a lot--definitely marketed to upper elementary girls. The inside format is fun and it looks like a great book about friendship.

I am sure I will add many more to my list before winter break begins but these are a starting point. Now, if I didn't need to do any holiday shopping, baking etc., I'd be set! I doubt Ill get as much reading time as I am hoping but I have plenty to read for the time I do get!

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Steve Jenkins is one of my favorite nonfiction authors/illustrators. I love the way he organizes information and the combination of his words and his art is always a great combination.

I love this new book. So many of Jenkins' books are difficult to read aloud because there is so much on the page. But I think this new one, NEVER SMILE AT A MONKEY: AND 17 OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER would make a great nonfiction read aloud. The premise of the book is that things are dangerous. In his introduction Jenkins says, "What makes these animals dangerous? And what should you NEVER do if you encounter one of them?" He then goes on to tell us.

Each page focuses on one important thing to remember such as NEVER PET A PLATYPUS or NEVER STARE AT A SPITTING COBRA. Following the directive is a paragraph explaining a bit about the animal and why the creature may react to such a behavior. A large illustration of the animal also accompanies the text. There is a lot to learn in this book and kids are always fascinated by animals --especially the dangerous ones. The back of the book includes additional information about the creatures in the book.

So many books are written about a specific animal and I always love the uniqueness of Steve Jenkins' book topics. I think a nonfiction author study on Jenkins would be great. I also think his books have great lessons for our nonfiction writers in writing workshop. I can't wait to see what he writes next!

The Toon Treasury of Classic Children's Comics

I visited my grandparents' house every Sunday throughout my childhood. I tell the story often of going up to her attic each week and choosing a new Nancy Drew book. But, until recently, I had forgotten about the trunk of comic books that they had in the entrance hall. A chest filled to the top with magazines and comic books. I loved going into that trunk to see what I might find. It was packed full with great reads. I was not an avid comic book reader but it was fun to read a few comic books each week at my Grandma's while the adults chatted. I am not sure if it was more fun to hunt around in the trunk to see what I might find or to actually read the books. Either way, I have great memories of many of the comics I read there. Some of my favorite were Little Lulu, anything with Disney Characters, Richie Rich, Dennis the Menace and Archie's gang. I hadn't realized what a role these comics had in my reading life until I discovered the new book THE TOON TREASURY OF CLASSIC CHILDREN'S COMICS selected and edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly . So many of my favorite characters as well as some stories and characters I had forgotten about these nearly 350 pages.

The book is divided into sections--giving categories to some of the comics that the editors hope are rediscovered by today's children-especially those who love graphic novels. There is a chapter of comics about kids (the first being Clifford by Jules Feiffer!), a chapter about Funny Animals, Fantasyland and more. So many great comics from the 1930s to the 1960s. Treasury is definitely the right word for this collection!

The introduction to the treasury is by Jon Scieszka and he shares his own experiences with comics as a child and some history of comics. There is also an introduction for grown-ups about the comic book in general, complete with a photo of a Comic Book burning in 1949. The editors make a case for comic books and the that parents might have in sharing our old favorites with our children.

This is a huge book and I am excited to put it on the shelves in the library. I am still trying to figure out how to house more comic books in the library since graphic novels are so popular. I can't keep them on the shelves. So I am sure that this book will definitely be a hit. It would also make a great holiday gift!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Monkey With a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem

If you liked MONKEY WITH A TOOL BELT by Chris Monroe (and how could you not have), you will LOVE this new book about the same character. I was thrilled to see MONKEY WITH A TOOLBELT AND THE NOISY PROBLEM when I was at NCTE. How did I miss this book about a character I love?

I loved the first book about this monkey because, well, how could you not? A monkey with a tool belt is a very funny idea and I loved it from the start. But, to be honest, I was worried that a new book about this character might not be so funny since I was already used to the idea of the monkey and the tool belt.

I was pleasantly surprised. As I was reading the book to myself at the kitchen table, I must have laughed a little too loud because my husband asked what I was laughing at. I don't want to give the story away, but Chico Bon Bon (the monkey with the tool belt) can't figure out what it is that is making the loud noise in his tree house. He knows he can fix it if he can just figure out what it is that is making the noise. He uses many tools to investigate. He finally does find the noise and solves the problem (but I can't give this part away.) There are so many things that made me laugh in this book--his tools, his 100-watt flashlight, his earplugs and especially his "hear-a-lot tool". I loved the illustration of his house with a bazillion rooms. And I so loved the 12 steps he used to solve his problem (by using more of his clever tools!).

This is a great story. I keep finding things that I missed during the first read. I am thinking it will make a great read aloud this week. Definitely not a disappointment -this character is definitely one that I hope to see again (and soon) in more books! The author is a genius!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Manners

photo by roboppy

by Howard Nemerov

Prig offered Pig the first chance at dessert,
So Pig reached out and speared the bigger part.

"Now that," cried Prig, "is extremely rude of you!"
Pig, with his mouth full, said, "Wha, wha' wou' 'ou do?"

(the whole poem, including the punch line ending, is at The Writer's Almanac.)

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!! This poem seemed to be appropriate not just for all of the feasting that took place yesterday, but also for the Black Friday grabbing shopping that is taking place even as I sit at my quiet kitchen table and compose this post. All I plan to buy today is a haircut, so the rest of you can knock yourselves out (and maybe each other) getting great deals and spending lots of money.

The round up today is at Becky's Book Reviews.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

2 More Books I Could Read a Million Times

So, I have to add TURKEY TROUBLE by Wendi Silvano to my list of "Books I Could Read A Million Times". I loved it when I first read it but then I read it to nearly every class over the last few weeks. It is a fun read EVERY time and kids in grades 1-5 got quite a kick out of it. The older kids picked up a lot of the word play. And the book never got old for me. A great read.

And OTIS by Loren Long might be one I could read a billion times! It is absolutely wonderful and was quite fun to read to kids of all ages.

I reviewed both of these books before I shared them with lots of kids and I realized later that they were both perfect additions to my BOOKS I COULD READ A MILLION TIMES list. I'll never get tired of either of these!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Blog Tour with Author and Illustrator of JOEY FLY

We feel lucky to be included in the blog tour that the author and illustrator team of Joey Fly, Private Eye are one. We are so happy they stopped at A Year of Reading. If you are like us, you are on the hunt for great new graphic novels to add to your classroom or school library. This new book--that will hopefully become a series--is one of the best new ones out this year. This book is a mystery--full of fun. The story, the language and the art are all quite fun. How could it not be fun when the characters are bugs? You get a good sense of the book and the type of humor when you watch the book trailer.

When my copy of JOEY FLY arrived, it was sitting on the island in the kitchen. My 10 year old daughter, Ana, immediately asked if she could read it. She couldn't stop talking to me about the book and I would hear her laughing aloud as she read. She loved it. So, we thought it would make sense for Ana to ask the interview questions for this blog tour. We were curious as to what a 10 year old would ask the author/illustrator team after reading the book. So, here is Ana's interview:-)

Ana: Where did you get the idea for this story?

Aaron: Originally, the book was called Joey Off, Private Fly (you know, Off…like bug spray?). That was all I had…a title, which is often how it works for me. I’ll get a title in my head that seems funny or inspires some cool ideas, and off I go. So, when I thought of the title, it seemed funny, a snarky insect mystery. It wasn’t until I sat down to write it that some of the details came along, like Sammy Stingtail and his tail of horror, and Delilah and her stolen pencil box. Most times, I don’t think out the story in advance…I sit down to write the idea, and the story comes along the way.

Ana: Why did you choose to make the characters bugs?

Aaron: I love bugs…they make great characters because there are so many different kinds and they’re all so freaky and unique looking. I have several other books that feature bugs, including Tiger Moth, Insect Ninja and The Tale of the Poisonous Yuck-Bugs. In real life, I don’t mind bugs, but I can’t stand spiders. Yechhhh…too many legs=gross.

Neil: And yet Aaron put a giant hairy tarantula in the second Joey Fly!

Ana: How did you decide when to switch colors for things going on in the story?

Aaron: That was totally Neil’s thing. Fill her in, Neil.

Neil: Yes! Well, originally, I thought it would be fun to try a different take on the whole black and white thing, you know, like old film noir movies. But since sometimes black and white can be boring, I changed it up to blue and white! The flashback scenes made sense as another color, because they take place in a different time frame, and at the last second, we decided to add reds for all the outdoor daytime scenes, just to spice things up a bit. It worked out even better than I thought, and is now part of the storytelling that makes Joey Fly unique.

Ana: How did you get the idea for Joey to talk to himself/the reader in the squares throughout the book?

Aaron: Well, turns out, all those language arts words they make you learn in school aren’t a waste of time. The book is written in first person point of view, which means that the main character talks directly to the read about themselves and their story. When I started writing, this is just how things came out. Joey had lots of running comments or sarcastic little opinions he wanted to throw into the mix, so I wanted to give him the chance to talk directly to the reader without the other characters hearing it or being part of it. In a graphic novel, the best way to do that is in caption boxes, which are those little squares that he talks to you in. These are different from speech balloons, which is the stuff he says to other characters.

Ana: Will there be more Joey Fly books?

Aaron: Definitely! The second book is done and Neil is already finishing the art for it. I’ve seen his sketches and they are AMAZING! It’s better than the first book. And I’m currently working on the third book and have cool ideas about a fourth. So, we’ll keep going as long as the publisher lets us and the ideas keep coming. That is, if Neil is okay with that…

Neil: Of course I’m ok with it! The second Joey Fly is the most fun I’ve ever had on a project! I can’t wait to read the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh!

Ana: Which other books, especially graphic novels, would you recommend to kids who like this book?

Aaron: I really a huge fan of graphic novels for kids…there’s a new one out called The Amulet by Kazi Kibuishi that I LOVE! The second one just came out. I also love the Artemis Fowl graphic novel…definitely worth checking out if you haven’t seen it. Also Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale is AWESOME! I’m also a huge fan of an old European comic called Asterix. I used to buy them as a kid at flea markets and they are still SO FUNNY.

Neil: Old Mickey Mouse comics have great mystery and suspense, Tintin by Herge, Super Mario Adventures by Kentaro Takekuma and Charlie Nozawa, and if you like the wordplay in Joey Fly, check out The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster!

They have made several other stops on this tour. You may want to visit to learn as much as you can about this book and this great team. A few of their stops have included:

November 2--Writing For Kids (While Raising Them)

November 2--Book Nut

November 6--Abby the Librarian

Our 5th grade Graphic Novel Club in the library is well underway and a few of the kids have already read this title. I am thinking I might offer this as a book club title to 3rd and 4th graders this winter. It is a great new book with so many fun things to discuss. I think it is worth buying several copies.

More good news: You can follow Joey Fly on Twitter!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Fear


I am not afraid of the dark
or cold weather
or hard work.

I am not afraid to be caught
without an umbrella
and I'm not afraid (anymore)
of those big millipedes
that are sometimes in the sink
when I turn on the kitchen light
in the morning
in the summer.

I am not afraid to walk on ice
or skip a meal
or swim in deep water.

I'm not afraid to drive alone
across the country
and I'm not afraid (anymore)
of unknowns:
taking risks,
speaking in front of strangers,
navigating in new places
where there may or may not be
clear signage.

The round up today is at The Drift Record.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

2 New Books for Winter

I picked up two new picture books for winter. I think they will both be fun read alouds. Both are about the joys of winter. Now, I am not a big fan of winter. But these books do remind me of the fun of winter play. Kids will definitely relate to the fun that the characters are having in both of these books.

HERE COMES JACK FROST by Kazuno Kohara is about a a little boy who hates winter...until he meets Jack Frost. When he does, they have a great time together--playing in the snow, ice skating, and sledding. As long as the boy doesn't mention anything warm, they can have a great time! The illustrations are great--all done with blues and white. The illustration on the cover was what drew me to the book.

The other book is CHAUCER'S FIRST WINTER by Stephen Krensky is a fun book about a little bear who wants to know what winter is all about. But, bears sleep through the winters. Chaucer decides to go out while his parents are sleeping. He learns all about winter and has a great time with his friends--slipping and sliding and having snowball fights. He finally goes back home excited about all that he has discovered about winter.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I am so happy to have discovered this new nonfiction picture book. Last month, I attended a workshop and Selections Bookfairs was there selling books. Since our school has a courtyard, I have been trying to build our collection of books related to some of the things they kids see there and I've been lucky to find some great new bird books this year. WHOSE NEST IS THIS? by Heidi Bee Roemer is one of my new favorites. I thought at first glance that this book was about birds, but it is about more than just birds. I always forget that there are many other creatures that build nests. I think kids do too.

The first page of the book tells us that spring has arrived and many parents are making nests for their young. Then the rest of the book becomes a great guessing game. Each two-page spread has a clue filled with information on the left side. On the right side we find the answer. Although many of the nests belong to birds, we find that turtles, mice, and wasps also build nests. The guessing format makes it a fun one to read and along the way, we learn so many things about nests and habitats. So many different things are used to build nests and they are built in such a variety of places. This book is just packed with information.

The end of the book has a Fun-Fact Glossary with a bit more information on the animals in the book.

I can see so many reasons to read this book. It can serve as a type of field guide. It can be used for kids as they are learning about animals and/or habitats. And it is a great format for nonfiction writing. It could serve as a great mentor text. I always love to find nonfiction writing that has such rich language.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I love when people come up with new things and Lou Brooks has come up with Twimericks--Limericks and Tongue Twisters all rolled up. You can tell right away that this book is a fun one. There is a warning on the first page:


Then the author goes on to tell us a bit about the history of Limericks and a bit about Tongue Twisters. Then he goes on to tell us what happens when you put the two together. Following this introduction are 36 Twimericks that are quite fun. Some of my favorites (all listed in the Cable of Tontents:-) are Rufus the Goofus, Banana Bonanza and Six Silly Swiss Sisters. My very favorite is "Frankly, Frank Fankley" (of course, because it has my name in it--kind of).

This book is great fun and would be a great addition to any classroom poetry collection. It begs to be read aloud. Reading them aloud is quite fun! (I read a few aloud to my husband while he was watching hockey. My reading wasn't quite enough to pull him away from the TV but he did chuckle a bit.) I can also see kids having lots of word play fun in writing workshop, word study, etc. Just a fun, playful book!

Monday, November 16, 2009

NCTE 2009

NCTE's Annual Convention is the most important thing I do for my own professional development. Last year, I was able to hear Tim Tyson, Kathy Yancey, Karl Fisch and others who helped me create a vision for where I wanted to go in my own teaching and learning. And I did meet Grover from Sesame Street after hearing CEO, Gary Knell speak. Last year, the convention really helped me solidify my thinking about 21st Century Literacies and has carried me through the year. I always love to get together and learn from such smart people.

I am totally excited about this year's convention in Philadelphia. I am looking forward to seeing good friends, checking out new books and going to great sessions. I read the book THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Juno Diaz and am excited about hearing him speak at the Opening Session of the convention on Thursday. He is just the first of many amazing speakers.

I am not quite sure how to focus my time--so many great choices. I LOVE the theme of this year's convention, "Once and Future Classics: Reading Between the Lines". Carol Jago, NCTE's President-Elect, has put together an amazing program. So many great sessions about books and literacy. I was amazed to see the number of authors who would be at the convention. I am hoping to make time to see Jennifer and Matt Holm since I am such a Babymouse fan. I would love to see Gordon Korman and many of the others who are listed in the program.

I will probably focus my time on 21st Century topics again this year. I am looking forward to hearing Troy Hicks and Bud Hunt's session, "Creating Opportunities for Learning with Newer Literacies and Technologies". I am also anxious to hear Ralph Fletcher talk about word play and Teri Lesesne share new YA titles. I am totally bummed that I won't be able to hear my local friends and colleagues--Mary Lee, Katie D, and Karen T present on their work. I love the title of their session--"Going Public: How Sharing Your Teaching Beyond the Classroom Can Make You a Better Teacher"--Brilliant, don't you think? And I am also looking forward to hearing Kylene's Beers' address at the General Session on Sunday. She is always brilliant and her talks always make me think. I am attending several Children's Literature Assembly events and am looking forward to those.

It is always a great time to connect with friends and colleagues and to re-energize and think about the possibilities with people who believe in kids and in the power of literacy.

I loved Kevin's post at Kevin's Meandering Mind this week. He brought some sessions to my attention that I hadn't yet seen in the program. I am adding those as well as his session to my list. I think he started a great trend--sharing the sessions we've found. I feel like there are so many options that I'll miss many without the help of others who are also looking through the program.

Hopefully, we'll run into lots of you there!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Gift of Days: The Greatest Words to Live By

A Gift of Days: The Greatest Words to Live By
by Stephen Alcorn
Simon & Schuster, 2009
review copy provided by the publisher

I'm not sure this is a children's book, but I LOVE books of quotations and this one is unique and stunningly beautiful.

Each of the 366 quotes is from a different famous person on their birthday. Those featured are "famous activists and artists, athletes and writers, inventors and explorers, healers and politicians, musicians and moguls." There is a full-page block print portrait of a famous person on every double-page spread, each one stylistically different and perfectly capturing the essence of the person featured. There is more information about each of the people whose quotes are featured in the back of the book.

Check out the Alcorn Studio & Gallery and you'll recognize many books that Alcorn has illustrated.

I'm thinking this will make a FABULOUS gift book...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Call for Poetry Friday Round Up Hosts

In an effort to keep this great good thing we know and love as Poetry Friday running as smoothly as possible until such time as its founder, Kelly Herold, is able to take the reins again, and under the advisement of Greg (GottaBook), Tricia (Miss Rumphius), Susan (Chicken Spaghetti), and Diane (Random Noodling), I am putting out a call for Poetry Friday Round Up Hosts for the next three months.

I will post the schedule on our blog, on the calendar of the Kidlitosphere Yahoo group, and on the Kidlitosphere website. In addition, I will make the code for the schedule available to whoever requests it so that you, too, can have the schedule in your blog's sidebar if you so desire!

Leave your requested Friday in the comments or email me directly at mlhahn at earthlink dot net.

EDITED: Dates are filling up fast -- see schedule in sidebar. Thanks to all who have (and will) volunteer!!!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Veterans' Day Coincidence

Tricia's Poetry Stretch this week at The Miss Rumphius Effect was to write a rictameter, which is an unrhymed nine line poetry form with a syllable count of 2,4,6,8,10,8,6,4,2 and the first and last lines the same.

Here's my rictameter, and then I'll tell you the rest of the story behind it:

Two books,
both about war,
both read on Veterans Day.
Coincidence. First, MARE'S WAR by
Tanita Davis, then CROSSING STONES by
Helen Frost. War's no solution,
and it's not the only
problem in these
two books.

by Tanita S. Davis
Alfred A. Knopf, 2009
review copy provided by the publisher

Mare's war was WWII. She joined the African American Women's Army Corps at the age of 17 (lying that she was 21) to escape the dead end of 1940's life in rural Alabama, where the best jobs she could hope for as a Black woman who hadn't finished high school were being the house girl for Mrs. Ida Payne and busing tables and cleaning the kitchen of Young's Diner.

In this book, Mare is taking a road trip from California to Alabama with her two teenage granddaughters. The narrative switches between chapters about "then" when Mare is telling her life story to her granddaughters, and "now" as we see the two girls' reluctance about the trip change to interest in their grandmother's experiences and finally appreciation and admiration for her strength and independence.

By listening in on Mare's stories, I learned things about WWII, the WAC, segregation, and Civil Rights that are never included in history books.

Besides the coincidence of finishing this book on Veterans Day, I was tickled to note that Mare's full name is Marey Lee Boylen (closest I've ever come to finding a book character with my name!) and one of the granddaughters is named Talitha, which is the name of one of my great grandmothers.

More reviews at ACPL Mock Newbery, The Miss Rumphius Effect, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Jen Robinson's Book Page, A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy, Charlotte's Library...and there are probably more...if I missed yours, leave a link in the comments!

Here's Tanita's blog and here's more about the African American WACs.

by Helen Frost
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009
review copy provided by the publisher

I couldn't believe it when the next book I picked up after finishing MARE'S WAR on the afternoon of Veterans' Day was a book about WWI.

Remember how Frost's amazing diamond poems in DIAMOND WILLOW added so much to the story? (Bill's post at Literate Lives convinced me to read the book, and Tricia's Poetry Makers post featuring Helen Frost elevated her to One Of My Favorites!) Frost describes the poetry forms that she uses in CROSSING STONES this way:
"I've created a formal structure to give the sense of stepping from stone to stone across a flowing creek. I think of this kind of writing as painting with words, a process involving hands, eyes, ears, thought, and emotion, all simultaneously working together.

The relatively free style of Muriel's poems represent the creek flowing over the stones as it pushes against its banks. Ollie's and Emma's poems represent the stones. I "painted" them to look round and smooth, each with a slightly different shape, like real stones. They are "cupped-hand sonnets," fourteen-line poems in which the first line rhymes with the last line, the second line rhymes with the second-to-last, and so on, so that the seventh and eighth lines rhyme with each other at the poem's center. In Ollie's poems the rhymes are the beginning words of each line, and in Emma's poems they are the end words.

To give the sense of stepping from one stone to the next, I have used the middle rhyme of one sonnet as the outside rhyme of the next. You will see that the seventh and eighth lines of each of Emma's poems rhyme with the first and last lines of Ollie's next poem, and the seventh and eighth lines of Ollie's poems rhyme with the first an last lines of Emma's next poem."
Despite the seeming complexity of the structure of this book, the form NEVER gets in the way of the story. Muriel's free-flowing poems match her free thinking about her own future (NOT as a farm wife, as everyone else seems to expect of her) and the suffrage movement. Emma's and Ollie's poems are solid and almost invisibly interconnected, bringing their two families and their own lives closer and closer.

Again in this book, I learned things that are never found in history books about WWI, the suffragettes, the Spanish Flu Epidemic, settlement houses in Chicago (Hull House) and Washington, D.C., and the ability of body and soul to heal from the ravages of war.

Put both these books on your "must read" list. They are too good to pass by.

Greg's doing the Poetry Friday round up this week at GottaBook.

Where Else in the Wild?

Where Else in the Wild? More Camouflaged Creatures Concealed...and Revealed
Ear-Tickling Poems by David M. Schwartz and Yael Schy
Eye-Tricking Photos by Dwight Kuhn
Tricycle Press, 2009
review copy provided by the publisher

This book has everything! There are fabulous poems, things to search for in the stunning photographs, flaps to lift that reveal the hidden animal in case you couldn't find it, and more information about the hidden animal to balance the information in the poem and photograph.

Apparently, I missed the first book, Where in the Wild? and David Schwartz writes on the I.N.K. blog about another book, What in the Wild?, that will accompany these two. Fun books that you will definitely want for your nonfiction collection...or your poetry collection...or both!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Making Plans for Newbery Announcement Day

100 Scope Notes has the scoop on where to watch the live webcast of the ALA Newbery/Caldecott Awards and how to stay in touch on Twitter. (Yes, I just gave you the links, but you need to go to his post to see the FABULOUS picture of him and his 1984 computer!)

Hopefully there won't be another Terrible Twitter Technology Fail like last year...not that anyone remembers...

And while you're waiting for the Newbery/Caldecott announcement, check out the list of 2009 *best of* lists that Susan, aka Chicken Spaghetti, is collecting.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan

Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan
by Jeanette Winter
Simon and Schuster, 2009
review copy provided by the publisher

This book is based on a true story of a girl in Afghanistan who loses both parents to the Taliban and who is being raised by her grandmother. Seeing that her granddaughter has retreated into a mire of silent grief for her parents, the grandmother enrolls her in a secret school for girls. This book is a testament to the power of a teacher, a friend, and books to bring this little girl back to life and hope.

In the author's note, Winter writes: "Even now, after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, danger remains. Still, schools are bombed, set on fire, and closed down. Still, there are death threats to teachers. Still, girls are attacked or threatened if they go to school. And STILL, the girls, their families, and their teachers defy the tyranny by keeping the schools open. Their courage has never wavered.”

For more on the importance of educating the women of the world, see this New York Times Magazine article. Be sure you watch the audio slide show "A Powerful Truth" that can be found in the sidebar about halfway down the page, and view this montage of photographs submitted by readers "that illustrate the importance of educating girls and empowering women." (Thank you to @karenszymusiak for these links via Twitter.)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Thank You Ink Spells!

A Year of Reading has been awarded a Kreativ Blogger award by Susan at Ink Spells. Thank you so much, Susan!

We've been looking for an excuse to share a little linky luv with a couple of new blogs you should check out, so we'll pass this award on to:

Read...Write...Talk, a new blog that is taking a smart look at reading and writing workshop. Her classroom is 8th grade, but her thinking is universally sound. Head over and take a look -- great stuff going on there!


Some Novel Ideas. Stacy is also a middle school teacher, but she's thinking about technology, school libraries, Scholastic Book Fairs, and more. Add her to your reader and watch for great things to develop on her blog!

Here are the rules for passing on this award, but we are going to fudge a few of the steps since things are pretty crazy in both of our lives this week.

1) Copy the pretty picture and post it on your blog.
2) Thank the person that gave it to you and link to their blog.
3) Write 7 things about yourself we don't know. (gotta pass this time, but here's an old meme that might tell you a few things about each of us that you don't know...)
4) Choose 7 other bloggers to pass the award to. (we'll stick with two...)
5) Link to those 7 other bloggers. (or two, as the case may be...)
6) Notify your 7 bloggers. (or two, as the case may be...)

Another Great Lego Book: COOL CARS AND TRUCKS by Sean Kenney

I was thrilled to find one more LEGO book at the bookstore this weekend. This one is a small book for younger readers. It is called COOL CARS AND TRUCKS written by Sean Kenney, a Lego Certified Professional. (There are less than 10 of these in the world!) After reading about Sean and watching a videoclip in which he talks about the book, I am hoping he does more of these great books for kids.

This book is fun on many levels. So many interesting cars and trucks to look at. And I can see many kids starting to create some of these with the book as their guide. There are instructions in the book that help kids see the steps used to create the cars. The text is simple and the photos are up against a white background so you can clearly see the pieces that go into creating each vehicle. Between the book and Sean Kenney's website, I am again reminded about what is possible with Legos. I loved the Lego Book Set that I purchased a few weeks ago and the Lego Star Wars Book is definitely a popular one in the library. But this one is different. The other books share lots of great information, history, etc. But this new book by Sean Kenney really invites kids in on the process--these are things that kids can sit down and make and then hopefully revise based on their own ideas. A great addition to the few Lego books available.

There are several building options available to our students in the library this year. We have spent a lot of time talking about the library as a place that has a variety of tools for your learning. Legos are definitely in use most of the day and I continue to be amazed watching kids play and create with these. The conversations they have, the ideas they share, and the thinking they do continue to remind me how important these building tools are.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


The Lion & the Mouse
by Jerry Pinkney
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 2009
review copy provided by the publisher

You've really got to see this book, to hold it in your hands and look closely at the illustrations for yourself.

First you'll look at the lion on the title-free front of the dust jacket. You'll follow his eyes to the back of the dust jacket and smile at the mouse you find there. Next, you'll open the book and look at the endpapers. In the front, they'll speak to you of the African setting of the story. Flip to the back, and you'll be thinking of the importance of family. Just for fun, you'll take the dust jacket off and be delighted to find two different paintings on the front and back covers of the book. (How on earth are libraries going to make all of these before-you-open-the-book parts of the book accessible to patrons?!?)

This wordless retelling of Aesop's fable of the Lion and the Mouse begins with the mouse escaping by a whisker from an owl. In her distracted state, she runs up the back of a lion who uncharacteristically allows her to go free. When she hears the roar of the lion captured in a rope net, she doesn't think twice. She runs to his aid and chews the ropes until he's freed. Watch for the mouse (and her whole clan) on the back of the lion again at the end of the book. And make sure you save a giggle for the lion cub holding onto dad's tail as they walk.

In the artist's note, Pinkney writes about the big hearts of both of these characters, about the power of both the life-changing decisions of the lion to free the mouse and of the mouse to reciprocate and free the lion. He writes of the importance of the setting, the African Serengeti of Tanzania and Kenya, for which he has curiosity, reverence and concern, and of family (so obvious in the endpapers).

I'll be surprised if this book is passed over by the Caldecott committee...

Friday, November 06, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Beyond Surrounding Clouds

by James Weldon Johnson

My heart be brave, and do not falter so,
Nor utter more that deep, despairing wail.
Thy way is very dark and drear I know,
But do not let thy strength and courage fail;
For certain as the raven-winged night
Is followed by the bright and blushing morn
Thy coming morrow will be clear and bright;
'Tis darkest when the night is furthest worn.
Look up, and out, beyond surrounding clouds...

(the rest of the poem is at the Poetry Foundation)

This poem goes out to all who are struggling right now along ways that are dark and drear and that make their hearts utter deep despairing wails. " not let thy strength and courage fail..." and remember, "Thy coming morrow will be clear and bright..."

This, too, shall pass.

The round up this week is at Wild Rose Reader. Thank you, Elaine, for stepping in and gathering us together!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

New Gingerbread Man Book

I just got a copy of GINGERBREAD MAN SUPERHERO! by Dotti Enderle. I think kids are going to love this one. As with most of the gingerbread stories, the Little Old Woman makes a gingerbread man as a treat for her husband. But before popping him in the oven.."remembering how grumpy The Little Old Man has been lately...she pressed a nice plump prune in the belly." And the story continues. The gingerbread man escapes, finds a dishtowel to wear as a cape and soars over town and finds someone who needs help. This is a fun superhero story and a fun new version of this favorite story. There is a refrain, as you would expect and the art is almost comic booky with talking bubbles and text boxes. A fun addition to our gingerbread collection!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Who Would Like a Christmas Tree?

Who Would Like a Christmas Tree?
by Ellen Bryan Obed
illustrated by Anne Hunter
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2009
review copy provided by the publisher

I know the pumpkins are still sitting on the porch, but soon enough, cars will be driving down the road with Christmas trees tied on. Here's a book to remind you that "your" Christmas tree once belonged to a host of animals.

In January, the chickadees want the Christmas tree for the seeds and insect eggs they find hidden in the bark and needles, and for the warmth of the thick branches. In February and March the field mice and white-tailed deer want the Christmas tree. All through the months, different animals, insects, birds and other plants want the Christmas tree. And you can guess who wants it in December!

Information in the back of the book tells how a Christmas tree farmer in Maine takes care of her trees throughout the year.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Interview with Patrick Allen, Author of CONFERRING: THE KEYSTONE OF READER'S WORKSHOP

Today, Patrick Allen's new book, CONFERRING: THE KEYSTONE OF READER'S WORKSHOP is available through Stenhouse. I am excited to read this book. I have heard Patrick Allen speak at several conferences and he is BRILLIANT about conferring. I spent some time reading parts of the book online but am anxious to get my hands on a copy now that it is available! I interviewed Patrick about his book and about reading conferences. Enjoy!

Franki: Tell us a little bit about the title of your book-what do you mean by Keystone?

Patrick: It’s kind of an ironic story. I write about it in my introduction. I was talking to my eldest sister, Joy, about my students and the work I was doing with conferring. During the course of our conversation, she compared the work I was doing with readers to the craftsmanship of my father (a stonemason and bricklayer). After our conversation, I wrote about an experience I had with dad years ago when he turned to me and asked me, “So… what do you think?” It was the first time I remember anyone looking me in the eye, asking my opinion, and then waiting for a response.

A keystone is the central voussoir of an arch. It is said to hold the weight of an arch and is often the last stone put in place, but it is the most important part of an arch. So, I thought a keystone was a perfect comparison.

To understand the power of conferring in reader’s workshop the keystone became the metaphor I chose to use as I wrote. The work keystone comes from the Latin clavis for “key”… meaning imperative, vital, essential. The same words I would use to describe conferring.
I had the idea of the keystone in my mind long before I wrote my first word… I love the image.

Franki: What is the place of conferring in a reading workshop?

Patrick: I think it is one of the most essential things we can do with readers. Conferring is of utmost import.

Ellin Keene points out, conferring is one of the five most powerful instructional tools we have at our disposal. And, conferring is something that I have spent a lot of time honing—learning to do better (and I’m still learning). I look forward each day to the conferences I have with readers during the composing portion of the reader’s workshop. Lori Conrad (a friend and colleague) and I have come to realize that conferring:
• Mirrors rich conversations
• Shepherds developing readers and writers
• Provides an authentic context for ongoing assessment and response

Conferring has become a nonnegotiable routine in my classroom. It provides the opportunity for my students and me to discuss and explore ideas in a manageable, thoughtful way. It’s the shared “coming to know” that I value most. Conferring is the most important thing I do with readers. It’s my favorite part of reader’s workshop.

Franki: You talk early in the book about purposeful conversations. Do you see conferences as conversations?

Patrick: I see them as conversations and so much more. My favorite conferences take on a conversational tone; the most effective conferences do. But, they also provide meaningful instruction, stretch thinking and monitor understanding, leave the reader with a specific goal, etc. Ultimately, I think conferences strengthen the capacity for students to be independent readers.

In Chapter Six of the book (titled “Conferring Walk-Aways). I write about what I hope students walk-away with after a conference or series of conferences. My friend, Cheryl Zimmerman and I created a list of walk-aways after she visited my room. The list continues to develop.
If I can make the experience of conferring more authentic and conversational in tone, I think readers become more metacognitive, and ultimately, more independent. There’s an amazing since of trust that develops if we confer honestly and sincerely. As I was writing the book, I was shocked about how many times I used the word conversation. It’s an important word when it comes to conferring. And, purposeful is an important descriptor of those conversations.

Franki: What makes reading conferences more difficult for teachers than writing conferences?

Patrick: Good question. One I’ve thought a lot about…
For me, reading conferences seem somewhat less tangible than writing conferences. My colleague, Lisa Olsen, once said “I think the reading conference is shrouded in mystery largely because we think some sort of divine intervention needs to, or is going to, take place...” Lisa explained that if we see conferences in this light, we neglect to see and hear the simple truths of what can emerge from each and every conference. We have to focus on the reader, then those truths can emerge.

There are many parallels between writing conferences and reading conferences, but there’s a twist that makes reading conferences unique. I love the challenge of conferring with readers; it’s about what a reader is thinking, wondering, discovering about himself and his process. It’s a grand discovery. I feel so blessed every time I sit down side-by-side a reader.
There’s been a lot written about writing conferences, so it’s been so much fun for me over the years to learn from great conferrers like Debbie Miller and Ellin Keene. I love the ambiguity of trying to really study how reading conferences work… it has been and continues to be an exciting inquiry.

Franki: You talk about conferring myths. Can you tell us a bit about that and one myth that you think really holds teachers back?

Patrick: Well, my colleague Lori and I chose to call them counterfeit beliefs rather than myths. As a classroom teacher, who also works as a staff developer, I’ve heard lots of excuses about why reading conferences can’t or don’t work. Early in the book, I dispel some of the misconceptions I’ve encountered in my work with other teachers. Basically, this list started as Lori and I kept a list of the things we heard teachers say about conferring.

When visitors come to my classroom, they always comment about the way I confer. Questions about conferring take a prominent role in our debriefing sessions. Often teachers say, “I could never do that…” And, I say, “Yes you can…” It is an art, but we can all dabble.

What holds teachers back? I wrote about ten counterfeit beliefs that we encountered, but there may be others. I think teachers need to think about the kinds of things they say to themselves about why they don’t confer more often and then ask themselves, “Why?” and “What am I going to do about it?” That’s the first step.

A lot of Conferring is about the journey I went through as I tried to change some of my beliefs and to enhance my instruction. I hope that as people read the book, they’ll understand that like all great learning, learning to confer takes time, energy, and practice, but it’s well-worth the effort! My own journey has made conferring the keystone of my reader’s workshop.

Throughout the book, I’ve interspersed “ponderings” that readers can spend time reflecting on (it’s my hope that they will take time to think, write, or talk about them). We have to ponder, to think, if we ever expect to get better.

Franki: What tips do you have about record keeping for conferring?

Patrick: You have to develop your own system. Don’t rely on someone else to hand you a system or say here, “Make this…” Can you use their ideas? Sure. But take them as a suggestion.
For me it was first about developing a structure for my conferences (I call it the R. I. P. model). The record keeping system followed. My record keeping system is simple and flexible, personalized (not cutesy), and purposeful. I write a bit about the format I’ve developed. It works for me.

What wouldn’t I recommend? Using someone else’s system without first trying it out… it’s not one-size fits all. We’ve all tried record keeping systems that sound great as we read about them, we copy the idea… then it doesn’t quite work out as planned and we give up.
I created a form that aligns with the structure of my reading conferences (And, I’m playing around a bit with some things I’ve learned from you). It’s all part of the process of learning to confer and confer well.

I think that we can use our conferences as a viable means to monitor a reader’s progress, so we have to keep practicing and exploring this aspect of conferring. And, as I point out in the book, we have to look at conferring versus collecting… which was a great conversation I had with my good friend, Troy Rushmore. And, there are lots of “collectors” out there.

I also recommend that you do something. If we’re always looking for a perfect record-keeping system, often we forget the reason we needed it in the first place.

Franki: Can you talk a bit about the balance between student ownership and teaching with rigor?

Patrick: Balance. That’s an intriguing word. I think that the balance shifts depending upon so many factors—experience, interest, strengths, growth areas, etc. Without moving ownership to the forefront of a conference will it be filled with rigor? If we try to focus on rigor, but readers have no ownership, will our conferences be as effective? We have to ask, “Who’s in control?”
I used the ideas of cultivating rigor, nurturing inquiry, and developing intimacy as I wrote about the essential components of conferring. Ellin Keene says we must, “Create an unseen culture of rigor, inquiry, and intimacy by continually expecting more, probing ideas further, and pressing students to explore their intellect." (2008) I explored conferences through each of these lenses and discovered the answers to some important questions I was having about reading conferences.

Chapter five in the book is all about this very issue.

Franki: What is one thing you hope readers walk away with after reading your new book?

Patrick: One thing? One thing questions are hard to answer, but here goes… belief in children.

In the prologue, I write about a teacher who made a lasting impact on each of my four children—simply by believing in him or her… and by conferring regularly.

Thank you, Franki and Mary Lee, for inviting me to share Conferring: The Keystone of Reader’s Workshop on your blog. It’s been an honor. I’m so proud of this book and I appreciate the opportunity to share it with your readers.

Monday, November 02, 2009

My Halloween Costume-Scaredy Squirrel

I loved my Halloween costume this year. I was Scaredy Squirrel, thanks to Beth at Cover to Cover. She made my costume and it was quite fun dressing as one of my favorite book characters!
I meant to post it last week but am finally getting to it!

Similes and Metaphors

A simile is a figure of speech that compares two unlike things, often introduced with the word "like" or "as." For example: I am as hungry as a bear.

A metaphor is also a form of comparison, but it does not use "like" or "as." For example: That last math problem is a bear!

Similes and metaphors seem to often be taught in the spring, right before state tests, judging from the number of hits we get on our Poetry Friday post, "Poetry Friday -- Simile and Metaphor Poems." Why not start exploring these forms of comparisons with your students NOW, so they can be using them in their writing all year long and have the difference between the two of them internalized by April??

Here are two great books that explore metaphors and invite you to write more. Both are personal copies.

by Bernard Waber
Houghton Mifflin Books, 2002

"Courage is being the first to make up after an argument."
"Courage is breaking bad habits."
"Courage is a blade of grass breaking through the icy snow.
by Harriet Ziefert
illustrated by Jennifer Rapp
Blue Apple Books, 2005

"Misery is when your mom insists on sensible school shoes and you really want flip-flops."
"Misery is two against one -- especially if you're not part of the twosome."
"Misery is learning that you and everyone in your class will be checked for head lice!"

Sunday, November 01, 2009


Beth at Cover to Cover shared this fun book with me this week. It is called BUYING, TRAINING, AND CARING FOR YOUR DINOSAUR. It is written by Laura J. Rennert and Illustrated by Marc Brown. This book is quite fun. This is written in the same format you would find any pet-care book. It tells you how to choose the right dinosaur, how to train dinosaurs, how to bathe your dinosaur, and more. Each page focuses on one piece of advice with so much added information about dinosaurs. As you can guess, this book is quite amusing and I can see it as a really fun one to study in writing workshop. Some pages follow the genre of How-To writing while other pages give advice such as advice for when traveling by car, "Make sure to leave the windows open. Extra leg room, or in this case, head and tail room is always good." Marc Brown's illustrations are too fun--colorful and happy and you often find yourself forgetting that dinosaurs do not really make good pets. Everyone in the pictures seems so happy having one as a pet!