Friday, January 30, 2009

2009 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize-winning Books Announced

The winners of the 2009 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books have been announced. This prize "celebrates outstanding science writing and illustration for children and young adults." You can read about the prize criteria at SB&F Online.

Children's Picture Book Winner
Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World
written by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, illustrated by Steve Jenkins
(nominee for 2008 Cybils nonfiction picture book)
Young Adult Winner

Hands-on Science Book
True Green Kids: 100 Things You Can Do to Save the Planet
written by Rior McKay and Jenny Bonnin

In addition to the books that were honored, Jean Craighead George was the recipient of the SB&F Lifetime Achievement Award. You can read more about her.

Poetry Friday - The Seedling

I have been reading The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar courtesy of my Daily Lit subscription. Every day I get a nice little morsel in the mail, though you can also sign up for a customized RSS feed. I prefer e-mail, as I love finding a bit of poetry in my mailbox each day. Here is a poem that recently struck me as lovely and overlooked.
The Seedling
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

As a quiet little seedling
Lay within its darksome bed,
To itself it fell a-talking,
And this is what it said:

"I am not so very robust,
But I'll do the best I can;"
And the seedling from that moment
Its work of life began.

So it pushed a little leaflet
Up into the light of day,
To examine the surroundings
And show the rest the way.

The leaflet liked the prospect,
So it called its brother, Stem;
Then two other leaflets heard it,
And quickly followed them.

To be sure, the haste and hurry
Made the seedling sweat and pant;
But almost before it knew it
It found itself a plant.

The sunshine poured upon it,
And the clouds they gave a shower;
And the little plant kept growing
Till it found itself a flower.

Little folks, be like the seedling,
Always do the best you can;
Every child must share life's labor
Just as well as every man.

And the sun and showers will help you
Through the lonesome, struggling hours,
Till you raise to light and beauty
Virtue's fair, unfading flowers.
The round up this week is being hosted by Suzanne at Adventures in Daily Living. Do stop by and take in all the great poetry being shared. Before you go, be sure to check out this week's poetry stretch results. Happy poetry Friday, all!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Poetry Stretch Results - Lipogram

The challenge this week was to write a lipogram. This is writing in which one or more letters of the alphabet are excluded from the work. Here's are the results.
Marianne Nielsen at Doing the Write Thing! shares a poem entitled Without. It leaves out the letter E.

Jane Yolen left this achingly beautiful and bittersweet poem in the comments.
    Without U

    When my dear one died,
    I was by his side
    in a chair,
    holding his hand,
    speaking of love.
    His son standing
    played a song
    he’d especially loved.
    Then son and I,
    now the only “we” in the room,
    “Go across the water,”
    which the song spoke of.
    “Go beloved,
    sans fear, sans care
    for the children, wife, life.”
    And he floated away
    in death becoming
    and birdsong.
Tess of Natural Worlds wrote a poem entitled THEY. It leaves out the letter I.

Schelle at Brand New Ending wrote a reverse lipogram in which the same letter appears in every word. Her poem is entitled Dragonfly.

Julie Larios at The Drift Record also left a poem in the comments. It is written without the letter U.

    Saved the last
    dance for him, saved
    a polka, saved
    the sad song
    for someone else,
    meanwhile saved the whales,
    saved the three little pigs
    from the wolf,
    saved me from myself
    while he waited,
    saved pennies, saved
    lives, saved
    the waving wheat,
    saved anything
    in need of saving,
    saved collectibles,
    saved green stamps,
    saved salt
    and pepper shakers,
    saved styrofoam boxes,
    saved the day
    and the planet
    all while he waited,
    and then he saved me
    a piece, saved me
    a seat, saved me
    a place in Heaven.
Lisa Chellman at under the covers wrote a poem without the letter I. It is called _dent_ty Theft.

cloudscome at a wrung sponge left this poem in the comments.
    U ter ectomy
    by Andromeda Jazmon

    When the tears
    didn't stop
    the weeping became
    boring and messy.
    I called the doctor.

    She said
    it's probably
    that age
    we know what comes now.

    Then later she called
    back on the eve
    of nativity.
    The test showed
    it's leaning toward

    Gather what is needed,
    Prepare to be gone
    three days &
    come back slowly.

    The fist that clenched
    life and spit it
    from me.
    The rose that pealed
    red in layers of pink.
    The shell that rocked
    in anger (twisted
    in strength).

    Gone. Only the ache
I've been working on poems about nocturnal animals all week. In my efforts I've tried to leave out the letters A and E. Here is the start of one.
Brought out of
obscurity by
soft moonlight
two rustling owls
hoot hoot
It's not to late if you still want to play. Leave me a note about your lipogram and I'll add it to the list.

Old, New and Everything In Between - What Should Children Read?

Yesterday in the Guardian books blog, Tim Martin asked the question "how close can we get to a canon in children's literature?"

Today, Robert McCrum asks readers to consider what makes for children's classic? Near the end of the article he writes:
This is not a blog about lists (truly!), more an invitation to reflect on what makes a good book for children, who are the children's literary greats, and (ideally) what the mix of new and old should be.
These two men are asking the same question really. There are those who work in the field of children's literature who will argue that there are books one must be familiar with to be a scholar or librarian or perhaps even a classroom teacher. But what of children? Are there books and stories that every child should/must know? There are those in the Cultural Literacy and Core Knowledge camps who would answer with an emphatic YES!

The answer is not so easy for me anymore. I look at my own son who had no taste for any of the Pooh stories, but loved Alice. How do you serve up a "must read" to a child who has no interest? In the end, I think this discussion should lean more towards matching a book to a child and his/her particular interests than towards making sure he/she is reading the "right" books. How about you?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Hurrah and A Big, Big Question

In the Guardian books blog, Tim Martin ponders the meaning of a Newbery win and writes:
So although it'd be foolish to claim that literary prizes have ever served as much of a guide to anything, here's today's question: how close can we get to a canon in children's literature?

The Newbery Medal used to be quite a decent talent-spotter: in the 70s it awarded top honours to Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia, Susan Cooper's The Grey King (not as good as The Dark is Rising, I reckon, but there you are), Robert C. O'Brien's Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh and Lloyd Alexander's excellent The High King. All of these authors would appear on my list of the best children's writers: all are still being read and enjoyed three decades later.
In the end he asks:
Should the term "children's literature" even exist at all? Over to you. The canon starts here.
Canon indeed. Read the entire article, entitled Hurrah for Children's Literature, then come back and let me know what you think.

Outstanding Nonfiction for Children - 2009 Orbis Pictus

The National Council for Teachers of English (CTE) has announced this year's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children. Although only one title is singled out for the award, up to five Honor Books are also recognized. NCTE also lists a number of recommended books.

This year's winner, Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator, written by Shelley Tanaka and illustrated by David Craig, was a 2008 Cybils nominee in the category of nonfiction MG/YA.

Honor Books

George Washington Carver
written by Tonya Bolden
(nominee for 2008 Cybils nonfiction MG/YA book)

The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary
written by Candace Fleming
(nominee for 2008 Cybils nonfiction MG/YA book)

Washington at Valley Forge
written by Russell Freedman

We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
writen and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
(finalist for 2008 Cybils nonfiction MG/YA)

When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature's Balance in Yellowstone
written by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and illustrated by Dan Hartman

Recommended Books
A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams
written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
(finalist for 2008 Cybils nonfiction picture book)

A Boy Named Beckoning: The True Story of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, Native American Hero
written and illustrated by Gina Capaldi
(nominee for 2008 Cybils nonfiction picture book)

The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West
written by Sid Fleischman
(nominee for 2008 Cybils nonfiction MG/YA book)

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond
written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Ice Bears
written by Brenda Z. Guiberson and illustrated by Ilya Spirin

Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World
written by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, illustrated by Steve Jenkins
(nominee for 2008 Cybils nonfiction picture book)

In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry
written by Carla Killough McClafferty
(nominee for 2008 Cybils nonfiction MG/YA book)

Lincoln Through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life, written by Martin W. Sandler
(finalist for 2008 Cybils nonfiction MG/YA)

For a more user-friendly list, download the pdf file highlighting these titles.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Terra Cotta Warriors of Xi'an

I did not get to Xi'an when I traveled to China in 2007. I did, however, get to see a small exhibit of the warriors in Taipei. I was amazed by the humanity apparent in their faces, and quite stunned by the personality in each one. Every warrior on display was different from the others in some way. Their facial expressions, hairstyles, garments, posture and more all contained subtle differences. It was an extremely crowded exhibit and one that we were required to pass through much too quickly, but in just a short time I was overwhelmed by the scope of the work.

I am thrilled to report that the National Geographic Museum will serve as the final stop on the two-year U.S. tour of Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor. Open from November 19, 2009 through March 31, 2010, the exhibition will feature treasures from the tomb complex including 15 life-size figures, weapons, armor, coins, and more. This exhibit is the largest collection of significant artifacts from China ever to travel to the United States.

There is a teacher's guide available for download and an exhibition web site with further information. I'm planning on a visit and I hope all of you who can get to D.C. will consider taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity.

The Guardian's Take on Gaiman's Medal

Here is the latest from the Guardian blog.
Yesterday's news that Neil Gaiman won the Newbery Medal, America's most prestigious award for children's literature, was a welcome surprise for a number of reasons. There was Gaiman's high-spirited, profanity-laced reaction to the news on his Twitter feed – two qualities not commonly associated with children's book authors of yore. There was the more measured and amusing take on his blog (Merrilee-my-agent: "You didn't start swearing, did you?" Me: "No." Her: "Oh good."). But Gaiman's win for The Graveyard Book, about a boy raised by ghosts who faces the wonders and terrors of the worlds of both the living and the dead, also appears to put to bed the notion that the Newbery Medal is out of touch with what people are reading.
Read the entire article, entitled Gaiman's Newbery win is a vote for populism - and for excellence.

Monday, January 26, 2009

One Author's View

From John Green's twitter feed at ALA midwinter:
I'll say it right now: The best Newbery list in decades.
Read Neil Gaiman's account of "the call" at (Insert amazed and delighted swearing here).
I hope all my friends and family members who received copies of the book for Christmas appreciate their gift of books all the more today!

*Swoon* - Did I REALLY Write That?

This appears in a review I wrote this morning for Nonfiction Monday.
*Swoon* Beautiful images and beautiful words—what better tools are there to introduce nonfiction to young readers?
Another 2008 title that still has me swooning is Nic Bishop Frogs. I must say I'm thoroughly disappointed it wasn't honored in the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal category. I think it's better written than Nic Bishop Spiders, which was a 2008 Sibert Honor book. I also thought Betsy Bird (Fuse #8) made a good point in her Caldecott predictions about the book. She said:
What would happen if a book of photographs won the Caldecott? Take a close look at the Caldecott's definition. At no point does it declare that the "illustrations" must be drawn. What is an illustration? Can a photo be one? If so, then Bishop's book should clearly be the first.
So, there you have it. That's me swooning over works of nonfiction, and darn proud of it. What nonfiction books have you read lately that are swoon-worthy? (Yes, I just made that up and rather like it.)

Nonfiction Monday - Bees, Snails, & Peacock Tails

Bees, snails, & peacock tails: patterns & shapes . . . naturally, written by Betsy Franco and illustrated by Steve Jenkins explores surprising and hidden shapes and patterns in nature. Poetic text and cut paper collage illustrations serve as a beautiful vehicle for introducing young readers to these concepts. On a page depicting a snake, a spider hanging from a thread, a snail shell, a bee in flight, an ant, and goose silhouetted against the moon, the text begins this way.
In the day
and the night,
on the land
and in flight

tucked in hollows
of trees,
in the tide pools
and seas,

you'll find patterns and shapes—
from the snakes to the bees!
The next page reveals the genius behind a beehive. This is one of my favorite spreads in the book—not only do I love the text, but I could spend hours staring at the bees on the hive. The layers upon layers of paper used to create the illustration are stunning. The text that accompanies it reads:
Study a beehive
and you will see
the mathematical genius of the bee.

The hexagons
you'll find inside
fit side
by side
by side
by side.
*Swoon* Beautiful images and beautiful words—what better tools are there to introduce nonfiction to young readers? None that I can think of. Take a look at these excerpts at the Simon & Schuster web site.

Franco and Jenkins next explore moths, the stunning symmetry of a spider's web, the dazzling feathers of the male peacock, the familiar V of migrating geese, the teamwork and formation of members of an ant colony, the geometry of animal tracks (a mouse in the snow), the shapes on diamondback snakes, the radial symmetry of sea stars, the shape of a puffed-up puffer fish, and the spirals of a snail shell. The text/poem on the shell page is written in the same spiral form displayed by the shell.

The text ends with the same background as the opening spread, though presented at nightfall with some different animals on the page. There are eyes inside a hole in the tree, sea stars on a rock, a moth flitting in the moonlight, and a spider now resting on a completed web. The text reads:
So there you have it . . . .
I think you'll agree

that creatures
on land,
in the air,
in the sea

make patterns and shapes
quite naturally!
The end matter of the book is titled New Angles on Animals and provides a brief bit of information on each of the animals highlighted in the pages of the text.

While I plan on using this book for math this semester to talk about shapes and patterns, I can also see it being used in science to discuss camouflage and other animal adaptations. This is a gorgeous book in both writing and illustration. I highly recommend it.

Book: Bees, snails, & peacock tails: patterns & shapes . . . naturally
Author: Betsy Franco
Illustrator: Steve Jenkins
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Date Published: 2008
40 pages
Source of Book:
Personal copy purchased at a local bookstore.

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

Monday Poetry Stretch - Lipogram

I so enjoyed the challenge of writing my OULIPO last week that I think we should try writing lipogram poems. A lipogram is a piece of writing that avoids one or more letters of the alphabet. You can read more about lipograms at A.Word.A.Day.

Here is an example of a lipogram. It comes from Gadsby, the 1939 story (more than 50,000 words!) by Ernest Vincent Wright that does not contain the letter E.
"Now, any author, from history's dawn, always had that most important aid to writing: an ability to call upon any word in his dictionary in building up his story. That is, our strict laws as to word construction did not block his path. But in my story that mighty obstruction will constantly stand in my path; for many an important, common word I cannot adopt, owing to its orthography."
So, which letter or letters will you slight? Write a poem this week omitting one or more letters. Leave me a comment about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Poetry Stretch Results - OULIPO

Last week's stretch was to write an OULIPO, a poetic form created by a writer and mathematician that examines verse written under strict constraints. There are many ways to approach this form. Here's what we have from the few brave souls who played along.
Lisa Chellman at under the covers tried the S+7 form on some nursery rhymes. In this form, each of the poem’s substantive nouns are replaced with the noun appearing seven nouns away in the dictionary.

Tess of Written for Children left a poem in the comments. She took a French poem in translation and subjected it to some OULIPO translation of the S+7 type.
    Portrait of Paul Éluard
    Dark tears fall on the back's of starfish --
    what starfish!
    A vocalist cries out over a layer cake--
    a willow covers the seed's haha.
    The seeds will pass on
    but your cloth will not.
    I have ooze in my poesy
    which will multiply in my marrow.
    Then I'll smile at your star fish--
    that's funny huh
Schelle at Brand New Ending used the snowball form to write a poem in which every line has one letter more than the one before.
I tried writing a lipogram, a poem in which one or more letters are excluded. For this poem I excluded the letters A and E. I decided to write about the moon, so I brainstormed a list of words that might describe the moon. Drat! Many had the letters A and E in them. I pulled out my handy dandy thesaurus for some help. This turned out to be harder than I imagined. I desperately wanted the words growling and hobgoblins in there, but alas, it was not to be. Here's what I came up with.
Wondrous glowing
turning ‘round us

Nonstop motion
our hopes
on high
It's not too late if you still want to play. Review the original post to read about some forms of OULIPO, then leave me a comment and I'll add your poem to the list.

Friday, January 23, 2009

To the Top of the TBR

My TBR pile is growing by the minute. The most recent additions are more generally related to my day job. The first won't be released until April (Phooey!), but the second is available now. Here are the titles I can't wait to read.
Description from Publishers Weekly: Tooley (Reclaiming Education) documents his surprising finding that private schools are providing quality education to millions of poor children in the developing world. Whereas development experts insist that the path out of poverty lies in investment in public schools, the author draws on his fieldwork in India, China and Africa to argue that small entrepreneurs are educating the poor. In one region of India, 80% of urban children and 30% of rural children attend private schools; in China's Gansu province 586 private schools are located in small villages, even though the state prides itself on its public system. Contrary to accepted wisdom, the modest fees of private schools are within reach of most, and parents find them superior to public schools that are often riddled with corruption and incompetence. Tooley argues that development funds be invested to support these institutions, through vouchers to parents and microfinance loans to the schools. The author's engaging style transforms what could have been a dry if startling research report into a moving account of how poor parents struggle against great odds to provide a rich educational experience to their children.

You can read a bit more about the title in the Jay Matthews article entitled The Hidden Flaws in China and India Schools.

Racing Odysseus: A College President Becomes a Freshman Again, written by Roger H. Martin
Description from the Publisher: The idea of reliving youth is a common fantasy, but who among us is actually courageous enough to try it? After surviving a deadly cancer against tremendous odds, college president Roger H. Martin did just that — he enrolled at St. John's College, the Great Books school in Annapolis, Maryland, as a sixty-one-year-old freshman.

This engaging, often humorous memoir of his semester at St. John's tells of his journey of discovery as he falls in love again with Plato, Socrates, and Homer, improbably joins the college crew team, and negotiates friendships across generational divides. Along the way, Martin ponders one of the most pressing questions facing education today: do the liberal arts still have a role to play in a society that seems to value professional, vocational, and career training above all else?

Elegantly weaving together the themes of the great works he reads with events that transpire on the water, in the coffee shop, and in the classroom, Martin finds that a liberal arts education may be more vital today than ever before. This is the moving story of a man who faces his fears, fully embraces his second chance, and in turn rediscovers the gifts of life and learning.

Poetry Friday - Whitman

I've been rereading my tired and worn copy of Leaves of Grass since the end of winter break. At points in the semester when my mind won't let me settle in for a novel, poetry and cookbooks fill my reading time. These two poems spoke to me on the heels of the inauguration.
13. To You
Stranger! if you, passing, meet me, and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me?
And why should I not speak to you?

53. This Moment, Yearning and Thoughtful
This moment yearning and thoughtful, sitting alone,
It seems to me there are other men in other lands, yearning and thoughtful;
It seems to me I can look over and behold them, in Germany, Italy, France, Spain—or far, far away, in China, or in Russia or India—talking other dialects;
And it seems to me if I could know those men, I should become attached to them, as I do to men in my own lands;
O I know we should be brethren and lovers,
I know I should be happy with them.
The round up this week is being hosted by Laura Purdie Salas. Do stop by and take in all the great poetry being shared this week. Happy poetry Friday, all!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Book Lists, Best Of and Must Reads

More than ten years ago my mother mailed me a newspaper clipping that listed the 100 best novels. Knowing that I am a reader, she thought I might be interested. I was amused, as I often am by lists like this. The fact that the "expert's" list was juxtaposed with the "reader's" list is most interesting. Many of the reader's (everyman/woman) titles didn't even appear on the expert's list, which leaves me wondering about the value of such lists to begin with. Who is to say what book will appeal to a reader? This is one of the things I find so troubling about buying books as gifts. I must always ask myself, "Do I know this person well enough to make the right choice?"

I can happily say that I've read more than half of the books on the 100 best novels list, though I did not like them all. Many were required reading in high school and college. Some I have picked up on my own, while others I still intend (hope?) to read. I still have the list my mother sent me, with titles highlighted, and others with TBR next to them. Wishful thinking, I know.

You see, looking at my TBR list and the physical pile reminds me of a post Julius Lester wrote last year. Entitled How Many Books Can One Read?, Lester wrote:
The words that changed my life were spoken by one of the principal characters who is in college:

“She was tortured by the thought of all the things she’d never have time to do. ‘I figured out that if I read a book a week for the rest of my life, and if I live to be eighty, I’ll have read about three thousand books.’ She clutched Sally’s elbow. ‘That’s not enough!’” p. 116

Until I read that paragraph I had never thought about how many books I would read over the course of my life. But only three thousand? I would have thought many more than that. I read a book a week, sometimes a little more, which means I read between 52 and 60 books a year. And she is right: “That’s not enough!”
As my TBR list/pile grows, I can't help but think of these words. Will I ever be able to read enough? Here I don't just mean quantity, but breadth. I want to read more broadly, eclectically, internationally, but there are so many books and so little time.

All of this is a long-winded preface to the latest book list that has tantalized and vexed me. The Guardian has created a list of the 1000 novels everyone must read. The list is broken down into seven categories. Here are some brief descriptions of them with links to the list of books in each.

Love - So, what makes a great love story? Initially, this seemed the easiest of the seven categories that make up our series. All great novels are essentially about love, aren't they? As it turned out, things weren't so easy. There is, as one of our panel remarked of Madame Bovary, often precious little loving going on in these famous love stories. With the exceptions of Jane Austen and sometimes Dickens there are very few guaranteed happy endings.
Crime - "When I heard 'Humpty Dumpty Sat on the Wall' at an early age," PD James once said, "I thought 'did he fall or was he pushed?'" The classic mystery story is about a crime already committed, a past event the investigation has to reconstruct. A thriller involves a future threat to Humpty — an enemy's plan must be stopped. A thriller's thrills are frequent, whereas a crime writer can get away with one corpse.
Comedy - Comedy is not humour. You shouldn't expect to be laughing all the way through these novels. Sometimes you will be, but at other times you will be crying. Every comic, it is said, wants to play Hamlet, and many comic novelists — Evelyn Waugh, archetypally — have a serious purpose. The world's hypocrisies and deceptions are targets that must be attacked, comedy the literary weapon of choice.
Family & Self - In a 1925 essay on Katherine Mansfield, the American novelist Willa Cather wrote: "… In those simple relationships of loving husband and wife, affectionate sisters, children and grandmother, there are innumerable shades of sweetness and anguish which make up the pattern of our lives day by day, though they are not down in the list of subjects from which the conventional novelist works." The novel was invented in the 18th century to explore the fate of the individual, and this often meant severing him or her from family. Family life was to be escaped, or to be laughed at. Thus Cather's sense that fiction was discovering a new subject in family relationships.
State of the Nation - What brings together Midnight's Children, Middlemarch and The Corrections? We think they can all be called state-of-the-nation novels. Like all the books listed here, they address social questions or political changes - they think about the way we live now.
Science Fiction & Fantasy - It is sometimes assumed that science fiction, fantasy and horror must mean spaceships, elves and vampires - and indeed, you'll find Iain M Banks, Tolkien and Bram Stoker on our list of mind-expanding reads. Yet these three genres have a tradition as venerable as the novel itself. Fiction works through metamorphosis: in every era authors explore the concerns of their times by mapping them on to invented worlds, whether they be political dystopias, fabulous kingdoms or supernatural dimensions.
War & Travel - The last booklet in our series is essentially about journeys. Some are journeys of leisure, the kind of expeditions into faraway lands and adventures in exotic locations we loved reading about as children: tall tales about treasure islands, daredevil pilots and colonial exploits. Many of them are journeys of warfare: novels that frequently draw on the authors' experience and capture the excitement as well as the horror of war.
There is a great deal to consider here, many titles unknown to me, and much diversity of thought. My only problem now is deciding where to begin.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Look at the Virtual White House

If you are a frequent visitor to the White House web site, you'll notice that the site got a makeover with the inauguration of our 44th President. On the White House blog you'll find these words.
A short time ago, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States and his new administration officially came to life. One of the first changes is the White House's new website, which will serve as a place for the President and his administration to connect with the rest of the nation and the world.
There's interesting stuff here for young and old alike. While checking it out, be sure to visit White House 101.

Why I'm Laughing and Crying This Morning

I give myself 30 minutes each morning to read through the new posts in Google Reader. Today I've already laughed and cried, and the inauguration is still hours away. Here's why.
Andi's poem over at a wrung sponge.

Julius Lester posted Thoughts on the Day before the Inauguration. It kicked me in the gut, made me think (as Julius' writing always does) and started big tears rolling down my face.

Neil Gaiman posted Everything you wanted to know about pills and this one dog. I practically fell off my chair laughing at the description of his dog eating the various coatings and spitting out the pill. Been there, done that.
Now to work. Happy Inauguration Day, all!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday Poetry Stretch - Oulipo

The OULIPO is a form that was created in 1960 by a writer and mathematician. It is designed to examine verse written under strict constraints, of which there are many. Here are just a few that look interesting.
  • S+7: The writer takes a poem already in existence and substitutes each of the poem’s substantive nouns with the noun appearing seven nouns away in the dictionary. This can also be used with verbs.
  • Snowball: A poem in which each line is a single word, and each successive word is one letter longer. This form could also start with one word with each line growing by one word.
  • Lipogram: Writing that excludes one or more letters.
You can read more about this form at Wikipedia and The official site is here, but alas, I do not read French. (However, the Google language tools are somewhat helpful.)

Here's the OULIPO I wrote in 2007.
Ode to a Gymnast
So, do you want to play? What kind of OULIPO will you write? Leave a comment about your poem and what constraint form you used, and I'll post the results later this week.

Nonfiction Monday - Living Large

I love books that look at size and try to make the numbers concrete and understandable for kids (and adults). Here are three of my favorites for looking at how large (or small) something really is.

Actual Size, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins - Do you want to go face-to-face (literally) with a Siberian tiger? How about an anteater's tongue? Would seeing a spider the size of a dinner plate frighten you? In this volume, Steve Jenkins turns his skills with paper toward illustrating entire animals or large features of others. Readers can not only place their hands against a gorilla's palm to see how it fits, but also compare themselves to a variety of other animals. The illustrated back matter depicts each animal (in full) and is accompanied by a description of the creature.

How Big Is It?: A BIG Book All About BIGness, written by Ben Hillman - How big is a polar bear? You can read all about how heavy and how big the world's largest carnivore is, but until you see it standing on its hind legs towering over an NBA regulation basket, it's hard to really understand. The beauty of this book is that in answering the question "How big is it?", Hillman shows readers by juxtaposing the thing under consideration with an object more familiar. Comparisons include the Quetzalcoatlus (extinct flying reptile) with an F-18 Hornet fighter jet, the Arecibo Radio Telescope with the Eiffel Tower stretched across its diameter, California redwoods against the Brooklyn skyline, and more. (You can view some excerpts at Hillman's web site.)

Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is?, written and illustrated by Robert Wells - If you thought a blue whale was big, think again. Just the flukes of this creature are bigger than most other creatures on Earth. But how does the blue whale compare to other "big" things." How does it compare to Mount Everest? How does Mount Everest compare to the Earth? How does the Earth compare to the sun? Wells' illustrations show readers just how big some things in are universe really are.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. This week our host is Shirley at SimplyScience Blog. Do stop by and see what others are sharing in the world of nonfiction.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Poetry Friday - Miracles

In the wake of yesterday's plane crash (emergency landing) in the Hudson River, the word miracle is being uttered by nearly everyone who reports on it. When I hear the word miracle, I always think of Whitman. Today's offering comes from Leaves of Grass.
by Walt Whitman

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the
    edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
    with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet
    and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
The round up this week is being hosted by Karen Edmisten. Please stop by to take in all the great poetry being shared. Before you go, do check out this week's poetry stretch results. Happy poetry Friday, all!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Poetry Stretch Results - Ottava Rima

The challenge this week was to write in the form of ottava rima. Generally written in iambic pentameter, this form consists of a stanza of eight lines with the rhyme scheme abababcc. Here are the results.
Marianne Nielsen at Doing the Write Thing! shares a heartwrenching poem about her dad.

Jane Yolen left this hopeful poem in the comments.
    America on the Eve of a New President
    If our dear land can once again be great,
    The beating green heart find its resurrection;
    If we can chart the waters of our fate,
    The ship of state now passing its inspection;
    If we can find flense the flab of ignorant hate,
    Rendering it free of all infection,
    Then with our banners high we truly claim
    Ourselves united in a single name.
Rick Mullin from Waiting for Cassowary shares a poem entitled Huncke.

also left a poem in the comments.
    City of heat, and dust and rats
    By what means do you beguile me?
    Perhaps it’s gazing up at bats
    floating upon water feeling free.
    Or perhaps despite your many drat’s
    It’s simply where I’m meant to be.
    Summoned here by God above
    To learn more truly how to love.
sister AE at Having Writ shares a poem that tugs at my alto heartstrings entitled Wanted: Contralto Solos.
The first ottava rima I wrote was nonfiction in nature. This one is no different.
This tiny seed betrays the full-fledged size
of what will someday grow. In forests old
they’re ever green and stretch up to the skies.
Gaze up at nature’s skyscrapers—behold!
Earth's tallest living species boldly rise.
From canopy to floor life is foretold,
as falling pine cones ring out hope anew,
each seed a promise of a giant true.

What am I? Follow this link for the answer. You can also view a spectacular image taken by Ralph Crane for LIFE magazine.
It's not too late if you still want to play. Leave me a comment about your poem and I'll add it to the list.

Little Mice for My Blogging Friends

Sometimes I see things on the web and I immediately think of someone I know only through blogging. Odd, isn't it? I saw these today and thought of:

Susan at Wizards Wireless

Jama at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup

Michelle at Scholar's Blog

Adrienne at What Adrienne Thinks About That and John Green at Sparks Fly Up and Nerdfighters
Abercrombie the Zombie Mouse
(because zombies are so much better than unicorns)

There are many other mice that might strike your fancy. There are several Harry Potter themed mice, Star Wars mice, a chef mouse (also appropriate for Jama), artist mice and more. Stop by the House of Mouse and check out these adorable creations. At the very least, you must look at the sad little one-eared Vincent Van Gogh Mouse. Now, if only there was Jane Austen mouse ...

Thanks to Julie at Children's Illustration for the introduction to this wonderful Etsy site.

Nonfiction Reading Power

Adrienne Gear's book Nonfiction Reading Power: Teaching Students How to Think While They Read all Kinds of Information has been on my desk and dog-eared for a while now. Not only does it contain terrific teaching strategies, but also some thematic lists of titles. The components of nonfiction reading power: (1) zooming-in; (2) questioning/inferring; (3) determining importance; (4) connecting: and (5) transforming, are all summarized in chapter two. Each component is then described in more detail in its own chapter. If you would like to preview it or read the entire book online, you can do that here.

Here is the publisher's description.
How can you help students find meaning in informational texts and become independent strategic readers and thinkers? Nonfiction Reading Power gives teachers a wealth of effective strategies for helping students think while they read material in all subject areas. Using the best children's books to motivate students, Adrienne Gear shows teachers how help students zoom-in, question and infer; find the main idea, make connections, and transform what's on the printed page. Key introductory concept lessons for each of the five reading powers provide valuable insight into the purpose of each strategy. The book also explores the particular features of nonfiction and offers lists of key books organized around strategies and subject areas.
Whether you teach kids at home or work with them in a traditional classroom setting, this book contains some fine suggestions for helping develop reading to learn skills.

For You Under 30 Writers of the World ...

This sounds like a terrific opportunity. I would love to avail myself of it, but I passed the land of "under 30" LONG ago!
Here are some details.
  • Writers must be under 30 years of age at time of submission.
  • Stories must be no more 1200 words in length.
  • Submissions will only be accepted during the month of February.
  • The final judge will be Richard Ford.
  • Winners will be announced in late spring.
  • The Kenyon Review will publish the winning short story in the Winter 2010 issue, and the author will be awarded a scholarship to attend the 2009 Writers Workshop, June 14th to the 21st, in Gambier, Ohio.
Learn more at the Kenyon Review Short Story Contest.

The Wind, the Words and the Meaning

On this day marking the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, our campus marked the event by sharing his words. In the cold and wind, pairs of students and faculty members stood in highly traveled campus spaces and read from various speeches. My partner and I read the "Give Us the Ballot" address that was delivered at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on May 17th, 1957 in Washington, D.C.

As I stood in the Forum, the open air plaza overlooking the lake, throwing out his words to the wind and to any passersby who might listen, I was moved by the passion and compassion shown by this man. I was most touched by these thoughts that came near the end of the speech.
Go out with that faith today. Go back to your homes in the Southland to that faith, with that faith today. Go back to Philadelphia, to New York, to Detroit and Chicago with that faith today: that the universe is on our side in the struggle. Stand up for justice.

Sometimes it gets hard, but it is always difficult to get out of Egypt, for the Red Sea always stands before you with discouraging dimensions. And even after you've crossed the Red Sea, you have to move through a wilderness with prodigious hilltops of evil and gigantic mountains of opposition. But I say to you this afternoon: Keep moving. Let nothing slow you up. Move on with dignity and honor and respectability.
Despite the wind and the cold, I was happy to participate. I hope those who heard these words were touched in some way today. I know I was.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Lure of the Cover

I'm a regular reader of the blog Jacket Whys. The author is a youth services librarian and former graphic designer. She(?) writes great posts, many of which are thoroughly fascinating discussions of cover art and design trends.

The most recent post is the first installment in a series on the best covers of 2008. Just looking at them made me want to read all three books. I'm particularly enamored of the cover for The Robe of Skulls, written by Vivian French and illustrated by Ross Collins. The cover is eerie, so I was a bit surprised to see the age range listed as 6-10. If you follow the link to the book (above), you can read an excerpt or the entire first chapter! It's good stuff (though I'm not sure about 6-year old readers).

Go check out the choices Jacket Whys has made to date and see what you think. I so like these selections that I can't wait to see the remaining seven.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Monday Poetry Stretch - Ottava Rima

I've floated this idea before, but folks rarely accept the challenge and I'm just not sure why. So, I'm going to offer up ottava rima one more time.

Ottava rima is an Italian form that consists of a stanza of eight lines with the rhyme scheme abababcc. In English, the lines are usually written in iambic pentameter. This form is generally associated with epic poems, but can be used for shorter poems. Here is an excerpt from Byron's poem Don Juan.
"Go, little book, from this my solitude!
I cast thee on the waters – go thy ways!
And if, as I believe, thy vein be good,
The world will find thee after many days."
When Southey 's read, and Wordsworth understood,
I can't help putting in my claim to praise –
The four first rhymes are Southey's every line:
For God's sake, reader! take them not for mine.
That's it. Your challenge for the week is to write a poem in the form of ottava rima. Leave me a comment about your work and I'll post the results here later this week.

Nonfiction Monday - Ice Bears

Imagine being born in the dark of winter, where the temperature outside is a frigid minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit. While the den is warmer by nearly 30 degrees, the cubs are practically hairless, blind and deaf when they arrive.

In this beautifully written book, Brenda Guiberson describes the struggles a polar bear and her young cubs as they face the challenges of the changing seasons and melting ice. Gorgeous illustrations by Ilya Spirin capture the beauty and harshness of the landscape. Here is an excerpt.
In June, with the sun in the sky both day and night, the arctic starts to thaw. As the sea ice thins, the mother bear searches even harder for seals. If she and the cubs don't pack on enough extra fat, they could starve to death by fall.

The deep ground, called permafrost, stays frozen solid, but the surface snow and ice melt. Drip . . . drip . . . dribble! Billions of mosquito eggs thaw. Bumblebee queens, the only bees to survive the winter, awaken. Lemmings swarm out from their crumbling snow tunnels. Plants poke through the softening snow already blooming for the short summer season.
I learned some very interesting and surprising facts while reading this book. Here are a few.
  • Polar bear milk is 30% fat.
  • Cubs are born weighing only a pound, but in the three months before they emerge from the den they put on nearly 20 pounds just by drinking their mother's milk.
  • A polar bear can smell prey that is 10 miles away.
  • Cubs love to wrestle, but on a day when the temperature is 20 degrees Fahrenheit, they quickly overheat!
  • Polar bears cool down by eating snow and swimming in the ocean.
  • After swimming, polar bears shake their fur and roll in the snow to dry off.
The book ends with a note on the melting arctic ice and information on how the earth's warming is threatening the survival of polar bears. Also included is a list of organizations working to help the environment, along with their web addresses.

This is a fine piece of narrative nonfiction that will teach readers much about polar bears. I highly recommend it. Teachers will be interested in the activity suggestions on Brenda Guiberson's web site.

Book: Ice Bears
Author: Brenda Guiberson
Illustrator: Ilya Spirin
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date:
40 pages
Source of Book: Review copy received from the publisher.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen’s blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

For related books, see this post on arctic life.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Real Work Begins

I rarely write about religion or politics on this blog, but every so often I am so inspired by the words in a Sunday morning homily that I can't get away from them. These were shared this morning.
When the song of the angel is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks
The real work of Christmas begins.

To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoners
To rebuild the nations
To bring peace among brothers
To make music in the heart.
Father Fred shared this and told us he first read these words on a card he received years ago from one of his grammar school teachers. My blog searching tells me it was written by Howard Thurman.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Picture Books About Math and Numbers

Leave it to the New York Times Book Review to write about one of the topics I'm preparing for the first week of classes. Jim Holt has written an article entitled Numbers, Big and Small in which he reviews the following books:
I haven't read the first two, but I'm crazy about Goldstone's book. You can visit his web site to learn more about both books in the estimation series and test your skills with the Estimatron.

Friday, January 09, 2009

In Case You Were Wondering ...

If you heard a barbaric YAWP in the last few hours, it was me. I just learned that I (okay, my institution) was awarded a Picturing America grant. I wrote about this program back in October. Picturing America award materials include forty images mounted on twenty double-sided, laminated posters for display and classroom use and a teachers resource book.

The images will be displayed in our Curriculum Materials Center and available for our classes, for student teachers to use in their placements, and for local K-12 teachers to use in their classrooms. I am thrilled and can't wait to begin using these materials in my classes next fall.

On another note -- Did I mention that I recently had a 3-year, million dollar grant funded? (Yes, that's $1,000,000!) This is a renewal of a program designed to better prepare urban middle school students to take on advanced courses in math and science in high school. In this iteration we are adding a professional development piece to improve the content and pedagogical knowledge of the teachers who work with these kids.

So, I guess you could say the semester is getting underway with a bang. Let's just hope it doesn't go out in a whimper.

BCCB Blue Ribbons 2008 - Nonfiction

Each year the staff of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books awards Blue Ribbons to the books they believe to be the best of the previous year's literature for youth. Last year they stated that nonfiction titles were "sparse" and that they would "rather sacrifice list length than standards," so the list was very short. They did much better in the nonfiction area this year. Here are the 2008 blue ribbon winners in this category.
Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale (Introducing His Forgotten Frontier Friend)
written by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by John Hendrix
(finalist for 2008 Cybils fiction picture book)
**I'm not quite sure I understand the placement of this one in nonfiction. Library of Congress categorizes it as juvenile fiction.**

Abe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln
written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated Kadir Nelson

Face to Face with Frogs
written and photographed by Mark W. Moffett

Falling Hard: 100 Love Poems by Teenagers
edited by Betsy Franco

Nic Bishop Frogs, written and photographed by Nic Bishop
(finalist for 2008 Cybils nonfiction picture book)

Punk Rock Etiquette: The Ultimate How-to Guide for DIY, Punk, Indie, and Underground Bands
written and illustrated by Travis Nichols

This Is Your Life Cycle
written by Heather Lynn Miller and illustrated by Michael Chesworth
(nominee for 2008 Cybils fiction picture book)

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
(finalist for 2008 Cybils nonfiction MG/YA book)

What’s Eating You?: Parasites—The Inside Story
written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Neal Layton
(nominee for 2007 Cybils nonfiction MG/YA book)
You can read the entire list of winners, which also includes fiction and picture books, at BCCB-2008 Blue Ribbons. If you prefer you can download a brochure with the complete list of winners (annotated).