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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Mr. Emerson


I love our home. On a weekend, when I am rejuvenating from the school week, I often hesitate to make  too many plans with friends. Activities that take me away from the peace of home can be both pleasant and draining. Perhaps I have a bit of Ralph Waldo Emerson in me.

A Home for Mr. Emerson, written by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham, is a bold picture book biography about a man whose many journals chronicled the things he valued in life, the things he considered, and the ways he thought were best for living cooperatively in the world. He named his journal The Wide World, and over the years they were a "Savings Bank" of ideas.

After he married and moved to his first home, he expressed this view: "But we shall crowd so many books and papers, and, if possible, wise friends, into it that it shall have as much wit as it can carry." We have crowded many books into our home and also savor the times spent with wise friends within these walls. Though Mr. Emerson's home was lost to a fire, his faithful friends had a surprise for him when he returned from a voyage oversees. 

I really like the way this biography is presented, but even more than that, I like the author's note and the page inviting readers to "build a world of your own." Using three quote from Mr. Emerson's journals, readers are encouraged (through well-worded questions and statements), to consider their own lives. 

"The great business of life is to learn ourselves." List five things to describe you and things you love to do.

"Happy is the house that shelters a friend." Write about your favorite room and design your perfect home.

"Make yourself necessary to somebody." Broaden your experiences considering ways to work in your community.

All of the suggestions would make excellent common writing prompts for children and adults.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Orange Aardvark


Michael Hall's presentation at the Red Balloon today completely enchanted the young audience members. After showing photographs of aardvarks large and small and requesting help in making the noise of a drill when it appears in the story, he introduced the main characters in It's an Orange Aardvark!: five carpenter ants and, of course, an orange aardvark. As the drilling carpenter ant let in light from outside the stump, the other ants fret about what might be out there. An orange aardvark? An orange aardvark wearing blue pajamas? An orange aardvark with a ketchup bottle? I won't spoil the ending here. Just know the young listeners enjoyed it...and the adults, too.

My favorite thing, though, was watching the little people respond to Michael's requests to help him as he demonstrated how he created the artwork for the book using paper and simple shapes. When the tiny triangles from the aardvark's foot were not needed, the audience blew them off the screen. Multiple times. When they snapped their fingers, the pieces magically shifted places. Michael's own hands deftly moved his shapes or garnered facial expressions in responses to his words. Wide eyes and open mouths surrounded me on the story steps. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

In New York


In 1975, my parents took us to New York City for a day as part of a family trip. As my grown-up mind remembers the trip, images of the blue whale and dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History dominate. I do to think we went across to Central Park, and I know we did not go inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art (because I still long to got there after all these year and countless readings of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler).

And so, I have been savoring Marc Brown's latest book, In New York, for all the things I would like to do there. In what feels like a friendly tour-guide voice, he narrates as only a lover of that city could do. It begins this way:

"One night when I was eight years old, my family boarded a train in Erie, Pennsylvania. When we woke up, we were in New York City, the most exciting city I has ever seen and probably ever will see. As a child, I dreamed of one day living there, and now I do, in an old house near the Hudson River."

Occasionally, his passion for the city spills into the narrative about the places he loves, especially about walking on the High Line in the quiet of the morning. A list of museums, transportation options, and other information follows the text. With facts and drawings adorning the end papers, In New York is a charming journey from cover to cover.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Color Choices


Yesterday I finished reding Kirkpatrick Hill's The Year of Miss Agnes to third graders. It is a quiet story, narrated by ten-year-old a Athabascan girl named Fred (Frederika), and set in 1948. The eleven students (later twelve) in Fred's school have never had the same teacher twice. For various reasons, the women never seem able to endure the conditions, some not even making it a year! Then the English Miss Agnes arrived, putting their old books in storage, hanging a world map on the wall, and creating a timeline on the wall (which prompts the pupils to play their own time machine game). She read wonderful books to the students (like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Kidnapped) making them reluctant to depart for the various hunting and fishing camps their families routinely visited. She also brought a phonograph, records, a camera, and boxes of art supplies. Used to having the eight-color boxes of large crayons, the students were amazed, especially the littlest ones.

"They took the big boxes of crayons and made a dark line with every single crayon. They hold the crayon so hard their fingers turned white. They wanted to know the names of every color. They had funny names, not like the plain names on our old fat crayons.

We laughed and laughed when Miss Agnes said the names. Burnt sienna and magenta and periwinkle. Flesh. That was very funny. 

We all put that flesh crayon by our hands and laughed because our skin and that crayon weren't anything like the same color." p. 29

My students all held their hands closer to their faces when I read that part. Later, as they attempted to make self-portraits using the ArtRage application, they would carefully move the color selection tool, holding their hands up to the resulting color, hoping to get a close match. 

The Year of Miss Agnes drew us close as we contemplated the compassionate teacher who carefully motivated the students to learn, spurring discussions about their best and favorite lessons. The ending is just what I hoped, and each class of third graders clapped as I closed the book.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Handle With Care


On a day when spring snow is falling, it is nice to think about the butterflies growing at El Bosque Nuevo, a butterfly farm in Costa Rica. Author Loree Griffin Burns and photographer Ellen Harasimowicz take readers to that haven for the delicate winged insects in their new book Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey. Beginning with arrival of a silvery package at the Butterfly Garden at the Museum of Science in Boston, the book takes the long route - to Costa Rica - to describe the incredible life stories of various butterflies.

Greenhouses act as protective homes for the larva as they progress through various changes and moltings. The farmers constantly monitor food supplies and developmental stages, while keeping watch for holes in the structure that would allow predators to enter. Imagine thousands of caterpillars eating all the leaves in a greenhouse in just one or two days! "There are so many that if you stood next to this tree with your eyes closed, you would hear the caterpillars chewing!"

So much about this book is wonderful...the insect words, the glossary, the suggestions for further reading. But it is the photographs that truly help the butterflies take center stage. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rain Books


On most Tuesdays and Thursdays a friend and retired teacher comes to the library to shelve picture books. She also brings treats, assorted posters, book donations, articles, and good cheer. The readers always notice when she has been there. Many more books than usual grace the tops of the shelves, often titles that previously have been not noticed. In fact, she often does experiments, displaying certain titles to see if they will get selected by readers!

Today, after I finished reading a chapter book aloud to a third grade information literacy class, one especially observant boy wanted me to look at the shelf above the D-E books where my friend most definitely set three books together. "Look," he pointed. "The first book show the rain, the second book shows the girls ready for it, and the last one is when they get to play in it." I wonder if those bookswill be in a line tomorrow or in a reader's backpack.

The books are Rain by Peter Spier, Come On, Rain by Karen Hesse, and Squish!: A Wetland Walk by Nancy Luenn.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

At the Library


I live and work in the same community, so it is inevitable that I see students and families wherever I go. Yesterday I went to my public library to pick up nine books I had reserved. Near the checkout stations, two brothers greeted me, each with a stack of audiobooks in their arms. I asked what they were listening to, and they showed me various Diary of a Wimpy Kid titles, The BFG, and a 39 Clues title. The third grade brother then said, "And what is in your pile?" I showed him, loving that he reciprocated and really seemed to care. The fifth grade brother told me they listen to the CDs while doing various projects. "If only we could listen and read another book at the same time!" True readers, those two boys.

When their dad joined us, we talked about having them be test subjects for the newly purchased digital audiobooks in our school library collection. I have created accounts for them and look forward to their feedback about listening on their family's iPad.