I marvel at the people I have met via the blog world and the ways my reading has been positively affected by their art, words, and responses. A lovely book arrived from one such talented and insightful blogger - Sketchbook Wandering - and I look forward to using it in the coming year to record some of the marvels I observe as I read and work with readers. Taking careful note of readers' ways of thinking and responding allows us to record anecdotal information about their habits and abilities. It also gives us a chance to reflect on our own reading processes as we model for them how readers think. The things we do automatically as adult readers are not so intuitive for inexperienced readers, and it is delightful to encounter their enthusiasm as they learn about themselves. Happy Reading! Happy New Year's Eve!
Monday, December 30, 2013
I must have memorized the text of each because when I found them on the shelves to read with my niece last week, the words were so familiar. She even spied the copyright date (almost hidden by the spiral binding) of 1945. On the back sides of each first page are the words "To Gary From Mary Kay" (one of his cousins). Almost 70 years later, they are still charming, delightful books!
Saturday, December 28, 2013
I am going to write to that dear teacher and tell her my story about the book she gave to me 41 years ago.
Friday, December 27, 2013
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
also known as "A Visit From St. Nicholas" as the end note reminds readers). Her notes about reinterpreting the classic poem and about her own artwork (which I read first) help explain some of her artistic creativity.
Four children are snuggled soundly in their bed, their cat asleep atop their pillows. When Papa hears the clatter on the roof and throws open the sash, snow swirls into the room. The toddler and cat are also awakened. They creep downstairs, each in wonder at the jolly old elf whose belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly when he laughs. Nestled between siblings on the last page, the toddler's reaction to the exclamation from St. Nicholas is bright-eyed delight.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
Friday, December 20, 2013
After explaining a brief definition (and reiterating that it is not a summary), I asked them to focus on one specific character as I read aloud and to draw a conclusion about her.
They were immediately engaged in the story of Yoon's birthday. Her wish for a jump rope was not granted by her mother, yet Yoon gratefully acknowledges the book she is given, a Korean story about a trickster tiger and a silly girl. Then her mother gives her the jade bracelet that was her own mother's. Yoon's own name is engraved in it in Korean letters. Enter the mean girl. She invites Yoon to jump rope at lunch recess, but she also tells her American children share things if they are friends. Then she demands Yoon's jade bracelet. Fierce looks appeared on the faces in front of me as I read about how the mean tiger girl would not return the bracelet to Yoon. Eventually, her teacher and her own determination come to the rescue.
The readers in my audience had much to say about the mean girl. They drew many conclusions and perfectly articulated them. And, as always, they begged me to leave the book in the classroom for them to reread later. I love it when that happens.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Each year we drive north a few miles to our friends' tree farm. Walking amongst the varieties of trees, I always seek a balsam, the perfect tree. So do Ruthie and her father in Gloria Houston's book The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree. The two ride up to the high cliffs and rocky Craig's where they find that tree, all alone atop Grandfather Mountain. Ruthie's father takes a red ribbon from her hair and lifts her to tie that ribbon as a marker on the tree. The seasons pass, and he is called away to the Great War. The tree stands tall and grows even more perfectly, ready to be the tree in Pine Grove Church.
I adore this story. A girl's hope for her father's return and belief that St. Nicholas will bring her "a doll with a beautiful dress, the color or cream, all trimmed with ribbons and lace" resonates with her parents' love for her. Barbara Cooney's illustrations make it an even more beautiful book.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Whenever I see Steve Jenkins listed in book reviews, I immediately add my name to the reserve list at the library. This time it was for his most comprehensive book yet: The Animal Book. And check out this subtitle: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest - and Most Surprising - Animals on Earth. What an incredible collection it is!
In addition to talking generally about animals, he writes about animal families, senses, predators, and defenses. One chapter is devoted to animal extremes, featuring the blue whale (largest animal), the narwhal (longest tooth), the howler monkey (loudest land animal), and the sperm whale (deepest diver). The last chapter discusses the history of life on earth.
Though I love reading astonishing facts, I am more intrigued by his incredible cut-paper artwork. Some things look so life like...furry, detailed, colorful, or camouflaged. Imagine the man's paper stores! As an added bonus for the reader, he share the process of his own book-making processes in the final pages of the books. From getting ideas to conducting research to creating sketches, thumbnails, and dummies, he explains in words and artifacts just how his work becomes a finished book. This finished book is a gem.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Another reason I cannot sleep this week is a book. The images that remain in my mind and heart from Elizabeth Wein's newest book Rose Under Fire, a companion to Code Name Verity kept surfacing in my dreams and mixing history with my reality.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Saturday, December 14, 2013
Friday, December 13, 2013
Each night I think to myself...you should really write a blog post. Then, somehow, the time passes with other duties, and I am too tired to write. It is not that I lack subject matter. There are plenty of books and reading stories to share. Like Max, the title character in Cynthia Voigt's latest chapter book (Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things), I am, perhaps, seeking to define my role as someone who writes about books. Do I write as a record of my own reading? Do I write to prompt others to read certain books? Do I write to create awareness of important ideas about reading? Yes, yes, yes. But I know that others do this far better than me, and so I thought perhaps I should just let this Library Jewel thing go. And yet...I am here again, at least for now.
Mister Max must find a way to exert his independence, manage a household, convince others of his competence, and somehow make a meager living in an English city. Faced with a house full of costumes and a librarian grandmother who only wants what is best for him, Max is fortunate to acquire small jobs that pay enough for him to maintain his art lessons and buy what he needs for food. As word spreads of his work, he sees that he is more than a detective or a problem-solver or spy. He decides he finds solutions for those who seek his services and thus calls himself a Solutioneer.
Intermingled with his cases are personal matters of great importance, mistaken identities, larger-than-life characters, and a baker whose pastries make my mouth water! Max's story ends with several solutions, but the case most essential for his well-being remains without one, prompting a sequel (to be released in 2014).
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Friday, November 15, 2013
The children so obviously know how much I adore these books and characters. There is never a behavior problem. All eyes watch me as I read. Giggled and smiles appear when I read about how Winn-Dixie smiled at the preacher. Several students whispered "salutations" after Charlotte said it to Wilbur today. The kids tell me how they can see the story in their minds, like a mental movie. Sometimes important discussions ensue...like why a mom would leave her daughter and why Mr. Zuckerman would butcher Wilbur.
And sometimes, the discussion gets humorous. Like when one person asked what meat came from a pig. "Bacon," said one boy. "Ham," said another. "Lamb chops," said a third. The child next to him gave him a strange look and said, "Seriously? Those come from a lamb." Then one person asked, "Where does chicken come from?" The rest of the children chorused, "Chicken!" And that is where I brought the discussion back to the story.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
* asking questions as you read (using Yoshi's Feast by Kimiko Kajikawa)
* looking for details that make a book historical fiction (using Michael O. Tunnel's Mailing May)
* what it means to be a good group member (with the help of my colleague and three students who comically portrayed an interrupter, a daydreamer, and an off-task speaker)
* making connections (using Cari Best's lovely story Goose's Story)
I love this part of my day. I am in a different person's room most days, and I love the things I learn with these readers. I love the feeling of gathering together on the carpet to share and talk about books. In on classroom, though, I especially love sitting in the little chair. My friend keeps it in the corner of her room, and it is the sturdiest, most comfortable little chair. Just another reason these 17 minutes brighten my school days. Tomorrow's mini-lesson is a book talk about ten historical fiction novels.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust brought the despair of the Dust Bowl to me through the eyes of 14-year-old Billie Jo. Grains of dust blew into every aspect of life! In Don Brown's latest graphic novel, The Great American Dust Bowl, that same despair is echoed in the text and artwork, accompanied by speech bubbles that convey the actual words of folks who lived through the time period. He provides background information about how the plain bordering the Rocky Mountains was formed and describes how so many pioneers came to live there. Eventually, the plain dried up to "dry, pulverized earth." His descriptions of the conditions are gripping, like this about a dust storm in 1932:
"In January 1932, wind blew dirt ten thousand feet into the air, nearly twenty times higher than the Washington Monument. The sky turned brownish gray, sixty-mile-per-hour, dirt-filled winds lashed Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. People called it "awe-inspiring." - p. 21
The variation of panel size, the color palette, the arrangement of text on the pages, and the inclusion of incredible details (like how desperate people believed dead snakes hanging from fence posts would bring rain) make this such a successful book. Despite the grim topic, it is sure to hold readers' interest.
Monday, November 4, 2013
I think I expected Bluffton to be more about vaudeville and The Three Keatons, in which case I probably would not have enjoyed it so much. Instead, it was the story of three summers of Buster's teenage years as told through the eyes of Henry Harrison, a fictional boy who lived in Muskegon, Michigan, and who visited Bluffton and the Actors' Colony. Henry's fascination with the members of the colony draws him there each day (when his own father does not need his help at their store). The young people engage in games of baseball, skip stones, and participate in Buster's ingenious practical jokes and schemes. Though Henry begs Buster to teach him how to fall, how to land, how to avoid getting hurt, the young Keaton clearly just wants to be seen as a person aside from the acts. The author's note tells more of Buster's story and encourages readers to view the man's movies.
The story of how the author acquired the photograph at the end of the book is fascinating: http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/research-gold-by-matt-phelan/
Now I need to watch Phelan's recommendation: The General, starring Buster Keaton (http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ilPk-SCHv30&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DilPk-SCHv30).
Saturday, November 2, 2013
Friday, November 1, 2013
Later, I rang the doorbell at their spookily decorated house, and after declining the candy bars they tried to stuff in my pockets, the zombie settled himself in my lap, the fairy princess snuggled against my side, and we started reading about ancient Egypt. The author cleverly assembled the research gathered for the fiction book into these ingeniously designed nonfiction books for readers. Sal Murdocca's illustrations accompany the text, and Jack and Annie present additional information and definitions in sidebars. Potentially unknown words are defined in context without interrupting the flow of the text. The readers with whom I shared the book groaned when their mom declared it was time for bed.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
A crowd gathered this afternoon at the Red Balloon Bookshop to celebrate the publication of Spike: Ugliest Dog in the Universe. It is the story of a dog whose awful owner abandons him after the dog wins the Ugliest Dog in the Universe contest. Joe, the boy who lives next door, befriends Spike and tries to convince his mother they should adopt the dog. Spike does all he can to be the best dog possible, even taking lessons from Evangeline, the cat next door. When his doggy skills save her life, Joe's mom acknowledges his beauty, calling him the most beloved dog in the world. Having watched this book evolve from idea to completion, it was a pleasure to observe the awe of audience members as she read the story and showed the unique illustrations (created from well-worn denim, a wedding dress, and Canson paper, mounted on garage door insulation).
Once again, I was disappointed to read the review of the book in School Library Journal. The reviewer completely missed the point of the book! He noted that "the background is made from torn old jeans, and although the artist uses them creatively, it's questionable whether they add anything to the piece." He contradicted himself earlier by saying, "Characters are crafted from fabric and paper with mixed results." The whole idea of well-loved, well-worn jeans is that they are still beautiful to the wearer (as shown by the pair of jeans that inspired her, shown on the jacket flap). Debra craftily combined the best holes in the denim with images of Spike and key words. The message that it is what is inside a person (or canine) is beautiful shines through in Spike. The reviewer wrote that "the story feels overcomplicated and convoluted" but apparently missed the ideas of friendship, fitting in, and finding one's own worth.
At the beginning of the story, Spike says, "If you could see inside my heart, you'd say...beautiful." I do say that...about Spike, Joe, and Debra's work on this book.
Monday, October 21, 2013
When he once escaped as a young adult, it is believed he made his way toward Notre Dame, unnoticed by the crowds around him, and eventually arrested by the police. This photo was taken from atop the cathedral.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
As I scrunched into the only floor space left at the Red Balloon Bookshop yesterday afternoon, I beamed in wonder as Mike Wohnoutka and David LaRochelle talked about their book Moo! Besides being friends and members of the same writing critique group, the two are also excellent at presenting together. David began with the idea for a one word story and how LONG he waited for a response from an editor who initially wanted to publish the book. Mike talked about how he had decided to try a different style in 2010 and was approached by David about creating the artwork for Moo! Seeing all the color labels for his paint shades for the artwork made me smile, thinking of treasures like that in the form of color studies in the Kerlan Collection (my favorite being Don Freeman's work on Corduroy). Mike and David told stories of their joint work, relayed a few little-known secrets about the book, and delighted the audience with the humor of the cow's expression and the complementary artwork. David ended by asking if Moo! really was a one-word book. Observant audience members noted there are actually six words! I am glad I get to hear the presentation again when they team up for a Family Reading Night event at school in November!
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Katherine Rundell, twelve-year-old Sophie comes to Paris with her guardian (though not her legal guardian) Charlie in search of the mother she knows must be alive, despite all evidence to the contrary. Mothers are a thing you need, like air, she thought, and water. Even paper mothers were better than nothing-even imaginary ones. Mothers were a place to put down your heart. They were a resting stop to recover your breath. (p.32). Found by Charlie in a cello case after the wreck of the Queen Mary, Sophie has led an extraordinary life, but the lives of the Rooftoppers - children without homes who live on the roofs of Paris sometime around 1890 - are almost unfathomable to her. Yet she, whose hair is the color of lightning, is drawn to the rooftops, seeking the sound of Fauré's Requiem played in double time.
The End of Light: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artifical Light by Paul Bogard has taken me to Paris as an observer of how light has forced the redefinition of night. I did not walk the streets in the dark, out of fear, I suppose. After reading the chapter "Tales From Two Cities" (the other city being London), I wish I had walked the same streets as the author and Francois Jousse, the man who for more than 30 years has been responsible for lighting the monuments and bridges of Paris. The books is so much more than a portrait of Paris, of course, and I encourage people to evaluate the use of lighting in the world through this book. The Notes section is especially entertaining.
As Charlie tells Sophie, "Books crowbar the world open for you."
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Librarians read reviews to learn about new books. Most use those reviews to select the titles to be purchased for their library collections. They rely on reviews in reputable sources to provide honest assessments of books. Some librarians, like me, go beyond the reviews, using them as tools, as one perspective about books. Only after reading books myself do I make a collection addition decision. Though I review books here (and at various speaking engagements) and can hardly stop myself from sharing oral reviews in bookshops, I have not attempted to become a reviewer for one of the national review publications. But I have been tempted. Especially when reviewers completely misunderstand or misrepresent books in their reviews.
Take a recent SLJ review of David LaRochelle's Arlo's ARTrageous Adventure. The reviewer wrongly claims that "the art in the book is based on the unfortunate premise that art museums are stuffy and boring." The reviewer goes on to claim that kids will believe the artwork comes alive just for Arlo. It ends with the suggestion that readers who understand the myth that culture is boring are the best audience for the book, rather than tainting the enthusiastic minds of those unexposed to that idea. The reviewer did not understand the book at all!
David LaRochelle noted this in a recent interview: “The book is a reflection that there are lots of ways to approach art. It doesn’t have to be a serious chore; it can be a joyful experience.” He spent many hours at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts while making the art for the book. The intention was clearly not to perpetuate a myth about boring culture but to encourage readers to marvel at art, to wonder about those who create art, to view ourselves and our world with open eyes. I have yet to share this book with a child who believed art to be boring. Readers young and old love the idea that Arlo's grandmother appears to be an art expert, yet her pronouncements are quickly turned around by the artwork and the boy's imagination. I hope readers of the review will go beyond the reviewers wrong assessment and get this book in the hands of all readers.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
"Don't read this book (unless you love books and art)"
Each page is a mixture of her own story, an piece or two from one of her published books, a photograph from her life, and often photographs of the tools she uses to create her art. Asparagus from Eating the Alphabet accompanies a photograph of her parents and the words, "I was lucky; I grew up with parents who made things with their hands." Her mom's love of sewing resulted in the sharing of scraps and scissors. Her dad's workshop allowed her to use tools and art supplies. They provided a space for her to dream and create.
She addresses all the questions children want to know about authors and illustrators, like where book ideas are born, how to keep track of those ideas, what happens when an author revises an idea, how an illustrator organizes the artwork for a story. Interspersed with her story are ideas for readers to use in creating their own art. The collage art genius describes her process of cutting out pieces like a puzzle in a messy way to form her illustrations, integrating objects she adores and those nearby. Near the end she writes, "You might ask: why did I choose to be an artist? I think it's the other way around. Art chose me."
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Yesterday, two books arrived in the mail, taking me back to those days of ranked scores. My friend Bernard (who took calculus at the university that year from his professor father) has written calculus textbooks and sent our family the latest edition. He is also the author of climbing guides for Rocky Mountain Natuonal Park and now this latest for St. Vrain Canyons. He is an engaging writer and excellent at description. So, this afternoon I began reading Calculus for Scientists and Engineers: Early Transcendentals. Armed with a composition book, I am motivated to restart my own calculus journey (halted 28 years ago when I did not need it for graduation). Interspersed between pages are notes from Bernard about things we should know, making me smile as much as the letters he and I exchanged every summer while their family lived in Estes Park during middle school.
I love the definition in the first page.
"Calculus is the study of functions, and because we use functions to describe the world around us, calculus is a universal language for human inquiry."
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Monday, October 7, 2013
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
My friend and teaching collaborator took photos of the piles of books on her bedside table and explained the hierarchy of the stacks. She revealed something that made me consider my lists and piles. Some books always get moved to the bottom, those we just cannot seem to start for whatever reason.
What methods do you use to keep a someday list?
Monday, September 30, 2013
Then I shared my book log. It is quite messy actually, but I have kept it for more than 15 years (and wish I had started before that). When writing about a book, I indicate it with a star in my journal. It will either say "Book Finished" or "Book Abandoned" (these readers have also been taught that is okay not to finish a book). Following that will be my notes about things I appreciated, quotes I enjoyed, brief plot snippets I might want to remember, and perhaps a sentence about why I chose not to finish a title. Their book logs this year will be more organized, but their enthusiasm about keeping notes was palpable.
The painting is entitled "Back From the Library" and was done by my friend Mike Wohnoutka. It just came back from the framer!
Sunday, September 29, 2013
This afternoon at the Red Balloon, I sat with many others (a standing room only crowd!) to celebrate the release of Anne Ursu's new book The Real Boy (currently on the long list for the National Book Award). Anne read aloud most of chapter two, and all eyes were focused on her as we took in the details about Oscar, the book's main character. She stopped periodically to add details, saying, "And you should know that..." A reader does not get that experience with an author very often! Her choice of chapters was perfectly chosen. Readers were left wondering about one important character.
In the question and answer session, one person asked about the book's inspiration. It came from a marionette performance of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and her imagining a world where trees were dead wizards. Another reader asked how long she had wanted to be a writer. Anne looked at her mother in the back row and asked, "Mom, have I always wanted to be a writer?" Her mom confirmed that Anne had never wanted to be anything but a writer. Yet another reader asked if she wrote parts of herself into her characters. Anne indicated there are things about Hazel (from Breadcrumbs) and Oscar that are quite like her, but Charlotte (from the Cronus Chronicles) is a bit too lippy to be like her. It was a perfect introduction to the book for me.
Like many others, I now have long-anticipated having this book in hand. I am grateful for leftovers so I can read longer instead of preparing food for the family!
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
My fascination with trains, sparked 40+ years ago, settled in comfortably with Brian Floca's new book Locomotive. Beginning with a road of rails, the book takes readers on the journey of how the road was built - with all sorts of onomatopoeic sounds along the route - and then follows a family from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California. As they travel, bits of information about explain everything from the duties of the many workers who make the trip possible to the detailed workings of the engine. The illustrations vary from close-ups of the rods and pistons to small glimpses of things like "the convenience" (which, it is noted, should only be used when "the train is rolling, running, lurching, leaning left and right") and the sites viewed from the train windows. The actual route is that one which was completed in 1869 by the joint efforts of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads.
The end papers are filled with information about the transcontinental railroad, steam power (and a hand-drawn timetable). Though it would make an excellent read-aloud selection, I know readers will enjoy poring over the details in the artwork, making connections with the family's experiences and railroad history.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Monday mornings in the library office are my favorite. My teaching partner and I talk about books. Both of us bring the books we have read over the weekend and discuss the merits and shortfalls of each, trading titles and generally reaching the same conclusions. One of our favorites from yesterday is Volcano Rising by Elizabeth Rusch.
It is a book that can be read on multiple levels. One is the basic text across the top of most pages, telling how volcanoes work. The processes of a volcano rising form a narrative on each page. The second involves the more-detailed descriptions found below those first lines. Smaller type face provides details about each process, as well as specific volcano facts from around the world. A creative eruption, for example, occurs when the vents open and gases escape. Lava oozes or sprays, causing the lava dome to expand. These are more likely to occur than violent (destructive) eruptions by three times. A destructive eruption, on the other hand, occurs when gases trapped or blocked in vents lead to a build-up of pressure...and then an explosion! Bold text shows the onomatopoeic words that volcanoes make as they bubble and sputter. The book is so well-organized and intriguing! Readers (and listeners) will be engrossed.
The final way to read the book is visually, through Susan Swan's incredible illustrations. The copyright page lists this excellent description of them: "Illustrations created by manipulating found objects, hand-painted papers, and scans of objects and textures in Adobe Photoshop to create new patterns; adding digital paintings; and then collaging the two together."
Add to all this greatness a powerful Volcano Vocabulary (+ excellent pronunciation guidelines), and the result is a fascinating book about one of children's favorite topics!
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
At one point, she asks,
"Does saying good-bye matter?
Does it really end something?"
This is another of those books about which I do not want to say too much. Just know that while reading it, your perceptions will be altered. Your thoughts about family will be extended. You might have to reevaluate what is best for a child. You will definitely laugh and cry and shake your head in wonder.
Monday, September 16, 2013
To a like-minded fifth grade colleague, I read a chant entitled "A List of Things That Will Set You Free." To colleagues discussing a book about the power of individual talents, I read "Starting Now." I also showed them the hand dropping stars down the opposite page. To my son (who wishes for his own vehicle), I read "Gift Spell." To myself, numerous times during the day, I read "Come, Happiness." And now, as bedtime approaches, I will read "Sleep Charm" again.
I wish all of my reader friends could be with me to listen to a poem or two this evening. For now, watch this book trailer, narrated by Joyce's niece: http://www.joycesidman.com/books/what-the-heart-knows-chants/
Sunday, September 15, 2013
I won't write much about the story and the exceptional special effects. Just be prepared for astonishment. The technological displays and the extraordinary puzzles kept me guessing and deducing along with the characters, sometimes taking notes to solve puzzle clues they might have missed. Imagining a library like this one was not as preposterous as I expected! Oh, and I could almost smell lemon along with the characters. Readers (or listeners) will love this book!
Book titles abound in the text, and careful, well-read individuals will chuckle at lines like these:
"Sorry, Yasmeen. That's where your sidewalk ends." - p. 90
"Did Joey Pigza lose control? Was Ella enchanted." - p. 125
"The other team's penalty gives you a wrinkle in time." - p. 196
"Keep working the puzzle but try to avoid Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler's files. They're all mixed up." - p. 196
"And there's no place I'd rather be on my birthday than inside a library, surrounded by books. Unless, of course, I could be on a bridge to Terabithia." -p. 229
"Just a brief flight of fancy, my mind sailing off past the phantom tollbooth." -p. 248
Friday, September 13, 2013
His latest book, Let's Make Faces, sets limits on the found objects used in the portraits. Using fruits and vegetables only, for example, the colorful faces feature a zucchini nose or a corncob mouth. From the garden, the faces are constructed from seed pods, bark, nuts, and leaves. Other sets come from tools. Emotions expressed on faces add to their animation and intrigue. Tips for how to gather objects and make faces of your own are included at the end. The book encourages observation and imagination!
I can imagine spending a day making faces with little people I love. And maybe the older people, too.
The photo is of a cookie made by my Iibrarian friend Kim who loves to add googly eyes to her chocolate chip cookies. Its expression mirrors how I might have looked several times during this school week.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Everybody Needs a Rock. Author Byrd Baylor published a book by that title in 1974, and the first and second graders have been listening to it this week during library time. The narrator speaks to the reader in a second person voice, sharing the ten rules she believes are important for finding a special rock. Her words and Peter Parnall's illustrations capture the listeners' attention so completely that they are rapt. I have found myself lost on the page at times because my own attention is focused on watching the children. When I finish, after the narrator says she is going to play a game that involves just herself and a rock, the children start raising their hands...to tell about their own rocks, of course.
Here are the ten rules in brief:
1. Find a good place (mountain is best)
2. Seek quiet and don't worry
3. Get close to the earth
4. Choose one not too big
5. Choose one not too small
6. Make sure it has the perfect feel
7. Make sure it has the perfect color
8. Look for a special shape
9. Sniff it (apparently kids are better at this one than adults)
10. Find it yourself
My favorite rocks are tiny, pea-sized Lake Superior Agate pieces that have been worn down by waves into almost perfect shapes. I get close to the earth when I sit on the shore to find them.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
So, I loved it this afternoon when a second grade reader (whose teacher lets the class check out the books they want to read) came to me and asked for a book about storms. I led him first to the 363 shelf where the storm books have a focus on the disastrous effects on people and communities. He was quiet. Then I showed him the 551.55 shelf where the storm books focus on the meteorological reasons for them. "Those are the ones I meant," he said. "I am going to be a storm chaser, and I need to know more about tornadoes." The conviction in his tone assured me he believed he would do that, not that he might want to be a storm chaser. He will be my anecdotal evidence when I make the case for student choice yet again.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
The author's notes add so much to the historical context of the book. Her website - www.gennifercholdenko.com - is filled with more information and photos that provide background to the books. The recipes are pretty sweet, too.
Friday, September 6, 2013
There were gasps when he walked around the story steps. My friend talked to the children about what Gauge has learned to do and how they should behave when they encounter a service dog in public. The children watched in awe as the dog stayed in the same spot but carefully watched my friend walk around the library...and then immediately came to his side when given a hand command. He did not eat the treat placed in front of him until told it was okay to do so. The kids had many questions, like, "When he takes off his vest, is it okay to pet him?" Then it was time for Gauge to leave.
We settled in to read The Dot, a story about a girl named Vashti who does not think she is able to draw. I had to explain why it was funny that her teacher identified her blank piece of paper as a polar bear in a snow storm, but otherwise, they were captivated. Next week I know children will be bringing dots they have created for us to hang in the library. The book's illustrations are made with watercolor, ink, and tea (something I learned about Peter Reynolds in relation to his Judy Moody artwork).
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Reading the author information on the jacket flap, I discovered she had written a memoir entitled My Life From Scratch. Intrigued, I requested it and read it in a day. She tells her story of becoming a baker and confectioner by taking the reader through a day in her baking life when she owned a bakery in Montpelier, Vermont. The Hollywood life was not what made her happy. "I baked because it made me content and fulfilled and it brought happiness to others." Her pastries are how she decided to show her love for others. Each chapter ends with a recipe related to some aspect of the chapter. Yum.
Her latest book, Bake it Like You Mean it, is beautiful and tempting. Tonight I baked the Marble Pound Cake as a birthday breakfast treat for my youngest son. It will be his last birthday at home since next year at this time he will be living in a dorm and attending to university life. That is why I especially appreciated Gesine's last item in the list of what a baker needs: "Love - it's an essential ingredient, and you'll taste the difference when it's there. Put your heart and soul into your baking. Bake like you mean it."
p.s. I am still waiting for her book Pie it Forward!
Monday, September 2, 2013
I used to think my dream job would be a mail carrier (before the postal service became so in debt and embroiled in controversy). I would only want to have been the kind who gets to walk from house to house as they do in my mom's neighborhood. Knowing how much I love getting good mail, I think the job would have made me feel bubbly with the joy I delivered in the form of letters and packages.
That is how I imagine the French postman Lalouche must have felt about his work back in the late 1800s. When delivery vehicles took over for the walking postmen, he decided to try his luck at boxing. Low and behold, he was excellent against most opponents and became quite a success! "And yet stationery stores could make him sad, and envelopes, and, above all, stamps. He missed the cobbled streets of his old neighborhood and birthday parcels, and garret stairs, with all their twists and turns. In his heart, Lalouche was still a postman." He was mighty as well. This picture book is simply called The Mighty Lalouche.
In his author's note, Matthew Olshan explains some of the history behind the book. The note about Sophie Blackall's illustrations on this CIP page is also a good one: "The illustrations in this book were made with Chinese ink and watercolor on Arches hot press paper. They were cut out, arranged in layers, and photographed."
The lovely little object in the photograph is a postage stamp holder, displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
Spike is a dog with a message: "Get to know me! I'm good-hearted. Loyal. Smart. If you could see inside my heart, you'd say...beautiful." His awful owner sees only Spike's exterior and leaves him by the roadside one day. A boy named Joe finds Spike and recognizes the dog's beautiful qualities. He even takes him home to be his own dog. But, like in most families, Joe's desire to keep Spike did not align with his mom's reasons for not having a dog. Alas, there is conflict. Spike tries desperately to be more likable. I will end there so as not to spoil the beautiful ending for you.
As if the story were not enough, the artwork is ingenious. Some of it is created from well-loved and worn denim (most of it donated by friends). Some is cut from the hanging sheets of Canson paper in her studio. The extravagant cat named Evangeline is cut from a wedding dress (purchased from Goodwill)! Ripped pockets hold words. Frayed edges form the borders for characters. Hems line the page gutters and mark scenes. There is not another book like it, and Spike definitely gets the prize for the best illustration description on the CIP page:
"The illustrations for this book are collaged with Cansons papers, used clothing, and
worn blue jean pieces. The heans were fathered from friends, students, coffee shop
comrades, and thrift stores, as well as the author-illustrator's own collection. Bits and
pieces of paper, cloth, and denim were adhered to cut-to-size Styrofoam garage door
insulation with pins and repositionable glue, then photographed with a Hasselblad 501C
with a LEAF APTUS 65 digital back. The digital files were adjusted in Photoshop."
Though Spike does not officially appear in bookshops until October 1st, copies were available at the Alphabet Forest at the Minnesota State Fair. Mine is sitting on my lap as I type. I'm glad to finally have it in hand.
Friday, August 30, 2013
Amidst the crowds and noise of the Minnesota State Fair, the Alphabet Forest remains a haven of quietude and rest. Working there this afternoon, I talked with teachers and school support staff, encouraged word-gathering by those with vocabulary game cards, sold books by Minnesota authors and illustrators, stirred up words in the word kitchen, helped a few visitors make a cow clothespin with Phyllis Alsdurf (author of the day and writer of It's Milking Time), and took photographs of readers. I especially enjoyed watching the blue-ribbon winners (who had completed their game cards) carry them to show a family member. Mostly, I savored the feeling of community and purpose in this place dedicated to promoting family literacy.
Thanks to my mom and my aunt for letting me join their shift this year! Thanks to Debra Frasier for her continued dedication to this tremendous project!