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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Color Choices


Yesterday I finished reding Kirkpatrick Hill's The Year of Miss Agnes to third graders. It is a quiet story, narrated by ten-year-old a Athabascan girl named Fred (Frederika), and set in 1948. The eleven students (later twelve) in Fred's school have never had the same teacher twice. For various reasons, the women never seem able to endure the conditions, some not even making it a year! Then the English Miss Agnes arrived, putting their old books in storage, hanging a world map on the wall, and creating a timeline on the wall (which prompts the pupils to play their own time machine game). She read wonderful books to the students (like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Kidnapped) making them reluctant to depart for the various hunting and fishing camps their families routinely visited. She also brought a phonograph, records, a camera, and boxes of art supplies. Used to having the eight-color boxes of large crayons, the students were amazed, especially the littlest ones.

"They took the big boxes of crayons and made a dark line with every single crayon. They hold the crayon so hard their fingers turned white. They wanted to know the names of every color. They had funny names, not like the plain names on our old fat crayons.

We laughed and laughed when Miss Agnes said the names. Burnt sienna and magenta and periwinkle. Flesh. That was very funny. 

We all put that flesh crayon by our hands and laughed because our skin and that crayon weren't anything like the same color." p. 29

My students all held their hands closer to their faces when I read that part. Later, as they attempted to make self-portraits using the ArtRage application, they would carefully move the color selection tool, holding their hands up to the resulting color, hoping to get a close match. 

The Year of Miss Agnes drew us close as we contemplated the compassionate teacher who carefully motivated the students to learn, spurring discussions about their best and favorite lessons. The ending is just what I hoped, and each class of third graders clapped as I closed the book.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Handle With Care


On a day when spring snow is falling, it is nice to think about the butterflies growing at El Bosque Nuevo, a butterfly farm in Costa Rica. Author Loree Griffin Burns and photographer Ellen Harasimowicz take readers to that haven for the delicate winged insects in their new book Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey. Beginning with arrival of a silvery package at the Butterfly Garden at the Museum of Science in Boston, the book takes the long route - to Costa Rica - to describe the incredible life stories of various butterflies.

Greenhouses act as protective homes for the larva as they progress through various changes and moltings. The farmers constantly monitor food supplies and developmental stages, while keeping watch for holes in the structure that would allow predators to enter. Imagine thousands of caterpillars eating all the leaves in a greenhouse in just one or two days! "There are so many that if you stood next to this tree with your eyes closed, you would hear the caterpillars chewing!"

So much about this book is wonderful...the insect words, the glossary, the suggestions for further reading. But it is the photographs that truly help the butterflies take center stage. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rain Books


On most Tuesdays and Thursdays a friend and retired teacher comes to the library to shelve picture books. She also brings treats, assorted posters, book donations, articles, and good cheer. The readers always notice when she has been there. Many more books than usual grace the tops of the shelves, often titles that previously have been not noticed. In fact, she often does experiments, displaying certain titles to see if they will get selected by readers!

Today, after I finished reading a chapter book aloud to a third grade information literacy class, one especially observant boy wanted me to look at the shelf above the D-E books where my friend most definitely set three books together. "Look," he pointed. "The first book show the rain, the second book shows the girls ready for it, and the last one is when they get to play in it." I wonder if those bookswill be in a line tomorrow or in a reader's backpack.

The books are Rain by Peter Spier, Come On, Rain by Karen Hesse, and Squish!: A Wetland Walk by Nancy Luenn.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

At the Library


I live and work in the same community, so it is inevitable that I see students and families wherever I go. Yesterday I went to my public library to pick up nine books I had reserved. Near the checkout stations, two brothers greeted me, each with a stack of audiobooks in their arms. I asked what they were listening to, and they showed me various Diary of a Wimpy Kid titles, The BFG, and a 39 Clues title. The third grade brother then said, "And what is in your pile?" I showed him, loving that he reciprocated and really seemed to care. The fifth grade brother told me they listen to the CDs while doing various projects. "If only we could listen and read another book at the same time!" True readers, those two boys.

When their dad joined us, we talked about having them be test subjects for the newly purchased digital audiobooks in our school library collection. I have created accounts for them and look forward to their feedback about listening on their family's iPad.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Maps!


I have been waiting months to see Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski! It was worth the wait! This oversize volume (10.5" x 14.5") feels sturdy and enchanting in my hands. The cover sticker boasts "Travel the globe without leaving your living room"! Though I have been traveling from my kitchen, I have seen Chomolungma (or Mount Everest) in Nepal, been on safari in Tanzania, viewed prehistoric drawings in Toquepala Caves in Peru, and so many more incredible things.

Organized by continent, the book contains 51 maps. Each continent map lists the number of countries (or states or provinces) and the continent's population and capitals. Each country map tells the country's language and area, as well as incredibly detailed drawings of the animals, people, plants, geologic features, and people they make the place unique. The only disappointing thing was that nothing noteworthy was drawn on my Minnesota. 

Readers will adore this book. I am certain the things I found intriguing would be equally interesting to others. It will also prompt an interest in map-making! I even want to make my own map.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Half a Chance


One of the first grown-up gifts I requested as a child was a camera. My grandma and parents helped fund a Minolta 110 camera, and I used it all through high school, secretly wishing to use the Nikon my father owned that required far more knowledge and planning for an actual photograph. Now, I have two cameras I love (in addition to Camera+ on the iPad), and I feel somewhat at a loss when my camera is at home and I am out walking and observe something that I so want to capture.

So, I could relate immediately to Lucy, the daughter of a photographer in Cynthia Lord's latest novel Half a Chance. With her mom and dad and dog (appropriately named Ansel), she is settling in to a lakeside home in New Hampshire. When her father leaves for a photography assignment in Arizona, he asks Lucy to watch out for portfolios that will be mailed to him for judging. She scans the paper which describes the contest and is both astounded and hurt that he did not tell her. Photography is their shared passion! 

As Lucy seeks creative opportunities to satisfy each word or phrase on the contest list, she gets acquainted with her new neighbors, the Bailey family. Though they are summer residents, they know the lake well and invite her to assist them in Loon Patrol, a task she relishes. She so appreciates the friendship of Nate, a boy her age, but it is his grandmother, Grandma Lilah, who especially captures Lucy's attention. 

Like Lucy, I want to fulfill the requirements on the list, just for my own pleasure. I look forward to someday fostering the opportunity for students to read the book and take the photos over the summer!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Cat Books #2


When our boys were young, a relative gave them rabbit baskets she created from needlepoint canvas. These ended up on our piano during the weeks prior to Easter, and somehow, the Easter Bunny got the idea of putting a few treats in them for the boys to discover in the morning. This started a week or so before Easter and ended when they found the larger baskets the Easter Bunny had hidden for them. Now 21, 20, and 17, these same boys/young men still put those baskets on the piano and find treats the EB still stashes there prior to Easter. If they knew the small baskets were filled by the Easter Cat instead, I wonder if they would care.

In Deborah Underwood's latest book, Here Comes the Easter Cat, a grumpy cat desires to assume the Easter Bunny's role. A clever narrator speaks to the cat, interpreting the cat's body language and reading the pictorial signs the cat displays. Responding to the cat's sign of five hearts, the narrator says, "Well, of COURSE everyone loves the Easter Bunny." The narrator assures the cat that it would be acceptable for him/her to deliver something nice to children...but not the hairballs suggested by the cat's sign. Even the narrator's revelation that the Easter Bunny does not get a single nap (compared to the seven naps taken by the cat that day) does not deter the determined cat. Suffice it to say the cat finds a creative way to deliver treats and include the Easter Bunny, only to express interest in another delivery job at the end. 

Readers will surely appreciate the voices in this picture book and the dependence on the artwork (by Claudia Rueda) to tell the story.