Monday, December 31, 2007

Monday Poetry Stretch - Rhymed Couplets

My poetry princesses (you know who you are) are probably wondering if I've dropped off the face of the Earth. Well, I have in a way, being all wound up in the holidays and at home with family. William goes back to school on the 2nd (as do I), so I hope to have some time soon to finish up my sonnet. I've written a few versions (3!) and am still unsatisfied. To help me think through some ideas, I've taken to writing rhymed couplets in iambic pentameter.

That's your challenge for this week. Write a series of rhymed couplets in iambic pentameter. You don't need to put a sonnet together, but if you're so inclined . . .

So, will you join me? I'll share some of the lines that don't make it into my sonnet. Leave me a comment about your poetry and I'll post them all here later this week. In the meantime, happy writing and best wishes for 2008!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mathematically Inclined

I go back to work in a few short days, so in my free time I am reading like mad for spring courses. My current book selections are all about math. Even though I teach the same math class year after year, it's never exactly the same. Sure, I need to help my students understand how children learn math and how best to teach it, but I seem to approach it differently each go-round. I suppose this keeps me and the material fresh.

I just finished reading The Glass Wall: Why Mathematics Can Seem Difficult, by Frank Smith. A whole lot of circular reasoning at the outset had me quite frustrated and wondering why I was reading, but I did press on and found some really interesting ideas in the end. Chapter 12 begins with this idea.
Is mathematics something we know or something we do? The answer is both--mathematics is part facts and part act. And there is no clear dividing line between the two.
I generally talk about the difference between procedural and conceptual knowledge and the need for children to develop both. I'd like to begin with this question on the first day and use it to frame our conversations throughout the semester.

Smith makes several important points in Chapter 13. They include these ideas.
Many teachers have little choice about the materials they use and the curriculum they follow. Yet their most critical practical concern must always be to the understand the mathematical situation the student is in. The issue is not so much what the teacher (or the textbook) is trying to teach as what the learner is learning.

Being a mathematician is a state of mind rather than a repertoire of skills and knowledge. Becoming a mathematician should be an initiation, an affirmation, an induction into a club that is open to all learners, no matter how limited their experience.

Anyone can learn to understand and enjoy mathematics provided nothing goes wrong. And nothing will go wrong provided four essential conditions are met. They are:
  1. The mathematics must be interesting and comprehensible.
  2. There's no fear of mathematics.
  3. Inappropriate things aren't learned.
  4. There's sufficient time.
These are all important ideas I try to convey to my students. I think the most difficult thing for them to accept relates to the notion of time. Classroom teachers have limited amounts of time, but learning can't be forced. What happens when the pacing guide only allows a teacher to devote 2 weeks to teaching fractions, but at the end of these two weeks the students still don't understand? What then? Do teachers move on, or take more time to ensure students understand the material? Overwhelmingly, the response is move on.

One change I ask students to make to develop the notion that all children can do math, is to use the word mathematician on the top of worksheets and tests (instead of name). This is such a small thing, but it really makes a noticeable difference in the attitude of students toward their work in math. I do the same thing in science and social studies, using the titles scientist, historian and geographer.

As I work on my syllabus, I am going to think more about the four conditions and how I can use them in helping students think about essentials of instruction.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Poetry Friday - Auguries of Innocence

I'm not sure why, but the end of the year always brings this poem to mind.
Auguries of Innocence
By William Blake

To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.…

The bat that flits at close of eve
Has left the brain that won’t believe.
The owl that calls upon the night
Speaks the unbeliever’s fright.…

Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine;
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.…

Every tear from every eye
Becomes a babe in Eternity.…

The bleat, the bark, bellow, and roar
Are waves that beat on Heaven’s shore.…

He who doubts from what he sees
Will ne’er believe, do what you please.
If the Sun and Moon should doubt,
They’d immediately go out.…

God appears, and God is Light,
To those poor souls who dwell in Night;
But does a Human Form display
To those who dwell in realms of Day.
The round-up today is at Check it Out. Here's wishing you a happy Poetry Friday, and even happier New Year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Back Page Reading

While I won't ruin the reading of a good book by starting on the last page, my magazine reading generally starts here. If it's Newsweek, I start with The Last Word, particularly if Anna Quindlen is on. When The Horn Book Magazine arrives, I go straight for the Cadenza. In my post-Christmas haze, what should arrive to my exhausted delight? Yes. The Horn Book Magazine, and a funnier Cadenza I've not seen in a while. Looking like a page of classifieds, Alicia Potter offers up services rendered, for sale, real estate, and personals. They all made me laugh, some out loud, and figuring out the book references was the best part. Really, who wouldn't laugh at this?
SWING SET. Discreet, unconventional
couple seeks same for friendship,
maybe more. Serious inquiries only.
Email georgeandmartha@hip
Go get yourself a copy and have some fun. While you're at it, revel in the the words and ideas in the speeches delivered by the 2007 Boston Globe-Horn Book award winners and read reviews of some terrific new books.

Books and Toys, Toys and Books, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

It was a lovely, chaotic Christmas day. There were lots of books to be unwrapped. There was the package from Anastasia Suen, that included Air Show, the book I won in her 12 days of Christmas contest and a few I ordered online. Anastasia generously signed all of them for William.
That's a copy of Olivia Helps with Christmas peeking out from the pile behind William.

Several months ago William walked into our local library, marched up to the librarian and said, "Do you have 365 Penguins? My Mom won't buy it for me." Since then, we've borrowed it out more times than I can remember. The librarian finally suggested I just buy it for him. Well, I didn't, but one of his Aunt's did.
There were some Mr. Putter and Tabby books (Stir the Soup and Toot the Horn) and The Little Red Train Storybook. There were also lots of toys, including trains and train track, board games, puzzles, art supplies, a tattoo studio, and more.
Yes, I'm ashamed to say that an obscene amount of presents were piled under the tree this year. Every time I opened a closet or drawer I found something else I had purchased and stashed away. Some of it will not see the light of day until February, when William celebrates his 7th birthday.

All in all, we had a wonderful and exhausting day. Even the dog was worn out from playing with her new toy.
I hope your day was just as joyous and full.

Monday, December 24, 2007

No Stretch Today - Enjoy the Season

There is no poetry stretch today, just some encouragement to enjoy the poetry of the season. Here's some Thomas Hardy to get you in the mood.
The Oxen
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel,

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so’.
I also recommend a reading of John Milton's Hymn on the Morning of Christ's Nativity. For all of you celebrating this Christmas season, best wishes for a joyous holiday.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Gifts for Literary Lovers and Others

I hope those of you celebrating Christmas have finished your shopping and are enjoying time with family and friends. I am spending some quiet time looking over the catalogs that have been piling up. Funny, but this is the time of year when everything I see appeals to -- well, ME! Here are some of the things that have caught my attention. I'm going to keep them in mind for my literary friends come next year.

Bookopoly - I know that there are all sorts of Monopoly take-offs out there, but how many trade Park Place and Boardwalk for books (can you guess which great American novels get the honors?) and passing Go for passing Read?
Woodgrain Plates - Aren't these animals the cutest things you've ever seen? They'd make great hors d'ourves dishes.
Poetry on Record: 98 Poets Read Their Work - This collection of CDs contains nearly 5 hours of poets reading their own work. Includes readings by Tennyson, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas and more.
Small Meadow Press Journals - Okay, this one is actually a gift I already bought for myself, but hey, you can NEVER have too many journals. If you've never seen the stuff that Lesley makes at Small Meadow Press, you are really missing something. There are notecards and journals made of thick and flecked and beautiful papers. You can also find gorgeous book plates, calling cards, and more. This is the journal I bought for myself. A quote by Thoreau graces the cover. Did I mention it's bound with ribbon? I also own the one shown below.
Punctuated Page Markers - Yes, I'll admit to wanting to mark up my books as I read them, but I just can't do it. These markers would definitely solve that problem.
Hookmarks - A friend of mine recently got one of these bookmarks and is raving about it. Since I have a son who is prone to opening my books and dropping the paper bookmarks, this might not be a bad idea. I love this one.

Book Gift Baskets
- Alright, these are just downright cool. Pick a book, get some tea and cookies, or music to go with it. What a great idea.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Poetry Friday - An Original

The poetry stretch this week was to create a poem that used these words.
snow, frozen, wind, evening, woods, lake, village, farmhouse

All of these words came from Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. For a real treat, you should listen to him read it. I am on a Frost kick these days, but in writing my poem I was thinking about Thoreau and how much I dislike snow, even though I haven't always felt this way. It is, as yet, untitled.
She walks slowly
past village and farmhouse,
leaving tracks along
the dusted lane.

Dreaming of Thoreau,
she longs for a simple life,
communing with nature
in all its grandeur.

But it is winter,
and the arctic wind
has burned her cheeks
and dampened her desire.

Her feet carry her forward
around the lake,
where she steps lightly
on its frozen edges.

She smiles
as thoughts turn to
to sharpened skates,
a soft muffler
and steaming cocoa.

This evening she will
sit by the fire
and remember youthful winters,
where enthusiasm for snow
was unbounded.
The round-up this week is being hosted by Gina at AmoXicalli. Before you head on out to read all the great poetry being shared this week, do stop by and check out this week's poetry stretch results. Happy poetry Friday, all!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Poetry Stretch Results - What Words?

For this week's stretch I challenge participants to use a list of words to write a poem in any form. The words were:
snow, frozen, wind, evening, woods, lake, village, farmhouse

These may conjure up images of a familiar poem. Ruth wrote "This really suggests Robert Frost to me." She's right. All these words come from this poem.
Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Here are the poems folks came up with using the above list.
Elaine at Wild Rose Reader gives us an untitled poem.

Ruth at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town shares one called On Grading Essay Tests on Robert Frost. It doesn't contain all the words on the list, but fits the spirit of the poem nicely.

cloudscome at a wrung sponge shares Sock Knitting Woman, a poem that uses the words on the list as ends words.

sister AE at Having Writ was thinking Train Ride.

Blink, a third grade teacher with a blog called Bridges, left this one in the comments.

Village Evening
Winds, woods, and lake howl
As the frozen evening sets
And snow covers snow
I'm still working on my poem, but will have it tomorrow for poetry Friday. For the rest of you, it's not too late to stretch with us. Create your poem using the words above and drop me a line. Then I'll add your poem to the list.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What Are You Doing Here?

Yup, I'm still grading and revising a big report. Move along now, as there isn't anything here to see. What you need to do is head on over to Big A little a and check out the fabulous December Carnival of Children's Literature that Kelly has put together. If you are one of those last minute gift buyers (not me, I'm done, done, done!), you'll find plenty of great ideas for your book loving kids.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Monday Poetry Stretch - What Words?

I am still in the midst of finals and grading, with no end currently in sight. However, grades are due by 9 am Friday, so at least I know where the finish line is. I thought it might be fun this week to try and write a poem using a specific list of words. You can choose any form you like, but you must use the words in the list. You may use them more than once and in any order. Here they are.

snow, frozen, wind, evening, woods, lake, village, farmhouse

So, will you join me? What kind of poem will you write? Leave me a comment about your efforts and I will post the results here later this week.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Just Arrived - Sock Fairy Extraordinaire!

I have been panicking a bit this week, as the crown sonnet I am participating in has wound its way to me. I have some very big shoes to fill and need some serious good vibes in the writing department. Just in the nick of time to help me out, this lovely lady arrived today! We picked out our Douglas fir this morning, so she is the first thing to adorn it. (Thanks to Adrienne and pigeon for the idea!)
I hope she'll bring me some "good writing juju," as Vivian put it. Thanks oodles to HipWriterMama for making her (she's lovely) and sending her all the way to Virginia.

I will be taking her to the office with me this week, but until then, I guarantee she won't be lonely. William made sure she has a friend.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Book Review - Vulture View

We've all seen them, with their dark plumage, featherless heads and hooked beaks, circling, circling something in the the distance. Road kill for breakfast? Don't mind if I do. Yes, I'm talking about vultures, and so is April Pulley Sayre in her informative and poetic (absolutely) book Vulture View.

I know that right now some of you are saying, "Gross! Why would I want to learn about these disgusting birds?" Here's my response. First, vultures are incredibly clean birds, bathing and preening regularly. Second, and more importantly, vultures are a vital part of our natural environment, cleaning up dead carcasses and decreasing the spread of some diseases. Third, they're just plain interesting.

In rhythmic, precise text, Sayre teaches us much about the amazing turkey vulture. Here's an excerpt on how they find their food.
Vultures smell the air.
They sniff, search, seek
for foods that . . .
(turn the page)
. . . REEK!

Those fragrant flowers?
No, no.

That spicy smoke?
No, no.

That stinky dead deer?
Yes, yes!
Readers learn that vultures soar on thermals, taking to the air as it warms, returning to roost in the trees as air cools. The book ends with a section entitled Get To Know Vultures, with the Subsections: (1) Soaring Up, Up, Up!; (2) The Vulture Family; (3) Nature's Cleanup Crew; (4) Family Life and Range; and (5) Heads Up, Young Scientists. It is packed with information and even includes a link to the Turkey Vulture Society's web site, as well as information on festivals that celebrate vultures/buzzards.

The book works on many levels, not only because of the strength of the writing, but also the beauty of the illustrations. Steve Jenkins has done a masterful job portraying the world of the vulture. The paper used for the collages are handmade gems that add depth to the images. I can't say enough about how lovely this book is. Elementary kids of all ages will appreciate the book, and teachers will find it makes a wonderful addition to lessons on the food chain. I highly recommend this title.

Book: Vulture View
Author: April Pulley Sayre
Illustrator: Steve Jenkins
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Publication Date: October 2, 2007
Pages: 32
Grades: K-5
ISBN-10: 0805075577
ISBN-13: 978-0805075571
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased for Cybils consideration

Poetry Stretch Results - Seasonal Offerings

This week I asked my friends to write seasonal poetry. Here's what you creative folks have come up with.
Mad Kane wrote a limerick on Weathering New York Weather.

Laura Purdie Salas shares a bouncy rhyme with The Fastest Month.

sister AE describes how many of us feel with her poem, Modern December Taffy-Pull. Stretched indeed!

cloudscome shares an advent Fib.

Elaine Magliaro offers up something sweet in Candy Cane.
It's not too late to play. Share your thoughts about the season and drop me a line. Then I'll add your poem to the list.

Poetry Friday is the Place to Be!

Welcome one and all to Poetry Friday here at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Please leave me a comment about your entry and I will add your poems throughout the day. In the meantime, I am in with some Robert Frost.
Dust of Snow
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Here are this week's wonderfully diverse entries.

Becky (Becky's Book Reviews) shares the lyrics from an Emmet Otter song and a very funny video of outtakes. Boy, do I miss Jim Henson.

Gina Ruiz is in with a bounty of great stuff, including a video poem in Spanish honoring the la virgen de Guadalupe, the lyrics to the traditional Mexican birthday song, and much more! (You gotta love it when we all feel a little bit of guilt about missing a poetry Friday or two! Gina's making up for it today.)

John Mutford appeals to the teacher in all of today by offering up a little quiz of famous opening lines of poetry. How many can you name?

Kelly shares Ruth Lily's poem A Little Book, in honor of all the great books she'll have a chance to read during the upcoming break.

Sherry is getting into the spirit of the season and sharing poems by Walter de la Mare and Hilaire Belloc, entitled Mistletoe and Lines for Christmas Card respectively.

Stacey is also in a snowy mood, sharing Snow Aldo by Kate DiCamillo.

Mary Lee shares the Reading to the Children by Herbert Morris. I'm sure teachers, librarians, authors and parents alike have all faced these questions when reading aloud to kids. His responses are wonderful!

Sara Lewis Holmes asks the question, can a speech be poetry? Read the speech given in 1588 by Elizabeth I at Tilbury to her troops, and see if you can't be persuaded.

Laura Salas shares a review of a book on how to write poetry and her weekly 15 words or less challenge. The photo this week is gorgeous, so stop by and leave your own concise bit of poetry.

Jama Rattigan is celebrating Sara Lewis Holmes today with The Bones of January and cookies!

Elaine gives us a review of Do Rabbits Have Christmas?, a posthumous collection of Aileen Fisher's poetry. She also shares Nancy McCleery's poem December Notes.

Shelf Elf shares an apt poem for kids at this time of year, Snowy Sunday with Homework by Loris Lesynski.

TadMack is thinking Plath today (why does that admission always make me nervous?) and shares the amazing poem Black Rook in Rainy Weather. She even includes a link to the audio of Plath reading the poem.

Little Willow shares a poem by A.S.J. Tessimond, entitled Flight of Stairs.

The Cole Mine reminds us that today begins the 2007 Christmas bird count and shares some bird poetry by Linda Pastan and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Susan writes shares a poem that conjures up some interesting images. See what comes to mind when you read Sheep, by C. Kennett Burrow.

Karen Edmisten has some very practical Christmas haiku.

Sylvia Vardell is enjoying some new digs, and in doing so, shares a poem that evokes memories of the first night in a new house. Go read Betsy Rosenthal's poem My House's Night Song.

Kelly Fineman shares the sweet and melancholy poem The lowest trees have tops, the ant her gall, by Sir Edward Dyer.

Wizards Wireless is also celebrating the end of the semester with an original poem entitled Freedom. (I'm not celebrating yet, just procrastinating!)

Liz in Ink is yet another celebrator of semester endings. (Drat! When is it my turn?!) Her last class of the semester retired to a coffeehouse for a final reading. In the spirit of reading poetry aloud, she shares a link to some mighty good poetry reading.

Becky (Farm School) shares a lovely poem by Phillip Booth entitled North.

This week's Monday Poetry Stretch participants wrote seasonal poems for your enjoyment.

Crispus Attucks is feeling the love and thinking Whitman, as in A Song of Joy.

Lisa Chellman shares a short but appropriate poem for this time of year. It is Season Song by Judith Nicholls.

Seven Imp is in today with The Stolen Child by William Butler Yeats.

Alkelda the Gleeful shares the translation of the Santa Lucia song, Night Walks with a Heavy Step.

Blog from the Windowsill is enjoying Cybils reading and has posted an original poem in the form of an ode to Joyce Sidman's nominated book. The poem is entitled This is Just to Say.

LiteracyTeacher shares a poem I would have loved as a kid, Dave Crawley's I Will Not Tease Rebecca Grimes.

cloudscome shares a little e.e. cummings with little tree, and let's us know about a picture book related to the poem.

Miss Erin shares a lovely lit bit of Emily Dickinson.

Book Buds reviews the new book based on the Wordsworth poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.

HipWriterMama is also in a snowy mood and gives us The Snow Storm by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Lindabudz has started a Renga. Stop by and leave a few lines of poetry.

Sarah also gives us snow with Robert Louis Stevenson's Winter-Time.

MotherReader shares a link to threadless, which has poet-trees and other funky t-shirts.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dogs and Cats, Cats and Dogs - Books and Poetry

I've been reading books for the Cybils for several weeks. I should be writing a review for Steve Jenkin's book Dogs and Cats right now, but my mind has wandered into "perfect pair" territory. When Elaine Started Wild Rose Reader back in April, she outlined her hopes for the blog. One was to write features called "A Perfect Pair," where she would discuss two books with a common storyline or theme. This is a wonderful idea, particularly when one book in the pair is poetry.

I have a hard time convincing my students (some preservice teachers, some experienced teachers) to use the genre of poetry in the classroom. I wish it wasn't such a struggle, but it is. Perhaps by pairing poetry with other books, teachers can see the value in integrating more poetry into their instruction.

So, back to Dogs and Cats. I am crazy about the work Steve Jenkins does. I am always amazed at the depth he is able to create with his cut and torn paper collage creations. This book is told in two halves/directions, with the dog side and cat side offering parallel information (history, physical characteristics, etc.). They meet in the middle with the question "Friends or enemies?" Brief passages of informational text are accompanied by Jenkins' signature illustrations. Silhouettes of dogs and cats with interesting bits of information appear in the other animal's section, encouraging readers to think about the comparisons between animals. There is a lot of great information here in a book that is fun to peruse.

There are a number of poetry books that would make good partners for Jenkins' book. Here are a few of my favorites.
  • I Am the Dog I Am the Cat by Donald Hall - This free verse poem alternates between the voice of a rottweiler and the voice of a tabby cat.
  • Meow Ruff: A Story in Concrete Poetry by Joyce Sidman - A dog and cat are trapped under a picnic table in a rainstorm. Since much of the verse forms the images on the page, readers will enjoy searching for the buried verses while reading the story.
  • Raining Cats and Dogs by Jane Yolen - Similar in format to Dogs and Cats, this book can be read from both directions. Tired of poems about dogs? Flip the book over and read about cats. (This one's out of print, so check your local library for a copy.)
In addition to these poems, there is a terrific picture book that would also pair nicely with Jenkins' book.
  • Cool Cat, Hot Dog by Sandy Turner - Appearing on facing pages, the cat and dog in this story argue over who is the superior animal.
Have I missed a good dog and cat/cat and dog book of poetry or picture book? Please let me know and I'll add it to this list.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bound to Make You Smile

I'm afraid I've been in a bah-humbug, scrooge kind of mood for several weeks now. It's work, weighing heavy on my mind, that is keeping me from getting into the spirit of the season. Smiles are hard to come by these days, but on my way to work this morning, I saw something that shook me out of my grumpy state. Walking down the road was a young woman with a black lab. In his mouth was, not a stick, but a branch, over six feet long! His tail was wagging so hard his entire back end shook. I not only smiled, but laughed out loud. The woman walking him kept shaking her head and smiling. How could I not smile with them?

What's made you smile recently? Would you care to share and spread that smile even farther? I know I'd love to read your stories.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Monday Poetry Stretch - Something Seasonal

Last week's poetry stretch was a bust of sorts. Libby left a link to a great villanelle, Elizabeth Bishop's One Art. sister AE left a link to a villanelle she wrote back in June. That's all I have, however. My attempts at writing a villanelle all got derailed. I will take it up again, but in the midst of finals and grading, I simply don't have the energy that this one requires.

My lack of productivity with last week's form doesn't mean I'm giving up on stretching entirely. I know lots of folks are busy right now, so I thought perhaps a bit of seasonal poetry might be fitting. Here's the deal. Pick any form you like and write something seasonal, whether it is about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, winter, snow, hibernation, etc. (If you're in the southern hemisphere, you might want to write about summer!)

Here's a fib for William, who is already hoping for a snow day. (It was 70 degrees in VA today, so a snow day isn't looking too likely yet!) He's almost 7 and has yet to experience the thrill of sledding. I'm hoping one day soon he'll get the chance.
Steady now
breathless race to the end - Again!
Well, this is a start. How about you? Can you find some time to write seasonal poetry this week? If so, leave me a comment and I'll link to your posts later this week.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Reading, Origami, and General Laziness

William and I spent a lazy day at home today, reading library books and books for the Cybils (picture book nonfiction). Then we flew paper airplanes. Between loads of wash, we opted for origami. Here's what we made today.
From left to right is a duck, sailboat, wreath, dinosaur, penguin and owl bookmark. The bookmark is very cool, with the the top flap folding over the page to hold your place. The wreath is amazing and was a snap to make, though it required 12 sheets of paper! The dinosaur required quite a bit of wrestling, but was worth it in the end.

I'm off to make dinner while the boy heads off to build with Legos. It's been a great day. How was yours?

P.S. - If you want to make a wreath of your own, follow this step-by-step video.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Snowflake Booty

I know I should be in bed, but I couldn't turn in without sharing these beauties. They'll be winging their way to me very shortly. Even though I purchased these as gifts, I may have a hard time parting with them. Perhaps I can rationalize keeping one for myself!
I'll be dreaming of snowflakes tonight. Will you?

Poetry Friday - Sleep

I am, in a word, exhausted. I stayed up nearly every night this week working until 2 am. I would get in a bit of shut eye and then get right back up again around 5 am. Wednesday night I didn't go to bed at all. I need sleep! So today, I am thinking Keats.
To Sleep
by John Keats

O soft embalmer of the still midnight!
Shutting with careful fingers and benign
Our gloom-pleased eyes, embower'd from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine;
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close,
In midst of this thine hymn, my willing eyes,
Or wait the amen, ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities;
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes;
Save me from curious conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed casket of my soul.
The round-up today is over at Becky's Book Reviews. Please stop by and check out all the great posts. Happy poetry Friday, all!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It's That Time of Year - Gift Books

For the December Carnival of Children's Literature, Kelly (Big A little a) has asked contributors to come up with ideas for gift books. Here are some of my old and new favorites to give during this time of year. Consider it my top ten and then some.

While my parents in NY have been dealing with lake effect snow for some time now, it is just a dream for my family here in Virginia (though we did have a few flakes today). For the little people on your list who love snow, here are a few 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.
I've been known to give gifts with origami animals as the tags. Why not consider giving these books and some colored and patterned origami paper?
  • Fold Me a Poem by Kristine O'Connell George - There are no directions on making origami in this one, just some wonderfully descriptive poems and gorgeous artwork.
  • Lissy's Friends by Grace Lin - Lissy feels alone at her new school, so she creates some origami animals to keep her company. Will she ever make friends of her own? This is a wonderful story for any child who has ever experienced being the new kid. Origami directions are found on the endpapers.
Stories with a good puzzle to solve are always engaging. Here are some books that will encourage young readers put on their thinking caps.
  • The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin - Winston sees puzzles everywhere. Imagine his dismay when he gives his sister a box for her birthday, only to learn that it has a secret compartment containing four wood sticks with puzzle clues. Readers will solve puzzles right along with Winston and his sister Katie as they try to solve the mystery.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart - Eleven year-old Reynie Muldoon is intrigued by an ad in the paper that asks “Are You a Gifted Child looking for Special Opportunities?” Reynie and dozens of other children show up to answer the ad and take a mind-boggling series of tests, but only Reynie and three others are left at the end. Puzzles and mysteries abound in this adventurous tale.
  • Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett - Petra and Calder are preoccupied with Vermeer. When a Vermeer painting is stolen in transit from the National Gallery in Washington D.C. to the Chicago Institute of Art, they become intent on finding the painting and solving the mystery. Clues and mysteries abound. Calder carries a set of pentominoes in his pocket at all times, so be sure to print your own set to use while reading this one! (You can also play online.)
There are many great nonfiction books that share information in thoroughly entertaining ways. Here are some of the best of 2007.
  • Lightship by Brian Floca - Imagine spending your life aboard a ship that doesn't sail, but rather remains anchored in order to warn other ships when there is heavy fog. This beautifully illustrated book helps readers to explore life on a lightship.
  • Living Color by Steve Jenkins - Why would an animal have a blue tongue, a red-belly, or a face on it's back? Learn all about color in the animal kingdom in this fact-filled book.
  • One Well: The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss - This book provides an instructive and often-times inspiring look at water. Inspiring? Absolutely. The author reminds us that the amount of water on Earth hasn't ever changed. Since this water has been around for billions of year, it is entirely possible that the water we drink may have "quenched the thirst of a dinosaur" more than one hundred million years ago!
My apologies to all you cat lovers out there, but we love our dogs. Here are our favorite dog books, all guaranteed to make you smile, and maybe even make you laugh out loud.
  • Bark George by Jules Feiffer - When George's mother asks him to bark, he meows. Then quacks, oinks, and moos. Whatever will they do? George is off to see the vet, who will surely have the answer.
  • Martha Speaks by Susan Meddaugh - Martha is a plain old lovable pooch until she is fed vegetable soup and the letters go up to her head instead of down to her belly. Now Martha talks, and talks, and talks.
  • Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion - When Harry runs away from home, he is transformed from "a white dog with black spots to a black dog with white spots." He eventually returns home, but is not recognized by his family until he's scrubbed clean. Originally published in 1956, this new version is enhanced by Margaret Bloy Graham's updated illustrations that feature added splashes of color.
  • Dear Mrs. Larue: Letters From Obedience School by Mark Teague - Prison or a country club for dogs? You be the judge. In black and white (prison) and color (country club) illustrations, Teague takes readers on a rollicking good ride with Larue, the letter-writing canine.
  • Office Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann - In this Caldecott Medal winner, Officer Buckle gives safety lectures to school kids that are boring, boring, boring. Once Gloria the police dog comes along, safety lectures are never the same again!
If you have favorite books in any of these categories, please share them. I'd love to hear your ideas.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Book Review - Sawdust and Spangles: The Amazing Life of W.C. Coup

When I was a child, I had two fantasies about running away from home. One was to join the circus and care for the animals -- lions, tigers, bears, and elephants. The other was to join Jacques Cousteau and sail the world in search of amazing and exotic sea creatures. William C. Coup, a man born in 1837, not only had similar dreams, he made them come true!
Sawdust and Spangles: The Amazing Life of W.C. Coup is a picture book biography that details Coup's boyhood and rise to circus eminence. But Coup didn't stop there. He had a vision that allowed him to grow his circus show beyond the traditional big top.

The book begins with William's boyhood in Indiana, where he helped out with his father's tavern. The turning point in his life is described early on.
William made his way into the big tent. Inside he saw lions and elephants and a giraffe as tall as a tree! There was a tightrope walker, acrobats on horseback, and even a strongman who could break steel chains with his bare hands!

And clowns who made him laugh so hard his sides hurt!

William instantly fell in love with the sights and sounds of the big top, and it was at the moment that he made a decision that would change his world forever: He decided to run away with the circus!
The authors describe how William, later known as W.C., worked his way up through the ranks to eventually run his own circus. He became known for his sideshow acts and outstanding performers, including General Tom Thumb and Dan Rice, the King of Clowns. Before long, P.T. Barnum came calling, and W.C. Coup went to New York City to join him. It was under Coup's direction that the Great Roman Hippodrome was opened, and it was Coup who convinced Barnum to take the show on the road, using the first circus trains to move it.

Even with all his success in the circus, Coup still had another dream, on to create a museum of aquatic wonder. He traveled the world to find all sorts of exotic sea creatures, ultimately building the New York Aquarium to house them.

The book ends on a happy note, with Coup seeing the fulfillment of his dreams. However, readers learn in the author's note that when Coup and his partner could not resolve a disagreement relating to the aquarium, they decided to flip a coin for ownership. Coup lost and had to walk away from his creation. He did not give up on his love for the circus life, and ran several other shows, including monster shows and several touring Wild West shows. I found the author's note to be helpful and informative, though I wish it had included some dates or a timeline. I had to search the web to find out exactly when Coup lived. The inclusion of dates would have strengthened the text.

Overall, I found this book to be very entertaining. The colorful and primitive artwork by Giselle Potter is lovely and nicely complements this compelling story. I highly recommend this biography.

Book: Sawdust and Spangles: The Amazing Life of W.C. Coup
Authors: Ralph Covert and G. Riley Mills
Illustrator: Giselle Potter
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 1, 2007
Pages: 32
Grades: K-3
ISBN-10: 0810993511
ISBN-13: 978-0810993518
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased for Cybils consideration

I'm Famous! (Sort Of)

Today I am famous, at least in the kidlit world. Learn more than you ever really wanted to know about me at my Seven Imp. interview. Thanks to Jules and Eisha for letting me have my say. It was great fun.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Monday Poetry Stretch - Villanelle

After reading Ruth's poetry Friday post about Billy Collins and his parody of the villanelle (the paradelle), I decided that the villanelle would be a good form to try.

The villanelle is a nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. It is made up of five tercets and a quatrain. The rhyme scheme is aba aba aba aba aba abaa. The 1st and 3rd lines from the first stanza are alternately repeated so that the 1st line becomes the last line in the second stanza, and the 3rd line becomes the last line in the third stanza and so on. The last two lines of the poem are lines 1 and 3 respectively.

You can read more about the villanelle here. Dylan Thomas' poem Do not go gentle into that good night is an excellent example. I also like the example in A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms compiled by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Chris Raschka. Here is an excerpt.
Is there a villain in your villanelle?
Just lurking, smirking in a line or two?
Read on, my dear, for only time will tell.

He'll try to show that you can't really spell.
Or hold a poem together without glue.
Is there a villain in your villanelle?

And what if you can't rhyme things very well?
Perhaps it is a plot by you-know-who.
Read on, my dear, for only time will tell.
So, will you join me? What kind of villanelle will you write? Give it a whirl and then leave me a comment about your poem. Later this week I'll post the results.

Great First Lines (in Nonfiction)

Over at Nonfiction Matters, Marc Aronson is hosting a contest. He has asked readers to suggest the best first sentences in nonfiction for younger readers. Go on over and read A Contest and Contest 1, Starting the Ball Rolling. Now, think about some of your favorite nonfiction reads for kids, and go submit those great opening lines.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Book Review - Turtle Summer

In Mary Alice Monroe's adult novel Swimming Lessons, a mother assembles a journal for her daughter recounting their summer tending turtles together during the loggerhead nesting season. Turtle Summer: A Journal for My Daughter is that journal. The journal begins in May, when female loggerhead turtles return to the beach they were born on to lay their eggs. The first entry includes these lovely words.
I hope that I can teach you --
as a dear lady once taught me --
to not merely know nature but
also to feel nature.
And so begins the story of one summer protecting turtle eggs on a beach in South Carolina. On each page there are photographs of shells, plants and animals that surround the main text and photos that support the storyline. The background has the look of recycled paper and with photos aligned at various angles and in different places around the page, the book does have the feel of a real journal. I did find myself wishing the text was done in a handwriting font or something that didn't look so clinical. Perhaps it was the lack of serifs, but something about the font just didn't feel right. (I know this is picky, but the right font would have added so much to the overall presentation of the book.)

Female turtles leave the sea and crawl up the beach. This is a difficult task, given that the turtles have webbed feet and long feet that form flippers. The females dig a nest deep in the sand, lay the eggs, and head back to the sea, never to return to the nest or see their hatchlings.

Those who work to protect turtles walk the beach each day and look for turtle tracks. (When a 350 pound turtles drags itself up the beach and then back into the sea, you know it's been there.) Nests built in safe areas of the beach are marked with orange tape and signs (much like yellow crime scene tape), while nests found below the high tide line are moved. New nests are dug with shells so that the size and shape of the nest will be similar to the nest dug the loggerhead. It takes about 55-65 days for the eggs to incubate. While waiting for the eggs to hatch, the journal describes a visit to a Sea Turtle Hospital and the various creatures seen while observing life at the beach. When the eggs finally hatch, it is at night when the sand is cooler. Turtles follow their instincts and are guided by the brightest light in the sky, hopefully towards the open ocean.

Following a portion of the loggerhead life cycle through this journal is very informative. The photographs beautifully support and extend the text. At the end of the book is a section entitled For Creative Minds, which contains turtle facts, reproducible forms, and directions for making your own nature scrapbook.

The flap copy states that it is estimated that loggerhead survival from hatchling to adult could be as few as 1 out of 1000 or fewer. It would have been really nice to know where statistics like this came from. Both the flap copy and acknowledgments state that the accuracy of the text was verified by an employee of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Protected Resources. This is good to know, because there is a startling lack of references for the information in the book.

My complaints about the font face and lack of references notwithstanding, I found this to be a very enjoyable and informative book. It will make a good addition to the classroom and offers a terrific introduction to the nesting cycle of sea turtles. I recommend it.

Book: Turtle Summer: A Journal for My Daughter
Author: Mary Alice Monroe
Illustrator (Photographer): Barbara J. Bergwerf
Publisher: Sylvan Dell Publishing
Publication Date: April 7, 2007
Pages: 32
Grades: K-3
ISBN-10: 0977742377
ISBN-13: 978-0977742370
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased for Cybils consideration

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Robert's Snow - Auction 3

Auction 3 will begin accepting bids on Monday, Dec. 3 at 9:00 am, with a starting bid of $150 for each snowflake. All bids must be in before 5:00 pm on Friday, Dec. 7. Don't forget that 100 percent of the proceeds from this online auction will benefit sarcoma research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and that all but $25 of the winning bid is tax deductible.

Read about all the illustrators who contributed to this auction at the sites linked below. (The order presented is the same as on the auction page.)
This is it, folks -- your last chance to win a unique piece of art created by a children's book illustrator. Please support this amazing effort and bid on your favorite!