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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Emu Dads

Two facts surface when I consider emus: they are the second largest birds after ostriches and they cannot fly. I also know the word emu is used often in crossword puzzles, perhaps because the unusual letter combination fits with others. And so I have learned a lot from reading Claire Saxby's book simply titled Emu. Emu dads raise the chicks. When the first chick starts to cheep in the egg, the other chicks development is hastened so they will all arrive within a few days of each other. They sprint in zigzag formations to confuse their predators, like eagles, that would not relish the severe pecking of the dad's beak or the tearing from his sharp claws.

The book is a perfect combination of narrative nonfiction and facts. The former are displayed in Adobe Garamond Pro type, and the latter are in in Providence Sans, making it easy for the reader to notice the difference. A note after the index, in fact, encourages readers to look at both types of fonts to discover all there is to know in the text. The author's use of wonderful word sequences most definitely encourages appreciation for sounds and images. Here are a few of my favorites:

"honey-pale sunshine"
"eight granite-green eggs"
"blink-eyed chicks crack their way into their new world"
"the breeze bustles, green and sweet"

The word images are complemented by digital artwork (by Graham Byrne) that shows the adult emus' feathers and the striped feathers that camouflage the young birds. Not until they are 18 months old do the young birds live away from their dads. My favorite fact about them is that they are very inquisitive!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Ask Me

Ask me why I like Glacier National Park.

Why do you like Glacier National Park?

I like Glacier National Park because it has cerulean colored mountain lakes, a multitude of mountain goats, reflections unmatched, and layers of peaks. 

Ask me why else I like Glacier National Park.

Why else do you like Glacier National Park?

I like Glacier because of its hundreds of miles of trails, its many wildflowers, its unique chalets and lodges, and its incredible geologic and human history. I like it because I can hike on trails and hardly see other people all day.

I could elaborate about my favorite park. Suffice it to say, I love this place. I also love Ask Me, a book written by Bernard Waber and illustrated by Suzy Lee. Bernard Waber was an author who never failed to see things from a child's perspective, and this book, published post-humously, is another example of his understanding of young minds, 

The book is a dialogue between a girl and her dad. She asks him to ask her what she likes and loves as they move through an autumn day of strolling, eating ice cream (which she loves, loves, loves), remembering, kicking leaves, wondering, and getting ready for bed. Her passion for the things she loves and her convictions bring to mind the many children I love and their enthusiasm for life. Her dad's model of genuine interest, patience, and complete absorption of her endearing personality is stellar (making me wish I had been that good as a mom). 

Readers will, no doubt, think about the things they love, recognize the unique way the book is structured, and comprehend the concept of voice easier with this book. It is a gem. Suzy Lee's pencil illustrations are the perfect accompaniment. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Curious World

When a sequel seamlessly takes the reader to the character's wiser and more thoughtful world, it is a pleasure to read. All the while bringing bits of past events and people to the story (sometimes with help from carefully placed reminders), Jacqueline Kelly did this so well with The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. Calpurnia remains a plucky, inquisitive young girl, perhaps, as the book's title suggests, even more curious than she was in the Newbery Honor Book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Her connection to her often cantankerous ("Enter if you must") grandfather continues to bring her opportunities for scientific discovery. His gift to her of Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle provides fodder for her observations of the natural world, and his willingness to guide her in making objects to measure (a barometer) and notice (a navigator's astrolabe) solidifies his role as the most trusted adult in her life. Each chapter begins with a relevant quote from Darwin's book.

What I admire most about Calpurnia is her determination. As her younger brother Travis acquires unlikely and inappropriate pets, she seeks information about the creatures in an effort to dissuade him or make it easier to keep the animals. When her cousin Aggie comes to live in her room after the Galveston flood of 1900, she makes the best of it and even acquires a new skill that allows her to make some money. Most important, she realizes the injustices of her world, specifically the discrimination against females, and finds ways to learn, to save, to seek the future she wants. 

As I choose books for the readers at our school, I must ask myself who might read certain titles. Some are easy to place in the right reader's hands. Others, like this book, will appeal to certain readers who would love Calpurnia's curiosity and resolve. I know the names and preferences of those readers. They, in turn, will recommend it to friends, getting the book to a wider audience. I am willing to bet some of those readers will want to make their own barometers or astrolabes, inspired by Calpurnia.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Many friends have posted photos of the nests and eggs in the planters on their porches, and I am in awe of the beauty in their colors and patterns. It was good timing, then, that Egg: Nature's Perfect Package by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page arrived on my library reserve list. I like being the first person to check out a new book, and this one is beautiful and filled with incredible facts. Organized by topics, the text can be savored fact-by-fact or read in its entirety (and then reread, as I have done). It is perfect for reading aloud to cause astonishment or to foster further reading. I learned so many fascinating things that I could list almost the whole book! The illustrations, of course, make the book shine even brighter. As with all his work, I am awestruck that the art is made from cut paper. Steve Jenkins is a master of that medium.

On another note, I offer thanks to the fan club member who presented me with How to Bake a Book by Ella Burfoot. Perhaps someday I will be able to do just that!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Voicing Blame

For dinner tonight I made one of our favorite sandwich recipes: prosciutto, medjool date, & arugula (with Gruyere on sourdough). The recipe comes from Scott Graden's NEW SCENIC CAFE COOKBOOK. If I were to choose favorite places to eat, the Scenic Cafe would be in the top five. Though I only get to eat there one or two times a year (it is located on Lake Superior's shore north of Duluth), I get to reminisce about meals by cooking recipes at home. If there were fiddlehead ferns in my yard, I would try to replicate a tomato soup we enjoyed there a few years ago. But sandwiches have been on my mind this week.

We are reading aloud Julia Sarcone Roach's new book THE BEAR ATE YOUR SANDWICH to all classes during library time. Reading the same book to all students provides me the opportunity to hear the range of comments and observations from children ages 6-11. They immediately notice the (unseen) narrator's voice, telling the sandwich owner how the bear ended up in the San Francisco park where it then smelled and devoured her delicious and excellent sandwich, leaving only a bit of lettuce. That narrator, however, somehow does not sound trustworthy; suspicions swirl as the bear's story unfurls. I will not give away the ending by telling why.

Readers ask me to turn back to the Golden Gate Bridge page, noting that the author/illustrator was smart to make the red truck the only red vehicle on the road. They like the shift in perspective as the bear makes his way from the Marin Headlands to the cliffs (city buildings). They appreciate how the bear uses things in the city (a telephone pole for scratching it's back, for instance) like he would in the forest. They find it interesting that the bear seems to take on the appearance of another creature as the story progresses. But most of all, they appreciate that narrator's voice - and its change in voice and language - at the end of the book. Oh...and they love the end papers, filled with sandwiches at the front and crumbs at the back. 

This book is a gem. The acrylic artwork is varied and beautiful. The children even noticed how the artwork tells stories apart from the text, telling me that made the book even better. I completely agree. It is my favorite picture book of the year (so far). 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Echoes in Life

A morning symphony greets me as I walk and run these spring days. Red-winged blackbirds trill from dried cattail heads. Cardinals call from tree branches. Woodpeckers tap into bark. Chickadees sing in rhythm. Even loons laugh in pairs as they fly to another lake. Their echoes abound and resonate throughout the day. 

Pam Muñoz Ryan’s latest book Echo has been resounding in my thoughts as well, filling my mind with four interconnected stories, harmonica songs, personal struggles, and the joy of finding one’s passions. The story begins with a boy’s encounter with three mysterious sisters, destined to live with an evil witch yet hopeful in their quest to be released. From the forest, readers travel to October of 1933 in Trossingen, Baden-Württemberg, to June of 1935 in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, to December of 1942 in Southern Californina, and finally to April of 1951 in New York City. 

In each time and place, I became so engrossed with the characters and their situations that I felt certain I could not enjoy the next section. Yet those same connections occurred again, echoing with deeds and lessons and songs. And then, almost every magically, the book ended in the most amazing possible way. I loved it. I know readers who have echoed my sentiments about it, and I know young readers will engage with this book just as strongly.

By the way, each section begins with the harmonica music for a song, and those songs play an essential role in the section. 
Brahms’ Lullaby
America the Beautiful
Auld Lang Syne
Some Enchanted Evening
The music and the harmonica made one friend seek out her childhood harmonica to look carefully at its markings and try to play it! Savor this phenomenal book!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Batty Growing Up

How comforting it is to read about a familiar character and her family! The past few days Batty Penderwick, her sisters and brother, her parents, the neighbors, and her sort-of-adopted brother Jeffrey have inhabited my mind, much as the real people in my life do. When I tell people I am reading Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks in Spring and that beloved Batty is in fifth grade, those in the know gasp and say, "Batty? In fifth grade? How can she be so old already?" It is as if they, too, love and know this quirky girl as I feel I do.

Batty is still musically inclined, still opposed to participating in sports, still needing reassurance from Jeffrey, and still inclined to snuggling Funty (though now she listens to music on the old record player bought for her by Iantha while doing so). Yet she is changing, growing to be a wise big sister to Ben and Lydia and starting her own business: Penderwick Willing to Work. With growing up comes knowledge of things heartbreaking and difficult to comprehend. So sad are some of these things that I had to be by myself to read at times! But those Penderwicks are nothing but supportive. They carefully seek to tell the truth and bring Batty to light and love again. 

I loved this fourth book in the series. I especially liked Batty's aversion to book reports. 

"She was reading Masterpiece, about a boys named James and his friend Marvin, who happens to be a beetle. It was high on her list of books she refused to ruin by writing about in a book report." p. 132

"The Phantom Tollbooth was yet another book much too wonderful to wreck with a book report." p. 146