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Tuesday, February 26, 2013


My love of Betsy Byars's work goes back a long time. In elementary school, my 4th grade teacher read The 18th Emergency aloud. In college, I read Summer of the Swans as part of a children's literature class. As a librarian, I read aloud The S.O.S. File each year to 3rd graders. Several years ago, I wrote her a letter, expressing my gratitude for her work, and I received a handwritten note in return.

Last week, I discovered a wonderful story by Betsy Byars in A Treasury of Pet Stories, edited by Suzanne Carnall, entitled E!G!G!S! Though the book is out of print, it contains 17 stories by numerous noted authors, including Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. E!G!G!S! is actually a personal narrative and features a young Betsy and her friend Wilma. For entertainment, the girls gather creatures to create zoo exhibitions for their friends and neighbors. Admission was free. Their insect exhibit always had the most in number, but it was not very popular with the attendees. The box turtles were popular, as were the polliwogs when their legs began emerging. The girls learned to upturn stones and logs in their attempts to find exhibit-worthy specimens, and one summer, they found a cache of eggs under a log! They each took two home, storing them in old mayonnaise jars. Wilma hid hers in her sock drawer, and it was promptly discovered by her siblings and mother. Betsy's family was a bit more lenient, and when the first slit appeared in an egg, her jar was displayed in the center of the table. A tiny bull snake emerged completely after a day, her mom made her release it to the wild. Alas, she still longed for a snake.

The listeners were rapt as I read aloud. Most had never seen our story collection. Several visited those shelves today. Several probably wish for a snake like Betsy did.

Monday, February 25, 2013

To Infinity!

Each day I have been focusing on a specific word, looking for examples of it in my experiences, considering how I use it, and seeking to define it/explain it for myself. For someone who long ago was given the Outstanding English Student Award at my high school, the process has been more difficult than I anticipated.

A question for you, dear reader:
How would you define and explain infinity?

Author Kate Hosford asked many students that question - and continues to do so - in connection with her latest picture book Infinity and Me. The main character, Uma, thinks about infinity as she sits under the many stars in the sky..."A million? A billion? Maybe the number was as big as infinity." Her classmates consider it, too, as things like the biggest number, as an ongoing racetrack, as one's family tree. Uma wonders what she would like to do forever and what it would be like to remain a certain age forever. All this time, no one noticed her new red shoes. Just when the girl's head hurts too much to think about it anymore, Uma discovers one thing that helps her define infinity.

Infinity might be one of my future daily words. Until then, I have been thinking of things that might illustrate it...

the number line, stretching in both positive and negative directions, those arrow heads at each end

the tunnels of ants I know are underneath our grass and pavement

the number of ideas for inventions and ways to make things work

Visit the author's website for teaching ideas and more information:

Friday, February 22, 2013

A to Z

One of the booklists I have started (and continue to perfect) features alphabet books. It contains many I love, and I keep adding ideas. Last year's Z is for Moose, written by Kelly Bingham and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, is my newest favorite, and I had the good fortune of listening to Paul talk about his work last evening at the University of Minnesota's Elmer L. Andersen Library.

He began by speaking about his recent experience as a committee member for the Ezra Jack Keats Award and by demonstrating (with his wireless Wacom tablet) the changes he has observed in how faces are often drawn. He then proceeded to show his own artistic process, how certain paintings influenced his art in Rapunzel, how the moving parts worked in Knick-Knack Paddy Whack!, and how he made the illustrations for Z is for Moose with both Photoshop and watercolors. Audiences members like me laughed at the many versions of the book jacket cover and marveled at how he often creates tunes and rhythms to go with the patterns or action sequences of a book. We especially love the book trailer for this book (!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Quiet Time

Growing up, I often strove to project an energetic, enthusiastic image when with others. I was class secretary, in choir, in National Honor Society, in clubs. I worked in a computer software distribution office. I taught piano lessons. I had a large group of friends. But things never seemed quite right within myself. Though I spent much time with others, I longed for quiet time by myself. As I have aged, I know why that is. I am an introvert, of course.

Reading Susan Cain's book QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THWT CAN'T STOP TALKING has been affirming. I find myself nodding my head and thinking of exact examples of the same scenarios in my own life. The new sticky flags from my friend Julie (another introvert) mark the research and quotes I want to write down later.

The book is filled with organized discussions of brain and behavioral research that have been gathered about introversion and extroversion, as well as anecdotes from well-known and less familiar folks about how the traits appear in their lives and work. In regard to creativity, she notes, "introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation." Each chapter teaches me more about myself and those with whom I interact. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, the book offers excellent material for considering others.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hoop Genius

Author John Coy has written about things he loves and knows well in his career, and his latest book is an excellent history of something he likes best: basketball. In Hoop Genius, he tells the story of James Naismith's 1891 invention of the game of basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts. Because the young men in his gym class needed something to channel their energies, Naismith played around with different ideas before using a peach basket and a soccer ball to create an engaging game. The game's rules soon evolved as the players discovered ways to make things fair and competitive. The illustrations by Joe Morse convey the emotional tensions of those young men while establishing the historical context with their mustaches and clothing. The book's back matter provides more of the historical information, but do visit John's website to read about the research process behind this book:

At a recent publication party for this book, a young attendee asked about the stories behind other sports. Good question...though John believes none have as great a story as that of basketball.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Some Things Go Together

Charlotte Zolotow's books connect readers to so many of life's experiences. She wrote about emotional topics that allow readers to express their own feelings and to stretch their reactions into other areas of life. Being a big brother. Getting into arguments with others. Losing a loved one. Being afraid of things. Taking time to be quiet. There are many times when one of her books perfectly fits what readers need to consider.

Last week, though, the second graders played with language, thanks to Charlotte's 1969 book Some Things Go Together. Rhymed and rhythmic couplets form the text, and the readers were soon filling in the last words as I read the book aloud. Using Charlotte's word order, their task was to link a noun and adjective with the word with and then discover another combination that rhymed with the first. With the trusty Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary in hand, I circulated among the pairs and individuals in the computer lab, helping them find the words that finished their couplets. Most were incredibly thoughtful, but my favorite was composed by a pair who wanted to sign their names in a unique way:

Cara with Bella
Pizza with mozzarella

Sunday, February 17, 2013

On Ice

Our family spent the afternoon watching (via cable television) the Golden Gophers skate against the Wisconsin Badgers on an outdoor ice sheet on Soldier Field in Chicago. The boys spent many hours in their younger years (and one still does) skating and shooting pucks at the nearby outdoor rink, and certainly the college skaters we watched today did more of the same thing. They most definitely were as enthusiastic as the bunny in Johanna Wright's new book Bunnies on Ice. Thanks to Sketchbook Wandering's Rita for the recommendation of this charming story.

The very confident narrator waits for just the right conditions to practice her champion ice-skater moves. The seasons pass until falling snow means ice formation on the pond. Being a champion ice-skater means she needs lots of clothes and a big breakfast before performing in front of numerous fans (birds perched in tree bleachers and branches). She does figure eights, spins (which end up enveloping her in her lovely pink scarf), and leaps and gets tremendous help from her support team. Johanna Wright's art so perfectly supports her story! I love this book.

For a glimpse into the author/illustrator's creative process, go to and click on the Oregon Art Beat link on the right side.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Real Fairies

The second graders in my information literacy classes have been exploring genre. Amazingly, they named several genres (some with a bit of prompting) as I gave examples and listed characteristics. After briefly talking about adventure, fantasy, historical fiction, mystery, realistic fiction and romance, they set off with groupmates and a stack of six books to read. Using a chart pre-filled with the book titles, they write what they determine to be each book's genre and the things that led them to the decision. Later, we all gather back on the story steps to discuss their findings.

The biggest discovery was that books can be more than one genre. When we talked more fantasy yesterday, things got complicated. Many fantasies also were adventures, they thought. They could tell me that fantasy was fiction, that animals could talk and do human things, that there were often magical things occurring, and that there could be imaginary creatures involved (like unicorns and dragons). One child excitedly added, "And fairies!" I agreed that fairies are imaginary and quickly realized my wrong answer when another child vehemently declared, "Not fairies! The Tooth Fairy is real!" I took back my words and put the Tooth Fairy in the realm of real creatures.

Note: The photograph is of a student-written adventure/realistic fiction story created in connection with Debra Frasier's upcoming book SPIKE Ugliest Dog in the Universe.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Summer Reading Already

Whenever we have had some uninterrupted time in the library office this week, we have added titles and annotations to our K-5 summer reading lists. Each year we begin anew. We peruse the order lists from the past year, choosing titles appropriate for each grade level and trying to balance the lists with picture books, nonfiction, poetry, chapter books, and a tale or two. Then we add a few classics and a couple favorite read-aloud titles. We imagine the students going to the public library in June, July, and August to gather their choices from our lists. It brings satisfaction on the cold winter days.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


David LaRochelle was the featured presenter at tonight's Family Reading Night. He shared the process of making It's a Tiger! (which took a total of five years) and read it aloud to the attendees, all of whom willingly roared whenever the word tiger was spoken. He then asked about foods people like and dislike, taking a poll of the attendees before telling about writing his soon-to-be-released book How Martha Saved Her Parents From Green Beans (illustrated by Mark Fearing). Not many people get to hear a book read aloud before its publication date, and this audience was rapt with attention as David read it to them. The children noticed so many things about those fierce green beans: how one was stuck under an overturned bowl, how one looked like a cowboy with a lasso, how a foursome seemed to be dancing to YMCA. The group then contributed to a large WANTED poster which featured a food David loves to eat every day: a banana. They needed no urging to make their own posters. Tomatoes and asparagus were the most negatively wanted foods while strawberries and blueberries were the most loved.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Crush

In celebration of love, we are reading Gennifer Choldenko's A GIANT CRUSH to all students this week. It's a picture book with wonderful illustrations by Melissa Sweet and features Jackson, a larger rabbit who has a crush on Cami, one of his classmates. He brings her a yellow flower. he give her heart candy. He makes a lovely Valentine for her and fills it with chocolate kisses. Another classmate likes her, too, and that poses a bit of a problem. Both Cami and Jackson get red cheeks (like a wrong-answer-pencil) during the story, but in the end, Cami makes her feelings known.

Though the children clearly want to be embarrassed by this elementary school romance, they obviously love how Jackson wins Cami's heart. And all the girls chant along with the K-I-S-S-I-N-G! It is the perfect light-hearted story to share with kids of all ages.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Natural Disasters

The most frequently asked question of the librarians is this:

Can you help me find a book about _______________?

Often the blank is filled in with dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, or dinosaurs. Besides animals, natural disasters rank high on the list of interests, tornado books being very popular. While watching "Tornado Alley" at the Omnitheater this afternoon, I wished all those children could view the film and experience the powerful storms through the camera's lens. The goal, according to the film's director, Sean Casey, was to discover details about tornado genesis by surrounding the storm with various tracking devices. He wanted to make visible the unseen architecture of the storms and share with others "one of the visual wonders of the world."

If the film comes to your area, I encourage you to view it.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Shared Experience

The fourth graders who have been reading historical fiction I small groups shared what they learned this week. An interview was conducted in front of the class with Tree Ear,the main character in A SINGLE SHARD. Life lessons were shared from BEHIND THE BEDROOM WALL. A stick puppet show illustrated the important events from BAT 6. A time machine took us back to interview children about their experiences with their teacher from THE SECRET SCHOOL. Quiz show questions (in Jeopardy format) reviewed informations about World War II as portrayed in THE KLIPFISH CODE (for which a study guide was given to the children by the group members for optional studying the previous night; all studied!). Students line up by German soldiers to answer questions before being allowed to cross the river into unoccupied France in connection to BLACK RADISHES.

In the last experience, each person was given an answer sheet and could choose how to answer each of the soldier's questions. Each also had either a hand-drawn black radish, a Star Of David, or a Swiss passport. The soldiers quickly took the black radishes and let those persons pass. They put all holders of the stars in prison. They glanced at the passports, and let those fortunate people pass also.

The shared experiences not only taught about time periods and life lessons. The children. Want to read each other's book selections, too.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Building a House

Eight years ago we began the plans to build an addition to our house. We love our usually quiet neighborhood, the easy access to trails, the lakes within a mile in every direction, the short distances to either downtown area, and the large yard. Building our library was the best home decision. It has become a place to gather and now holds countless strong memories.

I imagine the young narrator in Jonathan Bean's new book Building Our House feels the same way. Her family takes "the right tools for the right job" and "a good plan for a good house" and begins building their new house in the span of 1 1/2 years. Each step is explained in simple clarity, and his illustrations add wonderful details to the process. As the forms are being made for the concrete walls, the girl and her little brother climb dirt piles, just as my kids did during our construction process. The children and their cat assist when possible and sometimes just play in the inflatable pool while their parents move and cut beams. People come to help them at various stages, until finally the house is ready for occupants, including the baby sister and a kitten the readers might have observed growing.

The Author's Note and accompanying photographs explain that the process really did happen - only over 5 years time. He says, "Though I have vague memories of ladders and a cement mixer and a frame raising that have, no doubt, been enhanced by photographs my parents took (including the one of me above), this book's story is told from my older sister's point of view." It is fabulous narrative and an excellent way to demonstrate a process from start to finish.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dog Book List

With the upcoming release of Debra Frasier's SPIKE UGLIEST DOG IN THE UNIVERSE, I got the urge to create another book list for readers to use in conjunction with the book. She was thrilled with the idea! Once in my mind, the list became lengthy. Fictional dogs I have loved pawed their way into my thoughts: Bruno from Don Freeman's SKI PUP, Thacher Hurd's ART DOG, the smart speaker MARTHA made famous by Susan Meddaugh, Gene Zion's HARRY THE DIRTY DOG, and so many nameless dogs that have pranced across the pages. The real dogs I have loved also entered the mix, blurring fiction and reality with personalities and names.

So, I am quickly annotating tonight the stack of ten I brought home from school today. Any favorites are welcome additions!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Synchronized Books

Eleven books reserved books awaited me at the library yesterday! Requested apart from each other, two are amazingly similar in content. Henry Cole's UNSPOKEN is a wordless book about the Underground Railroad? A young girl, while gathering root vegetables from storage shelves, senses a presence in the cornstalks. The single eye she glimpses frightens here, but she thinks back to the soldiers who passed by the farm earlier and takes a corncake - and later other food items - out to the stranger. The slave hunters who come offering a reward eventually pass by her home, and that evening, a cornhusk doll is waiting for her in the barn.

In Tracy Chevalier's latest book entitled THE LAST RUNAWAY, Honor Bright travels to the United States from England in 1850 with her older sister. She senses the presence of another being as she travels by wagon in Ohio and later while staying with Belle Mills, the milliner in the town of Wellington. True to her faith, Honor cannot tell a lie, and Belle wisely advises her not to ask about the person hidden in the shed. As she moves to Faithwell to live among other Quaker Friends, she begins to wonder about the reasons for her move to this strange place...and also what it means to be a friend to others.

I heartily recommend both books!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Drawing and Engineering

One thing I appreciate about writing blog posts is connecting with others who share similar interests. I learn so much from their writing, art, and photography, and it makes my creative life more interesting. When someone recommends a book, I check it out, and most recently, I was delighted by Rita's (Sketchbook Wandering) recommendation of Andrew Drew and Drew by Barney Saltzberg.

As I flip the pages (and flipped back to try it again), I marvel at how simple lines become objects. Though my adult mind knows Mr. Saltzberg drew the pictures, my imaginative mind believes in Andrew as he drags his pencil across the pages and layers. Curvy lines become creatures. Steps become a dinosaur. Nothing becomes a kite...and then a rocketship. Two hats and a curved line become a rabbit and then, magically, a bunch of rabbits surrounding Andrew. The paper engineering involved in making the pages and lines work is thoughtfully planned, making the book's flow mellifluous. In the end, "Andrew knew there would always be...more to draw tomorrow." I am inspired to try, yet again.