Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Single Snowball....

One...single...snowball...once thrown can never be taken back.  The impact of this single snowball, like the pebble tossed into a pond, will resonate outward.  The groundwork has been laid but the changes it will bring are nothing short of miraculous or are they?  This first novel by Rob Buyea speaks volumes on the difference one person can make; how one candle may light a thousand or in the case of Because of Mr. Terupt at least seven.

Month by month during a fifth grade year readers are introduced to seven students, Peter, the rabble-rouser, Jessica, the new girl at school, Luke, the braineac, Alexia, whose meanness makes students afraid not to like her, Jeffrey, who thinks school sucks, Danielle, a prayerful, farm girl a little on the heavy side, and Anna, who wishes to trust but is careful to be nearly invisible.  In their own chapters each of these students speaks to their interaction with one another but most of all how their first year teacher, Mr. Terupt, conducts his classroom.

 Peter puts him to the test immediately by misusing his bathroom privileges.

How cool was Mr. Terupt?  His reaction was better than being yelled at like the old farts would have done.  Some kids in my class would have cried, but not me.  And somehow, I think Mr. Terupt knew I wouldn't.  It was his way of letting me know he knew what was going on without making a huge stink about it.  I liked that about Mr. Terupt.  He sure could be funny.  And I'm a funny guy.  This year, for the first time in my life, I started thinking school could be fun.

Jessica was so nervous that first day of school but---I looked down at my book, A Wrinkle in Time.  I rubbed my hand over the cover.  "I really like happy endings," I said.  "Me too," Mr. Terupt said.  "I'll do my best to give you a happy ending this year."

For Luke each educational adventure presented to the class was a gift from Mr. Terupt beginning with his dollar word math exercise.  But when Luke concocts a mixture for the plant project that causes the whole school to empty this is what Luke concludes.

I wish Mr. Terupt hadn't trusted us so much.  Maybe it was because he was a first-year teacher and didn't know better.  But I don't think that was it.  I think it was a case of Mr. Terupt being a special teacher. 

After that incident when the fire marshall is walking through the hall seeking to place the blame for them being called for the false alarm, he challenges their teacher for hanging posters on the walls.  But Jeffrey overhears and...He wasn't gonna get pushed around.  Our hard work mattered to Terupt--even mine.  I owed him now.  I had to try, even if only a little.

From the beginning Anna knew her year was going to be unlike any previous year.  Mr. Terupt turned out to be different.  He noticed me on the first day.  It didn't matter that I wasn't raising my hand...He wasn't going to let me hide all year.  This made me nervous, but it turned out to be a good thing in the end.

Mr. Terupt finally chats with Alexia out in the hall about her behavior with other students. Her final thought at that time after this conversation is I hate you, Mr. Terupt. 

Danielle has always had a hard time making friends with the right people until Mr. Terupt came along.  One of his ideas, Class Meeting, is her favorite.  I really like these meetings.  The first time we had one, Mr. Terupt told us that it was a way for everyone to have a voice.  I didn't get it at first, but now I do.

When February rolls around these young adults earn a free day by making a chain from the ceiling to the floor, one link for each perfect day.  Despite the school rule about playing in the snow the principal grants them an afternoon doing just that if they are all dressed properly and of course, no snowballs.  Readers will sense the tension building chapter by chapter.  What some will call an accident was fated to happen.

From that day to the end all hangs in a delicate balance waiting for each individual character to make the correct choice due to the impact of Mr. Terupt.  This influence is his uncanny ability to see inside these seven students finding what is good and true and bringing it to the surface.

For six years author Rob Buyea taught third and fourth grade students before moving to Massachusetts where he now teaches biology and coaches wrestling at Northfield Mount Hermon School.  Clearly he knows the minds of children as individuals and collectively as students in a classroom.  This knowledge is seen through the melding of each separate character via their outspoken dialogue, deepest personal thoughts, and glimpses into their pasts.

His grasp of how their home life can be reflected in their school life is truly gifted.   These abilities mirrored in his writing are what make this story worthy of discussion and rereading.  Because of Mr. Terupt is a book that needs to be and should be read by all teachers, parents and students.  Readers will conclude, as I have, that the changes, while worthy in and of themselves, are not the miracle.  Mr. Terupt is the miracle.  Grade A+, Mr. Buyea.  100% all the way!

Is It April Yet? Close Enough...

Yipee kay-yay poetry lovers,  rejoice! Blogger, Monica Edinger, in her post on March 30, 2011 at educating alice talks about a new poetry book for children that will be available on April 1, 2011 to celebrate the beginning of National Poetry Month.  This eBook titled PoetryTagTime houses 30 poems by 30 different and well known authors/poets.  Bringing this group together are Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. 

 At their blog they state that this is the first ever electronic-only anthology of new poems for children ages 0-8.  It begins with a poem by Jack Prelutsky who then tags Joyce Sidman inviting her to connect to his poem in some fashion.  Each of the 30 poets/authors includes with their poem an explanation of how their poem was created to connect to the previous poem.  This book can be read using a free  Kindle app that comes with most smart phones and can be downloaded to a Windows or Mac platform.    The cost of this promising book is a mere 2.99.

In addition to the web site that is linked to above, PoetryTagTime, please go to the blog, PoetryTagTime blog for additional hints on the sharing of each poem, one a day for 30 days.  Without a doubt yours truly will be there every day.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


The most dangerous sicknesses are those that make us believe we are well.---Proverbs 42, The Book of Shhh

So heads Chapter One of Delirium.  Frighteningly enough it's a future that could be just around the corner.  In this world love is a disease, amor deliria nervosa, that upon turning eighteen is cured with a procedure. In just over three months Lena Holoway will no longer fear getting this disease.  Her fear is founded on the suicide of her mother who after three attempts was unable to be cured.  She died still loving Lena's father who lost his life to terminal disease.  The last whispered words Lena's mother said to her were:  I love you.  Remember.  They cannot take it. 

 It is during the required evaluation before her procedure that the rebels from the Wilds stage another protest in the form of cows being let loose in the center; dressed as people with the words NOT CURE. DEATH. on their sides.  During the hullabaloo she hears laughter coming from the observation deck.

 As soon as I look up, his eyes click onto my face.  the breath whooshes out of my body and everything freezes for a second, as though I'm looking at him through my camera lens, zoomed in all the way, the world pausing for that tiny span of time between the opening and closing of the shutter.  His hair is golden brown, like leaves in autumn just as they're turning, and he has bright amber eyes.  The moment I see him I know that he's one of the people responsible for this.  I know that he must live in the Wilds; I know he's an Invalid.  Fear clamps down on my stomach, and I open my mouth to shout something-I'm not sure what, exactly---but at precisely that second he gives a minute shake of his head, and suddenly I can't make a sound.  Then he does the absolutely, positively unthinkable.  He winks at me.

That split shared second, that wink changes everything that Lena knew to be true about her corner of the universe.  That boy, Alex, forces her to create a new normal.

Lauren Oliver gives readers the best possible look into this dystopian tomorrow that has neighborhood patrols looking for missteps, curfews, segregated schools by sex, strict control through fear and violence,  and an emotionless society.  Her plentiful use of metaphoric language rather than bogging down the narrative brings the setting and characters vividly to life. 

Readers be prepared to rush through the pages until the cliffhanger ending when you have to remind yourself to start breathing again.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Let's Compare Notes

Spring is in the air (except for the winter storm warning currently in northern Michigan 3/23/2011) and so is the writing of research papers.  

Searching for online note taking applications that can be used by middle and elementary school students with ease and that are not limited to them by their age has been somewhat time consuming. 

Yahoo! Notepad meets the ease of use requirement but in order for most of my students to use it their parents would need to create a Yahoo! Family Account if they have not already done so. 
Yahoo! Notepad can  be accessed from any computer anytime.  By clicking on the Add Note button text can be entered and saved an a folder.  Notes are organized by putting them in any number of folders that the user wishes to create.  Folders are listed on the left side in alphabetical order.  Users have the option of saving, cancelling or deleting a folder.  Notes can be saved, printed, cancelled or deleted.  Notes can be edited by clicking on the folder where they are stored and opening them up.  Folders can be renamed in the same manner.

Another which is not limited by age and is very easy to use is Quicklyst.  To register for this free online app simply enter in an email address or username along with a password.  To begin taking notes after logging in click on Take New Notes.  Add a title to your notes and start typing away.  Bullets will be created each time you press the return key.  Notes can be deleted, added to your queue, removed from the queue, shared via a URL or printed.  If in taking your notes you want to search Wikipedia(DuckDuckGo) type in a question mark followed by the search term.  If you want to use a dictionary(Merriam Webster) type in a colon followed by the term.  Quicklyst also supports LaTeX for inserting equations.  Kelly Tenkley in her blog, iLearn Technology, on January 18, 2011, talked about Quicklyst.  A student had emailed her about his creation.  This senior high school student, Shantanu Bala, knew what students needed and kept the KISS principle in mind.

Worth mentioning yet again is the simple Corkboard Me.  It is free.  There is no registration or log in.  New features have been recently added.  Once a user clicks Create One Now they are given their own URL to each corkboard that they create.   Sticky notes can be added anywhere with a click, if an image is on the Internet it can be added to its own note by entering in the image URL.   Now chatting, collaboration and mini-maps are available as well as the ability to embed your corkboard into a web site, blog or an app that honors that html code

For older note takers EverNote is a good choice followed by the more sophisticated Zoho Notebook

My two favorites for collabortive, mind-mapping are still Popplet http://popplet.com/app/#/12808

and Stixy http://www.stixy.com/guest104625  (Xena).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Power of One---Make a Difference Today

Spring Is In The Air And In The Step of...

For someone who loves to collect books as well as read them the care given by some authors and illustrators with respect to their artistic selection of design and color is sheer delight.  Kevin Henkes newest book, Little White Rabbit, is picture perfect in every way.  Using his recognizable media of combining colored pencil and acrylic paint his book jacket and endpapers envelope us in calming pink and green reminiscent of a gentle spring morning.  He carries this theme to the front and back book covers; the front frames a little rabbit in pink and the back frames the same little rabbit in green. 

As little white rabbit hops through the grass, by the fir trees, over a rock, under the butterflies or past the cat he wonders.  What would it be like to be green, tall, not be able to move, flutter through the air or too scared to wonder anything?  In two page spreads Henkes visualizes those thoughts in what can only be described as graphics that clearly portray little white rabbit's imagining; graphics, that I might add, are suitable for framing.

Little white rabbit's wanderings conclude by arriving back to the nest, nose-nuzzling with his Mom and not wondering at all about who loves him.  Charming, simply charming...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Writers Unite

For those that are hesitate to delve into the world of writing why not start out by sharing the task with others?  Imagine the freedom when facing that blank page or screen of white that friends, colleagues, or fellow students will be sharing in the effort. Creators of the web 2.0 application Thumb Scribes, still in beta form, have designed with the specific intent toward collaboration of the written word.

Users of 13 years or older need to sign up with name, email and password.  Upon logging in click the Start Writing button.  A screen appears inviting users to type a haiku, poem, song, ex corpse, flash, short story or novella.  There is a button which explains the various scribe types and hints on how to write them when the help tab at the top, upper right is selected.
Writers assign a title to their work.  A set number of contributions along with the number of words left is generated by the program depending on the scribe selected.  It can be altered by the initial writer.  A writing can be made public so anyone can view it or only friends. Their email addresses are added and a message can be sent with the invitation to work on a particular piece.

As an introduction to a specific type of writing in the classroom this application has all the necessary features to make it more fun, less daunting and educational.  Anyone care to join me?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Power of One...Multiplied

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo for the reminder of Earth Hour 2011 which will take place this Saturday, March 26, 2011 from 8:30-9:30 PM.  People across the globe are being asked to turn off all non-essential electrical power.  View this video to see how we can make a statement and a difference.

Hear Them Roar...GRR

One of the  particulars of this book, Tiger's Curse, that impresses me the most about author, Colleen Houck, is the care and attention that is given to the culture, mythology and people of India.

The story begins with recent high school graduate, Kelsey Hayes, taking a job as a temporary worker at a circus for a couple of weeks when it's in town.  Part of her duties includes the care and feeding of a magnificent Bengal tiger, Dhiren, who she calls Ren.  Over the course of her work assignment she and Ren develop a special bond which commences at their first meeting--Those eyes.  They were mesmerizing.  They stared right into me, almost as if the tiger was examining my soul.  During her free time or at the end of the day she begins reading poetry to the tiger or writing and drawing in her journal near his cage wrapped in the quilt her Grandmother made.  It is at the end of one of these companionable meetings that she, after touching him and his tongue licking her fingers, that she whispers, I wish you were free.  Little does Kelsey know that with those words she has set a chain of events in motion.

Soon thereafter a stranger by the name of Anik Kadam comes to the circus representing a very wealthy employer.  He purchases the tiger to be taken to the Ranthambore National Park, a tiger reserve, in India.  Kelsey is asked to accompany the tiger to India to see him safely delivered to the reserve due to the unique rapport that they share.

On the trip to the preserve imagine her dismay upon looking out a restaurant window to see that the truck carrying the tiger has left.   Running outside she finds the tiger vanishing up the trail into the surrounding jungle.  Readers will discover that this tiger is no ordinary tiger but an Indian prince under a 300-year-old curse which only Kelsey can break. 

What ensues is adventure a la Indiana Jones; deciphering prophecies, codes and finding keys complete with forests of trees with knife-like needles, white Kappa vampires slinking from pools and hordes of monkeys of every shape and size that don't like their kingdom borders breached. 

To spike the tension further the relationship between Kelsey and Ren deepens into a love complicated by his brother's presence, also under the curse.  And someone else is interested in Kelsey...seeking her...needing her to be eliminated.

Colleen Houck's first novel is volume one of the Tiger Saga.  It has achieved success as a self-published eBook and was named a finalist in the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Award in YA Fiction.   What gives this story distinction above others of this genre is the meticulously described episodes, fully-developed characters, the snappy as well as steamy dialogue between Ren and Kelsey, and Kelsey's independent streak.

I have already pre-ordered the sequel due out June 7, 2011.  It's going to be a grand summer for reading.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lasting Canine Friendship

With her body curled behind my legs Xena kept me company as I finished reading  Robert Blake's newest book, Painter and Ugly.  It seems fitting that this story should find its way into my hands as the madness of March, Alaska's Last Great Race, The Iditarod is nearly complete.  For two weeks every year I only stray from the computer due to demands of home and profession compelled by the perseverance, loyalty and beauty of watching the mushers work with their canine athletes.

As in his previous books Blake's research is evident.  In an author's note at the book's end he relates staying with a family in North Pole, Alaska to gain insight into the care and training of dogs prior to their racing experience in an Iditarod.   It was while staying with this family that he met a dog named Painter who had been separated from another team that had a dog named Ugly.  This was perfect fuel for the creative fire  readers find displayed in Blake's work.

Painter and Ugly were best friends.  Through winter, spring, summer, and fall, they were always together.  Nothing could keep them apart.

Painter and Ugly are two inseparable members of a dog sled team.  They liked nothing better than running side by side, each the shadow of the other.  At the end of each dog sled racing season their musher left the dogs to run free on an island on the Yukon River.  But one year at the beginning of a new season all that changes as the dogs on the team are sold to multiple owners.  Painter and Ugly have been split apart.  Painter shakes off his loneliness to become the lead dog on his new team which is racing in the Junior Iditarod.

When race day comes amidst the barking dogs of all the teams one dog, Painter, nose to the air scents his pal, Ugly.  At the halfway point a mandatory rest finds both dogs quietly yipping at the other across the dark of night.  When the race continues the next day, both dogs perform a fete that is a testament to the definition of true friendship.  Readers will be cheering.  Once again we humans could learn much from our canine companions.

Using oils Blake beautifully captures the essence of Alaska and dog sled racing so well that readers can feel the cold, the exuberance of the dogs, and hear the swish of the sled runners.  His text gives just the right amount of detail to move the story at both an interesting and heartwarming pace.   As in other titles his endpapers contain a map of the race which further entices readers young and old alike.

Blake's previous books, Togo, winner of the Texas Bluebonnet Award, Akiak, winner of the Irma S. and James H. Black Award and Swift have found their way to the elementary school library shelves, where they rarely are, as well as my personal collection.  Robert Blake definitely knows dogs and that is exactly what makes reading his books anytime of the year pure pleasure.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Is It April Yet? Part Three

Okay, it's official.  I am totally and completely hooked on book spine poems.  I can no longer walk through my home without resisting the urge to create.  In my mind I am hearing the robot from the Robinson's TV show calling:  Warning, warning, warning...  One can only imagine what will happen as I browse through numerous book stores over spring break. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Is It April Yet? Part Two

Iditarod poem

Dog poem

Blogger, Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian, recently posted at his blog, 100 Scope Notes, Children's Literature News and Reviews about a project that he will be using once again during April Is National Poetry Month.  He talks about the book spine poem and will be hosting a gallery of creations at his blog site.   For children of all ages this is an inviting and unique way to introduce poetry or a unit on poetry.  I have been working for the past two weekends with my collection at home to design some book spine poems.  Using either the elementary or middle school collections the possibilities, as they say, would only be limited by one's creativity and imagination. 


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Books Everyone Must Read

Yesterday Larry Ferlazzo's Web Sites of the Day highlighted an interesting infograhic word cloud.  It was posted at the Guardian out of the United Kingdom.  This word cloud used numerous sources to generate this must read list.  Check it out..  I am thinking that it might be beneficial in our classrooms to create a similar cloud of books everyone must read.  It would be interesting to see how it changes across the grade levels.

Word clouds can be designed using Wordle, Word It Out or at Answer Garden.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Crack-up Crocs and Friendship

Pam Smallcomb definitely knows what friendship and that age old phrase "opposites attract" are all about.   Robert Weinstock knows just how to bring what Smallcomb knows leaping to life with his quirky pictures which by the way were not rendered in watercolor or woodcut...but were super fun to make anyway!

To start the cover says it all as does the first line in the book:  Sometimes I wonder if my friend Evelyn is from Mars.  A little brown crocodile ponders what her friend Evelyn is followed by I'm not.  Concise text complimented with drawings that extend and enhance your imagination of this relationship will have readers eargerly searching pages for all the little extra details and begging for the next page to be turned. 

One of the most hilarious examples is how she relates that Evelyn is very hip with fashion but alas she is not.  Lampshades are the new black!  Band-Aids with pearls...trust me!  Sweatbands are making a comeback! 

Then Evelyn admits as they are sitting by a tree that she is stinky at spelling.  But lo and behold her little brown croc pal says, I'm not.
The switch begins as Evelyn's friend's talents are highlighted.  Evelyn goes on to say that universal truth; all we want is a best friend, a true-blue friend. 

It is no mistake that the book's endpapers begin as green and close as blue or that the back cover illustrates Evelyn is 46 flavors.  I'm not.  Smallcomb and Weinstock want readers to know that just because you are not gifted as someone else is, you have your own gifts, sometimes the gift of being a best friend.  It doesn't get much better than that.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fairy Tale Fantastic

Alex Flinn has done it again.  In fact I did a brief booktalk about Cloaked (Harper Teen, February 8, 2011) to a class of eighth grade students prior to completing my review.  Later when I went to grab it to continue writing it had already been checked out.

As she did in Beastly she brings her original contemporary twist to the fairy tale genre.  But this time rather than focusing on one tale she incorporates bits and pieces from The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Frog Prince, The Six Swans, The Golden Bird, The Valiant Tailor, The Salad and The Fisherman and his Wife.  At times she will use quotes from these stories to begin a chapter.

Readers are introduced to John (Johnny) who works with his Mom running a shoe repair shop in an upper class hotel on South Beach.  John's dream is to design his own line of ultra-fashionable, expensive shoes; hardly your typical teen but characterizations and dialogue throughout the book will hook readers nonetheless.   That will be a hard dream to fulfill as he and his Mom can hardly make ends meet and are in danger of losing the shop.  Next door his best friend and sometimes only friend, Meg, helps her family out with a coffee and pastry shop.  Little do they know that both their lives are about to change when the jet-setting Princess Victoriana from Aloria selects to stay at the hotel. 

It seems that Victoriana's brother has been turned into a frog by a wicked witch in Zalkenbourg.  The spell can only be broken by a kiss from someone with love in their heart.  Currently the main problem is that the frog is missing.  Johnny, against his better judgment, I mean, who believes in magic?, agrees to help the Princess.

She is offering him money in an amount that will cure all the financial worries of him and his mother; ten thousand to begin just for his secrecy.  She also extends an invitation of marriage to her if he succeeds.  Did I mention that her beauty is indescribable?

To further seal the bargain he is given a cloak that will take him anywhere he wishes as well as ear plugs that will enable him to hear animals that were once human talk. Along the way he is assisted by a rat, a fox named Todd and swans that make their home in the hotel.  Meg whose "charming" talents are revealed joins the hunt where they battle wits with the witch and her son not to mention two giants in a Key West natural preserve and campground.

Flinn delivers non-stop action brimming with adventure, romance and mayhem in what can only be called a winner of magical proportions.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Filled With Treasure

When it comes to books authored and illustrated by Barbara Lehman, a picture really is worth a thousand words.  This Caldecott Honor winner (2005, The Red Book) who specializes in detail that stretches our imaginations using her signature watercolor, gouache and ink, has given us another wordless marvel, The Secret Box.  With Lehman its the whole package; the combined visual of book jacket, book cover and endpapers invite readers to embark on another adventure. 

She opens with a young boy from days past placing a pale blue box beneath a floor board.  In subsequent pages she pans back to reveal a dwelling, an orphanage, in a rural setting.  As time passes progress in the form of encroaching architecture, streetcars, roads and sidewalks surrounds the tall yellow building.  But one day three boys discover that floorboard and the box of treasures it holds:  four old sepia tone photographs, a torn map with a red line leading to a star, torn tickets, an old seahorse-admit-one coin and a postcard from Seahorse Pier.  Readers follow these three as they piece the mementos together to bring their present to the past.  The ah-ha moment comes though when two other children discover the hidden box; children from our time.  The gift of this tale is that it never ends, giving hope for children that might need it the most. 

I love this book for its sheer enchantment and also for the possibilities it offers for discussion among parents and children and for children and their teachers. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

And the Winner Is---Newbery 2011

One of the perks, for me at least, in reviewing books is going to the author's or illustrator's web sites or blogs to gain insight into their individual creative process and personalities.  This year's winner of the Newbery Award, Clare Vanderpool, is a debut author.  On her web site she reveals that the spark for writing her book, Moon Over Manifest, came from reading a nonfiction book about cartographic crime---say, what?  But a quote by Herman Melville on the first page, It is not down on any map; true places never are, is exactly what got her inventive imagination wondering.  And that for all us lucky readers is what is at the heart of Moon Over Manifest; true place and the meaning of home.

It's May 27, 1936, and Abilene Tucker has been sent by her daddy, Gideon to the town of his boyhood, Manifest, Kansas.  She is to spend her summer there with an old friend, Pastor Shady Howard, while he works on a railway job back in Iowa.  It's been the two of them for so long drifting from place to place that Abilene fights her loneliness and sets her considerable plucky sights on finding out about her father's past.

Armed with her father's compass wrapped in an old 1917 Manifest Herald newspaper and her first night discovery of a cigar box of small tokens, letters and a map hidden beneath the floor boards of her bedroom, Abilene and two new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne set out to unravel the mystery of the Rattler in a town filled with secrets.  An unfortunate accident with a debt to repaid matches Abilene with a town eccentric, Miss Sadie, a diviner.

Through Miss Sadie's stories of the past, a collection of newspaper articles, Hattie Mae's News Auxiliary and humorous newspaper ads from 1917, threads from bygone days are woven together to complete a truly heartwarming tapestry of the 1936 present. 

About halfway through the book I had an uncontrollable urge to start marking passages with sticky notes due to the insight and beauty of Vanderpool's writing.  It is evening and Abilene is musing about her day---

The moonlight shone on the silver dollar and I thought of Miss Sadie's story of Jinx and Ned.  Of Uncle Louver's ghost story.  Of Lettie's story about having had her fill.  Of Ned's letters and Hattie Mae's "News Auxiliaries," that I read like bedtime stories.  And of Gideon's story I was struggling to learn.  If there is such a thing as a universal--and I wasn't ready to throw all of mine out the window---it's that there is power in a story.  And if someone pays you such a kindness as to make up a tale so you'll enjoy a gingersnap you go along with that story and enjoy every last bite.

What a powerful truth that is and how it was placed in this book is perfect.  Near the end when Abilene has nearly fulfilled her obligation to Miss Sadie we read,

I knew the choice in front of me.  I could walk out of that divining parlor right then and be done with it all.  I could leave Miss Sadie behind and never come back.  But I knew these people, Jinx and Ned, and Velma T. Shady and Hattie Mae.  Even Mrs. Larkin.  They'd become part of me.  And I loved them.  What else had Miss Sadie said?  "Who would dream that one can love without being crushed under the weight of it?" 

Decision made we follow this delightful character and the complete cast of 1917 and 1936  townspeople caught up in the trends, prejudices and tides of their histories to a conclusion that is so savory and delicious we just know that it won't be long before this book will be in our hands to be read again.  Well done, Newbery committee, well done.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Under the Knife

Not that I am in any way advocating that any of my students should (heaven forbid) try this with any of their books, but what sculptor, Brian Dettmer, does with books is nothing short of amazing.  This link shows fifteen of his pieces with a link to another seven exhibits of his altered books with an interview about his work.  At the bottom of these two web pages is a link to his professional web site.  At his web site he has a connection to Flickr where additional images can be viewed.  I spent quite a bit of time looking at how he takes mainly reference books, seals them closed and carves them not knowing exactly where his cuts will take him as each layer is revealed.   In a short video where he speaks about his creative process he expresses his view of the fleeting quality of our newer technologies versus the lasting power of older technologies.  His example of how easily a file can be lost on a computer but a paperback book can last for years is noteworthy.  In his blog interview he states:  We are at a pivotal point in our history and the way we are recording it. It's frightening and exciting at the same time.  Well said and point taken.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pig To The Rescue

The Adventures of Nanny Piggins gives new meaning to the phrase, when pigs fly.  Within just a few pages readers will know that Nanny Piggins is indeed a flying pig, a former circus performer of quite some renown. (Who wouldn't fly through the air when shot out of a cannon?)  On a dark and rather stormy night she appears on the Green family doorstep having read the hand painted sign stuck in the yard by skinflint Mr. Green, Nanny Wanted: Enquire Within.  Although at a loss for words by the appearance of a well-dressed talking pig applying for the job,  Mr. Green, a tax lawyer, is unable to resist her demands for payment; ten cents per hour.

The three motherless children, Derrick, Samantha and Michael, immediately fall in love with Nanny and she with them.  After all who wouldn't enjoy having some form of chocolate for meals three times a day, or taking five crisp one hundred dollar bills of school uniform and supply money and spending it on a day at the amusement park with a porcine that upon finding out what school is, thinks it is a form of punishment.  When hearing that the government requires attendance five days a week, Nanny says:  Of course, I might have known...All the greatest psychopaths and evil villains end up in politics.  If the government is behind it, I suppose there is nothing that can be done

Not to be outdone by the nanny of the Wallace children Nanny enters not only a portrait contest at the museum but a town pie baking competition; both of which have hilarious and unpredictable results that will leave readers squealing with laughter.  And no one puts on the Ritz like this pig when accompanying Mr. Green to a company dinner, an error that he will not soon make again.  Never at a loss for a clever plan that addresses each and every obstacle that might impede their quest for fun, this plump porker, when not pigging out, is wiggling out of one mess after another.

Aussie author, R. A. Spratt, has given us a pig that anyone young or old alike would wish to be their nanny.  The icing on this cake are the illustrations of Dan Santat spread throughout this tale.  Oh, oh...I shouldn't have said cake...here comes Nanny!

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Back in 1202 a mathematician, Fibonacci, wondered how many male and female pairs of rabbits there would be after each month and one year given ideal circumstances starting with just one newborn male and female.  Mathematics aside, British author and illustrator, Emily Gravett , has clearly and cleverly with much humor given us a delightful visual interpretation in her title, The Rabbit Problem (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, November 2, 2010).

Using oil based pencil-watercolor paint and carrots? coupled with hand lettered text, readers young and old alike will find themselves eagerly turning the pages as each month rolls or should I say hops past.  Originally published in 2009 in Great Britain the American version followed in November 2010 with a different cover that resembles a chalkboard in color and texture.  After turning two pages of rabbits attempting to solve the problem, a rabbit hole, literally appears, inviting readers to join the bunny fun shifting the book's format to a wall calendar style complete with the requisite hole for hanging.

In January Lonely the Rabbit sends out an invitation, which is the first of many inventive, folding, attachments to the calendar pages.  By February Chalk has joined Lonely with preparations for impending parenthood underway.  As the population expands and grows so do the supplements from Bunny's First Month, to a Ration Book, to The Fibber, Fibonacci's Field's Only Local Newspaper headlining a Boredom Strike, to The Carrot Cookbook and of course, another rabbit hole.

Unfolding the pages leaping lapins burst forth in a final glorious graphic of paper engineering which will be viewed repeatedly.  Hop to it fans of long, lop-eared, wide-eyed rabbits, you will smile and discover something new at each reading.

To discover more about Emily Gravett and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At the publisher's website you can view several interior images.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Jumping Musical Words

Just in today is a post from Larry Ferlazzo about a web 2.0 application that allows you to type in a word or two, select a musical style and then the letters will jump to a beat.  What a cool way to introduce vocabulary, word wall words or practice new writing and spelling for a particular lesson.

The web site is called Fonte De Music.  It's free and there is no registration other than a screen name.  Write on and get the beat!
This is my creation.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Happy Trail-ers To You...Until...

Many thanks to Joyce Valenza for her post at School Library Journal on February 21, 2011 about Book Trailers For All.  As stated on the opening page this site was created as a way for people to share their self-created book trailers.  All trailers shared with BTFA are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivs 3.0 Unported.  This means you are free to show, download, and share these trailers, as long as they are not modified, and attribution to the creator is given.

The main folders are Lower Grade, Middle Grade, Middle Grade Plus, Upper Grade and Official Trailers.  They indicate that if a school blocks where these are housed, http://4shared.com/
they can also be viewed at either YouTube or TeacherTube.  They announce new trailers via Twitter and Facebook. 

They strongly suggest that the most useful folder is the one containing the Document page.  It contains a spreadsheet of valuable information about each book that has a trailer, how to make a trailer, how to share your trailers and how to sign up for TeacherTube.  Other folders are Misc. Videos, Image Resources, Music Resources, More Book Trailer Sites, BTFA History, BTFA on YouTube, BTFA on Facebook,  and a Search option.

QR codes for all book trailers that can be viewed on YouTube have been created.  These can be printed on labels that can be placed on books and viewed by students with a QR code reader on their smart
phone. Spine labels for books that have trailers and a blank template for QR code labels are also available.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Cream Rises to the Top-Caldecott 2011

It is not often that the art of woodblock printing draws so much attention in the world of children's literature.  Erin E. Stead as a first time illustrator of a book has certainly elevated this form using it to compliment her graceful, gentle pencil drawings.  Her tiny details of the mouse with an alarm clock under Amos' bed as he stretches wearing his bunny slippers endear readers to the elder man immediately.  Careful readers will notice the mouse following Amos throughout his days.  Stead's deliberate placement of additional small items add to the story's sheer sweetness.

  Her husband, Philip C. Stead, has written a timeless tale of the power of friendship.  Amos MGee is a zookeeper of extraordinary talents making time during his day to bond with his animal buddies; playing chess with the elephant, running races with the tortoise, sitting with the shy penguin in silent companionship, holding a hanky for the rhinoceros with allergy problems and at days end reading stories to the owl who is afraid of the dark.

Closing page

One day when Amos does not feel so well and decides to stay home from work, his friends at the zoo wait and wonder.  The next few pages are a wordless wonder showing them leaving the zoo, lining up at the bus stop and traveling to Amos' home.   Each in turn engages Amos in their favorite activities which are slightly altered due to his illness.  As this tale closes readers see Amos and his guests asleep curled around one another in affectionate repose.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead is a snugly book; one that readers will want to wrap around themselves for warmth, comfort and love.