Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday Poetry Stretch - Picture Day

Okay, follow the bouncing ball (remember those sing-alongs?) and you'll get to this week's challenge with me. I just need to take a minute to explain the inspiration for this one, and it's not a straight line. Or is it?

This weekend Gail Gauthier wrote a short bit about author photos and linked to an article in The Guardian about an author and journalist who withdrew from a literary festival when the town Council refused to print her picture because it "went against its responsibility to encourage "good health habits." The picture in question showed the author smoking. Huh.

I started thinking about this and the angst some folks feel about having their picture taken. I was surprised that this notion hit home yesterday morning when my son refused to have his picture taken over breakfast. He'd spent several days during the week with his Aunt Lauri and I wanted to take a picture of them together. He was having none of it. *Sigh*

Later in the day my son and I were organizing his room, he having cleaned up most of it on Saturday. While putting assorted items in stackable bins (this was actually fun for me!), we were listening to an old Justin Roberts CD and the song Picture Day came on. As we sang and danced around I realized what we needed to write about this week.

So, if you've followed along this far, you know I'm thinking about being photographed. Laura Purdie Salas, one of the regulars here, has a wonderful poem about picture day in her book Stampede! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School.

Now that you've had a bit of inspiration, will you play along? Write a poem about having your picture taken, or a picture of yourself that you love (or hate!), or about taking photos of others. Whatever your inspiration for piece, leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Books for Elementary Science - Process Skills

The semester has begun and my preservice teachers have already begun reading books and writing blog posts. This week they're tackling process skills. You'll find book suggestions, curriculum connections, and links to additional resources for topics like the senses, measurement, the nature of science, and more. I'm thrilled that they've included biographies of scientists as well.

Last fall I had 13 students. This fall I have 33! While that means more grading for me, it means LOTS more books and great ideas for YOU! Head on over to Open Wide, Look Inside this week to see what they're sharing.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Chess Lover's Dream

In today's Guardian you'll find an article entitled Why Chess is a Perfect Game for Fiction. I couldn't agree more. I am not a great chess player (or even a good one for that matter), but I do enjoy playing the game, watching those more accomplished play it, tackling mathematical chess puzzles, and reading about chess. As of late I've taken up the playing of Chinese chess, a passion I developed after watching it played on the streets of Beijing and Shanghai.

Since I'm thinking so much about chess these days, I thought I'd take you on a brief tour of some of my favorite quotes, links and books about a game that generally amazes and humbles me.
I play the game for the game's own sake.
Sherlock Holmes

Then she brought the chessboard and played with him; but Sharrkan, instead of looking at her moves, kept gazing at her fair mouth, and putting knight in place of elephant and elephant instead of knight. She laughed and said to him, “If thy play be after this fashion, thou knowest naught of the game.” “This is only our first,” replied he, “judge not by this bout.” When she beat him he replaced the pieces in position and played again with her; but she beat him a second time, a third, a fourth and a fifth.
The Book of The Thousand Nights and A Night
Richard F. Burton

To learn about the rules of chess, chess notation, tactics, and more, visit these sites.

And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.
The Waste Land
T.S. Eliot
One of the earliest mentions of Chess in puzzles was by the Arabic mathematician Ibn Kallikan who, in 1256, posed the problem of the grains of wheat, 1 on the first square of the chess board, 2 on the second, 4 on the third, 8 on the fourth etc. There are several children's books that examine this problem. They are:

One of the earliest problems involving chess pieces was posed by Guarini di Forli, who in 1512 asked how two white and two black knights could be interchanged if they were placed at the corners of a 3 x 3 board (using normal knight's moves).

Brook Taylor first posed the problem of the Knight's Tour, in which a knight passes through all the squares on the board in one tour, without entering any square more than once. A closed tour is one in which the knight begins and ends on the same square. You can test your skill at Enchanted Mind JAVA Puzzles - Knight's Tour.

Another famous chessboard problem is the Eight queens problem. This problem asks in how many ways 8 queens can be placed on a chessboard so that no two attack each other.

Paulo Boi and the Devil and The Problem Cake are both chess problems with stories with drawings by V. Barthe.

Raymond Smullyan composed chess problems of retrograde analysis, in which the object was to deduce the past history of a game. Take a look at these retrograde analysis problems.

You can learn the basics of retrograde analysis as Sherlock Holmes teaches Dr. Watson by reading Smullyan's wonderfully written book, Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes: Fifty Tantalizing Problems of Chess Detection.

Knight: You play chess, do you not?
How do you know that?

I have seen it in paintings.

Yes, I am quite a skillful player.

But no more so than I.

Why do you wish to play chess with me?

That's my concern.

You're quite right.

As long as I resist you, I live. If I win, you set me free.

Sjunde inseglet, Det (The Seventh Seal)

Ingmar Bergman

To read about Julia, a young Madrid art restorer who is drawn into the world of chess and murder when she discovers the inscription "Who killed the knight?" on a Flemish painting, read the book The Flander's Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte. This book is well-written and was a bestseller in Spain and France, as well as a Times notable selection.

If after reading The Flander's Panel you become interested in art with chess as the subject (as I have), you may wish to visit the Chess Painting Gallery.

One of my favorite movies tells a story based on fact, about a young boy named Josh Waitzkin who was born with a gift for chess. Click here to read a review of Searching for Bobby Fischer.

In Ingmar Bergman's Sjunde inseglet, Det (The Seventh Seal), a knight returning from the Crusades finds most of medieval Europe ravished by the Black Plague. When Death appears to the knight and tells him it is his time, the knight challenges Death to a chess game for his life. This 1957, black-and-white movie is in Swedish with English subtitles. Get a glimpse of this classic by watching a video clip. (You'll find a bit of homage to this scene in the movie (500) Days of Summer.)

To read about alchemy, chess, computers, puzzles, Fibonacci numbers, music, magic squares, and more, follow the link to one of my favorite books, The Eight.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote a short story entitled All the King's Horses, in which a U.S. army colonel shot down behind enemy lines must play a game of chess using his family and other prisoners as the pieces. If he wins, the prisoners go free. However, during the match, any American piece captured will be executed immediately. You can find this story in the collection Welcome to the Monkey House.

As a stamp collector I have a special fondness for stamps with a chess theme. Listed below are some sites about chess on stamps.

Alice: It's a great huge game of chess that's being played -- all over the world --if this is the world at all, you know. Oh what fun it is! How I wish I was one of them! I wouldn't mind being a Pawn, if only I might join - though of course I should like to be Queen best.

Red Queen: That's easily managed. You can be the White Queen's Pawn if you like, as Lily's too young to play - and you're in the Second Square to begin with. When you get to the Eighth Square you'll be a Queen.
Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There
Lewis Carroll

If you still haven't seen enough chess resources online, here are a few more that you may find of interest.

© Patricia Stohr-Hunt. All rights reserved.

The Latest Kalman

Kalman's back, asking us to think about who we are and what we're doing here. It's pretty amazing. Take a minute (or two) to read I Lift My Lamp Beside the Golden Door.

Poetry Friday - A Spiral Notebook

I know I've posted this poem before, but I simply love it. Like Valerie Worth, Ted Kooser puts words together in a way that brings the most ordinary items gloriously to life. Since the poetry stretch this week was to write poems about school, this seemed most appropriate to share.
A Spiral Notebook
by Ted Kooser

The bright wire rolls like a porpoise
in and out of the calm blue sea
of the cover, or perhaps like a sleeper
twisting in and out of his dreams,
for it could hold a record of dreams
if you wanted to buy it for that

Read the poem in its entirety.
The round up this week is hosted by Kate Coombs at Book Aunt. Do stop by and take in all the great poems being shared. Before you go, be sure to check out the results of this week's poetry stretch. Happy poetry Friday all!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Poetry Stretch Results - Back to School

The challenge this week was to write a poem about school. Here are the results.
Jane Yolen left this poem in the comments.

    My friend teaches physics,
    writes his lesson plan to Led Zeppelin,
    his tests to the Rolling Stones.
    What next—finals to Cream?
    I cannot write even so small a piece
    as a single poem
    with rock standards blaring away,
    or I want to get up and dance.
    There has to be a physics answer,
    something to do with lights,
    with optics, with the speed of sound.

    © Jane Yolen
Julie Larios of The Drift Record left this poem in the comments.
    Pencil Box

    I put four bits on the counter
    and the box was mine.
    Six yellow pencils fit there
    side by side, I was perfectly addled,
    I was a goner – even before I knew
    the alphabet, I knew its cedar perfume –

    I flew over the high-humped bridge
    painted on the top, over the willow,
    the m-stroke for a bird, everything
    was suggestion then, before
    the putting on of too fine a point.
    People expected me to come

    to my senses, save the change
    in my burning pockets, after all
    the box was wooden, cheap
    Chinatown, but half a dollar
    went a long way
    toward heaven when heaven was closer.
Francesca of Making It Up left this poem in the comments.
    January 1 always confounds me.
    New year? Why? There is no hinge,
    No turning, no change.
    Selfish Janus, playing both sides.
    Those arbitrary, arrogant Romans might
    be satisfied but I know better.

    The year begins now.
    Summer browns and wilts and finally
    Surrenders its might.
    We shake it off like a dog does a bath,
    drops spattering the sidewalk
    landing all around, the dog already running.

    This is how it begins.
    Three fresh pencils in a case.
    An impatient marble notebook.
    New shoes. Packed lunch.
    Kettle-drum heart.
    And a thousand snail trails like silver arrows
    Pointing the way from summer
    To school.
Diane Mayr of Random Noodling left this senryu in the comments.
    nearly sixty
    still thinking the year
    runs september to june
Amy Ludwig WanDerwater left this poem in the comments.
    Please Bring:

    One guinea pig
    A poem each day
    Books about oceans
    Time just to play
    A listening ear

    (I made a supply list
    for teacher this year.)
Tiel Aisha Ansari of Knocking From Inside is sharing two poems, Higher Text and Balloons.

Jane Yolen came back to share an old favorite of hers.
    Crayons: A Rainbow Poem

    This box contains the wash of blue sky,
    spikes of green spring,
    a circle of yellow sun,
    triangle flames of orange and red.

    It has the lime caterpillar inching on a brown branch,
    the shadow black in the center of a grove of trees.

    It holds my pink
    and your chocolate
    and her burnt sienna
    and his ivory skin.

    In it are all the colors of the world.


    © Jane Yolen, all rights reserved
Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader revisits her days in Catholic school with A Back to School Poem.

Harriet of spynotes shares a rhyming back to school poem.

Kate Coombs of Book Aunt left this poem in the comment.
    Sack Lunch

    Turkey sandwich on whole wheat,
    not Wonder Bread to make
    into perfect white pills.
    The lettuce isn't crunchy,
    it's dark green like algae,
    an actual leaf.
    My apple won't shine—
    Mom took the shine off,
    she calls it wax. My carrots
    aren't orange bullets,
    they're pick-up sticks cut
    from skinny fern-top roots.
    When I begged for dessert,
    she said, "That's the apple."
    No chips in a foil bag
    with screaming letters
    and a neon cheetah,
    no goopy-hearted Twinkie
    hugged by sweet yellow cake.
    "Healthy food tastes better,"
    Mom told me. But I ask,
    I ask and I ask.
    No one wants to trade.
Linda of The Write Time left this poem in the comments.
    Last Year’s Sneakers

    Lie on the bedroom floor
    their smooth white skin
    scuffed by time—
    neon tangerine laces
    now pale apricot
    once unyielding
    now weak and worn

    Last year’s sneakers
    lie on the bedroom floor
    their replacements
    unboxed, laced up
    ready to run

    Last year’s sneakers
    lie on the bedroom floor
    tongues hanging out
    nothing to prove
    ready to rest
Andi of a wrung sponge shares a poem for her son.
I've been working on a number of poems. Here's a quick fib.
summer’s end
with sharpened pencils
poised to write vacation tell-alls
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.

Book Review - Spot the Plot

I've long been a fan of Greg K.'s (GottaBook blog) Oddaptations, his wonderfully astute, sometimes snarky, yet always poetic summaries of well-known children's books. That's why I was so excited to open my mail today to find a copy of Spot the Plot: A Riddle Book of Book Riddles.
Written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Lynn Munsinger, this imaginative collection of 13 plot summaries is pure poetry, and a whole lot of fun. Two children, dressed as detectives, and their dog appear on each double-page spread along with a host of clever hints in the illustrations. The combination of text and illustration provide the necessary clues for "discovering" the source of the plot.

For example, one spread contains an illustration in which the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, an ambulance, a house (covered in vines), and a number of yellow hats with black ribbons (12 of them!) are falling out of a large book. The poem that accompanies it reads:
Being brave
is all about
getting your
appendix out!

Ambulance comes
and takes away
lucky me
from school one day.

But it turns
my classmates blue—
they want an
appendix, too.

Paris, France,
is where I shine.
Fill me in—I'm
I had to share this one because it is about one of my favorite books from childhood. There are many good "plot poems" here, some rhyming, some not. The shortest poem in the book reads "Her hair's the stairs." Isn't that brilliant?! I loved it! My favorite poem is for one of my son's favorite books and begins this way.
Dear Mr. Farmer,

The letter we're typing
goes under griping!
The barn is too cold,
I won't give the rest of it away, but can you guess the title of the book from this snippet? I had a terrific time reading through the poems, scouring the illustrations for clues, and naming the books in question. I'll admit that there was one book in the group I did not know. In the flap copy about the book I learned that Lynn Munsinger actually illustrated that title. Having read the plot summary, I now know I must read that book!

All in all, this book was a wonderful read. Kids of all ages (and adults too!) will enjoy puzzling out the clues and determining the titles in question. Recommended for all elementary classroom and library collections. (I also think it would make a great substitute for AR quizzes on these books!)

Book: Spot the Plot: A Riddle Book of Book Riddles
Author: J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrator: Lynn Munsinger
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: August, 2009
Pages: 36 pages
Grades: K-4
ISBN: 978-0811846684
Source of Book:
Copy received from publisher.

Other Reviews

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday Poetry Stretch - Back to School

I didn't sleep a wink last night. That's because today is the first day of school. Even after all these years, I still get the first day jitters. I toss and turn thinking about what I'll wear, what my students will be like, and how that first meeting will go. I still get excited about school and all the great things I have to look forward to each year. Last night I imagined a can of talking pencils instucting the rest of the school supplies in their duties. (Yes, that was strange.)

I love school, always have and always will. I still love shopping for school supplies. One of my favorite things to do on the first day was to choose a desk in the front row so that I could be the first person to breathe in the smell of freshly minted ditto pages. If I close my eyes I can almost feel the damp pages and smell the purple ink. So, in honor of my first day back, and for all the first days still yet to to be celebrated, let's write this week in honor of school.

Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

**Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Poetry Friday - Elegance

I enjoy poems that look at the mundane and everyday and elevate them to the beautiful. Here is one that does just that.
by Linda Gregg

All that is uncared for.
Left alone in the stillness
in that pure silence married
to the stillness of nature.
A door off its hinges,
shade and shadows in an empty room.
Leaks for light. Raw where
the tin roof rusted through.

Read the entire poem.
The round up is being hosted by Kyle at The Boy Reader. Do stop by and take in all the great poetry being shared this week. I won't have access to a computer until Sunday, so please come back then to check out the results from this week's poetry stretch on 13 ways of looking at summer.  Happy poetry Friday all!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Nonfiction Monday - What Bluebirds Do

My backyard is full of birds. In the spring it brims with the color of cardinals and blue jays, as well as the noise of the woodpecker. I'm constantly looking for new ways to attract birds, and after reading Pamela Kirby's new book, I may just need to build myself a nest box.
What Bluebirds Do, written and photographed by Pamela Kirby, is the story of a pair of nesting Bluebirds and their young. In the Author's Note that precedes the text, Kirby describes how the story came to be.
As I sat in the blind that spring and watched those marvelous Bluebirds raise their families, I wanted to share their wonderful story with young readers. The story happened as it is written. The behaviors and events are actual. The Bluebirds lived the story. I took the images and lots of notes.
The book opens with a gorgeous full-page photo of a pair of Bluebirds and the accompanying text on the facing page.
This is a story of a pair of Eastern Bluebirds that built a nest in my backyard.

They laid eggs, hatched the eggs, and raised their chicks.
On the next double-page spread readers are introduced to the male and female birds (mom and dad). Closeup photos of each highlight the physical differences between the two. The following spread provides information about other birds that are blue and explains how the Indigo Bunting and Blue Jay are different from the Bluebird. From this point readers learn about the Bluebirds' courtship, their nest building, egg laying, hatching and growth of the chicks, first flight, and growth of the fledglings into little Bluebirds.

The text is written in simple, yet precise language. There is a glossary to help with difficult and/or unfamiliar terms, such as brood, fledgling, instinct, and roost. The text and photographs work extremely well-together, with photos providing clear, vibrant illustrations of the action. For example, on the page describing what baby Bluebirds ate ("mostly insects, worms, and berries") there is a photo of the female holding several mealworms and a caterpillar in her mouth, preparing to enter then nest. (You can see images from the book at Eastern Bluebirds and Eastern Bluebird Pair.)

Following the text is extensive back matter. Two pages are devoted to describing the three species of Bluebirds that live in North America: the Eastern Bluebird (chronicled in the book), the Mountain Bluebird, and the Western Bluebird. Two more pages are devoted to Bluebirds Through the Year, which detail a bit more of Bluebird behavior. Next are two pages devoted to Bringing Back the Bluebirds (did you know they were once in danger of disappearing?) and Bluebirds in Your Yard, which briefly describes where to find information about attracting Bluebirds to your yard. Finally, the author provides of a list of books and web sites where readers can learn more. She also lists some places to order mealworms for Bluebirds.

Kirby has done an outstanding job telling the Bluebirds' story while teaching readers a lot along the way. The final page contains the heading Bluebirds Rock! and a full-page image of a bluebird, up close and personal. Readers young and old alike will close this book echoing the sentiment. This is a fascinating book that deserves a home on your shelf. Recommended with enthusiasm.

Book: What Bluebirds Do
Author/Photographer: Pamela Kirby
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press
Publication Date: April, 2009
Pages: 48 pages
Grades: K-5
ISBN: 978-1590786147
Source of Book: Personal copy.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Hosting this week is Sally Apokedak at All About Children's Books. Do take some time to check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Rock and Roll Lyrics Like You've Never Read Them

I do love McSweeney's. Today they have me laughing over "thesaurusized" lyrics to rock songs. Here's an excerpt. Can you guess the name of the song?
In the recent past, every one of my dilemmas gave the impression of being so distantly absent.

At the present, it seems as though they're at this time to hang about.

Oh, I accept as true the recent past.

Abruptly, I'm not partially the gentleman I used to exist as.

There's a silhouette suspended on top of me.

Oh, the recent past approached abruptly.
Head on over and check out Rock and Roll, Thesaurusized.

Monday Poetry Stretch - 13 Ways of Looking at Summer

Summer is officially over for me. Yes, you read that correctly. Faculty are back, first year students arrive on Wednesday, and classes begin next Monday. I am perfectly happy with this. You see, I was the kid who was ready for school to begin about one-week into summer. I love school! And while I do need a break from it every so often, I relish the end of summer. For some this is a sad time, but for me it marks the passage into fall, my favorite season of the year.

Yesterday I was savoring Wallace Steven's wonderful poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. I began to think that looking at summer in this way might be an interesting thing to do. Now, you don't need to come up with 13 ways of looking at summer. Perhaps we could write this as a modified renga, each contributing a verse or two. However you want to approach it, the challenge this week is to write a few stanzas (or more!) about summer.

Here are the stanzas I'm starting with (I think).

Leaning in
at this point farthest
from the sun
we still burn and sweat
while waiting patiently
to tilt away


Nights glow and sing
thick with fireflies
and crickets
Leave me a comment about your pieces and I'll post the results here later this week.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Poetry Friday - August

Today I'm sharing a poem I first read several years ago and have grown quite fond of.
by Elise Partridge

Late August night,
I'm dozing in bed —

crickets sturdily cheeping —
elm nodding its head —

suddenly, flare!
glaring swath —

star, plummeting —
singed path.

Read the entire poem.
The round up is being hosted by Andi at a wrung sponge. 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, August 13, 2009

Poetry Stretch Results - What We Wear

The challenge this week was to write a poem about an article of clothing. What fun we had! Here are the results.
Laura Purdie Salas shares two poems this week.

Diane M. Davis shares a poem entitled Ode to felt, and other oddities.

Julie Larios of The Drift Record shares a poem entitled Touriste.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater left this poem in the comments.
    Stocking Hat

    Auntie knit
    me a hat
    in lemon
    and peach.
    I can flip it fast
    over my shoulder
    like the hair
    I will have

    when I'm older.
Jane Yolen also left a poem in the comments.
    Mittens v Gloves

    Mittens make my fingers
    like best of friends
    out on
    the street.
    on the other hand,
    are like cousins
    you can not

    ©2009 Jane Yolen
Cindy Blair left this poem in the comments.
    baby socks so cute and tiny
    with soft padded feet and toenails shiny
    one sock could be a finger puppet
    or a mitten for your little moppet
    raining or snowing
    sunny or wind blowing
    baby socks will be
    the comfort they need
Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader left this poem in the comments.

    What to do
    When you're sixty-two
    And sporting post-middle-age spread?
    You know that the thong,
    My dear, is all wrong!
    Just peek in the mirror. Nuff said?
Tiel Aisha Ansari of Knocking From Inside shares a poem entitled The Mortician's Son, on the Custom of Burying Bodies Barefoot.

Harriet from spynotes shares a poem about a hat.

Linda of Write Time shares a poem entitled Last Year's Sneakers.
I wrote several poems this week. Here's one about a beloved skirt.
In a corner of the attic
an old blue trunk
holds a skirt--
white with liberty bells,
American flags,
patriot hats
and all manner of
red, white and blue

Made for me by
the lady next-door
because there were no
sewing machines
in the hospital

My bicentennial solo
derailed by a heart attack

Thirty-three years later
I still know the songs
and long to
fit in that skirt
and sing to my mom.
It's not too late if you still want to play. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll it to the list.

Weeding My Teaching Library

I'm in a bit of procrastination mode (yes, I have syllabi to finish, books to review, reports to write) and so am cleaning my office. Yes, this is LONG overdue. I do not like to get rid of books, but am running out of shelf space. Those nonfiction picture books published in the 80s and 90s must go. It's a bit hard parting with titles I used in my own classroom, but I must make room for the new books that I am using and sharing with kids. In flipping through them I'm so pleased to see how far these books have come in the last 20 years. The photos are so much better and the texts tighter.

As I say goodbye to some well-worn friends, I want to send a hearty thank you to all the folks out there writing nonfiction for kids today. You do amazing work and I'm proud to have your pieces on my shelves.

(These pictures are of my office in full disaster mode. I keep telling myself it WILL get better!)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Must-Read Children's Books?

Today on NPR, Lesley Blume recommended some "classic" books for kids that may not necessarily appear on summer reading lists. In the segment entitled A Classic List of Must-Read Children's Book, Blume tells Linda Wertheimer:
"It is our responsibility to introduce classics to the next generation, because there's such a flood of new titles on the book market right now, especially in young adult literature, and we have to make sure that the books that we love go into the hands of our own children."
I found myself scratching my head a bit, wondering what's wrong with some of the new titles. Don't get me wrong, classics are great, and some will resonate with kids today just as they did with us, but some will most definitely not. Blume's list includes titles like The Witches by Roald Dahl, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers, and more.

As with any list of this type, I don't agree with all the choices. Head on over and give it a listen. Then, come on back here and tell me what books you might like to see on a list like this. And don't forget--tomorrow's classics welcome!

Happy Birthday Mary Ann Hoberman!

Today is the birthday of Mary Ann Hoberman, the current Children's Poet Laureate. You can read about her at this Poetry Makers interview from April, 2009. In honor of her birthday I thought I'd share a poem. I have a fondness for giraffes, so this poem of hers is one of my favorites.

I like them.
Ask me why.
        Because they hold their heads so high.
        Because their necks stretch to the sky.
        Because they're quiet, calm, and shy.
        Because they run so fast they fly.
        Because their eyes are velvet brown.
        Because their coats are spotted tan.
        Because they eat the tops of trees.
        Because their legs have knobby knees.
        Because. That's why
I like giraffes.

Poem ©Mary Ann Hoberman. All rights reserved.
Happy birthday, Mary Ann!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Nonfiction Monday - Pharaoh's Boat

When I was 13 I began reading Agatha Christie novels. Around the time I read Death on the Nile, my uncle (and godfather) was living and working in the Middle East for Kodak. I still treasure the picture I have of him sitting on a camel in front of the pyramids at Giza. Together, these two things (the book and the picture) started my life-long love affair with all things Egyptian.

Today I regularly spend time in elementary classrooms in Virginia where young children (second graders) learn about the contributions of ancient Chinese and Egyptian civilizations and how they have influenced the present world in terms of architecture, inventions, the calendar, and written language. I'm thrilled to report I have a new book to share with them.
Pharaoh's Boat, written and illustrated by David Weitzman, tells the story of a miraculous find near the south face of the Great Pyramid at Giza and how it was ultimately reconstructed. The book begins with a Prologue that hints at a mystery beneath the sand. With a turn of the page readers are transported back to ancient Egypt to the time of Cheops death. While Cheops had prepared for his own death by building a pyramid to house everything he would need in the afterlife, there was still a task that remained to be done upon his death.
Djedefre, Cheops's son, succeeded his father as pharaoh, and his first concerns were the rituals that would assure his father's safe passage into the afterlife. He ordered the construction of two magnificent ships: one to guide Cheops safely through the dark, perilous underworld of night, and the other to carry him up across the sky to embark on his eternal journey with the sun.
What unfolds is a description of the importance of boats to the Egyptians and the utterly intriguing tale of how such boats were built. Here are just a few of the many things I learned.
  • Egyptians were expert boat builders.
  • Ships were powered by woven sails of cotton and leaf-shaped oars.
  • Ships had no rudder but rather large steering oars at the stern.
  • Pharaoh's boat was built using cedar, sycamore, and acacia trunks.
  • Master shipbuilders used no written plans.
  • Workers used tools like the axe, saw, chisel, adz, and sandstone.
  • Final assembly included sewing the ship together with rope woven from grass.
The science behind the shipbuilding was amazing. Here's one of the most interesting things I read.
The rope lashing did more than just hold the hull together. When sewn ships like this were launched, the wood soaked up water like a sponge and expanded. At the same time, the rope shrank as it got wet, pulling the planks together and closing any little spaces between them to make the ship watertight.
I gained a tremendous appreciation for the work of these ancient shipbuilders in reading Weitzman's description of the process. I was not, however, prepared for what came next.
While Cheops's funerary ships were being finished, workers carved two pits--each a hundred feet long, eight feet wide, and eleven feet deep--out of solid limestone bedrock at the base of his pyramid.

As soon as the boats were completed, they were taken apart and placed in the pits.
What?! To say I was flabbergasted would be an understatement. In just a few pages of description and illustration I came to appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship in these boats. Taking them apart seemed like sacrilege.

The story of the building of Pharoah's boats ends with a description of their placement in the pits and the steps taken to protect them from tomb robbers. Weitzmans' book however, does not here. Readers are taken back to 1954 and the discovery of a boundary wall in an unexpected location. The workers continued to dig and found rows of limestone blocks where there should have been bedrock. The Egyptologist in charge of the work believed the blocks to be covering boat pits. With a bit more excavation he was proven to be correct.

The text goes on to describe the work of Ahmed Youssef Moustafa, the "chief of the Restoration Department of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, and the man chose to direct the recovery, preservation, and reconstruction of the huge ancient ship--an almost impossible task that no one had ever undertaken before." This section of the book is distinguished from the rest by modern (realistic) 3-D illustrations, while the portion of the book describing the work of the ancients is rendered in the flat 2-D style seen in hieroglyphs and tomb paintings. To get a feel for the artwork you can view some sample pages from the book.

I found the story of Moustafa's research and work to unravel the secrets of ancient shipbuilders simply fascinating. While Moustafa and his workers tried to unlock the secrets held in the pieces of the boat, they assembled and disassembled it FIVE times before they were satisfied they had it right. When the boat was finally installed in a new museum in 1970 near Cheops's pyramid, it took them only three months to assemble. You can see the piece in all its glory at the end of the text where a stunning gatefold opens to reveal the completed boat. (For some actual photographs of the boat, visit Mysteries of the Nile: Pharaoh's Boat (Solar Barque).)

The Afterword provided by the author describes efforts to recover the second boat buried underneath the one Moustafa put together.

If I sound a bit starry-eyed about this book it's because I am. I find the fact that shipbuilding techniques have remained largely unchanged in more than 4000 years to be simply amazing. Weitzman reeled me in on the first page and never let me go. When I reached the end I wanted to know more. Kids will undoubtedly feel the same. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Book: Pharaoh's Boat
Author/Illustrator: David Weitzman
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Publication Date: May, 2009
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: 3-8
ISBN: 978-0547053417
Source of Book: Personal copy.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Hosting this week is Pam Coughlan, AKA MotherReader. Do take some time to check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Monday Poetry Stretch - The Clothes Make the Man (or Woman)

This weekend we enjoyed tax-free shopping for school supplies and clothing in Virginia. As someone who hates to shop, the thought of joining hordes of people at the mall didn't particularly appeal to me. However, I took along a good friend and we spent Friday afternoon looking for bargains. We never left the first store we entered, and by the time we left, I had quite a few new things for fall.

My success in the clothing (and shoe!) department had me reading poetry about clothing this weekend. I picked up my copy of Shoe Magic by Nikki Grimes and read about flippers, sandals, running shoes, baby shoes, golf shoes, work boots and more. Here's one on slippers.
by Nikki Grimes

Rest your soles.
Spread your toes.
Curl, breathe deep.
There now, Dreamer,
Hush. . . .
Next I flipped through Button Up!: Wrinkled Rhymes by Alice Schertle and read about jammies, t-shirts, costumes, galoshes, undies, and more. Here's one on shoelaces.
Bertie's Shoelaces
by Alice Schertle

Good old Bertie,
he lets us hang around.
It doesn't bother Bertie
when we drag along the ground.
We're not up tight
as our Bertie Buddy knows.
We're hang loose laces and
we don't do bows!
All this reading made me realize that there are so many topics I've never written poems about before, shoes and clothing being among them. So, the challenge this week is to write a poem about an article of clothing. Choose any form you like and have fun. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Book Review - African Acrostics

I am a lucky girl. I returned home from vacation to find a book waiting for me--a book generously sent by the author and signed to me. Imagine my dismay upon opening the bent and torn envelope to find the book in tatters. Here's a glimpse. The interior actually looks much worse. As sad as this was for me, I was already in possession of a copy I pre-ordered from Amazon. Since life handed me lemons, I am going to make lemonade. I have decided to laminate a few of the photos to use in a lesson on classification and a few of the poems to hang over my desk for a wee bit of inspiration. I'm also going to take a pair of my son's "funky" scissors and cut out the lovely note from the author and paste it in the new book. Problem solved.

[Before I begin, here is a bit of disclosure about my "relationship" with the author. She was interviewed here on April 3rd as part of the Poetry Makers series. I've long been a fan of her work and have been waiting patiently for this new book to be released. I am reviewing a personal copy of the book (i.e. one I purchased), but was also sent a copy by the author.]
African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways, written by Avis Harley with photographs by Deborah Noyes, was recently published by Candlewick Press. It begins this way.
ACROSTIC (uh-Kros-tik)

Welcome, all poets--both new
Or well versed. Non-rhymers or
Rhymers! Come,
Dive in headfirst!

Inviting all writers--
Now you're just the right age.

Explore the acrostic that rides
Down the page.
Get a word you
Enjoy and would like to define.
Write it down vertically
And fill in each line.
Your name is a very good way to begin.
Surprise yourself. Find that poem within!
This introductory poem is a perfect example of one of the things I love about Avis' poetry. I find her "teacher voice" in nearly everything she writes. What is so amazing about this is that her voice isn't the least bit didactic. I see, I hear, I feel, I imagine and above all, learn from what I read. With this one poem I've already begun thinking about the acrostic form in a different way, and I love the notion of a "word in edgeways."

Avis does more than write simple acrostics in this book, so let's skip to the end for a moment. Readers will find an endnote about the form in which Avis describes and provides examples of the types found in the book, such as the double acrostic, multiple acrostic, cross acrostic, and more.

The text contains 18 poems, each accompanied by a gorgeous photograph of the animal described. The photographer, Deborah Noyes, provides stunning views of each creature and provides a note at the end of the text describing her experiences capturing them. Also included are a series of brief Nature Notes on each animal. Poems cover the crocodile, rhino, kudu, lion, hornbill, elephant, stork, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, ostrich, African wildcat, lioness, bonobo, impala, hippo, bat-eared fox, and leopard.

The poems in this book are deftly created. The words spelled out vertically range from single words (herald, lying, poppet, outstanding) to phrases (wild stripes, cloud friends, fatherly advice, beauty in the beast). The double acrostics, quintuple acrostic (yes, that's FIVE words), and concrete acrostic deserve some special attention. The patterns that exist within them never get in the way of the poem itself, and finding them is a bit of a surprise. My favorite poem, however, is this simple rhyming acrostic.
A Croc Acrostic

This book is a winner, from the poems to the photographs. I highly recommend it for all collections.

Book: African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways
Author: Avis Harley
Illustrator (Photographer):
Deborah Noyes
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: July, 2009
Pages: 40 pages
Grades: 3-8
ISBN: 978-0763636210
Source of Book:
Personal copy.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Poetry Friday Is Here!

Last summer William and I spent two weeks with my parents. On one of our last days together we went to the zoo to see their brand new meerkats. (This picture shows William crawling through a "tortoise shell" on the playground.) I loved the polar bears, while William was quite taken with the rhinos. The day was overcast and before long we found ourselves caught in the rain. This poem reminds me of that day.
Rain at the Zoo
by Kristen Tracy

A giraffe presented its head to me, tilting it
sideways, reaching out its long gray tongue.
I gave it my wheat cracker while small drops
of rain pounded us both. Lightning cracked open
the sky. Zebras zipped across the field.

Read the entire poem.
I'm happy to be hosting this shindig, so without further ado, here's what folks are sharing in the world of poetry this week.

The Early Bird Edition
You will find a variety poems in the form of dictionary entries in this week's poetry stretch results.

Kurious Kitty of Kurious Kitty's Kurio Kabinet has a review of Poetry Out Loud.

Laura Purdie Salas shares an original poem entitled Is This Cold?.

Diane Mayr of Random Noodling shares Teodoro Luna's Two Kisses by Alberto Rios.

Tiel Aisha Ansari of Knocking From Inside shares an original poem entitled Practice Pieces.

Jone (MsMac) from Check It Out shares her thoughts about reading Writing and Enjoying Haiku by Jane Reichhold.

Linda of Write Time also shares an original poem entitled Shopping.

Father Goose shares an original poem entitled If Words Wore Shoes.

Anastasia Suen is sharing Gorilla Garage by Mark Shulman over at Picture Book of the Day.
The Rise and Shine Edition
The folks at Color Online are sharing the poetry of January O'Neil.

Mary Lee from A Year of Reading shares the poetry of Emily Dickinson as TextFlow.

Writer2b from Across the Page has me singing. You will be too when you see she's sharing the Modern Major General from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance.

Tanita Davis is doing that "when in Rome thing" and sharing a Scots language poem called Gin I Was God.

Sara Lewis Holmes of Read*Write*Believe shares The Eel by Harry Clifton.

Carol of Carol's Corner is sharing a football poem in honor of her boys.

Andrea and Mark of Just One More Book!! are sharing their thoughts on the book Faces of the Moon by Bob Crelin.

Andi of a wrung sponge shares a review of A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson.

Laura Purdie Salas shares the results of this week's 15 words or less prompt.

Jama from Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup shares the poem I'm Lonely As the Letter X by Diane Lockward.

Over at the KR Blog, Kazim Ali has a wonderful post on 8 Ways Running is Like Poetry. (A while back he wrote 8 Ways Yoga is Like Poetry.)

The folks at the Stenhouse Blog share two poems on the life of a teacher.
The Late Lunch Edition
Susan from Black-Eyed Susan also shares a poem from January O'Neil's book Underlife.

The ladies from Seven Imp share the poem Incubus by Craig Arnold.

Liz Garton Scanlon of Liz in Ink shares a poem about aching fingers by Marlys West.

Karen Edmisten shares The Poem That Took the Place of a Mountain.

Kelly Fineman of Writing and Ruminating shares an original poem entitled The Giraffe Pen on Thursday, at Noon.

Elaine Magliaro shares a bunch o' poetry today. First, at Wild Rose Reader you'll find an original poem entitled Rain Barrel. At Blue Rose Girls she's sharing a post about writer's block, a poem about poetry, and more. Finally, at Political Verses you'll find another original entitled Bah Humbug Exercise: A Poem That Could Have Been Written by Rush Limbaugh.

Shelf Elf shares the poem Open Air by Rita Dove.
The Evening Edition
Marjorie at the Paper Tigers blog shares an excerpt from a Personal View written by Jorge Luján.

Little Willow of Bildungsroman shares Prologus to The Roaring Girl by Thomas Middleton & Thomas Dekker.

Sylvia Vardell of Poetry for Children writes about some collections by Myra Cohn Livingston, whose birthday is just around the corner.
Happy Reading!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Poetry Stretch Results - Dictionary Poems

The challenge this week was to write a poem in the form of a dictionary entry. Here are the results.
Jane Yolen left this poem in the comments.
    Pal·ette n.
    A board, typically with a hole for the thumb,
    which an artist can hold while painting
    and on which colors are mixed.

    [French, from Old French, small potter's shovel,
    diminutive of pale, shovel, spade,
    from Latin pāla "spade, shoulder blade."
    1622, "flat thin tablet used by an artist to lay and mix colors”
    Sense of "colors used by a particular artist" found first in 1882.

    A board and hole, wholly used,
    abused with color,
    from the choler of cadmium red
    to the dead black, lacking luster
    to the mustard and browns of soil,
    burnt sienna, burnt umber,
    the colors of the Palantine Hills,
    the palettined hills,
    the swirl and whirl and whorl of color
    all dug up and plastered on to the canvas
    with the help of the little spades.

    ©2009 Jane Yolen
Diane M. Davis shares a poem for the word levigate.

Laura Purdie Salas shares a poem for the word cold.

Kate Coombs left this poem in the comments.
    Chthonic [from the Greek chthonios, meaning "under the earth," or chthon, simply "earth"]

    Drags your tongue down unless
    you let go of the ch; if not
    the pull extends to your head,
    your neck and your chest,
    your limbs. The dark
    waits, the heavy blanket of earth
    with its wriggle of worms
    belying the wait of dead rocks
    beneath, and farther still
    the great deep with its subtle river,
    its silent ferryman, its triple-headed thug
    of a dog, then a god
    with a burning black crown
    and stony eyes not-shining
    a welcome.
Harriet from spynotes left this poem in the comments.
    Eight [ayt]. n. or a. The cardinal number next after seven.
    Not quite small, not quite big.
    Formed by perfect circles joined by a cross in the middle.
    A crossroads.
    Turn it on its side and it makes infinity.
    From the middle of it,
    eight looks like forever.

    Homonym of ate, eight devours everything.
    Eight explains the disappearance of
    hot dogs, potato chips,
    cheerios, peanut butter,
    and that bar of chocolate
    that you hid in the back of the cupboard
    for emergencies.
    And possibly, once, a bug
    (but probably not).

    Eight is balls and yells and contests
    And hide-and-seek
    And skateboard tricks
    And pianos and a stuffed monkey, well-worn,
    And a frog left on the back porch in a bucket
    A little too long.
    Sorry, frog.

    Eight is nine almost.
    Not yet.
    An infinity in a moment.
Julie Larios of The Drift Record left this poem in the comments.
    GOOFY - a dippy dawg
    but gee (and oof and eeeeeeee)
    he can be fun,
    he can be whee,
    (this message brought to you by
    the olde gagaf, Buffoonery,
    the middle goffen's pal, Frivolity,
    the Modern Goofball, gaffe-inclined,
    a goofer off,
    a goofer up,
    a half-brain...dictionarily defined.)
    He may get goofy, sure,
    but no one else who's goofy
    (I mean me, and maybe you)
    ever seems to mind.
Here's my contribution.
miz·zle - very fine, misty rain n.
from the Middle English mysell and Middle Dutch misel]

The skies are heavy
with woolen clouds
of gray that
do not dump or pelt
but fairly spritz
the earth
in a nebulous
fog of delicious
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, August 03, 2009

Nonfiction Monday - Exploring the Big Numbers of Population

I've been a trainer for Population Connection for some time now. I like the emphasis their curricular materials place on understanding human impacts on the environment. They also strive to help kids understand really big numbers. In my professional development workshops I always bring along the book If the World Were a Village: A Book About the World's People. Written by David J. Smith and illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong, this book imagines the population of the world as represented by a village of just 100 people.

First published in 2002, the text was updated in 2008 to reflect new population statistics. Here's how the book begins.
Earth is a crowded place, and it is getting more crowded all the time. As of 2008, the world's population was 6 billion, 660 million -- that's 6,660,000,000. Thirty-one countries have more than 40 million (40,000,000) people. Eleven countries each have more than 100 million (100,000,000) people. China has over 1 billion, 300 million (1,300,000,000), while India has over 1 billion, 100 million (1,100,000,000).

Numbers this big are hard to understand, but what if we imagined the whole population of the world as a village of just 100 people? In this imaginary village, each person would represent 67 million (67,000,000) people from the real world.
Upon entering the global village, readers first learn about the people who live here and where they come from. Given the numbers in the introduction, it shouldn't surprise you that 61 of the inhabitants come Asia. In fact, more than half of the people in the village come from the 6 most populated countries.

The text continues by exploring the village in terms of languages spoken (21 speak a Chinese dialect, 9 speak English, 9 speak Hindi, and 7 speak Spanish), ages of inhabitants, religions (33 are Christians, 21 are Muslims, 13 are Hindus, and 15 are non-religious), schooling and literacy, money and possessions, and more. Beyond these pages that describe the backgrounds and circumstances of the villagers, I find those on the distribution of food, air and water quality, and availability of electricity to be the ones that generate the most discussion. For example, here's what readers learn on the page about food.
There is no shortage of food in the global village. If all the food were divided equally, everyone would have enough to eat. But the food isn't divided equally. So although there is enough to feed the villagers, not everyone is well fed:

50 people do not have a reliable source of food and are hungry some or all of the time.
16 other people are severely undernourished.

Only 34 people always have enough to eat.
You can see why these facts lead to so much discussion. It's difficult for many children to comprehend the lack of such basic necessities.

The book ends with a look at the village in the past (how many people lived there in 1650? 1800? 1900?) and a look at the village in the future. There is an extensive page of notes about teaching children about the global village and notes on sources and how calculations were made. This is a fabulous book that can be used in many areas across the curriculum.

I am happy to report that Smith and Armstrong have followed up this work with If America Were a Village: A Book About the People of the United States. Since the U.S. hit 300 million in 2006, it seems only fitting that Smith tackle the subject in this manner. An author's note at the beginning confirms that the use of the word America for the purposes of the book refers only to the United States. Here's how it begins.
There are more than 306 million people in the United States today. This huge number is hard to imagine and even harder to analyze. And America never stays still--it is always changing and growing. There is 1 birth about every 8 seconds and 1 death about every 12 seconds, which means that 1 or maybe even 2, were added while you were reading this paragraph.

To find out more about America and Americans, we are going to reduce the whole population of America to a village of 100 people, the imaginary village you see here. Each person in this village of 100 will represent more than 3 million Americans in the real world.
I was interested to see how the American village numbers compared to the global village. Here's what I learned.
  • 13 are foreign-born
  • 75 are white, 12 are black, 1 is Native American, and 4 are Asian.
  • 82 speak English as their first language, 10 speak Spanish, 1 speaks Chinese, 1 French, and 1 German. Other languages are spoken, but not widely enough to represent 1 whole person in the village.
  • In 1900, 40 people lived in towns and cities and 60 lived in the country. Today, 80 live in towns and cities and 20 live in the country.
  • 82 are Christian, 2 are Buddhist, 1 is Jewish, 1 is Muslim, and 10 are non-religious.
  • Americans own a lot of STUFF. There are 81 cars, more than in any other country. (NOTE: In the global village, there would be only 13 cars!) There are also 73 cell phones, 74 televisions, 200 radios, 76 computers, and 39 bicycles.
Other topics explored include family structure, employment, age, wealth, energy and water use, and health. In many cases the American village numbers are compared to the global village for some perspective (and perhaps a bit of humility and gratefulness). As with the first book, there is an extensive endnote on helping children understand American, as well as a note on sources.

In both books, Armstrong's illustrations are bright and colorful. The images in the newest book focus more on people and faces than the first, but given the diversity of the global village, this is an understandable choice. Since the the second book is about a topic closer to home, it also makes more sense to focus more heavily on the people.

Like its predecessor, this new book does an admirable job of making large numbers understandable for kids. The facts will provide fodder for discussions and will leave young people and their teachers with much to think about. For use in math, science, and social studies instruction, I highly recommend both titles.

If you would like some additional materials to support your use of these books, check out these resources.
Finally, check out this video excerpt from If the World Were a Village. It will give you a feel for the wonderful illustrations and the content of the text.

Book: If the World Were a Village: A Book About the World's People
Author: David J. Smith
Shelagh Armstrong
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: 2002
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: 3-8
ISBN: 978-1550747799
Source of Book: Personal copy.

Book: If America Were a Village: A Book About the People of the United States
Author: David J. Smith
Shelagh Armstrong
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: August, 2009
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: 3-8
ISBN: 978-1554533442
Source of Book: Review copy received from Raab Associates.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Hosting this week is Diane Chen from Practically Paradise. Do take some time to check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Monday Poetry Stretch - Dictionary Poems

On my two week vacation my reading time was largely devoted to reading aloud to my son. We finished HP2 and started HP3. There was little down time during the days, but when I did have a chance to read, I found myself immersed in Sage Cohen's book Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry. In it she introduced me to Lohren Green's work and his Poetical Dictionary. The poems in this gem of a book are written in the form of a dictionary entry (pronunciation, etymology, and definition). Here is an excerpt from the entry on glee.
I've been thinking a lot about this form and have a list of words I want to try. Will you join me in trying to write your own poetic dictionary entries? Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.