Thursday, October 14, 2010

Amulet: The Cloud Searchers

Amulet: The Cloud Searchers (Book 3)
by Kazu Kibuishi
Scholastic, 2010
Review copy is mine

Some series books can be read out of order. Others, like Amulet, have a cumulative story that builds from book to book. A few of the reviewers cited below have a problem with the fact that there is no "catch you up on the story" beginning to this third volume in the Amulet series. However, (and maybe a truer test) Author Amok's 8th grade son had no problem reading this book without the background of the first two. He was interested, stayed with it, totally got the plot, and gave the book his highest rating.

Another reviewer took the author to task with not having a balance of pure good to offset the evil in this book. One of the reasons I like this series so much is that good and evil are NOT pure. Emily struggles with the powers of the amulet. The elf prince turns out to be a much more complicated character in this book -- he is not pure evil.  The airship pilot who gives up everything to attempt to locate the lost city of Cielis has some unexplained history that may or may not be all good. Cogsley and Miskit (the robot and rabbit who have been protecting Emily since the beginning) are captured by a wyvern, and I certainly hope that Kubuishi will bring them back at some point. The new character we meet at the end of this volume seems to be on Emily's side, but he gets this look in his eye when he talks about power, and Emily doesn't trust him, even though Leon (the fox, her mentor) insists that she will come to trust him.

Bottom line -- I really like this series and I especially like Kibuishi's art. My fourth graders will be glad I finally got this review written so they can line up to read book three!

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Mixed reviews can be found at Comics Worth Reading, Book Dragon, ComicM!x, SLJ's Good Comics For Kids, and Author Amok's 8th Grade Son.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Moral of the Story Is...

Here are two new books to add to your unit on Theme, or your tub of Fables.

Making the Moose Out of Life
by Nicholas Oldland
Kids Can Press, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

Moose never wants to do anything exciting with his friends. One day, he gets inspired (or maybe just hit in the head with a golf ball) and jumps aboard a sailboat and sets sail. He is stranded on a desert island where he makes the most of island life with his new sidekick, Tuesday the tortoise. Moose is eventually rescued, returns to his friends and suggests they go cliff jumping. The book ends with Moose and Tuesday making plans to meet for a holiday in Africa. Moral of the story? Make the moose out of life so it doesn't pass you by while you sit under an umbrella wearing 100 SPF sunblock.

Ninja Cowboy Bear Presents: The Way of the Ninja
by David Buins and Hilary Long
Kids Can Press, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

The trio that taught us to appreciate our friends instead of always trying to be the best in The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear  are back with a new story about friendship. Ninja loves to play with his friends Cowboy and Bear, but Ninja always wants to play his games, and his games are always rough and rowdy and end badly for Cowboy and Bear. Moral of the story? To be a good friend, sometimes you have to compromise about what to play.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

100 Things About Me as a Reader

Photo from Flickr by brianjmatis

I am working with our 4th and 5th graders about really knowing themselves as readers.  This week, I gave them a basic reading interview to begin helping them think about what they knew about themselves as readers and then I asked them to turn it over to write 100 things about themselves as readers. I tried to do the same. Of course, none of us go to 100, although we might be the end of the year of we keep noticing and adding, but it was a great conversation starter.  Here is my list so far.

1.  I read almost every Nancy Drew book when I was in 6th grade. My grandmother had the collection in her attic.
2.  I loved the Betsy books when I was in elementary school.
3.  Realistic Fiction is my favorite genre.
4.  No one is allowed to talk to me or bother me during the last 10 pages of a book.  Endings are key for me.
5. I have to love the character in a book to enjoy the book.
6.  I occasionally enjoy science fiction and fantasy.
7.  I loved the Bookmobile when I was younger. It parked right down the street every 2 weeks.
8. Walk Two Moons is one of my favorite books of all time.
9. I have a shelf of books that I haven't yet read. I like to have back-ups in case of a snowstorm or some other reason that I'd have time to read.
10.  I often skip parts in books when scenery or nature is described.
11. I am not so good at listening to books on tape. I get distracted. I like to see the print.
12. I almost never like the movie better than the book.
13. I never read a book after I've seen the movie.
14. I get recommendations from friends.
15. I like to read books that are brand new--hot off the press.
16. I don't get excited about having authors autograph my books.
17.  I don't really like to share my favorite books. I want my friends to read them but I really like to keep favorites after I am finished with them.
18. I like to alternate between long and short books.
19. I like to read children's fiction on airplane trips.
20. I can't read in the car--I get carsick.
21.  I rely on blog reviews and other reviews to choose children's books.
22.  I have many favorite authors.
23.  I love to hear authors speak and share their work.
24.  I love YA books but never have time (or give myself time) to read them.
25. Many Graphic Novels are hard for me to read/understand.
26. My mother read me Secret Garden and A Little Princess when I was little. Still two of my favorite books.
27.  Most of my nonfiction reading is connected to my work/job.
28. I have very little patience for reading how-to/directions.
29. I love love love to hang out in any bookstore.
30. I buy too many books.
31. I love to visit new bookstores when I travel.
32. I am convinced that Cover to Cover is the best children's bookstore in the country.

This is a really fun thing to do --I know as I live my life over the next several weeks, I will notice more about myself as a reader. I will add them as I notice. Who knows if I will get to 100. It is just a fun way to begin to think about myself as a reader and to pay attention to things I didn't notice. I think the same is true for our kids . Starting a list like this becomes a great tool for noticing these things about ourselves. If you try this, let us know.  I realized quickly that when I hear other people's lists, they remind me about things I hadn't thought of myself.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Eraserheads

The Eraserheads
by Kate Banks
illustrated by Boris Kulikov
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

"Once there were three eraserheads: an owl, a crocodile, and a pig. They lived with a boy in the land of pencils, paper, rulers, letters, numbers, and drawings. And they had an important job. They erased mistakes."

I am a huge fan of erasers because I am a huge fan of making long as they are found and fixed!

Are these three eraserheads alive and working independently of the little boy who is making a big imaginative drawing? Or do these eraserheads and the boy work together to find a way to end the story in the drawing with a happily ever after instead of with the eraserheads being eaten by a snake? Or...maybe, just maybe, are the eraserheads only alive in the boy's imagination?

You decide.

No matter what, always remember to say "Hooray for mistakes!" And remember, if there weren't mistakes, "there'd be nothing to learn. And what fun would that be?"

"Hooray for erasers!"

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Books I Could Read A Million Times: The Movie Version

If you haven't heard, DON'T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS, the Scholastic DVD, came out last week.  I ordered a copy knowing it would be good to have for the library.  I don't order many DVDs these days but this seemed like a must-have.

I planned to show this to a few classes during Book Fair week since the library is pretty much taken over by book fair merchandise. I ended up showing it to almost every 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade class and I loved it EVERY SINGLE TIME!

This is a great DVD--as would be expected from Mo Willems.  The DVD includes an animated version of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Knuffle Bunny, and Leonardo the Terrible Monster.  There are also some extra fun clips that I will get to later.  I don't ever remember liking a movie or animated version of a story as well as I liked the original book but Mo Willems brings great fun to this DVD.  The laughs and giggles from kids of all ages--kids who know and love the books-were contagious. Teachers would pop into the library to see what all of the great giggling was about.  The whole DVD is a real treat.

And I watched it many, many times this week and did not get sick of it at all--I looked forward to watching it even after I had already seen it 10 times.  (Thus, the reason it is being added to my Books I Could Read a Million Times list--the first item that is not a book!)

Here are some things I love:
-There are little added bonuses--surprises at the beginnings and ends of each story that add to what we already love about the characters.
-Mo Willems and his wife and daughter do the narration of Knuffle Bunny which makes it quite fun.
-Jon Scieszka plays the role of the bus driver and I couldn't think of a better person to do this--there is an added part to the book where we get to know the bus driver a bit better. Jon Scieszka is great at the part!
-There is a live retelling of the Pigeon book. Mo Willems reads it to a group of children in a library. It is quite fun.
-A favorite among some classes were the "You Yell" version of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.  Yes, the story is told and the group needs to yell the "no" each time the Pigeon asks to drive the bus. Kids had a ball with this.
-There is also a Spanish Version of the books on the DVD as well as discussion questions.

This DVD is packed and I was sad to see it end during each class. I don't think there was one set of kids who did not ask to see the stories again. I agreed--it is one of those DVDs that you can't watch enough.

I am going to make this one available for student check out. We don't have many DVDs that are available for our students but this one would be such fun for kids to be able to share with families. It was such a fun 1/2 hour that I can't not share the fun with our families. Our school is filled with Mo Willems fans that I might even need a few more copies..... An added bonus will be that Leonardo the Terrible Monster will be loved by more children now that they know the book better.

Really, if you are a teacher or librarian, if you need a baby gift or a gift for a Mo Willems fan you know, get this DVD. It is really the best animation of children's books that I've seen.  And I might just watch it a million times--I love it that much!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Peace and Friendship Around the World: Imagine

You've seen the Google Search tribute to John Lennon in honor of his 70th birthday today. You read Jama's birthday wishes in her Poetry Friday post yesterday. Here's something small you and your students can do to promote peace and friendship in the world:

Calling All Kids in the U.S.
Write a message to be hung on our USA friendship tree in Turkey.
Thousands of Turkish children will pass by the USA booth at the Istanbul Book Fair this year. You can write a note to them about friendship, which will be hung on our friendship tree.
What you can do:
Draw a leaf (or trace this leaf outline) on a full page of green paper or color the leaf green, then write a note about what friendship means to you. You can write your first name and age, too. Your note will be posted on our giant tree at the book fair and Turkish children will be able to read your message. Send all messages by Oct. 15 to:
Public Affairs Section
Unit 5030 Box 0047
DPO AE 09827-0047 

Kim Scrivner is the Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul. She writes: "We are preparing for the annual Istanbul Book Fair and wanted to make an extra effort to include children in our literacy and cultural outreach. We decided to create a large-as-life friendship tree, on which we will post leaf-shaped messages about friendship from American children. As many Turkish children are learning English, this will be one way that they can personally connect with U.S. children and observe that they share similar concepts of friendship and human values. Turkish children will also be able to write their own messages to add to the tree before and during the book fair."

For more information, check out the Consulate webpage for the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey

Friday, October 08, 2010

Poetry Friday -- Did I Miss Anything?

Did I Miss Anything?
by Tom Wayman

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 percent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 percent

(the rest of the poem goes back and forth between nothing and everything HERE, at Billy Collins' and the Library of Congress' Poetry 180 site)

I've been away from school and the hectic pace of life for a week and I vacillate between feeling like I've missed everything and nothing.

Don't miss the Poetry Friday round up -- it's at Carol's Corner this week.

We've had a couple of changes in Poetry Friday round up hosts: Liz and Terry traded (Liz is now hosting on 10/15 and Terry is on 11/12); Andi is taking 10/22 since Mary Ann will be traveling to Minnesota for KidLitCon.

Speaking of KidLitCon...are you coming? We (Amy, Toby, Mary Ann, Laura Salas, Elaine and I) hope to see you in our Poetry Friday session!  Check out the KidLitCon schedule here.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Fairy Tale Mash-Ups

My fourth graders were having a hard time getting their heads around the idea of writing original fairy tales, but once I introduced the idea that they could borrow from familiar stories to create an original, they began having a blast reinventing the old stories by remixing characters, settings, and problems.

Vivian Vande Velde obviously had the same kind of fun writing Cloaked in Red.

Cloaked in Red
by Vivian Vande Velde
Marshall Cavendish, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

Here's how the introduction begins:

"Everyone knows the story of Little Red Riding Hood, the girl with the unfortunate name and the inability to tell the difference between her grandmother and a member of a different species."

After a thorough exploration of the bizarreness of the various versions of this story, Velde suggests that a story as preposterous as this would never get past a self-respecting creative writing teacher, since it doesn't have memorable characters, a vivid setting, or an exciting plot. Besides all that, there is no discernible theme in this story.

"However you look at it, "Little Red Riding Hood" is a strange and disturbing story that should probably not be shared with children.

That is why I've gone ahead and written eight new versions of it."

Versions that begin, "Once upon a time, after fashion was discovered but before people had makeovers on TV, there was a young girl named Meg." Or, "Once upon a time, long after people had found out that their families could sometimes be an embarrassment, but before there were advice columnists you could complain to, there was a girl named Roselle." (In this story--spoiler alert--Granny is a werewolf, which accounts perfectly for her big teeth and hairy arms.) One of my favorite stories is "Deems the Wood Gatherer," in which a seriously myopic woodcutter bumbles through one fairy tale after another, not realizing that his good intentions are sealing the demise of characters right and left.

I'll share selected stories from Cloaked in Red with my fourth graders. Older readers will enjoy the book in its entirety.

In Front of My House
by Marianne Dubuc
Kids Can Press, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

I can't wait to share this book with my students. It's a circular story that wanders from the narrator's house on the hill, to outer space, the inside of a whale, the zoo, and back home again. At one point, the story takes a detour into fairy tales and back out again. It's so surprising to find these familiar characters in story that's not itself a fairy tale! The story goes like this (each page has a simple illustration, and after each ... is a page break):

"On a little hill, behind a brown fence, under a big oak tree, is...
my house. In front of my house...
a rosebush. On the rosebush...
a little bird. Above the little bird...
a window. Behind the window...
my room. In my room..."

Very fun for predicting (although you're wrong nearly every time, like you are in Apples and Oranges: Going Bananas With Pairs by Sara Pinto) and I can't wait to see the kinds of writing my students will do with this book as a model.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

September Mosaic

Photo #25 and photo #26 are my two favorites of the month (maybe of all time). One of the participants at our Ohio Casting for Recovery event was so excited when she caught her first fish (#25), and so sad when it promptly flipped itself off the hook (#26 -- see the splash in the water?!?!).

While we're on the subject of Casting for Recovery, here's a post I wrote about it a couple of years ago and a PSA:

Casting For Recovery (CFR) is an international non-profit support and education program for breast cancer survivors.

The program involves a free weekend wellness program where, in addition to support and education relating to breast cancer, women learn fly fishing, "A sport for life."

CFR weekend programs incorporate counseling, educational services, and the sport of fly fishing to promote mental and physical healing. Founded in 1996, CFR offers free programs across the United States and in several countries worldwide.

Today alone, over 500 women will be newly diagnosed with breast cancer. Tomorrow, it will be the same. This number does include those already living with the disease or those who do not know they have it.

Now, you can support women on their journey in recovery through daily voting.

Casting for Recovery is competing for a $250,000 grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project now through October 31. CFR is currently ranked #4 in its category.  When they win this grant, CFR will be able to create 5-7 new retreats and reach more women.

There is strength in numbers, so CFR has joined an Alliance of community charities to reach out to even more people.

By voting every day through October 31, more breast cancer survivors will have the opportunity to attend a CFR retreat. You can vote three ways each day - On-line, on Facebook, and by Text. It is easy to cast your votes (see below).


There Are 3 Ways You Can Vote Daily

Vote On-Line: Go to  A page with 10 charities will appear. Register or Sign In as instructed at the bottom left corner of page, then vote for all ten charities.

Vote on Facebook: Go to CFR October Alliance and 10 charities will appear. Click to vote on one of the partners and when the Sign In or Register page pops up, use the Log in at FACEBOOK in the blue rectangle.The voting page will appear. Vote for all ten.

Vote by Phone Text: Text your votes first for CFR to: 73774, enter 101715 in body and send. Then vote for all alliance members; 100847, 102320, 100585, 100242, 102066, 102340, 100505, 100507, 100321. What better time than Breast Cancer Awareness Month to show your support. We thank you on behalf of the women we serve. At CFR, we believe TO FISH IS TO HOPE!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Gross Jr. Edition

What's the grossest thing that's ever happened to me? Well, I've had pets, so I've done my share of gross clean-ups of various yuck that comes out of the front and back ends of dogs and cats. BLECH!

I kept Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches as classroom pets for a lot of years. I think they are pretty cool critters, but for lots of people they were really high up on the scale of grossness. EEK!

When I worked at the swimming pool, it became routine practice after giving swimming lessons to the littlest kids to skim giant snot-wads out of the water (with no protective gloves) and fling them onto the sidewalk to dry up and blow away. (Better that, than to swim into them!) YUCK!

Come to think of it, being a teacher has given me plenty of gross experiences. The grossest was probably when I looked down at a student's head and saw it crawling with lice. GROSS!

My most recent gross experience was last Friday when a surgeon cut four little slits in my belly, blew me up like a balloon through one, stuck a light and a camera in through a couple others, and reached in and--snip-snip--cut my gallbladder free and dragged it out through one of the holes. EWWW!

I'm starting to think I could have been a writer or a consultant for Chronicle Books' newest Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook:

The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Gross Junior Edition
by David Borgenicht, Nathaniel Marunas, and Robin Epstein
illustrated by Chuck Gonzales
Chronicle Books, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbooks have been favorites in my classroom since the first one came out. There is no doubt in my mind that this edition will be the most popular. It has boogers, farts, burps, pus, and pinkeye.

It also has practical information about how to plunge a toilet, how to remove a tick (get an adult's help is the first step), and how to safely drink from the drinking fountain at school.

For possible word study lessons, there is a table of barfonyms and a list of poopisms. You can learn how to say what you say after someone sneezes in seven different languages.

But most of all, this book is just good GROSS fun! Here's an example:

The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: GROSS Junior Edition is on tour. For further examples of icky wonderfulness, a chance to win a copy of the book, and more, check out these blogs:

Sept. 27: Brimful Curiosities
Sept. 29: Bookmarkable
Sept. 30: Dad of Divas
Oct. 1: Stiletto Storytime
Oct. 2: A Sea of Books
Oct. 3: Great Kid Books
Oct. 4: A Year of Reading -- YOU ARE HERE!
Oct. 5: The Children’s Book Review
Oct. 6: 5 Minutes for Books
Oct. 7: Two Writing Teachers
Oct. 8: Mocha Dad

What's the grossest thing that ever happened to you? Share your story in the comments!