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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Related Settings

Last night I started The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. A recent review in BookPage moved me to reserve it from the library. Set on Janus Rock off the southwestern coast of Australia, it is the story of a light keeper and his wife and their decision to keep an infant girl who, along with her deceased father, washed ashore on the island in 1926.

Last week my thoughtful friend Joanne gave me a copy of a book she adores: A Fortunate Life by A. B. Facey. This memoir is set in almost the same place, only on the mainland of Western Australia. I began reading it this afternoon (with a cup of tea and a cat-shaped cut-out cookie) when I returned from school, contemplating what a fortunate life I have, and loving that the two stories are related in their settings and time periods.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


My passion for books that showcase art and art history led me to Jane Breskin Zalben's latest title called Mousterpiece. The delightful book features a mouse named Janson who lived in a museum and would explore the space after hours. When she discovers artwork on the walls, "her little world opened", and she created in the styles used by those famous painters whose works she observed. She imitates Georges Seurat with dots and Georges Braque with square, triangle, and circle shapes. Janson's Matisse-like collage features a mouse surrounded by bright yellow bursts, and her Pollack-like splatters and drips show a mouse-shaped blank in the painting's center. My favorites of Janson's works are a Starry Night painting with swirls that resemble a mouse head in the night sky and a Chuck Close inspired mouse head. For readers who are unfamiliar with the artists and artwork featured in the book, the author included an excellent glossary to explain a bit more about each person and creation. This book would pair well with Don Freeman's Norman the Doorman!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Family Reading Night #2


Nancy Carlson and about 130 children and adults joined celebrated Family Reading Night this week! So gifted in relating to children's experiences, Nancy wove the stories of her own childhood experiences and those of her children into the books and characters kids adore. She showed the audience how some characters look similar to real people in her world. She told about how and why she decided to write specific books. She even shared secrets of the mistakes she has made when illustrating her books. All the while, all eyes in the hall were on her, completely engaged in her words and projected artwork.

The best part, however, came at the end, when children scooted to the front of the hall, directly below her easel, to practice drawing with Nancy. After two lessons, they directed her in an imaginative piece set on Mars! Many of their parents and teachers, meanwhile, were practicing the same skills back in their chairs. It was yet another magical literacy event!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Too often, I assume children know things they do not know! This week it was the meaning of pedigree in Henry Huggins. The Woofies Dog Food Company sponsors a dog show in the park, and Mr. Pennycuff, the Lucky Dog Pet Shop owner, encourages Henry to enter Ribsy. The neighborhood children decide to enter the dog show as well, and some are certain to win because their dogs have pedigrees.

We talked about what that means. In most classes, the children have not a clue of the word's meaning. One child thought it meant a degree that dogs get after completing puppy school. One clever child described it well as "a dog paper that tells it is a breed." I wonder how they would have processed the rest of the chapter without that important information.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

In Love

The first graders are still listening to me read John Erickson's The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog. Up to this point, Hank has failed to determine the murderer of two hens, been caught with the remains of one dead hen, and been in trouble for various things. As a result, he decided to become an outlaw. He headed for the canyons where he rescued a coyote whose head was stuck in a Hawaiian Punch can. When her face was exposed to the light, Hank felt weak in the knees. His mind was swimming with unfamiliar thoughts. He was in love.

As we reviewed the previous chapters today, one student asked again how Hank knew he was in love. The others recounted his weak legs and demonstrated how Hank's eyes were probably glossy and how he had a goofy smile. I countered that with something like this: "But that's not exactly what it is like to be in love." Wrong thing to say in front of six- and seven-year-olds. The next question was, of course, "Well, how did you know you were in love?"

"That's a very good question," I replied, stalling for time. Then I told them how my husband makes me laugh, how I always know he is looking out for me, how we like to do things together, how considerate he is of situations and people. They all nodded, as if they knew exactly what I meant.

Monday, October 22, 2012


On Saturday I had the pleasure of taking a class with my mom and aunt (and my second grade teacher!) at the Woodson Art Museum. The museum has been one of my favorite places since taking field trips there during grade school, and my own children have fond memories of the sculpture garden and various children's literature exhibits over the years.

Our class was taught by Julie Bender, an artist-in-residence for the week, and the focus was pyrography - using burning tools to create images on various surfaces. Though the nuthatch I burned into a piece of maple was not stellar, I did love listening to Julie describe her artistic process. The piece on display for this year's Birds in Art exhibit is called Going My Way? and was created after her visit to a friend's farm and a rooster named Huey. She used 300 pound hot press watercolor paper and her burning tool. Most interesting as the the dirt (under her arm, unfortunately) was made by putting sand under the paper and burning around it. She urged the class members to touch the canvas! The museum staff shook their heads.

Julie was a delightful guide and interesting teacher - and she emphasized that getting books from the library is a great way to learn more about pyrography!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Back in Time

Since graduating 27 years ago, I have not been inside my high school...until Friday afternoon. My son and I toured with a friend, and I am astounded with how familiar it felt, even with the additions and changes. I remembered room locations, teachers' offices (though only a few remain as staff members), and where my friends' lockers were located. Most importantly, I remembered the library in the middle of the third floor with windows all around the top edge to let in natural light. Except for glass panes where the open entrance used to be, it looks almost the same. It was still filled with students, and the librarian (now married) is the same.

With modular scheduling, my high school days contained 20-minute pockets of time to spend doing what needed to be done - or socializing with friends. My chosen safe haven was the library. I was glad to see it bustling with students and especially glad to talk with the librarian (who remembered me, by the way). I asked about circulation and what goes out most frequently. "Without a doubt, the Riordan books," she told me. Interestingly, Rick Riordan's books are high on our elementary circulation list as well!

Friday, October 19, 2012


The fourth graders at our school attend an in-school Kindness Retreat each fall. As a child, I would have hated having to dance and sing and role play in groups like the students do on that day. Yet, for some people, those group experiences are the perfect way to reinforce kindness. 

Chloe, the narrator of Jacqueline Woodson's new book Each Kindness, learns about kindness through an experience at school involving a new student named Maya. Though Maya acted kindly toward Chloe and her friends, the girls shunned Maya and even picked on her for her shabby clothes and the odd objects she tried to share. When their teacher, Ms. Albert, asks each student to drop a stone into a bowl of water and observe the ripples, Chloe cannot imagine any kind act she has committed that would ripple to others. All she considers are the lost opportunities for being kind to Maya. When Maya suddenly moves away, Chloe reflects on how "the way the water rippled out and away. Out and away. Like each kindness - done and not done." 

Reminiscent of The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, this beautifully illustrated book teaches a lesson simply and thoughtfully. I look forward to reading it aloud to children.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


In messages back and forth this week, my sweet and talented friend (who also happens to be a librarian) and I decided that despite our hectic schedules, we most wanted to spend time together today. We talked about projects and dreams and ideas, and then she pulled a stack of books from her bag, telling me she was reciprocating all the good book ideas I have shared with her. What a treat!

Here are some I loved:

Little Owl Lost by Colin Naughton - As Little Owl searches for his mother, a squirrel uses Little Owl's descriptions (big eyes, for example) to find just the right motherly creature.

Dog Loves Drawing by Louise Yates (see also Dog Loves Books) - When Dog receives a blank book from Aunt Dora, he draws a door and has soon created amusing characters and a lovely story. One illustration is so similar to a page in Don Freeman's The Chalk Box Story, and we both noted that at the same time! Best of all is the ending, where Dog draws an illustrated thank-you note.

One Special Day by Lola Schaefer - This book is perfect for giving to a boy about to become a big brother! The images of Spencer being strong, funny, wild, and tall are perfectly contrasted with the quiet of holding a new baby.

underGROUND by Denise Fleming - The cross-sections of the ground under a child's feet offer so many opportunities for discovery. I had already seen this book, but we both love the incredible pulp paper paintings!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Love That Dog

I began reading Sharon Creech's clever and engaging book Love That Dog to fourth graders this week. Jack, a student in Miss Stretchberry's class, is convinced he could never write poetry. Yet through his teacher's examples - and perhaps simply within himself - he composes (sometimes unwittingly) poems. With each poem offered by Miss Stretchberry, Jack's writing becomes more witty and thoughtful. Bits and phrases by Robert Frost, William Blake, Arnold Adoff, Valerie Worth, and William Carlos Williams (all of which I have also read to the children) seep into Jack's words, craftily blending into his own message. You come too, says Jack, mimicking Frost in "The Pasture". Watching my listeners as they hear and recognize those bits is delightful! It is a masterful and motivating book. The listeners have been torn between finishing the library search activity and starting concrete poems like Jack's.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fun Searching

Fourth graders have loved searching for books in hopes of solving a puzzle the past two weeks. Their clue sheet provides 13 short descriptions of books (which contain at least two key words that would help them discover the book title) and 13 corresponding statements that point them to a specific chapter, page, and letter. Unscrambling those 13 letters, they will discover a word that describes books and reading.

In pairs or individually, they enthusiastically enter search terms, read the book descriptions, and then stealthily head to the shelves to find the right book and letter. They are careful not to leave their finds on the computer screen or sticking out of a shelf space. There is no prize for this activity. There is not a reward for getting done first. Yet again this week I heard, "Do we get to look for books again?"

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Oh, No!

Reading a new book while eating a warm chocolate chip cookie (after kicking a soccer ball in the leaves) is the perfect way to spend a fall afternoon according to "the kids" (my cherished neighbor children). Candace Fleming's latest picture book Oh, No! (illustrated with fabulous relief prints by Eric Rohmann) just came in on reserve, and they were engrossed from the first "Ribbit-oops!" uttered by Frog as he fell into the deep, deep hole. They tracked the tiger as Mouse (Pippa-eeek!), Loris (Soo-slooow!), Sun Bear (Grab on!), and Monkey (Wheee-haaaa!) all ended up in the hole (Oh, no!) and loved when the earth shook (Ba-boom!) as a jungle creature came to their rescue. They immediately wanted to re-read it. This time, when we got to the bumble-rumble of the ground, my two-year-old friend said, "Here's where the elephant arrives!"

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

By Any Other Name

Philip Stead's A Home for Bird is the read-aloud book for primary children this week. The story begins with a heavily-loaded green truck scooting down a road - and a drawn-out "Cuckooooooooooo" sounding in the truck's wake. As Vernon (a frog) attempts to help Bird find home, Bird remains silent and compliant. Observant readers notice that the green truck later pulls up in front of a home...the same home where Vernon and Bird go at the end of a long journey. They got there with help from a kind stranger who pointed the way. When I ask about that stranger, all the kids know what it is, its function, and that it usually has N, E, S, and W on it, but their words for it never quite get to the real term: a weather vane.

They suggested it was a wind pointer, a direction giver, a wind mill, a cupola (Wow!), a rooster, a chicken, a wind direction.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Cat Tale

Michael Hall is a master of ideas and creativity. His previous two picture books - Perfect Square (2011) and My Heart is Like a Zoo (2009) - have prompted such ingenious writing and artwork by students in our school. His latest book Cat Tale is filling young readers with word wonder. Three cats named Lillian, Tilly, and William J. move through the story with homophones and homonyms that make a delightful puzzle. From chews and choose to ewes and use, there are word pairs that craftily combine unlikely activities and objects. The cats steer a plane and then plane a board. They board a train and then train some ducks to duck a shoe (having previously needed to shoo fleas). The children's smiles of recognition and hands shooting in the air made obvious their engagement with every page until the cats fixed all the jumbled words. They all want to cut boxes and shapes to make art like Michael's.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Frank Show

Last week we read aloud a new picture book by David Mackintosh to the intermediate grade students called The Frank Show. First, though, we read it together at the bookshop, laughing and remembers others in our lives whose thoughts and sayings were brought to the forefront by the things Frank says in the book:

  • "Things were a lot tougher back then."
  • "You could hear yourself think!"
  • "These days there are too many gadgets and gizmos. I prefer doing things the old-fashioned way."
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
  • "They don't make 'em like that anymore."
  • "Today's music is just noise, and you can't understand the words."
The students were mesmerized by the story (and the quirky illustrations) of a boy who must talk for one minute about one person. For various reasons, he chooses his grandpa Frank, even though Frank is just a grandpa and does not seem to have a lot of the interesting qualities and talents possessed by his classmates' chosen people. After the narrator tells about all the things Frank does not like, he is at a loss for words. Then Frank tells the children about his stint in the war, and the children in the book are also mesmerized. Frank is obviously the coolest person of all.

The resulting discussion revealed some fascinating family histories and generated questions the children would love to ask their family members. They also loved learning that my grandpa was in the Navy (like many of their grandpas and great grandpas) and was a cement truck driver.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Stop, Drop, Roll

In preparation for an upcoming fire drill, second graders and I discussed the exit route from the library, being quiet as we walked to our safe spot and waited for the all-clear signal, and why we practiced for a potential fire.

One student then volunteered, "I know what to do if your clothes catch on fire."

"What is that?" I asked her.

"Stop, drop, and roll," she told us.

"I learned that, too," I replied. "I learned it in a book called Clifford the Firehouse Dog."

She immediately pointed at me and exclaimed, "Same book! Me, too!"

I love connections like these with readers and books!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Today I finished Thomas Rockwell's How to Eat Fried Worms with one fourth grade group. For those who do not remember the end of the story, Billy's mom (he is the boy who agreed to eat 15 worms in 15 days) receives a letter from Dr. McGrath, their family physician, telling her of the recent dangers he has discovered about the consumption of worms. Using rather extravagant language, the "doctor" warns her to stop Billy from eating any worms until he returns in two days.

One student exclaimed, "Why wouldn't he just call her if it was that important?"

Another started chuckling. I asked what he found amusing, and he said, "Fulmar."

"You know about fulmar?" I asked.

"Yes. It is a seabird" he told me.

"However did you know about them?" "They were in a book I read called That's Disgusting. They have incredibly oily bodies."

The depth of wide-reading and background knowledge cannot be underestimated.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Comparative Literature

I have loved Bedtime for Frances for a long time. As a young girl, I spent many hours at the table, forced to eat the rest of the beef roast or pork roast on my plate. I wished for foods I liked. Like Frances, I often thought other people's lunches were better than my own. Now that I read it through adult eyes and experiences, I note, of course, the masterful way the Hobans taught a lesson without being didactic.

This summer, while visiting with Cyndy Szekeres, she noted that the first Frances book was not illustrated by Lillian Hoban but by Garth Williams, a shared hero in the world of illustration. I could hardly believe that was true! Though I trust Cyndy, I looked up the information and confirmed her words - then ordered a copy for my personal library.

I would love to do a comparative literature study with children involving these two books. Frances is the same character in her actions and words in each, but she is a softer, more defined badger, somehow, in the Williams' interpretation, and it is not just because she may have had a pre-bedtime bath. Her features are clearer. What would the children say? I am hesitant to discover. You see, while her parents may just give her bread and jam to convince her to eat more broadly, they threaten spankings in order to get her to bed. I do not desire to engage in the discussions that might occur on the story steps about that topic.