Monday, June 29, 2009

Monday Poetry Stretch - Acrostics

Last week when writing abecedarian poems Laura Purdie Salas mentioned she liked them because they reminded her of one big acrostic to solve. This sentiment resonated with me, so I thought it might be fun to write acrostic poems this week.

During the April Poetry Makers series a few folks weighed in on the acrostic form. Steven Schnur said "Though some have called my acrostic books poetry, I think of them as word play, as solutions to problems of verbal geometry." Avis Harley shared a number of acrostic poems. One example was from her new book African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways.

Celebrate these
Long-standing giraffes,
Up clouds and eaves-
Dropping on the wind!

In airy
Nibbling on high, they
Decorate the

Poem ©Avis Harley
This is a fine example, far removed from the school-assigned poems to write an acrostic using your first name, or some vocabulary word being studied. What kind of acrostic will you write this week? Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Book Review - What Cats Are Made Of

For quite a while now I've been crazy for posts that feature dogs, such as those from Susan Taylor Brown, Barbara O'Connor (Greetings From Nowhere), and Kirby Larson (Kirby's Lane). But what's an avowed dog lover to do when someone like Anna Alter (Painting Bunnies) begins a series of posts called Furball Friday? I am not a cat lover by any means, but for all my cat-loving friends and readers I offer this review of a book I never would have expected to so thoroughly enjoy.
What Cats are Made Of, written and illustrated by Hanoch Piven, is a cleverly crafted book that highlights a few of the known cat breeds while offering a bevy of feline facts. This is as much an "art" book as it is a nonfiction work on cats.

First, a disclaimer. If you are looking for a straight cat information book, this isn't the book for you. It is, however, the perfect introduction for those who don't know much about cats (like me). This is also not a book that provides photos or life-like drawings of the cats described. The illustrations are fabulously creative and are not meant in any way to be explanatory. They are, however, particularly entertaining and will offer readers a great deal to examine. Consider this, the cat depicted on the "cats are made of brains" page is constructed of a piece of circuit board, pencil sharpeners, wire, computer cords, glasses (yes, all us smart folk wear them), and a computer mouse (2 actually). The "cats are made of toughness" cat contains a sheriff's badge, nails and two miniature swords, while the "cats are made of softness" cat has a pillow for a head. The collages alone are worth spending time with, and I'll bet will make an excellent model for art teachers looking for some new ideas. Before you read on, take a minute to view a few of the illustrations at the Simon and Schuster site.

The text begins with the quote "There are no ordinary cats," and this introduction.
There are thirty-nine registered breeds of cats. Some are short, some are long, some are skinny, and some are fat. Some are playful and some are quiet, and some love people and some even act like dogs! Cats are made of all kinds of things. But there's one thing they have in common: The are special, and they know it. Because as Leonardo daVinci said, "The smallest feline is a masterpiece."
Following this introduction are 12 double-page spreads that each begin with the phrase "cats are made of ..." and end with words like energy, glamour, history, mutations, and more. A particular breed is used to illustrate the trait in detail. Breeds used include both common and lesser known varieties. Here's an example of what you'll find on the "cats are made of origami" page.
Scottish Fold cats have ears that are folded forward and down onto their heads, just like their origami versions! The folded ears are produced by an incomplete gene and are the result of a mutation. Not all Scottish Fold cats have folded ears, but all of them carry the gene for this characteristic. In fact, Scottish Fold kittens are born with normal ears. At about three to four weeks of age, their ears fold . . . or not!
After reading this I immediately thought of science teachers everywhere teaching about genetics using punnett squares and the same tired examples (fruit flies and pea plants). Wouldn't this be a fun trait to try?

Each double-page spread also includes a Feline Fact. These provide the kinds of tidbits that kids love to read about. More experienced folks may know these already, but here are some things this feline newbie learned.
  • Cats can independently rotate their ears 180 degrees. (I'm going to do some serious cat observation to see this one for myself!)
  • A cat's brain is biologically more similar to a human brain than it is to a dog's.
  • Domestic cats can sprint thirty-one miles an hour.
  • A cat's jaw moves only up and down, not side to side. (Another fact I wish to observe.)
The book ends with a double-page spread devoted to superstitions about cats.

I found this to be an entertaining and educational read. It will make a terrific introduction to the world of domestic cats, as well as a good example/idea text for art classes.

Now if only Mr. Piven will turn his sights and talents to dog breeds . . .

Book: What Cats are Made Of
Author/Illustrator: Hanoch Piven
Publisher: Ginee Seo Books
Publication Date: March, 2009
Pages: 40 pages
Grades: 1-5
ISBN: 978-1416915317
Source of Book:
Personal copy purchased at a local independent bookstore.

Poetry Friday - Sunflower

Now that summer is really and truly here, I've been wandering through some local gardens and enjoying my favorite summer blooms. One is the sunflower.
by Frank Steele

You’re expected to see
only the top, where sky
scrambles bloom, and not
the spindly leg, hairy, fending off
tall, green darkness beneath.

Read the entire poem.
The round up is being hosted by Kelly Herold at Crossover. Do stop by and take in all the great poetry being shared this week. Before you go, be sure to check out this week's poetry stretch results. Happy poetry Friday all.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Poetry Stretch Results - Abecedarian Poems

The challenge this week was to write in the abecedarian form. Here are the results.
Jane Yolen left this poem in the comments.

    (Sort of)
    Wings with an

    © 2009 Jane Yolen
Julie Larios from The Drift Record shares two double abecedarians.

Tiel Aisha Ansari from Knocking From Inside shares a poem entitled A Few Short Lines.

Dianne White shares Abecedarian: Insect Style.

sister AE at Having Writ shares a poem entitled Still Cloudy.

Laura Purdie Salas gets acrobatic with her poem Shooting Star.

Andi from a wrung sponge shares a poem entitled Blessed Are the Broken-Hearted.

Mary Lee from A Year of Reading gives us An Abecedarian Love Song to My Hometown.
Here is one of the poems I've been working on this week.
August comes with
blazing sun, no
cooling breezes for the
dog days where
evenings are still fiery with
flitting fireflies and star-
Incandescent days and
jeweled nights
keep children
nonstop through
open fields
pools and puddles,
quick stepping,
rain dancing,
singing and shouting
to the world.
Until … the
very last day
when the calendar
eXclaims that the golden,
yellow days are done, and summer
zooms away.
It's not too late if you still want to play. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll add it to the list.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Poetry Stretch Comment

If you're working on your abecedarian poem, there is no need to restrict it to single words. That was the example used, but there are many fine poems that do not do this. Take for example these two double abecedarians by Julie Larios over at The Drift Record.

I'm thinking summer, so my poem is shaping up this way.
August comes with
blazing sun, no
cooling breezes in these
dog days of summer.
Evening gives way to
flitting fireflies and star-
gazing on clear nights.
Hopeful skywatchers
I have no clue where it's going. I'll just have to follow where it leads. I hope you'll consider joining us for this week's stretch.

Thinking Summer

I'm hard at work on my abecedarian poem and it's turning on the theme of summer. Fortunately for me, there's some great inspiration over at the KR blog. Cody Walker has written a fine piece called Sun Break. Head on over and soak up some literary summer.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Nonfiction Monday - A Mathematical Trio

Since I'm in the midst of teaching a course on the teaching and learning of math, I have math books on the brain. Here are three I like that cover numbers, time and money.

Used Any Numbers Lately?, written by Susan Allen and Jane Lindaman and illustrated by Vicky Enright, is an alphabet book that examines where numbers are found in our daily lives. The text is minimal, but that doesn't detract from it's usefulness in acquainting young children numbers and their uses. Many of the numbers described in the book are nominal, meaning they are used for identification. Examples include apartment number, bus number, house number, jersey number, etc. A few ordinal numbers also make an appearance, as in floor number (sixth) and grade number (first). As to those letters that often make an alphabet book difficult to write, they were handled pretty well, with Q as question number (what kid won't related to question numbers on a quiz?) and X as x equals ? number (x as in a variable). I actually thought this was a relatively interesting way to introduce the notion of a variable. The illustrations are full of energy and do a fine job of demonstrating the use of each number. There were a few uses I was disappointed with, but that's par for the course in any alphabet book. The page for N says "We're number ONE!" I was so hoping for a weather report, a snowy day, a chilly thermometer, and negative numbers. Also, the page for U reads "Your number's up!" and shows a number being served at a deli counter. Despite these minor concerns, this is a nice book for developing number sense.

A Second is a Hiccup: A Child's Book of Time, written by Hazel Hutchins and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, looks at different quantities of time and provides some reasonable estimates. The book begins with the question "How long is a second?" The answer?
A second is a hiccup--
The time it takes to kiss your mom
Or jump a rope
Or turn around.
The text goes on to look at the length of a minute, hour, day, week, month, and year. The watercolor illustrations show a diverse cast of children and families engaged in the the activities described. I like everything about this book, particularly the lyrical text. My favorite section is about the length of a week.
How long is a week?

Seven days all in a line.
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday
Thursday Friday and the end day
Saturday--a favorite one!
Some are quiet, some are fun.

Work days, home days, play days, school days

Seven wake-ups, seven sleeps
This is a wonderful book that provides a terrific introduction to time in all its varied measures.

Making Cents, written by Elizabeth Keeler Robinson and illustrated by Bob McMahon, provides a kid-friendly look at money and equivalencies. On the first page readers meet a group of kids with a dream to build a clubhouse. It begins with one penny.
There's a pretty perfect penny in my pocket--
a copper-colored penny, very
smooth around the edge.
With this one-cent penny
we can buy . . .
a perfect
penny nail.
What's nice about the text is that in a very thoughtful, concise description kids learn exactly what a penny looks like (copper color, smooth edge). The illustrations extend this knowledge by depicting the front and back of the penny and the object that can be purchased with it. The book continues "Look! We have five pennies./ We can trade them for a .../ Nickel!" Each successive page describes the coin, shows it, AND shows what can be purchased. In the case of the nickel, the purchase can be five penny nails or one wood screw. The illustrations depict the kids working to earn more money (lemonade stand, leaf raking, dog walking, window washing, etc.) and the accumulation of wealth continues. As the money amounts increase, there is quite a bit of multiplication going on with the items for purchase. For example, on the five-dollar bill page kids see 500x penny nails, 100x wood screws, 50x marking pencils, 20x squares of sandpaper, 5x hinges, and 1x tape measure. The book ends when the kids reach $100. The author's note at the end describes some of the denominations not used in the book (half-dollar and two-dollar bill) and provides information about how our money is always changing. Links to useful web sites are also included. A terrific introductory book.

Here's a bit more information on each book.

Book: Used Any Numbers Lately?, written by Susan Allen and Jane Lindaman and illustrated by Vicky Enright
Publisher: Millbrook Press
Publication Date: September, 2008
Pages: 31 pages
Grades: K-2
ISBN: 978-0822586586

Book: A Second is a Hiccup: A Child's Book of Time, written by Hazel Hutchins and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Publication Date: March, 2007
Pages: 40 pages
Grades: K-2
ISBN: 978-0439831062

Book: Making Cents, written by Elizabeth Keeler Robinson and illustrated by Bob McMahon
Publisher: Tricycle Press
Publication Date: June, 2008
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: K-3
ISBN: 978-1582462141

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. This week our host is Tina at Tales from the Rushmore Kid. Do stop by and see what others are sharing in the world of nonfiction today.

Houdini and the Land of the Pharoahs

I know I've mentioned this before, but I am hooked on The Classic Tales Podcast. This week's installment is Imprisoned with the Pharaohs by H.P. Lovecraft. Here is the description.
Legends abound in the land of Egypt. Legends of mysterious ancient powers that sleep beneath the man made monuments of death, known as the pyramids. When the great escape artist Harry Houdini visits the land of the Pharaohs, he is forced to perform an escape from terrors unknown to those who breathe the earthly air.
As someone who loves Amelia Peabody and Theodosia Throckmorton, I can't deny my affection for this tale. If you have some time, do give a listen. (This is Part 1 of 2 in a series.)

Monday Poetry Stretch - Abecedarian Poems

It's time this week to revisit and old (i.e. - one we've already played with) form. An abecedarian poem is one in which the verses or words begin with successive letters of the alphabet. Here is an excerpt from a poem found in The Monarch's Progress: Poems With Wings by Avis Harley.
Wintering Over
by Avis Harley


Psalm 119 (King James numbering) is also an abecedarian poem. has more information about the abecedarian form.

So, the challenge this week is to write in the abecedarian form. Leave me a comment about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Poetry Friday - This Morning in a Morning Voice

I get a great deal of poetry in my mailbox, which is always a lovely treat each morning. These are the e-mails I save for last, savoring each one. I get messages from Daily Lit, where I've read volumes by Walt Whitman and Paul Laurence Dunbar in daily installments. During April, May and June I received daily poems from the American Academy of Poets Poem-A-Day service. There are also the poems I receive every so often through my e-mail subscription to Gotta Book.

In addition to these delights in my inbox, I am always thrilled to receive the latest column from American Life in Poetry. A project of Ted Kooser's, American Life in Poetry is dedicated solely to promoting poetry. It does this by providing newspapers and online publications with a FREE weekly column featuring contemporary American poems.

My poem this week from that column and is dedicated to father's everywhere.
This Morning in a Morning Voice
by Todd Boss

to beat the froggiest
of morning voices,
my son gets out of bed
and takes a lumpish song
along--a little lyric

Read the entire poem. When you follow this link you'll also be able to hear Boss read his poem.
The round up is being hosted by Carol at Carol's Corner. Do stop by and take in all the great poetry being shared this week. Before you go, be sure to check out this week's poetry stretch results. Happy poetry Friday all!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Blogging Lite

I have a stack of books a mile high just begging to be reviewed. I have two thematic book lists waiting to be polished. There is much I wish to do here.

I am teaching two intensive summer school classes. I teach for 6 hours (back-to-back classes) on Monday and Wednesday evenings.
I have three grant projects gearing up for the summer.
I am being swallowed by work.

I am worried about neglecting my blog.

I promise to return to a more regular schedule in a week or so. Until then, hang in there with me. I'll be back.

Poetry Stretch Results - A Rhyming Adventure

The challenge this week was to generate a list of rhyming words inspired by your surroundings and then write a poem inspired by them. Here are the results.
Tiel Aisha Ansari from Knocking From Inside shares a poem entitled Mallow.

Jane Yolen left this poem in the comments.

    “If the sky falls we shall catch larks”

    There is a stone on my mantle,
    Just the one, carved with a phrase
    That stops the heart. I am alone,
    My birder husband gone these three years,
    Under a large stone in a garden of stones.
    So the sky has fallen, I am undone,
    No one to point out the larks.
    But when I look at the bones
    Of his face in photos, remember the tone of his voice,
    honed to a whisper in his last days,
    I am thrown into the maelstrom
    Of wind, earth, sky, the unknown,
    And there are larks, larks singing to the throne of God.

    © 2009 Jane Yolen
Julie Larios from The Drift Record shares a poem entitled What Day Does.
I've had a really hard time writing since my dad died. I thought it would be easier than this, but I see a little bit of him in everything. My rhyming list was inspired by the items on my bookshelves and mantle. I finally settled on the jade monkey I bought him in Tibet a few years ago.
The jade monkey holding a peach
sits on the shelf, just within reach.
I pat his bald head and smile,
remembering the negotiation--
dueling calculators the mode of
Instead of words there were
head shakes,
double takes,
rolled eyes,
threatened goodbyes
and sighs of exasperation.
With determination came
celebration, and the purple
monkey was mine.

A gift for my father I
didn’t bother to wrap it,
placing it instead amongst
his growing menagerie.

Now it’s mine again,
this symbol of longevity
that failed to fulfill
it’s destiny.
It's not too late if you still want to play. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll add it to the list.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday Poetry Stretch - A Rhyming Adventure

I've been reading The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by Stephen Fry. I find it in turns both hilarious and instructive. It is also very well written. In the Foreword he writes:
I cannot teach you how to be a great poet or even a good one. Dammit, I can't teach myself that. But I can show you how to have fun with the modes and forms of poetry as they have developed over the years.
I find writing in rhyme particularly difficult and so have been working my way through the samples and exercises on rhyme. Here's the one I want to try this week.
Take your notebook and wander about the house and garden, if you have one. If you are not reading this at home, then wander around your office, hospital ward, factory floor or prison cell. If you are outside or on a train, plane or bus, in a café, brothel or hotel lobby you can still do this. Simply note down as many things as you can see, hear or smell. They need not be nouns, you can jot down processes, actions, deeds. So, if you are in a café, you might write down: smoking, steam, raincoat, lover's tiff, cappuccino machine, sipping, flapjacks, cinnamon, jazz music, spilt tea, and so on -- whatever strikes the eye, ear or nose. Write a list of at least twenty words. When you've done that, settle down and one more see how many rhymes you can come up with for each word. You may find that this simple exercise gets your poetic saliva glands so juiced up that the temptation to turn words into poetry becomes irresistible. Yield to it. A random, accidental and arbitrary consonance of word sounds can bring inspiration where no amount of pacing, pencil chewing and looking out of the window can help.
So there's your challenge for the work. Come up with a series of rhyming words inspired by your surroundings and turn them into a poem. Leave me a comment about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Book Review - A Taste For Red

I will admit that I am rather shallow when it comes to book covers. I DO use them to judge a book. That's why I picked this one up as soon as I saw it on the shelf.
But ultimately, it was the sentence on the bottom that convinced me I had to have this book. Below the author's name it reads:
What happens when your sixth-grade science teacher might also be your immortal enemy?
Hello?! Former middle school science teacher here! So, on the outside we have a fabulous cover and a great hook. Inside we have a delicious, well-written tale that gleefully winds it way to an ending that simply begs for a sequel (or two or three). Did I mention that it's just plain fun?

Meet Stephanie, now calling herself Svetlana, a sixth grader who has recently moved from Texas to California and is entering public school (middle school no less) after being home-schooled by her mother. She has taken to eating only red foods (white too because they're "neutral"). The lunches she packs for herself are composed of things like cranberry juice, strawberries, a ham sandwich, and red velvet cake.

Svetlana's friends, Fumio Chen and Dwight Foote are nicely developed characters (and I do mean characters) and add quite a bit of charm to the story. You'll also find the typical popular girls, but it's when they disappear that things get interesting.

Svetlana believes she's a vampire. When her new science teacher, Ms. Larch, talks to her without speaking (she whispers words in her mind without ever moving her lips), Svetlana wonders what she is and how they're connected. It's the sweet old lady next door, Lenora Bones, who tells Svetlana who Ms. Larch really is, while teaching Svetlana a bit about herself. Here's an excerpt.
How had the Bone Lady gotten in and out of my hideout so fast? There was more to that old woman than met the eye, even beyond the fact that she kept a knife in her boot. Ms. Bones obviously believed that the three girls had run afoul of the so-called Kensington Vampire. Now that she knew Ms. Larch was the woman she sought and that she was a teacher at Sunny Hill Middle School, Lenora Bones had connected the missing girls to her. But could it be true?
When Ms. Bones has an accident, it's up to Svetlana to deal with the Kensington Vampire.

I could say more, but I don't want to spoil the ending. There was one twist that I didn't see coming that was both stunning and hilarious. When things got to the nail biting stage I found myself cheering for Svetlana and her friends. You will too. This is an enchanting romp that middle school kids will thoroughly enjoy. I hope Mr. Harris is hard at work on a sequel, because I'm ready for one.

Book: A Taste for Red
Author: Lewis Harris
Publisher: Clarion Books
Publication Date: June, 2009
Pages: 176 pages
Grades: 4-8
ISBN: 978-0547144627
Source of Book:
Copy purchased at a local independent bookstore.

Teaching Respect for Native Peoples

For several years now I've been teaching a class that integrates the teaching of science and social studies for pre-service elementary teachers. In it we tackle a variety of topics, one of which is how we treat the subject of Native Americans in the classroom. Reading children's books inevitably comes up as part of this. For all my experience teaching kids and this class, I simply come up short in this area. While there are many books, web sites and blogs to guide me, I am convinced that nothing short of first-hand experience will deepen my understanding.

That's why I'm so thrilled to report that Oyate will be coming to the University of Richmond to offer a workshop on Teaching Respect for Native Peoples. Even though I am coordinating the administrative aspects of the workshop, I will be enrolled as a student (since I have much to learn). If you are in the Richmond area and have an interest in attending, please contact me for more information. Here are just a few of the particulars.
The workshop will be held August 3-6, from 7:00 am – 6:00 pm, in the Richmond Room of the Heilman Dining Center. Breakfast and lunch will be provided Monday through Thursday. On Friday, August 7th, participants will meet in Richmond to view the “Beyond Jamestown” and “Family Portraits” exhibits which are sponsored by the Indian Heritage Program of the Virginia Foundations for the Humanities. They will also meet Virginia Indian educators and hear first-hand the experiences of contemporary Native people.

The cost for the week-long workshop is $650. All workshop materials, three books and two posters, and breakfast and lunch each day are included in the price. Participants who wish to enroll for graduate credit may do so at no additional cost.
You'll be hearing more about this as the time draws near. I also hope to blog each evening as I reflect on my experiences.

In My Dreams I Am Sexy

"In my dreams I am sexy. (That’s why they’re awesome.)"

No, I'm not the one who said it. That would be Gene Luen Yang in his interview in this month's Notes From The Horn Book. This issue is just chock-full of goodness. If you don't get this one in your mailbox (of the electronic variety) each month, you don't know what you're missing. Head on over and give it a gander.

Poetry Friday - Locks

I'm in again this week with a poem by Neil Gaiman.
by Neil Gaiman

We owe it to each other to tell stories,
as people simply, not as father and daughter.
I tell it to you for the hundredth time:

"There was a little girl, called Goldilocks,
for her hair was long and golden,
and she was walking in the Wood and she saw — "
"— cows." You say it with certainty,

remembering the strayed heifers we saw in the woods
behind the house, last month.

"Well, yes, perhaps she saw cows,
but also she saw a house."

Read the entire poem.

You can read other poems like this at The Journal of Mythic Arts: Fairy Tale Poems.

The round up is hosted at the blog Critique de Mr. Chompchomp. Do stop by and take in all the great poetry being shared this week. Before you go, be sure to check out the great fairy tale poems written for this week's poetry stretch. Happy poetry Friday all!

Poetry Stretch Results - Spinning Tales

This week's challenge was to write a poem based on a folktale, fairy tale or legend. Here are the results. What fun we had!
Jane Yolen left this poem in the comments.

    Not for me the soft grey hood,
    flanneled, drawstringed,to perfection.
    Not for me the silken red hood
    Sewn with motherly perfection.
    a sop to wolves and woodcutters both;
    Not for me these old school tropes,
    I touch the now, the new, the never;
    I live on chocolate and on hopes.

    I go camouflaged into the forest,
    sit under a low-hanging live oak.
    Disguised by clothing and by silence
    I watch all the fairy tale folk
    walk, run, leap, fly by.
    I would rather read their expressions
    parse each fast-beating made-up heart.
    This has become my chief obsession:
    I do not want to be one of them,
    but watch in simple silent laughter;
    for none of them--not hero, not wolf
    gets to live happy ever after.

    @2009 Jane Yolen
Julie Larios from The Drift Record left this poem in the comments.
    Three gold coins.
    Three wishes wished.
    Three magic seeds
    and three magic fish.
    Three bad guesses.
    three real tears—
    now the sea is salty
    now the seeds are years,
    now the threes are doubles,
    now the doubles, one;
    now the world is spinning
    ‘til it comes undone.
    Now you are a changeling,
    now you are a haunt,
    now you're hardly here at all,
    and now you're not.
    Now you're just the wind
    as it moves through leaves,
    I can hear you whispering:
    one, two, three.
Harriet from spynotes shares a poem called The Day the Sky Fell.

Laura Salas shares a poem called Obsession by Prince Charming.

Elaine from Wild Rose Reader has a Q and A poem.

Sara Lewis Holmes from Read*Write*Believe shares a cento for the frog princes entitled and we leap up to become.

Beloved Haiku Dreams shares a poem entitled She Came . . . As Fore Told.
I wrote several poems this week. Here's one of them.
A Prince’s Lament

I hate these clothes
this collar
these britches

They’re binding
and itch
I cannot breathe
or stretch
or hop

Thrown against a wall
and transformed
living a life
I despise
Don’t get me started
on the wife

I cannot eat or sleep
when I want
nor DO
what I want

How I long for the cool
of the pool
the song of the pond
my friends in the water

Each day I leave the castle
in search of a witch
(a real one)
longing to be cursed
and set free
It's not too late if you still want to play. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll include it in the results.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Top 10 SF/Fantasy for Youth: 2009

I mentioned I've been in a bit of fantasy/fairy tale mood as of late. While looking for titles I came across this list from Booklist. Have you seen it? (I was away when this came out, so forgive me if it's old news.) Published in the May 15th issue you'll find a list of Top 10 SF/Fantasy for Youth.

The books on this list were all published in the last 12 months and include a Newbery Medal winner and two Printz Honor Books. Several of the titles appeared in School Library Journal's Battle of the Books. Also included is Grace Lin's recently released book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. In addition to Grace's book, the one I really want to read is The Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia by Cindy Pon. Take a look at the trailer and tell me you're not just a little bit intrigued.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Frog and Toad Anew

Last year at an estate auction a set of bound pamphlets handwritten and illustrated by Arnold Lobel were discovered. These rhyming stories about frogs and toad are being published with color added to the black and white paintings in the manuscripts by his daughter, Adrianne Lobel.

You can hear the full story at NPR in the charming piece 'Frog and Toad' Leap Off the Page Again. You can also view a very cute audio slide show.

You can take a look inside the book at the Harper Collins web site. You can also view a nice video of Adrianne Lobel talking about the book and its creation.

And last but not least, Elaine gives us a fine review over at Wild Rose Reader.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Monday Poetry Stretch - Spinning Tales

On Friday I mentioned that I've been reading The Poets' Grimm: 20th Century Poems from Grimm's Fairy Tales for quite some time. I really have been savoring these poems. Here are two I've highlighted this year.
Jane Yolen has a poem in this book as well. It's entitled Fat is Not a Fairy Tale.

Other poets you'll find in this volume include Julia Alvarez, Margaret Atwood, Lucille Clifton, Carol Ann Duffy, Barbara Hamby, Randall Jarrell, Amy Lowell, Gregory Orr, Anne Sexton, Joyce Thomas, and many more.

I have been on a steady diet of fantasy and fairy tales in recent weeks. Since these themes keep recurring, I thought it would be a good time to use this topic for a poetry stretch. So, your challenge this week is to write a poem inspired by a fairy tale, legend, bit of folklore, or fantasy. Use any form you like. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

48 Hour Book Challenge - Final Numbers

Here are my final stats.
Books Read - 6 and a half, listened to 1/3 of another (What can I say? I'm a slow reader!)
Time Spent Reading - 21 hours
Time Blogging/Reviewing - 45 minutes

TOTAL TIME - 21 hours and 45 minutes
If you want to check out the updates from the weekend, you'll find them here.
I must now go back to the work of grading and preparing for class tomorrow. Reviews and final thoughts coming soon!

48 Hour Book Challenge - Update 7

I must go make dinner, but before I do, here is how I finished the day.
Time Reading - 5:30 - 7:00 (1.5 hours)
Book Read - half of Letters from Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes
I'll be back after kitchen duty to tally the results.

48 Hour Book Challenge - Update 6

I finally got wise and decided to listen to an audiobook while doing the mindless work of laminating and cutting. I'm still not finished, but I got a good bit of listening in on a book I've had in the queue for a long time.
Time Reading - 3:00 - 5:00 (2 hours)
Book Read - M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman
Time Blogging - 5 minutes
I've told the family I won't be making dinner until AFTER my time expires. Hey, they can eat a few snacks until then! Since I'm making a donation to Flying Horse Farms based on the number of hours read, I'm pushing myself a little. I won't make 25 hours, but still plan to donate $50.

My final book? I've decided to spend some time reading the letters written to Box #5667. This one's a "new" old favorite. I've read it before, but it's a heartfelt book that I adore and just seemed like a perfect title to the mark the end of the challenge.

I'll be back later with my final update and (hopefully) some reviews!

48 Hour Book Challenge - Update 5

After mass this morning I took myself out to breakfast, did a bit of shopping, and came home to a heap of laundry. I did eventually get back to reading. I'm taking a break now to go to school for a bit of work (laminating) and to grade some papers. I do hope to get in a few more hours before my time is up at 7:00 pm. My guess is that the reviews and wrap-up will come after I'm off the clock.
Time Reading - 11:00 -2:00 (3 hours)
Books Read - Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston
Time Blogging - 5 minutes
If you're counting, that's 17.5 hours. I think my total last year was 18 hours. (I'd check this but all my posts from last year are gone--who knows why? I certainly can't explain it!) I should just pass this mark. I don't think I'm going to jump into Book 6 just yet, so I'll need to mull over the book that will carry me through to the end.

I'll be back later. Happy reading to you!

48 Hour Book Challenge - Update 4

Good morning early birds! I just packed husband and son off to work, but I will soon be getting ready for 8:30 mass, not reading. Here's how I fared after an hour of bedtime reading last night.
Time Reading - 10:00 -12:30 (2.5 hours)
Books Read - Finished The Sorceress: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
Time Blogging - 5 minutes
So far I have 14.5 hours under my belt, but I'm pretty sure I won't make the 20+ club. If it warms up we'll be heading to the pool. There are also papers to grade and some materials to laminate. for class tomorrow I also have a few reviews to write before I begin Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston.

Enjoy the morning! I'll be back later.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

48 Hour Book Challenge - Update 3

We had lunch out today, got to sit in a fire truck, (because even the local fire department went to free ice cream day!) and rearranged my son's room. I also made dinner and cleaned up the kitchen. The house is not falling apart around my ears, and that's a good and rather amazing thing. Here's where I am now.
Time Reading - 5:00 -9:00 (4 hours)
Books Read - Finished The Robe of Skulls: The First Tale From the Five Kingdoms by Vivian French and nearly 2/3 of the way through The Sorceress: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
Time Blogging - 5 minutes
I must read to my son and put him to bed, so no book reviews yet, but I'll get there some time tomorrow.

I have gone through a series of macabre and fantastical reads, moving in the last two from one aging sorceress to another, though I don't think Perenelle Flamel is evil. And forgive the spoilers please but can I just say ... Shakespeare and Billy the Kid?! I am having WAY too much fun.

I'll be back on the clock after bedtime reading. So long for now.

48 Hour Book Challenge - Update 2

Moving right along this morning, this is where I find myself.
Time Reading - 8:30 -11:30 (3 hours)
Books Read - A Taste for Red by Lewis Harris and nearly half of The Robe of Skulls: The First Tale From the Five Kingdoms by Vivian French
Time Blogging - 5 minutes
I will be blog a bit later about these books, but let me just say that A Taste for Red was a lot of fun. Here's an excerpt.
"There's something wrong about Ms. Larch. I can't explain it, but I know it. I knew it the moment I stepped into her classroom." I didn't want to go overboard, but the words came spilling out. "She's just strange. The way she looks and acts. The way she dresses. It's like she's some kind of alien fashion model."

"Hey, you don't have to lose a beauty contest to be a science teacher. I like looking at Ms. Larch a lot more than I ever liked looking at Mr. Boyd--although he was definitely funnier."

Boys are so limited.
More about this book later, as well as some thoughts about Robe of Skulls when I am finished. For now I am now officially off the clock.

Did you know that it's FREE ICE CREAM DAY at Friendly's? That's right, you get one free scoop between 12 and 5. William and I are going out to lunch and then for some ice cream. I also promised to help him rearrange his room this weekend. So, I have 8 hours under my belt. That will suffice until later this afternoon when I can get back to it. I hope those of you reading are enjoying the time. I sure am having fun.

48 Hour Book Challenge - Update 1

Here are my stats so far.
Time Reading - 7:30 pm-12:30 am (5 hours)
Books Read - How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Time Blogging - 20 minutes
At this point I can't stop thinking about How to Steal a Dog. So much heartbreak, so much pride, so many moral dilemmas. At first, I could understand (sort of) Mama working to get them a new place. But when Georgiana said "Maybe you could act like a mother," I felt like I'd been punched in the gut. She goes on to say this.
"Mothers are supposed to take care of their kids," I said. "Not let them sleep in creepy old houses and wash up in the bathroom at McDonald's."
And then the questions started in earnest. What would I do if I found myself in a similar? Would I swallow my pride and do what was best for my son? Would I ask for help? Would I hide it and try to fix it myself? Then I thought about William and the notion of taking only one bag of belongings. What would he take? How would he ever choose? Would he ever get over being forced to do it?

I found myself angry with Mr. White. We train our teachers to recognize signs of abuse and neglect. Surely he must have seen the changes. Why wasn't he more proactive? I actually know the answer to this one, having been in the unenviable position of reporting families to social services. It's hard to know you have set in motion the ultimate act of a child being removed from a home, even when it may be the best thing for the child. It's just hard to see the good you may be doing when you're in the midst of the turmoil.

When we train preservice teachers to recognize child abuse and neglect we watch videos, listen to guest speakers from social services, and do some role playing. I think I'm going to add reading a few excerpts from this book. Here is one set that would generates some good discussion about what a teacher should be doing/thinking.
I studied myself in the mirror of the bathroom at McDonald's. My hair hung in greasy clumps on my forehead. Creases from the crumpled-up clothes I had slept on were still etched in the side of my face. (p. 47)

Mr. White had said plenty. He'd said how he couldn't understand my bad attitude lately. And he was so disappointed in my lack of effort recently. And then he had to go and ask me if everything was all right at home. (p. 50)
There's more. Lots more. I won't tell you the ending, but I cried when Georgina confessed all to Carmella. I cried at the end. And now, I can't stop thinking about it.

When I finished I went straight for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, knowing I needed a bit of comic relief. I certainly found it. My favorite part? The independent study project on building a robot.

That's it for now. Breakfast has been made and cleaned up. Dad's gone to work. William is reading and doing some coloring. Time for some reading of my own.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Let the Reading Begin!

The kitchen is clean and everyone has their marching orders. My pajamas are on and I'm about to curl up with How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor.

Beginning in 5..4..3..2..1..
Start Time: 7:30 pm

48 Hour Book Challenge - Caving In to Peer Pressure

I swore I wasn't going to do it this year. My first year participating (2007) I had just returned from China and was exhausted. I did get a few books read, but not nearly as many as I'd hoped. Last year I never got out of my pajamas on Saturday, but still didn't match the output of some folks. I don't know how some of those speed readers did it!

Given that I was away from home for quite a while recently, I didn't feel right asking to spend a whole weekend reading. However, I have given in to the need to read. I probably won't reach the hours I put in last year (18?), but I'm certainly going to have fun reading what's on my pile. Here's what I have.
I'll be posting updates throughout the weekend once I start reading. This year I'll be donating $2 for every hour I read to . . .
Flying Horse Farms

Okay, I'm off to make dinner and get my life in order so I can begin the challenge. More later.

Poetry Friday - Instructions

I've been reading The Poets' Grimm: 20th Century Poems from Grimm's Fairy Tales for quite a while now. There are so many good pieces in it. Today I'm sharing a poem by Neil Gaiman.
by Neil Gaiman

Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never
      saw before.
Say "please" before you open the latch,
go through,
walk down the path.
A red metal imp hangs from the green-painted
      front door,
as a knocker,
do not touch it; it will bite your fingers.
Walk through the house. Take nothing. Eat

Read the entire poem.

Better yet, listen to Neil read it himself.
The round up is hosted by Sara Lewis Holmes at Read*Write*Believe. Do stop by and take in all the wonderful poetry being shared this week. Before you go, be sure to check out this week's poetry stretch results. Happy poetry Friday all!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Poetry Stretch Results - Food Poems

The challenge this week was to write a poem inspired by food. Here are the results.
Julie Larios from The Drift Record left this poem in the comments.
    Higgeldy piggledy
    Mandarin Cookery
    uses some spices,
    some garlic (and how…)
    Even when I’m in the
    Great Land of Noddery
    I am still dreaming of
    Lang's hot kung pao.
Kirby Larson from Kirby's Lane left this poem in the comments. Welcome Kirby!
    I pad
    barefoot, nightgowned
    to fill my bowl clean up
    with blueberries juicy and cool -
Violet from Book Brew shares a poem entitled Making Yogurt.

Jane Yolen left this poem in the comments.
    Diet Sigh: A Haiku

    Day I eat small bits.
    Night I dream of chocolate.
    I do not lose weight.

    @2009 Jane Yolen
Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader shares a number of food poems, a few of which are about a few summer favorites, like blueberries and marshmallows (properly toasted, of course).

Greg didn't write this for the stretch this week, but the topic fits beautifully, so I'm including it here! Check out Doughnuts! Oh, Doughnuts! by Greg K. at Gotta Book.
Here is one of the poems I worked on. I couldn't seem to get sweets out of my mind, though potato chips were a very close second.
Can one word be a poem?

How about two?
Homemade, of course,
not foam sprayed from a can
or thick stuff from a tub
but heavy cream and sugar
whipped in an ice cold,
stainless steel bowl
until mountainous peaks
rise and hold
just waiting for
a finger swipe
of delicious.

Can a sound be a poem?
It's not too late if you still want to play. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll add it to the list.

Looking for Bradbury

Next to Jane Austen, Ray Bradbury has always been one of my favorite authors. I still have my well-worn copies of Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Illustrated Man, two books that I read many times over during junior high (it wasn't called middle school back then!) and high school.

I was thrilled to learn that at 90, Bradbury is still writing. Check out the article Ray Bradbury Remains Vital Reading to learn more.

Looking for Inspiration? - Read About the Teacher of the Year

Don't you love it when you start your day with a good cry? You know the kind of cry I mean. It's the one brought on by something so good and heartwarming that you just can't help it. This morning it was an interview with Anthony Mullen, the 2009 National Teacher of the Year that did it. If you have some time and are in need of a little inspiration, head on over and check it out.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Finding Mistakes - Horrid Henry Has a Doozy!

I know that errors in books are often common. These things do happen. This one was found last night by my son, and given that it's one of my pet peeves as an educator, I had to share it. You can find it in Horrid Henry Tricks the Tooth Fairy (p. 88).
Perfect Peter jumped to his feet.
"But. . . but--" spluttered Perfect Peter.
"Now!" screamed Mr. Nerdon. "How dare you! To the principle!"
"AAAGGGHHHH," shrieked Peter.
He slunk off to the principal's office, weeping.
Told you it was a doozy. I'm rather proud of my 8-year old for catching it. Let's hope it gets fixed in the next print run.

P.S. - Mistake aside, he is enjoying the books in this series. I can hear him giggling while he reads and he often stops to say, "Mom, you've got to hear this!"

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Book Review - Pennies for Elephants

Would you contribute money to buy an elephant for your local zoo? How about three of them? In 1914, the children of Boston raised $6000 (using the Consumer Price Index for comparison, that's relatively equivalent to $128,385 today) to buy elephants for the Franklin Park Zoo. Lita Judge's new book, Pennies for Elephants, is a fictional account of that event.

The book opens with a newsboy hawking a paper and shouting the words "Pennies for elephants! Pennies for elephants! Send in your pennies, your nickels, and dimes!" Walking past the newsboy is a snooty couple, walking an equally snooty dog, obviously paying no attention to the enterprising young man. But when a boy and a girl (siblings) stop to look at the headline, they learn that three elephants will be given to the city zoo if the children of Boston can collect $6000 in two months. As soon as they read that headline, Dorothy and Henry are off to do their part, though emptying their piggy banks is only the beginning of their efforts to give the elephants a home. Along with other children in the city they shovel snow, host tea parties and magic shows, wash windows and neighborhood pets--ANYTHING to raise money for the elephants.

While the illustrations depict the goings-on, the pages are also sprinkled with newspaper clippings containing updates on the money raising efforts. It is clear that these are inspired by actual accounts. As stated in the author's note (cleverly disguised as a newspaper article on end pages of the book):
The Post's newly appointed "elephant editor" ran stories every day from March to June. Every donation, from one cent up, was acknowledged in a daily list of contributors.
Fenway park makes an appearance in this book, as do a children's marching band, three performing elephants, a Studebaker, a child on stilts, a Boston Post newsie, and much more. The illustrations place the reader squarely in the midst of the time period and add a great deal of depth to the story. My son and I have been reading this nearly every night since we received it, and he's still finding new things in the illustrations and asking lots of questions. (For example, "Why are there cars AND horse drawn carriages? What is that furry thing on that ladies' arm? (A muffler.) Did the tooth fairy really only leave a nickel back then? (Inflation.) What's stuck in that man's eye? (A monocle.) Could you really buy a dress for $1.59? What kind of a camera was that?" and so on.) We, in turn, have been doing research (together) to answer these questions.

To learn more about the book, take a look at this trailer. It includes original newspaper pictures so you can see that the characters in the book were inspired by real people.
At the Pennies for Elephants web site you will find downloadable activities, a timeline describing world events, newspaper clippings from the time, and much more.

Both the text and illustrations have much to recommend it, but in the end, this is ultimately a heartwarming book that will make you pull for the kids right up to the cheer-inducing end. Recommended with enthusiasm.

Book: Pennies for Elephants
Author/Illustrator: Lita Judge
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Publication Date: June, 2009
Pages: 40 pages
Grades: preK-4
ISBN: 978-1423113904
Source of Book:
Copy received from author.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Monday Poetry Stretch - Food Glorious Food!

We're coming upon the time of year when I could eat a tomato sandwich for lunch every day and be perfectly happy. My son would eat corn on the cob at every meal if I allowed it. Lately I've had to cut him off at three ears at dinner. If I let him go on there would be no corn left for the rest of us! We've had grilled vegetables three times in the last week, and as soon as the tomatoes come out, it will be Panzanella at least once a week!

Summer is my least favorite time of year, so it is only the seasonal goodness of the fruits and vegetables that helps me through the heat and humidity. Obviously, I've got food on my mind! I thought it would be fun to write poetry about food this week. It could be an ode to your favorite or most despised food. It could be a memory about food. Well, it could be anything and take any form, as long as some type of food is the focus.

Have fun. I can't wait to read the (hopefully) delicious results! Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results later this week.

Nonfiction Monday - A Caldecott Celebration

To celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Caldecott Medal, Leonard Marcus wrote a book that profiled six artists who won the medal from each decade since the award's inception. That book was updated in 2008 and expanded to include a seventh artist. A Caldecott Celebration: Seven Artists and Their Path to the Caldecott Medal features Robert McCloskey (1942), Marcia Brown, (1955) Maurice Sendak (1964), William Steig (1970), Chris Van Allsburg (1982), David Wiesner, (1992) and Mordicai Gerstein (2004).

I picked this one up at the library last week because five of the seven titles highlighted made Fuse #8's Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results and Betsy's thoughtfully written reviews made me want to know more about their creation. Here's where they landed on her list.
#1: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963)
#6: Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (1941)
#29: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig (1969)
#43: Tuesday by David Wiesner (1991)
#51: Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg (1981)
I also picked this up because my 8-year old is completely fascinated by the process of creating a book. While we didn't read this one cover-to-cover together, we spent a lot of time looking at sketches and reading excerpts about how each title came to fruition. Since we own six of the seven books, we also reread them after we learned about how they were made.

In writing this book, Marcus interviewed the seven winners. Each chapter provides background information about the artist and describes the evolution of the book, complete with sketches, book dummies and more. In the introduction he writes:
Books bearing medals have the look of things that have been with us forever. But the truth, of course, is that someone, sometime, had to draw (and probably redraw) the pictures and write (and revise) the words. Certainly none of the seven Caldecott books described in the pages that follow just happened. None started out polished and complete. You are about to meet the people who made them. And you are about to see seven works of art as ideas in the making: sketches and scribbles on the way to becoming books that readers prize.
It is the stories behind the stories that makes this book such a gem. One of my favorites is the story of how McCloskey came to draw ducks.
... McCloskey studied mallard specimens at the American Museum of Natural History and discussed duck anatomy with an expert on birds. Still not satisfied, he bought some live ducks at the city market to serve as models. Sixteen ducks eventually came to live with him.

Also sharing McCloskey's Greenwich Village apartment at the time was fellow artist Marc Simont. Simont (who went on to win the 1957 Caldecott Medal for A Tree is Nice, by Janice May Udry, Harper & Brothers) recalls, [Ducks] wake up at the break of day and don't want you to sleep anymore either. They raised a terrible racket." The ducks ate a kind of feed called mash, which the artist brought home in big sacks. Because there would be duck droppings wherever the birds went, a good supply of tissues became another necessity.
This excerpt reminded me of something Nic Bishop described in the notes to his book Frogs.
I also had fun looking after some of the frogs in this book at home. I reared them from babies, until there were big enough to photograph. A few, like my gliding frogs, are now favorite pets. They wake me some nights with their gentle singing.
Not having any artistic talent for drawing or painting, I find I'm especially impressed by the dedication of picture book artists and often astounded by the lengths to which they go to for their work.

I thoroughly enjoyed the stories Marcus shares and the insights gained about these talented folks. For anyone interested in the making of a book, this title is quiet gem that inspires, entertains, and will have you rushing headlong to reread not only these medal winners, but other books created by the artists. Recommended with enthusiasm.

I recommend pairing this one with Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children about Their Art.

Book: A Caldecott Celebration: Seven Artists and Their Path to the Caldecott Medal
Author: Leonard Marcus
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: February, 2008
Pages: 64 pages
Grades: 4-9
ISBN: 978-0802797032
Source of Book: Henrico County Public Library.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. This week our host is Jennifer at Jean Little Library. Do stop by and see what others are sharing in the world of nonfiction today.