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Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Log


Third graders in my friend's class have been learning about fake reading versus real reading, what distracts us when we read (and what we can do about it), how to choose the best books for ourselves, and what it looks like to work hard. Today I was privileged to talk about four titles (Dear Max by Sally Grindley, Dexter the Tough by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Summertime House by Eileen Spinelli, and Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot by Anna Branford). We discussed briefly what makes a good book talk in preparation for a more in-depth conversation we will have on Thursday.

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

Real Boy

I love autumn for many reasons: the change back to cooler weather, the anticipation of winter (my favorite season), the busyness of squirrels, the color of leaves, the release of so many new books.

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


As a girl, one of the thrills of the warm weather months was riding the train in Marathon Park near my home. The open-air cars were just the right size for two small people, and they were pulled by an engineer in his engine. The train made two loops around a shallow pool, and my loved ones always waited at the depot and waved as we cruised by on the first lap. Years later, my sons rode that same train, and it is still running today.

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

Volcano Rising

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


I could hardly imagine reading Holly Goldberg Sloan's novel Counting by 7s. The main character's parents die in the first chapter! But Willow Chance, the twelve-year-old whose life has been transformed with the tragic death of both parents, seeks any semblance of acceptance and understanding, all the while reflecting on her life in ways both witty and wise. With no viable family or friends to care for her, she is suddenly and surprisingly taken in by people who have very little themselves.

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

Comfort Poems

I carried a new book with me today and paused several times to read poems to myself and to my colleagues. It is next to me now. Joyce Sidman's soon-to-be-released book What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings came into my hands yesterday, and I have been savoring the poems since then. I think Joyce's note to readers is thought-provoking and excellent. She writes about how humans have used language to influence the world throughout time and how she wrote these poems are "for comfort, for understanding, for hope." Each of the four sections begins with definitions of the things included: chant, charm, spell, invocation, lament, remembrance, praise song, and blessing. Pamela Zagarenski's unique mixed media paintings perfectly complement Joyce's words, making this book a beautiful union of images.

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:

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Library Escape

Though not a fan of video games (and not good at them either), I hesitated to read Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein because video games are the passion of one main character. Then again, it is about a state-of-the-art library. I began yesterday afternoon and have read in all my spare minutes today...appropriate because the book's characters have about that much time to escape from that incredible library.

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

Making Faces

I love how Hanoch Piven makes faces! Children love them, too. Two years ago the second graders made self-portraits after reading his book My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks (which contains such playful language as well as the creative portraits made out of objects). Their simile and object combinations led to pictures of themselves that were surprisingly accurate. 

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

One obvious thing visitors to our home notice are the many rocks. On shelves, in wooden bowls, atop the mantle, they represent places we have been and experiences that have drawn us together. Most notable are the Lake Superior Agates. Each of my family members have special rocks, ones we have found ourselves or purchased at unique rock shops. Everybody needs a rock.

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 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

Storm Chaser

With over a thousand students visiting our library each week, the number of books that circulate is incredible! So are the varied requests for books and subjects. There is a consistent balance between fiction, nonfiction, and everybody books...with a minor wrinkle. Primary grade students are sometimes restricted from the Dewey section. Not by the library staff but by classroom teachers. This limitation is imposed even after the kindergarten specialist spent the second half of the school year teaching the children how to find books in the Dewey section. Self-selection of books is such an important literacy skill, and choosing books based on one's interests is essential. 

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

Shirts, Shoes, Homework

The third tale from Alcatraz by Gennifer Choldenko finally came up on my library reserve list! Al Capone Does My Shirts introduced Moose Flanagan and his family, all residents of 64 building on Alcatraz Island in 1935 where Moose's dad is an electrician. His sister Natalie has special needs, and Moose is often the one who can communicate best with her. Prisoner #85 worked in the island's laundry and slipped notes to Moose in his clean shirts. In Al Capone Shines My Shoes, the saga continues. I do not want to give away the story of the third book, Al Capone Does My Homework, so I will just reveal what I enjoyed about the book. Moose continues to grow in thoughtfulness and compassion. Natalie matures in interesting ways. Piper, the warden's daughter, succumbs to something incredible. Annie is an even better friend to Moose than she has been in the past. Bea and Darby Trixle behave in dastardly ways.  Their daughter Janet is enthralled by the lives of the pixies she believes are real. And the cons have a point system that results in a near tragedy. Mrs. Mattaman, the mother of Moose's best friend Jimmy, is always around to support others in time of need. Annie's mom, Mrs. Bomini, sometimes is a little too nice, according to Moose. "Talking to Mrs. Bomini is like eating too many sugar donuts. Every other word is dearie or sweetie or honey love." 

The author's notes add so much to the historical context of the book. Her website - - is filled with more information and photos that provide background to the books. The recipes are pretty sweet, too.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Interrupted Storytime

Just before the first graders arrived on the story steps this afternoon to listen to The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, a retired teacher arrived with the service dog he has been training since December. Gauge is a handsome Golden Retriever, and he has been trained so well. With gentle words or hand commands, he does what he is asked, all in preparation for a new owner who needs him to help her in daily life. I could not resist the opportunity to introduce the first graders to Gauge.

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

Related Books

In my search for the best macaron recipe, I reserved numerous titles from the library, one of which was Sugar Baby by Gesine Bullock-Pardo. I was immediately enchanted with her writing style and also the depth of explanation in the introduction and prequel. The end papers are covered with quotes from the recipe descriptions, like "For instance, if I could marry pastry cream, I would." It made me think of Betty Bunny wanting to marry chocolate cake. The chapters are a journey in the stages of sugar...thread stage (think candied citrus peek), soft-ball stage (Parisian Macaron Shells!), hard-ball stage (Babysitting Popcorn), soft-crack stage (Teetotaling Butterscotch), hard-crack stage  (Bullock Sisters' Spicy Brittle), and Put it All Together.

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

The Mighty Lalouche

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.