Sunday, June 30, 2013

June Chalkabration!

A Chalk-ku for Eastern Colorado

uncommonly cool...
gentle rain sprinkling down...
not ever enough...

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2013

2:30 PM and still only 76 degrees.

Only enough rain to get the street wet; not enough to make it through the trees and get the whole driveway wet.

Average YEARLY precipitation in Burlington, Colorado is 16.5 inches. They put the d-r-y in arid out here.

Betsy's hosting the monthly Chalkabration at Teaching Young Writers. Go check out the chalking others have done today!

June Mosaics (plural)

What a month.

(...but aren't they all, when we stop to think of it?!)

I had my fortune told in a cup of Arabic coffee. Can you see the tiger's face? That's really lucky and rare! And see how there are several paths/options/choices that come together and are open at the rim of the cup? Also very propitious.

I weeded in the school land lab one cool morning after a rain, and caught the cup plant, an Ohio Native, doing what its name implies.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. Yum. Cherry Lambic Sorbet, if I remember correctly, and something lemony, though I can't find the exact one on the website. I do see Juniper and Lemon Curd and Lime Cardamom, both of which I HIGHLY recommend! :-)

We are loving having Natalie's Coal-Fired Pizza and Live Music at the end of our block! Will likes takeout best, pizza boxes being a particular favorite of his. We thoroughly enjoyed Juanito Pascual playing flamenco guitar music live at Natalie's...without Will.

I got a set of lenses for my iPhone camera (macro, wide angle, fish-eye and telephoto -- from Photojojo) and have had lots of fun playing with them. The macro is my favorite: text on a book cover and 3 of the sweet peas. There's my back garden beds with the fisheye. Then a couple more garden flowers and a homemade cinnamon roll with the built-in lens.

Can you spot mom's cat Mellie in the next picture? She's disappearing behind the microwave in a space barely wide enough to store an onion. In the next picture she reemerges with a look on her face as if to say, "What? I didn't do anything!"

Next are the pictures of a play space that makes me want to be 8 years-old again. I featured these pictures with my review of James Preller's Pirate's Guide to Recess.

That grass seed (macro lens on my phone again) is on Buffalo Grass, a short prairie grass native to Colorado that can survive without irrigation. That's why it does so well in mom's gravel alley!

Next is the turtle who walked up the driveway one morning last week, and who I featured yesterday with Kay Ryan's poem TURTLE for Poetry Friday.

The last few are: my poem and collage for Summer Poetry Swap, a Little Leaf Linden in bloom, a feather (hope is the thing with), an outrageously yummy BLT, a toad who didn't have the same good luck as our turtle in making it across the street, and sky, sky, sky, sky, sky...what there's most of in Eastern Colorado. Those last 5 were taken within about an hour of each other. Just before sunset and just after.

(You can view this set of photos on Flickr here.)

I had the great good fortune to spend the day at the Denver Botanic Gardens a week ago Saturday with Carol of Carol's Corner. We strolled and chatted and lingered and sniffed; we ooh-ed and ah-ed (and awe-ed). It wasn't the first time we had met on the other side of our blogs (in that other real-er life, as it were), but after spending all of April trading poems back and forth, it was more like meeting up with a neighbor from down the street than a neighbor from the blogosphere. The time we spent in the gardens, in the brilliant Colorado day, and in each other's company healed both of our souls in ways our souls needed healing. I am grateful that we had that time together. I took too many pictures for one mosaic, so here are three -- one all of pink and purple, one of the various parts of the Botanic Gardens proper, and one of the magnificent rooftop children's garden.

All of the Botanic Gardens photos can be seen by viewing my Flickr photostream, or my Flickr sets.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Poetry Friday -- Visitor

We had a surprising visitor last week.

I looked out the kitchen window and saw this fine fellow (gal?) walking up our driveway.

Where did he come from? (There was mud between his toes.)
Where was he going? (His determination was singular.)

After admiring his geometric shell, his sturdy legs, his glaring eye, I put him in the damp "lily forest" of the garden out back.

I'm trying to write a poem about our vistor, but there is not a shareable draft yet. In its stead, here is my all-time favorite poem by the former Poet Laureate, Kay Ryan:


Who would be a turtle who could help it?
A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
she can ill afford the chances she must take
in rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
Her track is graceless, like dragging
a packing-case places, and almost any slope
defeats her modest hopes. Even being practical,
she's often stuck up to the axle on her way
to something edible.

(The rest of the poem is at The Poetry Foundation. You can also hear Kay Ryan read it!)

Amy has the Poetry Friday roundup today at The Poem Farm.

EDITED: The Poetry Friday Roundup Schedule for July-December is FILLED!! Thank you  Katya and Buffy! Later today I'll put the html code in the files over at the Kidlitosphere Yahoo group, get it to Mother Reader to put on the Kidlitosphere website, and provide it to any who ask so that you can have the schedule in your blog's sidebar!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Favorite Kind of Fantasy

Yesterday, I wrote about my favorite kind of science fiction.

Hands down, my favorite FANTASIES are those with small worlds, or toys that come to life, or characters that shrink.

I'm not sure how many times I re-read The Borrowers when I was a kid.

In high school, I met Archy and Mehitabel, the poetry-writing cockroach and his sidekick alley cat.

In the 80's I loved The Indian in the Cupboard series, though I probably wouldn't recommend it to kids these days. Too many negative stereotypes.

More recently, I have loved The Night Fairy and Masterpiece.

At a loss for other titles that fit this "genre," I turned to the collective brain of Twitter, and my Tweeps did not let me down! Check out this list we/they came up with:

The Littles
Stuart Little
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
The Cricket in Times Square
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Hitty Her First Hundred Years
Toys Go Out
The Friendship Doll
The Castle in the Attic [Paperback]
Mistress Masham's Repose
Traction Man Is Here!
The Doll People
The Eraserheads

My mom and her coffee klatch came up with these classics:

Pinocchio (Little Golden Book)
Gulliver's Travels
Tom Thumb
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
Toy Story (yeah, it's a movie, but it's a perfect fit!)
Thomas the Tank Engine Story Collection (Thomas & Friends) (The Railway Series)
The Little Engine That Could (Little Letters)

And, then, of course, there's The Sixty-Eight Rooms Series. My current favoritest fantasy.

The Pirate's Coin: A Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventure
by Marianne Malone
illustrated by Greg Call
Random House Books for Young Readers (May 28, 2013)
review copy purchased for my classroom library

This is the third book in the Sixty-Eight Rooms series. One of the main settings of these books is the Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago. The characters have a magic key that shrinks them so that they can go into the rooms and even out into the different historical periods of some of the rooms.

In this book, Ruthie and Jack have to deal with that conundrum of time travel whereby if you change the past, you might erase yourself from the future/present. They also help a classmate's family clear the family name.

I'm thrilled that Marianne Malone left the door wide open at the end of the book for another volume in this series!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Favorite Kind of Science Fiction

My favorite kind of science fiction is the kind that creeps me out a little, A. because the world the author creates is so real, or B. because the future that's depicted seems like it could happen.

Kate Messner creeped me out. The future world she created was totally believable, AND the future in her story seems to be a natural extension of the world we are living in today.

She creates some smart, ethical, daring kid characters and some just about completely evil adult characters. And she can put you in the middle of a tornado and make you feel like you are right there.

Eye of the Storm
by Kate Messner
Walker Childrens; 1 edition (February 28, 2012)
review copy from my classroom library

I haven't quite finished reading NOTICE AND NOTE, but I've definitely read enough so that I'm reading under the influence of "the signposts." There's lots about this book that I'd like to hear kids talk about. There are a few things I'd like to point out to them, such as how Kate shortens her sentences to build tension. And boy, howdy, does she build some tension.

This book grabbed me, sat me down in my chair, and didn't let me up until I finished it. Luckily, there is no severe weather in our forecast any time soon...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Series Books for 3rd Grade: Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot by Anna Branford

I read a review of a Violet Mackerel book and added it to my list of series books that I have somehow missed. Well, I read Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot and I am so glad I discovered this series! Violet Mackerel is for sure one of my new favorite characters. I just called Cover to Cover to order the rest of the series.

I fell in love with the book on the very first page.  There were many times in the book when the writing reminded me of Cynthia Rylant, one of my favorite authors of all time.  The story begins like this:

Violet Mackerel is quite a small girl, but she has a theory.

Her theory is that when you are having a very important and brilliant idea, what generally happens is that you find something small and special on the ground.  So whenever you spy a sequin, or a stray bead, or a bit of ribbon, or a button, you should always pick it up and try very hard to remember what you were thinking about at the precise moment when you spied it, and then think about that thing a lot more.  That is Violet's theory, which she calls the Theory of Finding Small Things.

Violet Mackerel is the kind of girl who has lots of important ideas. She is the kind of girl who wears her pajama bottoms under her skirt. She is the kind of girl who creates brilliant plots!

I love Violet Mackerel and can't wait to read more about this great character!

Monday, June 24, 2013


Sooo sooo happy that Mem Fox has a new book out.  I have been waiting for it every since I heard it was coming months ago. The book is called Yoo-Hoo, Ladybug! and I fell in love with it immediately.

Mem Fox uses her brilliance as she always does in writing for young children. This is a simple I Spy type book. On each page of the book, the lady bug is missing, so each spread begins with "Yoo-Hoo, Ladybug! Where are you?"  As readers turn the page, he/she reads, "There you are.." alongside an illustration in which the lady bug is hiding.  After a bit of looking, the reader can turn the page to rhyming text showing where the ladybug was hiding.

This book is so perfect for young children--the predictable repeated texts, the rhymes, the unique illustrations and the active work of finding the ladybug on each page makes this book one that is perfect for K-1 classrooms.  It is also going on the top of my list for baby and toddler gifts that I need to buy soon.

Definitely a new favorite!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Poetry Friday -- High Plains in Summer


Yesterday it rained.
Fifty-five hundredths
over a three-hour period.
High plains equivalent
of a good, soaking rain.

Today it's clear and hot.
Winds gusting to 39 out of the south.
At least the dirt's not blowing.

Forecast's calling
for high nineties
the next three days.

Tourists driving through on I-70
see flat, boring, brown fields.
They don't realize
those are their groceries
burning up.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2013

Carol has the Poetry Friday roundup at Carol's Corner. Tomorrow, she and I will link arms and wander through the Denver Botanical Gardens.

Just a few more slots left in the July-December Poetry Friday roundup schedule. If you haven't claimed one, go get one now!

Thursday, June 20, 2013


A Pirate's Guide to Recess
by James Preller
illustrated by Greg Ruth
Feiwel & Friends (June 18, 2013)
review copy provided by the publisher

I can't think of another book that portrays so beautifully (text plus illustration) what imaginative play at recess looks and feels like. Spot on perfect.

The imaginative play I witness while on recess duty usually involves the reenactment of TV cartoons and video games, but the imagination being used is exactly the same.

On the subject of imaginative play, doesn't this look like just about too much fun? This is on my #mileaday route in my hometown.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Compare and Contrast: American History Edition

Master George's People: George Washington, His Slaves, and His Revolutionary Transformation
by Marfé Ferguson Delano
National Geographic Children's Books (January 8, 2013)
review copy from the public library

This is an important book.

All year long my students struggled with the reading standard about how the setting (both time and place) influences the story. What I realized by the end of the year is that this standard is easier to grasp when applied to a person's own life, or to historical events.

That George Washington, the slave owner, was influenced by the time and place of his life story is one of the main themes of this book. We can't blame him for owning slaves, and we can't judge him for owning slaves. We need to understand what it was about his life and times that made it okay, even necessary. But the most important thing we need to learn, is how Washington's views about slavery changed during the course of his lifetime. And that is another of the main themes of this book which relates to another hard standard -- identifying what influences a character's thoughts, words, or actions.

I'm not sure I'll read this entire book aloud next year, but the chapter that details Washington's change of heart and mind will be a good one for close and repeated reading.

Crankee Doodle
by Tom Angleberger
illustrated by CeCe Bell
Clarion Books (June 4, 2013)
review copy from the public library

This is a silly book.

Crankee Doodle and his horse could hold their own with Dr. Seuss' Sam I Am and the "I do not like them" character, with Elephant and Piggie, with Bink and Gollie.

The book includes a historical note about the song, but you will love it more for the characters than for any deep and lasting understandings about American History or Folklore.

Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon (Newbery Honor Book)
by Steve Sheinken
Flash Point; First Edition, First Printing edition (September 4, 2012)
review copy from my classroom library

This is a scary book.

At first it's a gripping and fast-paced description of, as the subtitle puts it so well, "The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon." I'm hoping to encourage a group of my fifth graders to dig into this book next year in a book club. I want to test my sense that it's written at an understandable level for middle grade readers. I also want to start conversations about the realities of war with a generation that has no qualms about the virtual death and destruction that they reenact in video games. I want them to witness the horrific destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki through the multiple points of view presented in the book. And I want them to think about the final thought Sheinken leaves the reader with:

"In the end, this is a difficult story to sum up. The making of the atomic bomb is one of history's most amazing examples of teamwork and genius and poise under pressure. But it's also the story of how humans created a weapon capable of wiping our species off the planet. It's a story with no end in sight.

And like it or not, you're in it."