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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Connecting With My Favorite

I have been savoring the images in Robert McCloskey: A Private Life in Words and Pictures the past few days. Written by his younger daughter Jane, it is really more a collection of her interpretations and observations of his life and her role as the daughter than it is entirely about my favorite picture book author and illustrator. Still. I keep rereading passages that reveal things I never knew.

"Sometimes my mother sent Sal and me to visit my father at his studio in the boathouse. The studio often had paintings we had never seen before, and sometimes never saw again until after he died. After we looked around for a few minutes, Bob arranged us on the floor with chalk or pencils or paint, and we all settled down to work."

I love that image. I love the descriptions of his friendship with Marc Simont and how they supposedly would eat a pound of spaghetti at a time in college. I love the descriptions of island activities and hazards. Mostly, I love the glimpses into his work, prompting me to revisit my favorite books with new eyes and insights.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Voice in Person

Kevin Kling's picture book Big Little Brother is a perfect example of how voice can be associated with a person. Hearing him read the book at the Red Balloon Bookshop on Sunday was fantastic. Seated next to illustrator Chris Monroe (who expertly showed the pictures), Kevin's expressive voice illuminated the voice of the words on the pages. Even the years of age difference between his adult self and his child self faded as he read about putting the perfect plastic turkey into the oven at daycare and being tired of his big little brother's constant presence when he just wanted to be alone. Listeners applauded when the little brother came to his rescue, just in time to save that pretend Thanksgiving dinner. I just loved hearing him read his own work, so perfectly complemented by Chris's insightful illustrations.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Just Not the Same

When I was a little girl, my maternal grandmother cared for me while my parents were at work. There were things I would eat at her house (like braunschweiger!) that I would never touch at home. It just was not the same.

All of our sons love James Bond, but the eldest reads my dad's collection of Ian Fleming books whenever we visit my parents' home. He read three over the course of the three days! My mom offered to send them home with him, knowing how much he loves them. No, thanks, he told her. It just would not be the same.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

In Thanksgiving

Each night before I fall asleep, I record at least five things in my journal for which I am grateful. I used to record only three, but I increased that number as it got easier. So far today I am grateful for color, for the friends who came to run our informal Turkey Trot (and eat my cinnamon rolls), for the freedom to wake up without an alarm clock, and for my family's health. I anticipate being grateful for the familiar drive across Wisconsin, for time with my parents in the afternoon, and for my sons' contented sighs after enjoying their grandma's cooking. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reading Recommendations

I love talking about books with people who are passionate about reading. Sometimes I discover books I never expected to like about topics I would never have considered reading if someone else had not loved the book (Ahab's Wife comes to mind). Generally, though, my friends read many of the same things I like to read, and we exchange book titles and topics freely. My dear friend Gloria (who lives in Washington and loves Mt. Rainier National Park just as our family did when visiting her 6 years ago) always sends a book title or two in her letters. My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira was her latest recommendation, and I have been engrossed in Mary's story for the past two days. I love it when a book so captures my attention that I have a hard time leaving the setting and characters to participate in real life. So, now that the Thanksgiving baking is finished, I am going back to 1861 and the makeshift hospital where she is caring for soldiers.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Just a Second

How many times have I uttered these phrases? Just a second or Just a minute. They are poor substitutes for what I really mean, usually I will be there when I finish whatever I am doing now. The older I get, the more careful I am with my speech, and I have tried to eliminate those pat responses.

Steve Jenkins's newest book Just a Second makes me ponder the meaning to even greater lengths. In a second, I learned, woodpeckers can hammer a tree trunk 20 times, and a human can blink 7 times. In a minute, a human heart beats about 70 times while a hamster's heart beats 450 times! In an hour, baby blue whales gain 10 pounds when drinking their mothers' milk. In a day, the worldwide chicken population lays 2,000,000,000 eggs. In a week, moose antlers can grow by 6 inches. Not one to usually memorize facts, I found myself fixated on the incredible statistics in the book.

Of course, his incredible cut-paper illustrations astound me! The crushed aluminum can (with accompanying facts about the landfill accumulation in a month) looks real! The details of eyes, tails, and teeth on the mice offspring (with a horrifying fact about what the worldwide population would be is all the original pair's offspring survived) are amazing. He is noted for his fabulous, fact-filled glossaries, and this book also includes terrific timelines and graphs. Students will love it as a book to peruse alone or to hear read aloud.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Story-Filled Afternoon

I waited in anxious anticipation this afternoon at St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater for three chairs on the stage to be occupied by some of my favorite people. The middle chair was for Cathy Wurzer, host of MPR's Morning Edition. The other two were for Chris Van Allsburg and Kate DiCamillo. They chatted about Harris Burdick, that incredibly talented, elusive, mysterious stranger made famous by Mr. Van Allsburg back in 1984. They shared the story of how The Chronicles of Harris Burdick came into being. Kate and Chris each read parts of the stories they contributed to the volume. Kate's epistolary story, told from the perspective of a young girl named Pearlie, accompanies "The Third Floor Bedroom" for which Harris Burdick's caption reads as follows: It all began when someone left the window open. I love that illustration and wrote my own version many years ago. Chris's story, based on the illustration for "Oscar and Alphonse", introduces readers to a little-known scientific theory called "The Farkas Conjecture" and provides quite an entertaining view of just how those caterpillars in her hand could spell. They followed the reading with more stories about their stories, giving me lots of things to share with the students when we return from Thanksgiving break.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Snow Queen & Breadcrumbs

Science fiction and fantasy are my least favorite genres. Whenever teachers request for a booktalk featuring the genre or when students ask for recommendations, I refer to those I have read and rely on reviews. That said, I eagerly read Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs. The beautiful cover art (by Erin McGuire) pulled me in, much as the main character Hazel is pulled into the woods (and the Snow Queen's palace) to rescue her long-time friend Jack.

I love the relationship Hazel and Jack shared through much of their childhood: playing imaginatively as only uninhibited young people can do, creating worlds and scenarios wholeheartedly. Jack even puts aside his guy friends to play with Hazel (a true loner) during recess sometimes. Yet one day in the snow, he is stricken by something in his eye (and, unbeknownst to Hazel and other, his heart). He changes, disregarding her and others, suddenly disappearing one day when he should have been sledding.

If the story sounds a bit like one familiar, it is because the author shaped her modern day version after Hans Christian Andersen's classic tale (which I read again as soon as I finished Breadcrumbs). I love the way the Hazel and Jack's story that of Gerda and Kai (in some versions Kay), yet the Minneapolis setting makes everything seem real for this Twin Cities resident.

Children at the book festival this week asked for my recommendations, and by the close of sales, there were no copies of Breadcrumbs remaining. I eagerly await their thoughts.

Friday, November 18, 2011

As Creative As a Paintbrush

Second graders have been writing similes to describe friends or family members in preparation for their portrait project. The art teacher and I collaborated to teach them about famous portraits and self-portraits, deciding finally that they could not bring in all the object they would need to adorn their paintings (as did Hanoch Piven in My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks). So, I taught them the necessary skill of clicking (right-clicking, to be exact) on an image to copy it and then pasting it into a Word document. They will cut out their objects and add them to the paintings.

They love my example (which looks like a second-grader's piece of art) about my teaching partner who is

as smart as a dictionary full of words (hair)
as flexible as a macaroni noodle (eyebrows)
as sweet as chocolate chip cookies (eyes)
as happy as a clam (nose)
as creative as a paintbrush (mouth)

Next I'll work on my principal's portrait!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

To the Dogs

Last night at the book festival, Micki and Morgan (and their owners) were on hand to provide listening ears to young readers. Called Paws to Read at our public library, the program allows a safe opportunity to read aloud to a non-judgmental listeners: dogs. Watching the readers select one of the many dog-related books from the library and settling in next to the dogs was delightful. The dogs hardly had a break during their hour of volunteer time! Readers kept lining up for a turn, some coming back three or four times to read. Micki and Morgan enjoyed Laura Numeroff's new book If You Give a Dog a Donut, Sit, Truman! by Dan Harper, Arthur's New Puppy by Marc Brown, Maya Gottfried's Good Dog, and many other titles.

p.s. This kind listener, my brother's dog Sam, is no longer with us, but gosh, was he a good dog!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Finding a Voice

Two third graders pushed the cozy chairs leg-to-leg this morning, silently reading in close proximity. I had just finished reading aloud Jon Scieszka's The Frog Prince Continued, and I asked if their teacher had talked about voice. A thoughtful young man was certain he knew. "It's how when you read something, you know who wrote it." Wow. That is the perfect definition. Hearing the author's voice in the narration and the Frog Prince's words solidified their understanding of the concept.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Author's Chair

Each time an author or illustrator visits the Red Balloon Bookshop, the talented person leaves a drawing or inscription on a chair. I have no idea what the bookshop does with these pieces of collaborative art, but I think they should be auctioned off to school libraries. I can only imagine the thrill it would give a young, would-be author or illustrator to sit in such a chair. Young people could share their own words and artwork, inspired by the words and art adorning the chair and by the beloved authors and illustrators who enhanced its appearance. I must ask about this idea sometime.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bringing an Author Home for Dinner

My boys enjoyed the dinnertime conversation on Friday evening immensely as Chris Monroe came home with me for the meal. She had just finished signing many copies of her books at the book festival, sharing her career path with Family Reading Night attendees, and teaching the participants how to draw Chico Bon Bon. Number three son was pleased to get signed copies of her newest books, Monkey With a Tool Belt and the Seaside Shenanigans and Big Little Brother (written by Kevin Kling). Do they all realize how lucky they are to have interesting guests sitting at the table and sharing stories? I think so.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

In a Dog Suit

Stephen Shashkan appeared in a dog suit for his first-ever bookstore event this morning! The bookshop was so filled with children and their parents that I viewed the festivities from above in the Red Balloon's loft. Stephen read aloud from his playful book A Dog is a Dog, and the audience tried to fill in the correct rhyming animal when appropriate. His ingenious text tells of the dog's qualities - until the dog costume is unzipped, revealing a cat underneath. The same thing happens with the cat's characteristics - until its costume is shed to feature a purplish squid. The moose easily slips off the squid guise, and the text takes the reader back to the beginning with these lines:

A moose is a moose, in the clear...or the fog.
A moose is a moose, unless it's!

His bold and large illustrations are the perfect companions for the text. Readers at the bookshop loved it, and the readers to whom I am giving this book will undoubtedly agree.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bring Home the Bacon

Some things occur several times within in a week and make me wonder about their appearance. This week it was the phrase "bring home the bacon". One of my colleagues told us about her husband's retirement and noted that she is now the one who has to bring home the bacon. Immediately, two of us began singing the Enjoli perfume commercial from 1980. A much younger colleague (who was not even born in 1980) thought so much of the singing that she needed to look for the video on YouTube! We all laughed about that ridiculous advertisement.

Today, though, the phrase came up in Little House in the Big Woods when Pa is telling Laura and Mary about how he came upon a bear in the woods ready to feast on a dead pig. One usually quiet boy's hand shot up, and he exclaimed, "That has two meanings, you know." He proceeded to tell his classmates and me that one meaning is the paycheck or money a person brings home, and the other meaning is when someone really does buy bacon meat to bring home. They looked at him in amazement! I did, too, knowing everyone would remember the two meanings and go home to tell their families.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ready for Visitors

The book boxes arrived this morning, all labeled by genre and age level. Book posters adorned the walls. Brightly covered tables waited for the books. Volunteers unpacked books, stacking and displaying them to attract readers. Items were moved from one place to another, anticipating readers' interests. The doors open tomorrow morning for our second independent book festival, putting sought-after books in readers' hands. We look forward to seeing if our sales predictions were correct!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chair Readers

For the past six school years, I have cringed at the sound of wood scraping against tile as children rushed to the reading alcove in hopes of getting one of the four coveted chairs that were set alongside the carpet. Inevitably, two bodies claimed to have been first, and the chaotic chatter about who should get the chairs took up too much time.

In August, we decided to move those four chairs to secluded spots in the library, and the result has been amazing. Obviously, arguments have ceased in the reading alcove as everybody sits on the carpet. Most pleasing, though, are the glimpses of readers, curled up in those chairs, completely absorbed in books. Oblivious to the book searching around them, they read, not even noticing the librarian with the camera who wants to capture the moment.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Surprising Discovery

Watson discovered a pink polka-dot balloon in the woods on Saturday and was baffled by its slight movements. He edged closer and closer, finally comfortable enough to nudge it with his nose. The unexpected discovery prompted understanding.

Today during library time the fourth graders were engrossed in the versions of The Frog Prince I read aloud. The retellings of the Grimm version each ended similarly, surprising the listeners (and the teacher) who thought the frog became a prince when he was kissed by the princess. Not so. Nothing so tender brought about his transformation! The distressed princess threw the frog against the wall, and he suddenly became the handsome prince. Amazing, isn't it? All those readers thought it happened a different way. Next week they will enjoy Jon Scieszka's alternate version, prompting more surprises.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Have You Read? #19

Do you ever wait for a favorite author's next book to be released? I do. Sometimes I wish for the next title just after finishing the newest. So it is with Naomi Shihab Nye's books. This week I was lucky enough to borrow her latest - There is No Long Distance Now: Very Short Stories - via interlibrary loan. Note the subtitle. This is not another collection of her incredible, insightful poems. In the introduction, she tells of the requests for short stories she had not written - yet. Slowly, she wrote some and some more, thanking the things in her life that helped her form them.

Thank you, everything we remember. Distance between thought and action. Distance betwen suggestion, intention, reality.

And then come the stories. There were those that surprised me, just as they surprised the characters (like "Stay True Hotel" in which a young girl learns things about her deceased mother and hence her father and herself). Some made me smile despite sadness (like "Thud" in which a girl loses her grandfather but strangely meets a boy she always imagined in her mind). Some made me wonder about the people and relationships in my life (like "Downhill" in which a girl learns something incredible about her grandmother and odd uncle, explaining everything about how her grandma and dad get along). Some made me sad, of course, and then I had to read another to wash away that sadness and grasp contentment again. Mostly, I have loved reading them bit by bit this week. I do not want to return the book.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Swirl of a Day

When people tell me to slow down, to be sure not to do too much, to take some time for myself, I assure them I do. Today I enjoyed three hours with my buddy Joyce and her dog Watson. We hiked through the woods around her house, talking about swirls in cinnamon rolls, shells, pumpkin tendrils, leaf stems, squirrels' tails, and more. We imagined what children would like to learn about swirls when she talks to a group. Leaves crunched under our hiking boots. Ripples spread in Bufflehead Pond when we dropped leaves into it. After lunch, I took home signed copies of Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, Joyce's latest book, illustrated by Beth Krommes.

I love this book for its flowing words as well as the incredible artwork. Each stanza of the text begins by telling what a spiral is: a snuggling shape, a growing shape, a strong shape, a clever shape. Spirals explore the world, hold on to other things, move, twist and stretch. Even the copyright/dedication information is in a spiral! Readers will love looking closely at the illustrations, finding the creatures nestled in spirals underground, identifying the plants, insects, and sea creatures , and imagining the spirals they have witnessed in their worlds. Joyce's fabulous glossary (with Beth's tiny illustrations) provides even more wonderful information about each thing. I keep holding my copy and rereading it this evening, remembering the swirls of the day.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Practicing Restraint

At this afternoon's meeting regarding the upcoming fall book festival, I could not help but look around the bookshop at all the new books. By new, I mean those that were not there last week when I visited. I held one long-awaited book in my hands. I read it, savoring the onomatopoeic text and wonderful artwork. I laughed as the animal characters held on to each other's fur and quills as they zoomed down the hill. I wondered along with the human boy who noticed the bear tracks in the snow outside his cabin. I hoped, along with him, to see the animals from his window, borrowing the red sled for another ride down the hill. I love Lita Judge's newest book Red Sled, but I practiced restraint today. No doubt I will look at it again next week and take it home for my shelf.

p.s. This bear track was found near Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park at the end of July of 2011!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reading Prompts Knitting

I knit often. Not quite daily, but I usually pick up a project a few times a week. Knitting gets me through long meetings, band concerts (though I once dropped the yarn ball and it rolled to the front of the high school auditorium), and car rides. Thanks to my grandma, I have been knitting since I was 16, and many warm things have come from my needles.

Knowing how much I love knitting, my friend Debra got me the best book: A Knitter's Home Companion by Michelle Edwards. To make the book last, I read just a bit each night, and instead of feeling sleepy, I feel like buying more yarn and starting new projects! Michelle writes about knitting, shares favorite books in which knitting is part of the story, ,gives recipes for favorite foods, and provides patterns for a blanket, mittens, socks, a purse, and several other unique things (like a chicken egg warmer). Generally, the book lives up to its subtitle: A Heartwarming Collection of Stories, Patterns, and Recipes.

On another note...I finally like the eyes I gave my doll, so she and the brown, nubby rabbit are off to Brattcat's house this weekend for shipping to Bon Samaritan in Haiti to be loved by children.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Abandoning a Book

I absolutely hate having to do what I did today: abandon a read-aloud selection. In discussions about the Common Core Standards and the importance of challenging readers with texts, I attempted to read J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan to the second graders. After two chapters, there were far too many breaks in the reading to check understanding. Despite their attempts to stay connected, their attention strayed to things out the window, others passing through the library, or the box elder bugs that somehow fly around the room each autumn.

So, I put Peter Pan back on the shelf and picked up a tried and true selection: Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Their questions were many.

Did they have stairs to get up in the attic?
Do people still have trundle beds?
Why did they store their food in the attic?
How could Pa retrieve his gun if it was on the wall above the door?
How did Pa get the nails in the hollowed up log for smoking the meat?
Why could Pa use a net to catch fish? Did he need a license?

We had to stop just before the butchering of the pig (sounds of slaughter came from some of the boys), and they begged for more. Now I feel better about my selection.