Wednesday, February 28, 2007

New Book Meme - A Life in Books

Inspired by the relatively new addition to the Periscope section of Newsweek entitled A Life in Books, I propose this Meme based on questions from the magazine's own survey. (The last question, however, is mine!)
  1. What are your 5 most important books? (When I first read this, it screamed nonfiction, but I think any book that has moved you to act or think in different ways is what they mean. It's certainly how I interpreted it.)
  2. What is an important book you admit you haven't read? (Alright, 'fess up, we've all got these literary skeletons in our closets!)
  3. What classic (or childhood favorite) was a little disappointing on rereading?
  4. What book do you (or did you) care most about sharing with your kids?
  5. Name an acclaimed book, either classic or contemporary, that you just don't like.
Drum roll please . . . Here are my answers.
My five most important books:
  1. Ann Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Ann Frank - The one book I read in high school that forever changed my view of the world.
  2. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich - You will never look at the working class poor in the same way once you read this book. It gives new meaning to the fight for both a living wage and health care for all.
  3. Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol - This book was handed to me by the principal of an urban elementary school while I worked in a private school in the same city (teaching her son, no less). It immediately changed my view of public education.
  4. The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin - What can I say, I'm a science geek at heart.
  5. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson - A wonderful book about parental love, laid bare in all its glory.
An important book I have not read: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Forgive me Kelly!)

A childhood favorite that was disappointing on rereading: All those Bobbsey Twins books I read and loved as a kid.

The book I care most about sharing with my son: The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban. It's quite simply, a moving and thought-provoking story that encourages us to think about the power of redemption and transformation.

A classic that I don't care for: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. Sorry, but I just find Alice so darned whiny and annoying!

I'm tagging the following five folks because they always have such wonderful, thoughtful things to say and because I can't wait to read their lists.
And YOU! Yes, YOU! If you read this, consider yourself tagged. Feel free to respond in my comments (oh PLEASE DO!) or in your own blog. If you do answer these questions, please comment or link back here so I can read all your wonderful responses. Meme away!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me and the Lucky Flap

If you are not a fan of Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me, the NPR news quiz that recaps the week's headlines, you are missing an hour full of laughs every weekend. I download the podcast each Monday morning from iTunes, but you can also catch it online.

During this week's Panel Round Two, the Higher Power of Lucky came up. It's very funny, so take a listen.

On Diversity in School and Classroom Libraries

In late 1960, my parents began adoption proceedings in the hope of adding to their family. It took much longer than normal, owing to my dad changing jobs a few times and a steady stream of social workers, but I joined the family shortly after my birth in August of 1965. I have always known that I was adopted, and never really gave it much thought until I entered elementary school. However, I learned quickly that I was different. If there were other students who were adopted, they either didn't know it, or didn't share it. I was never uncomfortable or uneasy about being adopted, but often wondered if there were others like me. While my classmates came from "traditional" families, I just couldn't find any other kids in my situation. Add to this the fact that there were few adopted children in the books I read (sure there were lots of orphans, but none that I can recall as adopted), and I slowly began to feel out of place.

Times have changed and today, there are many terrific books about adoption. So why do I relate this story? My goal is simply this, to continue to push librarians and teachers to diversify their collections so that every child can see himself or herself reflected in the books they read. I finished reading The Year of the Dog this weekend, a book in which the author, Grace Lin, admits to writing it (and many of her picture books) so that children of Chinese-American (or Taiwanese-American) descent can "see" themselves in what they read. Here is a quote from her press release for The Year of the Dog.
“I’m cleaning up the house,” my mother said during one of her phone calls, “Can I get rid of your old Cheerleaders book?”

My Cheerleaders books. I had loved those books, treasured them. They were dog-eared and had been reread hundreds of times.

But they were also really terrible books. Poor cousins of Sweet Valley High, they were full of insipid romances, ridiculous dramas and irritating plots. Even as a young reader I had loathed the superficial stories, embarrassed if anyone caught me reading them. But these books had one redeeming quality that outweighed all other flaws. One of the Cheerleaders was Chinese.

I was never a cheerleader and I never had any longing or desire to be one, either. However, I did have an insatiable yearning to read a book with a person like me in it.

Can you blame her? Much like my desire to read about a child, any child, who was adopted, Grace wanted to read books where Chinese-Americans were not secondary characters.

The same can be said for children from all walks of life. I wrote a post a while ago about why multicultural books matter, but now I find the term multicultural too limiting. I think we should all aim for collections that show the range of diversity that exists in this wonderful country, and that extends well beyond race and ethnicity to include age, gender, religion, abilities (or disabilities) and sexual orientation. Ah, there's the rub.

In early February, Darren at Right on the Left Coast: Views From a Conservative Teacher posted an entry entitled Addressing Homosexuality with Elementary Students. Here is an excerpt.
I'm all about tolerance. Tolerance doesn't mean acceptance; to me, tolerance is a live and let live philosophy. Homosexuality is still a touchy enough topic in our culture that I don't think it presents an undue burden on schools to postpone talking about it until students are older and better able to understand the difficulties involved. I don't know where the age line should be, but I'm convinced that kindergarteners and 2nd graders are well on the wrong side of that age line. I recall having some rudimentary "sex ed" in 6th grade; would that be a more appropriate age to talk about (searching around for an inoffensive term here) non-standard families?
What concerns me about these arguments is the lack of consideration for children who come from families that are different. Why should merely including a book on families with same sex parents in a library collection be viewed as tantamount to "teaching" homosexuality? I just don't buy it. Acknowledging that children today come from a variety of home structures is important in helping children to understand and value their differences and each other. We now have books about adoption, divorce, single-parent families and the like, so why not books about same-sex families?

For a range of responses to this topic, read the comments section of the post linked above. I too welcome your thoughts on this matter. I know we won't all agree, so all I ask is that we keep the comments polite. Passion and conviction, however, are encouraged.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Of Magic Beds and Chapter Books

We moved into our new house in late August. Our house in the city had only six rooms, so this new house, with a living room and family room was in need of new furnishings. We outfitted the new living room with 2 sofas, one a sofa bed. When William began school, he had a rough first week. In an effort to get him on the bus each morning, I promised him if he made it through the first week, that he could sleep on the sofa bed. "You mean the magic bed," he said, "the one that is hidden in the couch?" Absolutely. Little did I know that I would be required to join him.

That was more than five months ago. We now spend every Friday night sleeping on the magic bed. We watch Meerkat Manor and read. Friday is library day at school. Friday afternoons we visit the public library after school and pick out new books for the week. With so many books to choose from, these are usually the ones we read while hunkered down in the not so comfortable magic bed. However, last week we entered the territory of chapter books, so our read last night was much different. Instead of plowing through a wide range of short picture books, we were able to spend the entire time savoring just one book.

William received a copy of Toys Go Out for Valentine's day. While we have been reading a lot of easy readers with short chapters (think Mr. Putter and Tabby or Henry and Mudge, both series by Cynthia Rylant), these are the books William is learning to read with, and they aren't books that I generally read aloud. Toys Go Out was our first chapter book for read aloud. We read the first chapter while stranded in the Newark airport on Friday, the 16th. At one point I looked up and found three little girls, sitting at my feet, listening as well. We thoroughly enjoyed the first chapter, and couldn't wait for more. We finished the last chapter on Thursday, which meant a new book was in order for last night.

Our new book is The Year of the Dog, by Grace Lin. We snuggled up close and read for nearly an hour! We love the drawings that are sprinkled throughout the chapters, and since William is very fond of The Ugly Vegetables, he is excited about the writing project that Pacy undertakes for the big contest. I am happy that he can enjoy books with both male and female characters at this point, as I'm sure this won't always be the case. At the rate we're reading, The Year of the Dog will be history before the weekend is over. If you have any suggestions regarding chapter book titles that my 6 year old might enjoy, please let me know.

I'm off to fold the magic bed and have a fabulous day with my son. Happy Saturday, all!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Poetry Friday - Ode to Books

This poem appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of the Journal of Children's Literature.
Ode to Books
by Rebecca Kai Dotlitch

To lie on beds
with open books,
to curl on chairs
on stairs,
in nooks,

oh, sweet delight
of black on white,
when words on pages
worn and thin
say, "step on in,"

and all the while
the yearn,
to turn . . .

Thursday, February 22, 2007

New to America - Living the Immigrant Life

The September 30 enrollment stats for the state of Virginia include more than 86,000 students for whom English is a second language. This is approximately 8% of the state's total enrollment. My students are working in classrooms where they regularly encounter children who are new to our country. In these situations, they find that these children not only have difficulty learning the language and adjusting to cultural differences, but that their peers also pass through an adjustment period, as they try to negotiate friendships without the benefit of a shared language, and understand why families come from so far away to the United States.

It seems to me that this last issue is one where we can help all students come to some mutual understandings. For children who have experienced the move to a new home, neighborhood or school, they may recognize that it's not easy to start a new life in an unfamiliar place, but for others, there is just no comparison. Through children's literature we can study the challenges that face all new immigrants to the United States, particularly the children, and in doing so, provide some measure of comfort to those who are new.

The set of books outlined below will allow students to explore cultural and generational differences and develop empathy for their peers who are new Americans. The selection includes largely contemporary accounts of immigration, as I have tried to include books that only include immigration in the 20th and 21st centuries. Included in this list are books of poetry, nonfiction, picture books and novels.
  • La Mariposa by Francisco Jiménez - This semi-autobiographical story introduces a young boy named Francisco who is having difficulty adjusting to a school where he does not speak the language and becomes the target of a bully.
  • My Name is Jorge: On Both Sides of the River by Jane Medina - This book of 27 poems, written first in Spanish, then in English, are written from Jorge's point of view and describe his experiences adjusting to a new language and culture.
  • My Chinatown: One Year in Poems by Kam Mak - This collection of poems, written in a young boy's voice and organized chronologically, follow the boy from Hong Kong through his first year in the United States, where he attempts to deal with his new life.
  • The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi - When a young girl from Korea decides she would prefer a more American-sounding name than her own beautiful name, her classmates decide to help by putting suggestions in a name jar.
  • My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits - This lovely book describes the difficulties a young Korean girl has in adjusting to her new life in America.
  • Angel Child, Dragon Child by Michele Maria Surat - Ut has just come to the United States from Vietnam and she does not like her new American school. The children laugh when she speaks and one boy picks on her nearly every day. But most of all, she misses her mother who stayed behind in Vietnam.
  • I Hate English! by Ellen Levine - Mei Mei's family moves from Hong Kong to New York. In school, Mei Mei has difficulty adjusting to the new culture and language, particularly the alien sounds of English.
  • Coming to America: A Muslim Family's Story by Bernard Wolf - This photo-essay describes the arrival of the Mahmoud family in the United States from Egypt and shows how various family members spend their time.
  • The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman - When Hassan, a young Muslim boy from Somalia, immigrate to the United States, he finds school and adjusting to a new culture and language to be difficult.
  • In the Small, Small Night by Jane Kurtz - When Abena’s younger brother Kofi can't sleep, afraid that he will forget the grandmother and cousins he left in Ghana, she comforts him with two Ashanti tales. Later, when she worries about attending her new school, Kofi comforts her.
  • Marianthe's Story: Painted Words and Spoken Memories by Aliki - With two stories in one book, the first, Painted Words, is one where the story of Mari's immigration is told through pictures. Her teacher tells the class that "there is more than one way to tell a story. Someday Mari will be able to tell us with words." When you flip the book over you find Spoken Memories, where Mari is finally able to tell the story of her life in Greece and having to leave her native land.
  • A Picnic in October by Eve Bunting - A young Italian-American boy is embarrassed by his family's yearly trip to the Statue of Liberty. He does not understand why his grandparents celebrate the statue's birthday in this way. It is only when he watches a family of new Americans who have also come to pay their respects to Lady Liberty, that he gains insight into this symbol of freedom, and understands the gratitude of his grandparents.
There are many other wonderful books about immigration, including titles by Betsy Maestro, Russell Freedman, and others. Look for Part II of this post where I will explore a set of literature on immigration that is more historical in nature.

Celebrating Edna St. Vincent Millay

On this day in 1892, Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, Maine. A poet and playwright, she was the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

From her first volume of poetry, Renascence and Other Poems, comes this favorite of mine.
Afternoon on a Hill
I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start down!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What Mythological Creature Are You?

Every so often I love to take these quirky quizzes. Check me out. (And do please note the great teacher line. Finally, validation from a reputable source!)
You Are a Centaur

In general, you are a very cautious
and reserved person.

However, you are also warm hearted,
and you enjoy helping others in practical ways.

You are a great teacher, and you are really good at
helping people get their lives in order.

You are very intuitive, and you go with your gut.
You make good decisions easily.
What mythological creature are you?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

On Reading Aloud What is Difficult - My Response to the Lucky Debate

I've taught this lesson twice. I begin by reading the Author's Note in its entirety. Here are some of the most relevant passages.
On March 2 and 3, 1859, the largest auction of slaves in American history took place in Savannah, Georgia. Some accounts put the number of slaves sold at 429, while others put it at 436. . . .

The 429 or 436 to be sold were placed on railroad cars and steamboats and taken to the Broeck racetrack in Savannah, where they were put in empty horse stalls. On the day of the auction, it started raining, and for the two days of the sale it rained torrentially. However, soon after the auction ended, the rain stopped and the sun came out. The sale became known as "the Weeping Time." . . .

History is not only an accounting of what happened when and where. It includes also the emotional biographies of those on whom history imposed itself with a cruelty that we can only dimly imagine. This book is another in my attempts to make real those who did not have the opportunity to tell their stories for themselves.

I read the title and front cover flap. I tell the students about the author. Before I read aloud, I tell students that I am about to do something that is difficult for me. I am going to read about a time, an event and ideas that I find revolting. I will tell them that they will hear words that will offend, shame and embarrass. In the week before this class session, I have secretly written to my African-American students, describing the book to them, warning them about what is coming, and making my best attempt to prepare them for the discussion that will follow.

The book is Day of Tears by Julius Lester. I read "The Kitchen." It begins with a series of monlogues and remembrances about the day, told from the perspective of a family of slaves (mother, father and daughter). "Interlude I" is a monologue by Emma (the slave daughter) as an old woman, and presents her remembrances of the auction. "The Dining Room" is largely monologues and dialogues of the master and slave seller, though a few other voices and perspectives are heard. I don't read beyond the second page of the chapter. Here are the last two paragraphs I read.
I want to tell them how sorry I am to have to do this. But I don't know if it would matter to them. I see them standing on the auction block and I wonder what they're thinking, what they're feeling. Some of them cry, but most don't show any emotion. Their faces are as blank as tree bark.

They probably aren't feeling anything. That's one of the ways niggers are different from white people. Their emotions are not as refined as ours. Things that would hurt a white man or woman don't affect them. If anybody tried to take my Sarah or Frances away from me, I think I would kill them. Their mother thought she could take them from me. By the time my lawyers got through she was grateful I allowed her to see the girls for two months every year.

These last words are so hard for me to read, so hard for students to hear. I stop. I ask them to close their eyes and just think for a moment. Breathe deeply. Open your eyes. I ask:
  • How do you feel?
    • Answers - angry, ashamed, awkward, embarrassed, uncomfortable. Some blush, some fidget, others can't look at me or others in the classroom.

  • Could you read this aloud to a classroom full of kids? Kids of any race or ethnicity? Why or why not?
    • Answers - No. Absolutely not. It's too hard.

  • Would you want kids to read this?
    • Answers - Yes! All of them.

  • Then why not read it aloud? This is a difficult books that raises important issues. Why are you afraid to confront them? Why not talk about them?
    • Parents' won't like it. Kids will be uncomfortable. I'll be uncomfortable.
We keep talking, and the conversation goes deeper. The African-American students admit to being prepared in advance. They talk about the value of having been warned, how it raised their comfort level to know that I was aware this would be difficult, and how I told them outright that they would be safe in my classroom and that I would value their feelings and ideas. The class begs me to continue reading, but I don't. The book is long, it demands attention that I cannot give it in one class session, and begs to be read and pondered by each student individually. In the weeks that follow, some students borrow my copy, others write to say they have read it. It moves every one who reads it. It moves me.

Why this story? There are some things that are difficult to negotiate in the classroom. For me, words like the one in The Higher Power of Lucky simply don't present a challenge. Words that name anatomically correct parts of the human body and even their slang equivalents, need to be treated matter-of-factly. If the teacher (or librarian) doesn't make a big deal of it, neither will the kids. However, when it comes to issues that get to very core of who we are, how we treat others, and how history has treated people who are different, then I am challenged to think about how I can make my classroom a safe place for all students. I worry about the words that I must read aloud, the ones the author has chosen for a very specific purpose, that I know will offend or hurt. Should I skip over or leave out the n-word when I read Day of Tears? At the end of the discussion, I ask my students this very question. They all say no.

I believe these are the issues we should be discussing, and not the (somewhat) foolish comments of a few folks who feel that the word scrotum is offensive.

**Just Added - Forgive me for being behind the times, as I've been out of town for several days. Over at educating alice, Monica Edinger wrote about this very topic before I did. She, of course, presents her ideas much more eloquently. Please head on over and check out What I Do With Discomforting Words, Scrotum Not Being One of Them.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Great Escape and Poetry (One Day Early)

Tomorrow I leave for (gulp) upstate New York. Yes, I did write a post on February 1st entitled Snowflakes on My Mind (and in My Books). What was I thinking?! My son will finally get all the snow he's been dreaming of, and on his birthday, no less. Happy 6th birthday, little man! So as we prepare to make our great escape to the hinterlands, I pray that Lake Ontario will turn off the snow-making machine long enough for us to enjoy some time with family and get in and out safely.

While we pack winter clothes (I can't tell you the last time I actually wore boots) and prepare for snow that reaches above the first floor windows on my parent's house, I dream of baseball, and hope that the advent of spring training brings warmth and eternal sunshine. The last time I flew, I bought a copy of Heat by Mike Lupica and read it in its entirety on the plane. I loved it. As someone who drives by the Little League Hall of Fame on every trip home to Rochester, this book found a special place in my heart. In western New York there are two AAA teams, the Rochester Red Wings and the Buffalo Bisons. However, growing up, I loved any team my older brother hated. It just made life more fun to root against him (see the annoying little sister comment in my profile). So, while he cheered for the Yankees, I cheered for the Cleveland Indians, and still do, even though I am surrounded by rabid Orioles and Braves fans.

Baseball too has been a great escape for me. I love to listen to the games and picture what's happening, though I like to watch too. I much prefer attending minor league games, just for the intimacy that being in a smaller stadium brings. As Walt Whitman said, "I see great things in baseball," and I also see great things in these terrific books for kids about the sport.
  • Teammates by Peter Golenbock - This story describes the hardships faced by Jackie Robinson when he entered the sport, and how the support of one teammate made all the difference.
  • Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki - A young Japanese-American boy in an internment camp finds that baseball gives a purpose in life and a way of passing the time. His triumph in a game played while interned helps him when he returns home to play baseball again.
  • Just Like Josh Gibson by Angela Johnson - In the 1940s, a die-hard Josh Gibson fan teaches his daughter to play baseball.
  • Mighty Jackie: The Strikeout Queen by Marissa Moss - Based on the true story of an exhibition game the Yankees played against the Chatanooga Lookouts in 1931, this book tells the story of their female pitcher, Jackie Mitchell, who faced both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
  • Mama Played Baseball, by David Adler - When Amy's father goes off to fight in World War II, her mother takes a job as a professional baseball player.
  • Players in Pigtails by Shana Corey - Katie Casey steps in to play professional baseball when the male players are called to war.
In honor of the grand old game, here is my Poetry Friday entry, just a wee bit early.
Line-Up for Yesterday by Ogden Nash

A is for Alex
The great Alexander;
More Goose eggs he pitched
Than a popular gander.

B is for Bresnahan
Back of the plate;
The Cubs were his love,
and McGraw his hate.

C is for Cobb,
Who grew spikes and not corn,
And made all the basemen
Wish they weren't born.

D is for Dean,
The grammatical Diz,
When they asked, Who's the tops?
Said correctly, I is.

E is for Evers,
His jaw in advance;
Never afraid
To Tinker with Chance.

Read the rest here.
You can read more baseball poetry at the Baseball Almanac.
Have a good weekend, all. I'll be back on Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Wait is Over - Cybils Announced!

Finally, the winners of the Cybils have been announced. Head on over and check out the winners of the 2006 Cybils.

African American Scientists and Inventors

While writing my dissertation I agreed to research and write two chapters for a book on African American Scientists and Inventors. I adored the professor who asked me, and gladly embarked on a journey to research two men I knew little about, though could at least admit I had heard of them. They were Elijah McCoy and Charles Turner. The book was published by an academic press in 1996. Since then, it has done nothing more than collect dust on my shelf. This saddens me, because there are so many great stories of (mostly) men who overcame great diversity to give the world the benefit of their knowledge and creativity. It is unfortunate that there still remains a dearth of good children's books about these men. Of course, it is relatively easy to find material on George Washington Carver, but look beyond him and few others stand out.

Here, at least, are a few of the gems in my collection.

A Weed is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver by Aliki - The bold illustrations bring the text alive in a story that follows the life of the man who found more than 300 uses for the peanut. Did you know he also experimented with the sweet potato?

George Washington Carver: The Peanut Wizard by Laura Driscoll - This lovely addition to the Smart About Scientists series introduces Annie Marcus, who is just nuts about peanut butter! When Annie finds out that George Washington Carver was responsible for the popularity of peanuts, she picks him for her scientist report. This is a fine introduction to Carver's career and discoveries.

Dear Benjamin Banneker written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated Brian Pinkney - This beautifully illustrated volume provides a brief overview of the life and work of Banneker from his years as a tobacco farmer through to his decision to write an almanac.

Bug Watching with Charles Henry Turner by Michael Elsohn Ross - This entry in the Naturalist's Apprentice series introduces the life and work of entomologist Charles Henry Turner while including ideas for the reader to conduct his/her own bug investigations.

Onward: A Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson by Delores Johnson - This stunning book uses archival photographs from the early 20th century to tell the story of Matthew Henson, an African-American hired for the expedition to the North Pole as Robert Peary's manservant.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ten Books I Can't Live Without

Thanks to Kelly over at Big A, little a for the link.
Michele at Scholar's Blog has come up with a World Book Day meme. The question is: What ten books can't you live without?
If I were stranded on a desert island and required to read the same books over and over, these would get me through.
  • Straight Man by Richard Russo
  • Howard's End by E. M. Forster
  • On Beauty by Zadie Smith
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkein
  • All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
  • Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  • The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems, Complete and Unabridged edited by Edward Connery Lathem

Monday, February 12, 2007

When Books Fall Out of Fashion - Part 2

Following on the ramblings of my last post, I have been thinking a lot about the process I use to select pieces for historical fiction for my methods class. Currently, I review the following resources before I begin reading likely titles:
From these lists, I select books that I think will appeal to my students, be challenging to teach, and are most open for discussions from varied perspectives. Once I have a shortlist, I read, read, read. Then I search for anything and everything I can find about teaching with these books. I try to select books that represent a range of viewpoints (male, female, African American, Native American, immigrants, etc.) and times in American history. Some years I pick multiple books and assign them to small groups, while in others we all read the same book.

Regardless of the books I choose, I often worry that the selections will offend some or all of my students. However, do I want students to read what is "polite," or what is true? For sure, there will always be disagreements about whose truth is recorded, but I would prefer to face these difficult issues head-on and desire to read pieces that describe history as it was, and leave the interpretations of right and wrong to the reader.

Anne Scott MacLeod wrote a thoughtful piece on this historical revisionism in Writing Backward: Modern Models in Historical Fiction (Horn Book Magazine, Jan/Feb 1998). Here is an excerpt:
"Didacticism dies hard in children’s literature. Today’s publishers, authors, and reviewers often approach historical fiction for children as the early nineteenth century did — as an opportunity to deliver messages to the young. Bending historical narrative to modern models of social behavior, however, makes for bad history, and the more specific the model, the harder it is to avoid distorting historical reality. The current pressure to change old stereotypes into “positive images” for young readers is not only insistent, but highly specific about what is the desirable image, and often untenable. If the only way a female protagonist can be portrayed is as strong, independent, and outspoken, or, to take a different example, if slaves must always be shown as resistant to authority, and if these qualities have to be overt, distortion becomes inevitable. Betty Sue Cummings’s novel about the American Civil War, Hew against the Grain (1977), establishes her heroine’s strength as a credible result of wartime conditions. Her picture of slavery, however, is less easily reconciled with history. How many slaves this Virginia family owns is not clear, but the four described in any detail are all free-thinking and outspoken“Elijah neither looked nor acted like a slave” — and the two younger ones, at least, can read. The odds against such a situation in Virginia on the eve of the Civil War were considerable. More important, however politically acceptable it is, this kind of idealization glosses over the real price slaves paid for slavery."
So, I return to my original question in yet another form. If a book is written to accurately portray historical opinions, values and sentiments, should it be discarded because it does not square with the modern view of things? I should hope not. But I would also hope that teachers arm themselves as best possible by knowing the stereotypes portrayed, displaying the necessary sensitivity to read and discuss such books with their students, and finally understanding and empathizing with those who may feel offended by the "history" presented in such works.

In concluding her article, MacLeod writes:
"But people of the past were not just us in odd clothing. They were people who saw the world differently; approached human relationships differently; people for whom night and day, heat and cold, seasons and work and play had meanings lost to an industrialized world. Even if human nature is much the same over time, human experience, perhaps especially everyday experience, is not. To wash these differences out of historical fictions is not only a denial of historical truth, but a failure of imagination and understanding that is as important to the present as to the past."
We must recognize that historical fiction may offend, for the very reason that the positions and views held in the past would be untenable today. There must be some lesson that we can take from these works, if we examine them critically enough, and encourage our students to do so as well.

For another perspective on the issues I am trying to give voice to, read Multicultural Literature as Curriculum. Thanks to Elaine Magliaro over at the Blue Rose Girls for the link.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

When Books Fall Out of Fashion - Part 1

I was planning for a workshop recently and was packing a box of books to bring along. Since this was a workshop for PLT, I included lots of books about trees and habitats. One that I always bring along is the Caldecott Medal winner from 1957, A Tree is Nice written by Janice May Udry and illustrated by Marc Simont. It's a lovely little book that very simply describes the pleasures provided by trees. One of my co-presenters was a forestry employee who, while looking through the book, found that it contains a scene where leaves are burned. I was told immediately that this was a dated book and not appropriate to use, since leaf burning was no longer condoned.

Hmmmm . . . So here's my dilemma. Instead of merely tossing a book because it's outdated, why can't we take the opportunity to turn this into a teachable moment and explain WHY we no longer burn leaves? This isn't just about the Udry book for me. I've been thinking about these "out of fashion" books for a while. Some may view them as politically incorrect, others insensitive, and some just plain inaccurate. Take for example the The Sign of the Beaver, a 1984 Newbery honor book written by Elizabeth George Speare. When I discussed this with a few professors of children's literature about my use of it in my methods class, they suggested that this was not an appropriate work because of its poor treatment of Native Americans. They recommended the 1995 Newbery Medal winner Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech as an appropriate substitute. I stuck with The Sign of the Beaver, only because I thought there was much to be learned about the attitudes described in and portrayed by the book. In fact, the Hudson Museum at the University of Maine has a curriculum page devoted to the book where they highlight areas for discussion. They describe the derogatory use of the word squaw and caution teachers about the negative stereotypes that exist in the book.

I suppose we all have favorite books from childhood that when examined today, might not hold up to scrutiny. But the question still remains, is there no instructional value left because they don't meet current standards? Surely many have a deep affection in their hearts for the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, but they are terribly stereotypical in their portrayal of Native Americans. Should we dismiss these classics simply for this reason? I'm afraid that if we excise these books from the curriculum because they offend, we lose the opportunity to examine why such stereotypes and perspectives were/are wrong, and do little in the way of teaching our students to appreciate the diversity that every person brings to the community. And what of confronting directly the very ugly nature of much of this nation's history?

I don't have answers to these questions, but I still continue to grapple with them. Over at educating alice, you can read a post with similar thoughts, entitled Changing Communities, Changing Controversies.

*Just Added - It appears I still have much to think about. Denise Johnson at Joy of Children's Literature sent me this link to a critical review of Walk Two Moons. In further searches I found reviews critical of The Sign of the Beaver and, you guessed it, Little House on the Prairie. Once you read the review, follow the link to Little House on the Osage Prairie.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

These Times They Are A Changin'

My faithful readers (all 3 of you) and students know well that I teach a course that focuses on teaching science and social studies. It is called Integrated Curriculum Methods because I want students to think about the curriculum as a whole and connected piece, not discrete little units that never relate to one another. Wherever possible we look at the ways these subjects relate to English and math, but more importantly, to each other. One way I do this is through leading professional development workshops using Project WILD, Project Learning Tree (PLT) and Population Connection. I also have the Virginia Farm Bureau folks come in and lead a workshop on Agriculture in the Classroom.

One common theme that connects all these programs is change. In science, one way we explore change is to look at the ways in which humans have changed the natural world. In social studies, we look at differences between past and present and compare changes in community life over time. There are many books that look at change over time, and most of them integrate the science and social studies aspects of this change. Here are some of the titles I like to use.

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton - The classic tale of a house in the country slowly taken over by urbanization has a message that still rings true today.

A River Ran Wild: An Environmental History - Follow the evolution of the Nashua river, from earliest days, through times when only Native Peoples lived on the land, to colonial settlement and on through today. Though the river is damaged, an important message that we have the power to make things right is delivered.

New Providence: A Changing Cityscape by Renata von Tscharner and Ronald Lee Fleming - This picture book documents the physical evolution of a typical small American city between 1910 and 1987.

Heron Street by Ann Turner - This books documents what happens over the centuries as people settle near the marsh by the sea, and herons and other animals are displaced.

Two wordless picture books by Jeannie Baker.
  • Home - When a new baby arrives home, the view outside her window is not a pleasant one. As she grows, the beauty of the urban area is reclaimed.
  • Window - Each year as a young boy grows, the view outside his window changes, from one of the countryside to one with housing developments and the golden arches.
Shaker Lane by Alice and Martin Provensen - This books tells the story of a depressed rural area that is slowly taken over by suburban development. When land developers arrive and build a reservoir, the poor must move out to make way for new, middle class housing.

Hudson: A Story of a River by Robert C. Baron - Akin to Cherry's book on the Nashua river, this book follows the life of the Hudson river.

Where Once There Was a Wood by Denise Fleming - In beautiful cut paper collage, the author introduces the animals that live in an area, and are then displaced by a housing development. The book concludes with suggestions for creating backyard habitats and directions for establishing butterfly and hummingbird gardens.

What Ever Happened to the Baxter Place by Pat Ross - Watch what happens as a farm family sells their land piece by piece and urbanization creeps farther and farther into the country.

There are many other ways to look at change in science. The seasons and life cycles are two topics I will tackle a bit later. The books above are just a representation of those that help bridge the gap between science and social studies and allow us to look at change both historically and environmentally.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Poetry of Science

My college roommate was an English major. I was a biochemistry major. At the very least, this strange combination of interests made for very lively conversations. I listened while she read passages and poems aloud while trying to make sense of them, and she was subjected to my ramblings about oxidative phosphorylation and the right-hand rule.

When I started teaching (science, of course!), I wanted to find ways to make science come alive for students. I wanted it to be enjoyable and exciting. But most of all, I wanted it to be accessible. Science is so often about textbooks and vocabulary. I was convinced there had to be other ways to deliver the content. I found one of my greatest tools in the Far Side cartoons of Gary Larson. I would often begin a lesson by showing one on the overhead projector (yes, I taught in the days before we had computers in the classroom). One would always appear on a test as a short answer question of the variety "Explain the science behind this cartoon and why knowing the science makes it funny." My favorite is one of an alligator sitting in the witness box being grilled by an attorney while the jury looks on. The alligator shouts, "Of course I did it in cold blood you idiot, I'm a reptile!"

In addition to cartoons, I used songs (think Schoolhouse Rock, but updated) and poetry. While I still use all of these devices, poetry is the one form that I continue to seek out for use with my preservice teachers. I have a growing collection of books on science topics that use poetry as a means to make science understandable. Here are a few of my favorites.
  • The Earth is Painted Green: A Garden of Poems About Our Planet edited by Barbara Brenner - A lovely volume that combines art and poetry, this book contains a wide-ranging collection of 91 poems by the likes of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Carl Sandburg, Charlotte Zolotow, Jack Prelutsky, and Shel Silverstein. Nicely divided into eight sections, including earth, trees, plants, seasons, and environmental well-being, this volumes provides a fitting tribute to nature.
  • Spectacular Science: A Book of Poems by Lee Bennett Hopkins - This anthology of 15 poems includes work by Valerie Worth, Lilian Moore, Carl Sandburg and others. Covering topics such as rocks, snowflakes, and stars, readers are invited to think about science and the work that scientists do.
  • Science Verse by Jon Scieszka - This terrific collection of witty poems tackles science content while parodying poems by writers including Joyce Kilmer, Edgar Allan Poe, Lewis Carroll, Robert Frost and more.
  • There are MANY absolutely terrific books by Douglas Florian that combine art and poetry. Here are a few of animal titles.
    • beast feast - A collection of 21 poems and paintings about a variety of animals, including walrus, kiwi, lobsters, camels, bats and more.
    • in the swim - A collection of 21 poems and paintings about sea life.
    • insectlopedia - A collection of 21 poems and paintings on spiders and insects.
    • lizards, frogs and polliwogs - A collection of 21 poems and paintings on a variety of slimy and scaly creatures.
    • mammalabilia - A collection of 21 poems and paintings on all manner of mammals.
    • on the wing - A collection of 21 poems and paintings on a variety of birds.
    • zoo's who - A collection of 21 poems and paintings on a variety of animals, including the bush baby, tortoise, ladybugs, slugs and more.

  • Our Seasons by Grace Lin and Ranida McKneally - In this book, questions related to the changing of the seasons are answered in a clear and concise way. Each question and answer is accompanied by a beautiful painting by Grace Lin, along with a haiku that relates to the illustration.
  • Two books by Amy Goldman Koss.
    • Where Fish Go in Winter and Answers to Other Great Mysteries - This collection of poems provides answers to simple science questions in rhyme. Questions answered include "How do seeds know which way is up?" "Why do leaves change color" and as the title suggests, "Where do fish go in winter?"
    • Curious Creatures in Peculiar Places - "Toads with fire-engine red tummies, goggly-eyed tarsiers with sticky fingers and sloths who hang upside down from their toes are among the many creatures you'll find in this look at some of the nature's most bizarre animals and where they live. Lively rhymes provide oodles of facts to fascinate all readers (from the book)." A map is provided so readers can identify where each animal comes from. This book was a selection of the 1989 John Burroughs List of Outstanding Nature Books for Children.

  • Animal Sense by Diane Ackerman - This wonderful volume contains 15 poems, 3 for each of the 5 senses, with each one about a different animal.
  • Voices From the Wild: An Animal Sensagoria by D. Bouchard - This volume contains 25 poems, 5 for each of the senses, with each one about a different animal. Each poem describes how animals use their senses to survive in the wild. A lifelike painting of each animal accompanies each poem. Finally, the book concludes with short paragraphs about each of the animals.
  • Land, Sea & Sky: Poems to Celebrate the Earth - Supported by photographs from the Sierra Club, this book contains a collection of poems celebrating nature that includes such authors as Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes and others.
  • Old Elm Speaks: Tree Poems by Kristine O'Connell George - This collection of poems captures the beauty of trees through the seasons.
  • Ordinary Things: Poems From a Walk in Early Spring by Ralph Fletcher - This lovely volume of 33 poems celebrates the experiences of a walk through the woods in spring while encouraging readers to observe such objects as birds' nests, birch trees, shed snake skins, and many other treasures.
My Friday Poetry offering comes from this last volume. Enjoy!

Time to leave my desk
and leave my house,
pulling the door behind.

I walk the way I write
starting out all creaky,
sort of stumbling along,
looking for a rhythm.

Each footstep is like a word
as it meets the blank page
followed by a pause
before the next one:
step, step, word . . .
Just Added - Elaine Magliaro over at the Blue Rose Girls wrote on this topic last fall. Check out her November 10, 2006 post on Poetry & Science. I've found a kindred spirit folks, someone else who loves language, children's books and science. Thanks, Elaine!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Reading Your Way Through the 100th Day of School

Yes, it's that time of year. The 100th day of school will soon be celebrated in classrooms around the country. There are many great web sites that suggest activities for the 100th day of school, but since I'm all about using children's literature, here are some terrific books for both the study of place value AND the 100th day.
  • The Hundred Penny Box by Sharon Bell Mathis - This Newbery Honor book is about Michael and his great-great-Aunt Dew. She has a box with 100 pennies, one minted each year since she was born. This is a short but moving read aloud.
  • The Wolf's Chicken Stew by Keiko Kasza - A hungry wolf delivers 100 pancakes, 100 donuts and a 100 pound cake to a chicken he wants to fatten up for a stew. When he arrives to retrieve the chicken, he gets a big surprise!
  • From One to One Hundred by Terry Sloat - This terrific counting book counts from 1 to 10, and then by 10's to 100. The pictures are detailed and contain many things to count.
  • One Hundred is a Family by Pam Muñoz Ryan - This books looks at all the different ways people can come together to become "a family."
  • One Hundred Hungry Ants by Eleanor Pinczes - Find out all the different ways a group of ants can arrange themselves while marching to a picnic.
  • Curious George Learns to Count From 1 to 100 by H. A. Rey - I'm a big fan of this little monkey. The man in the yellow hat challenges George to count to 100, so this book delivers many things to count, including a parade of ants, leaves blowing in the air, and rungs on a ladder.
  • 100th Day Worries by Margery Cuyler - What's a young girl to do when she can't find a collection of 100 items to bring to school on the 100th day?
  • 100 Days of School by Trudy Harris - This book presents many different ways to count to 100. "If 99 dots are on a clown's suit, what do you get? 100 polka dots. Those . . . (on his clothes) plus 1 on his nose."
  • Miss Bindergarten Celebrates the 100th Day of Kindergarten by Joseph Slate - On the eve of the 100th day of school, Miss Bindergarten asks her students to bring in "100 of some wonderful, one-hundred-full thing!" Find out what they bring and how the class celebrates. The illustrator, Ashely Wolff, has some ideas for celebrating the 100th day. Go on, take a look!
  • 100 Days of Cool by Stuart Murphy - In this MathStart book, 4 students dress up ("funky") for the first day of school thinking their teacher wants to celebrate cool, but she really wants to celebrate 100 days of school. She challenges them to keep it up for the next 99 days, but how will they do it? You can visit Stuart Murphy's web site to check out some suggested activities.
Once you've done some reading, why not create a class book for the 100th day? ReadWriteThink has a fabulous lesson on Descriptive Writing and the 100th Day of School. All students bring in a bottle containing 100 items. Along with this, they write descriptive clues about the mystery items. Once the items have been revealed, students them complete pages of a book on each bottle and its contents.

If this list has served only to pique your interest, then head on over to these sites for more ideas.
Do you celebrate the 100th day with some great books, poems or songs? I'll bet you do, so please share!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A History Lesson From Swinton's Word-Book of English Spelling (1872)

And now for some entertainment from my collection of antique school books.

"Learning to spell the English language correctly is the most difficult task of school life. Hence correct spelling is rightly regarded as a sign of culture, and bad spelling as indicating a lack of it."

Section I. First Year's Work. First Month. 16. Articles of Dress
  • bonnet
  • mantle
  • gaiters
  • apron
  • trousers
  • mantilla
  • parasol
  • pantaloons
  • pantalets
  • petticoat
  • tunic
  • wrapper
  • corset
  • cravat
  • jacket
  • necktie
  • collar
  • slipper
  • drawers
  • overcoat
Alright, I have two questions. First, is spelling really the most difficult task one learns in school? (Not for me, I LOVED spelling.) Second, since when is a parasol an article of clothing?!

All silliness aside, this list has started me thinking that perhaps there is a social studies lesson here for next fall. There are several elementary objectives that relate to describing everyday life in the present and in the past and recognizing that things change over time. This list might make for some interesting comparisons.

On Reading Aloud

I have been thinking a lot about reading aloud these days. Last fall I had a student teacher (let's call her R.) working in a first grade classroom with a very rough schedule. There was a fifteen minute slice of time between resource classes and recess that needed to be filled. I suggested that this was the perfect time to read aloud. R. liked this idea, so together we selected some books that might be appropriate. The plan was for R. to share this idea with her teacher, the book selections, and then together, they would choose the book. A few days later, a very dejected R. entered my office. Here's a snippet of the conversation:
Me: What's wrong?
R.: I need to find a way to fill that 15 minute time slot with instruction.
Me: Aren't you going to read aloud?
R.: No.
Me: Why not?
R.: My teacher says the kids can't handle it.
Me: What do you mean, "can't handle it."
R.: Mrs. X. has been teaching a long time (30+ years) and says that these kids are not mature enough and not well-behaved enough. She thinks it will be a classroom management problem.
Me: Uh-huh. What else did she say?
R.: I need to find something academic for them to do.
This is the point where I turned away from R. to stare at my computer screen, shake my head, and mouth a few choice words. What kind of teacher believes that kids can't handle being read aloud to? What kind of teacher believes that this is not an academic exercise?

Months later, I still cannot shake this exchange. Ladies and gentlemen, this was an experienced first grade teacher. Every child/student needs to have books read aloud to them. I read to my middle school students ALL THE TIME. I kept an enormous library of science and math books that they regularly perused and even enjoyed! There were days when they begged me to read aloud. I simply cannot imagine a first grade classroom where the children would NOT want to have a story read aloud to them.

The sad reality here is that as I send more and more students to Title I and Reading First schools, the emphasis is on worksheets and basal readers. There seems to be little reading for enjoyment or modeling of that process. I suppose that is why I try to get my students (preservice teachers) to think about integrating children's literature wherever possible. When they write lessons for math, science and social studies, I require them to look at the English curriculum standards and include those that are appropriate as lesson objectives, recognizing that while we may choose to think about the curriculum in compartmentalized ways, real learning never happens in such a single-subject vacuum.

I still read aloud to students these days, though now it is to college students preparing to be teachers. Sure, they roll their eyes at me sometimes, but what better way to model the very behaviors I want to encourage? The first class of the semester in my Foundations of Math Instruction course I read aloud Math Curse by Jon Scieszka. We spent one whole session on reading and writing in math, where we looked at criteria for evaluating children's literature for use in math and practiced using them to examine a set of books. Last week when I taught counting and number sense, each student selected a book, did a quick review, and shared it with the class while outlining the concepts the book could be used to teach. This week when I begin to teach about place value and understanding large numbers, I will read How Much is a Million and an excerpt from G is for Googol, both by David Schwartz.

Reading aloud has a place in MY classroom, and I'm a college professor. So, where does it belong in the elementary classroom and where does it "fit" in the elementary curriculum? Anywhere and everywhere. Period. No excuses. Any good teacher will tell you so.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Saturday Morning Silliness

Thanks to CynJay for the link to Planet M&M.
Here's my M&M alter-ego. Darn cool!

Remembering Molly

Molly Ivins died on Wednesday. Whether you loved or hated her work, she always made you think. You can read some of the pieces written about her at Remembering Molly Ivins. Her longtime editor, Anthony Zucher, wrote a piece about her that moved me, and since he felt her greatest words of wisdom came with children's books, I just knew I had to share them.
For me, Molly's greatest words of wisdom came with three children's books she gave my son when he was born. In her inimitable way, she captured the spirit of each in one-sentence inscriptions. In "Alice in Wonderland," she offered, "Here's to six impossible things before breakfast." For "The Wind in the Willows," it was, "May you have Toad's zest for life." And in "The Little Prince," she wrote, "May your heart always see clearly."
To read more, check out the Molly Ivins Tribute. So long, Molly. We'll miss you.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Groundhog Day Poetry (Yes, It's Friday!)

I found this lovely gem at CanTeach: Songs & Poems.
Groundhog Day
Old Groundhog stretched in his leafy bed.
He turned over slowly and then he said,
"I wonder if spring is on the way,
I'll go and check the weather today.
If I see my shadow between eleven and noon,
I then will know that I'm out too soon.
I'll crawl back in bed for six weeks more,
Pull up the warm covers and snore and snore.
But if no shadow gives me a scare,
I know that spring is in the air,
I'll wake my friends and wish them cheer,
With glorious news that spring is here."
Here's a haiku from a site on Groundhog's Day Literature.
Groundhogs are sleeping
They don't give a flying fluff
About the weather.
And finally, since no shadow was sighted, here is a spring poem written by my favorite poet.
Spring Pools by Robert Frost
These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.
The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods --
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.

History's Tangled Threads

Thanks to Mr. Sutton over at Read Roger (call me old-fashioned, but I simply cannot refer to the editor of The Horn Book by his first name!) for the link to the Fergus Bordewich's Op-Ed piece on the Underground Railroad. Entitled History's Tangled Threads, Bordewich turns the freedom quilt myth head on. It's an interesting read. I was most moved by this conclusion:
"In an age when self-interest has been elevated in our culture to a public and political virtue, the Underground Railroad still has something to teach: that every individual, no matter how humble, can make a difference in the world, and that the importance of one’s life lies not in money or celebrity, but in doing the right thing, even in silence or secrecy, and without reward."
I don't have many books about the Underground Railroad, but I do have one that is just fabulous. Check out the Caldecott Honor book, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Kadir Nelson.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Celebrating Langston Hughes

On this day in 1902, James Langston Hughes was born in Joplin Missouri. He began writing poetry in the 8th grade. He dropped out of a degree program at Columbia University to pursue his writing. He was prolific in his work. He wrote sixteen books of poems, two novels, three collections of short stories, four volumes of "editorial" and "documentary" fiction, twenty plays, children's poetry, musicals and operas, three autobiographies, a dozen radio and television scripts and dozens of magazine articles. In addition, he edited seven anthologies.*

Here is one of my favorite Langston Hughes poems.
April Rain Song
Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.
*Information on the work of Langston Hughes from

News From The Leaky Cauldron

And now, drumroll please! Just in from The Leaky Cauldron:
" has been updated to announce that the last Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will be released on JULY 21, 2007."

Need I say more?!

(Thanks to Kelly at Big A little a for the update.)

Snowflakes on My Mind (and in My Books)

I have a son who is desperate for snow. Not in the "I want a snow day" kind of way, but in that "I'm nearly six and have yet to spend any real time playing in this fabulous stuff" sort of way. As someone who grew up outside of Rochester, NY and then later lived in Buffalo, NY, I've had enough snow to last a lifetime. However, you can't blame a kid for wanting to build a snowman. It snowed once last winter, in November 2005, and of course, we had no mittens, snow pants, boots, or any other appropriate garb. Once I went out and bought them, the promise of snow disappeared.

This year, snow has been only hinted at, and like many parts of the country, we've experienced warmer than normal temperatures. As Virginia now braces (possibly) for what may be an inch or two of snow, I am quietly rooting for a snow day so that I can play in the snow with my son.

So, in homage to the fleeting white stuff, we have been reading lots of books about snow and winter. Here are some of our favorites.
  • Snowflake Bentley written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian - This Caldecott Medal winner tells the true story of Wilson Bentley, a farmer who spent his life photographing snowflakes. The Buffalo Museum of Science has a digital library of these amazing photographs. You can see them at The Bentley Snow Crystal Collection.
  • Snow by Uri Shulevitz - Even though the adults believe that it will not snow, a boy and his dog don't give up hope. This is a Caldecott honor book that beautifully portrays the transformation of a city when it snows.
  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats - What's not to love about this 1963 Caldecott Medal winner? Discover what happens when Peter awakens to find snow has fallen during the night.
  • In the Snow by Huy Voun Lee - When a young boy and his mother walk through a forest in the snow, his mother scratches Chinese characters with a stick. Words represented include tree, forest, pond, rest, rain, snow, sun, moon, sparkling, and bright. The glossary includes a cut-paper picture, the character, its meaning in English, a transcription in Mandarin Chinese, and pronunciations.
  • The Snowman by Raymond Briggs - A fantastic wordless picture book. A young boy builds a snowman, only to find that it comes to life in his dreams.
  • Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton - In the summer, Katy is a bulldozer. When winter comes, she waits for her big chance to clear snow in Geopolis, and boy, does she get it!
  • The Mitten by Jan Brett - Find out what happens to Nicki's lost mitten when a mole, rabbit, hedgehog, an owl, a badger, fox, and finally a bear seek refuge in it.
  • Snowballs by Lois Ehlert - I'm a big fan of Ehlert's artwork. This book on building a snow family shows that the "traditional" snowman can be improved upon!
  • Owl Moon by Jane Yolen - A young girl and her father go owling on a winter night, where they make their way through snow that is "whiter than the milk in a cereal bowl." Illustrated by John Schoenherr, this won the Caldecott Medal in 1988.
  • Charlie and Lola: Snow is My Favorite and My Best by Lauren Child - Charlie takes his little sister Lola out to play in the snow, but sadly, it has melted by the next day. When Lola is disappointed by this turn of events, Charlie tries to explain why snow is special.
  • Martin MacGregor's Snowman by Lisa Broadie Cook - Martin desperately wants to build a snowman, but what's a boy to do when the weather won't cooperate?
  • Snow by P.D. Eastman - This is the classic beginning reader about all the great ways to enjoy snow.
I could go on, but these are titles that top the list. Have I missed some great ones? I'm sure I have. Click away in the comments section and let me know about the beauties that I've overlooked.