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Saturday, April 30, 2011

From My Hands to Theirs

In the latest issue of The Horn Book, Viki Ash and Betty Carter attempt to answer what good books should be given at baby showers. Books have been my baby shower gift-of-choice for many years, so many that my husband adopted it for showers at given for his colleagues.

Today we celebrated with my cousin Amy whose first baby will arrive in August. She received Move! by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, On the Day You Were Born Photo Journal by Debra Frasier (and inscribed for the baby by her), and Here Are My Hands by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault.

I give the last title to every baby. Every time I go to the Red Balloon Bookshop, I purchase another copy. Really. Sometimes they have to order copies for me. The young mom who swipes my card at the community center got one. My neighbor down the street received one. All the relatives get one. My school nurse will get one this week. It was not on the list in The Horn Book, but it is the best gift for baby showers.

The simple, sing-songy text is perfect for young ears. "Here are my hands for catching and throwing./Here are my feet for stopping and going." Children of all colors demonstrate the things hands, feet, heads, noses, eyes, ears, knees, necks, cheeks, teeth, elbows, arms, chins, and skin can do. Best of all, it was illustrated by Ted Rand, a man who became dear to me near the end of this life and whose wife Gloria (an author) is a cherished friend. Ted dedicated this work "To Gloria, Theresa, and Martin. From my hands to your hands." Each time I hold the book in my hands and give it to another set of hands, I think of Ted, Gloria, and their children, knowing how special books - and this one in particular - are to others.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Sometimes when a book I really want to read arrives in an order, restraint is difficult to find. Today I intentionally did not even open the box in an effort to contain my anticipation.

So, after school I took Anne Ylvisaker's Luck of the Buttons with me for a read walk - and immediately Tugs Button gained status on my list of favorite characters.

"Tugs used to think that everyone's name was in the dictionary, and when she had realized it was only hers, both Tugs and Button, she felt suddenly fond and possessive of it, as if this book were put here for her guidance alone." (p. 43)

Tug incorporates rapscallion into her vocabulary after being called one and then seeking its meaning in the revered dictionary. She forms an unlikely friendship with Aggie Millhouse, Goodhue's most prominent young citizen. Her fascination with picture making/picture taking leads to a charming relationship with Eldora and Elmira, the Thompson Twins, and their incredible camera collection. A sixth sense about mischief helps her warn others about the sly gentleman who claims he will bring progress to Goodhue, Iowa in 1929.

Instead of giving away too much, I will stop...and encourage you to read this lovely novel. Also check out Anne's wonderful blog entries to discover stories behind Luck of the Buttons:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I Feel Better When

What makes you feel better when you have a headache? Most likely it would not be having hole bored in your head or getting a shock from an electric eel. Yet those are actual cures used over time and found in Carlyn Beccia's latest book I Feel Better With a Frog in My Throat: History's Strangest Cures.

The response from students has been tremendous. Though their facial expressions indicate disgust and disbelief, their interest in the topics is high. The book is in great demand! After every class, the children beg to read it until their library time is finished. A group of ten gathered around one reader today to hear about stomachache cures! Sometimes a solitary reader finishes the whole thing himself.

Teachers have been just as interested as the children! One fifth grade colleague was happy her simple machines unit transferred to other learning opportunities. A student pointed out that the eighteenth century process of terpanning (making a hole in the skull) was done with a simple machine!

Go to for more information about it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

In the Fridge

This chocolate bunny cupcake (and dozens of others) were in the refrigerated case of a lovely cafe called Cupcake. With names like Carol Brady, Claire Huxtable, Mad Cow, Toad Stool, and Monster Bite, I imagine all sorts of conversations going on in there.

The same is true in Fran Manushkin's 2006 book The Shivers in the Fridge, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. The five members of the Shivers family appear to reside in a usually dark and scary place where earthquakes occur frequently and a monster (a human hand) invades to remove objects like Cheesy Square, Jelly, and Mt. Ketchup.

The book is perfect for illustrating point-of-view, and the primary students were enthralled with it today. They loved how Papa and Buttery Cliff disappeared when the monster invaded, how Mama gets stuck in Emerald Lake (Jell-O) and then removed with Jolly Whip, and how Sonny Shivers climbs the Purple Boulders (grapes) and eventually ends up looking at the smiling face of the monster. Eventually, all the Shivers end up on the fridge where magnets belong.

Though many students clambered to check out the book after storytime, we have nothing quite like it in the library. Several were content with Pam Conrad's The Tub People, and one like Not in the House, Newton by Judith Heide Gilliland.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Have You Read? #15

Favorite feasts are many in my life, and reading A Moveable Feast: Life-Changing Food Adventures Around the World, edited by Don George, has stirred my own experiences to the surface this weekend. The book is a collection of thirty-eight vignettes written by chefs, food critics, travel experts, and poets, and each brings something interesting to the table.

As a vegetarian, some descriptions are a bit too graphic and detailed, but I loved going to a place through someone else's words, to witness the circumstances and people that made the food experience possible. Even the titles are enticing: "The Ways of Tea" and "Italy in Seventeen Courses" and "Chai, Chillum, and Chapati."

Though I loved reading about the unique foods around the world, I loved more that the writers focused on the situation, those who made the meals, those who surrounded them as they ate. Yesterday my godmother brought me a quart of the maple syrup she and my uncle made just weeks ago. I love just looking at the jar, looking through the amber-colored syrup. When we eat it on our waffles or pancakes, I will savor it more, knowing someone I love gathered and boiled gallons of sap!

In the introduction, George writes: "We feast on the love behind and within the offering, love for a moment, a lesson, a gift, for companions and connections, that will never be repeated and can never be replaced." Along with my mom, my aunts, and close family friends, we cooked, served, ate, and did dishes together yesterday. There were many things I appreciated on the table: a fabulous quinoa salad, the butterhorn rolls we all love, my aunt's apple kuchen. But most of all, I loved being with the people I love. That never-to-be-repeated meal and circumstance rests in my heart today.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Back Home Again

"We're going home," I told many people today. I have a home, of course, in Minnesota. Yet "going home" also means going to my parents' home in Wisconsin. Every time we get close, I think of the things I love about this place, like the grate above my grandparents' fireplace and the secret pull-down stairs to their attic, the long walk-in closet of my childhood room, and the huge park just blocks from my home.

And as I write tonight, I am upstairs near the shelves of books I knew as a child...Too Much Noise by Ann McGovern (and illustrated by Simms Taback) which David reminded me of the other day, all those Tell-a-Tale books like Someplace for Sparky and Amy's Long Night, the Maj Lindman books. Downstairs is the bookcase with all the titles my nieces and nephew love to read with Grandma (and will want to read with me tomorrow).

Such comfort home brings.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

More Than a Little Respect

Last winter in Italy, the food customs were not a problem for me! I love my morning breakfast tray, afternoon gelato, and late evening dinners. I did carefully consider the social customs as I entered and left buildings and interacted with salespeople and the concierge, thoughtfully choosing my Italian words to show my respect.

John and Aiko, the two characters in Ina Friedman's How My Parents Learned to Eat, are careful to consider each other's customs in order to demonstrate how much they respect and care for one another. John is afraid to ask Aiko to dine with him because he cannot eat well with chopsticks; he tries to learn one afternoon at a Japanese restaurant. Aiko thinks John would not want to dine with her because she does not know how to eat like an American; she goes with Great Uncle to a restaurant and learns to eat like the English with her fork and knife. Little does the other know the great effort it has taken to show their respect for the other person's customs...and then Aiko's skills are not even ones John has seen in America!

Our school's Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) model seeks to reinforce three basic principles of behavior: Be Respectful, Be Responsible, and Be Safe. We have started a book collection that supports many virtues in line with those principles. Fourth grade students listened to this book on the story steps this afternoon at their teacher's request for me to share a book that echoed acts and words of respect. How My Parents Learned to Eat shows so many respectful acts and words, and the students were so engaged with the story!

Though we talked about ways John and Aiko showed their respect for each other, they mostly wanted to talk about food customs in the cultures they know best, and the multi-cultural group before me had many to share. What an enlightening afternoon reading experience it was!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How is a Crayon Made?

My inquiry project is about crayons: their history, why some colors have been retired, how they are made. I need more information, so it became an excellent opportunity in modeling for students how to get what I need. There is a 1988 book entitled How is a Crayon Made? by Oz Charles, and some of the information answers my questions. The fourth graders love the crayon tips on the cover, but they agreed that a 23-year-old book might not be accurate. Using our county library's online catalog, we located a 2003 book entitled From Wax to Crayon by Robin Nelson, and I requested that (and piqued their interest in trying that process from home).

Next, I asked the students' advice about searching for information. They wanted to start with Google, of course, and I was told to enter "how is a crayon made" in the search box. What will the search engine be looking for? I asked. One person thought it would answer the question! One person said it would look for "how" and "is" and "a" and "crayon" and "made". The rest thought about that for a few seconds. Next I was told to enter "making crayons". That search resulted in all sorts of methods for the process of crayon making, most of which they had all tried in pre-school classes! Finally, they settled on entering "crayons" only, and the results were much more appropriate. When I showed them how to use Google's Wonder Wheel feature, they could hardly wait to try it with their own topics!

I could hardly wait to take photographs of the snow this morning! Though I missed the opportunity to shoot the snow-covered daffodils in the courtyard, I did peer through my son's hockey net to view the neighbor's maple trees.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Petunias have a special place in my heart. There are the petunias I helped my mom and grandmas plant at their homes and at the cemetery, of course. I love their silky, ruffly blossoms, perfect for the skirt of a garden fairy.

Two book character Petunias have enchanted me as well. First, there is the dancing bear from Sid Fleischman's The Whipping Boy. Though afraid of her at first, Jemmy learns this bear is simply Betsy's companion, and Petunia rescues him from the grasp of Hold-Your-Nose-Billy and Cutwater.

And this week I introduced a different Petunia to the first and second graders. Petunia, the silly goose in Roger Duvoisin's 1950 picture book, expects to become wise by sleeping and swimming with a book she finds in the meadow. The children peered skeptically at me from the story steps, and their judgment proved correct as Petunia pronounced to Ida the hen that after counting her chicks, she determined that 3 x 3 = 6, and 6 is more than 9, so Ida really has more than the 9 chicks she thought she had. They gasped in horror when Petunia went to get her pliers to remove all of Straw the horse's teeth to cure his toothache, rationalizing that she had no teeth and therein was his problem. And when Petunia decides to learn to read with her mind and heart, they applauded her choice of an alphabet book...and then proceeded to check out Petunia's Treasure, Petunia's Christmas, Petunia, I Love You, and Duvoisin's Veronica books.

My mind, by the way, continues to construct spine label poetry. How is this one for Debra?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Epistolary Books

Wise David suggested a fantastic idea for a Family Reading Night: letter-writing with kids. He had done an evening event in a neighboring state and thought it went well.

Well. I love to write letters. I love to get letters. I love to read and reread letters. I do not think people write enough letters. My mom and I, however, write many letters. Sometimes when I receive one of her letters, I bring it to the dinner table to read aloud to the family. Then I read it again before the end of the night and again when I file it in my large mail bin. More people should have this pleasurable experience, and I can just imagine a Family Reading Night devoted to letters and letter-writing.

Today I started thinking of all the epistolary books I know, and the list became rather long. Some of my all-time favorites are Holly Hobbie's Toot and Puddle, Joyce Sidman's This is Just to Say, Candace Fleming's Boxes for Katje, and Doreen Cronin's Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. Letters, by the way, should be hand-written, unless they are sent by livestock.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Have You Read? #14

When I was pregnant, Judy Rosenberg helped me through the long months of a strict diet. Author of Rosie's Bakery All-Butter, Fresh Cream, Sugar-Packed, No-Holds-Barred Baking Book and Rosie's Bakery Chocolate-Filled, Jam-Packed, Butter-Rich, No-Holds-Barred Cookie Book, she had no idea how her humorous descriptions of the recipes made famous in her numerous Rosie's Bakery locations in Boston curbed my cravings for sweets at a time when I could have none. When I finally got to visit a Rosie's Bakery, I savored every item I selected!

Today I discovered another restaurant I want to visit: The Clinton St. Baking Company in New York City. Like Rosie's Bakery, I came upon this restaurant through a cookbook, aptly named Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook: Breakfast, Brunch & Beyond. From the introduction which details the authors'/owners' meeting, marriage, and ownership of the restaurant to the last recipe for Mimosas, I loved reading this book. Of course, I also thought of the things I wanted to cook and bake and for whom. Their stories of the recipes' origins, the blend of basics with a few challenges, and the tips for using certain ingredients combine to make this a book I need to have in my kitchen.

In some of my post-graduate work, I read everything written by Louise Rosenblatt about transactional theory of how we read text (The Reader, The Text, The Poem and Literature as Exploration being the most cited of her work). As I tried to help others understand the difference between efferent and aesthetic reading, I often used cookbooks as an example. For me, reading a cookbook is more than an efferent experience to gain and internalize information. It is aesthetic for me as I contemplate and ruminate on what I read. My husband, on the other hand, would not find cookbook reading to be an aesthetic experience but rather an efferent one.

Well-written cookbooks like Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook: Breakfast, Brunch & Beyond bring me closer to the creators, giving me confidence to try the same techniques and recipes in my own kitchen. Grilled Wild Mushroom Goat Cheese Pizzas. Brookies (brownie/cookie mix). Buttermilk Streusel Coffee Cake. What to try first?

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Unlike many of my friends, I love winter. Really, I do. Most people I know are so ready for spring to arrive for real and even readier for the warmth of summer. Not me. I will take cold over hot any day. I was giddy this morning when I pulled up the shade to see our yard blanketed in snow. The tree branches that began budding last week are bigger today - but covered with snow clumps.

Contrary to some of my friends, I have no desire to own a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad (well, maybe an iPad, but I cannot rationalize the cost). I like my books with pages I can feel, not virtually flip. I like my books visible on my shelves, not in a flat-screen archive. But I stepped closer to seeing how I can enjoy both this week.

My friend Joyce Sidman introduced me to PoetryTagTime, a collection of 30 poems by 30 poets, most of whose names are recognizable in contemporary poetry for young people, compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. Using my husband's iPod Touch and my PC, I downloaded the Kindle App and the eBook. Within the hour, I passed on the information to my colleagues, and by the end of the day, several planned to do the same thing at home (and somehow at school on Monday). Not only are the poems spectacular, but the idea of being tagged by the previous poet and somehow connecting the topic, words, or idea to a new poem is fabulous! I loved many of the thought processes voiced by the poets, showing how they made decisions about what their subject would be and why.

Being able to show students the poems on an interactive white board brings them closer to the
process. Teachers can also use Sylvia Vardell's blog ( for tips on using each poem. Janet Wong wrote a great guest post for David Harrison's blog about poetry and the possibilities of publishing eBooks with students:

I am not going to purchase my Kindle today, but I am more open-minded than I was last weekend when it was 50 degrees. Maybe it is the temporary return to winter.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spine Label Poetry

Ponder the book titles on your favorite shelf. Select carefully. Arrange to form a found poem. Since my teaching partner mentioned this idea yesterday, I have been playing with titles. Some sites show multiple titles in the pile, but I have been limiting mine to three.

I almost had a baking theme going with A Birthday Cake is No Ordinary Cake but then got stuck. An art poem seemed likely with Lots of Spots (Lois Ehlert), Masterpiece (Elise Broach), and The Art Lesson (Tomie de Paola). They did not fit together. The book theme seemed most obvious (though definitely not creative). I also attempted titles by the same author, titles published in the same year, spines with similar colors, and haiku form/syllables. They are works in progress.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Read Walking

A fourth grader was stopped by her teacher this morning for read walking. Her teacher told her it was dangerous, like texting while driving. She could walk into someone or something. I defended this young lady for her practice as read walking is something I regularly do.

When I am desperate to read more of a book or finish something but also need to take a walk, I bring my book to read walk. When I walk to the library for titles on reserve, I read walk on my way home. People point at me, I'm sure. People I pass say things like, "Wow. You're coordinated." Not really. I just like to make use of opportunities to read!

This "old soul" fourth grader agreed completely, profusely defending herself and her practice.

Sometimes I bring my camera, too. So many times I pass by this "purple rain" of Russian sage, and I needed an image to remind myself of the blossoms on the retaining wall.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In Order

Sometimes it is challenging to match a fifth grader with a book when so many of the books I would suggest have already been read by the child. In the past few weeks, Brian Jacques's Redwall series has been the perfect match for several fifth grade boys.

Today one questioned which was the first book. He insisted it had to be Redwall since that is the title of the series. He showed me hard and true evidence: the inside cover lists the books in the series, and Redwall is listed first! I invited him to view the facts at Indeed, Redwall was the first book written in the series (published in 1986), but a note tells readers that the chronological order is different, making Martin the Warrior first in the tale. "But how could he do that?" he asked incredulously? "How could he write them out of order?" We imagined together how a brain would weave events and characters in and out through the years and books.

At home, I went to my eldest son's bookshelf to see if his Redwall collection was in any order. Amidst a mini Lego Tie-Fighter, his old sunglasses, and various pieces of paper, the books await his post-college days.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Meanwhile...In the Reading Alcove

Picture books offer readers of all ages the opportunity to live through bits of history, understand literary concepts, and experience strong vocabulary - with visual literacy as an added bonus! Today's story for intermediate students was a perfect way to introduce them to irony and satire in one ten-minute lesson.

Trinka Hakes Noble's 1987 book Meanwhile Back at the Ranch is the story of Rancher Hicks and his strong wife Elna. While he sets off for the town of Sleepy Gulch 84 miles from the ranch, Elna plans to dig the potatoes. In alternating double-page spreads of their experiences, she tends a newly birthed batch of kittens and wins and ultra-cool refrigerator, and he hears the latest news (about a five-minute rain shower in '49) from the barber. Things get even more outrageous as Elna inherits a bunch of money, gets visited by a movie producer and the President, and strikes oil on the ranch, all the while taking care of business as usual. Meanwhile in Sleepy Gulch, Rancher Hicks watches a lengthy checker game, eats potatoes galore at Millie's Mildew Luncheonette, and watches a turtle cross the road, bringing Elna a box of Cracker Jacks home because she missed all the excitement.

One fifth grade class stared at me the entire time I read the story (with the best rancher and small-town voices I could muster). Not a smile appeared, and not a single person seemed to catch the humor, much less the irony. The next class laughed, gasped, and guffawed at the couple's antics, and several children asked to read the book when I finished.

So, what makes one group of students so different from another? How could one class be so engrossed in the ridiculous plot elements (and illustrations) while the other seemed unaffected by any of it?

Monday, April 11, 2011

What Was I Thinking?

A few years ago Lane Smith visited the Red Balloon to talk about John, Paul, George, & Ben. Though I love to take photographs, I do not enjoy being in them. Yet somehow I allowed a friend to take a photograph of Lane and me - and agreed to wear his goofy wig. What I was thinking? Now I can laugh at the humorous image.

Today my thoughts were definitely not focused. I had carefully chosen books for a biography book talk for third graders. When they arrived, I pushed the book truck to the story steps and smiled. Their teacher asked, "Are those biographies?" Yes, I replied. She hesitated. "Oh. Well, I asked for nonfiction books." Oh, I replied. Hmm. What had I been thinking?

Thinking fast, I gave her a picture book biography of Jesse Owens to share, and I quickly selected two books from each Dewey section. Instead of being distracted, the students were mesmerized by the books. Munro Leaf's 1946 book How to Behave and Why was snatched immediately following the impromptu booktalk. From the 400s, they love hearing about word origins in In a Word by Rosalie Baker; four students wanted it. Seymour Simon's Lungs grabbed their attention in the 600s. A book on Minnesota was the most popular selection from the 900s. Even more interesting to me than their interest in those books I selected were their inquiries about so many topics. They wanted books about the Golden Gate Bridge, Taiwan, foxes, koala bears, more etymology books, Roman gods and goddesses, and fireworks. From my completely absent selection of biographies came a fabulous afternoon of topic selection.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


As I gaze out my library window at home, I see the once bare maple tree has changed a bit. Red buds dot the tips of its branches. I wonder when those bare branches will be covered with leaves this year.

Tomorrow morning the fourth graders with whom I am focusing on inquiry learning will come to class with a list of wonderings, things they wonder about. Each day as I walk or run or simply observe my surroundings, I wonder about many things. I shared my list with them on Friday.

Why does a double rainbow have a VIBGYOR order for the first and a ROYGBIV for the second?

Why do some dogs bark at approaching strangers and some ignore them?

What makes worms come onto the streets and sidewalks during rain?

Will there always be agates to find in Minnesota?

Why were green, yellow, and red the colors chosen for traffic lights?

Why do silkworms eat only mulberry leaves?

Why are some crayon colors retired and others introduced? All colors stayed in the world.

Why are goldfish orange and not gold?

How do fish communicate? Or do they communicate at all?

What is the difference between pumpkins we carve and pumpkins used for pies?

I look forward to reading their wonderings and then helping them find information sources that will provide answers.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Have You Read? #13

Yesterday I began reading a book I have avoided for months. Recommended by one friend as something I should read but probably would not like but that would make me feel smarter but would also challenge me (her extended list of qualifiers continued), it was an easy one to keep beside the sofa. Surprisingly, I actually like it (though I am only 52 pages into the 666-page novel). Sena Jeter Naslund's Ahab's Wife or, The Star-Gazer is filled with descriptions I love. For example, about the Giant, the lighthouse on the Island where Una Spenser lives with her aunt, uncle, and cousin, she says, "He had his sunny side. It was recalcitrant during the morning hours, retaining its night coolness, but by afternoon, if you spread your hand on the stone, it gave back warmth greater than your own, and so, noticeable." (p. 43). Having never finished Moby Dick, I am so far pleased with this glimpse into one person's view of Captain Ahab's wife.

Yesterday also I mentioned Farley Mowat's Owls in the Family to the staff. Some were familiar with it and remarked on how they should read it aloud again. I suggested they invite our lead custodian to start the story; it is one of his favorite books. We added another copy to the collection because of his love for the humorous, memoir-like account of Mowat's experience with bringing owls into the household. I am now reading it aloud to my boys! The opening scene with Farley's friend Bruce slipping on his way down a tree with crow eggs in his mouth grabbed their attention.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Books and Blondies Revisited

This morning's Books and Blondies session found us enthusiastically reading aloud, sharing artwork, and chatting back and forth about a bunch of new books for our library while our colleagues nibbled and took notes.

Popular teacher picks were Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw (what amazing talent to tell the story in form!), Black Radishes by Susan Meyer (a World War II story from a different angle - a Jewish family living in the south of France), Mirror by Jeanne Baker (incredible design and interaction of two boys' parallel stories with fabulous collage artwork), and You Are What You Eat and Other Mealtime Hazards by Serge Bloch (filled with food idioms and phrases). Our time limit was 45 minutes today, but with one minute remaining, a kindergarten colleague pleaded, "Don't stop. Please!"

How fortunate we are to be well-received by our teaching colleagues!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Last Minute Poetry

A third grade colleague waited for my attention as I finished the picture walk through Charlie Cook's Favorite Book this afternoon with second graders. "Could you pull some poetry books to share with my class at 2:45 when they come to the library?" Absolutely, I told him.

The 811 section has been quite popular this week. We are fortunate to have several hundred poetry books in our collection, and they reside under a Very Hungry Caterpillar mobile. Choosing books to share with students is always a pleasure. My selections, however, are things they probably would not choose on their own. In other words, Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, Falling Up, It's Raining Pigs and Noodles, and The New Kid on the Block are not in my pile.

As the third grade children gathered on the story steps, I told them a bit about National Poetry Month, launched into descriptions of the books I had selected, and read a poem or two from each. They laughed at Mrs. Cole on an Onion Roll by Kalli Dakos, gasped at Thomas's jelly doughnut theft in Joyce Sidman's This is Just to Say (and Mrs. Garcia's acceptance of his apology), smiled to see Tomie dePaola's illustration for "The Secret Place", and attempted to guess the creatures described in Butterfly Eyes. When I finished, I asked if anyone would like to check out the titles I shared. Every hand shot in the air! In seconds, the books were cradled in the arms of eager readers.

I love the success

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Remembering Tender Books

Exchanging book ideas is one of the things I love to do with my friends. My annual adult summer reading list is meant for all readers, but there are some books that are meant to be shared with just the right person (and thus do not make the final cut on that list).

One of my reader friends told me she was cleaning her crawl space today and found two books she had loved and forgotten. Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged was one, and Mrs. Mike by Benedict Freedman and Nancy Freedman was the other. The latter transported me back to middle school when my friends and I read and reread that tender love story set in the Canadian wilderness (and later wrote our own short play version of it to perform for our English class).

I mentioned Michelle Magorian's Good Night, Mr. Tom to her. I first read this book after Jim Trelease recommended it in an early edition of The Read Aloud Handbook. Set in World War II, it is the story of Will, a young boy who is evacuated to the countryside to avoid the bombings of London and comes to stay with what the villagers perceive to be a crotchety old man. The touching story of their connection to each other is one everyone should read.

Tender stories warm us and keep us close to the memories of shared those old Disney volumes my cousins and I shared while our parents played cards on Friday evenings.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Picture Walking

When the visual components of a story are integral to understanding the text, the students like to take a picture walk to discover things they might have missed the first time. Today almost half a class of first graders crowded around Charlie Cook's Favorite Book (written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler) to compare the first double-page spread with the last (and the pages in-between).

Charlie Cook loves to curl up in a comfortable chair and read his favorite book about a pirate captain who, after being forced to walk the plank, discovers a treasure chest in which there is a book about Goldilocks reading in Baby Bear's bed. Each reading character's book opens to another book until a ghostly girl's book reveals Charlie Cook in his armchair. There are hints of characters in that first double-page spread; they just do not make sense until seen through the entire text.

Watching the children notice and discover, scan and point, reinforces my conviction in the power of picture books.

What would they notice in the turtle image above? Thanks to Lois Ehlert's work in Leaf Man for inspiring me to combine natural objects in art.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Poetry Around Us

April is National Poetry Month. At school that means several teachers ask me to "do a poetry book talk" for their classes. Somehow, I do not feel I do justice to poetry in fulfilling their requests. I choose an assortment of books, dependent upon the grade level with whom I am speaking. We talk about collections that are written by a poet and those that are a compilation of poems by many poets. I read selected poems to them and highlight others. Today the most popular books were Oops! by Alan Katz, Falling Down the Page by Georgia Heard, and Song of the Water Boatman by Joyce Sidman.

I pass the poem in this photograph whenever I park and walk to my favorite bookshop and cafe. It is stamped in the concrete on a street corner in St. Paul, part of the Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk program. I have never been a good dancer, but I love the image.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Have You Read? #12

Not often does it work out that four friends find a mutual time to be together, yet this afternoon Lauren, Debra, Kim, and I celebrated two birthdays with laughter, flowers, candles, and cake at one of our favorite cafes. We talked about books, ideas to spread literacy opportunities, and ways we can work together to help teachers. Asking the non-English speaking gentleman at the next table to take our photograph was quite an experience!

After lunch, Lauren and I stopped at the Red Balloon Bookshop. We read Perfect Square, Michael Hall's new picture book, and were fascinated by his artwork and idea to transform uniquely painted squares into flowers, a river, a mountain, a fountain, a bridge, and more. I imagine sitting with these same talented friends and creating things from squares we design and separate. I envision doing the same with children.

I am near the end of Lisa Genova's incredible novel Left Neglected, and for the past two days, I have contemplated life without my brain's acknowledgement of my left side.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Sugar is on my mind today on numerous levels.

Nine years ago today my sweet grandma left this earth. Growing up with her meant pocket change to walk to the corner store for a candy treat. On Easter weekends, my brother and I eagerly found chocolate eggs and jelly beans stashed on window sills and in hiding places in her house. I envision Max's Chocolate Chicken.

On that same day nine years ago, my nephew entered the world. He loves sweet treats and would rather eat the decorations for the gingerbread houses we construct each year than add them to the house. This year he told my mom a bird attacked the gingerbread house's chimney. That sounds like a book idea.

I baked our family's traditional birthday cake (we call it the Condo Cake due to its many layers) for our eldest son today. When he was younger, his teachers encouraged a guest reader instead of treats at school. I read A Present for Big Pig by Debi Gliori (alas, another out-of-print book) several times!

And then there is the fascinating book I have been reading: Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos. The authors present a detailed history of something I use in my kitchen every day. Topics are interwoven and linked together in an engaging prose.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fool

While some children liked hearing Marc Brown's Arthur's April Fool or Diane Degroat's April Fool! Watch Out School!, others enjoyed fooling many folks today. They tried to diagnose cases of spring fever, a disease marked by several interesting symptoms. A whole class "froze" at a decided-upon word uttered by their teacher. They would only unfreeze at the principal's command.

How fun for them to fool someone else - and not get in trouble today!

Note: the beautiful shells in the photograph are really stunning creations from Dale Chihuly's glass bridge in Tacoma, Washington.