Tuesday, May 31, 2011

#bookaday -- Mal and Chad

Mal and Chad: The Biggest, Bestest Time Ever! (Mal & Chad)

Mal and Chad: The Biggest, Bestest Time Ever
by Stephen McCranie
Philomel, May 2011
review copy purchased for my classroom library

One of the last things I heard as I walked my students to the bus last Friday was, "Can I come back and visit you next year and check books out of your classroom library?" It was a rhetorical question; my students have seen 5th graders coming back to browse my shelves all year long. I have the best books, that's all there is to it. It's my goal: something to tempt every reader and if I don't have it, I'll scour the library and bookstores to get it.

My graphic novel readers are going to LOVE Mal and Chad. A reviewer on Amazon puts it this way, "Imagine "Dexter's Laboratory," "Jimmy Neutron," and a dash of "Calvin & Hobbes" and you've got a pretty good idea of what "Mal and Chad" is like." Mal is the super-brilliant inventor boy, and Chad is his talking side-kick dog. Their adventures include a time machine and dinosaurs, underwater exploration in the kitchen sink thanks to a mini-mega-morpher and some magic lollipops, and a little bit of a crush on a girl who can throw a flaming dodge bomb in dodgeball.

At the beginning of the book, Mal's teacher is trying to get him to write a short essay on what he wants to be when he grows up. What Mal finally comes up with is this: 
"I spent the whole week trying out different jobs, but I couldn't figure out what I wanted to be when I grow up. Then I realized that finding a job wouldn't answer the question of what I want to be...it would only answer the question of what I want to do. In the end, I found out that being the person you want to be is more important than getting the job you want to get. And if that's the case, why wait until I'm an adult? I'm going to try to be the person I want to be right now." 
Yes, I'll be using this book in our study of theme. (It's stated, not implied, but it's a good one, isn't it?!?)

Monday, May 30, 2011

#bookaday -- ML's TBR Pile

Yes, it's a towering stack, but I've already read the three thinnest, I've thrown one out because it's the second in a series, and I'm more than halfway through The Wednesday Wars. (Clever and practical of me to have borrowed the middle of the pile from the library, eh? I have to read some books I missed -- Jennifer Holm, Gary Schmidt -- so that I can read the next in the series...because you know how I am about reading series in order!) And did you notice the ADULT reads  there at the bottom of stack -- Geraldine Brooks' new one, Caleb's Crossing (I LOVED People of the Book and March) and an anthology of poems by the Poets Laureate. I'll have to add to the pile in order to have enough to make it through Mother Reader's 48 Hour Book Challenge next weekend, and to last me for two weeks when I go home to visit Mom.

Then again, life might conspire to prevent me from finishing a book a day EVERY day of summer break. Hanging over my head are the two journal articles I still need to complete, and the ppt presentation that needs polishing. I have a bit more paperwork and classroom put-to-bed work that needs to be done at school, and the other 1/3 of the land lab needs to be mulched. The 2/3 I mulched last week with the help of 10 of my students looks great, doesn't it?

My own flower beds need attention (I did get the herbs planted today before it got too hot), there are piles to excavate in my home office, and (YAY!) a birthday cake to bake for a weekend celebration.

Hooray for summer break!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Poetry Friday: Annie Dillard

There's a real power here. It is amazing that trees can turn gravel and bitter salts into these soft-lipped lobes, as if I were to bite down on a granite slab and start to swell, bud, and flower. Trees seem to do their feats so effortlessly. Every year a given tree creates absolutely from scratch ninety-nine percent of its living parts. Water lifting up tree trunks can climb one hundred and fifty feet an hour; in full summer a tree can, and does, heave a ton of water every day. A big elm in a single season might make as many as six million leaves, wholly intricate, without budging an inch; I couldn't make one. A tree stands there, accumulating deadwood, mute and rigid as an obelisk, but secretly it seethes; it splits, sucks, and stretches; it heaves up tons and hurls them out in a green, fringed fling. No person taps this free power; the dynamo in the tulip tree pumps out ever more tulip tree, and it runs on rain and air. (p. 114)

Along with intricacy, there is another aspect of the creation that has impressed me in the course of my wanderings...Look, in short, at practically anything--the coot's foot, the mantis's face, a banana, the human ear--and see that not only did the creator create everything, but that he is apt to create anything. He'll stop at nothing.  (p.138)

What I aim to do is not so much learn the names of the shreds of creation that flouish in this valley, but to keep myself open to their meanings, which is to try to impress myself at all times with the fullest possible force of their very reality. I want to have things as multiply and intricately as possible and visible in my mind. Then I might be able to sit on the hill by the burnt books where the starlings fly over, and see not only the starlings, the grass field, the quarried rock, the viney woods, Hollis Pond, and the mountains beyond, but also, and simultaneously, feathers' barbs, springtails in the soil, crystal in rock, chloroplasts streaming, rotifers pulsing, and the shape of the air in the pines. And, if I try to keep my eye on quantum physics, if I try to keep up with astronomy and cosmology, and really believe it all, I might ultimately be able to make out the landscape of the universe. Why not? (p.141)

from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard.

Yes, I'm playing a little fast and loose with the idea of poetry here, but I've been listening to Pilgrim at Tinker Creek on my commute to and from school for the past few weeks, and Annie Dillard's words are the poetry I've been hearing as I drive through this wet, green, lush, pulsing, growing spring. The mystery of the earth re-making itself has pushed to the back of my mind the (too much) to-do lists that come with the end of the school year.

And now, suddenly, it is here. The end of the school year. Our last day. The mystery and miracle of watching children accumulate another year of knowledge, skills, manners, personality will be put on hold until the end of August. All of my intimate knowledge of the intricacies of this group of children -- their handwriting, the way their smiles come slow or fast, how much I need to suggest or tease or pressure them to do their very best -- this all will be lost by the end of the summer, in order to make room for the next batch, brood, class.

Heidi has the Poetry Friday roundup today at my juicy little universe.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives

Another great professional book to add to your summer reading is PAM ALLYN'S BEST BOOKS FOR BOYS: HOW TO ENGAGE BOYS IN READING IN WAYS THAT WILL CHANGE THEIR LIVES. This book is packed with great titles and information on helping boys engage in books, to become part of the culture of literacy. Pam Allyn is so knowledgeable when it comes to books and boys that she is a perfect person to write a book on this topic.  I learned about her commitment to boys and literacy years ago when I read about her Books for Boys program at the Children's Village.   I was thrilled to see that she brought her understanding about how to connect boys and books to this new resource for teachers and parents.  This is a must-have resource for anyone interested in connecting boys to books. 

We had the opportunity to interview Pam Allyn about her new book.  Here is what she has to say:

What prompted you to write this book?
Pam:  In my travels to classrooms around the country, the boys themselves ask me to please share with people the books they love. They are not finding a reading place in their classrooms. I was compelled to share this message by them.
What is your current thinking on the issue of Boys and Literacy? Why is this an issue that we need to pay attention to?
Pam:  My current thinking is that we are in a very rocky place right now and that if we don't act quickly, we are going to see the results of poor statistics for boys in our prisons and our unemployment lines.

I’ve followed your work with the Boys’ Village over the years. Can you share a bit of the work that you’ve done there?
Pam:  I started the books for boys campaign there nearly a decade ago to create a reading culture on campus there. This is a residential school for New York's foster care kids. It's ended up being all male just because that's where the need is. I started very simply: putting books in the boys' hands. I was amazed at how powerful the "right" book was to turn them on to reading. And by "right" I mean the book that connected with the boy's own passion or interest. I then recruited community members to come in and read to the boys. The read aloud plays a very central role in the initiative.
If you were to list 2-3 things that have made the most difference in turning the village into a reading community, what would those be?
Pam:  One thing is that we never just throw books at kids. We really think a lot about the match up between boy and book and what is going to create that dynamic spark. The second thing is that we surround the reading with community. The boys there are lonely enough. We want them to see that reading is a way to be together. We've started Book Clubs and Poetry Slams that help the boys to see that by reading, we come together.
I love this line in the introduction of your book: “My work alongside teachers in schools across the country and the globe has taught me that simple changes in what we provide for boys and how we talk with them about the choices they make as readers can and will have profound impact on the outcomes we want for all readers.”  What are some first steps teachers can take in order to better support boy readers in the classroom?
Pam:  As teachers, we often ask questions we already know the answers to. I would encourage teachers to start with questions that are true and authentic. For example, simply asking our students: “What most interests you and how can we match those interests to what you read?” is a far more powerful question than: "Who is the main character in the book I've assigned?"
Can you talk a little bit about the categories of books that you share in your new book?
Pam:  The categories in the books came directly from boys, teachers, librarians and parents i interviewed over these last years. The boys always want to be sure I've got the graphic novels in there, and poetry!
How did you go about choosing your “Best Picks” for each category? 
Pam:  This was so tough! I kept asking my wonderful editor if we could add pages onto the book! That's how difficult this was! For every great book in here, there are lots more out there! But I distilled them down to the great hits; the ones I loved the best because they were the ones that got the boys to read.
Can you talk about a few new books or authors that you think are especially appealing to boys who struggle with reading—a few must-read books for teachers to get started reading the books on your list?
Pam:  The Big Nate series by Lincoln Pierce is funny and also well combined with amusing illustrations. We Are Not Eaten by Yaks by C. Alexander London is a terrific romp. Both of these books in series are great for reading aloud. I truly love Charles Smith's  photographic picture book version of Langston Hughes' poem "My People". I love the image of the small boy in a reflective stance.
What suggestions do you have for ways teachers and parents can go about finding good books for the boys in their lives who don’t yet live their lives as readers?
Commit to this journey together. Let your boys know that you are inspired by them and that you want them to be inspired by books. Visit Indie bookstores together and talk with the shop owners. Browse together online at amazon and other great sites such as James Patterson's readkiddoread.com site. The journey towards the great book can be as motivational as the treasure we find at the end.

Pam's insights have so many messages for parents, teachers and librarians.  You can read more about the new book at these blogs:
Carol's Corner
The Boy Reader
Snapshots of Mrs. V

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Planning for Summer-Learning, Reading, Balance and Baking

It is hard to believe that Friday is our last day of school!  Summer is quickly approaching and, as always, I have way too much planned. I realized that I am the kind of person who creates impossible to-do lists.  Mine are never quite doable or finishable. There are always too many tasks for the time allotted. But my lists give me a vision and things to look forward to:-)

This summer, I am excited about the learning opportunities I have. In June. I'll be speaking at Lakota Literacy View which is an amazing summer institute in Ohio.  I have attended in the past and am excited to be part of it again this year. Even though I'll be facilitating workshops for most of the time, I'll have the opportunity to hear keynotes by Sharon Taberski, Lester Laminack, Katie Ray, Penny Kittle, and Matt Glover. And I know I'll learn so much from all of the teachers there. I am excited to kick off my summer learning at Lakota.

When I get back from Lakota, I'll have a few days before I leave for All Write Consortium Summer Institute.  The institute is only 3-4 hours away and the list of speakers was too good to pass up. Speakers include Cris Tovani, Debbie Miller, Ann Marie Corgill, Terry Thompson, Lester Laminack, Jeff Anderson, Ruth Ayres, Georgia Heard and Katie Wood Ray.  2 days filled with this great thinking. I am excited because there are 7 of us from Dublin attending the institute. And lots of Twitter friends are going too. It will be a fun group and a great few days!

Choice Literacy workshops begin in June in Tacoma. I'll also be doing Choice Literacy workshops in July in Michigan and Wrenthem.  It is always fun to get together with the Choice Literacy gang and I always learn so much from the participants, as well as from our informal conversations after the workshops end each day.  It feels like a great summer camp for grown-ups--being together with like-minded educators from around the world.

In July, I'll be attending November Learning BLC again.  I am really excited about it this year. Since it is my 2nd year there, I think I'll try to be a little bit less overwhelmed by the pace of the day.  I am excited to hear some new thinking by speakers I heard last year and I am also excited to hear some new voices.  There are so many people there that I heard last year that I now follow on Twitter, blogs, etc. that I think it will be a different experience. And now that I am more familiar with the shopping and restaurants in the area, I am set:-)

I think there should also be lots of time for reading this summer. I am going to attempt Donalyn Miller's #bookaday challenge, although I am sure some days will be easier than others. My 11 year old seems somewhat interested in giving this a try too so I think there'll be lots of family reading time!  On top of #bookaday, Columbus Kidlit bloggers will be participating in Mother Reader's 6th Annual 48 Hour Reading Challenge in which we will dedicate 48 hours to reading (with a little bit of book shopping in there too). If I counted correctly, there are 83 days of summer.  So, I am building my summer reading list.  Some top picks for summer are (just to name a few...):
So, What Do They Really Know by Cris Tovani (Stenhouse, July)
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Entwined by Heather Dixon
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Horton Halfpott by Tom Angleberger
Juniper Berry by M. P. Kozlowsky
Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
The Trouble with May Amelia by Jennifer Holm
Jeremy Bender Vs. The Cupcake Cadets by Eric Luper
The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander
The Loser List by
Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Breadcrumbs by Ann Ursu
Mindset by Carol Dweck
Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal

I'm also hoping to learn about some apps for the iPad (I am totally underutlizing my iPad!) and how to use the Color Nook that I purchased for the library. My goal is to find some great ebooks and to learn to download ebooks from the Dublin Library.

And, I am hoping to get this foot back in order so that I can get moving again.   I am hoping for exercise and balance.  The summer seems set up in a way that it might be possible. Time for work and reading. Time for exercise. Lots of time to spend with family.  And some time to learn a few new recipes--I am going to work on cupcakes (thanks to recipes from Jen Allen and hopefully Mary Lee:-)) and basic Cakepops from Bakerella.

So, that's my summer to-do list.  My thinking ahead about all that is possible. Maybe that is why I like to-do lists....they help me think about all the things I would love to do if I had time.  A good balance, I think.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

REAL REVISION by Kate Messner- A MUST READ Professional Book for Writing Teachers

If you are a teacher of writing, you will want to put REAL REVISION by Kate Messner on your stack of books to read this summer. As a matter of fact, I would put it as close to the top of that stack as possible. I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of this book and I read it cover to cover over the weekend. This book is due out from Stenhouse on May 30. If I were you, I would preorder it now.

Here's the thing, Kate Messner is amazing. I have never met her, but she is a middle school English teacher, an author of children's books (SUGAR AND ICE and MARTY MCGUIRE brand new this year) and now an author of this new professional book from Stenhouse. I am not sure how the woman does it but she does it all so well!

I read a lot of professional books on literacy. I love so many of them but REAL REVISION totally wowed me.  It is fresh and unique. It looks hard at the life of real authors and their process for revision and then looks at how to bring those authentic strategies into the classroom. This is more than a bunch of lessons on revision--it is a book about creating a classroom where revision is valued.  For anyone working to create a more authentic writing workshop, this book is a must read. Although the description on the Stenhouse website puts this as a grades 5-9 book, I think it stretches down to grades 2 or 3.

This is a book that only someone like Kate Messner could have written.  She has the perspective of a writer and a teacher--a teacher who is currently teaching and dealing with the pressures of testing and mandates. To be able to read thoughts from an author on her real writing process and then to read about how she makes that same thing happen in her classroom is so helpful.  Kate says this about the book in her intro, "It’s about real authors and how they revise the real books that are on your library shelves.  It’s full of secrets-revision tips and tricks that more than forty trade-book authors generously shared so that you can share them with your students.”

You can hear Kate talk about her new revision book on this video from Stenhouse.

There is so much to love about this book--here goes:

#1 Kate doesn't try to make revision work with students look easy. She knows it is hard work but well worth it.

#2 She helps us rethink the writing process a bit--moving away from the linear way kids are expected to write in some classrooms to really helping teachers understand the back-and-forth nature of the process itself.

#3 We hear from so many great authors. Kate doesn't only tell her revision stories and strategies. She has talked to 40 children and young adult authors who also share their revision tricks and strategies. These authors give freely of their writing process so that teachers can better support their students as writers. Kate includes quotes, strategies, true stories of revision in the children's book world and more.  TRY IT sheets are included throughout the book and in the Appendix.  Many of these are invitations for students to try a revision strategy shared by an author in the book. And these are children's authors that our students will know or will want to know. We learn about the real revision work in the book on our shelves.

#4  Kate gives the clear message that there is no right way to revise. Through her stories and the stories of the authors included, we learn that there are many ways to revise and many tricks specific to an author.   This is a huge thing to remember in our classrooms--our students need many possibilities for revision work.  Luckily, Kate creates a picture of her classroom for us that is woven throughout the story so that we can see how this might be done.

#5 A great little perk of this book is that you get to meet some great children's and YA authors that you might not know. I knew several of the authors who contributed to the book (Kirby Larson, Kathi Appelt, Cynthia Lord, Eric Luper, Tom Angleberger...) but also heard from some whose work I don't know. I added some new authors to my summer reading pile.  Kate not only shares the revision strategies, but we get information on new books as well as author websites.

#6 One chapter is dedicated to how to support kids whose writing is already good-how do we lift the teaching and revision work so that everyone can grow as writers? How can we move beyond saying, "Good job!" to those writers?

#7 The book is filled with practical examples.  Kate has photos of her real work as a writer and her real work as a classroom teacher. We see how she brings this authenticity to her students.  Throughout the book, she gives us specific ways to help students with a revision strategy. She even tells us the tools to use. She introduces us to a few technology tools that support revision and gives us step sheets on how to give those a try.  She also shares great ways for using tools such as colored pencils, color-coded sticky notes and more. Many of these stories include writing samples from her students.

#8  Kate includes revision strategies for fiction and nonfiction. 

#9 The last chapter pulls things together for us as readers.  The book is packed.  225+ pages of revision work.  I was trying to figure out how I would remember all that she tells us but the end chapter pulls together the big ideas--those ideas that are important to create a classroom where this is possible. I see this as a book to read once cover to cover and then go back to throughout the school year to revisit strategies, stories, and samples that might work with students.

I can't tell you how excited I am about this book.  This is one of those books I'll be telling everyone about--a must read for anyone who teaches writing.  I see it as a book for teachers of grades 2-12 for sure. Authenticity in Writing Workshop is so important and this book can help us create one that is so much more real for our students.  Revision is such a hard idea for all of us.  It is so complex. Trying to fit it in to an already packed day is hard and it is easy to give up. But revision is key to the writing process. At one point in the book, Kate says, “If we’re not making time for the part of the process, are we really teaching writing?”  So true. 

More from Kate Messner on revision here:

For more information on Kate's books, visit her website and her blog. MrSchuReads also has a great post on Kate that gives info on this book as well as some of her others.

An online preview of the book should be available on the Stenhouse site now! I would get right over there and start reading. You'll want to order a copy to tab and go back to, but you can get a great preview of the book now!

Monday, May 23, 2011

A BALL FOR DAISY by Chris Raschka

A Ball for Daisy

I love wordless picture books. No matter what grade I teach, the possibilities of wordless picture books is endless. Kids of every age enjoy them and they provide so many teaching opportunities. So, I am always so happy when I find a new one that I love. Over the last few years, I've purchased a lot of good wordless books but there are only a few that I have fallen in love with.  A BALL FOR DAISY by Chris Raschka is a new one that I love!

This is a simple story. I think that is part of what I love about it. It is the story of a dog and her favorite toy-a big red ball.Clearly, she loves the ball. But when she goes to share the ball, she loses his favorite toy and is so sad.  But she is a loved dog and is comforted in her loss by her owner, a little girl.  Daisy gets a  a happy ending, as well as a new friend.

Looking back at this book, I think what I love most about Chris Raschka's illustrations are the ways that he captures the dog's feelings. They are brilliant illustrations that tell so much of the story to the reader.  You cannot help but feel what the dog feels throughout the story--all the ups and downs.

I so love this book.  LOVE IT!

Sunday, May 22, 2011


A new blog, Bookmatchmaker, is a clearinghouse for service programs around the world that aim to get books into children's hands. Check it out if you have books or $$ to give, or if you have a program that needs to be listed.

Are you a member of the Children's Literature Assembly?  (Why not??) If you're a member of NCTE and CLA, and are a teacher leader, literacy coach, or teacher educator, consider applying for the Bonnie Campbell Hill National Literacy Teacher Leader Award. (Application deadline is June 15.)

While we're on the subject of the Children's Literature Assembly, if you are a member who has a blog focusing on children's literature, and you'd like to have a link to your blog listed in a resource section of the CLA website (and you'll link back to the website on your blog), drop a note in the comments.

Here's information about the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and here's a new blog with teaching resources for previous Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award winners and honor books.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Plantar Fasciitis and Reading Goals

Photo via Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/uggboy/4487557279/

So, I have plantar fasciitis. Since January, my heel has been killing me.  I have worn heels my whole life.  I am short.  I like heels. I like shoes in general.  I have always been okay with a little foot pain if the shoes were cute enough.  But I was on my feet a lot in the library and figured flats would be better for me at work this winter.   But I went to flats that were cute instead of flats with great support. So I got plantar fasciitis. It started in January and I diagnosed myself.  I figured I could take care of it and fix it myself with all of the Internet resources available. I bought my first pair of Danskos and figured I'd be better for spring shoes.

But it got worse.  It has gotten to the point that I can't take a walk outside and I actually wear running shoes (or custom orthotics in my Danskos) to work with dress pants. A good look, I know.

So, I finally started physical therapy last week.  The therapist was very nice and smart and, as always, I was amazed at the expertise that he had about such a specific issue.  On my first visit, he asked me what my goal was for physical therapy. My answer was immediately, "To wear cute shoes again."  He was not amused and said, "I am not going to write that down"  and looked at me waiting for another response.  So I said, "To exercise without pain" to which he smiled and then wrote it on my chart.  The rest of the session went fine and I am on an exercise schedule.  I hope to be back in cute shoes in 2 months.

But I can't stop thinking about this conversation and whether or not we, as teachers, really let our students own their learning and whether I always value their true goals as readers.  Really, I do want to exercise without pain. But, just as much, I want to get back to cute shoes.  Even though my goal did not qualify "to be written down", it is my goal. But I knew how to play the game and what the therapist wanted to hear, so I went with that and he was happy with my acceptable goal.  So, we could move on.

This was a quick conversation but it has stayed with me. Student ownership of learning and authentic goal setting have alway been important to our classroom conversations as readers.  Now, I think I will be more aware of my reaction to student goals that do not match my own goals for them--Do I give students the message that their "trivial" goal isn't worth writing down? Do they play the game of school so well that they know what I want them to say and just say it even if it isn't true? We'll see.

Poetry Friday: Longing for Blue

No one can remember for sure
when the last sunny day was.
We know we have to be careful
about wishing the rain gone
because we could doom ourselves to
a summer of drought.
And we know there are places
parched and dry,
longing for this rain we would wish away.

We know that the rain is necessary for,
is responsible for,
our big trees.

We know these things.

But the grass is up past our ankles
surging toward our knees, needing to be cut.
Every one of last fall's acorns that remain
in the front flowerbed has sprouted.
We murder entire oak forests every day or two,
yanking up seedlings that haven't yet cut
the umbilical cord to their acorn.

There are puddles everywhere
and mud everywhere.
and ticks
buzz and hover
on the brink of a banner year.

Everywhere we look we see gray or green.

We are longing for blue.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2011

It looks like we might get a small reprieve this weekend, thank the heavens that have poured on us. But what will I be doing? Grade cards! ARGHH!!!!

Julie has the Poetry Friday round up today at The Drift Record.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Junonia by Kevin Henkes

by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow Books, on shelves May 24, 2011
ARC received at NCTE

I have just the reader to hand this book to -- she's a 10 year-old girl, a strong reader who recently came to me asking for help finding her next book. She's been devouring series books, and now she's ready to tackle a stand-alone novel.

Every year, Alice Rice and her family go to Sanibel Island in Florida for their week-long vacation from the Wisconsin winters, and every year, Alice's birthday is during their vacation. This year, she'll turn 10. Double digits. A really important birthday. But instead of everything being the way it's always been so that her birthday can be perfect, Alice has to deal with changes. A favorite cabin neighbor can't come, her mother's best college friend comes with a boyfriend and his 6 year-old daughter.

Henkes perfectly captures the in-between-ness of being 10. Alice is sometimes quite mature and other times pouty. She is starting to understand the grownups, and the little girl who is without her mother, and her own self. She is more aware of the world around her (which Henkes describes with aching beauty).

Alice is hoping to find a rare junonia shell for her collection on this trip, but even though she doesn't, she carries home a box full and a heart full of memories.
Suddenly she felt as if she were the center of everything, like the sun. She was thinking: Here I am. I have my parents. We're alone together. I will never be old. I will never die. It's right now. I'm ten.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Favorite Series: Frankly, Frannie

Funny Business (Frankly, Frannie)

Frankly, Frannie: Funny Businessby A.J. Stern
illustrated by Doreen Mulryan Marts
Penguin, 2010
review copy purchased for my classroom library

Franki turned me on to this series last year. Frannie is a great character who is easy to love. She's dying to be grown up, and so she carries her briefcase, resume, and business cards wherever she goes, and she's always on the lookout for a job to try out.

In this book, Frannie and her parents are going to Florida, "where it's summer all the time!" For her father, it's a business trip, and Frannie is going to get to go to "Princessland."

At least once in every book, Frannie either misunderstands directions (or doesn't hear them in the first place), or does what she thinks is right in a situation...with disastrous results. The first Frannie moment in this book has to do with room service and the second happens when Frannie is helping her father at his conference. You just have to shake your head and marvel at Frannie's parents' patience. Things always turn out in the end, and through it all, Frannie has a really good heart.

Why I love this series:
1. Frannie's made up words (confusified -- when Frannie's parents saw the room service, hundredteen -- the number of silver platters, scoldish -- Frannie's mom's tone of voice).
2. Frannie's attitude towards work -- every job, every career sounds like the most fun ever.
3. Frannie's parents -- the most patient parents in the world!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Absolute Value of Mike by Kathryn Erskine

The Absolute Value of Mike 
by Kathryn Erskine
Philomel Books, on shelves June, 2011
ARC provided by the publisher

Remember how much I loved As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth (Lynne Rae Perkins) last year at about this time? The Absolute Value of Mike sits right beside As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth on my brain-shelf of favorites!

The two books are kind of similar, now that I think about it. They both have a main character who sets off in a pretty straight forward direction at the beginning of the book, only to have a series of completely unlikely (and yet completely believable) events explode that journey into epic proportions.

Mike's math genius father is sending him to live with an aunt and uncle he's never met...for the summer...in rural Pennsylvania...because the uncle is working on a project that involves lots of math (building an artesian screw) and maybe being involved in all of this math will help Mike get into the math magnet school...in spite of the fact that Mike has discalculia, a math disability.

When Mike gets there, he learns that there is no artesian screw, but there are a plethora of problems for him to solve, orchestrate, manage, and...ENGINEER in a way that is uniquely his own. Mike learns to make his own rules and follow his own heart, and in the process he learns to accept that his talents are just as amazing as a genius for math.

Each chapter of The Absolute Value of Mike is titled with a math term and its definition. As you read the chapter, you find the narrative metaphor for each term. At the beginning of the book, there are Parallel Lines, a Transversal Line, and Skew Lines. As the story progresses, there are Outliers, Chaos Theory, Functions, Attributes and Variables. In the end, Mike, his dad, and the community of Do Over, PA are all convinced of the Absolute Value of Mike.

Watch for this gem of a book in June and put it at the top of your TBR pile!

(I'd recommend it most strongly for readers in grades 5-8, but you might know someone a bit younger or a bit older who might need to go on a journey of self-discovery with Mike.)