Quote of the Month

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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Twitterville Talk #55

Trying to beat the heat has been a real trick this week but it does provide more time inside to read for the Book-a-Day challenge.  Stay cool this weekend, relax and, of course, read.

I do believe I have not included this tribute to Maurice Sendak in any previous posts, Tributes to Maurice Sendak: Visual Artists Respond.

My thanks goes to Paul Schmid, author and illustrator of A Pet for Petunia and Petunia Goes Wild, among others.

During the American Library Association annual conference held in Anaheim, California June 21-26, 2012 John Schumacher of Watch. Connect. Read and Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes presented There's An App for That:  Using Technology to Enhance Children's Literature.    This is an amazing session and well worth your time to view their efforts.

Patricia Polacco speaks about her books and readers' rights in this video.

Thanks to John Schumacher of Watch. Connect. Read. for sharing these via

For those unable to attend the American Library Association conference here is a recap of Raschka and Gantos Deliver Moving Caldecott, Newbery Speeches/ALA Annual 2012.  To have been there would have been a dream fulfilled.

I have not tried all the links but this looks promising for poetry, Poetry on Symbaloo.

Thanks to School Library Journal for these tweets. 

Here is an interesting selection of books, "Books That Shaped America' from the Library of Congress.  This list could be as varied depending on the compiler.  What do you think?

Thanks to Scholastic for this tweet.

Another highlight of the American Librarian Association annual convention courtesy of Kirby Heyborne.

Time truly does fly by. The first 'Harry Potter' book was published 15 years ago today.  I was not able to get it in hardcover but I do have the UK edition in paperback. 

Harry Potter 15th Anniversary:  15 Things The Boy Wizard Is Responsible For

Thanks to Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes for this tweet.

Now's your chance...The search is on for the world's biggest Harry Potter fan.
Thanks to Children's Bookshelf of Publishes Weekly for this tweet.

Just have to share this post, Animated Video-What is a Flame?,  from Free Technology For Teachers by Richard Byrne. 

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes of the week on Twitter from two joyous authors.

For some fun to kickstart your weekend.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Book...A Life

When it was announced on Sunday, February 26, 2012, that The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore had won the Oscar for Short Film (Animated), I did a little jig of joy.  For every class in subsequent weeks the video was shown, each time the students were silent, mesmerized.  Their comments and questions varied according to their ages.  And I...every time I watched, it was like seeing it for the very first time.

Not surprising for its first week on The New York Times Best Sellers, Children's Picture Books, list the print version of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), released on June 19, 2012, is in the number one position.  To have books, their stories, our stories, so magnificently honored is exhilarating and truly touching.  William Joyce, in this volume, clearly demonstrates his skills as an extraordinary author and illustrator.

Morris Lessmore loved words.

He loved stories.

He loved books.

Each day begins with Morris entering the story of his life in a very special book.  But the world in which Morris resides is about to go topsy-turvy.  A tremendous wind storm blows Morris, his books, even the words on the pages in his personal book, to another place.

His world, as he knew it, is gone so, much like readers beginning a new book, not sure what to expect, Morris begins to meander along a road, destination unknown.   Looking skyward Morris is amazed to see a beautiful woman floating by, kept airborne by a bundle of flying books attached to red ribbons grasped in her hand.  The wise lady sends Morris her favorite, the happy fellow, on legs, with Humpty Dumpty on his pages, leads Morris to a marvelous structure with books flying through the doorway.

Within the room are more books than Morris has ever seen, pages moving, whispering words he's never heard, beckoning him to discover what can be found within.  So begins Morris's life with the books, he giving them the upmost care.  Like every reader knows, Morris, too, would lose days caught up in a good story.

What pleases Morris most is to share the books, with their blessing, with others.  At days end with all the books settled for the night, Morris is seen writing in his very special book.  Time passes, season after season, years upon years. 

In his old age the books are now taking care of Morris, reading their stories to him at night.  Filling the last page of his book one day, Morris realizes his story is complete.  Like the lady before him, Morris lifts skyward holding the red ribbons attached to books whose pages move as if wings.

It is in the silence of Morris's leaving the books realize Mr. Lessmore has left an object of power behind.  Soon another will follow in the "heartsteps" of Morris using his story as a guide.  For as Morris stated earlier:

"Everyone's story matters."

There is a richness one feels when holding and reading this creation of William Joyce.  All the pages are heavy with endpapers done in a deep red and black picturing Mr. Lessmore's hat and book in a repeated diamond pattern.  Joyce varies his illustrations; some covering two pages, others a single page, all bleeding to the edge except for the occasional insets.

Full color is used except when Mr. Morris Lessmore has lost his book.  It is in the finding of a story color is restored.  The renderings of the passage of time, the seasons, are breathtaking. Of note are the  fascinating details of the building housing the books; a homage to the writing of story and the printed page. 

As beautiful as the film is, so too, is this title.  Joyce's narrative is the voice of a master storyteller weaving words that will wrap around your heart like a warming blanket.   Readers will come to love Mr. Morris Lessmore and the world of his fantastic flying books.

A picture may be worth a thousand words but words once spoken or written create a picture forever painted on our hearts.  This is the nature of story, the gathering of words, to be printed on the pages of a book, a book to treasure like The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.  An author's dedication says much about who they are.  Please read William Joyce's dedication page found in the back of this volume.

For more information about this title follow a link to The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.    For additional insight into William Joyce's other titles and projects follow the link embedded in his name above.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Taking A Bite Out of the Big Apple

My single visit to New York City more than twenty years ago was a whirlwind tour.  Trying to find a hotel room we could afford, grooving to a concert at Madison Square Gardens, enjoying a Broadway musical, shopping in the markets along the waterfront, walking in Central Park and watching the people, you could spend days just watching all the people, it all now seems like an unbelievable dream to a gal who grew up in a small town outside of Lansing, Michigan.  With that being said, the latest title by John J. Bonk, Madhattan Mystery, is like being back in the city; the overwhelming hubbub, the news, the landmarks, the summer heat, all through the eyes of three tweens smack dab in the middle of it all.

The McGill siblings are being sent to City Camp so their Dad and his new wife can take a long honeymoon in Europe; their own mother having died two years earlier.  No sooner do twelve-year-old Lexi and her ten-year-old brother, Kevin, arrive at Grand Central Station, receive a warm welcome from their quirky, loveable, actress Aunt Roz then Lexi, standing in The Whispering Gallery outside a restaurant, overhears two men planning what could only be a very costly crime.  She's willing to dismiss the entire conversation until the newspaper headlines the next morning announce the theft of jewels en route from the Cairo Museum on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the upcoming "Queen of the Nile" exhibit.  City Camp orientation gets out earlier than expected so their new smart, sassy "friend" Kim Ling Levine, daughter of the owners of their aunt's apartment building, leads them on an excursion to Central Park.

Catching another news flash on a biker's radio while at the park, declaring the posting of an excessive reward, Lexi decides against all her instincts to tell Kim Ling what she heard.  Kim Ling, grooming herself for a career in investigative journalism, is on that like bees drawn to honey.  In a race against time the three join forces to try to piece together the bits and pieces of words from the exchange between the two men.

Throw the FBI , the NYPD, a runaway teen, the tunnels beneath Grand Central Station and a nighttime excursion to Central Park into the mix and you have a whirlwind adventure that can't be beat.  Using courage, intelligence and taking risks beyond their capabilities Lexi, Kevin and Kim Ling are on a roller coaster ride of events.  Taking more twists and turns than a cab in the city the storyline speeds toward an ending filled with surprises right up to the very last page.

What sets this narrative above others in this genre is the vitality in the writing of John J. Bonk.  I found myself laughing out loud and marking passages for their true voice, humor and detail.  Each of the three main characters are lively, wise in their own ways with frailties and flaws; Lexi, sensible, superstitious and haunted by the past, Kevin, fearful, optimistic and innocent and Kim Ling, a walking dictionary, brimming with intelligence and too sharp-tongued for her own good.

While this is most definitely a whopping good mystery, it is also about forging friendships with opposites, blended families and dealing with loss.  Weaving the flashbacks within the story was touchingly brilliant.  The varied richness of the supporting characters, tenants in the building, people on the street, city employees and the City Camp personnel, truly enhances the tale.

Here are some samples of Bonk's writing from the story.

The first ten minutes in the cab were like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and Kevin was red-faced and white-knuckled clinging to the armrest. 

He wore a toothy smile and plaid shorts with droopy black socks, putting the eek in geek.

"Okay, tell me, why're we following her again?" Lexi asked Kevin.
"You got me.  But she does crack me up."
Lexi shook her head in wonder.  "She's like the Pied Piper of Manhattan---with road rage."

Madhattan Mystery penned by John J. Bonk is as fast-paced, spirited and filled with a mixture of personalities as the city in which it is set.  One of the best reads of 2012, it ranks as one of my all time favorite mysteries.  Be sure to visit Bonk's website linked to his name above as well as a guest post at John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read. and an interview more recently at The O. W. L.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Last Saturday, June 23, 2012, the American Association of School Librarians, announced the new top 25 Best Websites for Teaching and Learning.  Of those twenty-five, seven have previously been explored in posts on this blog, Popplet, Comic Master, My Story Maker, Quicklyst, SpiderScribe, Stixy, and Wiggio. The first on the new list under Media Sharing, Standards for the 21st Century Learner, is Projeqt. Projeqt is a free web 2.0 application whose site motto is:

dynamic presentations for a real-time world.

Upon signing up for an account you are asked for your full name, a desired username, email address, password and acceptance of the Terms of Service.  (Due to statements in the TOS users under the age of thirteen must have parental or guardian consent to use this site.) A confirming email is sent immediately.  Across the top of the page are links to the Home page, Features of this application, Examples of other Projeqts and the Blog which contains updates to the site and newer examples.

An "overview" screen appears upon logging in.  Links frame the page giving you:  two options for editing your profile, a way to manage your account information, a Vimeo tutorial on Projeqt, a listing of keyboard shortcuts, help/support and a way to contact Projeqt.  Click the blue create a new projeqt button to begin.

At the next screen you are asked to title your new Projeqt and enter in an optional description.  Following is your creativity space where you can view all projeqts, the design options and projeqt settings.  Along the bottom you can access your clipboard.

When, for example, creating a title slide you state the title, a description, tags, position of the title on the slide, color settings (default or your choice), a background image, cropping, transparent background or the addition of a link to the slide.  Once created a slide can be edited, copied or deleted.  Slides can contain documents, images, a title or text as well as items from Twitter, Facebook, an RSS feed, YouTube, Vimeo, SoundCloud, Google Maps, Google Docs, Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest, Foursquare or Spotify.

When a Projeqt is completed it can be edited, deleted or duplicated.  To embed a Projeqt simply copy either the small or large HTML code provided.  I created a Projeqt listing those books read to date in my Book-a-Day Challenge for the summer of 2012.

With a Projeqt stacks, a group of slides added to an initial slide, can be created  You can work in Projeqt on your laptop computer, tablet or mobile phone.  Rather than creating a Projeqt from scratch you can also upload a previous presentation and incorporate it into Projeqt.

The dashboard for creating a Projeqt was easy to understand; moving slides within a presentation was as simple as click and drag.  I highly recommended Projeqt to be placed in your virtual toolbox.  I can't wait to see how an uploaded project works within this application.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Maybe...The Best

I love reading; in fact when a friend suggested I watch a new show the other night I calmly replied I had not had my television on for more then three months.  Nonfiction or fiction, any genre will do.  But growing up I had a steady diet of historical fiction supplied by my Mom and Dad passing on their own favorites in addition to those titles I was able to pick up at the library for my age group.

The best of historical fiction, like any well-written or spoken story, has the ability to transport the reader or listener to a specific place or time, to create characters with whom one can easily identify and to bring the past into the present as if it only happened yesterday.  When a reader's senses are awakened to the point of a deep emotional involvement, that's storytelling at its finest.  On every single page of May B. A Novel (Schwartz & Wade Books) by Caroline Starr Rose, a debut author, make no mistake, you are there.

I won't go.

"It's for the best," Ma says,
yanking to braid my hair,
trying to make something of what's left.

Ma and Pa want me to leave
and live with strangers.

I won't go.

This first chapter, this first page, grips you with the complete frustration of the narrator, Mavis Elizabeth Betterly. Twelve years old living on the prairie of Kansas in a sod home, she is being sent to stay with neighbors fifteen miles away until Christmas.  It seems that the new Mrs. Oblinger is not adjusting well to the isolation of this life; May B.'s paid companionship will ease the financial burdens of her own family.

Arrival at the Oblinger's soddy reveals the new bride to be little older than May B. herself.  Aloof, unkind and completely lacking the basic skills necessary to manage a home, May B. soon realizes most of the tasks will fall to her.  Any thought she had of practicing, perfecting her learning, her reading skills, so as not to fall any further behind than she already is, are quickly forgotten.

Days pass in sameness until two things happen which threaten May B.'s very existence.  Mrs. Oblinger takes a horse for a ride but does not return.  It is only later May B. discovers the note.  Making haste her husband hitches the other horse to his wagon, taking his gun, to find his wife before she leaves on a train back to Ohio.

After four days May B. comes to the stark realization she has been abandoned; she will be living alone from August until the end of December.  Wrapping her mind around this reality is a test of her strength and determination.  In subsequent chapters readers follow her day to day mental struggles, her elation at finally having time to do as she wishes, her fear of running out of supplies, keeping warm and staying safe in the soddy.

Intermingled with her chores, trying to keep busy, May B.'s mind wanders to her inability to read.  Two different teachers, two different philosophies give May B. first hope then a sense of utter despair in her capacity to learn.  What is wrong with her?  Why can't she read words?

Days melt one into the other; May B.'s sense of time is becoming fuzzy.  Supplies are running low and first frost, then a sudden dusting of snow, cause her to wonder if it is now October or even later.  Sounds in the night and prints in the dirt show she is not as alone as she thought; a wolf has found her. 

So much seems to be against May B., dwindling food, proper fuel, adequate shelter for the colder temperatures, the nearly constant thoughts of her problems at school but when an early blizzard blows across the prairie, one truly fears for her.  Page by page tension builds as readers wonder about her chances for survival.  Will this adventure, not of her choosing, be the ultimate test of her true character?

Writing in verse, in a style research revealed as appropriate for the time period,  Caroline Starr Rose has crafted a setting, a series of events and characters so believable it's like stepping back in time.  Her use of words, sometimes as little as a single sentence for a chapter, make readers acutely aware of the details of May B.'s life.  As we are privy to May B.'s every thought, we can not help but cheer, feel an admiration, for this young woman. 

Here are several examples of her impressive way with words in verse.

I am afraid
in the dark
all alone
I am afraid

From the calendar I tear away
one month,
then two.
Is it October
or November?

Time was made
for others,
not for someone
all alone.

So many things
I know about myself
I've learned from others.
Without someone else to listen,
to judge,
to tell me what to do,
and to choose
who I am,
do I get to decide for myself?

With a storyline completely riveting from beginning to end, the harsh beauty of life on the prairie of 1870s Kansas is brought home to readers in May B. A Novel written by Caroline Starr Rose.  Chapters in verse disclose a testament to the will, heart and very soul of a twelve year old girl faced with seemingly insurmountable adversity.  May B. A Novel comes with high recommendations from this reader.  Rose has created a teacher's guide on her website which is linked to her name above.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Performance Criteria Rated High...Affirmative

Back in 2001 I discovered a poster by Rick Ruggles titled Love is where you find it...  From that time forward I have tried to slow down to notice heart shapes appearing everywhere, especially when Xena and I take our walks; discovering those special stones on the beach is like finding a priceless possession.  But sometimes you don't find the heart, the love, unexpectedly, it finds you.

First time author, Ame Dyckman, teams with illustrator, Dan Yaccarino, to bring readers, Boy + Bot (Alfred A. Knopf), an endearing story of a normal day turned extraordinary.  Remarkable use of text and visuals, make this book a stunning example of the beauty to be found in simplicity.  You never know what a day spent gathering will reveal.

A boy was collecting pinecones in his wagon when he met a robot.

Can you imagine the wonder of having a big red robot appear behind you ?  Trusting in spirit, quick to see a potential playmate, the boy asks him to play.  The robot's reply is, of course, in the affirmative.

Finding fun in the great outdoors, their adventures are cut short when a rock and the robot meet.  With no power supply, to the boy, the robot is in need of help; believing him to be ill. Packing him up in his wagon they set off for the boy's home.

Doing what he knows should make the silent Bot better, the two finally settle in for the night.  Peeping in to check on Boy, his parents, not knowing Bot is behind the door, trigger his switch to on.  Now it's Bot's turn to deduce that Boy, sleeping soundly, is malfunctioning.

Carrying Boy back to his home Bot is likewise seeking to fix the problem.  In the nick of time the Inventor steps in, startles Boy into wakefulness and makes an important phone call.  The two fast friends make plans for the next day to play and...they do so with great joy.

Ame Dyckman has discovered a very special place were readers' affections wish to reside.  Her narrative guides us down the beloved path of finding friendship with those unlike ourselves; of caring despite differences.  With clarity, using short sentences, Dyckman depicts in both Boy and Bot the characteristics found in best buddies.

On watercolor paper with gouache Dan Yaccarino fashions illustrations from a primary color palette with added greens and purples; bold and radiant, eliciting a smile from readers.  Endpapers picture both the Boy's and Bot's typical "toys".  The title page begins the story with Boy pulling his red wagon past an evergreen with Bot peering from behind.

Freckles sprinkled across Boy's nose and cheeks, smiles playing about Boy's and Bot's mouths, bright-eyed admiration, the one for the other, and a one-eyed light bulb figure walking about on legs in Bot's home, are little extra details readers will notice and appreciate.  Yaccarino has chosen to vary his image sizes; double page, single page or several on one page all framed by the appearance of a casual brush stroke.  But the way he depicts Dyckman's final sentence,

And the friends did.

is masterful; over the final three pages a series of images clearly showing the cementing of a bond not to be broken.

Boy + Bot written by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by Dan Yaccarino is a clever story where caring + sharing = friendship.  When readers' hearts are warmed and laughter tugs at the corners of their mouths, a book will be read again and again; shared with as many as possible.  This is one of those books, a timeless classic.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Twitterville Talk #54

Twitter was hopping this week especially with ALA getting into full swing this weekend.  Wishing everyone a wonderful summer weekend (or winter for my friends on the other side of the world).

To start the week off this site was retweeted, Famous Writers' Retreats:  The Rooms Where Classics Were Created.  Some of the one room cottages are so cozy, who wouldn't want to write?

Even people who are not Harry Potter fans can appreciate the wonder of "Harry Potter' Theme Played On Glasses of Water: Watch The Incredible Video.

I can completely identify with the kids that wrote these letters.  I hated going to camp, any camp, anytime of the year.  'P. S. I Still Hate It Here!':  Hilarious Kid Letters From Camp

Thanks to the Children's Bookshelf for these tweets. 

Just for fun Hermione Granger vs Bella Swan

Thanks to Jennifer Nielsen, author of the amazing The False Prince, for this tweet.

For those who love pop-up books, Incredible Pop-Up Books for Grown Ups is a must see.

Thanks to Page-Turner for the tweet.

This is excellent news and according to the latest reports is a hot selling item in the app store to date; Reading Rainbow Returns As A Startup And An iPad App.

Thanks to TechCrunch for the heads-up about this new app.

It's a shame they had to do it at all but it was brilliant.
Book Burning Party-Troy Library

Thanks to YALSA for the tweet.

Every time I read a children's book I learn or am reminded of something.  I am not the only one who thinks this way; 10 Important Life Lessons We Learn from Children's Books.

Thanks to Scholastic for sharing this link.

This is a very interesting article on the role of the nonfiction writer, Who Stole Helen Keller?

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo of Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day...

My favorite quote of the week is shown below.  John Hendrix is an amazing author/illustrator.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Dragons' Dietary Delight

Scattered throughout my home are my TBR piles prominently on display much like pieces of furniture.  I am one of those people, when presented with gifts at my birthday or a holiday, who like to open each one slowly relishing the moment.  For that reason I have many wonderful books stacked waiting to be read which should have been enjoyed months, weeks or even days ago.

One of those titles I was urged to pick up and read right away by Ame Dyckman, author of her first book, Boy + Bot (Alfred A. Knopf), with illustrations by Dan Yaccarino, on Twitter was Dragons Love Tacos (Dial Books for Young Readers), by Adam Rubin with illustrations by Daniel Salmieri  (Amy's book is on the top of my picture book TBR pile.)  Yes, the hoot and holler duo, that brought readers Those Darn Squirrels and  Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door are back.  From a tree-lined backyard with forest critters to one filled with dragons of fantasy, they take flight, fly high and well.

An unseen narrator begins the tale as readers view a boy and his dog in his bedroom decorated with everything a la dragon:

Hey, kid!
Did you know that dragons love tacos?
They love beef tacos and chicken tacos.
They love really big gigantic tacos and tiny little baby tacos as well.

This narrator goes on to propose reasons for this love; the last of three has a distinct air of mystery.  Then the speaker, like a news reporter, moves to the scene of a dragon emerging from a favorite taco take-out shop, asking for answers, reasons why.  Meanwhile the young dragon lover, Robbie, and his furry friend are laying out the fixings for concocting salsa only to discover from the narrator, no less, dragons do not appreciate spicy salsa.

I guess anyone would hate spicy salsa if it made your ears smoke, sparks come from your nose or gave you a stomach ache.  But what dragons do love, in addition to tacos, is parties.  And the best party of all is...you guessed it...a taco party.

With a flurry of preparations completed, oodles and oodles of tacos, getting rid of all the hot sauce and party decorations, dog and boy bask in the fruits of their labors as dragons converge. With the gala event in full swing the voice points to something tiny and green that's been missed.  Yikes!  Holy smokes...

Adam Rubin's use of a narrator makes readers feel as though they are sitting down to hear the words of storyteller; it adds to the intimacy inviting readers to partake in the world of boy, dog and dragons.  When the humor and surprises come it's more potent when shared in this manner.  Listing reasons in groups of three, the repetition of phrases with a single word change for emphasis and the word choices reflecting a conversation among friends,

But wait!...
...oh boy...
...Just remember:...

combine to make this narrative a surefire winner.

Watercolor, gouache and color pencil in the resourceful hands of artist, Daniel Salmieri, most certainly spice up the laughter factor. With endpapers covered in miniature tacos and a title page picturing a silver platter, lid lifted by a purple dragon hand to reveal a delicious looking single taco, readers are welcomed into the world of taco.  Title verso and dedication page spread to include a view of the land of dragon with the Taco Cave in the foreground.

Salmieri's attention to detail encourages readers to pause and grin.  In the boy's bedroom dragons decorate the lampshade next to a bed with medieval towers for bedposts, Kodi, meaning helpful, on the dog's dish, dragons on the dog's collar, a dragon arm reaching into a page giving the thumb's up sign and a taco calendar hanging on a dragon's cave wall are only some of the numerous little extras he provides.  The tiny arms and legs supporting his characters' bodies and the facial expressions on all are so much fun.

Together Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri have in Dragons Love Tacos a book guaranteed to generate giggles and bursts of mindless mirth.  Please follow the link to Daniel Salmieri's website embedded in his name to view more illustrations from this book.  In case you're interested this post was written while consuming not one, not two, not even three but five tacos. (The shells were tiny. Trust me.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Heaven Sent

Something, a blog interview, a comment on Twitter or a review, a reason I can rarely remember, will cause me to seek out a title by a debut author.  Whatever the reason I have never been more happy or sad than when I read the final pages of Martha Brockenbrough's Devine Intervention (Arthur A. Levine Books, June 1, 2012).  For the witty, brilliant writing style, the storyline offering a unique and rich view of life and death and characters so real they could be your next door neighbors, I am so glad I read, no devoured, this book.  The sadness comes, as it does with all remarkable books, because the story has ended.

The thing about Devine Intervention is I can not stop thinking about it; the story and the people within the story are memorable.  The first two pages are from The Guardian Angel's Handbook:  Soul Rehab Edition; the first a basic introduction for those unlucky (or perhaps very lucky) enough to warrant a copy of said handbook and the second page containing the first of The Ten Commandments for the Dead---


These two pages are followed by the first sentence in Chapter One:

One Monday morning, a couple years before my cousin Mike shot me in the forehead with an arrow, my eighth-grade homeroom teacher brought two cartons of raw eggs to school.

Readers are first introduced to Jerome, killed instantly by his best friend, when another of their haywire schemes backfires with deadly consequences.  Jerome has landed in Soul Rehab, due to his misdeeds when alive, with a chance to avoid one of the nine layers of Hell and move to Heaven by taking care of a infant soul.  His que sera, sera attitude coupled with hiding the handbook prior to reading it have not been in Heidi's best interests in the sixteen years he has been her guardian angel.

All her life, for as long as she can remember, Heidi has had a "voice" in her head, Jerome.  When younger this "voice" was dismissed as an imaginary friend.  Now she keeps silent about his commentary believing herself to be suffering some form of hallucinations.

Navigating the choppy waters of high school is never easy but for Heidi, taller than most, it has been particularly trying.  Pressured to join the basketball team due to her size and participate in Talentpalooza!! to make her friend, Megan, happy, Heidi has a day better left forgotten; not making the winning point before the buzzer sounds and having her knowledge confirmed her costume was indeed too tight.  To pursue her passion, her gift, as an artist drawing architectural panoramas, is what she wants to do most.

To clear her head the next day Heidi and Jiminy, her longtime canine companion, take a stroll to the pond.  The pond always brings her a sort of peace not found in her everyday life.  Jiminy romps right out to the middle of the frozen expanse.  Heidi walks out too, calling him back; changing everything.

Continuing with the voices of Jerome and Heidi told in alternating chapters, Brockenbrough takes readers into the workings of her version of the heavenly hosts, group therapy, angelic counselors, Gabe and Xavier, doorways to Heaven in the mall, shooping from place to place, heavenly electric zaps in your head for swearing, as the two teens try to figure out what has happened, what to do. Complicating a desperate situation even more is the discovery of a twenty-four hour time limit and the unsavory plan of a less than stellar inhabitant in Soul Rehab.  Never is the importance of life with all its varying nuances so clear as when we are faced with the thought, the knowledge, of loosing what we know to be true; of loosing who and what we love.

Nearly all the chapters begin with pages from The Guardian Angel Handbook: Soul Rehab Edition.  These pages are Brockenbrough's technique for offering insight, as a prelude of events or conversations to come.  As a wordsmith with a distinctive voice Martha Brockenbrough can bring a reader into the moment with intention and intensity.  Her revelations done in detailed descriptions of our world, our lives, the value of the simple and the importance of our place are marvelous.

To be sure there is much humor in this title but also a depth of emotion pulling on the strings in the center of your heart.  As the storyline unfolds each of the characters exhibit strengths and flaws so much like all of us it's impossible not to identify with them.  With an ending deftly weaving all possibilities together it surprises.

Here are a few examples of Martha Brockenbrough's writing taken from this title.

Tell her you want to wear your conductor overalls.
"I want to wear my conductor overalls."
"Those again?" Her mother wiped the countertops.
Say "damn straight."
"Damn straight."
"Heidi, I don't know where you learned that language, but it's not okay."
Holy smokes, that hurt.  But it was worth it.
"What are holy smokes?" Heidi asked.
Her mother marched over and clicked off the TV.  "Enough of this," she said. "It's time to get you dressed."

"I'm going to revise my earlier statement," Megan said, turning Heidi away from her audience.  "The bright side is that winter vacation starts tomorrow morning.  By the time we get back to school, no one's going to remember this.  And on the other bright side, it just proves the point I was making earlier about high school and Hell.  Welcome to the nightmare."

She willed herself to press the ball toward the basket, bringing it closer to her face so she could give it everything she had.  Then came the buzzer.  She'd frozen, failed, wasted her chance.  The crowd groaned; the air rushed from the room.  Heidi looked up at the lights, bright stars surrounded by cages.  They swam with watery rainbows.

Martha Brockenbrough's title, Devine Intervention, is a slice of life...and death filled with unforeseen twists and turns, laughter, tears and truths not to be ignored.  It will send your soul soaring exactly where it needs to go. This is one of my favorite young adult reads of 2012.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hot Spots for Reading

Previously I have posted about those online applications that track reading and provide the opportunity for readers to post their own reviews, particularly children, young adults, and/or students.  One post titled What's a Bookprint?  addresses the services offered by Scholastic in their You Are What You Read application for adults and its counterpart for younger readers which is a part of their The Stacks program.  Scholastic also offers the chance for the writing of book reviews for grades 3-12 at a site titled Share What You're Reading.  I reviewed this application in a post titled Books, Books, and More Books...Write and Read.

Two new applications have come to my attention through the wire on Twitter from multiple sources. The first of these is Start with A Book for children ages 3-9 designed and produced by Reading Rockets with assistance by the Park Foundation with no cost to users.  When viewing the home page at the site across the top are sections titled:  Summer Themes, Reading Aloud, Fluent Kids, Great Kids' Books, More Literacy Resources and Discover DC for Kids.

A user can also get to each of these resources by scrolling down further on the page and clicking on the appropriate link.  The summer themes include twenty-four different categories which can be viewed much like a slide show by clicking on the arrows.  Selecting a favorite takes the user to another page broken into more pieces of information.

I selected the Heroes and Superheroes theme.  To begin the page can be printed, emailed, pinned on Pinterest, added to Google+, tweeted on Twitter or liked on Facebook.  The first part is the explanation of what is available in Family Literacy Bags.  They are in PDF.  Here is an example of one titled Flight.

Beneath that is an annotated list of related Great Fiction and Nonfiction books followed by Read Aloud Tips and Downloadables.  On the right side of the page is a column containing a Meet The Authors video, Growing Readers: Parent Tips and/or Hands-on Activities, Summer Writing ideas, Great Websites for Kids, and suggested Mobile Apps.  Within some of the themes this is followed by Things to Do, Places to Go in Washington, D. C. and the Reading Tip of the Day.

Each of the initially mentioned sections is a full page of multiple links featuring engaging and enjoyable ideas for closing the reading gap which occurs during the summer.  There is something here for everyone at  Start with a Book and enough ideas to last for longer than three months.  This is a go-to website for improving possibilities for your children by increasing their love of reading.

BiblioNasium is the second site.  This free application is still in beta. In the About section of the site some of the goals state:

We are dedicated to the critical belief that all kids can fall in love with reading. Consistent support and just the right book can ignite the spark. 

Part kid's social network, part parent’s guide, part teacher’s tool, BiblioNasium blends technology with personal connection to create a supportive, engaging space for reading success.

BiblioNasium is designed for those children aged 6-12.  All users of the site under the age of 13 must have parental/guardian permission.  BiblioNasium has partnered with the company responsible for providing The Lexile Framework for Reading

When you register, do so as a child, parent or teacher.  To test the site I registered as a teacher.  As an educator you are asked for your email address, first and last name, preferred name and a password.  A confirming email is sent immediately with a link.

When first logging in you are asked if you wish to Manage Classroom Book Lists, Challenge Your Students, go to Student Reports or Manage Class.  Prior to using any of those formats you need to set up a class.  Up to thirty-two students can be entered in a class giving each of them a unique user ID and password.  For the class as a whole you are asked to pick which platform is used for measuring reading levels, Lexile, Guide Reading, DRA or Reading Recovery.  The system asks you to give for each student a last name or initial, first name, reading level and parent email.

At your home page you can work on setting up your virtual bookshelf, My Books.  On the shelf are placed your favorites, recommended, required or classroom wish list books.  Books are added to the shelf by searching by title, author, category, or Lexile reading level.

When your book is found you are asked to place it in one or more of the tabbed categories listed above the shelf.  Then you can recommend it to all or any number of students chosen in your class.  A series of pre-written notes can be attached to the recommendation or you can write a more personal one.

When you click on My Classes you are shown your bookshelf, your student names and pictures and any challenges you have created.  Challenges are lists of books to read as a class, for a group or perhaps an individual.  In a challenge a class is chosen, the challenge is named, a category is selected or you can choose your own book titles. 

Reports, once a student(s) is selected, show for each:  books, active challenges, awards and logs which include a line for date, reading material, pages, time logged and Lexile.  The Suggested Reading tab are those books picked by BiblioNasium.  They are grouped by favorites, popular series, prize winners and fun titles.

Though in beta BiblioNasium offers multiple choices for a classroom teacher to get students excited about reading and to design reading around their interests and reading levels.  A major plus is the security provided due to the age of users.  In needing parental/guardian permission for children to use the site, the involvement and guidance of an adult is assured.

In an email exchange with BiblioNasium I was informed that by the end of this week the 32 student limit will be lifted to accommodate librarians who wish to use this application.  Also if educators wish to upload their class lists using Excel, that will be an option. This is very good news on both counts.  The introductory video below gives a clearer picture of what an individual child might do using this application. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Holding Out For A Hero

Fairy tales have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  After several summers of attending storytelling workshops and classes as part of the National Storytelling Association (now the National Storytelling Network) in Jonesborough, Tennessee, I became fascinated with the variants connected to the cultures from which they came.  And I am not alone.  If I had a dime for every request for a princess story I've had over the duration of my career, I could completely restock the shelves in the library media center. 

But even after collecting numerous variations on some of my favorites, nothing could have prepared me for Christopher Healy's The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (Walden Pond Press, May 1, 2012).  His take on the princes from Cinderella, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, none of whom are actually named Prince Charming, is offbeat and downright hilarious.  Princes's personalities, fully disclosed, stray considerably from what readers know to be true from the original stories.

Although Frederic from Cinderella, Gustav from Rapunzel, Liam from Sleeping Beauty and Duncan from Snow White hail from different kingdoms in the realm, with demeanors as diverse as night and day, each has been a victim of the notorious storytellers of the time, bards.  These bards have a habit of leaving out the crucial details of events especially the given names of the heroes. As events unfold these four will combine their talents, or lack thereof, to partake in an adventure full of mischief, mayhem, and a crazy cast of characters straight from Healy's land of fairy.

It all begins with Prince Frederic, a lover of style, dance and the more sedate functions of his status such as picnics, strolls among art and listening to music, who sets off to find Ella (Cinderella).  Once freed from the clutches of her stepmother and stepsisters, spirited Ella is in search of high adventure, leaving her finance, to find Rapunzel, who in reality saved her rescuer from certain death.  Who should Frederic meet but Prince Gustav, trying to salvage what's left of his precarious, at best, reputation.  It's a little hard to be heroic with sixteen older, bigger brothers.

After a complete fiasco involving Zaubera, the wicked witch with more dastardly plans up her sleeves than ants in a hill, and her giant sidekick, Reese, the duo in pursuit of Ella come upon a sleeping Prince Liam.  Having discovered Briar Rose's snooty, snottiness Liam has fled his kingdom after announcing the marriage is off.  Joining forces on horseback the trio rides through the woods to save Ella but who do they find first?  It seems Prince Duncan is lost after Snow White said she needed some quiet time.

As the foursome journey through the realm their initial quest becomes the least of their worries; an army of bandits lead by a boy, a bounty hunter called Ruffian the Blue, a trio of cranky dwarfs, a fire-breathing dragon, and yes, Zaubera and Reese, as well as a tavern filled with cutthroats figure into the scheme.  Each encounter becomes more convoluted with plot twists, turns and comedic terror.  Spiraling to a fever pitch the ending will have readers gasping for breath for obvious and unexpected reasons.

With this debut as a children's book writer, Christoper Healy, has hit a grand slam right out of the park.  Perfect plot pacing, lovable, fully developed characters, and snappy dialogue heaped with humor make for a captivating read.  His witty way with words is the real magic in this title. 

Here are some examples of Healy's writing from the book.  (It was harder than you can imagine to limit myself to just a few; my book looked like the proverbial porcupine with sticky notes instead of quills.)

"Hero, singular," Zaubera replied.  "One of them is a complete coward.  And yes, the hero will follow us.  That's what heroes do.  We'll just be ready for him.  When we catch him and his sidekick, you can grind their bones into bread.  Now come."
"Yes, ma'am," the giant intoned in his booming voice, "But bread made from bones sounds awful, you know."
"I didn't hire you to be a meal planner, Reese," grated the witch. "Start walking."

Still half-asleep, he squinted through his drowsy haze at two figures standing before him.  One was wearing an ornate but ragged white suit that made him look like the leader of a zombie marching band.  The second was twice the size of the first and appeared to be half Viking, half bear. "Hey, you!" barked the bigger of the two.  "Wake up!"

"Whawadoo, whuwedow?" the out-of-breath Frederic tried again.  He sounded like an asthmatic cat trapped inside an accordion.

Drawings by Todd Harris, his first in a published book, compliment the storyline well.  Working mostly in digital they pop up among the pages exactly when you are wondering what someone or something might look like.  Check out this interview of Harris prior to the book's release.

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom written by Christopher Healy with illustrations by Todd Harris is the most fun I have had reading a book this year; maybe ever.  Continually laughing aloud I imagined how great a read aloud this title would be.  Do yourself a favor read this book, read it now and read it with someone else. 

This book is the first in a series of three.  The movie rights have already been acquired by Fox Animation.  Christopher Healy tweeted about a list of books that his four heroes might have on their book shelves.  I've read almost all of them but I've some new ones to add to my TBR stack.

Enjoy the prologue for the book below.

Update:   July 24, 2012--Enjoy this new book trailer.

More good news for fans, or soon to be fans, of this memorable book.  Christoper Healy announced this week, September 17, 2012 about an official website.  Follow this link.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Dog's Heart

I was in my mid-twenties when a pair of black Labradors, sisters, Soot and Cinder, chose me. My first dogs ever. When I lost them, I lost a part of my heart. More than twenty years later, Xena my chocolate Labrador, thankfully selected me.

A dog's heart is huge; filled to the brim with unconditional love.  As humans we can only strive toward the love they have perfected so well.  They ask for little but give much.

When opening the front and back covers of Elisha Cooper's new book, Homer (Greenwillow Books, May 29, 2012), eyes moving from left to right across the two-page spread, we see the body of a yellow lab, soulfully gazing forward, a half smile playing about his mouth.  Above the curve of his back we read, Have you ever loved a dog? One day in the life of Homer has a great deal to tell readers.

Homer sits on the porch.
What does he want to do today?

A new morning has begun in the home along the ocean's shore.  Homer, paws at edge of the steps, greets the day and waits.  The house's door and doggie door both open as a trio of pooches, a Basset Hound, an Old English Sheepdog and a Scottish Terrier, burst forth eager to run  and romp.  Will Homer join them? 

No, thanks.

Each family member stops to ask Homer to join in their activities; searching in the field, strolling to the beach to play in the sand, swimming in the ups and downs of the water or taking a trip to the local market.  Homer says no to all, completely happy right where he is.  Watching them is all he needs.

Returning dogs, youngest daughter, older daughter, mother and father pause to share their adventures with Homer; dropped red balls, flowers in his fur, an ocean shell, a whispered conversation and a bag filled with groceries.  He gratefully accepts all their news as they return to spend the late afternoon gathered around him on the porch.  As the sky changes with the setting sun Homer stretches to go inside.

Readers follow Homer as he slowly moves through the familiar routine of his day's end.  Lamps shine in the living room as mother tucks in the two girls, father finishes up in the kitchen, and three tired dogs in various poses sleep on the floor. And Homer, he heads to his favorite blue chair where he curls and settles saying the three closing words.

If dogs could talk, without a doubt, they would say as Elisha Cooper has written it here.  Simply, eloquently the ease of summer, the joy in the day's offerings and Homer's place in this family's life are worded carefully.  Spanning along the pages' bottoms we readers drink in those thoughts like life's truths they are.

Steel blue endpapers like the colors of the ocean envelope the body of this title.  Followed by a double-page spread showing a bird's eye view of the home with the rising sun behind, field, beach and ocean stretching to the horizon, the title and verso information are shown.  I love Cooper's two word dedication:

For porches.

Full-color illustrations rendered in watercolors and pencil delight the senses; readers can feel the sea breeze, hear the gentle wash of the waves and the conversations, human and canine, carried to Homer as he watches knowing if they touch his fur it will be warm and smell of the sun.  Hues echoing the season and setting detail the day exquisitely.  Most of the single page pictures are framed in white but the panoramic display of Homer watching his family members blends to the edges of two pages in stunning, peaceful beauty.

In looking over my considerable stack of dog books, Homer written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper is my very favorite title...ever.  What Elisha Cooper has captured and created in words and pictures is a moving tribute to dogs, their wisdom and the love they can give especially in the caring family well portrayed in this title.  Having read this book so many times I've lost count, I never fail to shed a tear or two and sigh as I view the last two pages and read the final sentence; pure contentment.

Julie Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast highlights Elisha Cooper's Homer on her blog and at Kirkus.  In her blog post she references two articles Cooper wrote at Greenwillow about Homer.  Be sure to read those two.  If you want to read more writing by Elisha Cooper head over to The Morning NewsI have also been following Elisha Cooper on Facebook where he has so generously shared his process in creating Homer.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Twitterville Talk #53

Summer may be in full swing but nothing, not even the sunny weather, can slow down the world of books, reading, libraries nor new technology trends on Twitter.

Believe it or not these pieces of art are:  Stacked Book Sculptures by Jonathan Callan.

Thanks to Shelf Awareness for the tweet.

For fans of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Darth Paper Strikes Back and the upcoming The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee all by Tom Angleberger,  check out this animation at the Origami Yoda site courtesy of same.

There are some excellent titles shown here:  Discover the Guardian children's fiction prize 2012 longlist-gallery. 

Reading Rocket unveils new summer reading website:  Start with a Book!  This looks like an interesting site to consider.

Enjoy All 3 National Ambassadors for Young People's Literature Appear on 100th Episode of Children's Book Podcast, Brain Burps.

Neil Gaiman Reads 'The Man Who Forgot Ray BradburyThis will be the best 13 minutes you spend all week.  Neil Gaiman is a phenomenal artist.

Thanks to The Children's Book Council for these tweets.

Rafael Lopez has created the poster for this year's National Book Festival to be held in Washington, D. C. September 22-23, 2012.

John Schumacher of Watch. Connect. Read. provided the tweet.

Incredible artwork from inside a book, New Carved Book Landscapes by Guy Laramee.  Of course, I have always believed there is something special for everyone inside the right book.

Thanks to Ellen Potter, the author of The Humming Room, for this retweet.

This next link is from a retweet whose source I neglected to note.  What I do know is the next time money falls from the sky I must, must, must have one of these, A Tent That Looks Like a BookThe site says there are only 59 left out of 195. 

On March 9, 2012 I posted a review for the new book, Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky.  This week a new book trailer was released at A Fuse #8 Production.

Thanks to HarperChildrens for the tweet.

Here is an impressive list, Notable Children's Books Nominees-Summer 2012.  While I have read many of them I need to get busy to see how many more I can read this summer.

Walking the Storywalk is a fantastic idea.

Thanks to the ALSC blog for these tweets.

Place this tweet in the unbelievable category---Outdoor library! Bookyard-an Expansive Outdoor Public Library by Massimo Bartolini.

Be sure to view Books On Film:  The Dr. Seuss Biography.

Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes provided these tweets.

Enjoy this article on An Unquiet History of Libraries and Navigating Knowledge, from Alexandria to the Internet.

These examples An Interactive Mind Map Made With Thinglink are amazing.

Thanks to Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers for these tweets.

For the very first time a single title has won both the 2012 Kate Greenaway Medal and the Carnegie Medal, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness with illustrations by Jim Kay.  My review is linked here.